Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Answer To Everything (Facebook Live Post)

The Answer To Everything

Today marks the 241st birthday of the United States of America.  Though we are still a very young country compared to most countries in the world, we have been under the same system of government longer than any other country in the history of Earth.  That is quite an achievement!  It certainly speaks volumes about the men who set up this government so many decades ago.

Yet, it doesn't take great insight to see that our country is in grave trouble today.  There is more discord in America today that at any time since the Civil War was fought over 150 years ago.  Republicans against Democrats, liberal against conservative, urban against rural.  We only have to look at the discord in the last election and in it's aftermath to see that there is little that binds us together today.  Could it be that we have lost our way?  Could it be that we have missed something crucial it what makes America America?

For almost 200 years, this country by and large existed as the most religious nation on earth.  Our founders insisted that only a religious and moral people could enact the republican form of government that they instituted for us in 1787.  In the excellent video "Was America Founded to be Secular?", Joshua Charles quotes one of those founders and our second president, John Adams, in stating, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."  Likewise, another founder, James Madison, who would become our fourth president, stated quite succinctly, "The belief in a God All Powerful, wise and good is...essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man..."  For these men and so many others who were instrumental in the founding of the United States, religion, and particularly the Christian religion, was indispensable to the maintenance of the precious liberties with which we were entrusted.

Yet, it is not the Christian religion per se but the byproducts of true Christianity which have served our nation well in the past.  It is not only because we have become much more secular, but because those of us who call ourselves Christian have largely failed to practice true religion and real Christian living that we find ourselves in the mess we are in.  It is because the church of Jesus Christ has failed to be the "city set on a hill" and "the light of the world" (see Matthew 5:14), that we dwell in so much moral darkness today.  Jesus said that we are to be "the salt of the earth", but if the salt has lost it's saltiness, it is good for nothing and will be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. (see Matthew 5:13)  And that is exactly what has happened.  Because we Christians have stopped acting like Jesus, we have lost the ability to be the preserving influence in our society, and, as a result, Christianity has largely been thrown out and trampled under foot by those who see nothing but hypocrisy in us.  The baby has indeed been thrown out with the bathwater, but I'm afraid we Christians are the ones who ruined the bathwater!

So what am I saying?  I am saying that because we Christians have stopped acting like Christ, secular men and women have seen no virtue in our religion, and have understandably rejected all religion.  Because Christianity has largely been rejected in our country, we have lost the moral basis that is one of the most necessary requirements of a free society.  I am saying humbly to my Christian brothers and sisters, IT'S OUR FAULT!

But is there a way out?  Absolutely!  Two-thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul gave us the amazingly simple antidote to all of our problems today:

 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:12-14) 
The answer, put simply, is love!  We as Christian people MUST walk in the self-sacrificial love of Christ if we are to maintain our witness in the society around us.  Yes, we must speak truth without wavering, but in doing so we must have the love in Christ abounding in us as we speak it.  Too often that has not been the case.  The world has seen a quarreling and fighting, bickering and arguing people in churches and have said, "No thank you!"  Can we really blame them?

You see, love is truly the answer to everything.  When we "love our neighbors as ourselves," (see Matthew 22:39), we only want good to come to those around us.  We are happy when they succeed, even when it is at our expense.  We will stop insisting on OUR RIGHTS and start loving all of our neighbors, especially those who don't see things as we do.  Jesus said it this way...

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5: 43-45)
Do you know that when you start loving your enemies and begin to sincerely pray for their eternal and temporal welfare, your enemies stop being your enemies?  Whether they see you as an enemy or not, you start seeing them as a friend.  Now, imagine this one act of mercy multiplied millions of times every day in every corner of our country?  How long do you think that we would still have the problems that we see in front of us today?  I say, not very long at all!

