Monday, April 29, 2013

"You are SPECIAL!"

"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."  - I Peter 2:9

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, that has to be one of my favorite verses, as Peter clearly tells those who have come to God through faith in Jesus Christ who they are - that they are SPECIAL!  Most Christians today don't realize how special we really are.  In fact, most pastors and teachers go to great lengths to make sure that those who believe in Jesus DON'T feel special because that would be boastful, and all boasting is inappropriate.  Millions are being told that EVERYONE is special, they just don't know it yet, and the job of the church is to help people know how special they are.  Satan's deception always contains a shade of truth ... that's why it deceives people.  If it was an obvious lie no one would believe it!

I preached yesterday from Ephesians 2:1-10, as we are currently examining Paul's letter "to the saints in Ephesus."  Paul writes this letter to the Church, to all believers in Christ throughout all ages.  The whole congregation has been encouraged to memorize Ephesians 3:20-21:  "Now unto Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

The true Church is SPECIAL to God.  It is a body made up of individual people who have been chosen, loved, predestined, adopted, redeemed and forgiven in Christ, and sealed in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1).  These "called-out ones" are gathered together and "like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:5).  According to I Peter 1:1, Peter is writing "to God's elect, strangers in the world ... chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood."  That sounds pretty special!

Only those who are born again by the Spirit of Christ, who have received Jesus Christ as Savior and confessed Him as Lord are part of this special gathering of people.  To "the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse" (Colossians 1:2), the Apostle Paul writes, "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way:  bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:10-14).

You need to understand that the Bible is written to believers and for believers in Christ Jesus.  And it is written so that those who are part of Christ's body, the Church, will know how special they are to God, NOT because of something they have done or might do by their own power or strength or wisdom, but because of what HE has done and is doing in them and through them to bring glory to Himself!

"To the Church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours ..."  (I Corinthians 1:2), Paul writes, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.  It is because of HIM that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  THEREFORE, let him who boasts boast in the Lord!" (I Corinthians 1:26-31).

Knowing you are special in Christ is necessary if you are to glorify God.  Apathy in your relationship with God reveals not only a lack of emotion, but a failure to grasp fully the Gospel, the good news that in Christ Jesus you have entered into the eternal kingdom of God and your destiny is secure for all eternity through your union with Christ.  The teaching that ALL people are loved by God and accepted by God is Satan's big lie!  Jesus says, "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (by faith in Jesus Christ), and "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 14:6, 6:44).  We as believers are special because GOD has made us so!  Our boasting, therefore, is not in ourselves but in our God!!  To fail to boast in God's grace and love in Christ Jesus is to dishonor everything God has done for us and to leave ourselves vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, who wants us to feel like miserable sinners.

We who believe in Jesus Christ still struggle with the old nature of sin, BUT, we are forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ, shed once on the cross.  "By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Hebrews 10:14).  Perfection is ours by grace; God sees us as holy in Christ.  Our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west.  We are a special people, called out from the world to encourage one another, to build one another up, to join together in serving one another ... and THEN sent INTO the world as a light in the darkness.  If we don't know who we are and that we are a special people with a special purpose, we will not glorify the God who has called us to be ambassadors of His kingdom in this world.

When our children were growing up and they were going out with friends, we would not give them a whole list of "do's and don't's," but would simply say, "Remember who you are!"  They knew what that meant because we had taught them what that meant.  I was not concerned that they would embarrass ME ... I didn't want them to think that because they were the son and daughter of a pastor that something more was required of them than any other child of believers.  I wanted them to understand that there was a HIGHER standard to meet because they were children of the King!!  And as parents we lived by the same standard and we were as accountable to them as they were to us.  Being special means being accountable to the One who MADE you special!!

In Ephesians 2, we are told that we were "by nature objects of wrath," "dead in our transgressions and sins" ... "BUT, because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were DEAD in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved."  And then Paul adds in verse 10:  "For we are GOD's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  Our lives, our purpose, our very existence is for the glory of our Father in heaven.

