Enduring Hardship

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3, N.K.J.V.)

Adoniram Judson had been formally appointed as a missionary to India by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and he was all set to spend the rest of his life as a missionary in that foreign land. That board of missions had been founded a couple of years earlier at a gathering held at a certain local church. One of the deacons of that church was a man named John Hasseltine who had a daughter named Ann.

Adoniram and Ann had first met at that gathering and had fallen in love. Since this was during the days when a young man was expected to ask his potential fiance’s father for her hand in marriage, Adoniram was prepared to do that. However, he knew that Ann marrying him would probably mean that her family would never see her again once she and Adoniram left for the mission field. Even worse, he also knew that he and Ann could both be killed or die premature deaths as a result of their efforts to take the gospel into India.

After a good deal of praying and thinking about the matter, Adoniram decided to write Mr. Hasseltine a letter in which he would ask for permission to marry Ann. The relevant section of the letter reads as follows:

“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.

“Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls, for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”

In the end, Mr. Hasseltine left the decision up to Ann herself, and she agreed to marry Adoniram and join him in his missionary work. The couple was married on February 5, 1812, and set sail for India two weeks later on February 19, 1812. They arrived in Calcutta, India, four months later on June 17, 1812, and planned to remain in India for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, however, neither the local Hindu authorities nor the local British authorities thought it was a good idea for Americans to attempt to evangelize Hindus, and so the couple was expelled from Calcutta just a little more than a year later. They then made the decision to devote their missionary endeavors to Burma in Southeast Asia, and on July 13, 1813, they sailed from Calcutta with that destination in mind.

It took a full year for the couple to arrive in Burma, and along the way Ann miscarried their first child. Upon their arrival in Burma, the couple was immediately faced with yet another daunting problem. Whereas India had been dominated by Hinduism, Burma was dominated by Buddhism, and the Burmese language was incredibly difficult to master.

It took Adoniram and Ann more than three full years to learn the language despite the fact that they hired a tutor and studied for twelve hours each day. Sadly, their second child, Roger William Judson, who was born in 1815, died before reaching eight months of age. Despite this devastating setback, however, putting in the time and work to learn the language proved to be a wise move because over the course of his lifetime Adoniram would go on to translate the Bible into Burmese and complete half of a Burmese-English dictionary.

Some four years after arriving in Burma, and after finally mastering the Burmese language, Adoniram held his first evangelistic service there. History records that he would ultimately found more than 100 churches in Burma and win more than 8,000 converts to Christianity. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the work moved exceedingly slow at first, with the first decade producing just 18 converts under incredibly challenging conditions.

Shall I continue describing the hardships that Adoniram and Ann faced on the mission field in Burma? In 1822, liver problems forced Ann to return home for a brief stay. She arrived back in Burma in 1823, but she had been reunited with Adoniram for only a few months before his work got caught up in the middle of the Anglo-Burmese War and he was arrested by the British army. He was imprisoned for two years under conditions so bad that only he and one other prisoner survived, and to make those years worse the imprisonment left Ann to care for the couple’s third child, Maria, who was born while Adoniram was in prison. Adoniram was finally released in 1826, much to Ann’s delight, but she died from smallpox that same year on October 24, 1826, at the age of 36. Six months later the infant daughter Maria died.

All of this certainly sounds like Adoniram didn’t exaggerate what he wrote in that letter, did he? Such testimonies help me keep in proper perspective the minor problems and inconveniences that I have to deal with as the pastor of a Baptist church here in America. Anytime I start feeling persecuted, all I have to do is read about Adoniram and Ann Judson and other famous missionaries to realize that my little gripes and grumbles come off as sounding incredibly petty when considered in light of what others have faced for the cause of Christ. Like Paul told Timothy, enduring a certain amount of hardship inevitably comes with being a soldier in Christ’s army. All I can say is that we would all do well to endure it as faithfully as Adoniram and Ann Judson did.

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Getting Off Your Rock-O-Plane

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!'” (Luke 15:17, N.K.J.V.)

Many years ago, back when I was 12 or 13 years old, my cousin Tony and I attended the local carnival one night in the town of Spruce Pine. Since we weren’t old enough to drive, Tony’s mom Belle drove us. Actually, she didn’t drop us off at the carnival site. We hadn’t eaten supper yet, and so she took us to a restaurant that was located close to the carnival.

The restaurant was called City Drive-In, and it was one of those places where you not only ordered from your car but also ate there after the waiter brought your food out to you. I don’t remember what Tony or Belle ordered, but I ordered a footlong hot dog all the way and a side of fries. That’s what I always got at City Drive-In. They had the best footlong hot dogs in the history of the world.

