A Message for America

A Message for America - Independence Day 2016 - title

Every Fourth of July, as we celebrate our Independence Day, we sing songs that celebrate the blessings of God upon America.

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

God Bless America

God bless America, land that I love, Stand beside her and guide her

Through the night with a light from above.

From the mountains, to the prairies,

To the oceans white with foam,

God bless America, My home sweet home.

Star Spangled Banner

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Even though I am an American, and can be biased, I believe it is safe to say that no nation in history has been blessed by God in the unique way that the United States of America has been.  This does not mean that we are God’s chosen nation (that title belongs only to the nation of Israel), nor that we are superior or of greater value than anyone else, but we have undoubtedly been one of God’s blessed nations.

God has blessed the USA, and has brought us through tragedy, conflict, war, and countless other challenges. But we make a serious mistake if we presume that God’s blessings on America will always be there, that He will bless us no matter what.  Nor can we go to the other extreme and begin to preach doom and gloom on America because we have drifted so incredibly far from God and the Bible.

I want to share with you a message that was first delivered to the nation of Israel, but that was also directed at any and all nations, including the USA. It is A Message for America.  It reminds us that the future of our nation, the future of God’s blessings, rests at the heart of our country.  And the key to turning our heart back to God is not found in politicians, lawmakers, and courtrooms.  It is found in the local church.  It is found in the Gospel (Jeremiah 18:1-10).

I love it when God uses object lessons to get His point across.  In these verses we find that God sent the prophet Jeremiah on a field trip.  He sent him down to the potter’s house, to watch this craftsman do his work (vs 1-2).  When Jeremiah got down there, he began watching the potter mold and shape a vessel out of clay.  At one point, the potter saw something he didn’t like in that vessel, so he lumped it together and started over.  Here was the key: the potter did whatever he wanted to do with the clay (vs 3-4).  That is when God began to make his point (vs 5-6). 

The LORD stated emphatically that He is the Potter, and the nation of Israel is the clay, and the LORD has every right to do as He pleases with this nation.  The clay has no rights to demand, or explanations to demand.

Romans 9:20–21 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

The LORD then makes a couple of statements that we, as Americans, but more importantly, as Christians, need to take to heart:

 

No matter how blessed a nation has been, it can forfeit God’s blessings (vs 9-10).

God says that even if a nation is on a positive trajectory, even if it has a positive track record, and is experiencing the blessings of God, it cannot presume or assume that those blessings will always be there no matter what.  God is not under any obligation to bless them, especially when they begin making choices against Him.  That is exactly what had happened to the nation of Israel.  King David had been graciously given amazing promises by God, promises of an eternal kingdom, and those blessings were experienced for generations.  But even Solomon, the wisest and most blessed man in human history, began to make choices and to walk a path that was contrary to the Word and will of God, and it was his son who would experience a civil war and the dividing of the nation.

There are those who presume that God is somehow on the hook to bless us, simply because we wave the “Red, White, and Blue,” or we travel with an American passport.  It is undeniable that God has blessed us indescribably as a nation, but we are foolish to presume or assume that those blessings will continue just because we are Americans, regardless of the paths that we choose.

As a church, we must also be careful not to presume that God’s blessings will always be upon us, no matter what we choose, how we walk or behave.  God has blessed Vandalia Baptist Temple in unbelievable ways over the past 60 years, but just because God has blessed, and is currently blessing, we can make choices that forfeit the blessings of God.  We can lose focus on what truly matters to God, and why we exist as a church, and God is not on the hook to continue blessing.  In fact, when we begin to focus more on ourselves, on our preferences, on our comforts, on our traditions, on “holding the fort,” and not on doing whatever it takes to reach our community, to make and multiply disciples, to plant multiplying churches, God can pull His hand of blessing back at any time.

The same is true of your life individually.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you have walked with God, pleased God, and served God in the past, and God has blessed you and your family for it, that God is somehow on the hook to continue to bless you for the rest of your life, regardless of the choices you are making today.  God does not owe you and me anything!  He is the Potter, we are nothing but clay.  When your life, heart, and attitude no longer are pleasing to God, you too can forfeit God’s blessings.  It is true of our nation, of our church, of our families, and of our own heart.  But the opposite is true as well:

 

No matter how evil a nation has been, it can obtain God’s blessings (vs 7-8).

There is never a shortage of doom-and-gloom prophets.  Of course, many people thought that that was what Jeremiah was in his day!  But the truth is, God is always a God of grace, and God is always willing to receive those who turn to Him, no matter how far they have strayed.  That was the situation in Israel.  God’s people had turned their back on God for generations, and were now experiencing the heavy hand of God’s judgment.  But God’s message was clear: any nation, even if it is on the path to destruction, even if it appears that all hope is lost, can once again obtain God’s blessings.  It was true of Israel.  It was true of Ninevah in Jonah’s day.  It is also true of America.

