Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Charisms: Some tips and notes

Some tips:

Discovering our spiritual gifts helps us to be used by God to the full potential that we were created for, resulting in great contentment and confidence in the Lord.

Knowledge of spiritual gifts helps in a division of labor and, consequently, in increased growth in the body of Christ. Not knowing our gifts will result in loss of time and energy.

Knowledge of the gifts we possess helps us to know where we fit in the body of Christ.

We should study the different gifts and have an eager desire to receive them, but should be willing to accept God’s timing in giving them.

We should experiment with different ministries in order to check if we have the gifts related for the same.

We can seek the prayerful opinion of a close friend, a spiritual director or a marriage partner to help us evaluate what gifts we have.

Sometimes a word of prophecy can help us in knowing our gifts.

We can also discover our gifts by checking our persistent desires and abilities.

Some facts:

The gifts of the Spirit were manifested even before Pentecost, but before then they were given to a few people for a specific purpose. Here are some people in the New Testament who were filled with the Holy Spirit: John the Baptist (cf. Luke 1:15), Mary (Luke 1:35), Elizabeth (Luke 1:41) and the apostles (Matthew 10:1-8).

Every gift comes from the Holy Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:4) and God operates every gift (1 Corinthians 12:6).

Every believer can have a gift (1 Corinthians 12:11) and one person can have all gifts (John 3:34, Romans 15:29).

Gifts should be used where needed (1 Corinthians 12:12-31, 1 Corinthians 14:1-40).

Gifts can be received by faith and prayer (1 Corinthians 14:1, Mt 7:7-11) and we can choose which gifts we need (1 Corinthians 12:31, I Corinthians 14:1 & 12).

We know when we have received them, when the Spirit manifests them through us to accomplish the intended purpose (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28-31).

Gifts are to continue throughout this age (Matthew 28:20).

Gifts are permanent (Romans 11:29) and can be exercised at will (1 Corinthians 14:26-32).

Gifts can be misused (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) and also can be exercised in a backslidden state (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11).

Gifts can be neglected (1 Timothy 4:14) and must be used when needed (1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Corinthians 14:17, 26).

Finally, the Catechism teaches: "It is in this sense that discernment of charisms is always necessary. No charism is exempt from being referred and submitted to the Church’s shepherds. "Their office [is] not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good," so that all the diverse and complementary charisms work together "for the common good" (CCC 801).

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Charisms: 9 - The Interpretation of Tongues

This is a gift that complements the gift of tongues. The Holy Spirit enables the person with this gift to interpret tongues into a language known to the congregation and it is an important gift because, as Paul says, that there is no edification if people cannot understand what is spoken. "If in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air" (1 Corinthians 14:9).

He advises people to remain silent if there is no interpreter. "If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God" (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).

Like prophecy, a tongue that is interpreted builds up the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:5). We need, therefore, to pray for the gift of interpretation so as not to still the gift of tongues. "Therefore," Paul urges, "one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret" (1 Corinthians 14:13).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Charisms: 8 - The Gift of Tongues

Shortly before Jesus ascended into heaven He commanded his disciples to go and proclaim the good news to all creation. He told them that one of the signs that would accompany them would be "new tongues" (Mark 16:17), or "new languages" that they had not learned. We see them doing this to amazing effect on the day of Pentecost when God poured out His Spirit upon them.

There are two types of this gift, which is unintelligible to the user, unless he has the accompanying gift of interpretation (see The Gift of Interpretation of Tongues): one is the ability to pray in tongues; the other the ability to speak in tongues.

Every believer can receive the gift of praying in tongues, which is a lovely way of communicating with God. "For," as Paul writes, "those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 14:12).

When a person prays in tongues he does not use his human intellect, "for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27). Through tongues, we utter mysteries in the Spirit, build ourselves up, praise the Lord, thank Him, and give signs to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:2,4,16,22).

