#WhatDidYouExpect

Time magazine’s recent announcement of their “Person of the Year” reflects a serious trend in our culture and society. Time’s “Person of the Year” named a group of people rather than an individual. Time chose to honor “The Silence Breakers,” those who spoke out about sexual harassment in the workplace. Ever since the subject broke several weeks ago, it seems that every day, accusations fly against more people—politicians and entertainers, even religious leaders have been accused of impropriety.

#WhatDidYouExpect? Remember the sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s? Hugh Hefner first published Playboy Magazine in 1953 and opened the Playboy Club in 1960. About that time, Joseph Fletcher, an Episcopal priest, popularized the idea of situational ethics, approaching ethical issues from the standpoints of pragmatism, relativism, positivism, and personalism. Essentially no two situations are identical, so no set rules apply. All moral decisions were to be made on a sliding continuum.

The Twentieth Century was known for the rise of this continuum as the philosophy of moral relativism. This philosophy has been condensed into such beliefs that there are no absolutes (in itself an absolute statement), and there is no right or wrong. Everything is simply a matter of preference. You like chocolate. I like vanilla. “What’s right for you may not be right for others,” They say.

More recently, the idea of political correctness states that if you make any type of moral distinction, say between gay marriage and straight marriage, that is being judgmental (in itself being judgmental). For more than five decades, universities, movies, and television have been affirming that nothing can be considered right or wrong any more. Those who hold antiquated ideas such as the biblical idea of one man plus one woman are woefully on the wrong side of history. We need to be free from antiquated Victorian repressive sexual mores. (Have you ever wondered what “Victoria’s Secret” is?)

#EnterTheHypocrisy. The flip side of “what’s right for you may not be right for others” is “what’s wrong for you may not be wrong for others.” Now many are coming forward saying that certain behaviors are wrong! How can that be after saying for decades that there is no right or wrong, there are no absolutes? You can’t have it both ways. Either there is some objective measure of right and wrong, or there is not.

#YouCan’tHaveItBothWays. If you don’t like what you are harvesting, try planting different seeds. Society is simply reaping what it has sown. Young actresses play highly sexualized characters in movies and television, then become offended when producers, directors, and co-workers treat them as the characters they portray. You can’t have it both ways.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction” (Galatians 6:7-8). When I was a youth, my pastor used the illustration of a father taking his sons fishing early one morning before sunrise. They went down to the river and out on the dock. The father placed the lantern on the dock while he and his sons got into the boat. As they began preparing their gear for fishing, they noticed that it was becoming increasingly dark and difficult to see inside the boat. The father looked up and noticed that the knot had come untied, and their boat had drifted slowly downstream. They had drifted away from the light of the lantern.

Decades ago, society purposefully loosed the moorings from the dock, and our society has been drifting ever since. Then we wonder why we are experiencing so much domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, mass shootings, high divorce rates, The Knockout Game,” and myriads of other societal maladies. We are drifting, and we can’t even say we are drifting, because to say we are drifting is judgmental. To say we need a standard is deemed politically incorrect, so our metaphorical hands are tied.

#IsItAnyWonder. We should not be surprised. My father often said that we spend our youth sowing our wild oats, then our final years praying for crop failure. We cannot mock God. We are reaping what we have sown. The current societal conditions do not surprise me at all. What surprises me is that the church has come to reject the revelation in God’s Word. “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction” (Proverbs 29:18 NIV).

LET’S LEAVE CHURCH OUT OF THIS

“Business is business, let’s just leave church out of this.” This attitude expresses the view that many Christians have today. Religion is Ok, but let’s not get too carried away with it. So, your boss tells you to leave your Christianity at home or at church, but don’t bring it to work. After all, how can anyone expect to make a profit if they follow biblical principles?

What does the Bible teach about Christian work principles? Many passages in the Bible support good business ethics and practices.

First let’s deal with ethics. Proverbs 20:10 says, “Differing weights and differing measures— the Lord detests them both.” One way that people could cheat customers years ago was by using two sets of weights in a balance. A crooked merchant could use one set when buying and another set when selling. The differing weights and measures would give him the benefit while cheating the customer. God detests people using two different sets of standards. Christian should be honest in all their dealings.

In the first century, employers would hold back the wages that were owed so they could hold on to the money a little longer. They were cheating their employees. James 5:4 says, “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” Christian employers should not cheat their workers. Jesus said, “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). Employers, you should pay your workers what they are worth, what you owe them, and pay them on time.

