Duped and disarmed

Though God the Father ordained the cross to deal with sin… Jesus was also nailed to the cross via the actions of secondary agents —rulers and authorities — such as Pilate, the Sanhedrin, and even Satan.

The “rulers and authorities” of Rome and Israel, as well as their father the Devil, disarmed Jesus, stripped Him naked, held Him up to open shame, and celebrated what they thought was their triumph over Him.

But despite these horrific details of the death that Jesus died, its paradoxical: for on the cross, God was disarming the powers, stripping them naked, triumphing over them, and holding them up to public contempt.

What Satan thought to be the end of his hated enemy once and for all, turned out to be the complete opposite. Death did not have the final say, for God raised His Son from the dead, proving that He is sovereign and evil does not get the last word.

In many parts of the world today, and in nearly all cultures, there are a lot of superstitions, which are conjured up to help protect people from the very real threat of what we know to be demons, even if they go by other names elsewhere.

But, thanks be to God, as Christians, we need never fear this dark demonic domain, for when Christ was crucified and raised from death to life, Satan realized he had been duped and disarmed.

John Calvin says that the demons “are disarmed, so that they cannot bring forward anything against us… our guilt being itself destroyed.” Demonic powers cannot rightly accuse those who are in Christ of guilt, nor can they possess Christians or separate us from God’s love.

So, this Easter, revel in the fact that Satan can no longer hold your guilt against you, he’s been disarmed and put to shame. We are the victors in Christ!

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” Colossians 2:15

Restless hearts

Every year – when I was a pastor to youth in the Bay Area in California – I took a large group of young people to a small village in Mexico. We would camp right in the center of town next to the church. Besides conducting a week long vacation Bible school for the children and nightly worship services, over the years, we built a new church and a public play ground in the park.

When I think back over those years, and reminisce about what we accomplished for the Kingdom of God, I believe the greatest impact took place in the hearts and minds of each American teenager, as they encountered a dichotomy. They were experiencing the happiest people they had ever met, who possessed nothing of material value. These folks were dirt poor, yet they were genuinely happy, and their lives were full of purpose and meaning.

Gallup did a survey of 132 countries and found those with lower per capita economic output actually had higher rankings for meaning and happiness, as well as lower suicide rates. It turns out that those countries are more religious, giving people a sense of purpose.

Over 1600 years ago Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Despite that reality, today, increasing numbers of Americans, are looking away from God and the church, seeking to construct their own meaning. Yet those self-made answers rarely quiet our restless hearts. As Pascal said, “It is in vain, oh men, that you seek within yourselves the cure for all your miseries. All your insight has led to the knowledge that it is not in yourselves that you discover the true and the good.”

The Christian worldview, based on biblical revelation, answers all of life’s big questions, explaining both our human dignity and our depravity. The Bible also directs us to a fixed reference point by which we can orient our lives: God Himself. “Man’s chief end,” the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

This much is for certain, our hearts certainly won’t find rest in money.

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8

Against all odds

“I’ll take ‘The most persecuted religious group in the world today’ for 800 Alex.” If that were an actual Jeopardy question, do you know what the correct answer would be? The answer in terms of sheer numbers and sheer horror might surprise you. It’s Christians. Specifically Christians living in Muslim-majority countries. I’m not talking about Christians fighting against Christmas or Easter being marginalized to simply a winter and spring holiday; I’m talking about “know your place or we’re going to kill you” persecution. And, what’s really tragic, is the Western mainstream media barely acknowledges that it’s happening.

And, don’t think for a second that the persecution of Christians and Christianity is limited to the Middle East. North Korea, China, Cuba, and Somalia are just of few of the countries that are constantly monitoring Christian activity, and like the game of Whack a Mole, stand ready with the big club, anxious to beat it back into extinction.

But against all odds, the Christian church is thriving. Underground, or above ground, new disciples of Jesus Christ are made every day, as the gospel continues to advance in the world.

Jesus explained to His disciples that this is the way the gospel always advances – side by side with every cause for pessimism is evidence for joy and everlasting hope. Maybe the best illustration of it is His comparing the kingdom of heaven, in Matthew 13:24, to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.

In his summary of the meaning of the parable, Jesus essentially says that as history moves along, evil will mature and become ever more evil, while godliness will also mature and become ever more godly, and ever more distinctive.

But, here’s the good news; though at times it seems like evil is winning the day, when God say’s “Game over!”, there will be a harvest. At that time, “the weeds will be gathered and burned, and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Evil may win many battles, but the good news is that God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ, will win the war! Thanks be to God.

March 21, 2017 – Muslim converts breathe new life into Europe’s struggling Christian churches

“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:43

Christmas and shepherds

Unprecedented! How odd! Indisputably, the single most important event in human history, the birth of God in human flesh, took place with no media build up, no marketing campaign, no paparazzi, no press.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There was a brief, yet spectacular announcement given by the angels with a multitude of the heavenly host praising God. But wait, who was in the audience for that miraculous announcement from the sky? Did you say, shepherds? You’re kidding right?