I pray that YOU who believe today KNOW how special you are to God.  After all, He redeemed you with the blood of His own Son!  Live today as a special child of God, chosen, loved, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven and sealed, "for the praise of HIS glory!"  Praise Him today and every day and let your light shine before the world, that those around you may see the life you live by the power of His Spirit and may give HIM glory!!  "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord!"

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Why Interfaith Services are an abomination to God!"

In the wake of the tragedy of the bombings at the Boston Marathon last week the religious community gathered together to encourage one another and to offer hope, not only to those who had been directly affected by the death or injury of loved ones, but to a community living in fear and uncertainty.  An Interfaith Service was held where President Obama spoke to those gathered, and through the news media thousands more, perhaps millions, heard his words.

At one point President Obama quoted II Timothy 1:7:  "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."  He encouraged the people not to fear because we are Americans.  We will not be intimidated and we will not live in fear because we are a free people.   It was a rally cry for the people in Boston and others who may wonder what is next in the war against terrorists - against those who would do harm to others to seek to advance an ideology of hate.

All of this seems good to most people, including many in the Christian community.  In times like this all people need to come together to stand against evil.  So what could possibly be wrong with such an "interfaith" service?  Those who read this blog know that the name of the blog: "Truth and Grace," refers to God's call for His people to speak truth into a world where a growing number of people are believing that truth is "relative," that it is subjective, that you decide what is true for you and I decide what is true for me.  When it comes to "religion," what you believe about spiritual things, we are told that there is some truth in all religions and that we cannot judge what others believe.

Such "reasoning" is deadly, and when it comes to GOD's truth, practicing a religion of tolerance for ANY teaching is an abomination to God.  The Bible is either God's revelation of Himself and of His plan of salvation or it is not.  It is either true or it is false.  And if it is true, the God who reveals Himself in the Bible is utterly and totally INTOLERANT of mixing His truth with Satan's lies!  You simply cannot worship God as He desires to be worshiped, and worship other gods at the same time.  The people of Israel tried it, and others have tried it since, to their own destruction.

After the people of Israel were delivered from Egypt by the hand of God, they came to Mount Sinai and Moses went up the mountain to meet with God.  As the people waited for Moses to come down they became impatient and said to Aaron, Moses' brother, "Make us gods who will go before us" (Exodus 32:1).  Egypt had many gods and the people as yet failed to grasp that there was only ONE true God.  Aaron should have known better, but he gave in to their demands and gathered the gold they had taken from Egypt and fashioned it into a golden calf.  Then he announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD" (Exodus 32:5).

"LORD" was the name God had given to Moses to reveal to the people of Israel.  It pointed to God as the Almighty One, the Great "I AM."  Aaron and the people were trying to mix the worship of the gods of Egypt with the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God would have none of that.  Moses burned the golden calf and ground it to powder and put it in the water and made the Israelites drink it.  Then he called those who were for the LORD to come to him, and the Levites came, and he sent them throughout the camp with swords and 3,000 people were killed in judgment for their sin, and the rest saw the judgment of God upon them.

Later in their history Israel was once again trying to mix the worship of other gods with the worship of the one true God.  This time the prophet Elijah called all of the false prophets to Mount Carmel and challenged them, erecting an altar with wood and arranging a contest to see whether their gods or his God would send fire to light the altar.  Elijah said to the people:  "How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the LORD is God, follow Him, but if Baal is God, follow him" (I Kings 18:21).  When the false prophets failed to persuade their "gods" to send fire to light the altar, Elijah prayed and God sent fire from heaven and consumed the altar.  All the false prophets were put to death - 850 in all.

God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and says, "I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols" (Isaiah 42:8).  And in Isaiah 48:11, He says, "For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.  How can I let myself be defamed?  I will not yield my glory to another."  God says that He is a "jealous God."  If you and I are jealous it is a foolish thing because God calls us to consider others above ourselves as we live in humility before Him.  But God is God!  He alone is worthy of worship and He has revealed one way, and only one way to come to Him and that is through His Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me!" (John 14:6).

