Saturday, December 1, 2012

I don’t see how you can be any more specific about our actions, in this case, prayer; and the content of that prayer, the peace of Jerusalem.  (Ps.120:6) says, “Pray for peace in Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper.”  It’s been said before that Israel is “God’s Timeclock To The Nations.”  This means if you want to really know what’s going on in the world, especially prophetically, then keep your eyes on Israel and events in the Middle East.

The purpose of this posting is not an exhaustive Biblical and prophetic treatise on Israel and last days events. No, it comes from Joel Rosenberg’s blog and an article entitled “The Palestinians could have been celebrating the 65th anniversary of their state today.  What happened?” The article highlights specific and detailed opportunities for peace, which were road blocked or outright denied by the Arabs.  It is worth reading the entire article from the link above.

The context that inspired me was an article in today’s Wall Street Journal by Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Ron Proser.  This was provoked by the U.N. vote yesterday (11-29-12) where 138 nations declared a “State of Palestine” (41 nations abstained from voting, while only 9 nations voted against the resolution, among them the U.S., Israel, Canada etc.).  While being careful to say the right things the Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas also praised the terrorists who died in the war against Israel last week in Gaza, calling them “beloved martyrs.”

Mr. Rosenburg went on to mention the speech given by Mr. Proser.  He responds to the question, “Exactly what kind of state are we voting for?”  Here is an excerpt of what he wrote:

The Palestinian people still live in pain and poverty. Last week, the Palestinian leaders in Gaza started a war with Israel and committed more than 3,000 war crimes. Today, they want the world to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, rather than sitting down and negotiating with the Israeli government and people.

A state with no control over its territory — The Palestinian Authority has zero authority in Gaza today. Out of concern for his personal safety, President Abbas has not even seen this area with binoculars since 2007, when the Hamas terrorist organization seized control of it in a bloody coup. Demonstrating their affection for Mr. Abbas, Hamas threw members of his political party off 12-story rooftops. While members of the U.S. Congress visit their constituents on a weekly basis, President Abbas hasn’t laid eyes on almost half of the Palestinian population for six years.

A terrorist state — States recognized by the U.N. must pledge to be “peace-loving.” This month, Hamas showed its commitment to peace and love in Gaza by firing more than 1,200 rockets into Israeli cities.

An undemocratic state — Hamas has imposed brutal tyranny in Gaza, and Palestinian democracy in the West Bank is also far from Jeffersonian. President Abbas’s mandate to rule expired three years ago. He continues to personally extend it without elections or consultation from his people.

A bankrupt state — Palestinian Authority institutions remain completely dependent on foreign aid, limping from crisis to crisis. Yet this year, as the PA threatened to delay payroll for many employees, it tripled payments to convicted terrorists. Today the PA devotes 6% of its annual budget to payments for imprisoned terrorists and the families of suicide bombers, and less than 1% to higher education.

Every President in my memory has tried to tackle the problems in the Middle East in attempts at bringing about “peace.”   All of them have been unsuccessful.  Prophetically, the Bible identifies the Anti-Christ as the one finally able (on the surface) to bring about a managed peace.  At the halfway point of this 7 year treaty he himself will violate it, turning on the people of Israel. “The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him."  (Dan.9:27) Ultimately, the Middle East problem will only be resolved by the “Prince of Peace,” or Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Until then, saints, our support for Israel (besides going on a tour!) is to PRAY.  This was part of the songs sung by the pilgrims who would make their way up to Jerusalem on specific Feast Days.  “Pray for peace in Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper.  O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces.  For the sake of my family and friends, I will say,  "May you have peace."  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem.”


