God’s Mercy

chainsofsinElevation Church Worship Band recorded a wonderful song about God’s mercy entitled Mercy Reigns. Here are a few of the lyrics:

My God is strong enough to raise me from the grave Your love is great enough to take away my shame Your mercy reigns My God is making new the wreckage of my heart Your hand is reaching down to pull me from the dark Your mercy reigns; Your mercy covers me Your grace sustains; Your grace is all I need

Mercy is an important theme in the Bible, and the word is used a number of times throughout Scripture. It’s difficult to get an accurate count of a particular English word in the Bible because the Bible was not written in English. You may find several different words in the original text that could be translated mercy or another word that is similar. For example, Lamentations 3:22-23 are some of my favorite verses about mercy: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Henry Morris mentioned in one of his articles that there are four Hebrew words and three Greek words associated with the word “mercy” and these words are used a total of 454 times in the Bible. Wow!

Often times, grace is used synonymously with mercy, but they’re two different concepts. Grace is often thought of as undeserved favor. I once heard someone say that grace is getting something we do not deserve. Mercy, however, is more connected to withholding judgment. If grace is getting what we do not deserve – forgiveness, mercy is not getting what we do deserve – condemnation. Here’s an interesting thought. God mentions mercy more than grace in the Bible. I don’t really think that means one concept is more important than another, but it does make us pause to think about the significance of God holding back the judgment we deserve. We deserve death and hell. It is only because He is a God who is willing to withhold condemnation that we have hope for eternity. God’s mercies indeed never come to an end.

Be Transformed

One tree in field

Transformation! At my church, we have begun a fall spiritual growth campaign called “Transformed,” and I’m really excited about how God is going to use it in our lives. I’ve been thinking a good bit about how God is in the transformation business. It began with Adam and Eve and it continues today in me and you. He takes that which is bad or useless and transforms it into good and useful. One thing that strikes me about transformation is that while God is in the business of changing lives, it really depends upon our willingness to change. I stressed in the first two messages of this series that God is the One who does the transforming, not us, but we have to put ourselves in the place of transformation. This “positioning” requires several things I would like to share.

First, we must long for transformation. We must ask ourselves if we are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Transformation is not easy. It is often times painful. When was the last time you lost a significant amount of weight? That’s transformation, and it’s not easy. We must be able to see ourselves as we really are and long for what could be.

Second, we must be willing to incorporate the steps necessary to bring about transformation in our lives. It’s possible that we know what to do to transform our marriage or our finances, but it’s also possible that we’re not really sure. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to share some principles that will help us with this process of change in my weekly sermon (you can listen to these messages online), and a number of books and resources are also available to help us with needed change in our lives. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be willing to learn from others that God may place in your lives.

Third, we should set some goals in our lives for transformation. Based upon our reading, listening, prayer, and study, we should establish some S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time framed). I always encourage people to write out their goals. What are some goals you have in your life regarding spiritual transformation? What are some things you can do to place yourself in a position of transformation? For example, you could set goals to meet with God every day in Bible reading and prayer or attend worship at your church. What about transformation in your health or finances? What could you do to place yourself in a spot where God can bring transformation in your marriage, your family, or your career? Write out some goals. The series at SonRise will deal with transformation in the following areas of our lives: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, relational, financial, and vocational. Are you willing to set some goals in these areas and see what God can do through your life?

How Do You Say Goodbye to your Mother?

momHow do you say goodbye to your mother? My mother passed away last week. I kissed her the night before she died, told her I loved her, and told her that she would soon see Jesus. It was a sad time when she died the next day, but our sorrow was not for my mom. It was for us. My mother loved Jesus with all of her heart. The scripture is clear that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Even with Alzheimer’s, my mother lived out her faith. Just months before her death, she was not able to talk about much, but she could carry on a conversation about the Word of God. She would sing hymns and pray. A month before she passed, I was at my parent’s house doing some repairs, and my mom walked into the kitchen and said, “I need to pray for you.” We bowed our heads, and she started a prayer. My mother didn’t get past “Dear Heavenly Father,” but God knew exactly what was on her heart. I am confident that the Holy Spirit finished her prayer somewhere in the portals of Heaven.

