Thursday, September 29, 2016

If God hasn't forgiven you, you're not a Christian, period.

"I have great relationship with God...I like to be good. I don't like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don't do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad...I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."

The above quote is typical of a post-modern, "I'm good enough for God" attitude, one sadly often acquiesced to in some Christian circles, though they certainly should know better.  What would Paul's response be to such twisted thinking?  A few simple quotes from his letter to the Ephesians ought to illustrate it: "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace (1:7)...As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins (2:1)...Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. (2:3-5)...For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. (2:8-9)"

We are not good enough for God on our own, never, ever does the Bible say anything of the sort, the idea is anathema to the Gospel.  We must be forgiven for our sins, period, and this only by the blood of Christ, only through faith, only by grace.  Anything less, and we remain dead in our sins, to pretend otherwise is to leave the sinner separated from God.

The initial quote is from a famous person, somebody who claims to be a Christian, who is accepted as a Christian by many people, but who most certainly is not a Christian if those words reflect his/her heart.  The true follower of Jesus Christ knows that he/she is only a sinner saved by grace, and knows that God's forgiveness means everything.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sermon Video: The Half-hearted obedience of Amaziah - 2 Chronicles 25

It is often a dangerous thing to enter into a commitment half-heartedly, whether that be a commitment in business, relationships, politics, or most importantly with God.  Amaziah, one of the kings of Judah, did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, but not as it turned out, wholeheartedly.  Over time, his outward obedience and inward indifference (and/or rebelliousness against God) began to be evident in a series of moral failings which culminated in a barbarous act of cruelty toward the POW's his army had captured while warring against the Edomites, and in the idolatry that he engaged in afterwards as he began to worship the gods he had captured from them.  In the end, despite its hopeful beginning of obedience, Amaziah's reign was a failure and he died at the hands of his own men, the same end that had befallen his father.  Trying to sit on the fence with God is a losing proposition, there is no such thing as a part-time disciple of Jesus Christ, if we are to be the people of God, we need to be such with all of our hearts.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why the Church shouldn't be afraid of the "Nones" - Romans 11:36

Much has been made of the rapid increase here in America (and previously in Europe) of those who consider themselves to be a "none" regarding faith and religion.  While it is certainly true that those who do not consider religion (Christianity in particular) to be worthwhile have been on the rise of late, historically speaking a generation or two does not make a break from all of human history.  Since the beginning of recorded history, mankind has consistently sought after a connection with the divine.  The ways in which this goal has been attempted have varied a great deal, but the need has always been nearly universally felt, throughout the world and across the barriers of culture.  The reason for this is quite simple: We were made this way.  It is a part of our DNA, as it were, a portion of humanity that cannot be quantified by science, but the evidence for which is abundant.  Modernity may have given some people the sense that they no longer have to look to the heavens for the meaning and purpose of life, but science will not and cannot answer these questions, nor can human philosophies nor trivial self-centered pursuits; people will always in the end lift their eyes to the heavens and consider what God requires of them.
Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Romans, describing our relationship to God in poetic form in Romans 11:36, "For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!  Amen."  Paul understood that the glory of God and the happiness of mankind are not divergent goals.  It is only when we obtain the spiritual transformation of new life in Christ that we truly understand and experience the purpose for which we exist.

To illustrate this point, in the September 26th 2016 issue of Time magazine, in an essay by Susanna Schrobsdorff, a self-described member of the "none" group, Susanna speaks about her experience with religion, about her mother's loss of faith, and why her mother reached out to God as she was dying.  Reflecting on her mother's return to faith at the end, she writes, "It was a comfort I envied as I watched her slip away...but when she was gone, it felt like a void had opened up.  Then, as now, I long for faith.  That essential human need might just be proof that God does exists...We have innate cravings for food and sleep and love, and so perhaps a desire to identify with a higher power is not an accident of our design...That built-in yearning is there because there's something worth yearning for."

And that is why I'm not afraid that we are about to become a nation of "Nones".  Humanity cannot escape its connection to God, no matter what it may try to put in God's place, no matter how loudly people protest that they don't need God nor believe he exists.  The fact is, he does.  God does exist, he did create you, and me, and he put within us a longing to have a relationship with our maker, a longing that will in the end always gnaw away at those who deny him.  For our part, the Church needs to remain faithful to its proclamation of the Gospel, maintaining the witness of our forefathers on back to the apostles, and continuing to live righteously in an immoral world.  It may not be "If you build it he will come", but the idea is similar, the Gospel will draw people by the power of the Holy Spirit, as long as we continue to lift high the cross of Christ.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What justice do the families of terrorists deserve? Deuteronomy 24:16

Terrorism has been part and parcel of the political discourse of nations all over the world since 9/11.  The evil on display in terrorist acts has caused great anger, and rightly so, and some of that anger has been aimed not at those committing the terrorist acts themselves (or even supporting them) but at those associated with terrorists by either their ethnicity, country of origin, or religion.  It is easy for a people feeling threatened and afraid to lash out at whichever target they can get their hands upon, including the families of terrorists.  It has even been suggested by an American presidential candidate that we should kill the families of terrorists as a purposeful tactic in violation of the Geneva Convention.
What does God have to say about such guilt by association?  We needn't wonder as to the answer, because God included a denial of the concept of guilt by association in the Law of Moses.  Deuteronomy 24:16 states, "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin."  To kill the wife or child of a terrorist in retaliation for even a barbarous act of terrorism, is an affront to the justice of God, it is not the action of a people who live according to the ethics of the Word of God.
We've been down this road before, the same guilt by association was used during WWII to justify the leveling of cities from the air, a tactic which was as immoral as it was ineffective.  At the time, it was argued that the civilian population was supporting the war effort through their work in the factories and thus they were fair game, it was a Faustian bargain, and a losing one.
Terrorism seeks to change the attitudes and thought processes of those it is used against.  If we lower our belief in the value of life, justifying it in the name of protecting our own lives and way of life, we will have failed the test.  The Law of God was clear on this issue in the Covenant of Moses, right and wrong hasn't changed.

Sermon Video: What If? James 5:19-20

The counter-factual is a staple of sci-fi writing, used to show how our world would be different if one event in the past were changed.  While this may spur our imagination, we know that the past cannot be changed.  It is the future that remains unknown to us, and it is to the future that James looks as his finishes his letter, speaking of what can be accomplished if a sinner is turned from the error of his way.
That Christians can "wander" away from their faith is taken as a given by James, and so is the hopeful response that they can be brought back again.  What you conclude about this leaving and returning will likely be a reflection of your own view of the Calvinist/Arminian debate, but for James, the important point is to reassure his readers that they should be active in the ministry of reconciliation because bringing a wandering believer back to obedience will not only save that person's life, but also "cover over a multitude of sins".  Imagine the impact of helping a wayward Christian to return to God, not only will countless sins that would have been committed had that path continued be negated, but a child of God will be returned to fellowship and once more be contributing to the kingdom of God through works of righteousness.
The focus of James is upon the wayward believer, and the value of bringing him/her home to God, but the same blessing is there when one of the Lost is shown the way of salvation and leaves a hopeless life to find new life in Christ.  Our purpose, as a Church, and as the individuals who make up the Church, must have as its foundation the ministry of reconciliation.

To watch the video, click on the link below: