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.