A Final Word from Chuck Colson

Empire State Building in New York City. Photograph taken by Randy Scott Slavin.

Empire State Building in New York City. Photograph taken by Randy Scott Slavin.

My Final Word Cover PhotoThere’s a new book just published, written by Charles Colson (posthumously, since he died in April 2012) with Anne Morse, who worked at Prison Fellowship Ministries for nearly eighteen years as a writer for the radio program, BreakPoint, and it is titled, My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter Most,” published on August 4, 2015. For those who might not be familiar with Charles Colson, the following brief bio is taken from Wikipedia:

Charles “Chuck” Wendell Colson (October 16, 1931 – April 21, 2012) was an Evangelical Christian leader who founded Prison Fellowship and BreakPointPrior to his conversion to Christianity, he served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973.

Once known as President Nixon’s “hatchet man,” Colson gained notoriety at the height of the Watergate scandal, for being named as one of the Watergate Seven, and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for attempting to defame Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg.[1] In 1974, he served seven months in the federal Maxwell Prison in Alabama as the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges.[2]

Colson became a Christian in 1973. (Colson was born into a Christian family and so did not convert to Christianity). His mid-life conversion to Christianity sparked a radical life change that led to the founding of his non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship and to a focus on Christian worldview teaching and training. Colson was also a public speaker and the author of more than 30 books.[2] He was the founder and chairman of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, which is “a research, study, and networking center for growing in a Christian worldview”, and while he was alive included Colson’s daily radio commentaryBreakPoint, which was heard in its original format on more than 1,400 outlets across the United States.[3][4] (Quote source here.)

The following is taken from the inside front flap cover of the book:

The issues you can’t ignore from the voice you will not forget. Based on previously unpublished material written during the final years of Chuck Colson’s life, “My Final Word” highlights twelve key issues for vital Christian witness in the 21st century.

Issues that include:

  • Crime and Punishment
  • Natural Law
  • Islam
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • The Persecution of Christians
  • And More (from the Table of Contents): Apologetics, Bioethics and Life Issues, Christians and Public Life, Church and Culture; Crime, Punishment,and Justice; Happiness, Judicial Usurpation, War of the Worldviews

If you’re new to Colson’s writings, you will be struck by the power and immediacy of his arguments. If you’re a longtime fan, his intelligence and insights have never been better on display.

Ultimately, “My Final Word” offers one last opportunity to hear in Colson’s own words his passionate, focused, pertinent vision for a socially engaged church that brings about good for all of society. (Source: Inside front flap cover to the book.)

The brief quote below is from the forward to this book by Eric Metaxas, Senior Fellow and Lecturer at Large for the King’s College, New York Times bestselling author, and along with his colleague, John Stonestreet, he is the voice of BreakPoint, which broadcasts on 1,400 radio outlets with an audience of eight million:

What this book contains is vintage Colson. There is so much here on such a breadth of vital topics that I pray Americans would read this book and reread it and study it in small groups until they know it and are as passionate about these things as Chuck was himself. In fact, I would dare say that if enough Americans familiarized themselves with what’s in this book, the American church would dramatically change for the better, which would mean that America would dramatically change for the better. That’s not some vain hope; there is gold in these pages. Avail yourself of it. (Source: Forward to the book, page 9.)

One of the endorsements for the book is from Franklin Graham, president and CEO, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; Samaritan’s Purse:

Chuck Colson’s voice is still heard on the issues of today. In “My Final Word” he has addressed every issue that confronts the world today. In addition to his wealth of knowledge, experience, and love for Christ, his archival material reveals prophetic insight into how believers in America are going to face persecution because of their faith. Dr. Colson sounds the alarm for the church to ready itself for battle–a necessary part of standing for Jesus Christ and the Word of God in the last days. You will be challenged in your Christian faith, but you will also be blessed by understanding how the gospel is moving forward in troubled times, to bring others to salvation for the glory of our Lord and Savior.

The material throughout the book is written in short one- to three-page segments within the specific chapter titles. Easy to read and understand, the book can be read at just about any point within it’s pages due to the layout. To whet your appetite, I’m including two short segments from the book, and the first one is from a chapter titled, “Church and Culture,” on pp. 77-79, titled, “The Ties That Loosen.”

The Ties That Loosen

To say that Chuck was a huge C.S. Lewis fan would be a massive understatement. Outside the biblical authors, I wouldn’t doubt that Chuck quoted the Oxford don more than any other source. Lewis had much to say about the right way to live our lives, and Christians who believe they can get by on reading the Bible alone are missing out on great wisdom.

Rereading C.S. Lewis recently has reminded me of how enormous the cultural shift has been from the forties and fifties until today. In the long span of history, that’s a pretty short period of time. And yet the world has changed dramatically. 

Now, people my age always say things have changed, and they always seem to think change is bad, but I’m not saying that. I think we’ve experienced an unusual shift, similar to a tectonic shift in the plates of the earth. For instance, we’ve gone from a community-centered culture in the West to being so self-absorbed that we can best be described as narcissistic. Christopher Lasch‘s book on the culture of narcissism was dead on, and that was nearly forty years ago. How much worse this problem is today.

Here’s my question as I think about that shift. Why is it that, all of a sudden, the United States, which has the safest currency in the world and the strongest economy in the world, is absolutely shaking? We don’t have long before debt payment will reach a percentage of the GNP that makes it impossible for us to maintain our ratings with Moody and Standard and Poor’s. That’s not far off. And any slight increase in interest rates, and it’s “Katy bar the door” because we can’t pay the debt. But it’s not just us; the same thing has been happening in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and of course in Greece. And what we’re seeing, when benefits are cut, are riots in the street–everywhere from England and Greece to Madison, Wisconsin.

Is this debt crisis just the 2008 bubble bursting, or is it something deeper? Is it possible that what is happening to free societies in the West is that we are so focused on ourselves, so determined to get “what we’re entitled to,” so absorbed with our own desires and interests that we can’t see the greater good of the community?

Alexis de Tocqueville believed that the great cardinal virtue that dominated America was the idea of civic responsibility and civic duty. Our founders steeped us in that tradition. That’s basically gone; it has disappeared, and not just here: It has disappeared in Europe as well. In the more rural cultures in Europe–Italy, Germany, England, and Ireland–communities banded together. They all worked together and then met in the pub at night.

