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!