Yes, our nation has not just drifted away from God, it seems that we are on a sprint to run as far away from His Word, His values, and His principles as we possibly can.  We are calling right wrong, and wrong right; we are calling good evil, and evil good. 

Isaiah 5:20  Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

We are not just defying God’s Word, but we are celebrating it, and encouraging others who are doing so.  Christians get slaughtered around the country or around the world, and virtually nothing is said from our nation’s capital, but homosexuals are allowed to be recognized as “husband and wife,” and our White House gets decorated with the colors of the rainbow.  God-fearing Christians are called bigots, and Christian-hating liberals are called open-minded and tolerant.  Everything seems backwards, or upside down!  It’s like we are Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Cheshire Cat: “I’m not crazy. My reality is just different than yours.”

Sounds like America, doesn’t it?

That is why some Christians have virtually written America off when it comes to God’s blessings.  We are headed for condemnation and there’s no turning back.  Even extremist groups are pointing to every act of violence, every murder, every act of terrorism as the final judgment of God upon America.

But remember what God says here in Jeremiah.  Even if God has already set in motion a plan to pluck up, pull down, and destroy a nation, He is still willing to reverse course, hold back the judgment and extend grace, mercy, and blessings.  There is still hope!

That can also be said of a church.  Just like the churches in Revelation, even when a church has lost its first love for God and for lost souls, even when a church is experiencing tribulation and hardship, even when a church has compromised doctrinally, even when a church has not confronted sin in its midst, even when a church is dying and on its last legs, even when a church is spiritually lukewarm, there is still hope!  There is still a God-given opportunity to experience God’s blessings again, to experience revival, renewal, and rebirth.

Friend, the same is even true in your life.  I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, “I’m just too far gone.  I’ve done way too much.  You just don’t know or understand my past.  God would never accept me.  God would never forgive me.  God doesn’t want me.  I might as well just do whatever I want, because there’s no hope for me anyway.”  Friend, that may be how you honestly feel, but that doesn’t make it true.

The Bible says that even “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).  The Apostle Paul was the chief of sinners, a die-hard enemy of Jesus and enemy of Christians, and yet he experienced the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.  Even the thief on the Cross had his sins forgiven moments before he died, and personally met Jesus in paradise that very afternoon!  If you are alive, now matter how sinful you may be, Jesus stands ready to receive you, forgive you, and make you new, if you come to Him on His terms.

 

God’s blessings upon any nation are tied to its repentance.

What is it that makes such a difference in these nations?  What is it that turns a nation’s destruction and condemnation into blessing and restoration?  What is the key?  The turnaround happens when that nation “turns from their evil” (vs 8a), when they have a change of heart, a spiritual change of direction.

The Bible calls that “repentance.”  It involves a 180* turn, from following sin to following God, from choosing our way to choosing God’s way.  And when God sees that in the heart of a nation, He turns a curse into a blessing, condemnation into salvation.  It happened in Israel, it happened in Nineveh, and it has even been true in the United States.

Throughout our nation’s history, there have been key, pivotal moments that turned the tide, that changed everything, that brought the blessings of God upon our nation again and again.  Forty years before the Declaration of Independence, local churches, influenced by the powerful preaching of evangelists like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, were spreading the Gospel in towns and cities across the colonies and the frontier lands, from Philadelphia, to New York, to the southern cities.  Thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children were repenting of their sin, and turning to Jesus Christ for salvation, in a revival wave known as the Great Awakening.  These individuals understood the grace of God, the freedom found in the Gospel and in Jesus Christ, and the need for humility and brokenness before God.  It was that generation out of whom our Founding Fathers would emerge, leaving the imprint of Jehovah God in our founding documents, on our currency, and on our buildings and monuments.

Twenty-five years after the Declaration of Independence, a Second Great Awakening began to spread across the northeast and the Midwest, as local churches were impacting their communities and our nation was being changed from the bottom up, from the inside out.  This wave of spiritual repentance ushered in a movement that tackled social reforms, like the dangers of alcohol, the first seeds of the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights.  It wasn’t the result of reforms in Washington.  It was a nation being changed through the influence of the Gospel and local churches carrying out the Great Commission.

During the years before and after the Civil War, there was a Third Great Awakening, and this wave of spiritual repentance across our land led to denominational networks carrying out the work of God, and the growth of missionary work around the country and the world, including through the leadership of pastors like Dwight L. Moody in Chicago.

