Where Are the Peacemakers?

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The United States is becoming a more divided country. The haves and the have nots – the illegal immigrants trying to stay here – the racial problems that we are experiencing – the confederate memorials that are being taken down – the pro-abortionists and the anti-abortionists – the homosexuals who are going to court to make their lifestyle accepted by everyone.  Everyone is battling for their own rights, expecting the other side to cave in to their agenda.  It is no wonder that I have heard some sources say that we could be heading toward another civil war.  This is called the United States, but we are becoming the Divided States.

 

Yes this country has problems that need to be resolved, but when you try to force your position on someone else it causes them to be defensive.  Sometimes people don’t have logical reasoning they can give for their belief, but they will hold even more strongly to their side when they are verbally or physically confronted.  When someone tries to force their beliefs on someone else it will not work, unless they have the power to enforce it.  And that is what happens; people try to forcefully push their beliefs upon someone else.

 

That kind of violence is what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia on Sunday, August 13, 2017.  This event has helped to shape people’s minds so now many more are more at the boiling point, not trusting or liking the other side.  This started with white supremacists protesting to try to keep a confederate monument up when several oppositionists showed up to protest their protest.  This ignited the fires of anger and as a result, violence broke out.  The worst of the violence happened when a white supremacist drove his car into protesters, killing a white protester.   There are too many people who are stoking the fires of anger and unrighteousness for their own cause and in so doing, they cause more problems.  This is, after all, how wars and fightings get started.

 

Where are the peacemakers?  Where are those people who are looking to find the middle ground and calm the storm before it rises even further?  Where are the mediators who work to keep their side calm and peaceful so that no one does rash things that hurt their cause and rile up the other side?  I am sure that there are people doing this, but it is the people who are causing the violence and stoking the fires of contempt who are winning the day.

Jesus talked about the virtue of being a peacemaker when He said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  This is for the people who are working for a true peace, not a false peace or just trying to force the other side to do what they want to be done.  This person will be blessed when they do the work of being a peacemaker, trying to work to bridge the gap in the difference between two sides.

 

Mind you, I know that it is not easy being the peacemaker.  Oftentimes the peacemaker is the target of hostilities from people on both sides.  It can be a thankless job being a peacemaker.  But the rewards are worth it; this is where the blessing comes from.  When there is peace, your reward is that you can be satisfied seeing and knowing that harm is not being done by anyone, nothing is being broken, and lives can go on as normal.  You have made a difference in the lives of people.  You will be blessed of God for doing this work of being a peacemaker.

 

References:

 

Scripture: www.biblegateway.com

 

R.C. Sproul article, Blessed Are the Peacemakers: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/blessed-are-peacemakers/

 

Will the United States Fall Apart From the Inside?

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Looking at the current political landscape, I have to wonder if the United States is about to fall apart from the inside.  People on the political right and on the political left are getting louder in their complaining and not wanting to work with each other about the way the other side is doing things.  I have read articles how some people in this nation are concerned about another civil war happening.  It won’t be a civil war like this country had in the 1880’s, but a civil war of much incivility and unrest.  Several rich people are already building bunkers to protect themselves and their families from the civil unrest they see coming.  Looking at what the Bible says about the End Times, the time before Jesus comes back, there is no mention of the United States.  This means either the United States doesn’t exist, or would be a minor country in those days.  Could we be heading in that direction?

World history is has several examples of countries who fell from the inside.  Rome, a nation that stayed a world class empire for centuries, finally collapsed.  It wasn’t so much of the barbarian nations around them that kept attacking them, but that nation fell because of complacency and inner turmoil.  Looking at the more recent past, the Soviet Union was a world power for decades.  Many Westerners were worried about them because of their iron grip on their people, the influence they had on other nations and their apparent desire to expand the communist manifesto in other countries.  But the Soviet Union collapsed from the inside.  Several nations split off from the Soviet Union.  We are now more familiar with the main country of the Soviet Union; Russia, which is still causing problems.

The United States used to be a country in which people were tolerant of each other’s beliefs.  Tolerance meaning that we don’t have to accept what someone else believes, but we agree to disagree.  We find the middle ground and work with each other.  Nowadays some groups say that tolerance means that everybody has to accept what they believe, even though they do not give the same acceptance as to what other people believe.

This country has always had divisions; that is one reason why we have so many political parties.  But this problem seems to have escalated since Barack Obama became our President.  Having everyone in the United States have Medical Insurance was a big priority for President Obama.  During his first term in office there was a majority of Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Therefore President Obama was able to push forward the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare.  Many is the U.S. did not like the way Obamacare came together and had many concerns about it.  Whereas the Democrats did have a majority in the Senate, they lacked the 60 percent needed to override a filibuster by the Republicans and make it the law of the land.  So instead they went with what is considered the nuclear option; they changed the rules and were able to pass the Affordable Care Act with a simple majority.

Many conservatives were upset with the way the progressives were leading the country and the way that Republicans were acting in Congress and the Senate.  They wanted changes but knew it was unwise to form a new political party.  Instead they formed a group within the Republican Party, the Tea Party, which would appeal to the Conservative base.  Many small Tea Party groups were formed throughout the nation.  Thus they were able to form a voting block to get the word out and support more right wing, conservative principles to come against the more progressive leadership in the country as well as the Centrists within the Republican Party.

In 2016 the leadership in the United States took a turn that no one was expecting.  Hillary Clinton was ahead in the polls and was expected to be the next President of the United States; someone who would continue the policies of President Obama.  Instead, Donald Trump won the Electoral College and became the next President.  This riled many progressives because they thought Mrs. Clinton should be President.  The polls had all indicated this and she won the majority of votes.  This is not the first time a candidate won the majority of votes but not the Electoral College.

The progressive voices are coming out louder now.  They are out more against President Trump and his conservative leanings.  The progressives are going to Congressmen’s Town Hall meetings, disrupting them as well as doing more protesting.

Even looking at the way our Senators have been behaving is discouraging as to being able to work in unity.  As I mentioned earlier, the Democrat Senators did away with the filibuster to be able to pass the Affordable Care Act.  Then in 2013, when the Democrat Senators couldn’t get approval for Appellate Justices because the Republicans kept blocking them with a filibuster, they changed the rules again so that Appellate Justices only have to get a simple majority of votes to be confirmed for their position.  Then just in the past few weeks, the Republican led Senate changed the rules to they could get a conservative to fill the vacant Supreme Court spot.  The Democrats did not do that last year so that President Obama could put his choice in that chair.  The Senators do not seem to be able to get a few colleagues from the other party over to get certain things passed.  They are playing hardball with each other.  This is causing rule changes that were put in place to help the American people to be put aside so they can appeal to their bases.

Political division is running strife in this nation.  It is theorized that the reason the Presidential election polls were not correct is because several people did not want to admit they would be voting for Mr. Trump.  They felt they needed to be politically correct with those they are around and say that they were going to vote for Mrs. Clinton.  I know in personal dealings with people from both sides of the political spectrum, there is more animosity toward the other side.

But it is not just politically that this nation is splitting, it is also racially.  There have been several incidents in the last few years where it looks like policemen are being overly aggressive in dealing with some people, mostly those who are black.  This is causing more distrust in the African American community toward policemen.  Because of this distrust, there was an incident last year when an African American indiscriminately shot twelve policemen and two civilians in Dallas.  Five of the policemen died.

I recently read an article in which the author noted the instability in this nation.  He theorized that all it would take to turn the anger into violence is another economic downturn.  I do not know if that is all it will take, but seeing the way American’s are losing ability to communicate civilly does cause concern in me and several other people.

We need to be a country who can civilly discuss differences, to work with each other to make the compromises need to remain a viable country.  If we do not, even though the United States is considered a world power now, might we be another world power that shrinks into irrelevance through our own inner turmoil?

Bible End Times Events Unfolding? Dallas Shooting of Police

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When I started this blog my intention was to discuss how End Time events of the Bible could be unfolding today.  I did post my 7 part study on the subject.

With this article I want to get back to the topic of the Biblical End Times.  We could be seeing several things going on in the world that could be indicating that we are quickly approaching the End Times that are prophesied in the Bible.  I do not mean to say that we definitely are; I just want to get people to think about it.  If we are near the End Times, we need to be ready for the coming judgment.  My goal is to write at least one article a week.

On July 7, 2016, there was a tragic shooting of several Police officers in Dallas, Texas.  Five Police officers were killed, while seven other police officers and two civilians were also shot.  They were at a peaceful rally where several people were protesting some recent police killings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.  The rally was because it looks like those killings could have been done due to prejudice.  It appears that white Police officers were killing black men.

These are not the first incidences where black men have been killed by the Police in this country.  We are seeing more instances of these pop up on social media so the press is covering these events.  Black Lives Matter has grown because they see racial profiling happening.  This is why these people in Dallas were protesting; they are getting tired of seeing black people getting killed by the police.

Whereas most of the people in this protest were peaceful, one person took the law into his own hands.  He was an Army veteran who had served in the Army Reserves.  He stated his purpose was to kill white people, especially white officers.  He succeeded at this until the police killed him.

Does this event have anything to do with the End Times that the Bible predicts?  Not in itself; but maybe it is a part of the signs of the beginning of the End Times.  This could be a small part of the birth pangs that Jesus mentions.

The Bible warns about internal conflict before the Last Days.  In Matthew chapter 24, Jesus is informing his Disciples about the end of the age.  One thing He says in verse 7a, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (NIV)  In our current thought, we think of these two as the same thing.  But why would Jesus make a difference between nation and kingdom?  Did Jesus see a difference?  Could the difference be between nations that had kings and those that didn’t?  It couldn’t, because back in Jesus’ time there were no Presidents, every nation had a king, or another autocrat, as their leader.

But Jesus does make this differentiation.  The nation looks like it is what we think of, a country.  But the kingdom He mentioned could be factions within a nation or groups of people in different nations working for the same principle.  This killing in Dallas could be a part of this ‘kingdom against kingdom’.  Even though it only speaks about the reaction of one man, he clearly spoke that his motivation was to kill white people, because he saw white people killing blacks.

I suggest that this is a small part of the picture of what Jesus meant when He said “kingdom against kingdom”.  We see other instances in the world.  Take the way that some radical Muslims kill innocent people.  For examples: in San Bernardino where a gunman and his wife killed several co-workers or in Orlando where one gunman killed several people in a bar.  Again, Muslims as a whole are not doing this, but there is a faction who is.

There are ongoing protests which disrupt life going on in France.  The unions are angry because of governmental reforms that give large companies more freedom in dealing with their employees, instead of letting unions have more say.

In several places in the northern part of Mexico, gangs are terrorizing and killing people so they can keep their trade routes open.

Fighting has broken out in Sudan, forcing people to flee their homes.

These types of things have been happening for a long time; so in themselves they are not a sign.  We don’t think that much about them.  But when we put them together, there seems to be more of these types of events happening around the world.  These events make many people tense and cause governments to build up security to try to thwart similar events from happening again. After all, the reason we have strict security in airports is because a small handful of people have hijacked airplanes.

I am not saying that this event in Dallas is an End Time event.  But as we see more factions of people going against each other it could be another birth pang that Jesus mentioned.  Birth pangs grow in frequency as the time of birth draws near.  It could be a birth pang that shows that the Great Tribulation is getting nearer.  This event will last 7 years and will be the most terrible time that people on the earth have ever experienced.  We could be seeing more of these types of events happening throughout the world.  Like on 7/14/16 when someone driving a truck killed over 70 people in Nice, France, or 7/15/16 with a coup in Turkey.

We need to be trusting in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  He has forewarned us about many things that will happen in the End Days so we can be ready for whatever happens.  Jesus has not promised to keep us safe from all harm, but He has promised to give us eternal life and the peace we need to make it through all of life’s difficulties when we trust in Him.

Consider it Pure Joy

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Paul Jennings was born a slave on the Montpelier plantation of James Madison. He was sometimes a playmate for Madison’s stepson, Payne Todd. Madison’s wife, Dolly, had been widowed with a small child. Eventually, Paul became the body servant to James Madison himself. He accompanied the family to the White House when Madison became president. It is said that as the British army approached the White House in the War of 1812 to burn it, he helped Dolly save many White House treasures, including the portrait of George Washington.

