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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Even The Devil Believes in God

“I believe in God.”  I have heard the statement many times in my years as a minister in rural communities across the Great Plains.  The regular at the local bar, the businessman, the county jail inmate, the greeter at the church, and the friendly neighbor across the street all have said they believe in God and are doing fine.   

Additionally, nearly every person I have talked with has heard of Jesus, God, the Bible and are familiar with many Christian terms and concepts.   Some regularly attend church while others only went as children.  Others have gone just for funerals or weddings and a few have never been.  And though many are not familiar with traditional Bible stories, the majority have heard or read at least portions of the Bible. 

If so many people believe in God, then why are our communities so filled with abuse and immorality?  Should not this belief make a difference? 

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding about what belief in God means.  Maybe people think they believe, but in truth, they do not.  

The Bible is the original source for understanding the whole idea of belief in God.  A casual reading of the Bible on this can be a little confusing.  On one hand the Scripture says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . .” (Acts 16:31).  While on the other hand, it says, “You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).  The Devil believes in God like everyone else?  What is wrong with this picture?  It all comes down to understanding what belief means, not according to our opinions, but according to God’s Word. 

If you study the Bible on the subject you will see five truths.  1)  Believing in God is synonymous with belief in Jesus.  Since Jesus is God’s Son, to refuse to believe in Him is an empty belief.  2)  Believing in God is an acknowledgement of Jesus.  It means you acknowledge His deity, virgin birth, death and resurrection.  3)  Believing in God is to trust in Jesus.  It means you are willing to entrust your whole life into His care and submit to His leadership.  4)  Believing in God is to follow Jesus.  It means you are willing to do what Jesus and the Word of God says, no matter the cost—even unto death.  5)  Believing in God is union with Jesus.  It means Christ is in you and you are in Him. 

The belief the Devil has is knowledge-based and does not proceed to trust, following or union with Christ.  The Devil’s belief does not lead to a changed life.    

However, a whole-hearted, biblical belief in God through Christ shows itself in a spiritual and moral transformation.  The old has gone, the new has come.  You do not have to tell someone you believe in God, they can see it.
 
I urge you to embrace full-on, radical belief in Christ.  Go beyond superficial words and the mere window dressings of religion, like Jesus did, when He went to the cross and shed His blood for you.  He counted the cost and laid His life down.  Do the same.  Count the cost and believe in Him with all your heart.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Turning The Tide on American Violence

Are you becoming increasingly concerned about your child’s safety at school?  Has your church begun discussions on providing security during worship services?  Have you had some uneasiness while at public gatherings, wondering if some incident might take place?  Unfortunately, this is where we are in American life right now.  More and more people are having these concerns and rightly so when you see the news. 

Our society is becoming more dangerous and I am not the first to ask, “What is the solution?”  Let us start with identifying the problem.  The epidemic of violence is highlighted by cold blooded murders in our schools and inner cities.  And it also involves the brutality of physical and sexual assaults in homes, on the streets, on campuses and in workplaces.

There is a place for new legislation, better enforcement of existing laws, awareness campaigns and task forces.  But they all have limits.  They can help restrain violence and provide all kinds of data and resources for combating it.  However, none of it goes to the source. 

What is the ultimate problem?  The human heart.  The Scriptures say, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  (Jeremiah 17:9)  It is where a person’s values, beliefs and standards lay.  This is what gives them the justification to terrorize.  It is where they become a god unto themselves and exert power over others to destroy.

Only the presence of God in a human heart can give what our society is calling for.  But ironically, that is missing from the public debate.  America has a chronic heart condition, and the more we stray from God, the more violent our nation will become.  It is truth and consequence.

To end the violence in our streets requires humbling ourselves before God and asking for His help.  We have tried it our way.  Now let us try it His way. 

Our world has never seen the horror of violence more than in the death of Jesus of Nazareth.  It was brutal.  Yet, through it, a morally perfect man, took on Himself the evil that existed in every human heart.  He bore the sheer depravity of all mankind.  And when He rose again from the dead, He overcame the darkness.  Through it He became what every heart, every city longs for – peace.  Jesus Himself became our peace.  In Him, a person of brutality can become one of tenderness.  In Him, a monster can be changed into a beautiful and precious child of God. 
 
