CAN WE KNOW WE’LL GO TO HEAVEN?

Are you going to Heaven when you die? Polls show most people believe there is a Heaven and they’re on their way. Why? Because, they say, basically they are “good” people. But what does the Bible say about that? Pastor and author Author Randy Alcorn in a new tract explains that Heaven isn’t our “default destination” and that important changes must be made in our lives if we are to spend eternity with the Lord in His rest.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV): “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

2 Peter 2:9 (CEV): “This shows that the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their sufferings and to punish evil people while they wait for the day of judgment.”

Revelation 22:17 (ESV): “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

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MISSING THE TRAIN TO HEAVEN

RECENTLY, I WAS DRIVING one of our church elders to Sunday morning services. He turned to me, his thumb and index finger nearly touching, and said words that still ring in my ears: “Ward, I came this close to spending eternity in Hell.”

HELL. HELL

What a terrifying thought. An eternity of darkness, aloneness. Fire. Worms. Without hope. Without love. Without end. It’ll be hellish. Really.

Yet, a recent poll showed that for every American who believes he or she is going to Hell, 120 believe they are going to Heaven. 

The Bible tells an entirely different story. It says a person must believe in Jesus Christ to enter Heaven. (A different standard applies to those who have not heard of Him.)

Unfortunately, that means that most of the self-described Heaven-bound are wrong.

In fact, the optimism expressed by most Americans, even those who do not profess to be Christian, stands in stark contrast to Jesus Christ’s own words: 

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”Matthew 7:13–14 (ESV).

According to the Bible, most people are not going to Heaven.

They’re going to Hell.

THREE SCENES

IMAGINE THIS:

  • IT’S WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON — You’re at the grave site of a good friend who has BURIAL_SCENEsuccumbed to cancer. You cast your gaze to his survivors and notice his widow and daughter clutching each other through tears. You share their grief. You don’t know where your friend will end up, but you suspect from the way he lived and talked that God, salvation, and repentance were far from his mind. You’re terrified for him.
  • IT’S FRIDAY EVENING — You’re at a high school football game, and the home team is marching down the field toward the end zone. You look around at the stands. You know by sight most of the onlookers. They’re your neighbors and friends. On this Friday night, there’s not a single thought among them about  their eternal destiny. You don’t know where they’ll end up, but you suspect that, come Sunday morning, eternity will not be on their minds, either. You’re terrified for them.
  • IT’S SUNDAY MORNING — You’re at church, and the pastor is wrapping up his weekly altar call, and you look around the congregation. Nobody moves. They must all be saved! Well, maybe so. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! You don’t know their status, but you suspect that most of them think they’re saved or at least don’t need what the pastor is preaching. You’re terrified for them.

How do you handle the horrible thought that most of the people you meet and talk with each week — most of the people you know and most of the people you don’t know — are not on God’s saved list? Their names are not found in His Book of Life. HS_FOOTBALL

What do you do when you consider they have no clue what they’re missing?

DEFAULT DESTINATION

THE TRUTH IS, according to the Bible, we don’t automatically go to Heaven. 

In fact, our default destination is not Heaven — but Hell. Unless our sin problem is solved, we can’t enter Heaven. 

That’s the bad news.

Aahh, but there’s good news, too. In fact, it’s so good, it’s called “Good News”! 

Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, came to our rescue. At the Cross, He took on the Hell we deserve … so that, believing in Him, we can experience for eternity the Heaven we don’t deserve.

TWO DESTINATIONS

THERE ARE ONLY TWO possible destinations when we die: Heaven or Hell.

Can we really know in advance which one we’ll go to? Yes, we can.

The apostle John, one of the writers of the Bible, said this: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13 ESV). image-17

How do we know? 

  • The Bible tells us that all of us, like our first parents, Adam and Eve, are sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).
  • Because of our sin, the Bible says, our default destination is Hell. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NASB).
  • Our sinful hearts make it difficult for us to chart a correct course on our own power. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV).

GOD’S PLAN

BUT GOD PROVIDED an escape clause. A way out. A get-out-of-jail-free card. 

Simply believe that Jesus Christ is God, that He came to die for sinful man, and that those who believe this … and call on His name … will be saved  from God’s wrath (Rom. 10:9-10, 13). image-2

When Christ died on the Cross for us, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). 

In those days “It is finished” was commonly written across certificates of debt when they were canceled. It meant “Paid in full.” Christ died so that the certificate of debt consisting of all our sins could once and for all be marked “Paid in full.”

What about those who don’t believe?

Jesus said that unless we believe He is the One who redeems mankind, we will die in our sins (John 8:24). 

REPENT OF SIN

ONLY WHEN OUR SINS are dealt with in Christ can we enter Heaven.

We cannot pay our own way, and contrary to popular opinion, there is only one way to get there.

  • Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NKJV). Because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross on our behalf, God freely offers us forgiveness: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 CSB). 
  • To be forgiven, we must recognize and repent of our sins. Forgiveness is not automatic. It’s conditioned upon confession: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV). 
  • Christ offers to everyone the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Jesus died on the Cross as the only One worthy to pay the penalty for our sins demanded by the holiness of God: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
  • There’s no righteous deed we can do that will earn us a place in Heaven (Titus 3:5). We come to Christ empty-handed. We can take no credit for salvation. It is a gift from God: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9 NET). 

This gift cannot be worked for, earned, or achieved. It’s dependent solely on Christ’s generous sacrifice on our behalf.

CRITICAL DECISION

THIS IS THE MOST important decision of your life.

Far more important than who you’ll marry, or what career you’ll follow, or how many children you’ll have; more important than your next car or the house you buy or your dream vacation plans.

More important than anything else you can think of. 

It’s the decision of where you’ll spend eternity.image-26

Eternity is forever. Once it starts, there’s no turning back. No do-over. No second chance. No course correction. 

Now is the time to make things right with God:

  • Confess your sinfulness;
  • Accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on your behalf.

If you haven’t come to terms with your relationship with God, please pay special attention to the words that follow. Author and Pastor Randy Alcorn sums it this way:

“You are made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person, and heaven is the place. They are a package — they come together. You cannot get heaven without Jesus or Jesus without heaven. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near’ (Isaiah 55:6 ESV). For all eternity, you’ll be glad you did.”

[For more information on how Heaven isn’t our “default destination,” please see pastor and author Randy Alcorn‘s tract, “How Can We Know We’ll Go to Heaven?”]

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SAVING PRAYER

Here’s a prayer you can use if you want to confess your sins to God and receive His gift of eternal life … or substitute your own words, spoken from the heart.
May God bless you richly as you do.