Jennings returned to Montpelier to assist the president in his retirement and was present as the former president took his last breath. Jennings also took care of Dolly in her widowhood. While she had hoped to free him, Dolly was destitute and had to sell Jennings. Daniel Webster purchased him and set him free.

As a free man, Jennings found noble employment in Washington, D.C., assisted African-Americans coming north and wrote a book about his experiences. Jennings helped Dolly Madison in her destitute old age out of his own pocket. Why was Dolly destitute? It was because of Jennings’s old playmate, Dolly’s son, Payne Todd. Todd had lived in privilege but never found a real job, served jail time for assaults, amassed huge gambling debts, drank to excess, mismanaged the family business, lost the ancestral home and stole from his mother. It is an example that some have limited opportunities and make the most of them while others have great opportunities and squander them.

We are all given different opportunities in life, sometimes we are given good things, but sometimes opportunities are disguised as problems. But whatever circumstance we are going through, we can consider it pure joy, because God is at work in our lives. You might have a good job, family, circumstances, etc., but does that really make you blessed of God? People of who have good things can take that for granted and cause more headaches for those around them; whereas the person who has to struggle can find motivation to push themselves to improve themselves despite their circumstances. God does not judge us because of the circumstances or problems that we are in; instead, it is what we do with those opportunities that are dumped in our lap that God will judge us on. That is what we will look at today, we can go through this life with pure joy, even if we are not given the best of health, finances, relationships, etc.

This lesson is from James 1:1-15. The book of James is considered the Proverbs of the New Testament; like Proverbs, it also goes from one subject to another. James aims to provide wisdom to Christians everywhere by giving practical advice on many subjects, especially giving advice to those who feel the pressure about society’s influences. There are a few different James’ in the Bible. The James they believe who wrote this is not the Apostle James, but James the half-brother of Jesus. He started out not believing that Jesus was the Son of God, but he later rose to be the leader of the church of Jerusalem; Paul even reported to him when he came back from one of his missionary journeys. But look at the way James talks about himself in the beginning of verse 1, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. He was a prime minister in Christ’s Kingdom, yet James considered himself only a servant; He knew that he was accountable to his Big Brother; Jesus literally is his big brother. Jesus set a powerful example to follow in leadership. Jesus told his disciples in Luke 22:25-27 “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Jesus was a servant leader who did not lord it over people, but He served those around Him.

James also found joy in being a servant leader. I have even read where he wore some holes in the floor by his bed because he prayed so regularly on his knees. Servant Leadership is exercising real, godly leadership, as Christ did when He used a towel when he washed the disciple’s feet, and influencing, equipping, and empowering people to accomplish God’s purpose and plan. It is serving others unselfishly while influencing and empowering them to grow in a Christ-directed, purposeful direction. [i] Servant leaders not only cast the vision for the church, but they empower those around them in their spiritual formation and growth by laying the foundation and supply the building materials they need. Servant Leaders build up and encourage those around them, because they realize that all of us are needed to do Christ’s work. We all have different skills, so the servant leader needs to encourage and equip people to use their abilities for God. In this book, James provides many building materials to the people he was writing to.

Verse 1 also states to whom James wrote this to; “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.” Scholars are not sure exactly to whom James is referring. Either it is the believers who fled after the persecution of Stephen or it is the Jews who were dispersed among many nations’ centuries earlier due to their own wars. But one thing we do see for sure is that God looks after His people no matter where they are. These believers lived away from home, so they felt more pressure due to the influence of the societies they were living in. James wanted to give these dispersed believers the wisdom they need to overcome these cultural pressures; to stay true to and honor God.

Verses 2-4 starts out in a way that would seem to defy logic; “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Why would James say that we should consider it pure joy when we have trials of many kinds? That is not what several Christian teachers tell us. This just seems to spit in the face their teaching. After all, we should be happy, we should be champions; God wants to bless us with good health, money and other nice things. Why should we consider it pure joy to endure problems of different kinds when God says that we should be feeling good? Because always being happy and feeling good are teachings of man, not of God. I like what C.S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Joy is different than happiness. I like Kay Warren, Rick Warren’s wife, definition: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” [ii] Our faith is in Someone, not something. Our faith is in Jesus, not the circumstances we are in or the good things we should receive. Christianity isn’t about putting a soft touch on life, about always being happy; it is about such things as: dying to self, putting others first, repentance of sins, self-control, being gentle, faithful, serving God, and – suffering through trials. These are not things that will make for our personal happiness. But all of these do have their rewards. Yes, even trials have their reward; perseverance. Perseverance, or longsuffering, is one of the seven fruit of the Spirit that Galatians says all Christians should have. Do you want to be mature and complete in Christ? Then James says that we need to let perseverance finish its work; we have to go through hard times. When we can persevere through the trials, then we won’t let anything keep us down, we can just get back up and continue on. Trials and problems are a part of life; if we let them keep us down we will never be able to accomplish anything good for the Lord.

Sometimes when we are going through the darkest times, our fragrance is the best. You know the best European perfumes come from flowers that are grown high up on the Balkan Mountains over in Serbia in the Black Sea area. They say that they harvest these flowers in the darkest part of the night, between twelve midnight and two a.m. it’s a very short time where they’ll cut these flowers, take them back and mix them up for perfume. That’s because, they say, that scientific tests prove that the greatest aroma is during the darkest part of the night. In fact, the report that I read said that forty percent of this aroma will disappear in the light of the day. [iii] When we are going through difficult times with grace and dignity, those around us can see something different about us. That is when we can show in practical terms the wonderful difference that God makes in our lives.

You might say that it is hard to go through the hard times. After all, it’s easy for me to say; I don’t know everything that you have gone through. Maybe you will say that one or both of my parents didn’t treat me nice – I have cancer – I was born with a birth defect – my spouse isn’t saved – I lost my job and can’t make ends meet – a loved one died. Yes, we don’t know everything that you have particularly gone through, but my problem isn’t any less than yours. Our problems are all different, but just as serious and painful to the person who is going through it.

God wants us to be resilient – able to bounce back. Do you remember the kids toy Weebles? They were round and weighted heavier at the bottom; so if they were knocked over they would stand right back up again. Their motto was “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”. That is the way we need to be. We might be knocked down with a problem, but we need to have a low center of gravity and bounce right back up again. We all go through problems; it is the way we go through the problems that tests what kind of a Christian we are. We need to be patient, longsuffering, gentle, etc. Resilience is not something that we are born with; it is something that we have to commit to it. It is not to say that we can get knocked down when we have problem. We can have our little pity party when something bad happens, but we need to decide that we are going to let harm roll right down our backs and get right back on our feet.  Yes, the harm hurts; but we serve a big God who is bigger than the hurts, and He will see us through them.

God gives us various ways to focus on Him to give us a heart of peace and joy through the hard times. We are to get our minds on God. We need to seek out God’s promises in the Bible. Such promises as Psalm 23, which starts out “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing”. Read the Bible, there are books that will list out God’s promises to us. Jesus told us to “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Mt. 6:33). Find what God has to say, trust and obey His word. Another way God gives us is Praise songs. Worship Him through songs; they have a way of getting into us and helping us. I think of a favorite old worship song; – He gave me beauty for ashes – The oil of joy for mourning – The garment of praise – For the spirit of heaviness – That we might be trees of righteousness – The planting of the Lord – That He might be glorified. (By Robert Whitney Manzano) God wants to lift us up out of our difficult situations; we need to get our minds upon Him. Whether with the congregation or by ourselves, we need to focus upon the Lord in worship and praise and to not let our minds drift on other things. It’s like Isaiah 40:31 says; “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Another way is what we are told in Phil 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” We are not to focus upon our problems, but focus on the good things of life. Not only get your mind upon God, but just think about things and people that make you happy. I know a lady who says she likes to put on feel good movies; that is ok, it gets our mind off of the problems of life. God has given us the resources we need to get through life’s difficulties, but if we don’t use the resources God gives us then we only have ourselves to blame for not using them and staying in the pit of our problems.

One person I think about when I think of joy through perseverance is Rhonda Griffin. I knew her about 15-20 years ago. Years before that, Rhonda was in a car accident and broke her neck. She is a now a paraplegic. She is stuck in a wheelchair, has to put up with bedsores and all the inconveniences of depending on someone else. But I know few people who have the kind of joy that she has. She is always smiling and has a good sense of humor that can make you laugh. She is one of my heroes of the faith. One thing that gave Rhonda a sense of freedom for many years was that she had a van that was modified so she could still drive. But last year she realized that she didn’t have the strength to make a quick stop. The Dr. found the problem and was able to operate so it wouldn’t get worse, but he commented that she might not get her strength back enough to be able to drive. She was devastated; her only source of freedom was gone. Now to get around she has to take Access Paratransit. But she quickly realized that now she has more opportunities to witness to people. She took a negative, turned it into a positive and found even more reason to share her joy. Even though she has been like this a good many years, our common friend Ann, who is her close friend, recently told me that Rhonda can still make you laugh at some of the problems that she goes through.

Some of the problems we have seem like they are impossible to go through. But alleged “impossibilities” are opportunities for our capacities to be stretched. [iv] God entrusts us to take the difficulties in life and turn them into something positive. It is about the attitude you have when you go through it. Let God help you through it and you will be able to have that ‘pure joy’ in learning to persevere, making the best out of the situation and glorify God through it.

Verses 5-8; “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” One of the most important things James tells us we can do is to pray to God for wisdom. The wisdom that James talks about here isn’t the smarts to help you be scientist, to be the first to build a fusion reactor that works like the sun or to buy the right stocks so you can get a lot of money. This is the wisdom to know how to correctly use the knowledge that we have. There are a lot of people with high IQ’s and have a lot of terrific information stored up in their heads. They can formulate difficult mathematical formulas, build ships to explore the solar system, build and run successful businesses, but they are all the greater fools because they don’t know how to properly use knowledge to be better people, how to treat others nicely, use common sense and to serve God. Charles Spurgeon has said “There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”

We have the encouragement here to ask God for the wisdom we need and the promise that God will generously give us that wisdom so we can make the right decisions. This includes the wisdom we need to not give in to the pressures that we get from our culture to sin. God knows that we cannot make it through this life on our own; our culture bombards us every day. We need God’s strength and help. God is always only a prayer away. When we ask, He will send us His precious Holy Spirit right away to help us through the challenges that we have.

Look at one of the cultural challenges that the church in America has to go through now that gay marriage is the law of the land. Pastors may have pressure put on them to have to marry a homosexual couple since they represent the state to be able to marry people. Christian schools may have to allow homosexuals to teach because a student is getting Federal assistance. Christian adoption agencies may be forced to allow homosexuals to adopt kids. The cultural pressure is on for Christians to change our doctrine and to conform to what the world says is right. We need the wisdom of God to overcome this challenge to our beliefs.

But it’s not just the cultural wars, each of us need God’s wisdom as we go about our daily lives. Last year my wife got diagnosed with cancer. She had surgery to remove it; then had chemotherapy and radiation treatments to reduce her risk of getting it back. She and I depend on God quite a bit with the cancer she had. I am not going to tell you that it has been easy; it was not. There were several tough choices we had to make along the process and chemotherapy is very hard on the body. We are still asking God for His wisdom because we are not through the problems of that yet.

James admonishes us here to pray with a believing, steady mind. This is where faith comes in; we must have faith that God is going to answer our prayer for wisdom. He alone can make the simple wise; God is able to make good His word to those who approach Him. We can’t be like the waves of the sea; driven by the wind and tossing to and fro. We can’t let the wind build up our faith to a high place of trust only to let it drop down by not trusting God. A mind that is wholly trusting God and keeping steady in its purposes for God will grow wiser by problems, it will continue being fervent in being devoted to God and will come through trials and temptations with a closer walk with God. I can testify that through the trials we have had with Kaye’s cancer we have seen God come through and meet several needs. Not our wants, she is not healed yet, but He has met our needs. Our faith in God has grown. Now when a need comes up, it is easier for us to wait to see how God will meet that need. Trials can help your faith and trust in God to grow; it can enable you to persevere and draw closer to God.

