Who Leads the Leaders?

America is still reeling from one of the longest and most stressful political campaigns in memory.  Many political junkies have been reported as visiting doctors for physical symptoms and psychiatrists for mental stress.  Some of us have had our fill of radio talk shows and cable news channels.  We’ve heard enough of the “chattering class”—the ubiquitous pundits and commentators.  Frankly, across America, God’s people prayed for the outcome, and many of us believe God heard and answered our prayers.

So what now?  What are we to do as God’s people? Although the election is over, the need for our prayers is not.  Ultimately, the fortunes of the United States are linked to the nation’s spiritual condition:  “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov 14:34).  As important as our president, our Congress, our courts, our governors, and our state legislatures are we dare not put our confidence in them.  Remember the words of the Psalmists:  “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psa 118:9).  And again, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psa 146:3).  In these post-election days, as many in America are wringing their hands in desperation over the nation’s prospects, and others are taking a “watch and see” attitude, let’s remember two important biblical truths.

  1. It is God who chooses our leaders.  In the final analysis, the election of Donald Trump as President, as well as the victories of the hundreds of other officeholders who were elected on November 8, was all God’s doing.  Scripture is clear:  “For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert [or the south] comes exaltation; but God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another” (Psa 75:6-7).  Twice the prophet Daniel had occasion to make this point with the Babylonian emperor, Nebuchadnezzar:  “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan 2:21).  Then again, said Daniel to the king, you will be judged “until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan 4:25).  In the NT, the Apostle Paul puts it this way:  “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom 13:1).  The world sometimes panics when they disapprove of election results they don’t like because they cannot see the hand of God directing the choices of the voters.  But there’s something else we must remember as well, namely that . . .
  2. It is God who leads our leaders.  Once leaders achieve a position of authority and responsibility, God does not turn them loose on their own!  In their sinful ignorance, they do not have the capacity to govern others successfully.  That’s why God must rule the rulers.  “For the kingdom is the LORD’S,” asserts King David, “and He rules over the nations” (Psa 22:28).  Likewise, “He rules by His might forever; His eyes keep watch on the nations” (Psa 66:7).  And again, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19).  Solomon put it this way:  “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov 21:1).  Remember the devastating words of the Lord Jesus to Pontius Pilate:  “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (Jn 19:11).

Scripture tells us how this age is going to end, giving us a glimpse of final judgment and our eternal home in heaven.  That should relieve any anxiety we might have about the future.  In the meantime, however, we need constantly to remember that God’s providence is controlling the lives of nations and their rulers in such a way to bring about His purposes.  We never need to worry, fear, or panic.  He’s in control!  Rather, keep praying!

Master It!

      There are a lot of angry and depressed people walking around today—a significant number of them professing Christians.  They’ve succumbed to the overwhelming pressures of life in a corrupt world and to the harassment of impossible people.  They’re worn out and tired, physically drained and often on medications, and frankly without much hope for things getting better.  Maybe this describes you today.  The question is:  is it the way we Christians are supposed to exist?  And of course, it’s not at all how we’re to live!  But what can we do to change it?  The biblical account of Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, gives us the answer.  It’s found in Genesis 4.

      Cain, of course, was the first human being born with a sinful nature.  He was thoroughly in the grip of original sin.  His younger brother Abel was equally a sinner, but when God revealed to them that He required sacrifices, and when they offered those sacrifices, Abel responded obediently, but Cain rebelled against God’s will.  Because the Lord rejected his sacrifice, the Bible tells us that “Cain became very angry and his countenance fell” (Gen 4:5).  In other words, he got very depressed.  This is a very revealing verse, opening a window into our emotions as well.  It is no exaggeration to say that our irritation, anger and depression issues are the result of sin, particularly of openly and knowingly rebelling against the word and will of God.

      So what happens next?  God approaches Cain (who was in no mood to seek out God!).  “Why are you angry?” the Lord asks, “Why are you depressed?” (v. 6).  We discover here that sin needs to be confronted, and if not by others, then God will eventually confront us.  But note the gentle way this confrontation takes place.  The Lord does not level accusations, but asks Cain two questions.  However, Cain, who is obviously irritated, doesn’t respond.  So the Lord then counsels Cain this way:  “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (verse 7).

