Thursday, April 30, 2020

Top Ten Books of the Bible to Read Right Now

10. 1st Samuel 16-31 and 2nd Samuel - This is a great time to reflect on the trials, trails, tribulations, and amazing victories of David's journey from outcast to king of Israel. 

9. 1st Kings 17-22 - The saga of Elijah has been a draw for me recently. Elijah went through a lot and saw God move through him in amazing ways.

8. Esther - one woman can change the fate of hundreds of thousands of Jews in exile. So imagine what you can do?

7. The Song of Solomon - the beautiful poem of love between man and woman, but also shows us the beauty of love between God and us.

6. Nehemiah - The man who struggles with constant problems as he attempts lead the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. The prayer of repentance is beautiful.

5. Ezra - Another hero, attempting to rebuild the temple. Inspirational.

4. Jude - In a time of false teachers and milquetoast deism, read about how the problems haven't ch
anged over 2,000 years. Boldness in action.

3. The Psalms - Go here again and again for real, raw, deep, emotive cries to God

2. Revelation - the 7th messages to the churches, the end of history, apocalypse, destruction, new hope, what's not to like?

1. Ecclesiastes - Reminds us just how meaninglessness everything is apart from God.  A great reminder for us today, who so often ignore God, and seek pleasure.  Everything is empty apart from Jesus. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

10 books I recommend for Excellent Reading during this Lockdown

10. A Tale of 3 Kings by Gene Edwards - I found this book randomly at a thrift store in South Carolina. Read it and was pleasantly surprised by some very deep thoughts about the saga of David and Saul, and considering David and Saul in reflection of experience of Christian leadership, and being hurt by poor leaders.

9. The Evidence Study Bible - Ray Comfort's study Bible is excellent, the articles are very engaging and relevant. NKJV isn't my favorite, but it's readable.

8. The Wesley Study Bible - it's very good, I love the CSB translation comes through very nicely and uniquely at times. Commentary is good, wish it was more direct quotes of Wesley, instead of others telling me general ideas of Wesley. Also, some of the book summaries reflect a lowered view of scripture sadly, which is endemic sadly in much of modern wesleyanism and methodism. Overall though, great study bible.

7. Apologetics Quotes by Charlie Campbell - tons and tons of apologetics quotes, and it doesn't disappoint. I love me some apologetics quotes.

6. Gems from the Greek - Rick Renner - A year round devotional in which each reading considers a word from the greek of the Bible and what it's deep meaning is. Very good, devotions are a bit too long though. Still fascinating. 

5. Rediscovering Americanism - Mark Levin - one of the deepest philosophical I've read about the political conflict between enlightenment philosophy and progressive philosophy.

4. Heaven is so Real - Choo Thomas - people like me, heady theologians often turn up our noses at supernatural testimonials, something I no longer do, I thoughtfully consider these books, this one was amazing. 

3. Grace for the Moment - Max Lucado - Though I find Max Lucado's feel good hyper grace Christianity a bit too soft and milquetoast for me, this devotional book is actually pretty good. Thoughtful and succinct.

2. Thus Saith the Lord? John Bevere - I found this at a goodwill store in SC, very good book, very heady, considering the concept of hearing from God through prophets, the good and the bad.

1. The Bible - if you haven't read the Bible, even from a historical or sociological context, you definitely owe it to yourself to do that. There are so many gems in this book, I can't help but read it over and over.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Marriage Dinner of Jesus Christ: Revelation 19:1-9

While on a South Pole expedition, British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton left a few men on Elephant Island, promising that he would return. Later, when he tried to go back, huge icebergs blocked the way. But suddenly, as if by a miracle, an avenue opened in the ice and Shackleton was able to get through. His men, ready and waiting, quickly scrambled aboard. No sooner had the ship cleared the island than the ice crashed together behind them. Contemplating their narrow escape, the explorer said to his men, "It was fortunate you were all packed and ready to go!" They replied, "We never gave up hope. Whenever the sea was clear of ice, we rolled up our sleeping bags and reminded each other, 'The boss may come today.'"

The word "maranatha" is a Syriac expression that means: "our Lord comes." It was used as a greeting in the early church. When believers gathered or parted, they didn't say "hello" or "goodbye" but "Maranatha!" If we had the same upward look today, it would revolutionize the church. O that God's people had a deepening awareness of the imminent return of the Savior! (Our Daily Bread.)

Today we’re looking at Revelation, the last book of the Bible, chapter 19. In recent weeks we’ve talked about the triumphal entry of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and last week we talked about the ascension of Jesus.

Now I want to fast forward over two thousand years from the moment Jesus ascended, in AD 33, to the moment in the future when Jesus Christ returns.

So we know that right now we’re in the church age. The church has expanded across the Earth. And we know that Jesus will come again to collect his church and bring them home.

That moment I believe in rapidly approaching for us. But before history is completed, a time called “the great tribulation” will occur. This is a time of great crisis and struggle for the world at the end.

In life we have all sorts of struggles. We have health problems, surgeries. We deal with money problems, job problems, family problems, and so on. Life on Earth is rough. But the great tribulation will make all of this stuff seem like a walk in the park.

If you’re looking for an image of what this will be like, the Bible describes it this way, from Amos 5:19, “It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him.” So it’s described as these worst case scenarios that only seem to get worse. You’re walking down the street and you just escape getting hit by a car, but then you get hit by a bicycle. It’s bad.

Now there is a view in apocalyptic theology that if we are followers of Jesus Christ, then we will be spared from this moment. They call it the pre-tribulation rapture. The idea is that Jesus Christ will come suddenly, gather his church, and bring us to heaven before the tribulation. That’s the view we’re going to go with today. There are other opinions, but we’re gonna focus on this view for today.

Christ returns in a moment and gathers the church to heaven. So you’ve got millions of people disappearing, then the great tribulation begins. So the church is safe in heaven while the tribulation occurs. So then we see the rise of the anti-christ and the formation of a world wide government. Many events happen but then at the end, in Revelation chapter 18, we see Babylon, called “the prostitute”, destroyed by God. And then we come to our scripture today: Revelation 19:1-4

“After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a large crowd of people in heaven, saying, “Praise God! Salvation, glory, and power belong to our God! 2 True and just are his judgments! He has condemned the prostitute who was corrupting the earth with her immorality. God has punished her because she killed his servants.” 3 Again they shouted, “Praise God! The smoke from the flames that consume the great city goes up forever and ever!” 4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. They said, “Amen! Praise God!”

So let’s pause right there. We see this beautiful scene in heaven, you’ve got the church praising God. You’ve got the evil kingdom destroyed. And you’ve got the 24 elders praising God. Who are the 24 elders? Well we believe this would all the great humans in bible history, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and so on, and Jesus’ disciples, Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, and so on. The four living creatures, you’ve got me, I don’t really know what they are, but they’re made by God, to worship God and declare His glories.

Then it says in verse 5 through 8, “Then there came from the throne the sound of a voice, saying, “Praise our God, all his servants and all people, both great and small, who have reverence for him!” 6 Then I heard what sounded like a crowd, like the sound of a roaring waterfall, like loud peals of thunder. I heard them say, “Praise God! For the Lord, our Almighty God, is King! 7 Let us rejoice and be glad; let us praise his greatness! For the time has come for the wedding of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself for it. 8 She has been given clean shining linen to wear.” (The linen is the good deeds of God's people.)

9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Happy are those who have been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And the angel added, “These are the true words of God.”

Now you have this beautifully pictured marriage ceremony between Jesus Christ and “his bride.” Who are his bride? We are his bride. We are wed to Jesus, becoming one with Jesus, for all eternity. This will be a time of great celebration in heaven. As we gather around the table for this great and exciting ceremony of the marriage supper of the lamb.

Are you guys with me so far? Jesus was born, 2000 years ago. Jesus lived, and was crucified for our sins on the cross. Jesus came back from the dead. Then Jesus ascended to heaven, went to heaven to prepare a place for us. And now we see that Jesus will gather us in the rapture to heaven. The great tribulation will occur. The anti-Christ will establish an evil kingdom, and that evil kingdom will be destroyed by God.

