Saturday, October 31, 2020

Go Out and Vote your Values this Election: This is your Civic Duty as a Christian

"All of you must obey the government rulers. Everyone who rules was given the power to rule by God. And all those who rule now were given that power by God. So anyone who is against the government is really against something God has commanded. Those who are against the government bring punishment on themselves. People who do right don’t have to fear the rulers. But those who do wrong must fear them. Do you want to be free from fearing them? Then do only what is right, and they will praise you.

Rulers are God’s servants to help you. But if you do wrong, you have reason to be afraid. They have the power to punish, and they will use it. They are God’s servants to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government, not just because you might be punished, but because you know it is the right thing to do.

And this is why you pay taxes too. Those rulers are working for God, and they give all their time to the work of ruling. Give everyone what you owe them. If you owe them any kind of tax, then pay it. Show respect to those you should respect. And show honor to those you should honor." -Romans 13:1-7

 The United States is a Constitutional Republic, meaning that each citizen has a right and a duty to participate in the civic processes that elect rulers. So, proper submission to authority is to dutifully engage in the voting processes of your local, state, and federal governments.  It's as simple as that. 

Get out and vote.  Not just in presidential elections, but also in local elections.  And in accordance with the mandate to be preservation to society, salt and light, vote for your values when you vote.  Vote for your Christian beliefs, because these values make society better. They make the world better. It is your duty to vote, and participate in this process.

And please, don't vote for who you like better as a person. That is not the goal of voting, to vote for who makes you feel nicer. Or who you'd like to hang out with.  You are voting for policies, laws, and a perspective on the country that will either make it better or worse.  Take a look at the positions of the candidates on all key issues from abortion to economics, to marriage, and freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, just to name a few.  Study the key issues, study the platforms of the major parties, and study the viewpoints of the candidates running in the various races.  Vote your values!

Why Church History Matters: Why Tradition Still Matters

Book Review: Why Church History Matters

            Why Church History Matters by Robert F. Rea is a description of the value of church history and the tradition it generates from various perspectives, breaking down tradition historically, tradition today, tradition applied to Christian identity, and tradition as a help to the church today. The book is broken up into three parts which describe how Christians ought to understand tradition, what Rea describes as expanding circles of inquiry, and tradition in service to the church.

            Rea begins by defining history as “the study of the past in order to understand the present and to improve the future” (Rea, 2014, p. 23).  But Rea makes it clear that understanding history is not about merely collecting and assembling information. Instead he indicates that history is meant to provide accountability to the present. So, he says that Christian history ought to be understood as an examination of the church’s past in order to understand the church’s present (Rea, 2014, p. 24).  Rea defines tradition as applied in his book as a synonym for Christian history, encompassing important historical events and persons, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox doctrinal views, historic teachings and doctrines that Christians tend to agree on, and historic Christian practices that are tied to cultural practices (Rea, 2014, p. 28-29).  He then contends that these various expressions of tradition are fundamentally good, in regard to the fact that they exist, but indicates that certain particular traditions can be good or bad (Rea, 2014, p. 33).  Rea’s depictions of Christian tradition are well thought out, encompassing the various important movements, and addresses the varying perspectives in balanced ways, while also remaining firmly within the realm of biblical Christianity. 

            Rea then catalogues the various ways in which the church has understood tradition, from the early church, through the middle ages and the reformation, and into more recent perspectives of Christian tradition. Then Rea addresses tradition in the present from two perspectives, faith groups that affirm apostolic succession and those that reject apostolic succession. Apostolic succession refers to the concept that authority to decree biblical truth was passed on from Jesus to Peter, and through the bishops and popes to the modern era.  Major faith groups that affirm apostolic succession include the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans.  Those that do not affirm apostolic succession include Bible-focused Protestants, and Liberal Protestants. Once again, Rea’s catalogue of the various positions on tradition, whether viewed as one in the same with scriptural authority, or viewed as irrelevant, or viewed as historically useful, I can’t fault Rea’s descriptions, they are balanced and well thought out. 

            In part two Rea deals with Christian tradition as it impacts Christian identity. This is where the author really comes to life and shares his passion for the power of Christian tradition to bring about powerful understanding, wisdom, and continuity of individual and corporate Christian identity.  He expresses the power of Christian tradition as a form of study, for Christians seeking to understand their identity and the questions they have, and reflects on the power of studying tradition to help Christians understand who they are.

