As we are all engaged now in the pressures and busyness of Christmas,I thought it would be a good idea to think back on what happened on that first, “Silent Night”.
Along with every other aspect of Christmas, we have romanticized the story of Christ’s birth. We envision a scene in which he is draped in fine satin while a smiling Joseph and Mary look on.
Everyone has a halo, including the animals.
The fact of the matter is the birth of Christ took place in a cold, damp and dark environment. It was an undesirable place to sleep, much less to have a baby.
If you’re a parent, think about when you had your own children. You wanted them to be born in the most secure and sanitary environment possible. Can you think of a place that would be worse than where animals are kept? It was about the least desirable place to have a child.
Yet this setting symbolizes the entire ministry of Jesus and his life on earth, from the cradle to the cross. The Bible sums it up for us this way: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV).
Jesus went from a heavenly throne to an earthly feeding trough, presumably the very area where he was born. He went from the presence of angels to a cave filled with animals. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. He who sustains the world with a word was dependent on the nourishment of a young girl.
It is an amazing thought to consider that God Almighty became a helpless little baby, unable to do anything more than lie there, wiggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed like any other child.
Because Jesus was God, we might imagine him being born with all of his faculties intact: Hello, Mary and Joseph. I am Jesus, the creator of the universe. I have work to do. … But that isn’t how it was. He still was a baby, like any other baby.
He grew up, in many ways, like any other child but without a sin nature. He grew in physical strength, and he grew in wisdom. We are told in Luke 2, “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him” (verse 40 NIV).
Then we read that Mary and Joseph found him, at the age of 12, sitting in the Temple. He was speaking to the scribes, both listening to them and asking them questions.
Later in Luke 2 it says that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (verse 52 NIV).
These verses would appear to be saying that Jesus went through a learning process like anyone else. But at the same time, he didn’t have the limitations of sin in his life.
Being God, Jesus may have known a lot more than we may realize. We won’t know for certain until we get to heaven. It is an interesting thing to consider, however, that he left the glory of heaven, and as he took his first breath on earth, he awoke to the smell of a cave on a cold night. Against his skin was the pricking of the straw and the coarseness of the rags he was wrapped in. What a rude awakening that must have been. And as sad as it is to think about all this, it is the reality of how Jesus came to this world.
And for the most part, the world he came to save rejected him. Sure, he had Mary and Joseph and his family. They loved him. But the Bible says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11 NIV).
Jesus even was hated in his hometown. In Nazareth, when it happened to be his turn to read from the Scriptures on the Sabbath, he read from Isaiah 61 with an authority like the people had never seen before. Then he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 NIV).
They fully understood what he was implying. He was saying, “I am the fulfillment of this Scripture. I am the very Messiah of Israel. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
What did they do? Did they give him a round of applause? Did they treat him as a hometown hero? No, they turned against him. In fact, they hated him and even wanted to kill him.
We might say that at least he had a home with Mary and Joseph, and later on, his half brothers and half sisters. But the fact is that at least on one occasion, his siblings came to take him away from where he was because they thought he’d taken leave of his senses. In fact, the Bible tells us that his brothers didn’t believe in him. It wasn’t until his death and resurrection from the dead that his own family fully understood who he really was.
When Jesus arrived at a place known as the Gadarenes, he cast demons out of two men. How did the people treat him? They drove him out of town.
On another occasion when he drove demons out of someone else, the Pharisees had the audacity to suggest that it was by the power of Satan.
Then we remember at least one joyful day in Jesus’ life when he made the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The crowd laid palm branches at his feet and shouted, “Hosanna!” The religious rulers wanted it stopped. They couldn’t stand the idea that people were saying that about him.
As he got closer to the day of his crucifixion, even his moments of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane were interrupted as soldiers came to arrest him, hauling him away on trumped-up charges to their kangaroo court.
Then they took him to the cross and pounded nails through his hands and feet. There he was, in unimaginable pain, and all he asked for personally was a sip of water to cool his raging thirst. Even then, they gave him vinegar and gall instead of water.
It never stopped. There never was any room for Jesus. And as sad as that was, it is a statement that still could be made today.
Is there room in your life for him?
Taken from my weekly column at World Net Daily.
I love the Christmas story. I don’t mean the one about Santa and the reindeer or the Grinch or Frosty the snowman. The Christmas story I’m referring to is the simple but powerful story of the Nativity.
