THE CROSS OVER MIRACLE (4)/ NO, SIR!

During the Sunday service Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled The Cross-over Miracle (4)/ The twelve spies. Her text was taken from the Book of Numbers, chapters 13 and 14.

In the Book of Numbers chapters 13 and 14, we read about the rebellion in the camp of Israel. This is one of the most painful stories in the Bible. The people are just at the edge of the Promised Land but not yet inside. Moses sends 12 leaders to spy the land. People grumble because of the bad report of ten of the spies. They rebel against God’s plan for them. God is angry and sends them back to the wilderness. We learn from other peoples’ mistakes. The people’ sin of rebellion changed the direction of the whole nation. It affects the people of Israel even until today.

The Promised Land of Canaan in the Bible is not a symbol of heaven, because there are no wicked people in heaven. It is a symbol of God’s best for you, while you live on earth. It means to fulfill destiny! Only a Spirit filled obedient believer can enter that Land. You need to trust and obey God’s Word to be able to cross over into that land ‘of milk and honey’, also called ‘The Rest of God’ (Hebrew 4:1-10). You need faith in God and in His Word to enter and possess your possessions. Grumbling, rebellion, presumption, and doubt will block the way to your inheritance.

This is the story of God’s people. They left Egypt thru God’s miracle. They crossed over the Red Sea by faith. This is another miracle. They gathered at Mount Horeb (also called Mount Sinai) where they met with God. It is here that God gave His Law to Moses. The people rebelled and worshipped a golden calf. Many died in that plague. Now, God is directing His people to leave Mount Horeb (Sinai) and go towards north. They trekked thru the desert about 100 miles. They traveled about 10 miles per day. They covered that distance in 11 days (Deut 1:2). They settled at Kadesh Barnea. This is what Moses said to them: “So we departed from Horeb and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw on the way to the mountains of the Amorites, as the Lord our God had commanded us. Then we came to Kadesh Barnea. 20 And I said to you, ‘You have come to the mountains of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. Look, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged.’ “And every one of you came near to me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, and let them search out the land for us, and bring back word to us of the way by which we should go up, and of the cities into which we shall come” (Deut 1:19-22). From Kadesh Barnea they can see the Promised Land. After trekking in the desert for so long, their dreams of success and God’s best in life is just before them. At this spot, there is no River Jordan to block their entrance. The cross over to the promised Land is so easy. Moses wants them to enter the Promised Land now! He is encouraging them not to fear or be discouraged. But the story is a tragic one. The people are slow to believe God’s promise! They want to waste time to send 12 spies into the land. Clearly, they are not excited about the future promised by God. They reject God’s best for them! Selah!!!

Lesson: A leader’s responsibility is to carry the people along. But it is so hard and sad when followers do not share in the faith of their leader.

Kadesh Barnea is on the border of the Promised Land. So close, yet not in. They see God’s best for them. Vision is good but you must walk into it by faith. “By faith they obtained the promises” (Heb 11:33). Your eyes, ears, heart, and feet must be coordinated to see results. For example, God told Abraham after Lot left him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you” (Gen 13:14-17).

Lesson: many Christians dream and pray to inherit God’s best for them. Yet, they stop just before the dream becomes a reality. They stop short of glory. And that defines sin. What do you need to do? To possess your possessions, you need eyes, ears, heart, and feet. You need vision and action. It is all done by faith in God and His Word. You see the vision with your eyes; you hear the Word with your ears; you believe the word with your heart, and you walk with your feet into your vision to possess it. Your feet are the stamps of approval and possession. That is faith!

Study these people! Face to face with God’s best for them, they are not excited enough to cross over. Moses told them that God personally takes care of the land. “For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year” (Deut 11:10-12). But this is the problem! They like the land, but they hate the Landlord! There is rebellion in their hearts! They suggest that Moses should send spies into the land to confirm that the land is good. Moses prays and God approves their wish. Moses sends 12 men, each a leader from his tribe to explore the land and bring a report about the type of cities and the people living there. They should bring a sample of the fruit from the land. Is it not interesting that we do not remember the names of the other 10 spies who brought a bad report? We only remember the names of Joshua and Caleb, for they are the only surviving spies, and the only ones who possessed the Promised Land. Selah! After 40 days the 12 spies come back. They brought big clusters of grapes and fruits from the Promised Land. In the presence of Moses, Aaron the priest, and all the people, the spies give their report (Nu 13:26). This was a public address. When hearing about the giants and dangers in the land, the reaction of the people was disturbing. Unbelief and rebellion manifested openly. That terrible rection affected a whole generation. Selah!

Forty years later, when the people are at the same place, facing the same Promised Land, Joshua does things differently. He clearly has learned from what happened at Kadesh Barnea. Joshua sends only two spies to inspect Jericho, but he does not inform all the people. The spies go secretly and come back the same. They give their report to Joshua alone and not to the public. In that way, he removed the possibility of having a crowd reaction of rebellion. The Bible Commands that “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil” (Ex 23:2).

Lesson: As leaders we need to be sensitive to what and when we inform all people about decisions taking in private, in God’s presence. Selah!

This was the report of the 12 spies. They all agreed that the land is good. But then, the ten spies added ‘a bad report’. In Hebrew ‘the bad report’ means something evil, to defame or to slander. They said: that the people in the land are giants and the cities there are fortified and strong. They saw and emphasized the problems and not the good of the land. They were sure that they can’t possess the land, that they will be killed there. They saw themselves as ‘grasshoppers’ and were sure that even the enemies will see that like that. Fear, unbelief, and inferiority complex gripped their hearts. They forgot that in the presence of God, before the King of kings, all men are ‘like grasshoppers’ (Is 40:22).

Remember that these spies were not ordinary people. They were leaders. Immediately, like a plague, the demons of fear and unbelief from the leaders spread into the crowd.  They started weeping loudly for lost hopes and dead dreams. Caleb tried to silence the voices of fear and unbelief, but the people refused to listen to him. The spirit of fear became rebellion. The people started to complain against the Moses and Aaron saying: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt” (Nu 14:2-4). Now they want to go back to Egypt. They forgot that Egypt was a land of slavery. It was in Egypt that all their baby boys were killed. The wilderness was difficult, but it was much better than Egypt. At least, in the desert, God is with them, teaching them how to worship Him. What foolish ugly ungratefulness!

What was the main cause for this national sin of rebellion and backsliding? It was the sin of the leaders! Just imagine this: ten men stopped a whole nation to enter into God’s best for it. Ten men allowed the Canaanites to enjoy 40 more years in the Promised Land! Selah!

The spies were all leaders in their tribes. The spies forgot that God thru Moses sent them on that mission. They were leaders but they were also servants to Moses. A spy is not to give his opinion, to tell the crowd about what to do. A spy is to faithfully give a report about what he has seen to the person who sent him. The spies became proud and took the advantage to speak like leaders to the congregation. This is seen as pride, selfish ambition, and trespassing. That is why the ten of them were killed by God. Let us not forget the responsibility of leadership. A leader influences the followers, for good or for bad. Disobedience causes us to lose the promises of God, of a successful life on earth. Obedience is rewarded by God, on earth and in heaven!

Lesson: In God’s Kingdom, leaders are judged by a higher standard than the followers. Jesus said: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required“ (Lk 12:48). May we humble ourselves and submit to the Captain of our salvation! For His glory!

In the midst of this loud voices of unbelief, ungratefulness, and rebellion, four men stood for faith in God. These were Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb. Moses and Aaron fell on their knees interceding with God and pleading with the people to repent. Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes as a sign of grief in the presence of sin. But the people became like a wild dog. They wanted to stone these four people and kill them. That is when the glory of God shone in that place. Try to imagine what happens when God comes down. As the Judge of all the earth, God brings three accusations against the people: God said that His people have rejected Him, that they do not believe in Him; and that they do not appreciate all the miracles He has done for them (Num 14:11). Apart from Joshua and Caleb, the High priest, Eleazer, the son of Aaron, and the Levites, they too entered the Promised Land. They did not participate in the rebellion. They did not receive personal plots in the Promised Land.

The people build cities for them where they lived as Levites, helping the priests at the temple.

Lesson: The ten spies saw problems, but Joshua and Caleb saw God’s Promises fulfilled. Doubt saw giants, but faith saw victory. Doubt saw death. Faith saw life abundantly! At this moment, Joshua and Caleb failed to make an impact for God. Many people are affected by mistakes and failures of their youth. Forty years later, after Moses died and Joshua became the leader, he might have remembered this incident when he failed as a leader. That is why God commanded him to be strong and courageous because this time, he will lead the people into the Promised Land. That is why we need to forget the past, with its successes and failures. God said, Moses is dead. It is now time to move on into the future!

God’s people tempt God to break His covenant with them. In that case, the curses of the same covenant will come upon the people. God tells Moses that He will break the covenant he made that Judah would lead God’s people and the Messiah with come from him (Gen 49:9-10). God tells Moses that He will make another nation when the ruler comes from Levi, who is the tribe of Moses. But the great man Moses intercedes with God. He has a passion for God’s honor and glory. His meekness is revealed in his intercessory prayer. Here we see Moses as a symbol of Christ, our intercessor. Moses tells God that the Egyptians will say that God was not able to fulfill His promises and that Egypt and slavery was a better option for Israel. Moses’ intercession appeals to God’s character who is slow to anger and abundant in mercy. God receives the intercession of Moses. He forgives the rebellious people. But God decrees that because of this sin, there shall be consequences. The 10 spies that spread the bad report and discouraged the people to enter the Promised Land die of a plague. God directs Moses to lead the people back into the wilderness. For the next 40 years, one for each day the spies stayed in the Promised Land, all adults above 20 years of age will die in the desert. God will give to them what they said with their mouths: that it is better to die in the wilderness than to Cross over. The children will suffer for the rebellion of their parents, by wasting 40 years in the desert. This is God’s Law: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The people need to learn that even though God is gracious and merciful, sin is punished with death. They also need to learn that even when God forgives sin, the consequences of sin remain. The children suffer for their parents’ unfaithfulness. God accepts Moses’ intercession. The people still remain God’s nation but the individuals who have rebelled will die in the wilderness for the next 40 years. God continued to show mercy and grace to them in the wilderness. But the people missed their higher calling and now they have to accept an unexciting ‘second best’. Apostle Paul knew the danger of running into a race and becoming ‘disqualified’. He said: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27).

At the same time, God rewards the faith of Joshua and Caleb. They alone survive from all that generation, and they shall possess the land where their feet touched, according to God’s promise. Selah!

Lesson: Pray always! Remember God’s character! Ask for God’s mercy and grace in time of need! Stay faithful! God rewards faithfulness!

Hearing that they missed the Promised Land, the people start weeping again, this time because of God’s judgment. They say that they are sorry for their unbelief. But this repentance is superficial. The next day they tried to enter the Promised Land. Moses warns them that they cannot succeed for this is also rebellion. Moses and the Ark of His presence remain in the camp. The people commit a presumptuous sin (Num 14:44). They are defeated by the Canaanites and run to the camp. God commands that they should go back to the wilderness. They say goodbye to the Promised Land. “Then we turned and journeyed into the wilderness of the Way of the Red Sea, as the Lord spoke to me” (Deut 2:1). This is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. Selah!

Lesson: Unbelief and rebellion manifest in many ways: as grumbling, fear of dangers, slandering God’s promises and His leaders, as criminal hot temper, or backsliding. Never forget, God always judges sin! Even after God forgives men for their sin, the consequences of sin remain.

Forgiveness means to let go of a grudge against another. You need the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive well, like God. You can forgive someone who sinned against you, but that forgiveness does not mean you must reconcile with that person like nothing has happened.

God’s blessings do not come automatically to God’s people. You need to see and accept them by faith. There are different levels of faith. God cannot work with rebellious people. Backsliding does not mean going to hell. During backsliding, you lose peace, joy, opportunities to do ministry and rewards from God. Do not lose what you have! A backslider is a child of God who rejects God’s best for him. When he dies, he goes to heaven. But he dies as an unfulfilled man, with regrets in his heart. True repentance means to turn away from sin and turn to God. A fake repentance may come with sad tears, but there is no turning to God, to obey Him. May we fear God! May we pay the price to enter God’s Best!

JOSHUA AND CALEB

When the 12 spies went to see the Promised Land, they all saw the same thing. But when they came back and gave their report, the group was spilt into two. The interpretation of what they saw was different. Ten of the spies brought ‘a negative report’ that discouraged the people. They had the wrong spirit, lazy, angry, doubting, and rebellious. Their fear of death overpowered their gratitude to God for leading them. Only Joshua and Caleb brought a good report. Listen to Caleb: “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it… The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them” (Nu 14:7-9). By faith, they said that they can conquer the giants and take over the Land. God will keep them alive and help them to cross over to possess it. What type of people are these two men of God? This is what God testified about Caleb: “My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it” (Num 13:30; 14:24). He called Caleb ‘My servant’. He said that he has ‘a different spirit in him’. That means Caleb was born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. The spirit of rebellion that took over the crowd was clearly an evil spirit, but Joshua and Caleb were different. They followed God wholeheartedly, in big and small decisions, from youth until their old age. They refused to follow the grumbling people. They persevered until they entered the promised inheritance. They had no other God! When the congregation picked up stones to stone them, face to face with death, they did not run, beg, or compromise. God intervened and saved them. Like Daniel and his three friends they were ready to go into the furnace and die than to disappoint God. This is standing against serious peer pressure. This is the faith God rewards. This is the faith we need to cross over, possess, and enjoy God’s best for us in this life and forever. God promises to preserve Caleb life until he possesses his inheritance. Caleb was in his 80s when he enters Canaan. He was still able to fight his enemies at 85. Also, remember that God honors them that honor him. God gave Caleb the city of Hebron, which is the very the land that he trekked upon. Caleb wants the land of the giants! He is not seeking for an easy retirement! Caleb is a leader in his tribe of Judah and a great hero of faith! (Joshua 14:6-15; 15:13, 14).

As for Joshua, God rewards him with the leadership, not only of his tribe but of the whole nation!  

Lesson: Even in the midst of unbelievers, God locates you and will reward your faith. God will keep you alive until you possess your possessions. Faith conquers! Doubt is a loser! This is a question: Do you follow the crowd of doubters, or you stand with the faithful minority?

THE SIN OF GRUMBLING

“Then they despised the pleasant land; They did not believe His word, 25 But complained in their tents, and did not heed the voice of the Lord. 26 Therefore He raised His hand in an oath against them, to overthrow them in the wilderness” (Ps 106:24-26). God had great and wonderful plans for His people. He brought them out from the land of slavery in Egypt. He wanted them to enter and settle in the Promised Land. It was a good land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (Ex 3:8). Why did they not enter? The powerful Pharoah and all his armies could not stop them. The giants living in the Promised Land could not stop them. What was the main reason why they failed to inherit God’s promises? It was the sin of grumbling in the hearts of the people of Israel! To grumble, to murmur, to complain, or to nag it means to accuse, to find fault with someone or something. It means to make a dull, low, unintelligible sound in the throat, expressing anger. It is the sound of an angry dog just before he jumps to bite you. Grumbling is rebellion, which is like the sin witchcraft (1 Sam 15:23). Grumbling is a common sin in the church. Because it hinders God’s blessings, it is not a small sin. They who grumble against God and against the human authority over them are sources of poison that affects many. God hates grumbling. Repent of it. Replace grumbling with gratitude in your hearts. Be filled with the Holy Spirit!

When Jesus preached His Gospel, the Jews complained against His doctrine. He commanded that we should not murmur (Jn 6:41-43; 60, 61). We are commanded: “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (Jam 5:9). People grumble against visitors in their homes or newcomers in the church. “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet 4:9). We are to shine our light for Jesus, to preach His Gospel. Grumbling quenches our light. “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Phil 2:14-16). The story of Israel, how they missed God’s best for them, is a warning! “Nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:10, 11). Grumbling damages relationships and especially the marriage. “It’s better to live alone in the desert than with a quarrelsome, complaining wife” (PV 21:19; NLT).

Finally, listen to our Lord Jesus Christ: “Stop complaining about what I said” (Jn 6:43; NLT).

THE SIN OF PRESUMPTION

Presumption is defined as believing that something is true without having proof of it. It is taking something for granted. It is jumping at conclusions without having knowledge of the facts. It is based on partial knowledge and pride. Most of the time presumption proves to be wrong. That is why presumption has a negative meaning. The sin of presumption is an intentional rebelling against God thru a deliberate, proud, and willful action. A believer commits presumptuous sin when he knows that what he does is sinful and an offence against God. It is not a mistake. It is not just a weakness. For example, after God judged them for rebellion, He told His people to go back to the desert. But they insisted to go to the Promised Land. This was a presumptuous sin (Nu 14:44). Another example: David committed presumptuous sin when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband Uriah. Later David repented and prayed: “Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression” (Ps 19:13).

Presumptuous sins are like spiritual suicide. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb 10:26,27).

Presumptuous sins are deliberate. They are committed with the full knowledge that they are sins and in full light of what God has said. Presumptuous sins are premeditated. There is intent to sin and a time of deliberation before the act. Presumptuous sins can only be committed in suppression of the conscience and in spite of its appeals. Those who sin presumptuously say, in effect, “I’m going to do this, and nothing is going to stop me. I know what God says about it, and I don’t care if it’s wrong. I’m going to do it anyway.” God may forgive the sins of presumptions, but there are always consequences that follow these sins. Selah!  

WHY DID THE TEN SPIES BRING A BAD REPORT? WHAT IS THE ROOT OF THEIR UNBELIEF?

*THEY FORGOT GOD’S PAST GOODNESS

Forgetfulness is a memory failure. When you stop thinking about a person you will forget that one. These people forgot God and His works. They stopped reading God’s Word, pray and praising Him. They forgot what God has done for them. God said that they tested Him ten times even after they saw the miracles He has done in Egypt, how He saved them. How can they forget how God split the Red Sea, how God turned the bitter water into sweet water, how God fed them with Manna and gave them water to drink in the wilderness? This forgetfulness is evil. It comes from despising the miracles of God. This is God’s warning and command: “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today” (Deut 8:11).

Lesson: It is our duty to study and meditate on God’s Word. It is our duty to praise and worship God! You forget what you do not appreciate. You need to develop a spirit of gratefulness and worship. One of the hardest things to do for a parent is to teach the children to be grateful. This gratefulness never comes automatically. It is always a skill to be thought and acquired. Only the faithful and humble people remember God! “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Ps 103:2).

*THEY BECAME DISCOURAGED AT THE PRESENT SITUATION

Discouragement is the state of losing courage and moral strength. Courage is defined as the strength to control your fears in a dangerous or difficult situation and to be confident of your faith in God. Discouragement leads to feeling rejected, depressed and hopeless. Sickness, poverty, and dangers ahead are common reasons for discouragements. The opposite is encouragement, This happens when courage is poured into you thru words of faith and prayer. At Kadesh Barnes, God, thru Moses, commanded the people to be strong and courageous. But they refused to obey the command. They saw the problems ahead and forgot that God brought them there and that God is with them. As they despised the past miracles, they now despise the presence of God with them.

Lesson: I reject discouragement, a common weapon of the devil. I encourage myself thru God’s Word, prayer and coming to church!

*THEY BECAME AFRAID OF THE FUTURE

Fear is an uncomfortable, often painful emotions in when anticipating danger. The people allowed the demon of fear to intimidate them. That can be a fear of difficulties, of the unknown, of giants, of the future, fear of war, or fear of death. Fear became the dominant emotion.

Lesson: Fear is a demon that weakens the body and the mind. The only fear we should allow to influence our hearts is the clean strong fear of God. This is wisdom and courage. All other fears are demonic, and we should reject them. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). How do you get free from these demonic fears? By seeking God in His Word and thru prayer. “I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears” (Ps 34:4).

FINALLY… LET US MOVE ON!

This is a sad story. But there are so many lessons for us.  The wilderness was never designed to be their home or their grave. It was always to be passage. It is a tragedy to live and die at the wrong place. The wilderness is a picture of spiritual immaturity. God uses it to humble people and add grace to them. God is preparing you to inherit the Land. The promised Land is God’s Best for you, to gain spiritual maturity. May we follow Jesus, our heavenly Joshua unto the end! May we trust and obey Him until we possess our blessed inheritance! Worship the Lord!

THE CROSS OVER MIRACLE (3)/THE CROSS OVER COMMANDS/ YES, SIR!

During the Sunday service, Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled ‘The Cross-over Miracle’ (3). Her main text was taken from the book of Joshua chapter 1. We shall study God’s mighty promises to Joshua. In Christ, we shall apply them to ourselves!

Moses represents the Law. He started the process of redemption but could not finish it ‘for the law makes nothing perfect’ (Heb 7:19). God’s Law is holy but it does not save sinners. The Law did not come with the power to obey it. The Law proves that we are lawbreakers. The Law directs us to Jesus. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4). Joshua is a symbol of Christ. Joshua does what Moses could not do. He finishes what Moses started. This is God’s Grace revealed. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17).

We shall study God’s four commands taken from Joshua chapter 1. Immediately following is Joshua’s command to prepare and enter the Promised Land. Commands are orders given by your authority who expects instant obedience. God never makes suggestions. We do not have the liberty to ignore or disobey His commands. It is our duty to obey instantly, totally, and joyfully. Our answer to God and to God’s human authority over us is ‘Yes, Sir!’. Our success in life depends on our response!

Moses has died. Joshua is now the leader. But God never changes.  God appoints His workers and the seasons for them to work. ‘One sows and another reaps” (Jn 4:37). Men come and go, but ‘Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever!’ (Heb 13:8). Let us worship Him!

1-ARISE AND GO OVER THIS JORDAN TO THE LAND I GAVE TO YOU! YES, SIR!

“Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses” (Josh 1:2, 3)

God commands Joshua to ‘arise and go over this Jordan’. To arise it means to actively stand, to be active. The opposite position it to lie down in sorrow, regret, depression, or failure. To look back at the time when Moses was leading them will be a hindrance in moving forward. The mourning for Moses lasted for thirty days. Now, it’s time to stand on your feet as a soldier following his commander. Your response is: ‘Yes, Sir!’

Lesson: to make spiritual progress in life you need to repent from passivity, doubt, laziness, and regrets. You follow the Holy Spirit. Progress is never automatic. It does not come with age. It is a command of God. You need to choose to obey. This is how you possess your possessions!

2-YOU WILL NEVER FAIL! YOU WILL ALWAYS WIN! I AM WITH YOU! I WILL HELP YOU! YES, SIR!

“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you… Joshua, I will always be with you and help you as I helped Moses, and no one will ever be able to defeat you” (Josh 1:5; NKJ; CEV).

The word ‘stand’ means to be established, like a pillar, like a high wall. God tells Joshua that no man can successfully oppose him. All Joshua’s enemies shall become weak and shall fall ‘before’ him. This promise says: “No one will be able to successfully oppose you, or to publicly resist you”. God confirms that His presence will always be with Joshua and never with his enemies. This is the promise of Grace. God will not leave or forsake Joshua all the days of his life. The word ‘leave’ means to relax His grip so that Joshua will fall. The word ‘forsake’ means to abandon Joshua in a helpless position and never plan to help him again. It means to betray a friend, to leave him exposed to danger. God said that He will never do that to Joshua. In other words, God will always be with Joshua, extending grace to him even when he sins or makes mistakes. Joshua will never ‘fall from grace’. God will never answer the prayers of Joshua’s enemies. Joshua will never fail! He is more than a conqueror thru Him who loved him (Rom 8:37). This is a great encouragement for Joshua! With God by His side, he has nothing to lose! The promise that no man will be able to stand against Joshua implies that for as long as Joshua obeys God’s Word, the taking over the Promised Land will be easy. God promised to direct, teach, protect, and prosper Joshua, thru His Word and His Spirit, just the way He helped Moses. Remembering his master, Joshua knew how successful God made him to be. Now, God says that the same grace is extended to him. This reveals the unity and continuity of the Spirit.

Lesson: We stand in God’s power! God’s Word is our guide even to the end. In Christ, we can never fail. We move on from victory to victory!

God’s presence is the secret of all true success and progress in life.  The promise of God’s constant presence applies to all believers. These are some examples… Jacob was running from his brother Esau. He had a dream. He saw God who promised him: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you” (Gen 28:13-15). God promises Jacob total protection, prosperity, and success in life, to him and his descendants. Jacob will do God’s will and fulfill his destiny. Moses told God’s people: “Do not be afraid. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Ex 14:13, 14). God tells Isaiah: “For I will contend with him who contends with you, and I will save your children… Indeed, they shall surely assemble, but not because of Me. Whoever assembles against you shall fall for your sake” (Is 49:25; 54:15). The same promise is given to Jeremiah: “Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD… They will fight against you, But they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you,” says the LORD, “to deliver you” (Jer 1:8, 19).

Lesson: the child of God is free from the fear of untimely death, from living a wasted life of failure and shame. God’s presence will protect you, will give you a hope, a future, and an expected end (Jer 29:11). God will never disappoint you! Your life and death will glorify Jesus!

Our Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly Joshua, believed and lived by this promise. Jesus said that men will abandon Him, but God the Father will never do so. “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him… Indeed, the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (Jn 8:29; 16:32). On the Cross, it seems that the promise was broken. Jesus cried that the Father has forsaken Him when He was dying. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46). He was quoting Psalm 22:1, written by David. How do we explain these words coming from our Savior’s lips? In the Garden of Gethsemane, He chose to drink the cup of sin on our behalf. This was the will of the Father. From that moment, the Father removed His presence and protection from His Son. On that Cross, Jesus died in our place. He was not a sinner, but He became sin that we might live. “He made Christ who knew no sin to [judicially] be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God [that is, we would be made acceptable to Him and placed in a right relationship with Him by His gracious lovingkindness]“ (2 Cor 5:21; AMP). Sin drives away the presence of God. This salvation is by grace, thru faith in Christ Crucified. God’s presence and protection is now ours, forever! In Christ alone!  

Lesson: Jesus died that we may live! Jesus paid for our salvation with His Blood. It is our duty and highest privilege to serve Him forever!

In Joshua chapter 1 we see the clear transition between the leadership of Moses and that of Joshua. The name ‘Moses’ appears 10 times in this chapter. Moses built the foundation. Joshua will build on it. God is the same God to each of them. God promises Joshua that He will be with him ‘as He was with Moses’. That means God will be with Joshua until the end. He will show the same mercy, grace, and patience to Joshua as He showed to Moses. The human leader changes but God never changes. God’s presence will help him become a champion, a leader, a hero, strong and courageous like Moses was. Joshua needs this strength to fight two types of battles: with the Canaanites, to conquer them and take their land, and secondly, to lead God’s stiff-necked people, who proved to be difficult. Joshua saw how hard it was for Moses to govern the Israelites. They tended to grumble, to doubt and to rebel against his leadership. But God helped Moses by giving him supernatural wisdom, patience, strength, and courage. God promised to do the same for Joshua. God will not leave Joshua without internal strength of character or external help to conquer all his enemies. Three times in Joshua Chapter 1 God commands Joshua: “Be strong and courageous”. This may be because Joshua did not imagine he will be the next leader after Moses. Joshua was not a proud, or selfishly ambitious man. Serving Moses was his ministry. Now, God encourages him to stand as the next leader to His people. God tells Joshua that he must fight to occupy the land. Joshua will finish what Moses has started. God also says: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you”. God promises that His presence will always be with Joshua exactly the way it was with Moses, his mentor. God promises to help Joshua just the way He helped Moses. Joshua has seen how much God has helped his human master to be strong, wise and courageous especially during crises. Joshua was a witness at how much God forgave his mentor Moses when his flesh failed. God promises to Joshua that what he has seen in the life of his leader, will now be his portion. This implies that Joshua is Moses’ spiritual son. The DNA of grace given to Moses is now given to him. What a great promise! Glory to God!

