Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"We must obey God rather than men!"

What are you willing to die for?  Is there any "cause" that you would give your life to defend, to promote, to stand up for?  Having just spent the last week in Washington D.C., I was struck again with the courage and resolve of those who were willing to die for freedom.  These men stood firm against the tyranny of those who would enslave them and founded a nation built upon the foundation of God's Word and the truth that "all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights."  Not all of them were Christians and not all were concerned about the cause of Christ and the proclamation of the true Gospel, but they WERE committed to what they were doing in founding a new nation devoted to the cause of liberty for all.

It was that resolve that reminded me of the apostles and the first Christians who were willing to give their lives for the cause of Jesus Christ.  When brought before the Jewish court to answer for their preaching about Jesus they were commanded to stop teaching in Jesus' name upon fear of death.  Their answer:  "We must obey God rather than men!  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead - whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior, that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:29-32).

By His Word and Spirit God established the Church, the "called-out ones," and sent all who believe into the world to proclaim the one message that has the power to save those who are dead in sin and worthy of God's eternal judgment in hell.  Over the history of the Church there have been times when men must again choose whether they will obey those who have proposed man-made rules above the very Word of God.  When called to account for his words and writings that challenged the authority of the Pope and the false teaching of the church of Rome in the 16th century, Martin Luther answered:  "Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.  Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me!  Amen!!"

He could have lost his life, but God protected him and he went on to be one of the men who began the Reformation, calling the Church back to the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God.  The battle against God's Word has continued for the past five centuries, since Luther and others stood for truth.  The heritage of the Reformation is a call to obey God rather than men, and it is no less important today than it was then.  Men are still dying for proclaiming the truth of God's Word.  And men are still being called to stand upon the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  All over the world, evil works to dilute the message and to remove the offense of the cross.  People are being told that it is easy to be a Christian, that the most important thing is just to "love" everybody and to believe in "god" ... (the small "g" means you can make GOD to be whoever or whatever you want "him/her/it" to be).  It is NOT easy to be a Christian in this world today.  It never has been and it never will be.  I've read John's Revelation and it's going to get even harder!!

Some of my brothers have confused devotion to a human institution with devotion to Christ and to His Church.  They continue to struggle with what is going on in a denomination that has lost its way and squandered its heritage.  They do not understand that in order to be faithful to CHRIST they must take a stand that will cause them to lose earthly things.  John writes of "Babylon" in Revelation 17-18.  "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth" is what we see forming around us today through the efforts of organizations like the World Council of Churches and the Church of Rome and the religious arm of the Alliance of Civilizations of the United Nations.  These want to gather all religions together in order to bring peace on earth.  They emphasize doing good and caring for the physical needs of the world's hungry and helpless and oppressed.  But while some of their efforts may be beneficial to a small part of the population of planet earth, their agenda is contrary to the advancement of God's kingdom and the reign of Jesus Christ over all things.  They have turned away from the Gospel and are proclaiming another gospel that is really no gospel at all!  (Galatians 1:8).

God's command:  "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven and God has remembered her crimes" (Revelation 18:4-5).  A false religious system is being promoted within the church today that boasts of its importance while ignoring the simple truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It speaks of repentance only when convenient to quiet those who would protest its over-reaching power. It condemns boldness as improper for followers of Christ, while approving of sin by its silence and refusal to exercise Biblical discipline in love.  Men who claim to be leaders in religious institutions profane the Word of God and some of my brothers do not have the courage to stand up and say, "ENOUGH!  We must obey GOD rather than men!"

To these and others who are distraught over the failure of a human institution to speak clearly and to stand upon God's truth God says, "Come out of her!"  By doing so you are NOT leaving your heritage behind; nor are you causing division within the Church.  When I and the congregation I serve left the denomination of which we were a part more than a year ago, I was asked how I could speak of unity and at the same time break the covenant I had made with others in the denomination.  The answer was simple:  I didn't break the covenant we had before God, you did!  When you refuse to live by the truth of God's Word and to declare that there is one standard by which ALL things are judged and measured, you have broken covenant with GOD.  When there is no accountability for those who reject God's Word and when evil is allowed to grow within the body, action must be taken to protect the flock. When an organization, a denomination, or any other human entity thus breaks covenant with God, God says, "Come out of her!"  And in so doing, you MAINTAIN the unity of the Spirit which is the only true unity there is for the true Church, the body of Christ.