European Pressphoto Agency
The Palestinian people still live in pain and poverty. Last week, the Palestinian leaders in Gaza started a war with Israel and committed more than 3,000 war crimes. Today, they want the world to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, rather than sitting down and negotiating with the Israeli government and people. In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor writes a column that is worth reading and considering. He asks, “Exactly what kind of state are we voting for?” A few excerpts:
A state with no control over its territory — The Palestinian Authority has zero authority in Gaza today. Out of concern for his personal safety, President Abbas has not even seen this area with binoculars since 2007, when the Hamas terrorist organization seized control of it in a bloody coup. Demonstrating their affection for Mr. Abbas, Hamas threw members of his political party off 12-story rooftops. While members of the U.S. Congress visit their constituents on a weekly basis, President Abbas hasn’t laid eyes on almost half of the Palestinian population for six years.
A terrorist state — States recognized by the U.N. must pledge to be “peace-loving.” This month, Hamas showed its commitment to peace and love in Gaza by firing more than 1,200 rockets into Israeli cities.
An undemocratic state — Hamas has imposed brutal tyranny in Gaza, and Palestinian democracy in the West Bank is also far from Jeffersonian. President Abbas’s mandate to rule expired three years ago. He continues to personally extend it without elections or consultation from his people.
A bankrupt state — Palestinian Authority institutions remain completely dependent on foreign aid, limping from crisis to crisis. Yet this year, as the PA threatened to delay payroll for many employees, it tripled payments to convicted terrorists. Today the PA devotes 6% of its annual budget to payments for imprisoned terrorists and the families of suicide bombers, and less than 1% to higher education.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Unfortunately, I have been where the residents of Aurora, CO are, as the eyes of the nation are upon them in the wake of the horrific massacre at a movie theater last week that left 12 people dead and another 58 wounded. I live in Tucson, AZ where in January of 2011 a crazed gunman attempted to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and the violent rampage left 6 people dead, and 12 others injured. Like Colorado, it sent waves of anger, shock, grief and commentary through the city and across the land. This brings to the forefront my premise: that it seems that violence is escalating all around us, on so many different levels. You cannot help but think, what’s going on? what’s at the root of all this violence? why the increase? how will it ever end? As Christians, it should provoke us to think clearly and Biblically about what is happening in our land, all around us.


I’m not sure if most grasp the magnitude of the problem. Like a virus, it borders on the epidemic, as well as containing a very virulent strain. I could easily overwhelm you with statistics, but for the basis of discussion I will limit myself. We have the Washington, D.C. sniper, John Mohammed, who during a three week rampage, along with a teenage accomplice paralyzed cities in fear and left 10 people dead. In April of 2007, the awful massacre at VA Tech University that killed 33 people. In March of 2009, in Jonesboro, AR, there was the schoolyard shooting deaths of 4 girls, and a teacher, with 11 others injured. The culprits were two boys, ages 11 and 13. Then, there was the Fort Hood massacre carried out by Col. Nidal Hasan, who was carrying out his own personal jihad (this was not just workplace violence like some would have you believe) in the name of Allah, killing 13 people and wounding 29 others. I don’t have to get any more detailed or graphic for you to get my point: that we are witnessing an unprecedented increase of violence. No matter how many times you read or witness these events, it never prepares you for such senseless acts of brutality. Not far away from where I live is El Paso, TX, one of the safest cities in the U.S. Across the border is Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where anarchy rules. In the last two years there have been more than 5,800 murders. All that separates the two cities is a river, which tells us this is more than geographic, it is spiritual.


According to Jesus this represents a prophetic “tipping point.” He said, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matt.24:36-39) Jesus tells us if we are to fully understand the last days, we’re going to have to examine another age, and that was Noah’s days. There was a lot going on but one feature that stands out is “THE EARTH WAS FILLED WITH VIOLENCE.” (Gen.6:11-13) reveals, “Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” There was a multiplying population coupled with multiplying moral and social corruption. The “tipping point” that led to judgment was the feature of unrestrained violence that violated God’s order. “The earth was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth...I have determined to make an end of all flesh, FOR the earth is filled with violence through them.” We cannot miss the progression that stands out here: Genesis 3/Adam & Eve sinned – Genesis 4/Cain kills Abel (1st case of fratricide) – Genesis 5/Lamech kills 2 men in a revenge killing and boasts about it. Then, we come to Genesis chapter 6 which relates “the earth was filled with violence.” Like a virus, it spread and multiplied, affecting more and more people.