Speaking in tongues is a rare gift, whereby people hear the speaker speaking in their own language. We see this demonstrated in Acts 2, when the apostles "were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability" (Acts 2:4).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Charisms: 7 - The Gift of Discernment

It would be easy to recognize Satan if he appeared like his hackneyed stereotype: with horns, tail and pitchfork. On the contrary, he "disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14), sometimes masquerading as God’s own chosen ones. Jesus warned of this. "False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect," he said (Mark 13:22). To ensure that we are not led astray, we need the gift of discernment, which is the ability that God gives us to distinguish whether a certain behavior, teaching, prophecy, ailment or action is from God, an evil spirit, or our own human spirit.

We see an interesting episode in Mark 8:31-33, when Jesus told his apostles that he "must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again". Peter took Jesus aside and began to scold him, telling him that such should not be. But Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." Jesus discerned the spirit behind the words of Peter as not being from God.

Paul was blessed with the gift of discernment. On his second missionary journey, he travelled to Macedonia, along with Silas. While there, Paul came across a servant girl who kept following them, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God; they will make known to you a way of salvation." Paul discerned that the spirit was an evil spirit and commanded it to come out of her (Acts 16:16-18). It did, much to the chagrin of the girl’s employers, who used to use her "gift" to make money.

The gift of discernment does not help us to expel demons, as Paul did, but it is useful in the ministry of deliverance, where we need to discern whether a person is possessed or simply ill. It is also needed in instances where witchcraft, Satanism and occultism may be involved, in identifying demonic influence, if any, behind lying, infirmity, and unclean behavior.

The gift of discernment, in its more powerful forms, can reveal the name of a demon troubling somebody, the number of demons infesting a person, as well as which one of them is the strongest and has the greatest authority. We see Jesus demonstrating this when he delivers the possessed man in the country of the Gerasenes (see Mark 5:1-20).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Charisms: 6 - The Gift of Prophecy

The prophet Amos declared: "Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). Moses expressed the desire: "Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:29). Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to seek spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. "Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy" (1 Corinthians 14:1).

Our God is a God of revelation. Regular people do not get access to God’s secrets but his secrets are revealed to his servants, the prophets. A prophet utters words inspired by God, a message to a person or the Christian Community. He speaks on God’s behalf, communicating the mind of God and what God thinks of a current situation or His intention for the future.

The purpose of prophecy is to encourage and build up the church. This is done when words of comfort are spoken from the mouth of God. "On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church" (1 Corinthians 14:3-4). In the book of Ezekiel, we see the prophet prophesying and when he does so, it brings life to the dead bones. In a similar fashion when a prophet speaks words of God he gives life to the spiritually dead.

Here are some of the facets of the gift of prophecy:

It requires no interpretation.

It must be used in proportion to ones faith (cf. Romans 12:6).

The person operating the gift is responsible to maintain both order and submission to the Church’s shepherds (CCC801). "And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets" (1 Corinthians 14:32).

Prophets can make mistakes so each prophecy must be weighed carefully (1 Corinthians 14:29).

Prophecy convinces the unbeliever of the presence of God (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

Prophecy should be comforting and not distressing or uncertain to the one who is receiving it.

If the prophecy has to do with the future, it must come to pass, if it doesn’t come to pass it means the prophet is a false prophet.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Charisms: 5 - The Gift of Miracles

The Christian faith is based on the miracles of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. The gift of working of miracles reinforces the authenticity of this gospel truth. Jesus life was filled with signs and wonders from heaven above. He walked on water (Matthew 14:25), multiplied bread and fed thousands (Matthew 15:32-38), calmed the storm (Mark 4:39), disappeared (Luke 24:31), passed through walls (John 20:19), caught 153 fish at one time (John 21:11), and raised the dead (John 11:44, Luke 7:11-15, Matthew 9:23-25) in addition to several other miracles. In each of these miracles we see that God changed the course of nature and thus proved to be God of all gods.

