Saturday, December 5, 2015

Do You Know?

Most people don't like to take tests.  It makes them nervous. Some occupations require passing a test before you can be licensed to work, such as Nursing, Law, Civil Service jobs and many others.  This can create a lot of anxiety in people.  Waiting to find out if you passed is very stressful.

When I was in high school I had a teacher who told us that if we had an A in the class we wouldn’t have to take the final exam.  I didn’t like to take finals, so I worked hard at making an A.  The Monday of finals week the teacher posted the grades.  I looked and I had an A-.  I was relieved; I wouldn’t have to take the final exam.  Then the teacher told me that I would have to take the final exam because only those who had an A were exempt and I had an A-.  I argued that an A- was still an A but it didn’t do me any good.  I had to take the final exam.

Many Christians go through life like they are in school, always wondering how they are doing in their grades, and are they making a passing grade.  They spend their lives in anxiety about the outcome.
They have the belief that they cannot know if they are saved or lost! Many don't have that assurance of salvation.

The Bible has a lot to say on this topic. You can have assurance that you are saved.

How many people here are married? How many of you don't know if you're married or not? How do you know that you are married?  You can know if your married or not. Well can you know if you are saved? Surely you can know. How many know that you are going to be married 10 years from now for sure? Now that’s a different question isn’t it?

We can know if we are saved today, but only God knows the future. But let us not be bashful about knowing in our heart whether or not we are in a saved condition right now. We need to know that. Philippians 4:7 tells us that, "God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus".

The devil doesn't want you to know if we are saved or not!  He is your accuser.  Revelation 12:10 tells us , “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.

Satan wants you to believe that God has made impossible demands on you and that you cannot measure up to what God want’s from you.  Too often Christians not only believe his lies but spread them to others.

Works oriented Christians know they don’t measure up.  They know that the wages of sin is death.  They have a hard time believing that eternal life is actually a gift of God. Jesus wants you to know in your heart that you are saved. In John 6:47 Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life”.

He who believes on Jesus has everlasting life. If you believe, you have it. Is there a doubt there? There is no doubt. Do you believe that verse? Many Christians do not believe that verse, or John 3:16 where Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”.

That's clear, isn't it? It's very simple. So, how do you know if you're saved or not? If you believe in Jesus, if you trust in Jesus, if you have faith in Jesus, you have eternal life. It's that simple.

Let’s look at John 20:31, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." How do you get that life? By believing. Isn't that beautiful? By believing you have life.

If you believe, you have it. You are saved, if you believe.

You can read by blog post on the four steps to salvation here.

Confess, Ask, Believe, Receive

Confess, ask, believe, receive:  These are four steps to the assurance that you have been saved.

1. CONFESS - The Bible tells us in I John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".

If I flip the light switch, the light will shine.  If I turn the key, the car will start. If I confess my sins, God will forgive my sins.  It all depends on me. I have to confess.

Remember that God has promised to forgive.  Isaiah 43:25 tells us that, " I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins".  And Micah 7:19 says, "You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea".

Don't try to do God's work for Him. This is where our doubt of our salvation comes in, because we're basing our salvation on our works. We need to base our salvation on Jesus Christ and His works, His righteousness. That's where we get assurance from. To confess means to admit your sins in sorrow, and let Jesus give you the victory.

2. ASK  -  In Luke 11:9, we are taught that we should ask and God will answer. It's up to us to do the asking. Eternal life is a gift.  The Bible tells us in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord". Can you earn a gift? At Christmas time, can you earn your gifts? At birthday times, can you earn a gift? You can't do it. And salvation is a gift. It's not a wage. We cannot earn it or any part of it. We cannot save ourselves.

If you ask Jesus to save you, he will save you because He has promised to be your Savior. If we receive Christ and His salvation, we are saved, and we're saved right now. I John 5:12 say,s "He who has the Son has life"! It's that simple. If you have Jesus you have eternal life.

3. BELIEVE - John 6:40 says, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Believe! You need to believe. Not like a person believes in skydiving. I believe in skydiving, but I avoid it.

Blondin, who is considered to be one of the greatest tightrope-walkers of all time, became famous for crossing Niagra Falls on a tightrope. In 1860 a Royal party from Britain that included the Prince of Wales saw Blondin cross the tightrope on stilts, and again blindfolded. After that he stopped halfway across and cooked and ate an omelet. Next he wheeled a wheelbarrow from one side to the other, and returned with a sack of potatoes in it.  Then Blondin approached the Royal party. He asked the Prince of Wales, "Do you believe I could take a man across the tightrope in this wheelbarrow?"  "Yes, I do", said the Prince.  "Hop in, then", replied Blondin.  Well, the Prince declined Blondin's challenge. He might have believed Blondin could do it, but he wasn't about to trust him with his life.

You need to believe in salvation with all your heart. We have to trust Jesus. If you can have that relationship with Jesus, you have eternal life.  Romans 10:9 says, "if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved".

So, we confess our sins to Him, we ask Him for salvation, and we believe that He does save us. And then...