But those who doubt that God will answer their prayer for wisdom are like sailing ships that are driven about by the waves and the seas; they might not make it to their destination. They need to trust in God, in the direction that He has for them, then to be steadfast when they feel they have the answer. When they feel they have the answer, they need to set their sails, steer the rudder in the right direction and drive ahead in the direction God has for them. “An indecisive man is unstable in all of his ways”; his indecisiveness affects all of the ways he conducts his life. When we feel we have God’s wisdom, whether for ministry, life’s decisions, cultural pressures or anything else, we need to be people of faith and action; we need to step out and do it.

To show you that people who are going through hard times are not forgotten by God, check out V. 9; “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.” Listening to some people in the Christian community you would think that these people aren’t blessed of God. James teaches contrary to this belief. Reading this, it sure looks like God actually favors His believers when they are going through hard times; because these are usually the people who are richer in faith. They know how to depend on God for their strength; so it is harder for them to fall away from God.

There are many people in the world who owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficultly. It made them better people. Look at Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the U.S. He had many failures and setbacks in life. He was defeated for State Legislature, failed in a business, had a nervous breakdown, defeated for Congress, twice defeated for U.S. Senate, defeated for nomination as Vice President, before he finally won election and is known as one of the best Presidents the U.S. has had. Trials and difficulties can make us better people, we just have to learn the lessons that they teach us.

The people who need to be more careful are those who have a lot of money or are in high positions; because it is easy for them to think that everything is going well for them. V10-11; “But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.” Their money and success seems to make them satisfied, they don’t think that they have any needs; but everything they have can be quickly and easily taken away from them. Remember the way the stocks took a huge tumble in 2008. God gives many kinds of gifts to His people. God has entrusted the rich with more money and expects them to be good stewards of the financial riches that they have, so they need to be humble and giving to the things of God.

God will give a blessing to those who not just suffer, but endure the trials of life with patience and faithfulness. V. 12; “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” Nobody wants to suffer through trials, it is painful. If we do things to bring harm upon ourselves; like if we steal and get put in jail, then we have no one to blame but ourselves. But if trials happen to us that is out of our control, then we are like metal going through the fire and being refined to remove the impurities. So when we are put into the fire of trials and temptations, our integrity and faith are tested, we are to come out purer. Our future reward will come to us not as a debt that we are owed, because God does not owe us anything but Hell for our sinful ways. Instead, our future reward will come to us as a gracious promise. Do you realize that any rewards we get in Heaven will be because of the way we have acted here? This is a time when we can’t see God; we have to depend upon our faith in God. I have heard some teachers compare it to the faith that we have to sit in a chair. We have to have faith that the chair will not collapse. But we can see and touch the chair so it doesn’t take much faith that it will support us. Say someone is blindfolded, they are told about the chair but they can’t see it or touch it. If someone puts the chair behind them and they sit down in it; that takes more faith. That is more like what faith is like. We can’t see God, we can’t touch God, nor can we directly hear His voice, but we can still have faith and trust in Him to guide and direct us, knowing that He is right there with us supporting us.

When we are approved by our Great Judge and our integrity and faith are found to be true and of the highest worth, then we will receive an eternal reward, the Crown of Life. The Christian who is tried and found true shall be a crowned one, and that crown will last forever. We only have to bear the cross for a few years while we are on the earth, but the crown we receive will be for all of eternity. When heaven and earth pass away, the word of God will be fulfilled. Every believer that truly loves God will have our share of trials, but those trials will be fully rewarded in a world where love is made perfect.

Some people actually believe that God will throw temptations their way to test them or try to make them fall. But that is not God’s way. V. 13-15; “13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” It is not in God’s nature to sin. So if God can’t be tempted by evil, why would He tempt someone? It is His desire for everyone to make it to Heaven; He even provided the way by sending His Son Jesus. So why then would God put a stumbling stone before someone? If someone falls into sin, they have no one to blame but themselves. There is a big difference between temptations and the trials that God puts us through. The trials that God sends our way are designed to draw out our graces, to help us to grow in our faith in Him. They are not designed to draw out our corruptions. Sin is an active force in this world; Satan is constantly probing for our weak spots; he is trying to draw as many people away from God as he can. But if we do fall into sin, we can’t blame Satan or any person to excuse ourselves of the sin, because the true origin of the sin is in our own hearts. Every man is drawn away by their own evil desire and chooses to give in to sin by themselves.  The flame might be fanned by an outside source, but the fact is, the combustible matter is in our own hearts.

When you feel the beginning temptations of sin in your lives stop it, so it can’t gain a foothold in your life. Maybe you have given into sin so that it has begun working inside of you. As Christian’s the Holy Spirit is already inside of us, trying to keep us strong in the Lord. He has been warning you about the sinful problem; you should heed the Holy Spirit’s promptings inside of you and stop the sin. Let sinful desires be repented of and rejected before the sinful desire is fulfilled or does more damage. As Christians, sinfulness is no longer to be part our nature, we belong to God. It is now in our nature to want to serve God in holiness and righteousness.

I will close this with a story to help us to understand that the trials and temptations that we go through our meant to be like metal thrown into the fire.

 During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, the British government began to run low on silver for coins. Lord Cromwell sent his men to the local cathedral to see if they could find any precious metal there. After investigating they reported: “The only silver we can find is in the statues of the saints standing in the corners,” to which the radical soldier and statesman of England replied: “Good! We’ll melt down the saints and put them in circulation!” That brief but direct order indicates the essence of the practical goal of authentic Christianity—not rows of silver saints crammed into the corners of cathedrals, but melted saints circulating through the mainstream of humanity, where life transpires in the raw.

 The cost factor of being a saint occurs on Monday, Tuesday and throughout the week. That’s when we’re “melted down and put in circulation.” [v] When we are melted down, and being molded by the Lord, then we can better relate to non-Christians as well as other Christians because we have a good understanding of the difficulties of life. We can consider it pure joy because we know that God can work through us somehow for His glory. Instead of us telling everybody about our problems, we can share with them how the Lord has given us the help that we need through the problems. We can better know what the pure joy of the Lord truly means and become better witnesses for the Lord because we recognize God’s grace in bringing us through our problems.

Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Concise); http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/
Various quotes: Charles Swindoll, C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon http://christianity.about.com/od/newtestamentbooks/a/Book-Of-James.htm
[i] http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=41928&columnid=4540
[ii] http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/the-definition-of-joy
[iii] Skip Heitzig – Are You a Big Godder or a Little Godder? – 10/20/02
[iv] Charles Swindoll
[v] (Chuck Swindoll – Dallas Seminary Daily Devotional, 5-30-06) – Thru Biblestudytools.com

Being Neighborly and Does God Heal Today?

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Here is the notes from a sermon I gave at my church on 7/12/15.

There is a story about a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.

He only hesitated for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Yes I’ll do it if it will save her.’ As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as everyone did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded.

He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, ‘Will I start to die right away’.

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her but he had chosen to save her anyway.

How much should we go out of our way to help someone in need?  Should we only help people whom we know and love or be able to extend our help to other people also?  Jesus agreed with a lawyer that one of the most important commandments is to love our neighbor.  When confronted with a direct question “who is my neighbor?”; Jesus put this in a context that I don’t think the lawyer was expecting.  Today we are going to go through the Parable of the Good Samaritan, so please open your Bibles to Luke 10:25-37, and we will discover ‘Who is my neighbor?’.

There is another topic I am going to touch briefly; Does God still heal today?  This passage doesn’t deal directly with healing, but it helps to set a pathway by which we can talk about it.  Since the middle of last year it seems like our church has been besieged with medical issues, whether it is cancer, diabetes, blindness or other ailments.  With the surgeries, dialyses, radiation treatments and various other medical treatments our members have had to endure, it seems like God does not heal these days.  Is that true?  Today I would like to try to briefly answer that question.

Shall we pray?

Today’s passage starts out with a smart alek expert in the Hebrew law.  He wanted to see if he could catch Jesus teaching something wrong.  So he asked Jesus a question, V. 25, 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus wanted to get this expert to think, so he responded “26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?””  In other words, “Hey smart guy, you have the Bible, what does it say about this?”  All we have to do is take the time and read the Bible for ourselves to find out the answers.

But this expert wasn’t going to be shown up by Jesus, he had the perfect answer.  V 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  The expert was probably thinking, “Ha, thought you would get me on that one, huh wise guy.  I am smarter than you think.”

He was probably surprised to hear the response.  28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”  This was before Jesus was crucified, so the answer would be different today.  But notice the last part of Jesus’ answer, “Do this and you will live.”  It is not just enough to say that you are a believer; you must abide in Christ, live like Jesus, love like Jesus and do what is commanded.  You love God by loving others; You serve God by serving others. (David Jeremiah).  James talks about this in James 2:14-16 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”  We can’t just be talking the talk; we need to be living the life.

But the expert in the law didn’t stop there.  V.29 “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?””  He was probably expecting for Jesus to give him a pat on the back for being such a good person in being knowledgeable about the word of God.  He was a lawyer and he thought that he had Jesus on this point, because to the Jewish understanding a neighbor is another Jew, those of their own nation and religion.  The Gentiles are excluded from this rule of being treated nicely: there is no obligation for a Jew to help a Gentile when they are in danger.  But in dealing with people, should we be legalistic or use grace?  I don’t think the lawyer was expecting the answer that Jesus gave.  Like so much of Jesus’ teachings, He explained the answer using a story, which is the meat of our study.  Since this story is stated so matter of factly it might have been something that had recently occurred so that the leader was familiar with it.  Jesus is going to show him that our neighbor is the person who needs our kindness, and we should give it to them, no matter if they are from our own nation or religion.

  1. 30-35 30 In reply Jesus said: ““A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Before I teach on being a good neighbor, let me bounce into a rabbit hole and talk about if God heals.  We live in a fallen world; injuries, sickness, and disease are a normal part of what we have to live with.  God lets it rain on the good and the bad.  Whereas you can find some promises in the Bible that we won’t get sick, that looks like it was directed at a specific people or time.  Just because we get sick or hurt doesn’t mean that we have failed God or that He is punishing us.  I was born with a birth defect, does that mean that God punished me for something I did in my mother’s womb?  In John 9, Jesus healed a man who was born blind, He told the disciples “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  (John 9:3)  Sickness, injury and diseases are a natural part of life in this fallen world.  Since my wife’s cancer, articles about cancer catch my eye.  I have read where experts think that more people will get cancer in the future.  The farther we get away from the purity of creation, the time of Adam and Eve, the longer the time that sin’s corrupting powers are in the world, the more diseases can occur.

But does God heal?  Absolutely!  There are many passages in the Gospels and Acts showing God’s healing hands.  These were given as proof that Jesus is the Son of God and they helped to birth the church.  Does God still heal today?  I have no doubt about it.  I have heard too many testimonies of God’s miraculous healing.

Does it take great faith to be healed?  Kenneth Hagin is considered the Father of the Faith movement, said Every day, as a usual thing, no matter what else I’m reading, I’ll read something along the lines of faith and healing.  I constantly feed along this line. [i]  According to him, we need to think a lot about healing in order to have the great faith that sees God heal.  If we don’t have great faith, we won’t see great healings happen.  Is that true?  I seriously doubt it.  Jesus said “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt. 17:20)  My faith is in a mighty God, not my own faith.  Think about this, if you went ice fishing, would you rather have little faith in 4’ of ice, or a lot of faith in 2” of ice?  If we step out on that ice with our own faith, we have our faith in the wrong thing, and we can easily fall through.  God is the one who holds us secure; we should a little faith in the 4’, not our own faith, which is only 2” deep.

