Sunday, April 30, 2023

What is really True in the World? Hell, Faith, and Heaven

If I go to my bank account and say, "well, I don't know what's true" that's not going to work. There will be an amount listed. It's either correct or it isn't.

That's how it is with history. That's how it is with science. That's how it is with archaeology. That's how it is with anything, there is objective truth. There's an absolute reality. But then when we get to religion, we say, "well, no one knows the truth for sure." Nonsense. There is a right answer. There are wrong answers. Its just as objective as history or anything else. 

Sometimes we just don't like that reality. But I think if we can face it and say, okay, it is true, I'll admit it, then we can begin to walk that path. Soon we may yet find ourselves saying, "Hey, this isn't that hard. I can do this in the power of God. And I can be okay." 

But a lot of people are in rebellion in our world, they would rather fight it. Instead, for me, it became much better to say, "You know what, I get it. It's true. Jesus Christ is really real. I'm gonna try to live that out." And it turns out, life works much better that way.

Today, though, the Lord gave me a three-fold message that he wants me to share. First of all, we're going to talk about hell, then we're going to talk about Jesus Christ and the gospel, then we're going to talk about heaven. Okay? Hell, Heaven. In the middle, we'll talk about Christ. And all those things are aspects of what we find in the Bible, the Word of God. Everyone likes heaven. Some people like Jesus, some people don't. And no one wants to hear about hell, but it's all in there. 

All of us are made in the image of God. That means you have intrinsic value. Every human being on the planet, in fact, is made in the image of God. That means that every human life matters. That's why the Bible says "do not kill." That's why we have laws in our country that say, you may not murder someone else. Because every human life has value. We are made in God's image, the Bible says. What that means exactly, we don't know, it's a mystery. But it is a beautiful mystery. 

I don't know if you've noticed this: Nothing in this life fully fills our desires. There's something inside of us that longs for more. And the goal then, is that we would find that extra something in God himself. Because nothing in this life fully satisfies. You can drink as much as you want. You can eat as much as you want. You can have the perfect romance. But at the end of the day, none of it quite satisfies. There's always something missing, that can only be filled by an infinite God. 

We have a seed you might say, of the infinite within us, we have this longing within us that can't be touched by anything in this world. When I see a beautiful sunset, or a sunrise or the stars in the sky, that's great. But I want more, I want to be able to jump into it and be part of it somehow. 

Something's missing. Does that make sense? So we have this infinite value, right? But there's a problem. We know Adam and Eve were the first humans. They sinned against God. And then the human race became fallen. That's why we all struggle. That's why we battle temptations in this life. That's why we struggle to want to do the right thing. It's like something inside us wants to do the right, but we can't quite get there. It's just out of reach. And then we do bad things, and it feels good. After, it feels bad. We feel guilty. And here's the thing, God has to deal with the sin problem. He has to. If we look deep down, most of us would admit, "I want him to deal with it." I want God to get rid of sin. I want God to get rid of murder, and human trafficking, and death, and evil and wars. 

So our part is this: We have to leave sin behind ourselves. By turning to Jesus Christ, we can leave sin behind. And then we can be part of the new thing God is doing. However, if we cling to the sin, say, no, I'm gonna live in sin. I like sin, I'm gonna do it. God, in fact, has no qualms about sending me to a place of horrors, a place of nightmares, a place of conscious eternal torment called Hell.

There is also time limit to say, "I'm done with the sin problem." And if the clock runs out on our lives, and we never turned away from our sins, God will say, all right, I got a place for people who want to cling to their sins. It's called Hell. That's one of my least favorite things to talk about. But it's in there. I'm not going to sugarcoat it for the sake of anyone on planet earth. Because God is a God of love, but he's also a God of justice. And the fact is, every single person alive loves justice, just as much as they love, love. Sometimes we want justice even more than love. We want things to be right, more than we want love. Right? Am I wrong? All of us want justice. We long for it every day. But then we get mad when God says I'm gonna deal with it.

Death is not the end. And if you were to end up in hell, that is a place that you cannot die. It will continue permanently. We would be permanent residents, all of us are eternal beings, we will live forever. Those in hell will live forever. This is the hard part to discuss. Stick with me. Okay. So I want to warn you about this because it's real. Not because I like it. But because it's real. As real as anything else in life, there is a heaven there is a hell. Both are real.

What a terrible fate for someone who rejects Christ their whole lives, and goes to that place. Because God said in His Word, "It is not my will for anyone to go there" (2 Peter 3:9). I have made a way for every single person on planet Earth to be saved through Jesus Christ. It is not my will for a single person on this planet to go there. It is your choice if you want to go there. 

We're kind of rebellious, aren't we? Particularly in America. We're kind of rebels all the way back to the American Revolution. We're just rebellious. So we don't want to hear it. 

But I I'll tell you this. It's amazing. The hysteria that happened during COVID-19. Don't you think? People were so afraid! So scared! And I was scared to. But some people were beyond scared. They were hysterical, for a virus that had a 99.7% survival rate. 

What about the pandemic of sin on the human heart? We're not as hysterical about that. We kind of leave space for that one, don't we? Yeah. When we hear about another murder, when we hear about another domestic violence situation, we think, well, that's just part of life. No, that's wrong! That's not justice. Again, I want justice, for that woman who's being abused by her husband. I want justice suddenly. Justice. Do you see why God loves justice too? Because it's right. 

But hysteria, hysteria won't solve anything. Brothers and sisters, faith is the answer. I've learned in my life, faith, faith in God. Faith in Jesus Christ is the answer. If I hold firmly to God, I don't have to be afraid. Faith is greater than fear. Keep that in your mind. Faith is greater than fear.

What helps me stay on track is the love of God. Also, for me as a man, the fear of God also helps me. When I think about a sin, and I think well, I could probably get away with it. No one's looking right now. I remind myself, God's watching. God sees, he loves me, he's also going to hold me accountable. So I tremble a little bit, and I think, Okay, I'm going to stay on the right path here. And it's good. I counsel as many people as I can to tremble a little bit before God, it's going to help you in your life. 

Honestly, I know we don't like that, oh, "fear bad." Fear of God is a good thing. Fear of anything or anyone else is wrong. The fear of God has helped me in my life. 

Honestly, Chelsey my girlfriend will attest to that. She's known all these guys who claim to be Christians, but the way they looked at her, there was something else going on there. And she was surprised when she met me. Well, he really does want to do right, he really does fear God. And that kind of keeps him stable, where he looks at me with reverence. He looks at me with reverence, not as a piece of meat, right? Yeah. Imagine that, ladies, a man who looks at you as more than a piece of meat, but as a woman of honor? That would be a novel thing. 

That's what the fear of God has helped me with. Praise the Lord. So as a Christian, fear God. And if there's any sin in your life, repent of it. Say to yourself, "I'm not going to let that have any place in my life." Get rid of lying, stealing, cheating, mistreating family members, and unforgiveness. We have to forgive those who have hurt us. Repent quickly. Because one day, you will stand before God. I don't want any sin on your record in that moment. You want to be pure in Christ, and he's washed away our sins, which is the amazing thing. So it's not like we we can never reach that point. He's washed away our sins. But we want to continue in purity after our sins our forgiven, continue and complete the journey successfully, in purity and righteousness (Philippians 2:12, 1 Peter 1:16).