For me, it never gets old. I never get tired of reading it. I never get tired of hearing it. And I never get tired of telling it. In fact, it is so beautiful and poetic that in some ways, it can almost come across as a fairy tale. But it’s no fairy tale. And I think this story is powerful and relevant for our culture today.
The real Christmas story goes way back, before Mary and Joseph, before Bethlehem, before the shepherds, before the wise men, before Caesar Augustus, and before the innkeeper. In fact, the first mention of Christmas was before Christ, because we have to go back to the very beginning.
This story of redemption starts in a garden and begins with a tree. It isn’t one of those trees you buy at a lot, nor is it an artificial tree. The tree I’m talking about was in the Garden of Eden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Here were Adam and Eve in paradise, literally surrounded by radiant beauty at every turn. And best of all, there was no sin or the guilt and shame that follows it.
There was only one restriction in this garden: It was forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve could eat anything they wanted – except the fruit from this tree.
Yet there is something about human beings that is drawn to the forbidden. We are attracted to the thing we are not supposed to look at. We’ll say, “I’ll just take a look. I’ll never engage. I would never participate.” Famous last words.
The next thing you know, Adam and Eve were eating the forbidden fruit, and sin entered the world. Their eyes were closed to heaven and opened to earth. And suddenly they were out of fellowship with God.
That brings us to the first Christmas verse, the first mention of Christ in the Bible: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15 NIV). God was saying to the devil, “Someone is coming who will crush your head.”
That is what Christmas is all about. That is why Jesus came to this earth.
The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 NIV). In the original language, there isn’t a definite article before the word beginning, which means we cannot pinpoint the moment in time where there was a beginning. John was going back to eternity past. He was going further back than our minds could imagine.
Jesus is not a man who became God. That is impossible. He is God who became a man. Before there was a world, before there were planets, before there was light and darkness, before there was matter, before anything else, there was the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are coequal, coeternal and coexistent together.
See all 28 Greg Laurie books and movies in the WND Superstore
But Jesus did not stay in the safety of heaven. He entered our world. He breathed our air. He shared our pain. He walked in our shoes. He lived our life. And he died our death. Jesus did not become identical to us, but he did become identified with us. In fact, he could not have identified with us more closely than he did. He became one of us without ceasing to be himself. He became human without ceasing to be God. He was the creator in human form. And he came to join us in this human mess that we call Earth. He walked among us.
Yet Christmas wasn’t only an arrival; it also was a departure. Isaiah 9:6 sums it up perfectly: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (NIV). From the earthly perspective, a child was born. But from the heavenly perspective, a son was given.
We are also told in Matthew’s gospel, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (1:23 NIV).
This is the central message of Christmas: We are not alone in this world. God came near. God came to this earth as a child, who became a man, who died and rose again. Jesus has always been there, and he says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
As we see things going on in our world that make us afraid, we need to remember that God is in control. He will not abandon us. Even when we forget about him, he never forgets about us. That is the real message of this season. It is not about presents that we find under a tree. It is about his presence in our lives.
Immanuel. God is with us.
Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2016/11/the-1st-christmas-verse-is-in-genesis/#APmpc1OBmebZzbwE.99
One day,the disciples of Jesus came to him with a question:
“What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 NIV). In other words, “Lord, how will we know we are in the end times?”
Jesus told them, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (verses 37–39 NIV).
In giving this statement, Christ was, for starters, confirming the historicity of the Great Flood and the fact there was a Great Flood, there was an ark filled with animals, and there was a man named Noah. Jesus was telling us this isn’t a fable. It isn’t a myth.
But he also was encouraging us to look carefully at the way things were before the Flood, because they also would characterize the days before his return. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
There are a lot of striking parallels between the times of Noah and our times today. In effect, Noah was what we might describe as a last-days believer. He was in the last days of Planet Earth as it was known then.
Noah was living in the shadow of an impending judgment. And despite the wickedness of the culture, Noah managed to live a godly life in an ungodly world.
Genesis 6 give us a description of the days in which Noah lived:
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created – and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground – for I regret that I have made them.” (verses 5–7 NIV)
The original language indicated the wickedness of the human race had reached a high degree, or the highest pitch. It was full to the brim. Think of an overflowing trash can. Or worse yet, think of an overflowing septic tank. That is what Planet Earth looked like at this time. It was stinking to high heaven. And God took notice.