Then we will celebrate the marriage supper of the lamb, this ceremony where we are joined with Jesus forever.

That is the day I’m looking forward to you guys. To be with Jesus in heaven. To be found faithful by God. So I’m always watching. Always waiting and hoping for Jesus to gather us to himself.

Your ultimate destiny as a human being, living on Earth, is to be washed in the blood of Jesus, have your sins removed, and to live to serve Jesus. And then, when the day comes of Jesus coming, you will be brought to heaven. And you will be joined with Jesus Christ your savior forever in the marriage supper of the lamb. This is the great moment of consummation. This is the great moment when we are permanently joined with Him.

We love Jesus today, but in the future we will be married to Him forever. That is the moment I look forward to. My destiny is in another world. My destiny is the new heavens and new Earth. That’s where I belong. No where on this Earth really feels like home. Heaven is home. The City of God is the real home.

But let me remind of you this, yes focus on heaven, watch always for the return of Jesus. But also continue to work here on Earth to get people saved and appose evil.

After World War I Germany was economically devastated and left broken. In that vacuum a terrible leader named Hitler rose to power. Many quietly followed Hitler and allowed him to take power. But famed Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for taking a stand against Hitler. Yet he continued to urge fellow believers to resist Nazi tyranny. A group of Christians, believing that Hitler was the Antichrist, asked Bonhoeffer, "Why do you expose yourself to all this danger? Jesus will return any day, and all your work and suffering will be for nothing." They had taken a fatalistic approach, that it was already too late.

But Bonhoeffer replied, "If Jesus returns tomorrow, then tomorrow I'll rest from my labor. But today I have work to do. I must continue the struggle until it's finished." -Daily Bread, November 10, 1991.

Yes I am waiting for Jesus. I fully expect Jesus to return in my life time. I don’t expect to die of old age. I expect to see Jesus with my own eyes sooner rather than later. You might think I’m being symbolic or theological, I’m being literal with that statement. But today, right now, I’m working to get people saved by Jesus, and to serve humanity through food, encouragement, hygiene products, help with bills, and so on. I’m hard at work. And you should be too.

Why do I talk so much about the return of Jesus? Well, because the word of God talks about it so much!

The Bible is filled with references to the second coming of Christ. “In the 260 chapters of the New Testament, there are 318 references to the second coming of Christ--an amazing 1 out of every 30 verses. Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books refer to this great event.” -Today in the Word, April, 1989, p. 27.

In 1987 Americans were surveyed, asking do you believe Jesus Christ will return a second time? 62% of Americans said yes. I wonder what that percentage would be today. I really wonder that. Or as Jesus said, “When the son of man comes again will he find faith on the Earth?”

We think we’re so advanced in the western world. We think we’re so sophisticated. We put so much faith in medicine, the sciences, and the intellectuals, we put so much faith in the experts, and we live by what they tell us to do. Whether it’s facemasks don’t help at all, we don’t use them, then a month later, facemasks are absolutely necessary. Then everyone wears facemasks. That’s a lot of faith. That’s very promising actually. Imagine if we put as much faith in Jesus Christ and the Bible as we do in handwashing guidelines, WebMD articles, and expert studies from The King’s College. I suppose that’s what we were taught, especially my generation, we were taught to trust experts, trust science, trust society, trust the TV, but the truth I realized later in life was, we should be more skeptical of the so called experts, and trust God’s word much more. It only took me about half my life to realize what my grandparents already knew a generation ago, God is real, and humans aren’t as smart as they think they are. A study can be absolutely wrong, and a Darwinian theory can be an invented fraud. And God’s word, though mocked as it is today, can actually be completely true. How ironic. What are you putting your faith in today? Theories of man, or God’s eternal truth?

So in conclusion today, Jesus Christ will gather His church, and we will be joined to Him in a marriage ceremony, the whole church to Jesus Christ, at the marriage supper of the lamb. We will see Jesus face to face, and be joined with Him. But yes, you’ll still be you. But you’ll be free from sin, and in love with Jesus with a full heart. Wow. So beautiful and amazing.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

How Do I Discern the Will of God: A few Lessons from My Own Failures

I recall many times biking and running, when the whole body felt on fire.  It was burning.  And it wasn't fun at all.  But what does any gym enthusiast know?  No pain no gain. The incredible discomfort of the workout is leading to a stronger future.  Much is the same with mental fitness. When my mind is on fire, and I feel completely out of control, and my emotions are screaming unease, actually something exceedingly therapeutic is taking place. I'm going to level up, you might say, to a more mature state.  Just like severe exercise levels up the body, muscle by muscle, so mental problems, mental anguish produces growth. 

But to be honest, I never knew adulthood would involve this much Ibuprofen, Aleve, and Tylonel.  I'm on a merry-go-round between the three.  I now fully understand why old people are so grumpy.  And I only just turned 35.  Imagine the physical misery when I turn 60 or 70! 

Sometimes in life you just have to bear up under suffering.  Don't pretend it's fine either. It's not really fine.  It may be OK, and you're at peace with it, but there is a legitimate ouch to all of it.  Ouch. OUCH. Yes.  Very ouch.  About one year later, of being a minister, all I can say is, ouch. After a month of being in lockdown, once again, ouch.  Still being single at 35 with no prospects, well, ouch.  

But I suppose it's better than being with a wife that I realize to my own consternation that I don't like at all. Though I fully reject the modern concept of "falling out of love" with someone. Love is a choice. And given prayer, God can and will ignite those feelings that may have been lost from poor maintenance in the past. 

I found myself in a spiritual crisis of a sort recently.  I have a close relationship with God. Being a minister, I better have that.  And honestly, you can tell if a minister doesn't. Their sermons lack any power, it's just words they came up with, and their ministry lacks any growth or vitality.  So it's easy to tell.  But anyway, I found myself in prayer with a Bible in my lap, searching for answers from the Lord on situations in my life.

Now, if you don't know this already I am prone to mild flights of fancy.  And so I've gotten into this habit of looking to the future, to prophecy, and considering what is coming.  And then searching the scriptures and listening for God's response.  And this led me to a number of "predictions" of a sort.  

Does this sound familiar?  I'm not the first person to do this sort of thing.  It's a game.  But I've really felt many times that I was truly hearing something from the Lord.  And the truth is we do hear things from the Lord.  I've heard things many times from the Lord.  Dozens of situations in my life.  And the Lord is nudging me in a direction.  So I felt very firmly in a great deal of prayer and scripture reading and discussions with friends and family that I had discerned a path God was taking me on.  

Or I'll see something in a dream. And I'll assume that this moment in this dream is a word from the Lord.  Believe me, that is almost always a mistake to think that.  I've had all sorts of stuff blow up in my face from thinking a dream was from the Lord.  It may have been from Satan, but it wasn't from the Lord.  Yet here we go again, a dream can certainly be from the Lord.  It happens in the scriptures.  So it's confusing.  How in the world do I know what is God's voice and what is my own voice and what is even the voice of evil?  

That is the question I'm wrestling with right now.  Because I was really sure about this.  Multiple things had happened in my life that were saying "this is the new path."  I mean, first I had a dream, then I prayed about it, several people brought up that topic with me, without my prompting, even before the dream.  That next day my best friend brought up this topic without my prompting.  I read the scriptures, the scriptures in prayer, and they seemed to be pointing in that direction. More prayer, more prayer, and I felt an emotive notion that this was the path.  I received a random gift in the mail 2 days later that seemed to be highly symbolic of this notion I had dreamed of and prayed about and scripturally studied.  And yesterday I found out that this was almost certainly not happening.  Amazing, isn't it? 

We can think that we have all the answers and it's coming together and all these nods are pointing me in that direction.  I mean this is what I was taught as far as how to discern the will of God.  I constantly pray "God grant me knowledge of your will for me, and the power to carry it out."  I applied this four-fold method: Constant prayer, diligently searching the scriptures, talking with friends and family, and watching for signs/clues in the world around me.  All of them pointed to this conclusion.  But it wasn't true.  

