Category Archives: Teaching

Apostasy and the Man of Sin

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, ESV)

The Rebellion

Literally, Apostasy or falling away. The Apostasy or Rebellion is a large scale turning away from God’s Law, and from faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son.

“Since the reference here is to a world-wide rebellion against divine authority at the end of the age, the ideas of political revolt and religious apostasy are combined.”  -FF Bruce (Word Biblical Commentary on 2 Thessalonians)

“This rebellion, which will take place within the professing church, will be a departure from the truth that God has revealed in His Word. True, apostasy has characterized the church almost from its inception, but Paul referred to a specific distinguishable apostasy that will come in the future”   -Walvoord/Zuck (Bible Knowledge Commentary).

This is what we are seeing in the USA now, and what has been happening in the Christian lands of the West beginning in the 1700s. There is a great falling away from faith in Jesus Christ, which founded Western Civilization. We re primed for a strongman to take over and change times, laws, morals and values. Academia, the Entertainment Industry, the most powerful corporations, all have turned against Christianity in our time. The most alarming apostasy, however is in the church. Mainline denominations turned away from confidence in the Bible 50-100 years ago. Now those same nominally Christian organizations have turned toward the validation and celebration of sexual immorality and the culture of death (abortion industry). Increasingly they reject the miraculous, acts of Jesus, his resurrection, and even his deity. This last certainly marks them as apostate, not part of God’s chosen people. The essential confession of faith is: Jesus is Lord. Apart from that no one is saved.

Man of Lawlessness

This figure has a several names in the New Testament, two here: Man of Lawlessness (also translated Man of Sin) and Son of Destruction (also Son of Perdition). John calls this figure the Anti-Christ, and in Revelation The Beast. In Daniel, the Little Horn (7:8). Jesus quoted Daniel in calling this leader’s image the Abomination of Desolation (Matt. 24:15, cf Dan. 11:31, 36)

There are numerous examples of powerful political leaders who opposed the faithful up to this point and beyond.

Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.” (Daniel 11:31, ESV) This was Antiochus Epiphanes who abolished sacrifices, set up an altar to Zeus, offered pigs blood on it and punished those who circumcised their children.

Antiochus Ephiphanes may be the archetype, and we may read of him in the so called Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, which Roman Catholics and others accept, but which were rejected as canon by the Jews and by most Bible believing Christians.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45 to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals,  to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.” (1 Maccabees 1:41-50)

Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks.” (1 Maccabees 54-60)

 

Near the time of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica the Emperor Gaius, also known as Caligula was in power. He insisted that he be known as a god. Other emperors, beginning with Augustus were deified after death, but Caligula insisted on being worshiped. He decreed that a statue of him be erected in the Temple at Jerusalem, but was assassinated in AD 41 before these orders could be carried out. This would certainly be fresh on the minds of Paul and his readers.

In both of these notorious leaders (Antiochus and Caligula) we find an initial fulfillment of the prophecy about the Abomination of Desolation in the temple (Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11). Evidently there will be a greater example, and a final fulfillment of this prophecy immediately prior to the return of Christ.

Next there was Nero, who persecuted and martyred Christians in Rome. Coating Christians with pitch and burning them to light his garden.

Then there was Domitian, who insisted on being referred to as “Dominus et Deus,” Lord and God.

The first empire-wide persecution occurred under Decius circa AD 250.

The worst persecution was the last under Diocletian circa AD 300.

Throughout history other anti-Christs like Hitler have murdered millions of Christians and/or Jews.

But none of these has been the ultimate and final fulfillment of Anti-Christ. That one is still to come.

Characteristics of the Anti-Christ to watch out for:

  1. Powerful world leader with absolute global authority (Revelation 13:1-10).
  2. Rejects Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah and God’s Son come in the flesh (1 Jn. 2:22, 3:2-3) 
  3. Exalts him/herself as God or a god, and will demand and receive worship from everyone (above Daniel 11:36, Revelation 13:8).
  4. Opposes the Bible’s revelation of right and wrong.
  5. Changes the calendar and the law to reflect rejection of Christian and Jewish faith (Daniel 7:25)
  6. His image will be set up in the Temple (Daniel 11:31). I believe that this will be his demand for ultimate allegiance from everyone, which amounts to setting up his image in the hearts of people. We see examples of this in Communist N. Korea today, ie Dear Leader Kim Young Un.
  7. He will even be given authority to make war and successfully conquer God’s people for a short time (Rev. 13:7)
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God’s Will Is for His People to be Holy

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, ESV)

This is an admonition for us. Christians must be holy, and that is a process. In the sexually immoral culture of 1st century Rome it was necessary to emphasize that holiness includes sexual purity. So important was this issue that it was one of the few prohibitions contained in the circular letter from the Jerusalem Counsel, a formal meeting that was called to determine the relationship between Gentiles and the Mosaic Law.
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses. The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. (Acts 15:5-6, ESV)
James, the half-brother of Jesus and Pastor of the Jerusalem church, came up with the language in the brief circular letter of response.
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19–20, ESV)
Here we find one prohibition to avoid offending primarily the Gentiles: “abstain from things polluted by idols.” Then there are two prohibitions against practices that would offend the Jews: “abstain from what has been strangled and from blood.” Finally, there is the prohibition against sexual sin, which was more prevalent among Gentiles, but equally relevant to Jews, and to us.