4. RECEIVE -  You must receive it. At Christmas you're never going to enjoy what's inside that package unless you receive it and open it, are you? It won't happen. Salvation must be received. You can't believe that it is yours and not take it or use it. You must receive it.

Here is an illustration to answer the question, how do I know I am saved?  What is the difference between a hog and a sheep? If they both happen to come up to a mud puddle and fall in the mud puddle, one difference is the hog enjoys it. He's down in it making the most of it. He's in hog heaven, a mud hole.

What happens to the sheep when he falls in the mud hole? Does he like it? No! He wants to get out of there.  And when he gets out, is he happy with the mud that's on his wool? No! He says, "Please wash me. Make me white again." Do you see the difference between a hog and a sheep? They both end up in the mud puddle occasionally by accident, but the sheep hates it. He can't stand it. That's how you know the difference between a hog and a sheep.

If you sin, and you think, "that was kind of enjoyable. I'd like to do that again." You may be a hog. But, if you get in that mudhole, if you sin, and you hate it, and when you get out of it you say to God, "please forgive me. Please cleanse me." That's a mark of a true Christian.

Do you know that you're saved? Every morning Jesus renews His love with you, He's there. He's real. Believe and trust in Jesus and you're going to be with Him in heaven.  Remember: Confess, Ask, Believe and Receive.  Jesus wants you to have the peace that comes from knowing that he has saved you.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Time For Rest

The winter day was cold, and even though it was freezing outside, a crowd was gathering. You could feel the anticipation in the air.  A young man named Louis was standing in the crowd.   He was so excited that he could hardly contain himself. He thought that he just might witness history in the making.

The newspapers had been speculating about the event. They questioned whether a man could really go that fast on land and survive.  They wondered if the vehicle could really go that fast without falling to pieces. Everybody seemed to have an opinion; engineers, scientists, doctors, and the man in the street.  Today was the day that the questions would all be answered.  Louis was excited that he was going to see it.

A gasp rose from the crowd when the machine was introduced. Louis had never seen such an incredible machine. It looked like it was from the future. With admiration mixed with fear, he watched the driver, get into the machine. Louis felt the ground shake when the engine in the machine roared to life.  He couldn’t believe what he was witnessing.  Soon the machine took off accelerating to an unbelievable speed.  Louis and everyone else who was watching were amazed by how fast the machine went.

When the demonstration was over, both the machine and the driver were fine. When the news was announced that a new world’s speed record had been set, a loud cheer went up from the crowd.

The machine, back in 1898, had just reached the speed of 39 miles an hour. Wow!  That doesn’t seem very impressive today.  If somebody ahead of us on the highway is creeping along at 39 miles per hour, well, we’re ready to pitch a fit and just scream, “Let’s go, come on! I don’t have all day.”

But back in 1898, the world was amazed when somebody went 39 miles per hour. Can you imagine what Louis and everyone else who witnessed a car reach the unheard of speed of 39 miles per hour would think of the latest record for land speed, set by a jet-powered car screamed across the Black Rock Desert in Nevada at more than 763 miles per hour.  And of course, it’s only a matter of time before someone will break that record.

In this modern world, no matter how fast we get, no matter how efficient we become, it’s just never enough. There’s just no question about it, we’re doing things faster and faster and faster, at speeds our ancestors couldn’t even imagine. In the 19th century if you wanted to get a message across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to London, it would take weeks at best. But today you can push a few buttons, and in seconds you’ll be talking to someone across the Atlantic.

Even though we’re moving at speeds our ancestors would have thought were miraculous, even supernatural, most people still complain about the same thing. No matter what we do or how fast we do it, the complaint is always the same. We just don’t have enough time.

That’s actually a problem God anticipated. Thousands of years ago, God gave us a commandment specifically created to protect us from the tyranny of time. At the very beginning of our human history, the Lord carved out a refuge called the Sabbath. If you study the fourth commandment, you’ll find it comes to us right from the opening chapters of the Bible, right in the story of Creation.

Let’s go back to the very beginning, right after God created the world. The Bible says in Genesis 2:1-3, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which he had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

Notice the similarity found in the fourth commandment; Exodus 20:8-11, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do not work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

Now, I want you to notice how this commandment is directly linked to the original six-day creation story from the book of Genesis. God tells us to rest because he sanctified and made holy the Sabbath day, almost the exact wording used back in Genesis. And that’s why God says; “Remember the Sabbath,” partially because it’s something that already existed. But I’m guessing it’s also the only commandment that starts with the word “remember,” because it’s just about the easiest one for us to forget. When my wife tells me to remember to take out the trash, or says, “Richie, remember to bring something home from work,” it’s because she knows I’m probably going to forget. And I suspect it might be the same way with the fourth commandment.

Here’s what I want you to really think about. There’s a reason for the fourth commandment. If you study the other nine, you quickly discover that they’re all really good for us, and the same thing is true with number four. This commandment is a critical answer to the tyranny of time. No matter how fast we move, no matter how much faster our computers go, no matter how much faster our cells phones can connect us to the world, no matter how much faster we can eat our meals, we just never seem to have enough time. But then you open the Bible to the Ten Commandments and you find God asking us to rest.

