Monday, July 29, 2013

"The problem with being 'Reformed' ..."

"The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch." - Acts 11:26

I grew up in a church that had "Reformed" in the name.  I served churches that had "Reformed" in the name for more than thirty years.  There was even a time when I didn't mind being called, "Reformed," much as some people are called "Catholic" or "Lutheran" or "Baptist" or "Presbyterian" or "Methodist" or ... (fill in your particular "brand" of Christianity).  But early in my ministry I began to be somewhat uncomfortable with what some were doing with this "title" and what they were meaning by "Reformed."  After nine years of ministry in a small denomination called, the Reformed Church in the United States, I left to become part of the Reformed Church in America.  It was 1986 and the congregation that called me to serve them as pastor was at the time in need of revival.  God showed up big time in that small rural South Dakota Church and people began to be excited about the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Then, in 1996, I moved to West Michigan.  For those who may not know, West Michigan was THE birthplace of the "Reformed faith" in the new world.  People came from the Netherlands to found a colony committed to biblical truth and they left a heritage of faithfulness to God's Word and to the building up of Christ's body, the Church.  That foundation still stands today in congregations throughout West Michigan.  The "Reformed faith" based everything on the authority of God's Word and traced their heritage back to the Reformation, to men like John Calvin and others.  Such faithfulness to Scripture produced fruit and great blessings to countless communities as men, women, boys and girls were brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to faith in a sovereign God who rules over all things and who loves His people passionately.  The offer of God's forgiveness by grace through faith was proclaimed to all with the sure and certain knowledge that God had chosen some for eternal life and that His Word would not return empty, but would accomplish the purpose for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).

All of this sounds good ... and it IS!  So what's the problem with being "Reformed"?  The problem arises when being "Reformed" becomes more important than being a disciple of Jesus Christ, being a "Christian."  Some would say that the name "Christian" doesn't mean a lot today.  People who have little, if any, knowledge of the Bible, of Jesus or of the Gospel claim to be Christians because they have some vague belief in God and go to church once in a while.  In some places around the world "Christian" simply means that you are not an atheist or a Muslim.  For the past four hundred and more years people have used other names, other titles, to distinguish themselves from other "Christians."  Thus the titles: Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, etc.

Two years ago, Lighthouse Community Church in Allendale, Michigan, the congregation I have been serving since 2004, decided to become non-denominational.  This congregation had been part of the Reformed Church in America for 95 years.  So what prompted 95% of the congregation to leave, and why didn't we join another denomination?  Here's what happened:  God began bringing people to Lighthouse who had been finding that their particular brand of Christianity, whatever it was, wasn't giving them the spiritual food their souls needed to live in this world with hope, with peace of mind and with spiritual strength to face life and to find victory in Jesus Christ.  At the same time, the Spirit of God continued to convict the leadership of Lighthouse that the Reformed Church in America was drifting away from its commitment to biblical truth in order to be "Reformed and always reforming" (a catch-phrase that is increasingly used by those who want to "re-interpret" the Bible without being noticed).  First, it was joining organizations like the World Council of Churches and mingling with those who had agendas other than preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Then it was approving the role of women in leadership.  Next it was opening the door to the idea that people who did not know Jesus or confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord could still be saved.  Then it was saying that homosexual behavior was sin, but allowing pastors, elders and congregations, and even Professors of Theology to openly affirm homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage, without any form of correction or discipline.

When we called others to stand with us in withholding any financial support from the denomination until the truth of God's Word was upheld, it was we who were viewed as stirring up trouble and being divisive.  When we attempted to leave the denomination by filing a petition to withdraw, we were denied.  And when we voted to leave anyway, we were charged - actually officially charged - as acting contrary to the Book of Church Order and I was charged with breaking my ordination vows.  All of this took place more than a year ago, so why bring it up now??  Because in recent months I have continued to see evidence of the tragic consequences of comprising the truth of God's Word and have been overwhelmingly convinced that the name of Christ will continue to be dishonored before the world and unbelievers as long as true Christians consider any other title or name to be more important than "Christian."

