Psalm 120 – Lord they are against me – Part 2

There was a time, when I was a pastor in Brazil, that I made some small changes in the liturgy of my church. We decided to have a guitar player, we bought a drum set, and we added some praise and worship songs in our liturgy. People could raise their hands during the service and we would clap our hands during the songs, things like this. I never thought that this would create a huge commotion in our presbytery and synod. 

Because of that I started facing a strong opposition. People would come to record my services, gossip was spread all over the town, and I even received anonymous letters condemning me. Of course those things were aggravated by my preaching style, even though at the time I did not use it inside the church, only in youth events.

It was a tough time, not only for my church, and myself, but also for other churches that started doing the same thing. I wrote a book telling that story, “A Doutrina da Gravata” (The Doctrine of the Tie). It got to the point that there was no place for me to develop my ministry. This was the main reason why I left Brazil.

We all face opposition in our lives. If you believe in Christ and follow Him, you will face opposition. In Psalm 120, the psalmist is telling that they were living with opposition on a daily basis. That is the second lesson that we learn here. They had to live and travel among people who would oppose them and their faith. Those people were pagans, they did not have the same spiritual background, which meant, they did not have the same beliefs, the same doctrines, and they did not have the same values that the people of God had.

The psalmist tells us that the most powerful weapon of these enemies was their tongue. These are the terms that the psalmist uses to describe them: Lying lipsDeceitful tongues, and False tongues.

The question is: what the enemies will try to do with their tongues and lies? What are their goals and their purposes? Let me share a few of them with you.

A – The enemy wants to convince us that we are not God’s children, nor good enough. That is the first thing that the enemy will try to do. They will say, “why do you have to go to the presence of God, if you are not His child? You are not good enough. Why should God  accept you?”

B – The enemy wants to convince us that coming to church is useless. They will try to convince us that church and service has no value in times like this. It is simply not practical. They will say, “Why would you waste your precious time with church? It is useless. There are many other better things to do on Sunday morning.”

C – The enemy wants to convince us that the best way to solve a problem is through the use of power. Finally, the enemy would try to convince us that we should use our own strength, ability, and power, to solve our problems. “You are on your own. Spiritual life and church involvement will not do anything to help you to solve your problems.”

As you can see, those lies have the ability to weaken our resolve to follow Christ and serve Him. Little by little we will listen to them and finally we will start believing in them. Probably this is the reason that this psalm is the first one that people would sing when they started their journey to worship God.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Psalm 120 – Lord they are against me – Part 1

When Marta and I moved to Cincinnati, we experienced another cultural shock. I had one in New Jersey, as a Brazilian moving to the U.S. I had another one when in New Jersey I worked only with Portuguese speaking people. That was something that I was not expecting. Everywhere I went in that area I could find a store, restaurant, grocery store, gas station, and church where the main language was Portuguese.

Even though I worked for some time with an American church, my main ministry was with Portuguese speaking people. When we moved to Cincinnati, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING changed. There was just a small group of Brazilians there, and we found them because of the World Cup, when we saw a Brazilian couple being interviewed by a TV news reporter.

I remember when we started to search for a church; Marta would get the Yellow Pages, as there was no Internet or Google at that time. That can tell you how long ago this was. It is too bad that we did not have a smart phone at that time to record those conversations. Her first question was not about the doctrine, the government of the church, the location, no, not at all, the first question, and the most important was: “Do you have a drum set?” We were used to worship with a contemporary style, and it was natural to look for something that would resemble our experience.

The first Psalm of the Accents is the first step in the journey to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, and it started in a far land. A land where the culture was different, the language was different, and the religion was different.

The Psalmist tells us that they were living among other people, people who were different from them. They started their journey in a place that was totally different from theirs. Two places are mentioned here, Meshech and Kedar. One is in the north end and the other in the south end of Palestine.

They had to travel all the way from those places to Jerusalem. They had to camp in the middle of those people and do business with them during their journey. They were strangers in that land.

The second thing that we learn is that they were living among people that did not believe in the same God that they did. They lived among pagans. They were people who did not know the Lord. That means they did not have the same beliefs and values that the people of God had.

The people of God had to live and work and serve this people. Because of that, sooner or later, they would talk about God and church and spiritual life. Every time that they had to go to Jerusalem to worship, they had to explain the reasons to go, and share their beliefs with their neighbors, bosses, etc.

Finally, they were experiencing violence. They had to live with violence. We live in a country in which you can believe in any other god, and have any kind of worship, and people will respect that, even though they do not agree with you. It was not so at that time. Having another God and worshiping in a different way was risky.