Next, let’s look at some biblical principles for the worker. Not only should employers not cheat their employees, employees should not cheat their employers either. Employee, do you waste time at work while on the company payroll? Things such as social media, long coffee breaks, extended lunch periods? If so you are stealing from your employer. How many have been caught using a company credit card for personal purchases, just until payday?

How well do you get along with your boss and coworkers? Do you gossip about them around the water cooler, do you assassinate their character behind their back? Do they easily offend you? Are you completely honest with them? Do you communicate openly and respectfully with them?

Christian workers should be the best workers, the most honest hardworking members of your team. They should be loyal and trustworthy. They should also treat their employers with respect.

Also, Christian bosses should be the best bosses. They should honestly care about the well-being of each employee. Yes, Christian business owners should make a profit, but not at the expense of the safety of their employees. Romans 13:7 says, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Employers should provide everything employees need to do the job. Current federal safety regulations state that you must provide all protective equipment to your employees at no cost to them. This may cut into your profits, but you must protect them because it is the law and the right thing to do.

So, what does church have to do with it? Putting biblical principles to work will make work better for everyone. As an employer, you should be the kind of boss that everyone wants to work for. As an employee, you should be the kind of employee that people want to hire. Christianity should touch every aspect of our lives.

THE LITTLE PROPHET WHO CRIED “MESSIAH”

You are familiar with the folk tale about the little shepherd boy whose job it was to protect the sheep. The townspeople and he had decided on a signal that whenever they heard him cry “wolf,” they would come running to help him protect the sheep. One day, as the job goes, he grew bored sitting out there all alone with just the sheep. He thought to himself, “I wonder what would happen if I yelled ‘wolf.’” So, he yelled at the top pf his voice, “Wolf. Wolf.” Hurriedly all the townspeople responded by running out to the pasture where the sheep were calmly grazing. There they found the little boy laughing with glee. No sign of a wolf. The people angrily chided him before returning to the town.

A while later after they had returned, the shepherd boy cried out again. This time fewer people responded. They did not want to look foolish again. You know the rest of the story. When the wolf finally did arrive, the boy cried out “Wolf,” and no one responded after so many false alarms.

On September 23, 2017, astronomical events took place, which some heralded as the end of the world. Many videos appeared on YouTube warning, “Watch before September 23, 2017.” Many claimed that these events were prophetic of something fantastic that was supposed to happen on earth, perhaps the Rapture of the church. Prophecies about the Messiah abounded. Some people claimed that these astronomical events had been predicted in Revelation 12:1-2. The configuration of the constellations Virgo and Leo along with the sun and the moon heralded some great event on God’s timeline.

Here are three reasons why Christians should not be concerned about such “prophecies.”

  1. “No man knows that day or the hour” (Mark 13:32). The book “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988” got around this dilemma by saying that we may not be able to figure out the day and the hour, we could certainly determine the month and the week that it would take place. When the apostles asked Jesus about the dates of the end times, he said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7). We are not to worry about setting dates, but to be concerned about being his witnesses.
  2. These predictions were based on only two verses taken entirely out of context. The sign in heaven recorded in Revelation 12 could not happen until the events of Chapter 11 had taken place. Revelation 11 talks about two witnesses that will preach in Jerusalem for 1260 days. That is about three and a half years. After that time, the beast from the pit kills them and leaves their bodies on the street for three and a half days without burial. The world watches and rejoices, creating a new gift-giving holiday in honor their deaths. Then they are resurrected and a voice calls them up to heaven while people looked on. After that, an earthquake strikes Jerusalem, a tenth of the city is destroyed and seven thousand people die. All that had to happen before the Revelation 12 prophecy could come to pass. None of that occurred.
  3. Another big reason why Christians should not believe such interpretation is because they are based on an astrological rather than a biblical interpretation. It is never a good hermeneutical (Bible interpretation) principle to interpret the Scripture by using a false religious system. Twenty-five years ago, a deacon in my church used a similar star computer program to determine the heavenly events around the time of the birth Christ. He held a PhD in astronomy, and had concluded that he knew what the star of Bethlehem was. He determined that it was a conjunction of planets and constellations that through astrological interpretations symbolically pointed to the birth of Christ.

    Despite the fact I pointed out that it did not fit the description in the Bible, he never rejected his interpretation. I told him that a constellation in space could not go “before them (the magi), till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Mathew 2:9). His interpretation could not fit the biblical description.

