What Are You Watching?

In these days of almost global social distancing, social media takes on a heightened role in our lives. The Easter service of Joel Osteen reportedly had over 11 million views. Cable news channels give their competing points of views as to what is happening. In the USA, everything seems to be interpreted through President Trump. For those who oppose Trump, he is the reason why the USA leads in COVID-19 infections and deaths. To those who support President Trump, he is the savior, the one who will lead the USA to become better and stronger. To his supporters, China and the World Health Organization are the villains. Facebook, Twitter, and other media give exaggerated, false, and misleading interpretations, warnings, and remedies. But what are you watching?

The Bible says what you focus on will influence your state of mind, your spiritual health.

The Highway Department in Texas once ordered a study that was very revealing. The Department was concerned with the number of highway workers being injured on the road. Even on clear days with well marked road construction sites, people were still endangering the workers. So they commissioned a study. The study was very revealing. They found that we steer our cars in the direction our eyes look. So as eyes were drawn to the workers they tended to steer toward them.

The Bible has long recognized this issue spiritually. What you focus your spiritual eyes on will lead your life. This is why the writer of Hebrews says to us, “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The phrase “looking to Jesus” means to fix your eyes on Him. The prophet Jeremiah can help us understand the importance of fixing our eyes on Jesus.  Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet because the country he loved, Israel, was headed to judgment and captivity by Babylon.  Indeed, Israel was in captivity as his life ended. God had sent Jeremiah to warn people and call them to repentance. The people refused Jeremiah’s warnings to repent. They put him in stocks, put him in pits, threatened him. The people rejected him because they were willfully blind and deceived. They had multiple false prophets denying all of Jeremiah’s warnings. The false prophets reasoned that Israel was the favored nation of God. They believed they were entitled to prosperity and protection from the ills of the world around
them and the dangers from Babylon. They believed their nation was the only favored nation of God on Earth. As recorded in Jeremiah 14:13, one example of the false prophets’ words, “You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.” Even when carried away in captivity, the false prophets said they would be freed in two years, and I suppose in the language of politicians today they would come out stronger and better.

The people of Jeremiah’s day were similar to the false prophets in Isaiah’s day. God was bringing judgments on the nation to call them to repentance and to warn them of worse judgments coming. But when judgments came, it did not lead them to repentance. It led them to increased national pride. They said, as recorded in Isaiah 9:8-10, “The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel; and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.”” Thus, rather than the judgment of God leading to repentance, it led to a pride that said we will be better and stronger after this. It is this passage that is behind Jonathan’s Cane prophesy called the Harbinger. Verse 10 was actually quoted by a US Senator after 9/11. Without understanding the irony of his words, he said the USA would come back stronger and better. The 9/11 attacks, rather than leading the USA to humility and repentance before God, led to a rising national pride.

It is my conviction, as I have written before, that the attacks of 9/11 were a warnings of God’s judgment on us as a nation. There was an immediate moment after 9/11 when people turned to God, but they soon turned from any attitude of dependence to a spirit of pride. A pride that believed we were an entitled nation with the “God given” right to live in prosperity and isolation from the problems of the world around us. That pride has taken new levels under President Trump and the call to Make America Great Again. Many evangelical leaders regarded Trump as the man designated by God to make America great. Everything seemed to be moving the right way until COVID-19 came.  It has humbled the USA and the rest of the world. The reaction we see to this crisis is the statement that, “we are Americans, the best and smartest people in the world, and we will defeat this virus and come out stronger and better.” There seems to be little chance of repenting of pride, greed, entitlement, sexual immorality, drug and alcohol abuse, idolatry. The debate is soon turning to an issue of which is more important: survival of the Dollar or lives? Somehow, to some it seems the virus favors the old and people of
color, so we ought to ignore its peril and choose the Dollar.

It is at this point that the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations at a similar time are so important. As Jeremiah writes, the judgments of God have come. Babylon has taken Israel captive, the temple is in ruins, and the temple treasures are in Babylon’s storehouses. As Jeremiah focused on current events and their message, he felt great loss and despair. He wrote in Lamentations 3:19-20, “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” It’s like Jeremiah has split his time between watching Fox News and CNN. He realized no one had answers, only blame and false hope. The situation was so beyond control Jeremiah knew there was no hope in mankind or in man’s answers to the problems. All the political solutions were rooted in blindness to the future and the utter powerlessness to control or influence it.

But there was a dramatic change within Jeremiah when he chose not to fix his eyes on the world and man’s answers. He chose to fix his spiritual eyes on the Lord and the real truths of life, in a relationship by faith with the true and the living God. He said this in Lamentations 3:21-24, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”” Jeremiah brought truth to his thoughts. Jeremiah was saying, “what do I truly want from this life?” His answers weren’t measured by wealth, health, pleasantness in life’s circumstances, or a full and secure retirement storehouse. His sole desire in life was his relationship with God. The Lord was his portion, and was all he needed for life. Paul expressed similar words in prison on trial for his life in Rome when he wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

What Jeremiah knew in his relationship with the Lord is the absolute security of his relationship with Him. He was in a covenant relationship with God made by faith, and he knew the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Steadfast love is a love by covenant. God is faithful, loyal, and committed to the covenant He has made with us in Jesus. Jeremiah spoke of the new covenant God will make with us in Jesus in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Paul wrote of that covenant in Romans 8:39, that nothing in the present or the future will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jeremiah knew that no matter what the circumstances in life were saying or what dangerous unknowns may lie in the future, his confidence was that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

Jeremiah also knew God had daily mercies for Him. God’s mercy could never be exhausted, could never run out, could never be a thing of the past. He wrote that His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Whatever a new day may bring in challenges and dangers, he knew His mercies are new today, and they will always be enough. God will always make a way. Elijah found it when he was in hiding and fed by ravens, and then miraculously fed by a widow with her son as the grain and oil never ran out for over three years. David, hiding in caves and in many hopeless situations, wrote in Psalm 34:18-19, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all.” We can welcome each new day with all its challenges, dangers, and opportunities knowing that the mercies we need from God today are new and always enough. Though afflictions come, His mercies and deliverance will always make a way.

Underlying Jeremiah’s confidence in the steadfast love of the Lord and His new mercies for each day is the faithfulness of God. Great is God’s faithfulness. He will never give us up, never forget us. God is faithful. When He makes a promise, He keeps it.

But Jeremiah knew that an important part for him in finding hope was to wait upon the Lord as He finishes His work of salvation. He wrote in Lamentations 3:25-26, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Salvation is coming. That is our hope. The coming of Jesus for His church is the blessed hope of those of us who have put our confidence in Jesus (Titus 2:13). We never put our hope in a country or in a political leader. We know greatness could never be measured by wealth or security. We know the purpose of time is the proclaiming of the Gospel to all nations and making the church from the people of all nations, each fully valued, wanted, and treasured.