Then in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, following World War II, America experienced another explosion in evangelism and church planting across our country.  As our country was experiencing a cultural revolution, Gospel-preaching churches were growing by leaps and bounds, Bible colleges were in their hay-day, preachers were going out to plant churches, and missionaries were being sent all over the world, especially by fundamental Baptist churches.  It was during this wave that Vandalia Baptist Temple was planted by a preacher named Herman Bond.

Every wave of spiritual repentance in our country brought the blessings of God over and over.  You see, that is what God is looking for – even today!  The blessings of God upon our nation will not come as the result of the perfect bill or law in Washington.  We cannot hang our hopes and dreams on a politician or political party.  What God is looking for is repentance, in America, in the state of Ohio, in the greater Dayton area, and even at Vandalia Baptist Temple.  And when God sees people repent, and have broken hearts before God (even as Christians and churches), He sends His blessings.

Luke 5:32  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Acts 3:19  Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord

Acts 17:30  And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

Acts 20:21  Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Revelation 2:5  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

But you see, repentance is a response to hearing and understanding the Gospel.  And the spreading of the Gospel lies in the hands of the local church.  It is the local church that is the hope of America and the hope of the world.

That is why the ministry of the local church is so important.  That is why the mission is so urgent.  That is why we are passionately committed to building bridges to every generation, culture, and community with the Gospel.  That is why we are asking you to continually invite your friends, neighbors, and community to come to church and hear the Word of God.  That is why we are asking you to help us go into other communities, as our church is about to do in Old North Dayton, to love and serve people, to shine for Jesus, and one day, maybe even plant a new church there.  That is why we are taking our kids VBS outreach, not just to the walls of our own facilities, but also over to a local apartment complex, and then over to a local city park.  We are going where people are who need to hear and understand the Gospel.  Church, it’s on us!

As Christians in America we have got to stop blaming unbelievers for the condition of our country.  We have got to stop blaming “sinners” for acting like “sinners.”  We have got to stop thinking that if we yell loud enough, or argue strongly enough, or post enough rants on social media, that people who are “dead in their trespasses and their sins” are somehow going to get their act together and begin acting like the salt and light that our world needs.

What our nation needs, in order to restore and preserve God’s amazing blessings, comes back to our very existence as a local church.  It doesn’t matter how blessed we have been in the past, if we aren’t walking in repentance and humility today, we can forfeit God’s blessings.  It doesn’t matter how far we may have drifted from God, individually, as a church, or as a nation, there is still hope to experience the blessings of God.  But it all comes back to that one word: repentance.

If you, as a Christian and church member, are not currently engaged in the cause of the Kingdom, in reaching lost souls with the Gospel, then what God is looking for from you today is genuine, humble brokenness and repentance.  Our community and nation needs a change of heart, and you have the answer.  Nothing in your life is more important than the eternal souls of people – in your family, in your community, in our region, in our country, and around the world.  Maybe God is calling you to get re-engaged in ministry.  Maybe God is calling some of you to be preachers and church planters (around the region, country, or world).  God entrusted the Gospel to the local church, to you and me.

But perhaps you have an even greater need today.  You aren’t experiencing God’s blessing upon your life, because there has never been a point in your life in which you genuinely repented of your sins and turned in faith to follow Jesus.  Maybe you look the part on the outside, but there’s never been a change of heart.  Until that happens, nothing you try and do or change is going to work.  You will still remain broken and lost before God.  What you need is to respond to the Gospel, to God’s invitation, and come to Him for forgiveness of sin and eternal life in Heaven.

God’s message to Israel in Jeremiah’s day, is God’s message to America today.  But more importantly, it is God’s message to you and me.  Will you respond to God’s voice and calling today?

What Easter Says To You

What Easter Says To You - Easter 2016

Have you ever gone somewhere, or maybe watched an event or a show on TV, that everybody is going nuts over, and you’re there thinking, “I don’t get it”? “Other people are so excited about it, but what’s the big deal?” That’s how I feel when I watch NASCAR. That’s how some people feel when they watched the movie Napoleon Dynamite. It’s the feeling I get when my kids ask me to play Mancala.

Now be honest: Have you ever felt that way after going to church? You see people sing the songs, you hear the preacher preach, people get excited, some even cry, and hey, it’s fine for them, but you just don’t get it. It’s not your “cup of tea.” Maybe for you, when it comes to the whole church thing, even the Easter thing, you can take it or leave it. You would just as soon sleep in, or go fishing, or clean your house.