The problem with false prophets crying “Messiah” all the time is that eventually people will tune them out like the little boy in the story. People who need to hear the message about the Messiah will not listen any longer. They will be like the village people who are thinking that it is another false alarm.

Peter warned us that in the last days doubters and scoffers would appear on the scene. “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4). These false prophets give fodder to the scoffers and make Christians look foolish.

Too harsh? God told Moses in Deuteronomy 18:22, “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” It only takes one false prophecy to make a false prophet. These who have claimed these events to be signs of God have branded themselves as false prophets.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

A little over two years ago, I asked this question at church: “How many times does the Bible say ‘God is love’?” One of the senior members said, “Hundreds of times.” That concept reflects the popular teaching of our age. We Christians have been more influenced by the media rather than by actually reading the Bible. The Bible only uses the phrase “God is love” twice. Both passages are found in 1 John 4. Verses 8 and 16 say “God is love.” But those are the only two times that phrase occurs in the Bible.

Listening to many people today, one would think that the Bible is replete with the phrase “God is love” as though it appeared on every page of the Bible. While it is true that God is love, the focus on this characteristic of God to the exclusion of all the rest gives an idolatrous view of God. That is creating the kind of God we want him to be rather than the kind of God based on what the Bible says about him.

So, many believe that since God is love, he just looks the other way when people sin. He is loving and forgiving; and he would never send anyone to hell. Those are just scare tactics left over from the Middle Ages. We now know better. As one person commented on my Facebook post, “Jesus is the most tolerant person who ever lived.” Obviously, I asked her to cite a chapter and verse that taught that. On Wednesday, another person commented on a link I had on YouTube that Jesus told us to be “nice.” Again, I asked for chapter and verse. No response.

This view of God portrays him more as Barney the Dinosaur than the Almighty God of the universe. When Isaiah the prophet envisioned God exalted on his throne, the seraphim did not fly around God’s head saying, “God is love, God is love, God is love.” They said, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:3).

The Bible does say many times that God is holy. Several times in the book of Leviticus, God said, “I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Due to his nature, he has also commanded us to be holy. Several times in Leviticus alone, God says, “be holy, because I am holy.”

Peter repeated this theme in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” God expects us to live holy lives. That means set apart for him, not to live for ourselves. If we claim to believe in Christ, our lives should be different from those who do not believe. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Because God is holy and we are not in ourselves, God must punish sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Because God is holy, he cannot tolerate what is not holy. Because God is holy, sin must be paid for; it cannot just be excused or overlooked. Hebrews 9:22 states, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” You and I must die (shed our blood) for our sins; but because God is love, he does not want us to die.

So, there had to be a substitute. For you to be forgiven and become holy as God demands, you need to receive Christ’s payment on the cross for your sin. For your sin he was beaten by Roman soldiers. They beat him with their fists. They spat on him and beat him with rods and whips. The drove a crown of thorns into his scalp and nails through his hands and feet. Finally one soldier thrust a spear through his lung into his heart puncturing the pericardial sac. Jesus did not simply “swoon” on the cross or just pass out. He suffered massive trauma for you. He died to satisfy God’s holiness, justice, mercy, love, grace and wrath against sin so that you and I could be free from sin and death.

Jesus did not die a horrible death on a Roman cross just so that you and I could drive new cars. He did not die just so we could be more successful and live in big houses. He did not die just so we could have nicer clothes and an expensive watch. He died so that we could be cleansed from sin and made holy. The price was his blood poured out on Calvary. There is no other way to come to God. Peter preached, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

God is more concerned about your holiness than your happiness. God wants you to have true riches, not just the baubles of this world. Don’t miss God’s real, eternal home while you camp out on this temporary one.

I DON’T WANT TO CHANGE RELIGIONS

When I was walking toward a small Mexican town in my late teens, I first heard this question, “Hey, Ministro, what church saves?” This person was looking to start an argument. What he wanted me to say was, “The Baptist Church saves.” Then he would have argued that the Catholic Church saves. And he was looking to engage me in a fight over religions and churches.

That question shows a misunderstanding about salvation. Another question is very similar to that is, “Which religion saves?” Here the understanding is that membership in a certain church or a certain religion is essential to be saved.

My answer to that man on the Mexican border surprised him. I said, “No church saves. Only Jesus saves.” Over the years as I have shared the Christian faith with many people all over the earth, I hear the statement: “I don’t want to change religions.” Again, the person who says this thinks that salvation is dependent upon belonging to a church, an organization, or a religion.

