Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Sing unto the Lord!"

Day #4:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 1st

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 1-2 …

The Psalms were meant to be sung!  It is said that music is the universal language and the words of the Psalms speak to the minds and hearts of those who know the LORD, "Yahweh," the great "I AM."  While the Psalms express the emotions of those who know God and who seek Him, the focus of the Psalms is God Himself.  As you read through the Psalms this year as part of our daily reading plan, look forward to Wednesdays, when you come back to these songs.  The Psalter hymnal presented a "tune" for each Psalm, however, most of them were quite similar and almost all of them were quite slow and methodical.  The Psalms cover a range of emotions, so as you read them perhaps try to imagine what type of music went with this Psalm as the congregation of Israel sang it in worship.

Psalm 1 begins by revealing the contrast between the man who loves God, who seeks after God, who delights in obedience, and the man who cares nothing of God and who does his own thing and goes his own way.  In the end, "the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish" (1:6).  That means that the "way" the righteous have chosen is the way of life, while the way the wicked have chosen leads to death.  Perhaps Jesus was thinking of this Psalm when He said in His Sermon on the Mount:  "Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life!" (John 14:6).  Psalm 2 presents that fact in no uncertain terms.  Psalm 2 is one of the many "Messianic" Psalms.  God has anointed ONE to be King.  He is the promised "Seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15), the descendant of Abraham through whom all nations will be blessed, the Ruler from the tribe of Judah, the Son of David!!  The nations of the world then and now oppose Jesus' reign, but God laughs at them.  "I have installed MY King on Zion, my holy hill" (2:6).  No power of hell or human plan can change that fact.  God promises to give the world to His Anointed One and He "will rule them with an iron scepter" (1:9).  That actually refers to Jesus reigning during the Millennium, following His return to earth (See Isaiah 2:1-5).

For now, God calls all people to "Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for His wrath can flare up in a moment" (2:12).  That is hardly the picture of the "god" many worship today, even in churches throughout our nation and the world.  Psalm 1 began by telling us who is "blessed," and the Psalmist ends Psalm 2 by saying, "Blessed are all who take refuge in HIM" ( God's anointed!).  May you be blessed as you find in Jesus all you need in this new year!

"O LORD Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, give to me the understanding of your Word, that I may know You and draw near to You through faith in Your Son, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus!  I take refuge in Him, for YOU are my hope and my joy!!  In Jesus' precious name.  Amen"

"I will be with you wherever you go!"

Day #3:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - Tuesday, December 31st 
    (We began on Sunday, so if you are still catching up, please read the previous three blogs.)

Scripture Reading:  Joshua 1-5 …

What would it be like to KNOW that God's presence and power were with you wherever you go?  Reading through the first few chapters of Joshua you can't help but be aware of God's presence as He speaks to Joshua and encourages him as he takes over leadership of Israel from Moses.  God promises, "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you" (1:5).  He says, "Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (1:9).  Wouldn't it be wonderful to have God speak to YOU like that?

If you have drawn near to God through faith in Jesus Christ God HAS spoken to you like that!  In the book of Hebrews (13:5-6), the writer says, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?"  As God was with Joshua and Israel, so God IS with believers today.  In fact, the very Spirit of God lives within us.  "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body" (I Corinthians 12:13).  We are NEVER alone - EVER!!

God cleared the way for His people to enter the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob more than four hundred years earlier.  The ark of the covenant was not a magic box, but rather a picture of God's presence and power and faithfulness, so the people would know that it was God who went before them.  At the end of Chapter 5, the commander of the LORD's army says to Joshua, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy" (5:15).  God had said the same to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  He is not confined to one place.  God is the God of the whole earth and as believers we need to rest in the assurance of His presence and power at work in us and in the world around us.

That's where our hope lies for the new year.  Whether there are new ventures that lie before you or you need courage and strength to stand firm in times of trial, Jesus is "Immanuel," "God with us!"  You will be given all you need to accomplish all God desires you to do for His glory, and there is not one moment when you will be alone.  As He said to Joshua, so He says to you, "Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (1:9).  Whether through the manna for forty years in the wilderness, or now the "milk and honey" of the promised land, God provided for Israel, and He will provide for you.

