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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Killing of Jesus and The Defeat of Corruption

The Merriam-Webster dictionary states corruption as, “dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people.”  Further, it is described as a departure from the original, purest form.  Mankind had its original, purest form in the Garden of Eden, the home of the first humans, Adam and Eve.  But something happened in that Garden which forever changed the future of all humanity.  The heart of human beings became permanently altered through the introduction of the principle of sin.  From that day forward every human was born with a corrupt heart.  And as people built and occupied places of power, corruption naturally followed.  This is still true today.  One does not have to dig long before corruption is found somewhere in the workings of religion, government, business, media and other arenas as well.  

How does this relate to Easter?  Religious and political corruption were the seedbed of Jesus’ death.  The story of the cross of Christ is the most egregious form of corruption in world history.  One of Jesus’ leading disciples rightly and publicly, accused the Jewish religious leaders along with some members of the public, of their illegal actions, forcefully stating “. . . you denied the Holy and Righteous One . . . you killed the Author of life . . .” (Acts 3:14,15)

Jesus was not a victim of this corruption by any means though.  Being God, He knew the thoughts of His enemies, who believed they were secretly plotting out their conspiracy against Him.  He knew every detail of their plans in advance and possessed evidence of it all. For He was the most intelligent, skilled and wisest man who ever lived.

How did Jesus respond?  Did He call His followers to rise and defend Him?  Did He flex His supernatural powers and strike dead all His accusers with a word or motion of His hand?  First, Jesus’ perspective was not from the view of temporal, earthly or mortal understanding.  He saw events from the view of heaven, eternity and the immoral condition of the human heart.  Second, He chose the greatest weapon in His divine arsenal to fight with – truth.  The Scriptures have a synonym for this, the “sword of His mouth.”  Read the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, torture and death.  Whenever corruption reared its ugly head, Jesus humbly and skillfully wielded the sword of truth.  Third, He knew His divine and invisible Father had a plan that was being carefully carried out under His watchful eye.  He entrusted His very life to His all-powerful and loving Father.

His followers though, were confused and disillusioned.  They did not understand.  On Friday morning, while still alive, Jesus’ body was nailed to a wooden cross.  Hours later He died.  Then He was buried where His lifeless body lay sealed in a tomb.  “It’s over”, they thought.  It did not make sense.  On Saturday He still lay dead in a tomb.  Had the corrupt practices of men defeated the King of Kings?  Was evil and lawless scheming awarded victory over the Son of God?  Absolutely nothing made sense . . . until Sunday morning.  

As the sun slowly inched above the landscape and its beams shot across the horizon, some women came to the tomb of their Teacher weighed down with grief.  As they approached, the ground shook violently.  Then suddenly, an angelic being appeared sitting atop of Jesus’ tomb.  It had been rolled away!  The angel told the women, “[Jesus] is not here, for he has risen . . . Come, see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:6). 

He had risen!  The corrupt schemes of men had been defeated, and the religious and political leaders were left powerless to cover up history’s greatest miracle.  

In every nation on earth, in nearly every group or organization known to man, lawlessness, deceit and wickedness is present at some level.  How shall we live in times like these?  Just like Jesus.  Let us fight lies with His sword of truth.  Immorality with His Spirit of holiness.  Anger with His love.  Arrogance with His humility.  Human cleverness with heaven’s wisdom.  Worldly urgency with Godly patience.        

A prayer for you - “Lord God, open our eyes and let us see there is nothing new among the children of men and women.  Injustice and corruption have existed since nearly the beginning of time, but through Jesus’ death and resurrection we can overcome.  Let us rejoice in the face of darkness because you have risen.  Let us be willing to lay down our lives in this battle with evil, while taking up the weapons of truth, holiness and love. In Jesus name. Amen.”

Thursday, February 4, 2021

How to Find Peace in a Divided Nation

As President Joe Biden begins his leadership of the United States, he has made calls for peace and unity in the country. Former President Donald Trump issued similar thoughts in some of his outgoing speeches. The desire for such a thing is warranted after all our nation has been through in the last year, from riots in major cities to chaos at the capital. I agree whole heartedly! Words are a start. But, where do we go from there? It is easy to say, but hard to do.

