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If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you may know that back in April 2018, the Lord spoke to me very strongly that judgment was coming. No details were given about when, or where, or how. The manifestation of that word and warning was so powerful that I wept. I feel compelled to share that warning with as many people as possible, although my voice is very small. These verses give me pause:

“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand” (Ezekiel 33:6).1

Now, I do not believe that the Lord will require my blood, but I take His admonition seriously to heart.

It is obvious, I think, that the United States is a post-Christian nation. I do not know how long that has been true. I have known for over forty years that the Christian culture was still relatively strong, but cultural traditions have only limited strength. We have seen the unraveling of those traditions in those forty or so years, and, because they were only traditions, that disintegration should not surprise. Some of my Charismatic friends tell me that the words they have heard in various meetings have been of revival. I can only hope those words are true prophecy; but both the coming judgment on this country accompanied by revival could certainly be true.

In the meantime, we must deal with the reality that the United States is currently under God’s judgment. I know this because of what Paul wrote in the book of Romans: People, although knowing God exists, do not glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. Thus, they became “futile in their speculations,” “their foolish heart was darkened,” and “they became fools,” although they professed they were wise (Romans 1:21–23).

Does this sound like the honored and wise people in the United States today? Oh, yes. The cultural meme is that science overrules all, especially ancient superstitions. Christians have become anti-science because they believe God created all things as opposed to chance and random mutations over eons. We are authoritarian fascists because we don’t believe that a woman’s right to her body trumps murdering helpless babies. We are bigots because we don’t believe that people’s rights to identify as any gender, non-gender, whatever gender, must hold true. They have a right to identify as anything they choose, regardless of obvious biological facts. Thus, human rights trump God’s obvious truth in both Scripture and reality.

Talk about foolish, darkened thinking.

Three things happen to such people, Paul wrote in Romans. God gave them over:

“…in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them” (Romans 1:24).

“…to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” (Romans 1:26–27).

“…to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28–32).

Since the United States has rejected God, His “giving-them-over” judgments are happening right now. Since people’s minds have become debased, they do the things Paul listed in verses 28–32. The first two results are clearly immoral sexual behavior and homosexuality. Such people not only do such things but give “approval to those who practice them.” People joke about sexual flings. “She took lovers wherever she found them,” one interviewer chuckled along with the audience, while talking about a prominent, deceased, foreign correspondent. In film, people sleeping with those they have just met is common. Virginity is rare; even ridiculed. We are now required to give approval to sinful and aberrant behavior. We are not only to accept it but to join in and celebrate it; otherwise, we are non-inclusive, cis-gendered, hostile-to-diversity, un-woke, puritanical bigots. Nevertheless, God’s word holds true:

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20–21).

Judgment is coming.

It is already here.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

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Catastrophes. Everywhere.

What—or who—causes them?

One can run through the list of natural disasters in the United States and the world—I was surprised how many there were—to see the cost in human lives and wealth. New Orleans and Katrina. Hurricane Maria in 2017 which struck the East Coast, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and in that same year, Hurricane Harvey, which mangled Texas and Louisiana. The earthquake and tsunami that overwhelmed Southeast Asia in 2004 and took a quarter of a million lives. What caused these calamities? Is it Mother Nature/Earth raging, paying us back for what we have done to her? That is a silly, superstitious attempt at anthropomorphism to give Mother Nature/Earth motives and will. The second explanation for weather-related disasters is just a guess. Global warming or climate change. Weather disasters occurred for many years before temperatures began to rise or the climate changed, whatever that means. And earthquakes? Just the Earth doing its thing.

How about disasters caused by humans? The attack on Pearl Harbor. The starvation of 600 million Chinese in the Great Leap Forward. The Great Purge under Stalin. Forty million dead in World War I; sixty million in World War II. The attempt by Nazis to annihilate the Jews. Two million killed under Pol Pot. Eight hundred thousand slaughtered, mostly with machetes, in the Rwandan Genocide. The Twin Towers. The mass shooting in Las Vegas. School massacres. To these we assign motive or try to. “Why did people do these things?” we ask over and over again, with no real answers from a human perspective. Christians maintain that these terrors are the result of sin and the fallenness of mankind. This answer, of course, is rejected out of hand by the unbelieving. No, they are more likely to mock God and His followers, saying, “Your God is either impotent or doesn’t care. You can’t have it both ways.” Is that true? Is the Lord impotent? Does He care about human suffering? Can’t He stop both natural and human disasters?