My reaction to this situation and the conclusion was a great deal of anger, even rage.  I spend a great deal of time searching after God. I take it seriously.  I spend a great deal of time trying to discern what God is saying, and I was flat wrong.  This of course throws into chaos many things in my worldview.  How do I hear from God?  Why am I failing to hear from God?  Can I even hear from God?  It throws into question many concepts and ideas that I've been living on.  So it's very distressing for me to consider how to hear from God. 

It's always been a fudge area honestly.  God does not often speak in a literal voice.  He has done that at times throughout history.  And even currently he does do that.  We hear of reports of thousands of Muslims turning to Christ by dreams they have in the Middle East.  I remember talking to a woman who had been kidnapped and taken to another country, and raped, and brutalized, but God helped her escape, and she heard a verbal word from the Lord telling her "you're going home."  So yes, God does speak.  But I have never once heard a verbal word from the Lord.  

So it's tough to discern God's will.  It's not always clear, which that also makes me angry.  God obviously wants us to do His will.  Then why not be a little more clear about it?  Why allow me to delude myself time and again?  Especially when I'm honestly attempting to find God's will.  I'm honestly spending time searching for it.  So why can't I hear properly from God?

Well, the answer came recently.  My friend said, you know you can't always know the future. You're blind like the rest of us, living on faith in God to an unknown future.  

Aha, I thought to myself with a severe amount of irritation.  How correct she was.  I had been playing games with God attempting to gain special knowledge of the future.  How often does God give that sort of knowledge? Well, sometimes he does.  If you recall the Apostle Paul was told by the Spirit of coming trouble. From Acts 20:23 "I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me."

Similarly Jesus told Peter ahead of time that he would deny him 3 times.  But these of course are special circumstances.  But I fully believe God does the same thing today.  God has at times warned me that trouble is ahead. So it's tough to discern.  

But essentially my friend was 100% correct, I was trying to force God to give me constant special knowledge of the future.  There's nothing wrong with an assertiveness before God and a desire for knowledge.  I think you should ask for new gifts, for prophecy, for dreams, for ideas, for friends, for family, for healings, and so on and so forth.  Be bold in prayer.  But I had taken it too far.  And we have to be very careful when discerning the will of God to look to silence our own minds.  I had developed an uncanny ability to assemble a house of cards.  And they have kept collapsing on me.  

So in conclusion, be cautious friends when discerning the will of God. Be patient.  And listen, while silencing your own mind.  How easy we deceive ourselves! But consider this also friends: This is pat of the full body burn of ministry, indeed of Christianity.  We wrestle with God over and over in our lives.  We go through suffering of the body, but also just as much suffering of the mind.  We get the full body burn, and the full mind burn.  Yes, these are tough situations! But remember that burn of the mind is going to be fertile ground for growth of beautiful gardens of the mind in the future.  So bear up under it, and keep going! 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Ascension of Jesus Christ: The Final Command of Christ

"D.L. Moody made a deal with God that he would witness for Christ to at least one person each day. One night, about ten o- clock, he realized that he had not yet witnessed; so he went out in to the street and spoke to a man standing by a lamppost, asking him, "Are you a Christian?" The man flew into a violent rage and threatened to knock Moody into the gutter. Later, that same man went to an elder in the church and complained that Moody was "doing more harm in Chicago than ten men were doing good." The elder begged Moody to temper his zeal with knowledge. Three months later, Moody was awakened at the YMCA by a man knocking at the door. It was the man he had witnessed to. "I want to talk to you about my soul," he said to Moody. He apologized for the way he had treated Moody and said that he had had no peace ever since that night on Lake Street when Moody witnessed to him. Moody led the man to Christ and he became a zealous worker in the Sunday school." -W. Wiersbe, The Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, p. 205.

The moral of that story: It’s your job to share the gospel. And don’t let anyone temper your zeal. Jesus is alive. Everyone needs to know that.

We've considered the various evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We've looked at the historical evidence, and the archaeological evidence and the massive expansion of the church. Now we consider the last moments that Jesus spent face to face with his eleven disciples.

Jesus died on the cross, and remained dead for 3 days, before rising from the dead, and appearing to his disciples and various people in Jerusalem. The female disciples encountered Jesus at the tomb, then later Jesus appeared to the men as well. They didn't really understand why they were seeing Jesus. They thought they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus wasn't a ghost, he was really alive. So we see in our scripture today from Luke 24, it says, "Then Jesus helped the followers understand these Scriptures about him. 46 Jesus said to them, “It is written that the Messiah would be killed and rise from death on the third day. You saw these things happen—you are witnesses."

What's the most powerful evidence in a he said she said court case? An eye-witness. Jesus appeared to his disciples after rising from the dead, because he was appearing to witnesses. Jesus knew he needed eye witnesses or people wouldn’t believe it. These people, his disciples saw Jesus face to face, they touched him, and ate food with him after he had resurrected. And so they were eye-witnesses. They saw these things happen. It continues, Jesus says,

"You must go and tell people that they must change and turn to God, which will bring them his forgiveness. You must start from Jerusalem and tell this message in my name to the people of all nations. 49 Remember that I will send you the one my Father promised. Stay in the city until you are given that power from heaven.”

Theologians call this "the great commission." It's a great command, an order, given by our King, Jesus. Go and tell this message to the world. Two thousand years ago they started in Jerusalem, proclaiming the message of salvation. They declared to the people that they must repent, change their ways, and become followers of Jesus. And I'm telling you the same thing today, you must change your ways and follow Jesus!

The gospel, the good news started in Israel, in Jerusalem, then it spread to the Roman empire, and further. It started with one country, today the gospel has spread to every country in the world, 193 countries.

Today, this great commission, this final order of Jesus our commander is yours to fulfill. It's not my job, as your pastor, it's your job as soldiers and followers of Jesus to get the message out there. You've got to win people to Jesus. Proclaim to them that they must change their ways, and turn to Jesus for forgiveness of their sins. It's the only way to heaven.

Our scripture today continues like this: “ Jesus led his followers out of Jerusalem to the mountain. He raised his hands and blessed his followers. 51 While he was blessing them, he was separated from them and carried into heaven. 52 They worshiped him and went back to Jerusalem very happy. 53 They stayed at the Temple all the time, praising God." -Luke 24:50-53

So Jesus was born, we celebrate that on Christmas. Jesus died, we celebrate that on good Friday. And Jesus resurrected from the dead by the power of God, we celebrate that on Easter Sunday. And today we remember and recollect the ascension of Jesus. The fact that Jesus was raised from the ground and taken into heaven by God. And that's where Jesus is right now, in this parallel dimension, this reality the Bible calls heaven. And the whole idea is that Jesus is coming again. He ascended, but he will come again, to rule and reign on Earth.

Jesus gave the mission to us, to be witnesses of how much Jesus has done for us, to the world. And for two thousand years that has continued, with the church spreading around the world. The church is how Jesus spreads the gospel in the world. But now, in these end times, we consider the return of Jesus, that Jesus will return to the Earth, and every eye will see Him. Isn't that amazing? He will return the same way he left.

In the gospel of Matthew the great commission and ascension is recorded in this way:  "The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped,[d] but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of[e] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember,[f] I am with you always,[g] to the end of the age.”

So Jesus had led the disciples up the mount of olives, and from there gave his final words, then ascended. But Jesus didn't leave the disciples alone. And he doesn't leave us alone today. Jesus left us, the church, with the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Godhead who lives within us, and ministers through us. And Jesus promises that he is with us always, as we call people to repentance and belief in Jesus for forgiveness.

It's not always easy to spread the gospel. In fact today in our modern world many don't believe in God. They think they don't need God. And the truth is many of us know there is a God but we prefer to ignore him because we're selfish, and we want to live our lives for pleasure, and not for God. But we should consider what we're putting at risk. There is a real heaven, and a real new heavens and new Earth. But how often do we focus on silly pleasures, selfishness, sex, money, greed, power when we're offered eternal joy with God in heaven?

