In The Secret Place: The Promises of Psalm 91

Last week we talked about claiming promises from God. But we didn’t talk about the verses that got me started on that study. Psalm 91 is packed full of promises that are clearly meant to include the reader. There isn’t even a writer credited, so there’s no clear historical context, and the psalm is addressed to all who make the Lord their God. There’s nothing to distract from the fact that this psalm was written for everyone who’s in a relationship with God, including you as a Christian today.In The Secret Place: The Promises of Psalm 91 | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Claiming Relationship With God

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps. 91:1-2, WEB)

The psalm begins with a promise to those who remain, inhabit, and abide (H3427, yashab) in the hiding place or shelter (H5643 sether) of the Most High God. They will “stay permanently” (Strong’s H3885 lun) in the shadowing protection (H6738 tsel) of El Shaddai.

Because of that promise, we get the only “I” statement from this psalm’s writer. They claim the Lord as “my God” and say they will have confidence in Him (H982 baach). And they demonstrate that trust by making Him their refuge, shelter (H4268 machaseh) and defensive stronghold (H4684 matsud). That’s something we can do as well.

Stripping Fear of Power

This psalm contains truly incredible promises of protection in the midst of trials. We’d probably prefer it if God’s protection meant we didn’t have to go through trials. But to be delivered “from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence,” there must be someone trying to trap you or a pestilence threatening your life (Ps. 91:3, WEB). And if “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand,” then you must be in a location where people are perishing right and left (Ps. 91:7, KJV). Continue reading

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Claiming God’s Promises

Not every single word in the Bible applies directly to each person reading it. It’s all inspired by God and we can learn from it, of course, but not everything applies to everyone directly. For example, some cleanliness laws in the Old Testament were gender specific and some prophecies were delivered to a specific person or group (like the dream warning Nebuchadnezzar he would become like an animal for 7 years).

But we can take this observation too far. We might make the mistake of thinking that because warnings to follow God alone were delivered to ancient Israel they don’t apply to us today. Yet the New Testament confirms we still need to make a choice between darkness and light (Deut. 30:15-20; 1 John 1:5-2:6). This type of thinking can also block us from accepting encouraging promises as well.

Have you ever read one of God’s promises and thought, “That sounds wonderful, but it can’t really apply to me?” I’m sure many of us have. For me personally, I struggle with believing God will answer my prayers the way He promises too (mostly I feel like my prayers for other people aren’t effective). But does that mean God’s promise to hear when we call doesn’t apply to me? Of course not. And I’ve even seen some examples of His direct responses to my prayers. My doubts and anxieties don’t cancel His promises. But they can block me from recognizing or accepting His work with, in, and for me.Claiming God's Promises | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God’s Presence In You

The Holy Spirit is one thing God promises to new believers. Jesus told His disciples the Father would give them the Holy Spirit after He left and we see that promise fulfilled quite spectacularly in Acts 2. As the narrative continues, a pattern emerges where believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when they covenant with God at baptism. And it’s made clear that this promise isn’t just for the people of that time. Continue reading

Firstfruits From the Rejects

All the holy days point to Jesus Christ, often in multiple ways. For the soon-approaching Pentecost — the Feast of Firstfruits — Jesus is Himself “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” because He was the first of God’s people to raise from the dead to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:20-23). He’s also the one who redeemed us, making it possible for us to be firstfruits, and He’s the reason we receive the Holy Spirit, which was first given to the New Testament church on Pentecost (John 14:26; 16:7).

On the surface, the term “firstfruits” simply refers to the first agricultural produce of the harvest season. In the Hebrew scriptures, firstfruits were offered to God before you harvested anything for yourself. This offering occurred after Passover on a Sunday morning and kicked-off the 50-day count to Pentecost (Lev. 23:1-21).

Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks or Feast of Harvest, pays a key role in God’s plan. Even churches that no longer keep the other holy days often mark Pentecost because that’s when the Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament church (Acts 2:1-4). In Leviticus 23, instructions about the wave-sheaf, 50-day count, and Pentecost occupy more than 1/3 of the entire chapter. Clearly, there’s something here we’re supposed to take careful note of.