I haven’t observed those cultures closely enough in the last ten years, but I suspect those ties that bind us together are loosening. It’s the inevitable consequence of rampant individualism, what Robert Bellah calls “ontological individualism.” But free societies simply cannot survive this way. If people aren’t willing to take care of their own responsibilities, if they are not concerned with their neighborhood, their states, and their society, if it’s all about them and nothing else, then we’re going to have debt crises, because we’re not going to have responsibility in how we spend money. We’re going to depend on trying to get somebody else’s money to do it for us.

I’m wondering if what we’re seeing in the world is not a terrify manifestation of what C.S. Lewis saw coming in “The Abolition of Man,” when people lost their respect for “the Tao,” a shared set of traditional moral values, and began to look out only for themselves. Man’s conquest of nature becomes nature’s conquest of man. Lewis really nailed it. And when it got to that point, how did he say we would see people behaving? We’d see free societies running wild, unable to control themselves, their appetites, or their passions, and beginning to self-destruct.

Is it a stretch to say that’s what is happening in the Western world? It’s not happening in China or India; it’s happening in the West, the very foundation of what we call Western civilization, which we’ve always considered the most humane and liberal society ever created.

One thing is certain: We have lost the capacity to restrain our baser passions and instincts. What remains of the free societies of the West? We’re dealing with the consequences of false ideas being lived out, false worldviews having taken over the hearts and minds of people in the advanced societies of the world. Tragic to watch, isn’t it?

faith_hope_and_love_by_elfred09The job of the church, of course, is to counter the false worldviews gripping our culture and to defend what is true, beautiful, and just. It almost seems like an impossible task, and it is, without God’s intervention. But nonetheless, that’s the job we’ve got to do.

A second segment that also hits the mark (well, actually, they all do) is from a chapter titled “Suffering” on pp. 200-201, titled, “Holy Abandon.”

Holy Abandon

Another quote from “Streams in the Desert”: “the capacity for knowing God enlarges when we are brought by Him into circumstances which obliged us to exercise our faith. So when difficulties beset our path, let us thank God that He is taking trouble with us, and lean hard upon Him” (Quote from L.B. Cowman, “Streams in the Desert,” Zondervan, 2008, p. 415).

This is precisely what Bob Rowling, the founder of TRT Holdings, said in a conversation with me, and I think it’s a parable for what is happening in our culture today. People are going to become deadly earnest about their faith when they realize there are difficulties that they can do nothing to control. What’s happening around us in culture is simply beyond any of us to fix. I hate to say it, but it looks as though it’s beyond the ability of government to repair. So could God be putting us in a position where we have to depend on Him?

Trials and difficulties also make us confront the danger of anxiety, worrying, and fretting, which throughout Scripture we’re told not to do. And it makes good sense that you wouldn’t do it, because, as the very next “Streams” devotional said, “Worrying over what we have lost or what has been taken from us will not make things better but will only prevent us from improving what remains. We will only serve to make the rope around us tighter if we rebel against it.” (Quote from “Streams,” p. 416).

This is incredibly profound if you think about it. The harder you fight to get yourself out of something, the more you strain against the ropes that are around you, the more you hit your head against the wall in utter frustration, the deeper you fall into the hole. It’s the time to lean back and really trust God, to really put your problems before Him. What this does, of course, is to not only lead to a solution; but the very act of doing it is the solution. Your faith is strengthened, and you’ve got some confidence about the future, without which you’ll never accomplish anything.

People today are overwhelmed by anxiety. The people I talk to are really feeling it in terms of unemployment in their families, or the danger of seeing businesses lost, or philanthropic fortunes depleted. It’s a really scary time.

This is precisely the situation in which Christians should do the very best of things. Because we do not let the circumstances control us, we do not succumb to anxiety. Anxiety leads to despair; despair is a sin because it denies the sovereignty of God. And how often do we have to keep repeating this? Fear is the enemy of faith; anxiety is the anti-God state. Despair is a surrender of faith.

How is this going to work out in a practical impact? If Christians really had this state of mind, if we really looked with total confidence to God, if we really lived lives of faith–reckless, holy abandon, if you will–would not the world see something really different in us, particularly when the world is cringing in fear, when so many people think everything is collapsing around them? In their fear, they would see us calmly, serenely, trusting in our Lord. And that’s not some blind pacifism. That’s faith. And if we live it out, think of the impact we’ll have on people.

Circumstances are driving us to this. We either have to start helping our neighbors and doubling up on things, bringing the kids home, if necessary, from their newly unaffordable apartments and ensuring a place for them to live, or we’re denying the reality of our faith.

There is so much more in this book on so many more topics as Eric Metaxas stated in his forward to the book. The two segments above are examples of the lengths of all the individual readings in the chapters, so they can easily be read individually in a few short minutes, and yet give us much food for thought on living our lives in the midst of our ever-changing cultural landscape that we find ourselves in here in America today.

I hope these two samples from the book will whet your appetite for more. Knowledge is power, and without it we flounder. And as Dr. Dennis Rainey, host of FamilyLife Today,” stated in his endorsement for this book:

Every man’s “final words” are important, but Chuck Colson was no ordinary man. Chuck’s “words” slice through the fog and clutter of this culture and authoritatively speak to a dozen of the most compelling issues of our day. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to survive the current cultural tsunami.

Enough said . . . .

Get the book . . .

You won’t be disappointed . . . .

YouTube Video: “That’s How You Change The World” by the Newsboys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Then And Now

Now-TimeBorn in 5 AD and dramatically converted to Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road in 34 AD, the Apostle Paul wrote the following words when he was in his mid 50’s near the end of his first imprisonment in Rome (60-62 AD):

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

A few short years later he would be imprisoned again in Rome and martyred under Nero in 66 AD (source: timeline located here). But what exactly does Paul mean when he stated, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead?”

GotQuestions.org answers that question with the following statement:

The apostle Paul ends a section in Philippians 3 by saying, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (verses 13–14). Is Paul instructing us to forget everything that ever happened before we met Christ? Is this a command to purge our minds of all memories?

It is important to consider the passage that precedes these words. Paul had just listed all his religious qualifications that, to the Jewish mind, were of supreme importance. He then states, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (verse 8). Paul is making the point that no fleshly accomplishment matters in comparison with knowing Christ and trusting in His righteousness alone for salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9). Regardless of how good or how bad we may have been, we must all come to Christ the same way: humble, repentant, and undeserving of His forgiveness (Romans 5:8; Titus 3:5).

