Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Without God and without hope in the world ..."

" ... without God and without hope in the world"  (Ephesians 2:12).

What a horrible way to start the new year - but thousands ... millions, will not only start the new year that way, but will face the trials and struggles of life "without God and without hope in the world."  And, if God graciously gives them another year of life, they will use it to dishonor Him or to ignore Him or even to attack those who know and love and serve Him.  Not being satisfied to live without God and without hope themselves, they will attempt to lure others into the spiritual darkness that surrounds them.

It has been a busy two weeks, a busy month, a busy year!  But sharing God's truth in this world where truth seems to be harder and harder to find is vitally important, so I am going to try to do that on this blog as often as possible as we head into the new year.  It's not that I have so many important things to say ... but GOD does.  He has spoken through His Word, and people need to hear what God has to say.

I am increasingly amazed at the utter ignorance of people who act like they know something, when in reality they know nothing.  Like the woman who is quoted in a newspaper saying that even though she is not religious, she wants her children to be exposed to religious people because she will probably run across some of them in school and in other places in her life and she will need to know how to "deal with them."  In her supposed wisdom she states that all children should be exposed to various religious beliefs, but that they also need to be given the option of choosing the alternatives: agnosticism, humanism and atheism.  She then proceeds to say that she will live by "the Golden Rule:" Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (a religious "creed" if I ever heard one!).  She reminded me of John Lennon in the lyrics of his song, "Imagine."  The song went, in part, as follows:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

Lennon then invited people to join him in his quest to find this world that was free from religion and God and sin.  Of course, the problem is that this world doesn't exist except in the imagination of people who have already sealed their fate by rejecting God's offer of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ.  The woman who wants children exposed to agnosticism, humanism and atheism doesn't realize that these are just more man-made religions that worship self and the things of this world and that ultimately lead to eternal death.  But she wouldn't know that because she doesn't believe there is anything after this life ... "without God and without hope in this world."  Lennon at least was honest when he said, "Imagine all the people living for today."  That's what someone else said a long time ago, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die."  Or, in the words of another old song, "If that's all there is, then let's keep dancing, let's break out the booze and have a ball."  

" ... without God and without hope in the world."  It's a bad way to start a new year.  It's a bad way to live life.  It's a bad way to face death and what comes afterwards.  The God these people do not know offers something so much better.  We'll talk about that in the days ahead.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"Christmas is for Christians ..."

"Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.  Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.  And this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (I John 5:10-12).

"Merry Christmas!" to all of my brothers and sisters in Christ ... and to all who do not yet know Him, may His Spirit open your hearts to receive Him as Savior by confessing your sins and turning in faith to put your hope in Jesus, believing that He suffered God's wrath against your sin on the cross and rose again to offer life to all who believe.

So why the title, "Christmas is for Christians"?  And why today, on Christmas??  My answer is:  What better day to offer to people the love of God that sent His eternal Son into the world so that those who believe might have life?!  You see, there is a lie that has been spread and is being spread throughout the world that the "spirit of Christmas" is the spirit of love and forgiveness and hope and peace and joy.  "What's wrong with THAT?" you might ask.  What's wrong with that is that it leaves out the one thing that makes all of that possible ... it leaves out the One whose birthday we are supposed to be celebrating!  It leaves out JESUS!!

Just this morning, on Christmas day, I was watching the "TODAY" show and host, Matt Lauer, asked two pastors, a husband and wife team, some questions about "the real meaning of Christmas."  Once again I was saddened to see them avoid talking about the real meaning of Christmas.  They talked about a lot of things, and barely mentioned in passing someone named Mary and Joseph, and, oh yes, a baby whom they named Jesus.  They spoke of forgiveness and love and reconciliation, but missed the entire reason for His coming.

When the angel announced Jesus' upcoming birth to Joseph, he said that Mary would "give birth to a son" and "give Him the name JESUS, because He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).  Jesus came as true God in human flesh in order to be able to be mankind's representative (the second "Adam"), in order to bear God's just judgment against your sin and mine.  Today there is no message of sin, no mention of upcoming judgment ... only talk of God's love for everybody and the "spirit of Christmas."  Today even many pastors have become instruments of Satan to deceive because they have fallen for the message of "love" without repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  "Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness" (II Corinthians 11:13-15).

But what about John 3:16?  What about "God so loved the world that He gave His own Son ..."?  Continue with the rest of the verse:  " ... that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life."  Jesus goes on to say, in verses 17-18:  "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only son" ... JESUS!  The Apostle Peter, preaching in Jerusalem shortly after receiving the Holy Spirit to empower him and to give him wisdom to understand these things, proclaimed "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Christmas is for Christians ... for the true Church ... for those who by God's grace have been born again by His Spirit, who have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who have, by an act of their new heart, mind and will, placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their only Savior, and acknowledged Him as their Lord, their Master, to whom they now willingly and joyfully give their lives.  Only those who know and love Jesus, the Christ, have a reason to celebrate His coming.  The true celebration of Christmas has been obscured by the secular celebration of "the holiday season," but those of us who have been blessed by God to have our eyes opened see Jesus as "the reason for the season" ... not only as the baby in a manger, but the One who is our risen and exalted Lord, who is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven and is soon to return!

This Jesus said to His disciples:  "I am the gate for the sheep. ... whoever enters through Me will be saved.  He will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:9-10).  This life can only be received by believing in Jesus.  Those who propose that God's love covers every person, no matter what they believe, no matter what "god" they serve, no matter what religion they proclaim, is false, is wrong, it is a lie ... and it is leaving millions in spiritual death that will ultimately lead to judgment and eternal death.  Jesus DOES offer life - eternal life, to all who BELIEVE.  In this same conversation Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. ... I lay down my life for the sheep. ... " (John 10:14-15).  And later in John 10, speaking to some of the Jews who were demanding, "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" (vs. 24) ...  Jesus answered:

"I did tell you, but you do not believe.  The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:25-28).  Once again Jesus makes it clear that only those who believe in Him receive God's gift of eternal life.  In John 6:29, Jesus says, "The work of God is this:  to believe in the One He has sent."  No one can receive God's gift of eternal life without hearing God's Word, confessing their sin and believing in Jesus.  Any other message, no matter how loving and kind and good it sounds, or who brings it, is true.

So today, on this celebration of the birth of a Savior, I offer you ... no, GOD offers you, a reason to celebrate:  Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior has come.  He was born, He preached the good news of God's kingdom, and then He went to the cross to pay the penalty for sin, rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven.  Is He YOUR Savior?  Have you received Him as your Lord?  Have you BELIEVED in Jesus Christ, trusting in Him alone for forgiveness, believing that through faith in Him your sins have been forgiven and that God has credited you with HIS perfect righteousness so that you now stand before God justified ... holy, perfect in His sight by faith?

THIS is the message of the Gospel and the reason we as Christians continue to proclaim it throughout the world.  We believe that God's OFFER is for all people and that God will use His Word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to draw those who are His to Himself. TODAY, if you will hear His voice, you can receive this gift and KNOW that you have His life within you - eternal life.  Your life can change, today!  John wrote in I John 5:13:  "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life!"  Yes, you can KNOW, not by thinking you are good enough to please God, that you have done enough good things to earn God's forgiveness, but by believing in His One and only Son, Jesus Christ; by receiving His grace by faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). Let me close, then, with this motivation for those who can and must truly celebrate Christmas, the gift of God's Son for our salvation ...

To ALL, God gives this promise:  "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (Jesus) will be saved" (Romans 10:13).  So to you who are truly Christians, followers of the Christ, on this Christmas day, remember this:  "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching (proclaiming) to them?  And how can they preach (proclaim) unless they are sent?  As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" (Romans 10:14-15).  YOU have been sent by the living God as ambassadors of Christ's kingdom to proclaim the Gospel to those around you!

While many within the Body of Christ today have been persuaded that it is enough to show people God loves them by doing good things (which we are called to do!) ... we must proclaim the message of God's grace in Jesus Christ!  We must tell people that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  We must call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, knowing that it is the ONLY way for people to escape the coming judgment of God.  Love compels us to offer people Jesus!!

