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The numbers don’t lie

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It’s hard to believe that we are just a few days away from the start of another decade, proof that “time flies” is more than just a catchy saying. So much has happened over the course of the past ten years that it is almost mind-boggling, and it’s not a stretch to say we’ve seen a little bit of everything in the 2010’s.

From Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to scores of earthquakes and hurricanes, as well as the never-ending threats of terrorism, the events of the past decade have certainly captured our attention.

Time stops for no one, and if there is one thing that will always be inevitable it is change. Speaking of change, something changed during this past decade that most of us are unaware of, yet it impacts all of us in one way or another. This change has to do with the Church in America. The 2010’s were, unfortunately, a decade of steady decline in the Church.

The following graphic from the Pew Research Center illustrates these changes.

 

Whether we realize it or not, these negative changes affect all of us. If you don’t believe that, just look around you. The signs of moral decline and decay are everywhere, and there are precious few areas of our society that do not reflect this. This is true of our government, our schools, our workplaces, and yes even our churches.  The numbers don’t lie!

Now here is an interesting fact about this. According to the Pew Report,“the nation’s overall rate of religious attendance is declining not because Christians are attending church less often, but rather because there are now fewer Christians as a share of the population.” emphasis mine

This should cause all of us to take notice. As the numbers of unchurched, “none’s”, and non-religious Millennials continue to grow, this means that the percentages of active Christians continue to decline.

And that, I fear, spells trouble for this nation. As Christianity continues to decline, this leaves the door open for the enemy to step in and implement his own plan for America. Let’s face it, can any of us seriously argue that we aren’t seeing this plan being implemented already? Being a Christian in America today ranks near the top of the most despised groups of citizens. Categorized as intolerant, bigoted, hateful, and unloving, Christianity is under attack like never before.

Of course, none of this should take any Christian by surprise. The Bible is very clear that this is what would happen before the return of Jesus Christ.

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God”. [1]

Yes, it’s true that the numbers don’t lie. We are firsthand witnesses to the beginning of what Paul called “the great falling away”. Do you know what else is true? God will sustain His people even in the darkest of days. We are the church, the body of Christ, and Jesus himself said that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it“. [2]

This goes hand in hand with Paul saying that even as we see these things happening all around us, we should remain steadfast and not allow ourselves to be troubled. “Let no one deceive you by any means” the Apostles states.

Wise words that all of us would do well to listen to.

Be blessed on this Lord’s day,

Ron

 

[1] 2nd Thessalonians 2: 1-4  NKJV  emphasis mine

[2] Matthew 16:18  NKJV

 

 

 

 

‘O Holy Night’

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‘O Holy Night’ has to be at or near the top of my most loved Christmas songs.

From the Classic FM website we learn the history of this beautiful song:

“The music was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847, and was originally set to a French poem, ‘Minuit, chrétiens’ (Midnight, Christians) and released under the name ‘Cantique de Noël’. Placide Cappeau, the author of the French lyrics, was a wine merchant and poet. Although he was never particularly religious, Cappeau was asked in 1843 to write a Christmas poem to celebrate the recent renovation of the church organ in his home town. He obliged and, soon after, Adolphe Adam composed the accompanying music”.

The lyrics have undergone many iterations, and with each new version the artists have placed their own spin on them. In my opinion however, nothing compares to the original.

I find the three choruses to be the most awe-inspiring words of the entire song, beginning with the writer urging the listener to “Fall on your knees”, followed by “He knows our need”, and ending with “Christ is the Lord”.

Believe me when I say dear reader, that there are an incalculable number of sermons contained in these three simple choruses. They contain the necessity of every man humbling himself before his God, the only God who knows our every need, Christ the Lord.

I hope you will join me on this most ‘Holy of Nights’ and “Let all within us praise his Holy name”!

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Chorus
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;

Chorus
He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Chorus
Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!

Here is one of my favorite vocalists, David Phelps, performing ‘O Holy Night’.

 

Merry Christmas, Christ is the Lord!

Ron

Just how FREE are you anyway?

