Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

There has been a dangerous shift in God’s Church recently that should disturb anyone who profess to be Christians. Those who have believed and followed the teachings of the Bible for years are now refusing to acknowledge sin. 

In fact, I have witnessed many who actually support those who are living a sinful lifestyle—and even question if their actions are sinful even at all! And these are not new converts who are ignorant of the Scriptures. They are people who have lived godly lives for years—and even taught others the Bible truths that they now claim are not relevant anymore! 

Words we hear a lot of Christians use these days is tolerance and love. They are both good words, but we have applied them too often, where they don’t belong. What has been the result? Murders and violence plaguing our schools and cities, physical, emotional and sexual abuse of millions of children, corruption in businesses and politics, human trafficking and genocide. 

Just like much of the evils in the world, it began oh so subtly. First we invited unsaved people to attend our church services. Not only do we invite them to church, but we go out of our way to make them feel welcome and try not to offend or upset them by calling out their sin. Maybe even go the extra step of making the unbeliever part of your church family by allowing them to work in the nursery or teach a Sunday school class. Then before you know it they’re preaching their lies from the pulpit. 

What’s most concerning is that churches today have altered how they conduct Sunday services and how they market to attract unsaved people to an event they weren’t biblically meant to attend in the first place. The unsaved are not ready to experience what churches are supposed to offer. They’re not ready to hear the truth from God’s Word, the Bible. So churches attempt to accommodate them with worldly influences. Many church services today resemble a rock concert atmosphere more than a place of worship and discipleship. God told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” But churches today have called clean what God has called unclean! 

In being so tolerant toward sin, churches today have become more like those they once preached against. Remember the words of the apostle Paul: “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good character. Sober up as you ought, and stop sinning; for some of you are ignorant of God. I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34)

In some things Jesus was the most tolerant, loving man who ever lived, but by today’s standards, Jesus would be considered one of the most intolerant, narrow-minded and unloving people. Many bring up the fact that Jesus dined with drunkards, prostitutes and other sinful people. But they neglect to acknowledge that he was the most intolerant  and narrow-minded when it came to obeying God.

Jesus was tolerant toward the sinner, but intolerant toward the evil that enslaves the sinner. To the woman caught in the act of adultery He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) He forgave her because he loved her, but he condemned her sin because he loathed it with a holy hatred. As Christians, there are certain things that we should be intolerant about too. Jesus was so intolerant toward sin that he turned over the merchant’s and money changer’s tables in the temple and called out the hypocrisy of the priests. And in the end he sacrificed his own life in order to free us from the power of sin. 

The Hebrew and Greek words translated “sin” throughout the Bible revolve largely around two major concepts. The first is that of transgression. To transgress means “to step across” or “to go beyond a set boundary or limit.” Most of the other words translated “sin” in the Bible involve a second concept, “to miss the mark.” 

Both of these concepts translate the idea of failing to measure up to a standard. Academic and athletic courses and tests are graded or judged according to a minimum standard. If we don’t meet that standard, we fail that test or course. 

This is where the biblical definitions of sin become important, because Scriptures define the boundaries and standards God set for us and on how we are to live our lives. The definitions of sin in the Bible are not simply arbitrary dos and don’ts. Instead, they show us the way God lives and the spiritual principles by which He lives—The same standard of conduct He expects His human creations to live by. 

What, then, are the boundaries and standards God has set for us that define sin? The most basic definition of sin is in 1 John 3:4: “Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” Here God defines a boundary for mankind. He says that sin is transgressing His holy, spiritual law (Romans 7:12-14). God’s laws are good. The problem is with us. Breaking that law—crossing that divine boundary, that God has set for us—is sin. 

Just as a good parent shows their love to their children by establishing rules for them, God gave humanity His laws to show us His way of love toward us. Those laws also define how we demonstrate our love to God and our fellowman. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16; Matthew 22:35-40; 1 John 5:3) Sin is in violation of that law of love. God showed us a way to live in peace and harmony with Him and with mankind and defined this way of life by His law. When we violate or transgress that boundary and break God’s law, God defines it as sin. It boils down to whose will is most important in our lives. Is it our will, doing what we want to do? Or is it God’s will, doing what He thinks is most important? 

Revelation chapters 2 & 3 gives us an insight of what Jesus thinks of sin and what happens when God’s people refuse to repent. The question every Christian should ask themselves is, “What church do I belong to?”

The solution for the Church today is simple, but not an easy one. John Bunyan’s classic, “Pilgrim’s Progress” explains the hardships,  trials and temptations the Christian life can be. I have learned that whenever you speak God’s truth to people you will risk being looked at as the enemy. Even from other Christians. But in the end, it will be well worth it.