My mother was passionate about sharing the gospel with everyone in the world. She lived out her passion and influenced thousands and thousands of people all over the world. I know that she personally led over 1000 children to Christ during the 13-year period she was a camp director. I learned last week that she had written a song or chorus. I can’t believe I didn’t know that. Many of the grandchildren knew it. All of the grandchildren and great grandchildren (at least those who were old enough to sing) sang her song at her funeral:

Everyone, everywhere needs to know of God’s love; for everyone, everywhere, Jesus came from above
To die on Calvary; His great love for all to see. Everyone, everywhere needs God’s love.

My oldest daughter told me yesterday that her two-year-old daughter asked her daddy to sing to her Grandma’s song. I am confident that my mother’s heart and life’s passion will continue to influence my family and the world for generations to come.

How do you say goodbye to your mother? If you and your mom are Christians, you don’t have to. The Bible is clear that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. I have no doubt my mother is in Heaven. I don’t have to say “goodbye” but rather “I’ll see you later.”

Someone Checked His Brain (and Morals) at the Door

brainless    The third largest school district in the country has spoken. USA Today reported Tuesday that the “Chicago Public Schools said its students, teachers and staff could use whichever restroom matches their gender identity.” When I was a kid, gender identity had to do with anatomy. Today, gender identity is determined by how an individual feels at the moment. If a teenage boy decides that he is a girl, then he showers and changes clothes in the girls’ locker room. Really? Have people lost their minds? Is everyone okay with a man going into the girls’ locker room at the local gym and changing clothes? Can’t people see where this is going to lead? We have enough perverted and twisted human beings in our nation today doing the unspeakable. Why would we want to feed their perversion with ridiculous laws? Politicians in North Carolina took a stand against this absurdity by passing a law requiring transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate. A representative from the Department of Justice has given North Carolina notice that they are in violation of the Civil Rights Act and will be required to face the consequences if they do not remedy the violation by Monday.

Four years ago, I began writing my book Immovable: Standing Firm in the Last Days, and I wrote of how our nation would continue its slide into the moral abyss. I stated, “While considering the national slide into immorality and the disdain with which people treat the truths of scripture, unrighteousness will be the new normal in a world heading toward Armageddon.” Although I addressed this move toward immorality, I am still stunned at the stupidity of our political leaders. You would have had a difficult time convincing me three or four years ago that our Federal Government would be threatening a state with consequences if they did not allow men to use the women’s locker room or women to shower with men after a morning workout at the local gym. This is simply an indication of the moral blindness of our secular culture. We should not be surprised by this. Second Corinthians 4:4 reminds us that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.” This is the only explanation for the direction our nation is going. Many of our political leaders are blinded to truth and to the consequences of an immoral nation.

I believe that our nation is already under the judgment of God. As you read through the Old Testament, you see story after story of God bringing judgment on a nation or on an individual. While God would pass judgment, it would often take years for the people to realize that judgment had come. In 1 Samuel 15:23, God told King Saul, “He has also rejected you from being king.” Saul continued to serve as the King for another fifteen years before he was ultimately killed in battle. Whenever we stepped out from under God’s umbrella of protection and blessing by passing laws that removed prayer from school, made it legal to murder unborn babies, and sanctified marriage between two people of the same sex, we opened the door up to all manner of consequences. When immoral and self-absorbed people go to the polls, they elect people who continue their agenda of immorality. Scripture says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” The god of America is no longer the God of the Bible. We have become our own gods who simply live for our pleasure. God cannot bless the nation we have become.

Four years ago, I predicted that the 2016 presidential race would be won by a person who would continue leading us down a path toward immorality. I said that the new president would continue an anti-Semitic policy that would ultimately lead Israel to stand alone against Russia and a 5-nation coalition (Ezekiel 38-39). As badly as I want to see a strong conservative in the White House, the Bible says that society will continue a downward slide until Christ’s return. I would love to see a revival and a return to morality in our nation, however, I do not believe it is going to happen. I think that the church must learn how to stand firm against the “wiles of the devil.” We must realize that we are in a spiritual battle and do everything we can to share our faith with those who will listen. Put on your spiritual armor daily. Prepare to engage our culture with God’s truth and shine your light into a world that is growing increasingly dark. If you have not read Immovable: Standing Firm in the Last Days, I encourage you to read it. If you are unable to purchase it right now, contact me and I’ll send you a digital copy for free. I share important truths in this book that will help you prepare to stand firm in the days to come.

