Monday, August 26, 2013

"What DID Jesus say about 'religious diversity'?"

Here are two statements.  Read them and then answer the question that follows:

"Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want."

"God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  - John 3:16

Can both of these statements be true?

How about these two statements:

"There is not one true religion.  As long as people practice their religion sincerely and love others they will experience some kind of eternal life."

"I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me."  - John 14:6

Can both of these statements be true?

"Religious diversity" is a hot topic in many religious circles today.  With all the different religions in the world and all the talk about radical Islam because of terrorism around the world, people seem to be interested in how to help people just get along, to love each other and to live at peace in this world.  In spite of the clear evidence that mankind will never reach the point where we live together in peace, most people continue in a desperate search for "Utopia," a place of love and peace and happiness for all.  Yet, in their blind search for truth, those without the Spirit of the one true God reject the one way that such a world will ever be achieved!

A writer in a local newspaper received this question and comment from a reader:  "Imagine that you are a good Christian, and your neighbor is a good Muslim, and another neighbor is a good Jew.  Are two of the three going to hell?  If that's what you believe, then you're evil!" 

My first question would be, "Why are these three religions mentioned?"  The answer, they are the only three "mono-theistic" religions in the world.  They are the only three religions that claim that there is only one God ... AND they all trace their origin back to one man:  Abraham.  But can they all three be right?  Can two of the three be right?  If one is right, are the other two wrong?  This is where many give up and just let everyone do their own thing and believe what they want.

But that doesn't address the reader's question and comment.  First, the question has a fatal flaw - as many questions about religion do.  When the reader imagines a "good Christian, a good Muslim and a good Jew" he (or she) reveals a mistaken theological concept that many, if not most people are plagued with today:  that all people are basically good and that religion starts at a place where all people are destined for eternal life.  If you start there, then all the religions of the world and their debates and disagreements and fighting are terribly wrong because they are causing unnecessary divisions and hatred among the human race.  We just need to forget our differences and focus on areas where we can agree.  Sounds simple enough!

But true biblical Christianity doesn't begin there.  In fact, neither does true biblical Judaism.  The Old Testament reveals man's sin in the third chapter of the first book of the Bible, and God's judgment and curse upon all of creation.  The 2,000+ years of history of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob reveal God's judgment upon the sins of the nations AND those who rejected Him from among the Jews.  And alongside His judgment, God pointed to the need for a Savior who would pay the penalty for sin and who would reign over God's people.  Both Judaism and Christianity believe that we have sinned against God, but Christianity proclaims that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God made in His covenant with Abraham.  When the rich young ruler called Jesus, "Good Teacher ...", Jesus told him that there was none good but God (Luke 18:19).  Indeed, Jesus WAS good, because He is God, but the rich young ruler did not know or believe who Jesus was.

Both Judaism and Islam deny that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, that He suffered and died to pay the penalty for sin and that He rose again, conquering death, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, from where He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Islam arose from a descendant of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and his wife, Sarah's handmaid, Hagar.  It is a religion of works and while claiming to believe that Jesus was a Prophet, such a claim is false because a prophet cannot lie and Jesus claimed to be the promised Messiah.  He claimed that He was going to die for the sins of all who would believe in Him, and He claimed that He would come again to take His throne, ruling over all the nations, and that those who did not believe in Him and serve Him would be cast into everlasting judgment/death/hell (Matthew 24:31-46).

Islam is a false religion.  In the third chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a religious leader of the Jews, that he must be born again to see the kingdom of God.  Then Jesus said, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believers in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  He goes on to say in verse 18:  "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (JESUS)!

Jesus spoke often of the reality of hell and declared that He came to seek and to save those who were LOST!  Mankind starts out LOST, not good.  And to be "lost" means to be under the judgment of God.  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  Paul quotes Psalms 14 and 53 when he writes in Romans 3:10-12 that "there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."  And "the wages of sin is death!"  (Romans 6:23).

The reader who says that if I believe two out of three will go to hell I am evil fails to understand that ALL THREE will suffer God's judgment in hell without a Savior!  NONE of them are good.  BUT, God has provided the sacrifice, as He promised that He would.  He sent His own Son.  In the words of John 1:14, "The WORD became flesh."  God provided one way to escape His just judgment against sin and that is by faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  Religious diversity sounds appealing to many because they do not want to confess their own sin or appear to be judging others.  Yet, religious diversity leaves people facing the wrath of a holy God.  How is that love?