O GOD, YOU KNOW ME, but I haven’t known You. I’ve come to realize I am a sinful man (woman), and I need a Savior. O God, thank You for the gift that Jesus Christ gave me when He took my sins to the Cross. I am sorry for my sin, and I repent of my sinful ways. O God, please send Your Holy Spirit into my heart to change me and redeem me and make me Yours for all eternity. I want to live for You and with You. In Jesus’ name I lift this prayer, knowing You will hear my plea. Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness and Your gift of life. AMEN

THE WORLD’S HATRED OF CHRIST’S FOLLOWERS

Once again, we see the hatred and intolerance of the world toward the body of Christ. In New Jersey, a Christian woman who worked as a barista at Starbucks Coffee Shop said she was fired from her job when she refused to wear the company-sponsored “Pride” T-shirt, glorifying homosexuality. She said Jesus condemned the practice as being “unnatural.” The company’s official response was that the shirt reflected Starbucks’ commitment to “inclusion and diversity” and proclaimed the company “does not discriminate on the basis of religion.” Really?

Isaiah 5:20 (NKJV): “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV): “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Rom. 12:2 (CSB): “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

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“WE’RE ‘INCLUSIVE,’ SO YOU’RE FIRED!”

A RECENT ARTICLE in the New York Post reported that a Christian woman in New Jersey was fired from her job in August 2019 for refusing to wear a company-sponsored homosexual “Pride” T-shirt.

STARBUCKS_LES_PRIDE2019jpeg
Starbucks Pride T-Shirt 2019

The woman, who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit  in November 2020, said she told her employers she wanted to follow the Bible’s teaching, which condemns homosexuality, but her employer said her position violated the company’s “core values.”

LoveAndGrace blogged last week about the world’s discrimination against Christians in the name of “inclusion.”

The woman, Betsy Freese, was employed by Starbucks Coffee Co. as a barista from December 2015 until her termination in August 2019. 

Freese charged that being forced to wear the T-shirt as a condition of employment was “tantamount to forced speech” because the Bible defines marriage as the permanent and monogamous union of one male and one female, a message counter to that proclaimed on the T-shirt.

She said store managers were aware of her religious beliefs because she regularly asked for time off on Sundays and certain evenings to attend church.

‘THEY KNEW MY BELIEFS’ 

WHILE FRESSE SAID the store’s managers knew of her religious beliefs, she was fired for refusing to wear the “Pride” shirt. 

The newspaper said the company told NBC News that the lawsuit was “without merit” and stated in the woman’s termination notice that the company’s corporate policy endorses the core values of “inclusion and diversity, and [that we] welcome and learn from people with different backgrounds and perspectives.”

(NBC further reported that in September, two workers at Kroger supermarket in Arkansas filed a similar lawsuit, claiming they were fired for refusing to wear a store apron with a rainbow heart emblem on it.image-20

(The plaintiffs, Brenda Lawson and Trudy Rickerd, maintained the logo was an endorsement of the LGBTQ community, which violated their belief “that homosexuality is a sin,” according to their complaint. After being disciplined for violating the store’s dress code, both Lawson and Rickerd were ultimately terminated.)

Starbucks further stated that it “does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.” The federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says it is unlawful for a place of employment to discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

The newspaper article picked up by ChurchLeaders.com said that on Aug. 22, 2019, Fresse was told by a company district manager that she was being fired for “violating Starbucks’ ‘core values.’”

Fresse said in her lawsuit that “every Christian is called to love and treat everyone with respect and compassion” regardless of their religious or other beliefs. 

DEATH OF ‘ABSOLUTE TRUTHS’

WHAT IS HAPPENING is the “death of ‘absolute truth’” in a culture that elevates human reason and experience above God’s laws and His design for our lives.

This is the hallmark of the “postmodernist” thought process, where all values and goals are relative, without any being absolute or perfect. So, the thinking goes, what is true for you might not be true for me, and what is true for me might not be true for you.COFFEE.SHOP

It’s the theory behind several popular refrains: “Follow your bliss,” “Whatever floats your boat,” “Whatever works for you,” “Do what’s inside of you,” “You’re okay; I’m okay,” and “You do you, Bro; I’ll do me.”

In his article “Postmodernism,” in the creationist website, AnswersInGenesis.org., Dr. Carl J. Broggi concluded that in the postmodernist view of the world, “no one is really wrong except for those who hold to absolute truth.” Broggi is senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Beaufort, SC. 

“Because truth cannot absolutely be known in their religion, the highest virtue for the postmodern man is tolerance, but not as the word has traditionally been defined. In the past, when Americans used the term tolerance, it was understood to mean that everyone has a right to have their viewpoint respected,” Broggi writes.

He concludes: “‘Tolerance’ for the postmodernist is to be extended only to those who embrace a relativistic worldview. In practice, since postmodernism cannot possibly coexist with a worldview that embraces absolute truth, they are intolerant of those who do not agree, particularly Christians.”

Broggi says that what the world believes, according to its postmodernist viewpoint, is that “because Bible-believers insist their point of view concerning moral absolutes and salvation in Jesus Christ is correct and other views are aberrant, they [the Christians] should be defined as intolerant.”

POSTSCRIPT

THIS, IN FACT, is what we see. It is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. 

Look again at the text source for this article, particularly the verse from Isaiah 5:20, warning us against labeling as “good” or “benign”  those things that God calls “evil.”

J33.Suffering for the GospelOr consider 2 Timothy 4:3, where God says that men will “turn away” from the truth and follow falsehoods of their own design.

As they do so, the will run afoul of Romans 2:2, where God tells us not to be conformed to the world and its beliefs but that we should hold fast to that which is the “good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

That is what Betsy Fresse tried to so, at least according to the public record as explained in her lawsuit. It is a story of “inclusion” — which should mean embracing everyone — but always excludes the Bible-believing Christian because the Christian believer, unlike non-believers, embraces the truth that God has revealed — not man’s truth, but the Creator’s truth.

As Jesus termed it in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His crucifixion (John 17:17 NIV): 

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

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PRAYER

Our Heavenly Father, God of all Creation, Maker of Heaven  and Earth, You created man in Your image to reflect Your glory and to worship You. We OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAconfess, O Lord, that too many of us have been arrogant, prideful, and willful, ignoring You and Your design for our lives. Those of us who believe in the Lord Jesus repent of our sin, and we pray for those among us who are lost in spirit and destined for eternal separation from You. O Lord, burden our hearts to reach out to them and share with them the Truth of Your Word, the saving grace of Your love for us. In Jesus’ almighty and magnificent name we pray. AMEN

BEWARE OF THOSE WHO PREACH ‘INCLUSION’ BUT EXCLUDE JESUS

Regardless of whether you call it Orwellian, Alice-in-Wonderland, or the Last Days, the modern era is overrun by double-speak, where one term means its opposite, and if you don’t understand that or accept it, then you’re part of the problem and need to shut up. You’re not wanted. This is particularly challenging for believing Christians, who are under mandate from our Savior to speak boldly for the truth.