Most people in churches today have no idea what Luther or Calvin or others during the time of the Reformation taught.  Most people in churches have no idea what it means to be Reformed or Baptist, Lutheran or Presbyterian.  Then there are those who are Pentecostal, and of course, Catholic.  What does all of this mean to those who sit in pews or chairs on Sunday morning?!  MORE importantly, what does all of this mean to those who desperately need to find hope in a world filled with evil?  And even MORE importantly, what does all of this mean to GOD ... to Jesus Christ, who is the Head of HIS body, the one true Church??  Being "Reformed" is a problem when it becomes more important than being "Christian" and when being faithful to a denomination means more than being faithful to Christ, whose name we have taken upon us!

As God was bringing people with various "labels" to Lighthouse Community Church, His Spirit was uniting our hearts around the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the authority of His Word in all things.  When it came time to leave a denomination, given the evidence mentioned above and more, it was an easy choice to become non-denominational, because that is what God had already produced in our midst.  We call ourselves "Christians" because we believe in Jesus Christ, we love Jesus Christ, and we desire to follow Him, obeying His Word in all things.  When we disagree about something, we go to God's Word TOGETHER to see what HE says, not what a particular brand of "Christianity" might say.  We search the confessions of those who have gone before us to see what others have understood Scripture to say and we continue to use certain confessions as being faithful expressions of what the Bible teaches.  But our foundation is the authority of God's Word!!

Some question where our accountability is found and we answer:  the Spirit and the Word.  Where is the accountability of those in denominations?  Councils, Books of Church Order, etc.?!  Who holds the seminary professor or the college professor or the pastor accountable - really accountable?  In a local congregation the Elders, those chosen by God and ordained by those who know and follow Christ, along with everyone who hears the Word preached and taught, hold the pastor and other teachers accountable to proclaim the truth.  The Church is not a place for "lazy Christians" to be spoon-fed and to just accept what they are told.  It was said of the Bereans in Acts 17:11 that they "were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."  THAT was accountability!  And that's what the Church needs today - biblically literate people who hold one another accountable to God's revealed truth and who desire to proclaim to the world the ONE message that has the power to SAVE!!

I urge you, wherever you are in the world, whatever denomination or church you may be a part of, to be a student of the Word of God.  Pray earnestly for wisdom from the Spirit of God, who is the author of the Bible.  God has called some to labor in the word and to be pastors and teachers.  Make sure that those you are listening to are being faithful to God's Word.  Do not accept things just because it comes from a certain church or denomination.  False teachers were present in the early church and they are present today on TV, the internet and in churches - even in West Michigan.  Make sure you are not led astray and deceived.  There is a rapidly growing trend towards "inclusivism," that all religions are expressions of the spiritual nature of man and that no one particular religion has more truth than another.  More on that next time.  For now, know that God knows those who are His.  Those who are true "Christians" are zealous followers of the Christ, the promised Messiah, whose name is Jesus.  Let THAT title define who you are as you live daily to honor Jesus Christ by your words and your actions!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"His name is ..."

As the world awaits the appearance of the new little Prince in England, and reporters gather to try to be the first to hear his name (all this will probably have happened by the time you read this!), my thoughts during this whole time have been turned towards another baby who was born under very different circumstances.  No one knew his parents.  His father was a carpenter, his mother an unmarried virgin ... until God told Joseph to take her for his wife because the baby who was to be born was the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Then the angel told Joseph that he was to give the child the name, JESUS, because He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

His name was ... IS ... JESUS!  Never was there a birth with more significance than this.  Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed, "Father, the time has come.  Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. ... I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (John 17:1, 4-5).  Jesus is the eternal Son of God who took upon Himself a human nature in order to be our Savior, the "second Adam," who offered perfect obedience to the Father and then bore His wrath against the sin of all who would believe in Him, that by faith we might receive forgiveness and life through the work of His Spirit within us.

Writing to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father" (Philippians 2:5-11).