Jesus never told us that we needed a change of religion; he said we needed a change of heart. A leading religious leader of the Jewish faith came to Christ one night. The story is found in John 3. A man named Nicodemus was talking with Christ about his signs that showed he was a teacher come from God. Instantly Jesus got the point. “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) notice that Jesus did not say, “Nicodemus, you need a new religion.” Jesus told him he needed a new birth. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

One objection I hear often today is that a person is born into a certain religion in a certain country or culture, and therefore, they do not want to change their religion. They view it as a rejection of their culture or their family. They say, “you have your religion. I have mine.” So, it comes back to the argument of which religion saves, or which church saves?” Still the answer is, “No church saves. Only Jesus saves.”

Today people view religion as any other commodity. In I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, authors Geisler and Turek say that truth in religion is like selecting ice cream flavors. Some will say, “You like chocolate. I like vanilla” (Crossway Books, 2004 p. 21). As if it is just a matter of personal taste. “You like Christianity. I like Islam.” It is not trying to find a religion that suits us.

Jesus never said that we had to pick the right religion. Jesus never said that one religion was better than another. He never said his religion was superior to others, in fact, he never said he was coming to bring a new religion. He said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus did not come to establish a new religion. He did not even come to reform Judaism. He came to be the fulfillment of all the prophecies and sacrifices from the Old Testament. Those sacrifices were a foreshadowing of his sacrifice on the cross.

He said in the same passage where he spoke to Nicodemus in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He did not say, “whoever joins my religion,” but “whoever believes in him shall…have eternal life.”

Do not let clinging to a religion or an experience rob you of being born again. To be born again, you must trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Joining a church, a religion or an organization can never save you.

WHAT’S IT WORTH?

We’ve all been there. Sitting in a doctor’s office just waiting. We have already spent more than an hour in the waiting room flipping through outdated magazines looking at photos of people that we will never look like. A nurse calls us into the back where she weighs us and takes other vital signs. Then she leads us into another room with the butcher-paper covered table. There we wait some more while looking at different, older magazines than those in the waiting room.

We wait and wait, an hour past our appointed time. Our blood pressure begins to rise, not because we are ill, but because we are irritated. We begin to think, “My time is more valuable than this. Who does that doctor think he is?” Finally, he comes in, asks a few questions, runs through the ritual, then he writes a prescription and lets us out. He tells us to see the receptionist on the way out. We become irate because he charged an outrageous amount for the little time spent diagnosing us. Then we try to figure out how much that visit made the doctor for an hour of time. We calculate that the doctor is making an inordinate amount of money per hour. We leave the office cursing the health-care system, and we begin to wonder about a more equitable way to pay the doctor.

Derek Halpern uses the illustration of a locksmith to distinguish between paying for time and paying for value. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VhCUHNdijo at 1:50) A locksmith went around helping people open their stuck locks. At first, it took him two and a half hours to open the locks. He charged his clients $250, and they happily paid. As he improved his skills, he shortened the time to an hour, then to half an hour, and finally down to ten minutes. The clients began to get angry because he was charging the same amount of money for the same job. So, they began to gripe because that was making more than $1000 an hour.

The difference was that they were thinking about how much they were paying for his time rather than how much they were paying for his value. The same with the doctor. You do not pay for how much time the doctor actually spends with you. You are paying for the value due to his or her training and years of experience. Value not time.

Now think about your pastor. Should a pastor be paid for his or her services? Many think not, that he or she should just “live by faith,” whatever that means. The Bible says, “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (First Corinthians 9:14). Jesus also said, “The worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). Pastors and ministers are to be paid. The question is how much? I often hear “jokingly,” “You only work two days a week, and only half days at that.”

When you pay a minister, what are you paying for? Time, or value? A recent article on http://www.theatlantic.com talked about the decline in the numbers of full time jobs for ministers. It has come to the point that some are having difficult times trying to pay back their student loans. (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/07/higher-calling-lower-wages-the-collapse-of-the-middle-class-clergy/374786/) Many ministers have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet, myself included. Often the spouse has to work as well. When a church calls a minister, they should ask themselves, “What are we willing to do to support our minister?”

So, the question remains, “What is it worth to have a full time, seminary-trained pastor? Are you going to treat him or her as an hourly employee, paying by the hour? Or are you going to pay by their worth? If we were to be honest with ourselves, many church budgets do not reflect that they truly value the minister. Some members spend more on fancy coffee on the way to church than they put in the plate at church on Sundays.