Shaun Boonstra, of The Voice of Prophecy, says that, “to devote one-seventh of our lives to rest is just as much a commandment of God as the prohibitions against murder, adultery or stealing”.  With the Sabbath, God is giving us a special place in time, a sacred place, where the things of this world—our job, the bills, the chores—are not allowed to intrude, because this is sacred and holy time. The Sabbath is good news because it gives you this block of time that can be dedicated in a special way to God, and to the people you love.

I ask you today, is the Sabbath a day of rest for you?  That is what God designed it to be.  He was afraid you would forget so he said remember the Sabbath day. Remember that he wants to spend time with you. Remember that he wants you to spend time with your family. Remember that he wants you to rest.  To rest from your work and your worries.  Hebrews 4:9-11 says, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. Anyone who enters God’s rest will rest from his work as God did.  So let us do our best to enter that rest”.

Lessons From Little League

Many years ago I was asked by my neighbor to be a coach on a Little League baseball team.  The kids on the team were 6 to 8 years old. Most of the kids were not great at hitting and catching.  Some of them had the attention span of a goldfish.  I really enjoyed working with the kids.

This age group of Little League had special rules to help tone down the competition and give everyone an equal chance.  It was supposed to be about learning the game and having fun.  Each inning every player was allowed to bat.  We didn’t keep score on the field, but everyone knew the score, especially the parents.  But of course, no one was keeping score; well not officially.

That little league experience taught me how powerful comparison and competition can be.  Even when I didn’t want to compare and keep score I couldn’t help it.  And neither could anyone else.  We all knew.

The real problem wasn’t with our comparison; it was what we did with that information.  We put ourselves and our kids in a pecking order. Parents would feel better or worse about themselves based on what their kid did in the game.  If a boy hit a home run, his parents would stand up and cheer.  That’s my boy!  But if he didn’t notice a fly ball coming his way because he was chasing a butterfly his parents would cringe.

Little League taught me that we have a very strong urge to compare. We decide that people are winners or losers based on some of the flimsiest of reasons.  This tendency is bad enough in Little League Baseball, but it is tragic when it comes to our spiritual life and our relationship with Jesus.

When we make spiritual comparisons we are just plain silly.  When we compare ourselves to others, we can never know the full story.  All we see is the outside.  We can’t see the heart. Often our conclusions about people are absolutely wrong.  1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that, “the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart".

Our spiritual comparisons are biased.  We have a way of comparing things in a way that makes us look good.  When we think we look good, it’s hard not to look down on people who don’t measure up.  It’s when we are comparing ourselves to others that pride becomes particularly dangerous.

Most of us fail to realize how dangerous pride is.  We know that we shouldn't look down on others, but we tend to see it as a small sin.  We think it falls somewhere between failing to floss and driving too fast. It’s something we need to work on but it’s not that big a deal.  Even when we admit to having a problem with our pride, we are really thinking that it is hard to be humble when I’m so much better than most people.

God doesn’t want us to have pride in our hearts.  It separates us from Him.  But did you know that God says that he HATES pride.  Proverbs 6 tells us, "these six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, ...  Right at the top of this list of things that God hates is a proud look.  That look of disgust and disdain.  That feeling of arrogance when we view others.  God hates it. There are a lot of things that anger God, but most people wouldn’t guess that looking down our noses at others would be at the top of the list.  But it is.

Spiritual arrogance isn’t a small insignificant sin.  It is front and center in the battle for our heart.  It is a trap that Satan lays for those who are serious about their discipleship and their Bible study.  I’ve noticed that there is something interesting about this sin of pride that God hates.  It is usually found among the people who think that they love God the most.

Most of us Christians spend a lot of time and energy being proud of our accomplishments and looking down on others.  We need to be reminded that we are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. (Isaiah 64:6)

Why are we proud?  We have nothing to be proud about.  In 1 Timothy the Bible refers to people having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Pride in our works denies the power of God.

Jesus addresses this issue in the story we find in Luke 18:9-14. “ He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

According to Jesus it doesn't matter how moral or zealous we are.  Our arrogance in trusting our own righteousness and looking down on others leaves us in a lost, unjustified position.

I have noticed that spiritual arrogance is the ultimate blind spot.  We never see ourselves as arrogant.  We can easily spot it in others, but not in ourselves.  We might admit to an occasional struggle with pride, but we will never admit to full blown arrogance.  We never think that we are inappropriately looking down of others.  We just think that we are seeing things as they really are.  We can’t help it if it is the truth, that we are further along our Christian journey than some of our brothers.

We must turn those thought and feelings over to God and pray, "God, be merciful to me a sinner"!  God hates it when we look down on others.  He says that it leaves us in an unjustified position.  To put it plainly he says that if we thank God that we are not like other men we will be lost.