Shavuot 2019 (pronounced SHävo͞oˈōt) will begin in the evening of Saturday, June 8 and ends in the evening of Monday, June 10. In ancient Israel various herbs and legumes were harvested in spring, but the most important spring crops were cereals—barley and wheat. A spring ritual took particular note of the cereals: Newly harvested grain could not be eaten until the first fruits of grain had been offered on the day after the sabbath of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. (Leviticus 23:9-14) Shavuot, near the end of the grain harvest, included grain and loaf offerings. (verses 16-17) Shavuot was also called “the Feast of Harvest” (Exodus 23:16).

Although Shavuot began as an ancient grain harvest festival, the holiday has been identified since biblical times with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is customary for modern Jews to decorate their homes with greens and fresh flowers on Shavuot as a reminder of the spring harvest and the ancient ritual of bringing the first fruits to the Temple. Many Jews prepare and eat dairy foods (often cheesecake or blintzes) on Shavuot as a reminder of the sweetness of Torah.

Many people stay up all night studying Torah on the evening of Shavuot. This custom evolved from the story that says that when Moses went up Sinai to receive God’s laws many of the Israelites fell asleep and had to be awakened by Moses. As a result, many modern Jews stay up all night to study and celebrate receiving the Torah. Interestingly, when Jesus went away to pray in Gethsemane, his disciples also fell asleep and had to be awakened. So to honor our Messiah we too, may want to stay up at night reading Scripture. 

Traditionally, the Book of Ruth is read during services in synagogues on Shavuot. Ruth was a young Moabite woman who married an Israelite man. The Bible refers to both the Moabites and Ammonites as Lot’s sons, born of incest with his daughters. (Genesis 19:30-38) When Ruth’s husband died, she followed her mother-in-law, Naomi and adopted her Hebrew faith and her people as her own. (Ruth 1:16–17) To feed herself and Naomi, she gleaned in the field of Boaz, a rich man. Boaz is taken with her, and eventually they marry. Among their descendants is the famed King David. Ruth (a non-Jew) should be considered an example for all Christians to accept and obey the Torah as God’s holy instructions, just as the Israelites did at Mt. Sinai. 

In Exodus 19:1 we read that the Israelites came to the foot of Mount Sinai in the third month. The third month after the Exodus is Sivan; since this was also the month of Shavuot, the rabbis deduced that God gave the Torah on Shavuot. Today, it is widely accepted that the Torah was given by God to the Hebrew  people on Shavuot. In this sense, every year on the holiday of Shavuot the Jewish people see themselves as renewing this experience. We too can use Shavuot to renew our acceptance of the Torah and observe all that He commanded. 

We need to understand that although God had given the Torah to the Hebrew people, (Israelites) this also included the mixed multitude that left Egypt with them. (Exodus 12:37-38) It is possible that many of these Egyptians were the offspring of Egyptian task masters who had relations with Hebrew slaves. Just as many of the slaveowners (such as Thomas Jefferson) did in America’s history. The Hebrews of the Exodus did not become Jews until after the kingdom was divided into two, with 10 tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel and two in the southern kingdom of Judah. (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10) This means that all Jews are Israelites but not all Israelites are Jews.

How does this relate to us as Christians?

The Bible also says: “count fifty days”, which is why, in the New Testament, the name for the holiday is usually translated as “Pentecost”. Shavuot and Pentecost are actually two different names for the same Festival. Therefore, the events of the first two chapters of the book of Acts must be seen against this biblical background. For instance, when in Acts 1:4 Jesus commanded his disciples not to depart from Jerusalem, we would better understand this command if we remember that Shavuot is one of the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals, when all Israelites were expected to be in Jerusalem: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that He will choose: at the festival of unleavened bread, at the festival of weeks, and at the festival of booths.” (Deut. 16:16) Many Jews and non-Jews alike describe these as Jewish only celebrations. But Leviticus 23 makes it plain that these are God’s feast days: “Then the LORD said to Moses, Speak to the Israelites and say to them, ‘These are My appointed feasts, the feasts of the LORD that you will proclaim as sacred assemblies.” (vs. 1 & 2) 

Remember  that mixed multitude that traveled with the Hebrews on their Exodus? Concerning His feast days God proclaimed to them, “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” (Exodus 12:14)  And in case it wasn’t clear enough God also said, “The same law shall apply to both the native and the foreigner who resides among you.” (v. 49)

Preparing for the Holiday

The Bible teaches that the Israelites had three days to prepare to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. To ready themselves for the momentous occasion, they were instructed to wash their clothes and to stay ritually pure. (Exodus 19:10-11) By recalling those three days, today we can use the three days before Shavuot to prepare ourselves personally and spiritually, as a family, and as a community to re-experience this life-changing event.

