Whose Side Are You On?

You are in the midst of a battle that rages all around us. This battle is being fought on two planes of existence, the visible realm and the invisible realm. On earth there are many kingdoms that are at war with one another, each of them trying to gain some kind of upper hand against the other, think China vs. Taiwan, India vs. Pakistan, Arab against Jew, but in reality these struggles on earth are part of a bigger cosmic battle for dominion over the souls of men and women. In the unseen realm there are only two kingdoms that are at war with one another. You are in one of these kingdoms—either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan. The kingdom of Satan is using a great deal of deception and ignorance to blind men to the truth. He has been doing this for several thousand years and has become quite expert at it. This division and struggle among nations and people groups is Satan’s plan to deceive you away from the true spiritual battle as to who will rule you—whose side are you on? Jesus put it this way:

30“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Matthew 12:30).

Are you with Jesus Christ? How do you know that you have crossed over to the Kingdom of God’s side of this battle? How can you be sure that when you die you will go to be with Him?

13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Colossians 1:13).

You might be living under communist rule or under Islamic Sharia Law, but who owns your soul? Have you made a divine transaction with the Living God and crossed over from the dominion of darkness to trusting Christ with your soul? What do I mean by a divine transaction? Jesus said that unless a man is “born again” (John 3:3) he cannot see the kingdom of God. Satan has so deceived the world that until you give your life to Christ and receive the gift of eternal life, you cannot see the things of Christ and live in the power of the Spirit of God. Being born again is receiving the gift of life from the Lord Jesus. It is a gift. Jesus came to give us life:

27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:27-29).

This gift of eternal life cannot be earned or worked for. It is a gift you are given when you repent of sin (turn the direction of your life over to God) and believe or trust in Christ to live for Him. The apostle Paul in the Book of Ephesians also speaks about this gift of life:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In the West, we celebrate Christmas. It is a time when we remember the coming of Christ to give us the gift of eternal life. We celebrate by giving one another gifts. Even if our children do something really bad the day before Christmas, we still give them a gift on Christmas Day—why? Because a gift is not dependent on what a person does, it is dependent on the love and grace of the giver. A gift is not earned; otherwise it is not a gift. God is the giver of this gift and no matter what you have done, how severe your sin is—you can receive this gift from God. Go to Him and with your whole heart, abandon your old life and receive the gift of eternal life from the Lord Jesus—the giver of every good gift! Keith Thomas

The Strategic Parable of the Soil

11“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:4-15).

What I love about God’s Word is that there is often more than one way to interpret it. Often, Jesus speaks on two levels, for example, on the cellular level and the organism level. While we should receive it at the cellular level, we can also look at it from a strategic sowing and harvesting level of area, state or country. We have been commanded by our Lord to preach the Gospel to the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and the end will not come until the job has been done (Matthew 24:14). People resources and financial resources should not be spent on trying to raise a harvest on pathway soil, ground that will bring little return on the investment. Strategic thinking is required to find good soil.

Any good farmer will test the pH level of the soil to find out if it will grow what he wishes to plant. Let me illustrate what I mean. When I worked as a commercial fisherman with my father, we wouldn’t go hunting in the summer for the small fish called sprats. There were only certain times of the year that the sprats would school together in huge numbers. It was not strategic or pragmatic to put sprat nets on our gear and try to catch them. The times and the seasons determined the kind of investment to catch the fish. C. Peter Wagner uses the illustration of an apple farm:

“Suppose I have an apple farm with three fields. In the first field the apples are so ripe that one worker can reap five bushels in one hour. In the second field, only a few have ripened and it would take five hours just to reap one bushel. In the third are no ripe apples at all. I have 30 workers to send out to pick apples. Where to send them is not a difficult decision. I would not send all 30 into the first field where the apples are ripe, but I would send 29. I would ask the other worker to go into the second field and pick as many apples as possible, but frequently to travel over to the third field as well. When this worker returns, I do not expect to see a great number of apples. In this case, I am more interested in information than apples. Through this person I will know when the other apples ripen, and on that basis redeploy my work force. The harvest determines the quantity of workers employed.”[1]