There is an old legend of a swan and a crane. A beautiful swan alighted by the banks of the water in which a crane was wading about seeking snails. For a few moments the crane viewed the swan in stupid wonder and then inquired:

"Where do you come from?"

"I come from heaven!" replied the swan.

"And where is heaven?" asked the crane.

"Heaven!" said the swan, "Heaven! have you never heard of heaven?" And the beautiful bird went on to describe the grandeur of the Eternal City. She told of streets of gold, and the gates and walls made of precious stones; of the river of life, pure as crystal. In eloquent terms the swan sought to describe the holy city, but without arousing the slightest interest on the part of the crane.

Finally the crane asked: "Are there any snails there?"

"Snails!" repeated the swan; "no! Of course there are not."

"Then," said the crane, as it continued its search along the

slimy banks of the pool, "you can have your heaven. I want snails!"

This legend has a deep truth underlying it. How many a person to whom God has granted the advantages of a Christian home, has turned his back upon it and searched for snails! How many a man will sacrifice his wife, his family, his all, for the snails of sin! How many a girl has deliberately turned from the love of parents and home to learn too late that heaven has been forfeited for snails!
Moody's Anecdotes, pp. 125-126.

CS Lewis said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

But one of the main reasons that I came to God in my late twenties, was because I had tried everything, drugs, alcohol, sex, pop culture, philosophy, new age, college, friendships, everything to try to find ultimate meaning apart from God. And I was left completely empty, and broken, a sad, miserable rebel exhausted by pleasure seeking. Emptiness! I got tired of making mud pies in the dirt, and decided I wanted to be a prince, a coheir with Christ in heaven. But more so, I didn't decide anything, God chose me. And He is calling you also, turn to Him before time runs out. The clock is ticking!

Logically it does make sense. Nothing in this life satisfies. There's something in me that longs for more.

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. "
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 119.

You are made for another world. That’s why this life feels so miserable, so empty. That’s why you ought to join the church, the living body of Christ on Earth. Jesus is calling the shots right now from heaven, speaking through His people, through you, through me, to call the world to himself before time runs out. We all need a savior for our sins, and if we don’t have that we’ll go to the place of darkness and evil forever. I don’t say that to scare you, but to warn you, both heaven and hell are real places. Put your faith in Jesus, turn from your sins, and live for Him. Because Jesus is coming again to rule and reign on this Earth .You will see Him with your own eyes. He’s real. The hour is late right now. Now is the day of salvation. So turn to Jesus today. Say it in your heart right now. Cry out to Jesus, Jesus be my savior right now. You died for my sins on the cross. I am yours. You are mine. I turn away from my old ways, I turn away from my sins, and I live for you now. Thank you Jesus. I live in relationship with God today, God is my daddy, my Father, and I love Him and He loves me. Join me on that journey. Jesus is coming again. He is alive, he ascended, and he will come again. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

7 Power Prayers for Good Times and Bad: Nature, Science, Love, Solitude, Praise, Repentance, and Misery

Lands of Beauty: Prayer of Natural Beauty
Glorious One,
Eternal God, Divine architect, master sculptor, mysterious painter, we marvel in awe at what you have made. You place constants, you define boundaries, you place layers, you shape rock faces, you paint the oceans blue, and the skies, your hand carves out the edges of the leaves, the tree branches, the arctic circles, the rocky mountains, the liquid haze of the blue ridge mountains,
We delight in what you have made God, though fallen,
You have left your mark on this creation,
You have given us evidence of your glory in every sunset, every sunrise, every star filled sky, shimmering in the night,
We adore thee for what you have made, your creation reflects your genius, creative persona, your mysterious infinite brilliance makes all this possible, And indeed you have made us, our very souls, as a crown for your glorious creation. Thank you Jesus, Amen. 

The Grand Designer: Prayer of Science
In the beginning God you designed constants like gravity and time, indeed you formed time, and it has no power over you, 
The spaceless expanses make it clear to us just what you have done,
The telescope describes you, the microscope reveals you,
Your genius formed the laws of reality,
Your wisdom placed the solar system, the strength of the sun, in it's plasmatic power, 
The great power that guides the planets through space, belongs to you, though they are not you, they point us to you, in all your magnificence. 
You've made DNA that fills our veins, you've designed the circulatory system, the veins and arteries, the blood that sustains and repairs our organs, 
You've designed each system to function with the others, so they all fit together and function in unison, Truly God we are fearfully and wonderfully made, in Jesus name, amen.

An Expression of Infinite Love: Prayer of True Love
Dear God,
You have made us to give of ourselves, and to receiving a sustaining force called love,
You are a God of love, who teaches us to love, and gives us love, 
And you call us to give that love to still others,
What is love Father, that you would sustain us with it?  What is this deep sensation? What is this glorious rapturous feeling that makes us full? It is love, biblical love, a self sacrificial sensation that provokes us to action. We are sustained by your love. Your love gives us form.  Your love is infinite. Your love is perfect. Your love flows out to all would do the simple deed of receiving your son, and repenting of sin, 
God we express our love for you,
Teach our hearts to love like you do,
Make our hearts to love with all, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,
With all our excesses, with all we have left over, teach us to love you deeper and love you again, further, longer, wider, and in greater depth!
Make our love for you, like your love for us,
Make our love greater, for we are poor in love,
Make our hearts larger, and greater to love selflessly,
And help us to love our enemies, and to love our family members, and to love those that have hurt us, and done such terrible evils to us, help us to hold no grudge, but to love them deeply, and pray for them always. 
Father we love you, but make our hearts to love you even more every single day, 
In Jesus name, Amen. 

Alone I Find You God: Prayer of Solitude
Might God of Glory,
You alone are God over all. All who call on the name of Jesus and turn from sin are part of your family, Yet you stand alone, as the only God,
Jesus Christ you came and loved the masses, and the 120 and the twelve,
Yet it also says in your word, that you often retreated to lonely places and prayed,
Help us God, to disappear into solitude,
Let us God quietly reflect on you,
In the silence, you show yourself God,
In the mysteries of life, in reflection, you declare your ways,
In the quiet place, the still small voice is heard
Make me someone who retreats to the prayer room,
Make me one who returns to the quiet meadow,
Make me to be one who searches for you in the mysteries of life,
In Jesus mighty name it is done, Amen. 

God of Many Colors: Prayer of Praise
Eternal Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Creator Lord Almighty,
Father God of the Seven Spirits of Heaven,
Faithful protector of humanity,
Divine Master of Intellect
Holy Designer of Righteousness
King of Space and Time
General of the Armies of Heaven,
Servant slave who carried all sin,
Generous benefactor of the poor,
Defiant castigator of the pharisees,
Compassionate Father of the little children,
Rejected outcast among a self-satisfied world,
Accept us as part of your family, the body eternal,
Your love is scandalous, in the crib you watched over us,
Call us to humility, call us to holiness, call out our faults,
We give up all the wealth, all the power, all the greed, we set aside
We lay sin aside, the weight that so easily entangles,
Take us up to your kingdom, we are your soldiers
Set us free from old age, from death, make us new
Give to us an understanding and will to live out perfect holiness
Fire our minds with the wisdom of heaven and set zeal as our crown,
We take refuge in your base camp Lord, we hide in your defenses,
We ride on the wings of heaven, across all the Earth in victory. Coheirs eternal in the new city, in perfect love and righteousness, we delight in you forever. 

I turn from Sin: Prayer of Repentance
Daddy God,
I come before you in sorrow and pain, I come before you grief, I come before confessing that I have sinned against heaven and against you,
I've done evil, when I should've done right, I've embraced darkness, and delighted in my flesh,
Father, I am no better than my fathers, and I feel and understand that I have done great wrong,
Sin is evil Father, and it spreads like a disease within me, and leads to still worse sins.  Sin is disease that spreads to others and brings great harm to humanity.
I have sinned against you Father,
So therefore I ask for your forgiveness for these sins in the name of my savior Jesus Christ, who has washed me clean by His own blood,
I am washed clean by Jesus, and I repent.  I change my direction.  I leave sin and I come close to you God, forsaking and turning away from sin, and embracing holiness, embracing your way. Grant me the grace of true repentance God. In Jesus name, Amen. 