Of course He could. God is sovereign over all things. Nothing happens on the earth or in the universe that He doesn’t cause or allow. Many Christians, however, reject this truth. Certainly, their God would not do this. He loves the world. He brings life and hope, not horrendous events.

Apparently, these Christians have not read the Old Testament.

Or I guess they think God got saved between the Old and New Testaments.

Consider this verse: “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6b).1 This is a rhetorical question. The obvious answer the Lord required was, “No.”

And this: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things (Isaiah 45:7).

I think the common response to these two verses would be, “That’s the Old Testament. Things are different now.” This untruth brings to mind some Christian women we met in a Mexican town in which we lived a few years ago, who were, sadly, asking God to reveal to them their sins which had made them sick. I brought up Job, whom God caused to suffer without giving a reason why. One responded, “That was in the Old Testament.”

So, I suppose we are to ignore the horrifying prophesies and warnings from the Savior whom they consider always only gentle and kind, that the Lord was going to destroy the temple and Jerusalem—which He did—at great human cost. Josephus wrote that 1.1 million Jews died in 70 A.D., and 97,000 enslaved by the Romans and their army.

Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has done it? Does He make well-being and create calamity? We can read these truths plainly in Scripture.

However, a caution. We must remember this passage: “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1–5).

It is not for us to know why God brings disasters to pass. Therefore, it would be unwise, unjust, and harmfully ignorant for us to claim that the Lord brought calamity at a certain time to a certain place because of the sinful people there. Really? All of them were sinners and deserved this earthly justice? What about the place where you live? Any sinners there? Believers suffer these catastrophes along with unbelievers. The principal thing, Jesus said, is that we repent and come to know Him.

Everyone dies by some means or another. The years between adolescent and elderly is, in eternity’s scope, one flutter of a humming bird’s wing. It’s a matter of knowing the Lord that ultimately matters.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

 

 

 

 

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If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you have probably heard this statement: “If you find the perfect church don’t join it because then it won’t be perfect.” In other words, “It is futile to search for a perfect church. It doesn’t exist. But if you actually could find one, it would no longer be perfect because you’re a sinner, and it would therefore be imperfect when you joined. Get a clue, Christian. You’re a sinner like all the rest of us.” This has a humorous ring of truth to for those whom we perceive are perpetually unhappy with churches. A more amusing story, however, is this one: The crew on a ship in the South Pacific saw a man alone on a deserted island, waving his arms to flag them down. Some sailors boarded a small rescue boat and sped over to the man. They found him in ragged clothes and underfed. Three little huts stood behind him. They asked him what the hut on the left was for.

“That’s where I live.”

They asked him what the middle hut was for.

“That’s my church.”

They asked him what the third hut was for.

“That’s the church I left.”

Mea culpa: I once thoughtlessly agreed with this meme of unhappy church hoppers. Ah, but I was so much younger—and unthinking then.

Well, since we are older and wiser—hopefully—let’s think about this unhappy-church-hopper meme for a moment. Will just any church that you join be satisfactory? Is it as simple as, “All churches are imperfect because they are full of sinners saved by grace just like you and me.”? Does it matter which church I join?

Of course, it does.

Should I just join any church full of sinners like me?

Of course not. Those who repeat this meme wouldn’t, either.

Do Catholics join Lutheran and Reformed churches? Why wouldn’t they? Isn’t the church full of sinners just like they are?

Do Evangelical, Reformed, or Pentecostal believers join Catholic churches? Why wouldn’t they? Aren’t those churches full of sinners just like they are?

Do Evangelicals join churches that sing old hymns, catechize members, and have responsive readings from Scripture, and creeds and confessions from church history? Why wouldn’t they? Aren’t those churches full of sinners just like they are?