I don’t want this Easter to be one of those times that you go to church, hear some Bible verses, but not really grasp how Easter impacts your life every day, your family, your relationships, your work. As you open the Bible and read some of the accounts of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, which was a historical event that took place 2000 years ago outside Jerusalem in Israel, I want to share with you four statements that summarize what Easter says to you. These four statements can radically change your life. The first thing that Easter says to you is:

God loves you (Luke 22:63-65; 23:1-47)

You may have seen movies, documentaries, theater productions, or even works of art that try to depict the physical and emotional pain and agony that Jesus endured when He was tortured, beaten, whipped, and mutilated, and then nailed to a Roman cross of crucifixion – the most brutal form of execution that the Roman Empire could devise. The sole purpose of of crucifixion was to send a message to the masses: “Don’t mess with Rome.”

But the reality is, you and I can’t even begin to comprehend the suffering of Jesus. It went far beyond physical and emotional pain. The Bible says that when Jesus, with His mutilated body, was hanging on that cross, He took upon His innocent, holy, pure soul the sins of all mankind, of all humanity, past, present, and future. “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21). Every sin you have ever committed, every lie you have told, every lustful thought that has been in your mind, every sexually vile thing you have done with your body, every harmful substance you have put into your body, every hateful, unkind, rude word that your tongue has spoken, every act of violence and anger that you have committed – every single, filthy thing you have done or thought – was all placed upon Jesus that day.

In fact, Jesus became those things in the eyes of God the Father, the Judge of all the Universe, and God the Father couldn’t take it any longer, couldn’t watch and see such disgusting things on that Cross, so for the first and only time in all eternity, God the Father turned His eyes away from His precious Son. It was at that moment that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, what hast thou forsaken me?” And for three long hours, the sun was covered over and there was absolute darkness all over the earth in the middle of the day. The innocent Lamb of God had just taken upon Himself the sin of the world.

There is only one motivating force that drove Jesus to do such a thing: HE LOVES YOU.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Hebrews 12:2a Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.

You may think that nobody loves you. You may feel like your Dad or Mom doesn’t love you. Your husband or wife may not love you anymore. You may feel like you have no friends who love you any more – but listen: God loves you! And God’s love is not based upon your performance, or living up to somebody’s expectations – it is absolutely unconditional. He loves you for you. He created you! You can’ t ever mess up so badly that God won’t forgive you, receive you, and accept you – as long as you come to Him on His terms.

If you ever doubt God’s love – just look back at the Cross (John 15:13)! Long before you ever sinned, and messed up your life so badly, and did whatever it is you think is unforgiveable, God knew about it, He saw it, and yet He died for you anyway. Friend, if Easter says anything to you, please listen to me: GOD LOVES YOU!

He created you to be with Him forever. Yes, your sin will keep you away from God, and it will condemn you to Hell if it’s not handled God’s way – but God knew what it would cost Him, and He paid the price anyway. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. But Easter has so much more to say to you. Easter also tells you that:

Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 24:1-12, 36-40)

Oh, how I wish I could have been there! These men and women saw Jesus’ dead body. They saw Him placed in that borrowed tomb. They saw that empty tomb three days later. And then, they met the living Jesus face to face! They embraced Jesus, ate with Jesus, even doubting Thomas was asked to touch Jesus’ hands, feet, and side. The Bible later says that Jesus physically, personally appeared to over 500 people at one time – during the 40 days that Jesus walked the earth after coming back from the dead.

Jesus faced the most impossible of all situations – He experienced death itself. He died – it was physically and scientifically unmistakable and undeniable! But then, of His own power, Jesus did exactly what He predicted He would do. Three days later He rose again! Jesus, of His own power, came back to life. His sin-cursed body was miraculously transformed into a glorified Body (like we will have in Heaven), and walked right out of that tomb! His burial clothes were left laying there in that stone cave, with his head covering neatly folded off to the side. It was amazing! And then an angel from Heaven came down and powerfully rolled the stone away from the cave entrance – not to let Jesus out, but to let all those witnesses in! Listen, friend, Jesus is alive today!

Jesus faced the most impossible situation and overcame it. That should send you a clear message this morning: NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD. The resurrection of Jesus offers you hope and victory, no matter how impossible the situation is that you are facing. Whether it involves finances, relationships, employment, personal failure, disease, even death, the resurrection of Jesus proves that you will never face anything that God can’t handle, that God can’t get you through, that God can’t overcome. If you ever begin to doubt it, just look at the empty tomb!

Sure, you can’t handle it on your own – but you’re not supposed to! God invites you to cast “all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Jesus also said,: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (Jn 11:25). Listen: if you will turn to Jesus today in repentance of your sin, and in faith in Him – no matter how messed up your life is, no matter how bad you think you’ve blown it, no matter how impossible you think it is for God to forgive you and take you to Heaven when you die – if you will just come to God on His terms, Jesus will come into your life, He will forgive you of all your sin, and give you all the power, strength, and provision you need to face and overcome even the most impossible of situations. With Jesus in your life, you are never alone. With Jesus in your life, you are never powerless. With Jesus in your life, nothing is impossible. Turn to Him, call out to Him, trust in Him, turn that burden over to Him today!