Comforted by the Creator: Prayer of Misery
God I am broken today, God I'm exhausted, God I can't do this anymore, 
God my heart hurts, the days events have tore me open, my soul is ripped,
I feel so empty Lord, I feel the emptiness of life,
Why must there be so much suffering?
Why must this ordeal last so long? 
When will it ever end?
God I can't handle this anymore, I'm overwhelmed, and tired of the battle,
Lord, have mercy on me, I cry out to you in the midst of destruction,
God I throw myself at your mercy,
God I take refuge in you,
God you do great things in the world, though it seems like the wicked and the powerful prosper, they will disappear one day,
With no hope,
God you build me up through despair, you shape me through darkness,
You give and you take away, never the less, blessed and holy and perfect is your Name forever,
I put my trust in you in the storm, I praise you in the storm, I seek you in the storm,
I search for your face, I search for your countenance to shine down upon me,
Please God, bandage my wounds, in this battle, strengthen my heart, give me strength, and give me faith in my weakness,
You do great things in weakness and brokenness,
Do a great thing in me.
I express my trust in you in the storm,
Father have mercy, 
In Jesus name, Amen. 

Upcoming... Prayer of Delighting

Prayer of Magnificence

Prayer of Holiness

Prayer of Mercy

Prayer of Marriage Blessing

Prayer of Dedication to Service

Prayer of Personality

Prayer of Sorrow

Prayer of Emptiness

Prayer of Love

Prayer of Addiction

Prayer of Starlight

Prayer of the Divine Attributes

Prayer of Praise to the Triune God

Prayer of Rage

Prayer of Suffering

Prayer of Sin Battle

Prayer of Deep Loss

Prayer of Winter Depths

Prayer of Melancholy

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Responding to the Resurrection with Lifestyle Worship

Perhaps the most important question of the entire Bible is the question of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. To put it plainly: Did Jesus rise from the dead? If Jesus was crucified, in reference of history, and he died, and was placed in a tomb, and he simply stayed dead, then Christianity is nothing. But if Jesus was crucified, buried, but after three days he physically resurrected from the dead, then Jesus was really God on Earth. And everything he said and did matters infinitely.

Verified historical sources tell us that Jesus was a real person who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Galilee. Historians also tell us that Jesus spoke, and lived, and was crucified under the Romans, probably around the age of 30-33. History also records that Jesus died, and was placed in a particular tomb, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. History also tells us that the tomb was found to be empty. We will examine, briefly, several prominent views of the historical fact of the empty tomb, and how to explain it historically. We will then examine which view is most accurate given history. Then we’ll consider the positive evidence.

Jesus is mentioned as a historical person in multiple sources, such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, the Babylonian Talmud, and Lucian among others (Gleghorn, 2001).

But the New Testament scriptures are themselves more historically attested to than any of these sources, with 5,868 ancient Greek manuscript copies (Slick, 2008). The accuracy of these manuscripts when compared to one another are 99.5% accurate (Slick, 2008). The only differences between these manuscripts are minor spelling and grammar errors that don’t impact the meaning substantially (Slick, 2008). Therefore, I would make the contention, as is the general consensus in history, that the New Testament documents are historically reliable and outside historical sources prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus of Nazareth did exist, was crucified, and his tomb was found to be empty.

Now the real question is, did Jesus rise from the dead? The tomb was empty, that much is historically known. So how do historians explain the empty tomb? The most direct explanation would be that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. Christianity spread quickly after the crucifixion. In fact, each of Jesus’ disciples aside from John were martyred for their faith (Gertz, 2008). History records that each of them died proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead (Gertz, 2008). Why would they die for something that wasn’t true? In fact, there are historically recorded events in which Jesus appears to people after his death, including at one point when he appeared to over 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6).

Let’s go into some further detail on evidence. Once again we can mention how Christianity rapidly spread from Jerusalem and into the ancient Roman empire, being preached by the same disciples who fled into hiding after Jesus was crucified. These same terrified disciples became as bold as lions to travel as missionaries across the ancient world when they encountered the resurrected Jesus. The example of the Apostle Paul is also telling. He encountered the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus road and he went from being a persecutor of the early church to one of its most ardent heroes (Galatians 1:23). Jesus appeared to over five hundred witnesses, and it was recorded by the apostle Paul that while he was writing his letter many of these people were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6). He in effect invited readers to go and ask these eyewitnesses about when they saw Jesus. Jesus of course also showed himself to his disciples on the Emmaus road, along the sea of Galilee, and to James, after his crucifixion. Given the spread of Christianity from a few thousand persecuted Jewish Christians to being the most prominent religion in the world today, the empirical and historical evidence is strong that Jesus did in fact resurrect from the dead (Hackett & McClendon, 2017). Additionally, even today millions of people testify to the fact that Jesus has changed their lives. This all forms a cumulative case that we can indeed believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Given the cumulative evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, we can believe that Jesus is bodily resurrected, and is our true Lord, King, and Savior.

Therefore, how should we live? If Jesus is alive, what should we do?

Colossians 3:14-17 ESV "Put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Because Jesus Christ is real we should put on love. Love binds everything together. It unifies everything, and we are called to be part of the body of Christ, unified, at peace, and we ought to be thankful.

Because Jesus is here right now, with you in your home, You should be living out an attitude of gratitude. What are you thankful for today? I’m thankful for a warm house to live in. I’m thankful for safety. I’m thankful for my friends and family.

Zephaniah 3:17 ESV "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing."

Isn't it wonderful to know, totally know that God is with all of us right at this moment? He is with us. Always with us. He is not limited by space or time! He can be with all of us at the same time. He’s here in the USA, in Michigan with me. He’s with a persecuted Christian in prison in China! With you he has all the time in the world, he's not rushing off to deal with something else. Instead he patiently and attentively ministers to your heart, your mind, your intellect, and your very soul.

God rejoices over us with gladness.

God quiets us with his love, when we want to cry out in pain.

And God exalts us with singing.

1 Chronicles 16:29 ESV "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness"

We ought to respond to God in worship. Not because we're supposed to, but because we want to. Worship is transformative in that way. When I pray for a half hour, read the Bible in bed at night, attend studies, and go to church, my interest and wisdom grows. As a result I've sown good seeds, and a garden blooms in my heart. Let the garden bloom in your heart. Plant seeds, and months and years later you’ll see them bloom.

I was talking with a young man and he compared faith to Jesus Christ in believing in Leprechauns. I don't know any leprechauns who are worshiped by two billions Christians worldwide. And I don't know any Leprechauns that can cure hopeless drug addicts and turn them into serving, adoring Christians of powerful faith. I don’t know any leprechauns that are historically verified by multiple sources. I don’t know any scientific evidence that shows leprechauns are real. But I do know a God who made the universe from nothing. And I know a God who does the impossible.

My point here is that Jesus Christ can do the impossible in lives. For that reason and for so many others, he is deserving of our worship. Our worship is not simply singing or praising or prostrating before him. No. Our worship is a daily song, and it's sung by acts of worship. When you volunteer at a food pantry, you sing before God. When you share the gospel with a friend, you sing before God. When you play with your kids, you sing before God. When you give food to a homeless man you sing before God. When you smile to a stranger... when you give a hug... when you share a Bible verse... when you help those in need... It's all a daily song, throughout the week to your loving Maker.

Psalm 147:1 ESV "Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting."

So as we delight in this resurrection Sunday, let's remember to have an attitude of daily worship in action and thought to God Almighty. Recall what Jesus Christ did on the cross. And believe and know that he rose from death, by the power of God, and now sits, alive and well at the right hand of God the Father.

I'll leave you with this powerful description of the life of Jesus Christ to close out today, from James Stewart, Scottish theologian:

"He was the meekest and lowliest of all the sons of men. Yet he spoke of coming on the clouds of heaven with the glory of God. He was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at his coming, yet he was so genial and winsome and approachable, that the children loved to play with him and the little ones nestled in his arms.