May you have a Merry Christmas as you celebrate God's love and grace to YOU, and may His Spirit move you to renew your commitment to proclaim this good news every day in the coming year, that you may be God's instrument to call someone (or even many!) out of darkness and into His glorious light.  To GOD be the glory!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

"'Twas the night after Christmas ..."

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

December 26th has a very special meaning for me, for it was on that day that God blessed me and my wife with a beautiful baby girl.  She wasn't supposed to be born for another six weeks, but she and God had other plans and she made her entrance into the world under less than ideal conditions, due to her mother's health and an emergency delivery.  She is our "Christmas Miracle."  Michelle Diane was born in a huge hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, where I was attending Covenant Theological Seminary.

Three years earlier, on December 29th (no, this was not planned) ... our son had arrived - also more than a month early.  He was born in the same small hospital as I was, in a small rural town in Iowa. The three years that had passed between their births had been an amazing time of seeking the Lord, hearing His voice and responding to His call.  Chad William was less than a year old when my wife, Kathy, and I left the familiar surroundings of the area where we both grew up, leaving families behind, and moved to St. Louis because of God's call on my life to preach the gospel.

The year 1973, when we made that move of faith, is now nearly 40 years ago.  God has displayed His faithfulness to us over and over and over.  Our parents have left this earth, our children have grown and gotten married, and we have seven grandchildren ranging in ages from 6 to 16.  They are all beautiful gifts from God.  And the most wonderful gift is the privilege of worshiping together at Lighthouse Community Church in Allendale, Michigan, and watching my grandchildren grow up to know and love Jesus Christ.  The oldest three have confessed their faith in Jesus and I am confident the rest will follow, as their parents, Sunday School teachers, Youth leaders and others work together to teach them God's Word.  I am, of all men, most blessed.

Perhaps this is why I feel compelled to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ; perhaps this is why God called a shy Iowa farm boy to preach His Word.  I know that there is nothing in me that attracted God's attention.  I know that it is by grace alone that I stand before God, clothed in the righteousness of Christ that is mine through faith in Jesus, a faith that God gave to me by His Spirit through His Word, for "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).  Perhaps this is why I long for everyone to hear this wonderful, marvelous good news of a Savior.  As I watch the crowds prepare for Christmas, I can't help but wonder about the day after Christmas - what people will be thinking and feeling ... what they will be doing.

It has been shown that more people become depressed during this season than at any other time of the year, maybe because everybody is telling them that they should be happy, yet their circumstances have taken away their joy.  I think of the families who lost children and loved ones in the shooting in Connecticut, and the many others who are spending their first Christmas without loved ones.  But there IS good news!  The blessings of Christmas are not found in the gifts or the vacations or in anything else we do this time of year.  They are found in the One whose birthday we celebrate - Jesus, the Christ, the eternal Son of God, our Savior!  The spiritual blessings of faith, hope, love, joy and peace do not stop as we turn the calendar into a new year.

Many years ago now I wrote a poem entitled, "'Twas the Night After Christmas."  I thought I would share it with you with the prayer that it might speak to you and challenge you to spend a little time thinking about your life and your plans and your priorities as we end a year and head into a new year, filled with anticipation and uncertainties.  For those who know Jesus, it will be a year filled with blessings of one kind or another, mixed with trials and perhaps even suffering, but it will be a happy new year because God will be with us every step of the way.  I pray that not only your Christmas celebration will be joyful, but also, the night AFTER Christmas!!

                  'Twas the Night After Christmas!

'Twas the night after Christmas and all through the house,
Not a Bible was open, the lights were all out.
Christmas had come, and Christmas had gone.
The presents were unwrapped, the clean-up all done.

When what to my wondering mind should appear,
But a thought, clear and bright, of the end of the year.
The thought, it came quickly, and bothered my mind;
It was a thought about Jesus, so loving and kind.

A thought of God's love, which brought Him to earth;
A thought nearly lost, midst the talk of His birth.
For talk, it comes cheap, so men like to say,
But God's love cost much, on that first Christmas Day.

Yes, Christmas is past, until another long year
Passes by swiftly and we once again hear
Talk of His birth and how amazing it was ...
Yet, I wonder if that's all the meaning it has.

Have we gained from this Christmas, as we end the old year?
Has the love that God showed to us, brought us all near -
To Him who was born so long, long ago,
But who still lives today, and who wants us to know ....

That though years come and go, and the seasons, they change,
His Spirit has power, His love still remains.
"God with us" is not just for Christmas, you see,
It's His gift to us and for all who believe.

The new year will come and the new year will go,
There'll be good times, and bad times, and some just so-so.
Yet this much is certain, if you love the Savior,
He'll be here to guide you and show you His favor.

The night after Christmas need not be a let-down,
If you think of God's Son, if His love you have found.
If you will believe, and will trust in His grace,
You'll always have joy, as you look in His face.

So draw near to Jesus as you start the new year.
Give Him all your worries, and cares, then don't fear.
He loved you enough to come down to earth;
His Spirit has power to give you new birth.

Now let us rejoice, who've received Him as King!
With mouths open wide, His praises let's sing!
And with eyes full of wonder, and hearts full of cheer,
Spread His good news to all, for a Happy New Year!

Have a blessed Christmas and a Christ-filled New Year!!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"the end." is coming!

Well, the world didn't end yesterday ... but it will.  It was interesting to me how the news media and many others mocked even the idea of the end of the world.  I realize that the whole Mayan calendar thing, as well as some of the other "doomsday" prophecies of other religions and supposed "prophets" or "visionaries" are far-fetched fairy tales, but this world WILL come to an end.

In two weeks, on January 6th, I will begin a 12-week series entitled, "the end. - the facts surrounding the return of Jesus Christ" ...  I am going to begin the series by looking at the reason we need to know what God says about "the end," as it is explained in II Peter 3:1-13 ...

"Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you.  I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking" (II Peter 3:1).

God WANTS us to set our minds on the return of Jesus Christ because it takes our minds off of the self-centered goals we so often live by when we think only of this life and what we want to get out of it.  Thinking about the end - whether the end of our lives or the end of this age - brings freedom from trying to find satisfaction in the things of the world, apart from God.  Every blessing comes from Him, but when we live as though this life is all there is, we worry, we doubt, we live as citizens of THIS world, when God says we must live by faith, knowing that we are "aliens and strangers" here.  We have a different reason for being here, and that is to be witnesses of Jesus Christ, laying down our own agendas, indeed, even our own lives if necessary, for Him and for His purposes.

So Peter goes on to say, "You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, 'Where is this coming He promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' ... But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare!"  (II Peter 3:3-4, 10).

I have been told by some in the church, including other pastors, that "my view" of end times is incorrect, even unbiblical.  Some have used one or two passages to attempt to disprove what I believe God reveals in His Word.  I take no offense from these arguments, but I am saddened by the lack of genuine study of God's Word.  Many casually say, "Well, God says we won't know the day or the hour of His coming, so why study end times?"  Others joke about it and say, "Well, it will all pan out in the end."  Most just ignore the topic.  But why?  Can we really understand these things?  The answer is, "Yes!"  God says that "all Scripture is profitable," and the Bible talks about the end of this age in many different places.  Jesus spoke often about the time of judgment to come and about deliverance from God's wrath for those who believe.  Why would we, of all people who have ever lived, ignore or reject what GOD says about the completion of His plan from the beginning?!

Understand this, the end of the world as you and I know it WILL happen, in spite of those who scoff and speak to the contrary.  But it will not be global warming or natural disasters or even the destructive forces of weapons of mass destruction developed by mankind.  This world will end by the hand of God's judgment.  Fewer and fewer people seem to believe this to be so.  Those of us who believe that "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son; that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16), are a smaller and smaller minority.  While many claim to believe in "God," they have no idea who He is and worship some idol created by the imagination of men who do not want to be held accountable for their sins before a holy God.  THEIR "god" is whatever you want "it" to be.  Christianity is unique and is either the ONLY true religion, or it is completely and utterly wrong.  It centers in the person of Jesus Christ!