I touch this subject because we do not see in this particular passage of the Good Samaritan where Jesus rebukes the injured man because he had a lack of faith.  The Good Samaritan took care of the wounds.  In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul does not tell Timothy that he needs more faith or to ‘rebuke Satan’ for your ailment, instead he says “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”  The water back then was not pure; wine was healthier for the body to drink. So Paul told Timothy to take care of himself.  God did not heal him physically from his stomach illnesses.  If God didn’t heal Timothy of stomach illnesses during a time when God was performing mighty miracles, why should we expect Him to always heal us of our cancers and handicaps now?  Timothy took care of himself so he was able to go forward to do God’s mighty work.

This does show that God heals us in different ways.  Sometimes He gives us the strength and help to endure the ailment and still honor Him.  God has promised to never let us go through any trial that we can’t endure.  And what a testimony we can be to non-believers who see the strength and peace we have through our ailments when we can point them to Jesus and let them know that He is the reason we can make it through.

Just because God doesn’t always heal should not stop us from crying out to God and asking for the healings, because there are still promises in scripture that we will be healed.  James 5:14-15a “14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well”.  We can pray to God to heal us and ask others to pray for us, who knows, He just might.  But our trust needs to be in God to bring us through all of our trials and tribulations.  Now, out of the rabbit hole and back to the main message.  Sorry this rabbit hole has not been like Alice in Wonderland, where everything is magical and turns out well.  But we live in a real world, and we can trust that God will help us through all of our infirmities.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan a good Jewish man was going from the city where the Temple was to another important town.  People couldn’t zip on down the roads like they do these days.  Travel then was slow, either by walking or on a mule.  Travelers were vulnerable to thieves and robbers, especially when they were traveling alone.  So this unfortunate individual was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was attacked by robbers.  But they didn’t just take his money.  Clothes were also more valuable back then, so they stripped him and beat him up.  The unfortunate man was left half dead.  There was no Highway Patrol going by to help him.  He didn’t have a way or the means to get help.

But it was a busy road; maybe someone would walk by and help him.  The first was a priest, a man with the high calling of God on his life.  Someone whose responsibility it is to present the people before God and to make the animal sacrifices for people so their sins will be forgiven.  These men were an important link for people to go through before God Almighty.  This man of God had an opportunity to put feet to his faith, to show the love of God to this man who fell upon a hard time.  The priest saw this Jewish man, who should be considered a neighbor; but instead of helping, the priest went to the other side of the road and kept walking.  Maybe he was in a hurry to make it to the Temple, maybe he didn’t want to touch this man and become ‘unclean’ for a ceremony that he had to perform, maybe he thought it was someone else’s responsibility; who knows.  But this important link between man and God didn’t give this wounded person the time of day; he just kept walking.

Then another man of God walked by who should have been a neighbor to the fallen man; this time it was a Levite.  The Levites are God’s chosen helpers for the priests in their ministry at the altar and tabernacle. [ii]  They were not as important as the priests; but nevertheless they were important people in the work of the Temple; some of them were the musicians.  But again, this man of God completely ignored the injured man; he even went out of his way to cross to the opposite side of the road to avoid him.

Then a third man came by, a non-Jew; he was from Samaria.  Even though Samaria was near Israel and the people there can trace some of their roots to being Jews, the Jews most despised and detested and would have no dealings with [iii] the people of Samaria.

I am sure the Samaritan recognized the injured person as a Jew, and knowing the history of his people and the Jews, could have easily been like the priest and Levite and just kept on walking.  But he didn’t.  Even though the priest and Levite hardened their hearts against one of their own people, the Samaritan didn’t, he softened his heart toward someone of another race.  He had compassion on this Jew.  He did not have an idle compassion like ‘I will pray for you to be healed’, but he had an active compassion and took action, even though it stretched him out of his comfort zone.  He took out of his own possessions to bandage the man’s wounds, took of his own oil and wine to cleanse and sanitize the man’s wounds.  He did all he could to prevent the pain and promote the healing of the man’s wounds.  He then put the man on his own beast and took him to an inn.  I am sure that this was quite inconvenient to the Samaritan; he could have traveled much farther down the road.  The Samaritan even took the time to spend the night to take care of this stranger.  The next day he gave the innkeeper two denarii, enough to provide for the man for a while and he told the innkeeper that he would reimburse him for any additional expenses the man needs when he returns.  What great grace the Good Samaritan showed to the man who was in need.

The last two verses are Luke 10:36-37 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  Jesus told this lawyer that he needs to be doing the same thing.  To go out of his way to help those who are in need.  To do it freely, with concern and compassion, even though he is not of your own nation.  Not to think himself more righteous because of his position, but to be merciful and helpful to those who are in need.  It is the duty of every one of us to assist, help and relieve those that are in distress and necessity, regardless of our position in the church.  We might not have the financial ability to give a few days wages, but there are other ways that we can help out.

We can apply this parable in different ways, because our neighbors take many forms.  Let’s look at a few.  Hard times can hit anyone.  It’s like in those old movies where someone is running from bad guys through the jungle when all of a sudden he gets into quicksand.  Oftentimes a helpful person comes by at the right time to help him out.  Accidents and diseases happen to the best of us.  Look at some of the problems that some of our members have gone through lately; namely, a few are struggling with cancer.  When we went through the worst of it, what a blessing it was for us that some people brought us meals.  Not that anyone has ever complained about my cooking (may God rest their souls), but it was very helpful that I didn’t have to prepare a meal all the time, since my wife was sick and I had to perform more duties around the house.  Not to mention it was also a financial help because of my wife being on disability.  Right now the Gonzales’ are going through a similar time, and what a blessing it was last month when you all stepped up and gave a huge financial blessing.  The continued meals being provided to them is also a huge help.  Even just visiting and praying for the sick is a great encouragement.  Lately we visited someone who is stuck in the hospital.  His wife commented that it is an encouragement to see someone visit her husband.

It is great that we help those whom we know, because this more is in our comfort zone.  But this passage doesn’t tell us to help out only our local neighbors, because that is just like only helping those of our own nation.  God is calling us to use grace to stretch out beyond our comfort zone.  The Good Samaritan used grace when he stretched out of his comfort zone to help a total stranger who was not of his own nation or religion.  That would be like us driving down the road and we see an accident.  It is easy for us to keep driving and not do anything. But this is a person in need; Jesus identified this person as our neighbor. Can we take the time to stop and help?  Even if we don’t know first aid, we can at least stop, give comfort, make sure Emergency is called and maybe even offer to be a witness if we saw it happen.  What a powerful testimony that can be to help a total stranger.

It’s also like several 19th century American Salvation Army women who showed God’s love by going into some dark neighborhoods with the compassion of Christ.  They did house-house visitations, doing what needed to be done; scrubbing, drive out rats, bathe a dead baby and arrange for the funeral, deal with a drunken father.  We shouldn’t shy away from the darker places where God’s love is needed most.  Jesus went everywhere; touched lepers, entered graveyards to reach demoniacs, talked to despised Samaritans.  His grace can reach the darkest places, and He will go with us and use us when we are obedient to follow Him there.

This parable talks about helping someone who was injured, but what about if we see someone caught in a sin?  Should we be legalistic about it and accuse them of being in that sin in the first place so we do not help them because of their guilt; or should try to help them get out?  Many are not open to change, but for those who are and will repent, we should try.

Take one of our recurring announcements, helping women in the sex slave trade.  We think of prostitutes as women who choose to do evil by selling their bodies.  Actually, most of them were coerced into it; they are victims, being trapped and exploited.  Pimps usually get them started around age 12 because when the girls are young they are more easily controlled.  Even though we may not want to have anything to do with a prostitute; could we show grace to one and not condemn them of their sin and give them the help they need to get out of this lifestyle?

There are other sinful lifestyles that people could get caught up in; homosexuality, pornography, drunkenness, drug addiction.  We don’t know the background of the person as to why they got into any of these sins.  It might be because of what someone else did to them that to put them into this place, not that they willingly rebelled into that lifestyle.  Everyone has different reasons as to why they have gotten into the sin.  I read an article earlier this year of a man who had a sex change operation to become a woman, but later wanted to be a man but the surgery couldn’t be reversed.  Come to find out, he had a grandma who wanted a girl.  So when he was with that grandma, she would dress him in a pink dress.  Also when he was a child, he was sexually abused by an adult male.  So he thought that this is what he is.  Could we look beyond the stereotypes and our own preconceptions to take the time and try help our neighbor to get out of a sinful lifestyle like one of these?  I don’t mean just talk to them about it once, but spend time with them to help them out of it, even though it will take some of our precious time, because they might have been in this sinful situation for a long time, it will take time to dig themselves out.  We need to give grace and time to help them to overcome their problem.  Think of being like the first responders in an emergency.  The police are like the legalists, they are there cordoning off the area, finding out what happened and who is at fault.  The paramedics are like those who have grace, they don’t care who is at fault.  They just care to stop the bleeding, check for any broken bones and get the needy into the ambulance so they can get healed up.  We need to use God’s grace to look beyond the sin; we need to look to help the person.  Jesus said (Luke 4:31b-32) “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  I realize that it’s not politically correct to try to help with some of these.  With the recent Supreme Court decision it might even become against the law.  But they need God’s help too.

We shouldn’t judge a person of their sin and our own preconceptions of it; because when we judge somebody it makes us blind to our own evil and to the grace that we should give others because we received God’s grace.  We don’t have their particular sin that we regard as evil, but we lie, we gossip, we are gluttons; it’s all the same in God’s sight.  We should have love and compassion toward other people who are struggling with sin.  One of the Great Commandments is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:39)  Would you want help if you are struggling?  Jesus also said that as you love me, you should love others.  St. Francis of Assisi once said Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love.  Some things that 1 Cor. 13 teaches us about love: (4) Love is patient, love is kind (7) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  When we are helping others in need we need to be patient in helping those who want help, giving kindness along the way, because it can be difficult to change; we need to stretch out in trust, trusting that God will make a permanent change in their lives; we should persevere, because sometimes that change in another person takes a long time and they might slip a few times along the way.

Even Christians can sometimes fall back into sin.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t saved, just that temptation’s pull has drawn them back in and they need a neighbor to come along beside them to restore them.  Mind you, taking a chance about anybody truly repenting is not without risk; Christian and non-Christian.  Sometimes grace can be extended to some people who time shows are still involved in the sin, and it can come back to bite you.  Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, dealt with some leaders who sinned but he tried to restore them back to their positions.  Come to find out, they were still committing the sins; so this came back to hurt him.  But Pastor Chuck has said about his experiences, “But I will tell you this, if I’m going to err, I want to err on the side of grace rather than on the side of judgement.[iv] That is the way we should all want to be.  If someone has repented of their sin, err on the side of grace and help to try to restore them, not judge them because that could push them away from fellowship and away from God.  After all, Jesus said “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Mt 5:7)

Our neighbors are not only Christians, but they are non-Christians.  We should also have friends who are not Christians.  We are the light of the world; how are we shining that light to a dark world if we are not spending time with non-Christians?  As we are with non-Christians, it can open up another way to love our neighbor; fulfill the Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).  How much more can we love someone than to share with them the life changing Gospel of Jesus, so that they also can enjoy eternity with us?

This is by no means a list of the only ways that we can extend ourselves to others as neighbors.  Let God show you other ways how you can reach out to help people, using your abilities.  Show your good Godly character by extending yourself out to others who are in need.  And whatever you are doing to help someone, be all there, always put in your best effort.  Don’t do anything halfway; those you are ministering to will notice.

I close with this quote by Charles Spurgeon.  A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.