      Now this is exactly what most of us don’t want to hear.  Cain didn’t either.  The Lord lays the responsibility for our attitudes squarely on our doorsteps.  The root of our anger and our depression, more often than not, is our sin.  A lifted countenance—in other words, a joyful heart—is the result of doing well.  Our manner of life will determine our frame of mind.  Doing well, of course, means doing God’s will, and that means obedience to His Word.  It’s that simple.  On the other hand, if we do not do well—listen to the Lord’s vivid language here—“sin is crouching at the door.”  And “its desire is for you.”  Thus, sin is like a wild animal on your doorstep, ready to pounce, or a thief hiding in the bushes just outside the door, ready to assault the unsuspecting resident.  Sin is vicious, it’s dangerous and destructive, and often hides out waiting for just the right moment when it will jump on you, and if you don’t do something about it, it will tear you apart.

      So what can we do about the threat of sin to rob us of our peace and joy?  God’s answer to Cain was. “You must master it.”  The words “master it” mean to “rule over it,” or “control it.”  But Cain was a sinner and he was angry and depressed.  How could he be the one responsible to control his sin?  Why didn’t the Lord say, “pray to me and the Holy Spirit will come and take away your anger and depression”?  But the Lord didn’t say that.  He said, “you must master it.”  In other words, get a hold of yourself, and by force of your own will, show the responsible side of your personality by controlling yourself.  Of course the Holy Spirit is there to assist the believer (one part of the fruit of the Spirit is “self-control”).  But still, get a hold of yourself!

      So don’t throw a pity party and moan over your anger and depression.  Don’t resent others.  And especially don’t blame God.  The problem is your sin.  Master it, and do well.  You’ll be surprised how much better you feel!

The End is Near!

     We’ve all seen the cartoons, usually mocking biblical Christianity in some way, in which a bedraggled derelict is pacing up and down the street holding a sign which reads, “The End is Near!”  It may also urge whomever reads it to repent.  Usually, the main character in the cartoon has something humorous, if not slanderous, to say about it.  The sign is included for its comic value.  In reality, however, for us this is no laughing matter, for the Bible tells us that the end really is near.

      It’s found in 1 Peter 4:7:  “The end of all things is near,” or (lit.,) “has come near.”  This is not alarmist rhetoric, but a statement of biblical fact.  In every generation, the end of the age has drawn just that much closer.  The informed student of Scripture knows that the end of this age will be one of cataclysmic judgment on the earth.  Although the church will be removed first, the urgency for believers is to be ready, and to be about the business of rescuing those who are not prepared for the end.  As we watch our culture here in America, and conditions throughout the world, rapidly deteriorating, we cannot but believe that the end of this age is in the not too distant future.  So what should we be doing?  Peter gives us several instructions.

      First, we should be engaged in prayer . . . prayer for the nations, world leaders, the church, pastors and missionaries, and especially believers who are suffering persecution.  Here’s how the Apostle puts it:  “therefore be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (v. 7).  These terms refer to good sense, self-control, and seriousness.  We should avoid all foolishness and frivolity as we live under the burden of the urgency of the times.  This will put us in the proper attitude for passionate prayer as we plead for the mercy and grace of a holy God on our unholy generation.

      Second, Peter writes, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (v. 8).  The Lord Jesus told His disciples to love each other:  “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).  He also said that this love would be a powerful testimony to the world:  “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).  But Peter adds one more qualifier.  Our love for one another is to be fervent—full of zeal . . . passionate in the right sort of way.  Why?  Because when we love fervently we will forgive quickly and sincerely.  And in these last days, the church needs to present the unbelieving world with a united front, loving where the ungodly have only anger, hatred, resentment, and bitterness.

