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Why Keep Easter? (Standing Watch) (11 min. video)

Christ in us, our hope of glory (Sabbath Meditations)

Okay, more than halfway through the Days of Unleavened Bread and so far so good. I've yet to a plow down a donut in the office cafeteria without thinking, or munch down a handful of croutons with my dinner salad. Although I've done well with the command not to eat, I wish I could say as much about the command we are given to eat. After all, we are commanded to take the leaven out of our dwellings on the first day. The commandment to take in unleavened bread covers all seven (Ex.12:15)
In some ways remembering to eat unleavened bread every day is more challenging than avoiding the leavened stuff. If I'm not careful, an entire day can get by me before I realize, “Hey, I haven't eaten any unleavened bread today.”
This tendency to forget such a simple command got me thinking. What if unleavened bread were all I had to eat? What if my physical life depended on it for sustenance? How much more focused would I be on getting my three square servings of unleavened bread each day?
In Galatians 2:20 Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Paul is basically saying that His spiritual life is dependent on Jesus Christ living in Him. Everything he does, all that he is, is made possible by the life of Jesus living in him by faith. Paul knew that taking in the Unleavened Bread every day of his life was critical to his spiritual survival, his spiritual salvation.
Eating unleavened bread each day of this Feast is a fairly basic exercise. It's pretty much just a matter of remembering to pick it up and put it in my mouth. But what does it mean to have Christ living in me? How do I, in a real sense, take Him in spiritually, every day of my life?
Just a cursory search through scripture gives some insight.
Ephesians 3:14 tells us that Christ dwells in the heart of the believer through faith; faith in His sacrifice and the promise of salvation, made possible by His resurrection. It's a promise which He has given to all who are His. So taking in of Jesus Christ means continually being reminded of and renewing our trust in His sacrifice and the work that He is doing in our lives.
I Corinthians 1 tells us that God has chosen the weak of the world that no one should give glory to themselves for what He has done. By virtue of being in Him and His life dwelling in us, He has become our righteousness, our sanctification and our redemption. So if any man glories, he should glory in the Lord. So taking in of His life each day means to daily give glory to the One who gives us life, to the One who redeems us.
Romans 8:9-11 tells us that Christ dwells in us through His Spirit. Our bodies are dead because of sin, but His Spirit that dwells in us gives us life. Paul goes onto say that as Christians, we are to put to death the old man and submit to power of His Spirit working in us, changing us. Taking in of Him means to not resist, but submit daily to the leading of His Spirit within us.
Philippians 2:5-13 tells us to let Jesus Christ's mind be in us. A mindset of humility, a mindset of a servant, willingly sacrificing for the needs of others. Taking in of Him daily means to daily put on humility, daily present ourselves as living sacrifices in service to others and to Him.
Paul goes on to say in Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Taking in the Unleavened Bread of Sincerity and Truth means to submit ourselves daily to let Him work in us both to do and to will of His good pleasure." It's recognizing that any good that is in us comes from His work in us. We submit in fear and trembling daily to let Him do that work.
Colossians 1:24 tells us that to us, His saints, has “been made known the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Taking in of Him each day of my life is about humbly dying to myself, my desires, my attitudes, and submitting to let Him do His work in me. It's trusting in Him by faith, understanding that it's His work in me that has made me righteous, not anything I have done. My righteousness is as filthy rags. As far as the heavens are above the earth, so far are His thoughts above my thoughts, and His ways above my ways. It is He who has made me unleavened through His awesome sacrifice, so that when the Father looks at me, He doesn't see me, He sees His Son. It's His righteousness imputed to me, His life in me, that allows me to live. And the life I now live I live through faith in the Son of God who died for me and lives in me. As long as I remain in Him and He in me, I live a life free of fear and full of hope. His life in me is my hope of glory.