Isaiah 5:20 (NKJV): “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV): “For the time is coming when people will not  endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Rom. 12:2 (CSB): “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

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EXCLUDING CHRISTIANS TO BE “INCLUSIVE”

THE HEADLINE SCREAMED the righteous indignation of actress Melissa McCarthy, who loudly proclaimed she was withdrawing financial “support” from an anti-trafficking group, Exodus Cry, that is a faith-based Christian organization.

The reason?SEXUAL_TRAFFICKING

The organization, which rescues girls and women from sexual exploitation, is founded by, and operates on, principles gleaned from God’s Holy Word. 

Specifically in relation to sexual practice, the group not only opposes the exploitation and forced prostitution of females, but it also, in keeping with God’s Word, opposes abortion and LGBTQ “rights.”

The actress is staring in a new movie, “Superintelligence,” to be released Thanksgiving Day. As part of the pre-release promotion, McCarthy launched “20 Days of Kindness” to support 20 charities, among them Exodus Cry and Planned Parenthood.

A Nov. 16, 2020, article in ChurchLeaders.com, said the actress pulled the funding once she found out from social media that the organization is “hostile” to gay rights and abortion procedures.

FAVORING WORLDLY VALUES

IN A PUBLIC STATEMENT explaining her action, McCarthy said the Christian organization “stands for everything that we do not.”
Melissa McCarthy
Melissa McCarthy

She further said she wanted to “thank everyone” on social  media who asked, “‘What are you doing? Are you sure you want to back this?’ Because the answer is, ‘No, we do not.’”

Her final comment was, “Thanks for helping us correct a big mistake.”

A big mistake? Really?

What is going on here? Isn’t this a case of calling what’s “up” “down” and what’s “good” “bad”?

Yes, that’s what it is.

It’s the very thing the prophet Isaiah warned us of 2,700 years ago: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20)

OPPOSING GODLY VALUES

UNFORTUNATELY, THIS has become a commonplace story. 

The apostle Paul issued this warning 2,000 years ago: “Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2)

The Dec. 18, 2018, Washington Examiner ran an article from Syracuse, N.Y., saying New York state officials told an adoption agency, New Hope Family Services, to close its doors unless it violated its religious beliefs to place children only in homes with a married mother and father.

In fact, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services congratulated New Hope for “a number of strengths in providing adoption services within the community.”OIP.mQPtvzMH5-XFwQJ_1w4hJAHaE8

The organization has placed more than 1,000 adoptions throughout the state between 1965, when it opened, to 2018, when the article ran. Since then, according to its website, it has expanded its adoption services to include a full-range of pregnancy counseling, excluding performing or referring for abortions.

TRANSFORMING BUSINESSES

THE GRAPHIC DESIGN Circles Conference in Texas announced in 2019 that it was cancelling a church leader from its list of speakers after a member group complained he might make others feel unsafe.

David Roark, the communications and resources director for The Village Church, a megachurch based in Flower Mound, Texas, was uninvited from the September conference after the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) refused to participate because of his inclusion. 67.Conference_Lecture

AIGA claimed that The Village Church “does not meet our standards of inclusion because of openly discriminatory policies and practices towards women and the LGBTQ+ community.” The Circles Conference agreed with the group and scrubbed Mr. Roark’s profile from their website.

In a statement announcing the change, Conference founder Ismael Burciaga said, “When you walk through the doors of Circles Conference, we want you to feel welcome.” 

The statement concluded by noting the conference’s continued commitment to “assemble a diverse, inclusive, and innovative lineup of speakers.”

Paul referenced this very thing in an apostolic letter to his disciple, Timothy: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching … and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

POSTSCRIPT

IN ALL OF THESE examples, and the many more that could be assembled, one maxim stands out: 

In the name of “diversity and inclusion,” the buzzwords of the modern secular era, conservative thinkers — especially those who are Christian faith-based — need not apply.

There’s a very significant reason why. 

The Christian believer holds God’s Truth to be an absolute, which makes His Word both eternal and universal. His Word was good yesterday and today, and it will be good tomorrow. 

Plus, it is good and right for everyone, not just one person. The Christian faith is not about “You do you, bro.”

71.Hatred_Christians_pin

The “modern” thinker, who is drawn by the wisdom of his own observation and reasoning, will not allow for absolutes, because, for the non-believer, they don’t exist.

While various modern groups can differ in their beliefs, they can align around the shared value that all truths are relative and personal. 

The strongest exception comes from the Christian believer, who holds onto a set of values that does not allow for compromise or dissent.

As the Lord proclaimed in John 17:17 (NASB2020):

YOUR WORD IS TRUTH.

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PRAYER

O LORD, OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, sometimes, we just feel so overwhelmed with the task of carrying the Gospel to a broken, unbelieving, cynical world; yet, when we place our trust in You, we labor not with our strength and wisdom but with Yours. We pray for grace and mercy as Your Spirit prepares us for the good work to be done on behalf of the Kingdom, not for our glory, O Lord, but for Yours. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. AMEN

I AM SO NOT LIKE JESUS – I WISH I WERE

God initially chose the Jewish people as a conduit through which He would reveal Himself to the world He created. When they rejected His Son as their long-anticipated Messiah, God then called the Gentiles to join His movement through the church. We are privileged to play a part in God’s will, and it becomes our responsibility to follow His lead. Today, God is calling Jews and Gentiles alike, and He will hold us responsible for how we respond.

Ephesians 3:6 (CSB): “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” 

Acts 1:8 (NASB2020): “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth.”

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MY STRUGGLE TO BE LIKE JESUS

LET ME ADMIT UP FRONT that I find it difficult to be like Jesus, especially when it means being like Jesus 24 hours a day, every day.

I cannot match the incredible love He displayed toward everyone, even his  enemies. He 69.Love_Godforgave the Roman soldiers nailing Him to a cross because they did not know what they were doing! (Luke 23:24) 

I’m more like the Bob Dylan song of old: “You say you’re lookin’ for someone … Someone who’ll die for you and more, but it ain’t me, Babe; it ain’t me you’re lookin’ for.”

The more you follow Jesus, the more you’ll see that He takes what we do, that which seems natural to us, and turns it upside down—turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, pray for those who harm you, love those who hate you, be last instead of first, serve others instead of expecting others to serve you, bear one another’s burden. 