Easter also tells us a third thing:

The Bible can be trusted (Luke 24:41-46)

The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate proof that the Bible is the Word of God, and can be trusted with your life, your soul, and your eternity. Jesus Himself predicted that this would happen.

Matthew 16:21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.

Nothing that happened on Easter was a coincidence. Every detail had been spelled out by Jesus and throughout the Old Testament for hundreds of years. The prophet Isaiah wrote in detail about it 700 years before it happened. King David wrote psalms about it 1000 years before it happened. But you can go back to the very beginning of human history, 4000 years before Jesus, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve first fell into sin and brought a spiritual curse on all humanity. In that Garden God promised that a Savior would be sent to conquer the evil schemes of Satan.

When the resurrected Jesus met with those disciples, He pointed back to the Bible and showed them that all of this was prophesied in the Law of Moses, in the psalms, and in the prophets – and it all pointed to Jesus. Then He opened their understanding so they could understand the Scriptures, that they it all pointed to the Gospel, that they all pointed to Jesus.

My friend, the Bible can be trusted. The Bible is not just a historical piece of literature, as the secularists of today want to fool you into thinking. The Bible is not some irrelevant work of mythology that just happens to be our preferred choice of entertainment. The Bible has stood the test of time. The Bible has survived every attempt throughout history to destroy its existence. It continues to be proven and verified over and over by science, archeology, technology, biology, astronomy, sociology, and history. But the greatest proof that Jesus is who He said He is, that what the Bible says is true, is the indisputable fact of the resurrection, of Easter.

When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me,” He can be trusted. When the Bible says that it is appointed unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment, it can be trusted. When the Bible says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” it can be trusted. When the Bible says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” it can be trusted!

The Bible can be trusted! Therefore, it must be the road map for our life, our marriage, our relationships, our financial decisions, and our spiritual, moral, and ethical values and priorities. The Bible must not be a paperweight on your coffee table, or a dust collector on your book shelf and night stand. The Bible ought to be the most often used item in your home and in your life. Christian, if you can claim to believe the Bible, to believe the Gospel, and to know Jesus – if you aren’t faithfully and regularly reading your Bible, there is something wrong. Your actions are telling you that your trust is somewhere else. But Easter reminds us, among many other things, that the Bible can be trusted. Do you trust it – for real? Finally, Easter also tells us that:

The world needs to hear this (Luke 24:46-48)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the message of Easter, was never intended to be just for a privileged few. It was never intended for the Elite 12, or the hundreds of first-hand eyewitnesses. The purpose of the Gospel is not complete until the message is taken to the world.

Jesus had to suffer and die. Jesus had to rise from the dead the third day. Why? So that the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins through a relationship with Jesus could be preached literally to “all nations.” Literally, to every ethnic group, culture, and people of all the world. Yes, it was start in Jerusalem, but was to extend to the ends of the earth. And it is born-again followers of Jesus that are responsible for witnessing and sharing this message with others (Acts 1:8).

Easter reminds us that the world needs to hear this! There are over 7.2 billion people on planet earth right now, most of which have never heard, or truly received, the Gospel, the Good News of forgiveness and salvation that Jesus is offering to anyone who will repent and believe. These people are literally one heartbeat away from dying in their sins, condemned to spend eternity without Jesus, in the Hell that God created for Satan and his demons.

Over 150,000 people die each and every day, and most will not have heard the true message of Jesus. It is very likely that there are people in this room who have never truly repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is on us as born-again followers of Jesus to share that message.

Easter is not just about singing, clapping, and saying “amen” to a familiar message. It’s about remembering that the world desperately needs to hear this message so they can be saved (Rom 10:13-15). Our family needs to hear. Our friends need to hear. Our neighbors need to hear. There is way too much at stake.

You may have someone in your life that is driving you crazy talking about Jesus, inviting you to church, bringing up spiritual topics. Maybe it’s your husband, wife, Dad, Mom, kids, friends, neighbor. If you’re honest, you just wish they would back off! Let me be honest with you. The next time you start getting frustrated with them, you need to understand why they are doing it. The reason is that they love you, and can’t bear the thought of being in Heaven without you. They know they aren’t any better than you. But they also know that Jesus is your only hope.

If you’re a Christian, you have a responsibility to share the message of Easter, to share the Gospel. If you aren’t a Christian yet, then today you need to get things right with God. Confess your sin to God in prayer and invite Jesus into your life. Receive His gift of salvation, which is free to you, but that cost Him His life. But it was a price He was glad to pay because He loves you, and created you to be with Him forever.

