Friday, November 22, 2019

Be Persistent- Keep Seeking God

5-6 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you went to your friend’s house very late at night and said to him, ‘A friend of mine has come into town to visit me. But I have nothing for him to eat. Please give me three loaves of bread.’ 7 Your friend inside the house answers, ‘Go away! Don’t bother me! The door is already locked. My children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you the bread now.’ 8 I tell you, maybe friendship is not enough to make him get up to give you the bread. But he will surely get up to give you what you need if you continue to ask. 9 So I tell you, continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. 10 Yes, whoever continues to ask will receive. Whoever continues to look will find. And whoever continues to knock will have the door opened for them. 11 Do any of you have a son? What would you do if your son asked you for a fish? Would any father give him a snake? 12 Or, if he asked for an egg, would you give him a scorpion? Of course not! 13 Even you who are bad know how to give good things to your children. So surely your heavenly Father knows how to give the Holy Spirit to the people who ask him.” –Luke 11:5-13 ERV

In his book Written In Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The doctor explained that she had the same disease the boy had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance for recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

"Would you give your blood to Mary?" the doctor asked. Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, "Sure, for my sister." Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room--Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned.

As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny's smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube. With the ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence. "Doctor, when do I die?' Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he'd agreed to donate his blood. He's thought giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life. In that brief moment, he'd made his great decision.

Johnny, fortunately, didn't have to die to save his sister. Each of us, however, has a condition more serious than Mary's, and it required Jesus to give not just His blood but His life.
-Thomas Lindberg.

We each need that child like love that Johnny had for his sister. Often times we can get jumbled up in the day, upset, cranky, and even start to have self pity. Why won’t things go my way? Why won’t God give me what I want? But being a Christian is about loving others before ourselves. What are needs of those around you?

This is practical. This is as simple as helping someone up the stairs. Or helping an old woman cross the road. It can be as simple as bringing your cart back to the building before you leave Wal Mart.

It can be a random act of kindness. Or it can be calling someone just to see how they are doing. It can be handing your brother a loaf of bread. It can be inviting your neighbor over for dinner. It can be inviting someone to dinner church. It can be praying with the sad lady at the check out line. Even if it means holding up the line.

He who truly loves his friends will be willing to help his friends, and even if necessary to die for his friends. All of us as part of dinner church are more than just friends, we’re family. We’ve been born again, and we’re now part of the family of God.

I think of each of you as family. I get worried when I hear something has happened in your life, and I pray for each of you at night. That is what friends do for each other.

In our scripture today we hear Jesus tell of a story of someone coming to his friend’s house, late at night, probably at like 2 in the morning, and saying hey I got another friend out here who doesn’t have any food, give me a bunch of food. And his friend tells him to get lost. Go away, it’s late at night, I’m busy right now!

But Jesus says that even if your friend refuses you, keep asking, and keep bothering him and eventually he will help you.

Now Jesus compares this to seeking after God. Jesus says keep searching for God. Keep looking for God in your daily. Keep praying to God about the problem you have. Keep asking God for freedom from sin. If we keep asking God, and keep bothering Him, God will answer. He wants us to be persistent in prayer, and very patient.

I don’t just say patient. I say very patient. For things I want in life, I have to wait years, and years, praying and seeking God. For some reason that’s how God works. He builds us into better people through patience, waiting, and seeking after Him.

Jesus said, “Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. 10 Yes, whoever continues to ask will receive. Whoever continues to look will find. And whoever continues to knock will have the door opened for them. “

After a few months or even a few years, of wishing for something, of dreaming of.. losing weight. Or being able to sleep at night. Or for that back pain to go away, or for my soul to be free from sexual sin, or to be free from lying, or free from stealing, or addiction to cigarettes or alcohol, or porn, we start to lose hope that anything can change. But Jesus says keep seeking, keep knocking on the door, even if it’s been many years. There is still hope. God will answer. If you keep persisting. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Your blessing is almost here.

So, Jesus concludes this story he tells by saying that obviously, if your own child asks you for some food, or some money, you aren’t going to give him a snake or a scorpion, you’re gonna give him or her what they need. Even if you’re a nasty, bad parent and your kids drive you nuts, you’re still gonna give them a meal if they ask for it.

In the same way, God will give to us abundantly of the Holy Spirit, if we will just keep asking. Through all our struggles, if we keep seeking Him, He will provide. But we have to be very patient, and settle in for a long journey.

So in conclusion, just like the little boy who gave blood for his sister, expecting to die, we must give to our brothers and sisters in the church, and outside the church. We must share with them, and love them, and not grow angry or upset with them. Even when they are hard to love, we must them.

We can and should do this because God has done so much for us in washing away our sins, and giving us salvation through Jesus. And as we walk with God through this life, we must always continue to seek God, and keep knocking at the door, and keep praying for God’s will to be done, for the desires of our hearts, and God will certainly answer, if we are persistent, and do not give up.

As we settle in to the long journey home, we want to continue to gather together for dinner church. We want to be praying everyday, and reading the Bible. And right now we realize that it’s sometimes hard to love each other, and forgive each other, and deal with each other’s personalities and quirks. But we have to stand together, keep seeking God, and love one another with deep Christian love.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Why "Once Saved Always Saved" is such a Dangerous False Doctrine

Hebrews 3:12-14 "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end."

Why do we cling to error, even when the truth is so clear?  Perhaps it is because we prefer a certain formula that we find comforting.  We prefer to believe that it's just "one and done."  But is that really an honest interpretation of the scripture?  Shouldn't we be impartial and interpret the scripture without bias?  That would be wise.  The Spirit of God leads us in these things.  

Today we consider the issue of salvation and continuance, or in other words: "Are we once saved always saved?"  

According to the scriptures, this is not a reasonable exegesis based on key scriptures like John 15, Hebrews 3:12-14, Revelation 3, and many others.  

The simple theme of John 15 is that of continuance, or "abiding" in Christ.  To abide means to remain.  Jesus urges us to "remain in me."  And then he says in response "then I will remain in you."  It's a fairly simple formula, we receive Jesus Christ as savior, through faith, and then we must continue in the faith, remaining and walking with Jesus throughout our whole lives, overcoming sin, living in victory, and living out holiness in all we do.  This is the teaching of the new testament.

But unfortunately some today teach a dangerous false doctrine of "once saved always saved."  This is the idea that once you got saved you can never lose it no matter what you do.  You can leave church, you can never come back, never read your bible, never do anything related to Jesus, and then you're still saved.  Interesting isn't it?  

We often see so many come to Christ, but then they never follow through.  They don't continue in the faith.  They don't dive into discipleship, and study of the word, and prayer.  Because often they've been left with a false impression, much like what has sometimes been inferred by child baptism, or even adult baptism, that it's "one and done."  And thus someone would say, "well I was baptized when I was 28, or 2, so I'm good."  And we've left people who are now in danger of eternal hellfire and darkness, with the impression that they are really eternally saved.  What a terrible danger! What a terrible thing to teach followers of Jesus.  Who will hold us accountable if we teach such a false way?

I imagine God himself will hold us accountable, on the day of judgment.  Please if you're out there today, teach continuance, that we must continue in the faith.  Otherwise we leave no motivation for people to grow in Christ.  We send them flying out the door with such a false doctrine of "once saved always saved."  

Now it is 100% true that we may have an assurance of salvation, that we can know that we are saved by Jesus Christ.  It's not about works, it's about walking with Jesus, in repentance, and holiness. Don't give up your assurance of salvation.  But don't get too comfortable either.  