Everything Jesus did — and expects us to do — is completely opposite, upside-down, and inside-out from the way most of us live.

The problem is this: Too many Christians have turned following Jesus into a religious pursuit instead of a life pursuit. To them, He’s a Sunday morning ornament to decorate their self-image, when He wants to be a guide who leads His people in all righteousness.

JESUS HOLDS US ACCOUNTABLE

With great privilege comes great responsibility.

Jesus proclaimed it this way: “Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person to whom much more is given.” Luke 12:48 (GNT)

In His Great Commission, Jesus gave His disciples — and us — the task of taking His message of salvation and reconciliation to the entire world, but He assured us that He would stay with us and help us through this  process.

That brings us to the critical question: During times of trouble, what are Christians called to do? 

THE ISSUES OF OUR DAY

What should our response be, as believers, in the aftermath of, say, a mass shooting?

CLASSROOMWe watch in horror as news reports come in of young lives being snuffed out at a school, or worshippers at a church or synagogue being shot, or shoppers at a suburban mall mowed down like ducks at a county fair.

What do we say about the images of left-wing rioters breaking storefront windows, while scores of looters cart off electronics, sneakers, and other coveted items? 

How do we handle the often acrimonious postings and counter-postings on social media? Do we speak up? Let comments slide? Rebuke the intemperate?

Many of those comments come from unbelievers, who have not received the Holy Spirit, but believers also express themselves publicly, and there should be a difference in tone and substance, but is there?

Are we Christ-like in our reactions and comments about the affairs of our time?

FOLLOWING GOD’S PLAN

How would our culture differ if we lived the way Jesus lived?

Our text source reminds us that God grafted the Gentiles (non-Jews) into the “natural olive tree” of His people when the Jews rejected His Son as their Messiah. 

God, speaking through the apostle Paul in Romans 6:22, tells us that through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, we are freed from the power of sin and live under God’s grace … so we should resist the natural temptation to “act out” as the unbelievers do.pointing_to_gods-word

Instead, we are called to show grace. Grace in our actions, grace in our speech, and grace in our thoughts. Why our thoughts? Because we learn in James 1:15 and Matthew 15:18 that the evil that grows in our hearts  drives our actions and words … unless we come under God’s restraining power. (See “Exposing Our Secret Lives”)

 EMBRACING THE PRIVILEGE

It’s a Privilege for God’s People to be a part of His Plan, even though God’s plan often does not line up with our plan. 

God’s love is for everyone. God is calling on both Gentiles and Jews to proclaim His will for the world. (Ephesians 3) Once God allowed His Son to die on the Cross for our sins, we should see everyone we meet as a potential child of God, not to judge them or condemn them, but to show love and grace toward them.

God wants Jew and Gentile to “share equally in the riches” of being God’s children. (Eph. 3:6) The body of Christ would have Jews and Gentiles together. For centuries, we’ve lived in animosity toward one another, but God wants us to come together under the banner of Jesus Christ.

POSTSCRIPT

Jesus calls us to engage in ministry with Him to reach lost souls.

That is a privilege! The apostle Paul praised God for the privilege of his calling to take the message of salvation to the Gentiles, a people despised by him and his fellow Jews.image-16

Imagine. The God of the Jews proclaimed His love for all of His people. He calls us today to reach all of the “others” we see with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to treat them with love and grace.

For me, it means stretching beyond comfortable limits if that’s where God is calling me.

What does it mean for you?

PRAISE GOD!
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PRAYER

FATHER GOD, all praise, honor, and glory are yours. Thank You for loving us so much that You sent Your Son to die for our sins. Forgive us, Lord, for judging others, for harboring hostility in our hearts, for distancing ourselves from others who do not look like us or think the way we do. That is our sin. O Lord, make us Your disciples, spreading the love, compassion, forgiveness, and grace that You shower on us so that the world will see You in us and give You the glory. In the mighty name of Jesus, AMEN

U.S. CHRISTIANS FACE HOSTLE INCOMING ADMINISTRATION

In the wake of an apparent US election victory by the Democratic duo of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president/vice president, the body of Christ will shift from a faith-friendly federal government under Trump-Pence to a faith-hostile administration. Ironically, this could be very good news for the church as the growing rift between church and state will divide Christians into warring camps: those who hold true to the values of God’s Word versus those who profess allegiance to Christianity but don’t have a personal relationship with the Lord. The result could be a much smaller, but bolder, force proclaiming the Gospel without the counter-force of lukewarm Christians.

Romans 5:3 (NKJV): “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance.”

1 Peter 4:16 (NET): “But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name.”

1 John 3:13 (CSB): “Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”

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PROCLAIMING UNITY WHILE PRACTICING ENMITY

ALTHOUGH THE 2020 US presidential election results have not been finalized, the apparent winning team of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice president, respectively, could usher in a much harsher environment for believing Christians.

I look forward to the battle.

I must be crazy, right? 

CHURCH_CONGREGATION_MEETINGMaybe so, but my thought is that the Christian church in America is too lazy. We need a wake-up call. We need to become bold  witnesses for our Lord and Savior.

Professing Christians are lazy Christians. Most are unwilling to do more than squeeze into the pews or comfy chairs on Sunday morning, enjoy some music, half-listen to a sermon (preferably short, with jokes and stories), and spend most of their energy greeting friends, neighbors, and business associates. 

That’s not Christianity as our Savior commissioned us in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 … not by a long shot. He told us to “go” and “tell” everyone we meet, the whole world, about Him and what the Lord has done for us. (Mark 5:19) 

How many professing Christians are sharing their faith with anyone? How many professing Christians understand the basic doctrines of their faith? How many professing Christians even care to change?

GOD’S WAKE-UP CALL

THIS COULD BE God’s wake-up call for His church.

After dislocating us from our comfortable church buildings because of Covid restrictions, His next move might well be dislocating us from our comfortable federal government administration because of election results.GOD_WAKUP_CALL

A double whammy smack alongside the head to send some sense into us. 

There’s plenty of precedent for this. God’s judgment of the Israelites permeates the Old Testament as God tried to mold His chosen people into the evangelizing force He had envisioned for them. 

Instead of showing God’s blessings to the world, they wandered from their calling, and when they were faithful, they kept their values and traditions to themselves instead of sharing with their neighbors.

So, God would punish them until they caught on to their dilemma and turned back to Him in sorrow and repented of their sins and faithlessness, begging God to hear their prayers and bless their land and give them peace.

