All posts by Roderick

The Day of the Lord.

Regarding the day of the Lord, when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom, the prophet Joel tells us, “The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord (Joel 2:31). Notice that he refers to the day of the Lord as both great and terrible – great for those alive in Christ, terrible for those living in rebellion to God.

Those born again will enter the glorious presence of the Lord at that time, while for those who reject Jesus the day of the Lord will be “a day when the Lord’s anger is poured out – a day of terrible distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom (Zephaniah 1:13, NLT). On that day eternal life begins for those who have placed their faith in Christ, while eternal suffering begins for those who placed their faith in idols and themselves.

In the Old Testament the prophet Zephaniah identifies five specific groups subject to God’s wrath on the day of the Lord. Since each of those groups flourishes inside the church today, Christians would do well to examine their hearts and lives for any evidence that their faith is compromised or corrupted in a similar manner.

Idolatrous Priests. Nearly every Old Testament prophet identified worthless priests as a contributing factor to God’s punishment of Israel throughout its history. Instead of living holy and obedient lives, and faithfully sharing God’s message with His people, they often pursued carnal lusts and committed spiritual adultery with the world. Whether motivated by greed or glory, these shepherds led their flocks to follow false teachings and practice idolatry.

Similarly, many of America’s pastors and priests preach a false gospel and “teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:9, NLT). Driven by selfish ambition and worldly wealth, they tailor their sermons to reinforce what their congregations want to hear. They have traded truth for treasure, faithfulness for acclaim. Beware their satisfying sermons that feed the flesh but starve the soul.

False Followers. These are those who “claim to follow the Lord, but then they worship Molech, too” (Zephaniah 1:5b, NLT). False followers practice a false faith. They worship God with their lips but refuse to give Him their hearts (See Matthew 15:8). For them “a show of godliness is just a means to get wealthy” (1 Timothy 6:5, NLT). They love fellowshipping with friends at church but have no interest in a genuine, consecrated commitment to Christ – especially if that entails sacrifice and surrender. They profess faith as long as the benefits appeal to them, but in their heart they worship the world – their one true love.

Backsliders. Zephaniah describes backsliders as “those who used to worship the Lord but now no longer do. They no longer ask for the Lord’s guidance or seek His blessings” (1:6). At one time these individuals professed faith in Jesus but now they reject Him. They have renounced Him as Lord and rekindled their love for selfish lusts and worldly pleasures. They have exchanged their souls for satiating sins.

Indifferent Sinners. We all sin. Scripture could not be clearer on that point. In fact, the prophet Isaiah tells us that “we are all infected and impure with sin. And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). At our very best, we fall far short of God’s standard of holiness. But as Christians, God calls us to pursue holiness and righteousness throughout our lives, drawing close to Him when we do.

In contrast, Zephaniah identifies those who “sit complacent in their sins” and “think the Lord will do nothing to them, good or bad” (1:12). They wallow in sin like a pig bathes in mud. They have no interest in leaving the comfort of their circumstances, or considering the consequences of staying in sin. They reject the possibility that God might hold them accountable for their thoughts and actions. And therefore, they believe, holiness is wholly unnecessary.

Practitioners of Paganism. Zephaniah warns us that God will punish “all those who follow pagan customs (and) participate in pagan worship ceremonies” (1.8b-9a). In America those pagan customs include enjoying a life of excess and extravagance, and doing whatever it takes to achieve it: deceit, violence, theft, and ruthlessness. And our pagan worship does not involve small idols carved from wood that we place on a mantel or hang from a wall. They involve massive idols constructed from steel and concrete: sport stadiums, shopping malls, and concert halls. Our pagan worship is revealed by whatever consumes our time, energy, and income. Whatever distracts us from the Lord and His will.

Fortunately, Zephaniah also gives us guidance for avoiding God’s judgment on the day of the Lord. In verse 3 of chapter 2 he outlines four steps we should take.

1) Seek the Lord. Genuine faith only exists in a real and personal relationship with God. So do whatever it takes to prioritize this in your life. Talk to the Lord in prayer on a regular basis. Express your gratitude for His work in your life. Praise and worship Him in song. Seek His guidance in decisions big and small.

Study the Scriptures as often as you can – more so, in fact. Learn more about the character of Christ. How does a verse or chapter point to Him and reveal His nature? Learn what makes Him worthy of our adoration and fidelity. Identify the expectations the Lord has for those who surrender their lives to Him. Ask the Holy Spirit for the power and self-discipline to meet those expectations (see 2 Timothy 1:7).

2) Follow His commands. Obedience is an integral part of the Christian faith. It draws us closer to God and makes us more Christ-like in our thoughts, speech, and behavior. Disobedience, on the other hand, drives a wedge between us and God, and corrodes our faith. As you read the Bible, capture thoughts on post-it notes about commands you want to do a better job obeying, and put those notes on your bathroom mirror or next to your coffee-maker.

3) Do what is right. In this age of moral relativity, it is increasingly difficult to do the right thing. Society often disapproves of doing right and at times even condemns it. You will lose friends and make enemies doing the right thing. And it may cost you time, money, your job, and even your freedom. Do the right thing anyway. In doing so, you will be that beacon of light for Christ in a dark and evil world. Doing right will point people to your source of strength and integrity, and show them a better way of life exists in this world – and an eternal life awaits for those in Christ.

4) Live humbly. God loves the humble. He calls us to conduct ourselves with humility. We are not to call attention to our achievements, our abilities, or our importance. We should esteem others better than ourselves, and continually look for opportunities to serve others, especially the meek, the downtrodden, and the marginalized. Few things reveal the character of God more than the humility of His people. Genuine humility is evidenced when no one is watching and the beneficiary of your humble act or words can never reciprocate or return the favor. 

Take some time to reflect on the fact that the day of the Lord is drawing near. Not tomorrow or next year, perhaps, but near nevertheless. Are you ready for the Lord’s return?