His presence at the innocent joy of a village wedding, was like the presence of sunshine. No one was half so kind or compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red-hot scorching words about sin. A bruised reed he would not break. His whole life was love. Yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees, how they were expected to escape the damnation of hell.

He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark realism, he has all of us self-styled realists soundly beaten. He was the servant of all, washing the disciples’ feet, yet masterfully he strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another to get away in their mad rush from the fire they saw blazing in his eyes. He saved others, yet at the last, he himself did not save.

There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts which confronts us in the gospels; the mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality."

Saturday, April 11, 2020

10 of my Favorite Preachers to Listen to on YouTube

10 of my favorite preachers to listen to on Youtube: 

1. Real Life with Jack Hibbs - I only recently discovered this ministry and it's really powerful.  He goes into a lot of prophecy, and world issues, which is really fun to listen to.

2. Derek Prince Ministries - One of the greatest theologians of all time in my humble view. Derek Prince is a biblical teacher what great, deep wisdom on many topics. 

3. Francis Chan - Crazy Love - This pastor is on fire for the Lord, you can't help but feel and embrace his sincere passion for God when he preaches.

4. Frank Turek - Cross Examined - I love apologetics, I'm a huge fan of science and philosophy, so Frank is a great way to learn more along those lines.

5. Ray Comfort - Living Waters - Ray Comfort is the evangelist. His central focus is winning people to Jesus Christ, which I think should be all our primary goals. You'll find a ton of videos of Ray talking to random strangers, sharing the gospel via the Way of the Master by taking the sinner through the ten commandments, then applying the gospel to the convicted conscience. 

6. Carter Conlon - Times Square Church - Passion, passion, and more passion from Carter.  He is sincere and excited and I need that in my Christian faith. The successor to the famed David Wilkerson. Solid biblical teachings.

7. Voddie Baucham - This man is a genius. Warning, he is a Calvinist, so his theology is a little funny, but in regard to culturally relevant issues, he is the best.  His insight is amazing. He's a defender of the faith, he's a man on the wall, always watching the horizon for threats to the church from culture and compromise.

8. David Pawson - Solid, firm biblical teaching. He just celebrated his 90th birthday. Amazing! Probably the closest to true biblical theology, holiness, truth, and love balanced well. He teaches a lot on end times and prophecy, among other things. What more can I say?

9. Kyle Idleman Southeast Christian Church- Another Calvinist, so the theology is a bit off. But he is good at balancing difficult issues, and explaining them in clear terms. 

10. William Lane Craig - Reasonable Faith - Deep, deep intellectual discussions, and topics. Logic, science, and theology. Quite fascinating.

Notable Mention: Alisa Childers, J Warren Wallace, Lee Strobel, D. James Kennedy Ministries, Sean McDowellMichael L. Brown

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Son of God enters the City of God: The Revolutionary Triumphal Entry

As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!
Praise God in highest heaven!”
The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered."

Hosanna they cried out! Hosanna in the highest heaven. Hosanna is a word of praise, and excitement, of joy, Jesus is here! God has come! Praise to God in the highest heaven. They called Jesus Hosanna, in the highest heaven. The God of the universe had come in human form, and he was entering His city.

And we find this amazing event, which we call the triumphal entry, in the New Testament, in the Bible.

In the pages of the Bible we find the saga of mankind, our fall into sin, and our redemption, our hope, the coming of Jesus. It’s in all the book. The Bible is the #1 best selling book in human history. The Bible is a historical book, a book of poetry, it includes eye witness accounts, prophecies, letters to churches, and accounts of the creation of all things. The writings in the Bible were written down by people, people who were inspired by the Spirit of God to write down the knowledge and wisdom of God. The writings of the Bible flow together seamlessly, spanning over 3 thousand years. There is no other book like the Bible.

I know that this event, where Jesus road on a donkey into Jerusalem really happened. I know that it was not just some story or myth, but a real historical event. You’ve got Jerusalem, a real place, in a real country that exists today. You can visit Jerusalem and see where Jesus entered the city. You’ve got the Roman empire in control of Jerusalem then. Once again, real historical truth.

We can trust the Bible. Historians trust the Bible. Archaeologists use the Bible to unearth ancient treasures. Scientists have trusted the Bible all the way back to Galileo and Isaac Newton. The body of Christ trusts the word of God as our unquestionable guide to knowing Christ.

In fact we’ve ordered our lives around the historical structure of the Bible. Today is the day that churches traditionally celebrate something called the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This is the grand entry of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, God in human form, entering His own city, Jerusalem, which means The City of God. God, entering God’s city. Isn’t that amazing? And the people waved palm branches to celebrate the arrival of Jesus. So that’s why we call it palm Sunday. I have one right here. This is not a palm branch, but it is a branch of some sort. And I’m gonna wave it.

It says in the Old Testament, predicting the triumphal entry, that “The trees will clap their hands.” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, seated on the donkey, they waved palm branches to celebrate. I get chills when I think about the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. This was a revolutionary moment in history. It seems so many times in our society the rich and the powerful control everything that happens. They manufacture evil and keep good people from the lime light, they keep the message of purity and truth down in the pits. And in the same way the Pharisees fought Jesus every step of the way, but Israel was bursting at the seams, and finally the revolution had begun, and Jesus Christ was cheered by the whole city as he triumphantly entered, the king of kings, Satan couldn’t shut down the crowd, they had to cry out in joy for the coming of the messiah into the city of God. It makes your heart sing when the outsider finally achieves victory over the entrenched establishment and moneyed elite.

But let’s pause right there. Before we go further in depth into the triumphal entry, I want to jump all the way back to the Old Testament, in the book of Isaiah. This scripture foretells the coming of Jesus.

Listen to this scripture from Isaiah chapter 53 verses 3-6:
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all."

God came into the world He created, to His own city, Jerusalem. And that had been expected for thousands of years. Then it finally happened. Jesus was born two thousand years ago. And when he was in his 30s he made his triumphal entry into His own city. And Jesus was victorious. And the truth is Jesus is alive right now. Each of us will see Jesus face to face. We could reach out and touch his hand. Jesus is alive right now. He is seated on his throne, ruling and reigning in heaven. He is also here with us right now. And he knows your name.

He knows my name. Yet he has given me a new name, and put my name in the Book of Life. Is your name in the book of life? Has Jesus Christ made a triumphal entry into your heart? If so then I encourage you to celebrate today. Rejoice and be happy! As Jerusalem rejoiced with the coming of Christ, so we too rejoice when Jesus enters our heart, when His Spirit draws us into close relationship with him. Isaiah prophesied the joy of turning to Christ in these words, from Isaiah 54 verses 4 to 8:

“Fear not; you will no longer live in shame.
Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you.
You will no longer remember the shame of your youth
and the sorrows of widowhood. 
For your Creator will be your husband;
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!
He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
the God of all the earth.
For the Lord has called you back from your grief—
as though you were a young wife abandoned by her husband,”
says your God.“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great compassion I will take you back.
In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while.
But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer."

We all need the redeemer. We all need God to remove our sins, so we can be new. Are your sins washed away in Jesus blood? Don’t assume just because you go to church on Sunday, or watch a live stream that you’re a Christian. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than being in the garage would make you a car. Either we believe in Jesus, or we are lost in our sins. I know what it means to be lost. And so did Israel. In Jerusalem the people celebrated the entry of Jesus. But the leaders of Israel the pharisees were also watching the entry of Jesus. And they were so very angry. They had been trying to stop Jesus, to get rid of Jesus, to keep Jesus quiet. They hated his teachings. And when they saw the whole city celebrating the entry of Jesus, they said, “We are not succeeding at all. Look, the whole world is worshiping Him!”

And the truth is those same pharisees would work with the Romans, and Judas, to get Jesus crucified. But Jesus knew this would happen. It had all been predicted thousands of years earlier. Jesus, God in human form, would die on the cross, to pay for the sins of the world.