      Third, Peter says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (v. 9).  In New Testament times, this meant providing room and board to travelling Christians—especially itinerant teachers.  But even today, a church that practices fervent love will be a church where the membership is exercising hospitality.  That means close fellowship, often over a meal.  A church where the members are isolated from each other will not be a church marked by fervent love!

      And finally, Peter instructs the believers that in light of the approaching end of the age, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (v. 10).  And although the spiritual gifts have now ceased, as believers, we should each one want to use our God-given talents, skills, experience, and interests for the good of others, both encouraging our brethren and, with them, reaching out to the community around us that does not know Christ.

      So yes, the end has come near.  We don’t know when we shall hear the trumpet sound and be caught up to be with Christ forever, but the lateness of the hour and the greatness of the need should convince you and me to be busy doing the Lord’s work.  Are you living—and loving—in the light of His coming?

Culture: Engage It or Resist It?

     I recently discovered what seems to be a subtle shift in the thinking of at least some contemporary evangelical leaders.  For at least a couple of decades now, the prevailing ministry philosophy of especially younger evangelical leaders with their seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven mentality has been to “engage the culture.”  This is one way they have tried to end the long-standing culture wars.  Their thinking has been that we cannot reach the world with the Gospel message by separating ourselves from the world.  You cannot have impact with the culture without having contact with it.  Influence is impossible without some level of involvement.  According to the old line, “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  One development to emerge from the religious culture was the concept of “the missional church”—believers addressing themselves to the needs of a hurting world.  It was something of a regression to the Social Gospel of the 1920s, and in it, the Gospel itself has largely been forgotten.

      There are a number of problems with this philosophy, one of the first of which is this:  whose culture?  In our current multicultural environment, we are surrounded by diverse, and even competing and hostile, cultures.  For many of us, long-standing cultural norms have been and are being challenged and rejected.  Far too often, however, younger Christians have been quick to absorb the culture in order to engage it, with the result that they have become like the culture rather than standing against the culture.  Once inside the long-forbidden cultural boundaries, they have quickly acclimated themselves to the world’s way of thinking and acting, all the while convinced that they are evangelizing (or otherwise positively influencing) their largely hostile opponents.  And so evangelical young adults today have swallowed the social media culture, the welfare culture, the immoral entertainment culture, the materialistic culture, and the sexually promiscuous culture—all with no apparent reservations that these might be sinful cultures!

      But now, according to some articles I read, there is a re-thinking process beginning to take place.  It’s dawning on some evangelical leaders that the process of embedding ourselves in the culture has gone too far.  Engaging the culture just doesn’t work.  In rejecting traditional values, Christians have lost their distinctive identity and have become virtually indistinguishable from the world.  In fact, it’s not OK to play video games all day, to frequent bars, or to live with your boyfriend without the benefit of marriage.

      Surely the most egregious oversight in the philosophy of cultural engagement, however, has been the clear teaching of God’s Word.  Paul writes to the Romans:  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).  Transformed in your thinking rather than conformed in your living.  The Apostle John states it clearly:  “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn 2:15-17).  Paul is blunt:  “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; . . . Therefore come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord, And do not touch what is unclean” (2 Corinthians 6:14, 17).  Engage the culture?  No, reject it . . . stand against it.  You will do more good that way than you will trying to compromise with it for the sake of winning it to Christ.

      Rather than engaging the culture, therefore, try loving God and then loving your neighbor.  That’s the biblical priority, according to the Lord Jesus.  Don’t blend in, says one writer—stick out!  In so doing, you will protect yourself and at the same time, please the Lord.

      How we speak says a great deal about us.  People can gauge the quality of our Christianity by our speech.  We all know the Third Commandment:  “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7).  What we do not seem to know—or care about very much—is the remainder of the verse:  “for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”  “No problem,” you say, “I don’t curse or swear.”  Are you sure about that?  I often hear Christians violating this commandment without any apparent guilt.  Perhaps it’s a matter of ignorance.  Let me explain.

      First of all, although it should be obvious, Christians must not use the name of the Lord in vain.  Many of us do, however—and I especially hear it from young people.  Perhaps the most pervasive response to shocking news is the phrase, “O my God.”  Except in earnest prayer, we need to eliminate this phrase from our speech completely!