            Christians gain understanding of their identity through various spheres of influence (Rea, 2014, p. 87-91).  The author indicates key areas include closest friends first of all, the congregation which they attend, the larger denomination of which they are a part, then shared theological viewpoints, contrasting theological viewpoints, and other cultures (Rea, 2014, p. 88-89).  When Christians study historic tradition this becomes a part of this process, as Christians gain knowledge of Christian tradition across the centuries into the past (Rea, 2014, p. 89).  Rea addresses the importance of understanding and being enriched by the perspectives of other Christian faith movements to developer a more authentic Christian experience as well.

            Rea’s descriptions of the various spheres of influence for Christians is a solid model, but from my perspective leaves out the reality of influence by the family of origin, and could’ve gone into more detail about that influence, as well as the influence of our spouse, if they came from a different tradition.  Additionally, I would’ve cited God or the Holy Spirit as the most inner circle of the influence for Christians.  God must work through tradition to speak to Christians about who they are, in my view.  

            In part three Rea addresses how Christian history can be a blessing to Christian ministry (Rea, 2014, p. 133).  Rea begins by discussing how Christians have historically interpreted the Old and New testaments, beginning with the early church, through the middle ages, the reformation, and after the reformation.  Rea tends to point to the value of historic tradition as a way to better understand scripture and therefore practice better bible study individually and corporately.

            According to Rea (2014) “We study Christian history for ministry. We learn historical theology to serve the church” (p. 166).  Once again we see Rea’s passion and excitement for the value of tradition to inform present day practices of Christian ministry.  Rea writes about the value of studying historic Christian leaders for the practices of preaching, teaching, worship, spiritual growth, systematic theology, missions, ethics, compassionate ministry, unity, and cultural engagement. He considers for ministers preparing for sermon preaching, that when these individuals study historic tradition of the church they are joined by the great minds of the historic church and given wisdom about how to preach is more meaningful ways (Rea, 2014, p. 167).

            To conclude Rea (2014) writes, “Why does church history matter? Those ready to explore this question stand at the door of fascination and fulfillment, questions and answers, foes and friends. This doorway opens to a whole new word- a world daring us to enter, offering us an invitation to love and learn from our past. When we cross the threshold, we will never be the same” (p. 191).  These words properly sum up the purpose for which Rea writes Why Church History Matters, to encourage present day Christians to explore the rich history of Christian tradition and be transformed in their faith walk, their understanding, their identity, and their practice of Christian ministry.

Why History Matters to my Own Life

            Now we consider from my perspective the question, “Why is studying the past important?”  I find a massive amount of value in studying the past. This regard for studying the past seems to only grow more and more valuable to me as I learn tidbits and insights from human history, and church history. 

            My own fascination with history began with studying the American revolution in junior high and high school. I always found the subject of past wars and revolutions as incredibly fascinating.  One of my first recognitions in writing was a history day report I did on the Vietnam war in 8th grade. 

            In any case, studying history is like Rea said, of immense value to the present.  The reasons for many of the problems in modern society can almost always be traced to the past.  In fact, so many of the mistakes made by post-modern western thinkers can be traced to the past, from media bias, to the surge in appreciation for the ideology of socialism. History is so important because it constantly influences the present.  Even in the present day election debates, we see that the main issue between the two sides is in regard to how to historically view the United States.  Is the United States a history of imperfect leaders enshrining good values that then progressed along a journey to live out those values to the best of their ability, the 1776 vision of America; Or is the United States a fundamentally racist, evil, white supremacist nation founded on slavery and violence, that is irredeemable and must be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up, the 1619 vision of America? History and how we understand history impacts all of this to a huge extent.

            I was raised in the Roman Catholic vein of Christianity, but largely rejected in when I became a teen. Many years later, I joined a Baptist evangelical church. Tradition did not play a huge role in the teachings of the church, though you could see the influence of modern Christianity, from the contemporary Christian rock music, to the format of the service, the use of technology, and the practice of the sacraments.  But once I became a part of The Salvation Army church after beginning to work for TSA, I began to study the history of the movement. I found myself astonished by the stories of William Booth walking to the bar each day to preach in the bar.  And how day after day he failed, and almost gave up hope, until one man got saved, and he influenced the community toward Booth, and pretty soon a massive movement formed that was spreading to different nations around the world.  It informed my own faith in so many ways to read these stories, and I soon began reading such historic accounts from other heroes of the Christian faith.  Early on I was enchanted by The Apologies of Justin Martyr and the story of his death.  I was deeply moved by reading Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand. It informed my theology, my understanding of Christian suffering, and how I should view it in my own life.  I study the lives of people like George Washington and his denial of ultimate power, the story of Corrie Ten Boom and the power of forgiving those who hurt us.  I read Ravi Zacharias’ biography and how he got saved after a suicide attempt.  All of this deeply influenced and continues to deeply influence my understanding of Christianity. I can’t say enough about how much I love human history and church history, and how deeply it impacts my ministry life.




