Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Divine Truth in a Junk-Mail World

Does your e-mail inbox get flooded with all kinds of junk like mine sometimes does? Occasionally I’ll receive something from someone who’s forwarded some information they’ve been forwarded that is considered urgent and serious. The problem is that often what’s being passed along is nothing but urban legend, hoaxes, rumors or misinformation – if not malicious slander.

Some are just plain stupid. I remember receiving one some time ago from the founder of Applebee’s Restaurants. He promised that if I would forward this e-mail to nine friends to help “get our name out to more people in rural communities” then he would send me a confirmation number for a gift certificate worth $50 to his establishment. Maybe I’ll never know whether that one was real or not, since I didn’t do anything but delete it.

Then there are always scam artists out there who go “phishing” to try to steal your credit card information, bank account numbers and other pieces of personal identification. They arrive in your inbox looking like official correspondence from your bank, from the IRS or from other legitimate sources. But if you give out what they’re asking for, you’re really asking for it!

Beyond e-mail, who unquestionably trusts the news media anymore? To me it always feels like when political issues arise we’re not getting a completely objective and unbiased report. You’re hearing the story from the left or from the right, or from whatever leanings the reporter or news outlet maintains.

At times it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake. How do you separate the fact from fiction? How can you be sure of what’s true and what’s false? Is there anything today that you can count on to be 100 percent reliable, spin-free, and without any mixture of error?

The answer is a resounding yes! If you’re looking for something you can count on, pick up your Bible and know for certain that you are holding in your hands the infallible, inerrant, unchanging Word of the one, true, everlasting God.

Throughout the ages skeptics and critics have tried to discredit the Bible, they’ve attempted to point out alleged contradictions and generally dismissed its contents as myth. Yet the Holy Scriptures have stood the test of time, they’ve overcome foolish and ignorant men’s feeble arguments, and they have proven themselves to be completely reliable and perfectly true.

The reason the Bible is trustworthy is because its author is trustworthy. The Bible is literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Human writers recorded the Scriptures as they were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. The Lord God is trustworthy beyond scrutiny, and so is His Book.

And in His Book, God reveals Himself to man. If you read the Bible for human history, read it for literature or read it for inspiration, you’re missing the point. The point is that Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is, wants you to know Him, His purposes and His ways. Read the Bible to seek God!

When you do, and as you let the truth of the message unfold, you’ll see that the Scriptures all testify about Jesus Christ. You’ll see that God’s plan to redeem sinful man, saving him from eternal death and saving him to everlasting life, is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. The question then becomes: How will you respond? Will you embrace Christ by faith as the Bible reveals Him, or will you reject your only hope for salvation?

This Christmas, take a close look at what the Bible really says. Examine the prophecies in Isaiah and Micah and elsewhere of the Messiah’s birth long before Jesus came into this world as a baby. Watch as they unfold in Matthew and Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ arrival. Read in wonder as God reveals His great love for you and imprints His truth upon your heart and impresses you to put your faith in Christ.

When it comes to your inbox and other communication avenues in today’s world, I can’t give you any fool-proof instruction. Be discerning. Do some research. Don’t be gullible. But when it comes to the divinely inspired Word of the eternal God, only a fool would not believe.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ready for Revival in GC

So, who’s ready for the Lord to bring revival to Gallatin County? Who’s ready for God to revitalize the hearts of His people and re-energize us with a fresh passion for His glory? Who’s ready for a great awakening?

Who’s ready for Almighty God to drive us to our knees in confession and repentance of sin, in reverential awe of His holiness and power, and in hunger and thirst for righteousness? Who’s ready for the Spirit of God to restore our first love, to rekindle our desire to see Christ exalted, and to re-ignite our unwavering devotion to Him as Lord?

Who’s ready in Ridgway for the Righteous One to take His rightful reign upon the throne of every heart who professes His name? Who’s ready to yield every thought, every attitude, every word and every deed in glad obedience to His will? Who’s ready to leave our comfort zones and follow wherever He may lead?

Who’s ready in Shawneetown for the Savior to shower down His blessings in overflowing abundance? Who’s ready to take Him at His word and trust Him no matter what? Who’s ready to walk by faith and not by sight?

Who’s ready in Junction for Jesus to cleanse each soul from the stain of sin, to blot out every transgression, to wash away your guilt and restore the joy of your salvation? Who’s ready to be purified by His blood, to be washed whiter than snow and to be fully and freely forgiven from every sin? Who’s ready for Christ to create a clean heart in you, to renew a steadfast spirit within you and to restore the joy of your salvation?

Who’s ready in Equality for the Everlasting Father to enlighten the eyes of everyone to His eternal glory in Christ? Who’s ready for the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God to lead and guide your every step? Who’s ready for the Prince of Peace to flood your heart with a supernatural peace that passes all understanding?