We know where all of this is leading, and it will eventually be glorious for followers of Christ. Do not lose heart. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Our redemption is drawing near.

Make America Great

2016election“I’ll make America great again.” We’ve heard that a lot over the last months of the presidential campaign from a number of candidates. I think we all realize the serious place we are in as a nation, and many of us believe that this election may be our last hope to turn around. I also believe that we all want America to be great again. There is a misnomer, however, in the midst of all of the campaign rhetoric. God is the only person who can make America great again. I fully believe that the reason America was great in the past is because America had a greater commitment to following God and His Word. We have now banned God from public places, He’s no longer welcome in our public school system, His Word is openly violated as our nation’s leaders have passed laws that diametrically oppose the teaching of Scripture, Christians are scorned, and God’s truth is belittled. Should we be surprised that America has lost her luster? The Bible is clear: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). I believe that many Americans are tired of political correctness and dishonest politicians. We long for a leader who is principle centered, tough against terrorism, and strong in the face of financial challenges. We will all be going to the polls soon to vote in primaries across our land and ultimately to elect a president. While a strong military is needed and a stable economy is essential, the Bible is clear about the source of a nation’s greatness: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).

 

We can listen to politicians as they try to convince us that they are the best candidate. I would encourage us to look at their message and consider their past positions. We need leaders who will not lead our nation away from the Lord. America is only great when we declare the greatness of Almighty God and surrender to His sovereign rule.

When Evil Prevails

terror

 

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:10-13

 

We all stand in shock at the terrorist attacks in France yesterday. While acts of terrorism are becoming normal in our global culture, it still amazes me that people can go into a theater and start shooting innocent people in the name of their god. I could share my political opinions or even comment on what I think world leaders should do in response to this act of terror, but I prefer to address a deeper issue. We must realize that what we are watching is simply spiritual warfare. The god of this world is wreaking havoc on our world, and we are moving ever closer to the end of time that was prophesied throughout Scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 24 that perilous times would come before His return.

How do we respond to this? Our first obvious response is prayer for those who have been personally impacted by this devastation and for our leaders as they consider a proper response. Secondly, we should not be surprised. God told us in His word that calamity would come and evil would show its ugly head. We must remind ourselves that terrorists are not really our main enemy. Even ISIS is not our ultimate enemy. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood. The god of this world is our enemy. There is a spiritual battle that is being waged, and ISIS is but a pawn in the hands of the master deceiver.  There are certainly things that our national leaders must do to stop evil in its tracks, and it is my prayer that our president and other political leaders will have the substance needed to take bold stands against this global evil. However, we must see the bigger picture.

Real spiritual battle takes place in other ways. For starters, it begins on our knees. This terrorist attack should call believers to a time of great prayer. Ephesians 6:10 commands us to “be strong in the Lord.” I wrote about this passage in my book Immovable: Standing Firm in the Last Days, and I find that it has special relevance today.  Any preparation we take for spiritual conflict is built upon us yielding to the power and presence of Christ in us. Then the Ephesians 6 passage continues by telling us to take some steps in our preparation: put on the full armor of God. I urge you to consider the teaching of this passage in light of the spiritual conflict that is going on in our world. The Church of the Lord Jesus must prepare spiritually for what is going on around us. Do not be surprised by terror and persecution; be equipped. God is on His throne, and He will guide you to find strength and hope in the days to come. If you are strong in the Lord and equipped with His spiritual armor, you will be ready for whatever we will face in the days to come.

I have lowered the cost of the digital version of Immovable in hopes that it will be a guide and an encouragement for you during this time. Take steps toward preparing yourselves for the spiritual conflict that will only increase before the return of Christ. Study Ephesians 6:10-18 and Matthew 24 in light of what is going on in our world today. The Bible is clear that God will ultimately win this conflict, so we do not face these battles with hopelessness. We have great hope in Jesus Christ. Let’s pray as never before, prepare for what is to come, engage our enemy on spiritual grounds, and comfort those who hurt. Trust that our faithful God, our Leader in battle, will prevail in the days to come.