Learn to control your *vessel, which is to say your body, especially what we today would call your sexuality. We must control the body and the sexual urges of an old, fallen nature. If you belong to Jesus, then it is not your body any longer, even if you continue in management over it.
“The body must be treated as the Lord’s property and not used as a means of wanton self-indulgence.” (Bruce)

“not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God”

Those who pursue sexual immorality do so to the exclusion of knowing or experiencing God. Pursuing sexual passion is often the surrogate for the indwelling intimacy of knowing God, which is why it is common among those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. It is the highest form of pleasure that they know. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure, and many in the world are hedonists. Sexual desire consumes many people, so much so that they are willing to risk reputation, career, family and even their lives to pursue and fulfill it. Yet it is insatiable. It is never fulfilled. Only those with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom will be capable of accepting this truth and denying themselves in order to become what God wills them to be: pure and holy vessels, filled to overflow with God’s love and life.

So, how could someone who has experienced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit turn back to worthless desires when infinite joy is offered to them in Christ? As a pastor and a former youth pastor I’ve watched many young people trade their supposed commitment to Christ for sexual immorality. The result is a once spiritually sensitive and alive young person hardens their heart and becomes dead inside. They have little or no interest in Jesus. It’s all in what you choose to believe, or who you choose to believe in. Do you believe God’s word or your feelings? Do you believe in Jesus Christ or yourself?

“that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter”

We must not take advantage of another. In context this refers first to adultery, which is taking advantage of one or both partners in a marriage covenant. Let us say a man is having an affair with a willing woman. In so doing, he wrongs her husband. However, he also enables his illicit sexual partner to commit sin. A follower of Jesus encourages and empowers others to overcome sin; he is not a stumbling block into it.

Sexual morality distinguished the church from the Roman world.
“Christianity from the outset has sanctified sexual union within marriage (as in Judaism); outside marriage it was forbidden. This was a strange notion in the pagan society to which the gospel was first brought; there various forms of extramarital sexual union were tolerated and some were even encouraged.” (FF Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary)
Over time, Christians changed the sexual ethos in the Roman Empire, as they did in other important areas such as respect for life and protection of the weak. It was a common practice in Rome to simply leave a baby exposed to die if the parents didn’t want it.

In America and around the world today, it is acceptable to kill a baby in the womb. This is an extension of our value of personal freedom, pleasure and profit. I don’t want my freedom limited. I don’t want to take responsibility for the life I’ve pro-created. So, I terminate it. If Christians obey the commandment of God regarding sex, they will not find themselves in a situation where a sexual partner determines that the life of a baby must be taken in order to preserve their freedom or reputation.

We must not take on the sexual ethos of our dying culture. It has gone back, like a dog to it’s vomit, and like a pig to the mud-hole, to immoral practices, which Christian influence had brought into disfavor for nearly two millennia. Today, some churches are  embracing sexual immorality and gender confusion as a norm to be accepted, even blessed. Re-read the biblical text from 1st Thessalonians above. We are to be holy, separate, different than our culture. We follow the design of our Creator, which Jesus himself affirmed.
“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Matthew 19:4–6, ESV)

Therefore, sexual immorality is not God’s creation, and this includes homosexuality and manifold transgender identifications. That said, biblical Christians must be merciful, gentle and understanding when communicating, “speaking the truth in love” to those who identify or are struggling with issues of sexual confusion. Understanding and grace don’t  constitute a change in sexual ethics however. We have no right to reorder God’s design of male and female, marriage and sexual expression in order to make those who struggle feel better. When it concerns sexual practice, the follower of Jesus must stand out as an example of moral integrity and sexual purity.
“…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:25, ESV)

“The Lord is the avenger”

Notice, there is a coming consequence for sexual immorality. Even those in the ancient world were wise enough to fear the consequences of adultery. Consider the cases of Abraham and his son Isaac. First, there was Abraham, who told the Egyptians that his wife was his sister to keep them from killing him and taking her. Pharaoh indeed took Sarah into his harem. In consequence, the people of Pharaoh’s house were subject to a plague. When the Egyptian ruler discovered that Sara was actually married to Abraham, he admonished the patriarch: “So Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.’” (Genesis 12:18–19, ESV)
Like father, like son. Years later Isaac pulled the same trick with another local king. This ruler feared God and admonished Isaac about the lie, then warned everyone to stay away from Rebecca under penalty of death (see Genesis 26:6-11).

The question is, why have we become so foolish? Why is adultery becoming increasingly acceptable with the advent of websites that promote it, so called open marriages and the like? The answer is simple, many in our world no longer fear God.

There are consequences for sexual immorality: sickness, disease, depression, spiritual insensitivity and a hardened heart towards God. These all come upon the sexual sinner. Then she must stand before God to give an answer, and that is what should truly inspire fear. Judgment Day is coming, and we must all give an answer for what we’ve done in the body, good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10, Rom. 14:10, Heb. 9:27). This fact alone should cause even the most sexually profligate, calloused person to fear God and apply self-control, regardless of feelings or identifications.

