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5 Reasons What Is Happening Around the World Should Concern You

We see and hear a lot of news–and become numb to it.  Some news simply fills space but other news is important.  We must determine which news matters and which doesn’t.  I am convinced that what’s happening around the world right now really matters.  Here’s why:

  1. History often repeats itself.  During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln said, “Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good.”  Since human beings do not change, history doesn’t necessarily reveal new events, but new human beings acting in the same old ways.  Putin’s antics in Russia should greatly concern any onlooker.  His disregard for human life should disturb us.
  2. Many people are losing their lives for a few peoples’ agendas.  Innocent civilians are dying.  298 people died when the plane was shot down over Ukraine.  Hundreds have died in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.  Most of those who have died have no inherent interest in what is happening–they’re caught in the crossfire of egos and agendas.  Christianity is based on one dying for many, not many dying for one.
  3. There is a growing anti-Christian sentiment around the world.  Kim Jung Un, the current leader of North Korea, has imprisoned 30,000 Christians including entire families, even children.  Just 3 days ago in Mosul (northern Iraq) Christians were forced to either convert to Islam, pay a large sum of money or die.  “We offer [Christians] three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment… if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” the announcement read.  On Saturday morning, Mosul residents left by the hundreds–walking in Iraq’s summer heat–old and young, able and disabled alike.
  4. You can pray.  No matter where you are, you can be with persecuted Christians through prayer.  You can join families who have lost loved ones by praying for them as they mourn.  We are instructed to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
  5. Jesus is coming back.  Scripture is clear that an escalation of events like the ones we have recently seen indicate a reality that most of the world chooses to ignore:  Jesus is coming back.  Though history repeats itself, it isn’t cyclical–it’s linear.  History is moving toward a grand climax.  History is His Story–the Gospel is still the centerpiece of all of history.

So what should you do.  Pray.  And one more thing.  I don’t usually do things like this but I recently signed a confessional letter sent to Kim Jung Un of North Korea.  If you want to do the same, here’s the link: letterofconfession.com.

Why Bad Things Happen to God’s People

If we are honest, everyone on this planet recognizes that there is something inherently wrong with the world.  Since the beginning of history, mankind has attempted to provide an answer to the existence of evil.  Horrible things happen.  When they do, people scramble to understand them in light of their beliefs. Whether they are atheists, agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, or Christians, the problem of evil is too prevalent to dismiss.  The question for Christians becomes an even more difficult one:  If God is good and loving, then why does God allow (or some would say ordain) bad things?  (i.e. Why do bad things happen to good, and even God’s, people?)

When we can’t find sufficient answers, we have a tendency to create our own.  Here are a few of the most common misconceptions:

  • Bad things happen to God’s people because God is not involved.  Technically this is called “deism.”  Deism suggests that God does not interfere with the world in any way–everything runs according to its natural course. To be sure, actions have consequences.  If you smoke, you could get lung cancer and you could die.  Smoking causes cancer.  Actions have consequences.  However, Christians believe that God is very involved.  He didn’t just wind up the universe like some master watchmaker and then step back and watch it run, or worse, walk away completely (Thomas Jefferson ascribed to this belief by the way).  As a matter of fact, God invaded the universe with His Son Jesus Christ.  The incarnation is the centerpiece of Christianity–God becoming man.
  • Bad things happen to God’s people because God is impotent.  God either doesn’t exist, or if he does, he is incapable of controlling or stopping bad things.  Those who hold this view simply point to the cacophony of evil in the world.  “If God is God (and therefore in complete control of the universe), then why did he allow……?” God appears to be impotent–unable to do what is needed to be done in a certain situation.  Atheists hold to the extreme form of this view.  God is impotent because he doesn’t exist, therefore to explain evil does not necessitate the mention of God.
  • Bad things happen to God’s people because of their personal sin.  This assumption is as old as time itself. Jesus and his disciples encountered a man who was born blind.  His disciples looked at the man, and then at Jesus, and asked: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)  The disciples’ assumption was that personal sin resulted in the blindness.  This assumption has several holes in its logic.  First of all, the blind man, like everyone since Adam and Eve, was born into sin.  If his sin resulted in blindness, then all people would be born blind. Second, the blind man’s parents were born into sin just as he was.  If their sin caused their son to be born blind, then all children would be born blind.