Joshua was faithful to Moses, his leader and mentor. Because of that, God rewarded him with his own testimony as a man of God! Jesus said: “And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?” (Lk 16:12).

Lesson: If you submit and are faithful to God and to your human authority, God will give you your own ministry and testimony! Selah!

This transition of leadership is similar with that between Elijah and Elisha. It happened when Elijah went to heaven. Elisha loved the way God worked in his master, Elijah. He asked for the same grace. Elijah said that his request is ‘hard’. No man, at his hour of death, can give his mantle of anointing and leadership to another man. God alone appoints His workers. When Elisha asked Elijah for a double portion of his spirit, Elijah said this: “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so” (2 Kg 2:10). The condition was that Elisha sees Elijah to the end of his life on earth. In Hebrew, the word ‘see’ is the word Jireh. It means to have the same vision, to encounter or to provide what you see. In other words, Elijah told Elisha: ‘If you see what I see, you shall have what you see’. This is like running the relay race. ‘If you see the baton in my hand as I depart, it shall be yours. Then you run with it, even faster than I’.  

Lesson: we must submit to the human authority for Christ’ sake. We must be willing to humble ourselves and to serve our leaders. We do not manipulate for promotion. We trust God for all things! Ministry and promotion come in God’s own time and God’s sovereign will!

3-THIS BOOK OF THE LAW SHALL NOT DEPART FROM YOUR MOUTH! MEDITATE ON IT DAY AND NIGHT! OBEY GOD’S WORD! YES, SIR!

“Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Josh 1:7, 8)

The presence of God and obedience to His Word is the basis for successful Christian life. The Word God gave to Moses, must be the same Word Joshua should study, obey, and preach. Then he will ‘prosper wherever he goes’ and have ‘good success’. The word ‘prosperity’ means to push forward against all opposition. Prosperity is the result of spiritual strength.  The word ‘good success’ means wisdom, spiritual intelligence to make the right decisions. People say that ‘health is wealth’. Spiritually, divine wisdom is wealth!

God called and commissioned Joshua to be now the leader of Israel. All people must submit to Joshua. But Joshua himself is a man under authority. The Word of God is his authority. No man can stand against Joshua to judge or condemn him. Only God’s Word will judge him. During the time of Moses, Joshua’s mentor was a man. Now, Joshua’s mentor and leader is invisible. It’s God’s Word! Jesus is the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14). Jesus will now be Joshua’s Commander, Teacher, and Judge. This is a transition, from being led by sight to being led by faith alone.

God commands Joshua to be a man of His Word. Every decision, every judgment, every counsel, every command to the people, shall be done according to the Word of God, in prayer and in the presence of God. It is the duty of Joshua to study the Bible and learn how to apply the Word of God practically. No man can encourage Joshua. He has to learn to encourage himself thru the Word of God and prayer.

Lesson: The more God’s Word dwells in you richly (Col 3:16), the more you are ‘qualified’ to become God’s servant and leader of men!

God commands Joshua to be faithful to His Word, to the covenant God made with Israel. Joshua is to study, memorize and preach the Word of God. His mind and heart must be filled and saturated with God’s Word. Then God will grant him prosperity and ‘good success’. Joshua must be ‘strong and courageous’. This command is repeated three times in Joshua chapter one. This command applies not only to Joshua’s character, but especially to his decisions, and deeds. To be strong and courageous it means to be firm during crisis, not moved by manipulations, or men’s deceptions or intimidations. It means to be free from the fear of man but to fear only God. “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe” (PV 29:25). Once you are free from the fear of man, you will conquer all your enemies.

God’s presence with the leader overflows to the whole nation. This prosperity will overflow from the leader to the nation. The primary role of the leader is spiritual, to host and carry the presence of God. If the leader backslides, the nation suffers. “If a ruler pays attention to lies [and encourages corruption], All his officials will become wicked” (PV 29:12; AMP). It is a fact that the best followers make the best leaders. Faith in the Word of God is the secret of their wisdom, strength, and anointing!

Lesson: To be a Christian, to be a leader in the Body of Christ, in the family, or in the nation, is an extraordinary privilege and responsibility!

The command to study the Bible and obey God’s Word is given to Israel’s kings and rulers. “Also, it shall be, when the king sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel” (Deut 17:18-20). The king shall use his hand to copy the Bible for himself. It means that he should diligently and faithfully study God’s Word! The study of God’s Word will help him to fear God, which is the beginning of wisdom (PV 1:7). The study of God’s Word will humble him so that God continues to give him grace upon grace. The study of God’s Word will give him a long and successful life, to him and his descendants. 

Lesson: God’s command to study, obey and preach God’s Word is to all believers because they are ‘a royal priesthood’ in Christ.

The study and preaching of God’s Word are the foundation of a successful Christian life and building the skill of leadership. Without God’s Word there is no success in life! The study of God’s Word, prayer and attendance to the local church bring innumerable spiritual and material blessings to us and our descendants. Joshua discovered this secret. He said: “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh 24:15).  

Joshua was to keep the Bible in his heart and mouth. He must study, meditate, and preach God’s Word. To study the word of God brings genuine prosperity. There is no short-cut to true happiness and success outside faith in God’s Word. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Ps 1:1-3).

As a Man, Jesus obeyed the Father perfectly, even unto death. “Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner (Jn 5:19). “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn 6:38). “I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak” (Jn 12:49). “The world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here” (Jn 14:31)

Lesson: By God’s Grace, I will pay the price to faithfully and diligently study, memorize, meditate, and preach the Word of God! By doing this I will please God and become a source of blessings to my descendants and to many others!  

4-BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS! YES, SIR!

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9).

All God’s commands to Joshua are verbs, words of action. God promised to provide strength to Joshua. But it is his duty to receive God’s provision, to be strong and courageous, to observe and to do all the Law of Moses. ‘To be ‘strong and courageous’ in not God’s suggestion. It is His command! We must answer: Yes. Sir!”. Strength is defined as the capacity for endurance, to successfully resist oppression when an enemy attacks. To be strong it means being unafraid when dealing with difficult, dangerous, or unpleasant situations. To be courageous it means to be bold, to be confident when taking risks, to be free from the judgments of men. The qualities of moral strength and courage are vital for spiritual leaders. Listen to Apostle Paul: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord” (1 Cor 4:3, 4).

In Hebrew, ‘to be strong’ in means to be obstinate, to seize, to bind, to restrain and conquer the enemy. To have ‘good courage’ it means to be strong, bold, alert, determined and steadfast. These words do not refer only to Joshua’s character, but to his decisions and actions. He is to be a true godly leader, like a trained solider during war. He was to be a man of action, alert, prompt, ready to act, wise, courageously taking every opportunity to conquer the enemy. He should not doubt His commander or become slow in obeying God’s Word. He should not be a coward, a double minded or timid man. Joshua’s courage will lead to success. He needs wisdom from God. This command is similar with Paul’s advice to Timothy who tended to be timid. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7).   

The opposite of courage is cowardice or timidity, the fear of leading or rebuking people, especially when going to new places. A coward is someone easily afraid, who quickly runs away to avoid pain, danger, or difficulties, to save his own skin. He is easily intimidated by men. Apostle Peter was a coward. He denied Christ because he feared for his life. Later in life, he overcame this ugly sin and became bold unto death. Cowardice is linked to a guilty conscience: “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion” (PV 28:1). Cowards are in the same class with the unbelievers. They are not saved and cannot go to heaven. “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev 21:7-8).

Joshua is a hero of faith. He knew that Moses was a sinner saved by grace. He saw the weaknesses of Moses. After the death of Moses, Joshua obeyed the Words written by Moses as they are the very words of God. He did not repeat the mistakes of his mentor. God’s Word is the authority for Joshua and for every Christian. To obey the Word of God, to be faithful to God and your mentor, you need great courage! Unbelievers will mock and oppose you! You will be tempted and discriminated. To stand for God you need courage! All Christians must be strong and courageous! Stand like a man! For example, God said to Job: “Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me” (Job 40:7). What do you do when problems come. Do you faint or complain? Jesus said: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt 11:12).

Lesson: Obey God’s Word! Be strong in Christ! Encourage yourself! Do spiritual warfare and possess your possessions! Learn from the past, be strong today and have great hope for the future.

5-PREPARE – CROSS OVER – POSSESS THE LAND! YES, SIR!

“Joshua commanded the officers of the people “Pass through the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess” (Josh1:10,11)

Immediately God finished talking to Joshua, he commanded the officers to tell the people to prepare for the cross over. Joshua did not ask questions and did not complain the way Moses did at the burning bush. He believed God for the mantle of leadership and ‘commanded’ the people. His obedience is instant, total, and joyful. This is a Spirit approved obedience. Like Apostle Paul, Joshua did not ‘confer with flesh and blood’ (Gal 1:16). He did not suggest that people should get ready. Like a true leader in the army, he commanded them to prepare for the cross over. A command is an order that you have to follow, as long as the person who gives it has authority over you. Joshua commands the officers to tell the people to prepare their food and get ready to move. In Hebrew, the word ‘prepare’ is to stand firm and get ready for action. There is a time for prayer, and there is a time for action! Now it is time to move! Like an army that goes to war, this is the time to move on, attack the Canaanites and occupy the land! Praise the Lord!

MARRIAGE AND MONEY – THE LORD IS MY HELPER

“Marriage is to be held in honor among all [that is, regarded as something of great value], and the marriage bed undefiled [by immorality or by any sexual sin]; for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Let your character [your moral essence, your inner nature] be free from the love of money [shun greed—be financially ethical], being content with what you have; for He has said, “I WILL NEVER [under any circumstances] DESERT YOU [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], NOR WILL I FORSAKE or LET YOU DOWN or RELAX MY HOLD ON YOU [assuredly not]! So, we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER [in time of need], I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME? (Heb 13:4-6; AMP)

God’s promise to Joshua that He will not leave or forsake him, appears in the New Testament too. This promise is given to all the believers in Christ.  “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor 1:20). God promises to be our Helper! A helper is one who gives strength, assistance, or support to another. To help it means to make it easier for someone to do something, by providing advice, money, or support. It means to assist another who is in a painful or difficult situation, to make it less painful. The helper does not take over. He does not do all the work. He helps you do your job. Without a helper, it is too difficult for you to finish the job.

The first time the word ‘helper’ appears in the Bible is in the Book of Genesis. God made the wife to be a helper comparable to her husband. “The Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen 2:18). The truth was that Adam was not totally alone. He had fellowship with God, and he took care of the animals in the garden. But emotionally, God was too high, and the animals were too low for him. Then God made Eve, his wife, who was a helper comparable with him.

Lesson: fast and pray before deciding who you will marry. Trust God for your choice. Both of you must be compatible, spiritually, and physically.  

There are two areas in particular when the believers need God’s help. The believers need God’s special Grace to cross over, to advance from immaturity to maturity, especially in the areas are marriage and managing their finances.

1-MARRIAGE

God invented marriage. God created Adam and then created Eve, his wife. God put them together as a married couple. Marriage is the first institution established by God. It was established before the fall of man. Sin has corrupted the marriage but has not totally destroyed its value. God desires sexual purity and holiness. Fornication, adultery, homosexuality, are sins. The beauty of holiness is upon a godly marriage between two mature believers. There is a great need today of godly married couples who can mentor the younger ones. A young marriage is like the water. A mature godly marriage is like water becoming wine. God promises to the husband and his wife: “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. We respond by boldly saying: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” This confidence and courage must be applied to the area of marriage. God’s presence is the sure source of true love, peace, joy, and unity of the Spirit in that home. There is no fear of divorce. No man, no devil can separate that couple. May we enter and possess our possessions of a mature godly marriage that glorifies God!

2-MONEY

Our relationship with money is another area that can make or destroy our testimony as believers. The Love of money is the root of all evil. The cure for that is living a content life. Contentment is defined as peace of mind, joy, a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in life. Contentment totally drives away the fear of death. Contentment is possible only by the Spirit of God. “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim 6:6-10). Paul had learned the secret of contentment in every circumstance of life (Phil 4:11-2).

What is the secret of this powerful victorious contentment?

1-Be grateful! Always give thanks to God! “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18).

2-Be humble! Do not be selfish or overambitious. Be happy with a simpler life. Invest in the spiritual treasures more than on earthly gains.

Learn to serve others. Think of others. Have the mind of Christ. God will exalt you at the right time. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… He humbled Himself… “ (Phil 2:3-8).

3-Have faith in God! He promised to be your Helper, never to leave or forsake you! God knows what you need. God is your Helper: “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand… For I, the LORD your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you” (Is 41:10, 13).

Before going to heaven, Jesus assured His disciples that He will always be with them. This promise applies to all believers. He said: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen” (Matt 28:18-20).

Apply these cross-over commands to your marriage and to your finances! Say: ‘Yes, Sir!’

1-Arise and make progress! No more passivity! Actively stand and improve your relationship with your spouse. Your money will increase!

2-You will never fail! You’ll not divorce! You’ll not experience bankruptcy! Thru all trials of life, your marriage and finances will become better! I am with you! God’s presence will protect your marriage and your finances. You will be fruitful. You will have joy!

3-The Bible leads you in your relationship with your spouse and in managing your finances.

4-Be strong and courageous! The Holy Spirit will give you strength to improve your marriage and your finances!  

5-Get ready for action! You have prayed! Now, this is the time to apply all your know about marriage and money from the Bible!

I DECLARE: GOD IS MY HELPER! YES, SIR! In times of loneliness, He comforts me. In times of anxiety, He brings peace to my soul. In times of confusion, He helps me think well. In times of sickness, when even the doctors are confused, He heals me. In times of lack, when I don’t have money, He provides for me in so many ways. In times of attack, He saves me. When I am weak, He makes me strong. My Helper will never leave me not forsake me. By God’s grace I am ready to cross over and to possess my possessions. To the glory of God and for my own good!

My Prayer:

“I am poor and needy; Make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay” (Ps 70:5)

Worship the Lord!

THE CROSS-OVER MIRACLE (2)/ BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS!

During the Sunday service, Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled ‘The Cross-over Miracle’ (2). Her main text was taken from the books or Deuteronomy 31:1-8, 34:1-12; and Joshua, chapter 1:1-18.

The Book of Joshua is a transition Book, describing the events from the death of Moses to the leadership of Joshua, the crossing of Jordan, and the taken over the Promised Land. Joshua is the first among the books of History (from Joshua to Esther).  But Joshua is not just a book of history. It is also a Prophetic Book. Joshua is a spiritual leader with a prophetic mandate. The Book does not only describe history, but it applies these events for us to understand the mind of God. And that is the work of a prophet. The first 12 chapters in the Book of Joshua describe his military achievements. The last 12 chapters describe how he divided the land to the different tribes. As we study the Book of Joshua, we identify with the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua. It is a cross over from great to greater things. The Holy Spirit leads us into this truth. God named the book of Joshua after his name. Joshua in Hebrew is the same as Jesus in Greek. Joshua is a symbol of Jesus Christ. Many Bible scholars believe that Joshua himself wrote this book. Joshua is a great man of faith. He fulfilled destiny. He is a great example for us all!

JOSHUA IS THE NEW LEADER OF ISRAEL

God tells Moses to appoint his assistant Joshua as the new leader of Israel after his death. “Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them: “I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also, the Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God Himself crosses over before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over before you, just as the Lord has said. And the Lord will do to them as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites and their land, when He destroyed them. The Lord will give them over to you, that you may do to them according to every commandment which I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” (Deut 31:1-8).  

Moses gives God’s people his final words. He tells them that he cannot lead them anymore. God’s name here is Jehovah Elohim, The Covenant Keeping God, the Creator of the universe. Moses tells the people that though he dies in Moab, God will keep His promises to give them the Promised Land. God Himself will lead them to cross over. He will destroy and dispossess the nations in the Promised Land. In Hebrew, the word ‘dispossess’ means to rob, to make poor, to expel, to occupy and to inherit. These actions are done by God Himself as the owner of the Land. Then God will give this land to His people. Joshua will lead the cross over and the possessing of the land. Moses commands both the people and Joshua to ‘be strong and courageous’ as they enter the Promised Land to occupy it. God moves first. Joshua and the people are to follow God and take over the land. You need strength and courage to walk in the Spirit! Joshua is commanded not to fear and not to be dismayed. The word ‘dismayed’ means to be discouraged, to break down in pieces, to prostrate (before your enemy), to be intimidated, or confused. To be dismayed it means to react with emotional shock, to fear, to become sad or suddenly disappointed at something unexpected. Another word for ‘dismay’ is to react with a panic attack when you encounter something that you think you cannot handle by yourself. Faith in God at all times is the medicine against dismay. Hallelujah!  

HISTORICAL REVELATIONS

I took this information from some Biblical historical books. The time God used Moses to confront Pharoah in Egypt, and to free the people of God, it was in the middle of the 15th century BC. The exodus happened in 1445 BC during the reign of Pharoah Amenhotep II. At that time, Egypt was enjoining a great economic revival as a superpower. Why did God decided to free His people at that time, when the oppressor was the strongest? To prove that man’s strength is nothing to Him. For the next forty years God’s people stayed in the wilderness when that generation died. Moses himself died just before entering the Promised Land. Under the leadership of Joshua, the people of God enter the Promise Land. They fight and defeat all the kings in Canaan. Then, they settle in that land. At that time, Canaan was under Egyptian rule. When Joshua attacked the little kings, they asked for help from Egypt, who was their master. But at that time, during the reign of Amenhotep III the economy of Egypt was much weaker. Letters were found saying that the kings in Canaan were pleading for help from Egypt. But the Pharoah lost interest in Canaan and abandoned his subjects. Why? Because God made it so. In this way, Joshua did not have to fight the Egyptians armies in the land of Canaan. God made it easier for His people to conquer the Promised Land. Selah!

Lesson: God is the only living and faithful God. He will make the crooked paths straight for His people. He will simply their lives. He will weaken the opposition and give them the victory so that they can enter into their promised inheritance.

PROPHETIC LIFE APPLICATIONS TAKEN FROM JOSHUA 1

ARISE AND GO OVER THIS JORDAN

“Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel” (Josh 1:2). This is God’s Word to Joshua. He commands Joshua to ‘arise’ from the pain of loss and mourning and to lead the people forward. To obey God’s Word, it takes strength and courage! The word ‘arise’ means to get up on your feet from a lying down position. It means to stand and to be established as God’s servant. God commands Joshua to arise first, then the other people will follow his example. He must go over ‘this Jordan’. For forty years in the wilderness, they only heard about a river called ‘Jordan’. Now, they are on its banks, looking ahead to their Promised Land. Because the Israelites made a difficult and dangerous journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, the Jordan also refers to freedom. The actual crossing was the final step of the journey from bondage to freedom. It becomes a symbol of victory and deliverance: saying good-bye to slavery and hardship and entering a new life of promise and hope. ‘This Jordan’ represents ‘this freedom’, our entering to possess our possessions. Joshua must receive this word by faith. Joshua leads the people of God across the river Jordan to enter the Promised Land. God does a miracle, and the river stops flowing. The people of God crossed over across the river Jordan as on dry ground. This miracle is similar with the one God did during Moses’ leadership when he divided the Red Sea for the people to cross over.

Jordan is the lowest river in the world. It is not called ‘a river’. It is always called by its name, Jordan. It ends in the Dead Sea, at a depth 400 meters below sea level. Jordan is more than 360 kilometers long. It starts on the slopes of Mount Hermon, on the border of Lebanon and Syria. It flows southward through northern Israel to the Sea of Galilee. There the river drops sharply, to 209 meters below sea level. The word ‘Jordan’ means ‘to descend’. Because of its great length and central location, the Jordan is mentioned in the Bible over 185 times. When Abraham told Lot to choose where he wants to go, Lot chose Sodom city, which was built in the green fertile valley of the Jordan (Genesis 13). God destroyed the city later but Lot escaped from it. Abraham chose the desert, but God blessed him and his descendants. Jacob wrestled with God by the ford Jabbok, a tributary to river Jordan (Gen 32:22). The prophet Elijah lived by the river Jordan during the drought (1 Kings 17:5). Both Elijah and Elisha divided the Jordan river and crossed over miraculously. The Assyrian general Naaman was healed of leprosy by obeying the word of the prophet Elisha, by dipping in the Jordan seven times (2 Kings 2:7-14; 5:10-14). John the Baptist baptized sinners in the Jordan. He also baptized Jesus when the voice of God the Father spoke, and the Holy Spirit came as a dove on God’s Son (Luke 3). The location of the supposed baptism of Jesus is recognized as a place of worship. Approximately 600,000 Christian pilgrims visit this spot annually. Today it is known as Kasser Al Yahud, the Baptismal place of Jesus, opposite Jericho.

Lesson: Thru baptism in Christ, we cross over from death to life, from a life of sin into a new life of spiritual maturity, victory, and freedom.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE TO CROSS OVER

After Moses died, Joshua was commanded to stand and move on, leading the people. As a human being, Joshua was tempted to mourn Moses, his master, longer than thirty days (Deut 34:8). But God commands Joshua to move on, leading the people. Moses was a colossus of a man. It is not easy for Joshua to follow such a great man as the leader of a nation. It was not easy for Joshua to stand and go! Please observe that God says He is the One who gave the Promised Land to them. God does that because the Canaanites were wicked and served idols.

Lesson: God commands you to stand! You must obey God’s Word! This is an active obedience! Before you move on to inherit God’s promises for your life, you must choose to get up from the passive position of depression, doubt, discouragement, defeat, bondage, and spiritual laziness. You must ‘stand’ in the power of God’s might. This is the position of the soldier of Christ! Your answer should be: “YES, SIR!”. You cannot cross over into your Promised Land without standing tall and doing spiritual warfare. God says: ‘My servant Moses is dead’. There is a Danger of losing focus, of looking back. Moses was a great man. The name of Moses appears 57 times in the Book of Joshua. But Joshua must go ahead. You cannot ignore the past. The past is important. You learn from it. But you cannot look back if you want to make progress in life. You have to look ahead! God says: Moses My servant is dead. In other words, God’s servants live, work, die and they go to heaven. But God’s work and worship continues, for His glory! The devil wants you to backslide. The devil hates your progress and will do whatever it takes to slow you down. “We do not grieve [for them] as the others do who have no hope [beyond this present life]” (1 Thess 4:13). What God wants for Joshua and His people is that they thank Him for Moses, mourn for him for a limited time, then move on in life having hope. They know that Moses is in heaven and one day they will see him again. This is the correct way of Christian mourning. To sorrow without hope is the portion of the unbelievers. That hopeless attitude is a great hindrance against progress in life. Repent of it!

WARNING ABOUT SPIRITUAL DANGERS

Egypt is a picture of the world. The Promised Land is the inheritance of God’s people to enjoy, to be gained by faith! For any soldier who protects his home, there are three options: the first one is to become a coward, to give way to fear and to withdraw. Many believers chose backsliding than making progress thru spiritual warfare. That option is a total failure. Once you withdraw, you abandon the place of your responsibility. The devil will come in and he will take over your home. Many couples divorce because of this spiritual defeat. Many pastors have abandoned their duty to Christ and their churches have now become ‘dens of thieves’. The second option is to stand, but in fear. This standing is useless because the devil will come, fight, and win your home. The only successful option for the believer is to actively stand, to move ahead by faith, and to occupy the Promised Land. What are some of the dangers in any spiritual transition?

*One of the dangers is that of backsliding. It means to look back, to the leadership of Moses. This is what Lot’s wife did. Because of Abraham’s intercession, the angels save Lot and his family. They told Lot: “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed”! Looking back means to desire to go back and identify with the past sin. As God was destroying the city of Sodom, Lot’s wife did not appreciate God’s mercy to her, by saving her family from a sure death. She looked back with longing to her life of sin in Sodom. At that moment, she became a pillar of salt, visible until now, near the Dead Sea (Gen 19:17- 26). The Bible teachers call that pillar of salt ‘a monument of an unbelieving soul’. Jesus warned us about this. He said: “Remember [what happened to] Lot’s wife [when she looked back]!” (Lk 17:32; AMP).

*A second danger is to become frozen in time, to stand in fear and refuse to move on. You passively protect your gains. But sooner or later the devil will attack and defeat you.

*A third danger is pride. Joshua was commanded to read, meditate, and preach the Word of God. Faith in God’s Word is the secret behind ‘good success.’ Joshua was faithful to God and His Word. Only two times Joshua made mistakes in the Promised Land. These two mistakes had serious consequences. Both are connected with disobedience to the command to study the Word of God and pray. It means that some amount of pride affected Joshua after the great victory at Jericho. The first mistake was at the battle with the city of Ai. This was a much smaller city than Jericho. Joshua did not pray. He sent some people to spy the city. They told him that the city is small. They advise Joshua that there is no need for all the soldiers to fight. They attacked Ai with just few soldiers, and they were defeated. The men of Ai killed 36 Israeli soldiers. Joshua was broken by this defeat. He had to humble himself. He prayed and asked God for mercy and wisdom. God told him what to do and they conquered Ai. The second mistake was when Joshua and the leaders were deceived by the Gibeonites. In these two instances, Joshua walked by sight and not by faith. The reason for the failures was that he forgot God and trusted himself.  Pride is a sin and a danger to always avoid.

*Another danger is impatience, to be too quickly satisfied and to fall short of God’s promises. The tribes of Ruben, Gad, and half of Manasseh, decided to settle on the west side of the Jordan River, outside the promised Land. Moses allowed them to stay there eventually, but this was a bad example to the rest people. God promises Joshua: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses” (Joshua 1:3). Joshua needs to walk on the land. His feet are his spiritual weapons. He cannot get tired and stop walking. He must walk and win as long as God leads him on.

Lesson? Press on until you possess your promises. Walk in the Spirit and you shall win the victory over the flesh (Gal 5:16). You must be patient. Every step counts! Make God happy by your faith!  Do not be led by sight or by greed. Finish the race like a champion! Be like Jesus!

JOSHUA – COURAGEOUS AND HUMBLE LEADER

Joshua was the man who led Israel in the conquest of Canaan. Given the many battles he faced and won, no one would ever call him a coward. Yet Joshua must have struggled with fear, for the Lord tells him over and over to “not be afraid or be of good courage,” (Josh 1:9, 18; 8:1). God’s encouragement against cowardice and fear Joshua passes along to the Israelites (Josh 10:25). The main attribute of Joshua was his courage followed by his humility. He was fearless as he conquered the land. He defeated 31 kings and occupied their land (Josh 12:24). By faith, Joshua moved on. He trusted God to fulfill His promises. See God’s testimony before Joshua died. “So, the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it. The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (Josh 21:43-45). Read again: “all (God’s promises) came to pass!” Glory!