After we finished eating, Tony and I got out of the car and walked the short distance across a big wooden bridge to get to the carnival site. The first ride we came to was one of those Rock-O-Plane rides. It looked like a ferris wheel except that each of the seats had a steel cage built around it. There were eight cages in all and each one could hold two riders. The cages were designed in such a way as to allow them to rock back and forth. The idea was that the two riders would shift their weight together to get their cage rocking as the ferris wheel went round and round. Each cage was enclosed to keep the riders from falling out. Tony and I had a big time trying to get our cage to flip over completely, but we never could make that happen.

To unload each cage once a ride was finished, the ride’s operator would stop the ride completely, start it up again for a second or two to bring a cage down to the unloading platform, and then unload that cage. Immediately following the unloading, while the cage was still there at the platform, the next two riders would climb into the cage to begin their ride. The operator would then start the wheel again for a second or two to move that cage up one slot on the dial as another cage was brought down to the platform for the same unloading and loading.

As the operator systematically worked our cage down toward the platform, Tony and I were already plotting what ride we should tackle next. But then something strange happened. Evidently, the operator lost count of how many cages he had unloaded and reloaded, and so when the cage Tony and I were in finally worked its way down to the platform, the operator didn’t unload us. Instead, he started the ride back up again in full swing and away we went for a freebie round two.

Like Tony, I was thrilled that we were getting a free ride. It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize that my stomach was quickly becoming an active volcano. That footlong hot dog and those fries were not at all happy about my back-to-back rides on the Rock-O-Plane. I looked over at Tony to see if he was getting sick, but he was so busy working hard to get that cage to rock back and forth that he didn’t even notice that his partner was turning green. I tried to tell him that I wasn’t feeling well, but he obviously didn’t grasp the severity of the situation.

Since I hated to spoil his fun, I tried my best to soldier on through the ride. I knew, though, that my only chance at not throwing up was to make the ride as stable as possible. So, I told Tony that I was about to puke and that he needed to quit trying to rock that cage. It must have been something either in the sound of my voice or in the color of my face that made him realize that I wasn’t joking, and he promptly honored my request. What followed were several harrowing seconds of us trying to keep that cage as stationary as possible and me trying not to lose my supper as the wheel took us round and round.

Try as I might, however, my condition was too far gone, and so at some point the inevitable happened. In an explosion on par with that scene from the movie The Exorcist, up came that hot dog, those fries, and anything else I had eaten in the past year. It went all over me, all over Tony, and all over the inside of that cage. Horrifying doesn’t even begin to describe it. I still remember the shirt I was wearing that night. It was a Carolina blue t-shirt that I had gotten during a family vacation at Myrtle Beach, SC. It had a logo of Myrtle Beach on the front of it and my name (R-U-S-S) on the back. I loved that shirt, but you can believe me when I say that it didn’t look nearly so good with the front of it covered in upchuck.

Finally, mercifully, our ride came to an end, and this time the operator kept his count correctly and brought our cage down to the platform for the unloading and reloading. I staggered out of that cage looking like Jonah after the whale had spit him out, and Tony was right behind me trying to disassociate himself from me as much as he could. He didn’t stand a chance, though, because at that moment we were the only two people in Mitchell county who were covered in the former contents of my stomach. As we walked down the platform, two new riders climbed into our cage, and I heard one of them shriek in horror. I didn’t dare look back or try to explain myself. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. All I know is that our cage was surely off limits for the rest of the night unless that ride operator had a water hose close at hand.

As you might guess, our big night at the carnival was over at that point due to the fact that we both needed a shower and a change of clothes. All we could do was retrace our steps back across the big wooden bridge and start looking for a payphone in town so we could call Belle to come get us. (If anyone reading this is too young to know what a payphone is, just Google it.) Needless to say, having to go traipsing through the streets of Spruce Pine in search of a payphone, while we were covered in puke, wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience for two fine young men who were just beginning to notice girls. Conservatively speaking, the whole night probably set both us back at least two years in terms of confidence in social settings.

After a while, though, we did get to a phone and call Belle to come get us. She showed up shortly afterward and couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of what had happened to us, but I saw nothing funny about it. As for Tony, I couldn’t have blamed him if he had opted to never speak to me again. To his credit, though, he didn’t ostracize me for life. First cousins are good that way, you know.

But now we come to the application of this gross story from my youth. Just as I really, really, really needed to get off that Rock-O-Plane ride long before I actually got off it, perhaps you are on a ride of your own right now that is downright unhealthy for you and those around you. I’m talking about a ride of sin, specifically that pet sin of yours, that has had you going around and around and around for years now. Don’t you think it’s long past time that you quit with that sin and got off that ride?