Many Christians have this gift but it is largely ignored due to humanistic thinking. We tend to come up with practical ways of solving problems. We must expect God to work miracles in our lives and in the lives of others through us. Here are some examples of what men did through the power of God:

While the Apostles prayed that God stretch out His hand "to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus ... the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness" (cf Acts 4:30-33).

While Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, "there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened" (cf Acts 16:25-26).

Peter brought Tabitha (Dorcas) back to life after she had died (cf Acts 9:36-41).

Paul brought Eutychus back to life after he went to sleep while Paul was preaching, fell out of the window and died (cf Acts 20:9-12).

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them (Acts 19-11).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Charisms: 4 - The Gift of Healing

Jesus ministry involved preaching, teaching and healing. Jesus healed the sick, cured lepers and gave sight to the blind. He passed on this same authority to his disciples. "Cure the sick," he told them. "Raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment" (Matthew 10:8).

The purpose of this gift is manifold. It shows God’s mercy and compassion on the sick and the suffering (Acts 10:38, Luke 13:16), demonstrates that Christ is the Son of God (John 10:36-38), confirms the Word (Mark 16:15-18, Acts 4:29-30), helps attract people to the Gospel (Luke 4:40-43), and brings glory to God (Mark 2:12, Luke 13:13, Luke 18:42-43, John 9:2-3).

The gift of healing is a special gift granted to someone whereby when they pray over someone, the process of healing takes place quickly, sometimes instantly. This gift operates on three levels: mental, physical and spiritual. Catholics accept this gift in the lives of the saints, but find it difficult to accept in the lives of ordinary Christians, especially themselves.

The person with the gift, however, cannot heal everybody. Who is healed and who isn’t is, of course, decided by God, who sometimes decide to withhold healing. As the Catechism states: "The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," and that the sufferings to be endured can mean that "in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church" (CCC 1508).

Here are some examples of Christians healing the sick.

Peter healed Aneneas, who had been bedridden for eight years with paralysis (cf. Acts 9:33-34).

Peter heals a crippled beggar by the gates of the temple (cf. Acts 3:1-8).

Peter’s shadow was sufficient to heal many. "Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured" (Acts 5:14-16)

Paul healed a crippled man in Lystra who was lame from birth (cf. Acts 14:8-10).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Charisms: 3 - The Gift of Faith

This gift inspires a person to pray with God given confidence, knowing that what is asked for will be granted. In the beginning of Acts 3, we find Peter and John going up to the temple to pray and finding a man sitting by the gates. He had been crippled from birth. When he saw Peter and John, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, "Look at us." And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk." And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

What Peter had was faith, and with this faith, the crippled man was dramatically healed. Faith is a powerful gift. Jesus said, "For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20). On another occasion, he said, "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12).

The gift of faith is a supernatural gift given to a person whom the Lord wants to use to make the impossible possible. As we just saw, Peter and John went against natural laws to heal the crippled man in the name of Jesus. We must not confuse this gift of faith with the virtue of faith that every Christian is called to have. Regular faith, as the Catechism puts it, "is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life" (CCC 26).

If we lack faith, we can ask the Lord to help us, as the apostles once did. They came to Jesus one day and said to Him: "Increase our faith" (Luke 17:5). Other spiritual gifts depend on faith. For instance, Paul tells us that prophecy should be used only in proportion to our faith (cf Romans 12:6). At various times through His ministry Jesus spoke about how people are healed in proportion to their faith. "Go; let it be done for you according to your faith," he told the Centurion, who asked Jesus to heal his servant in complete faith. The servant was instantly healed (cf. Matthew 8:5-13). On another occasion he touched the eyes of two blind men who sought healing, saying, "According to your faith let it be done to you." They, too, were instantly healed (cf. Matthew 9:27-30).

Here are a few examples of what humans can do through God when faith is strong.

Elijah declared to King Ahab that there would be no rain until he said the word. His gift of faith, along with prayer, produced the desired effect (see 1 Kings 17; James 5:17-18).

Joshua used the gift of faith to command the sun to stand still and the moon to stop for about a whole day until they won the war against the Amorites (see Joshua 10:1-13).