References:

http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/luke/10.html http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/smiths-bible-dictionary/samaria.html\ Notes from Human Trafficking Seminar, 4/18/15, Organized by Open Arms Pregnancy Center
Calvary Chapel Distinctives,
The Foundational Principles of the Calvary Chapel Movement, by Chuck Smith
Quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charles Spurgeon, Jim Elliot
Bible League Devotional, Sink Free, 3/19/14
Turning Point daily devotional; A Dark and Dirty World; 7/7/15

[i] God’s Medicine, Kenneth E. Hagin, pg. 24
[ii] http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0418.htm
[iii] http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/luke/10.html
[iv] Calvary Chapel Distinctives, The Foundational Principles of the Calvary Chapel Movement, by Chuck Smith, pg. 25

Hear it at:
http://www.calvarychapelwinnetka.org/Messages.php

The Island

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We feel like we are on an Island
A long distance from the ones who love us
But we are not alone

A storm is hammering us
The lightening scorching its mighty power
The thunder is heckling us
The rain drenching us to the bone
Our aloneness is heightened
But we are not alone

The island is a protection
Shielding us from outside harm
Providing a deterrent from some outside forces
The sea is full of life, if we look, we can see it
We are not alone

God sees us on the island
His love and care never leave us
His tender mercies reach out to us every day
We are not alone

The storm is pounding, but God is inside it
The lightening booms with the power of His glory
The thunder roars His mighty voice so we won’t miss it
The rain saturates us in His tears
The power of His love is all around us
We are not alone

The love and prayers of our loved ones
Prance across the waters to reach us
The waters cannot impede them
Our loved ones are with us in spirit
We are not forgotten
We are not alone

The storm will cease
It won’t go on forever
The sun will shine again
We will feel the warmth of God’s love
We are not alone

God will bring us off that island
Out of our time of feeling away
Because of God’s loving hand and mercy
We can endure the trials we go through
God’s promise is to never leave us or forsake us
We are not, nor ever will be, alone

Three Major Challenges for the Next Generation

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Because of the harm that humans are doing to the earth, the younger generation will have several challenges ahead of them because of this. From massive deforestation, polluting of the air and waterways, trash in the ocean and mankind populating at an ever increasing rate, it is putting a strain on the resources of the earth. This is meant to look at some of these challenges that the younger generation will have to face in the future.

I am not a tree-hugger or an ultra-environmentalist, so I am not coming at this from this perspective. I do see the good these people are trying to do to protect the earth. But even Hollywood has seen what mankind is doing to the environment as they have made several movies showing how the earth will be devastated by mankind. Many of these are based on mankind destroying the earth with nuclear war; but some are based the destructive scenarios that man’s pollution and harm of the earth that have caused it to be unlivable. I live in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles where I have seen a big difference in the 30+ years that I have been living here. When I first moved here in 1981, there were several days in the summer when you could not see the mountains that surround the valley because of the pollution. I worked in Aerospace at that time and was glad that I worked in a clean room so I knew I was breathing some clean air during the day. I appreciate what the environmentalists have been able to do through pollution control. This is also what gives me hope that mankind can reverse the destructive trend that we are on.

The perspective that I am looking at this from is my Christian worldview. I believe that we are in the days before Jesus comes back the second time. There are many other reasons why I believe the Lord will return soon that is based on the Bible. But because of this belief, it causes me to look at this time through an ecological point of view; will Jesus have to come back soon because the world cannot sustain life for much longer if it keeps going the way it is? After all, the New Testament is specific that God will destroy the world and create a new one. 2 Peter 3:10 says “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” God will destroy the world. Yes, I know that the primary reason of this destruction and re-creation of the earth and heavens is because of God’s judgment upon the earth; but maybe part of the reason is because mankind has damaged the earth so much that God needs to rebuild it in order to sustain the new life in eternity. Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

It is because of the way the earth operates that we can have life. This planet is like a spaceship and we are limited to the resources that are on it. The earth gives us all of the necessities that we need to sustain life as we know it. Scientists see several problems on our planet that could harm long term human life; whether it is ozone depletion, global warming, soil erosion, overpopulation, pollution, or one of several other environmental problems. I will just focus on a few of these.

It is said there are three most important things in life that we can’t live without. We can live about 40 days without food, about 3 days without water, but only about 3 minutes without oxygen. These are the three I will focus on.

OXYGEN

We breathe oxygen from the air. About 21% of the air in the atmosphere is oxygen . Oxygen is at the same percentage no matter if you are in the middle of a tropical rain forest, the middle of Antarctica, or at the top of Mt. Everest. The oxygen is there because there are many plants in the world that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Winds help to equally distribute the oxygen throughout the world.

In the mid 1990’s there was a TV show on that I liked to watch, ‘Seaquest DSV’. It was a drama that had realistic science fiction. The premise of the show was that the world had exhausted almost all of its natural resources except for the ones on the ocean floor . One of the resources that had been nearly exhausted is oxygen because of the destruction of the earth’s forests. To make up for the lack of oxygen, man had to build several plants that could create oxygen around the world so it would be equally distributed on the earth. Of course one episode had someone trying to destroy enough of these plants so life could not be sustained upon the surface of the earth anymore.

Could the earth actually run out of oxygen? That is a thought that no one wants to think about, because it is the most essential substance that is vital to life. But it could theoretically be possible.

Oxygen comes from plants that convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into oxygen. Forests currently cover about 30 percent of the land area in the world, which is a large portion of the surface. But deforestation is a big problem throughout the world. It is estimated that 18 million acres a year is currently being deforested through the world, this is an area roughly the size of Panama . About half of the world’s tropical rain forests have already disappeared. If our forests continue disappearing at the current rate, then in about 100 years there will not be any forests left . If the world’s forests disappear, not only do 70% of the world’s animals that depend on the forests not have a home, but we won’t have the largest means of the production of oxygen for our planet left.

There are many reasons our forests are disappearing. The largest reason is because of agriculture. Farmers will take out forests because they are on fertile land which they need to grow their crops on or to let their livestock graze on. There are many small farmers who do a slash and burn kind of agriculture. This is when they cut down the trees then burn them. As more people are populating the earth, some forests are destroyed to make more land available for housing and urbanization. Wood is used to make commercial items like paper, furniture and homes, so some deforestation occurs for this purpose. This is a smaller reason, as many companies who make these products also grow their own groves so they can self-sustain their industry.
Deforestation has been a constant problem in earth’s history. For instance, in the continental United States, about 90 of its indigenous forests have been removed since 1600. But in the last 50 years the problem of deforestation has increased rapidly in the world, especially in Brazil and Indonesia.

Not all of the earth’s oxygen comes from the forests, which is good. A lot of the oxygen we breathe also comes from algae and other plants, so it is not like we are cutting off the only means of creating oxygen that we have. Many trees are being planted in cities and other non-forest areas. But with the vast destruction of our forests, we are causing other environmental problems to our earth. Per the noted Livescience article, Deforestation is considered to be one of the contributing factors to global climate change, because this also affects the global carbon cycle. More carbon gets into the air through the breathing of people and animals as well as due to industry. Trees act as a buffer, removing the carbon in the air and turning it into oxygen. But they don’t just convert carbon, they also store a lot of carbon. Then when the trees die, they release the carbon that they were holding into the air. If you have ever watched the movie ‘Apollo 13’, too much carbon in the air was one of the challenges the astronauts faced. Whereas they had enough oxygen on board to get them back to earth, the carbon was building up inside the capsule to where it would have been too large of a percentage of the air, so that would have killed them. They had to convert a buffer to fit the capsule they were staying in. If there is too much carbon in the air, it can kill people. So in killing millions of acres of trees, we are also killing a major source that removes carbon from the air in the atmosphere.

WATER

We have an abundance of water here on the earth. About 70% of the earth is covered in water. That is good, because water is very important to life as we know it. Our bodies are made up of 60% water. Our brains are 73% water. In some organisms, up to 90% of their mass is made from water. But of all that abundance of water on the earth, about 97% of it is salt water , which means that only about 3% of the world’s water is usable to help keep us hydrated. But most of that 3% of non-salt water is locked up in ice at both poles.

According to scientists, water is the one thing that makes our planet different than any other. Without water, we would not have life. That is why scientists are looking for water on other planets; thinking that if they find water, they will find other life. Since our bodies consist of so much water, we need to drink plenty of clean water. We also use water to raise our crops so we can eat, water animals, wash and some industries use a lot of water also.

We get much of our water from surface locations like rivers and lakes. But there is also a lot of groundwater in the surface; therefore we dig wells to gain access to it. But water resources have a lot of strain being put upon them. Water resources are being strained by modern agricultural techniques. Here in California, they say about 80-85% of the water is used for agriculture. Some crops, like almonds, take a lot of water to grow.

Water tables are depleting at a disturbing rate in several places of the world, including the US. According to the United State Geological Survey, USGS, ‘Ground-water depletion has been a concern in the Southwest and High Plains for many years, but increased demands on our ground-water resources have overstressed aquifers in many areas of the Nation, not just in arid regions.’ Clean water scarcity is getting to be a major problem throughout the world.

Many areas of the world are in a drought, this causes less water to go around. Just look at us here in Los Angeles, we have to get most of our water from miles away, like the Colorado River or Northern California. A few years ago we were in a long drought, We had to cut back 10% of our normal amount of water usage. We are now in another drought. On April 1, 2015, Governor Brown mandated a 25% statewide cutback in water.

As countries get more industrial, there is a growing problem with water pollution. For example, China, which is the most populous country in the world. It is said that 70% of their lakes and rivers are polluted. That is a major source of water that is unfit for human consumption. Underground water should be safer, as it has been filtered out by the earth. But, according to state media, nearly 60% of their underground water is polluted. Many people there have to drink unhealthy water, causing diseases.
There are also some instances that prevent water to be used for human’s consumption; instead, they are used for conservation purposes. The San Joaquin Valley, here in California, is a major food producer for much of the world. Yet a few years ago, in some areas of the San Joaquin Valley they were denied water so the government could protect the smelt, which is a small fish. Farmers can’t plant crops where they once did, so their land has gone dry and useless. This is because some conservationists think it is more important to keep water to protect a fish species than it is to let farmers use it to irrigate their fields to be able to feed people.

Even though this world has an abundant water supply, we are doing several things to shorten the supply of usable water, a substance that is essential to life. The next generation will need to find a way to produce usable water for their generation. The oceans contain a vast amount of water, but it is mostly unusable for our lives because of its salinity. The next generation may have to build vast de-salinization plants so they will have reliable water sources.

From the End Time Biblical viewpoint, we can see an incidence of a massive water pollution problem. This occurs during the Great Tribulation, after the Antichrist has taken power over the world. Revelation 8:10-11, “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” This is a onetime incident that the Bible mentions, but we see that something happens to much of the water supply which causes an unspeakable amount of people die.

FOOD

The other main essential to life is food. This is the nutrition that our bodies need to build muscles and give us energy. With a growing population in the world, the world also needs to grow more food to keep up with the population. If the food supply does not keep up with the growing population, then there will be major famines around the world.

The earth supplies the food that we need. Right now about half of the world’s land surface is used for food production in one way or another. About 40% of the earth’s surface is used for agriculture, so about 10% of it is for raising livestock. So there is a very large portion of the earth’s surface currently being used to feed the world’s population.

That is good, because we need a large amount of food; the current population of the world is about 7.2 billion people . That is a lot of mouths to feed. The world’s population is only getting larger, so farmers will have to keep producing even more food.

The world has always had problems with famines. Even now, hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. With the world being made a little smaller with the communication and transportation systems we have now, there are more organizations getting needed food to the underdeveloped world. In 1990-2, there were 18.7% of the people in the world who were undernourished. But through the help of these organizations, the number went down to 11.3% in 2012-4. The number has greatly decreased, but there is still so much more to do. In the world today, about 805 million people don’t have enough food to lead a normal, healthy lifestyle. That is about 1 in 9 people in the world. There is still a lot of hunger and famine currently going on.