The covenant that binds God's people together is written in the blood of Christ shed on the cross.  It is THAT unity that we are to make every effort to maintain, for "there is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (who believe), who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:3-6).  Foolish men claim that there is a higher covenant that binds (enslaves) people to remain in a denomination or affiliation with those who no longer hold to the truth of God's Word.  Allegiance to Christ demands that those who are part of the body of Christ, the one true Church, be united in the truth.  LOVE demands accountability to the Head of the Church and thus to His Word.  The Spirit knows of no unity without truth and love without truth is hate.  Our covenantal bond is found in our commitment to Christ and to His Church.  THAT is our heritage!!

As I toured our nation's capital and witnessed the resolve that motivated our founding fathers to stand firm despite the forces that threatened their union, I thought of the Church and the forces that stand against us.  God has not promised that the United States of America will endure, but He HAS promised that His Church will endure until Jesus comes.  Many are falling away ... they were never of us in the first place (I John 2:19).  Many WILL fall away ... God has said it will be so (Matthew 24:9-13; II Thessalonians 2:3).  These, too, were never truly part of Christ's body.  Making covenant with those who are "religious" is futile and will bear no fruit for Christ and His kingdom.  We are called to enter into covenant with the living God through His Son Jesus Christ and with all those who stand firm on the Word of God.  His Spirit is our Teacher and His Word is our standard.  No other document must bind our heart or our conscience.  Any other confession, and other statement of faith, must be judged by its faithfulness to this one unchanging truth.

What are you willing to die for?  Is there any "cause" that you would give your life to defend, to promote, to stand up for? It has been said that if you have nothing you would die for, you have nothing worth living for.  Those who founded our nation were put here by God for that time ... THIS is OUR time!!  We must be students of the Word of God and we must be witnesses of God's grace and truth, loving those who are part of the Church and offering God's love to those who are lost and in need of a Shepherd.  And when challenged to turn aside from the truth, to change the message so no one is offended, to repent for our boldness to stand firm, to take back what we have said for the glory of God, we must respond once again as Luther and others did five hundred years ago:

"Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.  Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me!  Amen!!"

In humility and love I call my brothers to maintain and promote THIS unity.  I urge leaders in congregations to faithfully shepherd the flocks over which Christ has placed them as overseers.  False teachers are nothing new, but what IS new is their "success" in deceiving so many.  Not knowing what God's Word says, the sheep are vulnerable to deception.  Faithful men are still being called by God to rightly divide the Word of truth.  May God raise up such men in our day who are willing to face criticism and condemnation, knowing that "if our God is with us, who can stand against us?!" (Romans 8:31).  He will never leave or forsake us, and in the end ... JESUS WINS!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"The Beauty of the Bride ..."

"This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church."   - Ephesians 5:32

Two years ago my wife and I were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary by taking a cruise from Barcelona to Italy.  On our actual anniversary, June 19th, we were in Venice, Italy, riding in a gondola.  It was sweet ... not just because we were in Venice, but because I was with the love of my life, thanking God for giving us forty years together and praying for many more.  She is as beautiful now as she was the day we were married.  A man who loves his wife never forgets the way she looked on their wedding day and as he gazes into her eyes and looks upon her face she is beautiful beyond words!  That's the way it is with love that is centered in Christ and that comes from His Spirit.  This kind of love, the love described by Paul in I Corinthians 13:4-8, is truly a gift from God.