Paul saw through the deceit of Elymas and struck him blind (see Acts 13:8-11).

Peter rebuked Ananias and Sapphira and proclaimed God’s judgment on them (see Acts 5:1-10).

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Charisms: 2 - The Gift of Knowledge

The gift of knowledge (different from the Isaiah gift of knowledge), is a gift by which the Spirit gives a person a deeper understanding of a mystery of faith, or specific knowledge about a person or situation that could not be known, unless God revealed it.

We see Jesus using this gift often. On one occasion, Jesus stopped by in Samaria for a drink of water and engaged in a conversation with a woman who had come to draw water from the well. He knew that she had five husbands (cf. John 4:18-19) without her having spoken of it. One another occasion, Jesus told a man named Nathaniel that He had seen him sitting under the fig tree a little while earlier, even though Jesus had not even been near the area at the time (cf. John 1:47-48).

The gift of knowledge operates by faith and is received in one’s spirit, not intellect or emotions. It may be shared with the person to whom it is related and is an invaluable asset in the ministry of counseling. The gift can be used for a variety of other purposes too. It helps to reveal sin as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (cf. Acts 5:1-10), and in the case of King David (cf. 2 Samuel 12:1-10). The gift can be used to encourage as it encouraged Elijah when he heard God’s voice in the mountain (1 King 19:9-18). It can be used to impart knowledge of future events, as Agabus came to know about a great famine that would sweet over the entire world (Acts 11:28). It can also be used to reveal hidden things—or hidden people—as Samuel located Saul who had tried to conceal himself among baggage! (cf. 1 Samuel 10:22).

This gift very often operates hand in hand with the gift of wisdom. Here are a few other examples of the gift of knowledge in operation, and how the gift of wisdom comes into simultaneous play:

Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream concerning the coming years of plenty and drought and then, with the gift of wisdom, advised Pharaoh of the steps that needed to be taken (cf. Genesis 41:1-36).

Elijah knew that Gehazi had run after Naaman claiming a reward for healing the army general. He then pronounced the judgment of God upon Gehazi through the gift of Wisdom (cf. 2 Kings 5:20-27).

Daniel discovered Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which the king had refused to reveal, and then interpreted it using the gift of Wisdom (cf Daniel 2:1-47).

God told Ananias of Paul’s conversion through the gift of Knowledge and, using the gift of wisdom, the steps he needed to take (cf. Acts 9:10-16).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Charisms: 1 - The Gift of Wisdom

The Pharisees were out to get Jesus and constantly laid plans to trap him in his words. "Teacher," they said to him one day, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar’s," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s" (Matthew 22:15-21).

This was an example of the gift of wisdom in action. The gift of wisdom—or word of wisdom—is a divine revelation of the mind, will, purpose, plan, or counsel of God that directs a person to make the right response, decision or judgment in a particular situation. This revelation could be related to things of the past, present, or future. It is a fragment of the Isaiah gift of wisdom, imparted by the Holy Spirit, at a particular time, for a specific need or situation.

The gift of wisdom is the application of the gift of knowledge which we will look at next, knowing what to say or how to act with the natural or supernatural knowledge that God gives the person. It cannot be attained academically, nor can it be gained by experience. It stands first in the list in terms of its importance, because it enables us to speak and act with divine wisdom. This gift ensures the correct use and application of other gifts. When wisdom is absent, the other gifts can be used wrongly.

The gift of wisdom can come through various forms, like an inner impression or an image. When we see these impressions or images, we need to ask God for its meaning, otherwise the image serves no purpose. The prophet Jeremiah saw a series of visions including the branch of an almond tree and a boiling pot that was tilted that God had to interpret to him (Jeremiah 1:11-14).