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This post is a continuation of my previous post “The bondage of MORE”, where we saw that the need for “MORE” brings about a type of bondage that can be extremely difficult to break free of.

As anyone can tell you, when you are in bondage you are not free. You are a debtor, or slave to that which has you bound. Every choice and decision you make is centered around satisfying the source of your bondage.

Does that sound like freedom to you? Of course not, yet untold millions of Christians are living this very life today. They should be free, having been set free by God’s Son, yet find themselves ignoring the clear mandate of scripture to avoid becoming entangled again with the yoke of bondage. [1]

Jesus had much to say about freedom, and rightly so because he is the great Liberator. In one of his many exchanges with the temple Jews, Jesus had an encounter with them concerning the freedom that comes from knowing Him.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. [2]

In these verses we find that Jesus has told the temple Jews of two distinct ways in which they can be free. Now, keep in mind that these Jews thought themselves above the need to be set free because they claimed to be descendants of Abraham. They were, of course, familiar with the social hierarchy where both free and slave co-existed. To them it was simple. The Jews were at the top of the ladder, while Gentiles and slaves were at or near the bottom.

The first way they could know freedom was to abide in, or follow, the Word that Jesus taught them. If you will do that, He said, “you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free”. In essence Jesus was telling them that if you will lay aside your religious traditions and instead follow me, you will be free. Free of guilt, free of sin, and free of bondage.

We understand then that truth brings freedom both in this life and ultimately eternal salvation. Where does this freedom producing truth come from? It comes from God’s Word. If they would accept the truths that Jesus gave them, they would be completely free.

The second way they could no freedom was to place their trust in the One who had the power to set at liberty them that are held captive. [3]  Jesus told them that “if the Son makes you free, then you are free indeed“. How could he make such a statement? It was because as the Son of God, He abides forever as ruler over the house of God. In other words, He alone has such authority.

All of this brings me back to the question “Just how FREE are you anyway”? This is a question that all of us need to answer. If we say we hold to the truth that “if the Son makes you free, then you are free indeed“, do our actions reflect this? If we agree that “the truth shall make you free“, are we living our lives as one who is not bound by the “lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life“? [4]

I submit that until and unless we are daily trusting in the Lord Jesus for our every need, we are not completely free. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t saved and on our way to heaven. It does not mean that we are not a child of God.

What it DOES mean is that we are living in a place where we shouldn’t be, which means we are unnecessarily having to struggle with things that the Lord can give us victory over. After all, “if the Son makes you free, then you are free indeed“.

There is no freedom like the complete freedom that God offers to us. Being “free indeed” means there are no chains still attached to us. There is nothing we are in bondage to. Our hearts and minds are free of guilt. We are free to live our lives in a way that pleases Him, not ourselves. Complete freedom in Christ means victory.

That’s how free I want to live my life, and I trust you do as well!

Have a blessed day everyone,

Ron

 

[1] Galatians 5:1  KJV

[2] John 8:31-36  NKJV

[3] Luke 4:18  ESV

[4] 1 John 2:16  NKJV

The bondage of “MORE”

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Would you consider yourself to be satisfied?

Satisfied in what way, you might ask?

Well, generally speaking, are you satisfied with where you are in life and with what you possess (assuming possessions mean anything to you)?

Have you reached the place that the Apostle Paul spoke of when he said “for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content”? [1]

  • Whether you have a little or a lot.
  • If your bank account is running over with excess or your balance is nearing zero.
  • If the pantry is filled to capacity or the shelves are bare.
  • If your closet is filled with designer labels or thrift store bargains.

Satisfied, content, call it what you wish…. but are you there? If you’re like most of us, you are striving to get to that place, but you’ve yet to arrive. If that describes you, follow along with me as we take at look at this peculiar phenomenon we call “MORE”.

“MORE” is peculiar in that it is never enough. “MORE” never reaches the point of satisfaction. “MORE” demands that we never stop striving for it.