The comparisons with our age are irrefutable. It reflects the proliferation that defined Noah’s day. We have the constant threat of terrorism; then there is media violence; domestic violence; workplace violence (which actually coined the phrase “going Postal”); school violence (79% of students, between the age of 12-18, admit to bullying); tribal violence throughout the world; gang violence and more. Two other interesting features of our age should be noted. The first is the increase of violence among girls. From police chiefs, to school teachers, to social workers, they are all testifying to an alarming new trend in the U.S. – which is girls becoming more violent, and more often. One commented, “It’s a nationwide phenomenon, and it’s catching us all off guard.” The other feature is the popularity of extremely violent video games, which is $$ billion dollar a year industry. People, mostly young men, will line up for hours, all night if necessary, for the release of such games as Halo, Medal of Honor, Metal Gear Solid, Diablo, Black Ops. Studies have shown that exposure to these games activates the aggression center in the human brain while de-activating the emotional center. The earth was filled with violence. I’m not trafficking in hyperbole.

There are two things that stand out and should be a major concern about this “virus of violence.” The first is VIOLENCE AS ENTERTAINMENT. Graphic violence is promoted and glorified by Hollywood on a regular basis. There is such a duplicity at work: they claim to be shocked and horrified by events in Aurora, CO yet they continue to produce films filled with gratuitous violence on a regular basis. The second concern is the DE-SENSITIZING that is at work. The truly frightening thing today is the obliteration or crippling of the human conscience. This is the reason for the title of this blog posting. (Proverbs 4:17) says, “For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” I like how The Message paraphrase puts things, “Perversity is their food and drink, violence their drug of choice.” The choice of words is right on target: it acts like a drug!


It is very common for people to completely miss the point in the wake of random, senseless violence. The first is the gun control advocates who will always politicize tragic events like this. The false logic is that if guns were not available, there would be no violence, at least not to the degree that we witness today. The other response that comes almost like clockwork, is where was God in all this, or how could God allow this? When we hear about violence, it is usually the sensational aspects that grab our attention. How is it that we overlook things like the unspeakable tragedy of 52 million abortions performed in our country in the last forty years. The biggest thing we get wrong is what Jesus made very clear, “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you." (Mark 7:21-23) This is the accurate diagnosis that people want to avoid: that the source of evil lies much closer to home!

The Bible always takes us deeper, behind-the-scenes, to the true source of things. When describing what put things over the top, in God’s mind, about Noah’s generation, it says “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” What caused God to say “Enough!” (I can’t take it anymore) was the mental saturation of wickedness that gave birth to a world filled with violence. Similar to the Psalms that says, “No, in your heart you plan evil; you think up violent crimes in the land.” (Ps.58:2) The increased violence reminds us not only of our “times” but it should also tell us something about the nature of man! While evolution argues that mankind is getting better, I think the facts and reality are telling us that we are getting worse! Clay Sterret spoke truly,
“Our American society is extremely violent: we love violent movies and video games. We love violence in sports. We legally allow 4000 brutal murders of (unborn) children every day in our hospitals and clinics, and then we get shocked when a child (that we can physically see) gets brutally murdered.” 
 I think we could easily edit that to say, “then we get shocked when someone goes on a killing spree.”

I wonder if there’s any connection between increased violence and increased rejection of God’s laws and restraints? The Ten Commandments were given to restrain lawless and rebellious men. Hmmm, public schools and buildings are now being told that any public display of the “10” is “unconstitutional” and we act surprised when people act the way they do?! (Proverbs 29:18) gives us a true autopsy when it says, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Look at the connection between not giving God his rightful place and people casting off restraints?! Various translations say, “they run wild...people are uncontrolled...crime runs wild.” You see, there is a “spirit of violence” that goes beyond guns and knives and fists. Scripture talks about the “violence” of bearing a grudge, the violence of enticing others to evil, the violence of divorce (TM, “I hate the violent dismembering of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage”).


Whether you know it or not, you are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem. This victory starts in every human heart. Ultimately, we need to look to the victory that is found in a miracle of God’s grace! (Gen.6:8) gives us a “ray of light and hope” in a culture inundated with darkness and corruption. It says “but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” The only reason you or I or anyone for that matter is different is because of the grace of God! The Apostle Paul was no stranger to violence in his own life and person. His was perhaps the worst kind because it carried a self-righteous, sanctimonious sanction to it. This is why his testimony resonates so powerfully (1Cor.15:10) “But by the grace of God I am what I am....” Increased violence today should remind us all of where we might be apart from the grace of God! Charles Spurgeon was right on target when he said, “There is nothing that the worst of men have done, which the best of men could not do if they were left by the grace of God.” How true, how true!

