Friday, July 17, 2015

"Is God's love really unconditional?"

How would you answer this true or false question:  (Circle one)

TRUE  or  FALSE    God loves us unconditionally, so we need to love others unconditionally.

Most people would probably circle "TRUE" as the right answer ... after all, "God is love" (I John 4:8).  Read through I John 4:7-21 and see if you don't come to the conclusion that the above statement is true.  And there's more!  Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48).

And then there are the two great commandments:  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself!"  In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus taught that anyone in need is our neighbor and in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus pronounced judgment on the one who did not show the same mercy to others that he himself had received.  All of this would seem to confirm that as followers of Jesus we have no choice but to love others unconditionally because that's the way God loves us.

But is that really the case? Let's look at how this "truth" is applied in our world and in our culture here in the United States today.  Christians are often accused of judging others and being unloving toward others.  Sadly, there are some who take the name of Christ upon them who are "guilty as charged!"  There are pastors and others who say and do things that are not said or done in love or compassion or mercy.  Such attitudes and actions are sinful and those who live in such a way need to repent.  There were some in Jesus' day and in the early church who did the same thing.

The Apostle Paul writes to the believers in Rome,

"Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.  We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.  Do you suppose, O man - you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself - that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (Romans 2:1-5).

Of course, everyone knows what Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-5:

"Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

There you have it!  Christians should not judge others and must love even their enemies.  Our statement must be true:  "God loves us unconditionally, so we need to love others unconditionally."

But wait a minute!!!  Does this mean that Jesus was being judgmental and unloving when He called people sinners and told them to sin no more?  What about telling people that they needed to repent, or even that they needed to be forgiven?  In fact, what about John 3:16???  Jesus said,

"God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."  What about those who do NOT believe?  Some people quote verse 17, where Jesus says, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him."  Jesus did not come the first time to pronounce judgment on the world, but to offer salvation ... BUT, He goes on to say (in verses that are rarely read),

"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.  And this is the judgment:  the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God" (John 3:18-21).

We must understand that God sent Jesus into the world to reveal His love and grace precisely because every human being since Adam and Eve has been conceived and born in sin, in rebellion against God, our Creator, and is thus worthy of eternal judgment.  God CANNOT overlook sin or let the guilty go unpunished.  Read John 3:16 again:  "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish ..."  God sent Jesus to provide a way for sinners like you and me to be saved from His coming wrath, from His coming judgment, from eternal hell, from everlasting separation from Him.

Paul writes in Romans 5:  "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life" (Romans 5:8-10).  This is really, really, really good news!!!  But to whom is God speaking here through the Apostle Paul?  Is He talking to everyone?  Does God "so love" everyone ... whether they repent or not, whether they are born again by God's Spirit or not, whether they believe in Jesus or not?

You will never understand the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, unless you realize that it is written to those who believe in Jesus.  The letters of the apostles are addressed to those who are followers of Jesus Christ.  God's forgiveness is given ONLY to those who confess the name of Jesus Christ, who believe that He paid their debt, the penalty for their sins, on the cross, and who, by the power of His Spirit at work within them, desire to turn from sin and to pursue holiness and righteousness ... not in order to BE saved, but out of thanksgiving to God for His amazing grace!!!
Once you understand that a number of things become clear.

We ALL deserve God's judgment and are squarely in the path of His coming wrath.  Yes, God IS love ... that's why He sent Jesus to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin.  But at the same time, the angels of God worship Him around His throne in heaven day and night saying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" (Revelation 4:8).  This is the same vision the prophet Isaiah saw as he records it in Isaiah 6, verse 3:  "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!"

And Isaiah's response is telling:  "I said, 'Woe is me!  For I am lost;  for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!'" (Isaiah 6:4-5).  Isaiah realized, as did the Apostle Paul later, and as every true believer has come to understand, "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) ... and that's what I have earned.  I have sinned against God and so have you and so has every human being who has ever lived ... except One ... the perfect Son of God who became a true man through the miracle of the virgin birth.

When I as a Christian and a pastor declare that those who live in sin, without any sorrow for sin, without any recognition that all sin is rebellion against a holy God, without any confession of sin or desire to turn from it ... when Christians declare that people will be judged by God, we are not pronouncing OUR judgment on others, but GOD's!!  You have heard it said, "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner."  That is NOT a quote from the Bible.

In the second commandment God says, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Exodus 20:4-6).

All mankind, every person, lies in the path of God's just wrath and judgment.  God declares in the Psalms and in Romans 3:  "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10-12).  Explaining the need for God's grace, for His undeserved favor, Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2:1-3).

But something happened!  "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:4-10).

Remember, these words are written to and addressed to believers, to those who have been born again by the Spirit of God and who have by transformed into new creations, with a new heart, a new mind and a new will, who now place their faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life.  God's LOVE is now and always has been an "ELECTING love."  It is NOT unconditional in the sense that it is given to all people.  The problem with the statement about God's love being unconditional is that "love" is not defined.  God shows Himself to be gracious and patient and compassionate in thousands of ways.  The fact that His judgment has not yet fallen upon this planet in the fullness of His wrath displays His character.

But when the Bible says that "God IS love," it is speaking about His relationship with those whom He has chosen to be His.  Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, in Ephesians 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love, He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will ..."  Only those who are chosen by God the Father, born again by His Spirit, and saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross are so loved.

And even for these, God's love was not and is not "unconditional."  There was a price to pay for sin that we could not pay.  God so loved the "world," (meaning Jews AND Gentiles, some from every people, tribe, nation and tongue), that He sent Jesus to save His chosen ones.  Jesus paid our debt on the cross.  Because God is holy He cannot overlook your sin and mine.  Our sin cost Jesus all the suffering He bore on the cross as God the Father poured out His wrath on His Son, my Savior, the "second Adam," our sinless representative.  "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).

Without Jesus' sacrifice on the cross not one person would receive the gift of God's love and forgiveness ... not one!  Left to ourselves, not one person would believe in Jesus and be saved ... not one!  Salvation is GOD's work, from beginning to end.  Amazing grace!!  Jesus meets the condition of perfect obedience in the place of those who believe in Him, and His Spirit moves us to receive God's offer of love and forgiveness by faith in Jesus.  Then His Spirit continues to work in us to produce holiness, including sorrow for sin and the desire to repent, to turn from it.  So Paul writes to the believers in Philippi, 'Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is GOD who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).

The life of every true believer is one lived in thankfulness to God for His gift of salvation, beginning with the new birth and the work of God's Spirit from beginning to end.  How do you say, "Thank you!" to the One who has saved your life except to give your life to Him as an offering every day?!  That is the joy true Christians know.  "I am loved!" 

AND ... it is the joy we are called to OFFER to every person we meet.  You see, we know that every person deserves God's judgment.  We know that unless people confess their sin and turn from it, putting their faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life, they will perish in their sin.  They will face the horrible wrath and judgment of God.  They will spend eternity separated from Him in the fire of hell.  As Paul spoke to the men of Athens in Acts 17, he said, "God has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).  JESUS Himself will be the Judge who is seated on the throne at the end of this age, as this world comes to an end.

Jesus spoke about this in Matthew 25 when He said, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' ... Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels' ..." (Matthew 25:31-34, 41).

God's love is not unconditional.  It requires the death of His Son and it requires the work of His Spirit and the response of a new nature to believe in Jesus and to desire to live in obedience to His Word.  Believers are not yet perfect, but God sees us as perfect in Christ.  The true believer is never proud, but rather, humbly confesses sin and trusts in God's forgiveness through faith in Jesus.  Our security is found not in ourselves but in God's promise that "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13).