I hope you don’t finish reading this and walk away saying, “I don’t get it.” “What’s the big deal?” My prayer is that right now you would make a choice, a specific, personal decision. My prayer is that you would listen to God’s voice and not tune Him out. My prayer is that you will push past your pride and fear, and give your life to Jesus. If there has a been a time and a place that you already repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus for salvation, then maybe today you need to bow your knee, and turn some of your burdens over to Jesus. Maybe you need to commit to reading God’s Word regularly again. Maybe you need to commit to being baptized, or taking the steps necessary to join a local, Bible-based church. Maybe you need to spend some time praying for that unsaved loved one in your life.

But if there has never been a specific time and place in which you prayed, confessed your sin to God, and trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then I plead with you, make that decision today. Whatever you do, don’t turn your back on the One who loves you and died for you.

Easter says “God loves you.” “Nothing is impossible with God.” “The Bible can be trusted.” “The world needs to hear this.” This Easter, what is God saying to you? And what are you going to do about it?

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5 Reasons Why Cross-Cultural Integration Is Necessary In The Local Church

     No, I don’t have all the answers.  In fact, I realized long ago that I don’t really know all the right questions to ask.  So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let me give five reasons why I believe cross-cultural integration is necessary in the local church.

     The United States has always been a melting pot of cultures.  Unfortunately, what may be true of our nation is often not true of local churches.  It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously said that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning was “the most segregated hour of Christian America.”  He was speaking of segregation between blacks and whites, but we are also seeing the same when it comes to cultures from around the world.  Christians know that we need to reach people of all nations, languages, and ethnic groups.  The challenge is: How?

     As you look around the church landscape in America you find that a predominant strategy is one of cultural segregation.  In other words, let’s have separate churches for whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, wealthy people, poor people, traditional people, contemporary people, younger people, older people.  If we do reach another culture or people group, let’s put them in another building, or have them worship at a different time than everyone else.  That way, everyone can play the music they like, speak the language they prefer, dress the way they like, and no one has to get out of their comfort zone or preference box.
     But, is that the New Testament way?  Is that how the Gospel is to shine in the world?  Is that what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like?
     I believe the church should be a living reflection of the Gospel message, which must include cultural integration.  People from different cultures ought to be able to come together in one Body to worship their one Savior and Lord.  Here’s why:
  1. In the Gospel, there are no cultural or gender differences (Galatians 3:28).  There are no Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, male or female.  We are one in Christ.  Our churches should display that to the world.
  2. Cultural segregation feeds our selfishness and pride.  Our flesh and the world bombard us with the idea that life is all about us, that our ways are the best, and that we should get it “our way.”  Just like Frank Sinatra.  Just Burger King.  But not like Jesus.
  3. In Heaven, there will be no cultural segregation (Revelation 5:9; 7:9,  12).  People from every nationality, ethnic group, and language will be worshiping Jesus together.  We should be able to do so on Earth.
  4. Cultural segregation disobeys the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8).  No matter where you read the commandment of our Lord, it involves God’s children reaching and discipling all people groups.  Focusing on one culture exclusively was never part of the Plan.  In fact, it brought God’s intervention through persecution (Acts 8:1).
  5. Cultural integration is what God used to reach the world (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-4).  Antioch is our model, not Jerusalem.  Through this local church, God sent out the first foreign missionary team.  Through their cultural integration, the Gospel eventually made it to America (and the world).

We must change our mindset.  We must align our heart and perspective with that of the Lord and the Kingdom of God, in light of dying souls all around us.  The need is too urgent to insist on our preferences and comfort zones.

 
What reasons could you add to this list?

Observations from the Ancient Mission Field

During our recent trip to the Holy Land, God allowed my wife and I to personally experience, not just the lands where our Lord walked, but also the lands of pioneer missions in Greece, the Aegean Sea and the coast of Turkey. As a missionary kid and former missionary, I cannot describe how thrilling it was to see the places where the Apostle Paul took the Gospel message to foreign nations and cultures. We toured the open ruins of ancient Ephesus and Corinth, as well as Mars’ Hill in Athens.

My imagination came alive as I saw each open marketplace (agora), imagining Paul interacting with the vendors, tourists and athletes. My heart was burdened as I walked by the columns and doorways of massive temples dedicated to ancient Greek gods, that he too would have walked by. My stomach turned as we viewed the debris and artifacts from brothels and houses of temple prostitution. Paul stood as a pioneer missionary, sharing the message of forgiveness and hope through the resurrected Jesus, calling people to turn from their sin and live godly lives in the midst of a spiritually dark and perverse generation.