Our police, emergency personnel, and first responders to a great job. The answer, though, has to be greater than more policemen, or better enforcement. The answer is a miracle within. One of my life verses is (2Cor.5:17)NLT which says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” We need new lives and a new kind of “violence” to characterize us: the violence of our age must be met with a “holy violence” from within us. Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt.11:12) He’s describing a kind of “holy fight” within you to do what is right. The fact is that the wrong, the evil, the unrighteousness comes natural to most of us, but we’re going to have to “fight” for what is right. The Amplified translation of that verse says, “And from the days of John the Baptist until the present time, the kingdom of heaven has endured violent assault, and violent men seize it by force [as a precious prize — a share in the heavenly kingdom is sought with most ardent zeal and intense exertion].” The grace of God will put that kind of “holy fight” within the hearts of Christ followers in these last days!

Let me close by reminding you that this involves EVERYONE of us. This is not just a bit of religious moralizing for a few, this is a truth that applies to all of humankind. The headline would have grabbed everyone’s attention. It would’ve said something like “Pilate Orders The Murder of Innocent Worshipers.” Everyone in Jerusalem and the surrounding region would’ve been talking about this. They would’ve been discussing the especially heinous aspects to this murder and act of cruel violence. I’m sure they would’ve emphasized how innocent the victims were; after all, they had simply come to Jerusalem and the Temple to worship, and perhaps take part in one of the feast days. Little did they know that Pilate would use this to send another brutal message about the might of Rome and how futile it would be for anyone to try to resist it. The people informed Jesus about what had taken place and I’m sure were eager to hear his thoughts on the matter. However, I don’t think they were prepared for what he had to say. “About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. "Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?" Jesus asked. "Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.” (Luke 13:1-3) He wasn’t advocating the violence that occurred, but he did use this to remind them (and you and I) of our own individual need to repent and get right with God. You see, the proper response to the senseless violence in Aurora, CO, should move us to pray for the families and friends of the victims. Most of all, it should serve as a reminder to every one of us of our greatest need. In the end, that grace alone, is sufficient to answer to the plague afflicting our nation. Great or small, rich or poor, no matter what your race, ethnic background or education might be: REPENT, TURN TO GOD, AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Recently, President Obama’s “evolution” on his views on marriage came to an end in both an historic and tragic milestone: the first time in history that a sitting U.S. President endorsed same-sex marriage, and basically called for the transformation and subversion of civilization’s central institution.   This earned him the cover of Newsweek Magazine’s title, “America’s First Gay President.”  While not really a surprise, observers referred to it as nothing short of a cultural earthquake.  It brought to the forefront once again in a very deep and dramatic fashion what has been dubbed, “The Culture Wars.”

While I’m not particularly fond of the term, I feel a bit like David who said “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!”  This is actually a battle that is being brought to us.  Albert Mohler Jr. said, “We are swimming in one of the most complex and challenging cultural contexts every experienced by the Christian church.  Every day brings a confrontation with cultural message, controversies, and products.  We are bombarded with advertisement, entertainments, and the chatter of the culture all around us.” The culture is a pretty broad term but it is made up of a vast network of institutions, laws, customs, and language that is a constant part of our lives, like it or not.  The problem is that many of the most cherished ideas of our culture are in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ.  Our challenge is how are we to remain faithful as Christians in this culture?  How should we think about so many of the crucial moral questions of our day?  To not think seriously about how we should respond to these challenges means that we will be swallowed up by the dominant culture.  We will fail to live and think as Christians.