If we struggle again, sometimes Christians will slip into sin, we just need to step back out real quick and say, No, I'm not doing that in the name of Jesus. Please forgive me, Lord, and I keep going. And I'm good then, regarded as pure in Christ sight and ready for heaven once again, at any moment. Praise the Lord. 

Jesus Christ is the chain breaker. I'll tell you that being an alcoholic for years, I was so hooked. I couldn't not drink even for a day or two. He's a chain breaker. When I turned to Christ for that, bam, those chains broke. So fast, I get excited. I'm 10 years sober as of November 1 of 2022, and it's just so good to be free. See, I don't know if you've ever seen an alcoholic, but it's brutal. They're stuck in it. And if you really corner them and ask, why do you do this, he or she might say, I don't even know why. I don't know why I'm doing this. Jesus will break any chain in your life. Especially if it seems like he can't. I've learned that. Anything in your life: Smoking, drinking, lying, stealing some little thing, even swearing? Anything.

Unfortunately, it seems like most people are going to hell, at least in these last days. And if you see what our society is like out there, it's not been good. But it remains open to anyone currently alive who is willing to turn to God in repentance.

Then we have the offer of salvation. How does it work? How can we get saved? What does that look like? How does that work? Many of us have heard it. It is by grace, through faith. So we come to God and say, "Look at me, I conquered everything?" No, no. 

We come to God and we say, "I followed the 10 commandments the best I could." If that's your plan, it's not gonna end well for you. 

We come to God and we say, "I've received Jesus Christ as my savior." By grace, through faith. He paid off my sin debt.  That is the way. He is the way (John 14:6). 

That is the first step in coming to God, oddly enough, to surrender and say, I can't do it. The first step is total surrender! That's the paradox of Christianity. Instead of saying, I'm going to try harder to follow the 10 commandments, instead your first step needs to be, "Lord, I can't do it. I've sinned against you." 

Have you? I broken all the 10 commandments. I mean, maybe not all of them, but most of them. I can't do it. Jesus, I need you to be my savior, to come live within me to make me different. Maybe you've never heard it explained like that. Maybe you always thought I need to try harder to be good. That's not it. That is not the gospel. The gospel is Jesus on the cross dying and saying "it is finished" (John 19:30). 

The gospel is Jesus saying, I've paid your sin debt, if you'll believe in me, you'll be born again into a new family of God, then your sins will be washed away. That's the whole purpose. It's a free gift. You just have to receive it. And then he helps you to turn away from any past lifestyles that were a problem. So you can live differently, a free gift of salvation to you. 

All you've got to do is receive it and how stupid you would feel on judgement day if you didn't receive it. Take it, it's for you. I know some of us have thought, "well, that's for church people." No, it's for average, everyday people. It's for weirdos. It's for awkward people. It's for people that can't quite get it. It's for people who struggle. It's for people who have anxiety. It's for people who are just kind of different. That's who Jesus came to, frankly. He skipped past the religious people and he came to us awkward people. Me, I'm a little awkward. A little different. A little anxious. A little bit prone to stutter. He came for us. The weirdos. That's what I like to say at my church. Jesus goes right past the proud and arrogant and comes to us average everyday people who are humble enough to listen. Jesus came for the worker swinging a hammer, for the homemaker, having kids taking care of the laundry, Jesus says, I came for you.

One man asked Jesus a question. He said, "What is the work that God wants us to do?" You know how Jesus answered him? He said, the work of God is for you to believe in Him who God sent. That's Jesus himself. The work of God is to believe in he whom He sent, the Father sent Jesus Christ the son. We must believe in Jesus. And then it is paid in full, your sin debt. All your past sins paid in full, dirty slate wiped clean, ready for Paradise, perfect in his eyes. 

At last, the genesis of evil, the beginning point of every evil in the world, sin in the human heart, dealt with by Jesus. But we must receive it through Him.  Then our past sins are washed away. 

But what about sins we commit in the future? If we sin in the future, we must ask God's forgiveness once again through Christ, repent again, and then that future sin is wiped off your record as well. That's why the Lord's Prayer includes the phrase "forgive us our sins" because in the future we may also need forgiveness. Our feet may get dirty in this sinful world, but thankfully, Jesus washes our feet, just as he washed the feet of His disciples. But again, we must seek him and allow him to do so. Just as Peter first refused, but then changed his mind and allowed to Christ to do so. 

That's dealing with the sin problem, getting rid of the sin, and getting them ready for a new world. Which brings us to part three, Paradise. 

Now we talk about heaven. W
hat is heaven? Heaven, is that where we float on clouds? We play harps? No. That is how it's portrayed on paintings and in the media.  

But what does the Bible say? If you skip to the back of your Bible to Revelation 22, you can see what heaven is actually going to be like, and it's it's a city called the New Jerusalem. And what Jerusalem means is "City of God." So the new city of God and really what you're what you're seeing there is you're going all the way the beginning of the Bible and seeing Eden, Adam and Eve in Eden. They're expelled because of their sin, all the way to the book of Revelation Chapter 22. Eden remade, a paradise remade. It's called the New Jerusalem it's a city where God dwells with his people. A city of God. It's described in incredible ways, powerful ways. 

It says this in Revelation 22:1-2, "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."

Okay, so you have the throne of God. You've got the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God down the center street of the city. On each side of the river stood the Tree of Life, bearing 12 crops of fruit yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nation. 

Check this out. This is pretty cool. Here's how it's described. You've got the throne of God. You've got a river pouring out of the throne of God, probably an infinite River, pouring out of the throne of God down the center street of the city. And this river leads to the Tree of Life, this giant tree that's in this city that we're gonna live in one day. The tree of life that we're then able to eat from freely. That's just the center of the city we're talking about. 

There's so much more. There's so much more there. And it's in Revelation, look at it. People are afraid to look at the book of Revelation, "Oh, that's prophecy. I can't look at that." 

Yeah, you can. It's right there. Look at it. It talks about 12 gates, 12 foundations of the city with all these pearls and beautiful rubies and chrysolite and burl and Topaz and turquoise, Jacinth, Amethyst, and of course, golden streets. Glorious golden streets, our feet will touch them one day.  

That is what is for people who believe in Jesus Christ, who have turned away from sin. I'm done with sin! I'm gonna live in Christ and righteousness. 

That's just the beginning brothers and sisters! That's just the start of the story for us. This is the beginning. Our life on Earth is 70 or 80 years, 90 or 100 years, maybe if we're lucky. So then what? What about eternity? What about 10,000 years, 50,000 years, or a million years? This is just the beginning of the journey. It's just the beginning until Revelation 22 happen, then we'll finally get to the city. 

Also please be aware of this: It's not going to be boring. People say oh, what are we gonna do in heaven? It sounds boring. Believe me, there's going to be adventures beyond what you could imagine in this place. 

Now you're probably wondering, but how do you know it's really real? Here's how I know. I was a drug addict and an alcoholic near death in the hospital. I tried to get clean on my own, didn't work. I slipped back every time. But then I called out to the name of Jesus Christ. That's how I know that the Bible is true. Because he changed my life. He's with me right now. And he's with you right now. And we're gonna see him one day face to face. 

All of this is so very important. This is life and death. It's so important that you really believe that these things are true. Don't believe that it's just some old story. It is a present true reality. Now. That's what I know. That's what I know. And I'm tired of preachers teaching it like it's an old story. It's actual, it's present. It's real. It's real, really real. Not fake. Not a pipe dream, but a current reality. 

I did not think that was so when I was 16. I said, "there's no God. I don't believe the Bible, it's just an old tradition. I believe in science." 