Would many Christians join a church that used only the King James bible and claimed it was the only true interpretation? Why not?

Would many Baptists or Lutherans or Reformed folks join Pentecostal or Charismatic churches? Why not? No church is perfect and neither are they.

Would many Pentecostals or Charismatics join Baptist, Lutheran, or Reformed churches? Why not? Aren’t those churches full of sinners just like they are?

Would Baptists join a church that doesn’t immerse believers at baptism?

And on and on we go.

So, we see that the prevailing always-unhappy-church-shopper meme is shallow and disingenuous. The very people who promote it attend churches for their own specific reasons. Certainly, it is biblical that we are sinners saved by faith and grace who are to gather together: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25).1 But let’s think about this for a moment. What does that gathering look like? A Reformed church? An Evangelical church? A Catholic church? A Pentecostal church? What biblical evidence do we have? Not much at all, except in the case of Corinth. Except for that church, we have no idea how these churches “did services.”

Believers should feel free to find a church that glorifies God and His Son Jesus Christ and preaches the truth of His Word alone. That may be difficult. Don’t compromise yourself because of a misleading meme.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

 

 

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I have been baffled—no, saddened is the better word—at the lack of attention pastors and leaders pay to the requirements for discipleship in Luke 14. The evangelical church has classes on discipleship. Pastors teach from the pulpit about discipleship. What are we taught? We should pray. We should read our Bibles. We should go to church and be in a small group. We should be good parents and spouses and should wisely manage our finances. We should love God and one another. Yes. But why is Luke 14 avoided? If you have a passage where Jesus said, “You cannot be My disciple if…” shouldn’t we all teach it? Use it as a baseline for discipleship? Perhaps the reader is asking, “What is the passage to which you refer?” Here:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26–27).1 This is a vital teaching. He sums it up in verse thirty-three. “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

So, we can be Bible readers, pray-ers, church and small group attendees, and all the rest, but if we don’t love Jesus more than our families, be willing literally to die for Him, and renounce all that we have, all that reading and praying and good behavior does not move us to a place of discipleship.

At least as far as Jesus is concerned.

A few years ago, Laurie and I traveled to Malaysia to meet with leaders about the possibility of finding a ministering place as missionaries. We had a great time meeting some wonderful people. As is usual in such things, I was asked to speak at a few venues. The venue we enjoyed most was a small-group Bible study. However, as is often the case with foreign visitors, I also spoke at a couple of larger venues. The topic I chose for both of those times was discipleship and Luke 14. The first was Saturday night. The reception was good but muted. However, Sunday morning proved to be an eye-opener.

Perhaps I should call it an eye-closer.

I spoke to a group of around 150 people. However, before we proceed further to that Sunday morning, a little background.

The overwhelming determiner in judging “effective” preaching is—and has been for some time—audience response. Therefore, speakers tell jokes, funny, thought-provoking, or tear-jerking stories, and address topics that “meet people’s needs.” Preaching is a performance. It is so common that we don’t even think about it anymore. We judge the morning’s message and say, “Good job, pastor.” I know this performance standard well. You just don’t get on stages unless you’re a walloping good communicator according to cultural standards. Unfortunately, this kind of preaching has nothing whatsoever to do with biblical standards. None at all. I encourage the reader to study the first three chapters of First Corinthians. Read it with the current state of the church in mind. The church at Corinth was divided over which leader they were to follow. Peter? Paul? Apollos? Who was the most effective teacher and leader? In addressing this, Paul wrote, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5).

Funny stories and jokes were not the standard in Paul’s time: lofty speech and the wisdom of men (thus not biblical wisdom) were. He denied those two standards because he did not want his listeners to have their faith in anything but the power of God. Obviously, non-biblical jokes and stories with a topical “felt needs” teaching don’t get us there either.

So. Back to Malaysia. I spoke on Luke 14:26-32. I made an invitation for those who wanted to be disciples according to Jesus’ requirements to come forward and pray.