Rea, R. F. (2014). Why church history matters: An invitation to love and learn from our past. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Calvin's Approach to Salvation: Do we have free will or are we robots?

Calvin essentially viewed salvation as a work done completely by God. The believer really has no part to play in salvation, and rightly so, for this is true salvation in Christ. Yet from this Calvinist perspective, the believer doesn't even have to be willing to be saved, essentially God will force them to be saved if it's in his will for them to be saved. And the believer doesn't need to respond in faith, faith is given to the believer. The believer essentially doesn't respond at all. God forces it upon them.

Basically Calvin believed that everyone is predetermined before they are even born to heaven or hell. Calvin had a very strong view in regard to the sovereignty of God. He essentially believed that whatever God decrees is what will happen. There is no free will involved. There are several problems with this approach to salvation.

First, if you're asserting that God ordained the fall, and that God ordains some to heaven and some to hell, that makes God the author and originator of evil. That's a rather big problem, when considering the moral character of God.  

Secondly, when you remove free will you remove any need to respond to the gospel. Essentially Calvin reduces the human race to robots.  How does Calvin explain our own responsibility if we're foreordained to heaven or hell? There would be no basis for personal responsibility for sin.  

Thirdly, when you suggest predestination in all things you remove the impotence to evangelism, if people are foreordained to heaven or hell, then there is no reason to evangelize. They will get saved somehow if God wants them to.  

Fourthly, when you remove the need for perseverance and simply suggest all will persevere because God will force them to, you neglect the very real reality of falling away. Thus you encourage complacency in the body by rejecting the possibility of apostasy/falling away. Believers then falsely think they can never lose their salvation, promoting spiritual laziness, or even departing the church altogether, given the fact that it can't be lost. 

Fifthly, why would the Bible constantly tell us to "choose now whom we will obey" (Joshua 24:14-15) and constantly call us to "obey God in all things" (John 14:15)? If all is foreordained by God, there would be no need for any commands, because God would simply force it to happen.

I know, I'm taking these ideas to their logical conclusions. Most Calvinists don't believe these logical conclusions. Yet they remain logical conclusions that prove the ideology is systemically contradictory. Determinism seems the logical conclusion of God decreeing some to salvation and some to hell.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Why Does God Test Us?

Why are we tested? Why are we tempted?

What an amazing question. We see numerous times throughout the old testament and new testament where god’s people are tested.  Jesus himself was required to go into the wilderness where he would tested for forty days and forty nights.  Abraham was tested by God, when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son. Peter was tested. The apostle Paul was tested in many ways.  Why are we tested?

The word of God says, Each of you are being tested and purified through the fires of affliction that through these trials you may bring glory to God. 

Let’s talk about testing, and we’ll also talk on the way about temptation, which are two different things. 

As you all know you’ve been purchased by Jesus Christ, he’s adopted you into his family and you’ve given your life to His service.  If you’re a Christian, that’s the arrangement. Jesus bought you with his blood, to make you one with God, and now you are on the journey home to paradise. But we must still walk through this life, and face many trials and tribulations.

In the book of James we see that trials are intended to build our faith, purify our faith, and test our faith.  This brings glory to God.  God is pleased with this.  So every test and trial is intended to make you just a bit more like Jesus.  And it’s also a way for God to understand what you really believe and who you really are.  We can say that we love Jesus and we serve him alone, but what about when something terrible happens?  What about when we don’t get what we want? What about when something hard happens?  These are all times when God is watching to see what we will do.  Will they hold fast or will they turn back? 

As I wrote the sermon message for today, I was sitting within my house, with no power. During the storm on Friday in the early afternoon a tree fell from the neighbors house and landed mere inches from my house.  It missed the house, but it hit the high wires connecting the house to the power lines, and it ripped the power lines in half, and there were sparks and smoke everywhere outside the window. 

I had to wait for the fire department to arrive, and then waited again for over 4 hours for consumers energy to arrive and deal with the live wires sitting on my driveway.  Not only that, I was sick with stomach flu, no fever thankfully, from Tuesday through Friday.  I missed some work, and got behind on some things.  I had recently tried to adopt a dog from the humane society with special needs, and his special needs were too much, and we had to return him to the humane society which was very sad.  I had been trying so hard to lose weight but haven’t been able to lose much more than where I’m at now, then the sickness hit and I gained a bunch back from having to lay there everyday. All moments before kettle season starts.

