A Royal Flush

Some believe that the kings of a playing card deck represent David, Alexander, Caesar, and Charlemagne. What people decide to use those cards for, well, you’ve probably seen poker being played, if you haven’t played it yourself. Basically the game is played on the basis of probability. Once the hand is dealt, each player jockeys to get the best cards in his hand, and then bets each other player that his hand is the best. The player with the best hand wins all the money in the pot.

As we move into this final group of kings, we leave the kings of Israel behind. Israel was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC and the ten tribes become the Dispersion, the lost Israelites. It is God’s judgment meted out to a nation that refused to obey Him and worshipped idols. Though they had decent kings, and greatness in King Jereboam II, they bet everything on the wrong god.

The kingdom of Judah to the south now plays the next hand. Up to now, they had done an adequate job of keeping the Temple and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their object of worship. But nearly every king neglected the “high places”, private places of worship of its citizens. The Kings allowed individuals to worship as they chose, rather than enforce the worship of the One True God. Even though God had specific rules about worship, sacrifice, and sin, yet the people of Judah wanted to do things their own way, and this became the weakness of Judah.

Thankfully, this period of Kings highlights some very good kings, like Hezekiah and Josiah, who sought to serve the Lord with all their hearts. But there are also kings like Manasseh, and Uzziah, who are notorious for their evil.

The Kings of Judah are much like poker players. They bet their armies, treasure, and allegiance on different gods. Only those that bet on God, and give everything to Him come out winners.

There is a lesson here for all of us. All of us are given time, talents, and especially the Holy Spirit as gifts from God. They lay before us to use as we choose. When we use them for ourselves, we risk them on the whims of chance. But when we risk them on God’s purposes, we always win. If we learn anything from the Kings, is that those that bet on God come out winners. And the winnings God promises are truly out of this world.

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Independence Day!

Maybe you’re old enough to remember the release of ID4, or, Independence Day in theaters on July 2nd, 1996. I was in a theater that week to see the latest effects-laden offering from Hollywood and I wasn’t disappointed. It was a blockbuster, with aliens, special effects, a plot to destroy the world, and a plucky band of adventurers who thwarted the aliens’ plans. Anyone who was looking for a movie about American independence from Britain in 1776 would have come away sorely displeased.

That’s how it is with sin, when you get right down to it. Sure it looks flashy and fun on the outside, and gives all kind of promises about taking your troubles all away, but in the end, you did not get what you expected. In fact, you will be a lot worse off that you were before.

That’s why when you seek your independence from sinful habits and desires, you don’t turn to other sins to take them away. That just makes it worse. Instead, you turn to the only one who can truly give you independence from sin, the Son of God.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luk 4:18-19)

This is the year of the Lord’s favor! This is the year you can decide to shed your life of sin and give your life to Christ! For we can never be truly free of our own sins until we give our lives over to the One who made us.

Following Christ is simple, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, repent of your sins, confess His Name, be baptized, and live for Christ. It’s a simple process, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t take that offer. The choice is yours. Continue walking down the wide road that leads to destruction, or accept Jesus, and live your life in freedom. Now that’s Independence Day!

Uncommitted!

In the gospels, Jesus walks along the seashore and sees some fishermen mending their nets. Jesus comes to them and announces clearly, “Follow Me!”. They immediately drop what they are doing and follow Him (I have to wonder where they thought they were going). But when you read in context, you find that for Peter, this was his third encounter with Jesus. He was familiar with what Jesus taught, and what Jesus’ purpose was, that is, to preach the coming kingdom. Jesus’ command to follow wasn’t from random stranger, but from a trusted friend. Maybe there is something to that in our modern context. We don’t call people to follow a random stranger they just met, but someone with whom they’ve become acquainted, even befriended. This is discipleship. Discipleship is commitment.

Jesus clearly calls for an answer to his command, “Follow Me.” When He does this, He isn’t suggesting that He is one choice among many for a route to everlasting life. He isn’t suggesting a part-time partnership. He is primary to the plan. It is His blood that atones completely for our sins, and no one else’s. It is He who is the “way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:8) “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Act 4:12, ESV) There is no one else who has the truth. (See John 6:68-69)

You may have trouble believing in a historical Jesus. Yet it has been clear, more than clear, even crystal clear, from historical evidence, personal testimony, and even scientific evidence, that the message of Christianity is absolutely reliable. It has not been proven beyond all possible doubt, but beyond all reasonable doubt. There is still room for faith. But many people: 1) don’t look at the evidence, 2) they base their opinion not on the facts, but on the evidence of their eyes, seeing Christians who fail in their discipleship, 3) they have a prior bias against Christianity anyway, and don’t either care or understand that their eternity is at stake. Therefore, when it comes to Christianity, most people vote “uncommitted”. This is a tragedy.