We have to live this thing out, week in and week out, attending Bible study, praying, practicing the deeper spiritual disciplines, tithing, and sharing the gospel with the unsaved.  Imagine if more of us did that!  The church would spread across the whole world!  

Continuance is vital.  We must keep walking with Jesus.  Now, what happens if you get saved by Jesus, and then you die right after that?  Would you go to hell because you didn't have a chance to engage in the process of sanctification (growth in holiness)?  The answer to that question is no.  Just like the thief on the cross who repented (changed his mind) and gave Jesus glory, he was then that day with Jesus in paradise.  It's very simple, how we get saved, but should we live a long time after our day of salvation, we must of course continue in the faith, obeying God's commands and living for Jesus with our whole hearts.  It's simple, and a great blessing. 

Let's address some of the common criticisms of continuance.  One thing people will say is that God is our Father and He has adopted us, a father wouldn't unadopt us.  We've been grafted in, so we can't be grafted out.  We're now in Christ, held in his power and nothing can pluck us from his hand, nothing at all.  First of all, we address the metaphor in the scriptures of God as Father.  And he certainly is our heavenly Father.  But there have been many beings who were once children of God, who are now outside the family of God.  Angelic beings of example, Lucifer and those part of the rebellion.  We can also consider Judas, who was part of the inner circle of Jesus, but ended up betraying him.  So the metaphor of God as Father is a beautiful metaphor, but it's not a perfect metaphor.  It's the same with the idea of us being branches grafted in.  In fact it says that Israel was grafted out, so that we could be grafted in (Romans 11:11-31).  In fact in this very scripture we're warned to fear God, because just as some branches were grafted in, others were cut off.  So once again the critics of continuance have taken a metaphor to an improper conclusion.  

Now it is certainly true that God "preserves" us in a state of salvation.  He is our shepherd, we're the flock.  Nothing can pluck us from His hand! That is certainly truth.  Nothing can pull us out, not sadness, not grief, not death, not angels or demons, not Satan himself, but if we go on in sin and unbelief, we can step out of His hand.  Falling away is a well documented reality of the scriptures.  We should remember that.  

So that is the consideration I'd make for you today.  Remember to continue in the faith.  It's not a popular viewpoint today.  But I would dare say it is a scriptural one.  It might be better for our mental health to assume we're once saved always saved, but the reality of the truth is quite different.  I'll take truth over mental health any day.  

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. -John 15:1-11

Contrasts of Beauty and Pain: God's Hand in All Things.

Why do we delight in mysteries? Why is it so fascinating to listen to a mysterious, beautiful song? What is it about a lightning storm, or a twister that terrifies and awes us?  I love a mystery.  Give me a puzzle to solve, some sort of esoteric cryptography, some trail of breadcrumbs, a map leading to a secret location!  We want to know hidden knowledge.  We want to see the secret code behind the universe.  Why?  I don't fully understand it myself. But any sort of mysterious puzzle, ancient runes upon a rock face, a book with a code inscribed in every 7th letter, and I'm all in. 

There is something mysterious and beautiful about our existence. There is something wonderful about the brewing storm on the horizon. Impending life and death seem to hang in the balance. What is light? What is energy?  How is this system so beautiful and precise?  It ticks and tocks with the best of us. Indeed, far beyond us. 

There is great joy, and solace in the winter night. There is great fear in the windy mountain pass.  The sight of the wolf or the bear is both beautiful and frightening.  There is a silence under the street lights at dusk, they flicker to life.  There is a stillness to the country road, through the woods.  

Dare we consider the glory and mystery of the human?  Dare we consider the beauty of the young woman, or the man?  How amazing, that we speak, and hear, and listen, and even more mysterious, how we come together in passion, and make life. What a gift it is, to do these things.  

Yet there is also the inverse, the shadow's reflection of this beauty of life.  There is also the pain and bitterness of work, boredom, and isolation.  There is great terror and loneliness in the Earth.  And there is a pain beyond reckoning in the daily struggles of life.  Many live lives of quiet desperation. So many, endless millions live meaningless lives, isolated, hurting, victimized, hurting others, and being hurt in return.  The beautiful forest or the majestic summer beach seem to break all too often to the rusty rotting city structures.  The beautiful heights of mountains seem so often to dash toward the equally massive mountains of trash mounds of landfills. 

These add to the mystery and glory of life.  The strong contrasts make it a wild ride indeed. I cling closely to the beauty and wonder, emphasize it, and re-emphasize it, because if I focus too much on the evil and ugly, then I will spiral into sorrow. But if I focus on the good, I am enraptured by beauty, by glory, by God's hand in all things. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Gospel is for Everyone

There is an understandable gap that exists between us, as part of the Christian body of Christ, and the world. And the road that one walks from being part of the world rebellion, to part of the Spirit-filled body of Christ, is indeed extreme.

The gospel spreads based on our obedience as Christians. Our Lord Jesus brings salvation through His body, the church. If we are obedient, the gospel will spread, if we are disobedient, the gospel will not spread.

There were many, many, many Christians along my journey who gave nudges in the direction of Christ. It took dozens of encounters, I was particularly stubborn. But I will you tell you one thing, not one of those encounters had anything to do with Christians just shining their light and showing it by their actions. No, it was Christians actually brave enough to walk up to me and tell me in words, about Jesus. It is not enough to simply “show you are different”, that’s a good start, but the gospel has to be spoken, in words.

Prayer is more powerful than any of us fully realize. If God’s people don’t pray, salvation doesn’t come. A Bible study was praying for me, when I was in my twenties. And those prayers were effective.

I recall being in the emergency room, and a male nurse tried to share the gospel with me, I yelled at him, and he left sadly. In my twenties two trembling girls walked up to me and asked me if I died today would I go to heaven? I ran them off. My grandpa gave me a Bible, and shared the love of Jesus with me. I took the Bible, but I thought he was foolish. I read from the Bible.

I was very very very depressed at that time in my life. So sad everyday, life seemed so pointless, so meaningless. I did drugs as often as I could. I would scrape together money, and go buy beer and cough syrup and get messed up everyday.

My parents tried to help me by sending me to treatment centers and mental hospitals, but nothing seemed to change me deep down.

It took years dark times, and sorrowful struggles to realize the truth. I got really really low, I mean, so low. After several drug overdoses, I felt sick all the time.

Through drug use, and depression, I had experienced demonic activity, and disturbing hallucinations of a spiritual nature. Those had convinced me that there was indeed a spiritual realm around us that went unseen.

In 2011 God gave me an experience where one morning I watched humming birds buzzing around outside the window on a beautiful sunny day, and I realized there must be a God for such natural complexity to exist.

But through thousands of prayers, hours and hours of reading the Bible, watching Christian movies, studying the gospel of John, and getting so sickly, so depressed, so traumatized by all I’d put myself through, that I finally hit a rock bottom of sorts, where I just couldn’t live the way I had been living anymore. So on that fateful day in November 2012 I realized I needed God. So I got off my sofa, and went down on the ground, on my knees, by the fireplace at the old house, and God put it in my mind to cry out to Jesus Christ. And I cried out to Jesus Christ. That cry seemed to echo around me, and down inside me, like it echoed through an unending series of halls going off into eternity. And at that moment I found the ground around me shaking and I screamed in terror, but later I read in the scriptures “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness” psalm 29:8 and in Acts “the place they were meeting was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 4:31

I joined a bible-believing church, and was discipled in a small group, I began to learn to share my faith, and use my God-given talents for Christ. I got clean from drugs and alcohol and cigarettes, and repented of my old ways.

And I will tell you, I had spent many years with some of the strangest people this world has ever known.