The turning point in Christ’s famous story of The Prodigal Son comes when the son, who finds himself alone, virtually penniless, and working a rock-bottom job, looks around one day and basically asks himself, “What I am doing with my life?” As the exact quote from the story puts it: “he came to himself.” Putting it in more modern language, the fog lifted, the blinders fell off, and the light bulb above his head lit up.

Sadly, there are hordes of people out there who consistently choose to stay aboard their rides of sin rather than disembark from those rides. It doesn’t matter how gnarly the rides get, how much puking takes place, or how many other people get hit with the projectile puke, these folks stay on their rides. Here’s hoping that you aren’t so foolish or so stubborn and that you embrace the Savior, Jesus Christ, who is standing at your ride’s platform waiting with open arms to help you off the ride and into a better life. Like the prodigal son returning to his father, you’ll find that Jesus will meet you with love rather than judgment, mercy rather than rebuke, and forgiveness rather than condemnation. For that matter, he’ll even help you clean up the mess you’ve made. You see, you don’t have to stay on that ungodly ride on which you find yourself. There really is a better life out there for you if you want it, but you first have to come to yourself and want it.

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Good Preaching Doesn’t Have to Take Long

Short notice was forcing a pastor to miss the next day’s Sunday morning service, and he needed to find someone to fill the pulpit for him. He called several of his preacher friends, but all of them were already committed to other engagements. Next, he asked his church’s deacons and Sunday School teachers if they would be willing to do the job, but not one of them felt comfortable about standing in a pulpit and speaking to a congregation.

Finally, as an absolute last resort, the pastor asked a church member named John if he would be willing to give it a try. John was a devout Christian who never missed a church service, but he was a plainspoken man of precious few words. Despite his lack of oratory skills, however, he agreed to the assignment out of nothing else but a desire to do something for Jesus.

John entered the pulpit the next morning and began his remarks by saying, “If I was a real preacher, I would just use one passage as a text. But since I’m new to this business, I’ll have to use three passages. I hope that’s okay.”

John then had the congregation turn to 1 John 1:7 and promptly read that verse: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sins.” After finishing his reading, John paused for a moment, looked out over the congregation, and said, “That’s my sins away.”

Right on the heels of making that brief application, John immediately had the congregation turn to his second passage, Philippians 4:6. The people scarcely had time to locate the verse before John started reading it: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” John again paused for second after he finished reading, again looked out over the congregation, and said, “That’s my worries away.”

No sooner was that sentence completed than John had the congregation turn to his final passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The people frantically raced to find the verse because by now they had figured out that John would be reading it in a matter of seconds. Sure enough, as soon as John himself had located the verse, he started reading it: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Following that reading came the familiar short pause again and the intentional look at the congregation. Then John said in his matter-of-fact tone, “That’s myself away.”

With that, he asked the congregation to stand and called upon the chairman of the deacons to lead the closing prayer. The chairman of the deacons obliged, and the “Amen” at the end of his prayer officially closed what was probably history’s shortest church service. John had surely filled the pulpit, and he had filled it in fine fashion by giving the congregation three texts to consider and three truths to take out the door and apply to real life. Even more than that, not one member of that congregation would ever forget the simple sermon they heard that day.

Posted in Christ's Return, Church, Forgiveness, God's Provision, Ministry, Needs, Pastors, Prayer, Preaching, Problems, Prophecy, Salvation, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Just One More Ungodly Trend

More and more in our society the line between sexual classifications is getting blurred. Males are transitioning to become females. Females are transitioning to become males. Schools and businesses are now being forced to offer transgender bathrooms in addition to the typical male and female options. Even the waters of sports are getting muddied as some athletes who were formerly males are now reidentifying as females and, as could be predicted, finding far more success as females. Recently in Connecticut, for example, two male athletes who changed their sexual identification to female proceeded to take 85 opportunities to advance to the next level of competition from female athletes and won 15 state titles that had previously belonged to nine different girls.

But what does the Bible say about transgenderism? Oh, you know what it says. We all know what it says. Even if you don’t know, I’ll bet you can guess and get it right on your very first try. Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them(N.K.J.V.). Jesus Himself confirmed this divine order by incorporating that verse into His quote in Matthew 19:4-6.

Additionally, there is the long list of passages that expressly condemn any type of homosexuality. That list includes: Genesis 19:1-29; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Deuteronomy 23:17; Judges 19:11-30; 1 Kings 14:21-24; 1 Kings 15:9-15; 1 Kings 22:41-46; 2 Kings 22:1-2; 2 Kings 23:7; Ezekiel 16:49-50; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-10; and Jude v.7. Seriously, how many times does God have to say something for it to be taken as fact?

