Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Story Goes On!

The Garden Tomb just outside Jerusalem
Easter is past. The tomb is empty! And the story goes on!

The Bible tells us that on the evening of the first Easter...

The disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Jesus was standing there among them! "Peace be with you," he said. As he spoke he held out his hands for them to see, and he showed them his side. They were filled with joy when they saw their Lord! He spoke to them again and said, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." 
John 20:19-22, NLT

The links in the chain of the plan of Redemption began in eternity past when the Father and the Son devised salvation's plan. In their foreknowledge, they knew that Adam and Eve would sin, so they planned that the Father would send the Son, the Son would suffer and die as the Redeemer of the world, and the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples to preach the gospel and be witnesses of the provision for salvation from sin through Jesus' death and resurrection.

The Father and the Son had completed their parts. Now, as Jesus breathed on His disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit, He was passing the baton to them. Through the power of the Holy Spirit that would be imparted to them on the Day of Pentecost, they must now spread the gospel to the world that was waiting to hear the story of Redemption. 

The disciples were the connecting link between Christ and the world He had died to redeem. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

Then Jesus added, 

If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you refuse to forgive them, they are not forgiven.
John 20:24, NLT

This was a reference to the forgiveness of sins that He had just told them should be preached in His name. The forgiving of sins would in reality be the work of Christ, although its proclamation and pronouncement would be by His disciples. He was committing to them the preaching and propagation of the salvation He had purchased with His blood.

Today, as His disciples, we too are sent into the world with the message of salvation.

Christianity is always one generation from extinction.

Are we doing our part to spread the Good News to our generation?

Books by AnnaLee Conti

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Prophecies Fulfilled In Jesus' Death

Image result for the crucifixion painting
Rembrandt's Painting of the Crucifixion
Every detail of Jesus' death on the cross was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Eight hundred years before the time of Jesus, David, king of Israel, described the Crucifixion in great detail in Psalm 22:

I am scorned and despised by all! Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying, "Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him!" 
My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint....
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth....
My enemies surround me....
They have pierced my hands and feet. 
I can count every bone in my body. 
My enemies glare at me and gloat.
They divide my clothes among themselves, and throw dice for my garments 
(vv. 6-8, 14-18).

It reads like the Gospel accounts, yet when David wrote it, crucifixion had not yet been devised!

The Book of Isaiah was written about 700 years before the time of Christ, yet Chapter 53 reads like an eyewitness account of the trial and execution of Jesus. Verse 7 says:

Image result for pontius pilate condemns jesusHe was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not  His mouth.

In the Gospels we read that He was tried by the high priest, the Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling council), and Pilate (the Roman governor--only he could give the death penalty). Jesus had no defense attorney, and He refused to speak on His own behalf. Only when He was forced to answer a direct question did He even open His mouth.

When Pilate turned Him over to the Roman soldiers to be scourged, they dressed Him as a king and pressed  a crown of thorns on His head to mock Him. Blindfolding Him, they struck Him and tried to get Him to prophesy who had hit Him. Through all this, He did not utter a word--just as Isaiah had prophesied.

Isaiah 53:9 describes Jesus' burial:

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death. 

Neither violent nor a deceiver, Jesus did not deserve to die. Crucified as a common criminal between two thieves, He would have been buried in a mass grave, but Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and influential man, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and buried Him in his own newly hewn stone tomb.

At least 16 specific details of the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament were fulfilled to the letter in of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. According to the laws of probability, the chance of these events happening in the life of one individual is infinitesimal!

Fulfilled prophecy is one unimpeachable proof that the Bible is the Word of God. Biblical prophecies span many millennia, deal with individuals, cities, nations, world events, and cover moral, social, and spiritual movements, as well as the physical universe, the kingdom of God, and Jesus Christ.

They are detailed and specific, often contrary to all normal expectations, and given long in advance of their fulfillment. Yet, literally hundreds of prophecies have been perfectly and meticulously accomplished. That's why we can have confidence that those which have not yet been fulfilled will be fulfilled to the last detail.

No other book in the world contains such specific prophecies. Other so-called prophecies are so vague that they could be "fulfilled" in many ways, but the Old Testament prophecies were so detailed that their fulfillments were obvious.

Fulfilled prophecy is God's seal of authenticity as 
the Author of the Scriptures.

Books by AnnaLee Conti

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Donkey's Story

This Sunday is Palm Sunday. I love to write stories of how it might have been behind the scenes in Bible stories. If the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem could talk, here is the story he might have told about that first Palm Sunday:

I had always wished I were a horse. Standing beside my mother, I often watched the horses go by carrying Roman soldiers. How important they seemed! Once, I even saw Pontius Pilate, the the Roman governor in Jerusalem, ride by. His horse acted so proud. I nickered. If only I could carry a king. But I knew kings didn't ride donkeys.

Still, I was anxious to grow up, to be useful, no matter what my life's work would be. Whenever Isaac, my master, needed a worker, I would bray in my deepest voice, trying to attract his attention so he would let me help. But he always chose my big brother instead. I felt useless and unhappy.