Shavuot in the New Testament

In Acts 2 we read, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”  (Acts 2:1-3) 

We  have to remember  that the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) forms the background of this event and that by the first century the festival was already associated with the covenant made with Moses. We would then understand that it was certainly no coincidence that the descending of God’s Spirit is described on the day of Pentecost, and we would be able to see these beautiful and profound parallels between God giving His Torah and giving His Spirit. On both occasions, Shavuot becomes the day when Heaven is opened and God Himself claims His people. 

The “noise like a violent storm” in Acts 2 definitely echoes the thundering and the fire of Exodus 20:18. It seems that Luke consciously builds these parallels and describes the events of Acts 2 in terms of a “second Sinai”, thus, Jesus’ command to the Apostles to wait in Jerusalem might also be understood as a hint that, as God’s Torah was given on Shavuot, God’s Spirit was also given on Shavuot. 

The Christian version of Pentecost

Today, many Christians are taught that Pentecost was the day that the Church was born. But if Pentecost was the birth of the Church, why did Peter not include Gentiles in his message? Why did Peter not mention the cross, salvation through the blood of Christ, or forgiveness of sins based upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ? Why did he not offer salvation by faith alone, apart from works? Why did he not say a word about the body of Christ? To press further, why did Peter or any of the Twelve ever mention the body of Christ? 

Because Peter didn’t know anything yet about God’s salvation based upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—salvation by faith alone, or even the significance of the blood of Christ! Peter didn’t even know what Church was let alone the teachings associated with it. Peter only knew God’s prophetic, kingdom program. He only knew the prophecies of the prophets which Jesus had proclaimed throughout his earthly ministry. God had kept this revelation a secret until He revealed it to Paul. (Ephesians 3.1-7) The term ‘Gentiles’ would be better translated ‘Goyim’—meaning non-Jew. Or someone outside the tribe of Judah. (Remember, all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews) The prophets reveal that the Goyim will be blessed through the Jews. (Zechariah 8:23)

The confusion continues

Great confusion has resulted from failure to understand that the events of Shavuot in Acts happened to believing Jews and Israelites—not to the Church. Because the Church did not exist yet! Another area of confusion has been the speaking in tongues. Some denominations and churches teach that believers are supposed to speak in tongues as proof that they “have the Holy Spirit” because that was the evidence experienced by Peter and the other followers in the upper room. Some even claim that a person cannot even be saved until they speak in tongues! 

Lastly, we should note that when one is saved by believing Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15.1-4) he is immediately baptized by God’s Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12.12-13). This baptism has no sign—such as speaking in tongues. The gift of tongues all but ceased long ago, and one day will be done away with completely. (1 Corinthians 13.8) But even when they operated in the Church, they were not a sign for believers but for unbelievers. (1 Corinthians 14.22)

The Scriptures indicate clearly that the Church—the body of Christ, did not begin at Pentecost. Pentecost is one of God’s feast days and is still in effect today. God had never revealed or even hinted that His feast days were only for Jews, that they would ever end, or that the Church would replace the Israelites as the new body of Christ. What He had revealed was that Goyim would be blessed through the Jews. The Church was merely the method God used to bring us all—Jew and non-Jew alike, to the knowledge of His saving grace through His son, Yeshua Ha’Mashiach. 

And I long for the day that we will all worship him around the throne of God!

Murders, violence plaguing our schools and cities, physical, emotional and sexual abuse of millions of children, corruption in businesses and politics, human trafficking and genocide. What causes these things? And how do we put and end to it?

The solution is simple, but not so easy. 

The Bible teaches us that if we repent of our wickedness, return to God and obey His commandments, He will bless every aspect of our lives, but if we continue in our wickedness and follow after other gods, all we can expect is more evil in our lives and in the end, destruction. 

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. “ (Deuteronomy 28: 1-6) 

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.” (vs 15-19)

Although many Christians place the blame for all the trouble in the world on unbelievers and the devil, these words were directed at God’s people. They were never directed to those who rejected God and worshipped idols. Read what God told Solomon after he finished building the Temple for God: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)

You see, all the problems we see in the world can all be solved if only Christians would repent and turn back to God and obey Him. Even the apostle Paul wrote, “What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) So the Bible makes clear that Christians are not to judge unbelievers, but those who claim to be Christians inside the Church. But to do that we must first understand what it means to be a true Christian.

