What is God’s Will For My Life?

Such is a common question among humankind. So often we approach this subject as if we are “searching for a needle in a haystack.” We want the burning bush, as Moses experienced. Or we want a thundering voice from heaven telling us what we should do. But if it were that simple, where would faith God figure in? Is it not better that we trust God, obey Him, and step out, despite the unknowns?

Augustine of Hippo, the fourth century church father, said: “Love God, and do what you will.” It is my understanding that he wrote this regarding one’s desire to discover God’s will for life. Finding God’s will requires prayer and action.

Consider the following verses. Paul wrote: “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7 ESV) Here, Paul is reminding Christians in Corinth that during their time on this earth, they are physically separated from the Lord. This arrangement is by God’s intentions because it requires faith. Faith always has an unseen element to it.

In addition, consider Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, who said that he would not believe that Jesus arose from the dead unless he could see with his own eyes and touch His wounds. Afterwards, when Christ chose to appear to His disciples in the upper room, He specifically approached Thomas and encouraged him to see and touch. Then, in loving admonition, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29 ESV)

Sometimes we long to receive a sign from God. We want to know specifics instructions about who we should marry or to what job we ought to apply. God has already given us timely instructions in His word about such things. Oftentimes, God does not give us the where, why and how of our circumstances. Rather, He wants us to pray: “Lord, guide me along the way,” as we step out in faith, obeying His word and learning from the Holy Spirit in the process.

The Reason for Easter

Although often crowded by the attention given to Spring or the expectation of the Easter Bunny, today has been the foundation of the Christian faith for 2,000 years. Resurrection Sunday is why Christians exist. It is what separates Christianity from all of the world’s religions. It is the deal maker. It is the day that we gather to say: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Jesus has had a monumental effect on human history. Consider the following statements made by both believers and unbelievers. H.G. Wells, British writer who died in 1946 said:

“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as an historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of history. Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to [Jesus].”
Daniel Webster, 19th century American politician and the founder of Webster’s dictionary, said: “All that is best in the civilization of today, is the fruit of Christ’s appearance among men.”

Kenneth Scott Latourette, former President of the American Historic Society:
“As the centuries pass by, the evidence is accumulating that measured by its effect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on this planet. The influence appears to be mounting. No other life lived on this planet has so widely and deeply affected mankind.”

And finally, Will Durant, popular modern historian and philosopher, when asked what he felt the apex of history was, replied: “The three years that Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth.”

Jesus said many powerful things. His Sermon on the Mount has been acclaimed as the most powerful message delivered in all of history. But His influence is not due to the fact that he was a sage. Sages come and go. It is not because He was wealthy, because he was not. Jesus was born into poverty. It is not because of His great heritage. This is why many could not get past that He was apparently the son of a carpenter from Galilee. Rather, it is because of His resurrection from the dead and its practical and historical effect on all who follow Him.

The influence of Jesus’ life is found in the short verse of Romans 4:25: “Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” To explain this statement, let us compare these two sections of Scripture, found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter four and Mark’s version of the resurrection, found in Mark 16. We first understand that…

JESUS WENT TO THE CROSS FOR A REASON.

The Apostle Paul gives us that reason in verse 25: “He who was delivered up because of our transgressions….” Jesus did not die a passive death, as if he was a victim of a horrible circumstance. His death was a part of God’s ultimate plan to provide the means of atonement for our sins. Each person has a deep spiritual need that cannot be met by himself or philosophy or money or sex or relationships or a career, etc. It is only met through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Each of us has a God-shaped void that can only be filled by Him. The fourth century church father Augustine once prayed: “O Lord, our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in You.”

If you are a member of the human race, you are a sinner. Jesus said in John 8:34: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. But if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Sin is defined as any transgression against God’s moral law. By being a sinner, you are at odds with God. You cannot conquer your sin by “doing better next time.” As someone once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Each of us has a sin problem that can only be adequately dealt with by God.

But God, in His love, has reached out to you in the life, death and resurrection of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Both Jesus’ death and resurrection addresses our two greatest spiritual needs, which are forgiveness and restoration. You cannot have Easter Sunday without Good Friday. That tells us that our greatest need is not to have a good self-image. Our greatest need is not to feel positive about yourself. It is not to overcome the trials that come your way or achieve your greatest potential. Rather, your greatest need is to be reconciled to the One that you have offended. And that One is God. As Charles Sell wrote: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior. He has provided the means of your forgiveness. This is why Jesus went to the cross. “He was delivered up for our transgressions.” Secondly, we are told that…

JESUS LEFT THE TOMB FOR A REASON.

If you’ll notice from Mark’s resurrection account, that reason was not automatically known. In fact, you see that the three ladies who went to the tomb on that Sunday morning, fully expected to see the body of Jesus there, awaiting anointing, which was a gesture of devotion. They are met with shock to see the stone rolled away and the angel seated, announcing Jesus’ resurrection. So griped with fear and amazement that they ran back to the where Jesus’ disciples were and talked to no one on the way. They are not sure what just happened. Common in all of the gospel accounts of Jesus resurrection is that the disciples did not expect it. As, they all meet an angel and they all react in fear and amazement.

Mark was written, most likely before the other three gospels were. Matthew and Luke are thought to have used Mark as a template for their accounts. Mark and Romans were probably written at the same time. Mark describes the resurrection event, Paul interprets it. Paul says that Jesus coming back from the dead is a testimony that God can do the impossible. He links the resurrection faith with that of Abraham. Abraham is the father of all those who believe, mentioned at least three times in Romans chapter four, verses 11, 16 and 17. Only God: “…gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” And verse 21: “…what He had promised, He was able to perform.”

This event occurred in 33 or 34 A.D. Fast forward about twenty years, when Christians were going through persecution and the expansion and dispersion of the church. Now, Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, seeks to teach these new converts of the similarities between them and Abraham, the father of the believing. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness.

Verse 25: “…who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Jesus died for your transgressions and mine. Each of us needs a right relationship with God. Justification means “…to set free, acquittal.” Jesus death and resurrection are two sides of the same coin. We cannot have forgiveness of sin without His death. Nor can we have justification/acquittal without His being raised from the dead. Charles Hodge, was one of America’s greatest theologians who taught at Princeton in the 19th century. He said: “This verse is a comprehensive statement of the gospel. His death and His resurrection were alike necessary; His death, as a satisfaction to divine justice. Had He not risen, it would have been evident that he was not what He claimed to be. We should be yet in our sins, and therefore still under condemnation.”