I always look to Jesus and the Bible in times like this, which gives us a command to live by that is relevant, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Jesus illustrated how to do this. He spent much of His three-year ministry doing good to the people of His nation. He fed the poor, healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, stilled dangerous weather, forgave sins and taught people how to live godly lives. He was hailed by the people and built an incredible movement rapidly. Lives were being changed day by day. Jesus and His work was great for the nation. Yet, the leaders constantly condemned Him. He was viewed as a threat. They were continually scheming to stop His ministry and eventually they came to their most desperate measure – murder. They conspired to kill Him and succeeded (but only for three days).

How did Jesus respond to this evil? He never returned evil with evil, instead He returned evil with good. While He was dying unjustly on His cross, He prayed for those who put Him there saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus did not respond with bitter, angry words demonizing his opponents. Rather, in a calm and peaceful tone, He spoke truthful and graciously. When they splattered evil upon Him, He patiently responded showing undeserved grace.

Did this change a nation? Yes! Three days later Jesus rose from the dead, then a short time after that, His followers went across the nation speaking about His life and teachings. Multitudes were transformed and began to overcome evil with good as Jesus did. Did it vanquish the nation of evil? No. Jesus did not promise that. Through His resurrection, He overcame evil. He triumphed over it. And when we turn from our sin and trust in Him with all our heart, that resurrection power comes to live within us. Therein lays the answer. With Christ in us, evil does not have to control our hearts. Instead, we can be controlled by the love of Christ.

What is the opposite of this? There is a statement in the Bible that says if we return evil for evil instead of good, then evil will perpetually live in our house. We will never be rid of it because of constantly encouraging it. In our natural humanness our instinct is to fight back. We feel justified in doing so because of the evil done to us. Consequently, we use all the levers of power and influence to retaliate. In such cases, evil remains in control, and around and around we go.

Through the Spirit of Christ working in us let us not bow to the temptation to speak evil of those whom we oppose. Let us be truthful, with wisdom and kindness, not flattering. Forgiveness is a choice and command. Through the risen Lord, forgive those who have harmed you and continue to do so, refusing to acknowledge their wrong. Do not allow the dark, sharp and bony fingers of evil to grip your heart.

Yes, we can work toward a more peaceful nation, but it can only be done through the transforming power of Christ in us. Only He has the power to enable us to overcome evil with good. Turn to the merciful Savior and invite Him to change you.

A prayer for you - “Lord God, You are the only hope for our nation. You, working in the hearts of people. Rid us of selfishness, pride and a spirit of revenge and retaliation. Let us return good to the evil thrown at us. Help us when we are weak. Help us to love and forgive. In Jesus name. Amen.”

Driven by God to Speak Up

This is an often-asked question, “Should a pastor or other Christians address cultural (or social) issues or just keep focused on the gospel?” Sometimes speaking on culturally touchy subjects can cause division, tension or have negative consequences. This is a complex question for some. What is the answer? As a person who has wrestled with this, I found much help from a story about John the Baptist.

John preceded Jesus and became the most influential religious figure throughout Israel in a matter of weeks. His phenomenal ministry rocketed upward quickly and ended about the same way six months later. And it ended due to what we are talking about – a cultural issue. He took on adultery, divorce and remarriage.

Herod Antipas was the political leader over Israel, appointed to that role by the occupying Roman Empire. Herod had taken notice of John’s rising ministry and John had taken notice of Herod’s lifestyle. In particular, John was deeply troubled by something Herod had done. While Herod was married, he went to visit his brother and had an affair with his sister-in-law, who was also his niece. She divorced his brother, Herod divorced his wife, and they married. Herod did not do this in secret. The whole nation, including all the religious leaders, knew what he had done. Yet, because Herod was a ruthless leader -- punishing, even killing, anyone who opposed him; no one challenged him – except one man. John.

Herod’s immoral behavior became a cultural issue. As the highest political leader in the land, his actions had influence. He affected culture. Silence among the spineless Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and the entire Sanhedrin was akin to acceptance of Herod’s behavior.

