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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

It's Happened Before and It's Happening Again

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV) 9  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 

I just read an article published from psychologytoday.com entitled "Instruction Manual for Despots and Dictators: 7 STEPS to Increase Your Power" by Mark Van Vugt, Ph.D. I think we should  all read it. I think what has happened before is happening right under our noses while we think we have come up with something new.

We are giving up our freedoms as we are manipulated into believing that ceding these freedoms will give us greater security. 

Yesterday, I went to a local store to pick up an order placed by my wife. The store policy is that only the person who placed the order can pick it up. It made no difference that I have a government ID with the same address and a credit card in my name with the same number as the one used on the order and my last name is the same as my wife's. They want security. The only way to get absolute security is to go out of business. That means that someone, like the state, controls all commerce.

Freedom is very risky. Becoming free was very risky. Freedom was achieved at the extreme cost of lives. It seems strange that we would give it up to be safe when nothing about freedom is safe. 

Jesus came to set us free. It cost Him His life. If we were looking for a safe religion, this one just isn't the one. He set us free from the sin that determined our future. He set us free to follow Him. Truly following Him is not safe. He may ask you to give your life, too.

John 8:31-32 (ESV) 31  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Lies sound better but it is the truth that sets us free. Truth releases us from the power of the lie. Lies require more lies to protect the lies. Truth destroys the lies. Truth gives us the power of decision. We make our decisions according to the truth. Truth does not control us. It sets us free.

Yet, people are giving up the truth for the lie. The lie is believed because it is desired. The lie says this is the only heaven you will ever have. The lie convinces people that it is the truth. The lie places people into the slavery of the lie. Any decision that is made under the lie is a lie. The lie promises prosperity and delivers poverty. This is true when we speak of what truly matters. The soul is in poverty when all that matters is wealth in this world.

Why will a free people go back to being under slavery? (I am not speaking of the slavery placed upon people because they were captured and forced into slavery. I am speaking of the slavery that they usher in for themselves.) Maybe they forget what they already knew. They knew how people were oppressed under slavery but they forgot what got them under slavery.  Maybe they believe the lies. Maybe they want to be rescued from making decisions. They certainly don't acknowledge the truth.

Despotism, slavery, oppressive rule and the desire for absolute security are nothing new.  They have returned to popularity because only a few know what is is like to live under this rule. Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. We want what we don't have. Once we  have it, we don't want it anymore.

No, there is nothing new going on here.

(Please don't read this superficially. Take into account the spiritual and the civil.)


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

When People Quit the Ministry

 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 (ESV) 23  Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

For years I believed the myth that 1700 pastors leave the ministry each month. It simply isn't true. The true number is 250. While I still grieve over the 250 that's remarkably better than than what I formerly believed. About 1% of pastors leave the ministry each month. Not all of them leave because the work is tough. Several leave because of their moral failures. Some leave because of medical reasons. Most pastors aren't quitters because they deeply understand their calling.

That being said, the future will probably be more difficult than the past. The US is following the pattern of many other countries. There are fewer believers and, thus, more opposition to the gospel. Those who think faith is a sham want it eliminated. There have been municipalities who have banned churches in certain areas because the property owned by churches does not produce tax revenue. Many people do not see the benefit of a church or a people of faith existing in their neighborhoods. Even some politicians are speaking against faith nowadays. That was something that was completely unheard of just a few years ago. 

It is likely that some of the messages given by preachers will be labeled "hate" speech in the next few years. I could tell some people didn't like that I said Jesus was the only means of salvation in a sermon this past week. It was never intended to be a criticism of others. It was to awaken the church to tell the gospel story. Yet, some would say that it was intended to condemn those who aren't in the Christian church. The church won't be the final judge. Condemnation already rests on those who refuse Christ.

I spoke with a fellow pastor yesterday who said he wished he could just hunker down and bide his time without engaging the people outside the church in the criticism and future persecution. He knew he couldn't but wasn't looking forward to these difficulties either. That is because he understands his calling.

Those who quit may be tired. They have fought hard only to find that they are getting less and less for their hard work. They have prayed and have seen no growth in their churches. They have watched others using marketing techniques and gimmicks steal members from their churches. They cry out to God "How long?!" but hear nothing. They want a break.

However, when I look at all the things that Paul went through I wonder if I would have been so faithful. I know I don't want to be counted among those who quit because things got tough. But I can't help but question my own commitment if things got as tough as they did for Paul. What kept him going? I suppose the experience on the Damascus road was pretty convincing.

Do we all need a Damascus road experience to be so committed? To this I say, "Not exactly." We don't need to be blinded and spoken to in such a supernatural way. We do need to know that our calling to receive the Lord Jesus included a commitment of our lives. We do need to realize that our faith will be proven when we go through difficult times.

Those who quit either didn't make that commitment or they have forgotten their commitment. I believe we must keep this in mind in the days ahead. Let's not be counted among those who quit because times got tough.  

Monday, September 28, 2020

Who Are You Supporting?

2 Timothy 4:3 (ESV) 3  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, 

For years I have been critical of the heretical preachers. They take scripture out of context, bend and abuse it to suit their desires and present their messages in such exciting ways that no one notices what they are doing. At least, that's what I thought they were doing.