True Christianity—What is it? 

The basic definition of a Christian is a person who professes belief in Jesus as the Messiah based on the teachings of the Bible. People often consider themselves Christians if they were brought up in a religious family or if they go to church. But does this make someone a true Christian? Keith Green once said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.”

The Bible has a lot to say about being a true Christian. The word “Christian” is only used three times in the Bible. In Acts 11:26, the believers of Jesus were first called Christians because their actions resembled Jesus’ behavior. The word is also used in Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16. 

The Bible teaches that a follower of Christ is one who has been born again. In John 3:3 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” The term “born again” has been used (and abused) by many in our generations. But it was considered nonsense by the man Jesus was talking to in this passage. Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old?”  What Nicodemus couldn’t know until later on, was that the phrase “born again” literally means born from above. It indicates a change in one’s heart—a spiritual transformation of someone’s life. 

What is the Result? 

A realization of one’s sin. Romans 3:23 says, “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This sin results in death according to Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The death that the apostle Paul is speaking of is not an earthly death but the second death after the Resurrection. The term “second death” appears only in the book of Revelation. It appears four times: Revelation 2:11; 20:6; 20:14-15; and 21:8. Revelation mentions that there is no second death for those who have repented of their sins and surrendered their lives to God. Only those who have rejected God and His gift of salvation through His son, Jesus.

A true Christian has faith in only Jesus

Having faith in Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and accepting that salvation is a free gift of God—acknowledging that we can’t do enough good deeds to work our way into heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” We cannot become holy by doing things, helping people, giving money, being kind or polite. We can only become holy by believing in Jesus Christ and letting him take control of our lives.

What are the characteristics of a true Christian? 

A true Christian is a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” The “old” refers to everything that was part of our old nature—pride, love of sin, negative habits and evil passions. We do not inherit the new nature from our parents, nor can we re-create a new nature for ourselves, no matter how good and moral of a person we are. And it doesn’t mean that God simply cleans up our old nature. He creates in us an entirely new and unique person! 

A true Christian is dead to sin. 

Romans 6:11-12 says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” A Christian may still struggle with temptation to sin, but they repent to God and are forgiven because of the sacrifice that Jesus made. Repentance is not parroting a prayer and asking Jesus to come into your life. And it doesn’t mean that you’re sorry you got caught in the sin. Repentance means that you’re sorry for the sin itself—that your sin hurt God and damaged your relationship with Him. Repentance means that you turn from your old life of sin and surrender every aspect of your life to God—A life no longer ruled by sin. 

A true Christian is conformed to God’s Spirit.

A true Christian allows God’s Holy Spirit to conform them to the image of Christ. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.The fruit of the Spirit has nothing to do with soul winning, or preaching, or being successful financially, or even discipling others. The fruit of the Spirit has to do with how one lives their life. I have met many who are homeless, who struggle with health issues and have never won anyone to Jesus, and yet lived their lives according to God’s word. And we have all witnessed so-called successful Christian preachers and evangelists who have never displayed any of the fruit of the Spirit in their personal, private and/ or public life. 

A true Christian is called to live a holy life. 

That means not being conformed to the ways of the world. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT) In Ephesians 4:17-32 Paul gives us instructions on how to live our new life in Christ: “…put off your former way of life, your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be renewed in the spirit of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness…Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” I believe this would apply to our social media posts and Twitter feeds as well.

 A true Christian is to read and obey God’s Word. 

James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” There are many professing Christians today who say, “Because we are now under grace we don’t need to  obey the Old Testament law.”  And, “It’s impossible for us to obey God’s commandments. That’s why Jesus had to die on the cross.” 

But why would God give us commandments that He knew were impossible for us to obey? He wouldn’t. In 1 John 5:3 we read, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome…” And again in 1 John 2:3: “By this we can be sure that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments.” When God gave His commandments of blessing and cursing to Moses and to the Hebrew people he said, “…For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off…But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that YOU CAN DO IT.” – Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (Emphasis mine) 

A New Commandment or just the same old one?

Many Christians believe that because Jesus gave us a “new commandment” in John 13:34-35 that he replaced the Old Testament Law. They even give proof by pointing to what Jesus said in Luke 10:27: One day an expert in the law stood up to test Him. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus said. “Do this and you will live.” 

