Like spokes on a bicycle wheel, roads spread from the capital of the Roman Empire. By the 1100’s, the metaphor was already being used. All roads lead to Rome.Road

All religions lead to the same end is a common belief in today’s social circles. We yearn for the same thing, a place of love and peace. Some call it Heaven, others Utopia, Nirvana, or paradise. And as long as you pursue your path passionately, you will arrive someday.

And if one doesn’t understand the differences of religions, this may seem like a valid argument. For many, they group religions as one, for each have similar traits. But as we look into just one point of doctrine, we will see one that separates itself from the others. I will show how many of the major belief systems show how one can be saved.

Jehovah Witnesses: They will claim it is by faith you obtain righteousness. The Watchtower claims though ‘to receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise, we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it.’

Mormonism: Salvation involves faith in Christ, baptism by immersion, obedience to the teaching of the church, good works, and ‘keeping the commandments of God which will cleanse away the stain of sin.’ (Journal of Discourses 2:4) The Book of Mormon states in 2 Nephi 25:23, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

Christian Science: Mary Baker Eddy claimed sin and evil are mere illusions thus ‘Man as God’s idea is already saved with an everlasting salvation’ (Miscellaneous Writings, 261).

Scientology: Salvation is to be free from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. Rebirth had been termed reincarnation in many of their writings. Reincarnation can include life on other planets.

Buddhism: The Eightfold plan must be followed to reach the state of Nirvana; Right belief, right resolve, right word, right act, right life, right effort, right thinking and right meditation. Until then, they are caught in a cycle of reincarnation.

Islam: Any Muslim who hopes to escape the judgment of Allah must fulfill the works of the Five Pillars of the Faith; Recitation of the Shahada, five daily prescribed prayers, almsgiving, fasting, and a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city.

Hinduism: There are several ways of salvation for this Eastern religion. Karma refers to the debt of each person’s bad actions and must be atoned for (through various ways) to escape the pattern of reincarnation.

Christianity: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. Not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.

Apart from Scientology and other beliefs such as universalism, all believe that man is depraved and in need of peace. The existence of pain, sorrow, and torment are evidence that something isn’t right. It’s not a figment of our imagination. Something is wrong. We need freedom from this world of sin and shame.

These religions offer a remedy. Do good and you will be freed.

The problem is that we can’t do good. Sure many actions are defined as good to mankind, but in the eyes of God, the one who sees us through and through, they are not. Our false motives and selfishness reek through the apparition of benevolence. Jesus defined himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He stated without hesitation that nobody comes to the Father except through Him. And as his bloody feet crept along the Via Delarosa towards Calvary, his upcoming death and resurrection would be all that mankind needed for their chains to be torn asunder.

Christianity is the only true faith based belief. It’s not a religion, some organization formed by man to appease God. It tells us all clearly that God is near but to restore the broken relationship caused by sin, we must believe in the name of Jesus Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. This sets it apart from all others. Works has nothing to do with gaining salvation and forgiveness. Only faith. Faith in Christ.

Do all roads lead to Rome? Of course not.
Do all roads of religion lead to Heaven? Again, no.

There is one Way. There is one Truth. And they both lead to one Life. A life abundant.

Advertisements

worship

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God,
that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Hebrews 13:15 ESV

Worship is central in the Christian life. Few people would argue this. Scripture commands us that in everything we do, do it all for the glory of God. Yet so often, whether among other saints or in private, my sacrifices feel so incomplete. Even in my deepest, purest moments, it never seems enough.

I want to encourage you if this is how you feel as well. Because its true. Our praise is never worthy of Him. And it always will be this way this side of Heaven.

God is the Holy of Holies. His glory far surpasses everything we deem as glorious. If we stretch our imagination and envision perfection, He is far more. God’s character is so pure and untarnished that anything less than Him cannot enter His presence. The cheribum, who guard God’s holiness, continually sing, “Holy, holy, holy!” The Seraphim, in Isaiah 6, are shown praising in the same way but hiding their face and feet with their wings before the Lord.

So how are we supposed to adequately praise the Holy of all Holies? Because in Hebrews 12 we are commanded to:

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,  for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 that a new way to worship was approaching. Worship that wasn’t stringent on location, but solely Spirit and truth. When we believe in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, for our salvation, we are completely changed. The Holy Spirit indwells us, we are newly created, our heart is no longer deceitful and wicked, and our spirit is quickened. These changes are the ONLY reason we can offer acceptable worship.