How do we keep from falling into the trap of spiritual arrogance?  The first step is to realize that we actually have no good works to be proud of.  Secondly we need to regularly ask ourselves if there is any group of people for whom I am developing a response of disgust, disdain or aversion.  If the answer is yes, it is a sign that we are walking the road of spiritual arrogance.

I don’t know what tempts you to feel superior.  I don’t know what kind of people you are tempted to look down on.  But most of us have a list.  I don’t think that we realize how dangerous that list is.  Unless we can get rid of the list it will nullify every good thing that we do and leave us separated from God.  It can put us at the top of God’s I hate it when you do that list.

In John 3:16-17 Jesus tells us that, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved".  If God doesn’t look down on the world but loved the world – every single person in it – so much that he sent His Son to save the world, who am I to make a list of people I think that I am better than.

Spiritual arrogance isn’t a small insignificant sin.  It is front and center in the battle for our heart.  Let’s pray today with David his words found in Psalms 51:10, "create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me".  It is the only way we can overcome our spiritual arrogance.


A pastor told the following story.  He had been invited to speak at a friend’s church.  He told the audience that their pastor had told him that the church was full of Pharisees.  The room became quiet.  The pastor stopped and asked if something was wrong.  There was still silence.  So the pastor asked another question.  How many of you considered being compared to Pharisees and insult instead of a compliment?  Nearly every hand raised.

The pastor went on to explain that calling someone a Pharisee wasn’t always an insult.  In Jesus’ day it would have been a compliment.

That’s because Pharisees in Jesus’ time were everything we admire spiritually.  They were completely committed to their religion.  They were very well versed in the Bible.  They carefully obeyed every one of God’s commands.  They even made up extra rules in case they had missed anything.

The Pharisees were so highly regarded that both Jesus and Paul played the Pharisee card when they wanted to illustrate the highest levels of spiritual commitment.  They knew that their audience would be impressed.

Jesus first used the Pharisees as an example of the highest possible achievement in the Sermon on the Mount.  To show that it is impossible to earn our way to heaven by our works he said in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  He pointed out well known commandments and then added to each one a much higher standard.

Matthew 5:27-30 - "You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell."

That had to freak out his listeners.  It is one thing to forbid adultery, but it is quite something else classify a quick look as adultery.  And it is downright terrifying to be told to gouge out our eye and cut off our hand if we struggle with a second look.

Now I don’t believe that Jesus was asking his audience to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand, but he was making a point.  We can’t earn our way into God’s favor by carefully keeping a moral code – even a Biblical one.  Our works will never be righteousness enough.  God’s standard of holiness is infinitely beyond our best efforts.

Just to make sure that everyone listening to Him understood how impossible it is to please God with our own good works Jesus stated in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  This had to be very disturbing to those who were listening to Jesus.  The Pharisees were considered the most righteous of the righteous.  If they had to be even more righteous than the Pharisees, they were all doomed.

They had to be thinking, “That’s impossible".  That’s exactly what Jesus wanted them to think.  He wanted them to understand that they couldn’t pull off their own salvation.  They would have to let Jesus do to for them.   That’s why he played the Pharisee card.  He knew that his audience would be blown away by the idea that those they thought were the very closest to God were not close enough.

These insights into the culture of the first century and how people regarded the Pharisees are more than just interesting bits of ancient history.  They are important for every modern day Christian to understand.  If we don’t understand how spiritually impressive the Pharisees were, we will be blind to the danger of becoming like them.

The Pharisees thought of themselves as God’s biggest fans.  They praised him; they worshiped him and spoke out in his defense. But when God actually showed up in the form of Jesus, they vehemently opposed Him.

In the same way we can talk all day long about Jesus and the Bible. We can praise God. We can sing to Him. We can pray to Him. But when He shows up in ways we don’t expect, that we don’t agree with, or that make us uncomfortable, we can fight Him tooth and nail.

Our modern perception of the Pharisees is of spiritual losers who were enemies of Jesus.  We think; how can they have been so stupid?  If this is what we think of the Pharisees, that they were spiritual losers instead of spiritual superstars, we will not be able to recognize the danger in our own life.  We will not see that it is often a very short journey from being zealous for God and being unintentionally opposed to God.

No one starts out with the desire to become a Pharisee.  We know from the Bible that they are the bad guys.  No one ever looks in the mirror and sees a Pharisee.  But the truth is that modern day Pharisees are made up of people just like you and me.  They are people who love God. They study the Bible and are trying the best they can to live by it.  But with a focus on works and a distaste for grace they become Pharisees.

Following Jesus is not a race to see who can be the most radical, the most obedient, the most sacrificial or the most knowledgeable. It’s not a contest to see who is willing to take the hardest road.

For the gospel to actually be good news, grace and mercy have to remain front and center.  When the intensity of my commitment or the extent of my personal sacrifices become the way to receive God’s acceptance and approval, the good news of the gospel is no longer good news.  We must remain true to the heart of the gospel, offering rest, help, hope, and salvation to the weary and heavy laden.