This applies all the more to those who would molest or take advantage of someone weaker, even if the weaker partner goes along with sexual activity. It is always wrong for an adult to be involved with a minor sexually. The teacher has power over the student, even if they are not that far apart in age. A 20-something has power over a teenager, even if she is 16 or 17. Willingness may quickly turn to disgust, shame and anger. Sex leaves a permanent mark, and this is especially true when the person exposed to it is young and inexperienced.

It is also wrong to take advantage of someone who is financially needy by offering money for sex. The person may go along, but the one paying or bribing them has the greater guilt, since he is also a stumbling block.
Jesus said, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6, ESV)

We each have pet sins. We have weaknesses. Sexual immorality is often that sin or weakness. However, as Christians we are called to represent Jesus. As the Apostle Paul states elsewhere, “Let not sexual immorality be named among you as is proper for God’s saints… or “don’t let a hint of immorality be seen among you” (see Eph. 5:3). Instead, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14).

“God has not called us to impurity but in sanctification”

A former member of this church made a confession on Facebook some time ago. He stated that he now wanted to pursue a sexually immoral lifestyle, even though continuing to identify himself as a follower of Christ. I responded that the two pursuits are mutually exclusive (to negative reactions from some of his friends). Here we have evidence of what I said: God has not called us to impurity. You may feel an urge to follow some desire, some lifestyle, but that urge is not God calling you. It is the flesh, the world and the enemy of our souls pulling you away from God and His purpose for you.

At its root, impurity is not just sexual in nature: it is a divided loyalty, a divided mind. God has not called anyone to be what he clearly prohibits in Scripture. We live in a fallen world. I have no doubt that someone may be deeply enthralled and inured by sexual immorality. Calling it a “sexual orientation” is a redefinition that makes it seem natural. Sex is a powerful motivator that reinforces behavior associated with it. Those who practice sexual immorality are shaped by the practice, even if that is private in nature. They bend their minds and emotions toward a delusion, then believe that it is real, normal and even created by God. God did not create, nor does he ordain what is perverse and inordinate according to his revealed will, and many times obvious in nature. God has not called you to commit adultery. God has not called you to follow homosexual desire, or to pursue a homosexual relationship. God has not called you to move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend and live as though you were married. He has called you to holiness, and that means you must be different than our dying, disordered, anti-Christ culture. You must be different than your friends and colleagues. You must be like Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will give you the conviction and the confidence to do so, unless you push him away…

“Whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”

The Spirit of God is holy, and those who belong to Christ are inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit. There is a fundamental incompatibility between pursuing sexual sin—of any kind: homosexual expression, adultery, fornication—and being led by the Holy Spirit. When you go on in sin–although our culture accepts and celebrates it–you grieve the Holy Spirit. You are hardening your heart against God and his leadership. This is a very dangerous game. The Holy Spirit gently convicts you of sin, but you harden yourself to this and excuse your behavior as being part of your nature, justify the sin as acceptable; in fact, you may even justify the desire or tendency as coming from God. God created me this way. No, friend. Now you’ve moved into the most dangerous territory, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, where you call right what the Bible teaches and the Spirit convicts is wrong.

I believe God is merciful. I don’t believe making mistakes, sexual or otherwise, disqualifies you from heaven. However, I read soberly passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 wherein the Apostle Paul clearly states that those who practice sin will not inherit heaven.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
(1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NKJV)

Fasting to Reset

Many of you are aware that I finished a 10 day juice fast recently. The beginning of the year is a good time to fast. It is a time to push the reset button on our lives, and fasting is a tool that can help you begin again.

 The following are some reasons for fasting.

1. DEDICATION. Fast as an Act of Dedication (Matthew 4:1-2) –  After his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where he fasted for 40 days to prepare for entry into his ministry. During this time Jesus was tested by the devil. Perhaps fasting gave Jesus clarity as he intensely focused on His Father. The time of testing provided confirmation that He was the Son of God who had come to save the world. You may fast as an act of dedication to the Lord, and to seek confirmation about his calling in your life.

2. DISCIPLINE. Fast as an Exercise of Self-Discipline (Matthew 4:3-4) –  Learn to say no to yourself. All of the temptations Jesus endured were aimed at getting him to act egotistically and expediently. If the Lord had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but an effort at overcoming self-doubt with presumption. Our consumer culture is about self-indulgence, not self-discipline. It is about pursuing passion, pleasure and satisfying desire. This is why we’re overweight and in debt. It is important to set limits for our time, money, eating and drinking. Fasting is a good tool to discipline yourself so that you may also say no in areas other than food.

3. DEPENDENCE. Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence upon God-  Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation demonstrates this. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 as quoted in Matthew 4:4, also John 4:34). When I give up something I truly want, I will need God’s help to persevere. The third affirmation of the AA 12 Steps recognizes our need to do this. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God…” This is essential if I am to overcome a particularly stubborn habit or addiction. “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 12:29). We need a deep faith, which relies entirely upon God, and fasting may help promote such faith.