God so loved the world that He gave His Son!  At some point in the history of the nations over the past 4,000+ years the nations have rejected the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In fulfillment of God's plan to gather a people for Himself, He poured out His Spirit on the disciples and sent them out to proclaim the name of Jesus to the world.  The book of Acts records the growth of the early Church.  The first believers were Jews who accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah, the son of Abraham, the son of David.  They then took the Gospel, the one message that carries with it the power of God to open the eyes of the spiritually blind and to raise the dead spirits of those who hear to life, to the world, knowing that most would reject it, but that those whom God had chosen from every people, tribe, nation and tongue would respond as the Holy Spirit worked in their hearts.  They preached the message of salvation, in spite of persecution and the threat of death.  Many gave their lives in order to offer forgiveness and life to others.

The early Church did not believe in religious diversity.  If they had, they would have been content to believe what they believed and to leave others to themselves.  But they were compelled to preach the Gospel wherever they went because they knew the truth that those who did not believe in Jesus were destined, yes, to suffer the wrath of God in hell - forever.  God shows His grace and patience by offering individuals and peoples a way to be saved.  Even those who have never heard are guilty before God because they make up their own gods rather than worshiping the Creator of all things.  They are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).  Having begun in a position of guilt before God, they continue in it as they worship idols, or nothing at all.

Some who claim to be Christians have done and continue to do sinful, hateful, horrible things.  Muslims bring up the crusades of the Middle Ages.  The Crusades were wrong; they were contrary to God's Word and to His Spirit.  Just as many Muslims denounce radical terrorism, Christians denounce hateful actions of any kind, whether in word or deed, toward others.  The truth remains, however, that Islam offers no remedy, no cure for the sinful state in which we find ourselves.  Like every other religion in the world it offers only a list of religious duties and activities that promise to produce an eternal state of bliss.

We can agree that we must love those around us.  If "religious diversity" meant only to love those around you and do good, then we can agree that doing so would be better than the hate so often displayed by some of the followers of every religion, including Christianity.  But those who have truly been born again by the Spirit of God and who know Jesus as the eternal Son of God and "the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12), cannot accept a "religious diversity" that says that every religion and any religion is as good as the other or as true as the other.  There is ONE true religion, and that is biblical Christianity.

The Bible teaches that only those who confess the name of Jesus will be saved (Romans 10:13-17; I John 5:10-13, etc.).  If you believe in Jesus, believing that the Bible is the very Word of God, then we must say that those who do not come to know Jesus as their Savior and who do not confess Him as Lord will face God's judgment in an eternal hell.  That is GOD's judgment.  And because that is true, Christians must be motivated to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us.  Increasingly, we will face opposition from the beginning because before people will hear the good news they must first hear the bad news - that they are sinners in need of saving.  The love of Christ compels us to warn people of the coming judgment and to offer them God's gift of life.

The promotion of religious diversity is the latest trick of Satan to continue to deceive those who are perishing because they do not love the truth.  But let us not shrink back in the face of opposition.  Let it not be said that those of us who by God's grace have received the gift of life through faith in Jesus did not care enough about the eternal welfare of those around us to tell them about our Savior.  The door remains open until Jesus returns to gather His Church.  Times will get harder; persecution will increase, but those whose hope is in Jesus Christ must endure and stand firm to the end.  There is ONE way to be saved and that is through faith in Jesus Christ.  Apart from fellowship with God through His Spirit by faith, all will perish in their sin.

May God awaken a passion to proclaim the Gospel among His people, among those who believe in Jesus Christ, and may many yet be brought out of darkness into His marvelous light - for HIS glory!!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"It's about the WORD, people!!

I am afraid that many people have the wrong picture of the early Church.  Maybe it's because people have heard about the early Christians helping each other and sharing their possessions and eating together.  It was a great time for the Church and many were coming to Christ.  Spirits were high and life was good!  So we think ...

But that's NOT the way it was!  What is described in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-34 describes the very first months of the Church being gathered by the preaching of the disciples - now "apostles" = "sent out ones."  Even during the first weeks and months those who were preaching about Christ were being questioned and harassed by the leaders of the Jews and even thrown in prison and beaten.  Still, the Church grew.  It was not long before the persecution became worse, leading to the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.  Still, the Church grew.