Therefore, there are four spiritual laws that are important for everyone to know before they leave this earth. One is that God loves you and has a plan for your life. In other words, you were made for a reason. You are not here by chance, a product of circumstance. You were made by a loving Creator God. But your sin has separated you from Him. You have offended Him by Your deeds. Some may judge a deeds ethics by the hurt it does to others; and if it causes no hurt, then it is not wrong. But God does not believe in situational ethics. He has established eternal standards of what is right and wrong and demands their obedience. When one of His principles is broken, it is as if we’ve broken them all. And we are worthy of His wrath. Hell is a real place because God is a just God.

Thirdly, Jesus came as the God-provided means for your forgiveness. He gave His life so that you could be reconciled with God, your Creator. Lastly, you must receive Christ by faith, in which the same way that Abraham believed God’s promise, and it was credited to His account as righteousness. Jesus lived the life God demanded from you and died the death you deserved. For your salvation, Jesus left the tomb on that morning so long ago. Jesus’ resurrection means life-giving change for you and me. That is why Christians are people of tremendous hope.

Because of Easter, we can have a new life. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can have a new identity. Because of Jesus being raised from the dead, we can go to heaven when we die. But you must follow Him. You must seek forgiveness for your sins. You must become a disciple.

Jesus dying on the cross and being raised from the dead has been the hope of Christians for 2,000 years. Governments can try to stamp that out, to no success. In some of the places where the church is heavily persecuted, it is also expanding at an unprecedented rate. When all is said and done, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only hope that we have.

As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross.

Following Jesus remains the most important, the most critical decision you can ever make. Have you done so?

Why Missions?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In April, our church will send eight individuals to Athens, Greece to serve immigrants and refugees. The situation there is desperate. Because of our relationship with missionaries there, we have been given an opportunity to make a difference in an otherwise difficult and challenging situation.

Why do Christians go on mission trips? Why are churches support missionaries? Quite honestly, the answer is simple. Jesus cared for people. As Dr. Peter Kuzmic of Gordon Conwell Seminary used to say, “Jesus is the missionary par excellence.” Jesus left His throne of glory, to come and dwell among us (John 1:14) and show us the way to the Father (John 14:6). He became a servant (Philippians 2:7) for our sake. Our God is a sending God.

The Lord is concerned for the nations (Matthew 24:14). The Lord draws people to Himself, (John 6:44). Because of our love for others, we should want to participate in God’s work. Our love for Jesus must influence what we do for others. He said: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses… (Acts 1:8).” It is an incredible privilege to represent the risen Lord Jesus Christ, whether it be in Athens, Greece or with a neighbor!

Several years ago, someone left our church because they misunderstood our involvement in missions. It is not as if we are trying to push anything off on another, or sell anyone anything. Rather, it is out of our love for God, our love for the Bible, our love for Jesus Christ, and our love for others, that we are involved in missions.

While in Athens, we will take on the role of servants; serving food, distributing clothing, cleaning, assisting, and witnessing- whatever the Lord would have us do while there. Please pray for us as we prepare to leave and serve. We greatly appreciate your support.

Hope for the Grieving at Christmas

Many households are preoccupied with shopping, extra events and added duties at the Christmas season. But for a segment of our population, the holidays come with mixed emotions. There is a sense of loss. For some of you this is a year of firsts without a loved one. The first birthday, the first trip to the shore or vacation in the mountains; and the first Christmas, without your precious family member or friend. You miss them and wish they were here. They may be gone, but they are not forgotten. God cares for you and wants you to turn to Him.

As a Christian, my hope is in Jesus Christ. Jesus came to abolish death for those who put their trust in Him. Jesus said in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” That gives me tremendous hope. But you may come from another faith backgrounds or no faith at all. Regardless of where you are with God, your pain is real and you may have questions of how best to handle it.

What I’d like to share with you today are not original thoughts. They come from Mr. James Miller in his article: “How Will I Get Through the Holidays?” Miller provides some very helpful pieces of advice. He offers 12 and I’d like to highlight just a few as you approach this time of year. For one, he says: “Accept the likelihood of your pain.” To put it in my own words, this Christmas will not be the same as others, nor should it be. Your loss is very real. And to acknowledge such is, in a way, a subtle tribute to your loved one.

Secondly, Miller advises to “turn to others for support.” Other friends and family care about you. They share your pain, to varying degrees. “No man is an island,” as the 16th century English poet John Donne said. We are called to bear one another’s burdens. The company of others can be a great support.

Most of all, God cares about you. Isn’t it comforting to know that Jesus experienced the spectrum of human emotion? He knew what it was like to love, to miss and to cry. The shortest verse in the Bible says a lot: “Jesus wept.” This was on the occasion of losing his good friend, Lazarus.

Maybe this Christmas is a time for spiritual renewal. Maybe this year you’re primed for a time of returning to God like you never have before. I have always appreciated the words of Psalm 46:1 and I quote it often to folks in need. “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in time of trouble.” God is not far off. He is near to those who call on Him.

Thirdly, be gentle with yourself. The holidays are a stressful time. It is okay to treat yourself lovingly, at a time when life is hard. Give yourself a lot of latitude.

Lastly, count your blessings. What is there to appreciate this time of year? Grief is also a time to slow down and reflect on those things that you would not normally, given your busy schedule. Being grateful can extinguish feelings of discontent and unhappiness.

Finally, some of you have children at home. They deal with grief in a different way than adults. Operate in a spirit of compassion, knowing that your children and grandchildren grieve, too.

Christ coming to our world was the sign of God’s love. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  Christ brought the gospel to this world and His good news is for all those who will trust and repent.  May your grief usher you to Jesus, who is the “Good Shepherd.”

Heaven: Who’s There?

Have you ever tried to describe a place that you’ve never seen? Never visited? It is impossible. But in the presence of someone who has, for instance, been to the Grand Canyon, you may hear them say: “Oh, it is beautiful! The vistas are majestic! You’ve got to go there! Take the mule down to the bottom! Take the helicopter ride!