Let’s close with this last piece of advice from the prophet Zephaniah:

Act Now, before the fierce fury of the Lord falls and the terrible day of the Lord’s anger begins” (Zephaniah 2:2b, NLT).

The Foolishness of Christ vs. the Wisdom of the World.

There is a soothing simplicity to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Salvation for all who believe. Eternal life for those who place their faith in Christ. Jesus’ blood washing away the sin of the repentant heart. Hope, joy, and peace flourishing in the mind and soul of those who give their lives to the Lord.

But to the world such simplicity is foolishness. That the sacrificial death of the sinless Christ redeems the same sin-stained humanity who crucified Him is laughable. Why would anyone die to give life to those responsible for his death? The world is confounded by that fact. That someone would selflessly submit to such a severe and senseless sacrifice is insane.

Consequently, the world rejects the gospel. It abhors the risen Christ because His message is utter foolishness, and antagonistic to worldly wisdom. As Scripture says: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NKJV).

Despite its downward descent to destruction, the world refuses to consider Christ and His offer of forgiveness. Its proud embrace of academic philosophies, modern enlightenment, and worldly wisdom lead it to choose death over life, damnation over salvation.

As a result, “God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, He has used foolish preaching to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:20b-21, NLT). What an incredible truth. God designed the gospel to repel the wise and intelligent in their own eyes, and appeal to the humble of heart and contrite in spirit.

What cause for celebration. Rejoice you rejected, downtrodden, despised, diseased, oppressed, marginalized, hurting, hated, and exploited; you uneducated, voiceless, and powerless persons living beyond the periphery of society. For “God chooses things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And He chooses things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chooses things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and uses them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28).

These truths should inform how we share the gospel, especially pastors, preachers, and others in church leadership. The apostle Paul explains that when he “preached the Good News” he did not do so “with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17b, NLT). 

Sadly, too many people in the pulpit disagree with Paul’s perspective. They soften the edges, sanitize the content, eliminate the unpalatable, and ignore the difficult truths of the gospel. They want to avoid offending their congregations, reducing church membership, and jeopardizing the weekly offering. But in doing so they compromise the gospel, stripping it of its power.

Paul adds, “My message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:4, NLT). Paul spoke truth clearly and simply, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in people’s hearts and minds. He knew that only the power of the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, reveal the truth of the gospel, and transform people’s lives. And he did not want to distract people with flowery language, funny anecdotes, and a flashy smile. He did not want to sabotage the Spirit with displays of intellect, a dynamic pulpit personality, or the cult of charisma.

In contrast, thousands of preachers across the country, and thousands more across the globe, make the message more about their engaging personalities and charismatic style than about the plain, but powerful, gospel. Sure they sprinkle their sermons with Scripture, but the message is often less memorable than the messenger, which may increase the pastor’s popularity but diminishes the power of the gospel. This emphasis on style, swagger, and seductive speech may fill churches on Sunday, but it will not change hearts, lives, or communities.

Paul’s words illustrate this. “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14, NKJV).

My friends, rejoice in the simplicity of the gospel. Embrace the foolishness of Christ and reject the wisdom of the world. Share the Good News in simple terms, not drawing attention to yourself. And avoid pastors with magnetic personalities who preach a diluted gospel that tickles your ears but twists the truth.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19a, NKJV).

Remaining Faithful to God in an Increasingly Evil and Hostile World

As the world descends into darkness and escalates its embrace of evil, practicing the Christian faith and proclaiming the gospel grows increasingly difficult. And as government hostility towards, and intimidation of, Christians accelerates across the globe, those who despise Christianity are emboldened to threaten, malign, and discriminate against believers without the fear of recourse. And it’s not hard to imagine a future where society marginalizes and cancels believers who refuse to conform to its morality, businesses refuse to serve Christians who reject their extremist ideology, and employers terminate those who dare to follow Christ in their personal lives.

In such depraved and disturbing times, remaining faithful to Jesus will be more challenging. The dark forces of this world will align and make every effort to eliminate every expression of faith, biblical truth, and the gospel. To persevere through these rapidly evolving times, Christians must prepare now! Here are four actions you should implement in your life immediately (if you are not already doing them) to stand steadfast with Christ in this evil age and advance His agenda in a hostile world.

1) Study the Bible daily. This sounds so obvious and yet is so critical for your faith to endure the troubling trials on the horizon, or perhaps even at your door. Scripture tells us to “study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Though most of us are familiar with this verse and some have even memorized it, too few put it into practice consistently.

God wants us to study the Bible on a regular basis, not just read it. Allow Scripture to soak into your soul and nourish it. And when the Holy Spirit lays a passage on your heart, as He often will, reflect on it throughout the day.

Of course, this commitment requires you to free up considerable time on your schedule, which will mean scaling back on hobbies and investing less time on entertainment and leisure activities. Doing so may be challenging but remember the words of Jesus: “If anyone wants to be My disciple, he must give up his own way, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Beginning today, choose to prioritize Bible study over worldly activities.

This is an inflection point in your faith journey. You must decide whether to take God’s Word serious or ignore it and continue to pursue the passing pleasures of this world. But beware, choosing the latter will leave you unprepared for the spiritual battles that lie ahead.

2) “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As with the verse from Joshua, Scripture challenges us to implement another ongoing spiritual discipline into our lives; this time prayer. Going through life in a state of constant prayer accomplishes several things.

First, it sharpens our awareness of God. The Lord opens our eyes to how He is at work around us. Second, it magnifies our gratitude for God. We see more clearly the blessings He provides and refrain from allowing momentary trials to derail that gratitude. 

Third, we respond to people in a more Christ-like manner. It is very difficult to curse the driver who cut you off, sabotage the colleague who took credit for your hard work, or snap at the rude and unhelpful post office clerk when you are in continual prayer.

Fourth, prayer heightens our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s presence, His leadership, His power, and His wisdom. He equips us with the strength to confront evil and share the gospel with boldness.