The study of "end times" is important because the return of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of what has been written in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible since the beginning of time.  Imagine reading a book but stopping before you read the last chapter.  How many of you leave a movie theater ten minutes before the movie is finished?  Do you watch a television program up to the last five minutes and then turn the TV off?  So why would we do that with the Bible, God's own revelation of the beginning, the end and everything in between??  The Bible is HIS Story ... God's revelation of His plan to establish His eternal kingdom in a new heaven and a new earth.  And through His Son Jesus Christ God invites all who will believe in Him, confessing their sin and seeking forgiveness through Christ's suffering and death on the cross, to be part of His eternal kingdom ... thus, eternal life!!

The study of "end times" is also necessary because the Bible gives us details of the events leading up to the return of Jesus to this earth.  God warns that the struggles we face now in this world will get worse. God predicts that in the last few years there will be an attempt to form a one-world government and a one-world religion.  Those who understand these things can see the progress such thinking has made in the past decade ... even the past few years.  The economies of the world, climate change (whether real or imagined), the unrest in the Middle East, and a host of other things point to the truth that things are not getting "better."  Mankind has neither the will nor the wisdom to "fix" this world.  If that sounds pessimistic, it is simply true.  We are on an irreversible course towards the end of this age because of the rebellion of man against the one true God.

So why a 12-week series on "the end."?  To "stimulate people to wholesome thinking," to right thinking.  Each day is important when you understand the meaning of your life and as you live it in the presence of God, your Creator, and for the glory of God.  Knowing Jesus Christ gives hope and peace to all who believe because, whether I live or die, I will live forever in His eternal kingdom.  Serving Jesus Christ now, today, makes more sense than anything else because having been saved by God's grace, my life is now His.  "I have been crucified with Christ and now I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave His life for me" (Galatians 2:20).  Amazing grace!

Jesus promised JOY to those who followed Him, and in the midst of the trials and suffering of this life, and even in death, those who know and love Jesus have true joy, for our Savior lives and when He returns, all who have believed in Him will be either raised from the dead or transformed in the twinkling of an eye, and will watch as He defeats all His and our enemies once and for all and establishes His perfect new world.  A dream?  A fairy tale?  Or God's truth, revealed by His Spirit to those whom He has chosen to be His children?  You decide.

If you are in the Grand Rapids area, come and join us for the series, beginning January 6th.  If you are somewhere else in the world, modern technology allows us to put the messages online, and we will be doing that so you, too, can hear what God's Word says.  For those who are "followers" of this blog, you may comment about the messages and ask questions, and I will try to answer them from God's Word.  There are still some details and things that we may not yet understand, but those things that God has revealed are intended to motivate us to share the Gospel and to give us hope and peace as we wait eagerly for His coming.

For today, the words of the Psalmist call us to serve our God:  "This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!"

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Do not be overcome by evil ..."

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."   - Romans 12:21

While my family and I were away for a two-day Christmas get-away, the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut took place, with twenty small children and six adults being senselessly killed at an elementary school.  As many questions are asked by so many people, one of those that I have heard asked often is, "How could God allow such a thing to happen?"  It's a common question at times like this, and the answer is, in some ways, unanswerable.  But in view of this horrible and mind-numbing tragedy that strikes at the heart of each of us, a number of truths from Scripture, God's Word, are not only important to know and to believe, but are also the only place to find comfort at such a time as this.

The first is this:  the heart of God is grieved beyond what even the parents of these children are grieved.    Evil grieves the heart of God.  Pain and suffering grieve the heart of God.  As Jesus looked at the crowds that surrounded Him, He had compassion on them and often healed the sick and even raised a few who were dead.  God is love, beyond what any of us can understand.  He is kind and compassionate beyond what any of us can express.  And God is faithful to those who call on Him through His Son Jesus Christ.  He has revealed His love in sending His OWN Son into the world to bear His own just judgment against your sin and mine.  Rest assured, God is grieved at the evil in the world, wherever it happens.

The second thing that is important for us to understand is that all evil, directly or indirectly (or both) is the result of mankind's rebellion against the God who created us.  God is not the author or cause of evil.  God created mankind good and in His own image, in righteousness and true holiness.  Yet, we can all say with David as he wrote Psalm 51:  "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5).  The Bible tells us that God overrules the full effect of sin through His Spirit, preventing people from being as bad as they could and would be without any restraint from His Spirit and from the laws of men and civilizations.  What we see at times like this is what human nature, without the restraining influence of God's Spirit, can become.  Throughout history there appear from time-to-time people without any moral restraint.  Whether "mental illness," and/or spiritual death, or a combination of factors, evil people do evil things.  There is no reason, no excuse, no rational answer - just evil.

A third thing we need to know, that follows from the first two, is that God is present during tragedy in ways that we don't understand.  Even though we often live our lives as though God were far away, or even non-existent, at times like this the conversation inevitably turns to God.  Suddenly people want to believe that there is a sovereign God who COULD have stopped such an event.  Of course, God IS sovereign and He could have prevented such an event from happening ... as He could have prevented the earthquakes that have taken place this year, or the wars that have killed thousands, or the car accidents that have affected thousands more lives, or the cancer or heart attack ... ... ...  God COULD prevent ALL of those things - otherwise He wouldn't be God.  Isaiah writes that God's ways are above our ways and His thoughts are beyond our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

But we also need to know and acknowledge that this sovereign God IS the author of every good thing that happens in this world, even in those who do not yet know or acknowledge Him.  The simple truth is, God is responsible for all of the good and right and beautiful and wonderful things you see and experience throughout life, while Satan and his demons and people are the cause of all the evil in this world.  Why doesn't God DO something?  God DID do something, and He IS doing something!  God calls us to come to Him, to believe in Him, to confess our own sin, to turn from evil and to experience His forgiveness and love.  That happens only when we see that God stepped into history and entered this world to become a man in the person of Jesus Christ, whose birthday we are about to celebrate, and gave Himself for all who would believe in Jesus.  To believe means to trust, to have faith ... no matter what ........ to KNOW that God loves you, that He is with you and that He will never leave you.  That is what Christmas is all about.  It is in the celebration of Christ's birth, along with the knowledge of His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection, that we find hope in the midst of tragedy.  Evil will not win!

Finally, the ultimate reality of this unimaginable event in Connecticut, as with every similar attack of evil anywhere in the world, is that God will in some way draw those who seek Him to Himself.  He will comfort those who need comfort, He will strengthen those who are weak, He will give hope to those who despair, He will revive the broken hearts and in thousands of ways show Himself faithful to each one who comes to Him through the One whose birth we now celebrate in the midst of such overwhelming sadness.  For you see, Jesus is the only hope in the midst of the evil of this world.  It was because of his faith in Jesus that the Apostle Paul wrote, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."  No other truth brings comfort, hope and peace today or any other day.  As I share with  my brothers and sisters at Lighthouse often, "Jesus is on the throne, and the angels are singing:  'Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.  Heaven and earth are full of His glory."

Today is not a day to question God, but rather, to draw near to Him, believing in what we cannot see and knowing that through faith in Jesus Christ we have the sure and certain hope that evil will someday come to an end.  Jesus Christ will return and all evil will be destroyed.  Even now, God is working in Newtown, Connecticut and all over the world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ to draw people out of the darkness of sin, into the light of His glory. The true Church has the cure for evil, and it is Jesus!  I pray that in the days ahead, this week and in the new year, you will draw near to the God who calls you to come to Him through Jesus to find comfort, strength and hope, no matter what is going on in your life or in the world around you.  There is no true hope or peace anywhere else.  May the Lord bless you and keep you, now and always!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Christmas ... and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ..."

"Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."   - Joshua 24:15

Are you ready for Christmas?  Do you have your shopping done?  Do you think it will snow enough to have a white Christmas?  These are popular questions these days.  But as many ask these questions, many others are facing difficult trials and struggles and aren't even thinking about Christmas.  On a TV news program this morning one person asked, "Why does religion have to be brought into Christmas?  Why do people try to shove religion down our throats at this time of the year?  Why can't we just celebrate the holiday?"  Fortunately, one of the other people in the segment explained that "Christmas" has to do with JESUS!!!  He is the "CHRIST," the "Messiah", the "Anointed One" ...  He is the Ruler whose coming the entire history of mankind from the Garden of Eden pointed to!