Heaven is a bit different in that very few have been there and yet have returned to tell about it. Jesus and the Apostle Paul are two exceptions. Today, we approach the question: “Who is in Heaven?” Our answers are found in Holy Scripture.  Jonathan Edwards was a congregational minister in Northampton, Massachusetts, in the early 18th century. He was also a missionary to Native Americans and the third president of Princeton and considered by many to be the father of the American Church. Regarding heaven, he wrote:

 There are none but lovely objects in heaven- no offensive, or unlovely, or polluted person or thing is to be seen there. There is nothing that is wicked or unholy. …Everything is beautiful to behold, and amiable and excellent in itself.”[1] He was basing his description, not on personal experience, but on Revelation 21:27: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Jesus said much about that place. In John 14, Jesus speaks of going to prepare a place for us. This chapter occurs in the context after Jesus announces His departure in 13:36.

Jesus spoke of “His Father’s house.” He was talking of heaven. He mentions rooms. These are dwelling places within the house. Jesus also spoke of “eternal dwellings,” in Luke 16:9.

Jesus is going to prepare a place for His disciples. But the way that He goes is through the cross: the public torture, the separation from His friends and supporters, and most of all, the separation from His Father. Jesus takes the time to reassure them of His love, along with the imperative: Trust in God; trust also in Me.” Moving is the face that on the night that He would be arrested and go through the most difficulties of hardships, pain and separation; it is Jesus’ character to encourage His disciples. He tells them that He is going to the Father in 13:1, 3, and 14:28. Jesus’ words bring up the question…

What happens when someone dies? That is a question that is quite common. Two years ago, I lost my mother. On one of our trips to visit her grave, a relative asked: “Dave, what happens when we die?”  The Bible is quite clear. Jesus said that not everyone who dies goes to heaven. In fact, He made it sound like relatively few people enter everlasting life. Matthew 7: 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Finding out after you die is too late. Hollywood actor Brad Pitt was asked the question: Is your soul spiritual?

He replied: “No, no, no! I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, until then there’s no point thinking about it.”[2] I disagree. To be prepared here and now, is far better and less reckless and irresponsible.

Once we die, a departure occurs. This is the testimony of the major Protestant catechisms such as the Westminster of 1646 and the Heidelberg of 1564. A comfort that the believer has is that once he has died, he will always be in the presence of Christ.   These teach that once a Christian dies…

  • Shortly thereafter, his body goes into the ground. As the pastor says at the committal: “Earth to earth; ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
  • But the soul departs and is in the presence of Christ. Paul reflecting on his possible death while in prison, wrote in Philippians 1:23: “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better….” In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul said “…to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
  • The souls of Christians are separated from their bodies and reside with the Lord until the Second Coming of Christ. That place is known as paradise. Jesus said to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43: “”I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” It is heaven, but not in its final state or condition that will occur when God brings the new heavens and the new earth.
  • On the day that Jesus returns, the soul will be reunited with the body and it will be raised, what is commonly known as “the resurrection.” Martha, Lazarus’ sister believed this in John 11:24 by saying: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
  • Then, once the final judgment takes place, Christ will bring the new heavens and the new earth, which will come down. From then on, our homes will be permanent. 2 Peter 3:13: “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

Maybe the situation can be described in this way. If you lived in downtown Chicago, in a difficult area. But you were notified that you had inherited a sprawling beachfront home in Cape May, NJ. On your trip to Cape May, you had a small layover in Pittsburgh. While in Pittsburgh, you met some other family members who would also inherit the home. You would tell others that you were headed to Cape May; but your trip to Pittsburgh was incidental; it was a necessary stop, on the way.

In such a place, death is conquered. Who will be in heaven? Jonathan Edwards writes:

“Every gem which death rudely tears away from us here is a glorious jewel forever shining there. Every Christian friend that goes before us from this world is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven. There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, through grace to be found above. There the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary and then shall never end. There we shall have companionship with the patriarchs and fathers and saints of the Old and New Testaments, and those of whom the world was not worthy, with whom on earth we were only conversant by faith.”[3]

Overjoyed, we’ll be to see our Christian friends and loved ones, and those we’ve only read about and admired over the years. Most of all, we will be in the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are comforted and blessed to know that it is a wonderful reunion and a great discovery. More than can ever be described into words. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).”

Until then, we know that we have access to the Father through Jesus. Now the Lord gives us a pretty exclusive response to Thomas’ question in 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus is the only way of connected to God. He alone provides access to Him. If we think that there are many ways to God, you are in essence calling Jesus a liar or you do not know your Bible very well.

Jesus said in John 1:51: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This is an Old Testament allusion to what is known as Jacob’s ladder, the dream that the patriarch had of a ladder reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. Of that place, Jacob said: “And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven! (Genesis 28:17)”

Furthermore, Peter and John preached an exclusive message in Acts 4:12 when they said: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” This goes with what Isaiah 45:22 says: “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

That’s why missions is so important to the life of the church. We have a message to get out and preach and share. D.A. Carson states: “It is totally inadequate to claim that one knows God, …while disowning Jesus Christ.”[4]

Nevertheless, the culture says: “Oh, there are other ways to God. Why be so narrow?” But what did God say? What did Jesus say? What more needs to be said?

Some within the false church and many within the culture say that this is an arrogant statement. Why be so narrow? We confused criticality with narrowness. Jesus is clearly speaking in reference to His Father’s house and its access. The point is that Christ has opened up heaven. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was rent in two from top to bottom.

Hebrews 4:16 tells us that based on the endurance of Jesus, and because He is our high priest, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” In Biblical times, no one could ever approach a king’s throne with boldness. You had to be summoned. If you went where you were uninvited, it could cost you your life. But we serve a different king that allows us to approach Him with confidence. Without Christ, there is no access, let alone confidence.

So, heaven is for those who know the Father through Jesus Christ. It is the place that Jesus has gone to prepare for us.