It is almost as addicting as a drug. At first “MORE” feels good, it strokes our ego and encourages us to keep after it. Pretty soon the old “MORE” just doesn’t cut it any longer so we take it to the next level. Bigger house. Bigger car.

Sooner or later we come to the realization that there is no end to the vicious cycle of “MORE”. Caught like a hamster on a wheel, there is no getting off point.

We are caught in the bondage of “MORE”, and many of us are in its clutches.

Such is the way of society, isn’t it? We are constantly bombarded with ads that remind us its time for a new car/watch/washer/TV, and if you don’t get with the program and go after it you will be thought of as a dinosaur.

Contentment? Satisfaction? Complete?

Those words never cross our minds as we continue this mad rush for “MORE”.

Now, lest you think this scenario is only played out in the world, let me remind you that this very same game is being played out in the Church every Sunday. That’s right, the Church has its own version of this madness to attain “MORE”.

”8 steps to create the life you want”. [2]

“You need more money”. [3]

”Favor, abundance, and joy”. [4]

All of these and thousands like them are reminders that you don’t have enough, or that you aren’t enough. You are incomplete without the “MORE” being hawked from the pulpit today.

This is what happens when God’s Word is no longer enough for us. We take our eyes off of God’s Word and are seduced by the bright lights and promises of easy blessings. The lure of the carnival barker convinces us that if we put our money down, we’ll go home with the big prize.

”MORE”

Christians everywhere are addicted to it. We just have to have it, and can’t live without it. We are enslaved by it. We all know better of course, but once caught in its web, this addiction proves a daunting adversary.

Do you want to know why all of this has befallen us?

It is because we have exchanged the freedom we have in Christ for the shackles and chains of this world. And here’s the real tragedy in it: we’ve done it willingly, even gladly. The simple freedoms we enjoy in Christ are lain aside in favor of pretty packages of “MORE”.

Sadly, every one of us is guilty to some degree of doing this, proof enough that “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak”. [5]

This, however, is not the end of the story because we know that Jesus Christ is the bondage breaker! There is hope in Jesus Christ for a new beginning, a new start. Those shackles and chains can just as easily be broken as they were when we first came to know the Lord!

I’m going to conclude this commentary on “MORE” in my next post entitled “Just how FREE are you”?

Until then…

Be blessed in Jesus name!

Ron

 

[1] Philippians 4:11  NKJV

[2] Crefflo Dollar  

[3] Brian Houston

[4] Joel Osteen

[5] Mark 14:38  NKJV

Does doctrine still matter today?

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In today’s post I’d like to address the issue of doctrine. Specifically, whether or not it really matters to the church today.

Doctrine is one of those words that many of us in the church don’t like because the very word brings to mind rules, regulations, and irrefutable, unarguable dogma. To some, doctrine takes all the ‘fun’ out of church.

What is “Doctrine”?

Doctrine is the belief or set of beliefs and principals that make up the essence of the Christian faith. These include (but are not limited to) the Virgin birth, the Incarnation, The Crucifixion and Resurrection, and the necessity of Salvation, among many others.

From these essential truths come the various creeds and theological positions that have evolved into the essentials of our faith. From as far back as the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy to the New Testament book of Revelation, doctrine has always been a critical component of our walk with the Lord. [1]  [2]

What “Doctrine” is NOT

Doctrine is not a list of rules and regulations that a particular church or denomination has put together in order to regulate your behavior. Some examples of this include forbidding the wearing of jewelry and makeup, forbidding members to attend movies, even requiring a specific dress code that includes the length of your hair.

None of this falls under the heading of essential church doctrine necessary for salvation, but rather this is Legalism. What Legalism does is attempt to exert control over people, rather than permit them to enjoy the freedom they have in Christ. [3]

Now, you may be asking why any of this is important. It is important because proper doctrine in essential in the defense of the faith. This means that what you and I believe matters. It matters because it matters to the Lord.

For example, in speaking to the church at Pergamos in the 2nd chapter of the book of Revelation, Jesus is speaking to them about the issue of doctrine. Specifically, he told them that because they tolerated the doctrine of Balaam, a false teaching that led Israel into idolatry and fornication, it would be held against them.