Power was the language that they knew. Strength and force was used to resolve their differences, and they normally did that with violence and war. We are witnessing a little bit of this situation in the Middle East. The law of the land is the law of the stronger. If you do not believe in what the strong ones believe you are in trouble. 

Our world, at least in the western culture, is moving so fast from the foundations of the Christian Faith, that some of us can easily feel that we are living among other people in a distant land. Have you ever felt that way? If so, this Psalm is for you.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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The Songs of the Pilgrims

One day I was watching TV, when I found one of those infomercial programs. They were selling a collection of CDs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I could not believe it. It was the first time that I was seeing the singers of those songs that marked my youth. We listened to them on the radio, but I never saw them. I did not know if they were young, old, black, white, and even man or woman.

Those songs made me travel back in the past and revisit a time hidden in my memory. I started remembering places, people, events that I had forgotten a long time ago. Music has this ability to touch you, not only with the lyrics, but also with the sound. It touches us in our hearts in a very special way. 

Probably this explains why the Book of Psalms is the most cherished book in the Bible. People read the other parts, but they keep coming back to the Psalms. Music and poetry have this kind of power, no matter where it comes from. It is almost a spiritual thing.

In the book of Psalms there is a very special group of songs called “The Psalms of Ascents.” They are 15 psalms form 120 – 134. They are also called the Psalms of Degrees, or the Psalms of the Pilgrims. The scholars are divided on the reasons for this name. Some believe that it is because of the steps to the Temple, so each Psalm would be sung in one of the 15 steps to reach the Temple. That was never proved. Some believe that the ascent was related to the metric of the psalms, but that would be a stretch, since we do not know the music of those psalms.

Many interpreters believe that the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to worship during the annual feasts sang those Psalms. The people of God were supposed to go three times a year to Jerusalem for the Spiritual Festivals. 

These are the commandments from God:

“Deuteronomy 16:16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed:” (See also Exodus 23:14-16) Here are the Festivals: PassoverPentecost, and Tabernacles.

During those journeys they would memorize and sing these songs. They would express their feelings, fears, desires and commitments to the Lord and His Temple. Probably this explains why most of them are short; it would be easier to memorize and teach them.

These psalms express the challenges that the people of God were facing in their personal lives and in their journey to Jerusalem. They describe the experiences that every child of God faces in his or her journey. They worship, they share their hope, they sing their sadness, they cry for help, they exult jubilantly, and they pray.

These psalms were memorized, taught, and sung, not only by individuals, but also by the community, the pilgrims and their families. They would tell their stories and learn from each other.

Do you have a cherished Psalm that you learned when you were young, or you recite when you are facing certain situations in life? Throughout these meditations based on the Psalms of Accents we will embark on a journey that I hope will lift your spirit and help you in your Christian journey.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Why we die? – The Final Destination

One of the biggest challenges for the church to communicate the Gospel with our generation is that feelings are defining the truth, and opinions are substituting the Scriptures – The Word of God. If someone does not feel it right, it isn’t the truth; and people’s opinions and worldviews are superior to any religious book, even if it is the Bible.

But we do not have any other source to learn about life and death. We believe that the Scriptures are the rule of faith and practice. The Bible can tell us with authority why we die, and what happens when we die.

In the book of Revelation 20:11-15, we have this dreadful text:

“[11] Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. [12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. [13] The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. [14] Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. [15] If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

As we saw there is a SPIRITUAL DEATH, a death that began with the first rebellion. There is a PHYSICAL DEATH, a death that was the consequence of that first one. Now in this text John is talking about the ETERNAL DEATH, I call It THE FINAL DESTINATION.

John is mentioning the last chapter in the life of humans. That is after the resurrection. Everyone will be in the presence of God and they will be judged by what they did, their works. If their names are not in the Book of Life they will be condemned to death, the eternal death.

We know that that death is eternal. We also know that that death is irreversible. That means there is no appeal for the decision. God will have the final word. And finally, we know that that death is just. God is a just judge, and His decision is right.

It is very important for us to understand and learn that we cannot do anything with the first death – the initial rebellion. It is done and we just live under that curse. We also cannot do anything about the last one. God Himself will make that decision. We cannot change anything when we get at that point. 

The only time that we have to do something about death is right now, during the time that we are still living and have the chance to accept and surrender our lives to Jesus as our Savior and Lord.