Then we come to Acts 8.  Remember, this is not long after the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was poured out on the disciples and those present as they prayed.  There were now several thousand believers in Jesus Christ, mostly Jews who believed that He was the promised Messiah.  Acts 8 describes what happened next:

"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul (later, Paul), began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison."  (Acts 8:1-3).

Jerusalem was the home of most of those who believed.  Saul was a Pharisee, one of the religious leaders of the Jews, who was determined to exterminate this small group who dared to proclaim that Jesus was the Christ.  He would leave no stone unturned until they were all dead or in prison.  You would have thought this would be enough to stop the preaching of the gospel in its tracks, but Acts 8, verse 4 says, "Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went."

Why would they do that?  Why would these early Christians continue to proclaim their belief that Jesus was the Christ, that He had died and rose again, that He was the promised Savior, all the while knowing that doing so may cost them their very lives?  Because they believed it!  They believed that only through faith in Jesus could anyone be forgiven for their sins against God and be saved from His just judgment against sin.  They understood sin as the universal condition of mankind and they believed that all men are guilty before a holy God.  The Holy Spirit convicted them of their need for forgiveness and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the best news anyone could ever hear!!  A Savior had come, God in the flesh, to bear the sins of the world on His shoulders, to be punished in our place, and through faith in Him all who believed would have eternal life.  They believed it!!  And so, they proclaimed it.

So must we!  Those who believe the Gospel must proclaim the Gospel.  Preaching the Word is the highest calling of the Church, of every true believer.  Yes, we are called to do good deeds.  Yes, we are called to love even our enemies.  But in doing so, our highest calling and our greatest purpose is to preach, to proclaim the Word of God, the Gospel that points people to Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Think about this:  At some point in the next 100 years (for most much sooner) every person you know, every person you will meet in your lifetime, will stand face-to-face with Almighty God, the God who created the universe and who sent His Son into the world, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.  And every one, including you and me, will deserve His everlasting punishment for the sins we have committed.  The only hope ... the ONLY hope that anyone has of escaping God's wrath, His judgment, is faith in Jesus Christ, confessing Him as Savior and Lord.

Read John 3:16-21.  ONLY those who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved.  The God who has revealed Himself through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments points to the cross of Jesus Christ as an "atoning sacrifice" for sin.  True God became true man, that He might represent the human race and offer perfect righteousness to the Father on our behalf and endure the punishment we deserved.  Everything Jesus did, He did for me.  He would have had to do nothing less had He come to save one person.  Such is the weight and guilt of our sin before God's holiness.  Therefore, nothing is wasted, whether one person or one thousand or one million believe.  The requirement:  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).  And faith comes from "hearing the Word" (Romans 10:17).

Paul writes in that same 10th chapter of Romans, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" (Romans 10:14-15).

Who do you know who has not heard the good news of Jesus Christ?  How many around you have never heard what really happened on the cross?  People today in churches all over our country and around the world are being told that Jesus' suffering and death on the cross was simply an example of patient endurance that we are to follow.  People are being told that we must be careful not to offend people by acting like we know everything.  If we come across too strong and act like we are right and everyone else is wrong, that will turn people off.  We need to be sensitive.  We need to be careful how we present the Gospel of Jesus.  Doing good deeds is OK, but let them speak for themselves.  People will understand just by you showing them love.

Friends, that's a lie.  People will know why you are doing what you are doing and will know how to be saved from God's judgment only when you preach the word!!  The word, "preach," means to "proclaim."  While some are called and gifted by God to be teachers, EVERY believer is called to proclaim the truth of the Word of God that points to Jesus.  Romans 10:15 is a quote from Isaiah 52:7, where Isaiah declares, "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!'"  "Zion" represented the Jews, the people of God.  The apostles and early believers were fulfilling the words of Isaiah as they brought the good news of Jesus Christ to the Jews and then to the rest of the world.  Saying, "Your God reigns," points to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who made His covenant of GRACE with Abraham and all who would believe in the promised "Seed," Jesus Christ (See Matthew 1:1-2).

"Preaching the Word" has been the calling of the Church since its beginning.  Every believer is charged with the task of speaking to others about Jesus Christ and calling them to repent, to turn from their sins to follow Him ... and then tell others ... so they can tell others.  Of all of the reasons for what some perceive as the decline of the church today, this is the greatest:  that many people who claim to be Christians do not know the Word themselves and have never told anyone about Jesus.  We get caught up in evangelistic programs and people think they have to be biblical scholars before they can speak to someone about Jesus.  We allow the world to intimidate us to silence by their accusations of being unkind and unloving if we tell people they are lost without Jesus.  Yet, this is what the Word of God says and it is our calling, our mission, our responsibility to tell others.