The word “forgetting” in this passage means “no longer caring for, neglecting, refusing to focus on.” Our memories store millions of pieces of information gained through our senses since birth. Some experiences are impossible to forget, and any effort to forget them only makes them more prominent. Paul is not advising a memory wipe; he is telling us to focus on the present and the future, rather than the past.

It’s easy to “live in the past.” Whether it’s a past victory that our minds continually replay or a past defeat that hangs over us like a shroud, it needs to be left in the past. Nothing hinders present service quite like being mired in another time. Modeling Paul’s forgetfulness means we count the past as nothing. We cut the strings that tie us to that bygone moment. We refuse to allow past successes to inflate our pride. We refuse to allow past failures to deflate our self-worth. We leave it behind and instead adopt our new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We are not to forget “everything,” however, in the sense of being oblivious to it. In fact, there are many times God instructs us to remember. In Deuteronomy 9:7, Moses tells the Israelites to “remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord.” We are encouraged to remember all God has done for us (Psalm 77:11; 103:2), others who are suffering for Christ’s sake (Hebrews 13:3; Colossians 4:18), and what we were before Jesus saved us (Ephesians 2:11–12; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11). But the remembering should be to the glory of God and for our spiritual benefit. If we are cleansed by the blood of Christ, then no judgment remains for past failures (Romans 8:1). If God chooses not to remember our past sins (Hebrews 8:12), we can choose to set them aside as well and embrace the future He promises to those who love Him (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10). (Quote source here.)

The two themes of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi (the book of Philippians in the New Testament) are joy and unity (source here). That he wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome is noteworthy. One doesn’t often equate joy with imprisonment, yet it was Paul who also wrote in this same letter the following words:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

That last verse in the NKJV is worded, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” All things… even while he was imprisoned. It means being constantly sustained by Jesus Christ (through the power of the Holy Spirit) no matter what our circumstances happen to be at the present time. It means total reliance and dependence on Jesus Christ and not trying to manipulate our way out of unpleasant circumstances. It means not just giving “lip service” when we say we follow Jesus but actually giving him our very lives to use as He wills, and not just part of the time but all of the time.

In answer to the question, Can I really do all things through Christ?”, GotQuestions.org states the following:

In Philippians 4:13 the apostle Paul writes, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” The “him” of this verse is the Lord Jesus, and Jesus is, of course, all-powerful (Colossians 2:10). But does this verse mean that we can do anything and everything we set our minds to?

The context of this verse focuses on the God-given power to endure any circumstance. Verse 12 notes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul had faced times of abundance, yet he had also faced many trials for his faith.

In 2 Corinthians 11:24–27, Paul shares some of his sufferings up to that point in his faith: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” Despite these and other problems, Paul believed and taught he could persevere because he could do “all things through him who gives me strength.”

Also, the focus in Philippians 4 is what the believer can do through the strength that Christ gives. This is not a promise that Christians will have superpowers or that they will be invincible or immune to life’s challenges. Instead, the promise of Philippians 4:13 is that we will have strength from the Lord to faithfully endure the difficulties that arise in life.

This passage is not about having financial abundance. Some teach a prosperity gospel that says God will bless us financially if we are faithful; in contrast, Paul taught that the believer will endure suffering but can be content in any circumstance, given Christ’s strength. Just as Christ faithfully endured on the cross, His followers can faithfully endure the problems they face. In fact, Philippians 4:11 states, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Paul focused on contentment, not earthly abundance.

Finally, Philippians 4:13 is part of a larger passage that addresses Christ’s ability to meet our needs. Christ can give contentment during times of plenty and of poverty. He can help us do all things through His strength. In Paul’s case, it was the strength to serve as a missionary despite facing intense suffering. In our lives, this same strength is available. Whether we serve in another country or help someone in our own community, Christ’s power can enable us to stand firm on His promises and endure the most difficult of life’s challenges. As Paul concludes this passage with these words: “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (verses 19–20). (Quote source here.)

followme_jesusThis brings to mind another question, How can I become more like Christ?”

GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

God’s desire for all who know Him [Jesus Christ] is for us to become more like Christ. We do this by first growing in our knowledge of Christ. It stands to reason that we cannot grow to be like someone we don’t know. The deeper our knowledge of Christ, the deeper our understanding of Him, and the more like Him we become. Among other reasons, we are to know and understand Christ so that we will be secure in the faith.

The Apostle Paul reiterates this truth in Ephesians 4:14-16: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” This fact is repeated once more in 2 Peter 3:17-18: “Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” These passages show us that growing in the knowledge of Christ will preserve us from faith-destroying error.

Of course, knowledge alone will not produce a Christlike character. The knowledge we gain from God’s Word must impact our hearts and convict us of the need to obey what we have learned. Romans 12:1-2 tells us emphatically that the process of filling our minds with the knowledge of God not only brings us closer to Christ-likeness, but obedience to that knowledge aligns us with the perfect will of God: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The natural consequence of knowing and obeying God is that He becomes greater and greater, while we become less and less as we yield control of our lives to Him. Just as John the Baptist knew that “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), so the Christian grows to reflect more of Christ and less of his own nature. Luke sums it up best when he describes what Jesus told His disciples:If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). The cross was an instrument of death, and Jesus encourages us to take up our cross in order to put to death our old sin nature upon it. God wants us to forget about this world and all its temporary pleasures and be obedient to His Word. Jesus is the living Word (John 1:1), and the Bible is God’s written Word. Therefore, conforming to the Word of God is conforming to Christ.

It is important to realize that becoming more like Christ starts by receiving Him as Savior from our sins. Then we grow in our knowledge of God by reading the Bible daily, studying it, and being obedient to what it says. This process causes us to grow and occurs over an entire lifetime in Christ. Only when we have entered Heaven for eternity with God does this process reach its culmination. (Quote source here.)

It is important to note that Paul starts off his letter by stating, in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Being in prison, he did not know if he would die there, and he didn’t during this first imprisonment. It was during his second imprisonment in Rome a few years later that he was martyred. However, as noted by GotQuestions.org“the importance of the phrase, ‘to live is Christ,’ cannot be overstated and should be central to every Christian’s life.” GotQuestions.org continues by stating:

In this statement, the apostle Paul is saying that everything he has tried to be, everything he is, and everything he looked forward to being pointed to Christ. From the time of Paul’s conversion until his martyrdom, every move he made was aimed at advancing the knowledge, gospel, and church of Christ. Paul’s singular aim was to bring glory to Jesus.

