Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Seed of Faith / The Fruit of Faithfulness


Faithfulness is really the mature fruit of faith. Faith is given to all who believe in Jesus. (Romans 12:3). It is a seed. This seed is capable of growing and maturing. God plants the seed of faith inside of you when you believe in Jesus. As you tend to it, it grows into a fruit, the fruit of faithfulness, which is also a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

Jesus talked about faith with His disciples. We often think He said that faith the size of a mustard seed would move mountains. But what He said was that if you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could move mountains. (Matthew 17:19-20). If you possessed it. He didn't say the seed would move the mountain, but once you possess the seed you have the potential to move mountains. The seed has to grow to the point that moving mountains is a possibility, but being in possession of it is the first step. 

The other day, I gave my daughter some parsley seeds. If I would have handed them to her and then immediately asked her to make me a parsley salad would she have been able to? No. But did she possess parsley? Yes, but in the form of seeds which have to be planted, nurtured, and given time to grow. Until she had those seeds in her possession, eating parsley was an impossibility. However, once the parsley seeds were in her possession it became a possibility. In the same way, once you possess faith, nothing is impossible.

We're all tested. We're sent to this earth for the testing of our faith. The earth is our proving grounds--the furnace which burns off the dross and reveals the purity of our hearts because of our faith in Jesus. (See Psalm 12:6, Isaiah 48:10).

Consider the man born blind. (John 9). His disciples asked Him whose fault it was that the man was born blind. In the Old Testament, whenever the children of Israel disobeyed or got off into sin, sure enough sickness, disease, or calamity of some type happened. When they would repent, then healing and deliverance came. We see the pattern over and over again. The disciples knew that, so when they saw the blind man they wanted to know whose sin was responsible for his condition. Jesus surprised them by saying neither. This man was born into a situation, but Jesus came to bring healing and deliverance to him.

We are all born into situations, some better than others, but all of us go through tough times throughout our lifetime. Times of trials and testing. These situations of life test us, they reveal things like what kind of person we are, and who (or what) our trust is in. Although really, its the Word of God that is tested, but along with that our faith in Him and His Word is tested. Hopefully, it will be proven to be genuine--the real thing. The Bible tells us that the trying of our faith is more precious than gold. (1 Peter 1:3-9). Jesus knows what its like to go through tough times. He lived on the earth as a man and was tempted in every way that we are. (Hebrews 4:15).

The only way to test faith is to measure it by faithfulness. Anyone can believe for five minutes. But when the pressure is on for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years, will your faith remain strong? Or maybe its not a long time of testing, but an intense period. Either way, if you remain true to the Lord, you have proven your faithfulness. Faithfulness is proven faith. Faith matures into faithfulness as it grows. The same is true of patience. Being patient for five minutes is not a true test of patience (in most cases). But remaining patience through the entire test or trial proves you have genuine patience.

It's also important to realize that the ultimate test of your faith is not whether or not you can turn a situation from bad to good, but whether you will remain faithful through the testing period. We often think that being able to proclaim a thing and see it happen instantly is a sign of great faith. However, look at these three examples:
  • Job...After Job lost his children, his wealth, and his health, he said, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him" (Job 13:15). During his entire time of testing he did not sin or blame God (Job 1:22). He knew something about faithfulness. Even though God allowed Satan to do all he did to Job, he still kept his eyes on God. He was his hope for deliverance.  
  • Joseph...His brothers sold him into slavery and told his father he was dead (Genesis 37). He went through hard times--being away from his family, false accusations, imprisonment, and yet he remained faithful to God. 
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego... When Nebuchadnezzar gave the command for everyone to fall down and worship his statue, they refused stating that they will only worship God. He threatened to throw them in the fiery furnace and they responded by saying that God is able to deliver them from the furnace, but even if He didn't, they still wouldn't bow down and worship a false god. (Daniel 3:16-18).
In all three of these examples, they came through their trials with the blessing of God. Job ended up with twice of what he lost (Job 42:10). Joseph became second in command in Egypt and saved God's nation of Israel from extinction. In Egypt he was promoted and able to prepare the nation to survive a coming famine, saving the nation of Israel in the process. He told his brothers, what they meant for evil the Lord used for good (Genesis 50:20). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the furnace unharmed and not even smelling like smoke. Their faith--really their faithfulness--was tested and proven to be genuine (Daniel3:26-27).