None of us live a truly righteous life.  Even the very best Christians fall far short of the righteousness needed to stand before God.  That is what makes grace so amazing.  That is what makes the arrogance of modern day Pharisees, as they offer up their filthy rags of righteousness as something to be proud of, so sad.

Our hope is not in what we do for God.   Our hope is in what God has done for us.  That’s the gospel.  That is what will keep people like you and I from becoming modern day Pharisees.

Don't Be Dissapointed

During the spring of 2011, Harold Camping made the news with his prediction that on May 21, 2011 Jesus Christ would return to Earth, the righteous would fly up to heaven, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011 with the end of the world.

To promote “Judgment Day 2011,” Camping’s followers reportedly spent millions of dollars on billboards, subway advertisements, literature distribution and personal canvassing.  After the date passed, Mr. Camping was the butt of late night TV jokes, unflattering articles in the newspaper, and even parties held by atheists in his honor.

Seventh-day Adventists can empathize, since Adventism was born in large measure out of the prophecy interpretations of William Miller and the Great Disappointment of 1844.

William Miller was a captain in the War of 1812.  Following a period of years in which he proclaimed Deism, Miller joined the Baptist Church of Low Hampton. Following his conversion, he was asked by Deist friends how he knew the Bible was true. He determined to prove the Bible true.  After studying for two years he was convinced he understood the Bible —especially Daniel 8:14: "Unto 2,300 days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed."  The cleansing of the sanctuary, Miller believed, could only mean the purging of the earth by fire—in short, the end of the world.  By interpreting these prophetic days as years and beginning from the date of the prophecy, Miller concluded that the end of the 2,300 "days" would fall in 1843.

By 1831 he found the courage to share his discovery with neighbors and friends. When asked to discuss his views in a nearby church, he suddenly discovered that on this one subject he could be eloquent.

Invitations multiplied, and Miller gained a bit of local notoriety.  In 1838 he published a book on prophecy. Joshua V. Himes heard Miller speak and was impressed by the power in the message of the quiet, middle-aged farmer. So he eagerly joined Miller as his manager and publicity agent. Himes equipped Miller with a great chart displaying the millennial calculations in graphic form, purchased the biggest tent in the country for his meetings, and edited two journals—New York's Midnight Cry and Boston's Signs of the Times.

Miller the man was transformed overnight into the Millerite Movement. Himes and his associates recruited other evangelists and sent them on speaking tours; organized camp meetings; and published tracts, books, and pamphlets.

As the final year approached, Miller's preaching drew larger crowds. In six months, he delivered more than 300 lectures with the constant theme: Are you ready to meet your Savior?  The crowds grew larger and the number of converts mounted.  As many as a million people believed the teachings of William Miller.

With excitement rising, people began to demand a definite day for the Lord's appearance. Miller was reluctant to be more specific, but in January 1843, he announced that this Hebrew year—March 21, 1843, to March 21, 1844—must see the end of time.

Then March 21, 1844, came—and nothing happened. After a month, Miller confessed his error and acknowledged his disappointment.  In August 1844 at a camp-meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, Samuel S. Snow presented his own interpretation, what became known as the midnight cry. Snow presented his conclusion (still based on the 2300 day prophecy in Daniel 8:14), that Christ would return on, "the tenth day of the seventh month of the present year, 1844".  This date was determined to be October 22, 1844. The midnight cry message spread among the Millerites.

As we know, Jesus did not return to this earth in October 1844. Those that eagerly awaited His return were devastated, and the day became known as the Great Disappointment. Thousands of followers who had given away their possessions and waited in expectant belief were disillusioned and left the movement. Those that remained were ridiculed and became objects of scorn.

One of those who experienced the great disappointment wrote "Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawn."

I can’t imagine how those people felt.   Instead of seeing Jesus and being transported to heaven, they had to pick up the pieces of their lives and listen to the ridicule of their neighbors.

I don’t want to be disappointed.  I’m sure you don’t want to be either.

I believe that Jesus is coming back for me and for you.  But Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:36, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." It is not about knowing the day or the hour that he comes.  It is about being ready when He does come. The time we have is limited.  Each one of us have a limited amount of time to prepare for when we will meet Christ.  It is limited by either His return or our death.

If Jesus came for you right now, would you be ready?  Have you really received Him as your Savior?  Jesus is coming back, and this we can know for sure.  We are closer to his arrival today than we were yesterday.  The time to get ready is limited.

If you have not done so already, the time to get ready is now.  Don’t delay.  I want to be part of the group that says, “ Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation”.  Don’t be part of the group that says to the rocks and mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!

Don’t be disappointed!

Born Again

The Bible tells us that we can be born again.  We find this truth in the story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night. Jesus told him, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus was as religious as anyone in Jerusalem, but he needed a complete conversion, a new birth.  Being born again is not what we do. Being born again is when we quit trying and begin trusting Jesus.