Am I being hopelessly naive?  Perhaps so.  Yet, at other previous junctures in our country's history, God has granted us seasons of spiritual renewal....sometimes called revivals or awakenings.  We are in critical need of one of those times today.  As the psalmist said many centuries ago, "Will You not Yourself revive us again?" (Psalm 85:6)  I believe that not only is spiritual renewal and revival possible in 2017, it is absolutely imperative.  And the same God who gave us the First Great Awakening in the 1740's (which changed the character of our country and prepared us for the times of revolution a few years later), the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century, as well as so many subsequent times of renewal and revival, can yet "revive us again", giving us the ability to truly "love our neighbors as ourselves."  That is my prayer on this Independence Day, 2017.  Will you not join me in this prayer for revival today?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Christ Our Burden Bearer

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden,
The God who is our salvation.
  (Psalm 68:19 NASB)

Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. (Psalm 55:22 NASB)

In these two verses, the Psalmist reveals the Lord to us as our burden bearer.  This understanding of Christ as the bearer of our burdens is an essential difference between those who merely have religion and those who are truly in Christ.  What a contrast between the true God and the false gods of this world!  In Isaiah 46, the prophet contrasts those who worship other gods and those who worship the One True God:

Bel has bowed down, Nebo stoops over;
Their images are consigned to the beasts and the cattle.
The things that you carry are burdensome…
 “Listen to Me, O house of Jacob,

And all the remnant of the house of Israel,
Even to your old age I will be the same,

And even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you;
And I will bear you and I will deliver you.

The contrast could not be greater.  The heathen gods Bel and Nebo had to be carried around everywhere.  Yet the true God Yahweh says “I will carry you” even to your old age! 

Dear Christian friend, are you carrying burdens around that you don’t need to bear?  These verses promise us that He will carry our burdens for us!  When we “cast our burdens on the Lord,” God Himself has made a solemn oath in His word to carry them for us.  Do you believe Him?

This brings to mind a story that I heard years ago which occurred during the days of the horse and wagon.  A wagon driver came upon a man walking down the road carrying a heavy burden on his back.  The driver asked the man if he would like a ride, and the man gratefully accepted and climbed up in the wagon.  However, instead of removing the burden from his back and casting it in the wagon, the man continued to carry it.  The driver looked back at the man and asked, “Aren’t you going to put your burden down?”  The man replied, “Thank you, but no sir.  I wouldn’t ask you to carry me and my burden as well!”

We might laugh at this, but don’t we who are in Christ often carry burdens that we have no need to carry?  If He has carried us by giving His life for us, cannot He bear our burdens also? 

What burdens are you carrying today? Whether your burden is financial stress, marital problems, health issues, the loss of a loved one, or perhaps a hurt feeling from someone who has been unkind to you, will you not cast this burden on Christ now? 

I’m reminded here of the words to the familiar hymn, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus…”

What a Friend we have in Jesus, 
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry 
everything to God in 
O what peace we often forfeit, 
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry 
everything to God in prayer. 

God has promised to carry our burdens.  Let’s take Him up on His word…today!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why Study The Bible? Here Are Five Reasons!

Why Study The Bible?

Earlier this year, I wrote a series of articles on personal devotion centering on prayer (which you can read here).  I’m starting a new series here centering on Bible study:

There is good news and bad news on the Bible literacy front.  According to a 2014 survey conducted jointly by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, half of all Americans strongly agree that the Bible contains everything one needs in order to live a meaningful life.  In addition, half of all Americans believe the Bible has too little influence in American life.  In our increasingly secular society, it is rather surprising to find out that half of all Americans still believe these things.  This same survey also states
 that 88% of Americans own at least one Bible.  However, only 19% are actually “Bible engaged”-which this survey describes as those who read the Bible at least four times a week and believe it is the actual or inspired Word of God.  This 19% is also the number of Americans who now consider themselves Bible skeptics.  That number has almost doubled from 10% to 19% in almost three years.  Thirty-nine percent of Millennials never read the Bible at all. 