My friend, I pray that you already made that decision, if not I pray that the Holy Spirit will touch your heart, help you to recognize and believe in what Jesus did for you, and accept His offer.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Why we die? – The Universal Contamination

“I never thought that I would be capable of doing this!” Some times we hear the news about good people doing terrible things, and we wonder, how is that possible? Other times we just cannot believe that he or she did that. 

The Bible is clear when it affirms that everybody, and it means EVERYBODY is a sinner. That means, everybody is broken and spiritually damaged. When our forefathers sinned and disobeyed God, they broke the Law, and that rebellion was passed to their children.

This is the second reason why we die. It is the transmission of death. I call it the universal contamination. When our first parents disobeyed God and broke His law, they died. Their death contaminated everyone that came after them.

Their death became our death. It contaminated every human being. This is what Paul wrote to the Romans: “Rom. 5:12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because allsinned-”

 Paul in his letter to the Romans tries to explain what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and the solution for this mess in which we find ourselves. Paul also makes clear that this is not a Jewish problem or a gentile problem, he affirms that it is a universal problem:“Rom. 3:22-23This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all havesinnedand fall short of the glory of God,”

It also contaminated every area of our life. This is why the Bible says that everyone is a sinner. From that point on our attitudes toward God and His laws became something very hard for us to deal with. This explains why it is so hard for us to do the right thing.

We do not need to teach our children to lie and disobey; they have that instinct inside their minds and hearts. But when it comes to do the good thing we must try hard and to insist, because it is very difficult for them to learn that. So, after our first parents everyone was born spiritually dead; and that disease stretched to our mind, feelings and bodies. This is what Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Eph. 2:1As for you, you weredead in yourtransgressions andsins,”

Unfortunately, we will need to deal with that for the rest of our lives in this side of Heaven. The apostle Paul, again, will help us to understand the struggle that we will face in our daily lives. “Rom. 7:22-25For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of mybody, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from thisbodyof death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

My friend, we are all sinners, without exception. But, God has a solution for our situation; we do not need to stay dead. Christ came to give us life. This is why Paul closes this text with an expression of gratitude. Death can only be overcome by God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. 

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Why we die? – The initial rebellion

“What, in the world, is going on?”It seems that our world is going crazy. Wars, murders, illness, deterioration, deformity, and so many other things that make us pause and ponder: “How did we get here?”and “Why do we die?”

There are many reasons and ways for why people die. The immediate causes of death are: Sickness, Deformity, Deterioration (age), and Human violence and cruelty. But those reasons do not tell the whole story. They do not explain the real reasons why people die. They tell us only part of the story.

To understand why people die, we need to go beyond the pain and suffering that we experience here in this life. The Hindus believe that you suffer and die, because you are in a process of development. You suffer here to pay for something that you did in your past life. Every religion has its own explanation for death and life.

I believe that Christianity has the best explanation of all, and I would like to share with you that explanation, the one that really makes sense.

The Bible can help us to understand the real reasons why we die. It tells our story, the human story, and guides us through the whole process of death. When God created humans, they were perfect, without any problem, disease, or violence inclination. They were created to have a relationship and fellowship with God and with each other.

God gave them instructions about many things. But one of the instructions was a moral one. They could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was the first and only rule or law that God gave to them. The consequence of disobedience would be death.

Here is the text: “Genesis 2:15-17 – [15] The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. [16] And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; [17] but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”This text in Genesis helps us to understand how death came into the world.

The first thing that happened was an initial rebellion. Adam and Eve disobeyed God; they broke the law and ate from the tree that was forbidden to them.

That initial rebellion produced a crisis that changed humanity forever. That was the first death that occurred, it was a SPIRITUAL DEATH.

The relationship with God was broken, and man and woman died spiritually. After that the other relationships that humans had were also broken: Relationships with each other, relationships with nature, and relationships with themselves.

That initial rebellion changed our spiritual DNA and also our physical DNA. We started to die physically after that event. Because people lived in a perfect world, and had a perfect body those first generations were able to live long lives. That explains people living many hundreds of years. Little by little death, sickness, and destruction started to take control of the situation.

The initial rebellion was that humans wanted to be God. Do not get me wrong; we all have that same rebellion inside of us today. We all want to be God, and do whatever we wish. We turned our backs to God and usurped His Throne in our lives. That helps us to understand why we are so broken and messed up.

It is only by the grace and mercy of God that we can have that situation fixed.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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What happen when we die? – The Beginning of the Intermediate State

For some people the story that Jesus told in Luke 16: 19-31 is reason for concerns. Jesus could not be clearer than that about death, heaven and hell. Christianity postulates that there will be a resurrection of the body at the end of the age. The intermediate state is the state of being for those who died before that time. Jesus helps us to understand what happens during that time.