So many today miss the blessing of staying together through the good times and the trials and seeing God bring everything together for His glory and our good.  Perseverance may not sound all that romantic, but it is what keeps a relationship together when things get hard and the going gets rough.  Perseverance is God's gift to those who seek Him and who ask for His blessing.  We asked often, and continue to do so, and He gives us so much more than we ask.  He gives us joy as we share life together and peace and hope as we look to the future knowing that our faithful Father is the same yesterday, today and forever.  His love never fails, and as long as we are united to Him by His Spirit, OUR love doesn't fail either.  His grace is sufficient and His love and His presence are all we need to press on toward the goal of loving Him and loving one another.

This Sunday is also Father's Day, another blessing from the Lord to those who receive the gift of children.  I hear a lot of people complaining about their children these days, but God has blessed us with two wonderful, godly children, who seek the Lord Jesus Christ and who serve Him with zeal.  He gave them each a spiritual partner and now we have seven grandchildren who are also learning of Christ and seeking to follow Him.  We pray that they, too, will keep their eyes on Jesus and continue to pass on the heritage that God has entrusted to us as believers.

As God's timing would have it, I will be preaching on Ephesians 5:21-33 on Sunday morning.  Those who are familiar with the passage know that Paul is talking about the relationship of husbands and wives.  I won't go into all of what Paul says, but it is his words in verse 32 that I would like to focus on for a moment:  "This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32).

This is an extremely important and vital bit of information when looking at the relationship of husbands and wives.  The comparison of the relationship in a marriage with the relationship of Christ and the Church carries with it serious and dramatic applications.  There have been many books written about what it takes to make a "good" marriage, but as long as people are thinking about themselves they will never have a marriage that pleases God or brings blessing to those involved.  The point of Ephesians 5:32 is that as Paul is talking about husbands and wives, he is really talking about the relationship between Christ and His Church.  While there are some obvious differences, there are also some crucial similarities.

Paul makes a statement in Ephesians 5:22-24 that many today reject, to their own harm.  "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."  All of this is said after Paul writes in verse 21:  "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."  You will have to listen to the sermon, either by coming to Lighthouse on Sunday or listening on line, to hear more about the meaning of "submission," but for now it is important to understand that biblical submission is a good thing.  It recognizes the value and worth of someone outside of yourself and includes giving yourself ... entrusting yourself, to another person.  It includes trust and, yes, love!

That's why Paul goes on to say, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her ..." (vs. 25).  The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus endured the cross "for the joy set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2).  What joy was on Jesus' mind as He endured the pain and humiliation of the cross?  What vision gave Jesus the strength to endure the wrath of God upon the sins of mankind?  It was the joy of His vision of His Bride, the Church!!  In Revelation 19:6-9 we read of the wedding of the Lamb and His Bride.  Dressed in the righteousness of Christ, the Church is beautiful in the eyes of her husband, and He is majestic in her eyes.  Between Christ and His Church there is a true "love-fest;" both gazing at the other with a passion and devotion unmatched in all the universe.  In this marriage there is no "until death parts us," for we have the promise that not even death "will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).

Indeed, "greater love has no man than this" (John 15:13).  A man who loves his wife not only honors her, but also their children, for he creates a family where love means more than a fleeting feeling, but where it blossoms into a steadfast perseverance that outlasts any trial or storm and that brings joy to all.  "This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32).  Much is written about the Church today, and most of it is negative ... but that's because most are writing about the "church," not the CHURCH!  The "church" is a religious organization, but the CHURCH is the bride of Christ, His body.  Jesus didn't give Himself for an organization.  He died for people, for sinners like you and me.  And here is the amazing part:  in HIS eyes, all who come to Him by faith are beautiful in His sight.  He sees His bride as perfect, even though in reality she isn't ... YET!

Husbands  ... AND wives ... would do well to remember this when the honeymoon is over and the reality of life begins to wear away at the fairytale imaginations of what marriage will be like.  "Love never fails" because true love never loses sight of the vision of beauty that first stirred the heart and moved the lips to say, "I love you!"  Such beauty never fades, but instead grows ever deeper as we keep our eyes on the One who promises to be with us and to never leave us or forsake us.  Love grows when it is focused on the spiritual oneness that is found in Christ.  As two people grow together in Christ their love for Him and His love for them enables them to love one another with all the qualities described in I Corinthians 13:4-8.

