Thursday, July 23, 2015

My Battle

  I'm going to tell you something you already know. It's horrible out there. Depending on when you  read this, Isis will have just blown something up or  Hamas will have blown something up or maybe  the PLO will have a  resurgence and blow something up. Syria is unstable, or maybe it's Libya this week. Some guy in a suit is giving a speech somewhere about how if you just vote for him he can fix it all, and he sounds a lot like the last guy that  said  that he  would fix it all.  Groceries cost more than they used to, and the price of gas is going up. The dollar is on the decline, or maybe the yen is on the rise, or both. A police state is being assembled around us. Some government  somewhere  has passed a law that takes more money from you and gives it  to somebody else.  Somebody else is, as we speak , is writing a law or voting on a law that will remove some of your liberties.  Our schools are crumbling. Somebody shot somebody somewhere last night.  Perversion is everywhere and is protected by law.  Immigrants are flooding the countryside, and that may or may not be a bad thing, depending on who you ask.  Inflation is rising, or falling, depending on who you ask.  We may or may not be destroying the environment , depending on who you ask.   There is an expert  under every rock , with a solution that is either the direct opposite of the last guys solution, or more of the same slightly reworded.
  Let me be very clear; if you are saved, none of this is your problem, and none of this is your fight.  This is their world, not ours, and they are making as big a mess of it as they can.  They think they are smart, and all their  history proves is that they are not.  They have the  music they want, and the  movies they want, and  the dress standards they want, and they don't really care what God thinks or what you think. For a child of God to become overly concerned about the affairs of this world, especially the ones over which he has  no control is folly.  Not only do we  not have any control, or any real input, but we don't even really have a stake in the game.
  We have been called out of this world and given a job to do. That job is not to run for office or register more Republicans or improve public morality or feed the starving children of Africa or end the slave trade or write laws  intended to  curb the incurable lusts of the  unregenerate.  We have not been tasked  to fight against gun control or shut down the abortion mills. Our task, as ambassadors of Christ is not to defend the Constitution or to change the culture. Our job is to glorify God by preaching the  gospel of Jesus Christ in every venue  afforded to us.
  The Bible  tells us in 2 Timothy 2  " No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier".   So China adjusts their trade policy?  So  Cuba invades Key West? So a Martian lands on the White House lawn? So what? People will worry and people will fret abut tomorrows headlines just as much as they  worried and fretted about yesterdays headlines, and you and I  have just as much ability to  influence those  headlines today as we did yesterday, which is to say, none at all. We have just as much responsibility to fret and worry and be manipulated by the fearmongers today as we did yesterday, which is to say, none at all.
  Now I am a big fan of the Constitution, and I enjoy the liberties it allows me to preach the gospel.   But my brothers and sisters in Christ have lived victorious Christian lives without one for almost two millennia.  For me to fret and worry that Obama (or the puppet to follow) is  going to stop this thing is a good indicator that I don't understand what this 'thing' is.  People served God during Nebuchadnezzars reign  just as much as people served God under Joseph Stalin just as much as people served God under Ronald Reagan.  As much as I sympathize with the idea that we fight for our liberties, the liberties are not the end in themselves, and if they were snatched away tomorrow, we would still have the same job to do.
  I  didn't get saved until 1995 but somehow I  vaguely recall how American evangelicals were meddling in politics in the late 1980's. Good men got sidetracked and stopped preaching the gospel to lost people, opting instead to spend their time attending Moral Majority luncheons and trying to get smut off of television. Prayer breakfasts were held ad ininfitum where  politicians looking to  get votes promised men like Robertson and Falwell the sun moon and stars if they could just persuade their people to pull the level for them versus the other guy.  They used us like a pimp uses a prostitute, and millions of people marched into hell in the meantime. 
  As we  trudge on into yet another election cycle, let me admonish you to keep your focus. Vote or don't vote, I don't care. Just remind yourself that we are pilgrims and sojourners, and this is not our home, and this is not our fight.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Greatest Gift Ever