But we have to be honest. Even when we offer a sacrifice of praise THROUGH Him, its still not completely worthy of Him. Because even though we are holy on the inside, we are still wrapped in sinful flesh. Pride, selfishness, doubt, and fear still seep into our songs and prayers.

Why then are they acceptable to God?

There isn’t a perfect illustration, but here’s the best I can come up with.

My two sons draw and color pictures constantly. Everyday, a new stack of artwork is finished for my viewing. Most you can tell took no time at all. Their name is spelled correctly, just backwards. Scribbled crayon reach far outside the lines of the picture. Or only 10% of the page is even touched. I always compliment but am quick to remind them that they can do better. These were rushed jobs and I know that if they take their time, they can do excellent work.

There’s one page though that hangs in my bedroom. My oldest drew a picture of himself on a swing with me pushing him. Below it he wrote ‘Thank you.’ Granted it was done by a four-year-old so it was in no way perfect. The H in Thank was originally a G, crossed out, and replaced with the correct letter.

I don’t treasure it because of the perfect artwork or spelling. But because I know it took him a long time and he did it to the best of his ability. All to tell me ‘Thank you.’

I have to believe our Heavenly Father is the same way. His children attempt to thank him in their limited and often broken ways. But when its genuine, he delights in the praise because we are his children and he understands our limitations.

Praise God for the Spirit who indwells us. He prays for us when we don’t know what to pray. Our worship is made complete when its done through him. And we constantly need him to be able to worship properly.

So no matter how insignificant you may feel, worship. No matter how broken you are, worship. Give him what you have. He may not receive it if its rushed or done sloppily. And yet he anticipates when its done with the right motivation from a heart of gratefulness. Not because its perfect, but because its from us.

Every Christmas, millions gather on Christmas Eve to remember the birth of Christ. They relax to the serene image of a child in straw, a gorgeous star lighting up the stable, and the harmonious choir of angels proclaiming the come Messiah. We rest in their message that Jesus has come to bring peace on Earth. We revel in the thought of the Prince of Peace removing the hatred and war, bringing end to violence, and initiating world peace.

But what if we are wrong? What if that isn’t why He came?

Here is the message of the angels as they sang before the fear-stricken shepherds:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

Matthew clearly states the reason for Jesus’ first coming. Chapter 9 states that Christ came to call sinners to repentance and then in chapter 18 says, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” Luke records Jesus reading from the prophet Isaiah as the prophecy’s fulfillment. He states it is He that has come to preach the gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, give sight to the blind, and set at liberty those who are oppressed.

Wars. Murder. Oppression. These were only the symptoms of the true problem. It wasn’t that men were not at peace with one another. It was that men were not at peace with God Himself. Sin from the very beginning created a war far more intense than bombs, tanks, and guns. This was Creator vs. creation. God vs. man. Spirit of the Living One vs. the fallen spirits of mankind. And without reconciliation in this relationship, peace between man would not be possible. The sin in each human being striving for self-preservation and exaltation, would ultimately destroy all that God created as good.

So God came down. Emmanuel. With his eyes fixed on the cross, He became sin so we could know peace. A relationship with God that was once impossible, now open for all who’d believe in Him for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus stated very clearly a reason that He did NOT come in Matthew 10:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace on Earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

We are commanded to be at peace with all people if at all possible. But if the gospel is being readily preached in your life, the Spirit working through you as His servant, and you living in complete obedience, you will NOT be at peace with all people. Because of some people’s hatred towards Jesus Christ, they also hate those who follow Him.

Some will see our good works and come to know the Christ we serve as well. Then they too will experience the peace of no longer being at war with God.

But too often we don’t talk about God because we don’t want to hurt a relationship. We don’t want to sever family ties by being outspoken about our faith. But Jesus continued in Matthew 10 with this:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

So, yes, we have peace. Jesus came and brought to us a spiritual peace unknown to us before. But what if Jesus is calling you and me to preach His truth even at risk of causing rifts in relationships?

Do we love Him more?

