Sunday, December 29, 2013
I have been listening to an audio by David Wilkerson called, 'The Cross and the Switchblade' and am tempted to cry when I see how God was merciful to the gangsters in New York City. As I recollect the many stories in the book, I am affected by how God moved on a man's heart to reach wayward young men and women with the Gospel message. The story of how Nicky Cruz came to know the Lord is amazing. Here is a man who was so hardened to the Gospel. Listen to his videos on Youtube. He believed that David Wilkerson came to New York City to break up the groups. As David introduced himself to Nicky, Nicky responded by telling him that he would kill David. Nicky had to attend the meetings David Wilkerson was preaching at simply because he was the second in rank in his gang, and he was required to follow the president of the group, in this case, was a young man named Israel. Israel was hungry for knowing God and ordered his gang to be at the meetings. Nicky would sneer as David was preaching. He would give cues to the others while the meeting was going on. Then in unison they would react. But one night David was desperate. He was tired of the clamor of the attendants. So, he bowed his head and prayed. Silence came from the audience and they listened. It was at one of those meetings that Nicky actually heard what David was preaching. He was immediately convicted of sin. At the end of the meeting, he told God that he was the worst sinner in all of New York, but if God wanted him, He could have him. Nicky's life was never the same. Not only that, God delivered him, over time, from the addiction of drugs. He was set free by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has been on fire ever since that time in the early 1960s. There were other gangsters who were saved. There were warlocks who came to Christ. Gang leaders were on their knees repenting before God. These were young men as well as women, who led lives of continual crime. Many were criminals simply because of their addiction to heroin, and they had to kill and steal to feed their addiction, daily. Many were in prison. Some were drug pushers. Whatever they did, it seemed like they were callous to reality. God went after these gangsters, not to threaten them with judgment, but to offer them the hope of eternal life and deliverance from their sins, which were many, and very deep. But we really are not much different than gangsters. We aren't holding people up to get money out of them so we can have the next fix, or killing people for sport. But our sins are grievous as well. I think of just my own household. Sometimes, people in my household don't get along. Sometimes, someone gets angry. We have pouted and have had bad attitudes. We have such a pull for being selfish. We forget about God. I know how easy it is to get involved in some family matter or job that needs tending to, only to be distracted and forget about God. How easy it is for me to get up in the mornings and plan out my day in my mind, and not include God in the things I do. It's easy for me to get on the computer and interact with people, then half the day is gone and I haven't even gotten to praying. I am not a legalist. I don't believe that if we forget to pray that God will punish us. But I believe God wants to interact with us, just like He did with the gangsters in New York City in the early 60s. He wants to have a relationship with us. And I spend so much time trying to get things done instead of spending time with God. Why am I so selfish? Or am I just realizing how selfish I had always been? How can I be happy in God? One of the things I have been praying for lately is for the 'joy of the Lord'. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Instead of meditating on the things that annoy me, I need to meditate upon the greatness and majesty of the Lord. The same God who pursued the gangsters in New York City, still pursues us. We are sinful just like they are, yet God is merciful to both of us. I think about how God was merciful to the gangsters. And I think about how God has been merciful to me. Only a person who has not sinned does not need God. And no such person exists for the Bible is clear that 'all have sinned' and we all fall short of God's glory. So, we can ask God to help us look at our hearts. He can show us our sins and shortcomings. The more we see our sin, the more God's mercy will be to us. This is something to think about.