HERE’S WHAT’S COMING

DO WE KNOW what an incoming Biden-Harris administration would mean for the Christian church? Well, we don’t “know” the future, but we can “project” the future based on statements the Democratic Party has published regarding its intentions.ANGER_HOSTILITY

In his article, “Last Call for America?” in Decision magazine’s November 2020 issue (pp 2-3), evangelist Franklin Graham wrote this: 

“The Democratic platform appears now to fully represent the progressive left, whose liberal agenda seeks to dramatically remake our nation in their own radical image. It is unapologetically pro-abortion, it staunchly advocates LGBTQ rights and it is hostile toward the Biblical view of marriage as between one man and one woman.” 

It’s not just evangelical Protestants who will be targeted. 

A Christian website with a conservative Catholic perspective, LifeSiteNews, published an opinion piece, “How a Biden Presidency Would Unleash Christian Persecution,” opposing the so-called “Equality Act,” H.R. 5, which House Democrats have passed, that would demolish legal protections for practicing Christians. 

Along party lines, Democrats defeated Republican amendments intended to weaken the draconian legislation. Among those amendments were to:

  • exempt biological females from being forced to compete in spots against biological males who identify as female;
  • shield healthcare workers from being compelled to affirm a patient’s subjective sense of gender identity;
  • allow medical personnel to refuse to participate in abortions;
  • protect parents’ legal rights to direct the medical care of their minor children.

Referring to the Equality Act, Dr. Carl J. Broggi, senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Beaufort, SC, said this in his Nov. 8, 2020 sermon: “We are living in a day of ‘sheer wickedness.’”

THE BALL’S IN OUR COURT

IF WE TRULY THINK God is calling us to reach His broken creation with words of healing and salvation, the very words that He has given us and we profess to believe, then why  would we shy away from a grand fight?66.Jesus_Changes_Everything

If Satan’s forces are on the ascendancy in our country, then the battle lines will be drawn more sharply than the muddled lines we’ve always known. Neighbor will turn against neighbor; friend against friend; family member against family member (Matthew 10:21-22). 

Even the churches will be split as the “complacent” and “complicit” Christians exit (1 John 2:19), leaving “committed” Christians to remain, carrying Christ’s banner.

It’s that sharp divide that I find so energizing. 

There is very little emotion or adrenaline involved in weak battles with minimal outcomes … but once the divide becomes significant and the results are magnified, then the blood rushes through the body and the Holy Spirit invigorates the soul.

Game On! 

We know that, in the end, Jesus Christ wins. We could be facing that battle now … or soon. Hear these words from (Revelation 22:20 NKJV):

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

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PRAYER

FATHER GOD, YOU told us the world would hate us if we follow You  because the world hated You first. Okay, lead on, Lord Almighty. Take us where You want us to go. May we be found worthy ambassadors for Christ. May we boldly declare what the Lord has done for us, how He has redeemed us in His sight, forgiven us our sins, and washed us clean in the Lamb’s blood. May we never fear those who can only hurt our bodies but not touch our souls. To You, Lord, goes the glory! In Jesus’ name. AMEN

EXPOSING OUR SECRET LIVES

We are badly mistaken when we think our “secret” lives are “secret.” God sees everything and assures us in Luke 12:3 that what we say in the dark will be heard in the daylight and what we’ve whispered in the inner rooms will be shouted from the rooftops. We know that some men and women whom we respect and admire are what Jesus in Matthew 23:27 called “white-washed tombs” with pristine exteriors hiding decay within. Being forewarned, we should avoid tripping over those snares. Proverbs 27:12 tells us that prudent people see danger ahead and take precautions, but “simpleton[s]” press “blindly on” and suffer the consequences.

Romans 2:16 (NLT): And this is the message I proclaim — that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.

Luke 12:3 (ESV): Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Proverbs 4:23 (NCV): Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.

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GOD KNOWS OUR SECRET THOUGHTS

EVEN OUR MOST PRIVATE THOUGHTS will be made  public!

65.Hidden_ThoughtsHow comforting it is to let our minds roam the extremes, darting past the boundaries of respectability and decorum, venturing into forbidden territory, flirting with danger … because no one knows and, therefore, there’s no harm!

Right? Wrong.

Yes, the God we serve knows everything about us. He knows what we do, what we say … even what we think.

While we may believe our thoughts are hidden, and that we can maintain a good facade simply by watching what we do or say, God tells us that even our thoughts are important.

MISTAKEN ASSUMPTIONS ARE COSTLY

YEARS AGO, BEFORE becoming a Christian, I assumed that what we thought lodged safely within our heads, with no impact on our  lives or those around us unless we acted — or spoke — in response.

Therefore, I reasoned, our minds were free to explore the darkest corners of dreams and ideas, with no repercussions.God's Glory Fills the Hills

As a parent of two children, I allowed them to watch whatever television programs they wanted, even when the children’s programs flirted with filth. One day, my younger of two daughters pushed me out of their TV room with these words: “Daddy, you have to leave the room. They’re talking about sex.”

Stunned, I stumbled into the kitchen, blurting out to their mother, “Do you know what they’re watching?”

She said, “Yes, it’s on all the time.”

That was 30 years ago. All that’s changed since then is the situation has gotten worse.

OUR SINFUL THOUGHTS HARM US

SIN IS BORN in our thoughts.

When those thoughts, or desires, become strong enough, they lead us to act contrary to God’s will (James 1:14-15), and that leads to death because death is the payment for sin (Romans 6:23).

In the days before my conversion, I didn’t realize that the thoughts that populated our minds — mine or, in this case, my children’s — would, or even could, find their way out through our speech or future actions.

Without the Bible’s teaching, I was content to follow my own desires for my purposes and would find a way, if I could, to neutralize any opposition, from whatever source — wife, employer, neighbor. It didn’t matter. I was the “captain” of my destiny, and I took great pride in getting my way.

As the *natural man* (1 Cor. 2:14), I was unable to see a higher purpose in which I could be called to serve others (Mark 10:45) or not think of myself more highly than I ought (Rom. 12:3) or to bear another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).

I also paid a heavy price for my insolence, although I did not immediately attribute any failings to my conduct or mindset.

GOD’S GRACE SAVES US

GOD’s GRACE is so amazing.

He not only wants to forgive us for what we do, but He wants to forgive us for every intemperate word and errant thought! (Romans  5:20)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More than that, He wants to redeem us and teach us so that we won’t continue along the path that leads to destruction. (Matt. 7:13) We learn through His Word that our paths, our desires, may seem right to us, but we take them at our peril. (Prov. 16:25)

Once we receive the Holy Spirit, He goes to work to remake us in His image. (2 Cor. 5:17; Phil. 2:13)

Then, we see more clearly the strong connection between our errant thoughts and our behavior, and we strive to change our thinking, with His help and under His grace, to thoughts honoring our Savior. (2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 4:8)

POSTSCRIPT

WHEN I LOOK BACK at those days before conversion, I shudder to see how selfish I was, how prideful, how ungodly.