      Then again, many of us use minced oaths or profanity and don’t seem to understand the significance of what we’re saying.  In some cases these apparently innocuous slang expletives actually are euphemisms for God’s name.  For example, when you use the words “gosh,” or “golly,” you are using a slang substitute for the name of God.  “Jeepers” is the same kind of substitute for Jesus.  Other such words are an abuse of the attributes of God.  How many unsavory nouns have we attached to the adjective “holy”?  Cows and mackerels are not holy; only God is holy.  Even worse is attaching the attribute of holiness to scatological—in other words, bathroom—language.  I also remember my grandmother, whose constant expletive was “O mercy!”  Or you sometimes hear, “God Almighty!”  Then there are other words that concern spiritual matters.  For example, the very sobering reality of the destiny of the unconverted.  The world has trivialized the horrible words “hell” and damn” by using them as casual profanity; yet many Christians don’t hesitate to use the euphemisms “heck” and “darn.”

      Even more sobering are the euphemized oaths many Christians use:  “by God,” “by golly,” and “bejesus,” which means “by Jesus.”  These are oaths sworn by God’s name, and He does not take this lightly.  We also sin grievously when we swear by false gods, such as when we say “by Jove” (the chief Roman deity, Jupiter).  Remember what James writes, repeating something the Lord Jesus himself said:  “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment” (James 5:12).  Yes and no are enough.  We don’t need oaths.  So what should we do?

  1. Educate yourself and your family as to what these slang words mean.  Never use words the meanings of which you do not know.  Then,
  2. Exercise the discipline of self-control.  Learn to think before you speak, and stop using these words.  You do not need these kinds of oaths and euphemisms.  Insist on the same discipline from your children, and don’t listen to them when they say, “Aw, Mom . . .”, or, “Come on, Dad! There’s nothing wrong with those words!”  If you can, avoid environments where this language is pervasive.  God’s word says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4;29).  Also, “there must be no filthiness and silly talk or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Eph 5:4). 

      As children, many of us learned the little song that includes these words:  “O be careful little tongue what you say.  For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say.”  Beginning today, my friend, may every word you say meet with the Lord’s approval!

What’s Next?

       Bible-believing evangelicals all across America have been stunned in the last few months at the pace of social change being engineered by our courts and our administration in Washington D. C.  Between political correctness and legacy-building, we have been broadsided by decisions on homosexual marriage and now transgender issues.  Many of us are wondering where it all goes from here.  Many of us are asking, “What’s next?”

      Writing in World magazine, editor Marvin Olasky answers these questions this way.  “Polygamy is clearly on the agenda. . . . Also, cultural leftists . . . will push for lowering the age of sexual consent to puberty, or lower. . . .  The cultural left will also ask, ‘What’s wrong with incest?’”  “The first stage,” writes Olasky, “will be the repeal of laws forbidding sex between close relatives; . . . The second stage will be legalization of incestuous marriage.”  Comments like these force us Christians to ask one more question:  “How long will God put up with all of this?”

      When God revealed himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai, He began by disclosing himself as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6-7).  We rejoice in this revelation of God’s overwhelming goodness.  But verse 7 ends this way:  “yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”  Now that’s sobering!  Indeed, the answer to the question, “How long will God put up with this?” is, “Not forever!”

      When the Lord ratified His covenant with Abraham—a covenant that included the promise of a land—He told His servant that he himself would not inherit the land because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen 15:16).  Clearly, there is a limit to His patience.  Sodom and Gomorrah eventually reached that limit.  Oblivious to the stench of their decadence in the nostrils of God, they were destroyed in an instant by a massive conflagration from heaven.  God finally said, “That’s enough . . . no more!”

      Here’s the sacred commentary on Sodom’s destruction, as addressed to apostate Jerusalem by the prophet Ezekiel:  “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.  Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me.  Therefore I removed them when I saw it” (Ezek 16:49-50).  Here was a prosperous city that arrogantly defied God while abusing its most vulnerable citizens, indulging themselves in the most extreme abominations, which we know from Genesis 19 was unbridled and violent sexual perversion.