Against this very dark background was Noah, who walked with God. The Bible says, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8 NKJV). Does that mean God had grace on Noah because he lived a righteous life? No, it is actually the opposite. The word grace means “unmerited favor.” God had grace on Noah. God extended grace toward Noah, and Noah responded to that grace. He lived a godly life because he understood how much God loved him.
God told Noah to build an ark, and he built it. It was massive, weighing in at about 13,960 tons. That would place the ark well within the category of large, metal, ocean-going vessels today. It wasn’t until the 1800s that a ship was built that exceeded the capacity of Noah’s ark.
It’s interesting to note that after the ark was built and they were getting ready to leave, Noah left the door open for seven days. It is a little different than the story in the recent film, where Noah, played by Russell Crowe, was killing people who tried to get on the ark. That didn’t happen. The door was open, but no one came – until it started raining, that is. Then it was too late.
It’s like the times in which we are living. The door is open for people to believe. The door is open for people to be forgiven of their sins. And it will be open throughout the last days.
Noah, his family and all those animals spent a year at sea. Finally they reached land and were able to leave the ark again. Then we read, “God remembered Noah” (Genesis 8:1 NKJV). Maybe Noah was wondering whether the Lord was paying attention. But God always finishes what he begins.
The Spirit of God blew across the land, the clouds began to dissipate, the sun appeared, and the grass, plants and trees came back to life. Now, if I had been stuck on a boat for a year and finally reached land, I would probably run around for about two months, just happy to be on terra firma.
But the first thing Noah did was build an altar to the Lord.
The Bible says that “Noah moved with godly fear” (Hebrews 11:7 NKJV). In other words, Noah had a wholesome dread of displeasing God. He walked and talked with God, and he listened as well. He worshiped God and remembered God. Why is that important? Because sometimes we forget God. We are very aware of God when we have a problem. We pray and pray, and the Lord comes through. Then we say, “Thanks God! See you next crisis.”
God wants us to give thanks. It is common courtesy to say thank you when someone does something for you. Noah had his priorities straight. Noah was thankful.
We should do the same with God. Have you taken the time recently to thank him?
Originally, Thanksgiving was a religious holiday and, more to the point, a Christian holiday. I think we need to put things in perspective and remember this holiday isn’t just about eating; it is about giving thanks.
The psalmist said, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (Psalm 107:1). God is worthy of our thanks and praise.
From time to time, people ask me, “Why do you do what you do?”
Below is a letter that explains it all.
It is a letter from a lady that could very easily be dead.
The same is true of her mother.
But God used our radio broadcast, “A New Beginning” to reach her mom . . . and her.
Please take the time to read it.
You will be blessed as I was, I am sure!
Thank you Pastor Greg Laurie
I just want to say that I thank God for your ministry!
Let me tell you how your ministry has changed my life.
I grew up in an alcoholic home. My parents were alcoholics, my father was abusive to my mother. I was the second child of four. I had an older sister, younger sister and a younger brother. We were brought up as Catholics, but I never knew anything about salvation or having a relationship with Jesus.
When I was 9 years old, my mother, father and younger sister were in an alcohol-related car accident in March of 1987. My father and younger sister passed away. My mother was in critical condition for several months; I disliked going to the hospital to visit her, having to see all the tubes and wires, bandages. I barely recognized her. My mother recovered after the doctors said she wouldn’t walk again. Unfortunately, after her recovery, she continued with her drinking and binged, not caring for her three children that remained alive.
I believe because of the hurt, pain and difficult life it had become, my older sister committed suicide at the age of 20 in the jail that she was being held at. This hurt me very much. I felt hurt and alone, like nobody cared. I would think, “why was I created? To endure all this pain and hurt? To be left alone?” I often had thoughts of suicide but it seemed, every question I had about God, somehow it got answered.
My brother was being cared for by my Uncle and his family. My mom continued her drinking, and I pretty much grew up on my own. Finished school but got pregnant at a young age.
In 1997, my mom was drunk driving and killed a woman. She was charged with vehicular homicide and was sent to prison. She served a couple of years I believe, BUT, it was during this time that she was incarcerated, that she began to listen to Christian Radio and YOU were one of the ones she would listen to. She listened and listened everyday, until one night, she cried out to God and surrendered her life to Jesus.