So what was this expert in the Law referring to? Possibly the commandment from Deuteronomy 6:5? “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” And Leviticus 19:18? “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” 

Anyone who thinks that the Old Testament is only about strictly obeying the Law and lacks God’s grace, has not studied the Old Testament. It was out of God’s love for His people that He continued to pour out His grace on them—time and time again. The people would rebel against God and serve idols, then they would bring trouble and destruction on themselves. Then they repented and cried out to God, and God saved them—time and time again. And that is exactly how God expects us to love each other. The same way He loves us.

God’s Laws and His Holy festivals that He commands us to obey are not to keep us under His thumb or hold them over our heads. His commandments are for our own safety. When my children were young they obeyed my rules. Not because they thought I would love them more if they obeyed me, or afraid that if they disobeyed I would love them less. But BECAUSE they loved me they obeyed me. And they knew that my rules would keep them safe. We do not obey God’s commandments because we think God will love us more if we obey, or we’re afraid that God will love us less if we don’t. But BECAUSE we love God we obey His commandments. (1 John 5:3)

Now there will always be sin in the world until Jesus returns and rules on the earth. But the problems plaguing our world today would be greatly reduced if only God’s people would repent of their wickedness and turn again to God and obey only Him. It’s all up to us. 

Listen to what God said: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. So choose life, so that you and your descendants may live, and that you may love the LORD your God, obey Him, and hold fast to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land the LORD swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) 

Most of us would like to think that people are basically good and that our country will eventually become good and fair for most of us.

I know that the sovereign Creator of the universe will eventually bring his divine plan to fruition. And victory will belong to the faithful because the Lamb of God has overcome by virtue of his death and resurrection (Revelation 5:6; 12:11). And all who stand in opposition to the King of Kings will be vanquished. 

But history has proven to us that sometimes a country has to “hit bottom” before drastic changes are made. I know this: if righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34), then unrestrained sin will also destroy it. I also know that God has a moral standard by which He judges nations, and when they reach a certain depth of depravity, He will bring them down (Genesis 15:16; 18:22). 

God gave Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, forty days to get their act together (Jonah 3:4). When they repented, God relented. Assyria then continued for another century and a half. However, the Assyrians degenerated again, and the prophet Nahum was sent to proclaim their destruction (Nahum 1:9). Nineveh fell completely in 612 B.C.

What makes Americans believe that we live in an eternal empire, when in reality this country is on a collision course with oblivion when Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome—none of these superpowers, lasted more than a few centuries? Decadence consumed all of them. And there are clear signals that the same weaknesses are eating away at America as well.

Anyone who reads a local newspaper or watches the evening news will have to admit to the fact that our country is in deep trouble—School shootings, Sexual assaults on children and other cases of child neglect and abuse have become all too common. And our legislators have done nothing to make any real changes. 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused before they reach 18. (Many in their own homes) And even when the perpetrators are convicted, most judges on sentence them to probation!

We’ve replaced the Bible and prayer in our public schools with metal detectors and police security. We’ve given up the security of family values and replaced them with immoral ideas and attitudes. Sanctity of life is no longer fought for, and more often is legislated against. As a result, our children have become uncontrollable beasts who murder without conscience. And those who were designed to be examples for our children—from parents, teachers and coaches, to the local pastor, to our legislators, on up to the President, have fallen and have led us to the brink of destruction. 

Just as Israel of old, we too, have forgotten God and replaced Him with our own golden calf. We have bowed down to the idols of humanism, secularism, and government control, and we have reaped the rewards of our actions.

I have heard many complain about how corrupt our government is. And they usually blame the current administration for the country’s ills. But God tells us that it is His own people who are to blame: “For exaltation comes not from east or west or out of the desert, but it is God who judges; He brings one down and exalts another.” (Psalm 75:6-7) 

If God is the one who “brings one down and exalts another” then the current administration was placed there by God himself. But why? Why would God place a wicked leader in such a prominent place? So that His people would repent and turn back to Him! (See Habakkuk, Jeremiah and Isaiah) We are like Nineveh. Except God is still waiting for us to repent.

America was once a great nation because it was founded on absolute principles based on God’s Word, the Bible. For years God has been trying to get our attention, calling us to arise from our slumber! To return to him and repent of our wicked ways so that He can heal our land. (II Chronicles 7:14) But we have ignored Him. 

In recent years we had George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barrack Obama as presidents. Each one’s administration and its policies became progressively worse than the last. Yet we refused to repent and turn to God. And now we have Donald Trump who has continually lied to the public, encouraged actions of white supremacists, violated human rights, and has a history of sexual harassments and assaults. And STILL we refuse to repent!