4. DETERMINATION. Fast to Establish Determination-  Believing is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Believing genuinely means I am willing to do something about it. Additionally, faith must endure or it’s worthless. Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. Jesus’ disciples encountered a boy whom they could not help. When Jesus cast out the spirit that afflicted the child, his disciples asked him why they were powerless. Jesus replied, “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21). Not everything happens instantly. In fact, many issues require determination and tenacity to overcome. Remember, although faith is an act of the will, it is not about willpower. It is about trust. I must be determined to continue to trust God, no matter the circumstances. This is fasting for a breakthrough. Nothing is helping. Nothing is changing. I can give up and give in, or I can resolve to focus all my attention on God and persevere in asking and seeking and knocking. Consider Jesus’ parable of the importunate widow: the woman kept coming to the judge for justice until he finally gave her just relief (Luke 18:1-8). In the end I will find it is not God who is withholding my right, but a lack of faith on my part. Fasting helps me to break through.

5. DESPERATION. Fast as an Act of Desperation (Joel 2:17-21) –  Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? I must repent and come to an end of myself if I want to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. I must realize how truly sinful I am, and how depraved I will become without God’s help. I’ve got to take sin seriously. Cry out to God in repentance. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12 NIV). I need to hear from God at all costs. Our nation and our lives are filled with rebellion, perversion and lawlessness. How many more tragedies must occur until we realize the need to return to the Lord in heart and mind and body?

6. DETOXIFICATION. Fast as a means of Detoxification (Daniel 1:8-16) – Because of constant exposure to an impure environment your body collects all sorts of toxic and destructive substances. Consider Daniel and his friends who would not eat the meat and rich food offered them by their Babylonian overlords. Instead they ate only vegetables and drank only water. They were healthier as a result. They asked to be tested for 10 days. You can do the same test on yourself: Eat only vegetables and drink only water for 10 days and discover a healthier you. A vegan or even vegetarian diet that allows only organic foods is a healthy way to rid your body of toxins. When you abstain from food altogether, drinking only water, especially for longer periods, the digestive system and liver and kidneys can be cleansed of accumulated poison.

The same applies to your mind. When you remove TV, movies, video games, godless music, social media, you give your mind the opportunity to rest. Replace these things with worship and saturation in Scripture.

7. DIET. Fast regularly to Diet- Limiting the amount of food you eat is a means of controlling calorie intake. Most of us eat too much. We take in more calories than we burn, so we gain unneeded fat. Periodic fasting, (ie. one day per week), if done in moderation and balanced with a healthy, calorie controlled diet, is an effective tool in losing fat and maintaining a lean body.

Suggested fasts

A. Fast and pray for a day.

  • Rise before 6 AM and eat a breakfast of fruit and oatmeal (cooked raw oats is best), use honey to sweeten the oats.
  • From 6 AM until 6 PM drink only water. Drink at least 8 oz. every hour.
  • After 6 PM eat a healthy dinner with plenty of vegetables. Go easy on the fatty meats.

B. Daniel Fast for 10 days.

  • Eat only vegetables and a little fruit for 10 days. Focus on leafy greens and cruciferous (broccoli & cauliflower) vegetables, prefer organic.
  • Drink only water for 10 days. No soda, coffee, or tea. Vegetable or fruit juice is acceptable if it is 100% pure.
  • NO SUGAR
  • Once the 10 day test is done, you may decide to go to 21 or even 40 days. For longer fasts be sure to include beans, brown rice, pea or other vegan protein sources. Pastor D supplemented using Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein powder in water or almond milk.

C. Juice Fast for anywhere from one to ten days.

  • Do not do this for more than one day until you have done “A” above and prayed.
  • Try it for one day, then break, then three before you go longer.
  • Drink 90% vegetable juices made with a juice extractor ($50 – 100 appliance).
  • Drink juice every two hours and water in the hours between.
  • Again, no coffee or tea, and NO SUGAR or other sweeteners.
  • Organic vegetables are preferred.

Whatever you decide to do, remember the following principles.

•Be consistent. Discipline requires consistency to take hold and be effective.

•Giving up what you shouldn’t be doing to begin with is not fasting, it’s obedience.

•If you make a commitment to God, keep it. Better not to vow than to vow and not keep it.

•It is not a good idea to make promises to God, better to rely on his promises for you. So, you aren’t fasting to get God to do something for you. Trust him to help you through.

Jesus is the Reason… for Everything Good

My message for Christmas Eve 2017 as delivered at Lifewell Church in historic downtown Garland.

Six Symbols of Christmas

Christmas is all about Jesus. He is the reason for the season,
and for everything good in the world.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
(Colossians 1:15-17).
And we who believe should live our lives for him.
“Whatever you do in word or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though him.”
(Colossians 3:17)
Tonight I want to tell you about the Symbols of Christmas.

You see, they’re all about Jesus.