All of those answers leave us feeling guilty or empty, despairing or despondent.

Why, then, do bad things happen to God’s people?

  • Bad things happen to God’s people because Adam and Eve sinned.  Genesis 3 tells the story.  The serpent deceived Eve.  Eve convinced Adam and they ate the forbidden fruit.  God came walking in the garden and they hid themselves.  For the first time in their lives they were afraid of God.  Sin does that.  Sin distances us from God. God cursed the serpent, but he did not curse Adam or Eve.  (Childbearing became difficult and God cursed the land.) God made clothes for Adam and Eve.  The Creator of the universe became a tailor!  Since then death and disease, sin and temptation have been the norm.  Romans 8:22 says all of creation groans as it waits for renewal.
  • Bad things happen to God’s people because suffering stands alone in its ability to draw us into fellowship with God.  Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10 “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”  Christianity is counterintuitive. How attractive is a faith whose leader is described by Isaiah this way: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (53:3)  The hero of the Christian faith was a man of sorrows.  When you suffer you are most like Christ.  When you suffer, you are in God’s company.  C. S. Lewis, in the Problem of Pain, said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
  • Bad things happen to God’s people because God uses their suffering to reveal Himself to those who don’t know Him.  Jesus’ disciples thought the blind man’s sin, or his parents’ sin, caused his blindness. Jesus’ answer caught the disciples by surprise: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) The blind beggar was a showcase of the glory of God. His parents never saw this coming.  Neither did he.  Jesus chose to heal him. We don’t know why God heals some and doesn’t heal others. What we know is that God uses the suffering of his beloved children as a showcase of His glory. Jesus spit on the ground, put mud on the blind man’s eyes, instructed him to wash in the pool of Siloam and the man left seeing. The Pharisees complained and the blind beggar became one of the first worshipers of Jesus.

Suffering is inevitable…and so hard.  Christians never dismiss it.  As a matter of fact, when our brothers and sisters hurt, we do too.  Paul instructs us in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”  In Galatians 6:2 we are told to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  We will never have all the answers (that is, this side of glory)–we will struggle to understand.  In those times, we cry together.  During those times we shoulder each others’ burdens…and in the process we fulfill the law of Christ.

What Then Shall We Say To These Things?

What then shall we say to these things?  –Paul  Romans 8:31

Paul’s question in Romans 8:31 has been asked ever since…and especially this week.  We summarize his question into one word, “Why?”  Why did this happen?  Why do good things happen to God’s people?  Paul was asking this very question about the “sufferings of this present time” (verse 19).  What then shall we say to the sufferings of this present time?  What then shall we say to the events of Sunday, February 2, 2014?

Paul then makes use of rhetoric to persuade his readers.  He is so passionate that they “get it” that he uses three different rhetorical devices.  Listen.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Paul doesn’t explicitly say “God is for us.”  He poses it as a conditional statement.  If God is for us.  Why would he say it that way?  He wants his readers to know that, if the possibility exists that God is on our side, our enemies don’t matter.  The rest of Paul’s argument rests on his high view of God.  If you believe God is all-powerful, and if that God is in your side, then no enemy is a threat.  Paul then employs his second rhetorical device.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things? 8:32

This is a greater to lesser argument.  If God would give us His Son, whom He loves more than you and I love our own children, then will He not also give us every single thing we need?  Let me illustrate.  Wendy and I are blessed to have a new addition to our family–Fadi.  He is an exchange student from Israel.  He is well-mannered, funny and a joy to have in our home.  Trent has a new big brother.  We gave Fadi a bedroom, a closet, a bathroom–we welcomed him like our own son.  His first morning at our home he asked if he could eat breakfast!  Could you imagine our saying “No!”  Of course not!  Since we gave Fadi a room, a closet, and a bedroom, we’ll give him a pop tart too!  What a ridiculous question!