I spent time with a group of gamers, who were into anime and videogames and indie music. The gospel is for them. I hung out with a guy who thought he was a vampire, with girls who read tarot cards, and a gay guy who spent time trying to contact spirit guides. The gospel is for these people.

For a while I hung out with rockers in high school, trading CDs, and going to shows. During college I hung with new age hippies smoking weed everyday and philosophizing about jack Kerouac and saul alinsky. The gospel is for them.

I’ve hung out with homosexuals and lesbians, and transgender people, the gospel is for these people.

I’ve hung out with drinkers and partiers, going to bar after bar after bar. The gospel is for these people.

All these lost groups of people, people who need healing, people who need repentance, they all need Jesus. They need some Christian somewhere, to witness to them, to love them, and share the word with them. We’ve gotta plan that into our schedules. We’ve gotta make time for it, even if it we do it badly, it will still have a huge impact.

And if we don’t, then the world won’t get saved, and the gospel is for the whole world, every person, every city, every people group, and every ideology.

And woe to me if I do not carry the gospel, because if I don’t, then when I go before God and give an account for my life, where will I go? How will God judge me if I keep silent out of fear of rejection? I will be judged a disobedient servant, and cast into outer darkness. Therefore I must win the world for Jesus. So let’s do it. Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Jesus and Nicodemus: How can a man be born twice?

Have you ever hung out with a friend late into the night, maybe sitting out on the porch, or chilling in the living room, or out on a boat on the water, and just talked real talk about life, and deep thoughts, and where you wanna go in life? It can be so refreshing when we sit down with a trusted friend, have some coffee, or go fishing, and just talk about life, our dreams, our hurts, our goals, and what we long for in our hearts.

Friendship is so important in our day and age when we go so fast, and get so busy. We don’t seem to value friendship too much today. Especially with men. Men don’t seem to get together too much, just as friends, to spend time, talk, and do things together. Why is that? And if you don’t have any friends guys, then whose got your back when times get hard? It can be the same with women, women don’t spend a lot of time with other women, but how badly do we need those friendships? We need them very badly.

In our scripture today Nicodemus, this leader in society, meets at night with Jesus. And they talk deep. They have real fellowship. And Nicodemus leaves having learned some things that will change his life forever.

Nicodemus has heard all about Jesus. He’s heard that Jesus has been doing miracles and healing people. And he realizes that there is something special about Jesus. Jesus is different from everybody else. He can’t quite place what is going on, but he asks to meet with Jesus so he can learn more.

So Jesus sits down with Nicodemus, they’re hanging out, having a good time, and they get into that mindset where they start talking deep.

Nicodemus says to Jesus, ““Teacher, we know that you are a teacher sent from God. No one can do these miraculous signs that you do unless they have God’s help.”

3 Jesus answered, “I assure you, everyone must be born again. Anyone who is not born again cannot be in God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus didn’t quite understand what he meant.

4 Nicodemus said, “How can a man who is already old be born again? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time?”

Now when I was born, it was pretty bad. My mom was in labor for hours and hours and hours. And the doctors actually forgot about her, because she had been in labor so long. When they finally realized where she was, they realized they had to do a C-section, because my head was stuck inside my mother. I was already born once by my mom and dad, I don’t wanna have to do that again.

So Jesus tries to explain what he means to Nicodemus.

5 Jesus answered, “Believe me when I say that everyone must be born from water(that’s the first birth) and the Spirit(that’s the second birth). Anyone who is not born from water and the Spirit cannot enter God’s kingdom. 6 The only life people get from their human parents is physical. But the new life that the Spirit gives a person is spiritual. 7 Don’t be surprised that I told you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants to. You hear it, but you don’t know where it is coming from or where it is going. It is the same with everyone who is born from the Spirit.”

Jesus refers to our first birth as born from water. What happens that is the sign that the woman is about to give birth? Her water breaks. After your mom’s water broke, then you were born. Amazing, when you think about it. The fact that a woman’s body is made to produce another life. It’s a miracle in itself.

But then Jesus refers to being born of the Spirit. So I was born 34 years ago, in 1985, when my moms water broke. But in 2013 I was born of the Spirit. I believed in Jesus, at one of those church services in 2013, and truly believed that Jesus was my savior, and so I was at that moment born again by the Holy Spirit. I was born a second time of the Spirit.

And I changed. My whole life changed. I got clean from weed pills and dxm. I quit smoking and drinking. I stopped sleeping around, and started worshiping God. I was born again.

But Jesus also says that “the wind blows wherever it wants to. You hear it, but you don’t know where its coming or going.” And that’s really true. We can’t see the wind. But we can hear it when it blows against the trees, or whips past us when we walk along the road. And it’s the same way with the spiritual birth.

We don’t really know who is born again by Jesus. There isn’t really anything physical that I can 100% tell if you are born again. You don’t get a halo over your head that tells me yes that person is born of the Spirit, born again. The same way the wind blows and we can’t see it, its the same with people who are born of the Spirit, we don’t know who they and aren’t. We can’t see any physical change.

Like many of you have been coming to dinner church faithfully for 3 months now, but I still don’t know truly which of you are born again Christians, and which of you are still not there yet. And it’s OK if you’re not there that. This stuff takes time. I didn’t get it right away. But I kept showing up week in and week out, and eventually it started to make sense. So that’s OK.

So Jesus tells Nicodemus all this, and 9 Nicodemus asked, “How is all this possible?”

10 Jesus said, “You are an important teacher of Israel, and you still don’t understand these things? 11 The truth is, we talk about what we know. We tell about what we have seen. But you people don’t accept what we tell you. 12 I have told you about things here on earth, but you do not believe me. So I’m sure you will not believe me if I tell you about heavenly things! 13 The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the one who came down from heaven—the Son of Man.

You know what’s really interesting about what Jesus says here? He doesn’t say “I” he says “We” testify. Jesus is not alone, God the Father, and the God the Spirit are with Him. Remember how we’ve talked about the fact that God is a trinity, three separate persons, but one true God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They all were there when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. And the same is true if you are a Christian. The Trinity is always with you when you’re a follower of Jesus. Living inside you.

Nicodemus didn’t understand and he comments how the people of Israel didn’t want to believe him. They didn’t want to listen or understand. They figured that it was too hard to understand, or it didn’t make sense, or it was’t for them.

And I’m sure some of you think that. Well, I’m just a farmer. I’m not smart enough to understand that. I’m just a homeless lady, I’m just a trucker, or an alcoholic, or I just like big trucks and mudding, and parties, this can’t be for me. Right?

Wrong! This is for you. This is for everyday, average people. This is for hurting people, lost people, sinning people, people who are salt of the Earth types. Jesus is for you. It’s not too hard. It’s not too complicated. It’s not just out of reach. It’s right here, and Jesus is calling you to Him. It’s for you, yes, even you.

Trust me. I didn’t get it either. I didn’t understand. I didn’t want it. But it’s the best thing ever. Jesus Christ is everything. And you can have Him. Just receive Him. Start with that much. Jesus you are my savior. Simple, believe in Him. Believe Jesus is who He said He is. God come to save you.

So in closing today, we see that just after this encounter, we see the most quoted part of the Bible: where it says: 16 Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world. He did not send him to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. 18 People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. But people who do not believe are already judged, because they have not believed in God’s only Son.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

What in the World is going on in Modern Christianity?

What in the world is going on here?  What sort of mass madness has taken hold of us over the last 20 years?  It seems like so much has changed.  So much has gone down hill so fast.  So many firm foundations have rotted away.  And so many are coming out to speak about it, including recently Joshua Harris and the song writer from Hillsong.