Praise God, she is now a born-again Christian! She has been serving the Lord faithfully and the Lord has done great things in her life. She fasted and prayed for my salvation for 5 years and in 2003, I gave my life to the Lord.
Now, I remember Mother saying how she would listen to you on the radio everyday. If she hadn’t heard the Message and had gotten saved, I don’t think I would be saved.
Thank you Pastor Laurie, for your faithfulness to God! The Lord has blessed our family. I lost two sisters, but the Lord has given me many sisters-in Christ! I am thankful for what Jesus has done for me on the Cross!
May you be blessed along with Harvest Ministry.
Why does the church exist?
Is it to entertain us?
Is it to provide programs for us to be involved in?
Is it to babysit the kids on Sunday morning while parents catch up on their sleep?
The church is on this earth for three reasons: 1) the glorification of God, 2) the edification of the saints, and 3) the evangelization of the world. We could sum it up this way: upward, inward, outward.
The church exists to bring glory to God. That is not only true of us in a worship service, but it is also true of us in life. Whatever Christians do, they should be able to bring glory to God – in their careers, in their marriages and in the choices they make in life. The church was created to bring pleasure to God and bring glory to his name.
The church also exists for the edification, or building up, of the saints. That is why we give such a prominent place to Bible study at the church where I pastor. We have always done that, and we always will do that. And not only does the edification of the saints include Bible study, but it also consists of encouraging one another, building up one another and serving one another.
Finally, there is the evangelization of the world, which is really the outgrowth of the first two. As believers are glorifying God and being built up in the church, they evangelize the world and fulfill the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:18–20).
In the Bible we find the words of Jesus to a sick church that wasn’t fulfilling its purpose. This church, the church of Sardis, had a great reputation, but no reality. They were sick and dying, and they didn’t even know it.
Here’s what Jesus said about the problems that were developing: “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive – but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God” (Revelation 3:1–2 NLT).
This wasn’t a lazy or inactive church. They weren’t slackers. They had a name, a name that was known far and wide. This church probably was humming with activity. There was no shortage of money or talent or manpower. Outwardly there was every indication of a church on the move. But a problem was developing that only Jesus could see: they were not fulfilling their purpose.
Jesus told the church of Sardis they were dying, but they didn’t realize it. People who are dying spiritually usually are the last to know. They think everything is fine. They think they are doing just great. They can rationalize every decision they have made, even when those decisions are wrong. They say they are doing fine when, in reality, they are dying.
We can do all the right things outwardly and still be spiritually dying. We can sing our worship songs perfectly. We can pray eloquently. We can dutifully take notes on sermons that we hear and even know our Bibles quite well. But there can be a spiritual deadness about it all. It is possible to be in the church and not really believe. And in effect, Sardis was a non-believing church.
In his excellent book on Revelation, Chuck Swindoll outlined the marks of a dead church, including the following:
1) it worships the past, 2) it is inflexible and resistant to change, and 3) it often has lazy leadership.
I am all for reflecting on what God has done, but I refuse to live in the past. We need to be in the present. We always need to be planning for the future. The problem in the church today is that sometimes we are flexible where we need to be inflexible, and we are inflexible when we should be flexible. We should be inflexible on the essentials, which are the teaching of the Word of God, the worship and glorification of God, and evangelism. These are the essentials. We need to be inflexible there.
But we also need to be flexible with nonessentials, and by that I mean style. People get hung up on styles of music, embracing new technology and all kinds of things along those lines. Let’s be flexible where we can be flexible. Don’t change the essentials, but be flexible with the way they are expressed.
If these marks of spiritual deadness are evident in a church or an individual’s life, here is Jesus’ prescription for spiritual renewal: “Wake up! Strengthen what little remains. … Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief” (verses 2, 3 NLT).
First, we need to wake up. In other words, we need to recognize something is seriously wrong. Then we need to strengthen the things that remain. The word strengthen means to stabilize that which is frail. Jesus is, in effect, saying, “Stay with me, church. Don’t give up now.”
Next – and this is very important – we need to be watching for the return of Jesus Christ. Notice that Jesus said, “If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” I think how people react to the imminent return of Christ is a true spiritual barometer of where they are with God. The apostle John gives us two potential reactions to Christ’s return: “And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame” (1 John 2:28 NLT).