That’s what Paul is saying.  Since God gave us Jesus, arms open wide on the cross, dying for our sins, will He not also give us everything else we need?  Does this not prove that God is for us?  Does God need to give us anything else, do anything else for us to prove that He is for us?  Of course not!  This is a greater to lesser argument.  Since God has met our greatest need, will he not also meet all our needs?

Then Paul uses his third rhetorical device:  he asks one rhetorical question after another.  The answers to the question are obvious.  He is driving his point home.

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.

Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?

These are all rhetorical questions that now have obvious answers.  Once you settle the fact in your heart that God is for you because He gave His Son for you, the answers to the other questions in life become more obvious.  Then Paul quotes what appears to be a strange text.

As it is written, for your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. (8:36)

This is a quote from Psalm 44.  This Psalm opens with praise to God for who He is, for His greatness and goodness.  Then it turns.  “Though God is good,” the writer contends, “we’re not experiencing his goodness right now.”  As a matter of fact, the writer of Psalm 44 feels like a sheep being led to the slaughter and the shepherd is oblivious.  The sheep are crying out for the shepherd and the shepherd is nowhere to be found!  In other words, they’re asking, “where’s God?”

What the writer of Psalm 44 didn’t know, Paul knew.  Jesus said in John 10:11

I am the good shepherd.  The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

While you and I may at times feel like sheep being slaughtered, we have a Savior who was slaughtered in our place.  While we may feel forsaken by God, Jesus was forsaken by His Father on the cross.  While you and I may at times feel unfairly treated, Jesus unfairly died on the cross for sins he never committed.

That’s why Paul can close his argument with these words:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (8:37)

What things?  Bad things that happen to God’s people.  Paul lists them.  We’ve experienced them…just this week.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (8:38-39)

There will always be a large degree of separation between our minds and the mind of God.  His ways are higher than ours.  His thoughts are beyond our comprehension.  But there is never a degree of separation between our hearts and the heart of God.  If you are His, if you belong to Him, nothing in all of creation can separate you from his love.  Nothing.  Not even what happened Sunday.  Nothing.

He who did not spare his own Son…

What On Earth Am I Here For?

Today’s sermon answered one specific question:  what is the purpose of the church?  This forces an equally important question:  what is your purpose as a member of the church?  It is dangerous to hear the Word without doing it.  That’s the point of this blog:  to move you from a hearer only to a doer of what you’ve heard this morning.  For sake of simplicity, I want to provide 3 simple next steps:

  1. Identify your daily mission field.  Parents, your mission field is your children.  Bosses, your mission field is your employees.  Doctors–patients.  Teachers–students.  Recently, Josh Hayes, our Children’s Pastor shared this blog with me (http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/december/do-your-kids-know-gospel.html).  Too often as parents we focus on the all-important “conversion” of our children and neglect the all important disciple making of our children.
  2. Set a reachable, measurable goal.  For example, if you have 20 employees, determine to share Christ with one or two a month.  Figure out what works best in your situation.  Set aside a certain amount of time for your children each day to share the Gospel with them.  Be reasonable as you set your goals.
  3. Be willing to go beyond your comfort zone.  In 2014, we have the following mission opportunities planned.  You can find out more information on these by emailing Stan Smothers at smothers@columbiaforestproducts.com.
  • Ecuador, June 7-14 Orphanage, Construction and Medical
  • Ecuador, Fall 2014, Orphanage, Construction and Medical
  • Peru, Fall 2014, Working with the International Mission Board of the SBC
  • Senegal, Africa, Fall 2014/Spring 2015, Medical
  • North American Mission Trips, various times with at least 4 weeks advance notice.

Trust God for the results.  Peter preached, and in one day 3000 came to Christ.  Later in his life, Peter’s preaching would result in his own arrest and crucifixion.  We are not responsible for the outcome–we are responsible for our obedience.