The gift of wisdom can come in the form of a revelation of Scripture like that which came to the mind of Peter when he went about preaching his first sermon (cf. Acts 2:14-21), or a dream like Joseph saw when God wanted him to flee to Egypt (cf. Matthew 2:13). Sometimes, God reveals things in the form of a vision, as Peter experienced when he saw a sheet of clean and unclean animals being let down to earth by its four corners (cf. Acts 10: 11-16). Sometimes, He reveals things through an angelic visitation, as Joshua experienced when he met an angel who told him how to conquer Jericho (cf. Joshua 5:13-15). Sometimes, God speaks through an audible voice, like He did during Jesus’s baptism in the river Jordan (cf. Matthew 3:16-17).

The gifts of prophecy or tongues are modes of revealing the gift of wisdom.

Here are some more examples of the gift of wisdom in operation:

Moses received a word of wisdom on how to sweeten the bitter water in Marah and make it drinkable during the Israelite exodus (cf. Exodus 15:23-25).

Moses received a revelation of how to share the load of judging people by appointing seventy elders (cf. Numbers 11:16-17).

Moses received a revelation of how to save the people from poisonous snakebites by raising a bronze serpent (cf. Numbers 21:6-9).

The prophet Amos saw the judgment of God revealed through images of locusts, fire and a plumb line (cf. Amos 7:1-9), and later, a basket of summer fruit (cf. Amos 8:1-3).

God warned the wise men not to return to Herod (cf, Matthew 2:12).

Paul received instruction not to go into Asia and Bithynia (cf. Acts 16:6,7), and later, to go into Macedonia (cf. Acts 16:9-10).

James received wisdom when confronted with the serious issue of circumcision at the first church council (cf. Acts 15:1-29).

Paul received instruction on how to survive the storm he encountered at sea (cf. Acts 27).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Charisms: Intro

Spiritual gifts (or charismata) are gifts that are bestowed on Christians, each having his or her own proper gift (or gifts) to strengthen the church. They are described in the New Testament, primarily in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses" (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

These gifts are granted to every Christian to perform his/her task in the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: "Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world. Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic prompting of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms" (CCC 799-800).

There are nine gifts in all that can be grouped in three categories:

1. Gifts of Discernment (or mind gifts), which comprise Knowledge, Wisdom, and Discernment of Spirits;

2. Gifts of Power (or action gifts), which comprise Faith, Miracles, and Healing; and

3. Gifts of Proclamation (or gifts of the tongue), which comprise Prophecy, Tongues, and the Interpretation of Tongues.

We will look at the gifts in the order they are mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

Tomorrow: The Gift of Wisdom

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Power of the Blood of Christ

There is immense power in the blood of Christ, but many among us don't have a complete understanding of the significance of this power and its application in our lives. To be able to gain this understanding, however, we first need to understand the two ways in which Scripture speaks of blood. There is blood that has been shed and blood that has been sprinkled.

Christians participating in the Holy Eucharist will be familiar with the former. When the priest raises the chalice, he speaks for Jesus as he quotes him in Luke 22:20, saying, "Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you ...." But many are unfamiliar with the latter. We need to go into the Old Testament to discover the power of blood being sprinkled.

Protection (see Exodus 12)
The first reference we come across about sprinking of blood can be found in Exodus 11. God has struck Egypt with 9 plagues, one after another, but a hard hearted Pharoah refuses to give the Israelites their freedom. God is about to unleash the 10th and final plague, this one striking down the first born of all in Egypt, both men and animals. He would, however, spare the Israelites provided they did what he told them to do, which was to take the blood of a lamb and sprinkle it on the doorposts of their houses. That night the angel of death moved through Egypt. Every firstborn child of the Egyptians died, but the Israelite children were spared because the blood of the lamb had been sprinkled on their doorframes.

Covenant (see Exodus 24)
After redeeming Israel with the blood of the Passover Lamb, God initiates a covenant with the newborn nation through Moses, saying, "If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, I will be your God and you will be my people" (cf. Exodus 19:4; see also Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4). Moses takes a bowl containing the blood of a bull and sprinkles half of it on an altar he has built at the foot of the mountain. He then takes the other half to the people. He reads the laws of the covenant to the people and asks them what they have to say about it. In unison, they respond, "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey." Moses then took the blood, and sealed the covenant by sprinkling on the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you."