The Wave of Christianity has moved from through Western culture, continues on through Europe, the Americas, and now is moving through Asia to come full circle. Yet Europe is what is called by sociologists, “post-Christian”. That is to say, they have experienced the tide of the Church, gotten used to it, and now no longer deem it relevant. The Church in Europe is fast becoming a relic of history. The Church in America is still relevant, but its influence is diminishing. Why? Because the influence of the Christ is diminishing in the life of the Christian.

The question is about your commitment. The only way to stem the tide of dismissal and irrelevance is the commitment of everyday Christians. Will you be one to stand in the gap?

What Do I Need to Know to Become a Christian?

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For many Christians, we have been Christian so long that we have forgotten what it was that brought to salvation in the first place. It’s hard to explain to someone interested in Christ how it is to become a Christian, so we ought to take some time looking at what it means to become a Christian.

Most Religions in the world call upon a new convert to perform a number of tasks to be saved. For example, the Muslims believe in five “pillars” or tasks essential to becoming a saved Muslim. This includes praying five time a day (facing Mecca), giving alms, and making at least one trip (or pilgrimage) to Mecca. Mormons on the other hand have to spend two years doing evangelistic work, which is why they stop by your door from time to time. Catholics have to work through nine sacraments of grace, including Christening, First Communion, Marriage in the Church or Holy Orders, Frequent Confession, and even Last Rites. But all of these beg for grace. All of these in their own way beg the Almighty, or as they see Him, for grace to be saved. They are all efforts done by men to earn grace, but sadly, all of these fall far short to be worthy of salvation.

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9) This is what makes Christianity different from every other Religion. Every other religion relies on the effort of men to secure their own salvation from judgment, but in Christ, God has done all the work. All we have to do is accept it. But before we say it’s easy, accepting the salvation that God offers through Christ.

Far from being work, but effort enough to make it memorable, salvation through Christ forces us to recall the events outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, When God came down and offered His own Son in exchange for our lives. Walking through salvation takes us through the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Salvation in Christ isn’t all bottles up in a single text, though there are several texts that include more than one element. This calls for reading throughout the New Testament to get the full picture.

Believe

And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
(Act 16:31)

Repent

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
(2Co 7:10)

Confess

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
(Rom 10:9)

Be Baptized

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
(1Pe 3:21)

Work Out Your Salvation

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
(Php 2:12)

Giving

Lavish Expressions of Love

In light of the recent stories about churches removing people from membership for lack of attendance and lack of tithing, I am reminded of this passage in 2 Corinthians 8 about “God loves a cheerful giver”. A person should not give reluctantly or under compulsion, which is exactly what a church puts in place if they say you have to tithe to them to continue to be a member. There is some thing to be said for being an active attender of a church. A person ought not to neglect the fellowship. But church cannot demand a tithe, or make it a condition of membership. Rather, giving should be an expression of love and dependence on the Father who gives His own love lavishly in the atoning blood of his Son, i addition to the grace and blessings we receive every day.

God bless you on this Friday!

Pray Big!

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“Do you pray enough?” Most Christians answer, “No, of course not.” None of us pray “enough”, and even though the New Year dawns, our prayer life is not likely to improve without serious and committed effort. Sometimes it is making time for prayer. For others, it is praying that is the problem, because we don’t feel like prayer really accomplishes anything. I can tell you this, because I have felt the presence of God in prayer, and that prayer takes time.

When I pray, I need to be praying at least five minutes before I am able to tune out the world and truly focus on God. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” That’s actually good advice for a prayer warrior. Prayer takes time to be able to transition from worry on what you are doing next to truly putting yourself before the presence of God.

Next, you’ve got to understand what prayer really means. It’s not just a post-it note to God with a list of things you need. It is a multi-faceted conversation with the Creator, the Savior, and the Provider. When come face to face with the Almighty, you realize that you have His ear, and can really ask for anything. No job is too small for God. Even in situations where you see no good end, you can talk to God, and know He can do something good. God is bigger than our imagination. You’ve seen His world. Imagine what He can do with your problems. Very soon you realize that your problems are in fact very small.

I look at our church, and I see possibilities. You might see a small church with little potential, because we are a “small church”, but I see a powerhouse of the Almighty. God can do amazing things in a place where He is honored and worshipped; where He is allowed free reign, with no one holding back their talents, willingness to serve, or their imagination. Small churches are only small to people who can’t see them as God does.

Call me optimistic if you want, but when you understand God’s statement to the apostle Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness”, I think you’ll count your blessings that our little church appears weak on the outside, but on the inside is filled with the Spirit of God.

Pray big, pray big dreams, pray for big crowds, pray for big ministries, because God can do it. Pray big because the life of our church depends on it. Dream big, because God can give His dreams to you, to work out in this place for His glory. Don’t tell God what He can’t do here, because He’s liable to prove you wrong. Are you ready to pray?