They also had among themselves those that held to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. This false belief was one of compromise, rejecting the idea that complete separation between Christianity and the practice of occult paganism was necessary.

I find it incredibly interesting that doctrine was so important to the Lord Jesus that he actually called out those that were permitting false doctrine in their midst. This mindset is completely opposite of many in the Church today where doctrine has taken a back seat to belief systems developed to appease the mind of guilt and raise one’s esteem.

It has become a common thought today that while core doctrines were necessary for the development of the infant church, 2000 years later we have moved beyond the need for such rigidity.

For proof of this consider the church you attend today. Does it hold to the Biblical standards in it core doctrines? For that matter, does it still hold to its original doctrinal statements? Going a step further, does your church still officially hold to these truths yet never speak on them?

I believe we do the Lord a huge disservice by not proclaiming the essential, core doctrines of the Christian church today. I am firmly convinced that this lack of solid Biblical instruction is a large part of why the church isn’t the powerful voice it once was in society. Specifically, many of us have no idea why we believe what we believe. How then can we tell others, especially those outside the household of faith?

The answer to the question “Does doctrine still matter today” is a resounding YES!

Be blessed today,

Ron

 

[1] Deuteronomy 32:2

[2]. Revelation 2:14-15, 2:24

[3] “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed”.  John 8:36.  NKJV

THIS is what the Church is missing today!

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In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
Isaiah 6:1-4  NKJV

Here a man named Isaiah is given a vision of the majesty of God, seated on His throne, exalted far above anything our minds can comprehend, so capacious that just the train of His royal robe fills the temple, while worshipping angels declare His Holiness and Glory.

Who but God could reveal such things? Seeing and acknowledging God for who He is, the righteous ruler of every kingdom and domain. The Lord of all, unequaled in splendor and Glory on full display!

This vision that Isaiah saw is one that should be permanently imprinted in the minds of all of God’s children. In this vision we are given a glimpse of the mighty God of creation, too glorious and magnificent for our small minds to comprehend.

Yet God, however, chose to reveal a small part of Himself in a vision to his servant Isaiah, and because of that we have a record of His great majesty. I say again, who but God could reveal such things?

To see Him as anything less than the Supreme Ruler of the ages is to view Him as less than, and if there is anything God is not it is ‘less than’.

What a contrast; in our world we strive to elevate man to god-like status, yet God chose to reveal Himself as God to this world! How incredible is that?

Hollywood, sports, politics, all of them have their champions. Indeed, some of them revel in the cult-like devotion of their followers. None of them however can ever be more than what they currently are, for try as they might, they will never be equal to God.

As Believers in Christ who have entrusted our very souls to this One that Isaiah saw. Our hope and trust is in the One who gave his servant a tiny glimpse into eternity. Our future is secure in the arms of the One who is worshipped by the angels of God.

We know that there will come a day when every child of God will see for themselves what Isaiah saw. Not only will we see it, we will live it for all of eternity. Heaven will become real for us one day, and with it the knowledge that we will never be separated from God. Isaiah may have enjoyed a momentary glimpse, but you and I will have all of eternity to bask in His Glory!

The vision that Isaiah saw of God is the vision that the Church must recapture. High and lifted up far above any man. The epitome of Holiness and Righteousness. Worshipped by countless numbers of angels.

If we could recapture this vision of God, it would go a long way towards turning our hearts back to Him.

Blessings to all,

Ron

Thoughts on Bitterness

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Bitterness

Just saying the word evokes certain feelings and emotions that most of us can identify strongly with. After all, who hasn’t felt the sting of bitterness well up inside of us?

We know that bitterness comes in many forms and from many sources. You may have been done wrong by a spouse or friend. Perhaps you were overlooked for that job promotion. Or maybe you’ve been “church hurt”. And how could you ever forget the diagnosis you received?