Therefore, motivated by God's love for us, we OFFER His love to others by calling them to repent, to turn away from sin and to believe in Jesus Christ.  Too often those who claim to be Christians simply declare condemnation.  As ambassadors of Jesus' kingdom we must expose sin and offer forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.  We must show God's mercy, patience and compassion to all, but we cannot, we dare not, we must not make the mistake of telling people that "God loves you!  No matter what you say or do!"  By doing so we are condemning people to hell.

Since Jesus Christ is "the Way and the Truth and the Life," (John 14:6), we must declare the good news, the Gospel, that by trusting in Jesus Christ your sins can be forgiven.  "If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).  ALL sin is equal before God.  All sexual sin and immorality, whether heterosexual or homosexual brings the judgment of God.  All lying, stealing, gossiping and thousands of other sins deserve God's judgment and those who refuse to acknowledge their sin and to seek God's forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ will face His just judgment and endure His holy wrath.

In love, we must warn all people of God's coming judgment and offer them hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  To those who believe God says, "Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.  For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them" (Ephesians 5:1-11).

Some ask, "Why do you pick out one sin to speak out about?"  The answer is two-fold:  We as Christians have not picked out one sin.  ALL sin deserves judgment.  Secondly, the reason we speak out against the sin of homosexual immorality is because society is saying it is "normal," and even some in the church are saying it is acceptable to God.  That is a lie that is leading many away from God's forgiveness in Christ and that will leave them in their sin, facing God's judgment.  God tells us to call sinners to repentance ... ALL sinners.  The Church must speak out against ALL sin more forcefully in our world today!  Sin brings judgment.  And we must offer God's love, grace and forgiveness through faith In Jesus Christ.

One of the most beautiful verses in all the Bible is "The wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (Romans 6:23).  That is followed by Romans 8.  In verse 1 we read, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  And after saying much more, Paul concludes, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

God's love is conditional when it comes to salvation.  Only those who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ will receive the gift of His love and grace and forgiveness, the gift of eternal life in His presence.  As those who have received His amazing grace, we offer the same in love to all people.  Love does not mean ignoring or passing over sin.  God doesn't do it and we can't do it.  If we truly love people we must help them to see their sin and point them to the cross of Jesus where the debt for sin was paid for once and for all for those who believe.  Only those who are united to Jesus Christ by true faith will escape the coming wrath and judgment of God.

If you love someone, tell them about Jesus Christ.  Help them to see that while we still struggle with sin in this life, the mark of one who has been born again by the Spirit is the desire to confess sin and to turn from it.  Where there is no such desire, there is only spiritual death.  God offers His love in Christ to all who will come to Him.  His love cost Jesus everything and Jesus says, "If anyone would follow Me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).

Will you come?  Have you come to Jesus?  Do not believe the lies of the world, or even of those in the church who say that God loves everybody and everyone will go to heaven some day.  The same Jesus who said, "Judge not," says just a few verses later, "Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).  Only Jesus can open the eyes of the blind!  Come to Him today and call others away from sin to follow Jesus, too.  THAT is love!!

Here is a true statement:  God offers His love to all and those who receive His love and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ shall be saved from His just judgment against sin ... ALL sin.  May God grant to you the joy of life in Christ and use you to speak His truth to others, that many will be moved by His Spirit to confess, repent, believe and be saved!!  Glory to God!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"Is God's judgment coming ... or is it already here?!!"

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth ..."  (Romans 1:18).

Because I know that many people think Jesus was all about loving people and ignoring sin, here are some words from Jesus to the disciples shortly before His crucifixion:

"And when He (the Holy Spirit) comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged" (John 16:8-11).

Sin and unrighteousness are those things that are contrary to God's revealed truth, both His creation and His Law.  Everything is judged by God by measuring them against the standard that HE has set.  While the Supreme Court, for example, determines the legality of same-sex marriage, God not only established the covenant of marriage to be one man and one woman, but also declares ALL sexual relationships outside of this covenant of marriage, including heterosexual and homosexual acts (and lust and abuse even inside the God-ordained marriage relationship) to be sin in His eyes and so worthy of His judgment.

Those in the world, and an increasing number of people in the visible church, believe that people who stand on God's Word are guilty of "judging others," and we all know Jesus said, "Do not judge!"  Actually, though, Jesus did not say that we should not "judge" the actions of those around us.  What He DID says was this:

"Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eyes?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:1-4).

It certainly sounds like Jesus is telling us not to judge others!  But listen to what He says in the next verse:

"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and THEN you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5).

The assumption made by those who think we as Christians are "judging" them is that all Christians are hypocrites.  Certainly, there are some hypocrites among us, but the definition of a "hypocrite" is one who pretends to be something they are not, and that does not define me or many others who truly know Jesus Christ.  I confess that I am a sinner, saved by grace.  The Apostle Paul described himself and God's mercy in the following verses:

"I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.  BUT I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost (the worst of all sinners), Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life" (I Timothy 1:12-16).

Every true believer in Jesus Christ is fully away of his or her own sin and rests in the grace of God for forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit that leads to confession and repentance (turning from sin to righteousness) and FREEDOM ... freedom from the guilt and power of sin, freedom to love and worship God in the righteousness He has described in His Word, freedom to know the truth about myself and my need of a Savior and then the joy of telling others the truth that they, too, may be saved.  When Jesus said, "Judge not!", He was pointing out that we must not set ourselves up above anyone else as though we were the final judge and jury or that we have the authority to condemn anyone.  GOD is the Judge and He WILL judge ALL people.  The only hope is faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that confesses, repents and believes in God's grace and forgiveness and which then produces "good fruit" (Matthew 7:15-20).

Those of us who by God's grace have been set free now desire to live a life pleasing to the Lord our God and because we know His love and forgiveness and grace we long for others to be set free from their bondage to sin.  Those who are enslaved by any sin, including sexual sins of all kind, are in bondage and unless they repent will face the just judgment of God.  WE don't judge anyone, but God has given to us the responsibility to proclaim His truth and to OFFER forgiveness to those who are convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit and who desire to turn from it.

What is happening today, however, is that people don't want to hear the truth ... the truth about themselves or about sin and its consequences.  They refuse to believe that God will punish anyone for failing to confess their sin and repent and believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  The very Jesus whom people claim "loves everybody" and who "would never send anyone to hell," spoke repeatedly of eternal life AND eternal death.  In fact, in the very same message where Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged," Jesus said a few verses later, "Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are FEW" (Matthew 7:13-14).

And because people refuse to hear the truth, to listen to God's warnings and to turn from their sin, they WILL face God's just judgment against their sin - not because I say so, but because GOD says so ... because JESUS says so!  As the Apostle Paul wrote about God's wrath and judgment in Romans 1, he explained that people "suppress the truth" (vs. 18) that God's Word is true, that His Law is good, that His standard of righteousness is perfect ... that obedience to God is FREEDOM and that living in sin is bondage.  They know it, they feel it, but they do everything they can to deny it.

Here's the disturbing thing when it comes to the latest cultural shift in our nation towards the approval of same-sex attraction, same-sex marriage, transgender and other such issues:  these reveal that God's judgment is not only coming in the future ... it is already here!!  In Romans 1 we read that the consequence of mankind's refusal to acknowledge the one true God and to come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ is this:  "God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator!!" (Romans 1:24).

Again in verses 26-27 we read, "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.  For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

And he goes on in verses 28-32 to say, "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.  They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."