A cultivated prayer life also requires discipline and focus. There is no right way to pray. Prayer can include words of worship, expressing our love for God, acknowledging His glory, and praising His name. It may include intervention for the sick, the lost, the needy, the hopeless, and the dying. Pray that God softens the hearts of those who oppose Him, and that those with power, influence, and leadership positions in this world would use them for good and not evil. 

Pray for revival; that God’s Spirit would ignite the hearts of those living in your town, region, and country, and that He would draw them to Him. Pray that God would give you an understanding of His Word, boldness to share that Word, and discernment to distinguish between truth and deceit.

3) “Do not be conformed to this world.” (Romans 12:2a). The world is perishing and everything in it. As such our lives should not reflect the world, but Christ who transforms us into His likeness.

We are a light shining in a world that loves the darkness. Any time we compromise God’s standards and truth with the world, our light shines a little less bright. We yield God’s moral authority to the world’s depravity. 

Moreover, compromising God’s Word lends legitimacy to the world’s wickedness. Essentially, we give the world ‘a license to sin’ when we follow their example instead of modeling Christ in our words, behaviors, and decisions.

That is why it’s critical we represent Christ faithfully in every aspect of our lives, as His ambassadors in this world. This includes areas where much of the church mirrors the world: how we spend our money, how we invest our time, and how we chase ‘the good life.’

Ask the Lord to reveal behaviors, decisions, and priorities in your life that conform to the world. Request that He transform you in those areas to better represent Him, His standards, and His Word. Doing so will not only mature your faith, it will provide the world an attractive and accurate reflection of Jesus Christ.

4) Count all things as loss for Christ. For most of us, this action will likely be the most difficult to implement on an ongoing basis. It is rooted in the apostle Paul’s words to the church at Philippi. “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed I also count all things as loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8). 

Paul recognized that a genuine commitment to Christ results in losing many of the things we value in life. If we are not prepared to suffer the loss of those things, our faith may flounder when we must choose between Jesus and that which we cherish.

For your faith to endure the coming trials and tribulations, you must count as loss all things you value in this world: career, reputation, comfort, home, safety, freedom, and life itself. If you prize any of those above Christ, you jeopardize your faith. For when society demands you renounce Christ or risk being unemployed, unpopular, uncomfortable, unsafe, homeless, incarcerated, or executed, you will likely turn your back on the Lord.

This action will seem unreasonable and unacceptable to those who professed Christ with the understanding that no demands would be made of them. They will reject these verses and deny that Jesus expects them to count as loss anything they cherish. 

But for those who counted the cost before coming to faith in Christ, the opportunity to sacrifice those things they value in order to know Him more deeply will resonate with their souls. They understand that nothing is of greater value than eternity with the risen Lord who sacrificed His life for them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, a season of unimaginable darkness and depravity is drawing near, which will unleash unspeakable acts of violence, oppression, and destruction across the planet. Hate, greed, corruption, and lawlessness will increase exponentially. Love, generosity, justice, and holiness will diminish drastically. Consequently, the world will need believers to speak the truth and live like Christ more than ever, though doing so will incur the world’s wrath like never before.

But remember, the war the world wages against Christianity is spiritual in nature, though the world does not acknowledge that. For that reason, prepare for the battle by immersing yourself in Scripture, establishing prayer as a daily priority, refusing to confirm to the world, and counting all things you value as loss for Christ.

And now I leave you with these words from the apostle Paul:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 6:12-18, NLT).

Family of Faith

As I looked outside my window this morning I observed a family of turtles basking in the warm sun, cuddled together on a rock by the pond. It was the first time I had seen them this season and their presence brought to mind a few of my favorite Bible verses about family: mine and God’s alike. Those verses follow below, along with a couple thoughts of my own.

Joshua 24:15 – “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” What an incredibly relevant verse for today’s world. Joshua spoke those words after challenging the tribes of Israel to put away their false idols and return to the Lord, and serve Him alone. As I watch America embrace and serve countless idols, turning its back on God in the process, I am reminded of Joshua’s steadfast faith in the Lord. We, too, must remain faithful to God and not submit to the various forms of idolatry that the world offers us. At times you may find it difficult to resist the world’s temptations; in those moments seek the strength of the Lord and know that He gives you the power to overcome in times of trial and tribulation. (See 1 Corinthians 10:13 and 2 Timothy 1:7).

Luke 12:52 – “From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against – or two in favor and three against.” Jesus spoke these words to an innumerable crowd of people fascinated by His teachings and miracles. He wanted to make clear to them and His disciples the considerable cost they would incur for following Him as Lord – a topic He spoke about so frequently that He later encourages the multitudes to ‘count the cost’ before committing themselves to Him. The world hated Him and would hate His followers as well (see John 15:18-19). Consequently, His followers would experience contempt, persecution, rejection, discrimination, hostility, violence, imprisonment, and in some cases death. Sadly, some endure these actions from family, so entrenched is their hatred for Christ. I know firsthand how heartbreaking such a response is from family members. But we must not soften our faith or diminish our love for the Lord just to appease family. Instead pray earnestly for them as you stand steadfastly in faith.

Galatians 6:10 – “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to those in the family of faith.” One of the hallmarks of the Christian life is love for others, regardless of whether we like them or how well we know them. That love reflects our faith and draws a jaded and broken world to Christ. And it is expressed in action. Scripture tells us, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:14-16, NLT). Absent a generous outpouring of love, our faith fails. In fact, ‘faith without works is dead and useless” (James 2:17b, NLT). And the apostle John reminds us, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12, NLT).

And our love towards others must be especially pronounced for those who share our faith. John provides clear guidance on this: “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:16-18, NLT). Cultivate a lifestyle of generosity and compassion for those in need, especially those of the household of faith. Then you will live out your faith fully.

Ephesians 2:19 – “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.” In the passage preceding this verse, the apostle Paul explains that Jesus has unified Gentiles and Jews into one family, the body of Christ. In Christ, there are no Asians, Africans, or Americans; only fellow believers and followers of the Lord. 