As we come to the grand climax of history we know it will be in unsettling times. Disasters in the natural world like COVID-19, plagues of locust in Africa and the Mideast, earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, and major storms are all part of the rising birth pains of the coming judgment of God and revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know instability in governments and economies will lead to a compelling call to a new world order in economy and governance. It seems inevitable that a virus like COVID-19 will not be defeated by each country going its own way. We know huge questions rise up over our future. Knowing what was coming, Jesus instructs us to fix our eyes on Him, for all of this is exactly how He described it would be. He instructs us in this last generation directly when He commands in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This is Jesus directly calling us to focus on the truth that He is soon coming for His church to take us home. He says to do this when things begin to take place, for we will not be here for the terrifying last seven years before Jesus brings His kingdom to earth.

Thus we find ourselves with Jeremiah having to make a choice. Do we focus on the loss? Do we focus on the sadness that many of us have that things will never be the same again.? Or do we focus on our hope as we fix our eyes on Jesus? We are very much like the Apostle Peter who, when the wind was blowing the waves, at the invitation of Jesus, got out of the boat and walked on the water. But the Bible says he took his eyes off Jesus and began to measure the wind and the waves, began to fear and sink. It says in Matthew 14:30, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid,” We are in a time when the wind and the waves of the rebellion of man are heading to final judgment. The dangers are real. The dangerous waves are real. This storm may pass, but more are coming. We can fix our eyes on the competing outrages of CNN and Fox News, or we can fix our eyes on Jesus. We can put our head down in discouragement and depression, or we can lift our eyes to Jesus, knowing He is coming so soon. We can take His hand and know His steadfast love will never let us go. We can know His mercies are new today and will always be enough. We can know that He is faithful and we hear His Spirit calling, “lift up your eyes child, I am coming. I am coming for you.” With Jeremiah, I call this to mind and in this I have hope.

Wake Up

This year in my Bible study we’ve been studying the book of Romans. It’s been a
great book to study, the foundation of many Christian doctrines. Paul, who wrote the book of Romans, starts out in Chapter 1 telling the pagans that they are sinners, which the religious found awesome. Then Paul turns around in Chapter 2 and tells them, hey guess what, you religious are sinners, too. Then in Romans 3:23, everyone is a sinner, which is a bummer, but it’s okay because then Paul spells out God’s plan of salvation.  He tells how God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place for our sins, that we might be the family of God. This good news culminates in Romans 8:1 which says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:35 reveals that nothing can separate us from the love of God. So, there you are Christian. You are a sinner, but you have put your trust in Jesus, so now there is no condemnation for you, and nothing can separate you from God’s love.

Paul has written all this down, and Romans is a long book. Churches at that time would have read the entire letter out loud. As you can imagine, attention may have waned a
bit as all the chapters were read. This is why I love Romans Chapter 13 where, right in the middle of the chapter, Paul basically says, “Wake up!” Romans 13:11 says,“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”

You hear that? Wake up because salvation is near. What does that mean? Well, we understand “wake up,” because we are often distracted and busy and not about what life is about. “Salvation is near?” What does that mean? Well, you get one life right? Your chance to choose Jesus is right now. You don’t get another chance to choose Jesus, and since you’re alive right now your chance is right now. That is also true for everyone currently alive on planet earth. Wake up! Salvation is near.

In many ways, I think coronavirus and the chaos it has caused has brought this verse to fruition. We were living like life goes on forever, right? Busy doing what we do: kids,
jobs, sports, leisure. Now, suddenly, we can’t live like that anymore. The fragility of life is
apparent and on our minds every day. Coronavirus has told the whole world to wake up!

Paul also lived in a time where the world was told to wake up for salvation is near, a time of chaos where things seemed out of control.

I was on Facebook the other day — you know, the number one place to look for news and
advice on how to live your life. One post had a list of how to maintain some sanity during chaotic times. It was full of things like: maintain a normal schedule by setting your alarm and going to bed on time, and dress for the social life you want, not the social life you currently have. So, basically, stop waking up at noon and wearing your pajamas all day. It struck me what most of the list had in common. It gave you control over something. Control over your schedule, how you dress, what you eat.  We like that. We like to have control. It sets our minds at ease.

We like control, but coronavirus has shattered that. It has shattered all illusions of control that we have. We don’t have control over when our kids go back to school, whether there will be a graduation ceremony, what our jobs will be like, or even if we can find toilet paper at the grocery store. It’s all out of our control. One morning we thought we had control over all these things, and then overnight we didn’t.

Paul’s life was a little bit like that, too. He was a Pharisee living the law as well as he
could. He had control over his religion and his daily activities. Then Jesus came, stopped him cold on a road, blinded him, and said, “You are going to follow me now.” Paul lost all control. Think about it. He couldn’t see. He was taken to someone’s house who had reason to hate him and was totally dependent on him.

From then on, his life was directed by God, and not in his control. Preaching in the synagogue? Awesome! Some zealous Jews will plot to kill you, so out the window in a basket to preach at the next place. Spread the good news of Jesus to both Jew and Gentile? Cool! Well, some dudes vow to be on a hunger strike until they kill you. Want to comfort the Christians in Rome? Great idea! You can go there as a prisoner, but oh, by the way, you’ll be shipwrecked on an island along the way, a snake will bite you on the hand, and everyone will sit around waiting for you to swell up and die.  But Paul “shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.” (Acts 28:5)

He continued off to Rome, a prisoner, chained to a guard, preaching about Jesus to anyone who would listen until they killed him. All the while, with these crazy things happening to him, Paul continued on and wrote verses like Philippians 4:12-13, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Also, Philippians 4:6-7, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Why? How? How could his life be so out of control and yet, he was content, at peace,
and continually serving the Lord? Because of everything that he taught us in Romans. He was a sinner, who Jesus saved. His eternity was secure. Nothing on earth could separate him from the love of Jesus. He was loved and led by God, and there were people all around him who didn’t know Jesus. The time of salvation was near, so it was time to wake up and live a life that made sense in light of that. God was in control of his life, both present and future. Trust me, you don’t want to get bit by snakes unless God is in control of your life. Paul was, as the kids say, woke. He knew what he was about, and each curve ball was just another opportunity for the Gospel of Jesus to go out.

As I think of coronavirus, this is what I want to focus on. Jesus is my savior, I am loved by Him, and my eternity is secure. Coronavirus has woken the world up to the briefness and fragility of life. So, the time of salvation is near, and I need to live a life that makes sense. I must take opportunities to let people know the hope I have that they can have, too, that they can have peace and security in a time of chaos. Especially this Easter week. Use social media or whatever means you have to spread the Gospel of Jesus. It’s time to wake up, for the hour of salvation is near.

Is All That Your Soul Longs For Being Lost Or Gained?

Unprecedented – no other word describes what is happening in the world through the Covid-19 virus. The world has faced pandemics before. The Spanish flu in 1918 infected an estimated 500 million people with about 50 million deaths worldwide and 675,000 deaths in the USA. But then, there were no efforts to contain the virus. What happened happened. In 1918, the world population was 1.5 billion. Today the population is about 7.8 billion. We as people and governments are not willing to let what happens just happen. Thus most countries are engaged in some containment effort.