As we seek to take the Gospel to our local communities, and to unreached people groups around the world, it is often discouraging to see the rampant idolatry, paganism and blatant immorality. We are so few seeking to reach so many. Yet, the pioneer foreign missionary of the New Testament faced overwhelming challenges as well.

In Ephesus, Paul faced rejection and opposition, but still met regularly with a few believers, and discipled and trained them for two years. With God’s blessing, “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). This led to a city-wide revival that virtually collapsed the idolmaking industry of the region. In Corinth, Paul teamed up with fellow tentmakers selling tents to those traveling to the local athletic games of the peninsula. He built relationships, using their sports and religious culture to point their understanding to the truths of God. For 18 months, he taught God’s Word, which also produced negative social reaction because of the spiritual fruit. This rough, godless culture would challenge that local church for many years, but God was faithful to bring them through.

I don’t know the cultural and ministerial challenges you are facing, but you are not alone. God’s servants have walked this road before us. The same God who was faithful to them will be faithful to us. May we take to heart the words of this experienced missionary: “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

The Gospel In A Multicultural World

Romans 1:16

I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful force on earth. I believe that Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 are true. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, but not to any particular nationality, ethnic group or social class, but to “everyone that believeth,” whether they be Jew or Gentile, male or female, wealthy or poor, black or white, city-slicker or redneck. I believe that when the world sees this unconditional, cross-cultural Gospel at work and on display as it ought to be, it sees the glory of Almighty God shining brightly in a dark world.

You see, the world knows all about division, prejudice and discrimination. Ever since the Tower of Babel, man has been divided by languages, nationalities, cultures and genetic differences – all originated and continued by the sin of pride. Not only that, but the world’s philosophy is all about preserving and protecting your personal preferences, getting things just the way you want it and like it, because “that’s what you deserve.” You can “have it your way,” whether it’s a hamburger or a local church.

But if I understand the Gospel correctly, all those manmade and sin-caused divisions are restored through the cross of Jesus Christ. People that are divided and different from each other come together into ONE BODY, the local, New Testament church (Matthew 28:19-20). In the Great Commission, we, as soldiers of Jesus Christ, have been commanded to make disciples, not just of our own family, nation, culture, ethnic group, language group, but of every people group that has been scattered about the earth, including around our own communities. And that is when God promises His power and presence to the end of time.

That is the beauty, glory and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, the power of the Gospel of Christ in a multicultural world. God wants His saved, regenerated, redeemed people to come together as one, to worship Jesus Christ, and to take His message to a lost and dying world, near and far. When the Gospel is transforming lives as it should, the church will be a church where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The walls come down!

So why don’t we see more of this in our local churches? The tragic reality is that this is simply not the norm in most churches. As I look all around me, at church ministry all over, we rarely get to see this on display (even in my own church). When you look around, you see:

I. A Divided Christianity

It is true that many churches have no genuine burden to reach other nations through world missions (no Faith promise program, no missions support, or it is a very low priority). But even more churches have no genuine burden to reach other ethnic groups and cultures that exist all around them. It’s like these people don’t even exist! I have observed that there is often just as much racism and prejudice within the Body of Christ as there is in the world. We tend to justify this or conveniently work around this sinful perspective by saying, “Well, those groups don’t like our kind of music. They prefer to worship in a different way. They speak a different language than we do.” So what do we do? We go about starting separate churches for whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, wealthy people, poor people, traditional people, contemporary people, younger people, older people. Everybody with a church that looks like them, sings like them, dresses like them, talks like them, worships like them – and nobody has to deny themselves or sacrifice their personal preferences to reach someone for Jesus! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? No wonder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Where is that in the Bible? How can we pretend that this pleases God? How in the world does that bring glory to Jesus Christ, or display the true power of the Gospel, and send a message to a lost world that Jesus Christ forgives and unites? It’s every group for themselves.

By the way, that is not what it will be like in Heaven. In Heaven the worshipers will be singing about Jesus, saying, “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9). You will look across a sea of faces and see “a great multitude, which no man [can] number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, [standing] before the throne, and before the Lamb,” praising and worshipping “our God for ever and ever” (Revelation 7:9,12b). And that is how it ought to be here on earth – in the Body of Christ: local churches that reflect the world to which we minister.