Timing and location are important in bringing in the harvest. Countries and regions go through seasons of fruitfulness. Don’t misunderstand me. There are people in all countries ready to receive the Word of God and come to Christ, but revivals are often due to something that God is doing in a region or country. The Church of Christ needs to look strategically as to where God is working, where the field is ripe. Let me give you an example. Argentina was hard pathway soil that was trusting in its leadership council in the early 1980s. All that changed when the military leadership sent an invasion force to capture the Malvinas Islands or Falkland Islands from the British. Maggie Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, sent the British forces down to the South Atlantic, and after several battles, recaptured the Falklands with the loss of many lives.

The Argentine national pride was humbled, and with it, a loss of trust in their leaders. God said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land…” (2 Chronicles 7:14). The humbling of the Argentine people was used of the Lord to turn hard pathway soil to good, rich growing soil. A huge turning to Evangelical Christianity and a massive revival took place! Political situations are used by the Lord to create conditions of a ripening of the soil. God is working by His Spirit everywhere, and history shows us vast moves of the Spirit at different times and places, changing the spiritual climate of those countries.

Some people and countries are tested not by trials, but prosperity. They are lulled to sleep by pursuit of pleasure and do not see their need of Christ, so they do not give Him place in their heart. The Word of God is forgotten, replaced by worldly perspectives. For the most part here in the United States, our soil condition is one of weeds. Fruitfulness is in the soil, but the weeds choke out growth. Our adversary, the devil, pushes hard to transform the culture into one of deception and evil, but I sense that God, out of His mercy, will not allow our complacency to continue! I believe that there will be conditions, situations, and events that will turn the spiritual tide for these United States in order to create the right conditions for a massive harvest among people today, especially our youth.

The USA saw a huge growth in the church during the Jesus movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It is time for another move of God, and we need to be ready to receive new believers by being disciples ourselves in order to disciple others and be those who are fruitful. Let us look at the ground of our own hearts and make sure that there are no weeds of bitterness or unforgiveness and deal with any hardness or unbelief.

Keith Thomas. Taken from the Luke studies in the middle column, Number 16, The Parable of the Soil.

[1] Strategies for Church Growth, C. Peter Wagner, Published by Regal Books. Page 65.

The Self-Substitution of God

11084769_1820909051468058_1200901437_nWhat does self-substitution mean? In his book, Miracle on the River Kwai, Ernest Gordon tells the true story of a group of Prisoners of War working on the Burma Railway during World War Two. At the end of each day the tools were collected from the work party. On one occasion a Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing and demanded to know which man had taken it. He began to rant and rave, working himself up into a paranoid fury and ordered whoever was guilty to step forward. No one moved. “All die! All die!” he shrieked, cocking and aiming his rifle at the prisoners. At that moment one man stepped forward and the guard clubbed him to death with his rifle while he stood silently to attention. When they returned to the camp, the tools were counted again and no shovel was missing. That one man had gone forward as a substitute to save the others. In the same way Jesus went forward and satisfied justice by dying in place of us.

Jesus was our substitute. He endured crucifixion for us. Cicero described crucifixion as “the cruellest and hideous of tortures.” Jesus was stripped and tied to a whipping post. He was flogged with four or five thongs of leather interwoven with sharp jagged bone and lead. Eusebius, the third century church historian, described Roman flogging in these terms: “the sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and…the very muscles, sinews and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” He was then taken to the Praetorium, the Roman courtyard inside the fortification, where a crown of thorns was thrust onto His head. He was mocked by a battalion of 600 men and hit about the face and head. He was then forced to carry a heavy cross bar on His bleeding shoulders until he collapsed, and Simon of Cyrene was press-ganged into carrying it for Him.