  As many of you know, I was saved in April 1995 when I was  21 years old, and I had, in my estimation, the best Christian childhood ever, even though I had it as a grown man.   I was part of a great church full of people who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. This church was chock-full of outreach programs and I was encouraged and included in these outreaches from day one. I preached on the streets  when I was only a month or so old in the Lord, and discovered the most exciting life ever.  I was encouraged to read the Bible for myself, to think for myself, to feed and sustain myself. The  overall sentiment was that church life was  merely a supplement for the Christian life that was lived out  365 days a year.  The men who took me under their wings ( while tolerating my foolishness) loved their wives and loved the Bible and loved the ministry.
  I have no sad stories to tell of strife, or vain-glorying.  I'm certain  that was going on, since men are still men at the end of the day. I have no tales of how my heroes let me down; no tales of  hypocrisy behind closed doors. I'm certain it went on, but I didn't know enough to notice it.  Ignorance really can be bliss.
  I was taught courage. I was taught boldness. I was taught steadfastness. I was taught maturity. I was taught to war a good warfare, to endure hardness as a soldier of Jesus Christ.  I was taught the Bible.  I was taught to minister by myself, if need be. I was taught to lead, and taught to submit. I was equipped early on to  survive and thrive years before I would need to.  I was taught during the harvest how to  make it through the famine.  I marvel at the wisdom and foreknowledge of God at this precious gift I was given, and I consider the preparations that had to be in place before I  ever came along part of this glorious gift.
   Consider that when Doug Fisher was walking the streets of Beaufort SC enduring the public preaching of  Wayne Fair and  Karl Baker, that the  foundation was being laid for the gospel eventually reaching me 20 years later . Consider when Gerald Sutek was  literally  using bailing wire to hold his vehicle together late at night on the side of the highway in California, the foundation was being laid for my own public ministry 10 years later. Consider when Jack Chick was drawing his little cartoons  neither he nor I  had any idea how much they would factor into my ministry. Consider Peter Ruckman standing on a corner somewhere drawing out a drawing and preaching with no one listening.  Consider the nights of disappointment and  apparent failure that  really weren't, because the point wasn't that day, the point was the next day, or the day after that, or the year after that. My life is the result of thousands of  lives gone before me, most of whom  had no idea  how it would turn out, if it would turn out, or the significance of going one more mile.  That is a great gift of God that extends out past salvation to his children.
   God uses the  steadfastness and perseverance of men and women to whom great things were committed to give the ministry it's only fighting chance at continuance. Paul told Timothy "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" . Paul said that God gave "apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:" God gives, to the new convert as well as the old, an entire galaxy of men and women to help them grow, with the intention that the same gift be pushed forward to the next generation. 
  So now I look at my own life.  In the last 20 years I have successfully taught maybe a dozen men to preach in public, with one man in particular surpassing them all.  I have taught the Bible to  scores of young men, some of whom are adults now. My own son paid me the  largest compliment  of my life once, in that he told me he had watched me  his entire life stand up to people who mocked the Bible, and he's never once seen me back off. A man could live and die the rest of his life off of that compliment.  But that's the things I can see, and those are the things that I think are significant.  I suspect God would have a very different list. God might  highlight chance  encounters and offhand comments, or God might emphasize years and years of ministry with no fruit to show for it. Since I can't honestly say what's important from my perspective, I intend to live out my days in faithful service, living the life I was taught to live and honoring  those who taught me with it. They were God's gift to me, and  what I do with what they  taught is my gift back to them.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Future of Israel- Part 2

  I realized, soon after deciding to name this  series "The Future of Israel" that I was going to have to spend a fair amount of time  discussing their past.  In Part 1, I barely scratched the surface of the promise of the land God gave to Abraham and tried to make the case that the land grant promise is still on the books just waiting for  a generation of Abrahams descendants to  claim it. I think prophecy  speaks plainly about that as-yet unrevealed generation, and to reassign that promise to  a group of people not descended from Abraham Isaac and Jacob is to commit a fundamental error.
  It clear from the Bible that  while the  land grant is unconditional, possession of the land is not and is predicated upon obedience. If they obey, they can live there, if they disobey God will expel them, and once they've decided  to obey, he will regather them.Over and over again the cycle of expulsion and regathering is played out in Israel's past, with the latest expulsion happening in  AD 70.  I intend to show from scripture that this cycle will repeat itself at least once more in the future. But let's look at the particulars of Gods promises in this area of regathering.
The Regathering