These are all tests we go through.  How will I respond? Will I feel sorry for myself? Will I get angry with God? Or will I patiently endure these difficulties and grow as a person as a result?

Each trial builds us more and more into God’s disciple.  We’re pretty stubborn as people. So it takes painful trials to change us.  But the question was, why are we tested by God? Right?  So let’s address that.  Why does God put us through tests?  I think every trial God puts us through can be considered a test.

Which door will we walk through? Like on the video. Often times it looks like this: two doors.  One is easy. Maybe go get some pleasure or go do something, go get wasted, or go meet up with that guy or gal who you know is bad news, but your really lonely.  Or stay at home and honor God and feel kinda lonely.  And being a Christian is making the hard choice, over and over and over again. Going through that door that looks harder, that door that looks more painful.  But as we do, we’re walking on God’s path for our lives.  And each right decision draws us closer to God. And each wrong decision draws us further away from God.  It makes sense.

If I walk through that wrong door during the test, and go sleep with that woman, or go use that drug, or go to that party, or steal that thing I want, or lie about someone to hurt them, it affects me.  It changes who I am just ever so slightly.  Every time I open that door to sin, it makes the door easier to open and the sin is stronger in my life. 

And honestly, when you go through that temptation door, that sin door, each time you become a bit more cynical, a bit more jaded, a bit more resentment at God.

And you’ll notice that every time you succeed in a trial, succeed in a test, you’ll feel just a bit closer to God. You’ll feel a bit more hopeful. You’ll feel a bit more of God’s presence. 

This is really our journey through the wilderness.  I think we can compare it to Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  If you recall, God set the Israelite's free from slavery in Egypt, and they gathered around mount Sinai, and Moses climbed the mountain and came down with the ten commandments. But then Israel began their journey through the wilderness. And if you recall, they went through all sorts of trials and difficulties as they traveled. 

Will you trust God in the trial?  Will you trust God while you’re being tempted?  Will you trust God while you’re in a test That God is putting you through himself?  That is the question.  And that will determine the outcome of your trial.  It will determine whether you succeed or fail. 

The Israelites in the wilderness complained and grumbled, and even wanted to return to slavery in Egypt rather than go with God. They built the golden calf and worshiped it, instead of God. They rebelled against Moses and Aaron. Will we do the same?  We have God’s Spirit living within us.

But I get it.  It’s tough.  There have been times where I go through the wrong door, and go for sin, or temptation, or I question God’s goodness, or argue with God, or complain to God, instead of being obedient to Him.  But we always have that chance in the next test, to make the right choice and walk through the right door. Let’s not waste that chance though. God is patient.  And God is good. But let’s not test God.  God tests us, because he’s building us into his image, but we shouldn’t test Him. That’s not our place. 

So why does God test us?  God tests us to show to us what is really in our hearts. He already knows. But when we are tested, it shows us who we are, and sometimes its great we see we really do love God, and sometimes we see that we still have a long way to go, and then we can cry out to God to change us within.

In regard to temptation, temptation is sometimes part of a test we go through. We’re often tempted to do wrong, to make the easy choice, to go into sin, but God never tempts us.  Sometimes God leads us into situations where we face temptations, but God himself does not tempt us.  He is always calling us to do good, not evil.

This life is tests, trials, and temptations. Go through them patiently.  Trust God. And don’t doubt Him. These tests are a good thing. They change us into Christ’s likeness.

The Death of Perpetua: Christian Identity

The martyrdom of Perpetua, have you ever read the account? It's absolutely incredible to read.  It's from thousands of years ago, yet it's so relevant to today.

I find it amazing to realize, though I'd read of Perpetua before, to learn that she was only 22 years old at this time.  How amazing for such a young and impressive woman give her life for the Lord!  

 I see Christian identity at work in her story. She knew who she was.

Perpetua's account articulates Christian identity in her conversation with her father in the clearest form when she says, I must call myself what I am, what am I but a Christian? Her father begs her to simply renounce Christ. Think of your baby! But she cannot deny Christ. How could she deny the chief nature of who she was?  How often have I identified myself as perhaps a learner, or a lefty, or an eccentric, or a pastor?  But what am I chiefly? A Christian.  That is the very root of Perpetua's identity. Can you say the same? Can I say the same?