At the Interfaith Service in Boston there were Jews and Christians and Muslims gathered together in a supposed religious unity, but that cannot be the case.  People are looking for hope, but that hope is found only through faith in Jesus Christ.  Some believe that Jews, Christians and Muslims are all descended from Abraham, and that somehow they can be brought together to worship the God of Abraham.  But that doesn't work!  While there are some Jews who have accepted Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of God's promise to send the Messiah and have become part of the Church, those who do not confess Jesus Christ are not yet part of God's family.  God says we must come to Him through Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah.  And the Muslims worship an entirely different god by an entirely different name.  While they believe Jesus was a prophet, they deny that He is the Messiah, that He is the Savior, that He is Lord, that He is the only way to come to God.

Jesus said, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth" (John 4:24).  Only by being born again by His Spirit and placing our faith in Jesus Christ, the living Truth, can we or anyone come to God.  Any other worship, in any other way, in any other name is an abomination to the one true God, the God of whom the Bible speaks from beginning to end.  It is against the law in Muslim countries to convert Muslims to Christianity.  People who do convert risk severe persecution and even death.  Yet here in the United States a growing number of church leaders and those who claim to be Christians are making an effort to get all religions together, including Islam, to promote love and unity and harmony among all people.

While Jesus offers peace with God and calls His people to love one another and to show love even to their enemies, He never calls us to compromise the truth that only through faith in Him is there forgiveness and life.  "Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.  Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword"  (Matthew 10:32-34).  While Islam brings the sword of war, Jesus brings the "sword of the Spirit," His Word, to divide people between those who believe in Him and those who don't.

Paul wrote, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? ... Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the Lord" (II Corinthians 6:14-17).

When Paul wrote to his young friend, Timothy, and told him, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (II Timothy 1:7), he was speaking of the one true God who had revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, who had suffered and died on the cross, who rose from the dead, and who was exalted to the right hand of the Father in heaven.  To attempt to "mix" religions requires denying Jesus Christ and rejecting God's revelation in the Bible.  You cannot have it both ways.  If the LORD is God, worship HIM!

I pray for the true Church, for those who confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who have been born again by His Spirit.  Jesus warned that in the days before His return there will be a severe persecution of those who hold to the testimony of Jesus Christ.  "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people" (Matthew 24:9-11).  That day is drawing near and many today are already turning from devotion to Christ in order to embrace other religions.  Take comfort.  "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.  For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" (I John 2:19).

Stand firm in your faith, keeping your eyes on Jesus.  Do not be discouraged and do not be deceived.  God is the same today as He has been throughout all of history.  "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe" (Hebrews 1:1-2).  Rejoice today if you know Jesus Christ and if you have come to the Father through Him, as His Spirit works within you!  Stand firm, and He will deliver you.  His grace is sufficient for your every need and He is with you.

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7).  Therefore, "We exist to proclaim the reign of Jesus Christ over all things; glorifying and enjoying God forever!"  We sincerely invite you to join us!!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"How do Christians respond to evil?"

"This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus" (Revelation 14:12).

Here we are again ...  witnessing a horrific tragedy where an evil act, planned and carried out by an evil person(s), causes millions to pause for a moment, to consider the unpredictable nature of life in this world, to grieve with those who grieve, to ask, "Why?" and then eventually to go back to the routine of life, craving the "normality" of everyday life where we can ignore what we have seen over and over and pretend that somehow all of this will end up "all right."

But if we are to offer true hope today, we need to speak truth and stop pretending, as we watch the course of evil in the world around us.   The hope that God offers is not like the world's hope.  It is sure and certain, based on God's promises to those who know Him and who have come to Him through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  If you and those around you want hope today there is only one place to find it and that is the Sovereign God who rules over all things and who has promised an END to evil.

I want to share two verses from John's Revelation.  These verses are in Chapters 13 and 14, where John is describing visions of the Antichrist and the False Prophet who will lead people away from the true God, deceiving them into taking the "mark of the beast."  As he describes the horrible things that will take place during these last days before Jesus returns, John writes, "This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints" (Revelation 13:10).  And he writes, "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus" (Revelation 14:12).