Whatever else we are called to do, it's about the Word!  God has promised that His Word will not return to Him without accomplishing the purpose for which He sends it.  And that doesn't mean everyone we talk to will believe.  Paul writes in II Corinthians 2:15-16 that "we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life."  God's Word offers life, but it must be received and believed.  If not, it pronounces the death that already exists in the hearts and minds of those who do not know Jesus.  Because most people believe everybody is going to heaven, there is no urgency to preach the Word of God.  People around you are spiritually dead without Jesus!  And the Word is the only instrument of God's Spirit to bring them to life.

Will you do it?  Have you heard and believed yourself?  Is Jesus YOUR Savior and Lord?  You can't lead someone to a place you've never been!!  It's about the Word, people!!  Preach it!!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"What does GOD think about being 'inclusive'?"

If you believe that people from religions other than Christianity are going to spend eternity with God in heaven, then you don't know Jesus Christ yourself and you are being deceived.  If you believe people can be "saved" from God's wrath, have their sins forgiven and get to heaven by practicing ANY religion, including what many call Christianity, WITHOUT knowing Jesus, believing in Jesus and confessing Jesus, then you don't know Him either.  If you believe that people are entitled to believe whatever they want to believe and as long as they are sincere and live "good" lives that God must allow them safe passage into heaven or else He is being unfair, then you do not understand the truth about God, man, sin and grace, you have not yet grasped the truth of the Gospel and you are in danger of eternal judgment unless you repent and follow Christ.

Those statements undoubtedly sound narrow-minded and judgmental to some, yet Jesus said the following,

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only He who does the will of my Father who is 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!'" (Matthew 7:21-23).

And what IS the will of the Father?  "The work of God is this:  to believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:29).  "Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.  Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.  And this is the testimony.  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (I John 5:10-12).

Jesus said, "My sheep listen to My voice; I know them and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:25-29).  And John writes at the end of his gospel, "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name" (John 20:31).

Today some think it sounds loving and noble to be "inclusive," to allow for some vague belief in "God" to be sufficient for spiritual life in the present and in the future.  Living near Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the past seventeen years I can bear witness to the rapid change in the thinking of many regarding the exclusive nature of true biblical Christianity.  Few seem to believe that the Church - those who believe the Bible to be the very Word of God and who are willing to stand on what it teaches ... FEW seem to believe that the Church is an "exclusive" body, that following Christ, being a Christian, Christianity itself, is exclusive of any other religion and any other teaching not found in the Bible.  And even fewer, it seems, believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed and defended against the attacks of those outside the church as well as those inside the church today.

Before a generation passed following the resurrection of Jesus and His ascension into heaven, Jude, the brother of James, wrote to "those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ" (Jude 1), "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. ..."  (Jude 3-4).  False teachers had already infiltrated the church.  Peter warns of the same thing (II Peter 2), as does Paul (Acts 20:28-31).

What makes a false teacher?  Anyone who teaches contrary to the Word of God.  And the Word of God says, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).  Yet more and more people who claim to be teachers and some who are well-known "Christian" preachers are not willing to say that those who do not know Jesus Christ will face God's judgment.  When asked that question, men like Joel Osteen and others will smile and say, "Well, I can't judge.  God is the only Judge.  I'll let Him figure that out."  That sounds so humble, but it's false teaching - it's heresy!  When asked if Jews who do not know Jesus, or Muslims or followers of other religions will go to hell if they don't believe in Jesus (a pretty clear question!!), the answer is the same:  "We aren't supposed to judge.  That's up to God!"

But wait, aren't we supposed to testify to Jesus Christ?!  Isn't that what followers of Jesus have been persecuted for throughout the generations?  Isn't that our calling, to offer God's love to all through faith in Jesus Christ?  Living near Grand Rapids, a part of the West Michigan area that used to be known for its biblical roots, there is still a small "Religion" section in the newspaper, "The Grand Rapids Press."  The main columnist for the "Religion" section is Charles Honey.  Based on his articles, Charles Honey believes in being inclusive when it comes to spiritual things.