As the Israelites celebrated the Passover (5:10-11), so we celebrate the blood of Jesus being shed for us for our salvation, our deliverance from sin and death.  If you want some additional reading today, read Psalm 27.  This is the testimony of those who trust in the LORD!!

"Thank you, Father, for your continued presence with me as I walk through my days in this world.  Empower me by Your Spirit that I may glorify you as I live by faith in your promises.  In the name of Him who is Immanuel … Your Son, Jesus, my Savior and my Lord.  Amen"

Monday, December 30, 2013

"In the beginning, GOD!"

Day #2: Daily Bible Reading Plan - Monday, December 30th
(Our plan begins on Sunday, so the reading for Day #1 was Romans 1-2 and the devotion for that is in the previous blog.  Just scroll down the page!)

Scripture Reading:  Genesis 1-3 ...

"In the beginning God created ..."  Genesis 1 reveals information that no human being could know unless God Himself revealed it.  It is no surprise that Satan, who enters history in Chapter 3 after having rebelled against God in heaven, would attempt to discredit the truth of God's Word at its most foundational point: Creation. God reveals that He spoke and things came into being.  The creative power of God is the living Word of God, as the Apostle John begins his Gospel:  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:1-3). 

Reject this truth and man is a "free agent," able to determine his own fate, his own destiny.  If Genesis 1-3 is not true, then mankind is an accident of evolution and there is no hope for mankind.  You see, either mankind was created in God's image, rebelled against God and is now facing the consequences of that rebellion OR mankind is the result of a chaotic process that has left this world in its present circumstance, with the pinnacle of evolution now able to destroy the very planet that produced our species through a series of chance events.  The darkness of the human mind should be readily obvious.  Choosing to reject God and to deny the truth in spite of the testimony of creation itself, mankind gives up the only ray of hope that shines in the darkness:  the promise of a Savior!

Mankind must now attempt to save the world, because they have no other hope.  But God offers hope to those whose minds are opened by His Spirit and who believe that God is, indeed, our Creator.  Genesis 2 is a more detailed account of God's creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, the only part of God's creation that was created in His image, with a spirit ... with the ability to commune with God.  Did God know what Satan would do?  Did God know the man would disobey God and fall into sin?  Did God know that His perfect creation would be affected for thousands of years?  Yes ... Yes ... and Yes ...  Then why??

Because God desired to reveal His holiness, His justice, His mercy, His grace and His love to those whom He chose before the world was even created (Ephesians 1:4).  And so the first promise of the Gospel is found in Genesis 3:15:  "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; HE will crush your head, and you will strike His heel."  Here is hope!  The hope of redemption, reconciliation, restoration ... the hope of LIFE!!  

Hope is given birth in the words, "In the beginning, God created!"  The same God who created all things out of nothing can give new life to those who are spiritually and even physically dead.  He is the God who revealed Himself to Moses and whose Word you are now reading.  Give thanks to God for His Word and believe what it says and you will have life through the promised Savior, Jesus Christ.

"O Lord God, open the eyes of the blind and renew the hope of those who have believed your Word; that You, O Lord our God, may be worshiped and adored as our Creator, our Redeemer and our Savior, through Jesus Christ, Your eternal Son, the Word made flesh.  Amen"

"Good news ... for those who need it!"

Day #1: Daily Bible Reading Plan - Sunday, December 29th
 (We're starting on Sunday because that's the day the plan begins ... )

Scripture Reading:  Romans 1-2 ...

Romans is written to "all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" (1:7).  Paul immediately explains the purpose of his letter and of his entire ministry in Chapter 1, verses 1-4, where  he says that he is "set apart for the gospel of God ... regarding His Son ... Jesus Christ our Lord."  Then he says that the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel is "to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (1:5).  He speaks personally to his readers and says, "You also are among those who are called to belong to Christ(1:6).

This sets the context for the entire letter to the Romans and reveals why you and I need to hear his words - God's words, too.  He states it clearly in 1:16-17:  "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, ... for in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last ..."  Think about that, the Gospel is the "power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes!"  Eternal life rests in hearing and understanding and believing this message!!  Romans is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in Chapters 3-8 Paul is going to give the longest and clearest explanation of the message of the Gospel found anywhere in God's Word.