      Years ago, the renowned revival preacher, Leonard Ravenhill, preached a sermon he entitled, “Sodom Had No Bible.”  Good point.  Think about it.  We in America abound in churches and are awash in Bibles.  And yet, perversity is accepted at a pace that seems to increase with each passing day.  If God is truly God, then the iniquity of America must be very close to complete.  At some point, God’s wrath must fall.

      So what should we do?  Pray.  And I see no more appropriate prayer in the Bible than that of the prophet Habakkuk after being told by God that the cruel Babylonian army was about to descend on Judah.  Here’s what He prayed:  “Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear.  O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy” (Hab 3:2).  Remember God’s revelation of himself on Sinai.  When God unleashes His wrath, God’s people can still plead for His compassion, grace, and forgiveness.  America is in trouble.  I fear that our churches are complicit.  So brethren, we need to pray!

Something to Think About

     Well, the New York primary is finally over.  It’s been a contentious contest in both parties.  For many of us, this is the most chaotic primary season in memory.  Certain dynamics that distinguish this year’s presidential contest have become commonplace among the pundits.  Perhaps the most frequently repeated line is that the electorate—on both sides of the aisle—is angry.  There are many reasons for this anger, but it essentially boils down to a matter of trust.  For decades, politicians have been making promises, and for decades, routinely breaking them.  How much more are the citizens of the United States willing to take?

      Another phrase frequently heard is this:  “We’re getting the kind of leaders we deserve.”  And there’s surely a good deal of truth in that.  After all, Scripture says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov 14:34).  The reality is that we Americans cannot live off of our Christian heritage indefinitely.  Eventually our sin catches up with us.

      One dynamic that’s been noted with curiosity by the American media is the surprising allocation of the votes cast by evangelicals.  We’ve not been voting according to biblical standards of righteousness.  The personal morality of the candidates doesn’t seem to matter; and the divisive social issues like abortion and homosexuality have been regarded as matters that are no longer controversial, but have been settled by the courts.  The Christian vote isn’t monolithic and can’t be taken for granted by any candidate.  Moreover, the candidates can ignore these issues and not be held accountable for doing so.  Why have we evangelicals largely lost our influence?  What’s going on?  Perhaps it’s time for some soul-searching.

      The anger—and therefore the votes—of the conservative religious community have been focused on economic issues.  Real wages haven’t increased in a decade and a half.  Families—including Christian families—are struggling financially.  Jobs have been lost and hours cut, forcing many of us to resort to desperate solutions such as holding multiple jobs, all to the destruction of the fabric of quality family life.

      Our young, social media-obsessed adults, many of whom are unemployed and saddled with huge unpaid educational loans, have so absorbed the morality of the popular entertainment media, that they don’t even question the appropriateness of cohabitation, adultery, divorce, homosexuality, and homosexual marriage.  And to them, one religion is as valid as another.  That’s just the world in which they live.  To repeat their tired aphorism:  “It is what it is.”  For them, what the Bible says really isn’t relevant.

      Our cities are experiencing increased waves of violent crime.  Their streets are littered with the bodies of homicidal victims.  Drug use is pandemic—even among the respectable upper and middle classes.  Human life is cheap.  Well, what would we expect from a culture that has slaughtered nearly 60 million unborn lives in the last 40 years?

      All of this boils down to a massive failure on the part of our churches.  So many of our allegedly evangelical congregations have become nothing more than entertainment venues with cheapened worship and dumbed-down preaching.  We have failed this generation, and especially our young people, who have no higher values than their earthly prosperity and comfort.  The message of the Gospel is discounted as anachronistic, biased, and discriminatory.  That’s because we have lost the power of the Holy Spirit so overwhelming in the life of the newborn church in the Book of Acts.

      Isn’t it time for some serious soul-searching on our part?  Isn’t it time to be concerned less about elections and more about the judgment of God, the revival of the church, and the restoration of righteousness in our nation?  Think about that during this election year!