Many today claim to be Christians, but know very little of the God who created the heavens and the earth and who reveals Himself in the Bible.  They take the name "Christian" because they believe in a "God" they have been told about who loves everybody and who promises those who believe in Jesus a wonderful life in this world, and then eternal life in a place called heaven, where everybody is happy because they are doing what they want to do.  This counterfeit "God" is content to stay in the background because he exists to make life easy and people happy.  So where is THIS "God" when tragedy strikes?

The true God is in the midst of the pain and suffering, offering true hope to those who come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ.  Our hope is not found in some fairy-tale ending, but in the midst of the reality of evil in this world.  Jesus said to His disciples shortly before His crucifixion, "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

In the midst of persecution and suffering God inspired the Apostle Paul to write, "Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:9, 21).  God has instituted government to punish evildoers and our desire for justice mirrors God's promise that ultimately justice will take place when every person stands before His judgment seat.  "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things does while in the body, whether good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10).  For those who have confessed their sin and believed in Jesus, there will be forgiveness and life; but for all who do not know the love of God in Jesus, there will be perfect justice and eternal judgment.

Our hope, then, comes from knowing that in the midst of tragedy our God, the one true God who sovereignly rules over all things, is somehow at work in the lives of those who turn to Him.  What about those who do not know God and who do not turn to Him?  They are "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12).  There are true believers in Boston today who have an opportunity to point people to God and to offer them His love and comfort in the name of Jesus.  We need to be praying for them and for all who will hear.  There is no way to explain evil.  It is irrational, beyond comprehension.  But it is real; we dare not pretend that it does not exist.

God's promise to those who know Him is peace in the midst of the storm.  As I heard about the deaths and injuries and all of the attention being given to these events, my mind went to all of the thousands of troops who have died and lost limbs and faced untold mental and emotional anguish in the midst of our fight against evil all over the world.  Every day, in one way or another, in one place or another, evil people cause the pain and horror that we witnessed yesterday ... it just doesn't always strike those who are innocent bystanders or make the headlines on our evening news; it is just not always so obvious.  This is the world we live in ... BUT the God who is "Abba, Father" to those who come to Him through faith in Jesus is at work through His people and by His Spirit and Word, drawing people to Himself and offering a sure and certain hope that nothing in this world can take away.

The writer of Hebrews defines faith this way:  "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1).  God has promised to be with those who know Him and love Him and who live to serve Him.  At times like this and every day we are sent into the world to offer hope through faith in Jesus Christ.  It does no good to pretend that everything will turn out all right in this world.  It doesn't help to offer people a false assurance built on the idea of a counterfeit "God" who doesn't exist.

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:11-13).

THERE is our hope!  Apart from the return of Jesus Christ to establish His kingdom there is no sure and certain hope to offer people.  The governments of this world will never solve the problem of evil in the hearts of men, women, boys and girls.  Through the truth of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, the Spirit of God is changing hearts and lives today.  The true Church exists in every people, nation, tribe and tongue, wherever the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and He is acknowledged as the only Savior and Lord.  What can YOU do?  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, live to serve Him and tell others about Him.  Believers are the "salt and light" that keep this world going.  Evil is strong ... but our God, the one true God, is stronger.  His kingdom WILL come, and His will WILL be done on earth as it is in heaven - when Jesus returns.

Until then, what do you say to your children and to others?  "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus" (Revelation 14:12).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"WAR! ... Are you engaged in the battle?"

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does." - II Corinthians 10:3

Jesus said that before He comes there will be wars and rumors of wars.  That is certainly true in the world we live in today.  Some would argue that it has always been true, yet in the past one hundred years the conflicts between races and nations has reached a fever pitch.  Powerful weapons have been designed that have the capability to bring about unimaginable destruction to property and to human life.  Many worry that at some point someone will miscalculate and we will be plunged into a war from which the world as we know it will not emerge.

But while all of this is happening and the leaders of the nations discuss possible battle plans, there is another war going on that is far more deadly in its consequences.  This is the war the Apostle Paul is speaking about in II Corinthians 10.  Paul had spent some time in Corinth and he had preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to these people.  He had warned them of the consequences of sin, of rebellion against God, and he had offered them the forgiveness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul had taught them that believing in Jesus Christ was more than just knowing about Jesus and being a part of the church.  Being a follower of Jesus Christ means being born again by His Spirit and living a new life of obedience to His Word.  And it means engaging in the spiritual battle against evil!