Well, guess what? I tried to live the philosophy that nothing matters, and we're all evolved from nothing exploding into particles that became the universe. But I had to realize that it's not logical. It's not. And it's not livable, frankly. Because if I'm just evolved amino acids then nothing matters. I mean, philosophically, if you think about it, if there is no God, then nothing matters. But I tried to live that way and ended up on drugs. Then I quickly became addicted. 

Frankly, when you look at our social structure, the reason America works, is because our founders put God first and said, If God is true, then every human life matters. But if we're just evolved, then frankly, they would have said, "nothing matters." And is that livable for society? It isn't. A society full of people who think nothing matters is going to be a society on fire. That's why we see our society crumbling right now. That's why our society is spinning off into chaos. Because many young people and adults today believe that they're just evolved and nothing matters, so do whatever feels good. A society of people doing whatever feels good is a broken, desolate, shallow society bent on self-destruction and self-mutilation. So why not molest a kid? Why not assault someone? Why not steal? Why not be corrupt? Why not perjure yourself on the stand? If nothing matters, then anything goes. 

If I'm just evolved stardust, there is no God. There's also no consequence to my actions. So why not do whatever I want? Do you get it? Do you see how this goes to the very base of our society and who we are as people? Jesus Christ is real. Only with Christ at the center, God at the center, is society really functional at all. 'In God We Trust' is more than a slogan, it's a philosophy of society that practically works.

Are you ready to get back in line with the order of the universe through Christ? Let your rebellion end today. It doesn't work. It leads nowhere. It's not even logically consistent. It's a dead end. 

Give your life to Christ today, I dare you. Give your life to God right now. Pray right now. Maybe it's your first time ever. Maybe you just want to reaffirm your commitment. But I just want to offer you this open door right now. 

Pray this to Commit to Christ your Life: Lord God Almighty. Father, we admit, you're at the basis of everything. Your real God, you're really real. You are really real Father. And we first of all say we can't do it. We've tried to be good and we can't we've sinned. Lord Jesus, please forgive us our sins. Forgive us for where we've lied. Forgive us for where we've manipulated people to get what we wanted. Forgive us for times when we stole, or didn't pay our taxes. Forgive us when we hurt someone, when we acted like we were better than someone. Forgive us God for unforgiveness. God forgive us for people that we've refused to forgive. We forgive them now. Most of all, God, we admit we've sinned and we ask you Lord Jesus, that your precious blood would cover all of our sins, that we will be made new. We give you our hearts Lord Jesus, and we receive your righteousness as a gift. We receive it by faith. We don't try to work for it, but we receive it by faith, by grace, through faith. We receive the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ's perfect sacrifice. God, we receive the Spirit. Grant us the Holy Spirit now, to lead us in our lives always. In Jesus name, Amen.

Christians Pray this to self-examine: Father God in Heaven, if any Christian is struggling with a sin, God, please bring it forward in their minds. Father reveal it to them so they can repent quickly. Convict their heart toward sorrow and repentance. May they may be ready for judgment day. If there's any unforgiveness in their heart, Father, bring it to mind so they may quickly forgive, so they would learn to forgive so they can be ready on judgment day as well. Thank you, Father, we love you and praise you. In Jesus name. Amen.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Are you led by the Spirit of God or the spirit of the World?

As believers in Jesus we are his representative body on the Earth. We are the body of Christ. This means Jesus does his work through us, as we are led by Him. That’s something I think we need to emphasize more and more, being led by God’s Spirit practically on a daily basis. Are you led by the Spirit of God?

If you are, this proves you are a child of God.

It’s very important that we obey the leading of God, because Jesus says, those who do my will, they are my true family.

That’s what we’re talking about today, family, you might say, fellowship. Brothers and sisters, if you are in Christ today, if you are born a second time, a new being, with the Sacred Spirit within you, and it’s really real, then you are closer to me than my own flesh and blood family. We are family by the Spirit of God.

The amazing thing is, in this peculiar family, the family of God, we did not necessarily choose Him, but he chose us. We know that’s true particularly for His twelve disciples. The apostles.

We see in Mark chapter 3 Jesus gathering the twelve. Here is what happens, starting in verse 13:

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

These twelve men are appointed to the service of God, they are leaders. The same thing happens in The Salvation Army at commissioning each year, the new Lieutenants are given their “appointment.” They are appointed to service as pastoral leaders of a corps.

All these leaders are appointed to various corps around the Midwest area of our territory and they begin to serve in the kingdom of God. We are part of that. We’re part of the body of believers worldwide. The Salvation Army is. We are. So then the goal is, the body of Christ is active in small cities, big cities, medium cities, different counties, across the entire state of Michigan, and indeed across all fifty states, and even further to 130 countries.

We being here in Owosso function as one of about 40 churches in Owosso. The goal being that we all work together and separately, to achieve the ends of God, for people to come to know Christ as savior, and then to equip those people to bring the message to others.

But I want you to notice something, all of the Christians in the body of Christ, in this city, and worldwide, if they are genuine believers, they have been given authority.

Notice three things in Mark 3:14-15: He is with them, first of all. Second, that they would preach the message, and thirdly, they may drive out demons.

That is spiritual authority. They are given permission by Jesus, to have the Spirit within them, to share the message with their mouth, and to speak in Jesus name to command demons to come out of people.

You have that same authority today. You are a kingdom representative on Earth. I want you to start thinking about that as you live your life. You are a kingdom representative of kingdom of God. You have authority in the name of Jesus Christ, to speak forth, and the world changes. You can pray to God in Jesus name, and demons are cast out. You can pray in Jesus name, and people are healed. You can pray to God in Jesus name, and people will be healed.

One of the deadliest tricks of the enemy is to try to steal our hope, our joy, our courage, and to make us think we can't make a difference.

You can make a massive difference in Jesus name. You just need to start to believe again, that you can. Believe that you have that kingdom authority. Because it’s true. You can believe it, because it’s true.

Don’t let the enemy lie to you, and tell you that you’re a victim. You’re not a victim. You’re a hero. And as you live for Christ, the world is changing because people’s lives are being reshaped by the message you bring. Believe. Be courageous!

All authority in heaven and on Earth belongs to Jesus Christ, we know that because Jesus told us when he gave the great commission. And Jesus then shares that authority with us, in His name. Amazing!

We are the “house of representatives” of the body of Christ on earth you might say. That’s why when we unite and love one another deeply, from the heart, and stand united as one, and pray in Jesus name, in unity, the whole world changes.

I’ll give you an example, one thing that basically every believer was united on was praying for Ukraine. I mean, every denomination, every group, every church, was praying, and what happened? There were these miracles happening, Ukraine soldiers had these impossible victories. Russian bombs would not explode, Russian tanks would break down at critical moments, weather patterns would disrupt Russian troop movements, and still today, it should’ve been easy for Russia, but they still haven’t been able to conquer Ukraine.

When we stand united and pray, the enemy trembles. Understand your authority, when you pray boldly in Jesus name, that is your vote, in the courts of heaven, and it counts for something big. 

Keep that picture in your mind, house of representatives, your prayer is your vote.

So the twelve disciples are gathered here, and Jesus has this sort of ceremony where he gives them authority. So what happens next? Jesus encounters his blood family.

In verses 20-22: "Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”"

Notice that so many people are being converted, so many people are coming to Jesus and his disciples that they can’t even eat!

This chapter is really all about what being a true disciple of Jesus is.