But this is only the latest evidences of a descending roll from prior unity.  We once generally held to an understanding, throughout Christianity that we're on the same team, we have shared beliefs, and we're going to work, if not together, at least separately toward similar goals.  But we've seen that change a great deal.  We often speak of western Christianity as a conjunction of evangelicalism, mainline protestantism, and Catholicism.  But in the past ten years we've seen the group we affectionately consider to be mainline protestantism, that center-left coalition suddenly wax wildly apostate.  And of course the central issue they've placed at the center of their apostasy, their departure from biblical truth, is the issue of LGBTQ.  That's the direction they went around 2010-2013, and have continued along those lines, for the most part.  There are always exceptions, but there it is.  And we've seen that develop over the last ten years, since the original departure, into a new central ideological framework: social justice ideology, which conjoins critical theory with militant political activism, merging the two under the exceedingly tipsy banner of Christian justice work.  Of course Christian justice work is a wise and good thing, but the ideologies taken, are simply secular social theories, that form the nexus of a political ideology, and a political agenda often referred to as progressivism.  Essentially this path, from my viewpoint, simply turns these churches into outposts for the propagation of progressive ideology dressed up in Christian language.  The social justice mandate becomes the central focus, and Jesus and the gospel are tagged on to the side to give credibility to the social justice warrior gospel of hatred, division, racism masked in fighting against racism, and the tearing down of the larger society due to perceived systemic injustices.  And not only has this new gospel taken hold of mainline protestantism but there are forces within evangelicalism that are being seduced by this battle-cry as well.

Of course this is only one of many problems we face today.  The next concern is of course the well noted and explored reality that evangelicals, mainline protestants and Catholics, though claiming a Christian worldview, do not actually hold particularly Christian worldviews, and do not regularly attend church services either.  The decline of a biblical understanding of the world around us as Christians has led to luke-warm Christianity.  We've seen a decline in church attendance.  And we've seen a message being watered down whether in the pulpit or in the music played in the churches.  Will historians exploring the rubble of what had once been western civilization compare hymns and sermon preached and written a hundred years ago with hymns and sermons prepared today and indicate with shock and surprise that the more recent works are entirely inferior to those produced in the past?  It seems quite possible.  With the advent of internet culture, and the interesting affect of cultural characters rising to the top, we see Christians who gather great popularity, but then later fall in disgrace, or renounce their Christianity, or some aspect of their lifestyle is revealed to not accurately display the logical outworkings of biblical Christianity.  This is not particularly surprising, but it is of note given the influence of these leaders.  We've seen one after another dropping to scandals, including James Macdonald and Bill Hybels.  Perhaps God is revealing these things to us, so that we are not led astray.

It is certain that we are living in the last days. But then again so were Paul and Peter, the end days are simply the recognition that Jesus Christ will return very soon.  And I believe it's more likely than ever that Jesus Christ will return, to rule and reign on this Earth.  We have to live that way.  We have to really live that way.  

So often in my past I've taken God's instructions, his commands in the scriptures as suggestions, or nice ideas, but didn't really take it particularly seriously.  The time for that is over.  It is time to take God's word seriously, and live it carefully.  We've seen such an antinomianism take over in the churches of our day and age, where it's just "believe in Jesus." And that's all.  One and done. Once saved always saved.  And it's a lie, and a snare, and it's deadly dangerous to those who love Jesus to think in those terms.  We must repent, and believe.  We must give our whole lives and whole hearts to Jesus.  We must live by God's commands, believing in Jesus yes, but also living in holiness, and repenting daily, and paying our tithes diligently, and witnessing about Jesus to our friends and neighbors.  This isn't a game.  And we have to take it seriously.  I take it deathly seriously, because I know what it's like to walk in darkness.  And I've seen a great light.

The theology of our day and age is pathetic, not all of it, but some of it, the foolish concept, in which they try to paint you into a corner, by saying that if you consider anything but believing in Jesus as the message of the Bible then you're trying to "add to your salvation."  It's nonsense, and this sort of false dilemma where repentance it pitted against belief in Jesus is found nowhere in the scriptures.  But to say we must repent, and witness to our faith, and pay our tithes, and live in holiness, are biblical New Testament instructions, they are not "adding works to our salvation."  We are saved by the blood of Jesus. And we wear his righteousness as our perfect white robe.  But we also have duties as Christians that we must fulfill, commands from the scriptures, from the New Testament, and they must be lived out.  And if we don't, we are in danger of the fires of hell.  This is clear in the scriptures. Don't let anyone try to paint you into a corner with the false dilemma of faith vs. repentance.  They are one in the same, united in the equation of salvation, always held together by the scriptures as how we must respond to Jesus.  

So, what is going on after all in modern Christianity? Why so much chaos? I would answer: So what? So what if there is so much trouble in the Christian world of the west?  The same was true 2,000 years ago in the early church. There were constant problems.  So be it.  Let those who are wicked, continue to be wicked, and let those who are faithful, continue to be faithful. We ultimately can't control how others live. But we can control how we live.  We can and should influence people. And we do everyday, when we share our faith (which is much more than just living it out).  It's a good start to live it out, and vital, but we must open our mouths and speak the truth of Jesus.  Often times we try to comfort ourselves in our silence by saying "the way we live speaks for itself."  It does show someone that something is different about you, but you must also share the gospel, the word of Jesus. It is by hearing that people believe and are saved, not by your example alone.  I'm so, so, so tired of the foolish saying falsely attributed to St. Francis Assissi, "Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words."  That is such a foolish saying.  There is no gospel without words.  Jesus was and is the word of life.  As Peter said to Jesus,"To whom would we go? You speak the words of eternal life."  Now imagine if Jesus only did miracles and healed people.  Certainly it would've been impressive, but they wouldn't have had the word of Christ,the words of Jesus that bring life.  They wouldn't know the gospel.  They would just wonder why Jesus did such nice things.  Speak the gospel, live it too, but don't just live it, speak it also. 

Could this time we live in be the great falling away spoken of in the end times? Could it be the time that is spoken of in 2nd Timothy 3:2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy...?" Could it be the time that it says "they went out from us, because they were not of us?" 1st John 2:19. Maybe so. Perhaps these symptoms are universal to the time of the church age, in which we live. But something feels different. Then again I'm sure they felt that way in Nazi Germany during the rise of Hitler. I'm sure they felt that way during the time of Mao Zedung in China's history. I'm sure Richard Wurmbrand thought something similar when communists infiltrated and took over the government of his home country of Romania. Only God knows when the end will come.  But I truly believe it is much sooner than we think.  Jesus Christ will return, I know this for a fact, and I'm working hard to make sure I am ready, and so should you. We must be awaiting his return, with eyes open, carefully considering how we should live, for the days are evil.

Truly the days are evil. We think we're so enlightened in our day and age.  But what will future generations say, when they consider the hundreds of millions of unborn babies murdered quietly in the abortion mills, while we apathetically carry on with our days sipping java and giggling about the latest trends?  Will they ask in classrooms, "But teacher, how could they have been so careless with so many being killed?"  I imagine that they will ask those questions, much like we wonder how so many could follow Hitler into genocide and world war.  And the answer is in part, the common people didn't really know what was going on.  And I don't suppose we do either.  