Nothing. No sound. No movement whatsoever.

It was awkward. It was awkward because I was waist deep in the enculturation of the “you-must-perform” standard. (This is progress. I was once neck deep.) As I stepped down from the platform, I told myself the truth, which was that the Holy Spirit must make the words of God real. I do not have that ability. He does. But living for decades in worldly performance standards hung on me like a stinking carcass. As I thought through it all, I worked with the Lord’s help to shake that carcass off. I knew I had preached the truth of God’s word. However, now I think I should have walked down off the platform, faced it, and knelt and prayed. It is not possible that everyone in the meeting that morning had met the rigorous standards Jesus presented in Luke 14. I should have prayed for this church that for whatever reason had rejected the message of the cost of discipleship. I should have prayed that the Lord would be merciful for that rejection, that He would open their hearts and minds, that they would be willing be live a sacrificial life as Jesus commands.

We cannot be His disciples unless we do.

His words, not mine.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

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Sick to death of politics? Concerned about it? Even fearful?

God gets that. It’s not that He’s sick and tired of them or concerned. Of course not. But happy with the situation? Not at all. He never has been. But let’s look at biblical reality. He uses nations to perform His will. He is the great driver of human history, not kings or countries. For example, He chose pagan Babylon to punish His people, to destroy the temple as well as Jerusalem. He used pagan Rome to do the same. Finally, He will use nations to accomplish His will at the end of days:

“And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army” (Revelation 19:19).1

Jesus will be, after all, king of all those gathered kings.

And He is king of all rulers and leaders, now, right at this moment.

One of the rivers running through Scripture is the kingdom of man in opposition to the sovereign kingdom of God. The biblical view of secular kingdoms is rarely positive. No secular government on earth exists today or ever has existed that was fatally not flawed from the beginning; and, yes, including the United States. Are the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights the best documents devised by mankind for principles and laws with which to govern people—a democratic republic? I believe so. None devised is better. But look where we are now. The United States has turned its back on God and found a way to allow godlessness to be the accepted law of the land. It is legal to murder children. It is settled law that homosexuality is acceptable. I understand the arguments for these things, and they are centered in the rights of the individual. Thus, we see that the rights of the individual, which at its genesis seemed so right and good, has now joined hands with the works of sin. We have seen and are seeing the devolovement of the idea of human rights in the U.S. today. Sad, but true.

This has surprised Christians, but it shouldn’t. The United States is one the kingdoms of the world. It will never work its way toward godliness in its own strength, by passing laws. The future of Christian freedom in the United States is uncertain. But no matter: One day, this nation will no longer exist. Neither will any other government, no matter how good and godly they consider themselves. Why? Because God has ordained it. He has given the nations over to the evil effects of power, money, status, and influence. The greed of man. The sinfulness of man.

All the men and women of Scripture had to deal with such earthly systems, including and especially Jesus Himself. We see this vividly in His life. However, it was not a nation’s authoritarian power—Rome—that was His primary adversary. That role was fulfilled by another form of power, money, influence, and status: religion—in this case Judaism. Those religious leaders so lusted after and demanded power that they would not brook the existence of any rival even though that rival was God Himself. Jesus, of course, was not intimidated nor did He back down from that power. Jesus was not a revolutionary in the political sense, though some think Him so. True, He spoke “truth to power.” However, He spoke no truth except God’s truth—the only “true” truth. This speaking and accompanying actions infuriated the keepers of the keys to power, the scribes, lawyers, and Pharisees. If we consider their actions we will see how far men will go to retain their grasp on power. Yes, they will murder people they consider a threat.

Even God Incarnate.

Speaking the truth of God often makes people angry and desirous to stifle it. But we must speak it. Let us not be fearful as our nations descend. “For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: ‘Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread’” (Isaiah 8:11–13).

Do not fear what they fear, the Lord said, but fear Me. A kingdom is coming the ruler of which is the perfectly strong, perfectly wise, perfectly just, merciful God, one who cannot die, whose kingdom and the believers within it are eternal. Think about that for a moment. If you are a believer in Jesus, you are an eternal member of an eternal government. But the transitory nations of men?

