Monday, August 22, 2016

Jesus and Judgment

I’ve discovered a good way to turn off a conversation. You know that person who always seems to call or show up right as you’re about to make an important phone call, are headed out the door, or having dinner? The one who doesn’t know how to take a hint, who would consume your entire day if you let him, and whose favorite topic in the world is himself?

Here it is: bring up the subject of hell. It’s a proven non-starter, and almost always guaranteed to keep your untimely guest moving right along. And if you’re really needing to keep things short, introduce the name of Jesus into the conversation and watch how quickly you find yourself freed. Works like a charm.

Of course, I would hope that such weighty and sobering subjects might actually lead to a much more serious discussion, especially given that eternal stakes are hanging in the balance. But most people would simply rather not even think about it.

Can I say something, if you’re still reading, that is? I want to say this in love and compassion toward you, but with gravity of heart because of the magnitude of the truth: The day of God’s judgment will come soon enough, where the righteous will receive their heavenly reward, while the wicked will be condemned to the fiery furnace of hell.

If you’ll stay with me for a moment, allow me to unpack this briefly.

In no uncertain terms the Scriptures tell us that at the close of this age the Lord will judge the world. We read in Acts 17:30-32, for example: “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

The fact is that we will all be held accountable to God. Christ Jesus will come in all His glory and will sit on His glorious throne. The nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another. His judgments will be righteous and just, for He knows the hearts of all men, all their thoughts and intentions, their deeds and their words, and everything hidden will be exposed by the light of His presence.

The result of His judgment will be eternal life for the righteous and eternal punishment for the unrighteous.

The righteous are those who have been saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. They have humbled themselves in repentance, confessed their sins before the Lord, received His forgiveness, have been born again, and endure through faith and obedience to Jesus their Lord and Savior. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Those who will be condemned are those who do not believe in the name of Jesus (John 3:18). They have refused God’s merciful and gracious offer of forgiveness in Christ, and will suffer the wages for their sins, which is death and hell (Romans 6:23). Jesus speaking of hell describes it as an eternal, fiery furnace: “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42).

I cannot sugarcoat this truth for you. All I can do is pray for you and plead for you to repent and flee the wrath to come when Jesus returns as Judge. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Maybe you didn’t want to hear that today, but if you’ve hung around long enough, maybe it’s exactly what you need. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Letting the Word of Christ Take Root

Quick recap for you from this past Sunday’s message at FBC.

In Matthew 13 we find Jesus speaking to the crowds in parables. Parables are real life stories used to illustrate spiritual truth. Here He’s unveiling some remarkable mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven to those who are receptive to His word, while confirming the dull hearts of those who reject His message.

In what’s called the Parable of the Sower (which I’d rename the Parable of the Soil, but nobody asked!), Jesus shows four types of responses to the message of the Kingdom. Let me suggest, for maximum value, that you read Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23 first. And it would be helpful for you to consider what kind of response you’ve personally made to Jesus as you read.

The first kind of response Jesus identifies for us is the hard heart. This is the person who hears the Word but has zero interest. His heart has become cold and calloused to spiritual things. He’s the one described in Romans 1 who has suppressed the truth about God because of his own unrighteousness. He claims to be wise, and he often exhibits a proud, self-sufficient, self-righteous attitude, but he’s become a fool, and his foolish heart has been darkened. He despises wisdom and instruction, and lives as if there is no God. He loves to sin, falls deeper and deeper in love with all kinds of sinful deeds, and even rises to applaud others who likewise do what ought not to be done.

The second kind of response Jesus tells us is the shallow heart. This is the person who hears the message of the Kingdom and seems to embrace it wholeheartedly. Like new growth in rocky soil, this person appears to be flourishing in her newfound faith. She’s zealous in church attendance, Bible study, and wants to serve immediately. She may have even walked an aisle or signed a card or gotten baptized. But sooner or later, when troubles or persecutions arise on account of the Word, her supposed faith withers. There was never any genuine repentance or brokenness over her sin, and no real transformation. She certainly is not willing to endure suffering for the sake of Christ. Her feelings were stirred for a while, but there’s no root, and her soul remained unchanged.

Another kind of response Jesus points out is the divided heart. This is the person who hears the message of Christ and appears to grow like a true disciple, but ultimately proves himself to be another pretender when his affection for riches and allegiance to worldly cares take precedence over his professed loyalty to Jesus. His first love is not for Christ. He loves the things of the world, but the love of the Father is not in him. The Word is soon choked out by his pursuit of wealth and pleasure, and his life bears no fruit.

The fourth kind of response is the one Jesus highlights as the only true, saving response to the message of the Kingdom. This is the person who hears the gospel message, understands it, learns to trust and obey it, and keeps persevering in it. She is the one who puts away all filthiness and wickedness and humbly receives the word planted, which is able to save her soul. She is convicted of her sin, genuinely repents, and turns in faith to the Lord Jesus. And her life yields much spiritual fruit for the Kingdom of God.