What jobs do you give newborns? Why don’t we give them jobs? We don’t ask them to work, we love them, feed them, take care of them. We will in time give them jobs to do, but only after we have watched them grow, as we have taught them.  That is what Jesus is talking about when he says that we must be born again.

To become a part of God’s Kingdom you must be born again.  You must receive God’s kingdom as an infant.  Babies don’t have preconceived ideas.  They don’t think that they know it all and can run their own lives.

Our first birth gives us a family name, a genetic inheritance, nationality, ethnicity.  When we are born again, none of this changes. We have the same family of origin. We still take pride in our ethnic or national heritage. These elements of our identity from our birth are treasures. Being born again does not erase them. Being born again puts them in their proper place. All of these identities become subordinate to our supreme identity as children of God.

Because we have been born again we recognize all of the rest of God's children as our brothers and sisters.  They are part of our family. We are part of their family. We see them as the dearly-loved children of God.  We will not do anything to disparage our brothers and sisters.

Being born again imposes obligations. We have joined a new family and this new family has a distinctive culture.  1 Peter 3:8 tells us, "Live in harmony with one another.  Be sympathetic, love each other, have compassion and be humble".

As born again Christians, people adopted into the family of God, we are called to form a new kind of community where people show each another the same grace we have received from God.  "You must be born again", John 3:7.

Little Children

In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven".

Little children look up to the adults around them, especially their parents. They don’t want to be left alone. They feel secure when they are with their parents. That is the way a Christian should feel about God. We should want to be with God.

In our relationship with God, we adults often behave as if we are running our lives, and that we are in control. We feel capable, and sometimes to such an extent that we feel we don’t really need God.

We need to know, that we are not in control. Like a child, we should always be looking up to someone for security and for help. We need to remind ourselves that we cannot handle life with our own wisdom or capabilities. In Proverbs 3:5,6 the Bible tells us "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

This childlike quality was brought home to me by a story that my daughter told me about my granddaughter. While my granddaughter was attending Vacation Bible School, one of the activities that she was involved in was making a scroll like people used in Bible times. When she finished her scroll she told her teacher,"this is for Jesus. I'll give it to him when he comes to pick me up".

That is the kind of childlike faith that we all need to have. We are just waiting for Jesus to come pick us up so we can go home, and we have no doubts that he will be here soon.

I'm Sorry

I remember as a child being told to tell my sister that I was sorry.  I’m sure that every parent has used this technique.  Tell your sister you’re sorry.  “I’m sorry".

Did that make me sorry? Did it bring about repentance? No, it was more likely to make me plan my revenge. Being sorry seldom brings about change. We are usually just sorry we got caught.

In 1970 the highest grossing movie in the U.S. was “Love Story”.  The movie is the love story of Oliver and Jenny.  Oliver comes from an American upper class family and is heir to a fortune. At college he meets Jenny, a working-class student. They quickly fall in love.

Jenny reveals her plans for the future, which include studying in Paris. Oliver is upset that he does not figure in the plans. He wants to marry Jenny and proposes. She accepts, and Oliver reassures her that their class differences will not matter.  His parents are clearly unimpressed and judgmental.  Oliver's father tells him that he will cut him off financially if he marries Jenny.  Upon graduation from college, Jenny and Oliver decide to get married against the wishes of Oliver's father, who severs ties with his son.

Without his father's financial support, the couple struggle to pay Oliver's way through Law School. Jenny goes to work as a school teacher. Oliver graduates third in his class and takes a position at a respectable New York law firm. The 24-year-olds are ready to start a family, but when they fail to conceive they consult a medical specialist. After many tests they find out that Jenny is terminally ill.

She begins costly cancer therapy, and soon Oliver is desperate enough over the mounting expenses to seek financial relief from his father. Jenny's last wish is made when she asks Oliver to embrace her tightly before she dies.

The catch phrase from the film is "Love means never having to say you're sorry".  The line is spoken twice in the film: once in the middle of the film, by Jenny, when Oliver is about to apologize to her for his anger; and as the last line of the film, by Oliver, when his father says "I'm sorry" after learning of Jennifer's death.

The line proved memorable, and has been repeated in various contexts since. It seems to imply that when you "really-truly" love someone you always behave so that you'll never hurt their feelings and thus you'll never have to apologize.  I think that we are all smart enough here to know that in real life true love means that we must say I’m sorry.

What is there about a loving relationship that makes us want to say I’m sorry when we have hurt the other person?  What about our relationship with God?  Do we say I’m sorry because we are afraid of what God will do to us?

God doesn’t want us to say I’m sorry because we are afraid of the consequences.  He wants us to say that we are sorry because we love him.

In Romans 2:4 the Bible says, “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

What leads us to repentance? Is it anger? Is it fear? Is it God’s law? Is it your Pastor? No, the Bible says it is the kindness of God. Paul puts in another way in 2 Corinthians 7:10. “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation.” I like the way God inspired Paul to put that. Not just sorrow, but godly sorrow.

True godly sorrow brings about repentance, and true repentance brings about change.  God's love for us and His kindness towards us is what leads us to tell God, I'm sorry!