What makes this pandemic so difficult it is that no one knows how it will end. How long will it go on? Will a successful treatment be found? Will a vaccine be found and mass-produced enough to vaccinate billions of people? While we live in this unprecedented time, everything we value seems to be at risk. The physical health of ourselves and our loved ones is under great threat. The economy has all but stopped as social isolation keeps all but people regarded as providing essential services from working. Our social health is threatened as we must isolate from one another. Churches turn to video streaming with no idea how effective it is as instrument of the Holy Spirit. Easter comes to the world with almost all churches closed. Unprecedented. One by one the sporting events that have defined life for many are canceled or postponed (March Madness, NBA, Baseball opening, Tour de France, Masters, Kentucky Derby, NHL, Wimbledon, British Open).

This unprecedented time brings us to perhaps its most important gift, a gift of checking our heart. What does our heart long for? The heart is everything to God, as we are to love His Son Jesus and Him with all our heart. Our heart is everything to God, as there is not room for two first loves. As we look at the threats of the virus what is at risk? Does the virus threaten everything you long for or does it bring gain to what you long for? Is all at risk or is all closer to gain? God uses times of risk to test our hearts. He said through Moses in Deuteronomy 8:2-3, as God led Israel through times of need for basics like food and water, “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” God knows crisis,
adversity, danger, and need tests our hearts.

I don’t believe this crisis is the final judgment of God, but I believe it is a warning that the
judgment is coming, that it is breathlessly close. I believe the USA in prophecy is the economic Babylon of Revelation 18, Jeremiah 50-51. It will be destroyed in an hour during the second part of the seven years of the Great Tribulation. But there is a line that brings the issue of the heart to us. It says in Revelation 18:14, “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you…” What is the fruit of life for which the USA longed? It is described in Revelation 18:7, “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’’” In her heart she believes she should live a life of entitlement, wealth, security. It is a heart that views its country with a pride that believes it is better than others, ought to always be first before others, and have the entitled life as its right. It is a country that measures greatness by a life of prosperity, pleasure, and separation from the rest of the world and its problems.

We see this attitude of entitlement and wealth, health, and security as the longing of the heart in the church at Laodicea in the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. The Lord Jesus says of them in Revelation 3:17-18, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” The church was very content because in wealth, health, and security it had all it needed for life. Wealth, health, and security were the longings of their heart. But the spiritual results of this heart is that their love for Jesus was lukewarm. They did not hunger for Him, long to know Him, to be like Him, and to proclaim Him to the world. It is the lukewarm heart that Jesus most strongly turns from. The USA right now is praying, but are our prayers for anything more than that wealth and health be restored? Did we pray and care when other nations were gripped by the virus, like China, South Korea, and Italy, or is it only now as it threatens our health and wealth that we pray? Do we believe in our prayers that God should hear and answer us first, because the USA ought to always be first?

In contrast to the church in Laodicea are the churches that Peter wrote to in 1 and 2 Peter. In contrast to Laodicea, the Christians are living in the midst of fiery trials. But the gift of these fiery trials is that they revealed their heart. There are two qualities of the heart that Peter noted in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” The desires of their heart were the love of Jesus and the inexpressible joy that they will be saved from judgment and be with Him for eternity. Nothing in their lives was at risk, because the true treasure in life is Jesus, and the true gold is the saving faith that makes a person His for now and eternity.

We see how that desire for Jesus worked out in their lives. In 1 Peter 1:18, it was to pursue the call to be holy in character and actions. It led to a hunger for the Word of God like newborn babies hunger for the milk that brings life and growth to their bodies (1 Peter 2:1-3). It led them to come to Jesus as He built them into a holy temple as part of His local church (1 Peter 2:4-6). It led to a life as a spiritual priest offering sacrifices acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:5). It led them to brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. It led them to a readiness and a passion to share the hope they found in Jesus with others (1 Peter 3:15).

When Jesus is your love, and being with Him for eternity your purpose, then nothing that life can bring threatens you. There is nothing in the threats to physical and economic health that can threaten, because they have never been the desire of the heart. The heart centered in Jesus has a contentment because He satisfies the soul and He is always enough. The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11-13 as he is in prison on trial for his life, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The secret of contentment is that Jesus is always enough. He learned there is nothing in plenty that made him richer and there is nothing in want that made him poorer.

When I was in seminary, I met with a man who worked with the underground church in China. A well known pastor, Wang Mingdao, had just been released after 25 years in prison for preaching the Gospel. Though when first arrested he had weakened in his faith, he was soon strengthened. He had been in the worst of prison conditions, even forced to work in sewage. His wife was also arrested and had died in prison, never seeing him again after their arrest. I saw a picture of him and heard a tape him singing a hymn, Safe in the arms of Jesus, that he sang repeatedly in prison. All those years of prison had brought him not loss, but the treasure of life to be safe in the arms of Jesus.

May this unprecedented time in history lead you to a heart that is free, as the longing of the heart you have in Jesus. Don’t fear what life will bring, because all your desires in life are in Him.  It won’t be long until we are together with brothers and sisters in Christ like Pastor Wang Mingdao and his wife.

You Keep Him In Perfect Peace

We live in unprecedented times. India today, with the second biggest population in the world, has ordered a three week stay at home lockdown. This follows the UK yesterday and the most populous states in the USA before that. International air travel has all but ceased. Many nations have closed their border to others. This is unprecedented, and no one knows how long it will last or how devastating it will be to both physical health and economic wealth. The Lt. Governor of Texas called for the economy to be opened and grandparents to be sacrificed for the sake of the economy.

In the Los Angeles area where I live there are three kinds of stores that have had lines waiting to enter. The three stores are groceries, guns, and cannabis. In some states cannabis stores are saying they should be left open because they offer an essential product for people handling the stress of the times. Somehow, guns and cannabis best express the places our neighbors look in their stress. Churches though are closed. Even online service productions are threatened by the current stay at home policies. This is unprecedented. We have never seen anything like this on a global scale.

In the midst of these times the Word of God has taken the form of living hope, which it should be. Some verses are now commonly shared. Psalm 91 brings the Lord as our
Refuge. Philippians 4:6-7, where God calls us to turn all our anxieties into prayers, and He will give us peace. There is one passage that seems directly written for us. It flows from Isaiah 24-26 as the promise is given in 26:3, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” The promise is that God gives perfect peace to those who put their trust in Him. This peace is one of the great words of the Bible. In Hebrew, the word is Shalom. Shalom peace is the result when you are in the center of God’s will, pleasure, protection, provision. It is the well being that flows when you know God is on the throne and you live in the center of His pleasure. It is the peace Jesus said comes from Him (John 14:27). It is a peace the world can’t give, and it is a peace the world can’t take.

While this promise of perfect peace has stood for all generations of those who walk by faith, the context of Isaiah 24-26 is written for those who live at one point in time. It is very direct in what it is saying to us who long for the coming of the Lord Jesus for His church and then to bring His kingdom to earth and bring peace. I urge you right now to read carefully through Isaiah 24-26 and then reflect on the rest of this blog.