God's judgment is upon our nation and our world, and the only escape is to confess your sin, to repent and to believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  By the power of His Holy Spirit Christ makes us new creations and gives us a new life, putting off the old nature and putting on the new, in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).  Only by the power of Jesus Christ can you or I or any person experience true spiritual freedom.  No other religion, no mere man-made philosophy, no theories or ideas of man can overcome the old nature of sin and escape the just judgment of God.  ONLY through faith in Jesus can you or I approach God as our Father in heaven and know that He loves us, that we are forgiven and that in Him I have eternal, everlasting life in the presence of a holy God who cannot look upon sin.

What an amazing message!  Yet most reject it because they refuse to acknowledge the truth about God's standard of righteousness, about sin and about judgment.  What about you?  What will YOU do?  What HAVE you done?  Some think that people like me are "haters," and words like these may soon be branded as "hate speech."  The truth is, it is because I know my own sin and my need for a Savior that I am compelled to tell others.  "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake He made Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Corinthians 5:20-21).

This is the message that those who are in bondage to any sin need to hear.   People engaging in sexual sins, whether heterosexual or homosexual need to understand that God's wrath is upon those who do not confess, repent and believe.  Those who refuse to confess that they ARE sinners in need of God's grace and who "practice" another religion or even claim to be Christians, but who rely in their own goodness, will face God's judgment.  SAFETY is found only in Jesus, "for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved!" (Acts 4:12).  Saved from what?  From God's judgment.

As I hear about a famous man declaring himself to be a woman and the media and people offer their opinions, I grieve for a soul in torment.  Then I read of those taking advantage who declare that we should not have genders and should allow children to decide if they are boys or girls.  And I think of Romans 1, "And God gave them up ..." ... "And God gave them up ..." ... "And God gave them up ..."  What happens to a person, to a people, when God gives them up to their sinful passions?  Despair ... and finally, judgment.  Being a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, is determined before birth.  In rare cases ... VERY rare cases, there may be a medical problem which, in most cases, can be corrected by a balance of hormones.  The lie of the enemy is that this is "normal," that "this is the way God made THEM." 

To those caught in the bondage of a nature that is contrary to God's perfect righteousness (and that includes ALL of us), there is hope.  For some it will mean leading a single life ... Christ and His body welcome you as you walk this road.  For others it will mean overcoming the temptations to act on the sinful impulses that come from the old nature in order to seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness.  For all of us, in one way or another, it means relying on God's grace and on His strength every single day as we long for that day when we will enter His presence and be made like Him, free once and for all from the enslaving power of sin and the bondage it brings.

Meanwhile, we who believe in Jesus and who have found forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus are called to be light in this dark world.  Jesus offers freedom ... He really does ... but He says that the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to life.  JESUS is the Way and the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through faith in Him (John 14:6).  Have you come to Him?  Have you experienced the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.  God says, "Come, let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18).

Stop believing the lies of the enemy of your soul and listen to the voice of Jesus, who came to give Himself as a ransom for many, that we may receive real life, eternal life, through Him, as His Spirit works within us.  God's judgment is here!  Our nation is under His judgment even now, along with the rest of the world.  But until Jesus returns there is time for one more ... for YOU or someone you know and love ... to be set free and to find in Jesus eternal life, the life that brings hope and peace and joy inexpressible!! (I Peter 1:8-9).

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!"  (Acts 16:31).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"From evolution to abortion ... to same-sex 'marriage' ... to riots ... "

WARNING!  What you are about to read will not be considered "politically correct" ...

... but I have a much higher authority to which I must answer and therefore I pray that what I share here is nothing but truth from God's Word.  My only desire is to be faithful to what HE says and to thus speak with the authority of the prophets when they said, "Thus says the LORD!"  Since MY word is not "God-breathed" (II Timothy 3:16), I must rely on what God reveals in His Word, the Bible, and it is my desire to share that with you here and so to attempt to point out the real issues that lie at the root of the problems we are facing today in our society and throughout the world.

As we approach the National Day of Prayer next week the Supreme Court begins to hear arguments concerning same-sex "marriage."  I put the word "marriage" in quotes because the Supreme Court has no authority to overturn GOD's definition of true marriage as between one man and one woman.  There has never been same-sex "marriage" in God's eyes and there never will be.  Individual states may pass laws and the Supreme Court may "re-define" marriage, but God's truth never changes.  Consequently, the clear answer to what is going on in our society and throughout the world is much simpler than most people can possibly imagine:  people have rejected the one true God, our Creator AND His commands!  The result is what you see around you, including what happened yesterday in Baltimore.

President Clinton quoted Proverbs 29:18 back in the 1990's ... or should I say, misquoted it.  He stated, "Where there is no vision the people perish."  He believed, as do many today, that all people need is a vision of hope and they will choose to do what is good and right.  President Obama promised the same thing when he was running for President in 2007 and 2008.  It was as though "change," ANY change, would accomplish something that men and governments have been unable to accomplish since the beginning of the human race:  bring about heaven on earth by overcoming the depravity of the sinful human nature ... a nature turned away from God.

What Proverbs 29:18 actually says is, "Where there is no prophetic vision (literally - 'no commandment' or no word from God) - the people cast off restraint, ... BUT blessed is he who keeps the law."  It would have been good if someone would have given the people of Baltimore that message yesterday.  When the preacher at the funeral of the young black man who died while in police custody shouted, "NO JUSTICE ..." and the congregation responded, "NO PEACE!" ... they revealed what lies at the bottom of what's wrong in Baltimore, in large cities all over our nation, in every state and region, and elsewhere all over the world:  the rejection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the substitution of the man-made message of social justice that relies on the will of men to change circumstances rather than the power of God to change hearts!!  True social change comes through the preaching of the Gospel.

Without God's truth and without God's Spirit, people cast off restraint ... they do whatever they want. And where does that begin?  By rejecting God as the Creator!  The teaching of evolution in our schools decades ago began the rapid downward slide of our society.  I challenge anyone to deny the truth of that statement.  Legalization of abortion soon followed, then the trend toward living together without marriage, followed by the approval of a homosexual lifestyle and the protection of pornography by the first amendment (really??) ... and now same-sex marriage, transgender becoming an option for more people and on it goes.  Even things like lotteries and casinos promote destructive behavior that is contrary to God's revealed will, to His commands.

If you do not believe God is your Creator and you reject the Bible as the Word of God you have effectively removed the only restraint for the sinful nature with which we are all born.  The "story" of Adam and Eve is more than a story!  Satan's rebellion against God, his temptation of the first man and woman and God's plan to redeem some through the work of Jesus Christ all point to our need for a Savior, for forgiveness, for reconciliation with God, for new life by the power of His Holy Spirit.  Apart from that we are spiritually dead, lost and without hope!  Those who claim to be Christian but whose message is focused only on the things of this world do not know Christ.  Is social justice part of the message?  Yes!  But it is not ALL of the message.

As I watched the news last night and again this morning, one speaker after another, from politicians to clergy to news people pointed to the poverty and hopelessness of those who were rioting.  This is a city that is 40 miles from the nation's capital.  So what have these people been doing for the past fifty years??  What have the politicians who now say, "Something needs to be done!" been doing?  They have created a system that rewards teens for getting pregnant and having children without fathers.  Police brutality?!  Millions of dollars paid out over the past few years to those abused by police?  One former leader in Baltimore blamed it on the drug laws ... the laws that allow police to check a person for drugs and put them in jail.  Are all the laws "fair?"  Perhaps not, but the simple answer would be: "Don't break the law!"  The young man who tragically died had broken the law.  The police officers are attempting to keep order in a city where there is none.  Could it be that the city has paid out so much money not because there is so much abuse by police but because some see antagonizing the police and resisting police as an opportunity to get a lawyer and get a settlement?