Here we see a contrast in the scriptures. First, we see the twelve disciples faithfully being called.  But then, we see how his blood family responds to his growing fame and teachings. They think he’s out of his mind. They want to kind of bring him back home to Nazareth and say calm down, you’ll be ok, let’s get you outa here. But Jesus is not having it.

So you have spiritual family, then physical family, then we see Pharisees, the family of Israel. Here is what they say in verse 22: "And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

Next, in verses 23-30 we see Jesus’ response to the religious teachers:

"So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

This is one of those mysteries of the Bible that people always wonder about. 

What exactly does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit?

I’ve always been taught that it’s the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ as savior and dying without him as your savior. That's probably at least somewhat correct... That you’re resisting the leading of the Holy Spirit. But in particular, it seems to be publicly spreading the message that Jesus is led by a false spirit, by a demon, or something.

It seems to be describing a situation where you are actively fighting against the leading of the Holy Spirit, and in a public way testifying about it as well. This could connect closely with teachers and leaders in particular, because Jesus calls out the religious leaders for blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Apparently, from what I can tell, something about this sin of publicly condemning the Spirit can harden someone to the point they can never and will never repent.

Some have connected this with the unforgivable sin mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, but I don’t know that they’re actually connected in any way. The same word is not used in the Greek when mentioning the unforgivable sin, though in Hebrews 10:26-30, it does mention that when a Christian makes a practice of sinning, they can be eternally lost, because they’ve “insulted the Spirit of Grace.” But the word "insulted" there isn't the same as the word blaspheme in Mark 3. 

It says this in Hebrews 10:26-30: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

But you see there that it includes trampling the son of God, which for me disconnects it from the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, to be something a little different, because the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable while Jesus says that those who blaspheme against Him can be forgiven.

In any case, Jesus says to the Pharisees that they are so committed to blaspheming the Spirit, that they are eternally lost. How exactly this works is a mystery, but these Pharisees had done it! Lord may it never be so of us, may we always declare that your Spirit is holy, holy, holy, and gives glory to Jesus Christ the savior of the world!

Next, we see again an issue with his family. I assume they must’ve come right when he got there, then they left, now they’re back, but they can’t get to him because so many people have gathered. But they send word for him.

It says in verses 31-35: “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Here we find the key to the entire chapter, it’s all about family, being a disciple of Jesus, and we’ve seen how various different groups respond to Jesus:

1. His twelve disciples follow Him faithfully (aside from Judas)

2. His blood relatives disbelieve in him (at first)

3. The crowds of people listen to him (though many don't believe)

4. The religious leaders reject him (many did believe though)

And all of it comes down to the final question: Who is family to Jesus?

Is it a religious Pharisee because they are so good at the law of Moses? Not necessarily, no. The gospel is open to them, yes. Is it the crowds because they listen to him? Not necessarily, though many do believe in the crowds. Is it his blood relatives because they are related to him? Not necessarily, though many did believe in his blood family. Was it his twelve disciples? Not necessarily, eleven of them believed, but one would later betray him.

So how do we really know who Jesus body is on the Earth? It is evidenced by this simple fact: They do the will of God. 

They practically live for Jesus. They obey God in their daily life. That is the evidence. That is who is family to Jesus. You claim to be a Christian? Ok, let’s test it. Do you obey the will of God in your life?

Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ -Matthew 7:21-23

We see two factors there, a positive and a negative command. First, we positively do the will of the Father in heaven on a daily basis, we really live for God and in service of His kingdom.

Secondly, we see a negative statement, that these people turned away at heavens gates are lawless, they practiced sin. So we want to make sure we are turning away from sin, and living out holiness in reverence for God.

Now, I’m speaking to two groups here, for some of you I’m trying stir you up a bit, inspire a holy fear, so that you will take your faith walk more seriously, and really live for Jesus.

For some of you, you already live for Jesus, so I’m trying to make sure you don’t start condemning yourself or feeling mad anxiety about this issue. Two different groups.

Group one, ask the Holy Spirit to help you really do God’s will and put sin to death. You're in danger if you don’t, plain and simple.

Group two, ask the Holy Spirit to grant you greater joy, peace, and success in your daily path of doing His will. You are not in danger, you are in faith, stop condemning yourself. 

We are the body of Christ. We are each members of it. And we all have gifts, spiritual gifts, that are unique, and we all must contribute those gifts to our mission on planet Earth, to get the world saved. And to teach all people everywhere to obey God’s commands, as his disciples ought to. That is our mission. What is your spiritual gift? How can you put it to work for God’s kingdom? That’s the challenge for you as well. Pray now, and look at this list of spiritual gifts. Which do you have? Ask Him for other gifts, new gifts. He will equip you in every way to serve. Is it serving? Is it administration? Is it preaching? Is it teaching? Is it prophecy, or exhortation? Is it showing mercy? Pray now, and ask God about your giftings. Take a spiritual gifts test. Then pray God would teach you to use them effectively for His kingdom, in Jesus name, amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

King Saul consults with a Medium at Endor

In first Samuel 28 we see that David and his 600 men are hiding out in the land of the Philistines. King Saul has stopped looking for David, because he’s left the country, but now, things are changing.

The Philistines are again gathering for war to invade Israel.

Now the only mention we get of David in 1st Samuel 28 is in the first two verses, it says this: “In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.”

2 David said, “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.”

Achish replied, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.””

David has agreed to fight for the Philistines against Israel. But the rest of the chapter, we’re going to follow King Saul, caught up in a great deal of fear, trying to understand what he should do next.

It says in 1st Samuel 28:3-6, “Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.

4 The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. 6 He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.”

King Saul wasn’t just afraid at the sight of this massive enemy army on the horizon, he was terrorized by this, terror filled his heart. So he inquires of the Lord, how would he do that? He asked the prophets, they don’t have anything to tell him. He asks the Lord for a dream, no dream came. He even attempts this practice of Urim. 

Urim is a mystery of the old testament, but it was apparently part of the vest of the high priest, they would wear this multicolored vest with all sorts of different gems and rare stones on it, and along with this elaborate vest, they would have something called urim. It may have been dice that were thrown down, or sticks with different letters or marks on them, no one is sure today. But apparently when a major decision had to be made, like going to war, or taking a census, or something big, this method could be used. But only if God hadn’t made it clear, they would use the urim to discover God’s will. Fascinating, because even in the New Testament, it says the disciples cast lots, threw dice of a sort, to discover which disciple should take the place of Judas who had betrayed Jesus. So decision making in tough cases apparently can be adjudicated through the casting of lots.

In any case, there is no word from God. So, what do they do?

It says in verses 7-8: Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”

“There is one in Endor,” they said.

So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

It’s fascinating that Saul looks for a medium in Endor, because Endor is in the area of land allotted to the tribe of Issachar, and Issachar was known as a tribe to be able to foretell prophetically, from God, the future (1 Chronicles 12:32).

But instead of seeking the Lord, because God refuses to answer Saul, he seeks out the other side, demonically influenced witchcraft.

When you look at the topic of receiving a word, or foretelling the future, or being guided on decisions, there are two sides to it.

One, is consulting with demonic powers. People want to play with supernatural forces, it’s fun, it seems mysterious, so they go to a fortune teller, or practice wicca, astrology, witchcraft, receive a tarot card reading, play with a ouiji board, or they attempt a séance.

Many times it’s simply fake. There’s nothing there. But many times, it will actually be accurate because, it’s demonically influenced, influenced by demons.