Under the old covenant, Gentiles were on the outside looking in. But now, with Christ, we belong. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom and valued members of God’s family. That, my friends, is an uplifting truth that I pray gives your soul sustenance the rest of the week. Take time to reflect on it before you go to bed tonight and as you get up tomorrow morning – and rejoice in your membership in God’s family.

Christ Crucified. What did Jesus’ Death Accomplish?

Prior to Christ’s crucifixion on the cross two thousand years ago, people sought to cleanse their impurities by sacrificing animals to God. But the Bible makes clear that such an approach is imperfect: “Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could (only) cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity” (Hebrews 9:13, NLT). That left the sins of the people unforgiven. Why? Because, as the writer of Hebrews informs us, “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 104, NLT). The washing away of sins requires a more perfect sacrifice than the blood of animals.

For the old covenant between God and man required “the priest stand and minister before the alter day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11, NLT). And if those “sacrifices could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped. For the worshippers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared” (Hebrews 10:2, NLT). 

So if the old system was inadequate to cleanse people from their sins and restore them into a right relationship with God, what purpose did it serve? Once again the writer of Hebrews explains: “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1, NLT). Perfect cleansing could only come from a perfect sacrifice.

And the perfect sacrifice required the shedding of blood, “for without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22b, NLT). For that purpose God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, to redeem mankind (see John 3:16-17): “With His own blood – not the blood of goats and calves – Jesus entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever” (Hebrews 9:12, NLT). Meditate on that incredible truth for a moment. Jesus’ blood was fully sufficient to cleanse us from our sins, and His sacrificial death eliminates the need for daily sacrifices. He redeems us from our iniquities, once for all eternity.

Now, because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a, NLT) and the Lord “is not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9), God sought to reconcile us to Himself so that we would not spend eternity in hell. “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time” (Hebrews 10:10, NLT). 

And in obedience to the Father’s will, Jesus went to the cross: “For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” and in doing so He “mediates a new covenant between God and mankind” (Hebrews 9:14b-15a, NLT). Jesus suffered a death He did not deserve that we might have eternal life that we do not deserve.

It is important to understand that in His suffering on the cross Jesus experienced more than an excruciatingly painful and tortured death; He bore God’s punishment for our sins so we would not have to bear them. “For Christ died to set (us) free from the penalty of sins (we) committed” (Hebrews 9:15b). That penalty is everlasting torment and suffering in hell (see Revelation 20:15, 21:8). To avoid eternal damnation, and instead receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life, one need only believe in and receive Christ.

Take some time this week to study the truths above and allow them to nourish your soul. They are a lot to digest in a single setting, in part because of their complexity and in part because they run counter to what our culture teaches.

Fortunately, the apostle Paul summarizes the above message in a clear and compelling way: “God, in HIs grace, freely makes us right in His sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. You are made right with God when you believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood” (Romans 3:24-25). Paul then adds that “God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, for He Himself is fair and just, and He makes sinners right in His sight when they believe in Jesus” (Romans 3:26b. NLT).

Finally, Paul provides a succinct summation that you would do well to memorize: “For God showed us His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, He will certainly save us from God’s condemnation … for there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 5:8-9, 8:1, NLT).

So to answer the question posed in the title, ‘What did Jesus’ death accomplish?’ Quite a lot actually: Forgiveness of sins; Restored relationship with God; and Eternal Life for all who believe in Jesus. May that truth be a source of joy and encouragement for you today.

Irreconcilable Differences – Why the Call of Christ and the American Dream are not compatible.

The supposition that the Christian faith and the American Dream are incompatible finds little support within America’s Christian community. In fact, enormous numbers of churches teach that the American Dream comports nicely with Christianity, with some even insisting that achieving the former is a product of practicing the latter – God’s blessing to those who follow Him. Other churches simply stay silent, refusing to shine Scripture on the subject. Consequently, Christians often chase the American Dream with as much energy and enthusiasm as their secular peers.

That pursuit, however, requires that Christians ignore Jesus’ comprehensive call on their lives and reject much of what He taught during His ministry, because His teachings consistently contravene almost everything the American Dream represents. His offer to “Come, follow Me” implicitly calls us to renounce our fidelity to the American Dream. We cannot simultaneously make Jesus our Lord and maintain our allegiance to the American Dream. Jesus’ words are instructive on the matter: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV).

But the American Dream does more than demand our devotion and divert our attention away from Jesus, it sells us a lifestyle and worldview that are diametrically opposed to the one Jesus taught and practiced. Here are a few examples.

1] The American Dream celebrates self. Jesus calls us to deny self: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34b, NKJV).  More than that, He calls us to die to self: “Unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity” (John 12:24-25, NLT).

2) Materialism and wealth accumulation define the American Dream whereas Jesus challenges us to store up treasure in heaven and not desire worldly possessions. “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15, NKJV). See also Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

3) The American Dream defines success in terms of career advancement, educational pedigree, and social standing. In contrast, Jesus tells us: “this is eternal life, that they may know … the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent” (John17:3, NKJV). The apostle Paul adds, “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, NKJV).

4) The American Dream emphasizes external beauty but God looks at the heart. “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t be impressed by his appearance or physical stature, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NET).

5) The American Dream prioritizes worldly concerns and worships the good life, filled with excess, luxury, and pleasure. Jesus warns that “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches , and the desire for other things” suffocate faith (see Mark 4:19). And the apostle John tells us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17, NKJV).

6) The American Dream focuses on relationships with those in your social circle and building your professional network. Jesus calls us to care for and have compassion on the outcast, marginalized, destitute, and imprisoned. See Matthew 25:31-46.

7) The American Dream insists we climb the corporate ladder, climb up in social status, and burnish our reputation. Jesus calls us to follow His example when He came down from heaven and “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and … humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8, NKJV).

 8) The American Dream fuels pride and attributes all accomplishments to one’s own efforts. But Jesus informs us, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:L5, N KJV).

9) In the American Dream ‘Image is Everything.’ Look no further than corporate marketing departments that sell hundreds of billions of dollars annually by appealing to our carnal craving to be cool, sensual, exotic, popular, attractive, influential, trendy, and edgy. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him” and consequently “He was despised and rejected by mankind” (Isaiah 53:2b-3a, NIV).