Basically, there are two kinds of sinners; those who hold onto their sin, and those who repent of their sin. After reading comments on a Facebook post and listening to responses of people who are resistant to the Gospel, I realize that there are some misunderstandings of Christianity of those who are resistant. Perhaps if they truly understood the nature of the Gospel, they wouldn't be as resistant. I have to admit first that there are many professing Christians that don't understand the Gospel, and may be the very reason why Gospel opponents don't understand the Gospel. One of the biggest objections to the Gospel is that 'Christians are hypocrites'. This accusation might be partly true, for there are those professing Christians who hold onto their sins while proclaiming that God is 'all-loving' and 'all-forgiving'. The problem is that God really is all-loving and all-forgiving, but only to those who genuinely repent of their sins and turn to Christ. Jesus didn't die for our sins, so that we could continue in them (see Romans 6). But I do hear some professing Christians proclaim this kind of message. It is confusing to the unchurched though, and we need to stick with what the Scriptures say, not what we want them to say. The other group says that a person has to repent of their sins and turn to Christ (which, up to this point is correct), but they continue by saying that a person has to keep God's commandments or else he won't be saved anymore. The first group of professing Christians are basically Universalists, believing that any kind of acknowledgement of Jesus dying to pay for our sins will get us into heaven, while the other group has gone all the way to the other side of the spectrum (probably in reaction to Universalism) in saying that a person has to keep the commandments. Both groups have some truth in them but in reality, and based upon Scriptures, we repent of our sins, trust in Jesus (not just mental assent) and when we do truly repent, God does come in and makes the sinner a new creation in Christ and gives him or her a new heart. The person who has genuinely repented and come to Christ on God's terms (not his or her own) is 'born again'. When that happens, a person has the ability to obey God, because the Power of God lives inside that person. The word of God is activated in that person and they can live a holy life. But, because of indwelling sin, that same person can still sin. It doesn't mean that God will leave him or her because of the sin, but it does mean that the person who is born again can repent and turn back to God and continue to walk with God. This person will not be held down by their sin anymore (note: some will have serious struggles with sin and will need others in the church to walk with him or her until they are fully delivered). Now back to the main point of the post. There really are two kinds of sinners. There are those sinners who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus, and there are those sinners who continue to oppose the Gospel (and use excuses like 'Christians are hypocrites' to avoid responding to the Gospel.) The issue isn't that Christians are on a high, supernatural level, better than everyone else, because they have figured out a way to keep the commandments and please God. Always keep in mind that any true Christian is a sinner. The only difference is that those who put their trust in Jesus Christ have their sins forgiven and have become new creatures in Christ, not by anything they have done, but because of what God has done for them. Always remember, salvation is a gift of God. It is never achieved by any works by human beings. But it is a gift that must be received and acted upon. If you knew you had a gift at someone's house, but that person lived far away, the gift wouldn't do you any good, would it? You would have to go to the person's house and take the gift, open it up, then use it. That is similar to the way salvation works. We have to receive it and it becomes activated in us. Only then can we benefit from it.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
With all the talk about heretics and false teachers/teachings on the Internet, I am surprised that no one has picked up on Pelagianism. Pelagianism is creeping into many areas of Christianity without notice. Yet, if someone disagrees with us doctrinally, we call them out and label them as heretics. I am puzzled by this. I am not going to go into all the doctrines of Pelagianism, but will summarize here what they believe in, so the rest of what I write will make sense; 1. They do not believe in original sin, 2. They believe a person can lose their salvation, 3. They believe a person is responsible for their sin, 4. They believe that salvation is two-fold- faith in the finished work of Christ and obeying the commandments. My personal opinion is that they are reacting to those who profess to be Christians who say that once we are saved, we can do whatever we want and still go to heaven. First of all, that kind of thinking is wrong. It's not Biblical. The Bible doesn't teach us that we can come to Christ in repentance and faith, then go out and do whatever we want. I almost can't imagine anyone really believing that doctrine, but since Paul had to deal with it in Romans 6, it really does happen. One thing I want to point out is that a Pelagian's understanding of what sin is, is different from what a Calvinist, for example, believes. The Bible teaches that sin comes from the heart. Here is what Jesus says about the things that defile a man, 'For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.These