Communion (see Exodus 24)
Immediately after this, "Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, along with seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God the Israel". In Exodus 3, we see Moses going up the mountain but turning his face away from God because he was afraid of looking upon the face of God, because it meant death (cf. Exodus 33:20), "but God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank". Moses and 73 others not only looked upon the face of God, but they ate and drank with him, because they had been sprinkled with the blood of a sacrificial offering and made clean.

Forgiveness (see Leviticus 16)
And finally we come to sprinking of blood that had the most significance. The Day of Atonement was the greatest day of the year for Israel. On this day, the people confessed their sins as a nation, and the high priest went into the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies, to make atonement for their sins. He would take with him a censer full of burning coals, two handfuls of incence, and a basin containing the blood of a bull. Within the Holy of Holies was a piece of furniture comprising two parts: the Ark of the Convenant and the atonement cover which rested on top of it. The atonement cover, or the mercy seat, was God's dwelling place in the tabernacle. (cf. Exodus 25.22). The high prest would put the incense on the burning coals and as the smoke ascended upwards, he would dip his finger into the basin of blood and with his finger, sprinkle it on the mercy seat seven times. When he came out, the people would rejoice because they all believed, without a shadow of doubt, that their sins had been forgiven.

Jesus, the Lamb of God
2,000 years ago, a new sacrifice was offered: God's own son, Jesus. His blood was shed for us on the cross of Calvary. Let these words from Hebrews 9:11-15 sum up all the conclusions I wish to make:

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle ... He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Let us sprinkle the blood of Christ upon ourselves every day, and be secure and confident in the knowledge that we are forgiven (cf. Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:7), we are protected (cf. Revelation 12:11), we are under a new and everlasting covenant of love that nothing can separate us from (cf. Romans 8:35-39), and that we can dare approach the great throne room and not only stand face to face with God, but also dare to call him Father (cf. Ephesians 2:13-14, 1 John 3:1, Hebrews 10:19).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Luck of Roaring Camp

I was looking for illustrations for a Christmas sermon and I came across a lot of little jewels. This is one of the best of them.

Did you ever read Bret Harte's story The Luck of Roaring Camp? Roaring Camp was supposed to be, according to the story, the meanest, toughest mining town in all of the West. More murders, more thefts--it was a terrible place inhabited entirely by men, and one woman who tried to serve them all. Her name was Cherokee Sal. She died while giving birth to a baby.

Well, the men took the baby, and they put her in a box with some old rags under her. When they looked at her, they decided that didn't look right, so they sent one of the men eighty miles to buy a rosewood cradle. He brought it back, and they put the rags and the baby in the rosewood cradle. And the rags didn't look right there. So they sent another of their number to Sacramento, and he came back with some beautiful silk and lace blankets. And they put the baby, wrapped around with those blankets, in the rosewood cradle.

It looked fine until someone happened to notice that the floor was so filthy. So these hardened, tough men got down on their hands and knees, and with their hardened and horny hands they scrubbed that floor until it was very clean. Of course, what that did was to make the walls and the ceiling and the dirty windows without curtains look absolutely terrible. So they washed down the walls and the ceiling, and they put curtains at the windows. And now things were beginning to look as they thought they should look. But of course, they had to give up a lot of their fighting, because the baby slept a lot, and babies can't sleep during a brawl.

So the whole temperature of Roaring Camp seemed to go down. They used to take her out and set her by the entrance to the mine in her rosewood cradle so they could see her when they came up. Then somebody noticed what a dirty place that was, so they planted flowers, and they made a very nice garden there. It looked quite beautiful. And they would bring her, oh, shiny little stones and things that they would find in the mine. But when they would put their hands down next to hers, their hands looked so dirty. Pretty soon the general store was all sold out of soap and shaving gear and perfume and those kinds ...

... the baby changed everything.