There is undoubtedly some inequality in our larger cities, but there are also opportunities than ever before for education and peaceful coexistence IF there is a common foundation.  The teaching of evolution removes the very heart of what people need to know in order to respect life, beginning with their own.  You are either an insignificant accident in an endless universe or a special creation of God.  Which gives you a greater sense of the value of your life and the lives of others?  People are continually saying that we shouldn't mix religion and politics, but the truth is, once you understand the depravity of the sinful human nature that is in rebellion against God and against all authority - parents, schools, employers, government - you realize that government needs GOD's authority in order to control the nature of mankind.

The question then becomes, "Which religion?"  The choice should be a relatively easy one.  Christianity is the only true religion because in His Word (the Bible) and in His Son Jesus Christ (the Living Word), God has revealed both the problem and the solution!  The problem is sin (breaking God's law) and the solution is Jesus Christ, who gives new life to those who know and love Him, who are born again by His Spirit.  I grow weary of those who are NOT born again being used as examples to point out how bad Christians are and why Christianity is not the answer.  MANY people who claim to be Christians know nothing about following Jesus and living in obedience to God's Word.  Jesus would never cry out "NO JUSTICE ... NO PEACE!"  Have these people even read the Gospels or any of the rest of the Bible??!!

Then the news people tell us that what is happening in the riots is a distraction from the real issues.  Truthfully, the riots reveal what the real issues are:  the heart of man is desperately wicked.  No matter what the situation, people make their own choices.  Speaking out against injustice, protesting to a point, may be a way to bring about a measure of social change, but breaking the law is breaking the law.  There is no excuse, there is no reason why those in power could not have prevented the poverty of the inner cities and other areas.  Respect for one another begins with knowing God and realizing that you are here to testify to His truth and to live as a witness of healing and reconciliation that extends beyond this world!

JESUS said, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).  True Christians testify to the truth, confessing our own sin and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness and life.  Islam and all the other religions of the world offer nothing but human laws and wars and violence to try to control human nature.  Look at the nations of the world.  People aren't flocking to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia, India, China, etc.  Those who are Muslims here in the United States should ask themselves why they can enjoy such freedom here!  It is because of the influence of Christianity and of Christians who have given time, talent and treasure, who have given their very lives to defend the cause of freedom around the world for more than a hundred years.  If you want to live under Muslim law, go live in a Muslim country.

Now the "Interfaith Movement" declares that the answer is getting all religions together.  The authors of a weekly column on interfaith insights in the local Grand Rapids Press reveal a deep and willful ignorance of true Christianity by thinking that we can or will sacrifice biblical truth in order to all just "get along together."  They actually have convinced themselves that doing so will bring about peace among all peoples and all nations when God says that it is when the Antichrist and the False Prophet appear on the stage of history just prior to Jesus' return and create a false peace that the judgment of God in its fullness will fall on this planet and upon all mankind.

As immorality abounds and the Supreme Court attempts to replace God and people reject authority and life becomes more and more meaningless to countless millions, where will YOU turn for the answer?  The Apostle Paul summarizes it in Romans 1:28-32, when inspired by the Spirit of God he writes, "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.  They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."

Woe to those who claim to be preachers and teachers who twist and distort the truth of God's Word, to their own destruction and the destruction of those who listen to them.  This, too, was foretold in God's Word:  "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (II Timothy 3:1-5).

The solution ...  "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.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (II Timothy 4:1-5).

To those of us who by God's grace have come to know the truth, it is our responsibility to speak the truth.  It is the most loving thing we can do, even though the world may call it "hate speech."  One news person this morning (who claims to be a "Christian" but who obviously has no idea what it means), in talking about the Supreme Court case concerning same-sex "marriage" stated that any Presidential candidate who says they would not attend a "gay wedding" should not even be considered for the office.  Such ignorant arrogance is appalling, but increasingly common today.  We who know the one true God through faith in Jesus, the Christ, understand that this life and this world are temporary.  God will send Jesus again to judge all mankind.  But there IS hope!  "Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him" (Hebrews 9:27-28).  Are you eagerly waiting for Him?

Peter writes, "Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord WILL come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  Since all those things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  BUT according to His promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (II Peter 3:8-13).

From the teaching of evolution to the Supreme Court and same-sex "marriage," from abortion to riots in the streets of Baltimore, mankind reveals the rebellion that lies in the heart of every man, woman and child ever born into this world ... except ONE!  God sent His Son to be the Savior of all who would believe in Him!!  "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  Jesus came to bring forgiveness and life to those who confess their sin and who desire to turn from it.  "God did not send His Son (the first time) into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  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.  And this is the judgment:  the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out by God" (John 3:17-21).

Not one of us is "good enough" to earn God's grace and forgiveness.  Either Jesus paid my debt on the cross or I am forever lost, destined for eternal judgment in the fires of hell.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we (who are chosen, redeemed, forgiven and sealed  - Ephesians 1:3-7) ... for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).  True Christians are responsible for more relief work, social justice and loving sacrifice than all the people of all the other religions in the world combined.  It is our desire to shine God's light and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  May we be found so doing when Jesus returns in glory!

Until then, the truth still sets some people free ... those who hear it and who respond by placing their faith, their hope in Jesus Christ.  Those who have been deceived by evolution need to begin by reading Genesis 1:1.  Those who have no hope can go to the end of the Bible and read Revelation 21-22, to see how it all ends.  There are only two possible destinations, two possible endings to this scenario in which we find ourselves because of our rebellion against God:  eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth, or eternal death in the fires of hell.  Life in God's presence or life separated from God ... forever!

As Moses said to the people of Israel more than 3,000 years ago:  "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days ..."  (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

TODAY Jesus says to you, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29).  What will you do with Jesus?  What will you say to a world that is living without hope and without God?  How will you answer those who question you?  Can you explain what is happening?  Can you point to the solution?

To you who believe, be loving, be bold, be honest!  Speak GOD's truth and be ready to bear the consequences.  In the end, JESUS wins!!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Religious freedom, Jesus and the Cross ... "

They didn't know who He was ... this One who was going about healing the sick, preaching about the kingdom of God, calling people to repent, calming storms, even raising the dead.  Even the religious leaders of the Jews did not understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promise made first to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that He would send a Savior who would crush the head of Satan and destroy evil.  They did not understand that Jesus WAS the "Seed of Abraham" through whom forgiveness and eternal life would come to all who believed.  And like many today, they did not understand their own need and why Jesus had come.  Instead, they felt threatened and wanted to get rid of Him!  In the same way, people today feel threatened by His followers, and want to get rid of us!!

Jesus said to the religious leaders of the Jews who claimed that their heritage made them "children of God," "You are from below; I am from above.  You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the One I claim to be, you WILL indeed die in your sins" (John 8:23-24).  Those who declare that Jesus never claimed to be God have either never read the Bible or have rejected what it says.  Jesus went on to say, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).  When they claimed that they had never been slaves and therefore didn't need to be set free, Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36).

As we hear about the battle over "religious freedom" that is going on in our nation (and which has been going on for at least fifty years), you need to understand what the REAL battle is about.  This week there will be many who go to places called churches to remember the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross and then celebrate His resurrection.  There will be much joy and happiness expressed by people who claim to believe in Jesus because in their minds Jesus is all about LOVE.  "God loves everybody; Jesus loves everybody; and His followers are called to love everybody!"  For millions, that is the message of the cross and the reason to celebrate His resurrection.