Good Soil

Most of us know our Lord’s Parable of the Sower and the Soils. It’s recorded in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. Matthew tells us that the Lord Jesus was speaking from a boat to a large crowd on the shore who had assembled from a number of different cities. Our Lord’s intention seems to have been to stress to the crowd that not everyone would hear what He said in the same way. Some seed falls by the path and is trampled. These are those who hear the Word, but the devil hardens their hearts so they will not believe. Other seed falls on rocky soil where it springs up but quickly withers away. Some hear God’s Word, receive it enthusiastically at first, but then in the face of temptation, because they’re not grounded in the truth, fall away. Then there was the seed that fell on weed-infested ground, but once the weeds grew, they choked out the good seed, pointing to those whose initial positive response to God’s Word is negated by the encroaching effects of worry, wealth, and pleasure. Ultimately, they produce no fruit. Finally, some seed falls on good soil, which represents those in whose lives the Word grows, bearing lasting fruit.
Let me focus on that good soil for a few moments. Luke records the Lord Jesus as saying it this way (chapter 8, verse 15): “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” We all know that it’s not enough just to drop seed in the ground and hope it produces fruit. The successful gardener must prepare the soil, water the seed, fertilize the the plants, and weed them if he is to obtain the desired result. It’s the same with the seed of God’s Word. It’s not enough for Christians merely to go to Sunday School, or church, or a small group Bible study and assume that their spiritual life will flourish. No, the soil of the believer’s heart must be carefully prepared and nurtured if it’s to produce fruit. How? Actually, our Lord tells us in this verse.
First, God’s Word must be heard “in an honest and good heart.” The hearer must listen honestly. One commentator translates it this way: “with an unprejudiced heart, willing to be taught.” We must hear the Word with no prior biases, but with humility that is willing to hear, think, understand, and make the required changes. It’s a mind that’s willing to search the Scriptures to grasp its meaning, and a heart that seeks to be transformed by the renewing of the mind, being willing to repent when necessary.
Second, God’s Word must be “held fast.” Holding fast means clinging firmly to the truth, not willing to let it go. This assumes a prior commitment on the believer’s part to receive God’s Word, believe it, and live it, regardless of the implications for his life. In other words, when it steps on his toes doctrinally, spiritually, or morally, he won’t dismiss it and disregard it. God’s Word is his anchor, his unchanging source for belief and practice. Let the Scriptures speak, and the “chips fall where they may.” The believer says, “It’s my life that has to change; God’s Word never will!”

Finally, God’s Word must be heard in order to bear fruit “with perseverance.” The word “perseverance” means “patience.” This is the seed that is cultivated so that it produces fruit in spite of bad weather, the infestation of vermin, or other unfavorable circumstances. Every believer will face disillusionment, disappointment, and discouragement in his life, but the trials and tragedies of life won’t destroy his faith and turn him from the Word. Scripture continues to be his anchor even in the worst of times.

No wonder, then that the Lord Jesus went on to say, “So take care how you listen” (v. 18). The way you listen will determine whether or not God’s Word will take root in your life and produce fruit.

When God Stepped In

      An impartial observer of the world today has to be at least a little alarmed. Our contemporary civilization is facing chaos, hopelessness, and general disintegration on virtually every level of society. As our out-of-control, global civilization careens toward final impact, most people are naively oblivious. Our obsession with the media tells the story. The news media are fixated on politics and the economy. Politics, however, provides no hope, and relatively few people are paying attention anyway. The entertainment media (TV, film, sports) provide a sedative to dull the pain and relieve the anxiety, much like morphine gives relief to a terminally ill patient. Even more mind-numbing is the preoccupation of billions of people worldwide with the social media—a total escape from reality.

      In all of this, God has been left out. Our pseudo-sophisticated world has no place for the spiritual; and it is reaping the fruit of its blindness. But it is ripe for divine intervention. In the events surrounding the birth of the Lord Jesus, God stepped into His world, and spoke to mankind through His Son, and in speaking has revealed His redemptive plan. Christmas is all about God’s intervention in the affairs of men.