“To live is Christ” means that we proclaim the gospel of Christ. Paul preached in synagogues; he preached at riversides; he preached as a prisoner; he preached as an apostle; he preached as a tent maker. His message was constant: “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). He brought the message of Christ’s sacrifice to kings, soldiers, statesmen, priests, and philosophers, Jews and Gentiles, men and women. He would preach to literally anyone who would listen.

“To live is Christ” means that we imitate the example of Christ. Everything that Jesus did and said, that’s what Paul wanted to do and say. The church benefited from his godly example: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). What would Jesus do? That’s what we want to do.

“To live is Christ” means that we pursue the knowledge of Christ. We want to know Christ better and better each day. Not just a set of facts about Christ, but Christ Himself. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

“To live is Christ” means that we are willing to give up anything that prevents us from having Christ. Paul’s testimony in this regard: “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:7-9). We cling to the promise of our Lord in Mark 10:29-30 that our sacrifices for Jesus’ sake will be repaid a hundredfold.

“To live is Christ” means that Christ is our focus, our goal, and our chief desire. Christ is the center point of our mind, heart, body and soul. Everything that we do, we do for Christ’s glory. As we run the “race marked out for us,” we lay aside the entangling sin and worldly distractions, “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). He is our life. (Quote source here).

For those of us who believe in Him, Jesus should always be. . .

Our focus, our goal, our chief desire . . . .

He is our life . . . .

YouTube Video: “That Was Then, This Is Now” sung by Josh Wilson:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Speaking Life

the way the truth the life jesusSometimes a song comes along that just says what needs to be said at this particular moment in time. I found that song last night while trying to write a blog post that just wasn’t working out (sometimes that happens). I trashed the post but kept the song. Before I introduce the song, which is titled, Speak Life,” and is sung by TobyMac, I’d like to share a few words about what this “life” is all about.

And it is about Jesus Christ. . . .

John 3:16-18 states:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Either we do believe it, or we don’t; or we will eventually believe it, or we won’t ever believe it . . .

And now is the time to believe . . . .

Jesus Christ stated the following in John 14 & 15 to his disciples (and hence, to those of us down through the ages who believe in and follow him):

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas [one of his disciples] said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

“Come now; let us leave.”

The Vine and the Branches

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

The World Hates the Disciples

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

The Work of the Holy Spirit

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” [The disciples had been with him in person from the beginning.] (Continue reading John 16 & John 17:1-5 at this link.)

And in John 17:6-26, Jesus prays for his disciples and for all believers everywhere, including us:

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

“I have revealed You to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me,for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus Prays for All Believers

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

just speak life“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Now is the time to believe . . .

So believe, and receive . . . .

And without further ado, here are the lyrics from the song, Speak Life,” by TobyMac (see YouTube Video below):

Speak Life

Some days, life feels perfect.
Other days it just ain’t workin.
The good, the bad, the right, the wrong
And everything in between.

Though it’s crazy, amazing
We can turn a heart with the words we say.
Mountains crumble with every syllable.
Hope can live or die

So speak Life, speak Life.
To the deadest darkest night.
Speak life, speak Life.
When the sun won’t shine and you don’t know why.
Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted;
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope,
You speak love, you speak…
You speak Life.

Some days the tongue gets twisted;
Other days my thoughts just fall apart.
I do, I don’t, I will, I won’t,
It’s like I’m drowning in the deep.

Well it’s crazy to imagine,
Words from our lips as the arms of compassion,
Mountains crumble with every syllable.
Hope can live or die.

So speak Life, speak Life.
To the deadest darkest night.
Speak life, speak Life.
When the sun won’t shine and you don’t know why.
Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted;
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope,
You speak love, you speak…
You speak Life.

Lift your head a little higher,
Spread the love like fire,
Hope will fall like rain,
When you speak life with the words you say.

Raise your thoughts a little higher,
Use your words to inspire,
Joy will fall like rain,
When you speak life with the things you say.

Lift your head a little higher,
Spread the love like fire,
Hope will fall like rain,
When you speak life with the words you say.

So speak Life, speak Life.
To the deadest darkest night.
Speak life, speak Life.
When the sun won’t shine and you don’t know why.
Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted;
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope,
You speak love, you speak…
You speak Life.

Some days life feels perfect.

Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Onward To The Future

pressing onwardWhen I was a kid I attended a nondenominational church that predominantly hired Baptist pastors, so I was raised with a strong Baptist background. I memorized a lot of Bible verses as a child that have stayed with me all of these years. Back then, the only version of the Bible that was available was the King James Version (KJV) and the poetic language (think “Shakespeare”) of King James English (the time period in which the King James Bible was originally commissioned in 1604 and translated into English) made the memorization process easier, at least for me. While I rarely read that version today–my most favorite version is the New International Version (NIV, 1984, 2011), and also the New King James Version (NKJV) which was commissioned in 1975 by Thomas Nelson Publishersthose verses I memorized way back then come flooding back to my mind in the King James English style. However, as it is stated in the New King James Version, I have often replaced “Thee” and “Thou” with God/You, He, or Him to give it a more personal feel, as in, for example, the 23rd Psalm, specifically verse 4, which states in the KJV, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff, they comfort me.” The NKJV states the last half of that verse: “I will fear no evil for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” When I memorize verses today (which I don’t often do like I did as a child), I use the NKJV.

Also back then when hymns were the only music available in church services, one of the popular hymns that we sang was titled, Onward Christian Soldiers,” and one of the phrases repeated throughout the hymn was this refrain:

Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus,
Going on before.

Back then, we were taught that we were soldiers of the cross, which is something that isn’t often mentioned anymore. War means a battle of some type, but the idols that have replaced that battle today are well entrenched in many of our churches and our lives. The “war” image has often been replaced with the “idols” in our culture or repetitive talks about how to improve our self image which keeps the focus off of Jesus (and genuine repentance) and on us all the time. And that (focusing on self) is the first battle we have lost. Other battles we lose include our love of money and materialism, and/or knowing how to look and act the part of being an “acceptable” Christian in the eyes of others and/or according to the dictates of our church and/or the culture at large. And any personal sacrifice on our part is often disconnected or not even mentioned from the Jesus we have been taught to know today. In fact, we have so given in to the idols of our day that we’ve already lost battles we didn’t even know we were in because we aren’t paying attention to how the Bible would really have us live. And the instructions are fairly clear in the New Testament if we would only read them and take them seriously. Unfortunately, too often we want everything our culture has to offer us and we don’t even try to fight against temptation.