As you read these first two chapters you will discover Paul laying the groundwork for WHY people - ALL people - need to hear the Gospel and respond to it by repenting of sin (desiring to turn from it and live in obedience to God), and living by faith in Jesus (trusting that your sin is forgiven and loving God because He first loved you!).  The popular idea today that God loves everybody and forgives everybody and ultimately gives life to everybody is crushed in these chapters.  Sin is sin, whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, and God's wrath will fall on the religious and the non-religious apart from faith in Jesus.

The only sure and certain hope is the inward work of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel (2:29).  That's why the Gospel is such good news!  And that's why you need to read and understand God's Word.  Only HE can change your heart and only He can continue the work He has begun in you who believe. And the instrument HE has chosen to use is His Word.

Pray that God will give you the desire to read His Word and the wisdom to understand it.  He will hear your prayer!

"The POWER of God's Word in YOUR Life!"

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17).

Most believers have heard those verses more than once.  In their context the Apostle Paul is writing to his young friend, Timothy, in order to encourage him in his role as a young pastor.  Having begun my service as a young pastor at the age of 27, I can testify that the task can seem overwhelming, even impossible.  No human being is sufficient in themselves to carry the responsibility of "feeding" God's people on the very Word of the one true and living God!  God never presents the work of preaching and teaching as easy, but He does tell those who are called to be engaged in this ministry that they must have one singular focus, and that is to "preach the Word" (II Timothy 4:4).

Paul wanted Timothy to know that it was not up to him to come up with some cleverly devised words of human wisdom.  He said to Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15).  He was to preach the Word that he himself had heard from the Apostles, along with the Old Testament Scriptures.  It is God's Word, after all, that is the "sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17).  God promises that His Word will bear fruit, calling His children out of spiritual darkness into the light of life through faith in Jesus Christ, and it is the Word of God that produces the fruit of the Spirit:  "… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).

We are beginning a new year in two days and I have challenged everyone to begin reading the Bible every day in the new year.  I have not been a big fan of Bible reading "programs" because I have witnessed people reading through the Bible just to say they have done it in one year.  God's Word is much too valuable to view it as an item to check off your list.  However, someone shared with me a 52-week Bible reading plan that looks appealing because it goes to a different portion of Scripture each day of the week.  Sundays is the Epistles (the letters of the Apostles to the churches). Mondays is the Law (the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible).  Tuesdays is History, Joshua through Esther.  Wednesdays is the Psalms.  Thursdays is Poetry (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Son of Solomon).  Fridays is Prophecy and Saturdays is the Gospels.  Each day of the week you will be reading from a different part of the Bible and in one year you will have read the entire Bible.

BUT, in order to gain the most from reading God's Word, you need to meditate on what you have read … to think about what God is saying.  If you have a study Bible and have time to look at some other passages of Scripture and to study the context, God's Word will come alive and will speak to you each day and apply to your present situation in ways that will seem incredible!  That's the power of God's Word.  Many people may feel they need some help doing that, so I have committed to writing a daily blog post (trying to keep it brief!!), that will go along with that day's reading.

It was pointed out to me this morning that our reading plan begins on SUNDAY … and this is Monday, and New Year's Day is Wednesday, so for those of you with the reading plan, what do you do?  Should you skip the first three days and start on Wednesday?  NO!!  Later today I will post a reading to go along with the first two days, and will do two more tomorrow (Lord willing!).

For those without the reading plan in front of you, the first reading (Sunday) is Romans 1-2.  Start reading that now and I'll post a devotion to go along with it later today.

The reading for Monday (today) is Genesis 1-3.  I'll try to get a devotion posted for that today, too.

Then the reading for Tuesday is Joshua 1-5.  I'll post the devotion for that tomorrow.

And finally, the reading for Wednesday, January 1st, is Psalm 1-2.  I will try to post that devotion tomorrow, too, and from that time on the devotion for the next day will be posted the previous day or evening, so if you are an early riser, you can use it along with the reading for that day.

Hope that makes sense!  If you read Romans 1-2, Genesis 1-3 and Joshua 1-5 sometime today and tomorrow, you'll be on track to read Psalm 1-2 on Wednesday and off we go!!  For those at Lighthouse, copies of the Reading Plan will be available at the "Get Connected" table.  If you are following along online, just read the Scripture for each day and you will keep up with us.  May God bless your commitment to "feed" on His life-giving, empowering Word!!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"A Christmas Devotion ..."