Joshua was not a prophet, but he was a divinely inspired leader. After he conquered the land and he divided it to the different tribes, Joshua retired in the place of his inheritance, Timnah Serah. He was now an old man. His army disbanded. Everyone was living simple lives. Just before his death, Joshua addresses the people once more, reminding them to serve God. This is his most famous inspiring challenge: “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord” (Josh 24:15). Joshua does not boast about any of his military achievements. He gives God all the glory for the military victories. Moses laid his hands on Joshua who became his successor. But Joshua did not delegate anyone as the new leader. God works in different ways at different times. Joshua died as a fulfilled man. He was buried in the Promised Land, in the portion given to his tribe, Ephraim. He buried the bones of Joseph that they carried from Egypt. The priest Eleazer, son of Aaron also died and was buried close to Joshua, in the mountains of Ephraim. This is the end of a great chapter in the history of God’s people. Joshua left a wonderful testimony of a man of God, who fulfilled God’s will for his life. He left a legacy of holiness and peace. “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the Lord which He had done for Israel” (Josh 24:31).

God can never lose any battle. He dispossessed the Canaanites and gave their land to His people, Israel. God changed His tenants. God’s works means desolations for the unbelievers. “Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has made desolations in the earth” (Ps 46:8). It is hard for us to understand God’s ways. But we must accept them by faith. God destroys and God builds. He is sovereign in all His works. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

May people think that God stands aloof, far in His heaven. But that is a lie. God is actively involved and ruled the nations and the individuals. God is sovereign over all the earth. He brings down and lifts up as He wishes. All people, even the unbelievers, are commanded to clap their hands and praise Him. He dispossesses the proud and gives their inheritance to the humble. “Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth. He will subdue the peoples under us, and the nations under our feet. He will choose our inheritance for us, the excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah!” (Ps 47:1-4). The victory of Israel was not because they were stronger than the Canaanites but because of God’s plan and purpose. In Christ we have “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4). This refers to the New Promised Land in heaven! We celebrate the sovereign and saving Grace! Praise the Lord!

Finally, do not think that progress in life in easy. The lazy timid people do not experience success in life. Having a good education, a good family background and a lot of money is not enough to live a fulfilled life. You need to be born again, Spirit filled and ready to follow the heavenly Joshua as He leads on. Heaven is not only a destination but also a motivation, because we shall have our reward. Behind every successful man is not a woman, but the Holy Spirit giving strength and courage to fulfill destiny. Worship the Lord!

THE CROSS OVER MIRACLE (1)

THE CROSS-OVER MIRACLE (1)/ JOSHUA, SPY-SERVANT-SOLDIER-SAVIOR (1)

During the first Sunday service in 2023, Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled ‘The Cross-over Miracle’ (1). Her main text was taken from the books of Deuteronomy, chapter 34, and Joshua, chapter 1.

INTRODUCTION

The Old Testament is divided into three parts: The law, the historical writings, and the prophets. The Book of Joshua is a transition Book, describing the events from the death of Moses to the leadership of Joshua, the crossing of Jordan, and the taken over the Promised Land. Joshua is the first in the books of History (from Joshua to Esther). But Joshua is not just a book of history. The Bible scholars consider Joshua to be a Prophetic Book. Joshua is a leader with a prophetic mandate. The Book of Joshua has a spiritual purpose. It does not only describe history, but it applies these events for us to understand the mind of God. And that is the work of a prophet. As we study the Book of Joshua, we identify with the transition between Moses and Joshua. It is a cross over from great to greater things. The Holy Spirit leads us into this truth.

God named the book of Joshua after his name. Joshua in Hebrew is the same as Jesus in Greek. Joshua is a symbol of Jesus Christ. Joshua is a great man of faith. He fulfilled destiny. He is a great example for us all! The word “Hebrew” means to ‘cross-over’. For example, Abraham is called the Hebrew (Gen 14:13) because he crossed over from false gods to the only true God. He crossed over physically by leaving his homeland and coming to the Promised Land. The Israelites are called the Hebrews because they were delivered by God from the Egyptians as they crossed through the Red Sea, and then crossed through the Jordan River into the Promised Land. All these are pictures of transition, of deliverance and salvation. The meaning of the word ‘cross-over’ is a movement, a transition, from one place to another. It takes courage to cross-over, to move on in life. Spiritually, it is a miracle! Just as the Resurrection is a miracle, the cross over from death to life is a miracle! Please note that God always leads in this transition. Nobody knows the way of the Cross of over except Jesus! To God be all the glory!

It is amazing to know that the place where the people crossed over Jordan is the same place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Today it is known as Kasser Al Yahud, the Baptismal place of Jesus, opposite Jericho. Thru baptism in Christ, the believers cross over from death to life, from a life of sin into a new life of spiritual maturity, victory, and freedom.

After 400 years in the land of bondage, the people of God led by Moses have left Egypt. This exodus was a miracle. God does another miracle of deliverance and parts the Red Sea for them to cross over. By faith, they passed thru the Red Sea as on a dry ground. The same waters came back and killed the Egyptians who were pursuing them (Heb 11:29). On the other side, they praise God for His deliverance. Moses then sends twelve spies to inspect the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb bring a good report. The other ten spies discourage the people. Because of their unbelief, God punishes them. They stay in the wilderness for forty years until all the adults die. From that unbelieving generation, only Joshua and Caleb survive. They are now at the edge of the Promised Land. Moses dies up on the mountain. Because of his disobedience, God does not allow him to enter the Promised Land. God gives the mantle of leadership for the next stage to Joshua, who was Moses’ attendant for all the forty years in the desert. Joshua is a hero of faith. He is not as ‘famous’ as Moses but he is more efficient in the things of God. He is not related to Moses. He is from a different tribe. Moses is from Levi and Joshua is from Ephraim. Joshua was mentored by Moses. He knew Moses more than any other person. He was obedient to the leadership of Moses unto the end. Clearly, Joshua has learned to obey God’s Word and to avoid the mistakes of his leader. He never complained but always trusted and obeyed God to the end of his life. Now God Himself calls Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land and to conquer it (Joshua 1). Their dreams will become a reality. Faith must become sight! They must possess their possessions! Moses was great! Joshua is even greater! The future is better than the past. This is the hope for every child of God!

JOSHUA, SPY-SERVANT-SOLDIER-SAVIOR

The Book of Joshua is a transition prophetic book. The man called Joshua, the son of Nun, is one of the greatest heroes of faith. God names the Book after his name to encourage him. Joshua is a great model to study. He leads God’s people to possess the Promised Land. God has given already the Land to them. They must believe His promise. Joshua leads them from a position of victory to take over the Land that becomes theirs by faith. As a solider, Joshua leads three main military campaigns defeating more than 30 enemy armies. He was more than a conqueror. In Christ we declare that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). The word ‘conqueror’ means to gain decisive victory, to prevail mightily. The conqueror totally defeats the enemy, wins the war, and takes complete control over the people.

What was Joshua’s secret? It is the same with Joseph in the Old Testament. “So the Lord was with Joshua (Josh 6:27)”. The victorious life of Joshua, leading God’s people to conquer and possess the Promised Land is a parable of the Christian life. Christ has won everything. He has the victory. We must by faith experience the gains. Joshua is a symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ. His name Joshua is the same as Jesus, in Greek.

Moses was a colossus of a man. There was no man like Moses. But Moses is now dead (Deut 34:9-12). Joshua is the new leader. He is overwhelmed by the responsibility of occupying Moses’ shoes. He had many questions: ‘how can I lead these people?’ Like many of us, he was afraid of failure. How can Joshua become a successful leader? What will be the secret of good success? We must learn the lessons from Joshua!

Joshua was the son of Nun from the tribe of Ephraim. His father’s name ‘Nun’ means prosperity. His original name was Hoshea (meaning Savior, Helper). Moses changed it to Joshua (meaning God’s Helper or Savior) (Nu 13:8, 16). He was Moses’ assistant (Nu 11:28; Josh 1:1). The word ‘assistant’ means menial servant, or worshipper. Joshua was about 85 years during the cross over. He died when he was 110. The whole nation mourned this great man of God. Joshua was a slave in Egypt. He knew the meaning of suffering and oppression. Like Joseph who rose from pit to Palace, Joshua too rose from slave to savior of his nation! He was an excellent soldier for Christ. The secular army generals study how he conquered the Promised Land and divided it to his people. He was a faithful servant to Moses, a faithful spy, a great soldier, and a saint. He was filled with God’s Word and God’s Spirit (Josh 1:8; Deut 34:9).

God has already commanded Moses to appoint Joshua as the next leader of Israel. Moses brought Joshua to Eleazer the Priest and before the people. Moses laid his hands to Joshua to appoint him as his successor (Numbers 27:15-23).

Why did God choose Joshua? The first reason is this: Joshua already has a testimony as a tested man of God. He was a faithful servant to Moses. Like Moses, Joshua was born in Egypt as a slave. God gave these two babies as a gift to God’s people, but they did not know that for a long time. Moses grew in the royal palace in Egypt. Joshua grew up among the poor slaves in Egypt. They have different backgrounds. They are from different tribes. Moses is from the tribe of Levi and Joshua is from Ephraim, the son of Joseph. As a young man, Joshua remembered the exodus, the power of God demonstrated thru the plagues on the Egyptians and the Red Sea being divided. He saw the pillar of fire. He saw how manna came. Moses called him as a servant. He totally submitted to Moses. He saw how God used Moses to lead the people, how Moses was seeking God and prayed to Him. Joshua saw how God provided food and water for His people in the desert. As a child and a young man, Joshua witnessed the work of God. But there were other young people in Israel who witnessed the power of God. Why did God choose Joshua as the new leader? What was the difference? From his young age Joshua dedicated himself to serve God. He did not only ‘enjoy’ the miracles. He wanted to be used by God to do them. He wanted to experience revival. In a time of crisis, Moses called Joshua to fight the Amalekites (Ex 17). Moses prayed on the hill and Joshua fought in the valley. Moses saw that Joshua has the zeal and passion for God. Joshua has learned to fight and defeat enemies. This is a wise saying: The crisis does not make the person. It only reveals who that person is. Joshua took the things of God seriously long before Moses died. Moses went to meet with God on the mountain. Joshua followed him. He heard Moses talking to God. Moses came down and saw that the people forgot God and they made a golden calf to worship. Joshua saw the holy anger and zeal of Moses in serving God (Exodus 32). When Moses carried his tent far from the crowd, Joshua stayed there waiting on God when Moses was not there (Exodus 33). It is such people that God uses. It was the same with David and Daniel and his friends. They wanted to know God better and to serve Him. Question: Is that what you want?

Lesson: Joshua became a man of God long before he became famous. God uses people who are faithful in the background. God trains and tests them for a long time before he approves them as leaders. The way you serve God now as a young man, will determine the way God will use you as an older man. Many revivals are started by young people. Never estimate the impact of the Holy Spirit on your children as you bring them to church, and you read the Bible to them. Worship the Lord!

THE ROYAL WAY OF THE CROSS

MY TESTIMONY

“Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt 16:24,25).

As many of you may know, I was an atheist before coming to Nigeria in 1980, as a young wife with my husband, Dr. Richmond Leigh. In other words, I did not believe in the existence of God. It was in Nigeria that for the first time in my life, I saw a Bible with my eyes. I never attended a church. I never prayed. It was in Warri, Nigeria, in March 1986 that I became born again thru a crisis conversion. A month later I became Spirit filled. It was a miracle of grace! The rest is history…

I still remember how surprised I was when reading the Lord’s command about the cross, to die to self, to lose my life for His sake, that I may find it. It made no sense to me… I thought that my death will be in the future, when I am ninety or so… I did not know that in Christ I have to die NOW. I was ignorant of this spiritual law: in the Spirit’ realm death produces life, resurrection LIFE!

One day, I made my choice. I said: ‘Yes, Lord Jesus! Help me to die so that I may live and gain You!’ By faith I died to sin. This happened more than 30 years ago. Since then, I learned to die daily to self and to the world. I learned to live in Him. This was another big surprise: The power of resurrection started manifesting in me. I became spiritually fruitful. This is the mark of a mature Christian, one who can endure all things without complaining, and he can rejoice in all things in life. Selah!

Dear child of God, as you take you cross and follow Jesus, He rewards you with power, with an increased authority to be practiced in His name. Not only that you learn to trust Him more, but The Lord Himself will trust you with His Word and with His wealth. Your ministry shall influence nations. In all things, thru pain and joy, Christ will be visibly glorified in your life and that is all that matters. Halleluiah!

In Christ I declare:

I died (in the past) to self, to sin, and to the world!

I no longer live, but Christ lives in me!

I endure persecution for His sake!

I reign with Him!

I am spiritually fruitful!

To the glory of God!

In Jesus’ name

Amen!

O MY SOUL, HOPE IN THE LORD!

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God” (Ps 42: 11)

These few weeks I observed passivity in the hearts of many believers. It is a type of discouragement, an apathy, a strange affliction that makes their faith weak; like a soldier that does not buttons his coat, forgets his cap and drags his weapon on the ground…

Warning! It is an infection! It is a virus from the powers of darkness! It is an evil spirit! Dear Child of God, put on your full armor of God and fight back! Jehovah Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts) is with you! May your testimony increase! Let the devil be disgraced! Let the saints be encouraged!

Sing: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow! Because He lives, all fear is gone! Because I know that He holds my future! My life is worth the living just because Christ lives!”

In Christ I declare:

I am a child of God! God is the strength of my heart and my confidence for-ever! My hope is not in men or circumstances, but in God! I trust God who is the Lifter of my head! Sickness and sorrow are not my gods; they are not my counselors! I shall not listen to their words! I believe the Word of God and His Promises! Jesus is my Savior and my Lord! I will fear no man, no virus, no demon! I am free to praise God! I will praise God! Hear me say out loud; “Praise the Lord!”

In Jesus’ name,

Amen!

THE DOCTRINE OF INCARNATION (1)

THRU THE EYES OF JOSEPH OF NAZARETH

Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled ‘The doctrine of incarnation’ (1). Her main text was taken from the Book of Isaiah 7:10-15; and Isaiah 9:2-7, Matt 1:1, 13-25; 19:23, and John 1:14.

THE DOCTRINE OF INCARNATION – DEFINED

The doctrine of incarnation is central to Christianity. We believe that the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the eternal Son of God took human nature and became man. He did this to become our Savior. “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God” (C. S. Lewis). The virgin Mary became pregnant with the Son of God. In other words, God became Man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Latin root of the word ‘incarnation’ is ‘carne’ which means ‘flesh’. Therefore, Incarnation means to become flesh. The eternal Word of God came to earth and got wrapped in a body of flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. Jesus Christ is One Person with two natures: divine and human. There is mystery concerning this union of divine and human. We believe the revelation of the Bible. If Jesus is not divine, then He cannot be God. If Jesus is not Man, then He cannot be our savior. Incarnation is described in John 1:14: ‘And the Word became flesh’. The Son of God is the Eternal Word of God. The Word was from the beginning. The Word was always with God and the Word was God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:1-5, 14, 15). To believe these words you must be born again!

We do not have any picture or statue of Jesus. We do not know how tall He as Man was. All we know about Jesus is in the Word! Faith in this doctrine is essential for our salvation. We may not understand everything about the conception of Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary, but we must believe this truth to be saved. The doctrine of Incarnation is unique to Christianity. No other religion, including the monotheistic religions like Judaism and Islam, believes in the incarnation. For example, Muslims accept the virgin birth of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, though the Qur’an says his mother Mary/Mariam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. However, Islam rejects any notion of the incarnation. They say that Jesus was not God. They say that He was a great man, a prophet, but only a man. This idea is of course anti-Biblical.

The eternal Son of God has always existed as God, even before the manger. But He became Man thru the Incarnation. His conception in Mary’s womb was an act in time. He was born as a baby in a moment of time. The eternal entered time and separated it into BC and AD. The invisible became visible. The limitless became limited. The Creator became the creature. The Almighty became the weak Baby Jesus. God became Man. This is the mystery of incarnation, the mystery of godliness. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory” (1 Tim 3:16).

SOME POINTS CONCERNING THE DOCTRINE OF INCARNATION

*The Incarnation is part of God’s eternal plan and will for the salvation of man. God the Father planned it. God the Son executed it. God the Holy Spirit reveals it to men so that they can believe to be saved. Part of this work includes the Incarnation.

*The incarnation is connected with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in an eternal loving relationship. The Father sent His Son to become a Man, to die for men, to save them from the curse of sin. The incarnation proves the intimate relationship between Father and Son. You need to believe that Jesus, was begotten by God the Father and was conceived in Mary’s womb by God the Holy Spirit. The doctrines of the Holy Trinity and Incarnation are essential to your salvation. If you do not believe in the Trinity, you cannot believe in the Incarnation. Therefore, you are not a child of God! You are not saved! It is not enough ‘to believe in Christmas’. For you to have eternal life and go to heaven, you must believe in the Holy Trinity and Incarnation. Selah!

*In the Incarnation, it is only the second Person of the Trinity, God, the Son, who became flesh. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit participated in the process of Incarnation but were never incarnated.

*When the Son of God became incarnated, He still remained the eternal Son of God. His divine personality, authority and rule over the universe continued uninterrupted. Baby Jesus in the manger, as God the Son, continued “upholding and maintaining and propelling all things [the entire physical and spiritual universe] by His powerful word [carrying the universe along to its predetermined goal]” (Heb 1:3; AMP). Selah!

*At the Incarnation, the Son of God took a complete human nature. He is 100% God and 100% Man. He did not just add a human body the way you dress with a jacket. He became a complete Man, body, soul, and spirit. Jesus did not bring a special human nature ‘made in heaven’ with Him. He took His human nature from the resources available on earth. He did not import His humanity from heaven. In particular, He took His human nature from Mary, His mother. That is the only way Jesus could be from the seed of His human ancestors Abraham and David, according to the prophesy about the Messiah (Matt 1:1). He could only be our Savior if He was truly a Man who lives and dies like us. “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb 2:14, 15). As a Man, Jesus ‘shared in the same’ flesh and blood like us. That was necessary to become our Savior!

* In the Incarnation we have the revelation that God is interested in human beings. He takes the initiative to become a Man so that He can dwell among men. Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person and will be so forever. Jesus is 100% God and 100% Man. Jesus never stopped being God. He took human flesh upon Himself and became Man. These two natures, the divine and the human, are separate and united at the same time. This is a mystery. Jesus is divine. In the core of His being, in the center of His personality, Jesus is always God. As a Man, Jesus was always aware of His divine identity and His intimate unique relationship with God the Father. It is this doctrine that Jesus is God and Man that explains Him being our Savior and Redeemer. Jesus kept these two natures, divine and human, even after His death and resurrection. He is in heaven now and intercedes for us as God and Man. He will come back again to judge and reward all men as God and Man. Jesus took our humanity never to relinquish it again! Halleluiah!

*The Incarnation is a miracle. To believe in the Incarnation, you must be born again, and Spirit filled. You must believe in the supernatural, in miracles. The Incarnation cannot be scientifically explained. We believe because it is the revelation of God’s Word. The same Holy Spirit that made possible for Mary to be pregnant with Jesus, is the same Spirit that will lead you into all the truth. Halleluiah!

HOW WAS JESUS CONCEIVED IN MARY’S WOMB?

Even today, there are many people, even among the Christians, who reject the doctrine of the virgin birth of our Savior. The scientists argue that a virgin woman cannot get pregnant without the sperm of a man. In particular, a woman cannot be pregnant with a boy, a son. Why? When a baby is conceived, he takes his DNA from the father and the mother. The sex of the child is determined by special chromosomes. Genetically speaking, all women have XX chromosomes, and all men have XY chromosomes. A woman cannot have a son without the Y chromosome given to her by the man. Scientifically, it was impossible for Mary to conceive a son. It was humanly impossible for Mary to conceive a boy by herself. She had no Y chromosome to give to him. Yet, the angel Gabriel told her that she would conceive a son.

How was Jesus ‘conceived’? The first thing to know is that He was not conceived in the natural way, thru sexual contact between a man and a woman. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. This statement is taken from the Apostles’ Creed in the 5th century: “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary”. Conception requires a male seed and a female seed united to make ‘an egg’. Strictly speaking, Jesus was not ‘conceived’. The exact Biblical word is ‘begotten’. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. To begat it means to become the father of someone, to bring life into existence by a father, to procreate as a father. Jesus is the eternal Son of God. When Jesus was incarnated, God the Father declared that Jesus is His ‘only begotten Son’. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (Jn 3:16, 17). Technically, it was not Jesus who was conceived. Mary conceived Jesus. The angel told Mary: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus” (Lk 1:31).

The word ‘conceive’ means to receive or to form a baby in the womb of a woman. It means that a woman becomes pregnant. When the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary ‘she conceived Jesus’ in her womb. In other words, she became pregnant with Jesus. A new life was formed and received in her womb. As God, Jesus is eternal. But as the Son of Man, Jesus has a beginning. Both the conception and Mary’s delivery in Bethlehem are real events and moments in time. A mother conceives and a father begets. Within Mary’s womb, baby Jesus was not merely conceived but He was begotten by the Father, thru the power of the Holy Spirit. Some people are confused about the Incarnation. Please note that Jesus is not just a word, a philosophy, a teaching, or an idea. Jesus is a Man! A real Man! The Word became flesh! Jesus is God and Man at the same time! “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (Jn 1:18). Here you see the same word ‘the only begotten Son’. Nobody has seen God the Father. He was never incarnated. God the Son became Man to openly declare who God the Father is. So, Jesus was not created by God, He was God, He is God, and He always will be God. Jesus is the one and only begotten Son of God. Please note that as children of God we are not begotten. We are adopted by God the Father thru Christ (Eph 1:5). These things may be hard to understand. God uses names as Father and Son to help us understand something of the relationship in the Trinity.

THE SINLESS SON OF MAN

As a Man, Jesus was sinless. The God Man Jesus is our High Priest and eternal Intercessor in heaven. “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens” (Heb 7:25, 26). The word “holy” refers to a person committed to obedience to God. The word translated “harmless” signifies one who has done no evil. The word “undefiled” describes a person who is not defiled by rebellion. Just as the Levitical high priest was required to separate himself from all ritual defilement for seven days before the Day of Atonement, so Jesus was permanently (perfect tense) “separate from sinners” throughout His life before He made the perfect atonement for sin through His sacrificial death. When Jesus came, He took not just the flesh as it was in the innocent Adam, but as our flesh, corrupted by sin. “3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3). The flesh of Jesus was ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’. It means that His flesh had weakness and pains that were not found in Adam before the fall. That is why Jesus knows and understands our weaknesses. And yet, without sin! He lived among sinners, ate with sinners, was known as ‘the friend of sinners’, yet He was separate from sinners in the sense that He Himself never sinned. As a Man, Jesus went to the Temple frequently, but there is no record of His ever bringing a sin offering for Himself!!!

In the incarnation, the Son did not lose any of His divine identity. Incarnation is an addition and not a subtraction. As a Man Jesus did not lose His deity. He added the human body and soul to His divine nature. He now has two natures, being fully God and fully Man. Jesus’ human nature was sinless. He did not share in man’s sins. As He lived among men, He knew the power of sin but He was not stained by it. As our High Priest, He is merciful with those who fall into sin. “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:14-16).

The incarnation is the supernatural work of the Trinity. God the Father sent God the Son into the womb of the virgin Mary. It is hard to explain. Let me try… God the Holy Spirit added ‘the male seed’ that could have been given by Joseph. That holy ‘seed’ impregnated Mary’s seed. There was a secondary miracle here because Mary’s seed was cleansed from the effects of sin. In this way, Jesus was truly Divine and truly human. Genetically, Jesus was Mary’s son but not the son of Joseph. That is the only explanation why Jesus was sinless. This is a mystery and a miracle.

Job asked: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one! … How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?” (Job 14:4; 25:4). Mary got pregnant with the Holy seed in the cloud of the Holy Spirit. “The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). At the point of conception, the Holy Spirit fused two materials: the divine and the human. This is how ‘the Holy One’ called Jesus was formed in Mary’s womb. “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth” (Ps 139:13-15). God ‘forms’ the child in the mother’s womb. In Hebrew, the word ‘formed’ is the same as ‘created’. God ‘covered’ the baby in the womb ‘as with a screen’ to protect him. The picture of God’s protecting lovingkindness applies to all babies in their mothers’ wombs, but in particular it applies to baby Jesus showing how the Holy Spirit covered and protected Him from the sin found in Mary’s genes. Selah!

THE INCARNATION PROPHECY IN ISAIAH 7:9-16

King Ahaz of Judah was an ungodly king. His father and grandfather were godly kings. He became king when he was 20 years old. He did evil in the sight of God and carried Judah into great spiritual darkness. His story is told in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28. These are some of the sins he committed: he introduced the worship of the Canaanite god Molech, and he sacrificed his own sons for it. He closed down the Temple in Jerusalem so that the people cannot worship Jehovah God. He removed the gold and silver from the Temple and gave it as a gift (bribe) to the King of Assyria so that he will not attack Judah. He copied a pagan altar he saw in Damascus and placed it in the courtyard of the temple of Solomon. He removed the burnt offerings bronze altar that Solomon made and relocated it at the back. He used the bronze altar for personal ‘inquires’. This word describes the pagan practice of reading the future, fortune telling, by analyzing the organs of the sacrificed animals. Therefore, King Ahaz introduced witchcraft into the temple in Jerusalem. He corrupted the priests by forcing them to serve at the pagan altar. He appointed himself as a priest by offering sacrifices himself. Because King Ahaz provoked God to anger by doing so many evils, God handed him to his enemies, who were his neighbors, Aram, and Ephraim (the Northern Israel). These two countries attacked Judah and took part of the territories. King Ahaz was afraid that even Jerusalem will fall to the neighbors. He planned to make a political pact with the great empire of Assyria, to become its vasal. He took the silver and the gold from Solomon’s temple and sent it to the King of Assyria to bribe him to attack his neighbors. Assyria complied. They attacked and conquered Damascus, the capital of Aram. Ahaz went there to celebrate the victory with the king of Assyria. Not long after that, Assyria attacked and conquered the Northern Israel and some of the cities in Judah.

In the midst of this spiritual darkness, God sent the prophet Isaiah to speak to King Ahaz. He tells Ahaz that he should not trust his political ideas, and not make political alliances with Assyria for the sake of peace. He should only trust God who will destroy Assyria. Isaiah warns Ahaz not to mix politics with religion. If he has faith in God, he will be ‘established’ as king. If he rejects God’s Word, he will perish. Ahaz rejected the Word of God and ‘perished’. He died when he was only 36 and because of his many sins, they did not bury him in the royal tombs. Isaiah told him that he should repent and put all his trust in Jehovah God. That he should not be afraid. He should stand firm in the faith. God can destroy his enemies in a second. The prophet also told him that if he rejects this word, if he has no faith in God’s plan, he will not be established as a king. To help him make up his mind, Isaiah told him that he should ask for a supernatural sign from God. Because in his heart, Ahaz has rejected God’s Word, he said that he does not need any sign. Then Isaiah told him that God insists to give him a sign. Christmas is that sign! Selah!

Asking for a sign is not always a proof of unbelief but a desire to be strengthened to move on in faith. For example, when Gideon asked the angel for a sign of victory, it is because he wanted to believe and obey God (Jdg 6:36). But Ahaz rejected the sign. He rejected Christmas! It means he did not want to obey the prophet’s word. This was a willful sin of unbelief. There is no forgiveness for this sin.