As believers in God and his son, Jesus the Messiah, it is the responsibility of us who have been justified by his death and resurrection to seek God’s face, repent of our apathy and wickedness and pray earnestly for revival! Revival in our own heart first—as well as for our community and our nation.

We have to understand that repentance isn’t just walking in front of the church and parroting a “sinner’s prayer” and then believe that you’re okay as you walk right back into worldly pleasures. Repentance means more than just being sorry. Someone once said that the road to destruction will be paved with the souls of the sorrowful. I’m sure that all of the fallen angels who rebelled against God are sorry now that they followed Satan in his failed revolt against God.

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

You also have to acknowledge that in your flesh, (that is, in your own strength) this is impossible to accomplish. The foundation of all sin and all the problems that have plagued societies and civilizations since the fall of man is ‘Self’. Everything from lust, to murder, to war, are all sins derived from ‘Self’. Wars are being waged simply because someone has something that the other wants and cannot have. Neither side will compromise, so they go to war. (James 4:1-4)

But how can we know what God’s will is for us? How can we know that what we’re doing is sin that needs to be repented of? 

By studying the Bible (Basic Instructions Before leaving Earth). You see God did not leave us alone without leaving us an instruction manual. By studying the Bible we will understand God’s heart and what He expects from us and how very much he loves us and wants to bless us. And I’m not talking about being spoon-fed a pastor’s version of Scripture, but to really study it for yourselves, allowing God’s spirit to teach you.

But you must also be aware that once you surrender to God’s will and decide to obey Him, the world will come against you—and sometimes the strongest opposition will be among your closest friends and loved ones. (1 Peter 4: 12-16; Romans 5:2-5; Matthew 5:10-12)

I don’t think our nation (or the world) has ever been in a greater sense of turmoil than it is at this moment. All the blasphemy, all the unbelief, all the dirty stories, all the lying, all the deception, all the sexual perversion and all the drunkenness…And that is happening among people who claim to belong to God! This tremendous iniquity continues to rise up in the sight of God. The shadow of darkness and death is over this generation like nothing we’ve ever had before. And yet, the greatest tragedy of all is this: A silent Church in a dying world. We have neither the vision nor the passion, nor at this moment, the intention of setting our house in order “to break up our fallow ground” and to prepare the way of the Lord. (Hosea 10:12)

“…I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. So choose life, so that you and your descendants may live, and that you may love the LORD your God, obey Him, and hold fast to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land the LORD swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20) 

Some will read that Scripture and interpret it as God saying, “CHOOSE LIFE! OR I WILL DESTROY YOU!” But it’s more like a compassionate father gently saying, “I love you. Please…choose life.”

“Our country is in trouble, and I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the political parties,” Franklin Graham said in a video posted on his Facebook page this week. He also referenced the tragic events of the past week: “Shootings, riots and protests now claim the headlines about America, and that’s heartbreaking,” he said. “We are in desperate need of Divine intervention. We need healing. Prayer is what can make a difference in America.”

As Christians, we are to be set apart from the world:

”But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

But lately I have been disappointed to hear such hateful speech and crude joking coming (mostly) from those who profess to be Christians! I have also read similar posts on Face Book and other social media sites.

Sadly, I have heard (and read) more compassionate speech from self proclaimed atheists than I have from confessing Christians. And if the world can see no difference in us and those who don’t believe, what use are we? I pray that Christians everywhere will live and speak as those who represent our Lord.

Not that we should become humorless, straight-faced legalistic people of God or that we should not speak out against injustice when we see it—but we are to do all things in love. Consider what the Bible teaches:

With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be! (James 3: 9-10)

“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8)

But among you, as is proper among the saints, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or impurity or greed. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or crude joking, which are out of character… (Ephesians 5:3-4)

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (James 1:26)

I don’t care whether you’re Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed Christian, Methodist, Mormon, Pentecostal, or Baptist. If you say that you believe in the Bible and profess that you’re a follower of Jesus, then start living like one!

How much sadness God must  feel when he sees his children, who are called by his name, treating each other as if they were mortal enemies—talking trash behind each others’ backs, slandering them on Face Book and silently wishing for their failure. It’s unreal to me.

How do you think you’ll ever be able to convince someone that they should become a Christian if the Christianity they see is judgmental, condemning and negativity towards others? Have you ever considered that you’re actually hurting Christ more than helping him with how you treat other people? Do you think that just showing up on Sunday morning or singing in the choir is going to impress God?

Christ said that you should “let your light so shine” so that others will want come to Him. (Matthew 5: 15-16) Instead…you’re like the basket, extinguishing any light that might be burning faintly within others.