Which brings me back to why we believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Many, many people who claim to be Christians and who say they believe the Bible don't KNOW what the Bible says.  It's sad, it's frightening and it's dangerous.  If you don't know what you believe, you will be easily led astray, and that is happening all around us and all over the world.  Someone asked me recently how the people in the Middle East, where Judaism and Christianity were born, lost their way.  The answer is easy:  they turned away from the truth God revealed in His Word!  The Church turned away from the truth and became exceedingly corrupt, even selling salvation and using its power to anoint kings and rulers and blackmailing them to do whatever the leaders of the Church told them to do.  So when Mohammed came along with his supposed revelation from "Allah," people turned to a new religion that had strict rules and that seemed more capable of controlling human nature.  But the revelation received could not have been from the only true God, for the Bible points to Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, come in the flesh, not as but one of a list of prophets.  Jesus, and He alone, is the CHRIST, God's anointed One, and He is coming again to bring judgment upon all who reject Him as Savior and Lord.

Many in the visible church today are being deceived because they do not know the truth or hold to the truth or love the truth.  Jesus came to give His life as a ransom on the cross.  He came to pay the debt that you and I and all people owe to God:  perfect obedience.  We are guilty, He was not.  As Isaiah writes in Isaiah 53, He suffered for our transgressions and by His stripes we are healed - through faith in Him.  It is not by works, but by GRACE that we are saved, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  THIS is what Christmas is about because this is what Jesus was born to do.  He became flesh because He was the "second Adam," the second representative of the human race.  Romans 5:12 says that sin and death entered into the world through the first Adam, and no man could pay the penalty for sin because we are all guilty ourselves.  We can't even make it up to God for our own sin, let alone pay the debt for anyone else.  Jesus is our only hope for forgiveness and life.  There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved! (Acts 4:12).

Anyone who teaches anything else is a false teacher, whether they speak from a pulpit or anywhere else.  True, biblical Christianity is the only true religion in the entire world.  Christmas is not a time to be concerned about being "politically correct."  All other religions are false. And whether or not December 25th is the real birthday of Jesus is immaterial, though some like to make a big deal about it.  The fact is, Jesus was born to a virgin named, Mary, and His birth was not about Mary, but about Him, the Christ, the Son of God.  He was and is at the same time, true God and true man.  Jesus was not just an example for us to follow, He is Lord and Master for those who know Him as Savior.  The Bible predicts that there will be a great apostasy shortly before Jesus comes, during a time of great tribulation and persecution of true Christians.  Who will stand?  The Bible says that only those who truly know Jesus Christ and who have been filled with His Spirit will persevere and endure.  All the rest will fall away and will perish, facing the judgment of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for their unbelief.

Which brings me to the verse that I quoted at the beginning.  The people of Israel, even after being delivered from slavery in Egypt by the only true God, the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, wanted to mix the worship of God with the worship of other gods.  What's the big deal?  The big deal is that the true God demands and deserves your worship and mine.  There is no other God.  All the other religions of the world worship false gods - the invention of human minds.  Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and all the rest are instruments of Satan to lead people astray.  Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and others who deny that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who actually paid the penalty for sin on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and who doubt that He is coming again to gather His true Church, to restore Israel and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to establish His kingdom in Jerusalem ... all of these are being deceived and will ultimately face God's just judgment against their own sin.

As some people worry about the end of the world on December 21st, God tells us clearly that there are events yet to take place before Jesus comes.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob rules over the affairs of men - in Israel, in Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Iran ... in the United States of America and in every nation of the world, and in places where there isn't a nation.  So, Joshua called the people to serve the "LORD."  That was the name God had given Himself.  It is translated as "Yahweh," or "Jehovah."  It means, "I AM."  He IS the only true God.  He has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ and He has sent His Spirit into this world to call people to Himself through faith in Jesus.  Have you responded to God's offer?  In Joshua 24:14-15, Joshua says to the people, "Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the LORD.  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD!."

If you have made that choice, serve the LORD with gladness and celebrate the birth of a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!  But if you have not made that choice, if you are wavering or if you are serving any other "god," I pray that you will be moved by God's Spirit to examine the truth, to see that in His Word God has revealed the one and only way to be saved from His judgment: to believe in His Son Jesus Christ, the promised "seed of the woman," the "seed of Abraham," the "ruler" from the tribe of Judah, the descendant of His father, David, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  "Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!  Let men their songs employ.  He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found."

To this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, be glory, now and forever!!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Still watching Israel ..."

"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:2-3).

These were God's words to Abraham as God called him to leave his country and his people and his father's household and go to the land God would show him.  That land was the land of Canaan, now known as Israel.  The promises of God were passed on from Abraham to his son, Isaac, and then to Isaac's son, Jacob.  Why is this significant for today?  Because part of God's promise to Abraham and his descendants regarded the land that God gave to them.  God said to Abram (before his name was changed to "Abraham"), "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring, forever" (Genesis 13:15).

In Genesis 15 God confirmed His covenant with Abraham and said, "The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God" (Genesis 17:8).  Because Abraham and his wife Sarah did not have any children, in spite of God's promise that he would have a son, Abraham bore a child through Sarah's handmaid, Hagar.  His name was Ishmael.  But in due time, according to God's promise, Sarah conceived and gave birth to a son - Isaac.  When Sarah became concerned about Hagar's son, Ishmael, fearing that he would inherit Abraham's possessions, Sarah wanted Abraham to send Ishmael away.  When Abraham hesitated, God spoke to him again, saying, "Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned" (Genesis 21:12).

After Abraham died, God spoke to Isaac and said, "Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.  For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham" (Genesis 26:3).  Later, God spoke to Isaac's son, Jacob, and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying"  (Genesis 28:13).  God promised to multiply their descendants and to be their God.  God changed Jacob's name to Israel, and when he was about to die, Jacob said to his son, Judah, "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until HE comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is His" (Genesis 49:10).

God promised to raise up a ruler for His people from the tribe of Judah, who would rule over His people and over all the nations of the earth.  Some 2,000 years later Jesus was born;  the promised "Seed of Abraham," who would rule over God's people.  For centuries, following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the dispersion of many of the Jews through persecution in the centuries that followed, people believed that the promises of God to Abraham concerning the land were long forgotten.  Many in the church "spiritualized" those promises to mean that those who believed in Jesus, who were the spiritual children of Abraham, would inherit the whole earth.  But in 1948 all of that changed as God miraculously ordered events that led to the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in the precise place that God had promised to Abraham some 4,000 years earlier!!

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations referred to these promises last week as he spoke to the assembly and said that the people of Israel had been in this land for more than 3,000 years, contrary to the claims of the Palestinians and others.  Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the present debate is not about the land, but about Israel's existence.  He is right, but the two cannot ultimately be separated.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob entered into covenant with Abraham and his descendants; a covenant that cannot and will not be broken.

Many in the church today believe that because Israel turned away from God and worshiped idols, they broke the covenant and God's plan now revolves around the Church.  God says differently!  While it is true that the Church, made up of Jews and Gentiles, is the center of God's plan in the world today, God has promised throughout His Word that the time will come when He will deal specifically with the descendants of Abraham again.  In Romans 11 the Apostle Paul writes that those who believe in Jesus Christ from the nations of the world are "grafted into the root".  God says through Paul, "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:  Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. ... As far as the gospel is concerned, they are (now) enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and His call are irrevocable" (Romans 11:25, 28-29).

While more Jewish people than ever have put their faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Savior whom God promised, the "Seed of Abraham," most are still blinded.  But God says the time is coming when He "will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  They will look on me (Jesus), the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child ... on that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity" (Zechariah 12:10, 13:1).

Everything that is taking place in Israel is part of God's plan to establish the throne of David in Jerusalem during the Millennium, following the return of Jesus Christ to earth.  When Prime Minister Netanyahu says that this is about Israel's existence, he is right, but the meaning is much deeper than even he realizes.  Israel, meaning the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, exists for God's purposes, for His glory.  For the past 64 years God has watched over this land and has gathered hundreds of thousands from the nations of the world, just as He said He would:  "I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.  I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land" (Ezekiel 34:13).  God repeats the promise in Ezekiel 37:21-22:  "I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone.  I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land.  I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of israel.  There will be one King over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms."