When they reached the site of crucifixion, He was again stripped naked. He was laid on the cross, and six-inch nails were driven into His forearms, just above the wrist. His knees were twisted sideways so that the ankles could be nailed between the tibia and the Achilles’ tendon. He was lifted up on the cross, which was then dropped into a socket in the ground. There He was left to hang in intense heat and unbearable thirst, exposed to the ridicule of the crowd. He hung there in unthinkable pain for six hours while His life slowly drained away. Yet the worst part was not the physical trauma, nor even the emotional pain of being rejected by the world and deserted by His friends, but the spiritual agony of being separated from the Father for us—as He carried our sins.

Because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross, in full payment for what your sins deserved, God is now able to grant those who will receive it, a full pardon. The Lord shows us that He is not aloof from suffering. He Himself has taken all and more than many of us deserved upon Himself. He died in place of us and for us. On the cross God revealed His love for us.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

If you will believe the truth of what God has done for you, the gift of righteousness and peace along with the Holy Spirit, will flood your mind and heart. He is as near as a prayer. Can you simply speak to Him and tell Him that you need forgiveness for things you have done? Ask Him to come into your life, and receive the free gift of eternal life.

Taken from the study that is second from the top in the middle column, the one titled, Why Did Jesus Die?

Keith Thomas

Got Faith?

touch-hem-of-garment-e1441463639189You’ve probably heard of the famous line on many billboards and magazines: “got milk?”  How about being asked the question: “got faith?” Let’s take a quick look at some heroes of the Faith. George Müller lived in the 1800’s and was well known for trusting in the Lord God of Heaven to provide his every need while building orphanages and caring for those who would fill them.

In Bristol, England, George Müller operated one of these orphanages for two thousand children. One evening he became aware that there would be no breakfast for them the next morning. Muller called his workers together and explained the situation. Two or three prayed. “Now that is sufficient,” he said. “Let us rise and praise God for prayer answered!” The next morning, they could not push open the great front door. So they went out the back door and around the building to see what was keeping it shut. Stacked up against the front door were boxes filled with food. One of the workers later remarked, “We know Who sent the baskets, but we do not know who brought them!”

Or perhaps you are well familiar with the great “Hall of Faith” as outlined in Hebrews chapter 11. In verse 38 we read about how many before us have walked in such great faith as to live a not so glamourous life and some even die very badly for their “faith”.

Which leaves us with something that we may ask ourselves – “How in the world can I obtain a faith like that?”  I want more faith, but how do I get it? Do I just not “believe” hard enough? What do I DO to get more Faith? Or do I just simply “ask” for it? Luke chapter 8 sheds some light on these questions. A man named Jairus was in desperate need of Jesus’ healing power to save his dying 12-year-old daughter. Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue and believed that Jesus had the power to save her from the brink of death. A few verses later we meet a woman who had “an issue of blood” for 12 years. She somehow believed that if she just touched the very hem of His garment, she too would be healed, along with Jairus’ daughter. One thing they both had in common was a great, great need. When one is in dire need of physical healing especially, either for ourselves or a loved one, it certainly does bring us to a place to seek the Healer Himself. Regardless of the outcome, their faith was the “evidence of things not seen.” Let’s dig a little deeper though and find the one hidden thing that had given these two such faith in Jesus’ ability to help them.

Jairus was a “Ruler of the Synagogue”.  The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible states that the Ruler is a “Senior official in the synagogue of NT times. His function was to take care of the physical arrangements for the services of worship, the maintenance of the building and fabric, and to determine who would be called to read from the Law and the prophets or to conduct the prayers. The office was sometimes held for a specified period, sometimes for life.

This man was inundated with and Knew The Word of God.   He heard it all the time. He knew what the Law and the Prophets (OT Bible) said. What sets him apart from many people of the same time period who knew the Word, is what he did with the Word. He believed it and acted upon his belief.