In those days, shepherds occupied the bottom rung of society’s ladder, and the average citizen of Judea wanted little to do with keepers of sheep. No one could have predicted that the first people to hear of Jesus outside of His parents would be a motley crew of shepherds. Nevertheless, an angel of the Lord appeared to these men, who got to watch the greatest sound-and-light show of all time.

In Philip Keller’s book – A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 – He talks about the “cast down sheep,” which is a sheep on its back that cannot get up again under its own strength. Such sheep may bleat a little for help, but usually they just lie there with their legs flailing about, and they die, if they are not rescued.

That’s the best picture, the best metaphor to describe Christmas. For it is the state of all of humanity, stuck in their sin and unable to turn themselves right side up. God comes to the rescue, not as a Knight in shining armor, a lowly shepherd. He came to seek and to save the lost. Having become like us, the Good Shepherd knows the human condition and all its weaknesses. Rejoice, that the mighty King of heaven, is also a tender shepherd who loves each of His lambs deeply.

So this Christmas morning, when most are thinking about opening gifts… “What did I get, what did I get?” Recognize that, in Christ – you’ve already received the greatest gift of all – eternal life.

“Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!”“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” Luke 2:13-14

Merry Christmas

God with us

There are many beautiful hymns that have been composed in celebration of the birth of Christ. One of my favorites is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It may have been composed as early as the 8th century. The melody appears to have originated in France in the 15th century.

The hymn is based on a prophecy in Isaiah 7, a prophecy that looks forward to the birth of a child who will be named Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

In the Garden of Eden, God was present with the two humans He had created, but as a result of their sin, mankind was exiled from God’s presence. From that point forward, the restoration of God’s presence with us, His creatures, become the underlying theme developed throughout Scripture.

In reality, the Bible is a love story, unfolding God’s incredible plan to fix what appeared to be forever ruined by Adam and Eve’s rebellion and disobedience.

And then, in the fullness of time, Jesus is born, and Matthew tells us that His birth took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet Isaiah, quoted in Mathew’s gospel. Jesus is Immanuel. He is God with us. In Him all of the Old Testament types and promises that looked forward to the restoration of God’s presence with His people are fulfilled. Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.

The words of the hymn express the hopes of Israel throughout history, for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise. We don’t often think about the fact that we have it sooooo much easier than those living before Christ. We’re able to look back to the fulfillment of those promises – to that most incredible, awe-inspiring moment in history, the birth of Immanuel… the incarnation of the Son of God Himself.

So, based on that fact, here’s my question. As a Christian, do you live every day of your life, celebrating the fact that God is with you, living and working through you?

Christmas, celebrates the joyous fact that In Jesus, God established His presence once again with His people, and He is with us always – to the end of the age.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” Matthew 1:23

Truth is Like a Lion

When it comes to sharing your faith in Jesus Christ, do you play offence or defense? Do you simply and enthusiastically tell others about Jesus, and what He accomplished on the cross, or do you find yourself holding back from that conversation with others, because you feel like you have to defend it?

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Truth is like a lion. Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself.”

There’s a prevailing attitude among many Christians today that we must defend the truth of God’s Word. And while it’s certainly true that the truth about Christ in our society is being ridiculed and ignored, I don’t think God has called me to defend His Word, as much as He’s called me to simply share it.

When you share you faith, you’re marching down the field, on offense, toward the goal of watching GOD do a miracle in the heart of the one you love enough to share the truth with. Too many Christians today think that witnessing is about playing defense – with fists out, they bravely hold their ground by beating back the arguments of the unbelievers.

The Apostle Paul spoke of finishing the race and completing the task that the Lord Jesus had given him. And what was that task? The task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

The truth needs no defense, it only needs a voice. The problem of our time, said best by G.K. Chesterton, is that “the truth hasn’t been tried and found wanting, it’s been unheard and left untried.”

This week, consider this question; when was the last time that you simply told someone, the reason for the hope that you have Jesus Christ?

After all, who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and let it defend itself!

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” 2 Corinthians 3:12

A Mighty Fortress

It was a hot summer day – the off season of pro football – and I was stuck, along with everyone else, in a long line of cars, waiting for a train, temporarily stopped on the tracks ahead of us. Those of us who lived there knew exactly what was going on. It was the Railroad Company’s way of getting the voter’s attention, concerning an effort to get an overpass built.

So, to enlighten everyone on why an overpass was needed, a train would frequently and mysteriously stop on the section of road blocking the main exit out of town, right in the middle of rush hour.

We all knew the drill. We’d be stuck there about fifteen minutes before the train would slowly move on. We all took it in stride, annoyed, but relaxed. That was not the case, however, with those new to the situation.

And, on this occasion, clearly, I had a newbie in front of me. How did I know? Well, assuming that the train would be moving on quickly, he wanted to keep his car running and creep forward a few feet at a time. But the car in front of him, like most of the rest of us, had turned his car off.