Jesus, God with us, gave himself at the cross for me. He was nailed to the wooden cross for my sins. It was as if I sat in a court room, and a list of my sins was being read off. We all have that list, of things we’ve done, harmed women, lied, hurt our parents, stolen things, make bad choices, and committed evil deeds. That list is being read off in the court room, and I’m guilty. I know I’m guilty. I deserve to be sent out from God’s presence, to outer darkness, and I know its true. God is so holy, so perfect, and I want that so badly, but I know internally that my sins are too much.

As Isaiah wrote in chapter 59 verses 2-3:
It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.
Because of your sins, he has turned away
and will not listen anymore.
Your hands are the hands of murderers,
and your fingers are filthy with sin.
Your lips are full of lies,
and your mouth spews corruption."

The judge declares me guilty, and I know he’s right. But Jesus walks over to this judge and says no, all of those sins, I’ll take the punishment for him. I’ll receive the sentence that he deserves, I’ll remove those sins that are destroying him, I’ll take them all into my being, and receive the death penalty for him. Jesus sets me free.

That’s how great Jesus is. But even further, he gives me eternal life, he comes with me on the journey of life, helping me along the way. And he did it for me, if I’ll just believe that its’ true, that Jesus lives, he resurrected for me, and is my King forever.

Do you know him? Have you really personally made that commitment? make that commitment today. It’s the best choice I ever made in life.

So in conclusion today, as we celebrate the Triumphal Entry, Palm Sunday, rejoice and be glad today. Celebrate and wave the branch to Jesus entry’ into your heart. And continue to seek God!

Isaiah wrote: "Seek the Lord while you can find him.
Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously." -Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

Leaving Catholic & Protestant Ideology: In Pursuit of Real Christianity

The pursuit of Jesus over my life thus far has been an ongoing struggle to see clearly, that which is seen in a mirror darkly. I hard grown up looking to Jesus through the mirror of Catholicism. I was raised Catholic, in the Roman Catholic church.  So I looked at Jesus, dimly through the mirror of Catholic teachings, the Mass, the Eucharist, priestly authority, liturgy, the catechism, and so on. Later in life having reclaimed faith in Christ, by God's gifting, I began to look at Christ through the mirror of Protestant ideology. This of course includes the five Solas: Saved by grace alone, saved by faith alone, saved by Christ alone, to the Glory of God alone, and according to scripture alone. 

Are you with me?  Looking at Christ through a mirror dimly.  Starting with the first mirror, Catholic ideology, then to the second mirror, Protestant ideology.  Now there were also two different tints to the glass. The Catholic glass I was raised with was tinted with Roman Catholicism, and the practices and viewpoints of Roman Catholicism.  I've also seen distinct differences in how a Polish Catholic church might function.  And there are other variants like Orthodox Catholic or Greek Catholicism.  Each mirror is Catholic, but tinted a different color based on the subgroup.

And I found much the same was true within Protestantism.  I first began the resurgence of my faith journey in what would be called a Baptist Evangelical church. It had certain distinctives. I've also attended Episcopalian services, as well as Methodist, and now of course The Salvation Army subgrouping.  This would be the mirror of protestant ideology, tinted with the distinctives of each subgroup.

And I would just add that there is nothing wrong with that. While some Christians may find the style of the strict liturgy and organ hymns draws them close to God, others may find that the style of Christian rock, and a pastor in jeans and a t-shirt making cultural references draws them closer to God. I really enjoy both approaches. I love the reverence and awe of the liturgy. I also love the real talk, excitement and emotion of the contemporary service. I love a jump up and down Pentecostal revival service.  I love the reverence and repetition of a Catholic mass.  I love the casual yet deep real talk from the baptist pastor in jeans, talking life stories.  I love the military jargon and brass bands of a Salvation Army service.  

Yet I found myself in both Catholic and Protestant churches to be at time suffocated by the ideology.  And I've gone through my life thus far attempting to discover an answer to a question.  That question is this: What exactly is the truth of the scriptures about who God really is? And how do I really live it out? The battle became one of theology.  

All Christians are in this struggle to one extent or another.  But I found increasingly this problem: Theological doctrine had become more important than scripture.  If we find a scripture that disagrees with our theology, what do we do? Do we try to force the scripture into our theological doctrine?  Or do we adjust our theological doctrine to fit the scripture? 

Particularly within Protestant ideology, I found myself wrestling in the struggle between Arminianism and Calvinism. Which theological viewpoints were correct and which were incorrect?  I struggled between the 5 points of Calvinism and the 5 five points of Arminianism. Of course one could get much more in depth and complicated, here is how they break down:

1. Total Depravity - through Adam and Eve every person is born sinful.
2. Unconditional Election - God saves those he wishes, predestination. God predestines all things and all people. 
3. Limited atonement - Jesus died only for the elect, not for all.
4. Irresistible Grace - God's grace can't be denied, earned or resisted
5. Perseverance of the Saints - what God begins he finishes, it can't be lost or rejected or turned away from. 

1. Total Depravity - Every person is born predisposed to sin in the line of Adam.
2. Prevenient Grace - God's grace is active before we are saved, guiding us to come to Jesus. God foreknows future free actions.
3. Unlimited atonement - Jesus died for all (whosoever), and especially for the elect.
4. Free Will - God offers salvation to all, humans have free will to reject or receive it.
5. Conditional Security - Salvation is secure in Christ, preserved by God, but one can renounce or fall away, losing their position. 

And I'm not here to say one of two fallacies, first being "well I think both of them are true."  These two viewpoints fundamentally contradict, they can't both be true. And I'm not here to say, "I've found a third way."  I'm not saying that either.  What I am saying is I decided, I needed to follow God, the Lord Jesus, as revealed in the scriptures.  

I had to escape Catholic ideology and Protestant ideology.  Yet truly there was and is no escape.  So I thought of it like this.  I was on the beach, at the ocean, and I was in the water, on a floaty.  The floaty was Catholicism, and later the floaty was Protestantism.  And the waves and the water were throwing me all over the place. 

Here is what changed: Today, I still have my floaty around me.  But my feet are planted firmly on the ocean floor. I can use my floaty. But I'm not tossed too and fro, I'm firmly planted on the ocean floor.  The ocean's and waves are the lives we live in this sinful world of struggle. The ocean floor is God's word.  The floaty is my theological system.  In the past I had mixed up the order: I had let my theological system been my basis for truth in the world. And the word of God was the last resort. Now, the word of God is my direct go to, my feet are planted there, and my theological system is submitted to the word of God, but also useful as a help in the world, to balance me in the waves and winds of life.  

Next, is considering where our focus is.  Let's talk about focus.  And there are three primary areas of focus: Orthopathy, Orthopraxy, and Orthodoxy. 

Orthopathy: Emotions (my emotions guiding my relationship with God)
Orthopraxy: Practice (my behaviors/lifestyle guiding my relationship with God) 
Orthodoxy: Ideas (my beliefs/ideas guiding my relationship with God)
If I'm focused on orthodoxy primarily, I'm focused on my floaty, my theological system, and I'm staring at the ocean floor.

If I'm focused on orthopraxy, I'm primarily focused on the ocean waves trying to live right.

If I'm focused on orthopathy, I'm focused primarily on myself. I'm focused on how I feel, and how God feels, and reaching out with my emotions to sense God. 

We have to find balance in our focus. My primary focus had always been orthodoxy, the truth, the word of God and ideology.  But I realized I had missed out on the practice.  So I started to focus on practice.  Then I realized I'd missed out on the emotion, and I began to delight in God and seek God in a very personal way. 

Focus in on the waves, turn your attention to the ground floor, the ocean about you, others in the ocean, turn your attention to the floaty, and turn your attention to the sun in the sky. Keep that focus floating between truth, feeling, and practice, looking back, looking forward, looking at yourself, looking at God, and looking at others.  

OK, so, we've talked about looking through the two mirrors darkly, protestant and catholic.  We've talked about Calvinism vs. Arminianism, and how we instead look to a primary approach of keeping scripture primary, and ideology secondary.  We've also talked about then balancing our focus between the three spheres of practice, emotion, and truth. And also we've considered adjusting our focus to be adjusting between different realities. 