      Here’s how the writer of Hebrews explains it: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb 1:1-2).

      Long ago, God sometimes spoke through dreams and visions, sometimes through supernatural appearances called theophanies; then He spoke through His Law and then through His prophets and the growing body of written Scripture. But the crowning act of divine revelation was in God’s gift of His Son. It is in His Son that we see the totality of the divine character revealed in human flesh. John tells us: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (Jn 1:18). That’s why the angel declared to the shepherds that first Christmas night: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). True, He would be Israel’s long-promised Messiah; the Magi understood that when they asked Herod, “”Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Mt 2:2). But in exactly what way would He be the Savior of the world? Thirty years later, John the Baptist would point to Him and declare: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29).

      That’s it! He would take away sins. He would provide redemption by the shedding of His blood, in the way an innocent lamb was killed to atone for sins in the Old Testament economy. When God stepped in through the birth of His Son, He intervened in a world that was marked by high taxes, high unemployment, and low morality. There was social frustration and discontent. Subversive groups were intent on overthrowing the iron-fisted authority of the Roman Empire. It was a world looking for “peace”; the word meant “well-being,” health, prosperity, and security, the very things our nation—and the world for that matter—is seeking. Men and women had come to the end of their resources; many had lost hope. And then . . . God stepped in. Jesus was born. Do you know Him today? Is He your Savior? If not, call upon Him and He will give you the gift of eternal life!

A Very Pretty Song

      We live in an entertainment-driven world today. And the culture of entertainment has reached not so subtly into our churches. The worship services in many congregations now resemble the atmosphere of the theater or the night club more than the sanctuary. I fear that in all too many cases, preaching—which has traditionally been the centerpiece of evangelical worship—has been relegated to a secondary role. Church-goers are attending, not primarily for the ministry of the Word, but rather to enjoy the show put on in a virtually rock-concert venue. Their attitudes, therefore, are not one of wanting God to speak with the intention of ordering their lives according to the Scriptures, but to hear a religious “pep talk” that will confirm them in their present lifestyle or offer them some practical advice for self-improvement. Where are sin, grace, and salvation through Christ?

      We would think that having suffered defeat and exile because of their apostasy, the ancient Israelites wouldn’t have shared this attitude. But they did. Living in Assyrian captivity, the exiles had access to God’s prophet, the priest Ezekiel. The Lord warned him of their insincerity in Ezekiel 33:30-33: “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.’ They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, but they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. So when it comes to pass—as surely it will—then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst.”

      Apparently the prophet Ezekiel was a favorite topic of conversation among God’s people, who were then living under God’s judgment. In spite of their circumstances, however, their interest was really just curiosity. “What will the preacher say today? What’s God’s message?” But it was all superficial. The Lord himself gives two reasons why. First, they will not let God get in the way of their “lustful desires”; they cherish their freedom to live in immorality. Second, they will not pay attention to anything that interferes with their economic goals or material success. These two reasons are also at the root of the anemic preaching in evangelical churches today. Many pastors will not preach sermons that step on the toes of those who have made unbiblical lifestyle choices—both moral and material. Were they to do so, their own ministries would be in jeopardy.

      Thus, the congregation listens, nods dutifully, commends the preacher for a “good sermon” on the way out the door, and then returns to their homes, schools, and jobs with no intention of changing anything. Meanwhile, the Lord’s word to people like this is that their response to the truth doesn’t change its truthfulness! When the truth is preached, and they insist on ignoring it, therefore, it will still come to pass, and then they will know that what the preacher was saying is true. Then they will regret rejecting it in order to maintain their sinful lifestyle.

      The Lord Jesus Christ made a very important statement about this in Luke 8:18: “So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” If you refuse God’s truth in the interest of your own carnality, you may reach a point when that truth is refused to you. The Lord will permanently close your mind to His Word. So get rid of the concert mentality and go to church to hear God’s Word, seriously consider it, and then change your life as you obey it!