There is even a Mosaic Law passage, Deuteronomy 22:5, that offers God’s opinion concerning cross-gender dressing. Yes, I’m aware that we no longer live under the Old Testament law, but we can still study that law in order to learn God’s opinions on certain topics. He was, after all, the one who gave the law. And so what does Deuteronomy 22:5 say about cross-gender dressing? It says:

A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God. (N.K.J.V.)

You see, the question “What does the Bible teach about transgenderism?” is a simple one to answer. As a matter of fact, it’s so simple that the question itself isn’t even the core issue. The core issue is another question, that being, “Are we going to adhere to the Bible’s clear-as-crystal teachings in the midst of a world that has obviously lost its way?” Sadly, many people have already answered that question wrongly, and all of us are now having to deal with the fallout. Personally, I look for this trend of sexual perversion to continue unabated because the only thing that can curtail it is our society returning to God. And, again sadly, it doesn’t seem likely that will be happening anytime soon.

Posted in Current Events, Dress and Appearance, God's Word, Homosexuality, Sex, Sports, The Bible, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Charles Blondin Has to Do with Salvation

…Even the demons believe — and tremble! (James 2:19, N.K.J.V.)

Charles Blondin, whose real name was Jean Francois Gravelet, was a French acrobat who became world renowned as a tightrope walker during the latter half of the 1800s. He began his career at the incredibly young age of five and first won fame in his home country of France and in other parts of Europe before coming to America in 1855. Four years later, on June 30, 1859, he walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls, a feat he would perform many more times during his career.

To keep his act fresh and keep the public’s interest piqued, Blondin frequently added new twists to his trips across the Falls. He performed the trick blindfolded. He performed it on stilts. He performed it while pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him. Once, he paused at the midway point of the trick, sat down on the wire, and ate an omelet. Blondin’s exploits became so well known that Abraham Lincoln actually referenced the wheelbarrow version in his Presidential campaign in 1864. Lincoln described himself as being “Blondin on the tightrope” and having all that was valuable to America in the wheelbarrow he was pushing that carried his political agenda.

More than once Blondin walked across the Falls while carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back. At the conclusion of one of those trips, shortly after Blondin and Colcord had reached the other side safely, Blondin said to a man in the crowd of onlookers, “Do you believe I could do that with you?” The man answered, “Yes, I’ve just seen you do it.” “Well, then,” said Blondin, “hop on and I’ll carry you across.” But to that the fellow replied, “Not on your life!”

You see, that onlooker had a general belief in Blondin’s ability to live up to his end of the offer, but what he didn’t have was the type of belief that would lead him to confidently climb onto Blondin’s back. He knew that doing so would amount to him placing complete trust in Blondin to carry him safely across those Falls, and that would require a whole other type of belief on his part. Obviously, he wasn’t willing to place that type of belief in Blondin.

Our text passage from the book of James shows us that there is a type of belief that isn’t saving belief. Even demons (fallen angels) have enough belief to know that God exists and that Jesus is God the Son (see also Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-17; and Luke 8:26-37). Despite this belief, however, demons are still destined to spend eternity in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41). Unfortunately, literally billions of people will join them there throughout eternity despite the fact that many of these people not only believe in the existence of God but actually believe that Jesus was God in human flesh.

As for how someone who believes that Jesus was God in human flesh can be lost, that answer goes back to the story from the life of Charles Blondin. Just as that onlooker believing that Blondin could get him to the other side of Niagara Falls wasn’t enough to literally transport the onlooker to the other side, anyone who doesn’t have enough belief to go “all in” 100% for Jesus by figuratively climbing onto His back and letting Him transport that person to heaven will never get there. That’s why each of us should examine the supposed belief that we claim to have in Jesus and make sure that it is saving belief rather than damning belief. Even a belief that gets you into church, burdens you to pray, and causes you to read your Bible might not be the kind required for salvation. Being impressed by Jesus and enjoying learning about His exploits is a good start, but it isn’t the same thing as climbing onto His back and trusting in Him and Him alone 100% for salvation.

Posted in Belief, Commitment, Faith, Grace, Salvation, Seeking Forgiveness, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seeing God

One day a little boy asked his older sister, “Can anybody really see God?” Slightly annoyed by what she felt was a silly question, the sister answered, “Of course not. God is so far up in heaven that nobody can see him.”

After some time had passed, the boy got the question on his mind again and asked his mother, “Mom, can anybody really see God?” The mother, who was a devout Christian who understood that God the Holy Spirit indwells Christians, replied, “No, not really. God is a Spirit, and He dwells in the hearts of those of us who know Jesus as Savior. But we can’t really see Him.”