So if you call yourself a Christian, then just start loving others and overlooking their faults. Become ambassadors of mercy instead heavenly bounty hunters and you’ll never have to beg someone to listen to your message about Christ again…They’re already listening.

“Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in your beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken.” ―Rich Mullins

There is  a storm coming. And not many are prepared. Not a physical storm like what we’ve seen lately with rain and hail and tornados and floods; but a spiritual storm. One that will be more devastating than any tornado or flood.

The people of Judah had rebelled against the principles upon which their nation had been founded on. Judah had turned its back upon God and rejected any attempt by those sent to call her back. As promised, God withdrew His protection from her. He had warned that if His people became faithless that He would employ a pagan power to conquer them and lead them back into captivity. He had led them from Egyptian bondage 800 years before, and now, because of their infidelity, He would allow them to return to bondage—this time in Babylon.

They had refused to believe it could ever happen to them. They found their own false prophets to tell them that everything was fine. They ridiculed Jeremiah and others who warned of the devastation to come. The Lord spoke through Jeremiah and put it this way; “Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north…and I will send Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon…against this land and against its inhabitants…and this whole land shall be a desolation and a horror, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” (Jeremiah 25:9-11)

But the false prophets told them that God would never allow this to happen because they were God’s chosen people. They were insisting that God loved them and that He only wanted to bless them. But it wasn’t true!

Today we have the modern counterparts of these false prophets. Some promise that God will bless you if you send them money. Some say that God will not bring judgment against Christians because they are God’s chosen people. They say that God loves them and that He only wants to bless them. They claim that the world’s problems are a direct result of sinfulness in the “world”—But if we elect someone with “Christian values”,  America will be great again.

They have forgotten that God is the one who exalts leaders into office: (Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21) So what if, because we have turned our back on God and instead placed our trust in man and rejected any attempt by those He sent to call us back, God also removes His protection from us?

There are many today who cry out, “God bless America!” But how can God bless America when we allow children to be beaten, raped and killed? How can God bless America when we refuse to allow our children to pray and criminalize those who do? How can God bless America when we ignore the suffering of the poor and destitute while we indulge ourselves on the luxuries we have accumulated for ourselves.

William Booth embarked upon his ministerial career in 1852, desiring to win the lost multitudes of England to Christ. He walked the streets of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute. Booth abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit, instead taking his message to the people.

He once related a vision he had concerning the lost. He saw a dark and stormy ocean. In that ocean he saw myriads of poor human beings plunging and floating, shouting and shrieking, cursing and struggling and drowning. But what puzzled him most was the fact that although all of them had been rescued at one time or another from the ocean, nearly everyone no longer seemed troubled by those who were downing—nor did they even seem to care about the poor perishing ones who were struggling and drowning right before their very eyes—many of whom were their own husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and even their own children!

The primary aim of the Salvation Army was not to provide charity, but to win souls from the devil. Booth stated that “what was important was not whether a man died in the poorhouse but if his soul was saved.” (‘The Salvationist in a Secular Society’— p29)

And yet today the Salvation Army is a human organization more interested in the needs of the flesh, rather than the needs of the soul. Is it possible that God had given William Booth a vision of the “future” Salvation Army and Christianity as a whole?

The Church today reminds me of a poem I read years ago written by Howard Clinebell:

The Little Lifesaving Station

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occurred, there was once a crude lifesaving station. The building wasn’t much more than a small hut, and there was only one boat. But the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought of themselves, went out night and day tirelessly searching for the lost.

Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station. So much so that it became famous for its rescue efforts. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money for the support of its work. New boats were purchased and donated to the station and crews were trained to improve the rescue operations of the station.

As the little lifesaving station grew some of the members were unhappy that the building itself was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided for those who were rescued from the sea. So the members raised funds for the station and replaced the emergency cots with beds and placed better furniture in an enlarged building.

Soon the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members. They decorated it beautifully and furnished it so exquisitely that it became sort of a club. The lifesaving station’s logo still prevailed on the wall above the fireplace and its name was still used to raise funds,  but  fewer members were now interested in going out to sea on lifesaving missions. They even hired lifeboat crews to do the work that they used to do themselves.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half drowned people. These people were dirty and sick. And some of them were foreigners who couldn’t speak English. The beautiful club was thrown into chaos. The property committee immediately had a shower built outside the club building with an attached closet filled with clean clothes so that the victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up and dressed properly before coming inside.

At the next club meeting there was a split in the membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities because it was unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social structure of the club. Some members insisted that the lifesaving operations were the primary reason for them being there and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. The latter were finally voted down and were told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters they could start their own lifesaving station further down the coast. That’s exactly what they did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old one. It evolved into a club and later another lifesaving station was founded.