After Ahaz died, his son Hezekiah was attacked by the same Assyrians who forgot the bribe given to them by his father, Ahaz. The Assyrians wanted to conquer Jerusalem. The same prophet Isaiah went to see King Hezekiah to encourage him to have faith in God. Hezekiah believed the prophet and his word. God fought the battle, and 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were killed by an angel (Is 37:36). What his father refused to do, Hezekiah did! When Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign to help his unbelief, God gives him a prophetic word, which is a sign of His punishment. The prophesy of a virgin girl pregnant with a son called Immanuel is God’s sign of His anger against sin. Immanuel means ‘God is with us’. This boy is born to ‘the house of David’. He is an extraordinary boy. He will eat curds (or yogurt) and honey. This is not the same as the promised land of milk and honey. It is the food of poverty in a desolate land. It means that the boy will be born into a poor family. Ahaz rejected the blessing of the Messiah who was to come thru his family line. Here you see the grace of God. Because Ahaz was a descendant of King David, God extended much grace to him. Ahaz is listed in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:9). Lesson: men and their unbelief cannot stop God’s plan and purpose.

THE INCARNATION STORY THRU THE EYES OF JOSEPH OF NAZARETH (Matt 1:18-25; 2:13-15; 19:23)

Here we see the story of Incarnation mostly thru the eyes of Joseph. He was from the lineage of King David. He could have been King Joseph but after the exile in Babylon, his royalty status was lost. He was a humble man. It is not easy to work as a carpenter knowing you could have been the King of Judah in the place of King Herod the Great. Like his namesake in the Old Testament, Joseph was a dreamer of dreams.

Joseph was a just man. It means that he had a godly character. He feared God and obeyed His commandments. When Joseph discovered that his fiancée was pregnant, I am sure that he was disappointed, angry, and sad. But Joseph was a man of faith. Immediately the angel revealed the truth to him, he did not complain. Like Mary, he immediately obeyed the words of the angel. He was a spiritual man. He took responsibility for his future wife and baby in her womb. He was a hardworking man. Joseph worked as a carpenter to provide for his family. These are all good qualities that any man or husband should imitate. We are not told where Joseph was from the time Jesus started His public ministry. It is possible that he died. On the Cross, Jesus handed His mother Mary over to John. This is another proof that Joseph was dead by then.

Mary got pregnant with Jesus. Like any other woman, just imagine that she had morning sickness, stretch marks, kicking a baby in her belly, heaviness on her legs. She was heavily pregnant when together with Joseph, they went to Jerusalem to register according to the Roman law. She had labor pains like any other woman. Joseph was by her side, encouraging her all the way.

Joseph does not utter any word in the Bible. But he plays an important role in the Nativity drama. By law, he had the right to divorce his betroth who was pregnant but not by him. The law said that a girl who still lives in her father’s house and is engaged to a man, if she is found pregnant, she should be stoned to death. For a girl to be found not a virgin on her wedding day, that was called ‘a disgraceful, evil thing’. The punishment was death. “But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So, you shall put away the evil from among you” (Deut 22:20, 21). In the first century, the Jews did not always obey this law to kill the girl. But her life was in danger and her reputation completely ruined. Mary needed a husband to protect her and her baby. Joseph’s role as a husband to Mary and father to Jesus was extremely important. Joseph knew his responsibility and acted on it. Without the marriage to Joseph, her parents may not want to share in her shame. The only way for Mary was to become a prostitute to feed herself and her baby. Please think of Joseph, of his feelings… As a man, to accept that his fiancée is pregnant by the Holy Spirit was not an easy thing to do. It was a form of rejection. God rejected his contribution to his future wife’s first pregnancy. Joseph was a man who obeyed God. He was led by the Holy Spirit. His actions spoke louder than words. He is the silent hero of the incarnation story. Joseph laid down his life for Jesus!

In the incarnation, God needed a woman’s seed but not a man’s seed. Judging by our human wisdom, this is strange. God’s ways seem confusing to us. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was the leader in rebellion. God judged her and placed her to submit under her husband. Even in the Christian marriage, the wife submits to her husband. But in incarnation, God only needed the consent of the woman, the weaker vessel. This is a proof that God does not need man’s power to create anything. Jesus was not born by the will of man, or by the desire of the flesh. He was born of God! All glory to God for the incarnation!

This is the Gospel according to the prophecy given by God in the Garden of Eden. God told the serpent, the devil: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen 3:15). Christ is the Seed of the woman who will crush the head of the devil’s seed. Therefore, Christ must be born of a woman (Galatians 4:4). At the incarnation, Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb without any help from man (Joseph). This is a strange thing, but God is sovereign and His ways, though mysterious, are perfect. Joseph’s genes were not imparted to baby Jesus. Jesus did not have a human father, but Joseph humbly adopted Him as His own. As an adult, Jesus was known as Joseph’s son (Luke 4:22; John 1:45; 6:42). This is a great reward for this humble man called Joseph.

What is the true purpose for Christmas? It is to prepare the way for the Cross. The Word became flesh so that it will be crucified and die on behalf of sinners like you and me! This baby was born to die! Behind the Christmas lights and decorations, there is the shadow of death. Only death could have killed death. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. Thirty-three years later, few miles from where He was born, He was crucified on Calvary tree. Three days later He rose from the dead to give us life! What a life! What a story! We see that everything about Jesus is mysterious, not only His conception, His whole life and death. He is God and He is Man. He is the most extraordinary Person, from beginning to the end. He was born to die for others. “Oh, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!” Worship the Lord!

May be an image of 1 person, standing, indoor and text that says 'Tesus Mega Party FATHER'S HOUSE BIBLE CHURCH'

DECEMBER GREETINGS FROM MY GARDEN

This is a page from my life story… When I came to Nigeria with my husband in 1980, I was surprised how ‘hot and dusty’ December can be. In my native country, Christmas is always cold, clean and white with snow. For many years I missed that. After I became saved, God changed my heart. I was able to forget the past and embrace the unknown future with a grateful and excited heart. I now love the dry heat mixed with the ‘harmattan’. I forgot the roasted turkey and mashed potatoes and now I love jolof rice, fried chicken with dodo. There is a season for everything in this life. Things come and things go. But there is a name above all names that stands forever, in all times and all places! His name is Jesus!!!!

“Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever!” (Heb 13:8).

Happy Christmas from me in advance!

(This yellow flower greeted me this morning in my garden)

THE EARLY CHURCH (15)/ STRENGH IN THE STORM

Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh continued preaching the series The Early Church. The title for the sermon today was: ‘Strength in the storm’ . Her main text was taken from the Book of Acts, chapters 27 and 28.

PAUL’S JOURNEY TO ROME

We shall study Paul’s journey to the great city of Rome. We learn from him how to behave during a big storm that caused a shipwreck. This is the story… He was arrested in Jerusalem for causing a riot. The Religious leaders accused him of telling other Jews not to obey the Law of Moses; that they should not circumcise their sons. They also said that Paul brought Gentiles into the Temple to defile it. These accusations were false, but the Jews attacked him and almost killed him. The Roman soldiers arrested him to save his life. When they heard that Paul was a Roman citizen, they removed his chains but kept him with them in the barracks. They called the Sanhedrin, the religious supreme court, to decide Paul’s case. Paul made his defense, and the religious rulers were divided in their verdict about him. “But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Ac 23:11). Paul now knows that he must arrive in Rome to testify about Jesus. Hearing that some Jews want to kill him, the commander of the Roman soldiers in Jerusalem sends Paul with an escort to Caesarea. In that city, Paul boldly testified before two governors, Felix, and Festus and before two royal figures, King Agrippa, and Bernice. This is according to God’s Word: “I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings and will not be ashamed” (Ps 119:46). It is also according to the promise of Jesus: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matt 10:16-20).

*Lesson: God will open doors where we shall testify before ‘great men’ of the world. God the Holy Spirit shall help us to be strong, bold, wise, not shy, not worried, or foolish. God will supply the necessary words that will minister life to them. Paul witnessed to them about Jesus. He shared with them his testimony, how the resurrected Christ appeared to him on the way to Damascus and changed his life completely. None of these rulers could free him. Paul then uses his right as a Roman citizen. He asked to go to Rome to see Caesar who shall decide his case. From Caesarea, Paul goes by sea to Rome. The story is described in the last two chapters of the Book of Acts.   

The trip starts from Caesarea and ends in Rome. Paul is now a prisoner of the Roman empire. He is handed over to Julius, a Roman Centurion from the elite group of soldiers called the Augustan Regimen, under the direct authority of Caesar. Together with Paul, there were other prisoners who were sent to Rome. It is possible, that these prisoners were violent men. But Julius treated Paul with special kindness. This is God’s favor on Paul and according to His promise: “When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (PV 16:7). Paul is accompanied by two close friends. This is a miracle. Prisoners were not allowed to invite others on the ship. It is possible that Festus, the governor, was touched by Paul’s testimony and told Julius, the centurion, to allow Paul to have two helpers. One is Dr Luke who has been Paul’s physician and co-laborer since they met in Troas during Paul’s second missionary trip. The other friend is Aristarchus, a convert from Thessalonica, who followed Paul as a disciple and a servant, to help him. At that time, the only way for Luke and Aristarchus to follow Paul on a ship is to agree to be his slaves. Paul calls Aristarchus ‘my fellow prisoner’ (Col 4:10). Both Luke and Aristarchus served Paul in Rome, until the end of his life. They were “not ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but shared with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2Tim 1:8). See how devoted they were to their leader! Paul nurtured close friendships among the brethren. “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (PV 18:24).

*Lesson: A Christian leader is not proud, lonely, or selfish. He is humble, accessible, and friendly. He invests his life in godly friendships. By doing that, Jesus, the true ‘Friend that sticks closer than brother’, will always be his companion.

From Caesarea they take a ship and stop the next day at the port of Sidon. Julius trusts Paul and gives him the freedom to go into the town to visit some Christian friends. This is another great favor. It is possible that Julius was a witness to Paul’s trial and saw that Paul was innocent of the charges. Paul has fellowship with the brethren. They encourage each other. Never underestimate the power of Christian fellowship, the power of prayer and of agreement. This is another way to encounter the Lord Jesus Christ. “Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt 18:19, 20). Please observe that Paul is a man of honor. He could have taken advantage of this freedom and run away. But he did not. At the end of the day, he came back to his imprisonment in the ship. Paul proved to be trustworthy. This honesty was a seed planted in the heart of Julius and the others in the ship. Later, when Paul becomes the pastor of the ship, they trust him and his words. “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Lk 16:10).

*Lesson: Trust in men is not forced, it is not demanded. It is earned over time. From showing himself trustworthy ‘in least’, Paul prepared his platform to be trusted ‘in much’. In all things, Paul proved himself as a true ambassador of Jesus Christ who alone is ‘worthy’ of all our trust!

From Sidon they sailed close to the Island of Cyprus, and landed at the port of Myra, in present day Turkey. Here, they take another ship that was coming from Alexandria. At that time, Alexandria was the biggest city in Egypt. Ships loaded with corn and wheat go to Rome. From Myra they go towards the island of Crete. They arrive at a place called Fair Heavens, on the Southern part of Crete. This is a naturally beautiful harbor. The journey to this point was simple but slow. They wasted too much time along the way. The owner of the ship was in a hurry to go to Rome to discharge his load and to make money. The time was now ‘after the fast’ (Ac 27:9). The fast refers to the Day of Atonement, the only time in the year when the Jews fast. That tells us that it is the beginning of October. From now on, the weather is bad for ships in the Mediterranean Sea. When Paul saw that they wasted time he advised that they should not proceed further. That they should wait. This was not a prophesy. It was a wise advice based on experience. He said: “three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea” (2 Cor 11:25; NIV). Paul has been to Crete Island and preached the Gospel there (Tit 1:5). He knew the weather well. He knew that after the middle of September, no ship can sail safely because of the strong winds coming from the north. He advised the owner and Julius, the centurion, that they should stop the trip and wait for the springtime when the winds cease. But the centurion did not listen to Paul. He respected him but did not want to submit to his advice. He listened to the Captain and the Owner of the ship, and they decided to sail on. That was a mistake!

Paul experienced rejection like the prophet Ezekiel: “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed, you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33:30-33).

*Lesson: we preach the Word of God. If people listen to it or not, that is not our responsibility. God will judge each man according to his response to God’s Word. Also, God will justify His servant even when men reject his words.

The captain decided to continue the journey trying to go to Phenix, which is a bigger safer harbor in Crete, only 12 miles away. But they never arrived there. Initially, the wind was gentle, and they thought that they got what they wanted. Many people assume that God is with them even when they walk in disobedience. But soon, a hurricane wind from the northeast called Euroclydon started blowing. They lost control of the ship. The seamen could not use neither sails nor oars. From this Fair Heavens the hurricane wind drove them 600 miles to the Island of Malta. Selah!

*Lesson: human strength always fails in the trials of life. Trying to be ‘wiser’ than God, you fall into bigger problems!

This storm was sent by God. It was like the one that Jonah encountered when he was running away from God. But here, Paul was not running from God. He was in the middle of God’s plan for him to go and preach the Gospel in Rome. Why then did God send the storm? To prove that Paul was a true prophet! God, thru Paul, revealed to him the danger ahead. But the people did not listen to him. Julius trusted the words of the captain more than the words of the man of God. He trusted human wisdom more than God’s wisdom. They almost had a shipwreck into a small island. They had to raise the sails so that they go away from the island. They could not ‘land’ safely. They had to continue in the storm.

*Lesson: If God has not opened the door of safety for you, then pray for grace in the midst of the trial.

In the storm, they apply emergency measures. The seamen ‘undergirded’ the ship. This is a dangerous and difficult operation called ‘frapping’. They carry long cables under the belly of the ship so that it will not scatter under pressure. Then, they all threw the grain overboard. That was a great loss. Then, they threw overboard ‘the ship’s tackle’. This word describes furniture and equipment. Apostle Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus helped throwing the things in the sea. They threw their beds, their personal possessions, and the ship navigational equipment but not the anchors. This is human wisdom. But it did not work for the storm continued to batter the ship.

*Lesson: No man can win against God! There are men who love money more than they love God. They make a shipwreck of their faith and their conscience, and they backslide. “Having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim 1:19).  For the love of money, they perish with their material goods. Lesson: if you have to lose something to save your life, then do it! Chose to live poor than to die rich! It is better to shipwreck your finances than to shipwreck your faith in God and your conscience!

We see that even with all that sacrifice and loss, the storm did not stop. The ship ‘was caught’ in the wind. The word describes something seized and dragged by force. This proves that God sent the wind and arrested the ship. The word ‘wind’ describes a stormy powerful movement of air. In Greek, the word also refers to false doctrines. Jesus sent His Word, His Spirit, and His Gifts to men to protect them against the storm of false doctrines and to help them grow in peace. “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph 4:11-16).

*Lesson: Preaching truth is safety! Preaching falsehood is trouble! Be careful to attend a living church where the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected is preached. Doctrine determines behavior! Be careful about what you hear and who leads you spiritually!

With all their efforts, the ship was still led by the storm. They did not see the sun or the stars for many days. It was dark and cold. They could not read the directions using the sun or the stars. They were completely lost at the sea. They worked without rest. All this time, they did not even eat. The fear of death came in. They finally lost all hope to survive and gave up the courage to live. At this time, Paul stands and speaks again. He has been praying for a word form God. He knew that he has to arrive at Rome. But the situation was hopeless. He knew that only Jesus can them. In the middle of despair, God sent an angel with a great message of hope to Paul.  “But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island” (Ac 27:21-26). God sent the storm and God sent the Angel to Paul. This is the effect of the storms of life. The wicked become silent and the children of God speak with resurrection power. “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever” (PV 10:25).

*Lesson: Fear not! Pray! Wait for God’s Word in the middle of the storm. His Word is your strength and courage to stand as a servant of God!

From this moment on, Paul takes charge of the ship. He is now the leader and the pastor of the ship. Julius, the captain, the owner of the ship, and all the seamen have lost hope to survive this storm. They also lost their pride. They cannot argue with Paul, who alone has the Word of Life! Defeated, they are all humbled, like fishes in Paul’s net of ministry. At the point of total surrender, God intervenes and saves man!

*Lesson: The preparation work of the Holy Spirit to bring a sinner to the point of salvation is difficult and painful. Godly sorrow is a real spiritual emotion. God is the Helper not of them who can help themselves, but to the weak and the helpless. “For He will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper. He will spare the poor and needy and will save the souls of the needy” (Psalm 72:12, 13). God allows a sinner to come to the point of despair before He will save him.

Just imagine the scenes. The storm goes on and on. There are 276 souls in that battered ship. These are the owner and the captain, the seamen, businessmen, Julius, the centurion and other Roman soldiers, the prisoners, including Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus. They need a miracle to survive. We do not know if all these people had time to pray to their gods like the seamen traveling with Jonah. But we know that Jesus was there in that boat in the middle of the storm. At this point in time, these people did not know that God has granted a miracle. God has given Paul all these souls as a reward for his intercession. The angel could have saved Paul alone and let these stubborn unbelievers perish in the watery grave. But God decided to save all these souls for the sake of Paul who prayed for them. Paul declares that he has complete faith in the promise of God. He encourages them to eat something, as a prophetic sign that they will all live.

*Lesson: The world does not appreciate the believers. They persecute them. They do not know that as salt preserves the meat, God blesses the unbelievers for the sake of His children. God told Abraham: “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes” (Gen 18:26).  “Laban said to him, “Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake” (Gen 30:27). God blessed Potiphar and the Keeper of the prison in Egypt, because of Joseph. “So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field” (Gen 39:5). “The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Gen 39:23). God rewards our intercession and our faith in Him. God blesses others for our sake. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Never give up praying, no matter the situation in life!

Paul stands and speaks! He brings light in the darkness and hope in despair. It is the power of resurrection thru God’s Word! The tables are overturned. The prisoner becomes the captain and the comforter of the ship. First, he rebukes them for rejecting his God given wise counsel. If they obeyed his word, they could have been spared this stress and loss. Paul then shows compassion. He tells them that God sent an angel who assured him that though the ship will be destroyed, none will die. Paul speaks with faith and boldness. There is no fear in his voice! All will be saved because of Paul. “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be shaken” (1 Pet 3:14).

*Lesson: Men must repent of their sins so that they can be encouraged. Leadership emerges thru the trials of life. No storm can change God’s will for His people. Grace removes the fear of death from your heart. Grace gives you the strength to stand and preach when all others faint from fear. This supernatural boldness is a great tool for evangelism and gives God all the glory!

Paul introduces himself as a servant of God. In the midst of the storm, among stubborn proud unbelievers, Paul continues to commune with God. Paul never stops praying! The angel came on the ship to encourage Paul. No other man saw the angel, except Paul. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah” (Ps 46:1-3).  

*Lesson: Pray! Nothing stops God from answering your prayer! No storm is too great for God. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). Your life is in God’s hands! For as long as God desires to use you for His work, you cannot die! It is a privilege to serve God! It is possible that Jesus called His apostles from among fishermen because they were used to hard life, to the storms of life. “Endure hardship as discipline!” (Heb 12:7).

Paul tells everybody that they will be cast on an island. At this time, they are totally lost in that great Sea. The captain has abandoned his post. They have no idea if there is any island close by. But Paul’s words come to pass. In the darkness, as the storm is still blowing, by faith in Paul’s words, the sailors measure the depth of the sea and discover that it is getting shallower. They now know that they are getting closer to the shore. At this point they drop four anchors from the stern and pray for daylight to come (Ac 27:29). They now totally surrender to Paul’s God.

*Lesson: Spiritually, what are these four anchors? What can strengthen my soul in the midst of trials? These anchors are Faith, Hope, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Ghost! The first anchor is faith in God’s eternal Word and His promises! “Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matt 7:24, 25). The second anchor is the hope of glory! “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil” (Heb 6:19). The third anchor is the peace of God that passes all understanding! “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). The fourth anchor is joy in the midst of trials! “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:6, 7). These anchors never fail! To the glory of God!

Paul encourages the others with the encouragement he has received from God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3, 4).

*Lesson: Do not be selfish! Be generous with your hope! Encourage others with the encouragement you have received from the Holy Spirit!

The storm goes on. They are going towards the land. It was the island of Malta. Suddenly, there was another danger: rebellion! The sea men decided to lower the skiff (the lifeboats) and run away leaving the rest to die. They did not believe Paul’s word and wanted to save themselves. Paul said that God granted life to all the passengers but with the condition that they remain in the ship. For example, it was only Noah’s family inside the ark that survived the flood (Gen 6:18). Rahab and her household were saved with the condition that all stay together in her house (Josh 6:17). The rebellion of the seamen may have happened suddenly. Paul was very attentive. This is a mark of a true leader. When Paul told Julius and the soldiers that their deliverance will happen only if they stay together in the ship, the soldiers acted immediately. They cut the ropes of the lifeboats and let them loose. It was a loss to them, but it shows how much faith the soldiers have in Paul’s word now. Paul encourages Julius and the soldiers to continue to do their work, to keep the law and order on the ship, even during the storm.

*Lesson: your salvation depends on another. You cannot be saved by running away from death. You are saved because of the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ who died that you may live, united with Him. In all situations, abide in the center of God’s will and you’ll be safe! Watch and pray!

In the navy, there is a law saying: ‘the captain goes down with his ship’. The captain of a sinking ship has to do his best to save all the passengers and his crew before he can save himself. In a sinking ship, it is the women and the children that are saved first. This is a matter of honor, of helping the weak. This same law applies to the senior pilot of a plane or leaders of military units during war. Desertion is defined as abandonment of a military post without permission and done with no intention of coming back. Decimation was a form of punishment in the Roman Empire army by which, one out of ten soldiers was killed when many rebelled against their commander. The tenth soldier in a unit of ten was selected by lots. His nine colleagues must kill him by stoning or by stabbing. This was done to maintain order and discipline in the army.

The seamen who tried to run away are like the hirelings. They are not faithful friends. “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint” (PV 25:19). You cannot eat with a bad tooth, and you cannot walk with a dislocated foot. The unfaithful friend will disappoint you when you need him the most. Jesus is the good shepherd. He died to protect His sheep. But the false brethren run away during danger and abandon the flock. Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep” (Jn 10:11-13).

*Lesson: No matter the trial, the leader cannot abandon his responsibility to his followers. The shepherd cannot abandon his flock. The parents cannot abandon their children. Pray before you make friends. Test them not only when things are good, but especially during the trials of life!

Paul now strongly encourages everybody to eat. For the last 14 days they worked and worked trying to save the ship. But their worked in vain. Now, once God’s Word was spoken, by faith, they should stop all work and eat. They need the strength to survive. Paul leads by example. He took bread and gave thanks to God for it. He then eats in the presence of them all. “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 16:22). To refuse to eat is rebellion. To commit suicide by starving is sin. They all obeyed Paul. They eat by faith. Labor is connected with good appetite. Lazy people should not eat. “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess 3:10). But a laborer should eat. “Every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor; it is the gift of God (Ecc 3:13)”.  The angel told Elijah to eat to have strength for the journey ahead (1Kg 19:5-8).

*Lesson: God is interested in all things about you. Work hard! Eat and sleep taking care of your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit! Give thanks!

Paul speaks by faith that they will not lose even a hair from their head. This is the strong faith and prophetic confidence of a true leader. See how far God has brought Paul, from a prisoner who entered the ship in chains, when none listened to his advice, to this point of true spiritual leadership manifested in the storm. Like the earthquake in Philippi, the storm only broke the chains! Paul is now the pastor of the ship!

*Lesson: There are two storms that reveal the truth in your heart: personal trials and witnessing God’s grace blessing another you think is less worthy than you! It is the danger of discouragement and jealousy! In Christ, your testimony and faith will shine like gold purified in the fire!

Finally, after 14 days of darkness, ‘it was day’. They saw the land. They lifted the anchors and the ship got stuck in the sand. This was the breakthrough they were all hoping for. Then, another danger came. The devil does not rest. The soldiers became afraid that the prisoners will escape, and they wanted to kill them all. But Julius, trying to save Paul, stopped the soldiers from killing them. Clearly, during this difficult journey, Paul has gained his respect. All were free to jump into the sea and swim to the shore. All Roman soldiers were good swimmers. It was part of their training. Maybe Julius told the soldiers to jump first, to go to the shore and wait for the prisoners so that none will escape. As Paul told them, all had survived! This is a miracle indeed! In this hurricane of more than 14 days, during this total shipwreck, all 276 men got saved.

This was their testimony: “Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, They see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; So, He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps 107:23-31). Halleluiah!  

*Lesson: trust the Lord Jesus, who is the Master of every storm in life! But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matt 8:26, 27). Remember to give thanks to God, before, during, and after the storm! Praise the Lord!

TRUE GODLY LEADERSHIP

In this world there are few good mature godly leaders. It is not easy to be a spiritual leader, a mentor, a pastor, a husband, or a parent. Leaders take responsibility for all things, on behalf of their followers, even if they are good or bad. God delegates His authority to human vessels. God uses people to reveal Himself as the Leader of His people. This is the story of Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Deborah, Paul, Peter, and others. Many people take pleasure in criticizing leaders. That is a bad habit.  Pray for all people in authority, for your pastors and leaders in the church!

Based on this story in Acts 27, and observing Apostle Paul, these are some of the godly qualities of a true leader:

A true leader is spiritually strong. He can handle the stress of life more than the others. He solves difficult problems. He can be trusted in crisis.

A leader is loved by the people he leads. “Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen” (Titus 3:15).

A leader is strong and flexible at the same time. He rebukes and he encourages!

A true leader obeys God’s Word, and he always prays!

A true leader is faithful to God who appointed him. He is not a hireling. He does not oppress or manipulate his followers. He leads them to God!

A leader does not give up. He perseveres against all hindrances unto the end. Paul suffered so much in his life yet, he never gave up on Jesus!

A leader is wise, theoretically, and practically. He is not foolish. He preaches the right doctrines and their correct application!

A leader is bold and speaks with authority. He knows that God is backing his words. “Where the word of the King is, there is power” (Ecc 8:4).

A true leader is compassionate and encourages others. Paul ate first. He led by example.

A leader is strengthened by God, and he strengthens others. Paul was encouraged by the angel of God, and he encouraged others.

A true leader has an established faith. Like Abraham, the leader does not stagger in unbelief but gives glory to God (Rom 4:20).

A true leader demands obedience. Paul told the people to stay in the ship so that they can be saved! He was right! His grace covered them!

Finally, let Paul have the last word: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1Cor 11:1; NIV). Worship the Lord!

THE EARLY CHURCH (14)/ PAUL’S DELIVERANCE FROM PRISON

Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh continued preaching the series The Early Church. The title for today sermon was ‘Paul’s deliverance from prison’. Her main text was taken from the Book of Acts chapter 16.

This chapter in the Book of Acts describes events during Paul’s second missionary trip. Paul’s first missionary started from Antioch. He was accompanied by Barnabas and his nephew John Mark. They went in Asia Minor, in present day Turkey. They preached the Gospel and started churches. They suffered persecution and Paul was very sick, but the trip was spiritually fruitful. The young man John Mark abandoned them halfway. Because of that, Paul and Barnabas had a heated argument, and both decided to separate at the end of the trip. They later reconciled. The unexpected challenges during this first trip helped Paul to seek God more, to die to the flesh, and to learn to totally depend on the Holy Spirit. He now decided to walk the Royal way of the Cross. His understanding of doctrine and application of doctrine in life, became deeper. He saw that the body is weak and relationships with brethren are fragile. He became more sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 16 describes his second missionary journey. God provided two new helpers for him: Silas and Timothy, who in a way, replaced Barnabas and John Mark. During this trip he met Dr Luke who became a close associate and friend for life. There are so many lessons for all of us in this chapter.

THE LEADING OF THE SPIRIT

 “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit (of Jesus) did not permit them… Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Ac 16:6, 7, 10)

We see how the Holy Spirit guides Paul and his team during this missionary trip. The plan of God supersedes the plans of men. “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel, that will stand” (PV 19:21). Man makes plans according to his understanding of events. But it is God’s eternal plan and purpose that stands, that is established and will be carried out.