are what defile a person." Matthew 15:19,20 ESV Pelagians think that sin is the big bad things we do. They don't see the pride in their hearts as sin, so therefore they think they don't have sin. Or homosexuality. That, of course, would be sin. The thing that seems to be missing from both the Pelagians and those who would hold to the belief that a person could come to Christ in repentance and faith, then do whatever he or she wants and still be saved, is simply one thing; the new heart. When a person comes to Christ and is born again, he or she receives a new heart. Not just a new heart, but also the Holy Spirit lives inside now. The Holy Spirit gives the believer the power to live a Godly life. The new heart provides the desire to live a Godly life. If a person is very sick, and there is a special, expensive medicine that can make him well, and someone gives him that medicine, he is not going to take the medicine and pour it down the drain (unless something is seriously wrong with his mind!). No, he will prize this medicine. He will be grateful for it. He will use it wisely so it will work. He will protect it from being lost or stolen. This is normal behavior for something we cherish. If a person is truly saved, he or she will treasure the Gospel. We will be grateful for the Gospel and for what God has done for us when He sent His Son, 2,000 years ago to become the atonement for our sins. We will not treat this carelessly because it will be precious to us. Pelagians don't understand the value of the Gospel. They believe we are responsible for our sins. If we sin, we need to stop sinning (I am not saying we should continue in sin. We cannot deliver ourselves from sin.). If Pelagians are right, then we aren't able to come to God until we show that we are ready by cleaning up our act first, then come to God. Sure, we can clean up the outside of our cups, like the Pharisees did. This is what the Pelagians do. They clean up the outside of the cup, but they don't realize that the inside is what's dirty. God looks at our hearts. Man only sees the outside. That's why we need a new heart. So, today's lesson is simply that we need a new heart. Many Christians miss this concept and try to make up for it by being extra good or trying harder. Jesus lived a perfect life and died a death that we should have died. Our sin is that bad before God. God did what only God can do for us in our helpless state. We can't fix it. But yes, we can repent of our sins, and God will grant us repentance when we see the ugliness of our sin and turn to Him.
Friday, December 13, 2013
A couple of months ago I decided to make popcorn everyday for the squirrels that are in our back yard, mainly because I want to keep the squirrels away from the garden and well fed, so that they will not be as tempted to attack the plants in the garden. We had 12 squirrels at one time gathered under the tree where the popcorn was placed. But the squirrel population decreased and now we only have one or two left. But what we did get was a raccoon who came daily for his ration of popcorn as well as a stray cat. All these animals had the same coloring too. I haven't seen the raccoon lately, but the cat comes around every day. He is very thin and is probably very hungry. I got some cat food for him from the store and placed a bowlful per day for him or her. The food seemed to be gone immediately. Now I have to remember that the raccoon could be eating it as well, so I am placing more food in the back yard for them. I have been doing this for months now, yet, whenever the cat is out there in the back, eating the food I provide for him or her, as soon as the cat sees me, it runs away. It still doesn't trust me. Today I was putting a letter in the mail box and saw the cat from a distance. I informed the cat that I had some food for him/her, but as soon as the cat saw me, it ran off. Will this cat ever trust me? I think we are like that so many times. Most of us have no concept of a God who loves us and wants to be with us. We are good at hearing (and preaching) how God hates sin (and He does) and will punish it One Day. We know that people will be judged for their sins. Many do not want to give up their sins in order to be saved. But some really would, if they understood that God really does love them and wants them to be free from their sins. We are so untrusting toward God. We believe the devil's lies about God. One of the biggest lies the devil tells people is that God wants to take away our fun. He tries to get us to not trust God by believing that God doesn't want what is best for us. Yes, we are much like the frightened cat who doesn't want to come near me, but appreciates the food I give him/her. As soon as we hear God's voice, we run away (or explain it away). I have heard a phrase about God being the 'Hound of Heaven'. I am not sure of what is intended in this phrase, but I think it means that God pursues us because He loves us and wants a relationship with us. He also wants us to repent and trust in Him. When we do that, we become new creatures in Christ with a new heart. But we continually run away from God because of our own sinful hearts and the lies of the Enemy of our souls. Yes, we are much like the cat that roams our neighborhood looking for food. We gladly eat what God has provided, yet we run away from Him. Here is what God says, 'Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' He also tells us that anyone who comes to Jesus will in no way be cast out. Will you come to God, or will you continually be running away from Him? The choice is yours.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