But wait! Is that what the Bible teaches?  What about Jesus' words that He came to set people FREE?!  What about the verse that was quoted just a few months ago at Christmas celebrations:  "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name JESUS, because He will save His people from their sins!" (Matthew 1:21)?  Why did the eternal Son of God become a man in the first place?  Why did God send His Son into the world?  The Bible tells us in what is perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible:  "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

The inescapable truth of John 3:16 is that those who do NOT believe in Jesus WILL perish and will NOT have eternal life.  So what does it mean to believe in Jesus?  If SIN enslaves you and me, how does Jesus set us free from both the guilt and the power of sin?  Perhaps a brief definition of "sin" would help people understand:  "SIN"  = "missing the mark."  We who believe the Bible today are accused of "singling out one sin" when it comes to homosexuality.  That seems odd to me because our culture today doesn't even acknowledge that homosexual behavior IS sin.  It is true, however, that we point out that practicing homosexual acts, along with every other kind of sexual immorality, is sin ... by God's definition.  God's says, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like ...  those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).

Remember what Jesus said, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34).  So who is guilty of sin?  Every human being alive on the face of the earth and every human being who has ever lived on this earth ... except one - Jesus!  THAT's why Jesus came!!  "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!" (Romans 3:10-11).  You and I and every person we know or meet is guilty of sin before a holy God and the Bible says that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

JESUS came to SAVE us from God's just wrath and judgment against our sin!  He did that by going to the cross and enduring the wrath of the Father in our place.  We don't remember Jesus' death and celebrate His resurrection because it shows us some vague concept of love, but rather, because by His suffering and death Jesus "atoned for," paid the debt for our sins.  In a text read so often on Good Friday, Isaiah wrote, hundreds of years before Jesus died on the cross, "He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to His own way; and the LORD has laid on HIM the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:4-6).  Sin, ALL sin, MUST be punished.  Either you will believe in Jesus and trust that He was punished in your place, OR you will be punished eternally in hell for your sin.  That is true for every person alive today!!

Take all of the sins of the world and add them all together and there is now only one unforgivable sin:  unbelief.  Jesus told the Pharisees, "If you don't believe in me you will die in your sins."  Eternal life or eternal death ... that's what hangs in the balance.  John writes in I John 1:8-9:  "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  Freedom from guilt and from God's just judgment against sin comes only through faith in Jesus Christ ... a faith that turns from sin to follow the path of righteousness.  Simply acknowledging that Jesus lived and died and rose again, without confessing sin and seeking God's forgiveness, without trusting that the blood of Jesus shed on the cross paid your debt, is not faith.  Faith involves trusting God's promise that on the cross Jesus actually became sin for us so that in Him we might be righteous in the sight of God (II Corinthians 5:21).

This is what the Bible teaches, and it is reason to celebrate for those who trust in Jesus, who can sing, "What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!"  And this is why we who believe the Bible and believe what Jesus said are sent into the world to call sinners to repentance.  We have found the cure for the disease of sin that is 100% fatal without the blood of Christ shed on the cross.  "The wages of sin is DEATH, BUT the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 6:23).  This is good news!  And because we love people ... ALL people ... we want them to hear the good news like we have heard it.  In fact, Jesus commands us to tell everybody the good news, even though He and we know that many (most) will not receive it or welcome it.  Why?  Because they are still dead in their sin.

In that third chapter of John's gospel, Jesus goes on to say, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  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.  This is the verdict:  Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (John 3:17-20).

Some hear the words of verse 17, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world," and say, "See, Jesus is love, He didn't come to judge anyone!"  They don't read the rest of the verse and what comes after it.  Jesus doesn't have to condemn anyone because those who sin condemn themselves.  Faith in Jesus is the ONLY cure, the only escape from God's judgment.  Paul testified to the men of Athens in Acts 17:  "God commands all people everywhere to repent.  For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).  Jesus WILL come as Judge when He returns.

Paul would write to Timothy, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst" (I Timothy 1:15).  We who speak out against sin of any kind know that we, ourselves, our sinners.  I am no better than any other person.  The only difference is that I KNOW my sin, I confess my sin and I desire with all my heart to turn from it, and so I am thankful for the cross of Jesus and rejoice in His resurrection and His victory over death.  I believe He paid my debt and I am FREE from the guilt and power of sin as His Holy Spirit now works in me.  With Paul I can say, "I have been crucified with Christ and now I no longer live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20).

Later in his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul wrote, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). "You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature!" (Galatians 5:13).  Understand this, I am not "homophobic."  I love people and it is not a sin to be born with same-sex attraction, if that is the case for you (many, if not most, CHOOSE to indulge the sinful nature in all kinds of sexual immorality, even within marriage between a man and a woman).  It IS sin, however, to engage in any kind of sexual immorality, including homosexual practices.  Jesus even declared that lust was equal to committing adultery in God's sight.  The truth is, we are all sinners.

BUT, Jesus came to set us free!!  "Therefore, there is now no condemnation FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS (for those who are united to Him by faith ... a faith that confesses sin, desires to turn from it, and lives by the power of the Holy Spirit in obedience to God's Word).  "... because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of LIFE set me free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, GOD did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law (of God) might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit" (John 8:1-4).

Practicing homosexuality is not the only sin, or even the worst sin, but it is sin ... not because I say so, but because God says so, and Jesus came to set us free from the bondage of sin.  This weekend we are celebrating Jesus' death and resurrection because through faith in Jesus the door to the kingdom of heaven was opened for all who would place their hope in Jesus for forgiveness and life.  Entrance into the kingdom of God is only through Jesus ... confession, repentance, FAITH!!!  Paul writes to the Corinthians, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you WERE!  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free ... do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).  Slavery to sin leads to death ... spiritual, eternal death.  In love, we who know Jesus offer forgiveness and life to those who desire to turn from sin.  Our culture today insists that the road is wide that leads to eternal life, but you cannot claim to believe in Jesus and at the same time believe the lies of the world and of Satan, because JESUS said, "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).  By the way, that truth is found in the two verses that immediately follow what many call "the Golden Rule."  You can't just listen to part of what Jesus says and ignore the rest.

So where does that leave us with respect to religious freedom?  Our culture has officially rejected the Word of God, the truth found in the Bible.  Talk show hosts, church leaders, politicians and others who claim to be "Christians" and who support abortion, homosexual behavior, and a host of others things that the Bible calls "sin," will answer to God for their words and their actions.  Any opinion is accepted today except what is called the opinion of those of us who believe the Bible to be the very Word of God.  What we offer, however, is not our "opinion."  You cannot claim to know Jesus, to be a Christian, and ignore what the Bible says, because the only book that tells you about Jesus is the Bible!!  Either it is all true, or none of it is.

As a follower of Jesus who loves people I am commanded by my Father in heaven and by my Savior to do some things that are hard, and one of those things is to speak out against sin ... ALL sin ... including my own!  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes, "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.  Therefore do not be partners with them.  For you were once darkness (we are ALL born that way!), but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible" (Ephesians 5:6-13).

God's Word exposes sin and points to the cure:  Jesus Christ!!  It grieves me and others who know Jesus when we see people in bondage to sin.  We welcome those who are struggling with any sin to come to Jesus and we stand ready to walk beside them in their journey to live as His disciple, turning from sin to righteousness.  We all struggle with sin, with temptation, but the power of the Spirit of God working through His Word is able to transform you and to give you hope and joy and peace in Christ.  According to the Bible, "hate speech" is telling someone to go ahead and live in their sin, because in the end you have just signed their death warrant.