Then one afternoon the boy went fishing with his saintly old grandfather. At the end of the day, as the sunset began to make for a breathtakingly picturesque scene across the sky, the old man put down his fishing pole in order to sit and enjoy the view. As the grandfather’s eyes danced with delight, the boy asked his familiar question, “Grandpa, can anybody really see God?” Without ever taking his eyes off the sunset, the old man said, “Son, it’s getting so I can’t see anything else.”

Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, or maybe it’s just that the world keeps getting weirder and more ungodly, but I have to say that life here on earth is looking increasingly worse to me. I love my wife. I love my two sons. We have a nice home. We keep our bills paid. We’re in reasonably good health. I have a good ministry in terms of pastoring, blogging, and doing a radio ministry. Honestly, any complaints I have about my life seem petty in light of all the blessings that God has bestowed upon me. But still, despite all the joy and happiness that I have, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t catch myself longing for heaven more and more with each passing year.

And like that grandfather in that story, I’m beginning to see God in everything that is going on. I’ve studied Bible prophecy for many years now, and I can confidently say that what we are seeing on the news these days all matches up nicely with what the Bible teaches about coming events. It’s not like the Bible’s storyline is running east while current events are running west. No, all those prophecies that once seemed so unbelievable and far-fetched — technology that links the world together, a cashless society, a special mark that can allow for buying and selling, etc. — now seem shockingly real, don’t they? As Adrian Rogers used to say, “It’s getting gloriously dark.” I myself can see God in all of it. Tell me, can you?

Posted in Aging, Christ's Return, Coming Judgment, Current Events, Eternity, God's Omnipresence, God's Sovereignty, Heaven, Human Life, Personal, Prophecy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Few Thoughts About Blessings

The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it. (Proverbs 10:22, N.K.J.V.)

The Bible teaches that God bestows blessings (eternal blessings and earthly blessings) upon people. It also teaches that Satan, when he so chooses, can bestow earthly blessings upon people. As evidence of that, he once offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would bow down and worship him.

The great difference between a blessing from the Lord and a blessing from Satan is that God’s blessing never comes sprinkled with sorrow. That is the clear word from Proverbs 10:22. Satan’s blessing, by contrast, always includes a certain amount of sorrow somewhere down the line of the blessing.

This Bible truth can be applied to any and all areas of life, but to pick just one example let’s think for a moment about the coach of an athletic team. If that coach is a born-again Christian…if that coach is in God’s will being a coach…if that coach’s primary goal as a coach is to bring Christian salt and light to the sordid world of athletics…and if that coach’s coaching is bathed in prayer, submission to God, and doing everything the Christian way…that coach’s coaching will enjoy the blessing of the Lord. Perhaps that blessing will show up in the win-loss record, but even if it doesn’t it will surely show up in the area of the coach’s players becoming better human beings and in the area of the relationships the coach makes with the players and even the players’ parents. And remember, because the Lord is the one who is doing the blessing, He will add no sorrow to all that blessing.

But now let’s flip the script and ask the question: What if Satan is the one who is blessing the coach’s efforts? In that case, the blessing will stand a far better chance of showing up in the coach’s win-loss record, but all that worldly success will not come without Satan adding some sorrow to it. That sorrow could include everything from damaged family relationships to public scandals to an inner emptiness that seemingly shouldn’t be there in light of the coach’s outward success. You see, Satan is a master at making his bait look appealing, but in the end he always hides a hook in it. That’s the difference between him and God. God’s blessings hold no hooks.

There is, however, one other aspect to this otherwise cut-and-dried principle, and it’s an aspect that I wish I didn’t have to mention. Let’s say that you are living your life all out for Christ, sailing along in your service to Him, and enjoying the blessing of the Lord upon what you are doing, but then you get hit with a round of sorrow in an area you thought was being blessed by the Lord. What happened? I’ll tell you. Satan got into that area that was being blessed by the Lord and messed it up. And God, for whatever reason, let him do it.

The classic illustration of this is Job. Job’s family, wealth, and health were all under the blessing of God, and Job was experiencing no sorrow from any of that blessing. Then Satan asked for God’s permission to mess with all that blessing, and God dropped the protective hedge He had around Job’s life and let Satan have his way with Job for a while. Mind you that God wasn’t the one who added the sorrow to Job’s blessings. That would contradict Proverbs 10:22. Satan was the one who unloaded the dump-truck load of sorrow upon Job.

I don’t know where this post finds you these days, but it’s always good to examine your life and get the big picture as to what is going on with you. Are you being blessed right now? If so, is that blessing taking place in a way that is with sorrow or without sorrow? If it’s taking place with sorrow, you need to figure out why that’s happening, and there are only two options. Option #1: That blessing is, in actuality, coming from Satan rather than God and you are feeling the sharp pain of its hook. Option #2: That blessing really is coming from God and as such should be without sorrow, but God has allowed Satan to spoil that blessing by adding sorrow to it.