Isaiah 24 is a prophecy of God bringing judgment to the earth. He will work to bring an end to the rebellious kingdom of man. He will desolate the earth as described in Revelation 4-19. Here is the prophecy from Isaiah 24:1,3-6, “Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants … The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the LORD has spoken this word. The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left.

The Covid-19 virus is just the latest of the evidences of God’s rising in judgment of the earth for its rejection of Jesus and God’s rule. We have observed waves of crises in Australia this past week. They have gone through the scorching heat of summer as fires ravaged the nation, killed about a billion animals, and changed the ecology of the land. They then had torrential rain in places that added to the damage. Now they are closed down because of the virus. A plague of locusts in Africa and the Mideast threaten crops and are likely to bring severe famine. An interconnected world economy finds its stability at risk with warnings of depression. Governments are flooding the markets with cash accumulating debt and decreasing the value of money in ways that threaten collapse.

As God is moving to desolate the earth, we see the utter futility of political leaders to solve the crisis. As the prophecy says in 24:4, “… the highest people of the earth languish.” One who is claimed by some as destined by God to make America great, now sees a stock market lower than when he started, and there are no answers. Calls to prayer are given but they are totally absent from cries of repentance and turning from our sinful ways. We are the generation of 2 Timothy 3 that finds ourselves compelled by three loves: the love of self, the love of pleasure, and the love of money. We have not cared about what happens in the rest of the world as long as we are living the good life we feel we are entitled to have. But now all of that is threatened.

The prophecy also says in 24:21, “On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth.” The judgment of God will not only be on the rulers of earth. It will come on Satan and the demonic legions with him. It seems likely that this time of crisis will bring about Satan’s plans to unite the world in rebellion against God and against His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is easy to see how the joining of nations to gather together in a new world order will happen when the health crisis passes. It is easy to see how there will be a need for a new world currency following the inevitable collapse of the weight of personal, corporate, and government debt. It is easy to see how a solution for peace with Israel and its neighbors will happen in a region decimated by the virus. It is easy to see how the world is ready for some world leader to emerge who will seem to have the answers needed.

As dark as Isaiah 24 is, the glory of the prophecy of Isaiah 25 that is so much greater, and promises the true new world order. Isaiah 25:8-9 describes what is just about to come. “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’

We are just about to see the rapture of the church, the resurrection of our bodies, our going home to be with Jesus forever. He has already conquered death through the cross and His resurrection triumph. Now He will swallow up death, and it will never more be. He will wipe away all the tears we have had from the trials and adversities of life. He will rule the earth from the New Jerusalem, and the surviving nations of the world will come to the gates to bring Him honor. The prophecy describing Jerusalem as the mountain of the Lord as it says in 25:6, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” We see the church there made up of people of all nations. We see Israel there joining. The last work of the Gospel is in Jerusalem among Israeli people, as the church has been raptured and the witness comes through two prophets sent by God.

We know the darkness the world is in now will be briefly lifted by a man of peace who will unite the nations together. He will be a magnetic personality. He will be supported by a false prophet of the church who will join the major religions together in support of what will become a new religion which worships the leader as a god. There will be a time of joy coming for the world, but it will lead to the desolation of the earth by the judgment of God.

It is with the soon coming of the desolation of the earth and God swallowing up death and the wiping away of all tears that the promise of Isaiah 26:3-4 comes, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” This peace comes to those who put their trust in Him. These are people who do not fear what is coming because their future is secure in God’s plans. It is not a peace that comes not from some mental or meditation discipline – it is a peace that comes from God Himself. We don’t create it. We rest in it. We live in Shalom because our times are in His hands and His promise is gloriously bright.

It is interesting what the Word of God tells us as we shelter in our homes. It is almost as if the work of the church among the nations is all but done. Here is God’s invitation to stay at home resting in His Shalom in Jesus. He says in Isaiah 26:20-21, “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.

Shalom church. Keep your mind stayed on Him. Judgment is coming to the earth. Hold out the Good News of the Gospel to all. But Jesus is coming for us. As Isaiah 26:8-9 says, “In the path of your judgments, O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” Jesus is the desire of our soul, and He is coming for us. Righteousness is the longing of our will, and He will perfect it in us and bring its perfection to the world. Just a little while more for us to endure the fury, but we do that in the shelter of our home in Him.

If you don’t know the Shalom of Jesus I encourage you to read the post, A Time to Be Sure. For those of you who do know Shalom of Jesus, may He fill you with His perfect peace. Shelter at home in His Shalom.

A Time To Be Sure

As the world has all but stopped in place as a result of the coronavirus, it is an important time for us all to stop in place; not before a virus, but before God. Where do you stand before God? Are you sure? The ultimate test of faith is death, but it is a test we only take once. The Bible says it is appointed to man to die once and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). There are no decisions points at death. Wherever we stood before God when death comes, there we will be forever. The world was struck by the suddenness of death with the helicopter accident that took the life of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and others on the helicopter. We realize how suddenly and completely life on this earth can come to an end. The pause in place that coronavirus has brought is a gift for us to be sure we know what death will bring us.

The Bible is a very honest book. It tells us that we each need a Savior and that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus. Acts 4:12 states in words spoken by Peter, an Apostle, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” No other name, no other religion, no other way to salvation but the name of Jesus. But how does Jesus save us? How can we be sure? We know we can have certainty as 1 John 5:13 promises. However, Jesus warned us that many people will think they are Christians and call Jesus Lord, yet death will prove they are not (Matthew 7:21-23). It isn’t that these people had salvation and lost it, but that they were never saved. Here is the danger: they thought they were saved. So how do we resolve this tension: I can know I am saved, but I also could be self-deceived? It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” The purpose of the test is to realize that Jesus Christ is in you. That is what makes true Christians different from anyone else, that Jesus Christ has come to live in them as they live in Him. So what does that look like? What is the test? Let’s take our time and make sure we understand.

There are some analogies the Bible uses to describe salvation. Let’s start out with two that are most helpful. In doing this we will also use the Apostle Paul as he describes himself in Philippians 3 as a model for us of what it looks like for someone to be saved. What it looks like for someone to be in Jesus, and for Jesus to be in him or her.