I thank God for my wife, Kathy, and I love her more deeply in Christ now than I knew how to do when we were married, now almost 42 years ago!  Forty-two years seems like a long time, but it is like the blink of an eye.  Being a part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, means that all those who know and love Him will spend an eternity sharing His love with one another and with all those who are part of God's family.  In the love I share with my wife and family, and the love I share with the body of Christ at Lighthouse and with the larger body throughout the world, I am a man most blessed.  For those of you who share my blessing, rejoice with me and never lose the vision of the beauty of your bride.

For those who have not experienced such love in a marriage relationship, or who may have experienced the sorrow of a broken relationship, I pray that you will draw near to God in faith through His Son Jesus Christ and learn what real love is ... a love that gives everything and that moves you to respond in turn with a love that endures.  Such love is found only through the work of God in your heart.  His Spirit can awaken that love in a moment as you gaze at the cross of Jesus.  You may see yourself and your life as anything BUT beautiful right now, but if you will put your faith in Jesus you can know that this is true:  "God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Let God's love embrace you and cleanse you and know today that through faith in Jesus, you are united to Him and you are beautiful in His sight!!  As His Spirit transforms you, your life will reflect His glory more and more.  Living in His presence gives you the opportunity to allow His radiance to shine through you.  Oh, what amazing grace!  Live life in preparation for the wedding, for the groom is making ready our eternal home.  Soon He will return and we will be made like Him and will live forever in the light of His eternal love.  Eternity IS a long time!!

"This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church."   - Ephesians 5:32

Monday, June 3, 2013

"The Remnant Church ... How to know if you're part of it!"

"When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"  - Luke 18:8

This is one of those verses that upon reading stops you in your tracks and forces you to examine your own faith in God.  There are other such passages.  In His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, verses 21-23, Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!'"

Jesus then goes on to talk about the wise man who built his house on the ROCK, and the foolish man who built his house on the sand.  Both "houses" faced the storms of life, but only the one built on the rock stood.  The difference:  the wise man not only heard Jesus' words, but put them into practice.

As he wrote to those who claimed to know Christ in Corinth, Paul said, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you - unless of course, you fail the test?" (II Corinthians 13:5).  He goes on to say, "We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  ... our prayer is for your perfection" (II Corinthians 13:8-9).  Believers are not yet perfect, but they have believed the truth of WHO Jesus is and what He has done on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and now the Spirit is within them giving them the DESIRE to be like Christ.  Where there is no desire to be like Jesus, the Spirit of God is not at work!

Many people today choose to believe that faith in "God" gets you into heaven.  There are even those who believe that ALL people will eventually enter into eternal life - whatever that is.  Millions all over the world today claim to believe in God and even to be Christians.  Yet Jesus says that in the last days, as the Antichrist persecutes the Church, "many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of MOST will grow cold, BUT, he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:10-13).

The Apostle Paul speaks of this "apostasy" in II Thessalonians 2:1-3:  "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.  Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come UNTIL the apostasy (rebellion) occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction."

I know that many believe the Church will be raptured BEFORE the time of tribulation under the Antichrist, but Scripture says otherwise.  According to Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15 and II Thessalonians 2 the Antichrist will be "revealed" in the middle of Daniel's 70th week (the final 7 years), as he sets himself up in the temple and proclaims himself to BE God!  It is this period of time that John writes about in Revelation 12, when God protects Israel ( the "woman") in the desert for 1260 days and then the "dragon" (Satan) goes off "to make war against the rest of her offspring - those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 12:17).

During this time many who are part of the "visible church" will fall away, revealing that they never truly knew Christ.  Paul says, "They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (II Thessalonians 2:10).  Jesus spoke about such people in His "Parable of the Sower," as He explained that some of the seed of the Word of God would be sown among the rocks and the thorns and would APPEAR to begin to bear fruit, but then trouble, persecution, the worries of life and the deceitfulness of riches make the seed unfruitful.  Not all those who CLAIM to be Christians are "IN Christ."