1. Christmas Carols
What is a /Carol/? “a song, especially of joy.”
May have begun with St. Francis of Assisi a 12th century monk who established the Franciscan order. Pope Francis is named after this saint.
However, long before Saint Francis believers are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to “Let the message of Christ live in you richly. Sing songs hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord, with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16). We’re also told not to get drunk but to be filled with the Spirit, “speak to one another with songs, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19).
The best Christmas carols are worship songs.
O, Come Emanuel captures the longing of advent and our desire for the Lord Jesus to return and save us from this fallen world.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is about the magi who came t see Jesus. Listen to this line
God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day
to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray
O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.
O, tidings of comfort and joy.
/*Christmas carols were my first praise and worship songs.*/
I memorized that long before I became a Christian, but after I gave my heart to Jesus the words jumped out at me.

2. Christmas Tree
Garland, wreaths = evergreen, eternal life.
During his ministry Jesus was in the Temple during Hanukkah and said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me” (John 10:28).
Greenery was used for celebrations in winter as early as the Roman times. Like many pagan symbols and celebrations Christians converted the evergreen understanding it to represent the eternal life the Son of God gives. Martin Luther brought boughs into his house and placed candles in them, believing it looked like the starry night sky. He had a Christmas tree and sang carols to his children.

The evergreen also reminds me of something that never grows old. In the Psalms we are promised that the Lord, “fills all your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle” (103:5). The eagle is used as an analogy because it is strong, lively and soars above the mundane earth.
Give your life to Jesus and you’ll be youthful and ever green!

3. Creche or Nativity Scene
Of course Jesus was born in Bethlehem and there wasn’t any room for him at the Inn or in the guest room of any home. That’s why Jesus’ cradle was a manger, or feeding trough. But the Nativity Scene with animals, shepherds and wise men is actually another creation of Francis of Assisi! He loved animals and they used live ones in the first Manger Scene.
“On Christmas Eve 1223, in order to ‘Set before our bodily eyes … how he [Jesus] lay in a manger,’ Francis and his companions worshiped in a cave near Greccio, Italy, surrounded by the traditional oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/christmas-traditions.html

4. Santa Claus
His original name is Nicholas, and a long time ago he was actually the Bishop, or Senior Pastor of a church in a city called Myra, which is in modern Turkey. Nicholas loved Jesus and he loved to give. The first gifts he gave were gold coins. He wanted to help three poor young girls get married, so he secretly slipped bags of gold through their window at night. One story says that some of the coins fell into their stockings as they dried above the fireplace.
Now you know why children sometimes get gifts in their stockings.
There have been many churches and cathedrals named after Nicholas, and the Catholic church recognized him as a saint. When you say “Saint Nicholas” really fast you can see how his name got changed to Santa Claus! What you need to remember is, Saint Nicholas really loves Jesus!

5. Christmas Presents
Why do we give gifts at Christmas?
It’s simple, really, God gave his son, and that inspires people to give.
The three Wise Men travelled 900 miles from Persia, modern Iraq, just to honor the newborn king. They gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Saint Nicholas gave those three young ladies the money to get married and has been known as a gift-giver since.
There’s just something about grace that prompts us to give.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)

6. Christmas Lights
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12).
Jesus is not like a spotlight blinding you, but a beautiful light leading you to heaven. We follow Jesus and live our lives like he lived his: unselfish, giving, and caring for other people. If we follow his example we can’t go wrong. But we don’t always follow Jesus, do we? That’s why we have to believe in him and receive him in our hearts.

We put our faith in Jesus and his love for us. We believe he was born in a stable, grew up and lived the perfect life we’re supposed to but don’t. He is the perfect Savior who took our sins upon him. The Bible says: “He who knew no sin became our sin,” then he died on the cross to pay their price because “the wages of sin is death.” And as a result we who are believers “become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus conquered sin and death and rose on the third day. That’s what Easter is about. Without the resurrection of Easter we probably wouldn’t want to celebrate Christmas. You and I would still be slaves to sin, subject to death. But Jesus is alive, so we can say, “Death where is your victory, where is your sting!? Jesus offers you the greatest gif of all: eternal life! He will come and live in your heart. All you have to do is believe in him, call out to him, invite him. Jesus said, “Look! I stand at the door and knock, if anyone will open the door, I will come into him and we will dine together. Invite Jesus into your heart, then follow the light of the world, who lives in your heart.

What are you all about?
Is your Christmas celebration really about Jesus, or something else? Is your life all about Jesus, or someone else? Why don’t you make a change tonight, and really put your faith in Jesus. Start living your life, so that: “Whatever you do in word or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though him” (Colossians 3:17)?

Modified Juice Fast

Today is day nine of my fast. That’s farther than I’ve ever gone before on a fast. I’ve lost about eight pounds. I don’t know that my scale is accurate in determinig body fat, because it would seem from what it calculated previously I should be lower, but according to this scale, I’ve cracked into the 15% range.