Gleanings and Ruth

Embedded in the holy days discussion of Leviticus 23 is a peculiar verse. It doesn’t seem related to the chapter’s subject, yet it follows immediately after the instructions about Pentecost.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:22)

Why would God put this law in place while discussing the holy days? It doesn’t seem to make sense. It does, however, connect Pentecost with the story of Ruth. In Jewish tradition, Ruth is read every Pentecost, and perhaps that’s a clue as to why the law of gleanings is discussed here.

When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem they’re both poor and Ruth was a “stranger,” a Moabitess instead of an Israelite. She more than qualified for gleaning under the law given in Leviticus, as well as the repetition in Deuteronomy 24:19 which added the “fatherless” and the “widow” to the list of those who could glean.

Instead of just letting Ruth glean, Boaz offered her protection (Ruth 2:9), provided food for her (2:14), and told his reapers to drop grain on purpose so she could glean as much as she wanted (2:15-16). When she first meets Boaz, Ruth’s relation to him is strikingly similar to us when first encountering Christ. He is good, and wealthy, and powerful while we have nothing. We don’t deserve anything from Him, and yet He offers us blessings beyond expectation.

Opening Salvation

When Jesus died, He opened up the covenants to non-Israelites. Prior to accepting His sacrifice, we were all “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We were the sort of people who couldn’t expect more than the gleanings.

But He answered [the Gentile woman] and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” (Matt. 15:26-27)

Jesus did honor this woman’s faith and heal her daughter (Matt. 15:21-28), but by-and-large people outside Israel didn’t have access to God before the cross. Strangers who converted, like Ruth (Ruth 1:16; 2:12), were the exception rather than the rule. That didn’t really happen until after Christ’s Passover sacrifice, His ascension to the Father on wave-sheaf Sunday (click here for a timeline), and the Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Peter didn’t realize this included Gentiles until latter (Acts 10:34-35, 44-48; 11:18), but speaking by inspiration of the Spirit He still proclaimed salvation for all whom God calls. This was a huge step in God’s plan to save the world through Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 12:47), and it’s connected with Pentecost.

Redeemed Firstfruits

In the epistle of James, we’re told the Father “brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). The church is composed of the first people God will “harvest” from the world. We’re a rather unusual sort of firstfruits, though.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

God picks us up from the things devalued and discarded by the world. In other words, He finds His firstfruits among the gleanings. He’s taking people who are underwhelming and overlooked and transforming us into something glorious. Like Ruth, we were strangers who are brought into fellowship with God’s people by a Redeemer (Ruth 2:20; Tit. 2:13-14).

The Foundation: Laying on of Hands

This next foundation is one of the main reasons I started this study. I didn’t feel like I had a good understanding of the “laying on of hands” as a doctrinal principle, and if you’re going to study that doctrine might as well learn more about them all, right?

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)

The Foundation: Laying on of Hands| marissabaker.wordpress.com

The first three principles built on each other, so I would expect laying on of hands to be closely connected with baptism. And indeed, we do see it following baptism several times. Continue reading

The Foundation: Doctrine of Baptisms

The next “principle of the doctrines of Christ” listed in Hebrews 6 is “the doctrine of baptisms.” It builds on the previous two, but we already have a post on this blog talking about how repentance and belief are a prerequisite for baptism, so that’s not what we’ll focus on today.

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)

The Foundation: Doctrine of Baptisms | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Notice it says “baptisms,” plural. Why is that the case, especially in light of the “there is one body, and one spirit … one faith, one baptism” passage in Ephesians 4:4-5? Continue reading

Who Receives The Holy Spirit?

This blog post is, like my last posts, inspired by something I heard while keeping the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) this year. In this case, though, it was something I disagreed with. During a Bible study, the study leader said that ordained ministers receive an “extra measure” of the Holy Spirit. That teaching is an old one, but is it correct? I wasn’t sure. Another thing that didn’t sit right with me was several speakers calling groups other than those like ours “nominal Christianity.”

I talked these two points over with several friends at our Feast site, and was relieved to find I wasn’t the only one bothered by them or suspicious that they didn’t have a solid scriptural basis. So the question is, who does God give His Spirit to, and how much do they get? and does it vary depending on the individual’s role in the church, or what church they attend?