Vicky BeechingJoining Ray Boltz and Jennifer Knapp, Vicky Beeching is the latest Christian music artist that has come out as gay. Her story starts in childhood, 12-years-old and fighting feelings for other girls. Confused and ashamed, she reached out to the church for help. Her testimony involves confessing to a Catholic priest and even an “exorcism” where a group of tongue-speaking radicals demanded that Satan leave her.

These futile attempts made no difference for the obvious reason that they had no power. That priest simply recited a memorized prayer and bid her adieu. These others rambled but didn’t pray in Christ’s name or for His will.

The heartbreaking part of her story is the moment she’s face down sobbing before the Lord to take her life or take away her attraction for girls because she couldn’t handle it any longer. But God didn’t. So she believes God made her that way and loves her. Now a leading advocate for same-sex marriage in the church, her testimony has inspired others to be comfortable in their sexual orientation as well.

My question is, “Why didn’t God remove her attraction for the same gender?”

Simply put, it wasn’t the right request.

She prayed that God would remove this attraction as if it was a tumor or a headache. Although as a believer we have power over sin and its temptations, they are not removed. It is a constant battle for purity with the world and our flesh combating us from every angle.

I’ve read numerous testimonies of people who struggled with homosexuality but realized its sinfulness when they believed in Christ. Although they are God’s child and striving for purity, those old feelings still surface at times. God never removed the attraction, but have given them the ability to withstand the temptations.

Alan Chambers, for example, said this, “As far as my life goes, I am married,” he said. “I am happily married. There’s not been one day in the course of our nearly 16 years of being married that I’ve been tempted to be unfaithful to my wife. I would say I have an orientation towards her. I do have same-sex attractions. But to say I have same-sex attractions would be the same as saying I was a married man with opposite-sex attractions.” *

Sixteen years! Even after sixteen years of a heterosexual marriage, those old sins are still haunting him, teasing him, tempting him to fall again.

A man addicted to porn will still feel the pull to those websites after coming to Christ. An alcoholic will still be beckoned by the bottle after giving his life to Jesus. A formerly promiscuous woman will still struggle with her identity even after becoming a child of God.

But, as a Christian, we’ve been given the Spirit of God to overcome these temptations.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)

Our past isn’t obliterated at the moment of salvation, it simply loses its control and power. The presence of sinful temptations is not evidence of God’s stamp of approval but that we are still wrapped in flesh that opposes the truth of God. Even the Apostle Paul struggled in his flesh. He writes this in Romans 7.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

The problem inflates when Christians equate the presence of evil desires as God’s will because they were not removed when they were newly created in Christ Jesus. Yes, God loves Vicky Beeching. Yes, Christians ought also to love her. But no, God did not create her this way or approve of her homosexual lifestyle.

We need to beware of twisting Scripture based on feelings or experience. Truth is truth no matter what. Just because we are convinced that our worldview, mindset, or orientation is natural or born to us, doesn’t make it Biblical.

As believers in Christ, we are commanded to work out our salvation. This requires running away from temptation, praying for purity and sanctification, and trusting that God’s laws are for our benefit. I can’t relate to the homosexual struggle. I’ve never experience same-sex attractions. But other sins torment me and mercilessly disrupt my Christian life. In our love and devotion to Christ, we must flee these desires and cling to the holiness given to us by God.

 

*http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/04/alan-chambers-exodus-international-_n_3696750.html

Opponents pack council meeting to decry nude Missoula bike ride.

This headline sparked massive interest in my local newspaper. Many comments degraded those who rallied against this citywide event. They mocked those trying to protect their children by saying, “Why protect them? They’re gonna see it sometime anyway. Plus, we were all born this way!”

The “highly anticipated” movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, based off the best-selling novel, is causing a stir. Described as erotic and “porn for moms”, it climbed to the top because of its graphic sexual descriptions.

One of the #1 shows on Netflix, Orange is the New Black, follows a women’s prison inmate and her relationships with a boyfriend, girlfriend, and fellow inmates. Graphic nudity showers this tale with deep roots in lesbianism.

I could go on and on how our culture is immunizing itself against purity through music, literature, television, and more. But the question is, Is it really  harmful? As Christians, can we dabble in these activities and still be OK?