If you are right with the Lord, then you will be full of courage at Christ’s return. If you are not right with the Lord, then you will be shrinking back from him in shame.
I still believe the United States is the greatest country on earth. But our country needs help. While have a lot of enemies on the outside, I’m more concerned about the enemies we have on the inside.
As Historian Will Durant wrote, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. The essential cause of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals. …”
Does that not apply to our country today? How we have strayed. Despite what some revisionists would tell us, our nation really was built on Judeo-Christian values. There is no question about it. But what has started as freedom of religion is now turning into freedom from religion. It seems like so many have gone out of their way to get God out of our courtrooms, out of our classrooms and out of our culture. And as we sow the wind, the Bible says, we reap the whirlwind.
Then we have the breakdown of the family.
You can directly connect it to almost any social ill in our nation today. For instance, 63 percent of youth suicides are committed by those from fatherless homes. Ninety percent of all homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes. Eight-five percent of youth sitting in prisons today grew up in a fatherless home. It is not just a breakdown of the family; it is the absence of strong male leadership. In no way is that a criticism of women. They have stepped in when men have not stepped up. But it is time for men to step up and be the godly leaders God has called them to be as well.
A family can survive without a nation. But the nation cannot survive without the family.
I know something about coming from a broken home. I have seen it up close and personal. I didn’t have a father when I was growing up. My mother was married and divorced seven times. She was a raging alcoholic who would pass out every night from drinking. I tremble to think of where I would be today had it not been for the intervention of God in my life when I was a 17-year-old kid. But
God did intervene, and that is what needs to happen in our nation as well.
I think of the words of our first president, George Washington, when he warned, “The propitious [favorable] smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a Nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”
Then there are the words Peter Marshall, who, as a chaplain of the U.S. Senate, said, “The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration.”
And President Ronald Reagan made this statement: “America needs God more than God needs America. If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
There is only one hope for America today, in my opinion. I don’t think it is a political solution, although there is a place for politics. I thank God for the men and women, especially those who love the Lord, who want to go into that arena and be a godly influence in our country, because the Bible says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice” (Proverbs 29:2 NKJV). But the ultimate solution is not political.
I believe the only hope for a real change in our nation is a spiritual awakening. That is what we need to be praying for. America needs a revival.
We throw the world revival around a lot, but what does it mean? It means to restore to the original condition. Have you ever seen a cool classic car, like a totally restored ’57 Chevy Bel Air, cruising down the boulevard? You may have said, “That is art on four wheels. That is a thing of beauty.”
We need to be restored to what we were but also to even more than what we were: what we potentially can be. We need divine intervention. We need a spiritual awakening, and we need to be praying for it.
There is a passage in the Old Testament that was given contextually to the nation Israel. But I believe that in principle, it applies to any nation, including our own. God said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV). I have always found it very interesting that God said, “If my people who are called by my name …”
God doesn’t point his finger at the White House; he points his finger at his house. It’s easy for us to say it is the fault of Washington or the fault of Hollywood. But God says that when a nation is breaking down, the problem is “[his] people who are called by [his] name” who need to “humble themselves and pray and seek [his] face.”
I want to address Christian leaders for a moment. If there is a mist in the pulpit, there will be a fog in the pews. If you want to start a fire in the pews, then it has to start in the pulpit. It has to start with you.
Do you – do we – need spiritual revival today? Are we being the godly people we should be? Is there compromise in our lives? God says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,” then he “will hear from heaven … will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
That is what we need to be praying for – a spiritual awakening in America today.
As the psalmist said, “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6 NKJV). That is my prayer for America today. May the Lord send a mighty spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women and boys and girls back to him.
Make sure you vote this next Tuesday.
Evangelism and the Elections
5 Tips for Addressing People’s Political Emotions in Light of the Gospel
Jason Powell, the Evangelism Pastor at my church, Harvest Christian Fellowship, wrote up some tips on how to talk about the gospel in the context of the election:
Regardless of your age, gender, or nationality, when the elections are in season, everyone has thoughts and feelings about the matter. From excitement to disappointment, we are either eager or irritated by what we hear and see leading into the polls.
As followers of Christ, our job is to stay on task with gospel, preaching regardless of when or where we are. During this election season, you can seize every opportunity to preach the gospel whenever the campaigns or candidates are mentioned.
