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Have a Happy Fourth of July

I’m going to take a break from my Gospel of Mark series today.  In the USA, today is Independence Day – the day we declared ourselves an independent nation.

I love the Fourth of July.  It’s one of my favorite holidays.  Picnics with family, outdoor fun, not to mention fireworks at night.  Even more than that, I thank God for a nation where I’m granted the freedom to do all these things without fear.

You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Galatians 5:13

We’re called to be free.  Freedom is something that God wants for all humanity.  Unfortunately, what most people consider freedom isn’t the real thing.

Society thinks that freedom is the ability to do what I want, whenever I want.  Their opinion is that freedom means that I can feel good all of the time.

That’s a very selfish definition.  Freedom is not all about me.  Our founding fathers gave selflessly in the cause of freedom.  It was definitely not about their personal good, but for the betterment of everyone that drove them to resist the most powerful nation on earth at that time.  Many lost their lives to win this precious gift for us.

There are still those in the armed forces and public safety positions that lay their lives on the line each day so that we can continue to live free.  Freedom is more of a responsibility than a pleasure.  I have to put as much into it as I receive from it.

That’s what Paul was trying to tell us in the verse above.  Freedom is not all about indulging my every desire, but the ability to serve one another unhindered.  We need to listen to his exhortation.  As believers, we’ve not only been blessed with our spiritual freedom in Christ, but our physical freedom in the USA.

Let’s live out that freedom responsibly.  Not in the granting of our every desire, but in seeking the blessing of all through a life of service.

Live free.  Be a blessing to all those around you.  And thank God for the freedom we share.

Question: How do you use your freedom to benefit others?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

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Posted by on July 4, 2018 in Encouragement, Ministry

 

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False Christs

In my last post, we started looking at Jesus’ warning about the fall of Jerusalem.  The disciples knew what was coming and could prepare accordingly.  But there was one more aspect of this that they needed to know.

“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.  For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect — if that were possible.  So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.”
Mark 13:21-23

The Lord also warned His disciples about false Messiahs.  During times of great crisis, there are always those who want to rise to power.  They convince the masses that they have the solution to all the problems.  I find it amazing that the real Author of peace and life was rejected, while society will accept anyone else who promotes himself as the hero of the day.

Jesus reminds the disciples that no matter how wonderful this messiah sounds, they will not live to see the return of Christ, so there’s no question that this person is false.  Their signs and miracles would be so convincing that the apostles themselves would be fooled – if Jesus had not told them ahead of time that they would not see His return.

What many Christians never hear is that this second fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy has already occurred.  Even though the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the Jews still regarded this site as holy.  Around 132 AD the Roman emperor Hadrian decided that Judea needed to be Romanized.  He put many policies into effect that were intolerable to the Jews.

He made it illegal for Jews to enter Jerusalem except for one day a year.  He banned the rite of circumcision.  He made it a crime to practice or teach the Jewish religion.  The most detestable change of all, however, was that he established a pagan temple to the god Jupiter on the former Temple site.

At this point in history, two men came onto the scene in Israel.  One was named Akiba Ben Joseph and the other was Simon Bar Kokba.  Bar Kokba was a Jewish leader who incited the people into violent rebellion against these hateful policies of Rome.  Today, he would be labeled a terrorist.

Akiba Ben Joseph was a rabbi who was imprisoned for teaching and practicing the Jewish religion.  When he saw what Bar Kokba was doing, he proclaimed this leader as the long-awaited messiah, giving him the title “son of the star”.

Akiba taught that Bar Kokba was sent by God to restore Israel and to reign in righteousness over the entire world.  With Akiba’s support, Bar Kokba was able to raise a huge army of Jews who were willing to fight the Romans.

The Romans in Caesarea eventually killed Akiba.  Bar Kokba then attacked the Romans.  He defeated them and captured Jerusalem and over 50 towns and villages.  When the emperor Hadrian sent an army to stop this rebellion, Bar Kokba defeated them as well.  Things were looking good for Israel.  Unfortunately, trying to be a messiah without the power of God can prove fatal.