Either way, what’s called for on your part is prayer. If option #1 describes your situation, you need to ask God to help you make the changes required to get you out from under Satan’s blessing and get you under His. And if option #2 describes it, you need to ask God to keep you under His blessing but cleanse that blessing from Satan’s damaging influence by kicking Satan out of it. To sum up, I guess what I’m saying is, don’t stop at merely being blessed or merely being sorrowful. Take the time to figure out the source of your blessing or your sorrow and then pray accordingly.

Posted in God's Will, God's Work, Sanctification, Satan, Service, Spiritual Warfare, Sports, The Devil, Work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s General Plan For Living Life

The prophet Jeremiah prophesied during the last forty years of Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. His ministry era included Judah’s defeat at the hands of the Babylonians as well as Babylon’s deportation of the majority of the citizens to Babylon. Jeremiah himself was never deported to Babylon, but he continued to fulfill his role as God’s messenger to those captives.

Jeremiah chapter 29 is the record of a letter that Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to those captives (Jeremiah 29:1-2). He sent the letter by way of Elasah (Jeremiah 29:3), a delegate Judah’s King Jeconiah dispatched to Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar. Following the Babylonian conquering of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar had allowed Jeconiah to remain on the throne of Judah as a vassal king.

The prophetic council that Jeremiah gave those Jewish captives by way of that letter was interesting in that it did not call for revolt, uprising, or insurrection on their part. Much to the contrary, the letter advised those Jews to settle down in Babylon, build houses, plant gardens, get married, bear children, and even seek the peace of Babylon. The section in question reads as follows:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters — that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. (Jeremiah 29:4-7, N.K.J.V.)

Needless to say, that advice wasn’t exactly what many of those Jews wanted to hear from Jeremiah. After all, they wanted to return home to Jerusalem rather than make Babylon their new home. But Jeremiah was quick to point out to them that it was God, not Nebuchadnezzar, who had caused them to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4). Nebuchadnezzar had merely been the vessel through whom God had worked to bring about His plan. As for why God had caused Judah to fall and those citizens to be deported to Babylon, Jeremiah had previously explained that God was going to punish the people of Judah because of their idolatry and their refusal to heed his prophets (Jeremiah 25:1-14). This punishment would come through the Babylonians and would last for seventy years. (Additionally, 2 Chronicles 36:15-21 teaches that the seventy years was also the result of the people of Judah refusing to give their land a Sabbath rest every seventh year for a period of 490 years: Leviticus 25:1-7, 26:27-46.)

In his letter, Jeremiah reiterated to the captives that the seventy years of punishment had to be fulfilled. Once those years were completed, however, God Himself would turn on the Babylonians, judge them, and do a new work in Judah (Jeremiah 29:10-14). But in the meantime it was God’s will for those captives to make the best lives they could in Babylon. By doing so, they could multiply in number just as their ancestors had once done in captivity in Egypt (Exodus 1:8-20).

Actually, the advice that God gave those captives through Jeremiah describes the general plan He has always had for living life on earth. That plan has been on display ever since He created Adam and Eve, married them, gave Adam the work of tending the land, and gave Eve the work of motherhood. So, while it’s true that there are times when God approves of His people going to battle (Psalm 144:1), and it’s equally true that it isn’t His will for everyone to get married (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:32-40), it is undeniable that God’s stereotypical template for how He wants people to live life on earth involves: getting married, having a home, bearing children, working, enjoying the bounty brought about by the work, and praying for the peace of the nation in which they live.

Sadly, we are now living in an age in which this general plan is becoming increasingly out of vogue. Many men today want to become the heads of companies rather than the heads of homes. Many women want careers rather than children. Many couples chose to live together rather than get married. And as for large families, well, birth control and abortion have just about made them extinct. Oh, and let’s not forget the recent assault on the United States capital building, which was an act that stood in stark contrast to anything resembling seeking the peace of the land in which you are living. Surely these are all indicators of a nation that has lost its way, and we, like the people of Judah, stand ripe for God’s chastisement and judgment. If it’s true that the more unscriptural we become, the more unspiritual we become, we Americans must surely be an unspiritual lot. And we know what ultimately happens to unspiritual nations, don’t we? As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to learn that there are some Babylonians at our door right now.