I've noticed many Christians I know, are more influenced by Netflix than the Bible.  They're more influenced by CNN and MSNBC than Jesus Christ.  They're more prone to consider the latest reality show, or football game than the majesty of God or his coming kingdom.  They're more prone to evangelize for an essential oils pyramid scheme, evangelize for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  More motivated for romance and money, than to live by God's word and live in holiness.  How sad it is to see so many living this way.  We're not as much Christians anymore are we? We're employees, students, movie goers, consumers, and tech-junkies with occasional secondary thoughts and ideas along vaguely Christian lines. Don't be that. Be a real Christian. Be 100% sold out for Jesus, with laser-focus on Jesus, seeing the world in truly Christian terms. 

But I write all these words for one simple purpose, to tell you this: Don't be led astray by them. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you can live with one foot in the world and one foot in Christianity.  Don't ignore the conviction of the Holy Spirit telling you to live differently from the world, and even the other people in your church.  Live a truly holy set apart lifestyle, even if people in your church make fun of you. Find others in your town, online, wherever, who hold to the full gospel, to true holiness, to excitement and energy in sharing the gospel and living out what they preach. Give tithes and offerings regularly even if no one else does, off the gross of your income, not the net.  Study the word diligently, not just the feel good verses that modern preachers focus on, and they only ever preach the feel good verses, and never the hard ones, woe to them, they've rejected the word of God, and created an idol that is pleasing to their ears and their hearers ears. Don't let that be you.  

Be different. Be holy. Wait carefully for the return of Jesus. Study the word of God.  Don't give up. Even if every person in your church is a luke-warm apostate with pride flag t-shirts on.  Keep following God fully, even if you have to do it alone. Because ultimately when you stand before God to give an account for your life, it will be between you and God, no one else.  God be with you.  And don't give up. If you're reading these words, you're the only hope of the church in these last days.  I know you have little strength, but you have kept the word of Christ and have not rejected His name.  God has prepared a place for us, and He will make those who mock us, ridicule us, and shame us to fall down at our feet and declare that God has loved us.  Soon the Lord Jesus Christ will come and set up His kingdom, until then, come Lord Jesus. Amen. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Mental Health Moment: Depression, Anxiety, and Hopelessness, even Suicide

It’s cunning in it’s power, persistent and draining. It saps our zest for life and eats away at our well-being. Toughness and strength seem to little avail against it’s power. Upon waking in the morning many battle it tooth and nail. In the depths of night we find ourselves wide awake. Errant thoughts come and go, and sleep stubbornly refuses to come. A sinking feeling holds us from within. The future seems like too much to take, and the past seems like a dream. Each day begins a new battle to hold onto hope, love, and joy.

For many in our high-paced society, this is their daily struggle, as they deal with the various forms and manifestations of mental health issues. Whether it be depression, anxiety, sleep problems, or panic attacks, or issues like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, many in our society deal with it everyday.

The head of the psychology department at the University of Pennsylvania committed suicide on September 10th of this month, leaping from the 17th floor of a building. He was an expert in the area of mental health and particularly in the area of resilience.

On September 9th 2019 associate pastor Jarrid Wilson committed suicide at the age of 30. He was a pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship, a megachurch, and a mental health advocate who cofounded Anthem of Hope a Christian mental health organization.

Sometimes we may be tempted to think that we have all the answers, based on our psychological knowledge, or even our religious understanding, but often life’s circumstances defy our ability to understand the depths of the pain and suffering of humanity.

Depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts are everyday concerns for people in the world, in the United States, and in Owosso, Michigan. How can we address these issues as a community? How can we help those who are struggling with mental health problems? What can be done to heal?

First of all, if anyone reading these words is currently struggling with these issues, please remember one thing: You are not alone. Others have these same problems, and there is hope for a better future. Please don’t give up, and keep seeking for healing, hope, and truth.

Secondly, if you have ever struggled with mental health problems in the past, and you’re in a better place now, recognize that you have a testimony, a story you can share with others to help bring them hope and healing. The word of God speaks of the wounded healer, the one who has been hurt, and healed, and who then goes and helps others to heal from those same struggles.

Thirdly, how can we find real expressions of community? Often times we can so isolate ourselves that we become an island of one. And one person alone is not a safe place for someone struggling with depression. We need others, even when we just want to be alone, we have to find ways to connect with others. Join a group that does things together in the community. Join a church or religious fellowship, or a Bible study.

Fourthly, often times when the pain in our minds become so strong, we look to self-medicate. We begin using drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and other substances to numb away the pain. Or we go from relationship to relationship, or one night stand to one night stand, distracting ourselves from the problems we face. Or we self-harm, through cutting, or reckless behavior, or even shopping sprees or starting fights to drive off the pain and numb ourselves. But this approach simply brings about more pain and destruction in our lives, and makes the inner problems worse not better. Please, seek a better road for healing.

Fifthly, if need be we should seek out a doctor or therapist who we can work with to take medication or engage in therapy sessions to find healing. And don’t be afraid to reach out to a local pastor or priest, and seek advice and guidance from spiritual leaders. Often times many of our hurts, habits, and hang ups go back to struggles we’ve had in our lives. If you haven’t ever done so, consider writing out your story, as honestly as possible, then sharing it with someone else, and seek to understand and heal from what you’ve gone through. Pray over the words you’ve written, and ask God to heal you within. Then take the pages you’ve written and burn them, as a declaration of departure from past hurts, by moving into a new future.

In conclusion, if you are struggling today, there is a road forward. And if you’ve been through the battle, you have an opportunity to help others. How can we as a community support those with mental health problems? How can we help those who are near the edge and thinking of ending it all? It’s a bigger problem than we might realize. Ultimately, we have to find a way to do our part in helping others fight these battles, if we can. There is still hope, even when lives are lost, and people give up, there is always hope for a better future. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

The 7 I Am Statements of Jesus

Today we’re going to talk about the 7 I Am statements of Jesus in John. The 7 “I Am” Statements of Jesus are a great way to build in your mind a framework of who jesus is and what his position as our “savior” really means. I’d encourage you to memorize one or more of these “I am” statements. And recite them in your prayers to God. And recite them to yourself when your struggling or in need.

What comes into our minds when we think about Jesus is the most important thing about us. That’s what A.W. Tozer a great Christian pastor said. And it’s true. Everything hinges on our relationship with Jesus Christ.

1. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

In John Chapter 6:35 It says: 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Therefore according to the word Jesus is our sustainer.

He provides for all our needs. Which is why we have food to eat and water to drink. That’s why I always thank God before I eat any meal. I encourage you to do the same. So many people, even Christians don’t pray before their meals. And I think to myself, what are they doing! God has given us such abundant food in this country, yet we don’t thank Him? Are we so entitled, and so snotty to think that we deserve all this abundance? We don’t deserve anything. We receive what God gives us.

Jesus loves us. He is our bread of life. Whoever comes to Jesus will never go hungry or thirsty. Jesus indicates how we should live in response to this gift: Live to do God’s will, and not our own wills. That’s what Jesus did. He did the Father’s will perfectly. We are called to do the same, to live as God wants us to live.

2. Jesus said I am the light of the world. Jesus is our illuminator

From John chapter 8 verse 12: “12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

What a mysterious saying. What did Jesus mean by this, to say he is the light of the world? I think several factors play into this. First, the word of God says that Jesus actually holds reality together. In this way, Jesus is the light of the world, in that he guides reality. Yet we get another clue about light and darkness earlier in the book of John, in chapter three it says:

John 3:20-21 (NIV) says: 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

So we who choose to follow Jesus, step from the darkness into the light. The darkness is a place of hiding, of fleeing from god. We hide the evil we do, and refuse to accept that God is real and that we are accountable to Him. But those of who follow Jesus, are willing to admit, yes we do everything in the presence and sight of God, we step into the light, and say yes, I am under God’s light, I choose to show that what I do is done before God.