But there are challenges to be able to feed the growing population in the world. This is partly because of the industrial pollution of the air, water, and soil which threatens the quantity and quality of our food. This causes the food that we eat to not be as nutritious as it was in years past. Another problem is soil exhaustion. That is where the soil loses its nutrients. So in order to grow their crops, farmers need to use an increasing amount of chemical fertilizer to replace the nutrients that the soil has lost.
Even National Geographic sees a problem with food production. Here is a quote from their July 2011 article, “Food Ark”; A crisis is looming: To feed our growing population, we’ll need to double food production. Yet crop yields aren’t increasing fast enough, and climate change and new diseases threaten the limited varieties we’ve come to depend on for food. It says how many food varieties all over the world are becoming extinct. In the US alone, 90% of our historic fruit and vegetable varieties have disappeared. For example, in the 1800’s there where 7,000 apple varieties. Now, fewer than 100 remain. A big reason this has happened is because scientists have worked to create hybrid crops. If disease, or future climate change, decimates the plants that we depend upon, there will be less food in the world. For example, there is a fungus called stem rust. Its current virulent and fast-mutating strain, called Ug99, started in Uganda in 1999. But it has spread to other countries in Africa and even made its way into Iran. It destroys wheat crops; and there is nothing that can be done about it. They said that 90% of the world’s wheat is defenseless against this disease. They have not come up with a cure for it.

To help produce more food, scientists have developed hybrid strains of crops that can produce a higher yield. But these high yield crops are genetically weaker and require expensive chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. “In short, in our focus on increasing the amount of food we produce today, we have accidentally put ourselves at risk for food shortages in the future.” Scientists have produced crops that produce more food, but they are more susceptible to diseases.

As these hybrid crops need more fertilizer, this brings up another problem; the world is running lower on the phosphate that is used for modern fertilizer. We use 50 million tonnes of phosphate every year. China and the USA are the world’s biggest producers. The USA produces 19 % but 65 % of that amount comes from mines in Florida which may not last more than a few decades. Meanwhile nearly 40 % of global reserves are controlled by Morocco. The concept of ‘peak phosphate’ is real and we will see prices rise steeply. Usage of these kinds of fertilizers cannot go on indefinitely, as they are not renewable. But without them, the industrialized nations of the world will be able to produce less food for the world.

One more problem I will mention about food supply is civil unrest. When there is food shortages there will be civil unrest, as in Egypt, The Philippines, Haiti and elsewhere. Some countries have imposed export bans on some of their important crop products to meet the needs in their own country. For example, Russia has done this to wheat and India for rice. Also, when countries are at war, it makes it harder for them to plant and produce crops, as they focus more on the fighting. Also, farmer’s lives can be endangered when they are working in the fields. Food productivity is threatened whenever there is civil unrest or conflict. Per Wikipedia, there have been over 115 wars since 1990. But if there are more food shortages, then there will be more conflicts because of this; the result being even less food production. xvi
Per the Bible, there will be a great famine during the Great Tribulation. In the start of Revelation Chapter 6, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are turned loose. The first one goes out as a conqueror bent on conquest. The second one cause’s peace to go away from the earth and many people are killed. The third one causes wheat and barley to be very expensive, meaning they are in short supply. Then the fourth horseman is turned loose, and we read in Revelation 6:8, “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Famine is one of the killers of one-fourth of the population of the world during this period. This death rate is also caused by war and disease, which can go hand-in-hand with famine.

CONCLUSION

The next generation has a lot of challenges that they will be going through, so they need to be ready for them. In our culture in the United States, we take a lot of things for granted. Clean, easily accessible running water and a ready supply of food in our grocery stores and restaurants are two of these things. There are more modern conveniences that we take for granted as well that I will not get into now. If these conveniences are not convenient for them, how will they react? If they are not prepared adequately, it will be even harder for them than it has for generations in the past.

If we are in the End Times before Jesus comes back the second time, there is nothing that they can do about it. The problems in the world will just continue to get worse, so they need to be prepared for the hard times before the Lord Jesus comes back. They need to have their hearts and lives right before the Lord so hopefully they won’t have to go through those times, but be prepared for the worse they have to.

But if the Lord isn’t coming back yet, they still need to have their hearts and lives right before the Lord. But they also need come up with answers to the many ecological challenges that are upon the earth. To figure out how to get reliable, clean water to drink, for crops, for industry, for the many ways in which we use water; they also to be able to feed the growing population in the world with the limited amounts of fertile land that is available.

Science will only be able to help them so much with the problems they will be facing. They will also need a lot of wisdom, self-control and patience.

Sources:
Water levels in CA: http://www.boatharbors.com/california_lake_level_data.htm
http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-state-drought-relief-package-falls-short-advocates-say-20150326-story.html
Daily News – Los Angeles

http://science.howstuffworks.com/question493.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SeaQuest_DSV
http://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html
http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation-overview/
http://water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html
http://www.fcwa.org/story_of_water/html/earth.htm
http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-103-03/
http://www.businessinsider.com/china-water-pollution-photos-2014-7?op=1
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/23/china-half-groundwater-polluted
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/12/1209_051209_crops_map.html
http://www.census.gov/popclock/
http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats

Keep Powered Up – Take Communion

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On October 11, 1994, NASA’s Magellan space explorer fell silent. It had circled Venus more than 15,000 times in a four year span, but on that day NASA reprogrammed the satellite’s course so that it would turn toward the planet and burn to a crisp in the atmosphere. Why would NASA destroy a $900 million spacecraft? It had run out of power. One final experiment had drained its batteries to where it could no longer transmit data. When the power goes out of even the highest technology, it’s worthless. This satellite was designed for a specific purpose and sent on its way. The satellite completed the mission and was still in good shape so it could have continued its mission; but since this satellite was millions of miles away from earth, NASA had no way to repower it so it could continue its mission.

Compare this with the Voyager 1 spacecraft launched in 1977. It was designed to last 5 years. It accomplished its mission of studying Jupiter and Saturn. It was so reliable that every few years they kept giving it new missions. Almost 40 years later it is still on mission, transmitting data as the only man-made object in interstellar space.

God has not designed us for a short burst of being on a mission for Him; that is why we are all still here, we still have a mission. We are not to be like the Magellan spacecraft, sent for a purpose for a few years, only to run out of energy and burn up. We are to be like the Voyager spacecraft; accomplish its mission with vim & vigor and still have enough energy to seek out new mission after new mission when they are accomplished. Voyager is getting older, because of its limitations they have to shut down some of its systems in order to conserve its energy usage, but they still use the abilities that Voyager has to accomplish new missions. Like us, we can’t do as much as we used to because of age or inabilities. But until the Lord takes us to be home with Him, we all have missions to accomplish in life by using the abilities and energy that we still have.

Unlike these spacecraft which are far away, we can plug into our energy source and get re-energized for the work we have to do. When we gather together for a church service, we are not just to be at church, but to get re-energized by participating in worshipping the Lord together and hear what the Lord would speak to us through the Biblical teaching and worship. Individually, we are to get re-energized by reading the Bible for ourselves and to spend time in prayer so we can connect directly to the energy source of God.

And we are to remember. Remember all that Jesus did for us. The only begotten Son of God the Father came as a helpless baby. He lived a perfect, spotless life. Even as a child He taught people the ways of God. But He was betrayed by one of His closest friends. He was bullied and abused by His captors; yet He never complained. He knew that God’s plan for His life was to suffer physical pain. He accepted the will of God the Father for His life, even when he suffered a torturous death by hanging on a cross. On the third day he arose from the grave, still with the wounds in his hands and feet. He sought the disciples, comforting and teaching them. He even forgave Peter, who had denied Him three times. The disciples saw Jesus taken directly to Heaven, and He remains at the right hand of God the Father.

We take communion regularly to remember the sacrifice that Jesus gave for us. 1 Cor. 11:23-25 says “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

The bread represents Jesus’ body that lived a perfect life, yet had to die a cruel death on a wooden cross. The drink represents His blood that flowed, because it is only by His blood that our sins can be forgiven.

It is a holy moment; it is not to be taken lightly. 1 Cor. 11:29 says; For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. You do need to be a Christian in order to have Communion. It is one of two sacraments of the church; Jesus himself said that we are to take it in remembrance of Him. If you are not a Christian, do not participate in Communion so that there will be no judgment upon you. If you want to participate with others, first accept the sacrifice that Jesus gave for you also. Ask Jesus to come into your life as your Lord and Savior, confess to someone nearby that you have accepted Jesus as your Lord & Savior and also believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the grave on the third day. Then please, join others in your church to thank the Lord in this holy remembrance of what Jesus did for us.

When you take Communion, remember all that Jesus did for us and get re-energized in doing the Lord’s work with the abilities you have.

Have Faith – Have Courage – Have Hope

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Who would have believed that a storm or a fire could be good for a forest; but they are.  The trauma of a storm shakes the trees causing them to send their roots deeper in the soil.  A fast-moving fire in a pine forest burns up unwanted dead vegetation as well as opening tightly sealed cones, so that the seeds may be released and take root.  So, life’s normally frightening storms cause the Christian to grow in maturity, sending him closer to God and deep into His Word.  The fiery trials help us to overcome our fears and open our lips to release the precious life-giving seed of the gospel into a dying world.  [i]

God never promised us an easy life, that God will meet all of our wants and we will only know blessings and prosperity all of our lives.  No; God will let us go through storms, or fires, to help us to draw us closer to Him.  When we go through trials, it really teaches us who we are.  They can drive us to our knees and get closer to God.  Trials dig up the soil in our lives, they help us to see what the foundation of our life is truly built on.  We need to Have Faith in God – Have Courage to stand strong – Have Hope for eternity with God.  As we draw closer to God, we get more of a love for Him and want to tell other people about God and His love – Our faith in grows because we feel His love toward us knowing that he suffered and died on the cross to bring us to Himself – To have courage to stand strong for God and for His virtues knowing that He has not left us alone, He has given each one of us the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us the strength we need – To have hope in eternal life with Him; that God is waiting for us to give us our heavenly reward that will vastly outweigh any earthly problems.  Do we have a deep foundation that is built upon an immovable God, or is our foundation built upon ourselves and our desires, something that will change and sway with the times? 

In the Old Testament, there are several stories of struggles that God’s people went through.  You see that the God’s people didn’t always have a nice sunny walk through a beautiful meadow.  Today we are going to go through the story of three men who literally went through the fires of life and came out to tell their experience of it; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  We need to Have Faith – Have Courage – Have Hope.  We will also see how lessons learned from these men can be applied to our lives today; because we could also be persecuted for our faith in God. I won’t quote all of ch.3, but hit a few verses to help tell the story.  The bulk of the teaching is on Dan 3, but Dan 1 also tells about them.  I will be quoting much out of the Living Bible.

Per the prophecy of Jeremiah, under their King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians conquered Judah and took many of the Jewish nobility into Babylon.  They thought if they took the nobility away from their homeland and established them in Babylon, they would get indoctrinated in Babylonian culture, and then they would think of Babylon as their home and not want to rebel and return to Judah.

To help with this indoctrination, King Nebuchadnezzar had the best young men of Jewish nobility trained in the Babylonian language and literature so they could enter into the King’s service.  This includes some of our heroes of the faith: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  They gave these four men Babylonian names: Daniel – Belteshazzar; Hananiah – Shadrach; Mishael – Meshach; Azariah – Abednego.  These four young men submitted to the Babylonians and allowed themselves to learn of the new culture they were forced into.  They not only learned, but they excelled at learning.  So much so, that Dan. 1:19 we find; “The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service.  In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom”.  They were not perfectly submissive to the Babylonian ways; they still chose to cling on to their Jewish dietary laws.  After humbly dealing with an initial problem, they were allowed.  They were totally immersed and knowledgeable about the world of the Babylonians.  They drew a balance; they were in the world, but not of the world.  They submitted to the leadership and ways of the Babylonians, but they were careful not to do things that were against the commands of God.  These four men not only served well in the government of Babylon, but in the end of chapter 2 we see that Daniel was in a high position serving the king in his royal court, while Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego also increased in power and influence to become administrators of the province of Babylon. 