History continues to repeat itself and if you visit that seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along its shores.  Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but sadly, most of the people there drown.

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth…But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:1-7, 14-15)

“Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.” (Esther 9:1)

Ancient Persia of biblical times is today known as Iran.It is now more than two millennia since the Purim story took place there and an attempted genocide against the Jewish people was miraculously aborted. Haman of old had a plan. “Death to the Jews” was his program. Celebrating Purim is our commemoration of his failure. But history has a remarkable way of repeating itself. Jew-haters still live on, renewing Haman’s efforts with even greater dedication and perseverance—not only from Iran, the biblical home of Haman, but also from ISIS and many other countries where sympathy  for Islamic radicals is on the rise.

Although celebrating Purim is not a commandment from God, it continues to be celebrated because its message needs to be remembered. Those who seek destruction of the Jewish people are evil. Their evil must be acknowledged. Their words must be taken seriously. Their goal must be prevented.

And how do we celebrate Purim today in light of modern day Haman’s seemingly rise to power, strength and wealth? Perhaps the most important words of the Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther are V’Nahafoch Hu – “it was reversed”. (Esther 10:1) Tragedy was turned around at the last moment, and all the plans that Haman tried to implement in order to destroy the Jews were used in the end to save the Jews.

Today, we celebrate Purim with costumes, noisemakers, and a feast that includes wine and Hamantashen, special filled cookies that resemble Haman’s three cornered hat. We give gifts of food to our friends, and money to the poor.

“…as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9:22)

We also read from the book of Esther and use a special noisemaker every time Haman’s name is mentioned as a sign of disrespect and make our hearts glad with wine.

“A person should drink on Purim until the point where he can’t tell the difference between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman. (Talmud – Megillah 7b; Code of Jewish Law 695:2)

Some think that just as the Irish have a springtime drinking holiday called St. Patrick’s Day, the Sages instituted Purim as Judaism’s springtime drinking holiday. This is absurd!

To begin, we first need to define the Bible’s concept of feasting and gladness. Throughout Scripture feasting is always associated with drinking and rejoicing. Rejoicing often includes laughter. Laughter occurs when the unexpected happens. A toddler puts on her father’s big shoes—and we laugh. Someone forgets their lines in a play—and we laugh. The sudden surprise catches us off guard. And the more unexpected it is, the funnier it is.

The story of Haman’s downfall and Mordechai’s rise teaches us that even at a time when we’re powerless to think and respond logically, God continues to protect us and shield us. On Purim, we drink to life (“L’chaim”) with the knowledge that all of our troubles are temporary. We capture the joy that just as God redeemed us from previous dangers, sins and problems, He will do so again. Because God is always here, running the world for our ultimate benefit.

Many people drink to forget their problems—and for a while, it works. But if we were on a higher spiritual level, we wouldn’t need to drink. But since we’re not on such a high spiritual level, we drink in order to loosen up, laugh at our troubles and forget our anxieties. If we were truly clear on the idea that the only real power operating in the world is God, we wouldn’t have nearly as much worry and anxiety as we normally do. If we trusted in God, we would be fully relaxed. Then we could really see that God has everything under control, and in spite of us, everything will work out.

The message of Purim is that even though it’s hard to see Him, God is here in the world. Even when things look bad, even if we’re suffering, in some way it has got to be all for the best, because there’s a benevolent God behind everything, manipulating events for our good. This is what is means to “drink until you can’t tell the difference between Blessed is Mordechai and Cursed is Haman.” It is only because of our limited perceptions that we see a difference. But in God’s infinite reality, there is no difference between the two. It is all ultimately for the good. (This does not mean that we are to drink to the excess where we cannot walk or talk at all, but just to the point of not being able to use our logic)

A fun fact on this theme: In Hebrew, the numerical value (gematria) of “Cursed is Haman” is 502. The numerical value of “Blessed is Mordechai” is also 502. On Purim we drink to the point that we can no longer compute the mathematics.

A final word on drinking:

Let us use good judgement on Purim. We should set a model for our children by not drinking to excess and by supervising adolescents and teenagers to make sure that they do not drink. In this way we can all enjoy a safe, respectable Purim. There have been far too many teenagers as well as adults who require emergency attention after becoming too drunk. Drinking and driving is not only against Halacha, but obviously against common sense. Rabbis, teachers and parents should be encouraged to discuss this issue with all children and adults not only before Purim, but throughout the year.