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

If you ask most people which of the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – mention the birth of Jesus, the Christ, the answer would be:  Matthew and Luke.  Matthew tells of the angel visiting Joseph and of the visit of the Wise Men some time later, while Luke goes into greater detail, including the visit of the angel to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, the visit of Gabriel to Mary, the trip of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus, and finally, the visit of the angels to the shepherds and their worship of the baby in the manger.  Yet, it is in the Gospel of John that you will find what is perhaps the clearest explanation of the birth of Jesus:  “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

We call this the “incarnation,” which means, “in bodily form” or “in the flesh.”  As human beings we exist naturally in bodily form, but the eternal Son of God, prior to His physical birth, did not exist in the flesh.  The writer of Hebrews explains that God created all things through the “Son” (Hebrews 1:2), and in verse 3 he goes on to write, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”  And in his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul explains further the truth of the Son of God taking upon Himself a human nature:  “Who, being in very nature God, … made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7).

At one point in His ministry Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Matthew 16:15-16).  Jesus knew that if the disciples were going to believe in Him and follow Him and be His witnesses after He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, they were going to have to know who He was!  It is clear that when they had received the Holy Spirit they understood these things, for John writes in the first two verses of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning ….”  It is THIS “Word” that became flesh and lived among us.

While some ask which is more important:  the birth of Jesus or the death and resurrection of Jesus … the reality is that you cannot separate the two.  Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45).  Jesus was born to die.  If you are celebrating Christmas without thinking of Jesus’ death on the cross or His resurrection from the dead, then you are just worshiping a baby in a manger who lived a long time ago.  Even if you believe the stories of the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, what does that have to do with YOU?  It is just a time of the year and it passes by quickly and everything returns to “normal.”

But the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so much more!!  If you want to know who Jesus said He was and is, and who the disciples finally became convinced He was, read the entire Gospel of John.  Listen to Jesus’ words and see through the eyes of John the works of this One who came to be our Savior.  Hear Him speak of His sheep (Chapter 10) and witness His compassion and love as He raises His friend, Lazarus from the dead (Chapter 11).  Sit with the disciples as Jesus tells them what is about to happen and how His Spirit will empower them for the mission He is entrusting to them (Chapters 13-17). Then watch as Jesus goes to the cross to pay the penalty for your sin and mine and how He conquers death and the grave, rising in victory to return to heaven as King!

Some friends visited Israel recently and shared how meaningful it was to walk where Jesus walked and to look at some of the things that Jesus Himself may have looked at or even touched.  You may never travel to Israel before Jesus returns, but you can know today that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became flesh and walked this earth as a man to be your Savior and your Lord.  You can know that because HE lives, He has the power to give YOU eternal life.  John wrote, “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).

Make it a point to take some time over the next week, or to begin the new year, by reading the entire Gospel of John.  If you want to assure yourself of God’s presence and blessing in the new year, you need to believe that

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Monday, December 9, 2013

"What I hope people talk about when I die ..."

"They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

I suppose it is inevitable that people will fashion for themselves heroes.  It is a natural desire to have someone to look up to, someone to admire, someone to pattern your life after.  Looking for heroes seems all the more necessary as people place their hope in those who flood the airwaves with their fake smiles and false promises, only to be disillusioned and disappointed again and again... and again.  Fallen man needs heroes in order to manufacture the hope that somehow the problems facing mankind are not as impossible to overcome as they appear to be.  If one person can do it, if one person can have an impact, then perhaps we can yet conquer the nature within and create a bright new world where justice reigns and peace and prosperity abound for all people everywhere.

Is that what Isaiah was writing about?  Was Isaiah looking for a hero?  Was he writing about some imaginary figure who would come riding out of obscurity into public view just in time to save mankind from destruction? The words of Isaiah 2:4 are engraved in concrete on a wall outside of the United Nations Building in New York City.  The people of the world long for someone to lead them, to show them the way to unite mankind.  So as the world celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela this week, most people are talking about his bold stand for justice and his fight for equality in South Africa.  Having grown up in the 1960's as the United States was going through its own struggle for equality among the races, I saw the ugliness of segregation from afar in the glimpses of news reports on the two stations of our black-and-white TV.  Even the words, "black-and-white" sound somehow inappropriate in our world today.