That is considered a great sin by God, if we access those sort of influences. But many times people will say, well it’s very accurate! That's why they do it. And yes it may be, but you’re receiving information from a demon, which is an offense to the Lord.

The other way, is the way God wants us to take: to seek God through prayer. Or to fast and pray and seek a word from Him. Or to receive a word from a prophet, or through someone’s spiritual gifting, many Christians have the gift of a word of knowledge, or a gift of wisdom, or a gift of discernment, and we can receive wisdom, guidance and good counsel from such fellow believers if we’ll seek them out. We can also find guidance in God’s word. Or God may speak to us in a dream or vision, rarely of course, if we ask Him.

So, there are two sources of spiritual knowledge. The sources are either demonic influences, or Godly influences.

If you’ve ever been involved in any form of witchcraft though, tarot cards, mediums, astrology, zodiac signs, any of it, you should repent of it, and ask God’s forgiveness, because it’s a considered a severe sin.

Do that now, if you need to.

So Saul meets with this medium. He asks for her help. Let’s see how she responds.

Verse 9-11: But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”

10 Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.”

11 Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

“Bring up Samuel,” he said.

This is such a strange series of events in the book of 1st Samuel. King Saul going so far off course, going and consulting with a medium. And asking for the medium to call up the spirit of Samuel, who has already died.

It’s very strange stuff. But, here it is.

So the woman starts doing her thing, and she is shocked to actually see the spirit of Samuel.

It says in verses 12-15, “12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

13 The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”

The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”

14 “What does he look like?” he asked.

“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.

Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.

15 Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?””

“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”

There is a great debate in Christian circles here. The big question is, did God use this moment to really bring Samuel up to rebuke Saul, or is this an incident where Saul is consulting with a demon?

Is it really the prophet Samuel, back from the dead, or is it just a trick, a demon pretending to be Samuel?
But one thing is true that I want to highlight for you: Our loved ones who have died are not with us anymore. God is with us. His angels protect us. Jesus Christ lives within us, but, our loved ones are not with us. They don’t talk to us. They can’t be conjured up.

Then again, at the appearance of Samuel’s spirit, the witch is surprised. Maybe she is surprised because she didn’t expect something real to happen. Maybe God used this incident to rebuke Saul a second time. Or, maybe it is just a demon. I tend to think that this is really Samuel back from the dead, but the witch isn’t doing it, God is doing it, to rebuke Saul. But I could be wrong.

But I tend to think that it is really Samuel, because in verse 16 it says, “Samuel said.” If it was a demon, I think scripture would say, “then the demon spoke and said.”

So, verses 16-19 say this: Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. 18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. 19 The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”

Once again we see Samuel telling King Saul: You’ve failed in your mission. You are now regarded by God as his enemy. And David has already been given the kingdom. From God's perspective David is already King. Samuel says that it’s all going to happen just as was predicted by the Lord. The philistines would defeat Israel, Saul and his sons would be killed, and the army of Israel would be crushed.

Saul is devastated by this word, he’s exhausted, crushed, and weak from not eating.

It says in verses 20-25: Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night.”

21 When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, “Look, your servant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. 22 Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.”

23 He refused and said, “I will not eat.”

But his men joined the woman in urging him, and he listened to them. He got up from the ground and sat on the couch.

24 The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. 25 Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left.”

What does this whole section about Samuel eating with the witch tell us? Sitting down and eating this meal with the witch is interesting, it almost sets up a relationship between them. The witch is trying to gain favor from Saul, so that he doesn’t have her killed for this harsh word he's received. But it kind of helps Saul along toward his inevitable end, his coming death in battle. It gives him strength, but not good strength, strength to go to his end.

He was a calf fattened for the slaughter you might say, he had made his bed, he had walked his path, now his path had reached it’s end, and it’s end was destruction.

It’s a good reminder for us today, in closing, to consider our path, are we paving a path toward eternal life or toward eternal destruction? It’s our choices, our heart, where we make the choices that establish us toward God or toward destruction. Which path are you on? If you’re here today, there is still hope to change your path, and turn to the path of life. But it takes giving yourself over to Jesus Christ, and then doing the footwork of living differently, embracing, prayer, church, reading of the word, applying the word, and living a crucified life. It’s not too much for you. His yoke is easy and his burden is light, yet the way is narrow, and few find it, so do everything you can, to make the path down the narrow pathway. Because the Lord said many will try to walk it and find out that they can’t.

That’s from Luke 13:24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to."

Is your Heart Stubborn or Soft? How to Guard your Heart Diligently

I was over at cone zone ice cream on Saturday. And I was pulling through the drive through. On the front of my vehicle I have a license plate that says “Jesus Christ is the answer.” I saw a lady with her son look at the license plate and scowl and I could read her lips she said, “no it isn’t.”

And I thought to myself, you are wrong about that. But God gives us the right to be wrong. But we will also have to deal with the consequences of it. God bless this woman, I pray one day she knows Christ as her savior.

But we are stubborn aren’t we? I know I was so stubborn, for years, refusing to change my ways, refusing to listen to anyone. I had to hit a rock bottom before I finally turned to Jesus.

Today we dive into Mark chapter 3, at a moment in history when Jesus went to the local synagogue. 

We’re looking at the actions of Jesus a great deal in Mark’s gospel account. And again we’ll see that here. It says in Mark 3:1-3, “Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Jesus our Lord is being watched carefully by the religious leaders. They want a reason to shut him down. In your walk with Christ you will also face people who will try to stop you. You will face people who will look for any little thing they can point out in your character to say, ah, they aren’t a real Christian. To say hey, you’re a fake. I’m sure there are people in my hometown ten years later still waiting for me to trip back, but it’s never going to happen.

In those situations, we’re often quick to play defense. Here let me explain why I’m actually a good guy! Jesus doesn’t do that though. He goes on the offensive. He takes it up to a higher level. He gets to the core of the issue. He tells the man with the bad hand, stand up in front of everybody. It’s sabbath, he’s at church, and he’s disrupting the service, saying sir get up please. And the religious leaders are shocked.

This controversy seems to keep occurring with the Lord where he heals people on the day of rest. The day of rest, Saturdays for the Jews, was very important, that you did no work on the sabbath. But Jesus keeps healing people on the sabbath.

In verse 4, Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Jesus goes right to the core of the issue, he basically tells the religious leaders: You are wrong. Plain and simple. It’s right to heal people, even on the day of rest.

Jesus does this for me, and for you, all the time. He speaks to us within and says, “You’re wrong.”

The Holy Spirit speaks to us, and says, "That isn’t right what you’re doing." The conviction of the Spirit comes very quickly. It speaks right to our heart. And we know, this isn’t right. Hopefully then we don’t do it. Or if we already did it, then we repent quickly, seek His forgiveness, and keep going.

Your salvation is at stake when you sin. And the Spirit will whisper that to you. Or shout it to you at times. Then you’ll repent, if you’re wise. Or, if you’re not so wise, you will not repent.

It depends on your heart. The seat of who you are, and your decision making. The heart. It’s about what is in your heart. And what influences your heart has taken in, what is your desire, what is your life pointed at? Where have you taken your heart in your choices? That’s the question.

In verse 5 and 6, it says, “5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”

Jesus looks directly at their hearts. Standing that synagogue it was like time stood still for a moment and Jesus could see right into all their hearts. The bible says God looks at the heart. We tend to think we’re doing great. We’re rocking it. We’re pure as the driven snow. But the Bible says God looks at the heart.