She faced her own death as a temptation to recant Christ. Would you give your life for Jesus? She faced an impossible situation, seeing her own long life ahead of her. She also faced the proddings of her father, and the prodding of her baby and the needs of the child, as well as the prodding of the Romans, but could not recant from her love of Jesus. The text articulates the importance of her Christian witness, and that it be maintained unto death.

The Romans were so threatened by this simple faith in Christ, because it was an outside referent by which to judge the state.  The basic structure of roman society was that of the roman culture, the worship of the emperor, and reverence of the state as the ultimate authority.  That is what probably was thought to keep the public in line and under control.  

 How could Rome allow a different worldview, the Christian perspective to so radically challenge the roman belief structure?  From the Christian perspective, they could judge the roman society as either good or bad based on Christian beliefs.  But from the perspective of emperor worship, the state could do no wrong.

 Despite that severe pressure from outside to conform or die, Perpetua knew who she was. She was a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  And she died for it.  

She was condemned.  She had a vision of saints beckoning her to the coliseum.  And then she was brought out into the stadium, and she joined other Christians, who were devoured by wild animals, struck by Lions and armored gladiators. She died a saint and a martyr for Christ.  Would you do the same?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Why does God love me? Why does God care about us?

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The first question from the questions we had you turn in from this new series, God Questions, Real Answers is a combination of two questions that were turned in, they are: “Why Does God love me? And “Why does God care about us?” These two questions being closely related will be addressed tonight

Raise your hand if you have children.

Hands down. Now, raise your hand if you love your children.  Yeah, same ones.

Now, the question can be asked: Why do you love your children?  Why do you care about them? 

Very easily you could say, because they’re my kids.  But that’s not really an answer is it?  Maybe you aren’t really sure why you love your kids.  Or even why you wanted to have kids in the first place. But you love them.  Why? Maybe… because you made them.  Perhaps, because they're made in your own image.  If you look at your children, they look like a combination of you and your spouse right?  You look like a combination of your mom and dad.  That’s how it works.  And maybe we love them because they’re some of us in them, and they’re in a way our creation.  Not only did we give birth to the child but we also raise the child and teach the child our values and beliefs.  So nature, and nurture, all building a person as they grow up.

I don’t think it’s a big stretch to say then, that God love you because he made you.  You are extension of God in the world.  God is like our father, and we are his children.  But it’s also much more than that.  It starts there, but there’s much more.

God is our Father.  But God didn’t give birth to us.  God actually designed our bodies.  He designed our blood, our circulatory system, he designed the anatomy of our brains, our heart, our muscles and tendons.  He conceived of the idea of creating a human being. The senses you have of seeing with your eyes, hearing with your ears, feeling with your hands and your skin, those are all creations of God.  That is one reason God loves you, you’re like his brilliant invention that he created and now he enjoys watching us walk around and do things and explore the world. 

Have you ever played that computer game called The Sims?  It’s where you have this person you made and they live in this house and they have other friends, and you can design their house.  And you try to meet their needs, have them eat, work, spend time with friends, and earn money and so on.  It’s a little like that, God watches us live our lives, and provides for us. 

Point one is that we are the invention of God, God designed our bodies and our minds. But God also created our soul.  Those are the little things about you, the fact that you like a certain flavor of ice cream, a certain kind of music, that you are gifted in a certain area, maybe you’re a writer, or a painter, or you make wonderful meals, or you decorate your home beautifully, or you have a gift for encouraging others, or a gift for serving others.  Those various traits of your soul, what you love to do and what you bless others with, is an aspect of why God loves you. 

God decided the world needed one of you.  God designed me to be a pastor, to write sermons and share them, to shepherd a flock and care for them. God designed many of you to love your children, to provide for others, maybe God designed you to be a great farmer, or to be a great architect or to be someone good at administration or good with tools and fixing things.  Maybe God designed you in your soul to be one who listens well to others, or one who talks well. Think about all the people in just the city of Owosso… you’ve got people who gifted in government, people gifted to be police officers and administrators and business leaders and cooks and cleaners and construction workers and salesmen and pastors and teachers and coaches and shift managers.  And God designed each of us to do these things, and to love doing these things.  God cared that much, and he loves who you are.

First point, you are the invention of God, second point you are a soul designed by God uniquely, third point, God created humanity with something infinite within each of us.