3. Jesus said I am the gate.
John 10:7-16 says: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. 9 Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

Jesus said again and again, “I’m telling you the truth.” Not my truth, not a truth, not one of many truths, but the truth. I love that about Jesus. I so desperately want to know the truth about this messed up, yet beautiful mysterious world we live in. Jesus gives me the truth. It isn’t always easy to hear, but at least it’s the truth.

The lie of the world this relates to is self-sufficiency. The world tells us, the television, which I like to call the “tell lie vision” tells us we have to do it ourselves. Me, me, me! What I want! I deserve it. It’s all about looking to ourselves and our aspirations and our dreams and our goals. That isn’t what we’re called to. We’re called to look to Jesus, and enter through him. Not our own opinions. Look to Jesus and the word of God, and embrace those views, they are the truth.

4. Jesus said I am the good shepherd.
John 10:11-14 (NLT) says,“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,

Not only is Jesus our gate of entry, our doorway to salvation, Jesus also goes along with us on the journey. It’s kind of like Lord of the Rings, the heroes go on their quest, and Gandalf comes with. That’s what Jesus does for us. He comes with us, and protects us on the journey of life.

5. Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life.
John 11:25-27 says: 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

We all know the historical event of Mary and Martha. Their brother died. And Jesus came, and raised Lazarus from the dead. Why did Jesus do this? What was the meaning of this event?

One of the worst things about life is that we grow old and die. In fact it’s so normal, that we don’t even hardly think about it. We just assume that we grow up, then start getting wrinkly, then eventually we die.

Jesus is the only one who can deal with this issue of death. And fundamentally at the core of the gospel is that Jesus Christ tells us that if we believe in him we can live forever.

6. Jesus said I am the way, the truth, and the life.

John 14:1-7 says: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”

5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

Jesus is so awesome. He says, dude, Thomas, I am the way. Come through me, I’m your God. You’ve been with me all this time. Thomas didn’t get it. Many of us struggle to “get it” too I think. But we can come to understand these things. If we’re diligent about pursuing Jesus.

7. Jesus said I am the true vine.
In the final I am statement of Jesus, the 7th Jesus is saying, “remain with me.” Don’t get lost, you’ve got to stay connected to me. He says:

John 15:1-4: “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

I urge you, cling to the Bible as if your life depended on it, because it does. Cling to prayer, because communication is the beating heart of our relationship with God. If we aren’t doing this two simple things, we aren’t a Christian, we’re nobody. If we stay plugged into Jesus, then we’re gonna do great things.

So let me present the gospel to you. If you believe three simple things, and insist in your mind that they are true, then you will be saved:

1. Jesus is God and man and lived perfectly, never sinned.

2. Jesus our savior died on the cross paying the debt you owned for the sins you’ve done over your life.

3. Jesus resurrected from the dead and is alive right now in heaven and he is coming again. We believe that through Jesus resurrection we are given new life as well, we are born again by the Holy Spirit.

Believe in your heart, and testify with your mouth. Very simple.

So: Who do you say that Jesus is? I say He is my Lord. I hope you’ll join me. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Top Ten Indie Rock Albums Portending Doom and Rebirth

The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead
This album expresses the beauty, emotional passion, and sincere battling of youth life, in times of confusion, agnosticism, post-modernism and delight in life. Keep your eyes ahead challenges and rebels against much of life, while hinting at a greater expression of joy elsewhere. Distorted, experimental indie rock with vocals flashing from haunting to rythmic. 

Mew - No More Stories are Told Today I'm Sorry They Washed Away The World is Grey I'm Tired Let's Wash Away
No more stories expresses the beauty of searching, the beauty of life's melancholy twists and turns, toying with self-destruction, joyously walking through solitude, light, darkness, and the danger of living in angst and sorrow.  It is at times a celebration, at times an elegy, at times hopeful, at times dismal, and always mysteriously beautiful. 

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon digest manages to make us nostalgic for things that never really happened, but isn't that the story of drug addiction anyway? Are these brutal memories truly a halcyon digest or are they sinister crippling sorrows? How easy it is to lie to ourselves about the past.  The electronic/guitar driven tones of the digest are haunting in their mix of hope and fear, delight in joy and beauty while also reflecting on total desperation, crippling sorrow, depression, and repeatedly rippling with cries like "pray for me" and "somebody help me."  I've always loved music best defined as "happy, but sad" because that is how I experience life.  And it tends to a constant that life is both tragic and beautiful, good and terrible. 

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
This classic album needs no introduction. It accurately depicted the mood of an entire generation of millennials born into the suburbs, into modernism and post-modernism, finding boredom out of affluence, and a yearning for justice in a world often populated with corruption, yet also expressing the hope of a generation for greater things.  

Bon Iver - For Emma Forever Ago
Justin Vernon certainly knows how to express the wintery cold of Wisconsin, my homeland, he resided I believe in Eau Claire, just two hours from my home town of Wausau.  The wintery-feeling tones of For Emma Forever Ago jived so well with the angst of lost love, the beauty of the seasons, the joy of solitude and self-expression and an appreciation for the beautiful melancholy of life.  

Boards of Canada - Music has the right to Children
Unlike any other group I think Boards of Canada has the ability to stir in me the most mysterious emotions and appealing twists of reality. The confusion, depression, anxiety, and emptiness of a life without meaning, without truth, and without God are well expressed in the fragmented, gorgeous sounds of Music has the right to Children. No other techno touches Boards of Canada in my view.  It's on another level.  The tones paint landscapes, they express more than mere emotions or ideas, they express dynamic stories, dreams untold, and memories of far away places. There is nothing like Boards of Canada, in an ability to express beauty and horror. 

The Foals - Total Life Forever
Particularly the last four songs of Total Life Forever have a special place in my heart.  The angst, the elegy of the songs, the crying out for a different approach, the beautiful guitar riffs, the atmospheric vibe, it was hopeful while expressing the suffering found in any true growth. The vocals of Total Life Forever seem to cry out to the listener like a lone voice of reason in a cloud of emotional chaos. 

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
Veckatimest is like an old friend, who was at times playful and fun, and later expresses the most sincere emotions and truth dialogues. It expresses the grit of chaos living, of living on a highspeed blend of drugs, sex, parties, music, depression, misery, and self-loathing. It expresses anger, misery, laughter, mockery, and dismal self-loathing/self-destruction. 

Team Sleep - Self Title
I recall hearing of a project between members of the Deftones and Pinback, and the meshing of those two sounds together truly delivered a vibe beyond beautiful.  My friend and I still speak of the team sleep album as something we still love and truly don't understand. To me, the song Princeton Review perfectly accentuates the vibe of the album: mysterious, melodic, atmospheric, polished, while also seeming to be raw. The album seems like an elegy again. It seems like a funeral, or a reunion after a war, it tastes like a group talking in the night after being at a rave for 12 years, trapped inside, not shackled, but unwilling to escape, whispering quietly in the failing light of the morning, shades drawn, smell of burnt cigarettes, and dried sweat, exhausted, miserable, exhilarated, expressing remorse, while also pleasure and delight, awaiting the end of the world and ultimate judgment that will most likely be harsh. 