What happened next took me by surprise! The “let me keep inching forward guy” got out of his car and was storming up to the car in front of him. He actually opened the door and pulled the “shut his car off” guy out onto the road. He was screaming in his face fist clenched, ready to hit him.

Enough of this, I said to myself. I quickly unfolded out of my small sports car, all 6 foot 7 and 280 pounds of me, and moved quickly toward the showdown. I will never forget the look in the eyes of the terrified stranger, about to be pummeled by the road-raged maniac. In an instant, he went from great fear, to great relief. For he knew that he was about to be rescued!

That feeling of panic-to-relief is exactly what we as Christians experience every time Satan comes after us with his fists clinched. But in the words of Martin Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” we say with confidence; “The Prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.”

So the next time Satan tries to bully you, remember this, Satan may be the prince of this world, but Jesus is the King.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Is everyone a child of God?

Is everyone a child of God? The answer is emphatically no! The idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere. The Bible says that God is the Father, not of all, but of those who, knowing themselves to be sinners, put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In so doing they become adopted into God’s forever family. It is not something everyone enters into by natural birth. It is a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus Christ.

In essence God gives us a choice, either we accept God’s offer of adoption, or we remain an orphan. This is the most important decision anyone will ever make in this life.

It is a very unique experience becoming a child of God here on earth. It’s supposed to be life changing. Assuming that you have accepted God’s offer to adopt you into His forever family, and have become a child of God, has it really made that much of a difference in your life? Do your still-orphan friends here on earth even realize that you were adopted? Do they see a difference in your life verses theirs? Do you?

J.I. Packer said, in his timeless book Knowing God, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”

Wow! That’s a strong statement. So how about you? Does that statement describe how you understand Christianity and your relationship with God?

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural decent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)”

As one former orphan to another, let’s live our lives, daily celebrating that we are a children of God.

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12-13

Clearly Seen

Have you ever had anyone say to you, “there is no proof that God exists”? My response to that is always, “nor is there any proof that He doesn’t”. How would anyone go about proving that something does not exist? Proof of a negative statement is difficult to pull off. For example, how would you prove the negative assertion “There is no gold in Alaska”? You would have to determine the limits of Alaska, its borders and depth and height, then dig up every cubic inch of Alaska. If there was one cubic inch you did not dig, there still might be gold there. On the other hand, how would you prove the positive assertion, “There is gold in Alaska”? Easy—you need find only one piece.

Similarly, what would you have to know, in order to know for sure, that there is no God? Well, you’d have to know everything. If there was one thing you did not know, that one thing might be God. We are so far from knowing everything that there is to be known, that the dogmatic assertion “There is no God” is not only not provable, it is ridiculously arrogant.

Jerry Root once asked the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, “How much of that which there is to be known, do you claim to know, 10%?” She laughed and said, “Okay, 10%.” He asked, “Is it possible that God might exist and be part of that 90% of reality that you admittedly do not know?” She paused and was silent for about a minute, then she said, “A qualified no”, and quickly moved on to another question.

That’s why no atheist or agnostic will be able to persuade God – when they stand before Him someday – that they would certainly have believed, if there was only sufficient proof of His existence.

Romans 1:19 states, “what may be known about God is plain to [all], because God has made it plain… For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that [everyone is] without excuse.

God has given every human being sufficient visual-aids to logically and confidently come to the conclusion that an intelligent, transcendent being created us… and everything we see that is not man-made.

That’s proof enough for me!

“What may be known about God is plain to everyone, because God has made it plain.” Romans 1:19

His own sheep listen

All throughout the Bible we see images of God as our Shepherd. Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” The New Testament describes Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and tells us that He lays down His life for His sheep. Jesus says, that the sheep hear His voice.

I don’t have sheep, but I have two dogs – Darlene and Tobi. When I speak to them, they know my voice. If I were a stranger they wouldn’t listen. Now, understand what I’m saying. They don’t come immediately every time I call them but they absolutely know who’s calling them – they know MY voice.

Since both Darlene and Tobi are, shall we say “reluctantly obedient”, they have a tendency to ignore me at times when they would rather not “come as they’re called”. Especially if they’re distracted by their nose, having picked up the scent of squirrel or chipmunk they might want to chase (sorry Rachel).

In the house, however, when they’re not as distracted, when I call they come running. They know that on the other end is their loving owner who wants to rub their head, give them a treat, play with them, or the best of all (Oh please, please, please) take them for a ride in the car.

It works exactly the same way with the Lord, our Shepherd! What a beautiful thought that our Good Shepherd speaks to us. Here are just a few of the things He says in His Word: “Look to Me . . . I provide all of your needs. Cast your cares on me . . . for I care deeply for you. Rest in me . . . for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. I will do the work for you. I will strengthen you, I will help you. I will guide you . . . follow me. I am always with you, I will never leave you. I will comfort you. My grace is sufficient. Don’t be afraid, I will protect you. I go before you and I will bless you. You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you. . . .”

So the question is, when the Good Shepherd calls you, considering all those great promises, are you reluctantly obedient, or do you immediately come running?

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:3