It is marriage that helps us realize that salvation is not some static condition we are either in or not. Salvation is a dynamic relationship with Jesus, comparable to a man and woman in marriage. The Apostle Paul used that analogy of marriage in 2 Corinthians 11:2 when he wrote, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” Someone who is betrothed has entered into a formal marriage covenant. What makes marriage real is not the status of being married. What makes marriage real is that you live in a vital, intimate relationship in which you share life together. If we are true to the spirit of marriage we aren’t getting married for the status. We are getting married for the relationship. We desire to be married to Jesus and live in a faithful, intimate relationship with Him from the
point of our betrothal. We turn from all other loves and live in devotion to Him. Our motivation for being Christian is so much more than escaping judgment and going to the presence of God at death. We want to give our lives to Jesus and live with Him in the intimacy of a relationship in which, from the point of betrothal, we live to know Him and to share life together with Him. So, does this describe you. Are you living in a vital committed relationship with Jesus in which you live to share life with Him? We will learn more about entering that relationship, but let’s capture the thought. The point of marriage is not the status. It is the relationship the status brings. The point of salvation is not the status of being saved. It is what the status brings: to be in a dynamic covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another way of describing being saved is being a worshiper. As created beings we have a likeness to God so that we might be in a relationship with Him. We were made to love and worship Him. The point of worship is to give God as the One worshipped the praise, honor, glory, love He deserves. When Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman as recorded in John 4, she was a woman with a failing history. She had been married five times and was living with a sixth man without being married. Yet Jesus said He wanted to give her the gift of living water (John 4:10). He told her she was someone God the Father was seeking. He said to her in John 4:21-24, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” As those who come to God through Jesus, we become worshipers. All of life has the purpose of making
great the name of God through His Son, Jesus. All of life — our heart, our time, our talents, our treasures, our relationships — become resources to use in worship of Jesus. Revelation 5:12 says of Jesus, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Do you live to worship Jesus? Do you see all of life as opportunities to use in spirit and action to glorify Jesus? If what it means to be saved is to become a worshiper of Jesus, does that describe you?

To see what it looks like to be in a saving relationship with Jesus, we will use the Apostle Paul as he describes himself in Philippians 3. We will see four parts to his relationship with Jesus, but let us understand the Apostle Paul is not some exceptional Christian who is rare. The Apostle Paul describes himself in Philippians 3:15-17, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” So, let us examine the Apostle Paul carefully so that we can understand what it looks like to have a real and growing relationship with God through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Apostle describes his ambition in life as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ in Philippians 3:7-11, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Everything in Paul’s ambition before God is expressed in the desire and worth of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. The word “know” describes knowledge gained through a relationship. He wanted to know Jesus in truth. But we often think of truth about Jesus as information gained through knowledge. But Paul wanted so much more. He wanted to know Jesus in relationship. Let’s think of the three names Paul used for Jesus. “Christ” means “anointed one.” In Hebrew language it is “Messiah.” The Bible promised that God would raise up from the Jewish people an “Anointed One” who would bring salvation and lead us to God (Psalm 2:2). He is Jesus. As promised by God, Jesus was born of a woman, conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is an historical figure whose life we can learn about through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). He is Lord. Jesus is God to us, and we surrender the leadership of our life to Him. “Lord” becomes not a word we use as much as a life we live. As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

Let’s do a basic description of God. The Bible in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-18 gives us some basic knowledge. It reveals that there is but one God who is eternal, and it is He who created all things. We learn that while God is one, He exists eternally as three distinct persons — one, yet each unique. One is not the other, and yet together they are one. The three are God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. John reveals that Jesus was one the who created all things on the Father’s behalf using His Word and the Holy Spirit. The Bible reveals that man was God’s last work of creation. We were made in His likeness as spiritual beings. We were made to know Him and to glorify Him. In making us for love and for worship, God gave us a will, so that our choices would be meaningful. But we used our freedom to rebel. Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit, denying God loving obedience and worship. God, rather than destroying us in the judgment we deserved, gave us a promise. He promised that there would be one born of the seed of a woman who would make a way for our hearts to be changed, for our sins to be forgiven, and for us to be adopted as the children of God.

This passion to know Jesus is rooted in the confidence that Jesus is the promised one. That He became God in the flesh. No one before or since has ever seen God the Father, but Jesus as His Son is the full representation of Him. Jesus has come to call us back to relationship (the bride of Christ), to love and to worship. Faith is to welcome Him, to commit to Him, to trust Him, to live a life committed to obey Him as Lord. The one who puts their faith in Jesus is spiritually born again. John put it this way in John 1:11-13, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” There was a moment in time when the Apostle turned to Jesus. He put his faith in Him. He lived to love Him, to spend his life with him (bride of Christ), to worship Him through his praise in words and actions. He followed the simple command of Jesus who calls in
Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The Apostle Paul made that change of direction in his life, and every day became a new opportunity with purpose to know and follow Jesus.

The Bible, by the work of its author the Holy Spirit, becomes the source for us to know Jesus. As we read the Old Testament, we learn of the promise of Him, and we see the need of Him. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus. It gives us the practical knowledge of what it looks like to know Him and to seek to become like Him. It gives the promise of the everlasting kingdom He will bring. The great truth about Jesus is that He is unchanging. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The same Jesus revealed in the Bible is the One who is calling me to Himself. Jesus by the Holy Spirit makes the Bible real, alive, personal. This life of living to know Jesus is resourced with the third person of the triune God, the Holy Spirit, living in me and making it possible for me to know Jesus.

The second part of Paul’s life of faith, was a hunger to be righteous before God, knowing that only Jesus is able to make a person righteous before God. To be righteous is to be compared to the law of God and to be found innocent. The law of God in its essence is described in love. To be righteous is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. To be righteous is to love our neighbor with a selfless love. Yet none of us has perfectly done this.

Before knowing Jesus, Paul sought to have righteousness by how perfectly he followed the law of God. This was a righteousness that came by works and performance. Once he knew Jesus, Paul says he saw all his works and performance was like garbage before God. Paul, like the rest of us, found he could not meet the standard. He fell short (Romans 3:23). He realized that his works, rather than being satisfying to God, had brought His judgment. His sin had separated him from God. It had earned him spiritual death, separation from God. It had brought him the warning of eternal death in judgment. The wages of his sin was death, and he could not pay the fine (Romans 6:23). The importance of being righteous, meeting the standard of God, is to be holy before God.
Holiness is vital, for without holiness no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14).

Paul realized the holiness before God that he desperately sought comes to those who put their trust in Jesus. A righteousness that comes by putting your full trust in Jesus, by faith. The law of God says the soul that sins must die in judgment for that sin (Ezekiel 18:20), but the law of God also allowed someone to take our place in judgment. The one who takes our place must be a man like us, and he must not be guilty of sin himself. The only person who has ever lived a sinless life is Jesus. Thus Jesus could take our place in judgment before God and the Law, and that is what He did. Jesus died taking the judicial wrath of God for our sin. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Because Jesus fully satisfied the law and paid the full price for our sin, we can be declared righteous before God when we put our faith in Jesus. Paul stopped trying to be righteous by performance and found righteousness by resting in faith in Jesus.

Paul in his life in Jesus also wanted to live in the resurrection power of Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead by the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit who made Him alive. That same power now belongs to those who live by faith in Jesus. That is important personally, as I cannot live a righteous life by my own power. I was made to live with the life of God flowing in me to empower me to live for Him. As Christians we have the spiritual desire to obey and trust Jesus. Our spirit is willing, but we still lack the strength on our own to live it. We are as Jesus told Peter: our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Thus we consciously and continuously seek to be filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). We also know we need the resurrection power of Jesus to make our service and our witness effective. We seek to minister and serve others by the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.