All of these can bring about the feelings of bitterness. Some of us may have even felt like God let us down or disappointed us in some way, and we allowed bitterness to cause us to blame God. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has ever screamed at God asking why He allowed ‘this’ to happen.

Personally, I’ve dealt with just about all of these. On many occasions I might add. Just as you have.

Bitterness strikes at all of us, and while it would be easy to simply say it’s all part of our humanity, there is also a spiritual application to bitterness. How bitterness impacts our walk with Christ is the focus of this post.

The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us to “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled”. Hebrews 12:14,15  KJV.     emphasis mine

How do we avoid bitterness since we are virtually assured that as long as we remain here on this earth, circumstances are not always going to go our way? How am I supposed to live peacefully with those who have done me wrong? How can I escape bitterness when I’ve been dealt life-altering circumstances?

As we just read, the answer to all of these questions lies in the scripture that encourages us to live peacefully with all men, endeavoring to live a sanctified life, set apart from the world and its many temptations.

More often than not, that means we must have a forgiving heart. More on that later.

Whatever the source, unless we deal with it by giving it to God, it will come back to haunt us in the form of bitterness. That is simply human nature, and none of us are exempt from it. Face it, we are emotional beings. We laugh, hurt, get depressed, feel overwhelmed, and have the capacity to enjoy many things in this life because we are so emotional.

The Lord created us this way, but if we’re not careful, the devil will use our negative emotions as an entrance into our lives. This is why we must be diligent, as the writer says, because Satan is always looking to find an avenue to “steal, kill, and destroy”. [1]

Allowing bitterness to enter our hearts is opening the door to the adversary, and once opened it can be very difficult to shut that door on him. The danger in all of this is that if even a tiny root of bitterness takes hold in our heart, it begins to weave its way into every fabric of our life.

Picture bitterness as the root of a plant. A plants roots run deep and spread wide. Roots have to do that in order to sustain the plant they are a part of. Those roots feed the plant, and without the proper nourishment the plant will eventually wither and die.

When we allow bitterness to take hold of us, it does everything in its power to burrow itself deeply within our heart. Left unchecked, it will spread into every facet of our life. When that happens, its impact will be seen by all, and it won’t be pretty.

The things that used to bring us joy no longer will. The things we used to look forward to doing we now look at from a very different perspective. That’s what bitterness does to us. It changes our outlook on life, both in the natural and the spiritual. This is why we must constantly be on guard, checking our hearts lest a root of bitterness find its way in.

Let me give you a personal example of how the enemy would like to ensnare us in bitterness.

Recently, our family made the very painful decision to leave the church we had been attending for the past 2.5 years. It isn’t necessary to share the details here, but suffice it to say that these things do happen unfortunately, and they present a myriad of emotions that must be dealt with. In our case, those included hurt, betrayal, and yes even bitterness.

Shortly after we left, I began to have people tell me that they had been told a very different version of what actually happened that caused us to leave.  Needless to say, this did not sit well with me because if there is one thing I cannot stand it is when people are not completely honest.

So I was now in a position of either allowing my emotions to gain the upper hand, or let it go and ask God to deal with my heart about it. Which is exactly what He has done. You see, I chose not to allow bitterness to rule my heart.

I hope you caught that. I chose, or I made the conscious decision that bitterness was not going to spring up or take root in my heart. That’s right…bitterness is a choice, and if you and I choose the path of bitterness we are actually giving others power over us.

Why would we do this? This is where having a forgiving heart comes into play. I have learned through many seasons of bitterness and despair that the best course of action is to forgive and move on. Easier said than done? Of course it is, but read on please.

You know what else I have learned? I’ve learned that forgiveness is a product of a heart that is right before God. When we hold grudges against someone, forgiveness cannot come. If we remain angry at someone over a wrong that was done, forgiveness cannot come.

Forgiveness is a product of a heart that is right before God.

I encourage all of us to remember this the next time we’re faced with hurt or disappointment. Choose wisely friends, choose the path of love and forgiveness instead of the path of bitterness.

Be blessed in Jesus name!

Ron

[1] John 10:10

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