Biblical literacy is indeed falling.  One of the reasons is that the secularization of our culture has brought about lack of understanding as to why it is so important to be a student of the Bible.  So, before I write about how to study the Bible effectively, we have to grapple with this question:

Why study the Bible?  

v  The Bible is the inspired Word of God – How can I claim this?  I could give many reasons, but here are three:
Ø  Although the sixty-six books of the Bible were written over 1600 years apart by over forty human authors who come from a variety of backgrounds (including shepherds, farmers, fishermen, physicians, kings, and priests), the message of the Bible is remarkably consistent.  It is the story of God’s relationship with humanity.  It tells the story of the creation and fall of mankind as well as  the redemption of mankind in the person and work of God’s son, Jesus Christ.  That redemption is available to all who repent of their sins and follow Christ. 
Ø  If you were going to make up a story, would you make yourself look good or bad?  I think most people would honestly say that you would make yourself look as good as possible.  However, the Bible is just the opposite.  Consider that the Old Testament was written by a variety of Jewish writers, yet it details repeated instances of disobedience and gross sin even by some of such Biblical heroes as Noah, Moses, and David.  Here is one New Testament “head-scratcher” for those who are skeptics of the Bible.  In 1st century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was not considered credible, yet the Bible writes that it was three women who first discovered that Jesus rose from the dead!  If a 1st century Jew made it up, why would you choose people who your society does not see as credible?
Ø  There have been countless archeological finds that support the veracity of the Bible.  These are being discovered almost constantly.  Just this summer, an article was published about a find in the valley of Elah just west of Jerusalem.  An ancient piece of pottery contains the name of one of David’s rivals, Eshba’al.  This name had never been found in any writing outside the Bible until this was found. Another example is found in this article on the possible discovery of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha.
v  The Bible is culturally relevant – Our culture is steeped in phrases and concepts that are uniquely Biblical.  Yet, sadly, most people don’t realize this.  Consider these phrases
Ø  “I’m at my wits end!
Ø “I escaped by the skin of my teeth!”
Ø  “Don’t cast your pearls before swine”
Ø  “A house divided against itself cannot stand”
Ø  “He was a good Samaritan”
Where did these phrases come from?  You guessed it…the Bible!  (If you want to read more about this, here is a list of 122 phrases that we use in everyday life that come from the Bible.)  In fact, I don’t think you can consider yourself educated without knowing something about the Bible.

v  The Bible supplies a moral framework for your life – How do we know what is right and wrong? 
Some will say that you just know these things intuitively.  However, what we think is intuitive is not intuitive in all societies.  In many societies in the world, rape, incest, and even murder are not considered sinful.  The Ten Commandments in the Bible as well as many other passages in the Bible reveal to us God’s view of sin.
v  The Bible is a source of great wisdom – We live in an age in which knowledge is abundant but wisdom is rare. One of the definitions of wisdom that I found is “the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand.” Another way to describe wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge that is applicable to a given situation. What good is knowledge without the ability to apply it? That is where the Bible comes in. In fact, the Bible has one entire book (Proverbs) that is just devoted to wise sayings. There is more wisdom in any chapter in that one book than you will get in any secular college or university for four years!
v  The Bible is the means to encounter God – Anyone who has ever spent significant amounts of time in study of the Bible will understand the meaning of Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

God’s word is alive!  I have no idea the number of times that I have encountered God through his word, but is certainly hundreds of times.  I will often read a passage that I have been through dozens if not hundreds of times in the past and yet will see some facet of that passage that I have never seen before.  God has spoken to me by using His word so many times in my life as I have gone about my regular activities.  God still speaks today and He is not limited by His word alone in the way He can speak to us, but I have found that the primary way that He speaks to His people is through His word.  But He can’t speak to you through His Word if you don’t know it!  Want to encounter God?  Spend time getting to know Him in His Word!

Want to read more?  Here are a few links to related articles on this blog:

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