Fourthly, Paul wanted to share in fellowship with Jesus in suffering. The Bible says that all who live godly lives will suffer persecution. We know we have a spiritual enemy that seeks to overcome the work of Christ in us and through us. We know a true passion for Jesus will at times turn our family and others against us, but we know Jesus is with us in all of this. Paul understood that it is in suffering that he comes to best know Jesus. We know Him much better through suffering than we do in the flow of resurrection power.

The desire to know Jesus was a daily passion for Paul. He wanted to know Jesus and to become like Him. Paul knew that this passion to know and become like Jesus took daily focus. It was a relationship when, like a wife, he wanted to make his life in Jesus and share it with Him. He wanted to live a life of worship, and each day was new opportunity. He wanted to become more and more like Jesus in character, and that took a new day’s focus. He put it this way in Philippians 3:12-14: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

So does this describe you? If this is what it is like to meet the test of being a true Christian is this you? Do you want it to be? Every life of faith starts with a single step of faith. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your past has been, whoever calls on Jesus in genuine faith will be saved. In the Christian life it doesn’t matter so much where you are it is where you are going. Each day is the new day to follow Jesus.

You can start this new life with a simple prayer. “Dear God, I know I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins and I want forgiveness and help to live in new direction. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who became man to take my place in judgment for my sin. I believe that He died, paying that price. I believe on the third day He rose from the dead in resurrection triumph. I believe He has made it possible for salvation to be a gift if I come to faith. I want that gift. Forgive my sins. Come to live in my life. Jesus, I will live to follow you from this day on by the grace you give. Help me do it. Amen.”

A great way to start you life of following Jesus is to start daily with the Word of God and prayer. The Gospel of John is a great beginning place. Go through it slowly. Go with a prayer, “Lord Jesus, I want to know you, help me know you through this Gospel.” From there the book of 1 John is a practical book to help us in daily life.

Let’s encourage one another on this journey. If you are making new commitment share it. Help others to know the hope and help you are finding in Jesus. Live as the bride of Christ building your home and life in Him. Live in worship of Him with each day new opportunities to bring Him praise. God bless you as you do.

The Spirit of Fear

There is something new in the air in the world and in the USA.  It is the spirit of fear. The
coronavirus and the resulting economic consequences have created a spirit of fear. Nations have reacted in some cases by closing borders and shutting schools. Italy has shut down in isolation a whole nation. Investors who want an economic world without surprises have no way of knowing how this virus will impact us. They don’t know how severe it will be or how long the disruptions will last. Fear is that painful emotional reaction to the threat that someone or something will cause pain, a threat that has many sources right now.

The Bible calls fear a spirit in 2 Timothy 1:7, but it says fear is not a spirit from God. 2 Timothy 1:7 states, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Fear in a healthy forms causes us to humble ourselves before God in a spirit of repentance, trust, and obedience as we put our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Fear of God leads to peace. But fear for anything else is debilitating.

We see in this verse all the negative reactions fear creates. Fear makes us feel powerless
against the things, people, circumstances that face us. Fear can make anything we do seem futile. Fear also robs us of the sense we are loved and cared for. Fear makes God seem distant and not interested in intervening in circumstances. Fear isolates us from others and the community of loving support God designed for us in Christ through the church. Fear makes us irrational, and we make poor choices. Fear makes us lose perspective beyond the moment. Fear often turns us to the worst case scenario as being the most likely outcome.

As we look at the current threats to us, there are two extremes we must avoid. One is the spirit of fear and panic that would have us wildly overreacting. One person I heard bought enough food so that he could live for a year on what he bought. Panic-buying is emptying store shelves. Of all the things most feared scarce is toilet paper. Open fights have broken out over the last rolls of toilet paper in stores. Fear can lead us to isolate ourselves from others. Fear in the financial world can lead us to panic-selling that makes the crisis only worse. Fear leads to anger and blame. We must stand against the panic and unwise reactions that fear creates.

The other extreme to avoid is denial. We see some seeking to minimize the threat as if it is a creation of a conspiracy. It’s being called “fake news,” a plot by the media to spread panic. It’s being called a conspiracy somehow forged to keep President Trump from being reelected. But it was not fake news that shut down China, that has led all schools to be closed in South Korea and Japan, has led an entire nation of 90 million, Italy, to shut itself totally down. It is no invented conspiracy that has already taken over 4,700 lives. It is no invented conspiracy that has taken lives in nursing homes in Washington and is rapidly spreading in parts of the USA beyond what we know as we are so late in making tests available. Some say more will die from the flu, but the reality is that this virus is ten times more deadly than the flu according to the Center for Disease Control Director in the USA. To deny this reality and to wink at the danger is not helpful. This is a virus that no one has antibodies to resist. It is highly contagious. Angela Merkel, the German government leader, expects 70% of Germans to have the virus. This is a genuine risk to public health and even life itself, and it requires we take the proper precautions
to limit the spread and treat those infected. What Italy is finding is that there are not enough medical beds and professionals to treat the massive numbers that come. We must not deny the reality and its danger.

As Christians we do not give in to a spirit of fear, but we do need a spirit of wisdom. The Bible tells us in Leviticus 13-15 how to deal with highly contagious diseases. In Leviticus it was skin diseases and mold in houses. People with symptoms were to self isolate and go to a priest to get tested. Priests were trained by the Word of God in how to recognize infectious diseases. People identified with contagious disease were to warn people by dress and words that they were unclean and people were to avoid contact with them. They were isolated from the rest of the camp until they were symptom free and certified by a priest. The Bible also recognized that viruses can be transferred to surfaces people touched. Their clothes were to be washed and if they showed evidence of continued contamination they were to be destroyed. Houses evidencing mold were to be cleaned, removing plaster and impacted stones. If after this houses still showed evidence of mold they were to be torn down and put in a place outside contact. Nowhere were Israelites told to minimize the danger or act as if they could not be infected. They were to act wisely and isolate those with infectious diseases until they were symptom free. The church should lead in supporting the necessary steps that need to be taken to protect as many people as possible from infectious diseases. There is a huge difference between faith and foolish denial of reality.

As Christians we do not give into fear, but do yield to wisdom and to restrict as many people as possible from exposure. We also meet the challenge with bold faith, full of the promise from 2 Timothy 1:7 that God gives us a spirit of power, love, and sound thinking. The Bible knows that faith and fear cannot coexist. The Bible also knows that times of fear in society are times for Christians to demonstrate faith, and to reach out to others with the peace and hope that are offered by God to all who call on Jesus in genuine faith.