What are people expecting from this little baby born to the royal couple of Great Britain?  I heard a reporter ask someone why people around the world seemed to be paying so much attention to the birth of this baby, and the person responded that he thought people were looking for some positive news, something they could be happy about.  I suspect he is right.  There is enough bad news in the world.  People are weary of bad news and for a moment they can be distracted by something that gives them a break from the suffering and trials of life in this world.  But what can this baby... or his parents ... or any other human being DO to make this world better??

Try as we might, the world's peoples are growing more and more desperate for solutions to the world's growing economic woes, continual wars and terrorism, and the fears of global warming, epidemics of new viruses and other diseases and the like.  The Pope is visiting Brazil and the people mobbed his motorcade hoping for a look at a man who claims to be the leader of the church.  And if they were able to TOUCH him their life would never be the same!  Why?  Because people are desperate for hope, for good news, for something more than they have.  Everyday life is a drudgery for most and it weighs heavily on the soul.  So people live for diversions ... trying to fill their lives with as much "fun" as they can find and yet feeling empty at the end of it all.

My heart is heavy much of the time, but for a different reason ... because there IS hope and there IS good news ... but people don't seem to want to hear it.  "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).  The gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news anyone could ever hope to hear!  One of the newspapers in Great Britain, "The Sun," changed it's title for one day upon the birth of the new Prince.  The title read, "The Son."  Seriously, people are so blind to the truth that, as Jesus said from the cross, "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing!"

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 2 that God has anointed and installed HIS King, and warns the rulers of the earth to "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for His wrath can flare up in a moment.  Blessed are all who take refuge in HIM!" (Psalm 2:12).  All people lie under the judgment of God and exist "without God and without hope in the world" (Ephesians 2:12).  But God Himself sent HIS Son to be the Savior of all who believe in Him.  "You will call His name, JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

It is God's Son and His name that should inspire hope and joy in people's hearts!  Jesus walked this earth, God in the flesh, and revealed the power of God over the power of evil.  He healed the sick, raised the dead, restored sight to the blind and fed the hungry.  He calmed the storm and walked on the water.  But more than that, He bore the wrath of God against your sin and mine to purchase our salvation ... to redeem us from the desperate life that so many continue to live.  To the believers in his day, Peter wrote, "It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God" (I Peter 1:18-21).

God's Word holds this precious truth for all whose hearts and minds are opened by His Spirit.  As I write this, I pray for you as you read it, that the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ will stir your heart to look to JESUS for all you need - for hope, for joy, for peace.  Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say I am?"  And Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16).  As the religious leaders plotted against Jesus and the crowds began to leave because of His teaching, Jesus asked the disciples, "Will you leave Me, too?"  And again Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  YOU have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:67-69).

Do YOU know this truth today?  Do not get caught up in the desperate attempts of those around you to find hope in other things.  Thank God for those who know Him who are serving others and who are making a difference in this world.  Thank God that He is wise enough and powerful enough to use even those who DON'T know Him to accomplish His purposes, for the the welfare of others.  Our God is able!!  But know this, only one person who ever walked this earth can give you eternal life.  Only one person who ever walked this earth can remove the barrier of sin that stands between you and God so that you stand righteous in His sight.  Only one person who ever walked this earth can bring peace and hope and joy to the people of the world.  And HIS name is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living, true and only God.  HIS name is above every name, and at the name of Jesus every knee will someday bow and every tongue will someday confess that HE is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, from whom every good and perfect gift comes.

I pray for YOU!  I pray that God will encourage you and draw you near to Him today as you confess your sin and your need for a Savior and find in Jesus more than you ever dreamed.  May the peace of God, that transcends all understanding, be yours in abundance this day as you place your hope in God's Son, Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Inviting people to church ... or inviting people to Jesus?"

"The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.'  And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price"  (Revelation 22:17).

I love that verse because Jesus Himself invites sinners to come to Him, to drink of the water of life and to find all they need in Him.  I love the fact that God ends His Word with an invitation.  I even love the fact that this invitation is followed by a warning that the prophecies of John's Revelation cannot be ignored or changed without eternal consequences.  The verses immediately following Revelation 22:17 issue this warning:  "If anyone adds to them (the words of this prophecy), God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book" (verses 18-19).  This is serious business!