I don't know about you, but lately when Christmas comes around, I find myself crying more. I think a lot of it has to do with my kids growing up and leaving home. Some of it could be due to the fact that I am not running around with these kid activities and taking kids to school, going to concerts, etc. anymore. Kind of sad. But I wonder if there is another reason for Christmas being a sad time of the year. About a month ago, I found out that someone who was attending our church committed suicide. Last week, a church member's brother was killed while jogging. Another friend's mother passed away. Another friend has an aunt who is declining in health with terminal cancer. A person who had just stepped down as pastor ended his life a couple of days ago. Life is really sad. I wonder if there is any connection to these events and Christmas? I think a couple of things come to mind here; one of them is that loved ones are probably clinging onto life until Christmas, as much as possible. Certainly those who are killed can't do anything about the timing of their deaths though, but it is still very hard to have a loved one die around the holidays. Another thing though, that I think is more prevalent is that people who are depressed, will experience deeper depression around the holidays, especially if they are alone or not in a church body where there is life and community in relationships. People are, by nature, gregarious. No man is an island, as the song goes. We were not intended to live isolated lives. We were not made to have to live hidden lives, yet so many people do. I think if we realize this, it is the first step to helping ourselves if we struggle with depression. The depressed person needs to be in relationships with other people in the church. He or she needs someone who is trusted and who they can confide in. The Enemy of our souls would love nothing more than for us to be destroyed and if we destroy ourselves, so much the better, as far as he is concerned. All of us are vulnerable, to some degree to depression. If we think we are above it, we are deceiving ourselves. That is exactly what the Enemy of our souls wants us to believe. The Enemy of our souls is always lying to us individually, and he has specific lies for us that he knows we will believe. We need to know the Word of God, and be able to use it against the Enemy. The word of God needs to be activated in our hearts, and that will be a guard against the onslaught of the Enemy. The Holy Spirit will activate God's Word in our hearts if we want Him to. So the key weapon is, God's word activated in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. But there are other guards we can have as well. One of them is the church. By church, I mean the body of related believers in Christ. Not every 'church' is a Bible believing, Spirit-filled church though, so we need to find one. Just because it has the label of 'church' doesn't mean it is a functioning church. The church was intended to be a body of related believers who live together in community (not necessarily living in the same house though!). If you go through the New Testament, you will find the term 'one-another' quite often. This is how we are to live our lives. The Christian family is a community of believers who are learning to live a new life in a new way, with new hearts. (For a message about 'one-anothering' please go to http://www.metrolife.org/sermons/sermon/2013-11-17/one-anothering) Around this time of year there are many lonely people around. Some are believers in Jesus Christ, while others have never heard the Gospel. We need to be reaching out to these people, especially this time of year. They are vulnerable to Satan's attacks and do not know how to guard against them yet. I believe that the suicide level will be lower if we minister to these people. This is a good time of year to reach out to the lost. Some have never experienced Christmas with a family. They will never appreciate what most of us have unless they are brought into our families during the holidays. Christmas is a season of giving. But the best gifts are those we give to others. Jesus said that it is better to give than to receive. The joy of giving ourselves to others is priceless. Serving those who are alone at this time of year is very rewarding and can cause a life to be changed forever. I know that next year people will still die at Christmas time. But what I hope is that death will not be caused by suicide. I hope that every lonely person will feel our love and acceptance and that God will provide opportunities for us to take people in, whether it be for Thanksgiving, or a Christmas meal, or some other creative idea that we could do which would include these people. The alternative is that they will be casualties next year, or some later year, because they didn't know how to reach out to us, or they possibly didn't know that we would receive them and didn't want to try. So, some ideas I have, and there are certainly way more than I can come up with, are; having people over for the Thanksgiving dinner, having people over for a Christmas meal, making gifts for neighbors and spending time talking with them (this is a hard one for me!). Please feel free to post any ideas you have. If you are alone this holiday season, please, I beg you to try to reach out to those in the church. Find a church that teaches the word of God and has relationships going. You will be pleasantly surprised when you meet the right group of people and get involved!