In the book of Hebrews11, we read of some who didn't receive the promise before they died. However, they saw them from a distance and realized that this earth is not their true home. What happens here is not the end, God is preparing a much better place for us on the other side (See Hebrews 11:13-16, John 14:1-3).

What happens if your faith(fulness) fails? You still have seeds. As long as you have faith in Jesus, you have the seed of faith within you. You still have your measure of faith He gave you. Jesus prayed for Peter that His faith wouldn't fail (Luke 22:31-32). Peter went through a time of testing when Jesus died, but he came through it and lived to proclaim the gospel as he was called to do. Jesus is praying for you too! He's praying for your faith to remain strong. He's praying for you to remain faithful during the trials of this earth. (Hebrews 7:23-25).

Prioritize. If you had to choose one thing to remain at the end of your trial, would it be:
  • That you get your answer to prayer, or
  • That you remain faithful to God during the trial (don't sin, get bitter etc.)
Which would you choose, if you could only have one? The thing that will last for eternity is faithfulness. The things of this earth will fade away and sometimes, when you choose faithfulness, you will get both--like Job, Joseph, and the boys in the fiery furnace. Just remember that the end doesn't justify the means.

God cares about your eternal life. He cares about you spiritually, your character, your heart and motivations. He knows what is most important. At times He may push you. He may challenge you. Not for punishment, but to strengthen your faithfulness. He is building faithfulness in you that will last for all eternity. Isn't that better than a new car? In fact, anything that will be done away with at the end of your life, or the end of this age, is less important than the faithfulness, or any fruit of the Spirit, that is developed during your time of testing.

The seed of faith is planted in your garden. Its meant to grow and produce fruit. Will you nurture it? Will you bear the fruit of peace during your time of testing? Will you produce love during your time of testing? What about joy, gentleness, self-control, and patience? These are all fruit that you can bear during your testing time. Faithfulness is the key to it all. The seed of faith grows into faithfulness. Don't waste your trials, allow them to do the work of purifying your faith--more precious than gold.




Monday, March 11, 2019

The Beast of Revelation



Revelation chapters 13-19 tell the story of the beast. To understand the beast, and his mark, we also need to look at the harlot Babylon and her judgement.

Babylon the Great is described in the book of Revelation as a woman who is a city which is full of merchandise. Precious stones, fabric, metals, spices, food, and livestock. There is music, crafts, mills, and human slaves. Wait. What? Yes, human slaves. Yet this city is loved by the merchants who make great wealth from her. The kings of the earth love her too, as do all who live on the earth who have become seduced by her and drunk with her wine. Babylon is called a woman, a harlot, and she has risen over time and from among all peoples of the earth. You may have heard that Babylon is the harlot church, or the church who is unfaithful to God, but I believe its more accurate to say she is all people, along with their skills and resources, who have turned from God, seduced by the fleshly pleasures they receive when giving themselves fully to them. This makes her more of a corrupt economic system because a person's time, energy, skills, and resources which were intended to be used for God's purposes, are used for self-pleasure instead. The intoxicating lure of building your own kingdom.

The woman holds a cup of wine in her hand. It is the wine of her immorality. This wine is called the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. Wine is a fruit of a man's harvest, and this wine is the fruit of the harlot's merchandise which tramples on the fruit of the gifts and callings of God's people. The end result is the intoxication of wealth. The love of money. It will suck the life out of you. You become its slave.

The people of God, and really all people, are in danger of becoming intoxicated by her wine--the love of pleasure, power, or money. God gives a warning--a call from heaven for His people to come out of her, out of Babylon, for two reasons--
  • So we will not participate in her sins
  • So we will not receive of her plagues
An hour of judgement is coming to Babylon and God does not want His people on the receiving end of that judgement. Those who overcome are described as the ones who don't receive the mark of the beast. The beast conquers and replaces the harlot as we'll see here in a minute. But we must not fall into the harlot's trap. We must not fall under the intoxicating spell of the love of money or worldly power. We must choose God and His ways over everything else, even if its hard or costs us something.