A prayer for you to pray–Lord God, search my own heart.  Let the change in my city begin with me.  Point out if I have hurt people physically or with my words.  I am sorry Lord for how I have treated others.  Rid the evil within me.  Forgive me for what I have done.  Make me into a kind and loving person by your power.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Why We Desperately Need Easter

If you take a few minutes and read over any local or national news, you will find bothersome stories.  Like officials in a well-known college basketball program using prostitutes and strippers to recruit top players.  Like some merciless girls and boys that taunted a young man, which lead to his suicide.  Like a teenager walking into a school and drawing his weapon to slaughter 17 people.

The problem in each of these stories was a moral one.  Wrong was right and right was wrong.  And collectively, they reflect a moral crisis in our nation.  This is why we need Easter.  It projects a sign of hope that stands above the chaos.  The sign of the cross.  It is where Jesus, the Son of God, suffered and died. 

The hope of the cross lay in the purpose of Jesus’ death.  Strangely as it may sound, it was planned. 

At Jesus’ birth an angel announced to Shepherds in a field, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  A Savior?  Yes!  Save means “to rescue”.  Rescue from what?  Sin.  It is the wrong things we do against ourselves, others, but primarily against God our Creator.  And it lives within our hearts.  Sin is displayed at every lie we tell or feeling of pride that squares our shoulders.  It is our inner moral rot, like a cancer that slowly destroys us. 

Jesus was born to rescue us from this.  His planned suffering and death, was the only means through which we could be rescued, and it was an ugly experience.  The corruption by religious and political figures that sentenced Jesus to death was ugly.  The tearing apart of Jesus’ flesh was bloody and ugly.  Jesus being hung on two pieces of wood by being nailed to it through his hands and feet, was inhumane and ugly.  The gruesomeness of the cross, illustrates the severity of our wrongs.  In the courtroom of God, our failings required the penalty of spiritual and eternal death.  However, in the greatest display of sacrificial love, Jesus suffered and died in our place.  He took our sin and penalty upon Himself, so we wouldn’t have to. 

That is the hope of Easter.  Through the cross, a hard-hearted man can become loving and forgiving.  Through the cross, a bitter woman can become kind and compassionate.  Through the cross, a divided nation can become one.   

And what guarantees these things?  The resurrection of Jesus.  Three days after He died, He rose again.  Therefore, because He lives, so-can-YOU.  His victory can be yours. 

A prayer for you to pray –  God in heaven, I can see the darkness of my heart.  I do not have it all together.  I am broken.  I need the work of the cross in my life.  Oh God, save me!  Rescue me!  Give me a new heart and a new life today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

When Pride Becomes Your Downfall

Years ago when I was studying to become a minister at MidAmerica Nazarene University, a professor dedicated the class time to teaching on sexual temptation in ministry.  It was not for academic purposes, but to prepare us.  I am glad he did!

My mind raced back to that class as I reflected on the flood of sexual misconduct stories beginning with Harvey Weinstein.  The women that came forward in the film industry, gave courage for others to speak out in the worlds of sports, politics, and media.  By no means is it limited to those arenas.  I live in the world of religion. Unfortunately, the problem extends there also. 

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let me be clear, none of this has anything to do with real love.  When someone of great influence moves sexually on someone of lesser influence, it is about lust and abuse of power.  When a man or woman of a lesser position sexually engages with person of higher position, that he or she might find some advantage, it is for personal gain.  When an organization refuses to act on confirmed reports of sexual allegations against its influential leader, they are looking out for themselves.  And it does not matter if it is consensual or not.  Wrong is wrong.  And no one is immune from this.  In the Bible, the heralded King David became a victim of sexual sin as found in the legendary story of David and Bathsheba. 

David was an honorable man of God, but at the height of His fame and power, he became morally weak.  One day, instead of tending to his normal duties, he strolled onto the roof of his palace to view his expanding kingdom with pride.  In that moment, a woman appeared in the distance that captured his attention.  He used his position as King to summon her, where they slept together, and she became pregnant.

The story did not end there.  For a year, David hid his heinous actions until God sent a messenger to confront him.  Finally, David turned from his pride and humbly confessed his evil to God. 

After an incident like David had, it would be easy to feel as if life was over because of the consequences.  There is no future.  There is no hope.  Let me say, that with God, there are always second chances.    

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus the evil of your sexual sin can be forgiven.  Your shame and guilt can be washed away.  In the face of your consequences, you can have freedom.   

A prayer for you to pray – Lord God, I can see that what I have done is wrong.  I desperately need your forgiveness.  I pray David’s words who said, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2).  In Jesus name.  Amen.