But Jesus is also preparing us for a place. That is called sanctification; the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who’ve trusted Christ. May the Lord’s words function as peace and encouragement to you who live for Him. May they function of motivation to know Him, if you’ve lived you’re life apart from Him. May it be to all of us a call to preparation; to know that this life is not all that there is. Rather this life is a preparation for the next. Your eternity lies outside of the material and outside of yourself. It demands trust in Christ and dependence upon Him.

Thomas a Kempis, a cardinal in the 15th century and the author of one of the best known Christian devotional works, The Imitation of Christ, said:

Follow thou me. I am the way and the truth and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which thou must follow; the truth which thou must believe; the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth, the never-ending life. I am the straightest way, the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated.[5]

[1] Jonathan Edwards, 14.

[2] http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/idolchatter/2009/07/quote-of-the-day-brad-pitt-on.html.

[3] Jonathan Edwards, Heaven: A World of Love (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1992), 17.

[4] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 1991), 491.

[5] Thomas A ‘Kempis The Imitation of Christ, 56. 1.

Prayer for the Pennsylvania State Senate

I was privileged to provide the opening prayer on the floor of the Pennsylvania State Senate today.  The following prayer was shared:

Father in Heaven, we gather on this day to give You thanks and praise for Your bountiful care in our lives. We live in a privileged country; We have a government by the people and for the people. We are a group that is relatively affluent and we have little need for anything outwardly in comparison to other countries.

But by the same token we know that man does not live by bread alone but from every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Your word says: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people (Proverbs 14:34).”  We know that we are a spiritually poor land and in need of revival and grace. Apart from You, we can do nothing.  Forgive us for ways we have offended You.  Turn our hearts back to You, we ask.

I also pray for these men and women who have dedicated their lives to writing our laws and leading  our Commonwealth. Give them wisdom and grace to make good and upright decisions. Let them rule, knowing that they were elected by the people but allowed to occupy their offices because of Your sovereign hand (Romans 13:1).

Please bless our state.  But more importantly, may our lives bless You. Teach us the importance of obedience to your laws and service to others; love for You and love for our fellow man.

We pray this humbly in the Name that is above every name, the One who paid for our sins with His precious blood on the cross, and rose from the dead, Christ Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Heaven: What is it?

Maybe you’ve heard the old saying that “Christians can be so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”  But today, I don’t believe that is true.  The opposite seems to be more accurate: Christians don’t think of heaven enough!  We don’t study the Scripture enough to shape our way of thinking of the afterlife. In our rather diverse society, we must recover the notion tha the Bible must guide our thinking on the matter.

Listen to what pastor and author John Piper said about heaven:

“I believe with all my heart that in order to be useful in this world, we must fall in love with another world.  In order to transform this world for the glory of Christ we must be saturated with the glory and wisdom of another world.  In order to be changed from one degree of glory to another now we must hope fully in the grace that is about to be revealed to us soon.  In order to be the light of the world we must put our torch in the flame of heaven.”

It is quite possible for us to exist in this world, and even attend church most Sundays, and hear little about heaven.  In the following post, let’s consider two passages and ask the question: “What is heaven?”

First of all, it is a different place, unlike this world.  In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul discusses his trip to heaven.  Many think that this occurred when he was stoned and left for dead in Acts 14:19.  First of all, Paul calls it Paradise.  Jesus also called it Paradise when he said to the thief being crucified with him, who asked to the Lord to remember him.  Jesus said: “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”  Paul says it was the “third heaven.” It is a spiritual place.  Paul does not know if he was in the body or out of the body. It is a high place.  Heaven is a place different from this earth, unlike anything we’ve experienced.  Psalm 148:4: “Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!”  The scene of God’s throne in Isaiah depicts the Lord being surrounded by angels, who cry out “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Secondly, it is the place of God’s faithful.  Notice that it is the place of Abraham’s side.  Lazarus was brought there after he died.  Abraham is the father of many nations, the father of faith.  Abraham believed in God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.  Abraham was the friend of God.  All those who have a similar faith are known as children of Abraham.  Galatians 3:29 tells us: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Christianity is the fulfillment of Biblical Judaism.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:20: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” All of those who have trusted in Christ, from the point of anticipation in the Old Testament, to the point of faith in the New Testament up to our present time and until He returns, will be there.

Thirdly, it is a place of comfort.  Unlike his time on earth, where his poverty ruled his life, Lazarus was comforted there.  He was given relief.  He was made whole.  Luke 16:25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”  In heaven there is no agony nor the causes of agony.  In the new heaven and earth, John the Apostle wrote: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Revelation 21:4)  There, bodies will be whole.  There will be no cancer, no diabetes, and no depression.  It will be a place where there is no infirmity; only complete wholeness and holiness.

Fourthly, it is a place where wonderful things are spoken; too wonderful for Paul to repeat.  The vision and the sound would otherwise cause him to boast, but he was prohibited. 1 Corinthians 2:9: “However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’– There will be surprises in heaven.  I do not know if our pets will be there; they do not have souls.  But we will recognize others and be recognizable.  Whatever and whomever will be there, it is a place of joy, happiness and peace, surrounding the glory of God in Christ.

Fifthly, everyone wants to go there, but not everyone will be there.  As a pastor, I’m surprised at how regular people speak of their loved one who is now “out of suffering” or “in a much better place,” when sometimes there is no outward evidence of that person trusting Christ.  Jesus said many will say on that day: “Lord, Lord, did we not do this or that.”  And He will say to them, “Depart from Me, for I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23)

I’m sure that the rich man, feeling confident in his Judaism, assumed that he would be at Abraham’s side. He may have attended synagogue.  He could have recited the Ten Commandments in order.  He could have given alms.  But he lived with no consciousness of God.  He believed that life was one continual party.  The rich man cared too much about worthless things and did not place enough care in things that mattered.

Notice the clear teaching that there is no second chance after death.  And there is no relief in hell.  The rich man is in agony.  He is conscious of his state.  He sees Abraham and Lazarus.  He asks for relief, but there is none.  He cannot communicate with his brothers who are still living.  He cannot convince Abraham of sending added testimony to them.

God has given us enough in the plain teaching of His word, what we are to believe about this life and the life hereafter.  And this story clearly shows that there are two places: Paradise and Hades, and arrival there is based your spiritual sobriety, to see your need for Christ.  Hebrews 9:27: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment….”  The real question is are we prepared for death and that Day of Judgment?