Sadly, we are not going to turn back the clock to a time when God's Word was the foundation for some sense of morality in our culture, but we who believe should not be forced to approve of what God says is sin or to participate in approving it in any way.  I heard a pastor say on TV, "I cannot and will not serve a God who doesn't love everybody the same" (meaning every person, no matter what their life is like, no matter what religion or belief they have, or whether they have any belief ... ).  I have news for that pastor and for others who want a god who is willing to overlook sin, unbelief and rebellion:  such a god doesn't exist.  You are serving a false god, a god of your own imagination.  And one day, you will stand before the true God, as I will, and answer for your sin.  My answer will be:  I claim the blood of Jesus shed on the cross as my only plea!  What will you say?  What will those say who have been lied to, who have been told that their sin isn't sin?

"He (Jesus) has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him" (Hebrews 9:26-27).

Eternal life awaits those who trust in Jesus, who by His Spirit rest in His sacrifice as the payment for their sin, and who now confess their sin and seek to live in obedience to His Word by the power of the Spirit within us.  Eternal death awaits those who remain enslaved in their sin, blinded to the truth, living to please themselves rather than God.  Love compels us to warn them and to offer forgiveness and life to all who will come to Jesus in repentance and faith.  While we cannot turn back the clock or foolishly hope that our culture would come to its senses, religious freedom must allow us to speak and to live out our faith in this nation that once stood for freedom for all.  How to do that in a society determined to bring God's judgment upon our nation is increasingly difficult.  I commend those legislators who are attempting to preserve OUR rights as citizens of the United States of America, but it is not surprising that we who know Jesus and who believe the Bible to be true are being hated and persecuted today.  

Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.'  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin.  Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.  He who hates me hates my Father as well" (John 15:18-23).

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).  Rejoice in the cross of Jesus and remember that He said those who would be His disciples must "deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24).  The road is narrow ... but it leads to life!  Do not grow weary, "for it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him" (Philippians 1:29).  Do not rely on government or the world for peace of heart and mind or for hope in the midst of the battle against sin and evil.  Rest in Jesus and live by the power of His Spirit, for HE IS LORD!!

Then, at the end of your life, you will be able to say with Paul and those who have gone before us who have lived by faith in Jesus, the Christ, the eternal Son of God, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing" (II Timothy 4:7-8).  AMEN! Come, Lord Jesus!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Why 'Israel' is a topic all Christians should be interested in!"

"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains … For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equaled again. … … 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.'  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, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (Matthew 24:15-16,21,29-31).

There is only one "Judea," as there is only one Jerusalem and one geographic area that God promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah.  The present state of Israel possesses part of the land God promised would be theirs. They will eventually possess the rest.  Our present generation is the first to see the possibility of the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy as it is recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In His prophecy Jesus ties coming events in Judea (Israel) to His return in power and glory at the end of the age.  As events unfold, it becomes clearer and clearer that we are approaching the time foretold throughout the Bible, when Jesus will return to reign as King upon the earth for a thousand years.

This is "the story behind the story" this week, as Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu addressed the members of the U.S. Congress (at least most of them).  While much of the world sees only nations battling for supremacy or, in Israel's case, their mere existence as a nation, there is more going on than meets the eye.  The Prime Minister declared that if Israel needs to stand alone, they will still stand.  They will do what they need to do to defend themselves.  I admire his tenacity and his willingness to declare to the world that the Jewish people will not be passive as their enemies threaten to destroy them.  When those with whom we negotiate call the United States "the Great Satan" and state that all the Jews can return to Israel, thus eliminating the need to "hunt them down," one would think that reasonable people would understand why Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted to address the leaders of our nation … yes, we have more than one leader!!

God declared in Genesis 12:3, as He made His covenant with Abraham (then Abram), "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse."  In our day, while some might say that the existence of Israel has been and perhaps still is dependent on the United States, the truth is:  the continued existence of the United States is quite possibly dependent on our support for Israel!!  Surely, we are a nation under God's judgment in many ways because of our great sins against God as a people. Should we in any way "turn our backs" on Israel God's greater judgment will not be far behind.  What that will look like only God Himself knows.  Though most in Congress and in the general population of the United States are utterly and totally ignorant of Biblical truth and prophecy, "religion" has everything to do with what is going on in our world today.  It always has and it always will.  But it's not what many, even in the church, think.

Judaism, as a religion, is fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ, the Jewish Messiah.  God's plan to establish His kingdom on the earth was revealed through the prophets and Jesus came the first time … the eternal Son of God taking upon Himself human flesh in order to be the perfect sacrifice for sin in His death on the cross … He came the first time to die on the cross, to rise again and to ascend into heaven, pouring out His Holy Spirit and calling some from every people, tribe, nation and tongue to follow Him, to build His Church (literally, "the called-out ones"), in order to gather for Himself a people who would live with Him forever in a new heaven and earth, His eternal kingdom.  We are in the age of salvation, the time when through faith in Jesus Christ people who are born again by His Spirit and who repent and believe are SAVED from God's coming wrath and judgment.  This age will end … but how … and when?

As someone explained in the midst of a discussion about these things on a television news program, Iran and ISIS may appear to be enemies, but Prime Minister Netanyahu was correct when he said that "the enemy of your enemy is your enemy."  Some may have thought he misspoke, and he may not have grasped the depth of the truth he was speaking, but the fact that Iran is fighting "with" us and others to defeat ISIS does NOT mean we are on the same side.  In one way we are actually helping Iran by fighting against ISIS because Iran wants to be the chief representative of Islam.  THAT's why they do not want ISIS to succeed.  This IS a conflict about religion and it is a conflict within Islam.  Indeed, the entire area is involved, just as God said it would be, just as it has been since God made His covenant with Abraham through Isaac more than 4,000 years ago.  Saying this has nothing to do with religion is foolish.  Iran knows it's about religion; ISIS knows it's about religion.  We who believe the Bible know it's about religion!  Satan continues to war against the one true God and it is Islam that is one of his instruments, still seeking to destroy the people whom God Himself has chosen and to wipe Israel off the map.  Prime Minister Netanyahu mentioned Purim and the biblical book of Esther.  Those who come against Israel will, in the end, suffer the same fate as those who have come against her in previous centuries.  Islam teaches cataclysmic events will bring about the end of this age, but their end is much different than what the Bible predicts.

Sadly, many within the Christian church do not understand what God says about the present and the future.  Believing that the Church has somehow replaced Israel (the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah), most believe that the world will just somehow go on until Jesus comes.  Others in the visible church believe Israel has something to do with the future, but they don't know what the Bible says about it and are "blissfully ignorant" of what the Bible says about these days in which we are living and what is yet to come.  Even though Scripture is filled with specific prophecies such as the verses above, they choose to ignore these things and go on about their business, often playing religion, believing that God exists to give them what they want, rather than existing to declare His kingdom, His reign and the coming return of Jesus.  Where is the passion for His return, the urgency to proclaim the Gospel and to stand firm in the faith?  Instead there is confusion, division and complacency, along with an intermingling of religions that leaves people in the darkness when it comes to the significance of the events going on around us in the world.