Simply, the answer is “No.” In long, here’s why:

1. We have been made pure by the blood of Christ

God has made it abundantly clear.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV

God, in His endless love for mankind, couldn’t leave us in the mess we created. Sin separated us from our Creator and the only way to restore the relationship was by a perfect, eternal sacrifice. So He stepped down into His creation and offered Himself as the redemptive payment we desperately needed. If one believes in Christ, His sacrifice and resurrection, he his made a new creation. No longer is he dead in sin and impure in God’s eyes, but Christ’s righteousness and purity is imputed onto him.

So if we are forgiven and pure in God’s eyes, why can’t we just sin and rely on grace? The apostle Paul was asked the same thing.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Romans 6:1-2 ESV

Our salvation through Christ ALWAYS leads to righteousness. To sin as a new created being is going against the very nature God made us to be. Holiness is eternal as a momentary titillation is temporary and costly.

2. Impurity offends God

When my children deliberately disobey me, it not only angers me, but hurts deeply. These children that I’ve loved and sacrificed for go against my rules because they think they know what is better for themselves.

How much more is God pained when we knowingly sample the world’s treasures at the expense of his glory? Jesus, being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, tasted the wrath of the Father so we would no longer be under His righteous judgement.

And yet, even though our spirit is alive through the Holy Spirit, our flesh still longs for the carnal ways of our former lives. And when we give in to those temptations, the Spirit is grieved, Jesus is mocked, and our relationship with the Father is severed until we confess our sins.

3. Purity is our testimony

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and PURITY.”
1 Timothy 4:12

Even in the church, purity often sets us apart from the masses. When a believer takes a stand against the sexual perversions of the world, unfortunately they are often looked upon as legalistic or radical among the congregation. But its only because Godly living leaves sinners feeling guilty. Our purity can drive others to be passionate for Christ and commit to holy living as well.

But even bigger still is our testimony to the unbelieving world. Thought of as prude and religious, pure Christians leave their mark on society. People take notice and watch as their walk lines up with their talk. But to participate in impure activities, kills the message of the gospel as people see that Christians are no different and obviously don’t believe what they claim.

4. The pure receive blessings from the Lord

 “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully, he shall receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
Psalm 24:4-5

The Bible often promises blessings for those who are holy, for those who are set apart from the world unto holiness. Eternal joy and peace overflow, an active and powerful prayer life accompanies, and great is their reward.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Matthew 5:8

5. Impurity will hurt you

Paul states in 1 Corinthians, that unlike all other sins, sexual sins are a sin against our own bodies. If you are unaware of the physical consequences of sexual immorality, please research it.

I will only concentrate on the mind and heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23 NIV

We may scoff at the idea that watching perverse television or reading sexually explicit content will hurt us at all. For nobody else is affected, and many times, nobody else even knows. But those images and creations that you’ve formed in your heart and mind will resurface. They will affect your thoughts toward sex and the opposite gender. Often times, these activities become habitual, becoming idols that replace God. They haunt us when we strive for holy living later in life.

Purity is not a command from God to keep us from having fun. It is who we are in Christ and should strive to be more everyday. It is a blessing to be pure. Without the redeeming work of Jesus, we would never have the opportunity or ability to be holy. It is a privilege and a treasure we need to protect.

This is the day we as Christians need to stand up together. Keep each other accountable and make a decision to live holy as God is holy. Pray that God will convict your heart and give you a passion to live righteously in this ungodly age. Be pure, church, just as Christ has already made you pure.

The Amen of our Prayers

July 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

In Jesus name, Amen.praying-hands-Pencil

A staple phrase in prayers. A memorized ending. The way to tell others that you are finished.

Or does it mean more than that? And should it be used so carelessly?

Amen simply means “so be it.” It was a word the Hebrews used to confirm a statement, oath or covenant.

I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.
Nehemiah 5:22

When Jesus taught, he’d start by saying, “Truly, truly,” or in some translations, “Verily, verily.” For example John 1:51,

 “And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

The word ‘truly’ in this verse is the Greek word for Amen. Jesus literally started by saying, “Amen, amen.” When Jesus began a discourse with these words, a promise and absolute truth was to follow. It caused the listeners to be even more attentive to his words.

But is praying “Amen” too confident? We are ending our prayers by saying, “This is truth,” or “So my prayers will be.”

But Jesus gave us the confidence.