Who’s ready in Omaha for the Only God our Savior to receive the glory, majesty, power and authority due His name? Who’s ready now to bow the knee and confess with the tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father? Who’s ready to testify to the greatness of His name, to tell of His mighty acts to the next generation, to proclaim the power of His awesome works and to speak of the glory of His kingdom?

Who’s ready in New Haven for God to do a new work in your life? Who’s ready to live a new life in Christ, being dead to sin and raised with Jesus from the grave? Who’s ready to offer your life as a living sacrifice in view of God’s mercy, to be no longer conformed to the pattern of this world, but transformed by the renewing of your mind in worship to the Lord?

Who’s ready in Old Shawneetown for the Ancient of Days to take His seat on the throne? Who’s ready to see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory? Who’s ready to see the day when all peoples, nations and tribes of every language and every color stand before the throne and cry out together: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb”?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for it! I want to see God sweep through this county with His saving grace and revive the hearts of all of His people. I want to see the Lord convict every person who’s rejected Jesus of their need for His forgiveness and salvation. I want to see the Holy Spirit jar us out of our complacency and indifference, and refocus our vision on our mission to make disciples of all nations.

I want to see our churches unite, as illustrated wonderfully in Ridgway’s Community Thanksgiving Service, under the umbrella of the gospel of God’s grace to love the Lord wholeheartedly, to build and strengthen the church, and to love and serve others with a selfless, Christ-like heart.

I want to see the kingdom of God take over in Gallatin County. Who’s ready for revival? O Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name! Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven! And we will give you the thanks and praise in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's Your Title?

If they made a movie about your life today, what would the title be?

I think about the apostle Paul and wonder what the marquee would say. Here are a few suggestions: “To Live Is Christ,” “God’s Ambassador to the World,” “Rejoicing in the Lord Always.” Or maybe, “007: Special Agent on Special Assignment.” Here’s one: “Crucified With Christ: Dead Man on a Mission.” “The Chief of Sinners Saved.” “Showcase of Grace.” “God’s Chosen Instrument.” “Radically Saved!”

No matter how you look at it, Paul’s life after his conversion to Christ was focused on taking the Good News to the ends of the earth. Some might call him a radical, or a Jesus freak, or even a fool. The Roman Governor Festus called him insane.

Whatever you say about Paul, one thing is clear: When Jesus changed his life, He really changed him!

You may remember that Paul’s given name was Saul. He grew up in the Jewish tradition, a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” he says. He was very zealous for the law, a member of the religious party called the Pharisees, a true up and coming young leader. And he hated the church of Christ.

In Acts 7 the Bible tells about the murder of a man named Stephen. Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…full of grace and power” (Acts 6:5, 8). But when he preached the message of God’s redemption through Jesus, the religious imposters of the day rose up against him and stoned him, and the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a man named Saul (Acts 7:58).

Saul despised the message and the work of the early Christians. In fact, the Bible also says that “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Paul describes his former life in his own words saying, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13). He says a few verses later that he was the “worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16).

But Saul got saved! While he was traveling on the road to Damascus, breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord and carrying orders from the high priest to imprison any who belonged to the Way, his life took a sudden U-turn. All at once a blinding light from heaven stopped Saul dead in his tracks, and as he fell to the ground a voiced boomed, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).

When Saul managed to inquire who this was, the Lord responded, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). The Bible says the men traveling with Saul were speechless. It doesn’t say whether or not they soiled their robes, but one would be inclined to think so. They heard the voice but didn’t see a soul. In fact, Saul was blinded, so they led him into the city and for three days he didn’t eat or drink.

Well, to make a long story short, the Lord sent a faithful, somewhat hesitant man named Ananias to come and lay hands on Saul that he might receive his sight, but more importantly, that he might receive the Holy Spirit and be baptized. From there it didn’t take long before Saul was proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, amazing the people by the radical transformation that the Lord had worked in his life.

Saul, soon after called Paul, never looked back. And he became the greatest missionary, evangelist, preacher of the gospel since Jesus Himself. His life reflected the change that only the mercy and grace of God could bring. Paul says it this way, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Friend, maybe you think because of your life, things you’ve said, things you’ve done, that God could never forgive you. Perhaps you think that you’ve messed up so badly that He couldn’t possibly love you or make anything good out of your life.

Let me urge you to take a closer look at Saul. If God can change a violent, angry murderer like that, don’t you think He can change you, too? Of course He can! Are you willing to let Him? Why not confess your sins in repentance and receive His mercy and grace in Christ Jesus right now? It’s not too late to change the title of your movie.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Being Born Again

I think a lot of people are like Nicodemus. They know about Jesus, but they don’t really know Him.

In John 3 we read that Nicodemus was a member of the Pharisees, a leading religious group of the day. It would take another article and more to describe the Pharisees well. But in a nutshell, while they were the interpreters and teachers of the Old Testament law, they did not practice what they preached, they loved the praise of men, they loved money, and they valued their traditions more than the commandments of God.

Here’s what Jesus said of them in Matthew 15:8-9: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

And they came to despise Jesus with intense hatred.