In 135 AD Hadrian was at the end of his patience.  He sent his best general, Julius Severus.  It was a long campaign, but eventually, the Jewish army was annihilated at the town of Bethar, near Jerusalem, in August of that same year.  It’s interesting to see the result of this false messiah in the light of what Jesus said would happen.

The Temple had been destroyed in 70 AD, 65 years earlier, but the city of Jerusalem was still intact.  But, when Hadrian polluted the Temple grounds (the abomination that causes desolation), a false messiah rose up to deceive many and bring about the final destruction of Jerusalem.

On the day of Bar Kokba’s defeat, over 500,000 Jews were killed.  Thousands of Jewish women and children were sold into slavery.  Others were forced to leave Israel and settle throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa.

This was the final dispersal of the Jews spoken of by Christ when He said that they would be taken as prisoners to all nations.  It turned out just like Jesus said.  From that point on, the Gentiles held Jerusalem for almost 2,000 years.

It’s important for us to see, as believers, that this part of Jesus’ teaching has already been fulfilled.  The prophecy of the book of Daniel ended up pointing to two different events.  Some say it will happen again.

They teach that the Jews will rebuild the Temple, and in the last days, we will see this take place.  Those who teach this are only speculating.  There’s nothing in Scripture that directly supports this.  Only time will tell how it will all turn out.

What we shouldn’t do is get caught up debating what the end-times will look like.  The important thing is to be preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We need to be working to bring in the end-time harvest, knowing that the Lord’s return is imminent.

Question: How are you preparing to reach the lost in these Last Days?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2018 in Return of Christ, Revival

 

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The Warning

We’ve been in the Gospel of Mark, looking at Jesus teaching His disciples about the end-times.  Having warned them of what they were about to face, the Lord now answers their original question that started it all.

He tells them the signs that signal the approach of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Because we live on this side of the historical event, it’s easier to look back and interpret the Lord’s words.

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong — let the reader understand — then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”
Mark 13:14

Jesus quotes the book of Daniel.  He makes mention of the abomination that causes desolation.  Literally, it reads the detestable thing that causes destruction.  Then Mark himself adds his admonition to the reader of this gospel to “use your mind, think and consider” what Jesus has said.

I know a lot of Bible teachers who say that this is a future event and have a variety of teachings and beliefs on this subject.  I ask you to please read the Scripture without preconceived ideas about what’s being said.  Put yourself in the place of the disciples who are hearing this for the first time.

The reaction of the disciples must have been one of surprise.  Every God-fearing Jew knew that the quote Jesus gave them from the book of Daniel had ALREADY BEEN FULFILLED.

Around 170 BC there was a Syrian ruler named Antiochus IV.  He was so full of himself that he gave himself the title “Epiphanes,” which means “the manifest god”.  As many emperors did, he forced those around him to worship him.

Antiochus Epiphanes led his army to successfully conquer Israel.  On December 15, 168 BC, he set up the image of Zeus on an altar in the Temple of Jerusalem.  Ten days later, he dedicated it by sacrificing a pig in the Temple.

Heathen altars were then erected throughout Israel, their celebrations being compulsory.  Any Jew would receive the death penalty if found in possession of the Torah.  Observing the Sabbath and circumcision were forbidden.  Because of their faithfulness to the Law of God, many Jews were killed in those days.

As the disciples heard Jesus speak about Daniel’s prophecy, they must have also thought about the reign of Antiochus.  Now they’re hearing from the Lord that it will be fulfilled again.  This was a new concept for them to grasp – the fact that a prophetic Scripture could have two fulfillments.

“Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out.  Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak.  How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!  Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now — and never to be equaled again.  If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive.  But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.”
Mark 13:15-20

This sounds all too familiar to the disciples.  Throughout history, the Jews had been conquered again and again.  Now one of the worst chapters in their history was going to repeat itself.  All they could do was listen and be prepared.

This should encourage us.  I believe that this is how the Holy Spirit operates.  If we’re listening, the Spirit will always prepare us for what’s ahead in our future.  We need to continue developing our spiritual sensitivity to hear His voice.