Monday, September 27, 2010

With Eyes Fixed on God: 2. Facing Huge Difficulties

Jehoshaphat was one of the kings who ruled Judah, and from all accounts (see 2 Chronicles 17-21), he was one of the better rulers the country had. There came a time during his reign that his nation faced a disaster. Three huge armies set out to make war on him. Not surprisingly, Jehoshapat was alarmed, but in a notable departure from the regular, he sought the counsel of God in the matter. His prayer ended with these words: "For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you" (2 Chronicles 20:12).

God told him not to worry: "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s" (2 Chr 20:15). Jehoshaphat took the advice to heart, as well as other advice that he received to do nothing but praise God. So while the invading armies prepared to annihilate Jehoshaphat, the king sent his own army with instructions to "sing to the Lord and to praise him ... as they went out at the head or the army, saying: "Give thanks to the Lord for his love endures forever.""

A sure recipe for disaster you might think, but think again. As they began to sing and praise, the Lord sowed confusion and discord among the invading armies who, instead of attacking and destroying Judah, attacked and destroyed each other leaving the battlefield empty. The battle was, indeed, the Lord's.

We, too, in our lives, are sometimes faced with mighty adversities that seem overwhelming. And overwhelm us, they will, unless we turn to God in faith and prayer like this king did. It might seem silly what this king did, but the victory he achieved is an indication of how powerful prayer and faith in tandem can be.

A lady came to me a me a week ago telling me she was half a million dirhams in debt. That's about US$ 136,000. That was a staggering debt to pay off for any salaried person. She told me that she was praying, but God was not doing anything to clear her debt. I had to explain that God wasn't going to send somebody with a check for half a million — we have to suffer the consequences of our folly — but what God would do was to help her repay the debt IF she focussed on him. If she kept her eyes on him. Otherwise, she would drive her car into a brick wall, like she told me she wanted to.

I have had people facing similar situations in the past testifying as to how God took them through when they relied on him. He did this in far less time and with much greater ease than they had ever imagined. So I know that this is not just a story in the Bible to give people hope; it works! And it's not only with looming financial catastophes that God helps us, but he's there to assist us in every difficult situation we face in our lives. It takes humility, however, and a certain amount of courage to be able to go to God and say to him, just as Jehoshaphat did: "Lord, I have no power to combat the obstacles in my life. I don't know what to do. But I got my eyes upon you!"

Get your eyes fixed on him for the victory that you seek, the deliverance that you need, the freedom that you desire. It's all it really takes.

Next: With Eyes Fixed on God: 3. In the Middle of a Storm

Friday, September 24, 2010

With Eyes Fixed on God: 1. Snakes in the Desert

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

I've always loved the movies and among the many movies I have watched, I have really enjoyed the Indiana Jones series. I guess it appeals to the child in me. There is one scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark that was memorable. Indy falls into a dark pit and it seems to him that the ground under his feet is moving. He strikes a match and to his horror he finds the floor crawling with hundreds of snakes. "I hate snakes," he says, his fear of them very evident in his eyes.

I suspect that most of us hate them as well, and it isn't very surprising when we think of the painful death they can cause when they bite us. This is what the Israelites suffered during their travels through the desert. Scripture says that "the Lord sent venomous snakes among them" but as we are learning, we can't take everything in the Bible literally. What the writers probably meant is that the Lord withdrew his hand of protection over the Israelites and let the snakes bite them. But why would he do this? To teach them a lesson perhaps. Let's see what happened just prior to this.

One, the Israelites grew impatient along the way. We may be inclined to feel a little sympathetic towards them considering that they were on the road for a long time until we understand that it is this impatience that kept them on the road for so long. The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was barely a few weeks, but it took them forty years to make it!!!

God puts us through situations in our lives to teach us patience, to teach us to wait upon him, and the quicker we learn these lessons, the quicker we get out of the situations. Unfortunately, like the Israelites we too get impatient, and then we too wander around, sometimes for years, until we get to where we want to be.