Rest assured, God is at work today preparing the world for the return of Jesus Christ to reign as King, just as He was at work preparing the world for Jesus' birth some 2,000 years ago.  None of these events are happening by chance.  There is a great "Director" who is orchestrating the current scenario to align all things with His plan.  As I shared with the congregation last Sunday, the beauty of this truth is that the same God who is ordering the events of the nations around us is also ordering the events of our lives for His glory.  Through faith in Jesus Christ YOU can know that God's purpose in YOUR life is that you would shine as a light for Him in this world.  Whether in joy and prosperity or in pain, suffering and struggles, God is with those who come to Him through faith in Jesus, for it is His Spirit who planted that faith in our hearts and moved us to confess Jesus as Savior and Lord.  God knows those who are His and will never abandon us … any more than He will abandon Israel, the Jews, His chosen people.  It cannot and it will not happen.

So when Prime Minister Netanyahu says that Israel will stand, even if they have to stand alone, he is only partly right.  Israel will stand, but only by the power of the God of Israel, the One true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.   It will, however, not be without pain and suffering.  Jesus clearly predicts a time of great distress in Judea (Israel) just prior to His coming.  The prophet Jeremiah writes, "How awful that day will be!  None will be like it.  It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it" (Jeremiah 30:7).  The prophet Zechariah reveals God's Word and His plan in Zechariah 14:  "A day of the LORD is coming when your plunder will be divided among you.  I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped.  Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city" (Zechariah 14:1-2).

Fortunately, Zechariah's prophecy does not end there.  He goes on to say, "Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle.  On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem …  the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him. … The LORD will be King over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one LORD, and His Name the only Name" (Zechariah 14:3-5,8-9).  The events of today are leading to the fulfillment of this and many other prophecies concerning the Jewish people and their land.  Nothing is happening by chance.  As God raised up other nations to come against His chosen people in the days of the prophets, prior to Jesus coming, in order to bring judgment upon them, so He will gather the nations against Israel one more time.  But this time, He Himself will deliver them, defeating the Antichrist and his armies.  The dividing line is Israel.  Choosing sides in this battle is not only a national choice, but a personal choice.

Being a "Christian" used to mean believing that the Bible was true.  Today it seems to mean that you believe Jesus was a good man, an historical figure who lived a long time ago and maybe who even did something on the cross that brings some benefit to you … but that's about it.  GOD's definition of a followers of Jesus, the Christ, is one who believes that Jesus IS the eternal Son of God and that He is coming again to establish His kingdom for eternity.  Being a Christian is not simply about going to heaven some day, it is about being part of God's eternal kingdom, now and in the future in the new heaven and the new earth.  And first, Jesus will come to establish His reign on the earth and to display God's wisdom and power through the nation of Israel.  Then all the world will know that the LORD, the great "I AM," Yahweh is GOD … not Allah or any other god.  Then all the world will know that it is only through Jesus Christ and in HIS name that there is salvation … forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

What is going on in our world is all about religion … the one true religion versus all the false religions of man, including, but not exclusively, Islam.  God has revealed Himself in His Word, the Bible.  Those who say, "You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say," reveal their ignorance and the fact that they have probably never read or studied God's Word.  Others have taken bits and pieces from the Bible and twisted and distorted it to their own destruction and the destruction of those who listen to them.  Unlike the Koran, the truth recorded in the Bible was revealed from the beginning  through forty different authors over a span of many centuries, rather than to one man.  The Bible records the history of mankind and God's plan from the beginning of creation to its end, and then the new beginning.  Unlike the Koran, the Bible is filled with prophecies, some of which have been specifically fulfilled already, others that are being specifically fulfilled in our present day, and some which await their fulfillment in the near future.  All true Christians must be extremely interested in what is happening and what will happen with Israel.  Why?  Because the time of the end is near and God has called us to be ambassadors of His kingdom, declaring the truth to others and offering them salvation through faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.  He WILL reign over all the earth and we who believe will reign with Him from Jerusalem.  That's where all of this is heading.

But first, as Jesus says in the verses above, there will be a time of great tribulation.  Many in the church today believe that God will gather His people BEFORE this time of tribulation, but Jesus says, "Immediately AFTER the distress of those days … the Son of Man … will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (Matthew 24:29-31).  In a verse that I would rather not read, the Apostle John writes in Revelation 20:4:  "I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.  They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands.  They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years."

As we watch Christians being beheaded by ISIS, God's Word has predicted such things and everything will be fulfilled precisely as God has said.  Our hope rests in God's promises to those who place their trust in Him.  These things must be of more than passing interest to those who follow Christ.  Are we ready to stand firm in the face of persecution?  Are we willing to pay the ultimate price for our testimony to the truth of the Gospel, to our Savior and Lord?  If we cannot endure the struggles we face today, how will we stand as these things unfold?  It is time for the true Church to rise up, to be done with lesser things, to focus on the Gospel and to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, the ONLY way to draw near to God.

Israel plays an even bigger part in God's plans than Prime Minister Netanyahu and many of the Jews who are returning to Israel possibly understand.  As you and I live in this world we must read and study God's Word, seeking to understand all that He has revealed to us.  Here is the ONLY place to find true HOPE … hope based not on what might happen or on what we ourselves will accomplish by our own efforts, but hope based on the very promises of the sovereign God who at this moment rules over all things and who guides even rulers and nations for His own purposes, for His glory, and for the welfare of all who trust in Him and who serve Him as we live life in this world by His power that is at work within us.  May you have that hope today, knowing that our God reigns, that He is the God of salvation, and that through faith in Jesus Christ we need not fear because in the end victory over sin and death and the grave is ours!

Praise be to our God, the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God of creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  "To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen!!"  (Jude 24-25).

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Why young people (and others of all ages) are dying for something to live for!"

Honesty is a rare commodity today.  Perhaps it has always been that way.  Most people pretend that life in this world is worth living.  People give all sorts of reasons, as they attempt to persuade themselves.  The proverbial, "I live for the weekend!" is more than a slogan on a tee-shirt … it is reality for much of our society.  As a pastor, it would be wonderful if people meant by that the joy of gathering with God's people in worship was what they looked forward to, but for many, if not most, it is the freedom from work that enables them to indulge the human nature's desire to engage in self-centered activity that in itself has no productive consequence.  I'm not talking about the thousands of hard-working people who use the weekend to catch up on household chores, personal relationships and necessary relaxation.  These are necessary parts of everyday life that require a day or two away from the regular routine of employment.  It is the desire to find your meaning and purpose and joy and hope in the things of THIS life that leads to people pretending that their lives are worth living when in reality they are empty shells of a mere earthly existence.

Jesus offers something so much better, so much more satisfying, meaningful and rewarding, yet most people reject REAL LIFE in order to continue their make-believe fairy tale that maybe tomorrow will be better.  The "Millennials" are not the first generation to do so.  In the early 1950's our society was already facing the unrest of post-World War II living.  The Korean War and the Cold War with the Soviet Union added to the sense that all was not well with the world.  Large urban cities were faced with racial turmoil and delinquency that threatened inner city neighborhoods.  Government and civic leaders attempted to address the issues of education, poverty and the disappearing family unity with little success.  Meanwhile, there was another, similar plague infecting our society at a different level.

The spreading disease of unrest caused by the meaningless nature of life was uncovered in, of all things, a movie.  "Rebel Without a Cause" was released in 1955.  The movie starred an up-and-coming handsome young star named, James Dean.  Designed to show the unrest of the middle-class, suburban teenager, it exposed more than most imagined and opened the floodgate of a shift in American society that would ultimately lead to the chaos of drugs and "free love" of the '60's and early '70's.  I would argue that we as a society have never recovered from those tumultuous years.  We do a relatively good job of pretending that we have because we are more "sophisticated" in entertaining ourselves, but the title of the movie is the theme of what the Bible describes as mankind living in rebellion against our Creator.  James Dean died at the age of 24 in a car crash less than one month before the movie was released.  His death made the movie an instant box office hit.