I’m excited to see how God is going to use you in 2014.

Insightful or Inciting: How Christians Should Respond When Other Christians Disappoint

You will be disappointed by other Christians.  Count on it.  The overused adage is true.  Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.

So how should we respond?  Our responses usually fall into two broad categories:  Insightful, thought-filled attempts to solve the problem, bridge the gap, and figure out our differences.  Or…Inciting comments that inflame others in a passionate rant about the problem but make no attempts at solving the problem.

Anyone can call a problem a problem.  Monday mornings are filled with quarterbacks whose limited high school experience has somehow made them experts on what Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Tony Romo should have done differently.  Big whoop.  Even I know when my Jeep is acting up.  I have no idea how to fix it, or the exact nature of the problem.  I just know there’s a problem.

Proverbs 15 is replete with instruction on how to respond when others disappoint.

A soft tongue turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  (15:1)

The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.  (15:2)

A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.  (15:4)

The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.  (15:7)

The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.  (15:14)

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.  (15:18)

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.  (15:28)

Insightful words are directed to the disappointing Christian, not the public.  Facebook isn’t the place to publicly air your problems with other Christians.  You hurt the cause of Christ, cowardly hide behind technology, and incite people who know little of the details of your problems.  Facebook has become the Jerry Springer show of all things controversial.  It is just as wrong to make others who disappoint you into verbal punching bags, as it is to go on national TV and physically sucker punch them.

Insightful words focus on facts, not feelings.  Notice the repeated use of the word “knowledge” in Proverbs 15.  The tongue of the wise commends “knowledge.”  The lips of the wise spread “knowledge.”  The heart of an understanding person seeks “knowledge.”  Just because CNN and FOX can shoot at one another across the bow of their proverbial ships, doesn’t mean Christians are somehow entitled to the same privileges.  When did mainstream media become our model for effective, compassionate communication?

Insightful words build up, not tear down.  A gentle tongue is a tree of life.  Anybody can rip someone to shreds.  It takes a careful craftsman with words to take a fragmented and broken situation and build it into a masterpiece of reconciliation.  Here’s a test:  when I’m finished, will the other person be better for my words, or worse?

Insightful words disagree without destroying.  The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer.  Not answering is not an option.  Speaking up is necessary.  Disagreeing will happen.  Destroying another person must never happen.  Nowhere in Scripture are Christians given the right to destroy someone else.  

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.  Proverbs 17:9

What if we covered more offenses than we exposed by gently speaking the truth in love.

 

 

A Different Kind of Fast

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Isaiah 58:6-7

Israel was steeped in sin.  God, through his prophet Isaiah, is calling them out.  He surprises them (and us) by his prescription for revival.  It isn’t a series of sermons.  It isn’t a prayer meeting.  It isn’t old fashioned fasting.  As a matter of fact in verse 4 of this same chapter they point out their fasting to God, and bemoan the fact that he hasn’t noticed it.

So he prescribes a new fast to them.  It’s found in verses 6-10 above.  Is not this the fast that I choose…to share your bread with the hungry?  Israel complained because God didn’t see their fast.  God wanted them to give up food…but for someone else.  He instructs them to bring the homeless into their own homes, to cover the naked (with their own clothes)–in other words he says, “don’t hide yourself from your own flesh (other people).”

What is God saying?  Give up food…for someone else.  Give up a bedroom…for someone else.  Give up clothes…for someone else.

And what will happen when they do what God says?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.  Isaiah 6:8-10

What is God saying?  Worship me, not only with your words, but with your deeds.  Worship me, not only with your deeds, but with your heart.  Then…(read verses 8-10 again!)

For our First Wednesday fast look for opportunities to feed the hungry, house the homeless and clothe the naked.  Tell us about them.  Without breaking anyone’s confidence whom you help, share them on this blog.  We’ll have a time in the service to share brief stories, to brag on God and the opportunities He has given us.