10) The American Dream is insatiable, always demanding more, bigger, and better. But God calls us to a life of contentment, pursuing Him instead of the world.

Some may argue that I inaccurately describe the American Dream, unfairly soiling the wholesome image it represents for millions of Americans. That might have been a fair complaint a couple generations ago, but not today. Today the American Dream has devolved into a crass concoction of greed, pride, and selfish ambition. And it has shaped and shifted society so much that our culture now mirrors the apostle Paul’s description of the Last Days: “For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4, NKJV).

Those who pursue the American Dream grow to love the world deeply, diminishing whatever love they have for the Lord. They are the modern manifestation of the rich landowner described by Jesus in a parable. “The ground of a rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater ones, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose things will those be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21, NKJV).

Finally, many firmly believe it is possible to live the American Dream and love the Lord. But the contents of our homes, closets, and garages refute that theory and indict us in the process. Jesus succinctly explains why: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew6:21, NKJV).

Six Stages of the Christian Life.

In the first chapter of his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul provides his spiritually young audience an overview of the Christian life. Although brief (the chapter is only twenty-three verses), Paul covers considerable ground as he tackles this weighty subject matter. It is an exceptional and encouraging epistle that serves as a theological primer for new and young Christians, both yesteryear and today. For that reason, it is worth exploring each stage briefly.

1) Chosen: Paul wastes no time getting started. In verse four we read, “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ” (Ephesians 1:4, NLT). Take a moment to meditate on that incredible statement. Before creating the foundations of this world, and long before you were born, God chose you to spend eternity with Him. That profound truth is so important that Paul reiterates it in the next verse: “God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (1:5a).

Now you may wonder why God almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, would choose you to be part of His family? Well, Paul answers that question in the second half of the verse: “This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure” (1:5b). We didn’t merit or earn this honor through our works; it was entirely His choice – a product of His grace.

Perhaps aware that this fundamental truth may be difficult to accept, Paul revisits the point a third time in verse eleven: “God chose us in advance.” At this point, there should be no confusion that our citizenship in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with our own efforts but is entirely a function of God’s choice. Jesus explained it to His disciples in this way: “For no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them to Me” (John 6:44, NLT). Those God chose in the past He draws to Christ in the present so that they spend eternity with Him in the future.

2) Purchased: Having learned of God’s decision to bring us into His family, some may ask, ‘how did He accomplish this?’ Paul addresses that question with this theologically thick statement: “God is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins” (vs. 7). Notice that God is purchasing our freedom – but freedom from what? Sin! Jesus tells us, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34b, NKJV). And since all have sinned (see Romans 3:23), all are slaves to sin, which eventually leads to death (see James 1:15 and Romans 6:16, 8:2).

But God frees us from sin and death through the blood of Jesus, “for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22b, NLT). And without forgiveness “each person is destined to die once and after that face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27a, NLT). And that judgment leads to condemnation for those without Christ (see John 3:18, 36). So “Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:14b). As a result, Jesus “with His own blood … secured our redemption forever” (Hebrews 9:12, NLT).

We who have been purchased by the blood of Christ are now His. Consequently, we can echo Paul’s statement, “I have been crucified with Christ it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).

3) Sealed: When we commit our lives to Jesus, God places His seal on us, confirming our salvation and our citizenship in His kingdom. That seal is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us, “And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, He identified you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit” (vs. 13). The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, evidenced by our ongoing sanctification (among other things), assures us we belong to God and are part of His family, The disciple John explains, “God has given us His Spirit as proof that we live in Him and He in us.” (1 John 4:13, NLT). Paul reiterates this point when he tells the church at Corinth, God “sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.” (2 Corinthians 1:22, NKJV). In a similar vein he reminds his audience that by the Holy Spirit of God“ you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30, NKJV). This gives those of us who believe in Christ considerable confidence in our salvation.

4) Re-purposed: Having learned that God manifested His love when He chose us from the beginning, purchased us with Christ’s blood, and sealed us with the Holy Spirit, we now turn to the question of why? Paul offers this clear and compelling response: “The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His own peopleHe did this so we would praise and glorify Him.” (Ephesians 1:14, NLT). It is important to understand, accept, and apply this critical truth. Too often we focus on the first sentence and ignore the second. We revel in the knowledge that God made us His people and promised us an inheritance, and understandably so. But that cannot come at the expense of knowing why He did that. The two are inexorably linked. God’s people praise and glorify Him because He is worthy and they are grateful. This lifestyle of worship is the product of a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit. It no longer seeks to satisfy self but instead pursues the presence of God. In Christ, we have new life and new meaning. We have been re-purposed to exalt Him.

5) Enlightened: Paul tells the Ephesian church he prays that God will “give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God” (Ephesians 1:17, NLT). This knowledge deepens the believer’s relationship with the Lord, strengthens his faith, and produces spiritual fruit. And it flows generously from God who “has showered (us) … with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:8, NLT). This wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit and includes a) knowing what to say when accused and ridiculed for your faith (Luke 12:11-12); b) understanding Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:10, 1 John 2:27); c) insight into the mind of Christ (John 15:26); and d) guiding us in all truth, including the future (John 16:13).

6) Empowered: Paul prays that his audience “will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.” (Ephesians 1:19-20a, NLT). There are four aspects of this power we need to understand. First, it is God’s power and therefore infinitely greater than the power of man. Second, God gives this power to all “who believe Him.” Only Christians have access to this power, which accompanies the Holy Spirit when He enters our lives. Third, this power glorifies God, as evidenced by the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. And finally, this power accomplishes God’s will and furthers His interests. We do not use it to satisfy our selfish ambitions, pursue our dreams, advance our agendas, or acquire worldly treasures, influence, and accolades. Those who do will fail; their greed and self-centeredness revealing their false faith in Christ. (For a more detailed discussion of God’s power in the Christian life, click here).