In Ecclesiastes it says that on the heart of every human is a longing for eternity. That’s why nothing in this life, romance, buying stuff, new houses, new cars, drugs, women, men, none of it really satisfies our longing for eternity.  We long for something beyond this world.  God created messengers, millions and millions of what we call angels, who are servants of God who do his work in the world behind the scenes.  God also created planets, stars, galaxies, and so on.  God also created plants, and all the animals and insects and creatures.  But then God created humanity, and something very special happened there, because it says God created us in His own image.  Where there is a piece of the divine nature in us.  God did not create us just to be servants like the angels, he created us to reign with him. To be in charge, to have power over the Earth.  Of course we know Adam and Eve messed that up, and ceded that authority to Satan the deceiver.  But we were originally designed to rule and reign. And the Bible says if we have Jesus christ as our savior we will one day reign with him as coheirs in Christ.

But I think part of this mystery of being created in the image and likeness of God, is explained by this concept that God created us to create. We are not satisfied just reading a beautiful poem, we want to write a new poem, with our own thoughts and ideas. We aren’t satisfied just looking at a beautiful painting we want to paint one of our own.  We aren’t satisfied seeing how beautiful someone’s child is, we want to have our own children.  An architect isn’t happy just looking at a fantastic building, he goes out and builds one just as beautiful in it’s own unique way.  We were created to create.  God told Adam and Eve to subdue the Earth and spread across it.  Build beautiful kingdoms, and God would watch us do it.  Remember God invited Adam to name each of the animals, because God was curious what Adam would name them.  He wanted Adam to have authority and to make those decisions as his chosen one. 

In the same way God invites us to create.  Just as God created the heavens and Earth. We create cities, paintings, books, children, arts crafts, and so many other things. 

And lastly, I want to return to the original picture, God loves us because he is our beloved Father.  He cares for us like a mother and father love their son or daughter.  It’s an unconditional love, a powerful love that fills them and fills the child.  God is love.  That’s what the Bible says.  The fundamental reality of the universe is love. 

But if you don’t have Jesus Christ as your savior today then you are actually an enemy of God.  You’re like the prodigal child who has left home and is away from God and his love.  And if you don’t return to God through Jesus Christ, then when you die you will have to sent away into quarantine, a place of torment called hell, where God is not, and only pain is real. 

But if you simply accept Jesus Christ as your savior, and turn away from your sins, and live holy, you have God as your Father, and He loves you so much. Even while we were still sinners God loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us.  So receive him now. 

God loves you because you are his own invention.

God loves you because He designed your own soul.

God loves you because you are made in His own likeness to create as he creates.

 God loves you because God is love, and He is your Father, and you are His child.

And God loves you because you’ve received his son Jesus Christ as savior and have turned away from your sins. 


Sunday, October 11, 2020

How Exactly Does God want us to Live?


“The corruption of organized religion had so sickened him that he fled into the wilderness to find God. He subsisted on locusts and wild honey and exchanged his city clothes for rough-cut camel hides. In the loneliness of the desert, God gave a harsh message to penetrate hard hearts.

When the time was right, the firebrand came out of the desert with the sting of a scorpion, preaching hellfire and brimstone. People who were disillusioned by the shallowness of the Temple and synagogues streamed out into the desert to get that old-time religion. The prophet’s message was simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Untold thousands wept over their lackluster faith.

He was preparing the way for the Messiah. One day, Yeshua bar Yosef from Nazareth stood at the edge of the crowd. The prophet knew instantly that he was the one. He pointed at his carpenter cousin and said, “This is the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.” Yeshua replied, “Baptize me, Ioánnes, to fulfill all righteousness.” After the baptism, the prophet saw the Holy Spirit fill his cousin and heard God’s voice say, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

After that day, the desert prophet’s ministry decreased as Yeshua’s increased. Scandal had rocked Judea when Herod Antipas, stole his weaker brother’s wife. So the prophet hurried to Herod’s winter palace to deliver the last sting of a desert scorpion. The king was not amused, and John found himself locked in a dungeon. He was ready for martyrdom, but he wasn’t prepared for the doubts. Maybe he had baptized the wrong messiah. Perhaps Yeshua was just a carpenter. Sometimes the mind can play tricks. So John sent a desperate message to Yeshua: “Are you the one, or is there another yet to come?” Yeshua didn’t rebuke his cousin’s doubts. Instead, he sent back a gentle but assuring answer: “The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

The amazing story of a doubting saint should encourage us all. There’s not a hero in the Bible who didn’t doubt. Perhaps there can be no real faith until we have nothing else to hold on to. If you are suffering doubts, Jesus would say what he said to John, “See what I am doing all around you. Let the evidence chase your doubts away.”

When your doubts create mountains, allow your faith to remove them.” -James Petterson

Even the most steadfast and radical Christians can struggle and have doubts. Even the most wise and learned Christians can stumble and commit sins.  But the important thing is that we push through those times of doubts and sins, and continue to grow and follow Jesus.