It is being said by many that Mr. Mandela lived by his "Christian principles."  The prophets certainly spoke about the importance of justice among the people of God.  Isaiah himself wrote one of the most impassioned pleas for justice in the 58th chapter of his treatise:  "Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: (says the Lord) ... to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? ... Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard ... If you do away with the yoke of oppression ... and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday ..."  God cares about the oppressed and He calls His people to care about the oppressed.

Jesus certainly knew what Isaiah had written.  When He began His ministry He came to the synagogue in His home town and was handed the scroll of the prophet, Isaiah.  He intentionally unrolled it to Isaiah 61 and began reading, "The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  Jesus was concerned about the poor and the oppressed in Israel.  As a nation the Jews were being severely oppressed by the Romans.  They were slaves in their own country, not unlike they had been in Egypt centuries before.

So what did Jesus do about it?  Did He organize a march on Herod's palace?  Did He tell His disciples to organize a food and clothing drive?  Did He open up a free medical clinic so those who were sick could get the best possible health care?  The saying, "What would Jesus do?" (WWJD) became popular some time ago and motivated many to at least think about their actions with regard to others.  But what DID Jesus do? Jesus preached about the kingdom of God and then showed what that kingdom looked like.  He revealed what life in God's presence can and should be and then He did something that only He could do:  He gave His life on the cross to satisfy God's justice, to pay the just penalty for sin for all who would believe … 

… but there's more.  Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and poured out His Holy Spirit.  The book of Acts records the work of the Spirit in empowering the disciples to proclaim the good news of God's kingdom in Jesus' name and then to be His hands and feet in the world.  By His Spirit Jesus distributes different abilities and talents to His people and calls them, empowers them and sends them into a variety of vocations where they can make an impact.  Through God's people the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the hurting are ministered to, the sick are healed, the sorrowful are comforted … The majority of social compassion is carried out by those who have heard Jesus' voice and who have responded to His call.

Yet, we are left with a world and a nation that is spiraling downward in every area that matters … in government, in morality, in the family and in the church … drifting, even running, farther and farther away from the God who alone can save.  Some of us are aware that God has said it would be so, but it is nonetheless painful to watch - very painful.  What WOULD Jesus do … if He were alive today, here, in these United States of America, and in our world?  You see, here's the thing … Jesus IS alive and by His Spirit He IS here and He IS doing what He did when He walked the earth as a man:  Preaching the kingdom of God and showing what that kingdom looks like.

Whether or not Nelson Mandela was a Christian, God knows.  Some would label him as such because he claimed a belief in God and said he was a Christian and did some things that could be called "Christian" behaviors.  But in reviewing his life and words (admittedly somewhat briefly), I cannot find him speaking about his love for Jesus Christ and his desire that others would come to know Him as their Savior and Lord.  He had a public forum that few of us will ever have, but I don't find any evidence that he boldly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went or that he ever spoke about the kingdom of God that is coming when Jesus returns.  Even his forgiveness of those who imprisoned him seemed to be motivated by his own desire to be free of hatred and bitterness, not because  he was following the command of Christ, confessing that he, too, was a sinner in need of grace and forgiveness.  Instead, he declared those like Fidel Castro as his friends because they, too, struggled for freedom from oppression  … … … even as they oppressed others.  I cannot judge his heart, nor would I presume to do so.  I can only say that a view of God's kingdom seemed to be missing from his vocabulary and his presentation to the world.  Like many - most today, he was focused on fixing this world, and that is not bad in itself.  But it is not enough.  People need to know the One who is ruling and who alone can redeem us and change us from the inside out.  People need to know Jesus Christ!  As we do good deeds people need to know why and we need to be willing to endure persecution for the sake of God's kingdom and in the name of Jesus.

So, as people, including our President, gather to pay their "respects" to Nelson Mandela, they will be talking about what a good man he was and about the brave stand he took against injustice.  That's certainly something worth talking about, but that's not what I want people to be talking about when I die.  You see, there was another man who died last week.  His name was Ronnie Smith.  He was a teacher and he and his family had traveled to Libya, of all places, so Ronnie could teach youth there, but more than that, so he could tell them about Jesus Christ.  God had placed in Ronnie a desire for the lost to be found and for some reason he was drawn to Libya.  