Of course, this is neither a comprehensive list nor an exhaustive study of the stages in a Christian life. Remember, the Ephesian church was young and untrained in truth. Paul wanted to equip them with some fundamentals of the faith so they would grow as believers and resist the teaching of false prophets, who were proliferating in the area. Hopefully, this brief overview of that message will encourage and equip new believers today to move forward boldly and enthusiastically in their faith.

What Must You Do to Go to Heaven?

Nearly all religions require their adherents to earn their way into heaven: reciting a prayer, performing a religious ritual, meditating daily, practicing good works, paying alms, adhering to a strict set of rules, or some combination thereof. While these actions may appear noble and earn the approval of religious peers, they do not bring you closer to God and His everlasting Kingdom.

The reality is that God demands none of these actions from those who seek eternal life. None of us can do anything to earn his or her way into heaven. No amount of hard work, devotion to God, obedience to religious requirements, or spiritual piety will bring us any closer to eternal life. What hope do we have, then? How can anyone enter heaven?

Jesus answers that question in this way. “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He is not talking about a physical rebirth, obviously. Instead, we must be born again spiritually. Again, Jesus explains how this happens. “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:5-6). Without spiritual rebirth there is no eternal life, and without the Holy Spirit there is no spiritual rebirth.

But how can one be born again by the Holy Spirit? The Bible tells us. “To all who believe Jesus and accept him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn” (John 1:12-13). Could the answer be anymore straightforward and clear? The Holy Spirit comes upon everyone who believes in Jesus and accepts him as the Lord of their life. No matter your race, ethnicity, economic status, or background, if you place your trust in Jesus and surrender your life to him, you will be filled with the Holy Spirit, who will give you spiritual life.

While those born again in Christ will spend eternity in heaven, those who reject Jesus will experience everlasting torment. The Bible expressly makes this distinction. “Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18). And again, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So you see, Jesus offers (eternal) life whereas sin leads to death. This is what the Bible means when it says, “For you were dead (in sin), but now you have new life (in Christ)” (Romans 6:13). Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ have salvation because he died for their sins and bore the punishment for those sins. Those who do not believe in Christ have not been born again, do not have the Holy Spirit, and are condemned already. They will spend eternity in hell, suffering for their sins.

It is important to understand that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, salvation, and eternal life are just that, gifts. We cannot earn salvation. Nothing we do merits entry into the Kingdom of God. And nothing we do contributes to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As Scripture proclaims, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

The apostle Paul offers a beautiful summary of all these truths. “When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us; not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of His grace He made us right in His sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

In his epistle to the Ephesian church, Paul reinforces these points. ”God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sin, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Now some may argue they are good enough to enter heaven on their own merit. But God makes it clear we do not meet His standard. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even the holiest people are unrighteous in the eyes of God. “We are all infected and impure with sin. All our righteousness is like filthy rags”(Isaiah 64:6). Our only hope, then, is to believe in Jesus Christ.

But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Notice that an authentic belief in Christ must spring from the heart. An intellectual belief in Christ is insufficient. And a belief manifested only by a verbal profession of faith (such as saying the sinner’s prayer) is equally inadequate.

So how do we know if our faith in Jesus is authentic? The presence of the Holy Spirit, who is poured out on those who genuinely believe in Christ, confirms our faith. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on us. The Bible says, “When you believe in Christ, God identifies you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).

And we know the Holy Spirit resides in us when our lives bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit,’ which the Bible says is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Our lives should also increasingly reflect the image of Christ, in holiness and obedience. The Holy Spirit will facilitate this transformation as we cultivate a relationship with Jesus and begin to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength” (Mark 12:30).

It is critical to remember that this transformation is a product of being born again. Holiness, obedience, and a deepening love for the Lord are evidence of a genuine faith in Jesus. Any attempt to acquire those behaviors/attributes on your own strength, however, is as useless as it is futile. And realize that this transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process called sanctification, and it is life-long.

Finally, it is important to understand that the call of Christ is not easy, as the vast majority of American pastors claim. Most of the commands Jesus gave for those who place their faith in him are quite difficult. Resist the temptation to ignore these commands, as many churchgoers do. Obedience to these commands will mature your faith, deepen your relationship with Christ, and provide assurance of your being born again.

Here are a few to familiarize yourself with.

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This was Jesus’ first message and is also the first message we should respond to when we embrace Jesus as Lord. Ask God to forgive you for your sins, and ask the Holy Spirit for strength and discipline to stop practicing sin.

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). When we receive and believe Jesus we become Christ-centered and cease to be self-centered. We prioritize God’s will and set aside our own agenda for every facet of our lives.

So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). All who believe Jesus must surrender their lives to him. Not a portion of their lives. Everything. Their time, their income, their talents, their resources, their reputation, their future.

Do you believe in Jesus? Will you place your faith and trust in Him? Do you surrender your life to Him as Lord? If so, I encourage you to do three things now.

1) Get involved in a local, biblically sound church.

2) Read and study the Bible with regularity.

3) Pray daily. Ask the Lord to direct your steps and reveal His will.

And may God bless you with a steadfast and mature faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Strength & COURAGE in an age of chaos & tyranny.

Our nation and the world have witnessed an overwhelming amount of change the past couple months following the death of George Floyd. Many voices for change have been positive, such as the efforts by peaceful protestors to secure racial equality and justice for the African American community. Other voices, however, have adopted violence as their primary tool for change, evidenced by the devastating riots sweeping through many of our cities – creating chaos, social upheaval, and a trail of destruction. These agitators seem intent on hijacking the peaceful effort to end racism, and using the moment instead to create anarchy and fuel revolution. Many in the movement are especially hostile to the Church and God’s people.

Using social media and intimidation to eradicate dissent, these militants demand allegiance to their radical worldview. They are intolerant of those who disagree, insisting such people be fired from their jobs, suspended from their colleges, removed from their communities, and canceled from the culture. Their aggressive and threatening tactics have had a disturbing effect on people across the country.