The Armor of GodAs a child in Sunday School class, I remember seeing a large, life-sized picture of a soldier wearing battle armor–like a Knight–on display at the front of the classroom. Each piece of his armor stood for something very specific. Ephesians 6:10-18 includes the description of what each piece of the armor represents. For example, the breastplate stood for righteousness that comes from God. The belt stood for truth. The helmet stood for salvation. The shield, which was the most important piece, stood for faith. And the sword stood for the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And we were admonished to always pray and be watchful with all perseverance. Do kids get taught this today? Do most adults attending church today even know about it? And if not, what does that say about the church they are attending, and about their children and what they aren’t being taught? I dare say that Harry Potter gets more attention from the younger generation then Jesus Christ does. And technology has replaced the power of God in their lives because they never learned about the power of God available for them from anyone in the first place, and technology and all that can be done with it and learned from it is readily available to fill that void. Also, I was scanning the children and teens book section in a popular bookstore chain the other evening and it tells a story all of its own about where the younger generations are headed. And the battle for our children is being lost in a very big way that spells disaster.

There is a brand new book that just came out that tackles the issues head on that are going on in our culture today. The book is titled, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (2015), by Dr. Russell Moore, who is President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. The Wall Street Journal called him “vigorous, cheerful, and fiercely articulate.”  Dr. Moore is the author of several books including, Tempted and Tried (a personal favorite of mine), and he can be found online at russellmoore.com, erlc.com; and on Twitter @drmoore @erlc; on Facebook at facebook.com/russellmoore, facebook.com/ERLCSBC, and on Instagram at instagram.com/russellmoore.

On the back cover of his new book, Dr. Moore states:

As the culture changes all around us, it is no longer possible to pretend that we are a Moral Majority. That may be bad news for America, but it can be good news for the church. What’s needed now, in shifting times, is neither a doubling-down on the status quo nor a pullback into isolation. Instead, we need a church that speaks to social and political issues with a bigger vision in mind: that of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christianity seems increasingly strange, and even subversive, to our culture, we have the opportunity to reclaim the freakishness of the gospel, which is what gives it its power in the first place.

We seek the kingdom of God, before everything else. We connect the kingdom agenda to the culture around us, both by speaking it to the world and by showing it in our churches. As we do so, we remember our mission to oppose demons, not to demonize opponents. As we advocate for human dignity, for religious liberty, for family stability, let’s do so as those with a prophetic word that turns everything upside down.

The signs of the time tell us we are in for days our parents and grandparents never knew. But that’s no call for panic or surrender or outrage. Jesus is alive. Let’s act like it. Let’s follow him, onward to the future.

On the inside front cover, Dr. Moore states:

“We can be Americans best if we are not Americans first.”

The days ahead will be different than ever before. We may be seen as strange in American culture. We will be forced to articulate things we once could assume. That is nothing to wring our hands over. That is no call to retreat or to surrender, and it’s also no call to keep doing it the way we’ve been doing it, except at a louder volume.

If so, Onward Christian Strangers.

Our message will be seen as increasingly freakish to American culture. Let’s embrace the freakishness, knowing that such freakishness is the power of God unto salvation.

Let’s march onward with the confidence of those who know that the gospel didn’t emerge in Mayberry, and doesn’t need a Bible Belt to sustain it.

The book is thorough in its approach, well articulated in each of the subject areas (see below for chapter titles), and it’s hard to grab a paragraph to give as an example without possibly taking it out of context with the surrounding paragraphs. With that in mind, here are a couple of excerpts from Chapter Nine: Convictional Kindness:

Jesus, in continuity with the prophets before him and the apostles after him, didn’t shy away from moral confrontation. But he refused to leave it at the kind of superficiality we all crave. The disciples weren’t allowed to congratulate themselves for being free from adultery and murder, because Jesus in his preaching drove the law deeper and deeper into their consciences, exposing the roots of the kind of internal adultery and murder it is much harder to identify much less to wash away. The apostle Paul, likewise, demonstrated the moral degeneracy of the Gentile nations (Romans 1:18-2:16), but he didn’t allow the Jewish believers to step back and applaud him for his calling sin “sin.” He asked whether they, too, were guilty of the same things they censured in their foes (Romans 2:17-29). The point of this apostolic preaching wasn’t to evoke smug grins from the audience, but to shut every mouth with the law and to drive every heart to the gospel (Romans 3:9-31), (p. 199).

The gospel offers a complete forgiveness of sin, and not only that, a fresh start as a new creation. But both Jesus and the apostles warn us this can easily be twisted into a kind of license. Faith is not real without repentance, and faith is not like that of the demons, simply assenting to true claims. Faith works itself out in love. Faith takes up a cross and follows Christ. A notion of grace apart from lordship can provide a cover for all sorts of wickedness. . . (p. 201).

And here’s one more excerpt from Chapter Ten: A Gospel Counter-Revelation (pp. 213-214):

. . . I wonder how many people don’t listen to our gospel message because they assume they don’t “look” like the kind of people who would be Christians–namely shiny, happy Republicans. And, shamefully, how many times do we filter our gospel preaching and our social witness to people who would, upon baptism, be able to pose nicely for our ministry advertisements? How often do we assume the good news of Christ is a message just like a political campaign or a commercial brand, targeted toward a demographic of a certain kind of buyer?

That was precisely Jesus’ point in his story of the two sons [see Matthew 21:28-32, pp. 207-208 for explanation]. He turned to the religious establishment and said, shockingly, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). That was Jesus’ point from his sermon in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, throughout his public ministry, and right to his dying moments, pardoning a repentant terrorist. Jesus was building his church with those who seemed to have wrecked their lives forever: prostitutes, Roman collaborators, outcasts with infectious diseases, demon-possessed grave-dwellers, and on and on. If we’re really carrying forward his message, this means there are going to be people listening whose very bodies may carry messages contradictory of the Word of God [Dr. Moore gave an example right before this paragraph of a very hardened ex-military man who had a naked woman tattoo that was clearly visible who eventually came to Christ]. So did our hearts and psyches. The young woman with the “Legal Abortion Without Apology” tattoo or the old man with the Hell’s Angel marking, they may wonder, as they feel the pull of the gospel, “How can I enter with this visible reminder of me of my past?” That’s not a new question. That’s the question we all had to ask, regardless of how “respectable” we looked when we came to Christ: “Deep is the stain that we cannot hide. What can avail to wash it away?”