Nelson Mandela had at one time been drawn to Libya.  He had met with Muammar Gaddafi - then tyrant, dictator of Libya.  It was not to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, to declare the kingdom of God and to offer forgiveness and eternal life to those lost in the deceit of Islam and other religions.  He was there to find friends wherever he could find them.  "It was ultimately for a just cause," some would say.  I heard Newt Gingrich explain that he couldn't find support anywhere else, so he had no other choice.  The truth is, Ronnie Smith understood God's call and his mission in this life better than Nelson Mandela did.  Perhaps God used Nelson Mandela to bring a type of freedom to the people of South Africa, however it appears that many of them are left with poverty, hunger and various kinds of oppression, as is the case in our own nation.  How many have come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord through the testimony of Nelson Mandela?  Or have they simply been "called to arms" to fight injustice and to make THIS world a better place to live?  Again, we need to be engaged in some way in social justice, but there's MORE!!

What WOULD Jesus do?  Wrong question.  What DID Jesus do?  He did what Ronnie Smith did.  He went to obscure places for one purpose, to tell people about a kingdom this world knows nothing about, and never will, knowing that perhaps one, or perhaps a thousand, would hear His message and be moved by His Spirit to respond and believe and be saved … to be delivered from the false hope that this world will EVER beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and given a better hope - the hope of a new world where Jesus Christ reigns and where there is peace and joy and love for eternity.

It will begin as Isaiah says, when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom on the earth for a thousand years - the Millennium.  We are approaching the time when the nations of the earth unite and the religions of the world join together to anoint a leader whom they believe will lead the earth into a new era of peace.  He will be an impostor, an "anti-christ," and most of the world will follow him, believing that he is the hope of the world.  Even most of those in churches all over our country and around the world will agree that we must all compromise our beliefs and unite for the good of mankind.  It is already happening … here … everywhere.

Jesus says, "When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).  The writer of Hebrews says that all those listed in Hebrews 11 "were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. … 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 11:13-14,16).

By faith God calls us to live in this world, to do good deeds of righteousness, to show the world what the kingdom of God looks like, but more than that, to proclaim the kingdom of God, the reign of Jesus Christ in the world that is to come.  Isaiah wasn't writing about what would happen by the efforts of men.  The United Nations is not God's idea and it should be obvious to all that neither this organization nor any other is going to produce world peace or the new world that God has promised to those who know and love Jesus Christ, who believe, who trust in Him alone for eternal life, for salvation, for deliverance from the oppression of sin and the judgment which our sins deserve.

When I die, I don't want people talking about me and how good I was … I want them talking about Jesus and how good He is!  I want them talking about a God who is mighty to save those who come to Him through faith in His Son.  I want them talking about a kingdom that far exceeds anything we can imagine, where those who are true children of God because they are united to Christ by grace through faith rejoice in the God who created them - forever!!  I want to be a Ronnie Smith, who is willing to live his life for the desire to make Christ known, in any way I can, to as many as I can, so long as God gives me breath.

How about you? Compassion and deeds of mercy are part of the calling of disciples of Jesus Christ.  But we have an even higher task.  As we are doing one, we must do the other:  we must proclaim the kingdom of God and point people to the narrow road that leads to life through faith in Jesus Christ.  God calls His children to persevere, to endure, to hold fast to the testimony of the Gospel.  No other message, no other religion, no other leader can or will bring LIFE, even eternal life, to those who follow them.  Only Jesus … only Jesus can fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 2:4 and all the other prophecies of Scripture.  Only HE can and will usher in the kingdom of God.

To you who believe, celebrate His birth well by telling others about Him.  Don't miss the opportunity to proclaim this message of hope during this season when most of the world is distracted and when we are being told not even to mention the One whose birth we remember.  Talk of Jesus.  Speak of Him often.  Tell people who He is and why they need to believe in Him.  Be like Ronnie Smith … right where you are, or wherever God may lead you.  And pray that when you die people will talk about JESUS more than they will talk about you!!