Ministers do not punch a time clock. Much of ministry takes place outside of “office hours,” and much of it takes place outside of the office itself. I have had church members over the years tell me, “We want to find you in your office!” Doing what, I wonder. How much time can be spent studying the Bible for sermon preparation?

When I began pastoring almost thirty years ago, personal computers were a rarity and cell phones only for the elite. Now a pastor is not tied to a desk waiting for the phone to ring when a member calls and needs to talk. Over the years I have served, however, the majority of the calls came from salespeople rather than members.

So what is it worth to you to have a full time, seminary-trained pastor? Is it valuable enough to your church to make sacrifices in other areas to compensate your minister adequately? Another way to look at it would be to ask yourself, would you work for this salary?

Ministers’ families have the same needs as yours. He or she may have student loans to pay off as well. Seminary is not cheap as it is not subsidized like public universities. Money does not just fall out of the sky and into ministers’ bank accounts any more than it does into yours. That is not what living by faith means.

What does your church budget say about how much you value your minister? Jesus said that the worker deserves his wages. That means value, not time.

Salvation Lost?

Another term people use to explain “falling from grace” is talk about losing one’s salvation. Like falling from grace, this idea means that persons can become believers in Christ by grace through faith, but through sinful, disobedient, or disbelieving actions, can somehow lose their salvation. Still no one has been able to tell me when that happens. This teaching again makes maintenance of one’s salvation dependent upon the person who receives it. It may come by grace, but it must be maintained by religious works and avoidance of certain behaviors, which the group decides are unacceptable.

The apostle Peter wrote that God “has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1: 3-5). What is that inheritance? Four places in the New Testament, Jesus talks about inheriting eternal life. (See Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; Luke 18:18).

Eternal life is the inheritance. Notice how Peter described it: incorruptible, undefiled, not fading away. These terms speak of the quality of this inheritance. It does not become corrupt with time, as metal corrodes. It does not become polluted or adulterated with impurities added to it. It does not diminish or lose value as earthly investments do. He also said that it was guarded in heaven, and that believers are kept by the power of God because of faith so that the salvation will be revealed in the last times. There is no one stronger than God who can guard our salvation.

In my upcoming book, Evangelism on the Go, I wrote about an experience I had in college. I related how, as I reflected on John 3:16, the word “everlasting” grabbed my attention. I focused on that word for a moment, then I realized something. Everlasting means that it does not end. If a person ever received everlasting or eternal life, and then lost it, it wasn’t everlasting. Jesus did not promise probationary life that is conditional as to how well we hold a certain standard. He promised eternal life, one that never ends. As Peter said, it does not spoil or diminish. God reserves it in heaven for us. God himself keeps us through faith. It is beyond our ability to lose.

John 5:24 says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” Again, Jesus used the word “everlasting.” When a person believes Jesus’ words, and believes in God who sent Jesus, he or she possesses eternal life. That’s the present tense. Not “will have,” but “has everlasting life.” That person also passes from death to life. That cannot mean physical life, because the person does not change physically, and all people die physically. It is speaking of spiritual life, which did not exist before the person believed. He or she was dead in trespasses and sins (See Ephesians 2:1-5).

The only way that a person could lose eternal life and pass back into spiritual death would be to receive a death sentence or condemnation. However, Jesus said that once a person believes in his word, that person will not “come into judgment.” Judgment on that person’s sin has already taken place. There is no further judgment, so, the person cannot lose eternal life and go back to death. Such life would not have been eternal.

Similarly, Paul wrote in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” If you are in Christ, there is no condemnation. You have been acquitted. There is no double jeopardy in God’s court. Jesus paid for all your sin once and for all on the cross (See Romans 6:10, Colossians 2:13-15, 1 Peter 3:18; and Hebrews 7:27, 9:12; 10:10). Your debt has been paid in full.

How does a person become “in Christ Jesus”? In Ephesians 1:13, Paul wrote, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” You become “in Him” after hearing the gospel and believing in Him.

Believing the gospel requires repentance (Mark 1:15). Repentance is a change of mind and heart toward sin. Believers are to die to sin and live in it no longer. (Romans 6:2). Christ died for us so “that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15) Does that mean that believers can say they believe and then act anyway they want? Paul’s response would be, “May it never be!” (Romans 6:2 NASB). We are to live in sin no longer.

When we repent, we acknowledge our sinfulness and turn away from it. We turn to Christ in faith believing He died for our sin and rose again. As an act of gratitude, we live the rest of our lives as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). Once salvation is found, it cannot be lost. So, let’s live like a grateful saved, person rather than a lost one.