Question: Why does the Holy Spirit want to reveal the future to us?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2018 in Encouragement, Return of Christ

 

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The Name is the Target

We’re continuing in the Gospel of Mark.  We’ve been looking at Jesus’ discussion of the Last Days with His disciples.  The Lord begins explaining to them how the world will turn against them.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child.  Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Mark 13:12-13

What a commentary on life in the end-times.  There will be a total breakdown of the family.  In most of history, the family bond was sacred.  The members of a family would do whatever it took to keep each other safe.

Here we see the exact opposite.  Family members turning on one another.  Even to the point of seeing them put to death.

It’s unfortunate that we’re beginning to see the decay of the family taking place right now.  Relatively few families ever eat meals together.  Many times, when they are together, each one is on their devices, lost in their own world of virtual friends.

But it’s the Lord’s last statement that we really need to take to heart.  The first part of that sentence literally reads; all will hate you because of My Name.

The name of Jesus Christ is becoming more and more hated throughout society.  You can talk about anything else, but not the Lord.

We need to come to the realization that it’s not us that the hatred is aimed at.  It’s the name of Jesus that’s the target.  We just happen to be the bearers of that precious name.

There’s a reason why this is the case.  The ruler of this present age hates that name.  He knows that his time is short and that soon the King will come to take His rightful place.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11

This is the reason that society hates that name.  They may not know why this is so.  There’s just an underlying move to do away with its impact on the lives of individuals.  This even includes using this name as a swear word to try and water down its power.

The good news is that the name of Jesus Christ will never be defeated.  It is the name that’s above all other names.  For us, it’s all that we need.

The second part of Jesus statement to His disciples was for us to stand firm to the end.  That’s the result of staying true to the name of Jesus.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.
Proverbs 18:10

The same name that’s so hated in society is our greatest victory.  If we will hold fast to that name, we’ll have the power we need to stand strong in the faith.

I don’t have to fear what’s ahead.  The future may be uncertain, but I know the One who has already been there.  If I put my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, then I have nothing to fear, and everything to gain.

Question: How has the name of Jesus changed your life?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2018 in Power of God, Return of Christ

 

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Our Last Days Witness

We’re continuing our study of the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus is now preparing His disciples for the events that are coming in the future.

“You must be on your guard.  You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues.  On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.  And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.”
Mark 13:9-10

The first command that the Lord gives in this passage is that we open our eyes and watch ourselves.  When it comes to being prepared for the Last Days, it’s our own responsibility.  I’m not responsible for anybody else’s walk.  I need to make sure that I’m on the right path.

How do I need to prepare?  That’s the important question.  Jesus talks about three different areas that will require us to be willing to show our witness for Christ.

The first is councils and synagogues; or specifically, organized religion.  It seems that whenever you decide to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, there will be a point when “religion” will disagree with you.  So you must be prepared for them to take action against you.

That’s because most major denominations have a set of rules that they’ve put in place to maintain order.  In most cases, that’s not a bad thing.  I’m currently a part of a large denomination that’s very encouraging.

But that’s not always the case.  There are sometimes when you have to choose between following God and serving your denomination.  That will require the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

The next area deals with those who influence society – governors, and kings.  I believe that this also includes leaders of industry.  That’s because in many cases, those with huge resources have influence over those in government.

We’re told that we’ll be made to stand before them.  This is God’s doing so that we can be a witness to them.  Again, this will require the wisdom of God to be active in us.

That phrase is interesting in the original Greek.  It implies that our witness will be a wind that blows in a different direction than they want to go.  Some leaders will receive our testimony and be saved while others will reject both it and us.

The final area He talks about is the nations.  Jesus tells us that the Good News of Christ must be proclaimed among all nations.  The word for nations in that verse really means people groups.  There are some countries where many tribes are represented in them.  These groups of people must all be reached with the message of Christ.

But that brings us back to our big question.  How can I possibly prepare for such a complex assignment?

Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.  Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
Mark 13:11

The literal Greek of this verse says when you are led or surrendered.  I believe that the Lord’s telling us that our place of testimony may be either voluntary or involuntary.  But no matter which we find ourselves in, the preparation is the same.

We need to have an intimate knowledge of how to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.  How can I receive the word to speak, if I’ve never taken the time to hear Him in the past?  The time is now to develop listening spiritual ears.