John spoke to Herod about his actions. He pointed out how they were lawless, having violated God’s laws. No doubt John addressed it in his messages to the people of Israel. This angered Herod’s wife, which eventually was the cause of John being arrested and thrown in prison.

What drove John to talk about it? He was driven by the Word of God. He knew the Word was divinely inspired and authoritative. And He knew God and His Word were King over Herod, and Herod would be judged by the Word. He knew Herod must submit to God’s Word and repent or come under eternal judgment. John raised this point out of love for God and love for Herod and his eternal soul. John had no choice because the Word of God burned in his bones with great conviction.

When John addressed the issue, he understood it could cause division among his listeners. Some would want him to keep quiet about it. John knew the brutality of Herod and understood the potential consequences. But John knew he had to do what was right; not what was safe for himself or unifying to the nation. John knew he was ultimately accountable to only One. When he was executed by beheading for boldly addressing a major cultural issue, perhaps his critics said, “See, this is what happens when you step into secondary and divisive issues.” Yet, what people say about us is not as important as what God says. Jesus said about John, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” (Luke 7:28).

As we move into a new year, desire to seek out what the Word of God has to say on any issue facing you personally, your congregation or our nation. Then speak forth that Word in wisdom, love, humility and courage. No matter if it be truth to power, truth to your neighbor or truth to the church, be courageous and leave the results or consequences in God’s hands.

A prayer for you - “Lord God, I pray you will raise up a man or woman like John the Baptist through this column. Raise up a person that has Your Word burning in their bones. Where they must speak forth Your truth no matter the consequences to their health, career, finances or relationships. Raise them up and send them out. In Jesus name. Amen.”

Monday, January 4, 2021

2020 Elections and The Gospel of Jesus Christ

I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why am I writing a column on the 2020 election? Good question. That is precisely why. You will notice that there is no political candidate or party written here. That is intentional. I write, not from a political or legal perspective, but as a preacher of God’s Word.

Unless you live in an extremely disconnected world, I assume you are fully aware the presidential election is still being contested. Have you had a chance to dig into the allegations being made? Large numbers of voters casted illegal ballots in the name of dead citizens. Significant error rates are shown in computerized voting systems. Elected officials made alarming and illegal changes to statewide election laws that violated the U.S. or their own state’s constitution.

These are just three of the alleged election crimes. There are many more, and investigators have video, first hand witness accounts, images, documents and more as evidence.

I realize there are readers that have strong opinions on both sides of this issue. I encourage all of us to be a seeker of truth, regardless of our positions.

These alleged crimes are violations of God’s law, which supersedes our U.S. or state constitutions. Lying, stealing, deceit, manipulation and evil planning all lay at the root. Every incident fell short of God’s holy standard. These are acts of disobedience and condemned by Him.

God has strong words about lying, “all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).And those who steal equally come under divine judgment, “Thieves . . . will [not] inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:10).

To remain silent and say nothing, or give approval to those who engage in lying, stealing and deceit, is akin to tolerating evil. God will condemn us as a church and nation unless we reject sin and call for repentance, instead of justifying it for a good cause.

Read these words, written to a local church that was tolerating evil, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

If indeed these alleged voting crimes did take place, and we see them but choose to remain uninformed and dismissive, it will have devastating consequences for us in the future as a church and nation. How can God hear and answer our prayers, if we turn a blind eye to that which makes Him angry? Why should He come to our aide when our lips cry to Him for help, but our hearts accept what is evil?

The cross of Jesus is both a symbol of justice and mercy. On the justice side, Jesus points to our disobedience. It hurts and is offensive. The offense is to humble us that we might more clearly see His mercy. For through the cross, our sins can be washed away. The shame and guilt can be lifted. As an individual, a family and even a nation, we are never without hope because Christ has risen. However, if we are led astray, refusing to seek the truth and allow evil to dwell without objection, then the hope of the cross becomes our condemnation. 

 A prayer for our nation - “Lord God, may the people of our nation not see candidates or political parties, but You, high and lifted up. Open our eyes to see truth and not be deceived. Move upon our hearts not to protest, but to humble ourselves before Your throne. Move us to pray and fast for our nation. Only You can save us. In Jesus Name. Amen.”