Yesterday I met my weight goal for this week, and I converted to a traditional no food fast, drinking only water. This part of the fast is for God, not me. I dropped coffee three days ago and all caffeine yesterday. This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time. I don’t want to be addicted to anything. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Caffeine has a way of getting a hold that is not easily shaken. I detox on it periodically, usually for Lent. Normally, it takes two weeks before I can completely drop all caffeinated substances, reducing the amount gradually. If I go cold turkey, I get terrible migranes that no pain reliever will stop. When I stopped drinking coffee two days ago, I expected to drink green tea (less caffeine) in its place until the caffeine addiction ended. I drank two cups that day, and it was that night that I prayed and determined to do a full fast with no juice. I told God that if he was behind this he could show me by keeping  the headaches away. He did! I haven’t had any side effects from eliminating the caffeine altogether. This is a big deal for me.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of praying, and I’ve been reading the book God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis. There are many reasons for fasting, and many benefits as well. I’ve written about it, and have observed six. The first I’ll mention is the last in importantance, but the reason I began this one, Diet. I’ve benefitted by losing weight, ending caffeine addiction, increasing my water and micronutrient intake (the latter applies only to juice fasting), and there are many other benefits.

Here are five more reasons to fast.

Fast as an Act of Dedication–  Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted after his baptism and prior to entering into his ministry. Perhaps he did this to gain confirmation and clarity by intensely focusing on God.  By denying the body what it needs most I am saying that something else–in this case Someone–is more important than me.

Fast as an Exercise of Discipline–  Learn to say no to “me.” All of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness were for him to act expediently and egotistically. If the Lord had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but the wildly alternating swings between self-doubt and presumption. My body cries out for food, but I say no. This teaches me to say no in other areas where my earthly nature (or “flesh”) cries out. It teaches me to resist temptation.

Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence– Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 as quoted in Matthew 4:4, also John 4:34). I am dependent upon food for survival. I transfer my fundamental dependence from a substance to the Sustainer of life.

Fast to Establish Determination–  Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21). I fast for a breakthrough, as Daniel did when he needed God to answer his prayer for this people (Daniel 9:3). I fast to prove I am serious, both to myself and to God. This has been the main purpose of converting my juice fast to water only at the end.

Fast as an Act of Desperation–  Cry out to God in repentance (Joel & Israel, Jonah & Ninevah). I have the need to hear from God at all costs (Daniel10:2-3 & 21 days of prayer). Repentance may be part of fasting. Joel called a fast for the people when disaster loomed (Joel 2:12, 15). This includes mourning for sin, and prayer for transformation. I have been doing some of this too.

Well, tomorrow will be the end of my fast. I’ll likely end the water portion earlier. As of this writing, that has lasted about 35 hours and has been a physical challenge. I’m praying and monitoring my body and the Lord’s response. Either way, I’ll end the juice fast sometime tomorrow. I’m praying for a big breakthrough in my life and in the life of my church. I am praying for both of our Christmas services to be filled with people who are seeking God and willing to respond to him. I’m praying that we will have Spirit filled worship. I am praying that our church will grow in the new year. Fasting and praying, and praying. Seeing that the Lord has responded obviously by ending my caffeine addiciton, I have encouragement that he will respond to these more significant requests.

Amen.

Build the Lord’s House

(Originally preached in March of 2017)

Not a building, a Church

“Do you not know that you (all) are God’s temple and that God’s Sprit dwells in (among) you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

“And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Pe 2:5, NLT).

The people of Israel sinned against their God and worshiped idols, so the Lord disciplined them by sending Nebuchadnezzar to destroy their temple and take them as captives to Babylon (2 Chron. 36:15-21).

The LORD promised through His prophets that a Remnant would return, however (Isaiah 10:20-22, 11:11, Jer. 23:3).

A Remnant of Israel returned from Babylonian exile to their land under a command from Cyrus of Persia (Ez. 1:1-4).

The purpose this Remnant’s return to Jerusalem was to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:3-5)

Zerubbabel and Jeshua led the return (Ez. 2:2).

Cyrus gave the temple articles back, and many people offered gifts for its rebuilding (Ez. 1:6, 2:68)

Shortly after they arrived the Remnant rebuilt the altar of “Israel’s God” and offered sacrifices according to the Law (Ez. 3:2-3).

Then they bought materials for the temple and laid its foundation (Ez. 3:7)

There was a great celebration when the foundation was completed (Ez. 3:11-13)

Then the people who worshiped false gods alongside YHWH (2 Kings 17:24-28) offered to help build the temple but the builders rejected such help (Ez. 4:3).

These people who had been transplanted into the land of Israel by the Assyrians many years earlier (Ez. 4:2) are called “enemies of Judah and Benjamin” (Ez. 4:1).

So, the idolators and their leaders began to vigorously oppose the rebuilding of the temple (Ez. 4:4).

The Remnant gave up building.

The priests continued offering sacrifices on the altar, even though the temple was still in ruins.

The Remnant was not bothered by this, for they had turned their attention to their own homes.

God tried to get their attention by keeping them from succeeding at their selfish pursuits, but they continued to divert their limited resources to building their own homes and lives.

The Remnant was failing in their personal lives because they had failed to fulfill the purpose that brought them back to Zion.

Enter Haggai, the first authentic prophet to speak since the exile.

To Z & J: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to build the House of the Lord.’ (Hag. 1:2)

The people had taken opposition to be a sign that it was not yet time to build the temple.

To the Remnant: “Is it time for you to live in nice houses while my House lies in ruins?”

These were not bad people. They had not returned to idolatry… yet. Although, later some of them began to marry idolators, which is a major compromise leading to unfaithfulness to the Lord.