Jesus will build his church, with us or without us. But if we are going to be faithful to him, we must share his mission. This means we don’t just talk about lost people; we talk to them. And we don’t talk to them as enlightened life-coaches promising an improved future, but as crucified sinners offering a new birth. The hope for the future is not that Christianity will be seen as more respectable or more influential in the sectors of American power. The hope for the future is churches filled with people who never thought they fit the image of “Christian.”. . . . We’ve come not to call just those who look like whatever Christians are supposed to look like, but the whole world. If the church is powered by the gospel, then the Body of Christ has tattoos (pp. 213-214).

Onward book coverThese few excerpts barely touch the surface of the information available in this book on so many critically important issues going on in our culture today. Dr. Moore goes into precise details without overwhelming the reader and he does so with clarity, passion and compassion, with a message for the Church in America at this time in history.

The titles of the ten chapters in this book (along with an introduction, conclusion, and acknowledgements) are listed below. Beside the title of each chapter I have typed an excerpt from the chapter inserted on the page noted:

Chapter One: A Bible Belt No More (“If we were ever a moral majority, we are no longer. p. 26)
Chapter Two: From Moral Majority to Prophetic Minority (“It would be a tragedy to get the right president, the right Congress, and the wrong Christ.” p. 31)
Chapter Three: Kingdom (“We can learn to be pilgrims again, uneasy in American culture, as we should have been all along.” p. 69)
Chapter Four: Culture (“That just makes sense. This I know. But the Bible tells me ‘no.’” p. 81)
Chapter Five: Mission (“A church that doesn’t form consciences for such a calling will only ensure that those consciences are shaped by something other than the gospel.” p. 108)
Chapter Six: Human Dignity (“We must repent of the way that we, sometimes without even knowing it, have prized the powerful over the powerless.” p. 125)
Chapter Seven: Religious Liberty (“A government in the business of running the church, or claiming the church as a mascot of the state, invariably persecutes and drives out genuine religion.” p. 141)
Chapter Eight: Family Stability (“We are not the culture warriors we have pretended to be.” p. 163)
Chapter Nine: Convictional Kindness (“Kindness does not avoid conflict; kindness engages conflict, but with a goal of reconciliation.” p. 200)
Chapter Ten: A Gospel Counter-Revolution (“An almost-gospel won’t do; a cut-rate righteousness won’t either.” p. 216)

Ordering information for Dr. Moore’s new book titled, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel,” available through several retail distributors, can be found at this link.

Dr. Moore’s new book is an excellent place to start in understanding how to travel the changing landscape in America without losing the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel will never be totally lost in any culture as Jesus stated that very fact to Peter in Matthew 16:18 when he told Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But that doesn’t mean we should just sit back and watch or wring our hands in despair or ignore all the signs. It’s time for action, not retreat, and we should start that action with prayer, asking God to show us what He would have each of us to do. And don’t ever forget what Jesus said. . . .

I will build My church. . .

And the gates of hell. . . 

Shall not prevail against it. . . .

For I am convinced
that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future
nor any powers, 
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us
from the love of God

that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Apostle Paul
(Romans 8:38-39)

YouTube Video: “We Can Make A Difference” sung by Jaci Velasquez:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

After The Rain

rainbow and boatA few days ago I wrote a blog post titled, Before The Rain,” using the story of Noah and the Ark (Genesis 5:32-10:1). The story of Noah details the destruction of the entire earth by a flood back in Noah’s day; however, the real story behind the flood has to do with obedience (as in Noah’s obedience to God to build the ark–see Genesis 6:22), and the lack thereof (as in obedience to God in general) in the rest of the human race (see Genesis 6:5; 6:11-12; 8:21). Obedience to God has never been popular among humans starting with the first humans (Adam and Eve) in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 2-3) and continuing right on through to today. And God stated in Genesis 8:21 that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” so that comes as no surprise. However, in Genesis 6:8, it is stated that “. . . Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

In the Genesis account, the rain and flooding lasted for 40 days (Genesis 7:17-23), but the whole earth was actually covered by the flood waters for 150 days (Genesis 7:24; 8:1-4). And once the earth was completely dry (Genesis 8:14), God told Noah and his family to come out of the ark (Genesis 8:15-19) along with all of the creatures that had been on the ark with them, and Noah built an altar to God and sacrificed burnt offerings on it (Genesis 8:20). And it was at this point that God said in His heart (Genesis 8:21-22):

Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

And God made a covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1-11) and stated at the end of the covenant, “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:11).

And then God placed a sign in the sky which still shows up after the rain to this very day (Genesis 9:12-17):

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

And every time we see a rainbow in the sky it is a reminder to us of that original “everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

Besides the issue of obedience to God regarding the account of Noah, there is a second issue at hand in the story, and that issue is one of preparedness (as in being prepared for the “as yet” unforeseen). Jesus Christ talked about it in Matthew 24 when his disciples asked him what would be the sign of his coming (as in his second coming back to earth again after his crucifixion and resurrection which was very soon to take place at that time) and also the end of the age. The “end of the age” is not about another “destruction of the earth.” Rather, it has to do with when Jesus would be coming back again to reign on the earth during the Millennial period when he sets up his kingdom here on earth (see Revelation 20). And that kingdom culminates with the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” ~Revelation 21:1 (see full description in Revelation 21 & 22).

In Matthew 24, Jesus gives a number of warnings to his followers (and that includes those of us who believe in Him throughout the ages since that time). He warns us to “watch out that no one deceives you” and he stated many will come in his name and deceive many (verses 4 & 5) and that there would be “wars and rumors of wars” but that we should not be alarmed by this as “the end is still to come” (verse 6). He said “nations would rise against nations” and that “there will be famines and earthquakes in various places” and that “these are the beginning of birth pains” (verses 7-8).

Jesus further states in his answer to his disciples (again, this includes those of us who believe in Him throughout the ages since that time) that “you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (verse 9), and “that many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and that many false prophets will appear to deceive many people” (verses 10 & 11). And, “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (verses 12 & 13). And the most telling sign for our own generation to take heed of is this one found in verse 14:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

The further a society drifts from the truth quoteNever in the history of the world has there been a time like now, when the gospel of the kingdom is literally being preached throughout the entire world as a testimony to all nations about Jesus Christ through the use of technology and the internet.