Jesus is deeply distressed, shocked, disturbed by their stubborn hearts, their hard hearts. In fact it even says he looked at them in anger. He was angry about the condition of their hearts.

They were stubborn. And we as Americans are so very stubborn. We think we know everything. And we just want pleasure. Pleasure all the time. We want to feel good. We want the good life. And if someone tries to tell us something, well, we might listen, maybe, but we’re gonna make up our own mind, and if we don’t like it, we aren’t going to listen.

Similarly, the people in this synagogue, he can see how stubborn they are. They don’t want to believe. They don’t want Jesus. They aren’t listening. And it doesn’t even matter if Jesus heals someone right in front of them, they will still refuse to believe in Him.

Today the same is true. Some, even if Jesus appeared in front of them and told them to follow Him, they would still refuse. They would say whatever, it’s not true. I don’t believe that. That’s not my truth. And off they would go. It goes back to the heart. Their hearts refuse to listen. They refuse to accept it. They can’t stand it. The heart rejects the truth. Turns it away. Nope, I won’t listen.

I want to come back to this issue of the heart.

But right there, in front of everyone, Jesus healed the man’s shriveled hand. It was like new. Fully functional again. And if they would’ve turned to Him, everyone in that synagogue, Jesus would’ve healed their shriveled hearts too. He would’ve given them new hearts. But they didn’t.

What was their response? The Pharisees went and met with the Herodians to begin to plot to kill Jesus.

The irony here, is that the Pharisees despised the Herodians. The Herodians were a political party in Israel that supported one of the line of Herod to always be on the throne of the nation. And of course the Pharisees were deeply religious Jews who thought the opposite, that only one in the line of David should be the leader of Israel.

But here we find another spiritual principle, when we reject the truth we end up teaming up with evil in some way. It’s like in addiction, starting off you set some ground rules you say, I will never sell my body for drugs. I’ll never sell drugs. I’ll never drink and drive, and slowly but surely you find yourself making compromises, until you’ve become someone you don’t even recognize. It’s ugly.

Similarly in sin, like an addiction, we make compromises to support our sin, and pretty soon we’re teamed up with pure evil, and we’re doing things we said we’d never do. It’s bad.

The Pharisees in their hatred of Jesus are now teaming up with their political enemies to try to kill Jesus.

The Lord does this, he proves out who we really are. This goes back to the issue of the heart again. The heart of the Pharisees is revealed. They are proving they don’t really care about the line of David, they don’t really care about the coming messiah, what they want is power and control. And they’ll team up with pro-roman political groups to get what they want.

So this man is healed, Jesus' disciples I’m sure celebrate, the man and his family and friends I’m sure are celebrating as well, and we should celebrate too when God does great things in our church, in our personal lives. Celebrate! Get excited. Rejoice. We gotta do that more, celebrate what God is doing.

So what happens next? Jesus continues to follow this pattern, he moves in, creates a stir, heals people, gathers disciples, then he moves out again.

It says in verse 7-9: “Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. 8 When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. 9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him.”

Jesus is now teaching from this little boat, to crowds of hundreds and thousands. People are coming really from all over the region, even from the capital city of Jerusalem to hear Jesus teach and to receive healing. People are also coming to him to find deliverance from demons.

It says in verses 10-12: For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. 11 Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.”

Jesus is again healing people, casting our impure spirits, and these demons know he’s the Lord, they say, “you are the son of God.” But Jesus silences them. Jesus is carefully allowing his ministry to play out in the country of Israel. It’s all coming together. And it’s amazing.

Similarly in our own lives, God is playing things out at a particular pace. Everything doesn’t happen all at once. He guides you through seasons of trials, and seasons of encouragement. He guides you through repentance from sins. Then he’s working on humility in you, then patience. He has you ministering to one person. Then several people. He has you at group, then at another group, then meeting one on one with the pastor, he has you learning one book of the Bible, then another book, then he’s building your prayer time, then your devotional times. It’s all very intentional. And it’s all timed out for you to grow at a particular pace to do ministry successfully as a Christian. That’s the goal, successful, victorious ministry and personal growth.

And it all goes back to the heart. So what is in your heart?

Your heart is really you, your decisions. When you’re thinking about something, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and then making a particular decision, that’s your heart.

So much so that Proverb 23:7 says, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

When you react a certain way, to something someone says, whether positively or negatively, that’s your heart.

And sometimes we have to counter-step our heart. Sometimes someone says something rude to us. In our heart we get mad. But we recognize the anger, we step back and see it, and we stop and say no, I’m not going to get upset, I’m going to calm myself down. And that is a slight adjustment you just made in your heart.

Similarly, when someone corrects you, you might get a little proud, but instead of choosing that course in your heart, you stop and think no, I’m going to humble myself, and be teachable, you just made a decision in your heart. It's all adjusting the course of your heart.

And that is the practice of guarding your heart. Proverbs says guard your heart with all diligence. I really think it’s correcting bad thoughts with good thoughts, checking our thoughts against scripture, even checking our emotional reactions against scripture, and allowing God to mold our hearts in that way.

But ultimately our heart has to be made new by God. As it says it Psalm 51:10 ESV, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Pray that one, next time you feel a little off. "Renew in me Lord a right spirit, cleanse my heart."

When we first become a Christian, God gives us a new heart. Just like it says in Ezekiel 36:26 ESV "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

Then we’re to steward the new heart we’ve been given. Guard it. Don’t let it become hardened. If it does, ask God to soften it once again.

In guarding our heart, the word of God is powerful to deal with the heart, it says in Hebrews 4:12 ESV “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

We’re commanded as Christians then toward this equation of the heart: Matthew 22:37 ESV “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

It also says in Matthew 6:21 ESV "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

If your treasure is in heaven, your heart is going to be focused on God.

It says in the Psalms, Psalm 19:14 ESV "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."

God sees the meditation of our hearts, so we want them to be pleasing and acceptable, not stubborn or hard-hearted.

And again it says, “Psalm 119:11 ESV I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

If you want to avoid sin, memorize scripture, store God’s word in your heart, so that it comes to mind again and again.

The goal at last is, on the last day, our heart is pure in Christ. And then…

Matthew 5:8 ESV “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

And we will see God face to face. But it takes a pure heart. A gift from God through Jesus Christ, but ours to guard on our way to eternal life.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Comparing the Butterfly to the Resurrection: Life and Death Examined

“Cancer had reduced six-year-old Christian to skin and bones. It was during his final days that nature bestowed its annual miracle. Millions of yellow butterflies invade northeast Oklahoma with a gentle firestorm of color and dance, covering the landscape and bringing unbridled joy after the bleakness of Oklahoma winter. But this gift seldom lasts more than a week before the yearly exodus of butterflies leaves on spring breezes.

Some friends went to the hospital to visit Christian. Though most of the butterflies had already flown away, one friend had managed to trap one for the dying boy. Christian peered at the imprisoned butterfly and then handed the jar to his mother, Marsha. “Mommy, please set him free. He’s like me, in a place he doesn’t like to be.” 

Marsha opened the window, took the lid off the bottle, and let the butterfly soar away. A wistful smile crossed Christian’s face. “I’m going to be like that butterfly when I fly away to Jesus in heaven.”

Christian died a few days later. There are few events filled with more anguish than a child’s funeral. Marsha and Gary dreaded going back to their country house filled with memories of their little boy. So their friends drove them back to the home they hadn’t seen in weeks of hospital stay.