Then I read that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, the Godly for the ungodly (Rom. 5:8), that we might have fellowship again with our Creator, the way He designed us before our Fall from Grace (Genesis 3).

That, my friends, is love.

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PRAYER 

Dear Heavenly Father, You know us better than we know ourselves. You know what is in lone_crossour hearts, what  motivates us, what consumes our passions and energy. You are not fooled. We confess to You our selfishness, our envy, our judgment of others. Please forgive us and cast our sins away, as far as the east is from the west, and remember them no more. Lord, Your Word was given to instruct us, to rebuke and correct us, and to train us so that, as children of the Most High God, we will be adequate for every good work. We pray, O Lord, that You will soften our hearts to make us more obedient to Your will. In Jesus’ holy and matchless name we pray. AMEN

THE ELECTION & THE AFTERMATH

Now that the US election 2020 is over, except for the lawsuits and mandatory recounts, what is the role the body of Christ should take in word and deed to bring glory to God and distinguish ourselves from unbelievers in both major parties? Jesus told us to be His witnesses and assured us of His continued presence in our lives, so our marching orders are clear: We are to stay “in His will,” remaining in prayer, and testifying by word and deed what the Lord has done for us.

Romans 13:1 (NASB): “Each person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority  except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

Daniel 2:21 (NKJV): “He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.”

Romans 14:12 (ESV): “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

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GLORIFYING GOD EVEN IN DEFEAT

NOW THAT THE VOTING IS OVER for the President/Vice President in the 2020 US election, how should the body of Christ react when many of us believe the wrong team won?

In the flesh, we’re as capable of temper tantrums as our non-believing neighbors, but as voting_signfollowers of Jesus Christ, we are called to a higher standard.

He told us that the world would know we are His flock if we love one another (John 13:35; John 15:17). He told us we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). He told us to care for the least of these (Matt. 25:40), to proclaim the Good News (Matt. 28:19), and to store our treasures in Heaven, where they will not be stolen or damaged (Matt. 6:19-20).

He also told us (John 15:5) we would not be able to do any of that in our own power. We would need His help.

DISCERNING GOD’S WILL FOR US

SO, NOW WE’RE ABOUT the job of discerning the Lord’s will. We read in Daniel 2:21 that God “changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings,” and we wonder, Did God just remove the king and replace him with another?

Wasn’t it just four years ago that we praised God for raising up a president and vice imagepresident who pledged to honor the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, to honor marriage as a gift from God uniting female and male into one unit, and to proclaim not just the freedom to worship but also the freedom to live out our faith?

If so, then, what happened?

Did God change His mind? Not likely.

Did God give us a brief window to get serious about our faith and find us wanting? Maybe.

Why would God elevate to the highest two offices in the land a duo committed to:

    • extending abortion to include allowing born babies to die,
    • extending LGBTQ+ rights over the rights of normal males and females,
    • quenching religious liberty in subjection to the state, and
    • upending the first institution installed by God, that of marriage between a man and a woman?

WHY??

Why, Lord, why?

STAYING FAITHFUL DURING TRIALS

AT THE MOMENT, I feel sick. I see the country I used to love and still have hopes for turning into a hate-filled narcissistic shell of its former self.

Yes, I see the threats launched from the victorious forces declaring their desire to silence opposition to their rule, to continue their assault on our civil liberties, and, if necessary, to destroy us.

Yet, God tells us to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16), to “give thanks” in all situations (1 Thess. 5:18), and even to rejoice and persevere in “tribulation” (Rom. 12:12).

Okay, we’re there. Tribulation, defeat, rejection. We’re there, Lord. Now we’re supposed to be patient and … what? Quietly endure? Suffer? Seek revenge?

No, our Lord answers. Keep praying, He says (1 Thess. 5:17; Rom. 12:12; James 1:2-3). Besides, our trials are nothing compared with what the apostles suffered. Check out Paul’s trials (2 Cor. 11:24-28).

BELIEVING GOD’S PLAN IS GOOD 

NOT ONLY MUST WE focus on God’s plan being good, we must realize that His timing is not the same as ours. We want answers yesterday; He provides them 500 years later … or 50 years … or maybe five years.

He has to prepare people for the future He has willed. Moses needed 40 years growing up in Pharaoh’s court, 40 years tending sheep in the wilderness, and then enduring the trials of facing Pharaoh with a series of plagues before God considered him ready to lead His people out of bondage.

So, why should we expect an immediate answer to all of our questions by the evening news or tomorrow’s newspaper?

The answers are in His Book, and we can sustain ourselves by reading it and learning from it.

My conclusion: Stay in the Word, remain in prayer, fellowship with the saints, and testify to the world that God is in control, and His plan will occur in the timing that He decrees.

POSTSCRIPT

I DON’T KNOW WHAT the Lord is doing in this election. He doesn’t owe me an explanation. However, I thoroughly trust His judgment and His plan for my life. He will let it develop in His time, and I might live long enough to see some of it play out.

What is very clear to me is that I am to call on the name of the Lord everyday, to seek my refuge in Him, to confess my sins to Him, to ask His will for my life, to engage in intercessory prayer, to be temperate in my comments, to be patient in my demeanor, and to show love and compassion to my fellow man, even those I dislike.

38. God's.MercyThat looks like a pretty full plate, and, no, I am not capable of doing half of that well without the strong arm of Jesus Christ wrapped around my shoulders and the Holy Spirit indwelling my heart.

May my heart cry mimic the covenant prayer of Pastor John Wesley 250 years ago: “I am no longer my own, but thine; Put me to what thou wilt; rank me with whom thou wilt; Put me to doing; put me to suffering. … So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen”

Those are amazing words and an awesome responsibility. I am not up to it, but the God I serve is bigger than any obstacle I face. May His grace lead me and sustain me during the trials ahead.

I’m going to need His love to get me through until the next election … and beyond.

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PRAYER

O LORD GOD, our merciful Father, we come to You humbly and repentant. We know that image-17we have failed to proclaim the Good News as vigorously or as often as we ought. We know You will confront us with our failures when we reach Glory. Help us to see clearly the pathway You’ve laid out for us to follow and give us the strength, and the desire, to obey. Your way is perfect at all times, and we rest comfortably knowing You, Lord, are in control. May we be Your faithful servants. In the loving and mighty name of our Lord Jesus Christ we lift this prayer. AMEN

OBEYING THE LORD’S COMMANDS

The Lord has created us with a perfect plan to glorify Him and to enjoy fellowship with Him and each other. His rules for our lives are designed to help us, not to harm us or destroy our enjoyment. Instead, He promises His prescriptions will give us life and that in abundance. We disobey Him at our loss.