“All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17).

Sick to death of politics? Concerned? Fearful? Lord, help us hold to the view that embraces the hope of eternity; to a time when the governments and things of man are accounted as less than nothing and emptiness.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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I heard a Baptist say recently that the average Baptist is baptized 3.3 times during his or her lifetime. I’m not sure about the decimal, but the figure was over three. The man reckoned that the first baptism was as a child out of a desire to do what the family and parents advocated. The second was during the teen years because the person didn’t think the child baptism was valid. The third was in the person’s late twenties when he or she regretted their sinful foolhardiness in the teen and college years.

When does a person truly become a Christian?

It is a trite answer but true: God knows. I hope we have, by now, rejected the common evangelical understanding that a prayer prayed with just the right words after coming forward at an invitation is a one-and-done. Boom. Salvation. You’re good. Is salvation possible after such a prayer? Absolutely. Unfortunately, too often, it is not.

In the light of the truth that only God knows the condition of one’s heart, let’s consider the man Nicodemus. If you are a Christian, you know well the account of Jesus and His encounter with this Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. He wanted to talk to Jesus but was afraid of the repercussions from his fellows. Anyone who has wielded power even in a minor sense would understand the pressure that ensues based upon his or her decisions concerning the Lord. Should we criticize Nicodemus for that? Easy to do from our armchairs. Thus, he came at night, looking for answers. This is a positive thing. After all, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a).1 Was the Father drawing this man?

Upon arriving, Nicodemus made a statement of belief, it seems: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). However, Jesus knew that miracles do not always lead to belief. So, He gives this baffling response: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), to which Nicodemus responds with incredulity. Wouldn’t you have? “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4).

So, Jesus offered some more information, which Nicodemus also did not understand and which we wouldn’t have, either: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). In other words, this is spiritual stuff, Nicodemus. You won’t be able to comprehend it with your natural mind—just like you didn’t understand being born again.

Jesus continued to teach Nicodemus and said in sum, “God loves the world so much that He sent Me, His Son, to bring eternal life, and you are expected to believe that.”

John chapter three ends without a further word.

Was this the last we are to hear of Nicodemus? No. No, because the process of salvation, which may be occurring in this case, is often a strange, slow path.

When we see Nicodemus again it is in a very positive light. Remember, he was a ruler of the Jews and therefore present at the trial of Jesus. He rose to His defense. “Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’ They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee’” (John 7:50–52).

Something was going on in this man’s heart. He was risking the derision of his fellow ruling Jews. If he pushed it, expulsion from the synagogue—a social and economic disaster.

However, that is not the last we see of Nicodemus. We see him again performing a worthy deed. “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews” (John 19:39–40). Seventy-five pounds. That’s a lot of spices It would take planning and labor to gather and transport them. Did he load them on a donkey? We don’t know all of those who were there, but from this account it was only Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who were about this distressing task.

We see three snapshots of Nicodemus in the book of John. The first did not give us a very clear picture of what was going on in his confused heart. Had he sorted things out by the time he stood in Jesus’ defense when He was on His way to His glorious sacrifice? When he brought the spices? Was he a believer? God knows. But remember Jesus’ commendation for the woman who anointed Him for burial: “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:8–9).

Nevertheless, we do not know the nature of Nicodemus’ final status with God. But we should learn here that we often see snapshots of people whom we encounter who are doubtful, confused, and bewildered by what their eyes have seen, and their ears have heard. Our job? To communicate the truth, as Jesus did, speaking of spiritual realities, but not with the thinking of natural man. The Father will draw them. The Holy Spirit will give witness to the truth.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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It is the beginning of a new year; a time for a look back as well as forward. A time for assessing one’s life and a dedication to make it better.

And, apparently, a time for casting a vision.

If that last sentence surprises you a little, it’s because that is not how you and I speak of ourselves. If you want to cut back on sugar and carbs and exercise more to lose weight, do you cast a vision to do so?

No. This is how corporations speak of themselves.

And churches, apparently.