Two, they spoke against God and against Moses, which is never a good idea, because when you speak against someone you are, in effect, rebelling against them. What do you want God to make of rebellion?

I know of people who are constantly speaking against God, sometimes even cursing him because they aren't happy with the way he is working in their lives. I'm no Moses, but they speak against me too, sometimes for the strangest possible reasons.

Three, they whined and moaned, asking God why he brought them up out of Egypt? Obviously, they had forgotten that they had begged and pleaded with him to get them out, fed up with the years of suffering they had underwent at the hands of the Egyptians.

We, too, make prayers of God, sometimes perhaps not realizing that God does answer prayers, but in his own fashion. Unable to deal with this, we question God in a similar manner, presuming we know better than he does.

Four, they exhibited a tragic lack of faith when they spoke of dying in the desert, indicating that they had also forgotten everything that God had done to ensure they were safe. He got them out of Egypt without so much as a scar, gave them safe passage through the Red Sea when a blood thirsty army chased after them, kept their clothes, foot wear and health intact over the years, and they implied, by this question, that he was now incapable of keeping them alive.

I am sure that this, too, is familiar to us. We receive blessing after blessing — and we only have to take a cursory glance at our lives to see how true this is — but the moment we face something that is a little difficult, we believe God has abandoned us and we're headed for defeat and destruction.

Five, they complained that there was no bread or water, and in a shocking display of ingratitude, whinged about how they detested the manna God was giving them — given at no cost, without toil or labor!

Again, they didn't do anything we don't do.

I figure God must have decided if they really wanted to complain, he'd give them reason to, and when they came across a patch of desert sand infested with snakes, he withdrew his hand of protection, leaving them to ponder the consequence of a life without him to help them.

They began to get bitten and die painfully and not knowing what to do they turned to the same person they spoke against — Moses — to ask for help from the same God they spoke against — the mighty I AM. Fortunately for them, Moses was not one to hold grudges and he interceded with God, who also didn't hold grudges. He told Moses to "make a snake and put it up on a pole and get the people who were bitten to look at it for healing."

It seems here that God is breaking one of his own commandments about not fashioning any graven images (Exodus 20:4-5, 32:31), something that he appears to do again when he gives instructions on building the ark of the convenant (1 Chronicles 28:18-19), orders the carving of statues of angels (Exodus 25:18-20), and commanding that Aaron's priestly robes have pomegranates on them! (Exodus 28:31-34), but obviously there are circumstances in which God is okay with such things. (We are not going to talk about idol worship here; to understand more about this may I refer you to an article by Patrick Madrid).

So why is God doing this? To point people the way to salvation by making them aware of their sins and its consequences! What would the people who were bitten by the snake see when they saw an image of it nailed to the cross? They would see how their sins were causing them a painful death and repent of whatever they had done. This repentance would bring healing.

Do you recollect another instance when something was nailed to a cross? Of course you do. Many years later Jesus would say, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14).

The serpent is not a representation of Jesus, but of the sin that Jesus took upon himself when he was crucified on the cross. If we want to stop sinning all we really need to do is to look at Jesus on the cross, understanding how much he suffered because of the things that we did. Most of us have looked at the cross and found forgiveness of our sins, but we tend to treat this as an event that took place two thousand years ago in another time and place, not realizing that it is a lifetime process of looking, and repenting.

I have reproduced a still from Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ here. It is a particularly bloody picture of Jesus on the cross. Take a good look at it. Everytime we give into temptation, giving into thoughts that are sinful, it is as though we are piercing a new thorn into Christ's head. Everytime we give into temptation, doing things that are wrong, it is as though we are piercing a nail anew into his hands and feet. I don't know about you, but it makes me never wanna sin again.

What else do we find when we look at Jesus on the cross? Freedom! Romans 6:1-14 says this. It is a little long, but worth reading carefully.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

With eyes fixed on God, we get victory over sin and temptation, but that's not the only thing looking at God does to us. It gives us victory over overwhelming odds! Coming up next.