Lastly, we must know how to get there.  Tom Curtis was a successful business man who lived in Florida in the 1980’s.  He had a family, a nice home and a fancy car.  But tragedy struck when his teenage boy was hanging out with his friends in the garage.  His son was splashed with gas and his friends lit a match.  Most of his body was burned beyond recognition.

The boy was rushed to the hospital.  In the ensuing weeks, the situation grew more and more difficult.  Before the son passed away, Tom talked with him.  The son said: “Dad, do you believe in Jesus?”  Tom said: “How can I believe in someone that is dead?”  The son said: “Dad, I’ve seen Him and He’s alive.”  Sometime afterwards, Tom became a Christian and has dedicated his life to seeing others come to faith.  He and his wife Carolyn operate SOS ministries in Florida.  Tom now tells people that there are three things that God cannot do.

He cannot lie. Titus 1:1: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– 2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,”  The God we serve is the God of truth.  He cannot mislead.

He cannot change. Malachi 3: 6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,”  God’s character is constant.  He is fair and just.

He cannot let anyone into heaven unless he is born again.  John 3:3-5: Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

If you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?  That is the most important question.  Are you 50% sure?  75% sure or 100% sure that you are going to heaven when you die? God has made a way that you could be 100% sure.

Admit you’re a sinner and turn from your sin.  All of are guilty before a holy God.  We are 100 % in need of forgiveness of sin.  The 17th c. Puritan John Owen said: “Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went there because they were so good and so holy…. Yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven (Jesus Christ alone excepted), did ever arrive there any other way but by forgiveness of sins.”

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  God has provided one way that we can be forgiven.  That is through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 3:18 tells us: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” Jesus death on the cross is the only sufficient way of paying for our sin.

It was on the cross that Jesus provided for our atonement.  No other place did He do this.  Peter tells us: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Peter 2:24).”

Call upon Him.  Romans 10:13 tells us: “…for “Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.”  It takes faith expressed to become one of God’s children. God wants us to communicate to Him and acknowledge our need for Him. Faith begins by humbly asking Christ to come in and rule your life.

Such expression usually includes a simple prayer, like the following: “Lord Jesus, I admit I am a sinner.  I believe you died on the cross for forgiveness of my sins; I ask that you forgive my sins, come into my heart and make my life new.  I receive you as my Savior.  Thank you, Jesus.  Amen.”

How to Prosper, Spirtually

I was recently confronted with the question: “How does one prosper spiritually?”  Another way of putting it would be to ask: “What is the key to spiritual growth?”

I believe the first Psalm has some insight into this question.  The book of Psalms has often been referred to as Israel’s hymnbook.  It contains songs- or poems, teaching on what it means to praise God and know God.  The emotions brought forth cover the spectrum of the human experience. When I was going through a dark time in my life, a pastor told me: “Go home and read the psalms.  You’ll know that David and others identified with you.”

The ESV Study Bible states: “The first psalm serves as the gateway into the entire book of Psalms, stressing that those who would worship God genuinely must embrace his Law (covenant instructions).  But its sustained contrast the psalm reminds readers that in the end there are really only two ways to live.”

Notice the agrarian illustration.  “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”  – Psalm 1:1-3

First off, to prosper spiritually, means to be blessed by God.  “Blessed is the man… (whose) delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  The Hebrew denotes happiness, prosperity. It reminds us of the beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”  You remember those.  “Blessed are the peacemakers… .”  “Blessed are the poor in spirit… .”  “Blessed are the pure in heart… . ”  One commentator states: “What is given to us in this first Psalm is contrasting sources of values.  “The truly happy person guides his life by God’s instruction rather than by the advice of those who reject that instruction.”[1]  The blessed man or woman is favored by God because of the priority in their life to honor God with their ethical and spiritual decisions.

What does it mean to delight in the law of the Lord?  Might we substitute all of God’s word, the Bible for “the law of the Lord”?  Thus, we must participate in the following:

  • To read it; to actually know what it says. To study it.  Jesus said: “Thy word is truth.” (John 17:17); we need to know the truth, before it can set us free.  It is an oxymoron to be a Christian and not interested in what the Bible says and teaches.
  • To mull it over in your mind; to memorize it.  Psalm 119 is an elaboration of Psalm 1.  “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”  This is the acquisition of the ability to call it to mind when you need it.  I know a woman who writes a central verse or thought from her devotions down and she glances at it throughout the day.  Other believers post verses in their car on the dash or on the refrigerator, to be continually reminded of God’s promises and precepts, that the word might become part of us.
  • To obey it, apply it; put it into practice.  Scripture must rule your mind, if you are to prosper spiritually.  You must be willing to submit yourself to God’s way of living, instead of living your own way!  Where are you getting your theology?  From the Internet, Facebook, Dr. Phil or Oprah?  Or do you sit with the Bible open and pray: “Lord, teach me.  Show me.  Whatever you say, I will do.”

Secondly, spiritual death is revealed in how one believes and lives.   Verse one says: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers….” Who are the wicked, sinners, or scoffers?  By the context, it is certainly those that give no mind to God, his presence, his instruction, his love or His wrath.  With these there is no fear of God.  Our country has suffered for a long time from no fear of God.

Today, our young people are falling prey to the idea that truth is relative.  In 2005, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton wrote Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Conducting the most comprehensive study of religion and teenagers to date, the sociologists discovered a newly dominant creed that they dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Rather than transformative revelation from God, religion has become a utility for enhancing a teenager’s life. Smith and Denton lay out the five points of MTD:

  • A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.Surely American teenagers did not invent this new religion. A quick scan of bestseller lists, television guides, or public school curricula will reveal MTD’s appeal. Indeed, the God of MTD sounds like the “cool parent” teenagers adore.

“God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process,” Smith and Denton write.  That’s one of the things missing today is a healthy fear of God.  Many live as if there is no God.  Lawlessness abounds.

In contrast, the blessed person recovers a healthy fear of God.  The awesomeness of the Lord affects how I think and how I live; my understanding of sin and my remorse over it.