A Video Your Friends Desperately Need to See

Yesterday in worship we watched a video…three people’s stories of how they hit rock bottom and God rocked their worlds.  If you missed it, you can find the video here. (http://myhopewithbillygraham.org/lose-to-gain/?)  If you saw it, share it.  Below is a brief explanation of My Hope America. (from their own website:  http://myhopewithbillygraham.org/what-is-my-hope/?).

My Hope America with Billy Graham is a nationwide effort to reach people across the United States with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Following a simple biblical model, My Hope America with Billy Graham combines the impact of videos with the power of personal relationships. Christians across America will open their homes this November to share the Gospel message with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors using one of several new evangelistic programs featuring life-changing testimonies & powerful messages from Billy Graham.


  • Invite

    Invite your friends and neighbors who don’t know Jesus Christ to your home for a meal or dessert—or gather them at your church or favorite hangout.


  • Watch

    Use a TV broadcast, DVD, laptop, or mobile device to show one of several new evangelistic videos featuring life-changing testimonies & powerful messages from Billy Graham.


  • Share

    Next, briefly share how Jesus gave you hope and tell what He is doing in your life today.


  • Ask

    Ask your friends if they would like to make the same decision you did to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and pray with them.

Please make a list of people you want to invite to your home, or go out for dinner with you and your iPad…so that they can see the video, have an opportunity to talk about what they saw, and turn from their sin to Jesus as their Savior.  If you have family members who won’t come to church, take the Gospel to them. 

Then email Andrew Walker (andrew@graceforall.org) and let us know what God did.  Thanksgiving 2013 will be a celebration of changed lives!

If I Could Only Read One Book on Parenting

Parenting books abound.  From Dr. Phil to Dr. Dobson, you can find almost any topic addressing any kind of child in any circumstance.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is having a wealth of information at our fingertips.  The curse is sorting through the mountain of information.

That reality makes me realize the weight of what I’m about to say.

If I could sort through the wealth of parenting advice and only read one book on parenting it would be The Blessing by Smalley and Trent.  They write,

Some people are driven toward workaholism as they search for the blessing they never received at home.  Always striving for acceptance, they never feel satisfied that they are measuring up.  Others get mired in withdrawal and apathy as they give up hope of ever truly being blessed.  Unfortunately, this withdrawal can become so severe that it can lead to chronic depression and even suicide.  For almost all children who miss out on their parents’ blessing, at some level this lack of acceptance sets off a lifelong search.

Smalley and Trent then describe five elements of the blessing, how parents are uniquely able to bless their children and ultimately how someone who has never received the blessing can give what he or she never received.

Sunday night at 5 pm I will present a one-time seminar on The Blessing.  Please join me.  You can sign up (just so we know space and child care needs) by emailing robin@graceforall.org.  We will meet in the main building.

At Least Let Them Leap to Hell Over Our Bodies

I can’t get this figure out of my mind.

26,000.

It’s the number of unchurched people in McDowell County.  

26,000

Moms and dads who go to work, pay bills, mow their lawns and watch TV.

Teenagers who play PS3, sleep in during the summer and dread school starting back in a month.

Children who watch the Disney channel, text their friends and play all star baseball.

26,000

Teachers.

Lawyers.

Engineers.

Carpenters.

Stay at home moms.

Sales reps.

Fast food workers.

Doctors.

26,000

Lost.  Wandering.  Deceived.  

Busy.  Good people.

Without Christ and without hope.

26,000

Charles Spurgeon said, “If sinners will be damned, at least them leap to Hell over our bodies.  And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay.  If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

26,000

The Beginning

Skeptical worshipers. A commanding soldier. A demon-possessed woman. A religious seeker. A weeping disciple.

Fear. Control. Hopelessness. Confusion. Despair.

The cross appeared to be the end, but it was the beginning.

What if you find that your new beginning is at the lowest point in your life?

What if you find that your new beginning was the lowest point in Jesus’ life?

Afraid? Out of control? Hopeless? Confused? Defeated?

Sunday at Grace is for you. Join us at 9:30 or 11.