If you attend a church, it is possible that this is the time of year when your leadership “casts a vision” or lays out your church’s “vision” for the year ahead. Perhaps we should ask this question: What does Scripture say about “vision casting”? There is no such practice by believers in the New Testament, unless we view the host of commands in Scripture as Jesus and the apostles “casting vision.” So, am I to cast a vision to love God and others more? Worthy “vision,” to be sure. However, what, exactly, are the visionary steps I should take to love God and others more? It seems to be there are only four steps I need to cast such a vision: Try to love God and neighbor more. Ask God for help to do so. Repent when I fail. Get up and try again.

But then I could not write a book about vision casting.

It would be a rather short book.

However, it seems some of our churches think the air they breathe is different than ours. Their sheep, they think, need to have a vision cast at, to, or before them so they can, um, be obedient? Believe Scripture? But here’s what’s really going on here. The subterranean meme behind this is: A leader is not a successful leader if he doesn’t cast a vision for his church.

Dr. Richard J. Krejcir wrote over a decade ago:

One of the top 10 healthy and influential churches in the world, that sends more missionaries (over 200, not including short term and part timers) than most denominations, has this simple Vision: “We are followers of Jesus Christ, ministers together, empowered by the Holy Spirit and guided by God’s Word.” And their value statement is, “We are committed to honoring God through worship and personal lifestyle, caring for one another, equipping one another for ministry and communicating God’s love to the world.” This church (Lake Avenue Church, Pasadena, Ca) has over 6,000 members and 35 pastors following this simple decree! 1

Now we have come to the crux of the matter. It is about your church becoming successful.

So, we should ask a question in the middle of our success-driven culture which exerts so much influence over us: Was Jesus successful?

“Yes, of course!” every believer will proclaim.

At what did He succeed? How did He achieve that success?

What was His “vision”? He tells us.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). 2

What “hour” was this? What purpose was this? What was His vision?

To die, to be punished for our sin.

And to be resurrected, conquering death, sin, hell, and the grave.

Jesus commands us to follow Him in a caravan of death:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

Those who heard Jesus say these things had no allusions about their meaning. They saw crosses with bodies hanging on them all the time.

Will such a “vision” make your church “successful”? Jesus’ vision for your church is not that it becomes “successful.”

It is that believers in your church are willing to literally die, if necessary, to follow their Savior.

Take that vision and cast it. See what happens.

 

1http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=41940

2All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

200r

To all those who read this blog, all over the world:

May you have a happy celebration of our Creator God coming to earth in the body of a baby, our Lord who came to redeem and save us.

Best to you, and may the Lord bless you and your families.

A merry and peaceful Christmas from Laurie and me to you!

 

Gif courtesy giphy.com

200w

Perhaps you’re surprised I would ask the question in the title.

Please allow me to explain myself.

Jesus was and is God Almighty incarnate. The Creator of everything: time, space, gravity, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and all creatures that exist—in the body of a human being. This Creator God, innocent and holy, chose to come to Earth to be mocked, sacrifice Himself, and suffer punishment to free from slavery and sin the people He had created.

Yes. The Creator of all things purposed to be hated and die.

The birth of Jesus is a wonder-beyond-words event, unlike any other in the history of the world. How would you have announced it? Don’t hurry to answer this question. To spur your thinking, how would you announce that a famous speaker was coming to your church? Would you drive out into a rural area and tell some people who were harvesting strawberries or picking apples? Who were wrangling cattle? Well, that’s something like how the Lord did it. After an angel appeared to a group of shepherds out in a field and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10–12)1, this happened:

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13–14).

Just another night in shepherd paradise, right? Can you imagine? This had never happened before and would never happen again. A whole bunch of angels standing and praising the Lord right in front of the bewildered shepherds.

So, in our I-wouldn’t-do-it-that way scenario, the ranch and orchard laborers would be standing in a field or in a copse of trees seeing perhaps hundreds—we’re not told the number—a multitude—of angels praising God. That might change one’s perspective. You might lay down your work gloves, or climb off the ladder, or stop moving cows, and just let your jaw drop open.