But churches have always struggled with this. Despite understanding the Great Commission, God’s people, God’s soldiers, from the early days of the church, have been more about staying close to home, within our comfort zone, building ministry kingdoms and buildings, and building a name for themselves, instead of taking the Gospel to a multicultural world. We gravitate to what I call:

II. The Jerusalem Syndrome (Acts 1:4-8; 2:38-41; 5:27-28,42; 6:7)

The church at Jerusalem was the first church, by far the largest church, and the most blessed church when it came to an abundance of leaders. However, when it came to fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, it was a poor example for us to follow. The church in Jerusalem was told to make disciples of all nations and ethnic groups (once they received Holy Spirit power), commanded to be witnesses unto Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.f Yet the church in Jerusalem grew bigger and bigger and bigger (some estimate between 60-100,000), reaching their own people only. Numbers were good! The church was growing! They were being faithful to preach and teach in their local Jewish community, but were neglecting the Great Commission. The Commander had given the orders, but the soldiers weren’t fully obeying. That is, until God had to wake them up and shake them up by putting their very lives in danger and sending a persecution that literally scattered them around the world (Acts 8:1). Only then did Christians go out to spread the Gospel – yet still only to the Jews, people just like them. Their churches, for the most part, looked the same. They were Jewish churches.

Too many of our churches suffer from the Jerusalem Syndrome. We are faithful to preach and teach the Bible (even have growing numbers), but primarily to people just like us. We may even send money to reach other cultures in other places, but we are unwilling to reach other cultures in our own community. If the community around us begins to look different than us, we get so uncomfortable, we will either relocate to find a community that looks and acts like us, or we will dig in our heels to preserve our likes, culture and preferences, even if it means watching our churches wither and eventually die. I’ve seen it; you’ve seen it. Meanwhile there are real human souls that desperately need to hear of a Savior that loves them. They need to hear that in Christ we can be one. They need to see that we may have nothing else in common (humanly speaking), but if we know Jesus we are brothers and sisters, part of the family of God. We can come together to worship and serve the same Savior. They need to see people of genuine compassion, willing to do things differently if it means reaching people for Christ. The Jerusalem Syndrome can destroy the Lord’s work, and keep the glory of the Gospel from truly shining.

But I believe there is another church, that truly models and illustrates the Great Commission in action. It shows the true glory of the Gospel of Christ in a multicultural world. Instead of gravitating toward the Jerusalem Syndrome, I believe we need to be stirred and challenged by:

III. The Antioch Model (Acts 11:19-26)

Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, located about 500 miles north of Jerusalem. It was a Greek cultural center, on the Orontes River, close to a Mediterranean port (Seleucia), in the province of Syria (modern day Turkey).

It was here where we first see the glory and power of the Gospel in a multicultural world. The Jewish believers were forced to scatter and carry the Gospel to their Judea and Samaria, but they still had their cultural blinders on. They still only witnessed to Jews only (vs. 19). Some were Hellenist Jews, speaking Greek, living around the Roman Empire, but they were Jews nonetheless. Now these Christians began doing something new. They shared the Gospel of Christ to Gentiles. These “Grecians” (from what the context implies) were not Greek-speaking Jews (like in Jerusalem). They were actually Gentiles. Christians finally began to witness to other nationalities and people groups around them.

When this breakthrough in outreach and evangelism took place among God’s people we see God bless in extraordinary ways. When they stepped out of their comfort zone, stopped trying to reach only people just like them, they found that “the hand of the Lord was with them” and they experienced, not a revival, but a spiritual awakening (vs. 21). It was so incredible and amazing that word began to spread, and word reached the church back in Jerusalem. God was doing something out-of-the-box for them, something they had yet to experience, and they went to check it out. They were seeing the Romans 1:16 Gospel on full display. They were seeing the Great Commission carried out before their eyes. “The grace of God” had been poured out upon them (vs. 23).

It is no wonder that this church, with its culturally diverse ministry and leadership (including Jews, Africans, Italians), would be the church that would launch the first missionary movement (Acts 13:1-4). They had a true burden for the world, near and far. From this moment, from this church, the Gospel began to spread to the world, reaching nations, languages, people groups, and bringing together as one bodies of believers that virtually had nothing else in common; nothing, that is, but the blood of Jesus that has cleansed us from our sin, delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred to the Kingdom of God’s Son. That is the glory of the Gospel in a multicultural world. It’s a little bit of Heaven on eart!

God has given me an ever growing burden to see God build more churches like Antioch, and for God to do so in the congregation where I serve. It grieves me to see such diverse cultures all around us, by the thousands, and yet most of our churches look nothing like any of them. When we do try to reach them, we want to keep them separate, apart, so they can do things their way and we can do things our way, and never truly becoming one body in Christ.

What is it going to take for the glorious Gospel to shine in our multicultural world? Persecution? Suffering? Divine discipline? Do we need to find ways to build better ministry bridges? To reach people that are all around us, yet seem invisible to us? To reach them, and not keep them isolated, but seek to integrate them as part of the Body? Do we need to be willing to leave our comfort zone? Do we need to seek God’s forgiveness for our prejudices, stubbornness and indifference? Do we need to be more flexible in our styles and attitudes? I don’t have the answers. But I know the heart of our Savior for a lost world, and, like Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”