Jesus went on to state a number of signs that will occur during the period of time known as The Tribulation (the seven-year period of time which includes the last 3 1/2 years known as the Great Tribulation period) culminating in his second coming back to the earth which are found in Matthew 24:15-31. You can read about those signs at this link but I don’t want to get off the topic of this blog post by going into the details of that portion of Matthew 24.

To sum up all of the things that Jesus said would be the signs of the end times in Matthew 24:1-31, he stated the following in Matthew 24:32-44:

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Since these things obviously did not happen during the lifetime of the disciples who were with Jesus at that time he explained these things to them, the reference to this generation that Jesus makes in Matthew 24:34 when he stated: “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” is, obviously, the generation that is living on the earth at the time all of these things in Matthew 24 do actually take place (see answer to the question, What did Jesus mean when he said, “This generation will not pass”?” at GotQuestions.org at this link).

Jesus clearly stated that “no one knows about the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36) of his return; he did clearly state in the very next few verses, Matthew 24:37-40:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of Son of Man [which is Jesus Christ]. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark: and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. This is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. . . .”  

Going back to the actual days of Noah, the two main issues at hand back then, as they still are today, are (1) obedience to God, and (2) being prepared. There is much in our own society today that takes the focus off of both issues (as we tend to live in the “here and now” and mostly for what we want in this life) and also from what God has stated from the beginning, in Genesis 8:21 that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” We get so easily sidetracked at every turn. For example, just look at how easily sidetracked we get with smartphones and technology. They have literally transformed us (and our communication skills, which hasn’t always been a good thing) and taken hold of our attention spans very rapidly and in a few short years (especially with smartphones and iPods, etc.), and they keep us almost constantly distracted from the reality of what is really going on all around us.

However, back to the issue at hand. God has already stated that the inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And we don’t have to look very far to see just how true this statement is and has always been. Also, we have an very powerful adversary in this world who is at work in and around us, too, so it’s a “double whammy” against us. Regarding this adversary, Ephesians 6:10-18 states:

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God,so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Also, many folks have a caricature in mind of our adversary or mock that he and those powers even exist although with the presence of evil being so pervasive in our world today one would have to go to great lengths to believe that evil–beyond what is already a part of us–doesn’t exist. The source of our evil is two-fold–internal (within us) and external (as in spiritual forces as stated in the above verses–Ephesians 6:10-18). For more information on spiritual warfare, see this link at GotQuestions?org.

“As it was in the days of Noah,” so it still is today. . . . Some things never change, like human nature. However, there is a cure for it. God hasn’t left us helpless if we truly desire and want/seek help from Him. And it’s a free gift, too, but it’s not easy, and there is a cost associated with it, too (there is no “coasting along for the ride”). And that cure is found in Jesus Christ and stated clearly in John 3:16-18:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

followme_jesusWhen Jesus said, Follow me,” he meant it. If we truly want to follow Him (and only God knows our real heart attitude and motives), He empowers us with the Holy Spirit to do His will and not our own. Too often today we’ve been sold a bill of goods in some Christian circles that we can have anything we want if we just learn to say the right words and rarely is there ever talk about a transformedlife (see Romans 12, for example, to see what that life involves). Well, Jesus did say that one of the signs of the end times would be many false teachers who would come in his name (claiming to know Him–see Matthew 24:10-13) with a lot of deceptive teachings (see 2 Peter 2, Jude) to make Jesus Christ seem to be more palpable to our senses and much more appealing to our human flesh and desires. However, the cross of Jesus Christ is about dying to self; it’s not about appeasing self or giving into it.

One of the signs of the end of times that is increasingly more apparent in our day is found in Matthew 24:12-13 when Jesus stated, Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” A sure sign of a follower of Jesus Christ is his or her genuine love for others. And that’s much more then just acting nice around others. I Corinthians 13 gives us a picture of what that love looks like, and without it, nothing else will even make a difference. So I’ll end this post with a reminder of what real love looks like from that passage (specifically verses 4-8):

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails . . .

So let’s just do it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath:

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Before The Rain

rain scene in the cityIn a blog post written by Billy March in December 2007, he starts off his post with a question retiring CIA agent Nathan Muir (played by Robert Redford in the movie, Spy Game) asks his secretary, Gladys (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste). Muir asks Gladys, When did Noah build the Ark? March continues with the answer Muir gives and his explanation of it:

‘Before the rain . . . before the rain.’ I first heard this aphorism in one of my favorite Robert Redford movies, ‘Spy Game.’ He quoted it to his secretary near the beginning of the film as he began to make preparations for some of the foreseen obstactles and conflicts that he was about to face. Most certainly, there is much more to the story of Noah and the Flood in Genesis [see Genesis 5:32-10:1] than merely extracting this principle, but still, it is a simple, witty way of communicating the great need to be ready for anything in the Christian life.” (Quote source here.)

“. . . the great need to be ready for anything in the Christian life” . . . . But are we really ready?

I read a devotion this morning in My Daily Pursuit: Devotions for Every Day (2013), by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), compiled and edited by James L. Snyder, that speaks to this very issue of why we are so often not really ready for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that come our way. Here is what Tozer had to say:

It is my prayer that the evangelical church will discover that salvation is not a light bulb only, not an insurance policy against hell, but a gateway into God and into His heart.

The cults like to play this little religious game. They like to offer a form of security similar to buying an insurance policy. Unfortunately, what they offer is far less than what the Scripture offers us.

My concern is that the evangelical church has come perilously close to this sort of attitude. For some reason, the whole purpose of conversion has degenerated to this level. It is not so much what a person has been saved from, although thank God for that, but what he has been saved to.

The heaven that has been offered lately is a heaven most people want to go to. It is a place where they will have everything right; a split-level home, two cars, a fountain and swimming pool and golden streets to top it off.

That heaven does not appeal to me at all . . . heaven will be heaven because the Trinity will fill our hearts with joy without end. Here is what we must get into our heads and hearts: Jesus Christ is a full and complete manifestation of the Trinity. (Devotion for August 3rd, p. 228).