Jesus specifically called on His disciples to not live in fear but to live in the peace He gives. In John 14:1-7, Christians are called to not let our hearts be troubled. Jesus begins with our ultimate hope of life in Jesus that is eternal. Jesus says He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us in the New Jerusalem. He has prepared a way to that place by faith in Him, and He is prepared to take us to that place as death comes or He comes for the church to take us all home. The reality is, apart from the return of Jesus for His church, we will all die from something. Every Christian before us has died. But we do not fear death, as we know to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). We know also we will have enabling grace when the moment of death comes, and that grace will be enough (2 Corinthians 12:9). I have been in death’s presence for Christians, and I have seen that triumphant witness. So we do not live in fear because the worst that can happen to our body is that we die, and we know that moment will bring us into the presence of the real treasure in life, the Lord Jesus Christ. For us to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

We also do not fear because we know nothing in life can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39). Jesus promised we who are His disciples two kinds of peace. He said as recorded in John 14:26, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The first kind of peace that Jesus gives is the foundation for all else. The word “leave” is in a verb form that says it is one time peace established in the past. The peace Jesus leaves is peace with God because we have an everlasting righteousness before God through the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus to satisfy the righteous requirement of the law for those who have sinned. We have a righteousness before God that cannot be lost or taken. The blood of Jesus is enough to cleanse us for all time for our sin. In the books kept on each of us in heaven is written the word “righteous”. This peace of the cross is the peace that all other kinds of peace flow from.

Jesus then promises there is a peace He gives. The word “gives” is in the continual present. It is the shepherding care of Jesus for His disciples in this life. The Bible teaches that life is not random, nothing can come into a Christian’s life apart from the permission of God and for everything that comes into a Christian’s life there is a grace that will enable a Christian not only to make it but to do so triumphantly (Romans 8:37-39). Thus we do not fear what life might bring because we know Jesus is with us, and He will shepherd us through it with His life abundant.

While life for a Christian is not random, we know that God’s will for each of us is unique (John 21:22). We know that in other worldwide pandemics or plagues in the past, some Christians have caught the plague and died. Some Christians have caught the disease and recovered. Some were exposed and did not develop the disease. God has purpose in each life. We saw in the Early Church in Acts that when persecution came, God’s will for each was different. James, the brother of John, was the first Apostle martyred. Peter was miraculously delivered from prison at the same time. John, the brother of James, was the only Apostle to die a natural death which he did as an old man. The difference was not the faith of any one of them but that the will of God was unique for each, as it is for us.

We also know as Christians that God is at work in all things in the lives of those who love Him and called according to His purpose. It doesn’t say all things are good, because some terrible things will happen to Christians. We have to understand what God considers to be good. God has only one definition of good, and that is to know Him and His love in Jesus Christ. Since that is the only good, there can only be one thing that could happen that is evil, and that is if there is anything that could separate us from God and His love. The rest of Romans 8 declares that nothing in this life or in the life to come will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

We also know the good God is doing in all things. We know that God is at work bringing us more and more into intimacy in our relationship with Him (Romans 8:28). We know that God is at work making us more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). All the difficulties in life are part of His refining work on our character. We know that in all things God is at work in our lives to be a witness to others (Romans 8:36). Crisis becomes a great time for us to proclaim the reason for the hope we have in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). We also know that going through times of crisis and finding the help of God in it equips us to share with others how they also can find that comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). We have relevance not because God kept us from all the hard times, but because we have a witness of how God keeps us through all the hard times.

As Christians we also know that this worldwide disease and resulting economic crisis is a sign of the times and that God is bringing all things to their grand climax. Jesus warned us that in the last days there will be times of increasing crisis. Creation is like a woman in the last stages of birth: the closer to the end, the more frequent and intense are the birth pangs (Matthew 24:8). Absolutely everything the Bible described about the last generation are true right now. The key has been the focus on Jerusalem the capital of a reborn Israel. But all the other supporting signs are only increasing. We are not in the final seven years of the Great Tribulation, but we are so close you can feel its coming like thunder of an approaching storm that is getting closer and closer. We know from Revelation 6:7-8 that the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse will bring through sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts will bring death to a fourth of the world population. We are at 7.7 billion right now, which means we will see the death of close to 2 billion people. The world’s woe in their rebellion against Jesus are unfortunately just getting

We also know the futility of any one nation to protect against the virus is leading the opportunity for a world super leader to come in with a plan to bring the nations together. We know the global economy is so interrelated that economies won’t prosper unless a world wide plan is embraced. I expect soon for a surprising world leader to be offered with support by other world leaders and the world’s religious leaders. This is a plan long ago developed just waiting for the right world crisis that will create the opportunity.

For Christians this is a time to stay calm. It is a time to be wise. It is a time to be bold with our hope in Christ. It is a time for compassion and help for those who are suffering. It is a time to be bold in the witness of the hope we have in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. It is a time to pray. It is a time to look up, for the coming of Jesus is so soon.

This is Not Normal!

I have been on many flights over the Pacific where I am 33,000 feet high and hours from landing. There are times when the engine pitch seems to change, turbulence bumps the plane around, and I wonder if I should be worried or not (not that worry would accomplish anything). I watch the flight attendants. If they treat it as routine, then I know that this is normal and nothing to worry about.

As I look at the extraordinary and cataclysmic events impacting our world right now the question arises: is this normal? We are in such a flood of extraordinary events we tend to not ask the deeper questions as to what it means and how we should respond. It is ironic but true that the closer the church gets to the coming of Jesus for His bride, the church, the less people there are who are interested in the Second Coming (2 Peter 3:1-7).

When Australia is plagued by fires that destroy millions of acres, kill an estimated billion animals, and significantly change the very ecology of the continent, we can say, “This is not normal!”

When a plague of locusts is devouring crops in the Horn of Africa as well as other countries in the Mideast; when China is considering sending 100,000 ducks to Pakistan to combat the locusts and their devastation, we can say, “This is not normal!”

When  Sweden, as an example of many countries, reports a 1,700% increase of girls 13-17 declaring gender dysphoria and seeking hormones and gender change surgery, we can say, “This is not normal!”

As the USA withdraws from the Syria conflict and cedes the region to the dominance of Russia, Iran, and an increasingly aggressive Turkey, we can say, “This is not normal!”

When 900,000 Syrians from the city of Idlib since December are forced into winter rains in flooded fields without clothing, food, or shelter; when they are bombed, children are dying from exposure, and it is called the largest humanitarian crisis in the 21st Century; when no one responds as Syria, Iran, and Russian forces attack from one side, and Turkish forces push in from the other side, we can say, “This is not normal!”

When whole Christian villages are burned and people slaughtered by the Boko Horan in Nigeria, in an effort of genocide of Christians, and no one rises up to stop it, we can say, “This is not normal!”

When a virus from China shuts down cities of millions, shuts down major cities in South Korea, leads to Japanese children being withheld from school for a month, isolates twelve cities in Northern Italy, causes interruption of a vastly integrated global market, leads to a major stock market fall; when there are major of concerns as to what more is coming, and it is described by some as a ploy by Democrats to somehow defeat Trump, we can say, “This is not normal!”

When Great Britain has suffered unprecedented weather “bombs” that have led to major flooding, we can say, “This is not normal!”

When media-identified “evangelical leaders” gather around President Trump to declare him God’s anointed to make America great, and to stand against the forces of evil, and to pray protection for him; when he then goes to rallies and casually blasphemes in God’s name and reportedly likes it when media describes his rough language as if it defines his image, which it does, we can say, “This is not normal!”