“When He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth [full and complete truth]. For He will not speak on His own initiative, but He will speak whatever He hears [from the Father—the message regarding the Son], and He will disclose to you what is to come [in the future]” (John 16:13; AMP). The Holy Spirit is God, also called the Spirit of Truth. He guides only the believers. He leads them step by step into the fullness of truth, an unknown territory for them. He does not carry them. He leads them. You can carry loads, but you lead people. The believers need to cooperate with His leading. Because He is God, He speaks eternal truth because He knows the end from the beginning.    

The mistake the believers make is that they see God as passive, who is not really interested in the day-to-day events on earth. That is an error. God is the Creator of the universe. He has not abandoned His creation to men or devils. He rules and overrules all things on earth. He has His plans for men, especially for the believers. Listen to what God says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:11; NIV). In Hebrew, the word ‘plans’ also means thoughts, like a machine that works according to God’s will. God certainly has His own plans for us. His plans are always good for the present and for the future. His plans are always better than ours. We should trust God even when we do not understand His plans.

The same word ‘plans’ appears in this passage in Isaiah 55. We are told that God’s thoughts or plans for us are not only different than ours, but much greater and infinitely better. Our thinking is based on what we see on earth. God’s thoughts and plans are heavenly, eternal, and perfect. We are to seek God’s mind in all situations so that we can be led by the Holy Spirit. Seeking God’s will and His leading is vital for a believer. That is the only way we make spiritual progress. In seeking God, we must repent of sin, die to the flesh and to the worldly way of thinking. We go to the throne of mercy and grace to find those in times of need. This is a painful and humbling process, but necessary in finding God’s will and His leading. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:6-9). From here we see that God does not reveal His plans and does not lead the unbelievers or the backsliders. He only leads the humble believers who desire to know Him more. Selah!

In this missionary journey, it seems that Apostle Paul wanted to go eastward, possibly to Ephesus where there was a big Jewish population. But the Holy Spirit wanted them to go towards west, to Europe. You see here how the will of man clashes with the will of God. The Holy Spirit leads them step by step. First, the Holy Spirit ‘hinders them’ and later He does not ‘permit them’ to go their own way. These are strong words showing that the Holy Spirit leads the way according to God’s plan. What is the lesson? We cannot preach what we want or where we want. Evangelism must be done led by the Holy Spirit and not according to our ideas. How does God lead? It is possible that the Holy Spirit spoke to their minds thru special revelations. They discussed among themselves and prayed. This is how they arrived at Troas (in present day Turkey) where Paul had a vision in the night of a man pleading for help, for them to come to Macedonia. Paul, accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and Dr. Luke went to Macedonia by boat. They stopped at the port of Neapolis (in present day Greece). From there they went to Philippi.

In Greek, the word ‘concluding’ means to unite, to drive together, to teach, to deduce something based on facts. It means that they were in the unity of the Spirit during this trip. Paul combined the internal leading with the vision received and concluded what the Holy Spirit was saying. The feeling is something like ‘This makes sense’.  He now saw the purpose of the trip. It was at Troas that God met Dr. Luke for the first time. He was a disciple of Christ already. He jointed Paul, Silas, and Timothy on the trip. It was Luke who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. See how he changes from ‘they’ to ‘us’ (Acts 16 verses 8 and 10). Luke was a medical doctor, a scholar, and a great writer. Paul trusted him completely. He became a faithful coworker in the ministry and a close friend for life. If Paul did not go west to Troas, he could not have met Luke. Apostle Paul is an example of how to be led by the Holy Spirit. Be dead to self, sensitive to the Spirit’s guidance, humble and flexible to move where He directs. The unity of the Spirit must be maintained. The sign and seal of God’s peace must be received.   

Practically, to be led by the Spirit it refers mostly to guidance, to make decisions on what road to follow. God’s commands are not to be debated. For example, you do not pray to be led by the Spirit about stealing or not. The leading is necessary when we need to make decisions in life that are not directly revealed in the Bible. For example, you need to be led to choose a city where to live, who to marry, how many children to have, or what job to take. In ministry, you need to be led by the Holy Spirit in choosing what sermon to preach or where to do evangelism. In the Bible there are only two places that speak about the leading of the Spirit: Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18.

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:13-16). “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:16-18).

We see that the leading of the Holy Spirit is given only to the children of God. The unbelievers are led by their fleshly desires or by demons. The leading of the Holy Spirit is always in accordance with the Word of God and prayer. The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and He alone knows how to interpret them to us. In the Christian, there is a battle between flesh and spirit. Thru the process of sanctification, we die to the flesh and live by the Spirit. The devil works thru the flesh. There are three ‘voices’ that the Christian hears: The impulse (voice) of the flesh, of the devil, or the voice of the Holy Spirit. The devil works thru deception pretending he is God. It takes spiritual maturity to discern, to listen and to obey the voice of the Holy Spirit. His leading comes thru the Word of God, by an impression on your mind, or thru sanctified imagination. When God speaks, there is a special feeling of hearing Him. You hear authority in His voice. You hear your Father, your Shepherd speaking. You feel a strong urge to follow, even if you do not totally understand the way. Often, God uses other people, especially the mature Christians who have a prophetic gift to confirm the leading. Once you hear from the Holy Spirit and you obey, peace comes to you and the strength to move on.  Never forget! As children of God, we are never alone. Like the shepherd leads his flock, the Holy Spirit leads us on ‘besides the still waters… in the paths of righteousness… and for the glory of His name’ (Psalm 23). Halleluiah!

THE ANCIENT CITY OF PHILIPPI

Philippi is an ancient city in Macedonia, in the present-day Greece. It was founded by King Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  Macedonia, including Philippi, was later conquered by the Romans. In the first century, Philippi was a Roman colony, more like an army post. Because the Romans built many structures similar with those in Rome, Philippi was called ‘The little Rome’. The population was made from retired soldiers in the Roman army and their families. They were given houses to settle there as a reward for being faithful in Caesar’s army. The city was governed by two retired senior soldiers called ‘magistrates’ who were directly under the authority of Caesar. They made sure that there is peace in that area. Because gold was found in the hills around, Philippi was a prosperous city.

Apostle Paul, with his team made of Timothy, Silas, and Dr. Luke, arrived by ship at Neapolis, a port by the Mediterranean Sea (Today, Neapolis is called Kavala, Greece). From there, they walked 10 miles up the hill, to Philippi. The Holy Spirit led on to this very place. Philippi is the first city in Europe where Paul preached the Gospel. When he came to Philippi, he must have felt good because he too was a Roman citizen. Historians say that Alexander the Great used Philippi as his European base to attack and conquer Asia with his mighty army. Now, Apostle Paul, armed with only the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, came from Asia to Philippi, to conquer Europe for Jesus. Halleluiah!

THE FREE WOMAN

In this chapter we see two women, one is free and the other is in bondage; one is a child of God, the other is a child of the devil. Women in the Bible are symbols of churches. There are only two types of churches, the living, and the dead. There is no middle ground. Where do you belong?

“Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So, she persuaded us” (Ac 16:14, 15). The free woman’s name is Lydia. Her name means noble or beautiful. Lydia was a gentile godly woman who ‘feared God’. It means that she has repented of idolatry and now she is a Jewish proselyte who served only Jehovah God. Lydia was a businesswoman originally from the city of Thyatira, a city in the Asia Minor, in the present-day Turkey. She was selling fabrics died in purple. This die was extracted from a type of shellfish, and it was extremely expensive. Purple was considered royal color. Only the princes or the very rich could afford that type of fabric. She had a house in Philippi where she was selling the fabrics. From here we deduce that she was a wealthy hard-working woman. The Holy Spirit has located her and sent Apostle Paul to preach the Gospel to her. Like the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius, the centurion, Lydia was genuinely seeking God. She heard the Word preached by Paul with faith in her heart! Lydia had good ears. The ears must be opened for the heart to be opened. She ‘attended’ to what Paul was preaching. It means that she was truly interested. She obeyed the Word! Then God opened her heart! Lydia was baptized with her household. Later, in the same way, the jailer and his household got saved. Here you see the influence of the leader in his household. Lydia’s house became the first church in Philippi. Read the letter of Paul to the Philippians and see how much Paul loved the church there.

God’s ways are mysterious! Jesus chose a woman to be the first convert in Europe. Christianity brought dramatic changes. At that time, both to Jews and to Gentiles, a husband was like a slave master. Polygamy was common. A man could divorce his wife for any reason at all. The wife was almost like a slave to her husband. For example, a wife could not change her religion to be different than her husband. We do not know if Lydia was married, or she was a widow. She was clearly a successful woman on her own. She was like the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. This is a good lesson: the Christian wife is to work-hard and become successful in her profession or trade, and at the same time, not neglecting her duties to her husband, children, and members of her household. No Christian woman should be lazy, foolish, or a liability to the people around her. By choosing Lydia as the first convert in Europe, Christ opened the door of faith to all, male and female. This is revolutionary, especially for the women. This revolution affected the men too, and the way they see their wives and daughters. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The Christian marriage is unique in the world. It is based on submission, understanding, respect, and love, for God and for one another.  

What did Lydia do? She ‘heard’ Paul preaching the Gospel. In Greek, the word ‘heard’ means to listen carefully, to pay attention, to meditate and understand the message. The Lord Jesus opened her heart to heed to the preaching of God’s Word. ‘To open’ it means to remove a hindrance, a covering, or a veil. It means to expose and to allow entrance. “When one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:16, 17). In the morning, you wake up and open your eyes. It is the start of a new day. To open the heart is similar. Lydia woke up from the sleep of death by the power of resurrection. An open heart is a saved and living heart. God opened her heart to heed the word of God preached by Paul.  When God opened her heart, He planted the seed of faith. She was now willing to believe, accept, and respond to God’s Word. This beautiful picture describes the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation.

Just like with Lydia, the Resurrected Christ opened the hearts of the disciples to receive the Word and believe in Him. In the past, they trusted Him, but it was only after His death and resurrection that they truly understood Him. When Jesus opened their hearts and minds, they saw the truth that Jesus was the Messiah, that He was indeed the Son of God. They saw the connection between the Old Testament and Jesus, who is the fulfilment of all the law and all prophesies. “Then their eyes were [suddenly] opened [by God] and they [clearly] recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.  They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was talking with us on the road and opening the Scriptures to us?”…  Then He opened their minds to [help them] understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:31, 32, 45; AMP).

An opened heart is a pure heart. It is the heart of a worshipper who worships God in Spirit and in truth. God alone can purify the heart from sins, fears, doubts, prejudices, and wrong religious ideas of Him. God removes the veil of darkness from the minds of men. He opens and cleanses the heart to be like a child’s, simple, pure, and full of light, trust, and wonder towards God. The fact that God opens man’s heart is the proof that He has direct access to it. It is the work of Grace. God opens the heart of His child thru faith in His Word and by His sovereign power.

This is another godly woman’ story. Her name is Hannah. She was barren because ‘the Lord had closed her womb’ (1 Sam 1:5). She prayed for a son and vowed to dedicate him to God all the days of his life. God answered her prayer. He opened the closed womb and Hannah became pregnant with Samuel. Mother and son were true worshippers of God. In this sense, an open heart is a spiritually pregnant and fruitful heart.

Apostle James also speaks about the power of God’s Word ‘implanted’ in the open heart. The Word should be received deep, like a seed planted in good soil. For that to happen, we must be ‘quick to hear’ and willing to obey God’s Word. The Word planted will germinate in the heart and produce fruits to the glory of God. Sin manifests as talking too much, anger, or being careless with the things of God. These are hindrances to the opening of the heart unto salvation. An open and receptive heart is blessed by God. “Understand this, my beloved brothers, and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]. So, get rid of all uncleanness and all that remains of wickedness, and with a humble spirit receive the word [of God] which is implanted [actually rooted in your heart], which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth]. For if anyone only listens to the word without obeying it, he is like a man who looks very carefully at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he immediately forgets what he looked like. But he who looks carefully into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and faithfully abides by it, not having become a [careless] listener who forgets but an active doer [who obeys], he will be blessed and favored by God in what he does [in his life of obedience]” (James 1:19=25; AMP).

This is a great lesson: The most important thing about evangelism is not how smart, or how emotional you are when you preach. Your duty is to preach the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected with simple words anyone can understand. After that, you trust God to touch the hearts of the listeners. In Lydia’s case, God opened her heart. As preachers, we have work to do. But some things, only God can do. “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Cor 3:5-7). Glory to God!

THE GIFT OF HOSPITALITY

After she got saved, Lydia insisted that Paul and his team come to her house. She said that ‘if you judge me to be a true believer, come to my house’! Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, Lydia ‘constrained’ them to come. She put pressure on them to come to her house. She was a true leader. Her whole household was converted and baptized. Like the jailer, Lydia clearly manifested the gift of Hospitality. This is a gift given by the Holy Spirit. Hospitality means to love, welcome, and help strangers (not only your family and friends). It means to treat people you just met warmly and generously. In the early church, there were no hotels or restaurants the way we have today. People depended on one another for food and shelter. Exercising hospitality to all needy people, but to believers and servants of God in particular, it is a sacrificial spiritual ministry rewarded by Jesus. This is God’s command: “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet 4:9). Grumbling, stinginess, laziness, and bitterness are all hindrances to the ministry of hospitality and to receiving the blessings attached to it. Hospitality is one of the requirements for the position of leadership in the church. “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). Hospitality is a platform for the manifestation of miracles. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Heb 13:2). In Genesis 18 we are told that Jesus Himself, accompanied by two angels, went to visit Abraham and Sarah. The old godly couple welcomed them with much joy. Jesus told them that Sarah will have a son in a year time. This is how the promised son Isaac was miraculously conceived and born.

Hospitality has great spiritual rewards. Jesus said: “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward”… “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matt 10:40-42; 25:34-36).

Socially, the home is the woman’s domain. She is free to use it as ministry. God has blessed many women for exercising the gift of hospitality. For example, the Shunammite woman welcomed the prophet Elisha in her house. This is how she got pregnant and had a son (2 Kings 4). Martha of Bethany opened her house to Jesus and His disciples (Lk 10:38-42). The church in Jerusalem was meeting in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). The first church in Europe started at the house of Lydia. Praise the Lord!

After Paul was released from prison, he went to her house to say goodbye and to encourage the brethren there (Ac 16:15, 40). Later, Apostle Paul remembers the sweet time of fellowship he had with the brethren in Philippi, the joy he had what that ‘first day’, when God saved Lydia by the river. He prayed for the church that started in her house. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:3-8).

THE WOMAN IN BONDAGE

“Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days” (Ac 16:16, 17).

This is the story of a young woman who was in bondage to Satan. She has no name. She was a medium. She followed Paul when he was preaching in Philippi. She started shouting saying that Paul and his team are true servants of God. Maybe she went to the river where the women gathered for prayer and she heard Paul telling them about Jesus. What she said was true, but the way she was shouting, it disturbed Paul. He waited for few days, probably praying for discernment and wisdom. Paul hated the idea that the devil is ‘advertising’ his ministry. After few days, he rebuked the demon, and the girl was free. From that moment she could not practice divination again. Here we see that Paul had authority to drive demons even from unbelievers. We are not told what happened to her after that. Her masters got angry because they lost their source of money. They instigated the authorities to beat Paul and Silas and put them in prison. God sent an earthquake on the prison. This miracle saved them. The jailer and his household also believed. The Word of God continued to spread. What is the lesson? When God moves, the devil always attacks. The devil comes as an angel of light causing confusion. In the early church, the devil tried to infiltrate thru Ananias, Saphira, and thru Simon the Sorcerer. The devil used Saul, the religious leaders and King Herod to persecute the church. Infiltration is always more dangerous than persecution. During Paul’s first missionary trip, when the devil saw that the proconsul listened to the Gospel preached by Paul, Elymas the sorcerer tried to hinder the Word. God used Paul to stop him by causing him to be blind for a season (Acts 13:6-12).

This slave girl was a medium who had an evil spirit of divination. What she said about Paul was true. The devil can speak the truth but with an evil intent to deceive men. False prophets and cult leaders speak truth to deceive men. The devil masquerade as an angel of light so that men will follow him. “Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Cor 11:13-15).

What was the plan of the devil? He wanted to use this girl to infiltrate the church in Philippi. People will think that she is saved when she was not. The devil will use her as a spy, giving information from inside the church. The devil wants to bring the Christians into his bondage again by corrupting the Gospel. But Apostle Paul was not deceived. He did not submit or cooperate with these religious evil spirits. “False brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Gal 2:4, 5). There are many pastors and preachers who married false prophetess thinking that they are women of God. Oh, the need for discernment, spiritual warfare, and moral courage for all preachers of the Gospel! Selah!

Divination is an occult skill by which a person, using supernatural powers, reveals secret things or can predict the future. In Greek, the word ‘divination’ is Phyton. This sad girl was possessed by a Phyton demon. She was working for her masters, making money by fortune-telling, predicting the future and by uttering spells. The word ‘medium’ means to be in the middle, in between states. The medium in a trance is in between the natural and the supernatural realm. A medium is a woman (or a man) who says that she can contact the world of the spirits, even the spirits of dead persons (called familiar spirits) while she is in a trance. These occultic sessions are called seances. The evil spirits use the medium’s voice to speak out. The messages come audibly, visibly or thru body feelings. During the seance people feel, hear, and see the dead person they want to contact. In the Bible, divination, casting spells, and all attempts to contact evil spirits, are seen as demonic activity. God totally condemns this type of practice or even any association with it. This is God’s Word: “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Exodus 22:18).  “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God… And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people” (Lev 19:31; 20:6). These demons are spiritual ‘prostitutes.’ Going to them for counsel will result in ‘defilement’. In Hebrew, this word means to become leprous, spiritually raped, polluted, and unclean. An unclean person cannot come to God’s presence. This is a serious matter. The Christian needs to repent and pray for deliverance. Selah!

In 1 Samuel 28 we see that King Saul contacts a medium, a witch. He was fighting the Philistines. God refused to talk to him thru dreams, by Urim or thru His prophets. King Saul wanted to know the future of the battle. When he was younger, he drove all witches from the land. But now, he needed to see one. He went to consult a witch at Endor. The witch herself was surprised when the spirit of Samuel came up. We do not know why God allowed this to happen. Anyway, Samuel told Saul that he and his sons will die the next day. The word came true. Saul, Jonathan and his other two sons died in battle. The reasons why God killed Saul was because he was unfaithful to Him and he consulted a witch for guidance. “Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the Lord; therefore, He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (1 Chr 10:13, 14). The mediums say that they can bring the spirits of the dead. They are liars and deceivers. They are servants of the devil who is the greatest liar. These spirits are demons (also called familiar spirits) and not the true spirits of the departed persons. When the rich man went to hell, he could not go back to earth again (Luke 16:18-31). In 1 Kings 22, we are given a glimpse into the spirit’ realm. God allowed a lying spirit to go to the earth and to deceive King Ahab to go into battle and die. This is not an easy story to explain but we see that demons influence evil people with God’s permission. Finally, this is God’s Word: Do not go to those who are mediums to ask for prayers or advice. Do not be attracted by them. Do not respect them. Do not submit to them! Selah!

THE PYTHON SPIRIT

The oracle of Delphi was the most famous oracle of ancient Greece. Its role in Greek politics was great as Kings and politicians sent representatives to consult its chief priestess called the Pythia, so named after the Python snake. They wanted to know what the gods are saying so that they make decisions for war or peace. Sometimes, the Pythia could cast spells on the enemies of those who patronize her. These spells manifested as incurable disease, accidents, sudden poverty, madness, or untimely death. The Pythia lived in the temple of Apollo who was the god of the oracle. The Pythia was the mouthpiece of the oracle. Most of the time she was a virgin woman of middle age who dressed in a young girl’s garments and wore her hair loose. The Pythia devoted her life to the oracle. She was a slave to the Python spirit. To have an audience with the Pythia, the person will sacrifice a sheep or a goat. The Pythia will chew some leaves, sit on a three legs stool, enter a trance, and speak ‘words of wisdom’.

The slave girl in Acts 16 was a medium and a false prophetess. She was paraded by her masters. When a customer wanted to know the future, the girl will fall into a trance and speak with a different tone of voice. Her masters will interpret what she is saying for a fee. Because many wanted to know the future, the girl was busy divining making a lot of money for her masters. She was possessed by a python spirit. This demon is the only demon named in the Book of Acts. How does it manifest? In the natural, the python is a big powerful snake. It does not kill by poison. It kills by suffocation. It coils around until the victim stops breathing and dies thru cardiac arrest (‘heart attack’). The victim bones are not crushed. There is almost no sign of violence on the body of the victims before the snake swallows it whole.  It may take weeks to digest it. Pythons can swallow big animals like the antelope. They can also swallow humans. There are cases when men made pythons as pets and the pythons killed their owners. Spiritually, the python demon chocks the victim. Under such a spiritual attack, the victim has difficulty in breathing, or asthma-like symptoms. As the demon slowly coils around, the victim feels gradually getting weaker. Fear of closed spaces (claustrophobia) or the fear of untimely death accompanies these attacks. Some experience oppression or sexual attacks in the dreams. The spiritual weakness manifests as loss of interest in the study of the Bible, in prayer or in praising God. The victims feel like leaving the sanctuary saying they suffocate inside. In Nigeria, this python demon is called by strange names as: Mammy-Water, Spirit-Wife or Spirit-Husband, Ogbanje Spirit, One Kind Eye… What is the solution? If the victim is an unbeliever, he must surrender totally to Jesus Christ. If the victim is a Christian under attack, he needs deliverance in the name of Jesus! Start to fast, pray, and praise God with a loud voice. This is what Paul and Silas did in the prison when they were attacked by the python demon. God answered and they became free. Halleluiah!

PAUL AND SILAS IN PRISON

This slave girl from Philippi was a false prophetess initiated at the Apollo temple. Initially, Paul ignored her words. Later, he rebuked the demon out from her. She was free from the demon. From that time, the girl refused to fall into a trance and speak. Her masters discovered that the girl could not ‘prophesy’ again. They got angry with Paul because they lost the source of their money.  We do not know why they arrested only Paul and Silas. They beat them and they were thrown into the prison. In the Roman law people should worship Caesar. The Romans allowed some religions, but they had to be approved by Caesar. Christianity was not yet approved by him. They beat Paul and Silas with rods. There was no trial. Just beating. They put them in stocks (they tie the legs to stretched to the maximum to cause painful cramps).

At that time, prison was a terrible place. They were thrown in the inner cell. Just imagine that they were rats and bad smell, no clean air. Paul and Silas could have complained to God. But they did not. They prayed and praised God. They were happy that despite the persecution, God’s work was successful and the first church in Europe was born. They knew that the devil attacked them because they had a great success. At midnight God sent an earthquake. In the Bible, the midnight hour is when Jesus comes again to defeat all enemies. “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!” (Matt 25:6). Paul and Silas were like the wise virgins. Their prayer and praise were fueled by the Holy Spirit. God sent a miraculous earthquake that affected only the prison. All chains got loosed. The gates got opened. The jailer was terrified and wanted to commit suicide. But Paul encouraged him. He then became saved. Him and his household believed in Jesus and were baptized. He later joined the household of Lydia, the first church in Europe. The next day, the officials discovered that Paul was a Roman citizen. By law, they were not supposed to beat him without trial. Apostle Paul refused to go quietly. He wanted everyone to hear that a Roman citizen preached the Gospel and started the first church in Europe.

THE CONVERSION OF THE JAILER

The story of the jailer is the classic story of salvation. He asked the greatest question of all and he received the greatest answer given to me:  “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 So they said, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Ac 16:30, 31). I imagine that the jailer was hard man, a rough retired Roman soldier with blood on his hands. His job was the best thing he now has. His job was his god. That is why when the jailhouse collapsed, he wanted to kill himself. Only the Holy Spirit could change this hard sinner unto an humble saint. He invited Paul and Silas in his house, feed them and washed their wounds. Like Lydia, we see the manifestation of the gift of hospitality as a sign of salvation. Finally, let us see how great God is! God is gentle with Lydia and opened her heart. With this jailer, God brought an earthquake. The earthquake was localized only at the prison. All chains get loosed and all gates got opened. God is all-powerful!     

THE POWER OF PRAISE

The word ‘praise’ is used more than 200 times in the Bible. God commands His creation to praise Him. Praising God means to glorify His name, perfection, character, power, and mighty works. It means to give God the glory and the honor He deserves. Praise is spiritual sacrifice and proceeds from a grateful heart. It manifests as singing, playing instruments, dancing, or clapping of hands. Why praising God is so powerful?

First, thru praise, you encounter God. He promised to manifest Himself as King and Judge when His people praise Him. “You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3). Problems are solved immediately when praising God with all your heart. In God’s presence there is fullness of joy (Ps 16:11). When Paul and Silas praised God in prison, the miracle of deliverance happen. Praising God humbles you. Praising God removes your attention from yourself and the circumstances around you. When you see how great God is, you also discover how small you are. You now look unto God. You realize how much you need God every moment. God gives grace and help only to the humble. The more you praise God, the more King Grace will bless you. Secondly, when you praise God, He will fight your battles (2 Chr 20:22). Thru praise warfare the victory is sure! Halleluiah! Worship the Lord!

THE EARLY CHURCH (12) THE CONVERSION OF CORNELIUS

Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh continued preaching the series The Early Church. Her main text was taken from the Book of Acts 10 and 11.

THE STORY

The beautiful story of the conversion of Cornelius in Acts chapter 10 is a miracle of pure grace. This chapter is filled with supernatural events. Heaven seems so close to the earth. This is the revelation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church. Secondly, this is a story of two great men, Peter, and Cornelius. They lived in separate, parallel social realms. In the natural, they could not have met. But the grace of God made a way where there was no way. They met and thru the Gospel, King Grace made them one. They became friends forever. Old divisions and prejudices are falling. Thru their encounter, Cornelius understanding of God became deeper and Peter’s theology got wider. Praise the Lord!

Apostle Peter was staying in the house of Simon, a Christian brother. Simon was a tanner. Tanning was the process by which animal skins were processed to become leather. Because tanning was accompanied by strong unpleasant smells and unattractive sights, the Jews considered tanning as an unclean work. Because the process needs salty water to process the skins, and for the smell to go away by the wind, most tanneries were situated along the Mediterranean Sea. Simon lived in the city of Joppa. By the way, it is from this ancient port that Jonah took a ship and went to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, the people of Nineveh. Because of his ‘dirty’ job, a man like Simon was not allowed to enter the synagogue. But as he became a Christian, the church was opened to him. To encourage him, Peter decided to live in this ‘smelly, unclean’ house, As Peter was fasting and praying, he experienced a trance. In Greek, the word ‘trance’ is the same as ‘ecstasy’. A trance is not a dream. During a trance, the person is awake, but his natural senses are suspended. His consciousness connects only with the spiritual realm. Peter saw heaven open and a sheet coming down with different animals and birds. According to the Mosaic law, some were clean, and others were unclean. A voice told him: “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!” Still having his Jewish religious prejudice, Peter refused to obey. In his self-confidence, he was trying to correct God’s command. Then the voice told him: “What God has cleansed you must not call common!” This vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was taken back to heaven. Eventually, Peter believed that God is doing something new, and he accepted to go and visit a Gentile man. This vision prepared Peter for the work of evangelism among the Gentiles, who were considered ‘common’ by the Jews. Peter forgot that one of the blessings of Abraham, the father of Israel, was that all people on earth will be blessed thru him. God told him: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).