I believe that this is the next thing on God’s agenda for His church in these Last Days.  He wants us to take the time to learn to hear from the Spirit in His presence.

Question: How did the ability to hear from the Spirit affect evangelism in the early church?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Birth Pains Ahead

I’m continuing to look at Jesus’ discussion of the Last Days with His disciples.  He’s giving them a general outline of future events.

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Mark 13:7

The Lord warns us that peace will not occur in this age.  Wars and rumors of wars will be going on around the world.  In Luke 21:9, the Lord is recorded as adding revolutions, or literally unrest to the list.

As Christians, we’re not to be alarmed.  That word alarmed in the above verse means to cry out in fright.  We should not be afraid or surprised at these events.

The Lord doesn’t give us the illusion of a world getting better and better.  Instead, He shows us the reality of what living on this earth will be like.

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.  These are the beginning of birth pains.
Mark 13:8

The Lord goes on to list more signs that He calls birth pangs.  He mentions famines.  This is a lack of food usually caused by greed.  In many places around the world, people starve while ships full of food are docked in the harbor and cannot be unloaded because the repressive government won’t allow it.

The number of earthquakes has been rising steadily over the last hundred years.  They cause a lot of devastation.   Many times they’re accompanied by volcanic eruptions or tsunamis.  It seems like every week we hear of new disasters.

When I was a child, we heard of natural disasters happening very infrequently.  Now it seems like every day we’re hearing about a new “worst”.  They are always reporting the worst flood, worst tornado outbreak, worst drought, or other such calamities in the news.

Jesus calls all these things the beginnings of birth pangs.  I believe the Lord is referring to the time at the end of this age where He will begin to make a distinction between the church and the world.

We’re told in the Word what our attitude should be.  We’re expecting our Lord to appear.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”
1 Peter 3:14

The Lord doesn’t warn us of these events so that we’ll fear the future.  As we see these things happening, our faith in the Lord and in His Word should grow.  It should give us a greater urgency for winning souls into His kingdom.  We must let this knowledge transform us into the end-time church Christ will be looking for when He returns.

Question: How should believers keep from fearing the future?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2018 in Encouragement, Return of Christ

 

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Deception in the Last Days

In my last post, we began looking at the passage in Mark where Jesus talks about the end-times with His disciples.  He had told them that the Temple would be destroyed someday.  So they asked Him how they would know it was about to happen.

Jesus starts by giving the disciples a general overview of future history.

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.
Mark 13:5-6

The initial warning that Jesus gives us is about deceivers.  The word deceiver in the Greek literally means those who cause others to leave the path.  There will be those who make it their goal to remove you from the path of following Christ wholeheartedly.  Their methods may vary from time to time and from place to place, but the outcome is the same.

These imitations claim to be the Anointed One, which is what Christ means in Greek.  They want to convince you that they have the lock on God’s power or His anointing.  Many Christians are all too willing to follow these signs from revival to camp meeting to healing service.  They never seem to want to settle down under godly teaching.

Please realize that I’m not knocking the revival meeting.  I love being a part of the move of God.  What I’m saying is that every believer must be plugged-in to a local church body where they’re constantly being fed from God’s Word.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
Ephesians 4:14

We should make it our goal not to end up remaining a baby Christian our whole life.  Staying in that baby stage opens you up to deception.

Of course, some prefer it that way since they never have to take on the responsibility of ministry.  Then, they can just go from place to place getting fed their spiritual bottle.

If deception is a big part of living in the Last Days, then how do we guard ourselves?

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Hebrews 3:13

It’s through the mutual encouragement of the body of believers that we keep from being deceived.  That’s one of the benefits of being connected to a local church.

But wait!  The writer of Hebrews also said…

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:25

This verse explains why there’s such deception in the Last Days.  Believers will be attending church less and less frequently.  One of the reasons I feel we’re close to Christ’s Return is because this is an epidemic in the body of Christ right now.

Don’t open yourself to the deceptions of this age. Be an active part of a local body of believers.

Question: Why is church attendance by Christians in such decline in our generation?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2018 in Return of Christ, Revival, The Church

 

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