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 "values.com."  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!!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"I am voting for ..."

Well, I just filled out my ballot for next Tuesday's election here in the United States.  What a privilege is ours to be able to have free elections and to be able to vote our conscience.  Such freedom has been given to us as a gift from God and has been preserved by the valiant sacrifice of men and women over the past two hundred plus years.  It is being said that this is an election that will determine the course of our nation for the future.  Of course, there is some truth to that, because whoever wins this election will serve as President for the next four years, and that fact alone will serve to determine, from man's perspective, the direction of this nation.  At the same time, there is truly only ONE who determines the course of a nation and that is not the President or the ruler of any other nation.

Isaiah speaks of the God of Israel, the God who created all things, when he writes, "Do you not know? Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.  He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of the world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than He blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff" (Isaiah 40:21-24).

This is the same God the Apostle Paul speaks about centuries later as he addresses the men of Athens:  "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth ...  From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live" (Acts 17:24,26).  This God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the only true God, rules over the nations and appoints rulers in their places for His purposes, sometimes for blessing and sometimes for judgment.  God is sovereign, is in control over all that happens in the world.

So why vote?  Because God uses the prayers of His people and the actions of His people to bring to pass His eternal purposes - sometimes for salvation for those whom He has chosen, sometimes for judgment on those who have rejected Him and who worship other gods.  God's purposes are so far above ours that we must at all times yield to His wisdom and His will.  Our hope for the future rests not in man, but in God.  Men make promises they cannot keep, but God keeps every promise He makes and will not allow His children to stumble and fall.  Some people ask, "Where is God in all of this?"  Isaiah answers that question for Israel and for all today who trust in the God of Israel:

"Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, 'My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God?'  Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:27-31).

Oh, that everyone would know this God, who alone delivers us from our sin and ourselves!  Mankind is on the road to destruction and only those who come to God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ will be delivered, for there is forgiveness through His blood shed on the cross.  No ruler, no President or Prime Minister or dictator can bring peace and prosperity to a nation unless the God who rules over the universe intervenes for His own purposes.

Do you know Him? Is your hope in the LORD, the Creator of the heavens and the earth?  Are you seeking HIS glory or your own comfort?  That alone may determine your vote.  We may say that we do not like our choices, but the true choice to be made is this:  Who rules in your heart and in your life?  I pray that it is Jesus Christ, who is coming again to judge the living and the dead.  In HIS hand is life and death, joy and sorrow, riches and poverty, sickness and health.  Rest in Him, trust in Him, HOPE in Him and you will have peace, no matter what the outcome of next week's election.  Jesus is on the throne, and the angels are singing, "Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" (Revelation 4:8).

"Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.  Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as Head over all.  Wealth and honor come from you; you are the Ruler of all things.  In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.  Now, our God, we give YOU thanks, and praise your glorious name!"  (I Chronicles 29:11-13).