God's invitation to come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ was sent into the world nearly 2,000 years ago.  In fact, God was inviting people to come to Him even before Jesus came into the world.  With similar words God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Isaiah 55:1).  It is God's desire that people would come to Him.  Through the prophet, Ezekiel, God says, "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?!" (Ezekiel 18:23).

Why didn't more people answer God's invitation?  Why did even the Jews fail to respond to God's call to come to Him, to draw near and find LIFE - the very purpose for our existence ... to glorify the God who created us?!  The answer is simple:  Dead people cannot respond!  Jesus said to Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. ... I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (John 3:3,5-6).  No one can or will respond to God's invitation UNLESS the Spirit of God grants to them the gift of faith!  The new birth is GOD's work:  "To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God" (John 1:12-13).

The EVIDENCE of regeneration, of being born again, is a true, heartfelt response to God's invitation to come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ!  "The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).  What a comforting and encouraging truth to know that when you respond in faith to God's invitation it is because He Himself has moved your heart by making you a new creation in Christ Jesus!  Paul wrote to the Philippians of his confidence in their spiritual growth:  "... being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

Knowing that God is sovereign in the process of salvation not only comforts those who believe, but also motivates us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with ALL people, for the Gospel is God's instrument to offer His invitation.  The Gospel first convicts men of their sin and of their need for forgiveness, and then leads them to the Living Water, to Jesus Christ, that they may be born again of THIS water and by the very Spirit of God.  Some have mistakenly thought that being "born of water and the Spirit" refers to baptism, but the rest of Scripture makes it clear that no religious ritual or ordinance can impart a new mind, heart and will.  These are but signs pointing to the reality.  God performs the work - in His time and in His way, just as He has said in His Word.

So back to Revelation 22:17:  "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.'  And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price."  The Spirit calls and empowers the Bride, the Church, to join God in bringing HIS invitation to those who have not yet responded.  It is the responsibility of those who know Jesus Christ, who confess Him as their Savior and Lord, to invite others to come to Christ to "drink" and be satisfied.  All who have drunk at this well have found their souls satisfied beyond what anything in this world can offer!  We cannot be quiet, for we see people dying of spiritual thirst and we long to serve them the Living Water found in Jesus Christ.  We know that "faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

Do you know people who are dying of spiritual thirst?  Are YOU one of them?  Before you can invite someone to Christ you must know Him yourself.  You must know the cool, refreshing taste of His love and grace that brings forgiveness and peace and hope and joy to your heart!  It is not enough to invite people to church.  That's a good thing - if the message of the Gospel is proclaimed there.  But how wonderful if they could hear that message from you and SEE that message in YOUR life!  The church SHOULD be a gathering of those who have experienced the life-giving power of the Spirit of God and who thus have a desire that all would come to Christ.

Remember, the Spirit AND the Bride say, "Come!" Have you tasted of this water for yourself?  Have you responded to God's invitation to come and drink and eat?  Is Jesus the "pearl of great price" to you?  Do you LOVE Him, because He FIRST loved you?  If not, perhaps at this moment you need to do some business with God.  He has moved you to read these words and to hear His offer.  Do you hear His voice, saying, "Come to Me.  Stop searching for what you will never find in the things of this world - whether material possessions or relationships or experiences or pleasure ... STOP!  Come to Me and you will find rest for your soul.  I will never leave you ... I will never abandon you.  I will be with you throughout this life and will provide all you need to live for My glory, for that is the very reason I created you.  COME!"

You can KNOW today that you are one of His children ... that you have been born again by His Spirit.  Pray and confess Jesus as the eternal Son of God who suffered God's wrath against YOUR sin and who died and rose again ... who is now alive and seated at the right hand of the Father.  Confess Him as YOUR Lord and surrender your life to Him, desiring now to be an ambassador of His kingdom as you live in this world for His glory.  Then, setting your heart and mind on loving Jesus and serving Him, you can continue the transformation process as you seek Him through His Word, prayer and fellowship with other believers.  A new life lies before you ... if you come to Him!