A – The Two Destinations

In this story we learn that there are two possible destinations after death: HEAVEN AND HELL. After the first judgment the souls will take different paths. The soul of the saved, believer and righteous will go to Heaven and the soul of the nonbeliever, unrighteous, and not saved goes to Hell.

This is what The Second Helvetic Confession – Chapter XXVI, states:

“THE STATE OF THE SOUL DEPARTED FROM THE BODY.  For we believe that the faithful, after bodily death, go directly to Christ, and, therefore, do not need the eulogies and prayers of the living for the dead and their services.  Likewise we believe that unbelievers are immediately cast into hell from which no exit is opened for the wicked by any services of the living.”

B – The souls will keep their Consciousness 

Some people believe that when we die we will not be able to remember and be aware of what we did and who we were. In this story Jesus tells us something totally different. The rich man was able to recognize his situation, remember his family and even Lazarus. He knows what is going on, and why he is where he is.

C – The state of the soul is Permanent

Finally, we learn that that state is permanent. Abraham makes clear to the rich man that there is a chasm between them and that chasm cannot be crossed. Also they cannot return to earth. As the popular culture and other religions try to tell us, Jesus strongly affirms that there is no way for someone to stay back after death, or to comeback from the dead.

As you can see death is a serious thing that we should not take lightly. Every one of us will have to face it. This is what you should know for sure about death: When you die your soul separates from your body immediately. That separation is permanent. After that separation the final destiny of the soul is already sealed. The soul of the believer starts enjoying Heaven and the soul of the nonbeliever starts suffering in Hell.

That state will change at the resurrection of the body when the person will keep his or her state with the resurrected body. This is why it is so important to make the right decisions right now while we are alive.

This is what the God in His word urges us to do:

“[15] See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 

[19] This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live [20] and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” Deuteronomy 30:15, 19, 20a

“[6] It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. 

[7] Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 4:6-7

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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What happens when we die? – The Spirit/Soul Separates from the Body

In his poem “If You Could See Me Now”, Patsy Stambaugh says this:

“If you could see me now you wouldn’t shed a tear.
Though you may not understand why I’m no longer there.
Remember my spirit that is the real me because I’m still very
Much alive, I’ve just been set free, Oh, if you could only see!”

As we all know death is separation. In death we experience many separations. The spiritual death is separation of the soul from God. Eternal death is the final separation from God, also called the second death.

The Physical Death is the separation of the soul from the body. This is the separation or death that we are more accustomed to experience. In the story that Jesus told in Luke 16: 19-31, he mentions that separation: “[22] “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.”

Let me share with you what we learn from Jesus about this separation.

A – An Immediate Separation

The first thing that we learn is that this separation is immediate. As Paul says, it is “in a blink of an eye”. When a person dies his or her soul separates immediately from his or her body. “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it Ecclesiastes 12:7.”There is no lingering. This event is immediate. The text that we mentioned above makes clear that when Lazarus died he was immediately taken to Abraham’s side.

B – Irreversible Separation

The second thing that we learn about that separation is that it is irreversible. There is no return. In the story Jesus also emphasizes that the separation cannot be reversed, here is the text: “[26] And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”In Job we hear the same thing:“Only a few years will pass before I go on the journey of no return. Job 16:22”

C – The Soul goes before God

Finally, at that point the soul faces its first judgment. Jesus did not describe this part with details, but it is clear that both of them went through some sort of judgment to have their destination decided. In the letter to the Hebrews we learn what happened at that moment: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, Hebrews 9:27.” 

On top of the spirit/soul being separated from the body, we have other separations that also cause so much pain. It is the separation from family and friends. There is a Brazilian chorus that describes not only the hope, but the comfort that death could bring to each one of us. I translated the meaning but I was not able to duplicate the poetry:

When my eyes close

Jasiel F. Botelho

When my eyes close for that great trip, 

I went to Jesus. 

When you look for me and do not find me, 

I went to Jesus. 

When your eyes cry because you miss me 

I went to Jesus.

I live this life waiting for that day, 

When I am going to live with Jesus.

When your eyes close, for that great trip, 

Would you go to live with Jesus? 

When I look for you and do not find you 

Will it be because you went to live with Jesus? 

Because the Lord had suffered on the cross, 

Just to save you

Ask God the forgiveness of your errors

And receive Jesus, yes Jesus, the Savior.”

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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