1 Kings 2:3 (CEV):Do what the Lord your God commands and follow his teachings.”

John 14:15a (TLB):If you love me, obey me.”

Luke 2:52 (CSB): “Jesus increased in wisdom and  stature, and in favor with God and with people.”

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LEARNING TO BE OBEDIENT

WHEN WE WERE children, our mother would tell us to “go to the bathroom” before we went anywhere in the car.

Of course, that would mean leaving our toys and other play things, so naturally we would respond, “I don’t have to go.”Boys_Playing_Blocks

After she told us another time or two, with each time our refusing to budge, our father would bellow, “Obey your mother!”

Suddenly, we had to use the bathroom and would race one another to get there first.

In many ways, that is how many Christians treat the Lord’s commands.

We know that He loves us and that He’ll forgive us, so we’re lax when it comes to obeying Him.

What too many Christians are prone to forget is that He also judges us and is not pleased when we disobey Him.

LEARNING GOD’S COMMANDS

WHAT ARE SOME of the commandments the Lord requires us to obey?

The first and primary commandment, as Jesus described it, is to love the Lord your God with your entire body, mind, and soul. The second commandment, He said, is to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matt. 22:37-40)

god-is-sovereignHe also commanded us to obey the Ten Commandments or Law of Moses. The first four commandments are to love God first, to worship only God, do not take His name in vain, and to honor the Sabbath Day, a requirement for ancient Israel that was replaced after Jesus’ resurrection with honoring the Lord’s Day.

The next six commandments regulated our interaction with our neighbors and were based entirely on mutual love and respect for others created in God’s image.

We readily recognize those “love” commandments as mandates from God, but there are others that we must acknowledge and obey:

        • You must be born again
        • Let people see your good works
        • Abide in Him
        • Forgive your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
        • Tell others about Him and baptize them in His name
        • Get rid of anything that causes you to sin
        • Store up your treasures in Heaven
        • Observe communion in remembrance of Him
        • Be humble, not proud
        • Do not lust after women (or men)
        • Be merciful.

OBEYING GOD’S COMMANDS

NOW, THE BIG QUESTION:

WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT LIST?

How many of them are you missing? Are you obeying each of them?

A few of them are one-time only, like being born again, but most of the list is ongoing, a way of life. If we are dedicated and consistent, we will live God-honoring lives that will make for a powerful testimony to the Lord’s saving grace.image-2

When we realize that we cannot fulfill the list under our own  power, we can lay claim to one of the more compelling commandments in the list, to “abide” in Jesus.

When we do that, He promises to “abide” in us and assures that, without Him, we can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

POSTSCRIPT

GOD’S COMMANDMENTS are requirements, not requests or suggestions. He wants us to obey Him because His commandments are good for us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

Those plans conform to God’s design for our lives. We not only are wise if we obey them, but we will be much happier and peaceful. (Proverbs 1:7; John 10:10)

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PRAYER

OUR GRACIOUS AND LOVING Heavenly Father, we  confess to You so often we have lone_crossfailed to obey Your design for our lives, substituting our own desires for Your commands. We have treated Your commands as worthy suggestions, but often ignore them for what they are: directives. Forgive us, Lord, and encourage us through the Holy Spirit to live our lives as a living testament to Your power and Your goodness. In Jesus’ redeeming name we pray. AMEN

 

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE? (Part 2 of 2)

Now that you’re “all in” for Jesus Christ, what are you to do? What comes next? You know the Great Commission tells you to share the Gospel with the whole world, starting with your family and neighborhood and branching outward. You know you are commanded to love one another and to serve others, even “the least of these.” You know that each believer is awarded spiritual gifts, which are different from those awarded other believers. So, what form does all of this take for each one of us?

James 1:1 (NCV): “From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To all of God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings.”

2 Cor. 2:14 (ESV): “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)

Col. 1:28 (NLT): So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.

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LIVING OUT OUR FAITH

You say you are saved?

Wonderful! Praise God!

57. JESUS - Ascension 2What have you done about it?

When we read the Epistle of James, we start with an amazing proclamation in the very first verse, a proclamation so stark we’re compelled to stop right there and meditate on its significance.

James proclaims himself to be the “servant,” or, depending on your translation, the “bond-servant” or “slave,” of Jesus Christ. James is the half-brother of Jesus, a sibling whom Scripture relates not only disbelieved in the Lordship of Jesus but also mocked Him during His public ministry.

Last time, we discussed the significance of James’ coming to faith. This conversion was sparked no doubt by the meeting mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:7, when Jesus “appeared” before James. This was after Jesus was crucified, pronounced dead, buried, and then rose from the dead.

This time, we want to focus on the second part of James 1:1 — what James did after Jesus as Lord intervened in his life.

As we look at James, we need to keep this question in mind: So what? What are we doing after the Lord’s intervention in our lives?

PAYING WITH HIS LIFE

WE’RE TOLD FROM the Bible and other writings that James rose to become the leader of the Jewish believers living in Jerusalem and later suffered a horrific martyrs’ death for his faith.

We read in Acts 15 that it was James who lent the authority of his family ties with Jesus to recognize that God in His mercy had extended salvation through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

The apostles Paul and Barnabas had recounted their evangelism to the Gentiles before the Jewish believers meeting in Jerusalem. The council was debating whether Gentiles needed to become Jews before they could be saved or whether they could pass directly from being heathens to salvation.

Luke records the meeting this way (ESV): “After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘Brothers, listen to me. … Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.’” (Acts 15:13, 19)

That settled the matter for “the brothers, both the apostles and the elders” who then conveyed that message to their Gentile brothers. (v. 23)

FOLLOWING GOD’S PLAN

NOW THAT YOU received God’s Holy Spirit into your heart, what does God expect you to do with it?

We can see what James felt called to do. Here, he is writing a short letter filled with advice and directives on how a new believer should act. Yes, in the Jewish tradition, he focuses on the law and actions, but he ties them in to faith and conversion.Walking_in_Jesus'_Footsteps

“You say you have faith?” he asks. “Well, show me your faith by your actions. Don’t just tell me about your good works. Show me.” (James 2:18 editor’s trans.)

Whereas Paul’s letters focused on creed, James was concerned with conduct. Paul wrote about belief; James, about behavior; Paul was doctrine, James was deed. The two narrative styles complement one another.