As the car turned in to the long driveway, an amazing sight awaited. The lawn was covered with a carpet of yellow butterflies. They rose by the thousands in a joyous aerial ballet. Marsha ran into their swirling midst. For several joyous moments, butterflies danced about her. She forgot her grief and began to laugh with childish delight. Then they rose en masse to catch winds to faraway places.

Grief returned as quickly as it had left, and Marsha stood alone in the yard where Christian had once played. Then a solitary butterfly returned and landed gently on her nose. It sat for several seconds, its wings gently caressing her tear-stained cheeks before flying away.

Nature has no explanation for butterflies awaiting a grieving mother two weeks after the annual migration had left. Marsha was convinced the butterfly that came back to caress her face was the one released from the hospital room. To this day, all of us are sure that we witnessed a miracle. God had orchestrated this dance of the butterflies to remind Marsha and Gary Dance of what their boy had uttered during his final days in the hospital: “I’m going to be like that butterfly and fly away to Jesus.”

Did Christian know about one of nature’s great miracles? When a caterpillar is ready to turn into a butterfly, it fixes itself to a branch and wriggles out of its outer skin. Underneath is the chrysalis, which hardens to protect the insect as it transforms. It literally creates its own coffin. Then it dies, only to break out of its coffin as a butterfly destined for the heavens. It’s a story of resurrection. No wonder the day Jesus rose from the dead is symbolized by butterflies. Whenever you feel like hope is gone, remember Christian Dance’s story and the truth it teaches: If there were no death, there would be no butterflies.” -James Petterson

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. -1 Corinthians 15:52

The little boy could see that the miraculous gift of the butterfly was evidence that Jesus Christ was alive and that he would live forever with Jesus after he died.

Do you have that same faith that Jesus Christ is alive? Do you really believe he rose from the dead?

I had an opportunity to visit the Frederik Meijer butterfly gardens in Grand Rapids last week, and got to experience the amazement of seeing hundreds of butterflies, floating through the air all around me, landing on people, shooting past our heads, it was absolutely amazing, and really brought an awe for the glory of what God has made.

The caterpillar forms a cocoon around itself, an ugly cocoon, hard and protective shell, and it seems dead and gone. But then a beautiful butterfly bursts out of the cocoon.

It’s similar with death, and living again. It says in 1st Corinthians 15:42-44: “It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.”

Buried in brokenness, that rings true with me. Many of us have such terribly health problems, and when we see loved ones who are dying, we wonder how their broken bodies could ever live again. But in faith in Christ, we know Jesus Christ was raised from the brokenness of his body as it was mangled on the cross, scrouged with whips, beaten, bloodied, nails driven through his hands and feet, massive loss of blood, dehydration, physical death, even having a spear driven through his gut after he died, just to make sure he was dead.

Yet all of that could not stop God from bringing Jesus back to live from the dead,with a new body, a physical body, but healed and alive.

Which is why today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We declare in faith, "He is Risen." Jesus is alive. Right now. He rose from the dead two thousand years ago. And his disciples were shocked to see him alive. Yet he had promised he would rise again.

Let me ask you this: Can a butterfly fly when it’s still a caterpillar? Of course not. It never could. Similarly, we cannot live forever in these old bodies. As it says in the scriptures, verses 45-50:

The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. 46 What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. 47 Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. 48 Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. 49 Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man. 50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.”

Adam, the first man, became death for us, because sin came to us through Adam’s first sin in the garden. But then when Jesus Christ became our savior, when we believed in Him, he became a “life giving Spirit” to us.

And Jesus produced in us a spring of water bubbling up within us to eternal life. Just as Jesus was raised, and has a new heavenly physical body, we too, when we die, will be raised again, and be given a new heavenly physical body. These bodies we are in now are subject to death, they get sick, they grow old, then die, but, our heavenly bodies, will never grow old, but will remain always healthy and full of that bubbling spiritual life.

But then Paul remarks on a beautiful secret, a mystery. He says, verses 51-53: “But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.”

This is referring to the rapture event. If we are alive when Jesus comes, we will be raised without dying. No one knows when that day will come. But with the world growing unstable and wicked, it could be any day now. If we are still alive when Jesus comes, well, then we’ll be changed in a moment, transformed, like the butterfly, transformed, from caterpillar to butterfly, and caught up into the sky.

So we should believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It’s the basis of our entire faith. He is risen. 

But, why? Why should we believe that? Here are some reasons why…

"1. Jesus predicted His resurrection (Matt 16:21; Mark 9:9-10; John 2:18-22).

2. The Old Testament prophesied it (Psalm 16:10; compare Acts 2:25-31; 13:33-37).

3. The tomb was empty and the grave clothes vacant. if those who opposed Christ wished to silence His disciples, all they had to do was produce a body, but they could not (John 20:3-9).

4. Many people saw the resurrected Christ. They looked on His face, touched Him, heard His voice, and saw Him eat (Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 24:13-39; John 20:11-29; John 21:1-9; Acts 1:6-11; 1 Cor. 15:3-8).

5. The lives of the disciples were revolutionized. Though they fled and even denied Christ at the time of His arrest, they later feared no one in their proclamation of the risen Christ (Matt 26:56, 69-75).6. The resurrection was the central message of the early church. The church grew with an unwavering conviction that Christ had risen and was the Lord of the church (Acts 4:33; 5:30-32; Rom. 5:24).

6. Each of the 11 disciples of Jesus proclaimed the message of the gospel boldly, and according to history each of them was martyred, lost their lives for Christ’s message. None of them said that they had made it up, all of them died for the message that Jesus was alive. Few if any would be willing to die for a lie. They would admit the lie under pressure, but the disciples never waivered from the message even in the face of death.

7. Men and women today testify that the power of the risen Christ has transformed their lives. We know that Jesus is alive not only because of the historical and biblical evidence but also because He has miraculously touched our lives." -Kurt E. DeHaan

Let us then not simply say, Jesus Christ is risen. But let us also say, “I shall rise.” (Phillip Brooks).

Since Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, since Jesus Christ is alive right now, since Jesus Christ is our savior, anything is possible!

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Is there Evidence that Jesus Christ is Alive after Death? An Examination of the Facts

If Jesus is dead then I’m a fraud. If Jesus is dead right now, then we’re all a joke. The atheists would be right. The world would be right. All the good in the world wouldn’t really be good, all the bad wouldn’t really be bad, all our work would be for nothing, and our lives would be truly meaningless, if Jesus were really still dead.

But Jesus Christ is alive. Jesus predicted, two thousand years ago, that he would be betrayed, and killed, but that three days later he would rise from the dead. And then it happened. And the world was shocked. The chief priests were horrified, the romans were stupefied, and no one knew what to do next. They tried to deny it, millions today still try to deny it, but it remains true, a historical fact, that Jesus of Nazareth was seen by multiple witnesses alive, after being crucified. And these post-death appearances of Jesus affected his followers in such a radical way that they spread the gospel across the face of the Earth, the gospel that Jesus had died to pay off the sins of any who would follow Him, and that he has risen from the grave, to be the first of many who would rise from their graves, and live forever.

You’ll have to decide in your heart: Do you believe in miracles?