God will pronounce judgement against this harlot for us--on our behalf. The blood of the prophets, saints, and all those slain is found in her. There are people of God who have become intoxicated on her wine--corrupted by the influence of wealth and power. God is not happy with that. We are told to come out of her and rejoice when she is judged. And judgement comes from a very unusual place--the very beast she sits on. Ten kings of the earth, who have no kingdom for themselves, unite with the beast which rises from the abyss. These kings give their authority to the beast and unite in purpose to destroy the harlot. 

The beast rises from the sea--from among the people--but gets his power from Satan himself. He is the image of Satan (the dragon) who also has seven heads and ten horns. The dragon is the devil, a spiritual being, who uses the beast as a physical presence in the earth. He persecutes the Jews and makes war with the Christians (Rev. 12) but he needs the earthly authority of the ten kings to establish his global rule.

The unbelievers--those whose names are not written in the Lamb's book of life--will be amazed by the beast. They will love him. They will think he's great and will "worship" him. They will be impressed by his "fatal wound that was healed." (Rev. 17:8, 13:3-4). As people are amazed by the beast, they are not only following him, but worshiping the dragon (Satan) whether they realize it or not.

God has put it in the heart of the ten kings and the beast to unite and have a common purpose in order for God's purpose to be established, until His Word is fulfilled. They will make war with and conquer Babylon. She will fall. Many will mourn her fall. The kings of the earth, the merchants who gained wealth through her, and those intoxicated on her wine. But the saints are told to rejoice at her fall. However, the beast, and his global economic and religious rule, replaces the harlot. He conquers her and wants complete rule and authority.

The beast blasphemes God, His Name, His tabernacle, and all that is in heaven. He has global authority and controls the economic system. He makes war with the saints and overcomes them. They will refuse his economic system and not receive "the mark" which is required to buy and sell. The beast is worshiped by all who are not written in the Lamb's book of life. They will be dependent on him for survival. Their God-given occupational gifts and talents will be owned by the one who controls the economic system. 

This beast/ten-king alliance is allowed by God to continue for a short time--42 months. The beast will set up his own economic system which kills the saints who don't get in on it. (The two witnesses of Revelation 11 prophesy for about 42 months while the holy city is being trampled until they are killed by the beast). Alongside the beast will rise a false prophet--a religious figure who rises from the earth. (The beast rises from the sea). This false prophet makes people worship the beast. He performs miraculous signs, calling fire down from heaven, to deceive and persuade the people to follow the beast. The false prophet tells people to make an image to the beast, and he "gives breath" to this image so it speaks, and kills those who don't worship the beast or take his mark. Those without the mark will not be able to buy or sell.

In the end, the beast and ten king alliance will try to wage war against the Lamb--against Jesus--and will be defeated. The Lord will come on His white horse with the armies of heaven following Him--those clothed in white. The beast and the false prophet will be seized and thrown into the lake of fire. The rest will be killed with the sword from the mouth of the Lord. Then it's supper time, followed by the thousand year reign. After the thousand year reign Satan himself will be released from his prison to deceive the nations and gather them for war against the beloved city of God. They are devoured with fire from heaven and the devil is thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet are. They will be there forever and ever.

So what does this look like practically for us as believers in Jesus? 

The harlot system of the world is loved by those who gain wealth and power from it. The merchandise of this earth is not evil itself, but the love of it is. When we care more about money, increase, or position than we do about God, His ways, and His people, then we are becoming intoxicated and corrupted by the harlot. This heart-attitude prepares people to receive the evil that will follow--the mark of the beast. We must separate ourselves from this harlot, even while we live in the midst of it.

Since the scattering of the believers after Jesus' resurrection, the church has gone out into the world to live in it and preach the Gospel to it. We have "grown up" among the thorns sharing in the same economic system of unbelievers. Yet God warns us not to participate in her sins. He wants us separated from her, protected from the judgement coming on her.

God loves His people and is angered by the deception that comes against His people to pull them into this trap. Judgement is coming to the harlot yet He will use another evil to bring it down. The harlot deceives believers into following her by a seductive lure of wealth. The beast will try and use a religious approach to lure people in, but will also use force to kill those who don't follow him. When we see the fall of the harlot, we know its getting close to the time of the Lord's return to establish His rule on the earth. It may be tempting to mourn her fall, but rejoice! We must be separated from her in our heart in order to be able to rejoice at her fall. She was corrupted with immorality and the Lord's city will be much better. Yet we must also prepare for the rise of the beast which takes her place and remains for a short time before the Lord returns.

Revelation 13-19.