 Looking at the way these young men served the king of this foreign power, it is a great reminder of how we are to serve in our jobs doing the best that we can.  Eph 6:7 tells us; “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people”.  This is the principle that these four men applied to their lives.  They had been forcefully taken from their homeland, made to serve in a government whom they did not agree with their politics, but they were still the top of their class and served the king the best they could.  They put their hearts into it.  It’s not that they had a nice boss, Nebuchadnezzar.  This was the man who took them out of their homeland and forced them into their career path.  Nebuchadnezzar could have his employees killed if they went against him.  We don’t have some of these problems at our jobs.  Nonetheless, we need to apply this lesson into our lives also; to do the best that we can.  We might not have a nice boss; he might be mean and not treat the employees with respect.  Nonetheless, we still need to do the best that we can.  What kind of an example of Jesus are we to our co-workers when we are regularly late; take long breaks; often complain; not work hard to hit the deadlines; shop on the computer instead of work; spend too much time talking to our co-workers or other ways of not being productive?  God has not placed us at our jobs just to earn a living, but as opportunities to be lights for Jesus to people who wouldn’t crack open a Bible, let alone go to a church. 

We should evangelize when opportunity arises; encourage Christians in their faith; stand strong for Godly values; be lights for God at our workplaces.  We are to give respect to our bosses and be sincere, not just pretend to be obedient to them, only to intentionally disobey them later.  We shouldn’t lie, cheat, steal, or do anything against our values for them.  We are to be the same hard working laborer when nobody sees us as we are when the boss is looking over our shoulders. 

Daniel 2 tells of a dream that Nebuchadnezzar had of an enormous statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.  When Daniel interpreted this dream, Nebuchadnezzar found out that he was the head of gold.  This must have built up his pride and ego.  At the end of chapter 2, we find that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were raised to positions of authority in the government of Babylon.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew that they were brought into bondage in Babylon because of God’s judgment against the Jewish people for not worshiping God correctly.  Now these young men were going to be put to the test to see if they learned the lesson and would worship God in truth.

Dan 3:1 says “King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet high and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon” (Living).  We see that Nebuchadnezzar must have been so impressed that God said he was the head of a huge statue that he decided to make one entirely of gold.  But to him it wasn’t just a statue, it was an idol that Nebuchadnezzar wanted people to bow down and pay homage to.

Dan 3:2 “then he sent messages to all the princes, governors, captains, judges, treasurers, counselors, sheriffs, and rulers of all the provinces of his empire, to come to the dedication of his statue.”  (Living)  He sent throughout all of the provinces of Babylon for all of the government officials, no matter how large or small a role they played.  If they were on the government payroll, they had to attend.  Since Shadrach Meshach and Abednego had recently been given a high position and were on the payroll, they were also required to be in attendance and participate.

This put a lot of peer pressure upon these young men, they were new to this job in a foreign land, but they knew they still needed to serve the God of their fathers.  Peer pressure can cause us to fall into temptation, to do things that are not pleasing to God.  Most everybody wants to fit in, they don’t want to feel like an outcast.  Everyone has their own weaknesses as to what will tempt them.  To some it is pornography – others gossip – lie – commit adultery – have a wrongful desire for power – homosexuality – being covetous for money or possessions – being proud.  The list goes on and on.  Peer pressure helps us to give in to them.  Everybody else is doing it; society thinks it is ok; I see it regularly on TV or they make it sound good in the songs; so it must be good.  These three men did not have good examples from their nation to follow, what would they do?

As Christians we know that life is tough; all of us need encouragement and strength.  God hasn’t called us to be Lone Rangers; we need support.  We need to have someone to whom we are accountable; someone who can lift us up to give us strength to make it through challenging situations.  Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had each other to lift each other up and strengthen each other.  We also need to be building each other up.  We usually keep all our problems from people; you don’t know what each other is going through.  Lift each other up, don’t knock each other down.

All the Babylonians were instructed that when they heard the band play to bow down and worship this statue.  If they did not, there would be a heavy penalty to pay: Dan 3:5-6 “When the band strikes up, you are to fall flat on the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue;  anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a flaming furnace.”  Talk about intimidation at work!  Nebuchadnezzar’s word was law and if he said someone will be executed, there were no questions asked.  The executioner would perform his duty; everyone knew that there would not be any excuse for disobedience.  So when the band played, everyone bowed to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue.

When the music played, some officials noticed that a few Jews didn’t bow down.  These officials did not want to be friendly and assume that since they were new to the position that they should go over to tell them their fault.  These officials saw a chance to have these Jews killed, maybe because they wanted their jobs.  So these men went directly to the king to tell him about this.  Dan 3:9-12;  Your Majesty,” they said to him, “you made a law that everyone must fall down and worship the gold statue when the band begins to play,  and that anyone who refuses will be thrown into a flaming furnace.  But there are some Jews out there—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, whom you have put in charge of Babylonian affairs—who have defied you, refusing to serve your gods or to worship the gold statue you set up.”  These officials knew that because of their high positions it would be scandalous to the king’s authority, so Nebuchadnezzar would have to act.

“Technically speaking, this passage shows how God often called upon Old Testament saints to stand up for their faith.  By extension, it also shows that God may call upon New Testament saints like us to do the same.” [ii]  Despite what some popular preachers may say, the Bible warns us that we will face persecution and hardships.  Jesus said in Mt. 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  2 Tim 3:12 tells us, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.   Makes you wonder if Jesus is doing a good job on encouraging us to follow Him.  That is like a used car salesman telling you about all of the problems of a car.  If he told you about the oil lead and all of the squeaks it makes, would you think he is doing a good job of trying to sell it?  But Jesus does tell us of the problems.  Persecution is guaranteed.  Jesus will look at us right in the eye; He will tell us the truth if we like it or not.  He will forewarn us, so that when persecution does come, we are not surprised and that we are ready for it.

When we accepted Jesus into our lives, we accepted Jesus to be Lord of our lives; to give Him complete control.  We would leave the old sinful nature behind and become a new man in Christ Jesus.  We left the status quo of the world.  But when you leave the status quo, you go against the status quo.  We are not to be politically correct, but Godly correct.  So when we stand up for God and Godly values, the world will now come against us and persecute us when we do not agree with their values.  As followers of Christ, we can expect this.  One older Christian friend who took me under his wings early in my Christian walk would say that if we were not being persecuted we must not be Christians; because we are not standing in our faith and letting other people know of our faith.  I am not that radical, but I know we are promised persecution.

There are three kinds of persecution – Verbal – Physical – Death.

Verbal – the one we are more familiar with here in the U.S.  People will belittle us; say things to try to harm us emotionally. ‘You don’t really believe that!’, ‘That’s an archaic belief’; ‘You are stupid to believe that’.  It doesn’t hurt us physically, but emotionally, trying to get us to not stand up for our faith.  Never be discouraged by the humiliation of mockery.  Be honored to bear the reproach of Christ and His cross. [iii]  What is that old saying?  Stick and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  We need to let those words bounce off of us and consider it an honor when we are mocked for the Lord.

Physical – When a believer is hit, beat up, thrown in jail or some other physical harm.  Some people in other countries know that they can be physically harmed for doing the Lord’s work.  Like Saeed Abedini, a brother in Christ who went back to his home country in Iran to build the church there.  But he was captured and is currently suffering in the Evin Prison; he has been beat up, has suffered broken bones and not given adequate medical attention.  Some Christians live with the knowledge that they could be physically harmed for their faith.  We don’t have to worry too much about this in our country.  Although when Proposition 8 was on the ballot some people were threatened, their cars were scratched and some churches were damaged.  The day could be coming when we might have to be ready for more persecution like Saeed Abedini’s.

Death – Sometimes people are killed just because they are Christians.  Here is a paragraph from an article from The Voice of the Martyrs website of an event that recently took place in Nigeria; “On May 15, 2013, Anna boarded a bus in Maiduguri, Borno state, along with five other passengers. When they reached their destination, they were attacked by Boko Haram as they got off the bus. Anna watched as the militants killed the other five passengers, all men. The lone survivor, she was taken to the Boko Haram camp as their hostage. While in captivity, she saw more than 50 others killed by the militants. Those brought into the camp were quickly identified as either Christian or Muslim by their ID cards. The Christians were immediately executed, and the Muslims who refused to join the Boko Haram were also killed.”  [iv]  The Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group.  The Christians they killed were not witnessing, passing out tracts, or caught reading their Bibles; they were killed just because they were Christians.  It is estimated that over 100,000 believers die each year because of their faith.  *

Going back to our story, this disobedience put Nebuchadnezzar into a rage; he did not like anyone defying his direct order.  So he called Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into his presence and asked them if this accusation is true.  Evidently, they admitted that it is true.  These young men understood the 2nd of the 10 Commandments, “You may worship no other god than me.” (Ex 20:3).  They learned the lesson of what happened when their country disobeyed God; therefore, they were now in exile.  Despite everyone else they knew bowing down to the image; they would not give in to the pressure to do this also.  They could not and would not worship the false god that Nebuchadnezzar set up.  We have to Have Faith – Have Courage – Have Hope.

But Nebuchadnezzar gave them one more chance.  Dan 3:15; I’ll give you one more chance. When the music plays, if you fall down and worship the statue, all will be well. But if you refuse, you will be thrown into a flaming furnace within the hour. And what god can deliver you out of my hands then?  He challenged them to repent of not worshipping his idol.  If so, they would be forgiven and could go back to their jobs.  If not, he warned them that not even their God could protect them from the fires of the furnace.

Temptation will often hit us a second and third time, but we still cannot give into it.  To be tempted is not a sin, but to dwell on it and to give in to temptation is a sin.  Therefore the devil is going to keep working on us, trying to break us down to the point that we will give in to the temptation.  No matter how many times we are tempted, we must not give in to the temptation.

Listen to the response of these three godly men; Dan 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not worried about what will happen to us.  If we are thrown into the flaming furnace, our God is able to deliver us; and he will deliver us out of your hand, Your Majesty.  But if he doesn’t, please understand, sir, that even then we will never under any circumstance serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have erected.” They did not hesitate in their answer; they did not try to weasel out of it by giving a politically correct answer.  They were not worried about the consequences of their actions.  This is in line with Mt. 10:28 where Jesus says; “Don’t be afraid of those who can kill only your bodies—but can’t touch your souls! Fear only God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Jim Elliot was a Missionary who was killed in January 1956 trying to reach the Huaorani people in Ecuador.  He has a famous quote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  He knew it was more important to do God’s work, knowing he could lose his life, because he had the assurance of Heaven.  These people did not look for martyrdom; nor did they shy away from it.  Their confidence and dependence upon God is very apparent.  We cannot keep our lives for very long on this earth; we are not fools if we are killed because of our faith.  We have great gain, because we will go straight to Heaven to spend eternity with God.  Yet if we deny our faith, we can only prolong our life here a few more years before we have to give an account to God.  Is it worth it?  He is a God of mercies; but He is also a jealous God, God does not want us to deny Him.

We should not fear those who can only kill our body; that is all they can do.  We need to stand strong and true in Jesus and never deny Him.  We cannot give in to peer pressure to deny Christ, either to fit into modern culture or to spare our lives.  What does Jesus say about those who deny Him?  Mt 10:33, “But if anyone publicly denies me, I will openly deny him before my Father in heaven.”  Then in verses 38 and 39 we read; “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.  If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will save it.”  Jesus does not play games; we cannot deny Him and expect to get away with it.  He has given each of us the Holy Spirit inside of us; we will be accountable. 

This decision by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was to trust in God so they took a stand before Nebuchadnezzar and chose to suffer death in the furnace rather than sin and have to stand before a jealous God.  We have no guarantee of what life has in store for us.  Sometimes we are put in circumstances that we wish we were not in; maybe something similar to these men.  We have to trust in God, be obedient to Him and make the best of the situation that we can. We need to Have Faith – Have Courage – Have Hope.  We have the promise of Rom 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  No matter what suffering we go through on this earth, it will be worth it when we stand before God.  We need to be meek in our replies when threatened, but we need to be decided that we are going to obey God rather than men. 

This also took courage to take this stand before Nebuchadnezzar.  It is not that these men were fearless.  Here is a definition of courage that has hit a chord with me – “Courage is a radical obedience in the face of what scares you to death.  It’s not pulling back, it’s pressing into your fears.  It’s not denying your fears, but it’s seeing what needs to be advanced – What needs to be accomplished – as greater than your personal comfort.”  [v] (Crawford Loritts).  I am sure these men were timid to take this stand – it definitely took them out of their comfort zone.  C.S. Lewis put it nicely in one of his Chronicles of Narnia books when one of his lead characters, Peter, was ready to go into battle.  “Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do.”   Despite the fear that must have been inside of them, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego decided that they would have this radical obedience in honoring God before this wicked king.