Cornelius was the first official Gentile convert to Christianity. (The Ethiopian eunuch was considered a Jewish proselyte before he became born again). Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman army. It means that he oversaw 100 soldiers. His name means ‘horn or strength’. He was living at Caesarea, a port along the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans choose Caesarea as their capital in the area because it was free from the political religious strife in Jerusalem. It is possible that Cornelius was a freed slave who became a soldier. There was a famous Roman politician and soldier called Lucius Cornelius Sulla (108-45 BC). This was his strategy: when he conquered a territory, he killed all the rulers and the rich people. He then freed their slaves. He freed about 10,000 slaves and made them soldiers. He gave them the rights to be Roman citizens. The slaves became very grateful. In this way, the army became his strength. All these freed slaves got the name of ‘Cornelius’. It is possible that this centurion called Cornelius was once a freed slave. (It is interesting that all the centurions mentioned in the Bible are good and godly men).

Cornelius was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. He was a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews” (Ac 10:2, 22). Cornelius was a Gentile who possibly got to know about Jehovah God while he stayed in Caesarea. He started reading the Old Testament and tried to serve Jehovah God. He was not a Jewish proselyte like the Ethiopian eunuch because he was not circumcised to become a Jew. He got friendly with the Jews. This was a great achievement knowing that the Jews hated the Romans. He followed the Jewish pattern to pray three times a day. He was a good moral kind religious man, but not born again. He quietly gave up the worship of the Roman idols and choose to serve the only God. He led his household of slaves and soldiers under him to do the same. An angel came to him in a vision at ‘the ninth hour’ which is 3 pm, at the time of the afternoon prayer at the Temple in Jerusalem. The angel said this: “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God… Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering… Your prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God’s attention” (Ac 10:4, NKJ, NLT, TM). The angel told him to send for a man called Peter. It is amazing to see how God knows all things on earth. He told Cornelius the name and the address where to find Peter.

Peter came and preached the Gospel to Cornelius, to his household and friends. Cornelius knew something about Jehovah. But he did not know that God is interested in him personally. This personal living faith in Jesus was activated thru the preaching of God’s Word. He and his household believed the Gospel. The Holy Spirit came on them and baptized them. They spoke in tongues and praised God. They became saved and got baptized in water. Peter and his Jewish friends stayed at the house of Cornelius few more days to have fellowship together. When Peter went back to Jerusalem, the Christian Jews were angry with Peter because he visited a Gentile, which is against the Jewish Law. When Peter explained what happened, they believed God and praised Him for granting repentance and salvation to the Gentiles too.

What are some of the lessons?

*God is sovereign in His choice of saving men. Salvation is God’s work. It is by His grace alone. Both Saul, the Jew and Cornelius, the Gentile, became saved by God’s grace alone. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom 8:29-30). The doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation says that God alone elects, choses, and calls those who He wants to save. Salvation is of God alone and by His grace alone. Man is born a sinner. There is nothing in man that impresses God to save him. Because of sin, all the works done by man cannot please God. We are not saved by anything we have done, or we desire to do for God. We are saved by God’s purpose, pleasure and will. If any sinner truly desires to know God, that desire is planted in his heart by God. God grants the gift of repentance from sin to those He wants to save. God gives the gift of faith to those who have repented of their sins. True repentance is always followed by faith in Jesus. The grace of God is sovereign. He is merciful to His elect and He hardens the others. God is under no obligation to save any man. He has the right to give or to withhold His grace according to His will and pleasure. If any sinner is saved, it is because God chose him to be saved. If any sinner is lost, it is because God wills it to be so. Many reject this doctrine, but the Word of God is clear about it (Rom 9:10-18). For us who by God’s grace are saved, we bow and worship Him!

*There is no partiality with God.

Partiality or favoritism is defined as the habit of preferring one person over another according to your own personal likings. The price for favoritism means that you discriminate and reject people you dislike, seeing them as inferior. Favoritism is sin and produces division in the church. Men tend to judge others by their outward appearance. If a man is rich and handsome, or a woman is beautiful, people tend to be attracted by them. Favoritism happens because we do not see man’s true character hidden in the heart. But God, who alone sees the heart, is never deceived by appearances. When we read that ‘there is no partiality with God’ it means that God will not ignore or bend His law or change His standard for anyone. He is faithful to His Law. God’s standard is Jesus!!!! This is good news to the believers and bad news to the unbelievers! This is God’s Word: “The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe” (Deut 10:17). “He is not partial to princes, nor does He regard the rich more than the poor; For they are all the work of His hands” (Job 34:19). “God shows personal favoritism to no man” (Gal 2:6). God does not have favorites among rich or poor, masters or slave (Eph 6:5-9; James 2:1-6)

“These things also belong to the wise: It is not good to show partiality in judgment. He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,” him the people will curse; Nations will abhor him. But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them” (PV 24:23-25). The child of God is wise. Like God, he will not be bribed to acquit the wicked but will rebuke him. In this way the wise man is blessed.

For example, King Saul was a handsome man who looked like royalty. But God rejected him. Judas looked like a faithful disciple, but he was a traitor. We cannot see ‘the heart’ of man. Only God sees it. Therefore, we need to depend on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We do not evaluate a man based on his outward appearance or level of popularity. Like God, we should not discriminate or show partiality to men. We should not have ‘personal friends’ in the church. We must treat all people kindly as they are all God’s creation. The only people we get close to are not the ones that ‘we like’ in the natural, but the ones God recommends. To know them, you need to pray. Christian friendships should not be based on being from the same tribe, same social status, same level of wealth or education. All close friendships should be approved by the Holy Spirit. It means that you should not enter a relationship based on an impulse. You cannot ‘fall in love at first sight’. “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (PV 12:26). Many have ignored this command and got hurt in the church.

God judges all men by the amount of light they have, by the level of understanding they have about Him. God judges the Jews or the religious people according to their knowledge of God’s Word. God judges the non-religious people according to their conscience. “For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Rom 2:11-16).

Initially, Peter argues with Jesus, just like in the past. That is why the vision had to be repeated three times. Eventually, Peter obeyed and went to visit Cornelius with an open heart. When Peter saw that the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and his people, he was amazed. He said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Ac 10:34, 35).

*God always prepares His servants before He saves or uses them.

God prepared both Peter and Cornelius for their encounter. Peter still had some Jewish prejudices. A prejudice is a preconceived judgment, an unfair opinion or feelings about others made with only a partial knowledge about them. Prejudice discriminates and hurts others. God delivered Peter from his prejudice against the Gentiles. In the past, Peter surely observed that Jesus did not show favoritism among men. Even His enemies acknowledged that saying: “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth” (Lk 20:21). Peter saw Jesus rebuking the religious rulers but accepting Samaritans, prostitutes and tax collectors who believed in Him. Now, Peter must learn to behave like his Master. This was a difficult lesson for Peter. It is hard for us to understand how much the Jews disliked the non-Jews. Thru that vision of unclean animals, Jesus delivers Peter from all his prejudices against the Gentiles. By God’s law, Peter was forbidden to socialize or to do business with the Gentiles. God is showing him now that he is not under that law anymore. He should not call any man impure whom God calls pure. In Christ, we are one! “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

Even before Cornelius became born again, the grace of God was working in his life preparing the way for his salvation in Christ. The prayers of Cornelius and his gifts to the poor were accepted by God. Here we see the sovereignty of God preparing the sinner for salvation. Cornelius was seeking God with all his heart. He had a limited knowledge of the true God. Cornelius believed that Jehovah God is the only true God. He also believed that God is pleased with faith and rewards them who seek Him (Heb 11:6). He expressed his faith in God thru praying like the Jews and helping the needy. He is not saved but he is seeking God. The angel acknowledged both his faith and his generosity to the poor confirming that God has accepted them as ‘a memorial’. God rewards Cornelius by giving him a greater revelation unto salvation. God sends Peter to him to preach the Gospel. Here we see that Cornelius was not a religious hypocrite or a moralist who wanted to impress people. He was no seeking for fame among the Jews. Moralists are proud, they trust their own righteousness or works, but they always reject Jesus. Cornelius was not a proud religious man.  He was a genuine seeker of God. His prayers and gifts to the poor were given from his heart, willingly and faithfully. Cornelius was not saved by works. Like any sinner who became a saint, he was saved by grace and thru faith. When Peter preached Christ to him, he immediately believed the truth, and surrendered to Jesus. The Holy Spirit came on him to confirm the conversion.

Cornelius is a man awaken by the Holy Spirit. He is seeking God. He was fasting and praying regularly. The Jews prayed three times a day like Daniel (Dan 6:10). The Romans worshipped many gods. But Cornelius became a worshipper of the only God, Jehovah. He has repented from his idolatry. He is not yet saved but he is anxious for his soul. He knows he is a sinner. He wants to repent. Anxiety does not save a man but it is a sign that the soul is seeking for God, for eternal life. If any man who has no anxiety about the state of his soul, that man is going to hell. Selah! Cornelius is trying to obey the law of the Jews. He does not know that the law cannot save. The law only convicts a man of sin. The law makes man guilty. The law can only tell a man that he is lawbreaker. “Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). The law is a teacher directing the sinner to Christ. The law cannot save but trying to obey the law will produce a peculiar frustration that eventually becomes ‘a teacher, a tutor’, who directs us to Christ and His saving faith. “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore, the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal 3:23-25).

God prepares the other believers. Peter came to the house of Cornelius and met a great number of people. This is the work of the Holy Spirit preparing their hearts to believe in Jesus. Peter preached Jesus. Even before he finished his sermon, the Holy Spirit came on the people. They started praying in tongues and praising God. This was like a second Pentecost but this time, it was for the Gentile. This event surprised Peter and his Jewish friends. But they could not argue with God’s work. The believers were baptized. Peter stayed in the house of Cornelius for few days explaining further who Jesus is. He later came back to Jerusalem. The Jewish believers were angry with him, who did he go to the Gentiles. But after Peter explained everything, they believed and said: “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Ac 11:18).

Repentance and faith are twins, but they are not exactly the same. Repentance from sin is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a turning around from sin to God. Repentance leads to conversion and to living faith in Christ. It is a gift ‘granted’ by God to His elect. Any sinner who does not receive this gift of repentance remains hardened in his sin. Later Paul said: “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac 20:21).

*Prayer and helping the needy are ‘a memorial before God’. God will remember you!  

A memorial is an event, a celebration that keeps the memory alive after the person has died. Partaking in the Holy Communion is a Memorial to honor Jesus. Cornelius honored God by praying and caring for the poor. His good deeds were acknowledged by heaven. They are called ‘a memorial before God’. Thru the angel God said that He will answer his prayers and reward his gifts to the poor. Just the way the Holy Communion is a memorial for us to remember Jesus, so the helps to the poor are a memorial for Jesus to remember us!

One of the offerings commanded by the Law in the Old Testament was the grain offering. This is an offering without blood. It is a symbol of the life of Jesus on earth before the Cross. He was like a grain of wheat in a field of tares. Jesus is the grain crushed and made into flour. This is God’s law: “When anyone offers a grain offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. And he shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it. He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn it as a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord. The rest of the grain offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons’. It is most holy of the offerings to the Lord made by fire” (Lev 2:1-3). Thru this offering God confirms that the life of Jesus as a Man on earth was totally pleasing to Him. The oil represents the anointing of the Holy Spirit on Jesus as Man on earth. The Frankincense is a symbol of worship. The offering of flour, with oil and frankincense on top, is a memorial offering made by fire. Jesus served and worshipped God the Father with all His heart, until His last breath.

In other words, Cornelius gave gifts to the poor as a memorial before God. He was telling God: remember me! Selah!

Hannah’s prayers and vow are a form of memorial for God to remember her: “And she was in bitterness of soul and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish. Then she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” (1 Sam 1:10, 11)

The thief was trusted in Jesus while on the Cross, prayed a memorial prayer. He had nothing to give Jesus except his heart. He rebuked the other thief who was insulting Jesus. He prayed: “Lord, remember me…” Jesus accepted this prayer and saved him (Lk 23:40-43).

This is the lesson: For Christ’ sake, the child of God prays, intercedes for others, and does good deeds to help the poor. These gifts to the poor are pleasing to God who will remember the worshipper. We too, must do the same. We help the needy for the sake of Christ, not for fame or men’s applause. We do it for the glory of God. Doing good ‘in secret’ is rewarded openly by God. “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matt 6:1-4).

*God blesses His generous children in a particular way  

In both the Old and the New Testament, prayer, praising God and providing to the needy are seen as spiritual offerings. God blesses the generous worshipper with divine health, supernatural provision, strength, supernatural protection, favor with men and His intimate fellowship.

“Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness; You will sustain him on his sickbed” (Ps 41:1-3). “The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself” (PV 11:25). “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given” (PV 19:17).   

“Continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality” (Rom 12:12,13).

“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6).

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal 6:9)

“Indeed, I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).

“For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister… Therefore, by Him (Christ) let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb 6:10; 13:15, 16).  

*God blesses the preaching of His Word! Peter uses the keys of the Kingdom and opens three doors for salvation!

Cornelius got converted and baptized with the Holy Spirit when Peter was preaching the Gospel. His conversion and Baptism with the Holy Spirit happened almost at the same time. This is a good lesson: If there is living faith, conversion and the baptism of the Holy Spirit can happen at the same time. There is no need to wait to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Both Peter and Cornelius learned that the Gentiles could come to Jesus directly, by faith. They do not have to pass thru the Jewish religion. The church is not ‘a branch’ of the synagogue. Jesus died, rose again, and sent the Holy Spirit to make a new creation called the church, His Bride and Body. In this new creation, both Jew and Gentile can become members, by faith in Jesus Christ. 

Keys are made to open doors who are closed or to close open doors in case of danger. When Peter received the revelation from God the Father that Jesus is the Christ, he received a personal promise. Jesus told him that he will use the Keys of the Kingdom. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:18, 19). This promise applies to all believers, but Peter has the honor to be the first one to use these keys in a special way in the early church.

Before ascending to heaven, the resurrected Christ told His apostles: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Ac 1:8). According to this Word, Jesus gave Peter three keys of privilege, power, and authority, to be the first witness to open the door of salvation to the Jews (Acts 2), to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). God chose Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 1:15, 16). But in the encounter with Cornelius, we see Peter using the keys of the Kingdom to open the door to the Gentiles. In all three circumstances the Holy Spirit came to confirm the open door to heaven by baptizing the believers with the Holy Spirit.

What is a Key of God’s Kingdom? The key is God’s Word, the preaching of the Gospel. God does not use angels to preach His Word because no angel has ever been redeemed. God uses men to preach His Word because in Christ men have been saved. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom 10:13-15). Cornelius was God’s elect, but he still needed to hear the Gospel, for the door to the Kingdom to open for him. Cornelius was not there to argue. He was there to listen. He who has the key is in charge! In Samaria, Philip was preaching God’s Word and experienced miracles. But when Peter arrived and prayed the Holy Spirit came on the people. Peter used the same Key of the Kingdom to shut the door to the false prophet Simon the sorcerer. Later, when Peter preached to Cornelius, the door opened even before the end of the sermon. Cornelius is God’s elect, but he still needs to hear the Gospel. He is a wonderful example of a sinner seeking Jesus outside the established church. The Bible says that ‘none seek after God’ (Rom 3:11). Therefore, is any man is seeking after God, it means that God is working in his heart already, He will eventually find God, as His reward (Heb 11:6). God never disappoints true seekers after Him. “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13).

Finally, we see that Peter teaches Cornelius and Cornelius teaches Peter. Meeting Cornelius changed Peter. This encounter is a milestone for Peter. He has learned a new lesson about the power of the Blood of Jesus. The uniqueness of Christianity is the grace of God. Cornelius’ faith challenges Peter and Peter grows in grace. Peter was too much a Jew. He thought that if a Gentile wants to become a Christian he should pass thru the Jewish tradition. He did not imagine that God can save a Gentile directly without passing thru the religious traditions. Observe the weakness of the law and the power of grace to make godly relationships! The law could command Peter to go and preach. But only grace could change Peter’s heart and make him friends with a former enemy. Religion can change your behavior but only the Gospel can change your heart. Grace is amazing. The Gospel does something what the law or religion cannot do. From now on, Peter and Cornelius see each other as brothers for eternity. They start to like one another. They become friends for life! Oh, the blood of Jesus! Worship the Lord!

TRUST ABOVE RUBIES

“Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (PV 31:10-12)

This is our testimony: My husband and I are married for 43 years. All glory to God! One of our greatest achievements is trust in God and in one another. It is easier to trust in God. It is much more difficult to trust in one another. A good marriage foundation is made of hard work. Work comes first. Pleasure is the fruit. Successful marriage is one of the greatest blessings given to men on earth. For both marriage and ministry, we need trust!

“Who is she coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? (SS 8:5). Trust to a relationship is like oxygen to the body. Without trust the relationship will suffocate and die. Here we see this couple coming out from the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of death. There is no water, no flowers and no colors. It stands for the world which is full of trials and temptations. This couple has endured many things in the desert. But they stayed together and they are coming out of it together. The Bride is ‘leaning’ upon her Beloved! This is a position of trust. The Lover is stronger than her. She needs his help. She trusts him to help her. They walk together, trusting each other. The wilderness experience was difficult and painful but it failed to separate the two of them. Divorce died in the heat of the desert of life. They are still together carrying a testimony of loving trust and resurrection power.

Trust is a fighter and a survivor! Trust in God and in one another is not easy to achieve. But it is vital for the success of any relationship. Trust is defined as the unquestioning reliance on the character and strength of another. It is the confident expectation of hope; the assurance that the future of the relationship will be better than the present. Trust gives a feeling of security. Trust is built having faith in the Word of God and from past experiences you had together. When you trust your husband you believe that he will be sexually faithful in the marriage, understand your deepest needs and help you fulfil them. That is why mature trust is always connected with deep understanding and with total satisfaction at all levels, spiritual and physical. Trust is a royal crown to a successful marriage.

Once trust is broken, it is very hard to regain. Trust must be earned. It takes hard work and patience to re-build trust. The first reason for broken trust is money. You both need to build trust in the way you handle finances. If you cannot trust your spouse with your money, you will not be able to trust him (or her) with other things. The second reason is adultery. The opposite of trust is anxiety and doubt. These feelings appear when you think that your spouse exploits you and does not have your best interests at heart.

How do you build trust? By first of all putting all your trust in God and His Word! Out of that faith you can invest your trust in one another. To build trust you need good communication and understanding. Learn how to say ‘yes’ and how to say ‘no’. Do not always say ‘yes’ just to avoid arguments. Be true to your conscience, your feelings and desires. Share your vision for life with your husband. Do not sacrifice your dreams for the sake of ‘peace’. You need to listen to the other’s perspective. Put yourself in ‘his shoes’. Try to understand his fears and pains. Help the other in his weaknesses. The desire to help will build trust. Pray that your marriage will grow, spiritually and emotionally. A stagnant relationship becomes a place where the weeds of doubt will grow. Building your marriage together creates excitement and trust. Try to do something new together, travel together; serve God together! Make new memories together. Have new things to talk about. Don’t overstretch the relationship. Do not provoke one another to jealousy. Don’t keep secrets. Be open and vulnerable with each other. Keeping secrets takes a lot of energy and destroys trust. If you are secretive you will become tired and sad. Be gentle and wise with each other. Each one has a different level of maturity. There are seasons in each relationship. Keep your eyes on Jesus as you grow together! Finally, remember that these are just guidelines. Building loving trust takes a life time. Trust is risky but very rewarding! May God help you to build a happy home! In Jesus’ name, amen!

(Love from Malia! Notes from my diary, 2017. In the picture, my husband, Richmond Sisan Leigh and I, about 2017).

LESSONS OF LIFE

LESSONS OF LIFE TO THE YOUNGER WOMEN

“The older women likewise, should be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things… They should teach the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Tit 2:3-5)

At 65, I am what the Bible calls ‘an older woman’. I am a wife, a mother or three and a grandmother of seven. I am a woman of God, a pastor. My husband is also a man of God and a pastor. We are married for 45 years. To be a pastor’s wife is not just a title, but my privilege, my ministry, the gift of God! According to the Word of God, I am my husband’s ‘helpmeet’ (Gen 2:18). A helper must be close to the one he helps. I have tried to keep close to my husband, spiritually in particular. It pains me when he quotes a Bible verse or teaches me something new, and I am totally ignorant of that subject. I challenge myself to study the Word of God so that when my husband needs somebody to talk to about the Bible, I am ‘current’ with it.

I have learned many things about subjects that I do not like in particular. Because my husband is a Nigerian, I know much about the current affairs in Nigeria. I am not a politician, but I need to know these things, if they are good or bad. Ignorance has never helped anybody. To listen when my husband talks I need to be informed about the subject.

I need to know my husband’s plans, his vision for the ministry, his dreams and God’s purpose for his life. I need to pray for those. I need to grow as he grows. We are not competing one against each other. But we must complement each other. To complement my husband I need to grow too. As the vision for our lives and ministry increases with time, so we must grow with it. To be left behind spiritually, to be a passive wife, it is sin. If I am lazy or careless with our relationship, and I walk too slowly behind him with nothing new to add to our marriage, that sin is almost like spiritual adultery. My husband will be tempted to be worried, angry, disappointed and bitter against me, his wife, helper and friend. As a wife, I should not be found to be too fast and lead my husband. I should also not be found to be too slow and leave him alone.

Marriage is two people learning to be one. Each one of us must grow in grace towards God and towards one another. I should not take his love for granted. I should be watchful for any virus of disappointment towards me that I sense in my husband. I must be filled with the Holy Spirit so that I will help him be the man God wants him to be. I should cherish his choice of me to be his wife. Like King Solomon, he could have married a thousand other women who are better than me, but he decided to marry me, for better and for worst. I stand in awe of God for the privilege to be called his only wife. In Nigeria with ask: ‘Na small thin be this?’ Of course the answer is no! ‘Na big thin!”

We both work hard at making our marriage a success. It is not easy to be successfully married. Success does not come with time. You need to pray and study the Bible. We both are very serious in applying the Word of God daily to our lives. No one is perfect but as people and as a couple, we aim for perfection in Christ! Many people look up to us. Our victory is theirs too! We plant good seeds of love, caring, forgiveness and we harvest hundredfold of the same! The hard work is bringing a greater than expected harvest of peace, joy, wisdom and ministry to those who call us parents in Christ. The Bible says so and I conform it: Love is stronger than failure! Love has won the battle!

Dear daughters. may these words challenge and inspire you! God loves you! God loves your marriages! God loves your children! Glory be to God!

(In the picture, my husband, Pastor Richmond Leigh, and I. I wrote this letter in 2019. Since then, my husband has gone to heaven. By God’s grace, I continue with our ministry, as the senior pastor of Father’s House Bible Church, Warri/ Effurun/Nigeria. People come and people go, but the principles of marriage found in the Bible are eternal. To God be all the glory!)

THE EARLY CHURCH – PERSECUTION

Persecution is generally defined as severe harassment and punishment on some people based on their religion, race, or a different political party. In the early church, the devil attacked the early believers by two main strategies: outwardly, thru persecution and inwardly, thru infiltration of false brethren. In the history of Christianity, persecution tended to strengthen the church. The false brethren coming with false teachings are more dangerous. These tend to divide and scatter the church. These evil attacks started almost immediately. But nothing could stop the growth of the church. It is now part of church’ history that the early believers were terribly persecuted, first by the Jewish religious leaders and later by the Roman Empire.

Just the way God’s true prophets were rejected by the people of Israel in the Old Testament, so Jesus was rejected by the religious rulers in Israel. Jesus told His disciples that they too will suffer rejection from the world, especially from the religious world. This rejection is a form of persecution. The early Christians were prepared for persecution and even expected it. Jesus warned them that the world (the unbelievers) will hate and persecute them. He also said that the Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth and will comfort them when they are persecuted. Without the Holy Spirit’s encouragement, the persecution of the Christians was enough to destroy the church. This is a reminder to us of the mighty power released by the coming of the Holy Spirit in the church. Halleluiah!  Listen to our Lord’s warning: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake because they do not know Him who sent Me” (Jn 15:18-21).

Immediately after the killing of Stephen great persecution started against the Church. Like the seeds from the hand of the Sower, most of the disciples ran away from Jerusalem, spreading the Gospel. The Apostles remained in Jerusalem. They stayed there to continue to lead the church from the ‘headquarter’. Godly men buried Stephen. These men may be Jewish silent converts, the way Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were, who buried Jesus. They mourned deeply for him. This is a picture of godly repentance that leads to salvation. This burial is so different than the way Ananias and Saphira were buried when none mourned for them.

Saul of Tarsus, extremely zealous for his Jewish faith, and hating the Christians, became the leader of the persecution. “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Ac 8:3).  The words ‘made havoc’ means to cause great and wide destruction like a tornado. It means to cause great confusion in the church. In Greek, the words ‘made havoc of the church’ mean to destroy, to maltreat, and to insult the believers. He ‘dragged them off’ by force from their houses and put them in prison. The women were strong believers too and were not afraid to stand for Jesus. The Christians were called ‘the followers of the Way’ because Jesus said He is the only Way to God (Jn 14:6).  According to Apostle Paul’s confession later, it seems that in prison the believers were tortured, and many killed. “I persecuted and pursued the followers of this Way to the death, binding them with chains and putting [followers of Jesus] both men and women into prisons” (Ac 22:4; AMP). The devil was behind this persecution, but he failed to destroy the church. Peter encouraged the believers: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16).

What are some of the effects of persecution?

*Persecution separated the true from the false believers. The unbelievers went back to the world. God allowed it to keep the church pure.

*Persecution increased the faith and the assurance of salvation of all true believers. The believers were sure that they have eternal life and nothing, not even death, can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus! “Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, should not be made perfect apart from us” (Heb 11: 35-40). They learned how to be faithful and patiently endure trials. They lost the fear of death. Like Apostle Paul they were sure that ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Phil 1:21). This endurance developed spiritual maturity and strong moral character. The effect was great hope for the future. “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:3,4).   

*They understood and trusted Jesus in a new way, especially as their High Priest in heaven who is praying for them. They knew that Jesus feels their pain, and that they are not alone. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). When Stephen was dying, he saw Jesus standing (not sitting on His throne). Stephen was greatly encouraged by this vision. As he lay down dying, he took it as a sign that Jesus is with him preparing to receive him in heaven. “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55, 56).   

*They were sure that Jesus will reward them for their faithfulness during persecution. “That is why they felt blessed, or happy. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat 5:10-12)

*Many of the unbelievers who witnessed the killings of the Christians, became saved. They saw that the Christians were faithful to Jesus unto death. They were not afraid to die. That attitude touched many of them. The most famous of these religious unbelievers is Saul who became the Apostle Paul. He approved and witnessed the killing of Stephen. He never forgot his great peace, and his face like an angel, as he was dying. He did not forget that before his death Stephen prayed for forgiveness for his killers, including himself. Later, apostle Paul was persecuted more than others. He saw God working in all his trials. When he was in the prison in Rome, the Roman soldiers who guarded him became saved. “I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil 1:12-14). This is how the church grew! Worship the Lord!

FREE INDEED

TESTIMONY – FREE INDEED

I just received this letter from one of the young men in our church.