All of this and more is exactly as Jesus prophesied it would be just before His coming for the church and the beginning of the seven years of the Great Tribulation.  He said it will be as if earth was in birth pangs, as the frequency and intensity of cataclysmic events increases (Matthew 24:7-8).  The rising persecution of the church in China, India, Nigeria, and many other places is as Jesus prophesied (Matthew 24:9-13).  The tremendous harvest of souls in the midst of all this is the moving of God to fulfill the promise that the Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached to all nations, and then the end comes (Matthew 24:14).  The tremendous apostasy of the Church in which many have rejected the authority of Scripture, changed the very meaning of the Atonement, and have all but given over to the LGBTQ movement as if that somehow is love.

The call of Jesus to His remnant church is simple.  Declare the Gospel to all nations in a massive harvest, for the night is coming in which the church’s work is done (Matthew 28:18-20, John 9:4-5). We must stand firm for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, unchanging and not to be redefined (Jude 3).  We are to pay attention and preach the Word of God as the only light we have in this dark world (2 Peter 1:19, 2 Timothy 4:1-5). We are to keep our love for Jesus at a fever pitch, even as the love of Jesus of others grows cold, as the love of sin increases (Matthew 24:13).  We are to be willing to stand for Jesus even as it means persecution, imprisonment, death (Revelation 12:11).  We are not to neglect our gathering for church, but are to encourage one another as we see His coming approach (Hebrews 10:23-25).  We are to watch and pray for our own souls and for others that we may be found faithful for Jesus when so many will fade away (Luke 21:36). We are not to give in to anxiety and fear, but are to look up, for the promised coming of Jesus is so soon (Luke 21:28).  We are to continue to love even those who would make us enemies, for our love is commanded and is the power of our witness for Jesus (John 13:34-35).  We are to join with creation, with the saints already in heaven, and with the saints on earth to pray passionately, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

Why would God want America great?

In a country that is increasingly politically divided, there is a group among President Trump’s most loyal supporters who are called by the media ‘evangelicals’. According to this group President Trump has been ‘anointed’ by God to make America great. That he is like a Cyrus, King of Persia, who was raised up by God to allow a group of Jewish people to go from exile to build a Temple for the worship of God in Jerusalem and eventually to allow the walls of Jerusalem to be rebuilt. There was no claim that he was a godly man, just a man ‘anointed’ by God to be King. Similarly President Trump is not offered as a godly man as his moral and spiritual failures are too evident to all. But to this group he deserves our unquestioning support as the ‘anointed’ to make America great.

We know God wants America good by His standards for nations, as He does for all nations, but why would God want America great as opposed to any other nation? As we search the Bible and its prophecies of this age, where do we ever read that God’s purpose is to make one nation great as opposed to others? That answer is none. Even Israel won’t be great until they embrace the Lord Jesus as Messiah, Savior, Lord, and King. And what would a Biblically good nation look like? To the President, greatness is measured solely by wealth and an ability to live in isolation from the rest of the world and its problems. Wealth is the measure of greatness and other nations exist to have trade deals that add to our wealth and for us to have border policies that protect us from those who would come for our wealth.

In this current administration, money is the measure of everything. North Korea is invited to denuclearize because it would bring in an era of financial prosperity for them. The current offer to Israel and Palestinian is called “The Deal of the Century”, not a peace plan, because its offer is to bring financial prosperity to Palestinians. When did peace plans get be changed to deals? Even as some of you are reading this, you are wondering what’s wrong with that? If it pays off financially, isn’t that most important? Yet, if wealth is the measure of everything, why did Jesus say, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15)? If wealth is the measure of everything why does the Bible say the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and its pursuit will lead people to ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9-10)?

The Bible does talk about the pursuit of greatness in our world. The Bible says that the Lord Jesus Christ alone is great and worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Revelation 5:12). The church of the Lord Jesus Christ lives to make His name great. No one else is worthy. No one else could ever come into a place to be called the ‘anointed’.

The Bible says the greatness of God is not displayed in any nation. The glory of God is displayed in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. We lift high no leader, no nation, only the cross of the Lord Jesus. As the Apostle Paul wrote by the Holy Spirit in Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” We also learn through the cross that God has a special love and desire for those who the world regards as low and despised, for they are the chosen of God. As the Bible states in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” We
know that no governmental systems nor laws can make a people righteous. Only the Lord Jesus and the cross can change hearts and lead to changed lives. That is why our passion is to proclaim the Gospel and we say with Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

The Bible says the reflection of God’s glory on earth is not any nation, but the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church is for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12). The greatness of the church is that it is a spiritual body made up of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Jesus has come to tear down the walls of division by nationalism, tribalism, ethnic pride, or prejudice in order to make us one new person – through the Lord Jesus – one with God and one with one another with all the walls of division torn down (Ephesians 2:11-22). Jesus promised that in this world, He is building the church and all gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

We also know the Bible teaches us not to put our love on any nation because we are a people pursuing a better city, a better country. We are like Abraham willing to live in this world as sojourners who long for the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. It is said in Hebrews 11:14-16, “For people who speak thus make it clear they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” We are patriots of the true Fatherland, the New Jerusalem.

It is true God’s hands directs the establishment of nations. He sets a nation’s boundaries, times, and seasons (Acts 17:26-27). It is true that leaders are established by God, and He causes Kings to rise and Kings to fall (Isaiah 40:22-24). It is true we are to honor our leaders as those who are put into place by God. When the Apostle Paul was writing to honor the King, it was Nero, one of the most evil of the Caesars in his treatment of Christians who was the ruler (Romans 13:1). It is true that those who take up arms as instruments of the State are servants of God. We are grateful for those who have and do put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. We are to pay taxes and follow the laws (Romans 13:5-7). We are to pray for rulers, leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The purpose of good government is that we may live a peaceful and godly life, dignified in every way. As this is a representative government, we are to vote and seek God’s wisdom in using our vote. We know that those who uphold the right of the unborn and those who uphold the rights of Israel are important values to govern our choices, but they are not exclusive values.

We also know what would make a government that is good in God’s eyes is a government that upholds righteousness both in laws and in moral and spiritual character (Proverbs 14:34). We know that the Lord Jesus will judge nations in what they did for those who are strangers, hungry, thirsty, naked (Matthew 25:41-46). We know that God blesses those people and nations who use what God entrusts to them to bless others (Genesis 12:1-3).

The key founders of the USA were not seeking to make a great nation. They were seeking a place where the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ could be freely preached. They were seeking a place where people could practice their worship of God free from government interference. They were seeking a place where the government would be representative and the taxes fair. But they were not seeking a King. They were not seeking an ‘anointed’ ruler. In fact, when England insisted that the King ruled by divine right and must be supported and taxes paid no matter how unjust or unfair, they rose in united voice to say, “We have no King but Jesus.” May we join our hearts with them. May the church be devoted to making the name of Jesus great. May the church be united in raising up the cross of Jesus to people of all nations. May the church be united in being the place were all the walls of division are torn down. May we with passion, purpose, time, wealth, abilities live to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to all peoples. And may we make it our longing not for a nation to be great, but for Jesus to come, for only through Him will there be peace on earth and good will to men (Luke 2:11-14, Revelation 22:20).