Evil is real!  Satan rebelled against God and some of the angels followed him.  Satan tempted Adam, the representative of the human race, and Adam unwittingly joined his rebellion.  Sin entered the world and spiritual death was the result.  God says that we have all sinned and we are all slaves to sin until and unless God gives to us the gift of His Spirit and calls us to Himself through faith in Jesus Christ as we hear His Word.  There is no other remedy for the human condition of spiritual death.  No other religion, no matter how many rules it may have, no matter how many paths to "God" it may offer, can bring life to those who are spiritually dead.

As Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians he boldly addressed them and challenged them to consider how they were living.  In the chapters immediately preceding chapter 10 he commends them for some of the ways they were expressing their faith in Jesus.  But there were apparently some among them who were claiming to believe in Jesus, but they were not living for Jesus.  So Paul reminds them that there is a war going on and that they need to be engaged in the battle!

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ"  (II Corinthians 10:3-5).

As a pastor I see the battle raging in the lives of individuals and families and the visible church.  As Paul wrote in Ephesians 6, where he tells believers to put on the full armor of God:  "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).  To the churches in Galatia he writes, "The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want."  Within each of us the battle rages, so it is no wonder that there are wars and rumors of war. Friendships and families are being torn apart by selfishness and all its consequences.  Even those who have the Spirit of God and His Word struggle at times with temptation.

So what can we do?  God says we have weapons that are not of this world!  People are concerned about nuclear weapons today and what might happen in the future, but what is happening in the present is worse!!  People are living and dying without the knowledge of God, without the power of Jesus Christ and His Spirit, and are losing the battle to evil - forever!  To the true Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been given.  Through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross God offers forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness as the gift of His grace.  Those who are born again are filled with the very Spirit of God and EMPOWERED to fight and win!  "Greater is He that is IN us than he that is in the world!" (I John 4:4).

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (I Corinthians 10:13).  Those who do not know Christ are defenseless against Satan's attacks.  They will believe his lies that all is well.  He will even rejoice when they believe in a "god" that is a "god of love," who just overlooks sin and lets everybody into heaven.  Satan knows better and he wants to lead people as far away from the cross of Jesus as possible.  Jesus said the way is narrow that leads to life and few find it, but Satan wants people to believe it is wide enough to embrace anyone and everyone.  Who are you going to believe?

When you place your faith in Jesus Christ you have an enemy that wants you to doubt, to fear, to be anxious.  I grieve when I hear those who believe ask where God is and why He is allowing them to go through trials and suffering.  Doubt is the devil's playground.  When Paul says we have weapons that are not of this world he is referring to the Spirit of God and the Word of God.  God speaks truth and His truth defeats our enemies every time.  Those who do not know Jesus Christ and who do not have His Spirit are spokesmen for Satan.  They lie about the "freedom" they have to do whatever they want and they become angry at those who declare God's Word and who proclaim the narrow way.  In their slavery and bondage to sin they do not understand that they are "dead men walking" and that they will soon face the eternal judgment of a holy God.

As believers, we still struggle with the old nature of sin, but we KNOW that the enemy is defeated and that God's Spirit will complete the work He has begun in us.  The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is our Great High Priest and that when He had offered His sacrifice for sin on the cross, He sat down at the right hand of God.  "Since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Hebrews 10:13-14).  Through Christ believers have access to the very throne-room of the Father, where Jesus Himself prays, interceding for us.  Our own prayers rise to the God who created all things and who rules over the world, who works all things for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then believe His promises.  Read His Word ... FEED on His Word and KNOW that He is with you always.  Stop questioning God and believe what He says.  Don't try to figure it all out ... live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you on the cross.  Engage in the battle!  Be part of a body of believers that are committed to God's truth and who are able to help you learn and grow stronger in knowing God through His Word.  His Spirit will be your teacher as you read and study and memorize His Word.  There is no substitute.  Jesus said, "The truth will set you free" (John 8:32), and He said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6).