“Good morning, Ma’am,

Recently, I have been gripped with one kind fear , fear of armed robbers coming into our house, fear that something will happen to my family as they are coming home from the market, plenty different fears , fear that when I am driving police will stop me for what I don’t even know, then the most gripping one is fear that Effurun boys will break into our church, just plenty nonsense fears… I became lean spiritually, I sought the face of God , and waited with hope that on the next church service God will give me the solution to conquer this crazy fear.

I came to church with one heart’s desire: “Oh Lord I want to see You and know what is needed to know to conquer this fear”. In the midst of the service, it was like fire, water, oil, and the blood of Jesus, together poured on my clothes the stain stuck and the fear was swallowed … I got a deep understanding of the word of God: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:” I asked myself even if the worst happens, I will not turn back or relent in my chase after God… After this miracle, the blessings and assurance of God overshadowed my senses. I felt free… Ma, I didn’t have the power to not share it with you to the Glory of God and in Jesus’ name Amen.

Your son in Christ…”

My answer to him:

Dear son, Thank God for everything! You can see that all our problems are basically spiritual. If we do not deal with them with spiritual means provided for us in the Bible, we may fall into the natural trials and temptations. The Effurun boys shall come to church, not to steal and rob, but to give their lives to Christ. “There is no fear in Love for perfect love drives away all fears” (1Jn 4:18). You are a child of God! Love God and man! Believe God’s Word which is Truth! Be filled with the Holy Spirit! Then you shall be free indeed! God bless you!

Love in Christ alone,

Malia!

YOU ARE A WOMAN OF GOD!

MY CHILDREN ARE WALKING IN THE TRUTH

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3Jn 1:4)

I often receive encouraging letters from people I pastor, those who I call ‘my lambs in Christ’. Words cannot express the joy and the holy pride I feel when they testify to their spiritual growth. Today, a dear sister sent me this note. She has joined our church not too long ago. She is married with children. She is a successful businesswoman. She is very faithful in serving God in the house of God. I bless God for her life. The Holy Spirit has humbled her and favored her. Read her words and be blessed:

“Dear Malia, I thank God for the day I came to Father’s House! I realize I have it all!!! Inferiority complexity, poverty mentality and victim mentality. Afraid and shy!!!! Full of mistakes!!!! But yet He calls me His beloved!!!! There are times I wonder if it was a mistake to make me a leader in the Body of Christ???? Do I have what it takes to lead? I have always second guess myself, even at my work, in my marriage. Hmmmmm I am a big work in progress!!!! “Holy Spirit pls help me to be what my Maker created me to be. A vessel of honor, a Spirit control woman, a submissive wife and a Daughter of a Proud Father (God)!!!!!!”

Ma, ur words always give me comfort Ma!!!! The best thing that has ever happened to me is being in my Father’s house. Revealing to me my weaknesses, humbling and breaking me down and pointing to the cross daily!!!! Oh how He loves me!!!! Oh how he loves me!!! Thank u my mother!!! I have wept many tears but now, I am ready!!!! So I desire for Him to cleans me, weed me, burn me, mold me, swallow me, just to be perfect for Him!!!! “This is my desire, to honor You…”

You said that my destiny is to be a woman of God. Yes Ma!!! I am changing… Slow it may seam but definitely not going back to my vomit!!! My path can only continue to shine daily unto the perfect day, Ma. From one glory to another!!! I always say thank you bc if u had not held steadfast, I won’t be in this path!!! Hence I am always saying ‘thank u Ma’ bc ur salvation was not for u alone but for us!!! U needed to pave the way for us and make it lot easier. Be our shoulder, be our Rod we look up to, like Moses Rod. I am so far away!!!! So so far away from my goal but cautiously pressing on, my Mother. And when I look at my tiny growth, I laugh. I give thanks to God! How I am now anxious for nothing. No longer very hot tempered and easily provoked but always smiling knowing someone got my back. Knowing He is working everything together for my good. It gives me great joy, Ma. I love u! I love u the way u will never understand ma. And vow to make u proud. To say one day she is my daughter as I breed her. To be called by my husband “a woman of God”! One day… “

My answer to her:

“Dear daughter, this is the truth: Your future is by far better, more glorious and happier than your past and present! That is why, you should never fear going on in life and getting ‘old’! God is changing you to make you a woman of God! As you change in your heart, your marriage, your husband and children, people around you will also change! You ignite the miracle of passionate life un-ending around you! It will happen! You are already a woman of God. Believe this word! This truth will become clearer with time. One day! Not too far from now! In Jesus’ name!”

THE EARLY CHURCH

THE EARLY CHURCH (7)/ THE MARKS OF THE EARLY CHURCH (1) (Preaching, Baptism, Doctrine, Fellowship, and Holy Communion)

During the Sunday service, Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled The Early Church (7)/ The Church grows (1). Her main text was taken from the Book of Acts. “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:36-47).

We continue to study the early church, to discover the perfect pattern God has in mind about the Body of Christ. The Church is One set of branches connected to one Vine, One flock following on Shepperd, One Kingdom having One King, One building having One foundation, One Bride having One Bridegroom, One Body having One Head, Jesus Christ, the Lord!    

The most important verse in the whole Book of Acts, that gives it its general tone, is this: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). These are the last words of the resurrected Christ before ascending to heaven. The book of Acts is a Book of power manifested in the early church. The Book of Acts is one of the happiest books in the world. It is a book of revival.  We see that the first Christians had a great spiritual power and boldness to preach the Gospel and to pray. They loved the Word of God and their fellowship with one another. They were generous with their resources, helping the needy. They loved the name of Jesus and used it with authority. Signs and wonders accompanied their ministry. They were persecuted for their faith, but they were always victorious in all circumstances. They exercised holy discipline so that the church remains pure. They did evangelistic outreaches to spread the Gospel. Their faith and boldness were beautiful. We want to imitate these good ways, for the glory of God! In this passage we see some basic elements of a living church, growing by the power of the Holy Spirit. According to the Book of Acts, these are at least fifteen ways the early church was defined: Preaching the Gospel, Baptism in water, The Apostles’ Doctrine, Fellowship of the brethren, partaking in the Holy Communion, Prayers, Experiencing miracles, Helping the needy among them, Gladness and simplicity of heart, Praising God, Favor with people, Church Discipline, Spiritual warfare, and Missionary evangelistic work. These words describe the early church and any other living church that is experiencing revival. May this be our portion, in Jesus’ name!

In this old-world generations have come and gone. Kings and kingdoms have come and passed away. But one thing is clear: the only good that has ever happened in this world is the hope given to man, salvation thru the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the only good news. Any other idea or philosophy is old, faded, useless news. The Greeks had great poets and philosophers. The Romans had great lawyers, administrators, builders, and soldiers. Other empires brought their own traditions and cultures. There is some beauty in the achievements of men. For example, the idea of hospitals started with the Christians. That is good. But what is the greatest weakness of man’s achievements? It is the failure of man to know God and to save himself from sin and death. Man cannot change the human heart. Man is born a sinner. Since Adam, no tradition, no religion, no civilization, no medical or scientific invention, could give hope and assurance of eternal life. God’s life is found in Christ alone, by faith in His Word. This is the only good news on earth. This is the Gospel. Jesus Christ died and rose again for me! The story of Jesus is a story of Love and Grace. It is found only in the Bible. Please read it for yourself!

The Christians in the early church loved to study the Word of God, in particular, the apostles’ doctrines. People said about the early Christians: “These have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). In every revival, the same pattern we see in the Book of Acts is repeated. That is why we study the early church trying to find the secret of their power, godliness, and joy. The first thing we see in the early church is that their gathering was mostly spiritual. They helped one another materially, but the purpose of their fellowship was spiritual first. They ‘continues steadfastly’ in spiritual exercises. The words ‘continued steadfastly’ can also be translated ‘they persevered, they waited and persisted’. The word ‘steadfast’ means to stay firmly in one place, strong in faith, immovable, and unshakable. A steadfast man is sure of his belief, that he is doing the right thing, refusing to change or give up. This was the attitude of the early Christians concerning their faith in Christ and God’s Word. There is no other way how to make spiritual progress in life and how a church should grow organically.      

1-PREACHING THE GOSPEL

Peter preaches Christ centered sermons on the day of Pentecost and before the Sanhedrin. People were amazed at his faith and boldness, knowing that just few days ago, he betrayed his Lord. The very courage of Peter is a testimony that the resurrected Christ is alive, that He has forgiven him and restored him to his office as an apostle. ‘With many words Peter testified and exhorted’ the listeners to repent from sin. The word ‘testify’ means to solemnly warn them about the reality, power, and consequences of a life of sin. The word ‘exhort’ means to urge, to plead and beg them to give their lives to Christ. There is passion and power in Peter’s preaching. He knows how deceptive sin is. He also knows how great God’s Grace is. His words go straight to the conscience of his listeners, urging them to apply their minds to think about their lives. This preaching is doctrinal and not just an emotional appeal. It is a Spirit filled sermon that ‘cut their hearts’ (Acts 2:37). The words ‘cut the hearts’ means to be suddenly pierced (by an arrow of truth), to be grieved, to become anxious because of guilt. This is the effect of hearing the Word of God, preached with authority and faith. It describes godly sorrow that leads to repentance and to salvation (2Cor 7:10).   

Peter accuses the Jews that they are sinners, guilty of killing Jesus! Peter does not entertain. He challenges the sinners to ‘be saved from this perverse generation’. The word ‘perverse’ means something unjust, crooked, corrupt, wicked, and evil. To be perverse describes a stubborn person, who has left the good path of wisdom and godliness and has identified with the darkness of this world. A perverse man is not an innocent or ignorant man. He stubbornly refuses to repent and opposes what is right, good, and acceptable to godly people. A perverse man is proud, wayward, rebellious, unrepentant, stubbornly opposing all authority. He is a dangerous man. Peter commands his listeners to separate themselves from people who may be religious but are ‘perverse’ in heart and behavior. Our Lord Himself rebuked that generation of Jews for their doubt and unbelief. “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?” (Mt 17:17). Our Lord’s question does not reveal frustration but pain seeing that His Word and the miracles He performed did not change the hearts of these religious people. The word ‘bear with you’ means to endure, to carry, or to tolerate someone who is extremely antagonistic to you.

Later, Apostle Paul preaches the Gospel of Christ before authorities and all men during His missionary journeys. He repeats the same command. Christians should separate from the world. This is not a superficial separation but a deep spiritual one. A child of God should live a godly life among the unbelievers, like a light shining in the darkness. He should not complain or quarrel. He should be a man of peace and faith. He should accept the providence of God and in all things, he should give thanks to Him. The Word of God received and believed is His light shining in the darkness. Defeating the crooked and perverse generation can only be done by faith in the power of God’s Word and thru His Spirit. “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain” (Philippians 2:14-16). It is your responsibility to shine as light in the darkness. That shine comes from ‘holding fast the word of life’. Holding fast the word means to understand and retain the Word of God so that you can preach it to others. The peaching of God’s Word exposes and defeats and destroys the strongholds of ignorance, unbelief, and crookedness of the world.  

The word ‘church’ in Greek is Ekklesia. It means ‘the assembly of the called ones’. God has called us from the darkness of this world to His marvelous light, from sin to righteousness, from death to life.  Peter said: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Out of a perverse generation of sinners, God’s effective call thru the Gospel of Christ has produced a new nation, a chosen generation, called the church. From the beginning of the church God’s call for separation from the world has been clearly heard. Humanity is divided into two groups: sinners (who belong to the world) and saints (who belong to the Kingdom of God). There is no middle ground. The world is defined as the totality of human beings who live like there is no God. The Bible calls the sinners ‘fools’. God is not in their minds or hearts. Their king is the prince or the ruler of this world, also called the devil. All sinners are under his power. Jesus came and died to save all who believe in Him.

At the Cross, the ruler of the world proved to be the killer of the Son of God. At the Cross you see the sinfulness of sin judged by God thru death. You see the power of evil. You also see that God has judged and punished the devil, the Killer of His Son. There is no forgiveness or redemption for the devil. The Holy Spirit has come to reveal this reality to those who are saved. Without the Holy Spirit man cannot believe that the devil is totally defeated. Jesus said: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (Jn 12:31-33) “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me” (Jn 14:30). “And when He (the Holy Spirit) has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (Jn 16:8-11).

After Stephen was martyred the persecution against the Christians increased. They were scattered like seeds of life. Wherever they went the preached the Word. “Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). This is a true saying: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Preaching God’s Word is successful warfare.

Apostle Paul commands his son, Timothy, and all of us to preach the Word of God, the Gospel, the sound doctrines of salvation. Preaching (and teaching) is a holy work done ‘before God and the Lord Jesus Christ’. God judges the preacher and the congregation concerning the word preached and received. We are all responsible before God. Preaching must be done faithfully and patiently. The preacher must be prepared and ready.  Preaching must be done ‘in season and out of season’. In other words, preaching must be done always, when people respond or when they reject your words, by following the worldly religious crowd. “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Timothy must be an example to others in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and moral purity. He must study the Word by himself. He should read and meditate upon the scriptures. He should be careful with his behavior and the doctrine he believes and preaches. His spiritual progress will be seen by all, and it will influence others for good. His life becomes an open Bible for all, to read and to become saved. This is a spiritual law: doctrine determines behavior. If you believe the right doctrines, you will repent of sin and grow in godliness. If you believe wrong doctrines, you will continue in sin. Your life and the doctrines you believe in, are the most powerful tool of evangelism that you have. “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:12-16).

2-WATER BAPTISM

The Water Baptism and the Holy Communion are the only two ordinances given by the Lord Jesus to the Church. Both apply only to the believers in Christ. The Water Baptism is done once in a lifetime, but the Holy Communion is done ‘as often’ as possible. No one of these ordinances saves a soul. Salvation is by Grace and thru Faith in Jesus Christ. But both impart strength, increase faith, and give Grace upon Grace to the believers. The Water Baptism is a spiritual ceremony for the believers in Christ. It is the command of Jesus. We must obey His command. The resurrected Christ commanded His disciples: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen” (Matt 28:18-20). “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15, 16).

The early believers got baptized in water as a public declaration that they are now one with Christ. The Baptism in water is a baptism of repentance, forgiveness of sins and a new life in Christ. It symbolizes unity with Christ, in His death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:5-11). As with the partaking of the Holy Communion, the water baptism is only for believers, for the born-again Christians. The unbeliever has no testimony of salvation; therefore, he should not be baptized. The believer declares publicly thru water baptism that he is a sinner saved by grace. He has totally surrendered his life to Christ, his Savior. From now on, he will faithfully obey God’s Word. Thru baptism in water the believer declares that he becomes a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, and He will love the brethren with the Love of Christ. Water baptism is generally done by immersion. It is done in public and not in secret. It is done in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit! The baptism in water does not save a sinner but it confirms his testimony of salvation, to his conscience and to other people as witnesses. The proof that water baptism is not a prerequisite for salvation as seen in the story of the thief on the cross who believed in Christ in his last moments on earth (Luke 23:39-43).

3-THE APOSTLES’ DOCTRINE

The early church believers gave great importance to the study of God’s Word. They studied the Apostles’ doctrine. The word ‘doctrine’ means Biblical teaching. The apostles’ doctrine refers to the basic doctrines of salvation in Christ, by Grace and thru Faith. These doctrines are the very Words of Jesus as interpreted by His Apostles. The hunger for the Word of God, the passionate desire to read and study the doctrines of the Bible, is foundational to spiritual life and growth. During times of revival, the believers love the Word of God more than in the past. It is so sad that many pastors have stopped preaching the Word of God, the true Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected. They preach inspirational stories, social events, and political topics. That is why many congregations are spiritually malnourished and weak. The unity of the Spirit is based on the unity of faith in the Word of God. Preaching the correct doctrine leads to godly behavior, spiritual growth in the believers and unity of the Spirit in the congregation. Preaching wrong doctrines leads to wayward worldly behavior, spiritual weakness, and division in the congregation. These are spiritual laws. The pulpit gives the tone and the atmosphere in any church. This is reminder of the great responsibility each pastor has before God and man!

Why were the early Christians so interested in the Biblical doctrines? They were baby Christians. They had just believed the Gospel of Christ and got saved. For the first time they discovered that all their lives they were fools and ignorant of God. They had religion but they were spiritually dead. Now, they became children of God. Truth has set them free. Their minds have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit. So, they wanted to know more of the truth, to understand who God is, and how they got saved. They were not tired to listen to God’s Word. They wanted more revelation so that they can grow spiritually and so that they can help others. They were tired of empty religion, entertainment stories, and philosophies. They were hungry for reality. By the way, this is a good question: are you hungry and thirsty for the Word of God? If the answer is yes, then you are saved! If the answer is no, you may only be religious but still dead in your sins. Examine yourselves! Selah!   

As you can see, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word is in the first place among the things the believers did when they gathered. This should be the pattern to all churches. The pulpit is the Throne of the Bible. The Word of God must be thought and preached with all authority, power, and joy. The Word of God gives life to men and makes the churches grow. In the absence of preaching the true doctrines sinners cannot be saved and the church will remain weak and divided. Every other activity in the church should submit to the preaching of God’s Word! Faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:17). Salvation is the deepest experience and greatest change that can happen to any man. But Christianity is not just an experience. It is a new life that needs to be fed thru the Word of God. Teaching the Bible is food and water for the soul. The believer needs to learn and understand the basic doctrines of the Bible. Other religions may offer some spiritual experiences. But it is only the true Christian, who after the experience of salvation, desires to be thought the Word of God.

The early believers studied the Apostles’ doctrine. At that time the New Testament was not completely written. The believers listen to what the apostles were teaching them. The Apostles were the only men that had a truly intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. They sat at His feet for three and a half years. There were many disciples following Jesus. Out of them, He chose men whom He named apostles. “He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons” (Mark 3:13-15). His choice of whom should be an apostle is according to God’s sovereign call of grace. Their first duty was to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen to His teaching and to be His friends. Their second duty was to go and preach the Word, heal, and deliver the oppressed. Here you see that your intimate relationship with Jesus is vital before you can do ministry to men in His name.  

To others, Jesus preached mostly in parables. But He thought His disciples directly, in a special way, so that they understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. These revelations will later become the apostles’ doctrines. As you can see, Jesus did not entrust His teaching to all men. He chose His apostles, and He revealed the truth to them in a particular way, preparing them to be the foundational stones of His Church.

“And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand… But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:10-17).

Just before His ascension, Jesus gave the Apostles perfect understanding of the Scriptures. The risen Christ told His apostles: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44, 45). They now had a deeper understanding of how the Old Testament was fulfilled in Christ. He opened their understanding by Himself. The apostles alone understood the mystery of the Gospel and the plan of salvation. The church is founded on their revelation with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone. By preaching the Apostles’ doctrines, the church grows spiritually. “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

There is a serious warning about truth and error concerning doctrines. If anyone preaches a different gospel, by a different spirit that preacher is ‘accursed’. The word means ‘eternally condemned’. Paul said: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9).

The Apostles’ doctrine is a something objective. It is something you can understand. It is not something vague or inspirational. You can separate truth from error. You can differentiate true doctrines from the false ones. Apostle John repeats the warning: “We (the apostles) are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). Apostle John says that anyone who listens to the Apostle’s doctrine hears from God. That is the Spirit of Truth. Anyone who is not of God, a religious unbeliever, that one will not listen and obey the Apostles’ doctrine. He is deceived by an evil spirit of error. These words come with the authority of heaven. The devil has been fighting the Truth, the Bible, the true Gospel, and the true doctrines. He plants seeds of doubt in the mind of people. It is our responsibility to learn the truth and reject deceit.  

To study, preach, and teach God’s Word and the Biblical Doctrines is a difficult spiritual labor. But it has great reward! The congregation is to appreciate the pastor (elder) who pays the price to preach God’s Word. “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17). Worship the Lord!

4-THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE BRETHREN

The brethren loved to gather to study the Word of God and to pray. They loved God and one another. The visible church is the place for the fellowship of the brethren. This fellowship is not a social or political gathering. The fellowship is a deep spiritual connection of love, a unity of souls, thru the Holy Spirit. That is the church, the mystical body of Christ. The apostles’ doctrine controls the fellowship and the breaking of bread. It is never the other way around. Brethren must believe the same doctrines to have fellowship with one another. Meditate about this!

The fellowship is not a show, with a guest preacher or a famous singer coming to entertain people. It is more like ‘an ordinary’ family, growing together in wisdom and love. What made the fellowship special was the feeling that the God was with them, helping and protecting them. It was a spiritual gathering of believers. Because in the church we have a platform for loving and helping one another, we are commanded not to forsake it. “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10;24, 25).  

The easiest way to explain fellowship is the marriage between a man and a woman. Many say that they are Christians. They study the Bible, give offerings to some churches, but do not have fellowship with any other believer. That type of lonely ‘Christianity’ is fake. True Christians connect with one another in the local churches. They feel concern, they help and pray for one another. The local church is a true spiritual family. What makes the connection? It is the same faith, the same Holy Spirit in each of us, connecting us into one Body. When you meet another Christian brother (or sister), even if naturally he is different than you, you will immediately feel a connection with him. There is a magnetic attraction between two souls who are washed by the same Blood of Jesus. This love, this connection, cannot happen between a believer and an unbeliever. That is why we are commanded not to ‘yoke’ with unbelievers.

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:14-18).   

We remind ourselves that the believers are not perfect people. But they have fellowship of love, trust, and freedom more than any natural gathering. They keep the unity of the Spirit because they believe the same doctrines. A lonely Christian is a weak Christian. You must belong to a fellowship. Leave the world and become a member of a good living church. The fellowship among brethren is a sample of heaven on earth.      

5-THE BREAKING OF BREAD

We have seen that the believers loved to gather to study the Word, pray and partake in the Holy Communion. At that time there were not buildings called ‘churches.’ The believers met in one another’s houses to have fellowship. It is more like what today we call ‘home-fellowships’ or ‘lighthouses.’ They come to listen to God’s Word and prayer. They would bring food (something similar with what we call ‘a love feast’). They eat the meal together. At the end, they take a loaf of bread and remembering the last supper with Jesus, they divide the loaf among themselves. After that, they take a big cup of wine or grape juice, and each drank from it. They remember the life and death of their Lord. They encourage themselves by the Holy Spirit. This ceremony became known as the Last Supper or the Holy Communion. Since then, this blessed remembrance of the Lord Jesus has been obeyed without interruptions. It will continue to be so until Jesus comes again.

This is what the Apostle Paul said: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It is good to remember that the Holy Communion is a command of Jesus. It is not an emotional remembrance. As Christians, we do it in obedience to His Word, to remember Him. The Holy Communion is a visible silent sermon. As we see and partake of the bread and the wine, our faith increases. Grace is added to our souls. The sermon preached is the Gospel of Christ Crucified and Resurrected. We remember that Jesus died for our sins, therefore we are healed and saved. We are also reminded that He will come again to punish all evil and to reward His people. On that day, we shall resurrect with new bodies, just like His body. Also, the Lord commanded that we should partake from the Holy Communion so that we remember to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It forces us to examine our lives and repent from sins. Worship the Lord!   

THE GIFT OF TONGUES

THE EARLY CHURCH (6)/ THE GIFT OF TONGUES

During the Sunday service, Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled The Early Church (6)/ The gift of tongues. Her main text was taken from the Book of Acts and the Book of 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14.   

We continue to study the early church, to discover the perfect pattern God has in mind about the Body of Christ. We see that the first Christians had a spiritual power and boldness to preach the Gospel and to pray. They loved the Word of God and their fellowship with one another. They were generous with their resources, helping the needy. They loved the name of Jesus and used it with authority. Signs and wonders accompanied their ministry. They were persecuted for their faith, but they were always victorious in all circumstances. Their faith and boldness were beautiful. When the Holy Spirit was poured on the believers on the day of Pentecost, there were visible and audible signs that accompanied it. He came as a Wind and as a Fire. The brethren started speaking in new languages, praising God. This was God’s gift to them that attracted the attention of many people from different countries. Peter preached to the people with authority and power. Three thousand of men got converted that day. We shall study the gift of tongues.

The word ‘tongues’ means languages. The gift of tongues (or Glossolalia, in Greek) is defined as a gift of the Holy Spirit given to believers in Christ and manifested as speaking in a language not previously known to the speaker. The gift also manifests as praying, or singing, usually in an unintelligible ecstatic speech. As with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gift of tongues is given for the good of the Body of Christ and to encourage the believers. It is received by faith, thru prayer in the name of Jesus!

The Christian life is based on the study of the Word of God and prayer. These are the basics. Gifts are given by God to help the believer become stronger. No gift should replace the study of the Bible and prayer. The truth is that most of the saints of old did not speak in tongues, or at least they did not say that they did. There is much argument among Christians about the value of the gift of tongues. Some denominations, like the Pentecostals and the Charismatics, believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always manifested thru the gift of tongues. Other evangelicals do not insist on having this gift. There is also argument between the Christians about the continuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gift of tongues. They believe that ‘tongues’ were only necessary for the early church and have ceased since then. Others say that the gift of tongues is still manifesting today. Many Christian forbid praying in tongues saying it is a gift from the devil. We shall not join the arguments. We shall simply keep to the Word of God and declare only what we are sure about. May the Holy Spirit lead us on.

This gift did not manifest in the Old Testament or during the time of Jesus. The only place this gift is mentioned in the Gospels is at the end of the Book of Mark and it is a prophecy. Just before His ascension, the resurrected Christ told His disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:15-18). Living faith will manifest as successful deliverance and healing ministry, speaking in new tongues, and supernatural protection from deadly attacks. The gift of tongues is described in the Book of Acts 2, 10 and 19 and in the Book of 1 Corinthians, chapters 12, 13 and 14.

As believers, we declare that Jesus Christ is the Savior, Lord, Healer, and Baptizer with the Holy Spirit. When you become saved, the Holy Spirit comes into you, like a sample of greater things. At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit baptizes you into the Body of Christ. That Baptism is not always ‘felt’ as an experience, but it is real, nevertheless. After that experience of salvation, you need to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Many call the first filling ‘the baptism with the Holy Spirit’. It is a clear experience, a spiritual reality. It is not an imagination to be taken ‘by faith’. As water is poured into a bottle, making a gurgling noise, so the Holy Spirit fills you. You feel it! You can describe it! Often, but not always, it manifests as speaking in tongues. The believer cannot but praise God in the new heavenly language of angels (1 Cor 13:1). The effect of this first filling with the Spirit is power and joy. The believer becomes bold to declare his salvation. He is not afraid of men’s opinions of their persecution. He loves the Bible, prayer and going to church. He desires to publicly declare his stand for Jesus thru water baptism.  

The gift of ‘Tongues’ has two manifestations: ‘speaking in tongues’, and ‘praying in tongues.’

*TONGUES as prophetic speech! The Gift of the Holy Spirit called ‘tongues’ is not given to everybody. It is a prophetic speech, an utterance in another language, spoken in the assembly, as people listen. In the church, that gift needs a secondary gift called ‘the interpretation of tongues,’. It is for the benefit of all the members of the Body. God speaks to His people. Therefore, it is a prophetic gift.  

*TONGUES as prayer! This is a personal gift of prayer in an unknown tongue. Each born again Christian can receive this prayer language, by faith and thru prayer. How does it manifest? The believer prays to God in a new language. His understanding is not active. He prays mysteries. He does not understand what he is praying for, but he believes that he is praying, that God listens, and God understands. He also believed that the devil does not understand his prayer. At the end of the prayer, he feels good, with a peace and a satisfaction that God will answer him. When praying in tongues, the Holy Spirit prays thru him according to the will of God. As he prays in tongues, God may give him some glimpse of His will, a vision for the future, or a word to obey. This personal gift of praying in the Spirit is mostly for the personal encouragement of the believer, so that later, he will encourage the church.     