This marvelous, beautiful, heaven-sent announcement and praising was in front of a few dirty, probably not-so-good-smelling shepherds.

Nothing wrong with shepherds. Scripture is full of positive examples, most notably David and Jesus. But, let’s be honest—these shepherds were poverty-stricken nobodies. They had voices, but they were small. They did not have the power to issue decrees, announcements, or proclamations. Just some guys with a boring job punctuated by moments of terror from the attacks of deadly beasts.

Why didn’t God choose a better method—from our way of thinking—of announcing this stupendous, world-changing event?

Really, Lord? Shepherds?

Yes. You’ve already thought of the answer. His ways are not our ways.

However, we should bring to mind the words the Lord put in Mary’s mouth when the fetus of John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb. Her praise included scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, bringing down the mighty, exalting the humble, filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:46-55).

Is it safe to say that scattering the proud in their thoughts might include powerful economic, religious, and political leaders not being told their Creator was born?

So, where does this put Christian believers this Christmas?

In humility’s place, I hope. In understanding that the people the Lord chooses are rarely those of high esteem and more often people like poor, unknown shepherds. He didn’t want nor need the high and mighty for this task.

He wanted the nobodies.

That’s just the way He works.

Really, Lord? Shepherds?

Yes.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

200w

From my very first days as a Christian, the Lord embedded me in the Pentecostal/Charismatic church, and I thank Him for it. In my years there, I heard many prophecies. I can remember almost nothing of those given publicly, but I would say that most of them—perhaps all of them—were encouraging and uplifting. As I have continued to learn Scripture, however, I found that my position on the nature of prophecy has changed. In both the Old and New Testaments, prophecies are not always encouraging and uplifting. On a personal note, this was gratifying as well, since most of the prophecies or words I had been given were not positive.

Pentecostals/Charismatics today hold to the position that prophecies are positive, I think, because of this passage:

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). 1

However, I now think that we have misunderstood the complete meaning of prophecy.

Prophecy is both negative and positive.

The negative usually comes first.

For example, all throughout the book of Jeremiah, the Lord told the prophet many times that He was going to send sword, famine, and pestilence upon Judah because they had forsaken Him. However, He often pronounced positives like this:

Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD (Jeremiah 23:3–4).

Bad news. Good news.

Terrible, suffering news. Good news, which ultimately builds up the Church because it brings hope to the sufferer, letting us know that He is the true sovereign of history and the Church. Thus, it’s true that prophecy is for the building up of the saints.

This truth brings us to another suffering, terrible word from Jeremiah that should make Christians more than a little uncomfortable. I was shaken when the truth of it was made known to me.

And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity’” (Jeremiah 15:2).

God’s sovereign will is revealed here. If you’re destined for pestilence, for sword, for famine, or for captivity, that is what will happen to you. When we read this, we just think, “Wow. Those Jews in Judah really blew it when they disobeyed God. They were destined for pestilence, the sword, and famine.”

Well, it is more than that, because not all the Jews had forsaken God; nevertheless, all suffered this disquieting sovereign judgment. This should make Christians more than a tad uncomfortable because it is echoed in the Book of Revelation, and it concerns Christian believers. Look for the same words the Lord gave Jeremiah: captivity and sword. The “it” who makes war on the saints refers to a being that is called the “first beast.”

Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints (Revelation 13:7–10).

But then comes the positive. The end of the book of Revelation.

But believers will suffer before that ending. Bad news. Good news. The marriage supper of the Lamb. The new heaven and earth. The New Jerusalem.

Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals may say, “We shall not suffer in this way. We are God’s children.”

But look at this passage from Ezekiel:

And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 14:12–14).

Do you see the words, “when a land”? The Lord is not addressing Israel or Judah here. Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in this “land,” they would also suffer famine along with everyone else.

The Lord has some bad times coming for believers. Then some eternally wonderful positive-beyond-imagination times.

This is the nature of true prophecy.

Fellow believer, strengthen your relationship with the Lord. Stay awake. Strengthen your faith. Prepare to endure.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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