What has gone on in recent years is Satan's attempt to destroy these people and this nation.  But the promise of God given through the prophet, Zechariah, was written for today:  "When all the nations of the earth are gathered against her (as at the United Nations last week?), I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for the nations.  All who try to move it will injure themselves" (Zechariah 12:3).  So it has been for the past 64 years!  There will come a time when the nations are gathered against Jerusalem and they will plunder the city (Zechariah 14:1-3), immediately before the return of Jesus Christ, and then Jesus Himself will return and will go out to defeat the Antichrist and his followers.  But until then, God is at work to accomplish His eternal purposes, for His glory.

"I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse," says the LORD, the God of Israel.  The nations of the world will not heed that warning and will ultimately suffer the consequences. There are many things yet to happen between now and then, and the Bible reveals many of them.  We are extremely close to what the prophet Daniel prophesies will be the last seven years before Jesus comes.  We will be presenting a 12-part series of messages concerning these things beginning in January, 2013, revealing what the Bible says about the events leading up to the return of Jesus and their impact on Israel and the nations of the world, including the United States.  These messages will be available on our website, along with timelines.

Until then, we will continue to watch ... and wait!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Leaders who love those they lead ..."

Leadership has its challenges.  People today almost expect those in leadership to exert their "power" for their own gain.  Having just gone through an election, we know that people are often suspicious of the motives of those who lead.  Money and power often go together and people get trampled on and used and sometimes abused.  The same was true in Jesus' day.  The Roman government was notorious for their ruthlessness and the Jews were virtually their slaves.  Jesus was different, and He expected His disciples to be different.  That's why it was surprising when two of His disciples, James and John, came to Jesus with their mother and asked Him to give them the two top positions in His kingdom.  After telling James and John that those position were not His to give, Jesus gathered His disciples together and said,

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  NOT SO WITH YOU!  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28).

Jesus made it clear that those who would be leaders in His Church would lead differently than those in the world who did not know Him.  They would be servants of the people they were leading.  They would actually care about the "sheep" over which Jesus placed them as shepherds.  In fact, they would LOVE the sheep.

Where do you find leaders like this?  I was in a meeting recently with nine such men - the Elders at Lighthouse, my brothers in Christ and fellow-servants of God's flock.  In my years in pastoral ministry I have met others who have loved the people whom they are called to lead, but this group of brothers is unique in their unanimous desire to love God's people and to lead them with humility, grace and patience.  It is a privilege serving the Lord with godly men who understand God's call to "shepherd the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers" (Acts 20:28).

There must be no other motive for leadership in Christ's Church but love - love for God and love for His children.  This is why God established the model of Elders in every congregation.  There is no other form of "church government" revealed in God's Word.  Jesus said that those who shepherd the flock must be willing to lay down their lives for them.  Who can do that except those who are there with the sheep?!  Elders who love the sheep are rare.  Many people have been "run over" by leaders in the church who have had their own agendas and who cared more about themselves than about those whom they have been called to lead to Christ and to "feed."  I have witnessed such behavior far too often.  Perhaps it is because the leaders at Lighthouse have themselves been abused by such power that they are so ready and willing and eager to be the leaders Christ calls Elders to be - humble shepherds who love the sheep.

And those who truly love the sheep realize that the greatest danger to the health and life of the sheep is the poison of false teaching.  Paul continued in Acts 20:28-31:  "Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.  I know that after I lead, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!  Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."

No amount of false teaching can be tolerated in the Church.  Everything must be judged by the unchangeable Word of the living God.  It is up to the Elders to make sure that the Word of God is preached and taught in its fullness and in its purity in the Church.  False teaching poisons the flock and leads people astray.  The work of the Elders in the Church is not easy, and those who serve must know that they have been called and equipped and empowered by none other than the Good Shepherd Himself, Jesus Christ.  When that happens, the Church is a beautiful testimony to the love and power and grace of God at work in His people.

Leaders in Christ's Church must love their "fellow-sheep," knowing that they, too, are sheep in need of a Good Shepherd.  Thank God we have one in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, our Savior, our Lord and our Friend.  I pray that God will raise up more leaders in His Church who will love those they lead.  I thank God for those who serve the Lord with me at Lighthouse!

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Longing for His appearing ..."

"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing."
                                                                                                                          - II Timothy 4:8

I have a confession to make:  over the past week there was part of me that was hoping the conflict between Israel and Hamas was the beginning of events that would lead up to the return of Jesus Christ. It may still be, but for the moment it appears that there is at least a temporary calming of the tension between the two parties involved.  God knows the timing of what lies ahead and we are called to trust Him and to serve Him until Jesus returns.

Those of you who have heard me speak about "end times" know that the Bible tells us believers will go through the time of tribulation that is to come on the earth (worse than today!), and then be delivered from the earth in the rapture before God pours out His wrath on the earth and all who do not believe in Jesus Christ.  I am not one who believes that at any moment we will be taken from this world to escape the trials that are yet to come.  I could wish it were so, but the Bible says otherwise.  But knowing that and looking at the world around me, I long for "the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ"  (Titus 2:13).  While some believe this "blessed hope" is the rapture itself, I believe, based on all of Scripture, that it refers to the whole complex of events that surround His coming, including the defeat of the Anti-christ, the judgment of the entire world system, and the establishment of God's kingdom on the earth.  THAT is the blessed hope of all who believe in Jesus Christ!  Those who are alive and who believe in Jesus WILL be raptured from this earth, but only after the tribulation and before the pouring out of God's wrath.

Part of me realizes that to "long for His appearing" is a good thing.  It means that you understand the temporary nature of this world and everything in it, including your own life, and that you are looking forward to what God has promised in the new heaven and the new earth.  But I also realize that the reason all of this hasn't unfolded yet, is that "God is being patient ... not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).  God knows that not all people are going to repent and believe in Jesus and be saved.  In fact, God knows those who are His and it is by His Spirit and Word that God calls people out of the realm of spiritual darkness and brings them into the kingdom of the Son He loves (Colossians 1:13-14).  Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 that "the Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

I pray for those who have not yet come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.  At any moment those who do not believe could draw their last breath and be face-to-face with the Judge whom God has appointed, even His own Son, Jesus Christ.  None will escape His judgment because of their own goodness.   It is only those who by grace through faith acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord, confessing their sins and turning from them in true repentance, who will escape God's wrath.  Jesus said, "My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand"  (John 10:27-28).  What a glorious comfort to know WHO you are in Christ and to know WHOSE you are through Christ!  "Blessed assurance, Jesus is Mine!"

This is why I "long for His appearing."  The Apostle Paul could rightly say that He has "fought the good fight, and finished the race and kept the faith" (II Timothy 4:7).  He knew that his life was nearing an end because of his preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Some might wonder how God could allow so many who served Him so faithfully to face persecution, even unto death.  The same happens today more often than most of us can imagine.  God calls every disciple of Jesus to willingly give up their lives for Him, whether in eager service or in death.  We are not our own, but belong - in body and soul, in life and in death - to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ!

And so, I "long for His appearing," and all that must precede His coming to earth.  I pray for Christ's Church, the true body that is the "bride of Christ."  In the old hymn, "Faith of Our Fathers," one line reads, "How sweet would be their children's fate, if we like them, should'st die for Thee;" and then the chorus states, "Faith of our fathers, holy faith; we will be true to Thee 'till death."  I wonder how many, or how few, could honestly sing those words today.  Can I?  Someday soon we will find out who will be faithful, who will endure to the end.  Even as I write this I can imagine that some, maybe most, even in the church, will find these thoughts less than uplifting - even depressing.  But for those who know Jesus and who love Him, longing for His appearing is the most natural part of being one of God's true children, for it will ultimately mean the end of the struggle, and victory over sin and death and the grave.  What could be better than that?

As we enter the Advent season, I pray that parents and those who teach our children God's Word will point our children not only to a past event, the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, but also to what lies ahead - to all that God has promised.  The words Paul penned so long ago are true:  "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing" (II Timothy 4:8).  I am longing for His appearing, and I hope you are, too.  We need to be working, and at the same time to be ready.  The King is coming!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Israel, Gaza and the future ..."

