Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Am Not Ashamed Of The Gospel

Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

These words resonate with me deeply. But every once in a while, I need to remind myself that these words are more than just something I say in the presence of those who believe just as I do. It takes little courage for me to boldly proclaim that I am not ashamed of the gospel in front of the congregation where I serve as pastor. They already accept that as a given. But what about saying it in the midst of an unbelieving world? Isn't that what the "gospel" (i.e, "good news") is all about? God wants to save everyone who believes. That truly is good news.

Paul declared that he was a debtor to all men in that he owed them a presentation of the gospel. He had an obligation. I realize Paul was an apostle, and not an ordinary guy like myself, but I'm a debtor too. You see, God transformed me and gave me new life. He demonstrated that even a person with a miserable past can be saved and actually become a useful part of the kingdom of God. What kind of person would I be, if I kept that all to myself? No, I believe I have a responsibility to share the testimony of this powerful transformation.

Paul goes on to say that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God and His saving activity. Believe it or not, salvation was God's idea all along. So why would anyone be ashamed of this good news? Well, if we continue to read the first chapter of Romans, we also learn that there's another side of the equation which is the wrath of God. It's difficult for some to reconcile the idea that a loving God who saves can also have wrath. But it is the holiness of God that illuminates our own unrighteousness and need for salvation. Paul would also say that God has revealed Himself to humanity. The creation of the world itself is a testimony to God's existence and power. Frankly, it takes much more faith than logic to believe that the world we live in came together due to a random explosion and fusion of molecules. Or that men gradually came out of the sea and eventually stood up on two legs and evolved from monkeys. That would truly require faith since no one has ever actually seen any of these supposed events take place; but I digress....

Men were created to worship. Each one of us comes into the world with a need to reach out to something bigger than ourselves. It is inevitable that we are going to worship something. Even though we may not call it "worship" or use religious semantics, we will devote ourselves to something- knowledge, power, possessions, pleasure. The letter to the Romans tells us that even a refusal to acknowledge the Creator doesn't mean that worship is abandoned. Instead, we will turn and worship the creation instead of the Creator (Romans 1:25). The results are always disastrous (just read Romans 1:26-32).

That brings me back to my original thought. I'm not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. I have an obligation to share God's story of redemption with those in my life from every circle and sphere of influence. There are times when committing time to update this blog seems very burdensome. But I do it because I know there are some who will stumble upon it while surfing some random corner of the world-wide web. And hopefully when they do find it, they'll find Jesus too (and sometimes, believers need to be encouraged- hopefully this blog serves that purpose as well). I earned my degree in business management, but God saw fit to call me into full-time ministry. And now my "work" is to share the gospel each week and serve as a pastor to a local congregation. I'm in the process of working on several books, and the Lord has blessed me with musical abilities. I just completed work on my first CD entitled "Paradigm"- a collection of guitar-driven instrumentals. I love music. But my real hope is that people will not only enjoy the music, but hopefully look to the One who inspired the music within me. And if I can influence one person with the transforming good news of Jesus Christ, then it will all be worth it.

You see, I'm a debtor to all men, just like Paul. I may never stand before great men or travel to all the places that he did. Nevertheless, I must be faithful in the place that God has planted me. And I've got to use all the gifts and insights that he's allowed me to borrow while I'm here on this journey. And I can't just use them for myself and my own agenda. And I can't afford to be complacent and just hope that someone else will pick up the slack. The stakes are too high. Jesus is coming again. If you haven't figured it out already, today's blog was as much for me as it was for you. I need to be reminded why I'm here in this world, and what truly matters. Clearly Paul had his priorities straight. I'm not there yet, but He's still working on me! Until next time....