Blonde Redhead - 23
The manic, despairing, angsty expressions of 23, by Blonde Redhead certainly epitomized a time in my life when everything was high speed, fear was a constant companion, and there seemed to be a tidal wave of doom threatening just upon the horizon. Mania, mania, mania, confusion, mania, manic, and more manic mania.  Whispers of doom papered over by shallow self-pleasuring. But unable to cover the portent of disaster. "Heroine" and "Silently" perfectly express the album as a whole, whispers of danger, with no response.  Chaos of love, and romantic relationships that are not meant to be, but driven by drugs and loneliness. "You die in my arms" "Your clock is ticking" Madness. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Starting over, Second Chances & Becoming the Hero of our Story

"In February 1980, the U.S. Olympic hockey team slipped its foot into a glass slipper and walked away with a gold medal at Lake Placid, New York. Those collegians had shocked the world by upsetting the powerful Soviet team, and then they grabbed the championship from Finland while the crowd chanted, "U.S.A.!" Before his team's victory over the Soviet Union which advanced them to the finals, the coach of the U.S. hockey team told his players, "You are born to be a player. You are meant to be here at this time. This is your moment."
Today in the Word, July, 1990, p. 11.

In the same way today, I believe God has called you here for a purpose. He’s called you to a new way. You are not here by accident. I would like to talk with you about starting a new life. Coming to the table here is about a new start. It’s about a new way of living. It’s about starting over, and becoming all God has made us to be. Many of you have already begun down this road by participating in soldiership classes on Wednesdays. I’m here to recruit you into a new life. I’m here to recruit you into the kingdom of God. I’m the lieutenant, and you are my army, my army of love and truth.

The word of God says, Jeremiah 29:11 ESV “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

The Lord has a plan for your life, and it’s a good plan. A plan to do great things. But you still have your choice, your free will. You can choose to live a new life, or you can continue the old life. And the old life leads nowhere. Ultimately I ask you this question: What will you do? You gonna walk with God? Or go your own way?

It’s time to get off the sidelines, and become the hero of your own story. I know a lot of you lost hope at one time in the past that things could ever be better. But hope is back baby, it’s back in a big way. It’s time for a new day. It’s time for that fire to burn bright inside of you once again. With Jesus inside you can’t lose brothers and sisters. You’ve got power now. When you hit the ground before ,you’re gonna rise up in strength.

The enemy is gunning for you. That’s for sure. But you’ve got your sword and shield. You’ve got your helmet and your breastplate, you’re ready for battle. A new day is dawning in your life. You’re the hero now. And you’re gonna have to fight. But the battle is worth it. You’re going to become a man of honor, a woman of dignity. You’re gonna become a pillar of this community. I’m looking at the new heroes of the world.

What is your purpose in life? Thomas Carlyle a Scottish philosopher and writer said, “A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder--a waif, a nothing, a no man. Have a purpose in life, and, having it, throw such strength of mind and muscle into your work as God has given you.”

You know, God likes to take people who don’t seem that important and make them His heroes. Jesus didn’t go talk to rich elites when he gathered his disciples. He went to some fishermen, a tax collector, prostitutes, and the sick and the miserable. Jesus flips everything around. He takes the least and makes them first.

Matthew 19:28-30 Jesus said, “You can be sure that when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne in the New Age, then you twelve followers of mine will also sit on thrones, to rule the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake, will receive a hundred times more and will be given eternal life. 30 But many who now are first will be last, and many who now are last will be first.”

I’ve met many of the “important people” in Owosso. I’ve met some of the important people in the United States as well, what we think of as the elites. And they’ve got all the angles. They’ve figured out how to make all the money, how to get the women, how to take the power, and how to win in politics. And most, not all, but most of them think of faith in God as something for simpletons, country bumpkins, and people without a proper education. But that’s what makes God’s plan so amazing. He does something that most people can’t fully understand, like with Jesus and the cross. It seems like foolishness to rich educated people. But it’s a trip wire that God put there intentionally, to trip up the prideful, who think they are better than everyone else.

The kingdom of God is certainly open to the rich and powerful, if they will humble themselves and turn to Jesus. It’s happened before, like with Nicodemus. But overall, the kingdom of God is come to us, average everyday people, who are willing to come to God like children, simply trusting God, and obeying Him. The kingdom of God comes to us. And often times the rich and powerful, the Jeff Bezos and the Bill Gates miss it.

The first, will be last, and the last will be first. Isn’t that amazing? So it’s time to be the hero. It’s time to live the new life. You guys are the heroes now, and I think each of you are going to become mighty warriors in the army of God. So we’ll conclude with this scripture, Ephesians 4:17-24 ERV "I have something from the Lord to tell you. I warn you: Don’t continue living like those who don’t believe. Their thoughts are worth nothing. 18 They have no understanding, and they know nothing because they refuse to listen. So they cannot have the life that God gives. 19 They have lost their feeling of shame and use their lives to do what is morally wrong. More and more they want to do all kinds of evil. 20 But that way of life is nothing like what you learned when you came to know Christ. 21 I know that you heard about him, and in him you were taught the truth. Yes, the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to leave your old self. This means that you must stop living the evil way you lived before. That old self gets worse and worse, because people are fooled by the evil they want to do. 23 You must be made new in your hearts and in your thinking. 24 Be that new person who was made to be like God, truly good and pleasing to him."

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Selfless Holy Light in a Dark Age of Self-Worship (1st Peter 4:7-16)

Audio Message:

We live in a world that is largely dominated by self interest. All around town, up and down, we see self interest at work. What can I get? What can I gain? We gotta make money. We gotta meet the right people, and get what we need from them. Often times it feels like our lives revolve around what we want and how quickly we can get it.

We live in a time of great abundance and technological brilliance in the United States, yet we also live in a time of depravity and immorality that shocks us and amazes us with it’s level of evil, and toxic culture. The “me” culture is quite dominant. Selfie stick, Facebook profile, twitter account, hundreds of pictures of me, me, me, videos, conversations, my perfect scores, my high grades, and we’ll only show the best to others. We never show people what’s really going on inside of us.

We’ve gotta get the right job. And make sure we get married and have the family. Then we gotta keep buying bigger stuff, nicer stuff, more stuff, and show our neighbors, that we don’t really like how, just how important we are. And that’s life I suppose. That’s the American dream, the white picket fence, the sports car, the fancy house.

There is much more to life than that. And it seems like we’ve gotten so bogged down in the material in our lives, that we lose touch with the spiritual. Life is about so much more than our daily routines, it’s about so much more than work, and habits and eating meals and collecting paychecks. We have to find ways to recapture the wonder for life.

Because if we spend everyday circulating between the cubicle to the computer to the television screen to the bedroom and back again, we will go crazy. We will fade away. And that’s no good. There are ways to reclaim the wonder of life.

Something I like to do, is I wait until night time, usually about 8pm, or 9pm, sometimes even 10pm, and I’ll go out for a walk around my neighborhood. And I live in a safe neighborhood so I’m able to do that. And I stare at the sky, and listen to music, and watch the trees, and the shadows they form, and wander down roads, not really trying to go anywhere in particular, just looking for spots of beauty. Then I’ll look at the moon and the stars, and think

On the weekends I will go out and bike ride at the nature preserve on the outskirts of town. And I delight in the sunlight, the beautiful trees, and everything that is so beautiful about the natural world. I watch the birds fly about, I listen to the sounds of the woods, and then later I’ll walk along the Shiawassee river downtown and maybe sit down, and read my Bible, or pray. There is great wonder in life. There is beauty in the world God created.

Our world is full of interesting paradoxes. Darkness, and light, goodness, and evil. Beautiful sunny days, cold placid lifeless winter nights. Beautiful creatures, birds, rabbits, dogs, cats, and ferocious creatures like lions, wolves, rhinoceros. Glorious sunsets, stunning mountain ranges, and terrible diseases that end peoples lives, and violent earthquakes and hurricanes. Life is a mysterious, wondrous, and terrifying adventure And deep down we know that there is very much at stake. In fact, everything is at stake. Somehow when I’m walking alone at night, or staring out the window in the evening, something inside tells me the clock is ticking, and time is running out.