Last week he wrote an article on a camp called "Circle Pines Center."  If you want to look it up it is Section B on August 8th.  You might be able to find it on  Mr. Honey describes the camp as "a place for kids from 7 to 17 to go and talk about issues of social justice, inequality, hunger, different religious beliefs and maybe even Marxism."  The Director of the camp says, "It's a place to get their spiritual rejuvenation, to come back to the woods and fields and get back in touch with what's important."  Mr. Honey goes on to write, "Of major importance at Circle Pines is the principle of inclusion.  Everyone is welcome, regardless of ethnic group, religion or sexual orientation.  It's always been kind of a sanctuary for people, a place of safety."  Campers includes people of many faiths and "hardcore atheists."  "There's no overt religious teaching.  We're just giving them morals for life."

Mr. Honey closes the article by quoting a young 17-year-old camper:  "I like the Zen of the camp.  We help out making it beautiful.  It's like a sort of dance."  Mr. Honey writes, "A dance of cooperation, with lots of singing... I like that, too."

Do you hear the lies?  Do you understand the danger involved in this camp, in articles like this, in attitudes of inclusion of every idea, every religion, everything under the sun under one large umbrella??  Or have you "drunk the Kool-aid?" ... as the saying goes?  Have you, too, been deceived.  The idea that "there's no overt religious teaching" is a lie from the pit of hell.  Telling people that it doesn't matter what you believe is itself overtly, clearly religious teaching at the highest level.  When people complain about religion they don't realize that you cannot escape religion.  Human beings were created by God in His image and we are therefore spiritual beings.  While some foolishly deny even that, most would agree that "spirits" are real, at least in some form.  And as spiritual beings, as soon as we talk about anything to do with life we are talking about spiritual things ... we are talking about "religion."  Atheism is a religion.  It claims there is NO God, therefore making MAN to be "god."  Some believe that nature is "god," while others substitute something else for God, something like SELF!

The idea that "all roads lead to the same place" is another lie of the master deceiver who wants people to believe in everything and anything BUT the real, one and only, true God, the Creator of all things.  Later in this same small section of The Grand Rapids Press there is a discussion of "the source of sacred texts," where several religious "experts" comment on the Bible and the Quran and other "religious writings."  Once again, putting the Bible in a group with any other book is like putting Jesus in a group with Mohammed, Buddha, the Dalai Lama or a long list of others.  Every religion EXCEPT Christianity, true, biblical Christianity, is false by its very nature, even if it says nice things about God and/or Jesus.  It is impossible to be a Christian and to include other religions as speaking truth about salvation and eternal life.  People who SAY they are being "inclusive" are willing to include everything BUT true Christianity, the belief that Jesus is the ONLY way.  How absurd is it to believe that you can include people who believe in the God who created the universe and those who don't believe there is a God at the same table.  These are two mutually EXclusive positions, beliefs, religions!

Another article, written by a Jewish rabbi, talks about a book written by a Muslim who is trying to identify the "historical Jesus."  The conclusion:  "The historical Jesus and the Jesus of the Gospels and Epistles (the New Testament) are different people."  Really?  Where else do you learn about Jesus but in the Bible?  From the Quran?  From the ideas of men?  Is that a more reliable source than the very Word of God?  Ah, but there is the problem ... in order to find the "REAL Jesus" you must first deny that the Bible IS the Word of God, in which case you have just taken a wrong turn that will lead you into Satan's trap of deception and ultimately to hell ... along with Satan and his fallen angels and those who worship another "god."

Either the Bible is true or it is not.  If it is not, then anything goes.  If it is, then everything else is excluded, for there is only one true God and He is the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  If any OTHER "god" is real, then THIS God is not.  You cannot include all of them together.  They are mutually EXclusive.  You cannot be a Christian, believing Jesus is who the Bible says He is, who HE says He is, and believe other religions are anything but horribly and terribly wrong and that those who follow them have been deceived.  You cannot be a Christian and not long for everyone to be one!  You cannot be a Christian and be "inclusive" of other beliefs that are contrary to what God teaches in His Word.

All of this talk about "love" is Satan's code word for "hate."  "I HATE you so much that I'm going to let you go to hell without ever hearing about Jesus and God's offer of love and forgiveness through faith in Him."  "I HATE you so much that I'm not going to say anything about your sin or your lifestyle and how disastrous it is for you, for your children and for others you may influence by the things you do or say."  "I HATE you so much that I'm going to lie to you and tell you that no one has the right to judge you (even God) and that God loves you no matter what, because God loves everybody."