Keep in Mind:
For those individuals we can agree with: try to explain that politics are a band-aid fix to our country’s heart problem. Our ultimate hope is in the change that Christ can bring because only Christ can change the heart.
For those we disagree with: focus on conversation over confrontation. Dialogue over monologue. Their soul over the argument. Emphasize the fact that you love the person, and eternity is more important than the next four years.
Here are 5 emotions to identify, along with 5 transitional questions to use in redirecting the conversation from politics to religion.
We often get excited about receiving or experiencing new things. Out with the old and in with the new. The idea of a new presidential leader for our country can be an exciting one. If you are in a conversation with an optimist about the next presidency, leverage their excitement on earthly matters toward a spiritual one:
It is exciting to think about the new opportunities and changes that the elections are going to bring.
Do you think it’s possible to have an exciting relationship with God? Why or why not?
It is hard not to feel a little disappointed about the prospect of the next 4–8 years with either candidate filling the Oval Office. If you find yourself in a conversation about the elections and the mood becomes that of disappointment or letdown, redirect the conversation toward the gospel:
The change our country needs is not going to be found in politics.
What are your thoughts about having a life-changing relationship with God?
No matter which direction the polls favor, either way, people are going to be angry about the new president. The only way to deal with anger is to defuse it by redirecting it. Shift the discussion to spiritual matters:
Our country is headed down a scary road and it seems like there is little hope.
What are your thoughts about the biblical truth that God is in control and He often uses life circumstances to get our attention?
Change in our country is something we all want and during the elections is when citizens align themselves with the candidates that promise the very change they’re hoping for. In fact, most people in our society will freely offer their two cents on the different ways our nation needs to change. Because our opinions do matter, shift the conversation to spiritual things:
Change for our country could be a really good thing.
If God asked you to change something about your lifestyle, would you listen to Him? Why or why not?
Every candidate in every election has centralized their campaign with the promise to provide hope for the future. Each speech is given in attempt to point toward the light at the end of the tunnel. This election, Hillary Clinton points toward the hope found in unity through her complain slogan, “Stronger Together,” and Donald Trump suggest that when he is elected, tomorrow will be brighter because with him we can “Make America Great Again.”
Hope. It’s something we all need, something we cannot live without. Shift the conversation from politics and turn toward spiritual matters:
It is interesting how every candidate promises hope for the future.
What is your personal hope in this life?
Church history tells the story of a Christian who was brought before the Roman emperor and was told to renounce his faith. The emperor said to him, “Give up Christ, or I will banish you.”
The Christian said, “You can’t banish me from Christ, for God says, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’”
The ruler said, “I will confiscate your property.”
The Christian replied, “My treasures are laid up in heaven. You can’t touch them.”
Then emperor said, “I will kill you.”
The Christian answered, “I have been dead to the world in Christ for 40 years. My life is hid with Christ in God. You can’t touch it.”
The emperor turned to the members of his court and said in disgust, “What can you do with such a fanatic?”
What can you do? You can pray that we have a whole lot more just like him. This is what we need today – people like that Christian, people who will stand up for what is right, no matter the cost.
The Bible tells the stories of men and women who had great character and integrity and stood the test of time. But it also tells the stories of those who did not and paid the price. One man who comes to mind is King Saul, the first king of Israel. He had all the makings of a potentially great leader. He was tall, handsome, brave and anointed by God to be the king. God even gave him the ability to prophesy. But as you read his story, you see his life unraveling as he disobeyed God in the small things, and then in the big things.
Then, when God chose another to take his place, specifically David, King Saul became filled with fear, paranoia and jealousy. Ultimately, he threw his life away, committing suicide. The problem with Saul was that he didn’t have any character or integrity. He looked good on the outside. The Bible says he was handsome. He stood head and shoulders above everyone else. But there was nothing inside. And that is what matters in the long run.
Like Saul, Samson also had opportunities, but he squandered them. For Samson, sex was more important to him than anything else, including God. He threw it all away.
In direct contrast to Samson and Saul, there was Joseph. Talk about character. The Bible doesn’t have a single critical thing to say about him. The only thing even debatable is whether he should have shown off his new coat his dad gave him. If that is the worst thing he ever did, it’s pretty minor – if it was a bad thing at all.