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
John 14:13

And this confidence stems from the fact that ‘Amen’ is not simply a word, but a person.

So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth (Amen), and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.
Isaiah 65:16

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.”
Revelation 3:14

Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises. As we pray in compliance to the character of the Son and to the glory of the Father in Heaven through the Holy Spirit, we can be sure that our prayers are heard because of Jesus, and Him alone.

Jesus is Truth, the Amen. There is no answer to prayers and or hope in God’s promises without the being and work of our Savior, the Messiah. Words formed as prayers that spring from a rebellious or selfish heart, mean nothing, and disappear into the atmosphere. But prayers from holy people with righteous motives soar uncontested to the Father’s ears.

So yes, praying, “Amen,” does mean so much more. Beware of flippant usage of this phrase, for it’s Jesus Himself that you blaspheme.

Instead of using the habitual phrase to close your prayer, use this to remind you of Who it is you are naming.

“In Jesus name, THE Amen.”

I have heard it many times.  In fact, much to my embarrassment, I have even said it.  The statement goes something like this:  “Not every pastor will be successful.  Sometimes we are called just to be faithful where God has placed us.”  A statement like this assumes that there is a dichotomy between a successful pastor and a faithful pastor, and that being faithful is at times the antithesis of being successful.

There is great comfort to thinking this way.  For most of my time in the pastorate, I pastored small (under 75 people) churches.  Both those churches were located in small towns (250 and 600 people respectively).  Many years there would be little positive change in the number of people attending the church.  A pastor in rural ministry realizes that their church is not likely to turn into a mega-church any time in the near future.  As a result, we begin to condition ourselves to think that success is not what we were called into the pastorate for.  Rather, we think, it is much more important to be faithful than to be successful as a pastor.

In some cases, thinking this way causes us to be become lazy in our responsibilities.  When we do not anticipate success, we spend less time in the word of God and less time in prayer.  We slap together a lesson rather than prayerfully seeking God for insight, guidance and understanding.  Sometimes we even take a measure of pride in our faithfulness, and in some twisted way, look down our noses at more successful pastors, thinking to ourselves, “they might be successful, but we are the faithful ones.”  We assume, in some cases, that they are successful because they have compromised the message of the cross, and in our false humility, we assume that we are not successful because we have held firm to the message of the cross.

But is all this true?  Is there truly a dichotomy between successful and faithful?  Can a called man, faithful to the gospel, be certain of success in the pastorate?  That last question was the question posed to me as I attended the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission’s Shepherd’s Conference last week.  The main speaker, Art Azurdia from Trinity Church, Portland, OR and Western Seminary, spoke on this very thing.  His main text was John 15:16 which says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.’ (ESV)

There are a lot of things in that verse – the idea of sovereign appointment and the centrality of prayer – but I want to highlight one particular thing that hit me.  Here it is:  Jesus appoints people for ministry and then sends them out with an expectation of success.  We are appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that abides or lasts.  We are ordained to fruitfulness.  The path of a pastor may be hard at times, but it is not futile.  It is not meant to be empty of success.  The question I need to ask myself is this:  do I expect something to happen when I preach?  Do I expect the gospel message to transform the lives and hearts of those listening to me?  Jesus says I should.  We don’t always know when or how success will happen, or what fruit will look like, but Jesus does say that those appointed to ministry should be both faithful AND successful.

Of course, in order for that to happen, we need to passionately believe what we preach.  The passion comes out of our own encounter with the transforming truths of the Word of God.  As Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “If there is no passion, you are not a preacher.”  With God at work in our hearts, we will preach with a passion born out of spiritual desperation – a personal desperation in our own hearts and a desperation for the hearts of our beloved flock.

So the question I need to ask myself as I prepare a message, plan a Bible Study, lead a Sunday School class, or sit down with AWANA kids is this:  do I expect something to happen when I help someone encounter God’s Word?  I should, because God, through His gospel, is in the transformation business.  He has called me to go and bear fruit that lasts.  He has called me to His ministry, and He has called me, in His power, to be both faithful and successful.

Jeff Boschmann
Pastor of Lolo Community Church
http://rministrymusings.blogspot.com/

handicapsignI am a medical mystery.