To the Remnant: “Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood to build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified.” (Hag 1:7b-8)

The response:

“Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God.” (Hag 1:12).

The foundation was laid in 538, but opposition followed by apathy and indifference caused building to cease until 520. 

That’s 18 years… 

Do you see our church in this story yet? Have you seen yourself?

The Temple is not a building any more. It is people; it is the church of Jesus. “Do you not know that you all are the temple?”

The church is not an ambiguous entity. It is local communities of believers called out from the world, called together and established by God to worship, fellowship, become like Jesus in discipleship, minister to one another and preach the Gospel to the poor.

18 years ago the Lord sent me out of the traditional, institutional church to build a people for his great Name. I started with high hopes.

Only a few individuals remain who were members in 1999. Several more are here who joined a year later, and a few more of you who came when we called ourselves Zion.

We came together all those years ago and offered the sacrifice of praise. And we came together to fellowship. I’ve always tried to call people to discipleship.

I led us to lay the only foundation that can be laid to build an authentic church: Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).

However, there were idolators and doubters and even a few who wanted to build something else on that foundation. They all left. We’ve encountered opposition, at times even from former members and supposed supporters.

What began as a fellowship of friends who loved hanging out together has become The Church That Will Not Grow.

Why?

Perhaps our small membership is not consciously stating: “The time has not yet come to build the House of the Lord,” but we are not, in fact, building this church. We simply occupy what little we’ve built. Most of us feel no more need for fellowship because we have families and friends, often times outside this church. We do not grow, friends, because we refuse to reach out. Now, I know that some of us invite people to church on occasion. Yet I wonder, have we left our first love (Rev. 2:4)? Has your love for Jesus grown cold? The result is that your passion for his church and his Gospel has disappeared. You’re just going through the motions. Some of you have been attending this church for years, but your level of commitment is exactly the same as it was a year ago, five years ago, maybe a decade ago.

You see, you are the material the Lord is using to build his church.

“And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Pet. 2:5).

However, some of you won’t to take your place in the walls of this temple. You’re like stones that refuse to be mortared and set. You just want to sit on top of the foundation wherever you please.

As a result, we’re effectively saying, “The time has not yet come to build the House of the Lord.”

In addition to the obvious fact that our church never grows numerically, I wonder if some of you are experiencing the same issues as the Remnant to whom Haggai preached.

“Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes…!

You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses.”

(Hag 1:5–6, 9 NLT).

So, people of Lifewell, I am preaching to you today with the message of Haggai, and I pray the Holy Spirit will speak it to your hearts: “Build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified” says the LORD of Hosts.

What do you need to do in order to obey the LORD’s command?

  1. If you have not yet been baptized into the church of Jesus Christ as he commanded, commit to do it today.
  2. If you have yet to join this church, takes steps to do so now.
  3. If you’re not a regular giver to the ministry of this church, start today, or the next time you receive income.
  4. If you’re not meeting in one of our small groups, choose one today and commit to meet with them beginning next weekend.
  5. If your attendance is inconsistent, even erratic, make a change this year. Show up to grow up!
  6. When we’re in worship or Bible study and your attention is diverted to your phone, the coffee machine, kids, FOCUS on the Lord. Take worship seriously!
  7. If you do not invite people to come to Jesus and our church, start doing so now.

It will require the strength of discipline to follow through with this commitment, and it will require energy and strength for us to build this church as the Lord wills.

Not by might and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD” (Zech. 4:6)

“Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.’ (Hag 2:4–5).

There are blessings for our church promised when we obey the Lord. I have always wanted this church to grow according to God’s promises rather than human methods.

“In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land. I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies…

The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And in this place I will bring peace. I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!”

(Hag 2:6–9).

The glory is the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

The treasures of the nations are people of all races and ethnicities coming here, worshiping, fellowshipping, becoming disciples of Jesus, ministering and being sent out into all the world to preach the Gospel.

We will have the money to accomplish this goal because the silver and gold are the Lord’s.

We will not have to endure the division and strife that is on the increase in the world because we are promised peace.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (Jn. 14:27)

“I have told you this so that you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)

There are also blessings that extend to your family when you have faith, obey and build this House of the Lord.

“I am giving you a promise now while the seed is still in the barn. You have not yet harvested your grain, and your grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive trees have not yet produced their crops. But from this day onward I will bless you.”

(Hag. 2:19).

I said this once in the year 2000 or 01, and those present were not ready to receive it by faith, so I say it to you again this day, Lifewell.

The Lord says, “From this day forth I will bless you.”

Do you receive it?

Then prove it.

Get to work!

Six Miracles

Parthenogenesis is a virgin birth. This doesn’t happen among mammals in nature. However, with intelligent assistance a female mouse was genetically engineered to give birth to its own offspring without the involvement of a male.
Humans cannot naturally do this. However nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37).

What’s a miracle?
/Miracle/ means something exists or occurs supernaturally, above and beyond nature. In other words, a miracle means something didn’t just happen, or come about naturally.