And for you who know Christ, who have been born again by His Spirit and who love Him and desire to serve Him, to you now the Father entrusts the task to be His instruments to invite others.  Invite them to church - to gather with God's people ... but don't stop there.  Invite them to dine at the table of God's grace - to come to Christ.  God will cleanse them from the guilt of sin and deliver them from the power of sin and will satisfy their longing spirits with the gift of LIFE!

John writes, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life (John 1:1).  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (I John 1:1-3).

The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come!"  COME!  And have fellowship with us!!  THIS is true, biblical, spiritual fellowship.  Pray for those who have not yet tasted of the cool, refreshing water of the Spirit by placing their faith in Jesus.  Rejoice in His love and grace to you and then INVITE others to COME to the water of life, the Living Water, the Savior of the world ... to JESUS!!!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"What a way to recruit disciples!"

If you want people to follow Jesus, you have to tell them the truth - like Jesus did.  Some people today just want to make "church members."  They bribe people to get them to come and then promise them an easy life filled with all kinds of "blessings" ... good health, prosperity, loving relationships, a great job ... and everybody will love you!!

Some fill up church buildings by making those kinds of promises, but Jesus had a very different approach when it came to recruiting disciples.  Oh, He promised them life - eternal life, in fact - and joy and peace.  Jesus said that He would never leave His followers, those who trusted in Him, and that He would give them all they NEEDED.  But He told those who would follow Him that in THIS world, they would have trials, they would suffer, they would be persecuted and maybe even killed!  Being a disciple of Jesus was not going to be easy ... and yet, they came ... and they followed Him.

Listen to some of the things Jesus said to those who were beginning to follow Him and who wanted to know more about what it meant to be a disciple:

"Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.  ... Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child ... All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved ..." (Matthew 10:17, 21-22).

Jesus said to His disciples:  "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.  For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, ... a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'  ... Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of Me.  Whoever finds His life will lose it, and whoever loses His life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:32-37).

Is that any way to recruit disciples?  In another place, Jesus told His disciples that they needed to be the servants of everyone else.  Even in the moments before His crucifixion, Jesus told them He was going to suffer and die, and then He told them that if they were His disciples, they could expect the same.  At the very beginning of His ministry Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).

Why would anyone want to be a disciple of Jesus?!  Over the next eight weeks, Lord willing, I am going to be preaching about "faith," based on some of the examples of those who lived by faith, that we read about in Hebrews 11.  Most of these were people who lived before the time of Jesus.  They trusted in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who had promised to send a Savior and to bring the dead to life!  By faith they endured injustice and oppression, yet they believed in God's promises.  The disciples of Jesus, the promised Savior, were called to do the same.  It was no easy road that Jesus promised.  Indeed, Jesus said, "Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:14).

So, if being a disciple of Jesus is so difficult, why would anyone want to follow Jesus?  Why not just live life and do your own thing, go your own way, find a different religion where you can just follow some rules and go to "heaven" or live forever?  Here's the truth:  Only Jesus delivers on His promises!  Only those who are true disciples of Jesus receive God's gift of eternal life.  All the rest ... ALL the rest will face the judgment of God and will endure His wrath in hell - FOREVER!  Meanwhile, for those who follow Jesus, God is never far away.  In fact, by His Spirit, Jesus comes to live within His disciples and Himself empowers and equips them to carry out His purposes in the world in order to bring glory to our Father in heaven.

The true disciples of Jesus understand that the only way to live with meaning and purpose in this world is to live as servants of the King who is coming to reign over all of creation.  Those who are disciples of Jesus love Him, because He first loved them and gave His life to bear God's wrath against their sin.  Our Father in heaven actually sent His own Son to bear the punishment of all who believe in Him.  When you understand the two alternatives, being a disciple of Jesus becomes the only sensible choice.  I can live my life for myself, trying to make myself happy - even being a good, religious person and doing things for others, and yet miss the life Jesus offers ... OR, I can confess Jesus as my Savior and Lord and live for Him, telling others about the cross and how trusting in Jesus brings forgiveness and hope and peace with God - knowing that most will not understand and some will even get angry and try to get me to stop talking about Jesus - but also knowing that God may use me to lead someone out of the darkness of sin into the glory of His perfect light!