As the scripture said today, “The end of all things is near.” That was written about one thousand nine hundred and forty years ago. How much more true must they be now, than then?

Our scripture today is essentially calling us to live completely differently from the world we live in right now. This world seems to make us think we’re going to live forever. The scriptures say “the end of all things is near.” This world says “you deserve everything you want” and word says “ be self controlled and alert.” This world says “get yours” and the word says “love one another deeply.”

And it continues, in our scripture today, 1st Peter 4: 9-11 “Open your homes to each other without complaining. 10 Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. 11 Those who preach must preach God's messages; those who serve must serve with the strength that God gives them, so that in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and power forever and ever. Amen.”

When is the last time you invited someone over for dinner to your home? The word says open your homes to each other, and don’t complain about doing that. That’s a spiritual gifting, certainly, but it’s also something we’re all called to do. It’s the same with evangelism, sharing the gospel, some may be especially equipped to do it, but in truth all Christians must be doing it.

If your gift is to serve, then serve in God’s strength. Serve in the power of the Holy Spirit. If your gift is to preach, then preach God’s messages. And the ultimate goal, to bring glory to Jesus Christ.

If you’re a true Christian, you should be tithing at least 10% of your income. Whenever you get paid, set aside at least 10% of your income to give back to God. It's the first thing we should do on payday, write a check, and set aside at least 10% for God. Of course the New Testament standard is to give all (Acts 2:42-47). But a good starting point is 10%, then slowly work your way up, 11%, 12%, 15%, 20% and more. God has given us everything we have, so it already belongs to Him. Therefore, honor God with your money. For those who reject this simple giving, they may well be called disobedient Christians at the final judgment. Ultimately God does not need our money, this is about obedience, and learning to give.

Unfortunately many don’t believe that Jesus will really return to Earth. Many in fact openly mock the ideas of Christianity. Today they are referred to as the new atheists, they’ve sold millions of copies of their books, like the God delusion. Which is quite interesting, because the word of God actually says, in 2 Peter 3:3-4 NIV, “3 First of all, I want you to know that in the last days men will laugh at the truth. They will follow their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “He promised to come again. Where is He? Since our early fathers died, everything is the same from the beginning of the world.”

This world, this life, everything we worry about and stress about, and strive so hard to get will very soon, be completely destroyed and gone. The word calls this “the day of the Lord” and is referenced many times in the New Testament.

2 Peter 3:10-11 :“The day of the Lord will come as a robber comes. The heavens will pass away with a loud noise. The sun and moon and stars will burn up. The earth and all that is in it will be burned up.

11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, you should think about the kind of life you are living. It should be holy and God-like.”

This is probably the most important thing I’ve learned in my time as a Christian follower of Jesus: How we live matters greatly. Live right. Do right. We will also have to stand before God and give an explanation for how we lived. I remember that everyday, when I’m tempted to live falsely or do something selfish. I remember, and I tremble before God’s throne. God can send us to heaven, or to hell, and he does not show favoritism. He is a just judge, and if we die in sin, that’s it, we’re not going to heaven. So live rightly, live holy, and repent quickly.

As it says in 2 Corinthians 7 “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

In a dark age of selfishness, and self-worship, where we focus on me, me, me and that’s it, when we exhibit the holiness of God, by walking as Jesus walked, we change the world. The gospel spreads through us to others. Nothing can stop it. All of the powers of this world, lies, flesh, evil powers, darkness, sin, nothing can stop that holy light of God that shines from the Father, through Jesus, inside us, through us, and into the world. Lives change. Lost people get saved. Communities are transformed. And new souls are led to a future paradise. Holy light shocks the world, it’s a terrifying brightness to them. They can hardly stand it. Some reject it, some fear it, some flee from it, but some are drawn toward it, those who are being saved.

Holiness changes the world. Jesus works through simple people, like you and me. He is calling people home through us. And if we will walk differently, then we will change the world just like Jesus changed the world when he walked the Earth. Life becomes a holy warfare. And that warfare becomes our lives. We fight, we suffer, we struggle, and we battle for the souls of humanity. We fight against the evil corrupt systems of this world, by shining forth holy selfless light into the darkness. And it changes the darkness into light. All of this brings great glory and honor to God.

As our scripture said today, in verses 12-16: 12 My dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful test you are suffering, as though something unusual were happening to you. 13 Rather be glad that you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may be full of joy when his glory is revealed. 14 Happy are you if you are insulted because you are Christ's followers; this means that the glorious Spirit, the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 If you suffer, it must not be because you are a murderer or a thief or a criminal or a meddler in other people's affairs. 16 However, if you suffer because you are a Christian, don't be ashamed of it, but thank God that you bear Christ's name.”

As we shine for Christ, living holy selfless lives, this will lead to suffering. What happened when Jesus began speaking the truth, healing people, loving people, and teaching the multitudes? He was persecuted. He was hated. People plotted against him. People despised the light that he brought. He threatened their power. Jesus threatened the hold they had over the people. So they fought against him. The darkness of this world always fights against the holy message of Christ. It can’t stand it, because it brings to light their own evil deeds, and convicts them of what they do. So they fight against it. And just that same way they will fight against you. And hate you. And mock you. And try to silence you any way they can.

But instead of being surprised by the suffering we go through, we should be full of joy because we are suffering for Jesus. How did Jesus handle it, when he suffered? He prayed to God in the garden of Gethsemane. He continued to speak the truth. He cared for his disciples. And that moment that Jesus was taken to the cross, Jesus fully submitted to the evil of this world. He allowed it to consume him completely. One looks at the morning of the crucifixion and one could easily think of it as the most evil day in the planet Earth’s history. Jesus God of the universe was brutally tortured, and murdered by the people he designed and created, on the Earth he made by the speaking of His voice. What could be worse? It seemed by outward appearance that evil had triumphed. But that’s the surprising victory of Holy selfless light. When it seems like evil has triumphed, by completely destroying good, it’s the blood poured out on the ground by the victorious dead that waters the seeds planted by their voices, echoing into eternity, far beyond their death, that spreads forth as a mighty forest, hundreds, thousands, millions of new voices rise up in their stead, empowered by that martyrs blood, watered and sustained by that paradoxical victory in defeat, that spreads holy selfless light throughout the world, crushing the darkness that had so believed it had won. But instead, paradoxically God’s victory comes through weakness, brokenness, and defeat. When we allow the evil to overcome us, and strike us down, we come to see that we rise again, stronger than ever, having suffered for Christ, and the blood of our wounds spreads the light even brighter, to more and more people. Indeed, as we suffer for Christ, we glorify God, bringing the gospel message to the lost, and changing and transforming the people of the world. Thus we seek to escape this broken place, destined for destruction, and gather humanity to the new heavens, and new Earth, where we will live in peace and infinite harmony with God, for years and years to come, into an incredible future, an adventurous future, that we can hardly imagine. That is your destiny, if you will decide now, that I will live holy, selfless, true to God, in secret, and in public, living by his decries and commands, and living for Jesus, being a light in the darkness of this selfish world, shocking them with a selfless life of love, goodness, service, and holy giving light.

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  3. A Heart of Love: What am I seeking in Life?
  4. The Forgotten Teaching in the Church: Holiness
  5. The Army of God will have Victory after Victory
  6. The Church of Laodicea & The Church of America
  7. How Holiness Theology Transformed My Understanding
  8. Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week
  9. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell 
  10. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life