Not so long ago, we all joined here together, as a rough band of troopers, doing dinner church, trying to figure out how to relaunch the corps.  And boy was it crazy for a while.  We saw a lot of ups and downs.  But here we are now, growing and learning and developing as a team.

I know we’ve all had some crazy struggles in the past few years, and they seem to continue being thrown at us one after another.  So I want to address this important topic today, as we go through our series on soldiers equipped for battle. 

Today we’re looking at How God Wants us to Live.  And for that purpose we turn to 1st Thessalonians chapter four.  Thessalonians is one of those great, deep letters in the new testament that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  We all love going through Romans, or Ephesians, or the encouragement of Philippians, the challenges of James, and the specifics laid out in Corinthians. But Thessalonians is so powerful. 

Listen to these words from Paul, he writes: “4 Brothers and sisters, now I have some other things to tell you. We taught you how to live in a way that will please God. And you are living that way. Now we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus to live that way more and more. 2 You know all that we told you to do by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 God wants you to be holy.”

And I think I could echo that same saying to you today, I know most of you here are living lives that are pleasing to God.  And so I encourage you, continue to live that way!  Live it more and more. 

Why? Because it says in verse 3, God wants you to be holy. We’ve talked about what “holy” means.  It means living a humbly pure life.  Staying away from sin, and living out goodness. 

John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, tired of organized religion, he preached the gospel of repentance from sins, preparing the way for Jesus Christ to come.  But even he struggled with doubts and fears.  He was locked in prison, and wondered while in there, did I make a mistake?  Did I go down the wrong path?  Did Jesus let me down?

Maybe some of you have struggled with doubts from time to time.  Am I really in the right church?  Was it really a good idea to become a soldier?  Or maybe you’re struggling with sin, and wondering, can I really live holy?  Can I really be free from sin? 

Well I must tell you that at times I’ve had the same doubts and concerns.  It happens to everybody.  Several times I’ve prayed to God and demanded why he called me to the salvation army, because something ugly happened, or some terrible trial took place.  But in those desperate tearful prayers God would always speak and whisper to me, and tell me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. 

And yes, God does call us to specific places.  And God will call us to be with specific people.  I really believe that. 

Resting Faith in Christ

One man who was with Jesus asked him, “How can we do what God wants us to do?”  What a wonderful question.  And Jesus answered him very clearly, he said, “This is what God wants you to do: Believe in the one He sent.”  So that is all in all how we do what God wants us to do.  God wants us first of all to believe in Jesus our savior.  Do you believe in him today?  Or are you just pretending to believe in him?  Do you really follow him as your savior?  Or are you hoping for the benefits of Christ, without actually living differently?

The first thing is this: Believe in Jesus Christ.  Embrace Jesus to the depths of your soul as your God and your King and your savior.  Why is it so important to believe in Jesus?  Well, without Jesus at the center of our being, guiding our lives, we are nothing. We are not Christian. We are not born again. We are empty. We are dead inside. There is nothing apart from Jesus. We can’t be good without Jesus.

But when we truly believe Jesus Christ is our savior and truly follow Jesus is our daily lives, we are plugged into God. We have Jesus inside us. We are born again, a new person. We have the Holy Spirit guiding us. 

Resting faith in Christ.  That’s the biggest thing. Simple child-like trust in Jesus, belief Christ, allegiance to Christ, and submission to Christ. And yet, there is more to the journey.

Choices and Decisions

Fight the good fight of the faith my friends.  Each decision we make either brings us closer or further away from what God wants us to do, and how God wants us to live. 

God cares a great deal about the decisions we make.  That’s the first thing to understand about living how God wants us to live.  He cares about the words we speak.  If we’re mean, or rude, or if we spread gossip, or slander others, that is sin, that is something that upsets God when we do that.

The Christian life, is really a battle against ourselves, in a lot of ways.  We’re fighting ourselves and our own sinful tendencies. Are you fighting that battle against yourself?  Every decision you make begins to establish patterns in your life, either good patterns or bad patterns.

Proverbs says greater is one who can conquer himself, than one who can conquer an entire city. -Proverb 16:32

The little choices you make throughout the day, to pray or not to pray, to say a kind word or speak an evil word, to steal or not to steal, to lie or to tell the truth, those are the little things that God cares about. 

Stop swearing. Stop lying.  Stop being mean to people. Be kind. Be gentle. Be true to God’s ways.