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

(For a quick over-view of my beliefs about what the Holy Spirit is, click here)

Those Who Believe

God has been giving His Spirit to believers apparently from the very beginning. David prayed, “do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11), and Peter said “the Spirit of Christ” was in the Old Testament prophets (1Pet. 1:10-11). The Spirit wasn’t readily available, though, until after Christ’s sacrifice and ascension — “the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

The disciples received the Holy Spirit dramatically at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. As part of his sermon that day, Peter told others what they had to do in order to receive the Holy Spirit.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

This simple formula gives the Holy Spirit after baptism and repentance in the name of Jesus Christ to everyone who God decides to call. There were exceptions to this order — namely the gentiles who were given the Spirit before baptism in Acts 10 — but the Holy Spirit is only given to those who 1) believe in Jesus and 2) are called by God.

The Called, Who Ask

The first requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit is being called by God since we can’t get to Jesus without that calling (John 6:44). Who receives a calling is entirely up to God. It is a gift of grace that cannot be earned (Gal. 1:15; Rom. 9:11), which is given “according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

I do think, however, that someone can ask for a calling. The Father is actively seeking those who will worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23), and Jesus tells us that if we ask, seek, and knock persistently, God will respond (Matt. 7:7).

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.comThen you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:12-13)

God choses who to call, but He does respond to sincere seeking of Him. If someone hears the gospel preached and wants to learn more, God will see that. We’re not called because of our works, but God does call those who will do good works, obey Him (Acts 5:32), and commit to becoming holy (2 Thes. 1:11; 1 Thes. 2:12; 4:7).

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)

Committed, Prayed-for Believers

Once God calls us, He gives us to Christ (John 6:65; 17:11). Jesus is the only one who can provide salvation (Acts 4:12), and that’s why the converts in Acts were all “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:16; 19:5). With the exception of the Gentiles mentioned earlier (who God used to show He was opening up salvation to non-Jews), the Spirit is given after baptism. We have two examples of disciples being baptized, but not receiving the Spirit until an apostle prayed and laid hands on them. This happened in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6), and in Samaria.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet it had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)

There aren’t really apostles today, but the principle, I think, stands. God typically gives the Holy Spirit to someone after they’ve made a commitment through baptism, and after a more mature believer who already has the Holy Spirit prays and lays hands on them.

Those Who Use It

On the question of whether some people get more Holy Spirit than others, I’ve only found two scriptures that talk about how much Spirit an individual is given. In 2 Kings 2, Elisha asked for, and is given, “a double portion” of “the spirit of Elijah” (2 Kings 2:9-12, 15). Then in the New Testament, John the Baptist explains that Jesus received an unlimited supply of the Holy Spirit.

 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (John 3:34-35)

You could extrapolate from this that people other than Jesus are given the Spirit “by measure” (i.e. “a limited portion,” Strong’s G3358). It makes sense that we would all have less Holy Spirit than Jesus because we are infinitely less worthy. But I can’t find scriptures that clearly support the idea you’ll find in some churches that ordained leaders are given an “extra measure” of the spirit compared to other believers.

On the contrary, we find several scriptures that remind us God is not a respecter of persons. He opened salvation to the Gentiles because “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). He wants us to treat people fairly “knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” (Eph. 6:9, see also James 2:1-9). He will judge everyone righteously by looking at “each one’s work” “without partiality” (1Pet. 1:17).

God doesn’t show partiality in how He distributes the Spirit, but we can affect how much Spirit is available to us by whether or not we use it well.

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:6-7)

“Stir up” is from anazopureo, and means “to kindle” or “re-enkindle,” as in reference to a fire (Strong’s G329). It’s the opposite of sbennumi, which means “to extinguish a fire” (Strongs G4570). Sbennumi is translated “quench” in 1 Thes. 5:19’s command, “Do not quench the Spirit.”

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God gives the Spirit to whomever He wants. These are people who seek a relationship with Him, who ask for His Spirit, and who believe in Jesus Christ. Once given the Spirit, our actions determine how well we can use it. We can either stir up the Spirit we’re given so it burns brighter, or suppress it till it flickers and dies in us. That’s our choice. The closer we draw to God, the more powerful His presence will be in us. That’s what determines who gets the Holy Spirit and how much they can use — the individual believer’s relationship with God. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ordained, and where you go to church only matters in so far that you’re attending a church which preaches God’s truth. What matters most is that you’re following God the way He commands.