For any who may read these words and not yet know Jesus Christ, you are now "without God and without hope in this world" (Ephesians 2:12).  That is your condition, no matter how religious you may be, no matter how many good deeds you may have done, you are living on borrowed time (because your life is God's) and you need Jesus Christ to overcome the enemy of your soul.  I pray that God will draw you to hear His voice through His Word and that He will grant to you, even now, His Spirit, giving you new life and a hunger for His truth.  Freedom and life with God, now and forever, await you.

The final battles lie on the horizon ... "today is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).  Don't try to fight against the spiritual forces of evil with the weapons of this world:  your own willpower or effort, or the latest self-help book, or the ideas of someone who appears to be wise in the things of this world.  YOU NEED JESUS!  And you need His Spirit, and the "sword of the Spirit" is the very Word of God found in the Bible.

The war is being fought not only all around you, but within you ... TODAY ... at this moment!  Are you engaged in the battle?!  May the Spirit of the living God empower you today as you hear His truth and BELIEVE!!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Same-sex marriage ... Why it's not a good idea!"

"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

There are many reasons why same-sex marriage is not a good idea, but there is one reason that far outweighs all the rest in importance:  it leads people AWAY from God instead of toward Him!

As a Christian and a pastor it is my heart's desire to lead people to the one true God who has revealed Himself in His Word, the Bible.  I love people and I desperately want them to know the God who sent His Son, Jesus, the Christ, into this world to save sinners like me.  You can't be a Christian ... REALLY, you can't be a Christian if you don't believe that Jesus is "the Way and the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him" (John 14:6).  God has provided a way for sinners to come to Himself, to be reconciled to Him, and that way is repentance and faith.

The evidence of the work of God's Spirit in a person's heart and mind and life is a godly sorrow for sin that produces true repentance (II Corinthians 7:10), the desire and the strength of God to turn from sin and to pursue righteousness.  Peter writes in II Peter 3:9 that God desires that everyone would come to repentance.  Paul writes in Acts 17:30 -31 that "God commands all people everywhere to repent.  For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead."  Jesus is the only one who has risen from the dead, as we just celebrated.  Jesus Himself said that when the Holy Spirit came He would "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8).

Millions have become convinced that same-sex marriage is about people having certain rights that are given to married couples.  But that is a smoke-screen for what lies behind Satan's scheme to deceive people into hell by leading them away from God's grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  Same-sex marriage is a symptom of a culture that has utterly and totally thumbed its nose at God by rejecting His holiness, His standard of righteousness, His truth and His offer of salvation.  And the worst part of the debate that is now taking place in our society is the silence of the church, or even worse, its approval of sin.  Homosexuality is not "worse" than heterosexual sins or any other sins named in God's Word as contrary to His will for mankind.  What IS worse is the acceptance of it and the approval of it by those who claim to be followers of Jesus, but who now say that the Bible is archaic, irrelevant and no longer to be taken seriously.  These are the people Jude was writing about in the verses above.  The false teachers have secretly slipped into the church and have led people away from God and His transforming power, all the while claiming to be followers of Jesus! (II Corinthians 11:13-15).

If Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or the followers of other religions want to approve of such things, I have nothing to say to them except that they are hurting themselves and those who listen to them.  But when those who claim to know the Jesus who is revealed in the very Bible whose teaching they reject pretend that they are speaking for God, I am angry and I will stand to defend the truth that God has revealed in His Word.  These people DO NOT KNOW JESUS!  Even those who are usually voices of "conservative" politics are now calling those of us who oppose same-sex marriage "Bible-thumpers."

How about this:  What are those who throw stones at us "Bible-thumpers" offering to those who do not know the God who offers forgiveness to those who confess their sin and desire to repent, to turn from it to follow Jesus?  If what we "Bible-thumpers" offer is so bad, what does the rest of the world offer to people who will one day stand before a holy God and answer for the life they lived?  Clearly, the Bible says that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ - literally.  The Jesus who supposedly offered this "love" that just accepts everybody the way they are without calling them out of their sin to follow Him is the very One who spoke more about eternal judgment than about heaven.  He warned those who listened to Him over and over again that judgment was coming.