Romance and Sex

Third point, in Thessalonians chapter 4 Paul quickly hits on the main point: Be holy, he said in verse 3. And he continues writing, “God wants you to be holy. He wants you to stay away from sexual sins. 4 God wants each one of you to learn to control your own body. Use your body in a way that is holy and that gives honor to God. 5 Don’t let your sexual desires control you like the people who don’t know God. 6 Never wrong any of your fellow believers or cheat them in this way. The Lord will punish those who do that.”

I was recently quite shaken when I read an article about someone who I’ve looked up to a great deal in my walk with Christ.  His name is Ravi Zacharias. Definitely a huge inspiration to me, I’ve read many of his books, studied his techniques for preaching. And it recently came out that allegedly, he was involved in sexual harassment at spas.  Now these allegations may or may not be true, the investigation is ongoing right now.  But it’s deeply disturbing to me, to realize someone who walked so closely with the Lord, could fall to sexual temptation and begin to sexually harass women who worked at massage parlors.  Very disturbing to me. 

I think the issue of sexual sin is probably the single most difficult sin for us as believers. Sexual desires will always be with us. Whether we’re married or unmarried. Whether we’re young or old. It’s really very difficult.  And there are so many temptations out there.

So you see time and again when paul is writing his letters and talking about fighting against sins, he always brings up sexual activity first.  And warns believers to stay away from sexual sin. He writes, God wants each of you to learn to control your own bodies.  You shouldn’t be controlled by your sexual desires, like worldly people are. We aren’t controlled by our feelings. We don’t let feelings control what we do sexually . We allow our mind to control our bodies.  Not the other way around. I get it, this is tough. And it says, never wrong in particular other believers by misusing your bodies.  It says, “God will punish those who do this.”  So we have to live free from sexual sin.  We can’t view pornography.  We can’t masturbate. We can’t have sexual flings with random people. We can’t have pre-marital sex.

Paul continues, writing, “We have already told you this and warned you about it. 7 God chose us to be holy. He does not want us to live in sin. 8 So anyone who refuses to obey this teaching is refusing to obey God, not us. And God is the one who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

And I echo the same thing to you, I’ve warned you about sexual sin, today, and many other times.  So anyone who refuses to obey this teaching, well, I’ve told you what you need to know. Sexual sin will lead you to hell. So, if you continue in those sins, well, it’s no longer on me, as your pastor.  It’s on you.  I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I know a lot of people in the church don’t take this teaching seriously. But it’s very serious. We can’t live in sexual sin. 

And I understand everybody, I’m a single young man, this battle is insane and intense.  I’ve messed up and made mistakes.  But you know what, when I do, I immediately get on my knees, talk to God, ask God’s forgiveness by the blood of jesus, and repent again.  And get back on the right track quickly.  Do the same thing.  Fight this battle, because it’s very serious. 

Love and Peace in Unity

Final point, brother and sisters, love each other in Christ.  And I know that each of you are learning to love one another. But I still see some disputes amongst us, I do continue to hear some arguments, and harsh words going back and forth.  Some of us are harder to love than others.  I get it.  Sometimes I’m hard to love. No more harsh words.  No more anger. Humbly love one another. Love is action, it’s speaking lovingly to others, it’s helping each other, it’s smiling and encouraging one another.  Take the time to do that.

Live in peace with each other.  Forgive each other. Don’t hold stuff against each other.  Mind your own business. And earn your own living. If you do, non-believers will see how you live, with love, with peace, working your job, and they will respect your way of life.

And lastly, Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those who have died. We don’t want you to be sad like other people—those who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died, but we also believe that he rose again. So we believe that God will raise to life through Jesus any who have died and bring them together with him when he comes.” Even though we die, we will live again. Just like Jesus did. Remember that.

In conclusion, God calls us to live with resting faith in Christ.  He also calls us to carefully consider the decisions we make.  Choices matter even small ones. And God calls us to live free from sexual sin. Take it seriously. And love one another, live in peace, and unity, realizing we have eternal hope for everlasting life.  It’s true. 

Doubts will come, struggles will come, battles with sin will come, just like John the Baptist in his ministry in the wilderness, and later during his imprisonment, sometimes we struggle and wonder.. is Jesus really it?  The answer to that question is “Yes” from our eternal rock. We’re always washing around, all over the place, all emotional, thoughts flaring and flying, and Jesus stand quietly, unmoving unshakable, permanent and pure, and whispers, “Yes, I am He.”  And that’s the story. That’s it. And yes, you’re in the right place, here in The Salvation Army, fighting in the Lord’s army.  Amen.