Many will agree with Mr. Honey that a camp like Circle Pines Center is worthy of promoting.  What does GOD think?  God says, "I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols" (Isaiah 42:8).  The Bible or the books of other "religions"?  You have to decide - you can't believe both.  Jesus, the eternal Son of God, born in the flesh, who died to pay the penalty for sin for all who believe, and who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven - or a good man, one of many "prophets" who taught some good things worth quoting?  You must choose, you can't have both.  Being "inclusive" sounds noble, but it's not.  Anyone can come ... but there's only ONE way!  

In the words of this one and only historical Jesus, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through ME!"  (John 14:6).  

Friday, August 9, 2013

"Jesus CAN'T return today! ... Here's why ..."

If it were up to me and if it were just about me, I wish Jesus would return TODAY!  "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day" (II Timothy 1:12).  But it's not up to me and it's not just about me!  God has a plan.  He knows those who are His and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still being proclaimed, calling sinners like me to repent and believe and be saved from the wrath and judgment of God that will be poured out on the earth when Jesus returns.  According to II Peter 3:9 God is being patient, giving people the opportunity to hear His call, to repent and to escape His judgment.  BUT, Peter goes on in verse 10:  "The day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare!"

"The day of the Lord will come like a thief!"  It is that phrase, along with some other verses of Scripture, that lead some people to believe that Jesus could come at any moment.  There will be no signs, no indication of His coming other than some very general things that Jesus spoke about.  Jesus will come, He will "rapture" those who believe and then pour out His judgment on the earth.  It's a simple scenario and easy to understand.  But it's wrong.  I wish it was that simple - I really do.  I wish the "Left Behind" books were right and believers will be raptured BEFORE the time of tribulation begins, but the real question is this:  What does the BIBLE teach?

Apparently, those who are teaching that Jesus could come at any time believe this is what the Bible teaches.  I know that it is their intention to give people hope in knowing that they will not face the judgment of God.  Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and God promises that He "did not appoint us (believers) to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9).  Earlier in that chapter Paul uses the same phrase as Peter when he writes, "... the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (I Thessalonians 5:2).  So why is the teaching that Jesus could come at any moment wrong?

First of all, the term "the day of the Lord" is used by the Old Testament prophets to refer to God's final judgment upon the earth.  Amos writes, "Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD!  ... That day will be darkness, not light.  It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him.  Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light - pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness/" (Amos 5:18-20).

Zephaniah writes, "That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities ...  I will bring distress on the people ... Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD's wrath.  In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth" (Zephaniah 1:14-18).

When the New Testament writers speak of "the day of the LORD" coming "like a thief" they are referring NOT to the entire seven-year period referred to in Daniel 9:27, (Daniel's "70th week), but to the final judgment of God described in Revelation 8-9 and 15-18.  This "day" WILL surprise those who are unbelievers who are living on the earth at this time, but listen to what Paul says to the believers in his day (and what God says to US through him):  "But you, brothers, are NOT in darkness so that THIS DAY should surprise YOU like a thief" (I Thessalonians 5:4).  Did you hear that?  Believers will NOT be surprised by the "day of the Lord."  Why not?  Because God tells us what comes BEFORE this!  He gives us signs to watch for.

Another passage that is used to support the idea that Jesus could come at any time is Matthew 24:37-44.  Jesus says, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.  That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."  People think that since we can't know the day or the hour, Jesus could come at any time.  But wait a minute!  Noah was building the ark.  God had told him the flood was coming.  It was the UNBELIEVERS who knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them away!  By then, Noah and his family were safe in the ark!

So before the day of the Lord begins, when God pours out his judgment on the earth, the Church must be raptured.  The question is:  WHEN does that take place?  Could it be at any moment??  In II Thessalonians Paul writes, "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ AND our being gathered to Him (the "rapture" or being "caught up" of I Thessalonians 4:17) ...  Some had misunderstood what the "day of the LORD" was and were saying that it had already come.  But Paul says, "Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the apostasy (falling away) occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed" (II Thessalonians 2:3-4).

Jesus spoke about this apostasy and when it was going to take place in Matthew 24:  "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.  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 24:9-13).  So we know that the rapture will not take place UNTIL the Antichrist is revealed and a great apostasy (people who claim to be Christians turning away from Christ) takes place.  These things must happen BEFORE Jesus comes to pour out God's wrath and judgment upon the earth.

And God TELLS us when that is going to be!!  In Daniel 9:27 we read that the Antichrist "will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven' (seven years).  In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.  And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him."  It is in the MIDDLE of the final seven years that the Antichrist is revealed for who he really is!