Many now live in fear that something they say could cost them their career, their reputation, their safety, or their freedom. As a result, many have resorted to silence, self-censorship, or an outward embrace of an ideology they inwardly loathe. These acts of timidity and compromise are understandable when you consider the stakes.

Sadly, these feelings of fear and trembling have infected those inside the church as well. Feelings compounded by the growing effort by many elected officials to place restrictions on church attendance, Christian worship, home-based Bible studies, and obedience to our Lord. Afraid of the power wielded by these civic authorities and angry agitators, and intimidated by their threats and belligerent postures, many Christians have silently submitted to the state. Others have reluctantly conformed the expression of their faith to the rigid restrictions of elected officials, unelected militants, and self-appointed social media bullies.

As I considered this changing cultural landscape and reflected on what God would have His people do, a very relevant verse of Scripture came to mind.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).

This verse, which no doubt many readers will be familiar with, is both encouraging and challenging. It draws a clear distinction between the spirit at work in the world and the Spirit that rests on God’s people, offering us a reminder that “He who is in us (the Holy Spirit) is greater than he who is in the world (the spirit of antichrist)” (1 John 4:4). The Spirit of God strengthens us to confront and respond to those who sow chaos, hate, and deceit; to those who seek to weaken and dismantle the church.

We must remember that we do not operate in a spirit of fear, cowardice, or timidity. The world, however, does because it is not empowered by the Holy Spirit and does not have the love of God in its heart. But God’s love does abide in us, and that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).

Some may disagree and say, “Look at the disciples who trembled in fear when a storm jeopardized their safety on the water. And what about, Peter? His fear of an angry mob caused him to lie about his relationship with Jesus the night before Christ’s death on the cross.”

It is true that Peter and the other disciples displayed fear and timidity during their time with Jesus. But all that happened before the Holy Spirit descended on them in Jerusalem. Post-Pentecost Peter, in contrast, boldly proclaims Christ wherever he goes, even when Jewish religious leaders threaten him and subject him to flogging.

Instead of being saddled by a spirit of fear and timidity, then, we are emboldened by the Holy Spirit. This is not the generic power of influential and mighty people. It is power infused by the Holy Spirit. “’Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). We are supernaturally empowered to behave with boldness.

That supernatural boldness, in turn, is to be used for supernatural purposes. We are not empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill our worldly dreams, achieve worldly success, or satisfy our selfish ambitions. Instead, we use it to advance God’s agenda, do the Lord’s will, and proclaim the Good News of Christ to a dying world.

Holy Spirit power confronts evil, protects the oppressed, cares for the exploited, speaks for the voiceless, intervenes on behalf of the marginalized, defends the helpless, comforts the downtrodden, encourages the discouraged, opposes the wicked, extends hope to the hopeless, and stands for righteousness.

Perhaps most of all, Holy Spirit power speaks truth to a world engulfed by lies and deceit. When society lies, misrepresents, fabricates, distorts, and deceives, we must counter with truth. Truth grounded in Scripture: unvarnished, hope-restoring, soul-nourishing, sin-exposing, outlook-encouraging, purpose-giving, God-glorifying, biblical truth.

Truth points people back to God. Truth reveals the sin in our lives. Truth makes known the Creator. Truth unveils God’s love for us. Truth discloses our need for repentance. Truth communicates God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Truth speaks to our need for regeneration, redemption, justification, and sanctification. Truth informs us of God’s holiness and His desire that we pursue godliness, righteousness, and obedience. Truth shifts our focus away from ourselves and our circumstances, and reorients it towards God and His magnificence.

Truth exposes and refutes the relentless litany of lies the god of this age tells us: God is not real; God does not care; God did not create the heavens and the earth; God is not omnipotent; God is not worthy of our worship; Jesus was just a man; Jesus is one of many ways to God; Jesus did not live a perfect life; Jesus was not resurrected; Jesus is not coming back; We are good enough; We can earn our way to heaven; We can say the sinner’s prayer and keep living the same lives; We are the centrality of the gospel; We can ignore Scripture when it doesn’t appeal to us or it makes us uncomfortable; We control our own destinies; Absolute truth does not exist; Sin is a silly invention of man; Faith is foolish; Hell is a myth.

We could spend days listing the lies that Satan sells and tells. After all, he is the father of lies and there is no truth in him. And deception is one of the defining features of the end times and the antichrist who “through his cunning will cause deceit to prosper under his rule” (Daniel 8:25). The antichrist’s reign is built on lies crafted so cunningly that they deceive everyone in the world except those sealed by the Spirit of God. Billions of people will embrace and peddle his deceptions in the end, including the powerful, wealthy, intellectual, and elite – from politicians and business titans to cultural icons and celebrities.

Sadly, millions of churchgoers will renounce their faith and leave the church after falling for his falsehoods. These are those who claim Jesus as Lord with their lips but whose hearts are far from him. They pledge their fidelity to Christ as long as He makes them the center of His universe, gives them the worldly desires of their hearts, bequeaths them lives of comfort, leisure, success, and happiness, and makes no substantive demands of them. They proclaim Christ as long as it benefits them materially, socially, financially, and professionally. But as soon as their (faux) faith jeopardizes their career, their status, their safety, their prosperity, their reputation, their freedom, and their lives, then they repudiate Jesus and disown their faith. These are those prophesied by Hosea, God’s people who are destroyed for lack of knowledge (truth).

In addition to a Spirit of power to speak the truth boldly, the Lord gives us a Spirit of love. Love bestowed on us by the Spirit is supernatural, allowing us to love not as the world does but as Jesus loves. Unconditionally. Sacrificially. Selflessly. And not just love those who love us in return, but the stranger and enemy as well.

Love should also compel us to speak truth to those who have yet to surrender their lives to Jesus: friends, strangers, colleagues, neighbors, associates, and family alike. Refusing to share the Good News of Christ with those around us is the ultimate act of selfishness and reveals an absence of genuine love for those in our lives.