Joseph was such a godly young man that even after his brothers sold him into slavery, he was not bitter against them. He tried to make the best of the situation he was in. He ended up in the house of a man named Potiphar, who left him in charge of his estate. It wasn’t long before Potiphar’s wife cast a lustful look toward the good-looking young Joseph and tried to entice and seduce him. He resisted her advances and was thrown into prison on false charges. But he maintained his character and integrity. In fact, it only deepened. When he finally was released from prison, he was made the second-most powerful man in the world after interpreting the pharaoh’s dream. And when the very brothers who had betrayed him were brought before him, he did not give them what they deserved but extended grace to them. He showed his genuine character and integrity.
It is not how you look on the outside; it is who are on the inside. We spend so much time on our appearance, so much time on our image, so much time on the way we want people to think about us, yet so little time on who we really are.
We need to remember this now as we go into a presidential election.
It isn’t about who looks the best or who has the best sound bites. It’s about where these candidates stand on key issues that are important to us as followers of Jesus Christ. Issues like the sanctity of life, the definition of a a family, and where we stand in regard to the nation Israel. There are of course many other topics that matter, but these are very important for the Christian to consider.
That is what we need to be looking for in a president.
Sometimes there are areas in life that cause us to wonder, “Is it all right for a Christian to do this?” “Is this permissible, or is it a sin?” We wonder about certain things because perhaps we can’t find a particular verse that addresses them specifically.
We need to recognize, first of all, that all of us are different. Sometimes there are things some people can do, and it won’t harm them as much as it might harm another. Here are four little questions you can ask yourself in those so-called gray areas of life: 1) Does this build you up spiritually? 2) Does it bring you under its power? 3) Do you have an uneasy conscience about it? And 4) Could it cause someone else to stumble?
I read about a dating service called Just Coffee. You can have a cup of coffee with someone without being stuck in an entire dinner escapade. If you take one look at the person and don’t like him or her, then you can order a really small espresso.
But instead of Just Coffee, how about Just Church? Instead of meeting for coffee, why not suggest that you meet at church? You can have coffee afterward. That will narrow down the field a bit.
Here’s what you don’t want to do. You don’t want to get involved with a nonbeliever, because you will end up married to a nonbeliever. This happens far too often. I have met people who tell me, “I’m not happy in my marriage. He [or she] is not a Christian.”
When I ask why they married a nonbeliever, they tell me their husband or wife claimed to be a Christian when they got married.
My question is, was there any evidence of it? Just because someone says they are a Christian doesn’t mean they are.
The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:14–16 NLT).
Here’s what will happen when you get involved with a nonbeliever. In most cases the believer will not pull the nonbeliever up to faith; the nonbeliever will pull the believer down. That is why it’s a trap and something Christians should avoid.
A single Christian needs the Holy Spirit’s power to be the person God has called him or her to be. This is true of the Christian life as well. We can try so hard to not do this and not do that. But the Bible tells us, “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:16–17 NLT).
If you focus on the positive, it will help you deal with the negative. I want to be filled with the Spirit and under the control of the Spirit, living by the counsel of Scripture. Then the other things will sort themselves out. We need the help of the Holy Spirit. We can’t do this on our own.
Having said that, I want to point out there are certain advantages to being single as well as certain disadvantages. The same is true of being married.
When you are married, you make a commitment – and you have to take that commitment seriously. We are told in 1 Corinthians 7, “An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband” (verses 32–34 NLT).
The apostle Paul is not saying this critically, as though it is a bad thing to be married. What he is saying is that when you are married, you have to think of someone other than yourself. A husband has to think about how to please his wife, and a wife has to think about how to please her husband.
That doesn’t mean you still can’t please God. What it does mean is that you now have limitations in your life that you didn’t have before. When you are single, you are mobile. In many ways, you are free. That’s good. Use your mobility for God’s glory. Use your extra time to serve him and grow closer to him and pray about finding the right person.
As James Dobson said, “Don’t marry the person you think you can live with. Marry only the individual you think you can’t live without.”
My wife reminded me about something I didn’t remember saying when we first started dating many years ago. One day I turned to her and said, “Cathe, I’m going to tell you something. I am following Jesus Christ, and if you ever get in the way of my relationship with God, you are out of here.”