What kind of personal response have you made to the message of Christ and His Kingdom? Why not humble your heart today to receive His Word? Then let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly and keep on abiding in Christ, and your life will bear fruit in abundance. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Back-to-School Prayer

Here’s my back-to-school prayer as we gear up for another year.

“Our Father in heaven, in a world filled with dangers, toils and snares, we look to You because You reign on Your heavenly throne with infinite wisdom, matchless power, and unfailing love. You are the great King above all kings, and there is none like You. You are majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, and the God of wonders. Your name is great and greatly to be praised. We rejoice in knowing that You are gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

In light of Your goodness, we lift up our children as they begin this new school year. Lord, we boldly ask in the name of Jesus that You will invade our schools with the light of the gospel. We pray for a spiritual awakening, that many hearts will turn away from sin and turn in faith to Christ Jesus for salvation. We ask, O God, for Your Holy Spirit to fill every heart and every hallway with the glory of Your presence.

We pray that in view of the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ Jesus, You will lead Your followers in our schools to be beacons of righteousness. By Your transforming power, may a spirit of kindness, goodness, and encouragement toward others rule in their words, their attitudes and their actions. May love and peace and joy flow like rivers of grace bringing refreshing life to all they encounter.

We pray that there will be an environment of patience, meekness, honor and respect in every classroom, on every school bus, and in every extra-curricular activity. Give our children a humble submission to the authority of those who lead them, and may those in authority govern with wisdom, compassion, justice and humility of service.

Holy Father, we ask that You will guide our children to live with self-control, that they would embrace what’s right and reject all wrong. Lead them not into temptation, but deliver them from evil. Shape their own will to desire nothing less than to know and to seek and to do Your will.

We further pray that You will continue to watch over their ways and protect them from all harm – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Provide for their needs. Guide them in the way of truth. Make learning a delight for them. Surround them with godly influences. Help them build strong friendships, to learn loyalty, gratitude, teamwork, diligence, perseverance and initiative. Teach them wise time-management skills, how to express their uniqueness and creativity in Christ-honoring ways, and how to become leaders who can impact the world today and future generations for good.

And Father, for every teacher, administrator, secretary, aide, coach, cook, bus driver and school board member, we pray likewise for Your hand and Your wisdom to guide them in every decision, in every action, and in every way. We thank you for their willingness to invest positively in this generation of students.

Finally, Lord Jesus, we pray for each home to be a safe haven of rest and joy. Bless our homes and families with the light of Your presence. Make Your face to shine upon us, be gracious to us, and give us peace. In Jesus name we pray, amen.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

Warning Signs

Here’s a real warning sign at the Newcastle (South Wales) Tramway Authority: “Touching Wires Causes Instant Death. $200 Fine”. I’m thinking, that’s a pretty steep fine, especially for someone who has just been killed in a tragic accident.

Here’s another one: “Do Not Pee on the Electric Fence.” Self-explanatory. Just a bad, bad idea on several levels.

One more: “Caution – Water on Road During Rain.” You don’t say.

There’s a reason warning signs exist. I suppose there are plenty of chumps who give good reason for posting the most obvious of signs, but on the whole I’m grateful for someone who cares enough about me to warn me of possible dangers.

You know, the Bible comes complete with warnings for us, as well. And it’s because God cares enough about us to tell us of potential pitfalls and to keep us spiritually safe. The truth is that we can all act pretty foolishly and recklessly at times, as well as being ignorant to dangers all around, so we would be wise to heed the warnings.

What are some of those warnings to which we need to pay attention? Good question! Here are just three, for starters.

WARNING against forgetting God. “And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish” (Deuteronomy 8:19). The Lord God was so zealous for his people, had blessed them so abundantly, and had promised so much more good to them if they would keep His commandments, that it would have been ridiculously foolish of them to turn their back on Him. But you know how people are, and even his chosen and beloved Israel ultimately failed to heed the warning.

WARNING against the adulteress. “And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim she has laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:24-27). We could multiply the biblical warnings against sexual immorality, but this passage makes it plain. To be sure, God created the act of intimacy to be a wonderful thing in the context of the husband and wife relationship. But to ignore the warning is to go for a swim when the sign clearly says that alligators are in the water.

WARNING against false teachers. “And Jesus answered them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray’” (Matthew 24:4-5). Again, there are numerous warnings in Scripture urging believers to be on guard against false teachers and false prophets, but here Jesus specifically cautions His disciples to make sure they are not led astray. How tragic that though the path to abundant and eternal life in heaven is clearly marked in Christ Jesus, many will wander away in disbelief and find themselves lost without a trace.

Friend, let us not be foolish or reckless, but wise enough to pay close attention to the biblical warnings and experience the great reward of faithfully following the ways of the Lord.