Nowadays, the heaven that Tozer described is often what we expect to get in the “here and now” before we ever actually get to heaven. It is as if this “insurance policy” mentality has given us the right to everything we want and expect now, in this life, and not just waiting for it to come around in eternity. And we too often tend to stop at the point of salvation and not move on in Jesus Christ (as in the cost of discipleship) and the life He would have us to live through Him, which in reality has nothing to do with the modern image presented to us of “successful Christian living” that often includes that split-level house with all the trimmings and personal accolades to go with it. That may or may not end up being a part of our life in the “here and now,” but we are totally missing the point if we expect it or think that that is the basis of our Christian life and what “success” as a Christian should look like. Even nonbelievers can and do acquire much if not more of what we think is our “right” as a Christian to receive. Believing in Jesus Christ is not based on our material world and what’s in it for us. And our lives often don’t look any different from those around us who don’t claim to believe in Jesus Christ.

“As it was in the days of Noah . . .” (see Matthew 24:37). Today we live just like people lived back then, living in the “here and now” and not giving much thought to anything else. In answer to the question, What was it like in the days of Noah? GotQuestions?org answers with following statement:

The biblical account of Noah begins in Genesis 6. Approximately 1,600 years had passed since the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:26–27). As the earth’s population exploded in number, it also exploded with evil. Long forgotten was the righteous sacrifice of Abel (Genesis 4:4) as “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Verses 11 and 12 say, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” However, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (verse 8).

When Jesus described the events that will surround His second coming, He said, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26–27). Jesus was pointing out that, although the people of Noah’s day were totally depraved, they were not the least bit concerned about it. They were carrying on the events of their lives without a single thought of the judgment of God. Noah is described as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), meaning he had spent years warning his friends and neighbors what the Holy God was about to do. No one listened.

The depravity and ungodly lifestyles of the entire world at that time were enough to cause the Lord to “regret that He had made man” (Genesis 6:6). Many scholars believe that part of the need to destroy every human being except Noah and his family was the sin mentioned in Genesis 6:1–4, when “the Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them.” As evil reproduced and overtook the world, the most merciful act God could perform was to start over.

It is interesting that God allowed Noah nearly one hundred years to complete the building of the ark. Through all that time, God patiently waited (1 Peter 3:20). Scripture seems to imply that Noah preached to the people of that time about what was coming (Hebrews 11:7). They did not believe Noah and were content with their wickedness and idolatry. Their hearts were hard and their ears dull. No one repented, and no one cared to seek God.

Jesus said that the world will be much the same before He returns to set up His earthly kingdom (Matthew 25:31–33). He warned us to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Second Timothy 3:1–4 gives us a clear picture of the state of the world before Jesus comes and most likely also describes the world in the days of Noah. That verse says, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” It is becoming increasingly obvious that, to understand what the world was like in the days of Noah, we only need to watch the evening news. (Quote source here.)

Trust and ObeyNoah spent over 100 years building the ark and everyone around him thought he was crazy. However, Hebrews 11:7 states, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” Faith doesn’t look to others but only to God. We too often are conformed by the “others” around us and what they think of us then we are by God (and that includes churchgoers, too). Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

In our churches today we don’t hear much about having a “holy fear” of God. We hear a lot about grace and love, and we sing our worship songs, but the fear of God has lost its meaning in our daily lives (if we even understood what it is), and the way we live throughout the week often indicates this problem. In answer to the question, What does it mean to have the fear of God?GotQuestions.org states:

For the unbeliever, the fear of God is the fear of the judgment of God and eternal death, which is eternal separation from God (Luke 12:5; Hebrews 10:31). For the believer, the fear of God is something much different. The believer’s fear is reverence of God. Hebrews 12:28-29 is a good description of this: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ’God is a consuming fire.’” This reverence and awe is exactly what the fear of God means for Christians. This is the motivating factor for us to surrender to the Creator of the Universe.

Proverbs 1:7 declares, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Until we understand who God is and develop a reverential fear of Him, we cannot have true wisdom. True wisdom comes only from understanding who God is and that He is holy, just, and righteous. Deuteronomy 10:12, 20-21 records, “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” The fear of God is the basis for our walking in His ways, serving Him, and, yes, loving Him.

Some redefine the fear of God for believers to “respecting” Him. While respect is definitely included in the concept of fearing God, there is more to it than that. A biblical fear of God, for the believer, includes understanding how much God hates sin and fearing His judgment on sin—even in the life of a believer. Hebrews 12:5-11 describes God’s discipline of the believer. While it is done in love (Hebrews 12:6), it is still a fearful thing. As children, the fear of discipline from our parents no doubt prevented some evil actions. The same should be true in our relationship with God. We should fear His discipline, and therefore seek to live our lives in such a way that pleases Him.

Believers are not to be scared of God. We have no reason to be scared of Him. We have His promise that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). We have His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Fearing God means having such a reverence for Him that it has a great impact on the way we live our lives. The fear of God is respecting Him, obeying Him, submitting to His discipline, and worshipping Him in awe. (Quote source here.)

Also, Proverbs 9:10 states, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” So how is the fear of God the beginning of wisdom? GotQuestions.org states: 

The link between the fear of God and wisdom means we cannot possess wisdom if we recreate God in our own image. Too many people want to “tame” God into a non-threatening nobody. But, if we redefine the Lord as a god that makes us feel comfortable, a permissive “buddy” who exists simply to bless us and give us what we want, we will not fear Him in the way He deserves to be feared. The Lord God Almighty is far greater than that, and the fear of the Lord begins when we see Him in His majesty and power (Revelation 4:11; Job 42:1–2) The Lord shows Job (and us) a glimpse of His power in Job 38—41 when He describes His absolute sovereignty over everything. 

When the reality of God’s true nature has caused us to fall down in worship, we are then in the right position to gain wisdom. Wisdom is merely seeing life from God’s perspective and responding accordingly. Wisdom is a priority, and we are told to seek it above all else (Proverbs 3:13; 16:16). Proverbs is known as the wisdom book, and the entire second chapter gives a detailed explanation of the value of gaining wisdom. (Quote source here.)

When God told Noah to build the ark, Noah didn’t question God. He built the ark. And he didn’t cave in to the pressure to conform to the rest of the crowd nor did he pay attention to the ridicule and mocking he received from them, either. Too often we question what we don’t understand, and when it comes to God and what He would have us to do, that questioning can get us into trouble. God wants our obedience, not our questions. If we give Him our obedience, He does the rest in His way and for His purposes . . . .

It saved Noah’s life and the life of his family . . .

And it will save us, too . . . .

YouTube Video: “He Reigns” by The Newsboys:

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