Friday, February 05, 2010

Making The Best of a Bad Situation

Jer 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (KJV)

I think it's a good idea to be familiar with the promises contained in the bible. This is probably one that many of us are familiar with. I would be willing to bet that out of all the things that Jeremiah wrote/prophesied about, this one stands alone as the best recognized (and most quoted). I often caution my readers and listeners about how they read and apply passages of the bible. We quickly embrace quotes like Jeremiah 29:11, but we are more hesitant to embrace Jesus' promise that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33) or Paul's promise that godly people will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). I know what you're thinking..."Henry, are you trying to depress me worse than I already am?". Hang on, we'll get to the good stuff in just a moment.

Now Jeremiah 29:11 says that God is thinking thoughts about us (yes, I believe that we can broaden the application, and that these words are not just written for ancient Israel's encouragement). However, I do believe it's important to consider the context of this particular promise, because it will affect the meaning or the interpretation. In order to explore this further, we need to go to the beginning of the chapter.

Jer 29:4 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; (KJV)

So these words were being delivered unto Israelites who were now captives in Babylon. Now if the scripture went from verse 4 right to verse 11 there would be no need for this blog today. But because it doesn't, I think we owe it to ourselves to dig a little deeper. So let's continue:

Jer 29:5 Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
Jer 29:6 Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
Jer 29:7 And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (KJV)

Now, wait just a minute. It sounds to me like the Lord is telling them to put down some roots where they are. I wonder if this is the prophetic word that they were hoping for? I can tell you that if they were like the average Christian in the year 2010, this is not the prophecy they would want to hear. Instead, we might hope to hear something like "hold on just a little longer, and I'm going to deliver you from Babylon and take you back to the promised land". After all, remember they are captives- they're not on a vacation (I resisted the temptation to use the popular buzzword "stay-cation" there). Instead of hearing that their deliverance was at hand, they were told to make themselves at home in Babylon. Furthermore, they are told to pray for the city and seek the peace of it. Now at this point, God cautions the people against receiving false prophecy.

Jer 29:8 For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed.
Jer 29:9 For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD.

Before I get into the content of the message of the false prophets, I want to make a few remarks. First of all, the people of God must always be vigilant about the truth. False teachers and prophets do not only function in times of prosperity, but (dare I say it) also in times of recession. Not everyone who claims to speak on behalf of the Lord is actually one of His messengers. Before I go off on a tangent about the nature of false prophecy, I had better give you the next verse in the passage:

Jer 29:10 For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.

So now, we are ready for Jeremiah 29:11. And we are better able to understand this promise within the context. The people that heard this great promise "I know the thoughts that I think toward you..." would likely never leave Babylon in their lifetime. It would be a full seventy years before the captivity would come to an end (and praise God, it finally did!). So why does the Lord warn against false teachers and "dreamers" in this passage? Well, we can only speculate as to the specifics, but we can generally discern (because of the verbiage in verse 10 "For thus saith the LORD") that God didn't want the people to believe lies about the time frame of Israel's deliverance. The false prophets were likely telling the people to expect deliverance from Babylon "just any day now". And God gave them a reality check which formed the basis for His promise in verse 11. On the one hand, they needed to go ahead and get established in Babylon; building homes, planting crops, having children, etc.etc. But on the other hand, they needed to realize that all of this did not mean God had abandoned them or forgotten them. His plans were still on schedule!

So the real hope in Jeremiah 29:11 for the children of Israel (and for us) is not that they were going to be immediately delivered from their troubles. Obviously, I'm not saying that we shouldn't pray or have faith that God will deliver us from our trials speedily- hopefully that goes without saying! But God was letting them know that their captivity was all part of a bigger plan. God was not going to forget about Israel. At some point (in their case, after 70 years had been accomplished) they were going to leave captivity. But they were not to spend the next few decades living in misery due to faulty expectations delivered by phony prophets. Instead, they were to live productively, rear godly children, pray for their communities, and prepare for the next generation.

Some of you today may be in difficult circumstances. But you can rest assured that God has not abandoned you. He knows exactly where you are. And He's thinking about you. And where you are now is not where you will always be. Only God knows the times and seasons of our trials and deliverance. Sometimes six months can feel like six years when we're going through a storm. But even when things don't make sense, people that love God and are called by Him have this assurance:

Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Until next time....