Jesus gives more detail about His return in Matthew 24, beginning with verse 15, where He refers to Daniel 9:27:  "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel ..."  Jesus then describes a time of "great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equaled again.  If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened" (verses 21-22).  The "Great Tribulation," which many believe is the entire last seven years, begins in the MIDDLE of the seven years and is shortened for the sake of the elect, believers, God's chosen ones.  Believers will go through the tribulation because this is NOT yet the wrath of God.  It is the persecution described by Jesus in verses 9-13, which causes a great apostasy.  It is during THIS time that people will be required to take the "mark of the beast" in order to buy or sell (Revelation 13:16-17).

Now notice what happens AFTER the Great Tribulation, according to Jesus Himself in Matthew 24:29-31:  "Immediately AFTER the distress of those days 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'  (the sixth seal described in Revelation 6:12-14).  At THAT TIME the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call (see I Thessalonians 4:16-17),  and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."

Jesus very clearly gives us the order of events that perfectly coincide with the rest of Scripture, both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writers.  The final seven years begins with the Antichrist making a peace treaty with Israel and some of the nations around them.  In the middle of the seven years the Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel, is indwelt by Satan himself, tries to eliminate the Jews/Israel, but God supernaturally protects a remnant from the Jews for 1260 days (three and one-half years - Revelation 12:6).  The Antichrist then turns his anger towards BELIEVERS who are still on the earth at this time (See Revelation 12:13-16 and especially verse 17:  "Then the dragon (Satan) was enraged at the woman (Israel) and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring - those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (the Church)."  Revelation 13 describes these events in even greater detail.  In the middle of the seven years foretold in Daniel 9:27, the Antichrist is revealed, persecutes the Church and THEN Jesus comes and gathers up believers.  While the true believers who are on the earth at that time will not know the day or the hour, they will be LONGING for Jesus' return, and they will know it is near.  They will not be surprised when it happens!

My purpose today is to help people to see that the Church (TRUE believers) is going to be called to go through the Great Tribulation - the persecution of the Antichrist.  As Jesus clearly teaches in Matthew 24:29-31, the gathering of His elect takes place AFTER the time of distress that follows the middle of Daniel's 70th week, AFTER the Antichrist has set up his abomination in the temple (II Thessalonians 2:1-12).  I encourage you to read and study these things.  Don't believe something just because you have been taught that this is what the Bible says.  Read it for yourself, check it out, ask God for wisdom.  As I shared with someone recently, if what I believe the Bible says is not true, nothing is really lost other than I have misunderstood.  We will be raptured and that will be that.  But if much of the visible church is being told that they need not be concerned about facing trials and that they will not go through the time of tribulation ... and then it comes! ...  What will be the result?  For many in the visible church, it will be apostasy!!  They will not trust the Word of God because what they have been taught on such an important subject has proven wrong.

God's Word speaks with authority and it all speaks with one voice.  Believing the rapture could happen at any moment leaves many Scriptures throughout the Bible unexplained.  But when you begin to allow each passage to fit where God determined it to fit, you discover that each piece reinforces the others and when they are all put together it gives us a picture that prepares us for what is to come and tells us what to watch for as we live in what may well be the final generation that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 24:32-35, 42-47.  If you have questions, please comment or email me at ...  Until then, may God grant you wisdom as you seek His truth and live to glorify His Name!!  May Jesus Christ be praised!

Friday, August 2, 2013

"Who will face God's judgment in hell?" ... or, "Why we preach the Gospel!"

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."  
                                                                                                                        - Matthew 10:32-33

Jesus had just sent the disciples to the people of Judah, the Jews.  He told them NOT to go to the Gentiles, including the Samaritans (Matthews 10:5), but only to go to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  He then warned them of the persecution they would face because of their testimony that Jesus was the Messiah and that they were healing and casting out demons in HIS name.  The verses quoted above were spoken to comfort the disciples as they faced the danger of the reaction of the Jews who did not believe Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Some would be beaten, some killed, but great would be their reward in heaven.

Why did Jesus send them to the Jews?  Because without believing in Jesus, even the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were going to face God's judgment in hell. In John 5, Jesus was testifying again to the Jews when He said, "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.  Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:22-24).