Posted in Abortion, Children, Coming Judgment, Current Events, Family, Fatherhood, God's Will, Headship, Husbands, Marriage, Motherhood, Parenting, Priorities, Wives | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How to Use Your Bad Experience

Tom Wallace tells the story of a time when he received a phone call in which he was told that a certain family was in need of pastoral comfort in the emergency room of the local hospital. Tragically, the family’s twelve-year-old son had accidently shot the nine-year-old brother. The brother wasn’t dead, but he was in critical condition.

Wallace drove to the emergency room and found the father, mother, and older brother gathered in the waiting area. The father and mother were expectedly distraught, but the older son was quite and somber. He seemed to be in shock. When Wallace talked with the father, the father even said that he was more worried about the older son’s condition than the younger son’s.

Wallace went over to talk to the older son and found the boy staring blankly at the wall. Try as he might, Wallace could not get the boy to respond to anything he said. After staying a while, Wallace finally gave up and went back home.

The next day Wallace returned to the hospital and found that the son who had been shot was doing much better. Additionally, the older son was now back to his usual self. When Wallace asked what had happened that had made such a difference in the demeanor of the older son, he was told that another preacher had stopped by the day before after Wallace had left. That other preacher had reached that older brother by telling him, “I know how you feel. I shot my brother when I was your age.” Once that older son had heard that preacher’s testimony and helpful words, the healing process had begun.

What did Tom Wallace do wrong in attempting to minister to that boy? Nothing. Was it his fault he wasn’t able to reach the boy? No. The problem was that Tom Wallace simply couldn’t relate to the boy’s experience, and the boy instinctively knew that. But once the boy learned that the other preacher could personally relate to what had happened, he was all ears to that man.

This story illustrates one reason why God sometimes allows us to go through bad experiences. He does it because He knows that people who live in ivory towers, completely aloof from all the pain and suffering that goes on in the world, make poor comforters. It takes a victim of cancer to truly relate to the pain felt by a victim of cancer. It takes someone who has wrecked a car to truly relate to the pain felt by a driver who has wrecked a car. It takes a parent who has lost a child to truly relate to the pain felt by a parent who has lost a child. It takes a student who has failed a test to truly relate to the pain felt by a student who has failed a test. It takes a divorcee to truly relate to the pain felt by a person who is going through a divorce. It takes someone who has been unjustly wronged to truly relate to the pain felt by a person who has been unjustly wronged. To sum up, you can’t fully relate to a patient who is recovering from surgery unless you can show that patient the scar from your own surgery.

With this in mind, let me encourage you to take all the pain you endured as part of your bad experience and use it as a foundation from which you minister to others who are having to endure a similar experience. Rather than let that bad experience act like water that douses the fire of your ministry, figure out a way to convert the experience into gasoline that enlarges that fire. Remember, there is someone out there right now who is currently going through something either identical to or very similar to what you have gone through, and you can be the voice of comfort in that person’s life if you are willing to play that role. Additionally, the good news is that if you are willing to play that role, there is an unforeseen bonus that will come as a result of your effort. And what will that bonus be? Well, it goes like this: As you minister to that person, what you’ll find is that you’ll be ministering to yourself as well.

Posted in Addiction, Adversity, Disappointment, Discipleship, Doing Good, God's Work, Individuality, Influence, Ministry, Problems, Service, Suffering, Trials, Witnessing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Major Differences

(all references are from the N.K.J.V.)

Authentic Christians often get perplexed as to how lost people can hold to certain opinions, believe certain things, promote certain lifestyles, live out certain standards, etc., etc., etc. They ask, “How can they do that?” In truth, the answer is actually quite simple: Christians and lost people are two completely different breeds.

First, the Christian and the lost person have different fathers. Passages such as John 1:12 and Galatians 3:26 say that Christians have been given the right (the authority) to become the children of God. This explains why Jesus taught His followers to address God as “our Father” when we pray (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2). Conversely, He flatly stated that lost people are the children of the devil (Matthew 13:38, John 8:44).

Second, the Christian and the lost person have different families. Ephesians 2:19 says that Christians are members of the household of God, and Galatians 6:10 calls us the household of faith. Lost people, on the other hand, all being children of the devil, are members of what might be called the household of Satan. Another way of describing the two families is to use Christ and Adam as the two representative heads of the families. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 and Romans 5:12-21 play off this idea by explaining that everyone is either “in Christ” or “in Adam.”

Third, the Christian and the lost person are members of different churches. Passages such as Matthew 16:18, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 5:23, and 1 Timothy 3:15 teach that Christians are all part of Christ’s true church — i.e., the singular body that theologians refer to as “the universal church.” By way of contrast, Jesus used the term “the synagogue of Satan” in reference to the “church” (for lack of a better word) of which each lost person is a member (Revelation 2:9, 3:9).