Some try to play the fence ... you know ... saying they believe in Jesus but being quiet about it.  After all, who needs to know?  "Faith" is a personal thing, right?  Wrong!  Long ago someone said, "Preach the Gospel at all times ... and if necessary, use words."  That sounds profound and many people seem to think it is right, but it's not!  Disciples of Jesus are called to confess Jesus, to talk about Jesus, to urge others to believe in Jesus.  We are not to try to force people or to be obnoxious, but neither are we to be ashamed or bashful about talking to others about Jesus.  Someone else asked, "If you were put on trial for being a disciple of Jesus, would there be enough evidence?"

Again, some quote Jesus' words:  "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).  But your good deeds are not the only "light" God calls the disciples of Jesus to shine.  People need to know WHO you are and WHOM you are serving and WHY!  They need to hear about Jesus and the cross ... about His death and resurrection and ascension ... about His reign and His soon return.  And they need to know that if they decide to follow Him, it is because God Himself has called them to be His and that His Spirit now lives within them.  They need to know that He will NEVER leave them and that even if they die for the name of Jesus Christ, they will live forever with Him in the new heaven and the new earth.

Such knowledge, such faith, such love draws people to Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost.  Cheap discipleship is no discipleship at all.  Jesus told those who would come after Him to count the cost.  Are you willing to give up everything for Jesus?  Because God is a God of grace and mercy, He often blesses the disciples of Jesus with good things even in this world.  Health, strength, family, jobs, homes, prosperity ... all of these can be gifts from God to those who are faithfully following Jesus, but if God gives you these it is for His glory, not for you to boast or to make promises to others that they, too, can be so blessed if they will follow Jesus.  Many are suffering for the cause of Christ and if you are His disciple there WILL be trials and times of suffering and, perhaps, even death.

Life in this world will not be easy for the disciples of Jesus ... but there is more to come!!  Jesus isn't looking for church members; He is looking for disciples.  And it is only true disciples who are truly part of the Church.  In the eyes of the world it will cost you to follow Jesus, but those who know Him love Him and are willing to sacrifice anything and everything to serve Him, to confess His name before the nations ... beginning with those across the street!

Are YOU a disciple of Jesus Christ?  Are you moved by love for your Father in heaven to testify to Jesus Christ in your daily life ... to live in obedience to His Word and to serve those around you in Jesus' Name?  Remember, Jesus told you ahead of time that whoever would come after Him must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Him.  It's not the way the world would recruit disciples - but it's the way Jesus does it.  Tell them the truth ... tell them what it will cost ... and call them to a cause higher than any other the world has ever seen or known:  to glorify the God of creation by exalting the name of His Son, the reigning and soon-to-come King!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Thanking God for freedom in a land intent on living as slaves!"

I consider myself to be a patriot.  My father was a Marine and fought on Guam and Iwo Jima in World War II.  My family and I recently went to Washington D.C. and my grandchildren saw the foundation upon which this nation was built and the cost of freedom as we viewed the monuments built to those who sacrificed so much for all who would come after them.  I consider myself to be a patriot because I believe the United States of America has been God's gift to all who live here and to the world.  From these shores men and women have been sent all over the world to defend the cause of freedom and justice.  From these shores aid to victims of oppression of all kinds has been donated with no strings attached and no requests for anything in return.  From these shores the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed throughout the world to virtually every people, tribe, nation and tongue.  In its relatively brief history, the people of this nation have done much that is good and right and worthy of acclaim.

I am a patriot ... but not a blind one.  As we approach the celebration of another "Independence Day," I find less and less to celebrate.  There is still much good being done across our land and around the world by people who are "Americans."  Yet it appears clearer and clearer that God's judgment has fallen on our nation because as a society people have rejected Him and His Word - the foundation upon which our nation was founded.  I continue to give thanks for our freedoms and for those who fought to give us such freedom.  There is no "but" there.  I pray that my grandchildren will be patriots, too ... but not blind ones, because there is a greater allegiance to which those who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are called, and that is to HIS kingdom!