1. Existence.
“Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does anything at all exist?” -Leibniz
The fact that anything at all exists is the first miracle.
Existence didn’t just happen. Nothing cannot cause or result in something. “From nothing, nothing comes.”
Something, or Someone has always existed, and whomever or whatever that is, is by definition a miracle, since it is beyond the natural world in which we exist.

2. The Universe
For those who conclude as Carl Sagan did, as the Greeks did, that the universe is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be, the argument that existence is a miracle might seem foolish, but I believe the question is still, why? Why does the universe exist? They would respond that it is just a “brute fact,” and feel smug and comfortable that the “why question is a foolish one,” as Dawkins states. Yet many of us are still asking this very human question. Moreover, the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe has far and away the best and most prolific evidence, and it demonstrates that the universe began to exist 13.7 billion years ago. The universe is a miracle.

Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence. The best explanation is that the universe was brought into existence by a personal Creator, who existed prior to it. Personal because only a person is capable of freely making something happen apart from a prior cause. God is a personal, infinitely powerful, unimaginably intelligent being who, by definition has always existed. God is the uncaused cause of the universe, and everything else that exists.

3. Life.
Evolution as an explanation for the origin of life is ridiculous. In the same respect as nothing cannot result in something, so non-life cannot produce life. Ironically, evolution is a poor explanation for the origin of any species. The infamous Miller-Urey experiment that every high school student is shown as proof that life began to exist as a result of natural causes fails to prove anything. Miller intelligently designed the experiment, using elements that he already believed would produce an amino acid. That’s an example of design, not chance. Additionally, Miller was wrong about the composition of the early earth, so an amino acid couldn’t have been produced the way he demonstrated. Finally, a single amino acid is not life. It is a long, long way from amino acid to viable protein, and much further to even the simplest single celled organism.

Biochemist Doug Axe demonstrated in an experiment published by Cambridge University’s Journal of Molecular Biology in 2004 that the likelihood of a single viable amino acid resulting from sheer chance would be 1 in 10 74th. To give you an idea of how ridiculous those odds are, consider that there are 10 65th atoms in our galaxie.

The belief that life could come into existence without apparent cause, is called /spontaneous generation/ People once believed that this happened all the time. For instance, mold seems to spontaneously appear and grow on a pile of damp rags sitting in the corner of a room. This was a very unscientific conclusion prior to knowledge of microscopic organisms. Yet, if we are to believe that evolution is the explanation of the origin of life, we’re forced into the same farcical understanding. In reality, life is a miracle. It came about as a result of something or someone above and beyond nature. Life was (and is) created by the same God who made the universe and the earth.

4. Consciousness.
We take for granted the reality that we are conscious beings. You are more than a body, you are a self. You don’t have a “me”; you are a me. You perceive qualities, not quantities. Not all life is conscious life. Self-awareness is not something that arose naturally via some sort of evolution. There must be something else present within a living organism to make it personal and conscious. That something is a non-corporeal essence, which some call soul, but would more accurately be understood as spirit. Human beings are both self-conscious and God-conscious, because they have been given a spirit from God and like God’s own. We are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). God breathed into us and endowed us with a supernatural component that enables consciousness (Gen. 2:7). It is the spirit that makes us aware of our own thoughts. The spirit is like a mirror, reflecting the mind and the self. “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his inmost parts” (Prov. 20:27)
The spirit is like a phone, communicating God’s voice, but via intuition rather than spoken words.
“For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God”
(1 Corinthians 2:11 NIV).
God’s Spirit knows his thoughts and communicates them to us as God wills.
“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us”
(1 Corinthians 2:12 NIV).
The soul is conscious, earthly life. The spirit is subconscious and capable of communing with God and receiving eternal life. I understand God’s revelation via His Spirit who communicates with my spirit, once it is revived through the new birth.

This is miraculous, supernatural, not natural.

5. Incarnation
You might be wondering what all of this has to do with Advent. The Christmas story centers around the birth of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God who became a man. That is called the incarnation, and that is what Christmas is actually all about.
“although he existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God as something to be held onto, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
Jesus’ mother, Mary was a young, unmarried virgin. The virgin birth is foolish in the eyes of those who do not believe in God or the miraculous. However, once you see that existence, the universe, life and consciousness are all miraculous you will likely find it quite easy to believe in the possibility of the virgin birth, which is necessary to bring about the incarnation of the Son of God. The God who created everything can certainly create within a virgin’s womb the sinless body of his incarnate Son.
The Gospel of Luke testifies that an angel visited the Virgin Mary. This was a supernatural messenger from God. When Mary asked how she could become pregnant, the angel replied: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God… For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:35, 37).

6. Resurrection
The baby born in a manger grew to be the sinless man who died on the cross and rose from the grave. Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead,” and the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” When you and I confess our sin and put our faith in Jesus who conquered sin, death and hell, we are given a new status as God’s children and a new hope as those who will follow Jesus through death to eternal life. That is the greatest miracle for us!
So, will you believe today? Will you put your hope in God’s offer of eternal life in Christ. Do you have hope that one day you will rise from the grave like Jesus. You can. If you only believe. That is the hope I offer you today.

7. A Transformed Life.
Will you be the 7th miracle? Believe in the incarnate, resurrected Christ. Pray and call on  him to save you now.