Cathe said she really liked that because up to that point, she always was trying to control guys. She wanted them to do what she wanted them to do. She told me, “When I found a guy who stood up and had convictions and thought God was more important than me, I thought, ‘That is the guy I want to spend the rest of my life with.’”
Of course, someone might have the opposite reaction that Cathe did. They may say, “See ya.”
If that happens, then let them go. Trust God to bring the right person into your life. If you are single, wait on the Lord for the one he will bring to you. Maybe you know that person already. Or maybe you will meet that person tomorrow. Whatever the circumstances, you can start praying for your future spouse today. Pray for wisdom for the right person and the right timing. Once you are married, you’ll enter into a relationship that you want to last a lifetime.
When my wife, Cathe, tells me she’s going for a walk with some of her friends, I’ll say, “Why don’t you just call it what it is? It isn’t a walk; it’s a talk.”
I think Cathe and her friends have it right in many ways. The Bible speaks of walking with God, and a “talk” is exactly what it should be. It is all about communication.
When you say you’re walking with someone through life, you are basically saying you are there with them through both the rough patches and the great times, the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs. You are there to love them, to understand them.
When we say we are walking with God, it is essentially the same, but even more. The Bible talks about a man named Enoch who walked with God all the way to heaven. They would take walks every day, and one day the Lord said, in effect, “We’re closer to my house today than we are to yours. Why don’t you just come home with me?”
Interestingly, there is not a lot in the Bible about Enoch. But in Hebrews 11 we read that “by faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: ‘He could not be found, because God had taken him away.’ For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God” (verse 5, NIV).
Another definitive series of verses about Enoch is found in Genesis 5: “When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (verses 21-24, NIV).
Talk about, as Nietzsche put it, a “long obedience in the same direction.” Enoch had the longest walk possible. He walked with God for 300 years.
Enoch made it into what we call the Bible’s Hall of Faith, Hebrews 11. We want to pay careful attention to those mentioned in the Hall of Faith, because they were world changers. They were very ordinary people, but they served a great God. They changed their world with faith – with great faith in a great God.
What is faith? The Bible defines it as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NKJV). Or, as another translation puts it, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (NLT).
J. Oswald Sanders wrote, “Faith enables the believing soul to treat the future as present and the invisible as seen.” Faith sees invisible things. Faith sees what could be.
Faith is not just running a race; faith is also walking the walk. Hebrews 10:38 says, “The just shall live by faith” (NKJV, emphasis added). Feelings come and go. We cannot attach our Christian experience to how we are feeling emotionally in the moment. We must learn how to walk by faith.
I have discovered one of the secrets of a successful Christian life: living and walking by faith each and every day. It is consistency. It is staying with it. That is the kind of person who will change the world.
Enoch walked with God at one of the darkest times in human history. In fact, it was so dark, evil, and wicked that God actually said he was sorry he had created man in the first place. God was about to bring judgment on planet Earth through the great flood. In a way, Enoch was a last days believer, as his last days were before the flood.
Jesus said, “As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37, NKJV). Jesus was saying these two periods of time would be similar. And if Enoch was able to live a godly life at a time like that, then we can live godly lives wherever we are right now.
Enoch had the same spiritual resources that are here for us today. We can live godly lives in an ungodly world.
Someone might say, “Greg, you don’t know my world. You don’t know my family. You don’t know what it’s like to live in my neighborhood. You don’t know what my workplace is like. You don’t know what my campus is like.” Maybe I don’t. But no matter how messed up or how evil your world is, you can live a godly life in an ungodly world. Enoch proved that.
I believe we’re living in the last days. I believe Jesus Christ could come back at any time. As far as I can see in my study of Bible prophecy, I believe the next event on the prophetic calendar is what we call the rapture of the church when all true followers of Jesus are caught up to meet him in the air, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (see 1 Corinthians 15:52).
Just like it happened to Enoch, it could happen to us.
Or, if the Lord doesn’t return in our lifetime, we will die. As I have said before, the statistics on death are quite impressive: one out of every one person will die. The Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27, NKJV). There is no escaping it.
The good news is that Enoch walked with God on earth and, therefore, he was received by God in heaven. When you walk with God and death comes, you don’t look forward to it necessarily, but you don’t fear it, either. You know that when you die, you will go to heaven. The Bible says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 5:8).
The moment you take your last breath on earth, you’ll take your first breath in heaven. That is the hope of the Christian. Do you have that hope?