In a nutshell, it's about Him, it's not about me. He gets the glory. My response to that awesome gift is to desire to be like Him, to strive to become, in reality, what I already am in Him, each and every day of my life.
So much meaning in such a small piece of unleavened bread. Maybe it's so easy to forget to eat it during these days, because there are so many other culinary delights to be had. Come to think of it, maybe that's part of the lesson. Our lives become so readily immersed in all this world has to offer that we often forget the one thing that truly gives us life. His life, living in us.
What a blessing it is our God gave us these days of Unleavened Bread to refocus our attention on Him.
Anyone for a cracker?

Let Us Search Our Ways (Children of God)

It is appropriate that we search our ways throughout the year, but especially as Passover approaches, in order to see whether or not we have the attributes of true Children of God. Could it be that many of us have grown complacent and too self-assured of our stand with God?
Jeremiah lamented over the fall of Jerusalem and the scattering of Judah. He asked, “Why did Jerusalem fall apart when everything seemed to be going so well?” He calls on the people to examine their part in the transgressions. What was wrong in Jerusalem? Why did God withdraw His blessing and support? It was because our ways did not please God.
“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)
With Passover approaching, a key part of our preparation is a meticulous examining of ourselves, our attitudes and actions, and then for us to “turn again,” which means to repent. Yes, repentance is a big part of Passover preparation.
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return [repent] unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7)
"Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." (1 Corinthians 11:27-28)
What are we to look for in examining ourselves? What questions do we ask ourselves?  “Which bad habits have I overcome since last year?” Or, “Am I more careful about the language I use?” In the past, we may have asked ourselves simple questions like those.  Questions such as those are not wrong – but they are not honestly focusing on the overall picture. What we need to ask ourselves is how does God see us?
It is of the utmost importance that our evaluation of ourselves matches God's assessment of us. We welcome and desire His involvement in our lives. How do we measure ourselves against the word of God?
"Search me, O God, and know my heart: examine me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalms 39:23-24)
"Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart." (Psalms 26:2)
How can we see ourselves for what we are as God sees us when our hearts are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9)?
Could it be that within God’s Church we are in danger of making the mistake of speaking religious sounding words, but in fact exhibiting very little Christian substance? When we measure that which passes for religious practice in many of our congregations today – it is only a pretense of true Godly faith. Can it be that we are doing just enough to fool only the most superficial of adherents – and ourselves at the same time? Where is the seriousness, the faith, the urgency, the reconciliation, the mercy, the humility, the zeal, the sacrifice, the honest introspection, the giving, the caring, the integrity, the spirituality, the submission, the yieldedness, the forgiveness, and the crucial concern for our brother and sister?
Let’s be more specific in the way we search and try our ways.  Let’s ask ourselves questions like:
Did I visit any who were sick, elderly or imprisoned?
When did I last put my reputation and life on the line?
Who did I serve in a meaningful way this year?
Have I forgiven those who opposed me?
Did I take a stand against injustice – and make it count?
When did I actually encourage someone this year?
Was I ashamed of the Gospel?
Have I fully submitted my will to God’s will?
Is my relationship with God sincere and truthful?
Talk is cheap – and God is not fooled by it (Galatians 6:7):
“The Lord said, For as much as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.” (Isaiah 29:13)
As we approach Passover, a good yardstick to sincerely examine our Christian progress is to measure our disposition toward all other people – do we love them as God intends?  Have we grown in our desire for all men to be able to enjoy the riches of Jesus Christ? “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
As we grow in spiritual maturity, we learn to view ourselves more and more as God sees us.  We no longer justify ourselves – but ask to be justified by the blood of Jesus Christ. We ask ourselves how much we have taken on a spiritual resemblance to Jesus Christ, our older brother – and how much our thoughts and actions compare to His.  Let's be sure to spend time in prayer and self-examination as Passover approaches.