I’ve recently consulted numerous doctors. For years I’ve suffered from a heat intolerance that often erupts into hives. Although it only lasts for about ten minutes at a time, it’s excruciating. I was told it’s called Urticaria but a cure has never been found. The only advice they could give was for me to take an antihistamine every day. My wife and I jokingly called it my “thorn in the flesh.”

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
II Corinthians 12:7

But I wonder how close to the truth it is. I stumbled across a verse today that I couldn’t stop thinking about. A verse that emphasizes the fragility of mankind and the sovereignty of the Lord.

Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Exodus 4:11

The Lord spoke to Moses from a burning bush, commanding him to go to Egypt and rescue his people from the hands of Pharaoh. Moses offered advice to the Lord and said that somebody else should go. He was not eloquent enough in speech. Then the Lord spoke verse 11. God continues and tells Moses that He will speak through him if he would simply obey.

But that verse soared off the page at me. Did I read it right? God makes people deaf. God makes people blind. It was God’s choice to create people unable to speak. If mankind had never sinned, all would be born perfect. But since that factor has been thrown into the equation, now God creates people with these ailments.

I always excused handicaps as simply the result of living in a depraved world. But in doing so, my theology fell far short. In John 9, Jesus and his disciples came upon a man who had been born blind. According to Exodus 4:11, God had purposefully created this man with eyes that didn’t function. The disciples inquired as to why the man was blind.

Did his parents sin? Was it because of this man’s sin? Jesus denied those as reasons and simply stated this: ““It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Now, having read about Paul’s thorn in the flesh and this man’s blindness, I could see a common theme. God wanted glory in Paul’s life so he kept Paul from being conceited. God wanted glory in the other man’s life so he created him blind (Jesus would later miraculously heal the blind man).

In both, God created them in certain ways to bring himself glory.

This gives my ailment a whole new meaning. A completely brilliant purpose. The blind man called out for a cure, and it was given after years of suffering. Paul cried out for relief on three separate occasions, and yet was given none. He went on to say this about the Lord’s response.

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Now, my plight isn’t near the severity of the blind, deaf, or mute. But its still difficult. God has revealed through Scripture reasons for our physical difficulties. Jesus’ full concentration was not on this life, but his kingdom. He wasn’t satisfied with just making people comfortable, happy, and content. But driven with his mission to relieve the world from sin and its destructive consequences forever, He was always looking forward to eternity. This life is short, and the physical limitations that weigh us down every day, will only torment us for a little while.

Jesus pointed to the time when sickness, pain, and death are no longer a factor. But until that time, God uses handicaps, illnesses, and limitations to make us holy. Consider it joy, all you reading this, when you face trials because the testing of your faith will bring maturity. And when we mature in our faith, God is magnified.

Allow your struggles to make you better, not bitter. In your imperfect condition, give God glory, not grief. God created and formed you exactly how you are knowing full well the struggles you’d face because of it. These struggles cause us to rely on Him more. Relying on Him more reminds us how weak we are. But when we are weak, through Christ, we are strong.

You are not good.
You can’t do good.
Everything in your heart is evil.
You do not seek God.

The Gospel, the good news, begins with this truth. And it sinks its ugly teeth into our pride. “Who are you to tell me I’m not good?” “Who are you to say that I don’t want God?”

But truth is truth. So, in reaction to this, the world has come up with solutions to skirt the topic. Questions to bewilder the evangelist in an attempt to shut their mouth.

And one of those famous questions is, “If hell truly is the destination for all who don’t believe in your Jesus, what about that one guy in Africa who will never hear? How is that fair?”

You may be thinking, “Good question.” But let me blunt. It’s not a fair question at all. My first sarcastic gut reaction is to ask, “What guy?”

Because I can guarantee that this person doesn’t have a specific African in mind. They don’t know who they are referring to. As I said, it’s a rabbit trail. A sly way of throwing the conversation off topic.

But…

There is an answer to their question. I would strongly recommend, if at all possible, to avoid the question and get back on subject. But if it can’t be avoided, here’s the answer.

_________________________________________________________________

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?
Ezekiel 18:23

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways,for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Ezekiel 33:11

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2 Peter 3:9

First we must understand this truth. God truly does love everybody. There is nobody, from the cruelest villain to the saintliest monk, that God ever desires to punish. Jesus died the sinner’s death so that all sinners could live fully in forgiveness and joy.