Keep in mind that a considerable cost exists for boldly proclaiming Christ, speaking truth, and sharing the Gospel. Jesus warned His followers: “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are My disciples. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other” (Matthew 24:9-10, NLT).

It seems that truth has never been as much a reality in America as it is now. Fortunately, God gives us a spirit of self-discipline (as Paul reminds us above in 2 Timothy 1:7). And as with Holy Spirit power and love, Holy Spirit self-discipline is supernatural. By the Spirit we will remain steadfast, faithful, and unshakeable in our faith irrespective of the hate, violence, and bullying that confronts us. When faced with incarceration, fines, criminal prosecution, and state-sponsored discrimination we will not compromise, soften, betray, or renounce our commitment to Christ.

Friends, the speed with which our society is devolving into a land of unbridled immorality is breathtaking. It appears we are hurtling towards the end of the age at an ever-increasing velocity. Witness the escalating violence, greed, idolatry, pride, perversion, and selfishness that define our nation and compare that with these words from the apostle Paul:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NKJV).

Regardless of how close we are to end times, though, we are definitely entering a season of deep spiritual darkness in this country. God appears to be withdrawing that which restrains sin (2 Thessalonians 2:7), allowing our nation to pursue its lusts and desires unfettered.

Which means things will get worse. Society will celebrate sin more unabashedly and condemn morality more harshly. Rebellion against God will increase in intensity. We will witness horrifying acts of wickedness on an almost daily basis. And rampant depravity will saturate society.

Brothers and sisters, we have a biblical mandate to confront this growing evil in society. But we must awake from our spiritual slumber. We must steadfastly stand in the gap, speak truth, and show love. And encourage others to do the same (encouragement is oh so important in these troubling times).

We must not fear the forces of evil. We cannot remain silent as the enemy attacks our faith. We must resist the temptation to timidly withdraw from the battle before us.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Where is God During a Pandemic?

As the Covid-19 virus continues to destroy lives, fuel fear, and dismantle the global economy, it is reasonable to ask where God is and why He hasn’t intervened to stop this plague. Doesn’t He care about our pain and suffering? What reason could He possibly have for allowing this pandemic to spread and upend our way of life?

These are good questions that God is not afraid to answer. In fact, He welcomes them. The prophet Habakkuk asked similar questions thousands of years ago when he observed the demise of his people on the horizon. He asked God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help but you do not listen! Violence is everywhere, I cry, but you do not come to save” (Habakkuk 1:2, NLT). Many of us are probably asking God similar questions today.

In response, God informed Habakkuk that He was very much at work, influencing global events in a way that would bring salvation to His people and preserve them from destruction. He outlined His plan of salvation, recognizing that in doing so Habakkuk would raise more questions and express concern that God’s plan made no sense.

Similarly, God has a plan in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic. And like Habakkuk, we probably wouldn’t understand (or agree with) that plan if God were to reveal it to us. Why? Because He tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, NKJV).

We are almost exclusively focused on the temporal – the here and now. We live our lives largely fixated on this world and our physical role in it. God, on the other hand, is as concerned about our eternal future as He is our present, and with our spiritual condition as He is our physical. Against that backdrop, it appears God is using the coronavirus pandemic to accomplish several things.

First, He is drawing a hurting world to Him. Often we have little interest in God until we reach a point of desperation in our lives. Despair, anxiety, and severe trials have a way of sending us in search of God – which a life of comfort, prosperity, and leisure rarely do. He is using the pandemic, then, to remind us of the importance of our spiritual lives. Encouraging us to explore a relationship with Him; and to place our faith in Him and not the world.

Second, He is removing many of the activities that separate us from Him. The lure of worldly distractions – such as entertainment, shopping, travel, sports, and hobbies – consumes our lives. Our lives, it seems, are oriented toward enjoying life and the pleasures of this world. For Christians, these diversions significantly diminish our time with the Lord and weaken our faith. Our focus on these pursuits has infected our hearts and damaged our relationship with God. As our love for worldly interests grows, our love for the Lord wanes. But in His mercy God is calling us back to Him. To kindle revival in our hearts and pursue Him with the same passion we have pursued the things of this world for so long.

Third, God is exposing the fraudulent worldview that man is the master of his fate and this world. Government leaders, the exceptionally wealthy, and the extraordinarily powerful all believe they alone control their destinies, as do many ordinary men and women. The Covid-19 virus lays bare the inaccuracy of this belief, and should produce in us a spirit of humility, recognizing that we are not in control of our lives. It should lead us to humbly seek God’s protection, guidance, and healing, and fully yield our lives to Him.

Fourth, God is revealing His peace, hope, and comfort in this turbulent time. The pandemic has produced alarming amounts of anxiety, fear, and despair. Many feel despondent over the risk of infection. Others watch in horror as their economic livelihoods collapse. Some are so scared they irrationally hoard toilet tissue and sanitary wipes. A degree of hopelessness hangs in the air.

If you are experiencing these emotions, consider the following verses: a) “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7); b) “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him” (Psalm 42:11); c) “The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God(2 Corinthians 3b-4).

Fifth, God is reminding us that life and faith are best expressed by acts of sacrifice. Thousands of medical personnel and first responders are sacrificing their safety (and in many cases their lives) to treat and care for those on the cusp of death. These selfless acts are an excellent reminder of how Christ calls His followers to live: to daily commit ourselves to serving others, caring for the downtrodden and marginalized, and loving others sacrificially, putting their well-being ahead of our own. And not just in times of a global pandemic or natural disaster, but every day.

Let me close by saying God created this world free of pain, suffering, and disease. But sin – man’s disobedience and rebellion against God – introduced those horrific conditions into this planetary paradise. However, the time is coming when God will create a new earth and establish His kingdom in it for all eternity. And those who place their faith in Jesus and surrender their lives to Him will live with God there.

The Bible describes eternity like this: “[God] will dwell with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There will be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4, NKJV).

With that perfect world waiting for those who call on the name of Christ, I encourage you to turn to Him in this difficult time. Surrender your life to God and begin to build a foundation of faith during this chaotic global event.