The Apostle Peter addressed his own “culture wars” or, more importantly, godly living before a watching world.  Learning what it means to be Christian in the public square.  Listen to what he wrote:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to         suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.” (1Pet.3:13-17)


It is right and fair to say that economic issues (i.e. jobs; housing market; corruption & greed at all levels; massive deficits) have dominated our nation’s conversation for the last four or five years.  I’m certainly not against a good economy or a much-needed recovery; but at the same time, prosperity in itself is not a panacea.  Listen to the wisest man who ever lived and made this clear, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”  The TM says, “God-devotion makes a country strong; God-avoidance leaves people weak.”  He wants us to see that woven into the fabric of individual, family, or a nation’s well-being (or disgrace) is the issue of righteousness

What originally “sparked” my inspiration was a call being echoed for a “social truce.”  Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was the one who this is first attributed to: calling for a “truce” on social issues (which are considered divisive) going into 2012, since the gravity of the economic and fiscal challenges facing America trump all.  This idea seemed to gain traction with a lot of people.  Jeremy Mayer wrote, “It’s about the economy.  I just don’t think God, guns, gays and fetuses is really going to matter that much.”  My concern with this is that it comes from a false premise.  Peter said, vs.14, “but even if you should suffer for righteousness sake.”  Fiscal responsibilities and policies matter, but the “basic glue” and foundations for our country go beyond money.  The fallacy is that many are made to think they must choose between economic issues and social ones.  Biblically, however, they are all connected!  Charles Colson asked, “Can freedom survive where virtue isn’t able to flourish?  The response is obvious, “He knew the answer in theory.  And that answer was: No.  Virtue-less societies cannot remain free for long.  Without self-restraint, justice, love, for fellow human beings, and other virtues, eventually real chaos will follow moral chaos.”  Some of our most pressing social problems today have definite moral and ethical roots.  We only have one cause, and that is to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.  By definition and certainly by application, this will always means “engaging our culture” at a heart level.


This what caught my attention.  I heard Radio Talk Show host, Dennis Prager, say, “The last bastion of traditional moral values is the Evangelical church.”  He’s not writing as a Christian, either, but as an informed cultural observer.  This has brought to the surface the question of to what extent should Christians be involved in the political process?  I happen to agree with the late Carl F.H. Henry who addressed evangelicals and argued that disengagement from the critical issues of the day is not an option.

Peter highlights a critical role, perhaps more so today than ever before. “Who shall harm you if you become followers of what is good?  (RSV, “if you are zealous for what is right”).  God’s major tool of change is not politics, but the Church of Jesus Christ, fueled by love and a prophetic voice!  This is where you’ll find a voice of moral sanity in a very confused and dark society that fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever.” (Isa.5:20,21) The church has always challenged society because the Gospel speaks directly to the hearts of men and women.  When Scripture instructs us to love God and then to love our neighbor as ourselves, it gives us a clear mandate to the right kind of cultural engagement.  We love our neighbor because we first love God, and we display His glory by preaching the Gospel, confronting persons with God’s truth and serving as agents of salt and light in a dark and fallen world.  Loving our neighbor requires our participation in the culture and in the political process, working for the ultimate good of the culture around us. 

Jesus spelled out for us that we are to be salt and light in a fallen world, and this includes politics. "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”  The main emphasis is salt as a preservative, to arrest the putrefying process.  James Emery White wrote: “We should use our freedom to vote in any way possible to bring the Kingdom of God to greater reality.  And yes, the Kingdom of God includes the biblical understandings of marriage and family.  This is not about attempting to impose things through power, but influence.”  In Jesus’ day, the main use of salt was a preservative to keep food from rotting.  Without refrigerators or freezers, canned goods or packaging, salt was used to keep food from spoiling.  If you had a piece of meat that you couldn’t eat right away, you would take some salt and rub it into the meat, which would prevent the meat from going bad.  John Stott wrote, “The notion is not that the world is tasteless and that Christians can make it less insipid...but that it is putrefying.  It cannot stop itself from going bad.  Only salt introduced from outside can do this.  The set in the the most powerful of all restraints within sinful society to be His own redeemed, regenerate and righteous people.”  He continued, “The influence of Christians in and on society depends on their being distinct, not identical.  Unless the salt penetrates the culture, the decay cannot be arrested. 