One’s spiritual health must include a healthy reverence for the God of Scripture.  In contrast to our society, the Israelites participating in the exodus in 1500 B.C. were faced with an awesome scene on Mount Sinai: “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:18-20)

But without healthy reverence for God, there is spiritual death.  There is no middle ground; there is no state of limbo.  You can tell a lot about a tree or bush by the health of its leaves; whether it is getting enough rain; enough sun or is subject to bugs or disease.  The tree described in Psalm 1 is one that has taken root by a source of water.  Its leaves are robust.  Its fruit is plentiful.  Oh that we would have more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

How do we prosper spiritually?  Caspar Schwenckfeld likened the spiritual life to the “School of Christ.”  Schwenckfeld explained Christian growth in these terms:

“The Christian also goes to school, drawn by the Spirit of God into the school of Christ, the Teacher of divine mysteries. Although God instructs His pupils, the Christians, inwardly in the Spirit, He has also appointed preachers and teachers to interpret Scripture and to instruct the outer man, to direct him to God and to the crucified Christ; to teach him the malice of sin through the outward worship-service, teaching, preaching, reading, studying, admonition and ceremony.”[2]

This “school” of the Christian faith also has a goal in mind: that we as Jesus’ followers would be more Christlike in love, belief and ethics, bringing glory to God.  That’s why Peter ends with the phrase: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever (2 Peter 3:18)!”  The danger is stopping our progress.  Someone once said: “Christian growth is like riding a bicycle.  Once you stop, you fall off!”

The late Dr. Jack Rothenberger taught:

“The focus of Schwenckfeld’s life and thought was on the personal experience of the living Christ.  For him, God alone is the teacher; He touches the inner life of the seeker by granting experiential knowledge of Christ (what Schwenckfeld called, ‘Erkenntnis Christi.’)   Which defines the maturing awareness on the part of a believer that he or she is empowered daily by Christ to live for God and others.”[3]

Some of you may be familiar with the Navigators’ “Wheel of Christian Growth.”  Christ is at the center of the wheel and thus, at the center of our lives.  The spokes consist of Witnessing, Prayer, Study of the Word and Fellowship.  Each Christian is to be active in the following:

Prayer: This is simply conversing with God.  Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty

things that you do not know.”  We need time alone with God.  Instead of looking at it as a duty, you must recover the sense that your spiritual life depends on it. If Jesus deemed it necessary to pray alone and often, we must place a high priority on it as well.  So our spiritual health depends on us meeting with the Lord. If Jesus needed it, how much more do we!?  His habit was to get up while it was still dark and pray with God. He would often retreat to a lonely place and pray. He would give his disciples well needed rest after serving the crowds whether it be feeding or healing.  Before He was arrested, what was He doing?  Praying!

Pastor Kevin DeYoung states:

“This is why prayer is so essential for the Christian.  The simple act of getting on our knees (or faces or feet or whatever) for five or fifty minutes every day is the surest sign of our humility and dependence on God.  There may be many reasons for our prayerlessness- time management, busyness, lack of concentration- but most fundamentally, we ask not because we think we need not. Deep down we feel secure when we have money in the bank, a healthy report from the doctor, and powerful people on our side.  We do not trust in God alone.  Prayerlessness is an expression of our meager confidence in God’s ability to provide and of our strong confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves without God’s help.”[4]   Wow!  So that’s why prayerlessness is sin!

Studying Scripture:  Psalm 119:104: “From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Paul told us in Romans 12: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Our minds must engage the study of Scripture so that our spirit can be transformed from grace to grace.

Witnessing:  Christians have the best news in the world! 1 Peter 3:15: “… sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence… .”  Sometimes we underestimate the power of our testimony, which is really a testimony of God working in our lives.  The Lord has given you a world to reach.  We must not be timid about sharing Jesus, the Name which is above every name.  It is not witnessing if you don’t mention Jesus’ name.

Fellowship:  “No man is an island.”  We need each other.  Hebrews 10:24: “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  Fellowship is obtained through attending worship, Sunday School, small groups & activities.  Open your life to give and receive love.

We must seek the fellowship of other Christians; you must be in His word and prayer on a regular basis; we must actively witness to and serve others;  If we are to prosper spiritually!  And most of all, the Holy Spirit must take up residence in our lives, which happens to every person when they trust in Christ.

God has wired us so that we get something out of something what we put into it.  Very little happens without effort and initiative.  Other things require us to be active in order to stay alive. I can sit here and say: “I’m going to boycott air,” and then try to hold my breath.  But after about a minute, I’ll be gasping for it.  I can try to boycott oxygen for a minute and a half, but sooner or later I’m a take a deep breath and give up my protest.

There is only so much of us to go around. Until we need to stop and take care of ourselves. Do you remember the illustration of the oxygen mask on the airplane? Before you take off the stewardess informs you that you must first put yours on before you put your child’s on. So it is with our own usefulness and blessing to others. We need to fuel up with God before we can be a blessing to others.

[1] ESV Study Bible.

[2] Selina G. Schultz, Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig: A Course of Study, “A Christian,” (Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1964), 67.

[3] See Dr. Jack Rothenberger’s article at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1989/issue21/2124.html.

[4] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot, (Chicago: Moody, 2010), 232.

A Different Type of Rest

Labor Day is a great time of year; a reminder that summer is nearing an end.  It is one last holiday before the change of the season.  Hopefully the summer has afforded you and your family some time away.  That’s necessary.  Labor Day means a time to rest from your labors.  Labor Day weekend reminds us that work is a necessary element of our lives, balanced with rest and worship, part of the necessary balance that makes us productive.

What is rest?  Definition of the verb is “to cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.”  There are two types of rest.

It is interesting that rest is a divine idea.  God advocates personal refreshment and gave us the Sabbath for that purpose.  In God’s moral law, what we know as the “Ten Commandments,” He instructed the Israelites after they left Egypt: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. …For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Christians see their Sabbath as Sunday, because Jesus arose from the dead on that day and it is most appropriate to worship Him then.

We must recover the rhythm between work and rest.  The point is to not get overextended in one or the other, as you live your life for Christ. Some of us do not see work as a privilege.  Others see it as a necessity, but dread it, especially if you’re unhappy at your job.