THE GIFT OF TONGUES IN THE BOOK OF ACTS

During the pouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there were some visible and audible manifestations that were unique for that day. For example, the Holy Spirit filled the house and the disciples, like a ‘rushing mighty wind’. There were visible flames of fire like tongues on the head of each of the disciples. They started speaking in new tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. The strangers in Jerusalem heard them speaking in their own languages ‘the wonderful works of God’. They were all amazed and perplexed at what they saw and heard. Some mockers said: ‘They are full of new wine’. The people saw that the disciples were ‘filled’ with something. But like Peter said, these were not drunk with wine. They were ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit. The sound, sights and tongues attracted all people. These were signs and miracles God used to Baptize the disciples into a new Body called the Church. Peter describes these visible and audible signs as miracles from heaven, sent from the resurrected and exalted Christ, to fill the disciples on earth. He said: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore, being exalted to the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Ac 2:32. 33).

Concerning the speaking in tongues on the day of Pentecost, we can say this: all the disciples spoke in different human languages of different nations. These tongues were supernatural. The disciples did not learn these new languages. They did not need an interpreter because they spoke in the known human languages. They felt a pressure to manifest this gift. They could not stop speaking these languages as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance. The languages were ‘a sign for the unbelievers’ (1 Cor 14:22). It attracted them to hear the sermon of Peter, who preached with unusual power and anointing. Three thousand men believed and were added to the church that day.  

The second time the gift of speaking in tongues was manifested is when Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius and his household. The Holy Spirit fell on these Gentile believers even before Peter finished his sermon. They started speaking in new tongues. This was a supernatural sign, not to the unbelievers, but to the believers, to Peter and to some Jewish brethren from Joppa who followed him. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God” (Acts 10:44-46).

The third incident of speaking in tongues was in Ephesus. Paul met some disciples who repented and were baptized in water. But they have not heard about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul explains to them that Jesus died, rose from the dead, and is now exalted in heaven. He sent the Holy Spirit to baptize all the believers. “Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:4-6). This is the first case when the Baptism with the Holy Spirit came thru the laying of Pauls’ hands.   

THE GIFT OF TONGUES IN THE BOOK OF 1 CORINTHIANS 12, 13, and 14

These are the revelations concerning speaking in tongues by believers in the church:

*The Holy Spirit is one! The Body is One! The Holy Spirit is sovereign in giving gifts to each believer. There are many members, many gifts, and many ministries. But the Holy Spirit keeps the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

*The Holy Spirit gives different gifts for the benefit of the Body and for the profit of all. Gifts are not to be used selfishly for man’s glory!

*The gift of tongues at Pentecost was manifested by all the believers but in the Church, the gift of prophetic tongues is not given to all.

*The gift of tongues appears to be the least of the gifts, considering its value to the Body, and comparing it to the other gifts. The gift of tongues appears at the end of the list of gifts. The gift of the Apostle is always first, and the gift of the Prophet is second. The gift of tongues does not appear in the other lists of spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Peter 4:10, 11).   

*We are commanded to pursue Love as the most excellent way and to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. The word ‘prophesy’ means to speak, preach, or sing totally led by the Holy Spirit. It means to bring a fresh revelation of the Word of God that will strengthen the Church. It means to shine the light of the Word of God in the darkness of unbelief. It is a preaching that is totally Christ honoring. Having gifts and lacking love is useless as a testimony. The gifts of prophesy and tongues shall cease when ‘the perfection’ comes. When we shall see Christ face to face, at His second coming, we do not need intermediary gifts like prophesy or tongues.

*The gift of prophesy (preaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit) has more value than speaking in tongues, at least in the church. The tongues need the secondary gift of interpretation, so that the people understand what was spoken in tongues. The gift of interpretation is not translation of tongues. The believer ‘interprets’ what the other speaks in tongues. Both these gifts are from the Holy Spirit, and they work together. Without an interpreter, the believer who desire to speak in tongues in the church, should keep silent. Prophetic utterance is faster than tongues because it is spoken in the language of all and does not need interpreter.  

*As believers we should desire gifts that will strengthen the Church, for the benefit of all. Spiritual power for ministry is the greatest gain!  

*The gift of praying in tongues is to strengthen the believer himself. As a believer I pray, or sing, with both my understanding and in my spirit, when my understanding is suspended. The two forms of singing or praying have their own functions. We should balance them to help the church and each one individually. The gift of praying in tongues releases spiritual strength and joy to the believer!!!

*There are false tongues too. The devil can give counterfeit gifts of tongues. What is the test? If the Holy Spirit has given you the tongue, you will encourage and strengthen yourself when you pray in tongues. If you pray in tongues and you are still weak spiritually, it is possible that you are manifesting a fake gift of tongues.  

*There are great dangers connected with speaking in tongues. Many are faking the gift, becoming religious hypocrites. Others have become proud and manipulative, seeing them as proof of God’s blessing and trying to control the assembly. But many Christians see them as genuine gifts and something to be thankful for.

*Passionately desire to prophesy (preach the Word of God under the anointing of the Holy Spirit)! Do not forbid to speak with tongues!

*All things in the church should be done in order, submitting to the Holy Spirit, the authority of the Word, and to the human delegated authority! The gifts of the Spirit do not put you in a trance. Be yourself! Be humble! All gifts should be under the control of the believer’s spirit!

THE SIGNS THAT YOU ARE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT

The first time you get filled with the Holy Spirit, it is a special experience. It is not an imagination. You ‘feel’ the Holy Spirit being poured into your very soul and body. That first filling it is usually called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. After that, you are to obey the command to be refiled always with the same Spirit. “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Eph 5:18-21).

The filling with the Holy Spirit is similar like being drunk with wine. The effect of the alcohol is that it affects your brain and other organs. Alcohol does not digest. It passes directly into the blood stream. Its effect is fast. Alcohol is a depressant that manifests as a stimulant. It depresses the higher centers in the brain, the part of you that makes you a human being, that gives you self-control and discipline. The effect of the alcohol is that you now behave ‘like an animal’. You feel good, you lose your anxiety and start talking too much. Your speech is slurred, sounding as tongues. You now feel bold and courageous. Embolden, you make wrong decisions that you will regret later. All these symptoms of feeling good are temporary. They soon disappear and you feel worse than before. You become addicted to alcohol because you want to keep feeling high. Alcoholism is ‘dissipation’. In Greek, the word ‘dissipation’ means reckless behavior, rioting, or wastefulness. The man addicted to alcohol is like the prodigal son, unable to save his life, his money or anything good. Alcoholism leads to poverty, loss of reputation and death.

We are commanded to ‘be filled with the Spirit’. In Greek, the word ‘filled’ is at present tense. It shows a continuous present action. You are being filled now! The word means to fill a container, to finish what you have started. These are the effects of being filled with the Holy Spirit:

*Speech! The speech changes. You are now bold to speak to others from the Word of God!

*Sing! You are joyful in all circumstances. This joy manifest as freedom and passion to sing praise and worship songs. You hate secular songs.

*Submit! You become humble and you submit to other brethren in the fear of God!

*Thanksgiving! You become a humble and a deeply grateful person, to the God who saved your soul! Your relationship with your spouse, your children and other people is much better, giving glory to God!

As you can see, the gift of speaking in tongues is not mentioned here as a sign or a proof of being filled with the Spirit. Boldness in preaching, anointing in singing, humility to submit to others, a grateful heart, and a clear testimony of a godly behavior pattern, at home and with others, these are the sure signs of a believer filled and led by the Holy Spirit!  

BE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT

First, this a necessary reminder: only a true child of God can be filled with the holy Spirit! How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit?

1-Desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Not every believer desire to be filled with the Spirit. This is because once the Holy Spirit takes control over your life, you will not be able to do what you want anymore. You need to die to self and live for the glory of God alone! The baby Christians still struggle with these things. They are still selfish. You need to search your heart if you are ready for a total surrender to God!

 2-Present your body as a living sacrifice and a spiritual temple, to be filled with the Holy Spirit! God wants you to be at a particular place, doing His will. Your body should be where God wants you to be. Rebellion about your location and sexual sin hinder the filling with the Holy Spirit!

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1). God has been good to you. He has shown you mercy. Your body belongs to Him. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor 6:15-20). “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands and territories” (Ac 17:26; AMP).

3-Pray in faith! Ask God to fill you with His Spirit. Patiently, continue to pray until God fills you! Then give thanks and serve God. “So, I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:9-13). Often, but not always, the filling with the Holy Spirit manifests as praying in tongues and great joy!

THE BENEFITS OF PRAYING IN TONGUES

*Praying in tongues gives a greater spiritual power to speak to God alone. It increases the spiritual intimacy with God. It brings supernatural joy in the believer! It makes you feel comfortable to speak ‘mysteries’, to worship God in Spirit and in Truth! “He who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries” (1 Corinthians 14:2).

*Praying in tongues feeds and build your inner man, your spirit! At the end of the prayer, you feel spiritually stronger. Fear and confusion are removed. “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (1 Corinthians 14:4). You feel happy and strong, trusting God for the victory!

*Praying in tongues balances the praying in your human language. Both your mind and your spirit need exercise. Praying only in English can make you proud. Praying in togues humbles you! “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:14, 15).

*Praying in tongues is a way for the Spirit to supply ‘utterance’ to you, that can be used later as a word of Wisdom.  “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4)

*Praying in tongues inspires you to worship God better, to magnify Him, by declaring His wonderful works of God! “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11). “For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God” (Acts 10:46)

*Praying in tongues connects you with the prayer of the Holy Spirit inside your spirit. Even when you do not know what to pray about, or how to pray, the Holy Spirit will help you pray the right prayer. In this way, you never pray amiss. You always pray acceptable prayers. God will always answer you because you pray according to God’s will and purpose. The effect of these spiritual prayers is that suddenly, you see that ‘all things work together for good’ for you and God takes all the glory! “Likewise, the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:26-28)

*Praying in tongues relaxes your spirit and gives you rest in your mind, your emotions, and your body. It brings healing. “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, to whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” and, “This is the refreshing” (Isaiah 28:11, 12). In Hebrew, the word ‘rest’ means to settle down in a permanent peaceful comfortable home. It is the same word with: He leads me beside the still (or quiet) waters (Psalm 23:2).  

MY TESTIMONY

I got saved thru a crisis conversion on the 12th of April 1986. I got filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time. Immediately my life changed. I got a new spirit. I became hungry and thirsty for the Word of God. I started reading the Bible like I have never read a book in my life. This passion for the Word of God and prayer has never left me since then. I lost my fear of death. I had a strong desire to attend a local church and meet other brethren, so that we discuss the things of God. All these are clear signs that I got born again, baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit. About ten years later, as I studied the Bible and saw that there is a gift of speaking, singing, or praying in other tongues, with faith 100%, I asked God for it. He gave it to me. Since then, I love praying in tongues. When I pray in the Spirit, I do not feel fake or funny. I feel good, happy, and comfortable with my prayer language. When I feel the ‘push’ to pray, but I do not have a particular thing in my mind, I pray in tongues. At the end, I feel that God understood me, but the devil did not understand me. I feel like I bypassed the strategy of the devil and that I gained the victory, even when I cannot describe the war that I was involved in. When I pray in English, I feel some limitation. Often, I do not feel satisfied with my English prayer. But when I pray in tongues, I feel like an eagle, flying strong and high, with no fear and no limitations. It is the same with worshipping God in song. I sing in English. It is good. But when I sing without words, like an instrumental music in my spirit, I feel different. I enter the presence of God faster. Praying and singing in the Spirit has given me boldness as a preacher, as a worshipper. In Conclusion, we need to balance praying in English and praying in tongues. Each has its own power and purpose. To God be all the glory! Worship the Lord!

THE DOCTRINE OF THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT

THE EARLY CHURCH (5)/ THE DOCTRINE OF THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT

Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled The early Church (5)/ The Doctrine of the Unity of the Spirit. Her main text was taken from the Book of Acts.  “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.… he (Peter) testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day, about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Ac 2:1-4; 40-47).

THE DOCTRINE OF THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT – WITH ONE ACCORD, IN ONE PLACE

The disciples were waiting for the Promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, in unity of the Spirit. It was a requirement of Jesus for the Spirit to come and ‘weld’ them into a new Body called the Church. We are told that they were ‘all with one accord in one place’ (Ac 2:1). The early church continued the practice this unity of the Spirit so that the Holy Spirit can work in their midst and thru them. The unity of the Spirit is vital for the organic growth of the Church and for experiencing miracles. One of the most difficult things to do is to keep is the unity of the Spirit!!!

Unity is generally defined as the state of being ONE! It is a condition of harmony, peace, joy, balance, and beauty. Unity is a state when the different parts agree with one another and work for the common good. Unity is togetherness. Unity is power. The opposite of unity is division and confusion. These are the basic attitudes of the world, as the result of the Curse of Babel (Genesis 11). “God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Cor 14:33). In Greek, the word ‘confusion’ means disorder, tumult (when a group of restless people argue, and talk loud at the same time). The word peace in Greek (irene) means to have a calm sound mind, and to experience prosperity. Peace is unity and confusion is division of mind. The Church of the Living God is the only gathering of people in the world where there is unity of the Spirit. The Church is blessed, and the curse of Babel is destroyed in her midst. The unity of the Spirit manifests as life, power, and growth! This law applies to godly marriages too. The relationship between husband and wife should be in flesh and Spirit. Then the marriage become ‘born again’, it matures, becoming a source of life and ministry to many.

The doctrine of the unity of the Spirit says that the Church, the Body of Christ, is One! It is composed of all the believers in Christ Jesus, but the Body is One! This supernatural unity is the direct effect of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Though One, we are many, collectively following Christ our Head and together fulfilling His purpose and will. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:12, 13).

The Unity of the Spirit is not a natural desire to stay together, or to try to be friendly to one another. It is said that ‘birds of the same feather flock together’. Christians are ‘birds’ of the same Spirit ‘feather’. It is also said that ‘blood is thicker than water’. It is true. But Spirit is thicker than blood. The unity of the brethren in the Church is the desire of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and it is maintained by the Holy Spirit.  

The unity of the Spirit is a peculiar atmosphere among believers based on the same faith in Christ and in His Word. Unity cannot be forced. Unity cannot be achieved by obeying some laws. No man can produce it. It is the unity that only the Holy Spirit can produce. Man is not asked to produce this unity, but man must ‘keep’ it. Sin, especially pride, selfish ambition, hatred and competition, divides, damages, and destroys it. “Nothing will avail to divide the Church as love of power” (Chrysostom, died 407 AD).

THE BLOOD OF JESUS WAS SHED FOR THIS UNITY OF THE SPIRIT

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (Jn 17:20-23). The Unity of the Spirit in the church is the result of God’s work in Christ. The Blood of Jesus was shed on the Cross for this unity to be given to us as a gift! Jesus requested for it from the Father. This unity reflects the Trinity’s glory and perfection on earth. It is a sign to the unbelievers that God is alive and working in the Church. Unity in the Church is one of the greatest tools for evangelism. Praise the Lord!

The unity of the Spirit is always spiritual and never in the flesh. The unity of the Spirit is always related to unity of faith. The believers are one in the Spirit because they believe the same major doctrines. They may disagree in ‘matters of indifference’ but they agree about the great basic doctrines of salvation. This is a spiritual law: before you can have fellowship with others, you must agree with them in the matter of faith and doctrines. Mind has more power than the emotions! These days, churches desire fellowship at any cost. But that assembly is not blessed by the Holy Spirit because they do not believe the same doctrine. Faith in the Word of God, in truth, is more important than fellowship. Selah!

The Church is made of many believers. There is a spiritual unity among them. It is not like a car that has many parts. It is like a human body that has many organs but the same blood flows thru all. Therefore, the unity of the Spirit is organic, not mechanical, not forced. Each believer is connected directly to Christ, who is the Head of the Church. At the same time, each believer connects to other believers thru the Spirit. This is the result of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire done by Christ. This is how the Church is a Living organic growing Body. The world is not united. All unbelievers are scattered and divided. When a sinner becomes saved, the Holy Spirit goes inside him and gives him eternal life. That life starts to manifest thru fruits of the Spirit and unity with other believers. Thru the Holy Spirit that new believer is baptized into the Body of Christ. He is not like an addition. It becomes part of the body. God has predestined that believer and has already prepared work for him to do. He becomes a part of the Body of Christ, receives gifts from the Holy Spirit and a vision of his work on earth for the glory of His Savior.

Unity is not conformity. All parts are not the same as biscuits in a box. In unity there is diversity. Like with the human body, some parts, like the eyes, are seen. Other organs, like ‘the private parts’, are covered. Other parts, like the organs inside the body are invisible. But all these parts are necessary to the life of the body. The parts cooperate and do not compete with one another. Each believer is called to be a disciple and a servant of Jesus. He matures spiritually so that he can work for God, do his part in the Body. No believer can survive on his own. The branches of the vine take their life sap from the vine. Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches. Rebellion and division in the church is like deadly poison. For a believer there is nothing like ‘I do what I want and when I want it’. In the Body of Christ there is submission to God and to His delegated human authority. As each part submits, and grows, the Body becomes stronger. Therefore, there are stronger and weaker Christians. There are also stronger and weaker local Churches. Selah!  

THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IS A GIFT AND A GOAL

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all… “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:1-6; 13).

Apostle Paul is talking to the brethren in Ephesus. He knows that they meet in their houses. They are different in race, social status, and economic status. Some are masters and others are slaves. There are men, women, and children. What keeps them together is the unity of the faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit. In our churches today, we face the same challenges. The church is a mixed multitude. There are people of different races, ages, economic and social status. It has always been difficult to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It is not easy for people, even for the believers in the church, to relate well to people who are different than they. Paul wrote this letter as a prisoner in Rome. He is pleading with them to walk worthy of the high calling as a Christian. The Holy Spirit is in each believer and in the Church. The Church is the only Body God can use to change the world. The highest gift from God is to be saved and become a member of His Body on earth!

The purpose for this unity is to give glory to God and for each believer to become like Christ! How is this unity to be maintained? ‘With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love in the bond (or band). The words describe an attitude of love, peace, humility, and gentleness, typical of a true believer. This attitude is not weakness, but strength. It is being like Jesus who said: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

The unity of the Spirit is described in two ways: a Gift and a Goal! The unity of the Spirit is first a gift from the resurrected Christ. It must be gratefully received, kept, preserved, and protected, by all the believers. At the same time, the unity of the Spirit is a goal to attain. The unity of the Spirit in the Body of Christ is a Unity of Faith and Knowledge of the Son of God. The aim is to mature all believers, to become ‘perfect’, to become like Jesus! In that way, the Body of Christ becomes spiritually strong, pleasing to Christ. In other words, we protect what we have received, and we walk towards this perfect unity of the Spirit. It is like salvation: it is a gift to be received by faith and, thru the process of sanctification we ‘work it out with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12). This unity requires the study of God’s Word and prayer. Humility and love are basic attitudes to keep this unity, both in the Church and the marriage relationship. Faith in God is necessary too. Faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom 10:17). The knowledge of the Son of God, His life and work to save sinners, is found in the Word of God. Therefore, we can say that the church where the true Gospel, the true doctrines of salvation are preached, that is a church that will experience spiritual maturity, the unity of the Spirit and revival. Any church that preaches false doctrines will remain divided and will not experience unity or revival! The ’holy glue’ that keeps the unity in the Church is LOVE!

THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IS LIKE THE HUMAN BODY – THE PARTS ARE THE SAME AND ALSO DIFFERENT

1-We are the same! To fulfill our calling we must be lowly, humble, gentle, and patient, bearing with one another in love. These are the necessary qualities to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. When pride, selfish ambition, and impatience manifest, the unity and the peace is destroyed. It is Christ, thru His shed Blood on the Cross, and by Holy Spirit, that started this unity of the Spirit. When Jesus died, the wall of hateful separation between Jew and Gentile, between different groups of people, was ‘abolished’ (Eph 2:13-18). All the believers, as One Man, together, we have access to God the Father thru Jesus Christ our Lord! Hallelujah!

Our duty is to ‘keep’ this unity, to maintain it. We are all the same, sinners saved by grace! We may differ in some issues but for as long as we believe the major doctrines of salvation, we can keep the unity of the Spirit. The only people we cannot be united with are the people who are not saved, who believe false doctrines. This is a reminder that the single brethren should not marry unbelievers. They will be united in the flesh but not in the Spirit. That marriage cannot be happy or successful. Selah!

2-We are different! God made us different. We are of different races, gender, nationalities, levels of education or social status. In the world, the rich oppress the poor, the educated mock the illiterate. There is racial and gender discrimination. Just because they are different it is hard for men and women to keep the unity of the Spirit. One of the greatest challenges in marriage is to keep this unity of the Spirit. Sexual lust, adultery, greed, pride, and sin in general, destroys the glue of this Unity. Repentance and restitution are necessary for the unity to be re-established. Another area of pride and competition is the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the church. Christ gave each one of the believers’ different gifts. These gifts are for the unity and blessing of the Body. But these are a source of envy and division in the church. It should not be so. We need to acknowledge Christ’ sovereignty, authority, and generosity in giving gifts to men as He pleases. All gifts are for the benefit of the Body. No gift is to be used selfishly or for monetary gain. Don’t envy or despise other people’s gifts. Love and pray for one another!

UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IN MARRIAGE

“The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so, then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:2-12).

God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). Why?  Because God invented marriage. God created each man to have his own wife. In God’s original plan, there were not lonely or single people without a mate. Each man had his wife. Each couple had children. There was no sin, no divorce, and no death. There was not an option for polygamy. When the man and his wife got united in marriage they left their families, joined together, and became ‘one flesh’. Number ‘one’ cannot be divided. The children are the product of that ‘one flesh’. As you cannot cut a child into two and the child will still be alive, so, you cannot divorce two people who are already married. God ‘has joined them together’ means that marriage is God’s work and not man’s work. Divorce means to destroy God’s work. Every marriage, every conception in the womb, every delivery of a baby, these are the work of God! In the Old Testament breaking of marriage, or adultery, was punished with death (Lev 20:10). But if a man has sex with a (slave) single woman, the man shall be ‘scourged’ (beaten with 40 stripes) but not killed (Lev 19:20-22). This is to tell you that adultery because it was the breaking of God’s work, had a greater punishment than fornication!!! The last of the Ten Commandments forbade ‘coveting’. Adultery is ‘heart coveting or lusting’ of another man’s wife. This sexual lust is dangerously close to death punishment. Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27, 28). Adultery (in the body or in the heart) is a form of dividing and scattering God’s Work on earth. Repent therefore! The unity of the Spirit in marriage is maintained by the husband loving his wife as Christ loved the Church, and by the wife submitting to her own husband, as unto the Lord Jesus! (Eph 5:22-33). Selah!

BEWARE OF THE SIN OF DIVISION!!!

Dividing people is a work of the flesh. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions (strong disagreements), heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21).

Division in the Church in a sin. Apostle Paul is asking: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1:13). Obviously, the answer is No! The unity of the Spirit in the church is the result of preaching the truth, the true Gospel. Preaching false doctrines leads to sin, lawlessness, and division. People who believe the same thing, will stay united. We are of the same Body of Christ, the same Blood saved all of us. We have the same Father therefore we are members of the same spiritual family. Based on this truth, we should be flexible and keep the unity of the Spirit.

The strategy of the devil in Church and in marriages, is this: “Divide and conquer!’ Do not be ignorant on this! There are many warnings against false brethren who infiltrate the church like spies, to find a weakness in the Body, to divide it. These deceivers may behave well, looking so much like true Christians. For a moment, stop admiring their works and listen to their words. You will discover that they believe false doctrines. They reject the true Gospel of Christ Crucified and Resurrected. They pretend to be humble, but they are proud. They pretend to love you, but, in their hearts, they desire that you should backslide. They want you to lose your reward. In the Old Testament, the spirit of Absalom represents the evil spirit of pride, division, selfish ambition, bitterness and unforgiveness, sexual lust, and love for power. He tried to divide the kingdom. He deceived the people of Israel thru lies and flatteries. In this way, he ‘stole their hearts’ (2 Samuel 15:6). He died an untimely, shameful, death. This was God’s punishment. Selah!   

A homewrecker is someone who has an adulterous affair with a married person and causes that marriage to fail. He (she) is responsible for a couple’s separation or divorce. He is happy that the couple has divorced. He wants to replace one of the married partners with himself. Apart from human beings, there are other evil activities also called ‘homewreckers’: pornography, alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling addiction, or domestic violence. The opposite of a homewrecker is called a homebuilder. Generally, love and wisdom build a home. Foolishness and selfishness destroy a family. “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (PV 14:1). This is a question: If God punishes adultery with death, how much more serious is the sin of church-wrecking? Selah!     

We are commanded to totally separate from false brethren who reject the basic doctrine (or Gospel) of Christ (2 Jn 1:7-11). We are also commanded to note people who divide the body with false teachings, lies and flattery. If they refuse to repent, they will be crushed by the Prince of Peace! Avoid them! “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore, I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly… Amen!” (Rom 16:17-20). Avoid people who are easily offended, over-sensitive, who quarrel, and verbally abuse others, especially the leaders in the church. Divisive people need to be disciplined in the church. “Avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11). Also, avoid people who gossip and are bitter, unforgiving. “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends” (PV 16:28; NIV). Unforgiveness divides friends. “He who covers and forgives an offense seeks love, but he who repeats or gossips about a matter separates intimate friends” (PV 17:9; AMP). Selah!

JESUS IS THE THREE-FOLD CORD

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecc 4:9-12)

The word ‘overpowered’ means to prevail. The word ‘withstand’ means to resist successfully against an attack. The word ‘broken’ means to tear apart, to divide or separate. There is power in unity. This applies to marriage and to church. A lonely Christian is vulnerable specially to attacks. Having another to agree in prayer and encouragement is strength. Two cannot be pushed back. The third cord that binds the other two is Jesus Christ. This is the unity of the Spirit. Two in the unity of the Spirit can be divided only if they damage the unity seal. This is what Jesus said: “Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt 18:19-20).

HOW DO WE MAINTAIN THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT?

How do we maintain the unity of the Spirit? By being like Jesus! By dying to self and living to Christ! “Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord; of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:1-4).

THE CHURCH IS THE TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

“Therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:19-22). God builds His Church, like His Holy Temple. God arranges us as living stones, one to support the other. Each believer is a living stone filled with the Holy Spirit. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But together, as One Body, we become ‘the dwelling place of God’ the Holy Spirit. This Body is alive and growing. This Body changes the world. All things work together for the good of not only individual believers, but for the good of the Church! The Church is The Father’s gift to the Son! The Church is the most expensive thing bought in this universe. Jesus died and shed His Blood to purchase it. The Church is the temple on earth where the Holy Spirit dwells. The Church is God’s greatest treasure. The Church is the foundation and pillar of truth and the best sample of heaven on earth! Worship the Lord!

PRAYER/SONG FOR UNITY OF THE SPIRIT

“Bind Us Together, Lord/ Bind Us Together/ With Cords That Cannot Be Broken

Bind Us Together, Lord/ Bind Us Together/ Bind Us Together In Love!

There Is Only One God/ There Is Only One King/ There Is Only One Body/ That Is Why We Sing” (song by Bob Gillman)

Worship the Lord!