Then today, two men untied me. I could hardly believe what was happening. At last, I was going to be useful! I was a little nervous, but I walked as tall as I could, ears up, back straight. I may not be as regal as a horse, but I would do my best.

I wondered what these two fellows had in mind for me. Who was this Jesus they said needed me? Isaac seemed to think he was a good man--a prophet, he said.

As we neared Bethphage, I saw a small group of people gathered around a man. He looked rather ordinary, until I got close enough to look into his eyes. His eyes--how kind and gentle they were...yet sad too. I'd never seen eyes like his before.

The two men, "disciples" they called themselves, draped some of their clothes on my back since I didn't have a saddle. I stood very still as the man they called Jesus climbed on my back. I sensed his calmness, and I wasn't nervous anymore. Slowly, we walked down the dusty road toward Jerusalem. Clip-clop, clip-clop.

Soon, many people began following us. They spread their garments in the road to make a soft path for us. Some people cut palm branches and waved them as they all began to sing, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

By this time, everyone in Jerusalem was asking, "Who is this?"

"It's Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth," his disciples answered.

Then, someone shouted, "Let's make him our king!"

Suddenly, I remembered the old prophecy of Zechariah, "Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey's colt."

I was carrying the King of the universe on my back--Jesus, the King of kings, the very Son of God! Why, this was better than all of my dreams put together! I was blessed above all donkeys.

What if ...

What might the donkey have thought the next morning?

The next morning the young donkey awakened. The pleasant memories of yesterday lingered. After breakfast, he arched his neck and walked proudly with mincing steps back toward the city of Jerusalem.

On the way, he noticed a group of people over by the well. "I'll show myself to them first," he thought. They took no notice.

"Throw your garments down," he muttered crossly. "Don't you know who I am?"

They stared in amazement. Then someone uttered an oath and threw a stone at him.

"Miserable infidels," he thought in bewilderment. "They don't deserve me. I will go toward the market. That's where the good people will be waiting."

Courtesy Pinterest
No one at the busy market noticed his arrival. "The palm branches," he shouted. "Where are the palm branches? Have you forgotten so soon?"

Dazed, he hung his head and slowly plodded back to his mother for comfort.

"Foolish child!" She nudged him gently. "Without Him, you can do nothing."

This story illustrates a vital truth. When God uses you to do something for Him, do we try to take the glory to ourselves for what He has done through us?

Do we try to accomplish many things apart from Him?

We should not be surprised when our enterprises fail. Just as the branches cannot produce fruit unless they remain attached to the vine, so apart from Him we can do nothing. We must remain in Him and allow Him to remain in us.

And He deserves all the glory!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Harmony or Cacophony?

When I was studying music in college, I was required to learn how to play several different types of musical instruments--percussion, strings, woodwinds, brass. Even within each class of instruments, I found much variation in size, shape, sound, tone, and pitch. The tones of brass instruments stand out and may even blare; the flute trills, as does the tiny piccolo an octave higher; and the mellow strings serenade. Some are solo instruments, and some are not. Yet, each is essential in an orchestra to make beautiful harmonies.

Corrie ten Boom used to tell the story of the famous conductor, Sir Michael Costa, who was leading a rehearsal with hundreds of instruments and voices. The choir sang at full voice, accompanied by the pipe organ, the roll of drums, and the blare of horns. In the midst of all the din, the man who played the piccolo far up in a corner said to himself, “It doesn’t matter what I do,” and he stopped playing.

Suddenly, the great conductor flung up his hands and brought the rehearsal to a complete standstill. “Where is the piccolo?” he cried.

The piccolo, though the tiniest of instruments, was missed. The same is true in the Church. Though we are all created by God, we too each have unique abilities, talents, and interests. God's "orchestra" needs each one of us in order to play the beautiful harmonies that attract people to Himself. If you are not there, you are missed.

Have  you ever listened to an orchestra tune up? That sound is cacophony, but it is necessary to tune up to the same pitch, concert A. A lady in one of the churches we pastored loved to play her guitar and lead worship. She "tuned to herself," she said. That was okay as long as she was the only one playing, but when we tried to form a worship team, we had cacophony.

As Christians, we must allow the Holy Spirit to tune our "instruments" to His will for our lives in order to be in harmony with God's purpose and plan. We must learn to harmonize together, play the same piece of music, and follow the Conductor. Some instruments take the lead and are in the spotlight while others harmonize--all at the will of the Conductor. When we all blend together, exquisite music results.

God has given the Church gifts of pastors, teachers, leaders, and others who work alongside to "make harmony" in the church community. People who are not in harmony with the leaders do not make beautiful music to the Lord and do not provide a good witness to the world around us.

In an orchestra, not all instruments play all the time. Some play to provide variety, to enhance the melody, or to make a different sound. It is important that all respond on cue to the conductor.

Likewise, in the Church we need to be alert to the needs and quick to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to pray or minister, to listen and obey. When all the instruments yield to the commands of our Conductor, the result will be a beautiful, harmonious expression of praise to the Lord.

Let's offer ourselves as instruments of righteousness to the Lord.