Of course, Jesus had some scathing words for them as well: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

Am I wrong in observing that there are many people like that – even in our churches – today? People who come to church very faithfully, who go through all of the religious motions, absolutely love their own man-made traditions and rules, say and do the right things when others are watching, make sure everyone knows it when they give a large donation, and are long on self-righteousness and short on grace (especially when it comes to judging the behaviors of others). Everything on the outside looks great, but everything on the inside is rotten.

Still, there’s something about Jesus that does attract people to Him. You certainly can’t deny His miraculous powers. You can’t deny the authority in which He taught. You can’t deny His perfect life of obedience to the will of God.

Nicodemus couldn’t, either, and something made him want to really know Jesus. So he came to Jesus at night seeking answers. He wasn’t prepared for what he heard. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Born again? What in the world does that mean? Nicodemus didn’t have a clue, and neither do most people. Everybody wants to “see the kingdom of God,” they want to go to heaven. But what’s this about being born again? Aren’t my good deeds enough? The fact that I’m a Jew, I’m a Baptist, I’m a Catholic, I’m religious, I’m an American – isn’t that what it takes? I believe in God. My parents and grandparents have always gone to church. I was baptized when I was an infant, or at age 12, or whatever. I’m a good parent, a good neighbor, a hard worker, a good citizen. I’m not perfect, but who is? Why do I need to be born again?

Friend, the truth of the matter is that every single one of us is a sinner in need of salvation. We don’t deserve one blessing or favor from the Lord, let alone eternal life. Indeed, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

In telling Nicodemus, and us, that we need to be born again, Jesus is saying that just as we were born physically to enter this world, it’s only through a spiritual birth that we enter the kingdom of heaven. That happens as the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, leading us to repentance, and transforms our hearts and lives through faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

What about you? Do you really know Jesus, or just know about Him? Are you just going through religious motions, or have you been born again? No matter what your life is like or what it’s been like, you can receive new, abundant and eternal life in Christ today.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Crazy Love - Chapter 4 - Ouch!

On Sunday nights the church has been studying God’s radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love for us. We’re reading and working through a book entitled Crazy Love by Francis Chan, which calls us to examine our response to God in light of His all-out love for us.

The underlying question addressed in this book goes along this line: Why are we satisfied with giving less than all of ourselves to the One who loves us so much that He gave all of Himself for us?

This study leads us to examine how the Bible calls us to live our lives. It’s not enough that we compare ourselves to others and think that we’re pretty much on track spiritually. Our standard for living ought to be the truth of God’s Word, and nothing less. As the author states in the preface, Jesus “never begs us to give Him some small part of ourselves. He commands everything from His followers.”

The first chapter describes the glory of an Almighty, all-knowing, holy, just and eternal Creator God. He alone is worthy of our worship. When we think about the majesty and splendor of God, it ought to bring us to our knees in reverence and awestruck wonder.

Chapter 2 turns the focus toward the reality of our weakness and frailty as human beings whose lives are but vapors and will soon be gone. How we need a Savior!

In the third chapter Chan shows us that even as much as we as parents dearly and immensely love our own children, our love for them is only a faint echo of God’s great love for each and every person He has made. God really cherishes and treasures us more than we’ll ever know. And it’s not because we’re all loveable and cuddly and somehow deserve it, but it’s because God is love, and His love is magnified in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Then we got to chapter 4. Chapter 4 hits like an uppercut to the gut. If this is the God of the Bible, the Creator of heaven and earth, the holy, eternal, all-knowing and all-powerful One who loves us so much that He gave up His Son on the cross so that we could be saved from death and hell and given abundant and everlasting life, and if we’re so fragile and fast-fading, how in the world can we not respond to Him with absolute joy and gratitude and loving devotion to Him?

Yet isn’t this a more typical “Christian” response – something like, “Yeah, OK, I’ll try to cuss less, not drink as much, maybe go to church more often, and if I have a little money left over I might put a $20 in the offering.” Is that really what God wants from us? To give Him a little bit of our leftovers? To try to appease Him by doing something good? To try to not make Him mad?

Chapter 4 is entitled, “Profile of the Lukewarm.” Many (most?) American church-goers today are not living in wholehearted obedience, wholehearted devotion or wholehearted delight in the Lord that ought to typify the lives of those who have been saved by His mercy and grace. And I count myself among those for whom this chapter challenged to the core.

Here are just a few of the profiles of the lukewarm:

“Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church…as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.”

“Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right…they care more about what people think of their actions than what God thinks of their hearts and lives.”

“Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin.”

“Lukewarm people call ‘radical’ what Jesus expected of all His followers.”

“Lukewarm people gauge their morality or ‘goodness’ by comparing themselves to the secular world.”

“Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives.”

And by the way, here’s what the Lord says to the lukewarm church in Revelation 3:16: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” What about you, friend? Will you continue to be satisfied with something far less than what God wants of you, or will you give yourself wholly to Christ today?