Making Mistakes (First Century Christianity)

Throughout life we make mistakes continually and need to atone for them. Perhaps we forget to pay a bill on time and incur a financial penalty. Maybe we say things to loved ones in the heat of the moment that can’t be taken back. These mistakes start long before the incident occurs because we should not even permit ourselves to think evil of our loved ones, but it happens. Thinking about our mistakes too much can lead to depression which can lead to more mistakes.
The mistakes we make to each other can often be made right. If we crash into someone else’s car, our insurance will repair or replace that car and cover the medical expenses. If we rack up a lot of debt living beyond our means, we can knuckle down and pay it off over time. But what about the mistakes we make with Yahweh? How do we atone for those mistakes? What can we give the Creator to compensate for our sins, since He created everything? Remember, He is a very jealous God, so He does notice when we deviate from His will, especially if we were supposed to know better.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:16-21
Well, right there is the plan for how we make ourselves right with Yahweh. We have to believe in His Son and then come into the light. Belief that Yahweh sent His Son to die for our sins is the starting point. The next part, coming into the light, takes incredible effort. It really shouldn’t take that much effort, though. If we stop and think about it, either we step into the light now or it gets shined on us at the judgment. Either way, all of our deeds will be exposed.
Oftentimes when we quote scripture we forget the context of what we are citing. This is very true of the verses I just referenced above. All of us read those verses like they are written specifically to us. We read them like a letter to all mankind. But that’s not what is happening there. I believe those words were preserved for the purpose of all mankind, but there is a context and it is quite profound.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” John 3:1-2 (emphasis added)
Nicodemus came to Yeshua at night. The entire conversation takes place in the dark. Yeshua was scolding Nicodemus for coming to Him in secret. Nicodemus wanted to become a closet believer and Yeshua knew it. Nicodemus wanted to retain his high position among the Jews and also strike up a relationship with the Messiah. He wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. He was conflicted. Yeshua’s teaching in this dialogue has many layers, but he essentially told Nicodemus, “If you want to be part of this, you’re going to have to do it where everyone can see”. This is the same theme when Yeshua said that he who loves his life will lose it.
In John 7:50, Nicodemus sticks up for Yeshua. OK, he doesn’t do that, but he does start to come out of his shell a little and tries to help out while maintaining his distance. But at John 19:39, Nicodemus’s conversion is complete, as he is there to help bury the dead Messiah. At this point, Nicodemus has fully come into the light and no longer cares that all will know of his belief in Yeshua. It was the preparation day for Pesach and Nicodemus, a high ranking Jew of the Pharisees, was clearly not where he was supposed to be. This well recognized man was now converted and had taken hundred pounds of supplies to bury a dead body, thus defiling himself from observing Pesach. Remember how the Jews wouldn’t even enter the Praetorium to accuse Yeshua, because that would defile them? Now Nicodemus, one of their rulers, is openly defiling himself because he knows it is the right thing to do.
As we begin to enter into the Passover season and recall our mistakes, let’s take Nicodemus’s transformation into consideration. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make them so often we just can’t fathom a time without mistakes. But let’s keep in mind the gravity of the Messiah’s sacrifice and be strong in our belief that God did indeed send His Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish. Those mistakes that we make which we cannot atone for have been covered, if we believe and come into the light.

A Unique Responsibility - by Michael Venish

(formerly a minister in the Restored Church of God)

We all understand that we are living in a world characterized by the people who rule, judge, and decide, and further more we understand they are ruled by the prince of darkness. This self-centered selfish attitude has permeated the last age of the church, which is correctly named Laodicea. Too many of our brethren, through fraternizing with the world, have lost a vital and important fruit, that has to grow and develop in all of us.  The great fruit, love, is all but missing among God's people today.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.”  (Galatians 5:22)
Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-38)
Many scriptures speak to the need for brethren to grow in this characteristic “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)
However, too many brethren fear the ministry in the group they attend, and this fear stifles love toward their brethren in other churches of God. Notice what John said:
“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear hath torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:17-18)
The disciple Jesus loved - John - had a proclivity for love, and Jesus recognized this attribute in John and was to use it in an effective and unique way near the end of John’s age. I would encourage everyone to do a study, or at least read through 1, 2, 3 John.
Brethren, God our Father so loved the world, not only His people in the Church of God, but the whole world that He allowed His only begotten Son to be brutalized and then nailed to a tree.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
John wrote three very significant epistles that have meaning for all of us in God's church today. Notice what John writes to you and me:
“Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shines. He that saith he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loves his brother abides in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hates his brother is in darkness, and walks in darkness, and knows not whither he goes, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:8-11)