Psalms 17:7 tells us,  "show Your marvelous loving kindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You.

What is loving kindness?  I want to give you a young boy’s definition of loving kindness. A teacher asked the pupils to tell the meaning of "loving kindness." A little boy jumped up and said, "Well, if I was hungry and someone gave me a piece of bread; that would be kindness; but if they put some peanut butter and jelly on it, that would be loving kindness." Loving kindness is going that extra measure. At least, that’s one boy’s definition of it.

If we look in the New Testament we will find very similar descriptions of God’s kindness.  Ephesians 2:7 says,  “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”.

My favorite verse of scripture is 1 John 1:9.  It says,  "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".

What does it mean to confess?  The dictionary says – to admit or state that one has committed a crime or is at fault in some way.  The first step is to admit that we have done something wrong.  To truly say I’m sorry we have to admit we are wrong.

If we confess our sins God will forgive us.  The term repent or repentance takes this idea a step further.  The dictionary says that to repent is to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin.

What leads us to repentance?  What leads us to confess?  Is it fear?  Is it to avoid hell?  Is it to gain the rewards of heaven?  None of those are good reasons to say I’m sorry.

We are led to repentance in the Bible sense by the kindness of God. When we experience God’s kindness, and feel his love, grace, mercy and forgiveness it makes us want to love him.  When we love God we want to please him; we want Him to live in us and work through us.

Seeing his kindness towards us makes us sorry for the things we have done to hurt him.  It leads us to repentance.  Seeing God’s kindness towards us makes us want to be like him and show kindness to our fellow human beings.

Spend some time each day reflecting on the kindness that God has shown you and tell Him that you are sorry for the things you have done to hurt Him.  If we tell God that we are sorry, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Rejoice With Me

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Luke 15.  It is Luke’s account of three parables, each of which describes the finding of a lost item, and each of which describes the joy and celebration which resulted.

The audience for these stories was the Pharisees who were complaining about Jesus' life style and his welcoming of tax collectors and sinners. Jesus told these stories as a rebuke to the Pharisees.  The stories are about God's love and mercy for sinful human beings.  Jesus was telling the Pharisees that he wanted them to rejoice with him.

It is important to understand who these tax collectors and sinners were that Jesus was eating and associating with.  Tax collectors were Jewish men who purchased from the Roman officials the right to collect various taxes.  They were hated and despised by their fellow countrymen; not only because they were unpatriotic, and dishonest and greedy, but also because their job made them ritually unclean.

For the Pharisees, the term "sinners" was used for a class of people who lived immoral lives or had questionable occupations; people that no respectable Jew would have anything to do with.  Another example would be people with certain diseases or disabilities that many would take as a sign that they committed some great sin. They were physically and morally unapproachable.

These people: the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the maimed and diseased -- basically, the social and religious outcasts -- were coming to Jesus and he was receiving them and eating with them.
But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such sinners?” Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”  Luke 5:30-32

The Pharisees didn't like Jesus’ association with sinners.  The Pharisees found no joy in repentance of sinners at all. What was it that caused them such pain to have Jesus associating with sinners and enjoying them?  In Matthew 23 Jesus gives us some insights into the mind of the Pharisee.  In verse 6 Jesus tells us, “the Pharisees love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues”. In verse 13 He says that the Pharisees, “shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either”.  In verse 23 Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites and says, "you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith".

Why were the Pharisees unwilling to seek to save sinners and unable to rejoice at their repentance? Why were they unwilling to associate with them?  The story of the older brother in Luke 15 represents the Pharisees, who grumble at Jesus’ reception of sinners. In the story, the older brother is out in the fields working when the younger brother returns. The older brother does not know of his younger brother’s return until his attention is aroused by the sounds of celebration coming from the house. He became very angry and refused to go in to celebrate, even though this celebration was called for by the father.

When the father came out to his older son, to ask him to join in on the celebration, the older son refused. The words of the older son are the key to understanding his desires and attitudes.

He told his father, “I have worked hard, but you gave me no banquet”. The older brother was at work in the field when his younger brother returned home. He thought that the basis for obtaining his father’s favor was his works. He didn't need to work to win his father’s approval or blessing; he only needed to be a son. This emphasis on works was the error of the Pharisees. They were “hard at work” with respect to keeping the law, as they interpreted it, thinking that this was what would win God’s approval and blessing.

The older brother told his father, “you have given your other son a banquet, when all he did was to sin”. This is, of course, the flip side of the first protest. The older brother expected to be rewarded on the basis of his works, so he expected his younger brother to have been disowned due to his works, i.e. his sins.

It was not the younger brother’s sins which resulted in the father’s celebration, but in his repentance and return. The older brother not only failed to comprehend grace, but he resented it.  The problem of the older brother, is self-righteousness. His self-righteousness is such that he expects - even demands God’s approval and blessings.  His self-righteousness is so strong that he resents the grace of God and refuses to rejoice in it.