As the events in Israel and Gaza continue, there are many who speculate concerning the outcome.  This morning there was word that there would be a ceasefire, but that did not materialize.  There is a lot of propaganda from the enemies of Israel that they want to stop the rockets and the fighting, but Israel will not agree to their demands.  That is because the demands of Hamas, the extreme terrorist group within the Gaza strip, would require Israel to basically surrender, without any assurance of security for those in southern Israel, or even Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  Even then, it appears certain that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian government in Gaza would ever recognize Israel's right to even exist.

So how will all of this end?  While I cannot predict how the present conflict will proceed, the Word of God gives clear insight into the future.  To begin, it is important to understand the origin of the Palestinians as a people.  While there are some Palestinians who are Christians and undoubtedly many innocent Palestinian people who want only to live in peace and freedom, the fact is that the origin of the Palestinian people can be traced back to the Philistines who were enemies of Israel in the days of King David and even before.  So what does that have to do with today, thousands of years later?

The Jews living in Israel are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God promised Abraham that the land of Canaan (present-day Israel) would belong to him and to his descendants forever.  That promise was passed on to Abraham's son, Isaac, and to his son, Jacob.  Jacob's name was changed to Israel, and Jacob's twelve sons became the twelve "tribes" of Israel.  The history of this nation is found throughout the Old Testament Scriptures.  Even though the nation of Israel faced God's judgment and was dispersed throughout the nations of the world, the prophet Isaiah spoke about the future when he wrote, "Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son. Who has ever heard of such a thing?  Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment?  Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children" (Isaiah 66:7-8).  On May 14th, 1948, Israel was reborn as a nation in the very land the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob promised to their descendants forever.  The next day, May 15th, the Arab nations surrounding them attacked and God miraculously delivered them.  The battle has raged on for more than sixty years.

The nation of Israel exists with Jerusalem as its capital because God said it would.  We are approaching the return of Jesus Christ and the Bible outlines the events leading up to and surrounding His return - and they ALL have to do with Israel.  There is not time here to go into these things.  I have just finished outlining a twelve-week sermon series on "the end." - the facts surrounding the return of Jesus Christ, that will begin on January 6th.  But let me share what God says in His Word about the future of Gaza and the Palestinians (Philistines).  Please remember that in spite of what many, even in the church today, proclaim, all those who do not acknowledge the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the only true God, and who do not confess their sins and confess Jesus Christ as Savior, believing that He paid the penalty for sin on the cross in their place  ...  all those who do not believe will face God's judgment when Jesus returns.  This is why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news and why Christians proclaim this Gospel and God's offer of forgiveness to ALL people.

Here, then, is what God says about the future:

"Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins.  At midday Ashdod will be emptied and Ekron uprooted.  Woe to you who live by the sea, O Kerethite people (those who lived in southern Judah and who settled along the Mediterranean Sea); the word of the LORD is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines.  I will destroy you and none will be left.  The land by the sea, where the Kerethites dwell, will be a place for shepherds and sheep pens.  It will belong to the remnant of the house of Judah; there they will find pasture.  In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon.  The LORD their God will care for them; He will restore their fortunes" (Zephaniah 2:4-7).

The prophet Ezekiel also prophesies against Philistia in Ezekiel 25:15-17:  "This is what the Sovereign LORD says:  'Because the Philistines acted in vengeance and took revenge with malice in their hearts, and with ancient hostility sought to destroy Judah, therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Kerethites and destroy those remaining along the coast.  I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath.  Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I take vengeance on them.'"

God's Word is true.  Whether at the present time or in the near future, these things will take place.  Those who know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must rise up and speak truth, knowing that some may come to faith in Jesus as they hear God's offer of forgiveness and as they see these things unfolding just as God said they would.  These are crucial days in the history of mankind; days foretold by God through the prophets, through His Son Jesus Christ and the apostles in the New Testament.  Study these things and be ready for what lies ahead.  Share the truth with others and pray earnestly for those who do not yet know the truth, for God also promises that His Word "will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it"  (Isaiah 55:11).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"This is why WE are here!"

History reveals that we are here on the earth and in this life for a purpose far beyond ourselves.  While certain people are thrust into the limelight, for God's purposes, all those who know Jesus Christ have a call to be His ambassadors in a world that desperately needs to hear the truth about God and His offer of forgiveness and life.  In order to accomplish that purpose, to rise above the temptation to give up or to give in to the pressures of our society to water down the truth or to deny that what God says in His Word is true, we must persevere and proclaim God's truth with the unending conviction that it is a matter of life and death ... because it is!

The Apostle Paul spoke the following words to the elders at Ephesus, found in Acts 20:24-31:  "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.  Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.  Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men.  For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!"

Where are the watchmen today?  I just saw a commercial on television from ""  It showed a buddhist monk, a priest and representatives of several other religions all together saying we need to love one another.  A local newspaper promoted the latest in Interfaith Unity by listing the world's five great religions as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism.  A popular mega-church declared that we need to build bridges between Muslims and Christians, emphasizing what we have in common rather than what divides us.  Meanwhile, pastors and churches play politics, caring more about what people think than what God thinks.

The days are here that Paul spoke about to Timothy:  "The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (II Timothy 4:3-4).  Can you not see it?!  It has been said that those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.  It has been left to us by Jesus Christ, the Head of His Church, to defend the truth.  With Jude I can say, "Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.  For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you.  They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 3-4).

Those who change the grace of God into a license for immorality DENY the sovereignty of our Lord Jesus Christ and His truth.  Those in the church who would declare the teachings of Islam or any other  religion to be taught or accepted as equal to the teachings of the Bible are false teachers.  Those who declare that all men will be saved, regardless of their belief or faith in Jesus Christ are false teachers.  God has placed me here ... and if you are a disciple of Jesus, YOU... to stand firm, to believe the truth, to defend the truth and to proclaim the truth.  Only ONE message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, brings deliverance from the wrath of God.  WE are here to proclaim that message and to make disciples - whether one, two, twenty, one hundred or a thousand.

This is OUR time - God has ordained it to be so.  We must not shrink back, for our destiny is as certain as God's promise.  "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand!" (Ephesians 6:10-13).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Watching Israel!"

The events in Israel today have many people talking about what may come next and giving their opinions about the relationship between Israel and the United States and the rest of the world.  What is more important is what GOD says about these things and the times in which we are living.  I am continually amazed how many people in the church today know very little about what God says about the topic of "end times."  I grew up and was a pastor in denominations that totally ignored any discussion of end times or Israel, or even the book of Revelation.  I know well-meaning Christians who say they don't worry about whether there will be a Rapture or a Millennium, or about the other things that may or may not happen in the future concerning the return of Jesus Christ, because God will do what He wants to do.  I have even been told that present-day Israel has nothing to do with God's plans for the future because the Church has replaced Israel in God's plans.  Such thinking and such teaching not only ignore Scripture, but twist and distort it, to the destruction of many who are then deceived and unprepared for what lies ahead.

I was reading Psalm 46 recently and was struck that twice the writer says, "The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" (verses 7 and 11).  Why is this important?  Because the "God of Jacob" is the only true God!  He is the God we worship; He is the God who made covenant with Abraham and His descendants - FOREVER!  A major part of the battle in the Middle East and around the world, and of the instability in that region, as well as the terrorism that has struck our own country, has to do with Islam and the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham's son by his handmaid, Hagar.  I'm not making this up - read Genesis!  Christians worship and serve the only true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 if you think this isn't important.  The Church is called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, the SEED of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David.  The interfaith dialogue in which many in the church are engaging, and the idea that somehow Israel isn't important in God's plan for OUR future is a denial of the truth of God's Word.  We NEED to understand these things because God has revealed them in His Word.

Some say, "But the Jews don't even believe in Jesus."  Most of them do not.  Why?  Romans 11:25 says, "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:  Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in."  He then goes on to say in verses 28-29:  "As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), for God's gifts and His call are irrevocable."

The prophet Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 31:35-37:  "This is what the LORD says, He who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar - the LORD Almighty is His name:  'Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,' declares the LORD, 'will the descendants of Israel EVER cease to be a nation before me.'  This is what the LORD says:  'Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,' declares the LORD."

The physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David have always been a "nation" before the LORD God Almighty.  When they were in captivity in Babylon, they were still a nation in His sight.  When they were under the rule of Rome, they were still a nation in His sight.  When they were scattered throughout the nations without a homeland of their own, they were still a nation in the sight of God.  When they faced the holocaust of Hitler during World War II, they were still a nation before God.  And in the fullness of time, according to His plan, God made them a physical nation in the very land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants on May 14th, 1948.