Endorsements We Don't Want (Morning Companion)
“These men are servants of the Most High God who are telling you the way to be saved!” (Acts 16:17 NIV)
One might expect that Paul and his companions would accept this ringing endorsement of the message they were bringing. Don’t we accept help from wherever we can get it? Not in this circumstance! “She continued doing this many days, but Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment.”
Paul says this because there are certain endorsements we simply do not want. This woman had a “spirit of divination” (verse 16), which is not a spirit that is compatible with the Spirit of God. God neither wants nor needs the endorsement of demons. Nor does Christianity need the endorsement of Nazis and Klanners. Understand that, and you’ll understand what Paul is doing here.
Let’s take this a bit further. Throughout the New Testament we see the deriding of false teachers. Such teachers can say right-sounding and soothing words, using all the right rhetoric and language. But their intent is to defraud you of your money or lead you into spiritual dead ends. They even know how to quote scripture, but their intent is not to free you. It is to put you back into bondage.
Be careful. Not everyone who proclaims the name of Jesus is an endorsement that Jesus would want. Many in the religion business are in it to control you, so that they can prop up their egos and bank accounts. Avoid these.

A Mighty Army (New Horizons)

One of Christianity’s most sung hymns is Onward Christian Soldiers, and according to it, the church moves ‘like a mighty army’. Doubtless the church of God is at war, embattled on all sides by hostile forces.
Writes the apostle Paul: ‘...We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world’ (Ephesians 6:12).
A fundamental principle of any army, of course, is discipline—an army in disarray is headed for certain defeat. Yet despite the words of the hymn, the church at large is far from being ‘one in hope and doctrine’, and certainly far from fulfilling the claim ‘... we are not divided’.
There are nearly seven billion of us on earth, and almost a third claim to be Christian—potential there, surely, for a mighty army! But ‘all one Body, we’? True believers are indeed ‘one Body’ - but there are an estimated 33,000 denominations parading the name of Christ!
Each Christian, as wrote Peter, has to ‘...resist the devil’ and all the various devices he and his minions deploy to destroy our faith and our world. One focus he has is to hinder the work of witness, as Paul experienced—and this is where the Christian army has to become militant. It is by our witness to the message of Jesus as Saviour that the Family of God increases: ‘...how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without one preaching?’ (Romans 10:14).
Wars usually pit one standing army against another. Of late, however, the nature of wars is changing, with at least one side battling out as individuals or in small groups—guerilla warfare. (Though not an entirely new concept.)
In the church of God the pretense of a united force has failed. Having abandoned the New Testament pattern for church polity they opted for the vanity of size. The lust for power and control drove the concept of large organizations, with the inevitable consequence of wasteful bureaucracy and the ‘business model’ of management—to the detriment of the church’s assigned purpose of proclaiming the good news (becoming part of God’s spirit Kingdom), and nourishing the flock. There are denominations which languish under authoritarian leadership, more concerned with image and power and control and buildings to the neglect of preparation of the brethren for witness and for eternity.
All, however, is not lost! Dotted around the world are many local churches—each nourishing a band of warriors being trained in the art of spiritual guerilla warfare by faithful pastors and teachers, each enrolled to spearhead the good news by means of their unique spiritual gifts within their sphere of influence.
Time, then, for the churches to set free the dynamism inherent in every local congregation—power for too long suppressed by overbearing central leadership.
For too long those spiritual gifts—dispensed to all the brethren by the only Head of the church—have been ignored or limited to mundane tasks by often self-serving and sometimes over-bearing overseers obsessed by form, but lacking the power of true godliness.
Time for this mighty territorial army—for so long grounded—to be trained, to be mobilized, to be released from barracks onto the battlefield. Time for all Christians to ‘...confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus’ before the world.