Fourth, the Christian and the lost person have different desires. In Philippians 2:13, the Bible says that God works inside the Christian to give that Christian desires that are for God’s good pleasure. Similarly, Hebrews 13:21 teaches that God works inside the Christian in accordance with those things that are well pleasing in God’s sight. All of this working within the Christian is done by God the Holy Spirit, who literally indwells each Christian and in so doing creates the “born again” experience that is salvation (John 3:1-8, Romans 8:9-11). The problem with the lost person is that he/she simply does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit (Jude v.19). Consequently, without the aid of the indwelling Holy Spirit, he/she can only operate from what Galatians 5:16 describes as the desires (the lusts) of the flesh.

Fifth, the Christian and the lost person have different natures. In 2 Peter 1:1-4, we’re told that God’s divine power has given to Christians all things that pertain to life and godliness. As part of those “all things,” Christians have been made to be partakers of what Peter calls “the divine nature.” This divine nature operates in direct conflict with the Christian’s inborn (Adamic) sinful nature to create a veritable civil war inside each Christian. The apostle Paul described this war in graphic detail in Romans 7:13-25 when he talked about two “laws” that were in operation inside him. One law he called “the law of God” and the other law he called “the law of sin.” While this inner civil war is something each Christian must struggle with as long as he/she is in this earthly body, lost people don’t have any civil war raging inside them. That’s because they can only operate from their inborn, sinful, Adamic nature due to the fact that they have not been made to be partakers of the divine nature.

Sixth, the Christian and the lost person bear different fruit. Galatians 5:16-26 contrasts these two types of fruit. It says that Christians who are walking in the Spirit will bear the fruit of the Spirit. That fruit is: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And what fruit do lost people bear? Those fruits are labeled as “the works of the flesh,” and they are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like. The point of those words “and the like” is that even that sizable list should not be considered anywhere near exhaustive.

Seventh, the Christian and the lost person have different minds. The Bible doesn’t use the term “the mind” to mean “the brain” but uses it instead in reference to the thoughts of the individual. According to 1 Corinthians 2:16, Christians have been given, by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the mind of Christ. This is exceedingly helpful to us because God’s thoughts are infinitely higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) and we need the mind of Christ to help bridge the gap between our thoughts and God’s thoughts. Unfortunately for lost people, they do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit and therefore do not have the mind of Christ. To the contrary, 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that Satan has blinded their minds.

Eighth, the Christian and the lost person have different perspectives. Colossians 3:2 says to the Christian, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Likewise, 1 John 2:15 tells the Christian, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Having this heavenly perspective makes perfect sense in light of the fact that 2 Peter 3:10-13 prophesies that this world is destined to pass away in the midst of a fiery judgment sent straight from the hand of God. Lost people, of course, have no reason to exhibit a heavenly perspective because the God of heaven is not their father. Being the children of the devil, they are left to try to make this world as pleasurable as they can. 1 John 2:16 describes this as living in line with “the lust of the flesh,” “the lust of the eyes,” and “the pride of life.”

Ninth, the Christian and the lost person have different agendas. The Christian’s agenda can be summed up with Christ’s words, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear, all of life’s basic needs) shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). You see, when your priority is the kingdom of God, your agenda — what you are after in life, what you are trying to get accomplished — will match that priority. As for the lost person, he/she has an agenda (sometimes knowingly but for the most part unknowingly) that is built upon Satan’s desires. As Jesus said to a certain group of lost religious leaders in His day, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” By comparing both agendas, we can see that the Christian conducts God’s business in this world while the lost person (again, usually unknowingly) conducts Satan’s business in it.

Tenth, the Christian and the lost person have different futures. In regards to eternity, the Christian has an inheritance reserved in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4) and will get to spend eternity in perfect bliss in that magnificent city that Revelation chapters 21 and 22 call The New Jerusalem. The lost person, however, will be sentenced to spend eternity in torment in that place Revelation 20:11-15, Matthew 25:31-46, and Mark 9:42-48 describe as being an eternal lake of fire.

In closing, Christian, the next time you catch yourself asking of a lost person, “Can’t he/she see what’s wrong with that?” just know that they can’t. They really can’t. And nothing you say or do will convince them to see the situation correctly. Only God Himself can open eyes and change hearts, and He will only do that if the person voluntarily choses to place saving belief in Jesus. Placing that belief in Jesus will cause God the Holy Spirit to come into that person’s body and take up residence inside that body, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit will in turn begin to change the person from the inside out. The Bible’s word for this is “regeneration” (Titus 2:5) and it is far better than mere “reformation.” But without the indwelling Holy Spirit, there is no regeneration, and without a saving belief in Christ, there is no indwelling Holy Spirit.

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