And that is God’s ultimate joy as well. To see a sinner repent, and become a child of God.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
1 Peter 3:18-20

God commanded Noah to build the ark to give the rest of the world time to repent. He could have provided the boat or saved them by another means, but He allowed much time to go by in the building of the ark to give everybody one more chance.

We as Christians long for Jesus to return and are commanded to pray for it, but God’s patience is holding out so all will know that he is God. Countless stories have circulated about God revealing himself to people in China with dreams and visions. About unreached tribes believing in a God very similar to Jesus Christ without a word of Scripture.

So what about that guy in Africa? I’ll just say that he needs to decide for himself. God will make sure he hears. Your only concern is you. Don’t skirt the Gospel with trivial diversions. You must decide for yourself whether you believe in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. That only through his goodness can we be holy and enter into a relationship with our Creator and God.

Romans 1:20 clearly states that all people are without excuse for not believing in God. Every person who has breathed on this earth will face God and be accountable only to Him. And yes, hell is real for those who reject him. But eternal life, everlasting joy, incomprehensible peace, and so much more are available to those who surrender to Him. To God be the glory.

tie

Imagine receiving an invitation to have a personal conversation with the President of the United States. No matter your partisanship, this would be a great honor. Time would be spent preparing. What am I going to say? How am I going to behave? What am I going to wear?

Now imagine, you’ve received a personal invitation to have a conversation with Almighty God. How would that preparation differ? Would it require more thought or less?

We forget so often as the kids yell from the backseat and the car creeps 15 miles an hour over the speed limit just to make it to church on time, that God has called and invited us there. Church is not about seeing friends and “catching up” although that is enjoyable. It is first and foremost to meet with and have a conversation with God.

What am I going to wear?

A few years ago, churches began pulling in many people with their “Come as you are” mottoes. Suits and ties were out, t-shirts and holey (not holy) jeans were in. Dresses were replaced by sweatshirts and yoga pants. Pastors stood behind the pulpit on Sunday morning declaring the word of God dressed in Saturday afternoon attire. All so “others” would feel more comfortable and not as intimidated to attend.

Jesus certainly did say, “Come as you are.” But he was speaking to the weak and the burdened. Come with your anxiety, your doubts, and your guilt. Come to me with your concerns and worries, and I will trade them for rest and ease. This verse does not refer to clothing.

Now I believe every church should be ready and open for anybody to walk in the doors. From the lady in her finest gown to the beggar man in smelly rags. Our arms should be open and they should see and feel the love of Christ overflowing through his people. They should be allowed the best seats (which in most churches is the back pew). God rejoices when a sinner comes as they are, and his church embraces them and points them to the cross.

The problem started when the church members began dressing the same way. They came as they were, interpreting this to mean as casually as possible. And this is where I have a problem. But before you count me off as a legalistic, here me out.

From the beginning, God has always required our best. Cain’s sacrifice was not acceptable to the Lord because he didn’t give what God had commanded. Malachi condemned the Jews for their giving by saying, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.” Today we are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifices offering to the Lord a sacrifice of praise.

So what is our best? Do we find ourselves “thrown together” Sunday morning, mouthing words of songs between sips of coffee as we check for a message on our phone? Do we choose what is comfortable over what is appropriate?

We wear nice clothes at funerals out of respect for the dead. We dress up for weddings in respect for the couple. We even wear our best to parties at times out of respect for the host. And yet, as we struggle to dress up for church, what is that saying about our respect for God. What we wear says a lot about our attitude, regard, and courtesy for the circumstances, place, and people involved.

Most of us worship weekly. And after a while it becomes mundane, ordinary, and customary.

But it doesn’t have to! Meeting with God is an honor, not a right. It’s a privilege, not a duty.

But we must prepare every week to meet him. And that includes our clothes. Everybody’s “best” is different but the outward can be a sign of the inward heart. I don’t mind if people show up to church in casual attire. But when somebody becomes a member, actively involved, and maturing as a Christian, so should their wardrobe.

The President would frown upon a man in cut-offs and a tank top walking into his oval office. God requires his worshippers to love him with all of their heart, mind, and soul. And I truly believe that when we regain that awesome wonder for his glory and majesty, we wouldn’t dare walk into his presence in anything less than our best.