This is behind the debate over what our engagement should be or look like in relation to the “culture wars.”  In my study, a very interesting statistic came up which was referred to as the “40/40 divine.”  “Many discuss the 4040 divide on the matter; those under forty tend to support same sex marriage, and not only believe it is pointless to engage, but harmful to Christian outreach.  Those over forty believe it is a decisive issue and that failure to speak out and resist comes at great cultural peril.”  My concern is “is the salt losing its saltiness?”
Albert Mohler wrote again, “There is no time for silence or for shirking our responsibilities as Christian citizens.  Ominous signs of moral collapse and cultural decay not appear on our contemporary horizon.  A society ready to put the institution of marriage up for demolition and transformation is a society losing its most basic moral sense.  A culture ready to treat human embryos as material for medical experimentation is a society turning its back on human dignity and the sacredness of human life.”


Jesus Christ was no stranger to culture wars.  On a number of occasions He was drawn (attempted) into His generation’s “culture wars”!  Whether it involved paying taxes (Mark 12:13-17), or the touchy subject of marriage and divorce (Matt.19:3-8).  Then there was the debate over social justice where He was asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  The whole Sermon on the Mount (masterpiece) could easily be looked at as Jesus’ treatment of the culture wars, “You have heard....but, I say unto you.”

If we visit our text, Peter spells out for us a winning strategy for us to engage our culture for Christ.  There is no time for silence or for shirking our responsibilities as Christian citizens.

  1. WE MUST GIVE GOD HIS RIGHTFUL PLACE, vs.15a “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” The answer to maybe 90% of life’s problems can be boiled down to our hearts.  Is Christ Lord and at home there?

  2. FOCUS ON REASONED WITNESS, vs.15b, “always be prepared to give answer to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  There should be an authenticity of content about why you’re living the way you are.

  3. ALWAYS MAINTAIN A GRACIOUS ATTITUDE, vs.15c, “with gentleness and respect.”  He’s referring to the manner that we engage people with the truth of the Gospel.

  4. LIVE THAT WHICH GIVES VALIDITY TO WHAT YOU SAY, vs.16, “having a good conscience....good conduct.”  Peter says there will always be those who will speak against you, but a good testimony will win out in the end!

  5. REMEMBER, THIS WILL COST YOU SOMETHING, or there’s always a price for doing what’s right.  You will never be able to remove the scandal or offense of the Cross to the carnal mind. 

Today when people “lose their religion” well, you must blog about it or at least be interviewed.  You know, a “why I left” treatise.  It’s one thing when people leave because of an unloving attitude, but another it it’s over a moral stance that the Bible commands us to take!  The “bookends” of Jesus’ ministry was that “He came preaching repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” and he concluded with, “and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  To quote James Emery White: “THIS, BELOVED, IS ONE CULTURE WAR THAT WE CANNOT AVOID.”  Over the next six months or so, it is my desire to help us think Biblically, and bring a reasoned voice of leadership to the issues of freedom and virtue, and ultimately for God to “heal our land.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My practice of preaching a “theme” for the new year, and of late, incorporating this into our Conference theme, was never intended to be a gimmick or trafficking in mere sloganism.  No, it is based on the conviction that the Holy Spirit is truly saying something to the church, at strategic times and places.  I consider Conference to be one of those times in our lives and churches.  This theme in part, then, becomes a reference and rallying-point for our faith as we move forward in God’s will throughout the year.

The inspiration “At All Costs” predates my personal medical conditions last year, 2011.  That wouldn’t make it inspiration but it would be projection of my challenges on to everyone else.  That is certainly not my intention.  Where it originated was the testimony of Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor who was arrested and convicted in Iran, and is facing the death penalty. What is his crime?  They call it apostasy, but it is in fact believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and being a faithful pastor in an Islamic country.  Right then and there I was “quickened” with the thought, at all costs.  Whether you are a pastor persecuted for your faith and faithfulness to the Gospel, or a housewife raising a Christ-centered family, or a plumber or teacher working a job but your main calling in life is to glorify Christ, or a student, or a lay leader in your church: we can ALL be faithful to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The price tag is always the same: at all costs!  There are 3 potent truths that this is meant to present to our minds.  Think about them with me for just a bit.