   In Deuteronomy 28 and 29, God lays out the particular provisional of  living in the land.  in Deutreonomy 30, he continues on saying "And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee.  And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.  If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:   And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed , and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good , and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live."
  It behooves us to examine this passage very closely. Though this passage  is partially fulfilled in the  various expulsions in Israels past, a careful reading  shows that  the past expulsions didn't completely fulfill the promise.  God is speaking  of a generation of Abrahamic descendants who, after having rejected God would be driven out of the land and  into multiple "nations", not just Egypt, or not just Babylon or not just Chaldea. Lest any  " replacement theologian" tries to insert himself into that promise, the text states that the land they were being  removed from  is the one promised to their "fathers"  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob  God states that upon their obedience he would bring them back. Nehemiah claims that promise in Nehemiah 1, and God certainly honored the spirit of that promise with the rebuilding of Jerusalem. However the passage doesn't promise just  regathering; the passage promises  a seemingly permanent change in the very heart of the people.  The nation returned from captivity, but their heart did not change with the proof being their subsequent relapses into idolatry. God promises them they will love him someday, and I submit to you that love has not  yet happened.  Furthermore, as of the time of this writing, God has not multiplied them above their fathers.  This promise sits  there in your Bible, only partially fulfilled at best.
  That promise is restated in various places in the Bible. For example, Jeremiah 29:14 says "And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity  , and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive"  To put it bluntly, that promise cannot possibly be  twisted to  somehow include a New Testament saved Gentile. we were captives of sin, not captives of the Assyrians. The turning away of our captivity has already been accomplished according to John 8:36 and we have no land that we were taken captive from to be returned to.  But the Bible doesn't stop there. In Jeremiah 31, it says "Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say , He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he."  In the previous  9 verses of that chapter, God refers to Israel  or Jacob by name at least  half a dozen times, and mentions specific  geographic  features in the land as reference points.  There is no intellectually honest way that a man could make that promise apply to anyone else, and certainly no way   it could include  saved Gentiles from every nation under earth adopted into the family of God by faith in the Son of God. Things that are different are not the same.
  But wait, there's more. Jeremiah 32 is written in the midst of the approach of Nebuchadnezzars army, and it says "Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: And they shall be my people, and I will be their God: And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good ; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." Over and over again , God refers to "them" and "they".  He speaks of a group of people that are leaving the land that Jeremiah is standing on  and whose children will be returned to that same place, but with a changed heart and with an everlasting covenant, never to leave again.  I would challenge the 'replacement theology' crowd to explain how that passage could possibly  apply to the church of the living God.
  Ezekiel 11 says "Therefore say , Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come . Therefore say , Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered , and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God."  I am  well aware that for  decades, preachers have misapplied this passage, particularly in regards the "stony heart"  but I beseech you, brethren to take the  verse as it lies in its context and explain to me exactly when  God cast out his church among the heathen.  When were we scattered among the countries  and why  on earth would he give us the land of Israel instead of giving it to the people it was actually promised to?
  Jeremiah 23 says "And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase "  That verse remains unfulfilled, and.when it finally does happen , God promises in  Isaiah 43, "Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;  I will say to the north, Give up ; and to the south, Keep not back : bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;" This will be  Israels permanent state according to Isaiah 54 which  says "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with   everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer" God promises to regather the "outcasts of Israel" in  Isaiah 56 and in Isaiah 60 announces "Lift up thine eyes round about, and see : all they gather themselves together , they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side"
  Look carefully at Ezekiel 36 which reads "Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went ."  Read the rest of the chapter and honestly ask yourself how a saved  New testament Christian, who was made clean not by water, but  by the blood of Christ and who has the Holy Spirit indwelling him right now as we speak, would have any need for anything promised in that  passage?  Are we supposed to believe that God gave us an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled so that we can  spend our eternity tending fruit trees and  rebuilding abandoned houses?  Do yourself a favor and count, in Ezekiel 36 alone how many times God refers to Israel or Jacob and then consider the very real possibility that God meant "Israel"  and "Jacob".  Jump ahead one chapter to Ezekiel 37 and read "And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all: Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned , and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.  And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd : they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt ; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever."  The two nations are obviously Israel and Judah, and  only a dishonest man or a Biblical novice could make it mean anything different than what it says.
  Hosea 8 says " Israel is swallowed up : now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure. For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers.  Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes."  This regathering is spelled out in Joel 2 and Micah 2. Its mentioned in Micah 4, 5 and 7  and Zephaniah chapters 2, 3 and 10. Psalm 147  refers to it as well as Isaiah 16, 27, 56, Zephaniah 2, 3, and 8 all mention it.  Frankly, I am at a loss as to how a man without an agenda could miss the  very specific nature of these unfulfilled  promises, and I marvel at the pretzel logic that somehow lands them on the shoulders of the church of the living God.
  Having  pummeled the dead horse for some time now, the next logical question is when does this  great promised regathering happen? The sequence of events is laid out in Isaiah 11, which saysAnd there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.   And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed ; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.  And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek : and his rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left , from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.  And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."  The timetable is clear; Isaiah is prophesying the events of Rev 19 and 20 and it is  equally clear that one of the many events surrounding the  return of Jesus Christ is the return of Jacob from the nations of the world to the land promised to their fathers.
  Stay tuned for Part 3 where we will cover  the sequence of events and  world conditions that prompt this great regathering.