There would be no heretical preachers if people would know and commit themselves to the truth of God's Word. There are people in my own church who unashamedly tell me that they listen to some of these heretics. When I point out their heresy, they simply say, "Well, I just like what they say." In other words, I don't care what God's Word says, I want to hear magic words that will give me success, make me rich, heal me and let me live above everyone else.

I remember pointing out in detail many of the heresies being preached one time when I was told that I did one of the most evil things that was done in church. It was evil because it disagreed with what they wanted to believe. (Sounds like what is happening in politics, too.) 

The influence of the world captures people without their knowing. Their minds become what the world is. The world seeks heaven on earth in the flesh. The pull of being like the world is tremendous. Being godly means not participating in many worldly things. It means being left out and given undue criticism. It is so much easier to go along.

Those who do not have a quiet time with God each day when they read His Word, pray and make a new commitment find themselves walking with the world. The world will conform even the most committed if they take no steps to break this conformity.

There is a problem with heretical preachers, but the greater problem is those who seek after these preachers. It is the responsibility of every committed believer to make sure that he or she has held true to God's Word. This is standing up at the root level of our faith.

I will still point out the heresies. I will also urge believers to break away from the world through the power of the Holy Spirit working in God's Word. If believers stop supporting the heretics, the heretics will find a different show to put on and a different people to prey on.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Old Words Often Repeated

 Psalm 23:1-6 (ESV) 1

 The LORD is my shepherd; 
    I shall not want. 
2  He makes me lie down in green pastures. 
    He leads me beside still waters. 
3  He restores my soul. 
    He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 
4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
    I will fear no evil, for you are with me; 
    your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
5  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
    you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 
6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, 
    and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

These are very familiar words to many of us. We have read them so many times that they have become memorized. We have read them in perfunctory ways at funerals and as scripture readings in worship services. These are the times that these words mean very little because we are reading them because they are supposed to be read. They are the proper words that people often fail to hear.

There are other times we read these words with desperation. We need to know that the Lord cares, provides, restores, protects and rewards us. There are times we find ourselves in a dark room with no light. There has been no light for so long that we start believing that light itself is just a myth. So, we read these words and the light returns.

Many times we don't need empty words of assurances that people often give us. They say things will get better as if they know. But they don't know and we know they don't know. We nod our heads and agree because there is no real reason to refute what they have said. They say things out of their hopes and compassion.

The 23rd Psalm is an assurance from the Lord rather than empty hope from well-meaning friends. The Psalm is solid. It has stood the test of time. It has given true hope when we were desperate for hope.

So, read the old words again. And maybe again and again. And as you do let the words sink in. "The Lord is my Shepherd . . . ."

Monday, September 21, 2020

Sometimes It Looks Like God Has Lost Control

 Watch the news if you want to be convinced that God has lost control. Their motto is: We give them fear! This year we have seen that motto fleshed out better than ever. The news isn't reported. It is sensationalized to make the most stoic person scream. It makes the brave want to hide and the fearful accept any radical solution. It calls on people to make drastic decisions and sets up the next news feed so that those who want to protect their families and must watch to prepare for the next oncoming disaster.

Let's step back for a minute. Whether you are speaking of Isaiah 6 or Revelation 4 we find Someone on a throne. He is in control even if He is allowing people to act like Adam and Eve. He is not worried about the election. He has Covid-19 in His grasp. He loves all lives. He is bringing justice. He is fully aware and fully capable to act at any moment to change anything He desires.

This does not mean we won't go through the difficult times that may lay ahead. Yet, He will be with us. He controls the limit to what can happen to us. There is no limit to what He will do for us. Remember, He has already proved that by giving His Son to the cross.

In a crisis, we draw close to God and He draws close to us. We are filled with His presence. The walk with Him becomes the most precious we possess. Our fears are calmed and our hearts are filled with joy even though we may be in dire need. He gives us comfort even as we walk in the valley of the shadow of death.

Our future has not changed with all of the fears that have been placed before us. He did not give us the fear in the first place. Our fear originates in believing that anyone but God is in control. We shall be with Him forever once we have walked our days on this earth. There, we shall not face these disasters we have today. There will be no tears when we are in His new kingdom.

God is bringing His future into our lives. It is not the futile future the people of the world are facing. It is His future for us which means that He seeks our welfare rather than evil. He seeks to give us a future and a hope.

In the end, it is the devil that gets the bad news. His time will come to an end.

Therefore, our strength should be in the Lord. Our future is found in Him. His presence is more precious than anything that is taken from us. We will walk confidently through all we face. We can praise Him though there are no cattle in the stalls. We can praise Him though our lives may come to an end. We can praise Him because just when the world says there is no hope, our hope shines through.

God is in control.

Monday, August 24, 2020

When All the Jews Believe

God has not closed the doors on the Jews. He has a means of saving them as a nation. His plan included saving the Gentiles. His plan is assured. The Deliverer will come out of Zion when the fullness of the Gentiles is reached. When will that be?

Monday, August 17, 2020

Held by God's Kindness

Many times we want to emphasize God's love at the exclusion of His judgement. We may think that He has put away His holiness and His justice to save us all. We are mistaken. God is the same all the time. He is just as holy as He is loving. In this message we learn: We all are held by God's kindness or we should expect God's severity.