Since that time the nations around them have tried repeatedly to destroy them ... to no avail.  The events today are but the latest in a continual attack by the forces of evil to stop God's plan from happening, but nothing and no one can thwart God's plan.  There is more going on here than meets the eye.  Even the leaders of Israel quite probably do not understand the significance of what they are doing, but God knows how all of these things go together and events will unfold as He has determined.  Evil men make evil choices, but God uses even their evil to accomplish His plan to establish His kingdom on the earth and Jesus WILL reign IN JERUSALEM!  Satan thought he had defeated Jesus on the cross, but God used the greatest injustice ever perpetrated to bring forgiveness and life to all who trust in His Son, Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One, the only true King!  While the United States still claims to be an ally and supporter of Israel, the "fate" of Israel does not depend on the military might of the United States, but in the power of a sovereign God.  In truth, the welfare of the United States is dependent on our support for Israel.  God will take care of His chosen people, as He has over the centuries and in the past sixty years - with the United States or without the United States.

How should we react to these things?  What should we do?  What can we say?  God's people, those who believe that the Bible is the very Word of God, must know what is yet to come and help others to turn from trusting in idols and to place their trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This is not a mere religious exercise - this is life or death - ETERNAL life or death.  Whatever is going on in your life, you can turn to this God and know that He is with you and that there is hope beyond this life, beyond this world!  There is a new heaven and a new earth coming, but before that, there will be horrible times.  Contrary to what many believe and teach, it is clear in God's Word that believers will go through the tribulation that is to come.  We will be delivered (the rapture) before God's wrath is poured out on the world, but we are called over and over to endure, to persevere, and as many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are facing persecution already in other places of the world, we must be ready and willing to do the same.  Standing on the truth and proclaiming it have never been easy.  Jesus reminds us that they hated Him and they will hate those who are truly His disciples.

It is evident that this is happening even here in the United States and even within the visible church.  Those who preach these things are considered extreme or radical (and there are some who lose sight of God's Word and say foolish things that arise from mere speculation and theories devised by men).  Yet, we are called to stand firm, to believe ALL that God says and to share the truth with others - giving hope to those who have none.  I will share more in the days ahead, but know this:  God is at work and His plan is unfolding before our eyes.  Watch, listen, study, learn, share, teach ... May His kingdom come and His will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven!

Monday, November 12, 2012

"It's getting harder ..."

This morning as I listened to the radio I heard a plea for help for orphans in Guatemala.  James 1:27 was quoted, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  So many children in need.  At the same time I heard that there was another earthquake in Guatemala.  The earth seems to be groaning.

Last Thursday our ministry to those in need fed nearly 120 families.  We work with others and offer free food twice a month.  It seems that more and more families are in need.  I saw a woman on a busy corner today with a sign:  "Family in need ... any help will be greatly appreciated.  God bless!"  This week we are gathering clothes for children who don't have winter coats as the temperature dips below freezing tonight.  James 2:15-16 says, "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?"  The needs all around us are great, and getting greater.

In January a family from our congregation is moving to Haiti to help those in need there.  It has been nearly three years since the major earthquake and thousands are still living in tent cities.  Hurricane Sandy went through and flooded much of the area again, destroying homes and washing tents away.  The need is great and the ministry they founded, Ebenezer Discipleship Training Center, is training and equipping pastors to lead people to Christ and offer people hope.  The physical needs are great; the spiritual needs are even greater.

I have been in touch with a pastor in Pakistan for more than a year and two families have lost father and mother in these months, leaving ten orphans.  A few weeks ago the pastor suffered a heart attack requiring heart bypass surgery and now his ministry is deeply in debt because of medical expenses as he tries to recuperate.  His Bible school had to close for lack of funds.  The needs are great.

Meanwhile, back at home, the needs in the congregation I serve seem to be endless.  Some are looking for jobs, some marriages are struggling, we are trying to raise money for a downpayment on some property that it seems the Lord has put in our path ... We have another ministry to children who may not get a meal in the evening because their parents can't afford it.  Last year we had just over a hundred children receiving meals during the school year - this year it's up to 160.  The need is getting greater.

I was reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul when he was talking about the trials he had faced in ministry - trials beyond anything I have ever experienced.  And then he says, "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?" (II Corinthians 11:28-29).  Paul felt the pain of those around him and those who are filled with the Spirit care for those around them and when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt.  The physical needs are great; the spiritual needs are even greater.

There are a lot of hurting people around us today.  It's hard ... and it's getting harder.  Natural disasters like the hurricane that hit the northeast recently seem to be happening with greater and greater frequency.  The news we hear on the TV is more and more about desperate people doing desperate things.  Sin has so affected our world that the time has come when things are going from bad to worse, just as God said they would.

So yesterday I was moved to remind people as I preached God's Word that our hope lies not in the things of this world but in the God who has promised to establish His eternal kingdom in a new heaven and a new earth.  I quoted I Corinthians 15:19, where Paul writes, "If only for this life we have hope, we are of all men most to be pitied."  God never promised life would be easy - quite the contrary.  Jesus said we would have troubles, but He told His disciples not to be afraid, for He had overcome the world for them (John 16:33).

It is easy to get discouraged when looking at the world around you, but when you know the God who promises to be with those who believe and to save us from His wrath and judgment that are soon to come upon this world, and to bring us into His eternal kingdom, the burden gets lighter.  He has put us here to be a light to the world, and when we give ourselves in the service of others, He is glorified and we find satisfaction in knowing that our lives have meaning.

Maybe, like many, you are waiting, hoping, praying for your life to get easier, for things to get "better."  Our God is able to do more than we ask or imagine.  We need to know that He is with us and we need to believe the impossible, because God does miracles every day.  Trusting God means KNOWING that He can do the impossible, but trusting Him also means that we love Him and serve Him, even when He allows the evil in this world to run its course, for He is at work in our weakness and through our struggles in ways we cannot possibly understand.  May you find joy in God today, no matter what your circumstances.  May He give you hope and strength in knowing that through faith in Jesus you are one of His dearly beloved children and that nothing can ever separate you from His love - NOTHING! (Romans 8:37-39).

The good news is still good news:  our God reigns!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"Should God bless America?"

This Sunday is Veteran's Day.  It is a day to remember those who have sacrificed much to defend the freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America.  My father was a veteran of World War II and fought as a marine on Guam and Iwo Jima.  I thank God for him and others who paid such a high price, many at the cost of their very lives.  We owe them a debt of honor and gratitude.  We also need to remember those who are standing for the cause of freedom around the world today as they serve our nation and those who are being oppressed by evil.  God has used the people and principles of our nation to bring freedom to others and continues to use the people of this nation to care for the oppressed and hurting around the world.  Those who hate Americans would perhaps have different thoughts if they were to experience the world without the aid that Americans have given in the past and are giving now all over the globe.  When disaster strikes or evil raises its ugly head, we are often the first to respond.  God has given us much.  Jesus said, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48).  But what is America, as a nation, giving to God?

To be clear, a nation consists of its people.  As a concept, the United States is a nation built upon the biblical principles of law and morality.  The success of our government is arguably dependent upon the people who vote and those who are elected abiding by these principles which are written into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Without this unified standard derived from God's Word and from God Himself our nation has no legal or moral foundation.  When President Clinton quoted Proverbs 29:18 (or rather, misquoted it) and said, "Where there is no vision, the people perish," he believed that he was the one to give a vision to the American people.  President Obama has voiced the same idea when he said again in his acceptance speech, "There are no 'red' states or 'blue' states, only the United States of America!"  This is the vision that he wants all Americans to have.  But neither he, nor anyone else, has offered anything to make this vision a reality.  What Proverbs 29:18 actually says is, "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint."  In other words, when there is no unified revelation of truth the people will do whatever they want to do.  In rejecting the biblical principles upon which this nation was founded, there is nothing to hold us together.  This explains the division within our nation.  We are clearly a nation divided.  Which brings us to our question:  "Should God bless America?"