For me, it’s obvious that Jesus Christ is alive right now. Because he changed my life forever. He set me free from sins and addictions. He changed my family. My grandpa. My mom. He’s still changing lives everyday in this very city, and across the face of the Earth. Not only that, we have good reason to believe that Jesus is alive, evidence from history, archaeology, science, and ancient manuscripts. Overall, I believe, and yes, I know, Jesus Christ is alive. He rose from the dead. Because it’s clear as day, to see this truth.

Jesus predicted it would happen. Jesus was very strategic about what he said to his disciples. But he did say several times, the son of man must be betrayed, and killed, but then be raised from the dead three days later. It seemed like it didn’t quite click for the disciples what he was talking about. Maybe it kind of went in one ear and out the other.

But Jesus kept hinting to them. You think of when he raised Lazarus from the dead. He told Lazarus’ sisters, "I am the resurrection and the life, if you believe in me, though you die, you will live."

Again I don’t know if they truly understood what he was saying.

So we think to the crucifixion which we recognize on Good Friday. Jesus went through his all night ordeal and into the morning, being judged and condemned by the chief priests and the roman authorities. They had him charged with crimes, accused him and then found guilty and sentenced him to death, though he had done nothing wrong. He was scourged with whips, mocked, ridiculed, slapped, and a crown of thorns was forced onto his head. At 9 AM he was nailed to a wooden cross, and it was raised up and dropped into a hole in the ground.

There he suffered from 9am to noon. Then from noon until 3pm a total solar eclipse took place. And at 3pm Jesus died.

The disciples went into hiding. They didn’t understand what was happening and why it had happened the way it did.

They were struggling with unbelief, and fear. And we do the same thing don’t we? We give up sometimes just a bit too easily. Jesus died and his disciples thought it was over. But then something happened three days later, just as Jesus had predicted: Jesus was found to be alive.

There are numerous reports of post-death appearances of Jesus. People are seeing him alive. Not as a ghost. Not as a spirit. But physically alive.

There is this strange report of the stone being rolled way from his grave. The body is missing. The Romans aren’t sure what happened. The Jews aren’t sure what happened.

And you have several different accounts of Jesus appearing alive to people, Peter, Mary, all the eleven disciples, even a crowd of 500 people.

And here we find the very crucial key question of Christianity: Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

We can look at the pictures and the paintings and think how beautiful they are. We can read the accounts in Matthew or Luke and be inspired. But if we could go in a time machine and land our time machine outside the tomb on that morning, would we really see that Jesus Christ rose from the dead?

That’s the key to everything friends. If Jesus is dead right now, then we’re all wasting our time here. But, if Jesus is really alive right now, then every word of the Bible is true, and every single person on planet Earth needs to know about Jesus and get Jesus as their savior and Lord.

But what does it mean for us exactly? Let’s dive into that.

From 1st Corinthians 15:20-23: "But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.”

The first man talked about in 1st Corinthians 15 is talking about Adam. He was the first one created by God, so long ago, in the garden of Eden. We know a great disaster came through Adam and his wife Eve, when they were deceived, and rebelled against God.

And all of us, being part of the lineage, the family of Adam and Eve, are also born into sin. We naturally tend to toward sinfulness and selfishness.

Thousands of years later in AD 30, Jesus Christ was crucified and rose from the grave, to take his seat in heaven's throne-room as the new Adam. The new head of a new family of God.

So, we have a choice, we can remain as part of the lineage of Adam, and then we will die in our sins and face eternal death in hell. Or, we can join the new family, the family of God in Christ, and we will join in a new resurrection, a new eternal life, in a new paradise, when Jesus comes again.

That’s as real as anything in life, as real as your bank account as real as your car or your apartment, it’s real, it’s true, and God will base our eternal future, our destiny, on which family we are part of.

Christ has already been raised. He is seated as King in heaven right now. But, our resurrection will wait until Jesus returns again to gather his bride from the four corners of the Earth.

What happened when Jesus was resurrected? He was in his tomb. Just as many Christians are in the ground right now. But when Christ returns, those graves will be opened, just as Jesus grave was opened, and those Christians will rise to eternal life. And on that day, any who remain and are alive on the Earth at that moment will rise with the dead on that day as well, rise to new bodies, just as Christ had a new body after he was raised from the dead.

So we see that the resurrection of Jesus is a picture for us, of what will happen for us, when we die, if we die in Christ. Jesus death and resurrection is a depiction of our future if we follow Christ to the very end.

But the scripture continues, it says this, verses 24-26: "After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Death is the enemy of every human on planet Earth. We all fear it. Christians hopefully learn not to fear it like people of the world do. But there were times in my life when I was close to death. I recall being in the ICU, with my organs shutting down, and being afraid that I might die. And I remember the fear that came over me was inexhaustible. It was an endless fear that could not be quenched. Because I did not know Christ then. So I faced a death worse than anything imaginable, an eternal death.

But Christ will reign, and is reigning, until he defeats every enemy. That will happen when Christ returns and defeats the anti-christ at the end of the great tribulation. And it will happen during the 1000 year millennial reign of Christ. And the last enemy Christ defeats is death itself, when at the end in Revelation, death is thrown into the lake of fire. And we see in the new Jerusalem there is no longer any death, but all live forever and will never die again.

Then it says in verse 27-28 of 1st Corinthians 15: "For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.”

Lastly today, we see a not often cited theological truth: One day, after the millennial reign, when the new heavens and new earth come, Jesus Christ will give over his authority to God the Father, who will reign from then on. Jesus I assume will continue to have great authority, but the greatest authority will then belong to God the Father. So Christ eventually yields his authority to God the Father who gave the Son authority. So it indicates in 1st Corinthians 15, God the Father then reigns with supreme authority after the coming of the new Jerusalem.

So in conclusion today, Jesus Christ is indeed risen from the dead. How important is this fact? It could be the most important fact of the entire New Testament. I tend to think it is absolutely vital to understand. To conclude I’d like to share as quotation from Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland which illustrates this point:

“Well over three hundred verses are concerned with the subject of Jesus' resurrection in the New Testament. We are told that this event is a sign for unbelievers (Matthew 12:38-40); cf. John 20:24-29) as well as the answer for the believer's doubt (Luke 24:38-43). It serves as the guarantee that Jesus' teachings are true (Acts 2:22-24; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20) and is the center of the gospel itself (Romans 4:24-25, 10:9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Further, the resurrection is the impetus for evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 10:39-43), the key indication of the believer's daily power to live the Christian life (Rom. 6:4-14, 8:9-11; Phil. 3:10) and the reason for the total commitment of our lives (Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 15:57-58). The resurrection even addresses the fear of death (John 11:25; 1 Cor. 15:54-58; cf. Hebrews 2:14-15) and is related to the second coming of Jesus (Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7). Lastly, this event is a model of the Christian's resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:2; 1 Cor. 6:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and provides a foretaste of heaven for the believer (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Peter 1:3-5).” -Gary R. Habermas & J.P. Moreland, Immortality - The Other Side of Death, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992, p. 245.

So we can know that Jesus Christ is alive. Since he’s here with us right now, in this very moment in time. His Holy Spirit lives within us. We know billions across the planet have testified that Jesus changed their life. We know he has changed our lives. And he continues to change our lives each day.

And if we carefully follow Jesus Christ, and love Him first, and love his people with a patient, determined love, and we put to death the deeds of the flesh, and live by the Spirit’s leading, then we will enjoy that day when we meet Jesus Christ face to face and he embraces us as His own and welcomes us into a new city, a perfect country, a new world, without death, where we will dwell with him forever. Dedicate your life to His life, and you will have life, eternal life. Amen.