The Jews needed to repent of their sins and believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Savior whom God had promised in the Garden of Eden and to their forefathers.  As I have quoted often, John 3:16 says that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."  Someone might ask, "What about verse 17?"  Let's go on to verses 17-18:  "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him (saved from what??  God's judgment!).  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

It is being said and taught by more and more and more people, even in the visible church, that God saves anyone who seeks Him, whether they are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or followers of any other religion.  While it is true that people can say or teach anything they want, that doesn't make it true!  The ONLY book we have that tells us who Jesus is, why He came, what He accomplished on the cross, how to be saved from God's wrath against our sins and what lies ahead in the future when Jesus returns is the Bible.  You can't pick a few verses out of the Bible and say that all Jesus talked about was loving other people.  He told His disciples to love other people by doing good to them in His name so that they could offer them God's grace and forgiveness through faith in Him!

Today people think it is wrong and unloving to have an "agenda" to do good things for people and then "hammer them" with the Gospel.  Satan has been hard at work convincing people who do not know the Bible that it is unloving to offer LIFE to people who are dead!!  It is not "judging people" to declare that those who do not know Jesus are spiritually dead, no matter how "good" they might be.  People are going to hell without ever hearing about the cross.  GOD says through the Apostle Paul that He demonstrated HIS love for US in this, that "while we were yet sinners, Christ DIED for us" (Romans 5:8).

What was happening when Jesus cried out on the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  Again, God tells us:  "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Corinthians 5:21).  As Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 53:4-6:  "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrow; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for OUR transgressions; He was crushed for OUR iniquities; upon HIM was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with HIS stripes WE are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

On the cross Jesus suffered the wrath of God against sin.  His death was sufficient to cover the sins of the entire human race, yet there is only one way to benefit from His sacrifice:  to believe on Him, to confess Him as Savior and Lord.  That is why Jesus sent His disciples out into the world with this message, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.  ALL people are sinners.  ALL people deserve God's judgment.  And only by hearing the Gospel and being moved by the Spirit to repent and believe in Jesus can anyone be saved from an eternity in hell.  The Gospel is the sword of the Spirit that cuts to the heart of unbelievers and moves them to confess their sin and to trust in Jesus for forgiveness.

Paul states it this way in Romans 10 when he asks, "What does the word of God say?"  "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:8-9).  He says the Jews and Greeks (Gentiles) all need to call on Jesus to be saved, and then he asks, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent!  As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'" (Romans 10:14-15).  And finally, verse 17: "So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."

People need to "call" on the name of the Lord (JESUS - the name that is above every name!).  But they need to believe on Him before they will call on Him, and they need to hear of Him before they believe in Him.  And so these first disciples, and many after them, even today, risked their very lives to proclaim this Gospel, this good news, this message of forgiveness through faith in Jesus.  Why?  Because they knew, they believed that those who have not heard of Jesus and who have not confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord are going to suffer an eternity of God's wrath and judgment in hell.  Men, women, boys, girls ... generation after generation of those who are in bondage to Satan's lies and deception through other religions or through self-deception that they are somehow good enough to stand before a holy God, are all subject to facing the wrath of God unless they hear, believe and call.

While I realize that there are some who take the name "Christian" who look down on others and who think THEY are good enough in their own self-righteousness to stand before God, I continue to be amazed that those of us who know all too well our own sin and who claim only the grace of God through Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life are considered "judgmental" and "unloving" for speaking the truth.  Actually, I am not amazed, for Jesus said it would be so, but I am saddened that these "attacks" are increasingly coming from within the visible church.

I know that talking about the reality of hell and actually believing that people who don't know Jesus are going there is not popular, but it is still true!  Preachers like Robert Schuller and Joel Osteen and others are deceiving people and bringing dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ by refusing to declare those who do not confess Christ to be outside of God's kingdom ... UNLESS they repent, unless they hear the Gospel and turn away from their sin and place their faith, their only hope, in a Savior who died for them.  THIS is why we preach the Gospel, and I will be the first to admit that we are not doing it enough!  The task of the true Church is to preach the Gospel and to equip God's people to declare the Gospel wherever they go ... to their family, friends, co-workers, classmates and strangers.

EVERYONE needs to hear the Gospel, and at the center of the message is the cross of Jesus Christ.  To deny the necessity of the cross in removing God's wrath from sinners is to deny Christ and to bring even greater judgment on yourself and those to whom God has sent you.  To his young friend, Timothy, Paul wrote, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (II Timothy 4:1-4).

Let it not be said that we failed to fulfill our calling by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.  Let us say with Paul, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17).