The Heart of Worship

praiseMany of you are participating in the “What On Earth Am I Here For?” journey with the SonRise Baptist Church family. Why are you here? Have you determined that God has made you for a reason? He has at least five purposes for your life as outlined in the Bible. We will never find ultimate joy until we are living out our purposes. Rick Warren began the first chapter of his book, What On Earth Am I Here For? (formerly The Purpose-Driven Life) with these words: “It’s not about you.” Understanding our life’s purpose begins by realizing that God never intended everything to revolve around you. You do not play the lead role in this drama called life. God does. Living out our purposes begins by abdicating the throne of our lives and allowing Jesus Christ to sit there. This means that we are handing the controls over to Jesus and allowing Him to be in charge.

Last week we were reminded that we were made for God’s pleasure. We were created to be loved by God, and God wants us to love Him back. Loving God back is called worship. Worship is our first purpose and greatest priority. To know God is to worship God. One chapter in last week’s reading of What On Earth Am I Here For? focused on the heart of worship (if you began reading a chapter a day on September 27, you’ll be on chapter 17 today). Rick Warren said that the heart of worship is surrender. What do you think of that? The heart of our salvation is surrender. We cannot become a Christian unless we first surrender our lives over to Jesus Christ. We cannot live a victorious Christian life unless we surrender every day to the Holy Spirit’s control. Living a life of worship means that we surrender daily to God’s control and authority. Worship is so much more than just singing a few songs at a designated hour on Sundays. It is living a life of surrender and obedience. If we are not surrender daily to God, then we are not worshipping.

Surrender seems like a negative thing, but it is not. We think of surrender as if someone just lost a war or a concept that expresses weakness. Think of it as a drowning swimmer surrendering to the strength of a life guard. Someone who is drowning must stop fighting and allow a life guard to pull them to safety. Surrendering to God means that we acknowledge that He is God and we are not. It means that we yield to His rule in our lives, His wisdom in our circumstances, His strength in our troubles, and His authority in our decisions. The heart of worship and the heart of life is surrender. That’s a great place to start with the rest of your life.

What On Earth Am I Here For?

bookWhy am I here? Has that thought ever entered your mind? Are you fulfilling the purpose for which you were made? A couple of Sundays ago, I shared a story about my wife and I getting on the wrong road while in route to my grandmother’s house in Florida. Because we missed the turn, we spent an extra two to three hours in route to Ft. Pierce, Florida. What would it be like to take the wrong road in life but not discover your mistake until your life was over? There are a lot of important topics for us to consider, but this one is right up at the top. As I look back over my life, I have made so many mistakes. Some of them were a result of ignorance, others came from obstinance, while still others happened simply because of sin. I can’t go back and change any of my failures from the past. I can, however, change the mistakes in my future that have not yet been made. One of my favorite poems is this: “I can’t go back and start over again, but I can start from here and make a brand new end.” Are you willing to start today to change your destiny? Over the next 40 days, I plan to share several blogs a week to challenge us to think about our real purpose. I encourage you to pick up a copy of Rick Warren’s book “What On Earth Am I Here For?” and read a chapter a day (It was formerly called “The Purpose Driven Life”). Read my blog and share some thoughts as we journey together. I would love to hear from some of you who have already started this journey. You may have read chapter two today (which is the chapter you should be on if you started the journey with the SonRise Baptist Church family on Sunday). What are your thoughts so far? Have you been to small group yet? Is God doing anything special in your life so far? You may have read “The Purpose Driven Life” a while back. How did God use Dr. Warren’s book in your life when you read it the first time? I look forward to hearing from you.

Is Justice Just?

Statue of justiceI would like to share a few thoughts in response to comments I’ve had related to my last post. Before reading this, would you consider this question? Is it possible to disagree with what someone does without hating that person? If you have children, then you have no alternative but to say “yes, it’s possible.” I disagree with homosexuality and same-sex unions, but that does not mean that I hate the homosexual. God disagrees with my sin, but that does not mean that He hates me. I’m grateful for that.

I just watched an interview with Kim Davis, county clerk from Grayson Kentucky. You may remember that Mrs. Davis refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex unions and was put in jail for six days. The problem this clerk faced was that the new law legalizing same-sex unions means that gay couples have to get a marriage license. In Kentucky, the law requires the name of the county clerk to be on the bottom of the document. Even if someone else issues the license, her name would still be on the document. She started asking for her name to be removed from the document this past January, but no one would accommodate her request. It seems that Mrs. Davis had three options. Option #1: She could grant the marriage licenses to same-sex couples with her name on the license thereby disregarding her conviction that the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. Option #2: Refuse to grant a license to same-sex couples. Option #3: Resign her position as county clerk. The option of having someone else give the licenses does not remove her name from the document, therefore, Mrs. Davis feels that she is condoning sin and disregarding the Bible.