Lastly, I want to talk about priorities. And this is where we get to the crux of the issue.  The process we just talked about, which I walked through, is what brought me to a stark adjustment in my priorities and emphases.  What I prioritize now, and how that's impacted how I view scripture is stark. 

These are the following conclusions that I've drawn, so far, in my journey to escape ideology and seek God, through the three ortho-realms, seeing scripture first, regarding prophecy, adjusting my focus, and attempting to see God's word as it truly is.  

I no longer look through a mirror darkly. Now, I look through the glass darkly, just as the word of God says: 

1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV) "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

When I look at Christ primarily through protestant or catholic ideology, I am seeing through a mirror darkly.  And the mirror and it's tint distort the truth.

To rightly see God, my primary tool is God's word. And I must perceive God through three realms: truth, practice, and emotion.  These must be balanced.  They must be balanced. Or I will fall into three traps: arrogance of doctrine (my interpretation is right, higher than the scripture itself), arrogance of practice (my practice is right, higher than God's way), and arrogance of emotion (my emotions are my supreme guide, above God). 

However, if they are properly balanced in light of God's word, they will check and balance each other.  If doctrine becomes arrogant, emotion checks it, if emotion grows too powerful, doctrine holds it accountable. If practice takes over, emotion and truth pull it back into it's place.

Now, I look through a glass darkly.  The darkly remains.  The glass is still dark, and fudged and difficult to make out.  That's the reality of our lives in this fallen world.  Part of the equation is the hiddenness of God. Part of the equation is our own inability to perceive things accurately. Part of the equation is the menace of evil we face in this world.

And it's with that caveat that I share with you my deductions and adjusted priorities.  I'm still looking through a glass window darkly.  I could be wrong. God's word is right. But through this process, in communion with God's word, in communion with the Holy Spirit, and in communion with practical living, these priorities have bubbled to the surface. Don't let emotion or ideology or practice guide your response. But God's word properly balanced.

1. Evangelism is the First Responsibility of the Church - Sharing the gospel, fulfilling the great commission is the single most important aspect as our practice as Christians.  It's the primary duty of the church.  It's not worship, or teaching, it's evangelism. This isn't an unpopular idea, evangelism, sharing the gospel.  But how few of us actually do it, and make it part of our daily routine?  

2. Antinomianism is the great heresy of the Modern American Church - Antinomianism is an old heresy by which false teachers long ago taught that all you have to do is believe in Jesus. That's it. You can live however you want to live. They remove repentance from the equation. This is so insanely common in the modern church that it isn't even noticed.  It's like trying to look at water as a fish. It's hard to see. But it's incredibly common. "Just believe, that's it!" Oversimplification. There is more to it than that! 

3. Holiness is the great forgotten Teaching of the Church - Be holy as God is holy.  The great split between Wesley and Edwards was that Edwards believed we always had to keep sinning, we could never be free from sin, an idea you will find nowhere in the Bible, and Wesley, who believed Christ empowers us to live holy lives. But it's not really about Wesley or Edwards, it's about the scriptures, which call us to holiness.

4. Once Saved Always Saved is a deadly False Teaching - How many in hell today are crying out "Preacher you told me I could never lose my salvation?"  How often this false teaching has been an opiate for sin in the life of a believer.  Pornography addiction, pre-marital sex, lying, stealing, cheating, and living pridefully. And every time they must tell themselves, we always keep sinning, I can't lose my salvation.  And thus the road to hell is paved for millions.  What an irresponsible, unbiblical false teaching.  Forgive me, but it makes me angry to consider how many have been led to the gates of darkness through this opiate. Yes, we can have assurance of salvation in Christ, but obedient faith is necessary, practicing good deeds, and truly living free from sin.  Does it muddy the waters? Sure. But it's all in the word. And I can't deny the word.  Not for any ideology or any comfort I would prefer. 

5. Emphasizing the Feel-Good Verses, Removing the Tough Verses- This is another "hidden in plain sight" heresy of the modern church. We like to tickle the ears of our people.  We've decided that the love of God is the only right motivator for bringing people to God.  We've decided, standing in authority over God's word, that we will create an idol, a very clever idol.  This idol is the idol of carving out all the feel-good verses from the Bible, and then not talking about the difficult verses in the Bible.  We create an idol out of God, we create a false-god who is all love, and no justice.  We create a false god who just wants us to be happy. We create a false god who just wants to bless us.  We create a false god that doesn't judge anybody.  And this god is no god at all.  We must love the verses we love about God, and the verses that make us uncomfortable.  The justice and judgment of God is just as beautiful as the love and mercy of God.  They are glorious parts of his nature.  We can't allow the spirit of the age, the spirit of "be nice" to let us make an idol out of our glorious God. 

6. Heaven and Hell are Real - It seems as the church we don't talk much about heaven and hell anymore.  Especially the reality of hell.  You would be hard pressed to find many pastors today who are brave enough to talk about the reality of hell.  Or if they do, they try to sanitize it by calling it only a place of outer darkness, not referring to the fire, or the wrath of God that is present there.  They over-spiritualize it.  But most just don't even refer to it.  They've decided in their minds that hell is a big turn off, so they don't need to mention it.  Only talk about love, Jesus, forgiveness, and faith.  Those are all great things to talk about.  But heaven and hell are literal and true realities.  There is a hell where many will spend, well, forever.  And there is a real heaven, where those who have lived for Jesus will spend eternity, to get more specific, a new heavens and new Earth, in which is a city called The New Jerusalem, but I digress. Heaven and hell are true destinations for all humanity.  Every human will go to one of those two places.  So we must, must, must talk about these realities and help people understand that they are real! 
Romans 2:6-8, Revelation 21:1-27, Luke 23:43, Matthew 10:28, John 14:2 

7. Jesus will return very, very, very Soon - The return of Jesus Christ is imminent.  We are living in the end days.  Many in the church today don't expect Jesus to return anytime soon, and many in the church today don't believe Jesus will ever return.  Jesus Christ our King will return to gather his people.  He will rule and reign on this Earth for a thousand years in a time we refer to as the Millennial Reign of Christ.  This time is not far off.  This time is now.  The time is very near!  We've seen the Jews return to Israel after 1,900 years of roaming the nations.  We've seen information increase.  We've seen world governments forming.  We've seen technology allowing for the world to communicate instantaneously around the globe. These are the end times. Jesus will return. And I firmly believe it will happen in my lifetime.  No one knows the day or the hour, let's be clear about that. But the word of God also says that if we are watching carefully, and perceiving the signs of the times, we won't be surprised either.  Jesus is real.  Jesus is not just alive "in our hearts."  Jesus is actually alive right now in heaven.  And he will return.  That time is now.  Be ready, and be prepared. For the hour is late, and the time is near.  And if he arrives and finds us without a wedding dress, or our lamp has gone out, we will not enter with Him, we will be sent away. 

In conclusion brothers and sisters, I know I've stepped on many, many toes. I've stepped on Catholic toes, I've stepped on Protestant toes. So let me be clear: The glass that we see through is of course influenced by our tradition.  That is part of the equation we consider.  There are many different expressions of Christianity, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, and so on and so forth. Many of these expressions are God-ordained.  Tradition is not a bad thing. 

"Well that wasn't what I was taught at my church." I realize that. But please, regard God's word above the teachings of your favorite pastor or priest. And I'm not saying Protestants or Catholics are just wrong and evil.  Not at all! All I'm saying is, make sure the order is right, God's word first, and make sure you are humbly attuned to the three areas of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy. And make sure your focus and priorities are right. You men and women of God, must teach and preach and properly handle the word of truth.  Don't let ideology get in the way of God's word, and His revelation to us. Stand in the ocean, looking carefully, mind stayed on God, feet planted on the truth of God's word, head in the clouds with deep emotive relationship with God, practicing the faith in truth, making use of the floaty of theology, while always regarding God and His word first above doctrine, emotion, or practice.  Live in pursuit of the real God. Live in pursuit of truth. Live in pursuit of real Christianity. Make that the attitude of your mind and your first pursuit, and you won't fall into error, false teachings, or eternal destruction.  God is great! Amen.