When the men took this stand, Nebuchadnezzar got even angrier; he ordered the furnace to be made seven times hotter than normal and have his strongest men tie the three men up and throw them into the furnace.  When we take a stand for the Lord, those who hate Jesus will get even angrier.

The heat in the furnace was so hot that it killed the soldiers trying to throw the men in; but the three were close enough that they fell in.  Often times, God will let people die for their faith; there have been many martyrs throughout the centuries.  But there are occasions when our Almighty, Omnipotent, ever loving God will intervene and save us.  This was one of those occasions.

 Nebuchadnezzar had been an instrument of cruelty, and he wanted to see these men literally go down in flames.  But what he saw next blew him away.  He knew that three men had been thrown into the furnace, but he looked, he saw four men walking in the furnace.  He saw something different about the fourth man, because he exclaimed (Dan 3:25b) “And the fourth looks like a god!”  It seemed like some kind of a divine person, a messenger from Heaven that came to deliver them.  Some people believe that this was Jesus Himself who came; we don’t know for sure who it was.  The Messenger must have put their minds at ease, because they felt like taking a walk inside of the furnace.  That must have been a neat experience walking in flames but not feeling it; I don’t blame them for taking advantage of that opportunity.

 Nebuchadnezzar called to these men to come out of the fire.  V. 27, “Then the princes, governors, captains, and counselors crowded around them and saw that the fire hadn’t touched them—not a hair of their heads was singed; their coats were unscorched, and they didn’t even smell of smoke!”  God did not allow for any harm to come to these men.  They had bravely taken their stand before the king to not bow to his idol; and God in his mercy spared them their lives.  They were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god beside the true and living God.  Because of this, God was glorified and these men were honored.  Nebuchadnezzar once again acknowledged God before all of the people, because he knew that there was no other god who could do that.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were honored for their faith; they got promotions and they prospered in that foreign land.

God still moves in miraculous ways to save us.  A member of my church, Art Grant, recently told some of us of a miraculous experience he had.  Here is the short version of the story.   He was a teacher at San Fernando High School in the early 70’s, a time when there was a lot of tension between Hispanics and Black people.  One day a large group of rioters stormed the campus, overwhelmed security and knocked down the principal and vice principal before coming into Art’s classroom.  Art knew what they were up to.  He felt the Lord telling him to tell them Jesus loves them, but he didn’t because they will think he is crazy.  They hit Art from behind with a trash can and started fighting with the kids in his classroom.  Art feared for his life; he knew that he had to obey the Lord now.  So he started yelling at them “Jesus loves you”.  When he did that, they looked at him and Art was surprised to see them all run out of the room and away from the school as fast as they could.  The next semester he talked to one of the guys who was in his class.  He told Art that when he said “Jesus loves you” during the fight, there was a huge ugly guy, whose head almost hit the ceiling, standing behind Art, staring directly at him.  He feared for his life and ran.  It looks like an angel came down to protect Art from more harm.

We don’t know what the Lord has for us to do in the future.  As the Pastor of my church teaches us, we might face some real persecution ourselves.  May we be a people who Have Faith – Have Courage – Have Hope. Paul says in Phil 1:20-21, “For I live in eager expectation and hope that I will never do anything that will cause me to be ashamed of myself but that I will always be ready to speak out boldly for Christ while I am going through all these trials here, just as I have in the past; and that I will always be an honor to Christ, whether I live or whether I must die.  For to me, living means opportunities for Christ, and dying—well, that’s better yet!”  No matter what circumstances we are in we need to be lights for Jesus, so other people see our love and passion for Him; to lead people to a saving faith in Jesus and strengthen our fellow Christians; to stand strong in our faith in Christ.  We have the assurance that no matter what bad things happen to us here, that we have a wonderful home built for us in Heaven where we get to spend all eternity with God because we know Him and are faithful to Him.

http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise

Dudley Rutherford; Sr. Pastor, Shepherd of the Hills – Sermon on Persecution – 2014  * notes from ‘Stepping Up’ conference Wikipedia Various Bible League daily devotionals

Various quotes from Jim Elliot, CS Lewis, Ray Comfort

[i] Jaws Without Teeth, Ray Comfort, pg. 107

[ii] Pastor Manuel Gonzales – suggestion

[iii] Jaws Without Teeth – Ray Comfort – Pg. 91

[iv] http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx?story_ID=NjY1&featuredstory_ID=NDI4 – 3/25/14

[v] Crawford Loritts – Stepping Up, a Call to Courageous Manhood – pg. 32.

Should the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Be Taught as Fact or as Probable?

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 Of the four views of when the Rapture of the Church will happen, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is the one that is believed the most.  This view seems to have the most scriptures that support it; therefore this seems like a reasonable interpretation.  We believe that God can pull His people out of danger before it occurs.  Mt 24:38-39 “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; 39 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.”  God saved Noah from the destruction of the flood; so we believe He can also save Christians from going through the Great Tribulation.

 But should we be teaching this as doctrine; that is, should we teach it as Biblical fact?  Is it good to give Christians hope that the Pre-Tribulation Rapture will absolutely happen if there is a possibility that it might be a false hope, because the Rapture might happen another way?  My question is not of the soundness of this belief; it does have its Biblical foundation.  It is as the Assemblies of God puts it, ‘Our Blessed Hope’.  So I am not saying that it should not be taught; but that it should be taught with balance because the Rapture could happen at a different time.  Many Bible teachers agree that the teaching of the Rapture is an in-house debate; so this is something that we should be able to agree to disagree upon and still call each other Christians despite our view of this teaching.

There are four main teachings about when the Rapture may happen.  They are Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation, Pre-Wrath and Post-Tribulation.  Each of these views has their Biblical merits, but each one also has their Biblical weaknesses.  So if teachers agree that the Rapture is a non-salvation issue, that there is a chance that Christians might have to endure some or part of the Great Tribulation; wouldn’t it only be fair to teach a balanced view on the Rapture?  This way, weak Christians might not lose hope if the Pre-Tribulation Rapture does not happen; because they will know that God’s word is still true and God will still be with them if they do have to endure some or all of the Great Tribulation.

 I have heard two teachers, both whom I greatly respect, but disagree with on this point, talk about Christians who do not believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  They said that others can believe in other timings of other Rapture teachings if they want to; but when the Pre-Tribulation Rapture occurs, they will wave at them on their way up.  This is a cute saying and shows confidence about their beliefs; but it is not Biblically accurate.  As Evangelicals, we believe in the inerrancy of the Bible; we don’t believe that the way each person interprets the Bible is the way it will happen for them.  Meaning; if the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is correct, then even Christians who believe in one of the other three scenarios will be raptured before the Great Tribulation happens.  But if one of the other scenarios is correct, then even Christians who believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture will be stuck on earth to live through part or all of the Great Tribulation.

 

 Pastors and teachers are called to be shepherds of God’s people.  They are supposed to take care of them, correctly feeding them God’s holy word, to give the hearers the best chance of coming to know, grow in, and stay with, Jesus our Savior.  We are not to teach people only things that they want to hear.  This sometimes calls for the shepherds to warn the flock of possible dangers so that the flock knows that they need to protect themselves.  In John 16:33 Jesus told the Apostles “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  This is a time when Jesus warned the Apostles of impending problems so they would not be surprised when it actually happened.  Rather, they would know that Jesus is still in charge and that the Apostles should not lose hope despite the problems.

Are we properly protecting the flock when we say that we will absolutely miss the Great Tribulation because of our belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture?  Despite our confidence of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, what if we are wrong?  Wouldn’t we better protect the flock by providing the flock a balanced teaching of the Rapture so as to warn Christians that there is a chance we might have to go through part or all of the Great Tribulation?

 It is from this possibility that the Rapture might not happen Pre-Tribulation being the reason why I would like to encourage why the Pre-Tribulation Rapture should not be taught as fact, but as the most probable scenario with some balance.  The Parable of the Sower, the Great Apostasy and a great persecution by the Antichrist give us reasons why we need to be balanced on the teaching of when the Rapture will occur.  When we are balanced, it gives those who call themselves Christians the best hope if they have to go through part or all of the Great Tribulation.

Parable of the Sower

 I will only focus on the seed that falls on the rocky soil, because that is what is applicable to this reasoning.  Mt. 13:5-6 (NIV), “Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”  Jesus explained this in Mt. 13:20-21, “The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”  These are people who claim to have faith in Christ, probably even attend church for a time, looking in every part that they are a Christian.  But because they fall on hard times, or they are persecuted for their faith, they will fall away from their faith in Christ.

 It can be argued that these people never truly let Jesus into their lives as Lord and Savior; but Jesus just says that they fell away.  I wonder if these people were forewarned about possibly having to go through some persecution, that some of them not fall away because of this forewarning.  Shouldn’t we give them this opportunity to be forewarned that we might have to go through some persecution in the Great Tribulation? Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.  We are being haughty if we assume that they were never saved in the first place so if they fall away due to persecution, oh well.  Good Shepherds need to forewarn Christians in their teaching about possible persecution so the hearers will know to be on their guard and know that they are accountable to God in needing to persevere through any persecution.  That God will not understand anyone turning away from their faith in Him just so we will not be persecuted or killed for His name’s sake.  In severe Christian persecutions in the past, people who deny their faith were often let back into the church because they repented, some even got back into positions of authority.  But in the End Times, those who deny the Lord and take the mark of the beast have no opportunity for repentance.  They will spend eternity in Hell because of their bad choice.

 Great Apostasy

 Paul wrote about many people falling away from the faith in the End Times, right before the man of lawlessness, or the Antichrist, is revealed.  2 Th. 2:3 (NASB), “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction”.  The definition of apostasy, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is ‘renunciation of a religious faith’.  This passage does not say that these people lose their Jewish faith, Christian faith or any other particular religious faith.  But since Paul is writing this to Christians as a forewarning of what will happen before the day of the Lord, there is a good possibility that these apostates could be people who have made a profession of following the Christian faith but fall away from their faith to follow the Antichrist.  Therefore we should be teaching Christians not to depend upon the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  Because if we are around when the Antichrist appears, he will be able to deceive many people by looking like a man of peace.  Verse 6 says “And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time.”  This passage assumes we were just told what is holding the Antichrist back, but the only thing this passage mentions to us about is an apostasy; it does not mention the Holy Spirit or Christians being raptured off of the earth, as some assume.

Great Persecution by the Antichrist

 We also see where there will be a great persecution of Christian’s after the Antichrist does come to power.  Rev 13:7a; “It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them.”  Those Christians who do not turn away from their faith will be greatly persecuted and many of them killed.  This persecution could cause many more weak believers to turn away from their faith in Christ.

 I know that because of the passages in 2 Thessalonians and Revelation that some teachers, who believe in the Pre-Tribulation, will interpret this as many of the people this happens to as being Jew’s, because this is the time of Jacob’s trouble.  But can you be positive about this?  There is no definitive passage here that clearly defines who the scripture is talking about; therefore we should assume that it could also be talking about Christians.  After all, 2 Thessalonians and Revelation are written to Christians, not Jews.

 As Pastors and teachers of God word, we will be held accountable on the day of reckoning for what we have taught.  James 3:1; “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  Knowing that we are more accountable, let us use our positions of teachers of God’s holy word to be balanced in our teaching about the Rapture so as to give weak believers the best chance.

 I do not ask you to change your view on the Rapture.  Instead, my hope is that when you talk or teach about the Rapture, you will be responsible enough to give a balanced view on the subject.  So when you teach people about our hope in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, you also let them know there is a chance we might have to go through some of the Great Tribulation.  This way, as a good shepherd of God’s sheep, you have fulfilled your responsibility in preparing God’s people, and also God’s people are knowledgeable about any problems they might have to go through.

All scripture used is the New International Version (NIV)