Your mind and ability are gifts.  It is God’s will that you use them to provide a means of income to care for yourself and others.  But your purpose is not confined to your work or else we might be tempted to feel that upon retirement we’ve lost our purpose.  No, your purpose in life is not confined to your work.  Your purpose in life is to glorify God.  If you happen to be retired, you now have the opportunity to love, support, mentor and pray for others.  You have plenty of time and opportunity to glorify God and invest in the lives of others.

But today, I’d like to focus on the idea of rest.  Jesus spoke of rest, but of a different type than is commonly assumed.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. 30 “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”

There is physical rest that comes from getting sleep; doing little, taking care of your body.

There is mental rest that comes from stepping away from a project to recharge.  I took a study course after a poor semester in college.  Professor Claude C. Olney’s “Where There’s a Will, There’s an A,” taught me that every hour it is good to step away for five to ten minutes to stretch, get a drink, etc.

But then there is spiritual rest.  Jesus called it “rest for your soul.”  The Greek means “relief,  ceasing, or stopping.”  Jesus was talking to those who felt the burden of religious legalism being imposed on them by the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:4; Luke 11:46).  He was also speaking to those who were living under the oppression of Roman rule.  He may have also been speaking to those living under circumstances that were beyond their control.

Jesus offers rest from all of these; a different type of rest than commonly assumed.  The rest that Jesus spoke of comes from knowing God and walking with Him; having the joy of your sins forgiven.  Having peace that “surpasses all understanding” as Paul wrote about from a Roman jail cell in Philippians 4:7.

How does one get that rest?  Some go through life avoiding the spiritual rest that is Christ invites us to.  Today, let’s look at some obstacles to such rest.

One obstacle to spiritual rest is unconfessed sin.  Sin has a burdening effect upon the spirit.  David, when he did not confess his sin to the Lord, he was burdened.  He said in Psalm 32: 3: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’– and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”  The Lord wants us to walk in the freedom that only He can give.

Maybe you are one that doesn’t think about your sins too much.  Maybe you should.  Then there are those of you who beat yourself up.  Or you think you can fix it by doing better next time.  But confession is agreeing with the Holy Spirit.  1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  He alone can cleanse you from the guilt and power of sin.

Another obstacle to spiritual rest is when we set our minds and hearts on those things that are not of God; This is when we chase after things, people or identifies that God would not have for you can weary you.  Numbers 15:39: “You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.”  Sometimes our goals are wrong; we want things that are not good for us.  The Bible calls this idolatry; anything that we place before God. Spiritual rest is only achieved by being content with who God is and what He has given you.

The opposite of idolatry is trusting in God.  Isaiah 40:31: “…those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.”

Prayer is trust in action.  Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Other times we forfeit peace and rest because we fail to trust God.  As the old hymn goes: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear.  All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

A third obstacle to spiritual rest is disobedience; living your way instead of God’s way.  It is interesting that when Jesus spoke of “finding rest for your souls,” He could have been referencing Jeremiah 6:16: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'” But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’  When we spurn God’s way, we invite destruction in our lives.

If we really love God, then we will follow Him and consider it a joy.  1 John 5:3: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”  Following the Lord and obeying Him can afford us the peace that often evades us.

But the biggest reason there is no spiritual rest in your life could be that you do not know Christ.  You’ve never made that decision; taken that step to place your trust in Him; to repent of your sin and follow Him.  There is a rest that only God can give.  It starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ.  There are really two ways to live. Matthias Media has published a simple explanation of the gospel called “Two Ways to Live.”  It says:

“The message at the heart of Christianity is really quite simple- simple enough to be outlined in a few pages.  It is a message from the Bible about God and His Son, Jesus.  It is about life and death, and the choice that we all face.  And it all starts with a loving creator God.

God is the loving ruler of the world.  God made the world.  He made us rulers of the world under him.  But is that the way it is now?

No, we all reject the ruler- God- by trying to run life our own way without Him.  But we fail to rule ourselves or society or the world.  The Scripture says: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)  What will God do about this rebellion?

God won’t let us rebel forever. God’s punishment for rebellion is death and judgment.  God’s justice sounds hard.  But because of His love, God sent His Son into the world: the man Jesus Christ.  Jesus always lived under God’s rule.  Yet by dying in our place he took our punishment and brought forgiveness.  1 Peter 3:18 says: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” But that’s not all…

God raised Jesus to life again as the ruler of the world.  Jesus has conquered death, now gives new life, and will return to judge.

So that leaves us with two ways to live. There is our way, to reject the ruler- God and to try to run life our own way.  The result of which means being condemned by God and will eventually face death and judgment.

Or God’s new way, which means to submit to Jesus as our ruler; to rely on Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The result is being forgiven by God and given eternal life.”[1]

You must ask Christ to come into your life to rule, remake and reform you.  It can never be assumed.  Faith is you reaching out for God and accepting Jesus’ invitation to soul rest.

Only Jesus offers spiritual rest; rest for your soul.  But it means coming to Him and asking Him for it; while submitting your life to Him.  And if you have that peace, you can carry it with you in any circumstance and face any challenge.

In 1555, Nicholas Ridley was burned at the stake because of his witness for Christ. On the night before Ridley’s execution, his brother offered to remain with him in the prison chamber to be of assistance and comfort. Nicholas declined the offer and replied that he meant to go to bed and sleep as quietly as ever he did in his life. Because he knew the peace of God, he could rest in the strength of the everlasting arms of his Lord to meet his need. So can we!

So, we must decide to approach life God’s way.  If you’ve never known that peace, I invite you to pray in your heart with me.

“Lord Jesus, I need you.  I know that I have made sinful choices and gone against your will.  I also know that your death on the cross paid for my sin debt in full.  Please forgive me.  Please come into my life and change me.  Reign upon the throne of my heart.  I go from my way of living to your way of living.  Make me into the person that you want me to be.  In Jesus name, Amen.

[1] http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/.

Where Do We Go From Here?

After hearing of the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday, I was faced with a moral dilemma inside my soul. What do I preach on in light of the current events?  Do I remain silent and say nothing? Or do I comment on the present situation?

The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court demands a different message.  I hope these words are relevant, Biblical, and in good taste because history was made last week.