Let’s now look at the woman who was healed from her issue of blood. In Matthew 9:20-21 we read that she came from behind and “touched the hem of His garment.” The hem is the key word here that says volumes about her. In Numbers 15:38 the Israelites were commanded to put “fringes in the borders of their garments” with a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. Fringe and Hem are the same word in Greek: Kraspedon, meaning “A common noun for a wing, the skirt or corner of a garment.” Herein lies the source of this woman’s great faith. She also Knew the Word of God. How do we know that? In Malachi 4:2 it says “But unto you that fear My Name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings. She knew where to go, Who to go to, and how to be healed because she knew the Word of God and Believed it also. The common thread here is that they both had such a faith in Christ Jesus stemming first from their Knowledge of the Word of God. Then they believed. Then they acted.

Many, many people say they believe the Word of God, but do they even know the Word of God? In Romans 10:16 we read in the NIV “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message…” The Greek word for hearing is akoḗ, meaning “doctrine taught and received with faith.”

Are you lacking in faith? Do you want more faith? Read the Word of God. That’s where faith comes from.

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord; And in his law does he meditate day and night” (Psalm1:2).

Mike Engel

What is God Like?

MMprod son-blogWhen Jesus was being criticized by religious people for spending time with those who were far off from God, He told them a story to describe what God was really like. Here’s the story He told:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate (Luke 15:11-24).

Some call this story the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but the parable is more about a prodigal Father in my opinion. Now before you start writing me an email to throw me an electronic stone, let me explain what I mean by saying that the word “prodigal” is not mentioned in the text, and dictionary.com says that it means:

Rashly or wastefully extravagant”: as in prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: prodigal praise.”

Yes, the parable does tell us of a younger son who was wastefully extravagant in his sin, but the father was even more extravagant in his acceptance of the son when he came to his senses. Jesus tells this story to illustrate just how the Most High God actually is in His essence—God is love (1 John 4:8), and very extravagant with His grace, mercy and love for His children.

When the younger son began to reflect on his wasted life and how he had grieved his father, verse 17 says that he came to his senses and started thinking of how to get it right between himself and his father. He thought that he would be much better off than being in the pigsty if his father would accept him as a servant. His sin, he felt, no longer made him worthy of being a son. This young man began practicing his words and  “got up and went to his father” (v.20).

We are told that the son had gone to a distant country (v.13); certainly there was no need in Israel for pigs, so he was probably amongst Gentiles (non Jews) in an adjacent country. Wherever he was, we are to think that he was several miles from home. This father, a picture of the Father that loves each of us, was also a long way from home, looking and waiting for his son to turn.  As soon as the father saw his son he ran to him. There was no anger within the father; his heart was full of compassion. What is compassion? Dictionary.com says that compassion is: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. This father, a picture of God, had been in pain for his son while he had been away from home.

This father was so ready to forgive that he does not even give the young man a chance to speak his words. He is so in love with his son. After running to his son he is unrestrained in kissing him. The Greek tense says that he threw his arms around him and kissed him again and again and again. The father expressed his kindness before the son expressed his repentance. This speaks of God’s kindness and his readiness to be reconciled to those that have been apart from His love. Finally, the young man, in the midst of sobs, I’m sure, manages to get out part of his speech that he had prepared. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father cuts him off, and speaks to his servants to bring some things.

They were told to bring the “best robe.” There is a double emphasis here in the Greek text. It speaks of the robe, that principal robe. We are not talking about a coat here; this robe speaks of the son being restored to a place of honor. It speaks to us of a robe of righteousness that covers over our pigsty of sin. The ring speaks of authority and power of attorney. In that day, rings were used to sign official documents. Often the ring had an impression on it that, when pushed into hot wax, was the official seal of the family. Pharaoh gave Joseph such a ring when he was elevated to second in command of Egypt, after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:42). We too are given authority by our God to do the works of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). The son was given shoes. No slave ever wore shoes, and the father would not let his son go barefoot. He was a son, not a slave. Our feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). We have been made sons of God. The servants were told to kill the calf that had been fattened ready for this day. This father had been slowly fattening the calf that he may celebrate when his son would come home. These were all gifts of grace lavished on the slave returning home to be restored to son ship. How extravagant is the Father! How ready is He to receive you as soon as you turn toward home. How about going home today?

Keith Thomas