Ah, some will say, but His harshest words were for the Pharisees - people like ME!!  Well, I am not a Pharisee (though I have probably been called worse by some).  The Pharisees really thought they were better than everyone else based on their own righteousness.  I know better.  I am painfully aware of my sins and if my record were stacked up against yours or against those who approve of same-sex marriage it may well be that the scale would tip in your favor or theirs.  I hate the sin that remains in me and I desire to turn from it.  I ask God to help me focus on Him and to obey His commands.  But I know that I will NEVER be good enough, righteous enough, to stand before Him clothed in my own goodness, my own righteousness.  That's why I thank God for the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  He did what I couldn't do ... He suffered God's wrath against MY sin and then, by grace alone, without my deserving anything, He gave me His Spirit, opened my mind to hear the Gospel, the good news of Jesus taking my place and of His righteousness, and then, gave me faith to believe what seems to be too good to be true:  By faith in Jesus God credited to ME the perfect righteousness of Jesus!!  When God looks at me, He no longer sees my sin, but instead sees the righteousness of His own Son.

So what do I offer to people when I tell them about Jesus?  I offer them righteousness through faith in Him; a righteousness that gives them access to the very throne-room of the Creator of the universe.  I offer them NEW LIFE and freedom from the guilt and burden of sin.  What does the world offer them? What does a society that approves of what God calls sin offer people who are openly and without repentance living in sin and accepting their sin?  DEATH ... ETERNAL death!  Is that REALLY what love is all about?

Same-sex marriage is not about giving people a license to get married, it is about giving them a license to immorality ... not by MY definition, but God's.  How foolish is the response that says, "Oh yeah, but what about YOU?!"  As I have shared above, I am a sinner, saved by grace.  I don't boast in my sin, but in a Savior whose name is Jesus.  Jude wrote, "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 4).  Immorality, whether it is homosexuality or any form of sexual sin, from adultery to pornography, from incest to lust ... whether it is gossip or lying or cheating ... whether it is abortion or hatred ... gambling or laziness ... IMMORALITY KILLS PEOPLE ... forever ... unless .... ....

The ONE cure for sin is confession, repentance and faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.  This is the only way to receive, as a gift of God, the righteousness you need to stand in His presence on the day of judgment.  This is why I wrote in my last post that "I am not ashamed of the Gospel ... for in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  'The righteous will live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17).

Those who are tempted with same-sex attraction have a difficult struggle.  Homosexuality, along with all the other sexual sins, is a result of mankind's broken relationship with God.  The only "natural" thing about it is that some people appear to be "born this way."  But God has made it clear that it is not how He intended it to be, any more than He made anyone to be selfish or hateful or ....

Paul wrote to the Galatians, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).  Those of us who are "in the church" who truly know Jesus Christ and who have put our trust in HIM for forgiveness and righteousness, still struggle with our sin, but we know we have a Savior and because His Spirit is at work in us we desire to turn from it.  Every true follower of Jesus, every true Christian, WANTS to please God above himself or herself.

Why is the push toward the acceptance of homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage such a bad idea?  Because it leads people away from the God who stands ready and willing to forgive them and thus condemns people to an eternity of judgment.  Forget for a moment what the result will be for our culture and for our nation (God DOES care and He IS watching) ... and just think of the people, of the children and young people who are now being led to believe that sin doesn't matter.  It was abortion, then gambling, now homosexuality ... Perhaps the next thing legalized will be drugs - we have already begun with marijuana ...  You see, all these things society, and even the Supreme Court, may approve and allow, but in the end they will all bring judgment upon those who practice them without confession, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, without a sincere desire, produced by the Holy Spirit, to turn from sin to righteousness.

I will keep preaching truth and offering forgiveness as long as God gives me breath.  Call me a "Bible-thumper," but understand that if you reject what God offers in this book you will answer not to me, but to Him.  That's just the way it is.  As for me, I thank God that though I am a sinner like you, I know a Savior whose name is Jesus, and I love Him, because He first loved me.  I thank God for the freedom from the guilt and bondage of sin that I would be living in without Jesus.  And I praise Him for His marvelous grace!  I sincerely invite you to join me.  I would love to spend eternity with YOU!!