I share these words, fully realizing that in our congregation there are those that have gay friends and gay family members.  I do, as well.  My efforts are not to repel you or cause you to rethink your church membership. If anything, I want you to realize that it is possible to love a person and not agree with their lifestyle, or philosophy, for that matter.

As with any issue, it is important to think the way that God thinks on it.  Romans 12:2 tells us: “Do not to be conformed to this present world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.”  God’s word and God’s Holy Spirit are two instruments which He uses to renew our minds into thinking His way on various subjects.  John Calvin said: “It matters not what you say or I say, but what God says.”

Some believe that homosexuals were/are as God designed them and such is their lot in life. Some say: “They were born that way,” as if it were scientific. And yet a gay gene has never been found; it does not exist.  On the other hand, behavior does influence wiring of the brain. This has been found with those addicted to pornography.  Why would God allow someone to be born with a condition that was specifically against His ethical demands?  “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” – Leviticus 18:22

The secular world says that it is impossible for gays to change. You can’t “pray the gay away.” But the apostle Paul notes that some did change to the gospel message.  “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Obviously same-sex orientation is mysterious and rare (10%).  I think that there are many factors which influence a person identifying as a homosexual: environmental, social, familial, etc.  While undergoing mandated reporter training, I heard of a sad situation of a boy who was molested by an uncle.  He believed that there was nothing wrong with this behavior. He said the experiences felt good and that he developed a desire to do such things to others. As a result, he developed deviant sexual desires.  Former experiences can guide future decisions.

Over the last 20 years, there has been a shift in society’s feelings on the subject of homosexuality. There were sodomy laws in almost every state during the 20th century. Then in 2003 with the Supreme Court case Lawrence vs. Texas, such laws were removed.  Now society has said this behavior is acceptable. We have shifted from focus on the behavior to focus on the person.

But God has never changed his mind on the subject of homosexuality. He puts the gay lifestyle in a group of behaviors which He promises to exclude from His kingdom and to judge such individuals with His wrath, just like other forms of sexual sin or taking advantage of others (read Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Consider the following Scripture as it pertains to Biblical sexuality.  These verses speak to all forms of sexual behavior outside of one woman and one man committed for life in the covenant of marriage:

Hebrews 13:4: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”.

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” – Ephesians 5:5

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” – Colossians 3:5-6

Furthermore, the gay lifestyle makes a person vulnerable to specific venereal diseases and infections that he would not normally be exposed to if he were living as God prescribes.  This is not to mention the personal guilt, ostracism, and other social and psychological effects of the lifestyle.

Is it loving for me to be silent with this information?  No; it may be politically correct for me to be silent!  God is calling Christians today to speak the truth in love. We must not conform to the culture’s philosophies, but hold fast to God’s word.

Just because something is now the law of the land does not obligate the church to go against the word of God.  We are not to fear our government that has lost its moral compass.  Jesus tells us who to fear in Luke 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

Romans 13 tells us to obey civil authorities. But there are times when civil disobedience is an option.  Peter and John’s civil disobedience is found in Acts 4:18 “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

What happened on June 26 is an example of how there are times in the Christian life where one’s government will go in one direction and the church must go in another.  As a minister of the gospel, I cannot conduct a same-sex wedding ceremony. Nor will any of our staff. To do so would oppose God.  The present situation presents a test to our loyalty to Jesus!  Our allegiance is not to the Supreme Court or to the laws of Pennsylvania when such laws are contrary to God’s specific teaching.

Many churches are making efforts to further protect their religious liberty in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.  You may say, “No such protection is needed.”  But listen to Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito:

“The decision will also have other important consequences. It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women.”

In other words, what was common understanding and conviction on this issue is seen as hateful and bigoted by those who champion a new ethic and a new level of acceptance to behavior that has been immoral since the creation of man.

The future is unknown. You might take our efforts as bigotry or hate.  That’s wrong, unfortunate, and presumptive. It is more to protect us should we be faced with litigation.

Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary writes:

“The threat to religious liberty represented by this decision is clear, present, and inevitable. Assurances to the contrary, the majority in this decision has placed every religious institution in legal jeopardy if that institution intends to uphold its theological convictions limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman. This threat is extended to every religious citizen or congregation that would uphold the convictions held by believers for millennia.”[1]

In March of 2009, our Church Council passed the following statement: “Believing marriage to be the sacred union of one male and one female, under no circumstances, will a same-sex ceremony take place at Central Schwenkfelder Church.”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas states: “The majority’s inversion of the original meaning of liberty will likely cause collateral damage to other aspects of our constitutional order that protect liberty.”

Not everyone goes to heaven. 1 Corinthians 6 offers both warning and hope; warning to those who practice such things along with other sins will not inherit the kingdom of God. They will not go to heaven; they will suffer for an eternity, separated from God, just as anyone who is not redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Redemption brings about a changed lifestyle.

The hope is that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of the gospel that sinners would be regenerated; turn from their sins and be given the supernatural ability to live a changed life just like everyone who has genuinely come to faith in Christ.

Jesus said in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world.”  The church holds a privileged place being used by God  as He conducts His affairs in the world.  In Matthew 5:13, Jesus called us to be salt and light to preserve and illuminate this dying and dark world.  We are to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs Him. Jesus likened us to “a city on a hill.”

If we reject this role, we will become like the world and will be good for nothing.   We will blend into a world that does not know God.  We will become like them instead of being the missionary center that God has called us to be.

You will be tempted to go with the flow & fall into line. People on both sides of the political aisle are calling traditional folks to “come up with the times.”  But as John Piper wrote in his recent blog, the court’s decision brought us to a new low in our country.  Instead of sin being a choice, we have institutionalized it.

May we never hear those demoralizing words that Jesus spoke to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm– neither hot nor cold– I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

This morning, consider the words of Franklin Graham as a wake up call.

“The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled today that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. With all due respect to the court, it did not define marriage, and therefore is not entitled to re-define it.  I pray God will spare America from His judgment, though, by our actions as a nation, we give Him less and less reason to do so.”

[1] http://news.sbts.edu/2015/06/26/mohler-responds-supreme-courts-same-sex-marriage-decision/.