Our Costly Salvation

This is the starting point for everything.  The foundation for our lives, our faith, our hope, our eternity, our service to God is based on the price paid by Jesus Christ for our salvation.  At the center of redemption is the love-motivated, obedient-to-His-Father self-sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  John tells us, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1John 4:9,10) This is why we never move beyond of the Cross of Jesus Christ, for it is our measure and model, because it reveals two awesome realities.  First, it reveals for us the character of God.  Everything originated in the heart of God, and I can only truly grasp His character when I look to the Cross.  The second thing is it reveals the way to live as the redeemed and loved children of God.  John again told us, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1John 5:2,3)

Our Costly Service

I was intrigued by a question that was posed to a pastor of a huge mega-church, that over all the years what was the hardest topic he’s had tried to get across?  The hardest truth and theme to convey to people?  Without hesitation, he replied, “Becoming totally devoted to Christ.” One of the facts that church history teaches is that a leader can do more through a handful of totally devoted believers than through a Church full of half-hearted ones.  What’s so powerful about this is that it presents us with a a clear purpose for life.  The sub-title, “Serving God’s Purpose in Your Generation” gives a life context for every believer and follower of Jesus Christ.  The text tells us that David chose to center his life on serving and doing the will of God in every season and phase of life.  This gave him and you and I a singular focus for our lives.  Success in the Bible is only measured in the context of God’s will, where we shift from being devoted from living for my will to living for God’s will.  Grace, though wonderfully free, is by no means cheap but, true grace inspires both committed and costly service.  We’re talking about the driving force in our lives.  What gets you up in the morning and powers you through each day?  What floats your boat?  For David, for Paul, and for a host of others, it was the cause of Christ.  Jim Collins who has written extensively on the subject of leadership coined this phrase, “Level 5 Leader.”  This refers to someone who “blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”  They are very often strong leaders.  Collins went on, “their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves...for the company and concern for its success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.
How should I look at my life?  The Lord’s call is certainly beyond just comfort, east, or worldly success.  Life is a sacrifice, so offer it! (2Tim.4:6,7) “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  Life is also a currency, so spend it!  (2Cor.12:15) “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”

“Our Costly Sacrifice”

David grasped this in a powerful way!  When he chose to offer sacrifice to avert the plague that had descended on the land and was killing thousands of people, (2Sam.24:23-25) gives us the account, “All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king." And Araunah said to the king, "The Lord your God accept you."  But the king said to Araunah, "No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.”  He said he would not offer God that which did not cost him personally.  He knew that if he accepted Araunah’s gracious offer, there would be a missing element to his offering. 

This is why, beloved, to this day there is no such thing as “no cost” discipleship or Church planting.  I’m sorry, it does not exist.  Looking for bargains may be fine when shopping or doing business, but not the things of God.  There is a “cost factor” to all things.  We’re not talking here about the “fine print” but something that Jesus put right up front.  I think we’re all the same in many ways.  Most of us don’t look forward to reading the fine print in contracts and manuals like mobile phone contracts, or the licensing agreement in software purchase that ask you to click “Agree.”  Jesus spelled this out in discipleship, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?   Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28-33) The very essence of the Christian life is to give up our lives to Christ; to say “no” to yourself and give your life over totally to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, there is a cost to doing God’s will; but there’s also a cost to compromise and not doing God’s decide!

As we begin our 2012 Bible Conference, I trust that the Holy Spirit will take God’s Word and this theme, and cause it to powerfully resonate in our lives and bring encouragement and fresh strength to our lives, our families, our ministries, and our careers.  I don’t have adequate words to express my gratitude for the faithful saints of God in our church in particular, which have been faithful to “serve God’s purpose in our generation.” Not because of coercion, but motivated by the love of God, they continue to invest and seek to be fruitful in every season of life.  In investment, there is what’s called the “risk-to-reward” ratio that must be considered: how much risk are we willing to bear in order to see an abundant return.  Jesus has already made clear for each and everyone of us how that correlates to serving Him. “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”  In other words, He said you can take this to the bank: YOU WILL NEVER BE A LOSER IF YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE FOR GOD’S PURPOSE AND GOD’S GLORY!

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