Of the 108 verses in James, 54 contain a directive on conduct.

Commentators note parallels between his writings and the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

BECOMING FISHERS OF MEN

SO WE ARE TO BE mindful of the evangelizing function, referenced in the Great Commission, among other teaching.

image-6Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of  men.” (Matt. 4:19 NKJV)

If you’re not sharing the Gospel, you’re not being obedient.

2 Cor. 9:13 (NCV): “It is a proof of your faith. Many people will praise God because you obey the Good News of Christ—the gospel you say you believe—and because you freely share with them and with all others.”

How do you share the Gospel?

LETTING OUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN

JESUS TELLS US in Matt. 5:16 (NIV) to let our “light shine before others” that they may see our good works, or our good deeds, “and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Isn’t this what James said by matching our deeds with our faith?

This means acting according to the commandments our Lord gave us: to love one other, to forgive, to serve, to show compassion, to respect, to honor, to refrain from coveting, greed, envy, jealousy, anger, hatred, violence.

Then, when we are given the opportunity, as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT), to explain our “hope as a believer,” we should “be ready to explain it.”

In his book, Talking With My Father, the late evangelical pastor and author Ray C. Stedman, says it this way:

[Lord] Keep us from being ineffective, ordinary Christians. Challenge us to be true followers of you, ready to fling our lives away for Jesus Christ, ready to be utterly careless of what happens to us in order that He may be glorified. We pray in His name. Amen 

—Ray C. Stedman, Talking With My Father

POSTSCRIPT

THESE ARE THE questions each of us must answer:

          • Do you know the risen Lord?
          • Do you worship Him in the way you live your life?
          • Are you ready to explain the hope and joy in your heart?
          • Can you show how the Lord’s message of salvation is important for you and can be for your audience?
          • Are you prepared to share the Gospel?

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PRAYER

OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we humbly ask You to guide us as we strive to honor You in our image-5lives. Grow within us a softer  heart, one more gracious, more compassionate; more giving; a heart that does not puff up but pours out, one that does not expect but serves; one that shows we are loved by the King. O LORD, our God, to You belong all the Praise, Honor, and Glory. In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we pray. AMEN

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE? (Part 1 of 2)

Ever wonder what it took for James, Jesus’ oldest half-brother, to believe that his older brother was the Messiah, the chosen one of God? James grew up watching Jesus and apparently thought He was nutty. When he came to understand who Jesus really was, he worshipped Him, then he became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem and eventually was martyred for his faith. What does it take for you to believe Jesus is the Christ of the living God?

James 1:1 (NCV): “From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To all of God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings.”

Matt. 7:13 (ESV): “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

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OUR DIFFICULT ROAD TO FAITH

Some of the most stirring passages in God’s Holy Word are the ones that sneak up on us, the ones we glide over for years as we enjoy our all-time favorites.JESUS_AND_FAMILY

Surely, the opening lines of James’ short epistle are among those easily-ignored passages that pack a wallop when we focus on them: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

James was the oldest of the children born to Joseph and Mary (Jesus was born to Mary but was begat not by Joseph but by the Holy Spirit).

James no doubt was the frequent recipient of his mother’s scolding: “Jimmy, why can’t you be more like your older brother? He cleans His room, helps His father in the wood shop, is kind to the neighbors, and even tutors that young boy with the learning disability. You, on the other hand, are a scoundrel. Your room’s a mess, your grades could be improved, and you’re too rough with your sisters.”

WHEN GOD IS YOUR OLDER BROTHER

OF COURSE, THOSE CONVERSATIONS were not recorded, but we can imagine quite easily that young boys and girls 2,000 years ago acted much like their progeny today.

Except for Jesus.

YOUNG_BOY_JESUSJesus was perfect. The Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52 NASB). Commentary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association says this shows Jesus knew, even as a young lad, that he  was “unique” and “set apart by God for a special mission.”

There is no indication in the Bible that his half-brothers and half-sisters caught on. The Bible tells us they wanted Him to give up His public ministry and return home to tend to the carpentry shop Joseph had started. (Mark 3:31-35)

“For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” — John 7:5 (NKJV)

THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING

ALL OF THAT CHANGED after His resurrection.

The Bible tells us Jesus “appeared to James, then to  all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:7 (NET))

That certainly would do it, wouldn’t it? Imagine this … James saw his older brother’s beaten carcass stapled to a cross along the major thoroughfare only to see Him a few days later standing in front of him … very much alive.lone_cross

We can only imagine the love and tenderness the risen Savior showed His unbelieving brother. We can only imagine James’ reaction! At that moment, he must have dropped to his knees in worship.

It was a personal encounter with one of His disciples, Thomas the Twin, dubbed “the Doubter,” that cleared up all cloudy issues in his mind when he could see … and feel … the nail holes and sword’s splice that remained in Jesus’ glorified body.

Thomas, overcome with worship, shouted, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 (ESV))

YOUR OWN FAITH JOURNEY

BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU? Are you a believer? If so, what did it take to convince you that Jesus was, and is, who He said He is, the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity?

If you are not a believer, what would it take to convince you to give up your skepticism, your doubt, your hardened shell, and fall on your knees in worship and adoration to the Word made flesh? The One who died on the cross to satisfy God’s wrath against your sins?

James and Thomas had the advantage of a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, but Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29 (CSB))

Think back on James. James, the half-brother. James, the second-born. James, the one compared to his older sibling but, perhaps, not to his credit.

That visit must have been amazing. We read that James, once a skeptic and mocker of his older brother’s ministry, sought His brother’s forgiveness … not as his older brother … but as his Lord and Savior.

As God Himself.

… and when he received it, in grace, as we know he would, he dedicated his life to serving His God.

POSTSCRIPT

LET’S NOT IGNORE the sheer humility in James’ writing, when he describes himself as a “bond-servant” or “slave” of Jesus Christ, not as Jesus’ half-brother.

He was not dropping names here. He did not seek reflected glory.

That conversation must have shaken him to the core.

It was real … and he lived his faith to the end.

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PRAYER

Our Heavenly Father, forgive us our unbelief. Many of us who have come to receive the image-21Holy Spirit find that spot of resistance, where we hesitate to trust You completely. So many around us haven’t even taken that first step of faith to receive the Holy Spirit. Lord, You created us out of Your love to worship and adore You, yet so often we find ways to fail. James and Thomas were “all in” for the Lord, but they, and the other apostles, saw the Lord in the flesh. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who do not see and still believe.” Lord, help us to be those followers who believe, who are “all in” for Jesus, the way Jesus, dying on the cross for our sins, was “all in” for us. We ask this in His glorious and precious name. AMEN