Don’t be a Pharisee.  I challenge you today to see “sinners” the way that Jesus sees them and to rejoice with Him whenever one of his lost sheep comes home!

You can listen to the audio sermon here.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

He's Alive

During the 1970’s as I listened to Contemporary Christian Music, Don Fransisco was one of my favorite artists.  Last month for my birthday my daughter gave me an album that has just been released titled, "We Will Stand".  It is a one of a kind live recording that includes 30 CCM artists who performed together on Jan. 21, 2015.  Don Fransisco was one of those artists and he sang his signature song, "He's Alive".

Don’s music often tells a story and “He’s Alive” is one of his best. It tells the story of the resurrection of Jesus from Peter’s point of view.  The song ends with these words:

Suddenly the air was filled with strange and sweet perfume.  Light that came from everywhere; Drove shadows from the room.

Jesus stood before me with His arms held open wide.  And I fell down on my knees and just clung to Him and cried.

He raised me to my feet and as I looked into His eyes.  Love was shining out from Him like sunlight from the skies

Guilt in my confusion disappeared in sweet release.  And every fear I'd ever had just melted into peace

He's alive, He's alive He's alive and I'm forgiven Heaven's gates are open wide.  He’s Alive.

What a powerful message.  This is the gospel; the good news that Jesus is alive. 

Let’s take a look at the story as it is recorded in Mark chapter 16. "Now when Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene.  She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.  Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.  And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved”.

Jesus gave his disciples the job of going to the entire world and preaching the gospel.  We call this The Great Commission .  Most Christians realize that Jesus didn't just tell his disciples to preach the gospel, he asks all of his followers preach the gospel.  But just what is the gospel?  The gospel is the good news that Jesus is alive.  He has achieved victory over death.  He wants to give us eternal life. 
Paul explained it very clearly to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. 

The gospel is very simple.  1. Jesus died for our sins.  2. He was buried.  3. He rose again.

I once heard a preacher who stated that whatever topic he was preaching on he always included John 3:16.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life".  John 3:16 is the gospel.  Whatever we as Christians are talking about needs to be wrapped in the covering of the gospel.  Whatever we are teaching, the things that we believe, need to have the gospel at their center.  Jesus, his death and resurrection, should be the center of any doctrine, teaching or belief.  Too much of what Christians are focused on is not gospel oriented. 

The most important part of the story of the cross is that He’s Alive!  We read in Acts 1:11, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”  Christians are looking forward to the second coming of Jesus because He’s alive!

Friday, March 20, 2015

I Think I Can

One of the most loved children’s books of the last century is The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper.  The National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children”.  The story is used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work.

If you have read the book you will remember that the little train broke down and the cargo headed to the boys and girls on the other side of the mountain was not going to make it there.

The train asked Shiny New Engine to pull it over the mountain but he said, “that’s not what I do”.  Then the train asked Big Strong Engine to pull it over the mountain but he said,  “I have no time for the likes of you”.

The train asked the Little Blue Engine to help. “I’m not very big”, said the Little Blue Engine.  “They use me only for switching trains in the yard.  I have never been over the mountain.”

Then The Little Blue Engine hitched herself to the little train.  She tugged and pulled and slowly they started off.  Puff, puff, chug, chug, went the Little Blue Engine.  “I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can. “

It’s a very American story.  The moral of the story is that anything can be accomplished with a bit of optimism, hard work, and perseverance.

Ever since I was in school, I've always been encouraged to “believe in yourself and you can do anything”.  To think that “I can do it!”.  To have the attitude that “I can shape my own destiny”.   But is that the truth?

The problem with the “I think I can” mentality is that it leaves God out of the equation.  Many Christians believe in the power of positive thinking gospel.  If I just put my mind to it I can become a better person.  If I just work hard enough I can overcome the sin in my life.

Self-confidence is a misplaced reliance and it is offensive to God. Both our acts of righteousness, and the quality of righteousness that we hope they produce, are offensive to God. When we show the “I think I can” attitude towards overcoming sin, imagine how God feels. This is what God has to say about our efforts on our own.

“We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”  Isaiah 64:6

Self righteousness looks great on the outside and people notice it. Christian churches are filled with people who look holy but solely trust in themselves to be good enough for God. They are seeking Him based upon their own righteousness and what they can accomplish for God.

God wants us to have confidence; Just not in our own works.  We need to put our confidence in God.  In Hebrews 4:16 the Bible tells us, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need”.

Instead of “I think can” our motto need to be I think God can, I think God can.  We need to understand that we are completely powerless – in and of ourselves – to do anything good.   To understand that we can’t save ourselves, fix ourselves, change ourselves, or even give God our affections!

God wants us to have confidence, but he wants us to put our confidence in Him and not in ourselves.  Proverbs 3:26 tells us, “For the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught”.

Until we realize that instead of “I think I can” our spiritual life is I know I can’t;  Until we let God into our lives we will never win the fight.  Let’s look at one of the most positive promises in the Bible.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.  Philippians 4:13

Now that’s the power of positive thinking.  I know He can, I know He can, I know He can.