I don’t know Kim Davis, and I don’t know every detail about this particular issue. While there are several issues to be considered, one question has to do with what should a Christian do if the U.S. government passes a law that stands contrary to the Bible. Should we obey the law? While the law regarding same-sex unions does not personally affect most people, it does affect Kim Davis. It will also affect many other businesses and ministers who are involved with weddings. Just ask the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. They were sued because they declined the business of a gay couple because the shop owners said it conflicted with their religious beliefs. Masterpiece Cakeshop lost the lawsuit.

I have a problem on at least two levels. I obviously disagree with redefining the word marriage to include same-sex unions. That would be like us passing a law saying that a dog is a horse. Here are two additional things to be considered. First, requiring Christians to act contrary to their religious convictions stands in contrast to the first amendment to our Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Do you think requiring a Christian to disobey the Bible is prohibiting the free exercise of Christianity? Do you think that causing a Christian to have to resign from her job in order to keep from compromising her faith is prohibiting the free exercise of Christianity? If Mrs. Davis had taken her job after the law was passed, then there might be some argument against her position. I would not want my name on a marriage license for same-sex unions either. Would you? This is a Constitutional issue.

The second level is personal. While I am protected by the Constitution, I am not protected by our national laws (which I believe stand in contrast to our Constitution). As the law stands now, my church is required to allow a same-sex union to take place in our building. I could be sued if I do not accommodate the wishes of a same-sex couple who want me to be the officiating minister. Because I am not an employee of the courts, I assume I would not be put in jail for refusing to marry a same-sex couple, but I could be sued. Is this the kind of country our Founding Fathers envisioned? Do you really want our country to force churches and pastors to disobey the Bible or to condone biblical disobedience? What are U.S. citizens supposed to do when a law is passed that conflicts with their biblical convictions and moral consciences? I know the importance of law. What we have in this case is the conflict between two laws: God’s vs. U.S. I do not want to live in a country without laws. The question has to do with what is the basis of law. Because this blog is getting quite long, I will address this issue at another time.

I’m grateful that in the midst of all of this, God loves us regardless of which side we fall on. I am grateful that Jesus died for all of sin and offers everyone an opportunity for forgiveness and eternal life. To say that God hates homosexuals would be to ignore the Bible: “For God so loved the world…” If Christians hate homosexuals, this hatred is sin and does not honor God. At the same time, Christians are not to condone sin either. We obviously stand at a precarious crossroad.

God or Country

GodorCountryIn Grayson, Kentucky this week, the recent legalization of same-sex unions was challenged by county clerk Kim Davis. Because Mrs. Davis refused to sign a marriage license of a same-sex couple, she was forced to spend six days in jail. She was released today, but the story is far from over. Mrs. Davis became a Christian four and a half years ago, and Christ changed her life. Because of her commitment to Jesus, she could not agree to have her name on a document legalizing immorality. I am sad to say, but this is simply the beginning of very dark days in our country. I say that because for the first time in the history of our nation, our high court has enforced a new law that stands in stark contrast to the truth of the Bible. This is putting Bible-believing Christians in a difficult spot: obey God or obey the law. I suppose it should not be considered difficult at all for Christians. I would hope that there is never a doubt as to whom we will obey. We have known for some time that Christianity has been under attack in our nation, but today, this attack has become more apparent. We should not be surprised at this infringement upon Mrs. Davis’ constitutional rights nor should we be surprised by future persecution Christians will encounter.

Jesus said in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” Those are strong words from our Savior. Have you ever considered being hated by the world? While I do not think my unbelieving neighbor hates me, I do believe proponents of our world system have a seething, burning antagonism toward Christianity. The god of this world is working to stir up world opinion against Christianity, which will ultimately lead to great persecution of the Church. Will you stand for what you believe regardless of the consequences? What if you were Mrs. Davis? Would you sign the marriage license? When I was a child, the theme was always God and country. I am sad to see that it is now God or country.