Fast forward sixty short years to the year 2015.  Alcohol and other drugs flood our college campuses and have flowed into our high schools and even middle schools.  The family unit is disappearing and marriage is being re-defined as millions try to grasp onto something that will give a momentary escape from the reality of their meaningless lives.  The eastern religions, with their "transcendental meditation" and strange gurus briefly attracted the attention of some, but they soon faded away, failing to deliver on their promise to bring inner peace and tranquility.  In their place an insidious disease began to spread from the Middle East.  It was a "religion with a cause" … Islam.  "Conquer the world for Allah!" 

We can debate whether or not Islam is a religion of war, and whether Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah, the Taliban and a host of other terrorist groups (all Islamic) are extremists, but this much is clear:  the goal of Islam is to have everyone live under Sharia Law!  And the reason this is appealing to so many is because of the failed attempt by mankind to come up with a solution for the sinful rebellion of the human race that leads to the cultural chaos that exists all around us.  Islam teaches that the only way to control the sinful nature of mankind (though they don't call it that) is through force - by enforcing the LAW!  Thus, strict Islamic countries have no true freedom … none!!  The religious leaders dictate to the political leaders how society will be ordered.  Punishment for crimes is swift and certain.  Steal and you lose your hand.  Commit adultery and you die.  There is no opportunity to repent, to turn, to seek forgiveness, reconciliation, or salvation.  Only by living under strict LAW is there order in society.

Another alternative is the godless society of atheistic nations like Russia (the former Soviet Union) and China.  Their solution to the same problem is government.  The state becomes the overseer of society and enforces the rules determined to be in the best interest of that society.  The preservation of the STATE, the nation, becomes the goal and thus the purpose of the citizens living under their authority.  Only a totalitarian government can maintain a semblance of control over human nature and so the reins of control must be held tightly, once again eliminating a great deal of freedom for its "subjects."  Without religion, the highest goal is the nation-state and its growth in power and prosperity.  Individuals are dispensable in order to preserve the state, leaving the common people once again without a cause, without a purpose.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this desperate existence as he wrote to the Romans nearly two thousand years ago.  He declared that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18).  He then goes on to explain how mankind has rebelled against their Creator and how God has given us over to the sinful lusts of a spiritual nature now DEAD and unable to live with and for God.  Listen to Paul's haunting words:

"Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.  They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Romans 1:28-32).

By God's grace, He determined to offer hope through the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world headed for "the day of the Lord," the time when God will unleash His wrath upon our planet and upon mankind.  The Gospel spread through Europe, but the church became corrupted through its entanglement with the political realm and it was not until the Reformation in the 1500's, the exploration of the early explorers and finally the establishment of our own nation that God's plan for the world became clear.  A people focused on God, our Creator, and a government based on and influenced by the principles of godly living, justice and freedom revealed in His Word emerged that would be God's instrument to spread the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and to defend the cause of the oppressed … not a perfect government or a perfect people … but the best possible in this world so infected by sinful rebellion.

For the past 240 years, and especially in the past 60 years, this nation in which I have the privilege of living has carried the Gospel throughout the world, has fed the hungry and brought hope to nations, has defended the world against oppression and has offered refuge to millions from virtually every nation on earth.  We have shed more blood and volunteered more "treasure" to the cause of freedom from the tyranny offered by Islam and Atheism than any other people on earth.  God has used the United States of America for His purposes and there are, even now, a higher percentage of people in our nation living for the cause of Christ, upholding His truth and seeking His righteousness, than in any other nation on earth.  By His grace the true Church of Jesus Christ, the remnant of those who seek to live for Jesus Christ, stands firm in the face of attacks from within the church and from outside.  It is we alone who have a cause worth living for and, if necessary, worth dying for.  We who follow Christ offer a life worth living - a life lived in relationship with God where there is forgiveness and eternal life because of the sacrifice of the One who suffered God's wrath in our place on the cross … JESUS!

When President Obama equated the Crusades and what was done "in the name of Christ" to the barbaric acts of ISIS, he revealed not only his ignorance of history, but his lack of knowledge and understanding of what the Bible teaches, and his utter lack of faith in Jesus Christ.  There have been those who twisted what the Bible teaches to support their sinful actions of hate.  But that is NOT what Jesus or the Bible teaches.  Christians are willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, to be persecuted by those who promote their manmade religions of LAW.  Jesus calls His disciples to display love and grace, and to confront the lies of Satan that enslave millions around the earth with their cries to obey LAW!!  Obedience for those who know Christ is produced by the work of the very Spirit of God within us that calls us to show love and compassion to all and to offer grace and forgiveness to the worst of sinners, confessing our own sin as we seek to live by the power of the Spirit within us.  Our goal is not to conquer the world, but to call a remnant out of the world, knowing that Jesus will return and God will create a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

Many in the "Christian community" have stopped proclaiming the message of salvation through faith in Jesus.  They have given in to the temptation to attempt to control the sinful nature by proclaiming "the law of love" that Jesus taught … but without the call to repentance and faith in Jesus!  While it sounds appealing to many, it is powerless to change people.  It doesn't work!!  The move towards mingling Christianity with other religions (the "Interfaith" movement) is the result of failing to see the difference between Christianity and all the other religions of the world.  If Christianity is, after all, just a bunch of rules, then it is no different than Islam or Buddhism or even Atheism.  Set the right laws and enforce them well and we can create our own world … with or without "God" … whoever you want Him (or "it") to be.  You choose!

So Paul wrote to Timothy so long ago:  "Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (II Timothy 3:1-5).

Here we are, stuck in a world with a whole race of human beings who are "rebels without a cause."  Yet we who know Jesus Christ have a cause, THE cause, that has the power to transform your life from a worthless existence to an extravagant offering of joy to the God of salvation, who "so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  Peter wrote to the early believers whom he called "elect exiles" (I Peter 1:1):

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'  And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (I Peter 1:13-19).

As followers of Jesus Christ we can be honest … and still live with hope and live for a cause so grand that it gives purpose and meaning to life!  Yes, we are sinners, born in sin and in rebellion against God. By nature we are "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3).  But God has redeemed us through the blood of Christ Jesus, shed on the cross once for all.  We who believe are chosen, adopted, forgiven, redeemed and sealed by the work of His Spirit within us and we find our joy in serving Jesus Christ freely and willingly, telling others about the way of forgiveness and life, and showing His love in countless ways to a world bound in the spiritual darkness of sin and death.

Whether you are a young person or any other age, you need a purpose, a reason to live beyond yourself.  There are really only two choices:  living under the laws of men and trying to be a "good" person (all the while living in rebellion against God), or confessing your sin and your need for a Savior and finding in Jesus Christ your "hero," your Savior and your Lord … the one who can and will lead you through this life with a sure and certain hope of what is to come, with a full and satisfying joy in knowing that you are pleasing Him, and with a peace that passes understanding, knowing that He reigns over all things and that when your "time of exile" on this earth is complete and you have run the race He has marked out for you, there is eternal joy in His presence.

May the Lord use even these words to call you either to a greater conviction that the Gospel is true and a deeper commitment to proclaim it, in word and deed, to those who are lost and without hope around you … OR, may God use even these words to call you out of the darkness into His marvelous, wonderful, amazing LIGHT!!!