The writer of Hebrews also encourages those who say they are "in Christ,"  and that they have true faith to move on toward maturity, to feed on "solid food."  He says, "Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:14).  Then he issues this warning:  "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace.  Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in range of being burned!"  (Hebrews 6:4-8).

That is a scary passage!  And placed alongside the rest causes us to ask some very important questions: How can I KNOW that I'm part of the remnant Church, that body of true believers that will endure through all the storms of life and finally arrive before the throne of Almighty God clothed in the righteousness of Christ that comes through true faith??  How can I KNOW for sure?  Or can I??

The first step is, quite simply, taking these warnings seriously.  For so many today Christianity is just one of many religions and being a Christian simply means saying you believe in God, and in someone named, Jesus.  That's about it.  The Bible says otherwise.  Being a Christian means that you have been born again by the Spirit of God (John 1:12-13, 3:3-5, I Corinthians 12:13) and that you are now united to Jesus Christ because His Spirit LIVES within you!  Your mind and your heart are now set on loving God and serving God in the name of Jesus Christ, your Savior and your Lord, and by the power of His Spirit living within you.

Someone once asked Jesus, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"  Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this:  to believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:28-29).  True faith begins by believing the testimony of God concerning Jesus Christ - believing that He IS God in the flesh and that He suffered the wrath of God against your sins on the cross and then rose again and ascended into heaven. It is believing that you are now redeemed (purchased) by the blood of Christ, that your sins are forgiven and that you HAVE eternal life.  You are now called, equipped and sent to live out the life God has placed within you and your heart and mind are set on pleasing God, not to earn your forgiveness or eternal life, but out of thanksgiving because God has GIVEN you eternal life!

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say in Hebrews 6:9-12:  "Even though we speak like this (verses 4-8 above), dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case - things that accompany salvation.  God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.  We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.  We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised."

"Things that accompany salvation ..."   We are saved by grace through faith, apart from works.  Yet, the evidence of faith is a life lived for God.  All the good deeds in the world cannot and will not save you (remember Matthew 7:21-23), but if you are living a selfish life, not caring about loving God and your neighbor as yourself, if you want nothing to do with the body of Christ in worship, fellowship and service, and you are always wanting more from God and questioning Him when trials or troubles of any kind come, then you don't know Him and you are NOT "in Christ"!

Those who "fall away" from the visible church were never truly part of the true Church, as John says in I John 2:19:  "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."  There were many who left the Church when persecution came in the first century.  There will be many, perhaps millions, who will follow false teachings and even the Antichrist before the rapture, before Jesus returns.  The Bible says it will be so.  It does no good to pretend.  God sees your heart and He knows your thoughts.

Are you part of the remnant Church, the REAL Church?  Last week something very important happened:  "REAL REMNANT RADIO" began broadcasting over the internet ... realremnantradio.com.  This is a work of love for God and for Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church.  It is a work of the Spirit of God to reach out across the globe to those who are standing firm in their faith in Jesus Christ, building their house upon the ROCK that cannot be moved.  All over the world God has His faithful ones; those who are willing to endure persecution and trials for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are called to encourage one another and through this ministry we will be able to be connected with brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world.

John writes, "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 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" (I John 5:10-13).

You CAN KNOW that you are part of the remnant Church as you live with Christ and for Christ.  Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ and 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 Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).  Does that describe you?  If not, I urge you to repent of your sin and of your pretense and bow before the Lord Jesus Christ, asking Him to forgive you and trusting now in His finished work on the cross once for all.  As you do that the Spirit of God will begin to transform your heart and your mind and you will find joy in serving Jesus, knowing that your Father in heaven loves you and is with you and will NEVER leave you.

To those of you who rejoice in God's love in Jesus Christ and who desire to live in obedience to His Word, giving thanks for His grace every day and trusting in Jesus alone for forgiveness and life, "stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain!"  (I Corinthians 15:58).  We will overcome, "by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony!" (Revelation 12:11).

To GOD be the glory!!