On July 14th, I will begin a new series of messages based on those who are said to have lived by faith in Hebrews 11.  It is said of these that "they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth" (Hebrews 11:13).  The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, "People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:14-16).

Looking back over the centuries, our forefathers came to these shores for the freedom to worship the one true God according to His Word.  That meant acknowledging the One, True God and drawing near to Him through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  Today, the freedom they sought TO worship is being twisted to promote freedom FROM worship!  Tolerance has replaced devotion to God.  We are told that our nation is not a "theocracy," where God rules.  Let me tell you the truth here:  EVERY nation is a theocracy, whether they realize it or not.  God rules over every nation.  But His blessing falls only on a nation where He is acknowledged.  That was true in our early history ... it is NOT true today for many - MOST, and we are beginning to face the consequences of the rejection of God and His Word by so many as public opinion dictates public policy.

The nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem were special to God in the days of the prophet Jeremiah.  In fact, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are STILL special to God (Romans 11 and other passages).  No other nation has ever been actually ruled over by God Himself in such a demonstrable way.  But even to this nation God warned of judgment for rejecting His Word, His law.  Listen to the following words, written some 2500 years ago:

"This is what the LORD says:  'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.' But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'  I appointed watchmen over you and said, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' But you said, 'We will not listen.' Therefore hear, O nations; observe, O witnesses, what will happen to them.  Hear, O earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law'" (Jeremiah 6:16-19).

God spoke these words to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah.  Is He speaking these words to us today?  Even many within the church have rejected God's Word and have become tolerant of sin in their own lives and the lives of others.  As I have confessed often, I am a sinner.  I have not yet become perfect, but it is my heartfelt desire to continue to be transformed by the power of God's Word and Spirit.  I take my sin to the cross and ask God's forgiveness through the blood of Christ.  He assures me that through faith in Jesus Christ I have been washed clean in His sight and that eternal life in His presence is mine, completely and utterly by His amazing grace!  But where there is no sorrow for sin, no repentance, no confession, no faith in Jesus Christ and no longing to turn from sin to righteousness, their is only spiritual death.  Where there is no desire to please God by living according to His Word there is only impending judgment.  What is true for individuals is true for a nation!  Sooner or later that judgment will come, and it will be well-deserved.

So what do we do?  We stand firm and wait on the Lord.  God's Word must be proclaimed, whether people listen or not.  In humility and the fear of the Lord we must warn people that His judgment is coming and that the ONLY escape is faith in Jesus Christ.  In just such a situation the prophet Habakkuk cried out to God as the Assyrians were about to destroy the nation of Israel.  God told him that he should proclaim to all that "the righteous will live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4).  The Apostle Paul quotes that verse in Romans 1:16-17 where he writes, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  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.'"

Paul knew, as he would write two chapters later, that no one is righteous in God's sight.  "ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  But he also knew that while "the wages of sin is death," the "gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  The true Church is called to proclaim the good news that there is "a better country" to look forward to ... "a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (II Peter 3:13).  While we are blessed by God to be living in the United States of America, those who believe in Jesus Christ, no matter what language they speak or country they live in, are blessed by God and will inherit His eternal kingdom ... through no deserving of their own, but by His grace through the sacrifice of Jesus made once for all on the cross for all who believe.

Christians are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and are called to be ambassadors of this kingdom.  Jesus Christ is our Lord and Master and His Word is our guide.  Jesus said that He did not come to abolish God's law, but to fulfill it.  To reject God's Word is to reject His rule over us and to claim that our wisdom is greater than His.  Doing so brings consequences upon a people and upon a nation.  Those who stand firm and wait on the Lord desire to be found faithful to our calling.  We must continue to warn people of God's judgment and to offer them His love and forgiveness, even while being called intolerant or branded as bigots.  And we must guard our attitudes.  To his young friend, Timothy, Paul wrote, "The Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" (II Timothy 2:24-26).

We must remember that WE are not going to convince anyone of their sin before a holy God ... the Holy Spirit must do that.  "To some we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life" (II Corinthians 2:16).  May your life and your testimony bear witness to the God who rules over the nations as you give thanks for the freedom He has given YOU in Christ!