We are currently a nation that has turned and is turning farther and farther away from the God who has revealed Himself in His Word, the Bible, as the Creator of all things.  Legislators have, for the past fifty years, sought to remove God from the public arena, from removing prayer and the Bible from our schools to attempting to remove "under God" from the pledge of allegiance.  We continue to kill millions of unborn babies.  We have more recently embraced homosexuality and same-sex marriage and all sorts of immorality.  The list goes on.  God's Word is trampled on and tolerance is shown for every religion except Christianity.  We can talk about God, within certain limits, but we dare not mention Jesus Christ.  Following the election results and hearing of the various proposals that were passed in some states, I couldn't help but think of Psalm 2, where the writer says, "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against His Anointed One. ... The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.  Then He rebukes them in His anger and terrifies them in His wrath, saying, 'I have installed MY King on Zion, my holy hill'" (Psalm 2:2,4-6).

As a people, the majority of Americans are rejecting the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and His Son Jesus Christ.  While many claim to be Christians because they believe in some "god," most do not know who He is and do not live by His revealed Word.  They have thrown off the restraints of His law and are resisting the influence of His Spirit, for their hearts are hard and their ears are closed and their spirits are dead.  The evidence is overwhelming, and much of the visible church seems to be following rather than leading as denomination after denomination approves of behavior contrary to Scripture.  Which again brings us to our question:  "Should God bless America?"

In the Bible God's blessing means His love and presence and grace.  When God blesses He brings healing and restoration and peace.  Does America as a nation need these things?  Absolutely, YES!  But what must happen for God to bless America?  Americans must fall to their knees in confession of their sin and turn from their evil ways.  We must seek the LORD through His Son Jesus Christ.  We must repent and acknowledge that there is one God and the only way to draw near to Him is through the cross of Christ, believing that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin.  We must humble ourselves and seek God's forgiveness.  Unless and until that happens, God CANNOT bless our nation!!

There was a similar situation in Judah in the days of Jeremiah.  The people were worshiping idols and doing detestable things.  God said to Jeremiah, "Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.  Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?" (Jeremiah 7:16-17).  He goes on to describe their false worship and then asks in verse 19:  "Am I the one they are provoking?  Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?"  And in verse 20:  "Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says:  My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground, and it will burn and not be quenched."

Finally, God says to Jeremiah, "When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.  Therefore, say to them, 'This is the nation that has not obeyed the LORD its God or responded to correction.  Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips" (7:27-28).  Wrath was sure to come.  There were "false shepherds" who were telling the people God was with them and that He would bless them, but God told Jeremiah that their message was not from Him.  The same is happening in the United States of America.  We have never been "the people of God" as Israel and Judah were, but the United States as a nation has claimed to believe in this God and to worship Him.  He is not a God to be fooled or taunted or ignored or despised without consequences.  When our leaders and prominent pastors casually toss out the word, "God bless America" at the end of a speech or a sermon, what must God think?!  How dare anyone ask God to bless a nation that has turned its back on Him and rejected His counsel and His Son??  Psalm 2 ends with these words, "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for His wrath can flare up in a moment.  Blessed are all who take refuge in Him" (Psalm 2:12).

As a Christian and as a pastor I cannot ask God to bless America in her current state.  Rather, I pray for His mercy and for an outpouring of His Holy Spirit to move people to repent, beginning with myself and all true believers, and those who claim to be followers of Christ.  The course upon which we find our nation inevitably leads to judgment and destruction.  The nation that exists today is not the same nation my father fought for and that many have died for.  We are straying farther and farther away from any moral foundation based on God's unchanging revelation of truth.  It appears that in many ways we are already under the judgment of God and unless the majority turns to the true God in humility, confession and repentance the future of our nation is bleak at best.  So what is the solution?  What can we do?  Our congregation has determined that based on God's Word, this is God's vision for the true Church:  "We exist to proclaim the reign of Jesus Christ over all things; glorifying and enjoying God, now and forever."  The true Church must proclaim the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and call people to repent, to turn from sin to righteousness - the righteousness revealed in God's Word.  Only God's mercy can save us!

Monday, November 5, 2012

"Is it the rich versus the poor?"

One day until the election!  Here in the States we are all growing weary of the political commercials and the constant "stretching" of the truth by ALL sides.  The sad part is that integrity in politics seems hard to find.  Thankfully, there are some trustworthy politicians, but the political system that gives us many of the freedoms we enjoy is also susceptible to corruption.  Lies and twisting what the opposition has said to give yourself an advantage is a disgrace to yourself and those to whom you are speaking.  Freedom of speech should not mean "freedom to lie."

There have been and are many issues in the election this year, but one of the biggest is the idea that one side doesn't care about those in need, while the other party does.  This is not the first election where this issue has been brought up, but it has been said repeatedly that one side just cares about the rich and cares nothing for the poor.  I just received an email from another pastor who did everything but tell people which party to vote for because they cared about the poor.

There are obviously people who are so self-centered that they care only about themselves, but these people are from all levels of our society, whether the working poor, the middle-class or the top five percent.  There are some very wealthy people who give much of their income to help those who are in need. People from both political parties and those in other parties give generously to those in need in our nation and around the world.  To say one party cares more about the poor than the other, because they have a different approach to producing jobs and helping people out of poverty, is not only inaccurate, but slanderous.  My question though is this:  Did Jesus favor one "class" of people over another?  Was Jesus REALLY more concerned about the poor than He was about the rich?  Or was it people's spiritual welfare that concerned Jesus?

One incident in Jesus' ministry comes to mind.  Jesus was at the home of a man named Simon the Leper.  Jesus was like that, hanging out with people that the rest of society left behind.  While Jesus was reclining at the table with His hosts and the disciples, a woman came to Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on His head.  When the disciples saw what she had done they asked, "Why this waste?  This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!" (Matthew 26:8-9).

Jesus' answer may have surprised them.  Jesus said, "Why are you bothering this woman?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me"  (Matthew 26:10-11).  Obviously, Jesus was not advocating waste.  He taught good stewardship of one's resources.  Jesus also taught showing mercy and compassion to those in need.  When Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you," He was stating a fact:  there will always be poor people ... and on the other end of the spectrum, there will always be rich people ... and in the middle will be most people.  So, is God the God of the poor and not the rich, or the rich and not the poor?  Is there "class warfare" in the spiritual realm?

The clear answer of Scripture is, "NO!" While God warns the rich not to oppress the poor, men like Abraham and David were perhaps in the top 1% regarding wealth, yet they were men who followed after God and from whom the Savior was born.  In James 2, believers are warned not to show favoritism to the rich.  Any such favoritism is sin.  James rightly declares that it is the rich who often use power and influence to oppress others.  No one should argue about the fact that there is an extreme amount of corruption in high places when it comes to material wealth and greed and power.  But God is NOT the God of the poor any more than He is the God of the rich!

What God IS concerned about is the HEART!  Paul writes to Timothy that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (I Timothy 6:10).  And in verses 17-19, he writes, "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."

Being rich will not get you to heaven!  But neither will being poor, or middle-class for that matter.  There is one way to receive God's gift of eternal life and that is through faith in Jesus Christ.  God receives all who come to Him through Jesus, whether rich or poor or in between.  As Jesus said, there will always be poor in this world, and God calls those who are His people to care for the poor and not to oppress them, abuse them in any way, or look down on them.  Those who have material wealth are called by Jesus to share with others so that there is no need among those who are God's people.  Greed is sin, materialism is sin, coveting what others have is also sin.  God calls His people to be content, to be satisfied with food, clothing and shelter.  We do well to listen to what God says about money and the use of it.  But to claim that one political party is the party of the wealthy and the other is more concerned about the poor is bad politics.  And when pastors or others say that God is the God of the poor, and not the rich, that is bad theology!  God calls ALL people to Himself, and those who come are then called to obey His commands.

Once again, however the election turns out tomorrow, Jesus is on His throne and the angels are singing!  It's not about how much you have or don't have, but whether you know Jesus and have His Spirit living within you.  If you do, you will show His love to your brothers and sisters, caring for those in need, and sharing what God has given you with others.  It's about Jesus!  Knowing Him, loving Him and serving Him is the highest of all callings.  May those who are His be about HIS business, whether here in the United States or around the world!!