Sunday, July 22, 2018

Ordinary Superheroes

You get up every morning and go to work; you take the kids to school, to lessons, to practice; you eat a quick dinner and go to bed, only to do it all again tomorrow. You may not feel like your daily routine is important. You may not think it all amounts to much, but it does. What you may not realize is that you are a superhero. While you may not don a cape or a mask, your home is your Gotham. Your orders are simply to make a difference.

One way we are ordinary superheroes is simply by raising the next generation, be they our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or kids at church where we volunteer. When we faithfully, consistently bring them up in the way they should go, we are doing more than just raising kids; we are making disciples.

Another way we can be superheroes is when we are at our place of work or school. When we are good, honest, hardworking employees that make the most of our opportunities, we get to represent Jesus in addition to our company. Instead of putting on your work uniform, imagine yourself putting on your costume and springing into action.

We are also heroic when we fulfill our obligations at church. Things like keeping the nursery, working with youth or children, taking up the offering, passing out bulletins, running lights and sound, driving vans, teaching a class, or serving on a committee help the church service come together. There would be no choir without choir members; there would be no music without musicians; there would be no church without church members. Keep using the spiritual gifts with which you have been entrusted, and your local church will be blessed.

Finally, we can be heroes when we live our lives in society “as we are going.” The man who owns the store should say Christians are his best customers; the lady who owns the restaurant should think Christians are the best tippers. The sheriff should say he never has to cuff Christians. The principal should want more Christians on campus. The mayor should recognize the positive impact we make. We should start revivals, not riots. As church attendance rises, crime should fall. Divorce rates should drop. Abuse should reduce. Budweiser should go bankrupt, and the Playboy Mansion should go into foreclosure.

Every day there is a call to action, and we must respond. Though we may be tempted to sit it out, the world cannot afford for that to happen. Lives and souls are at stake. Mom, Dad, grandparent, employee, church member, citizen: you are an ordinary superhero.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

As the Lord Lives

“As Yahweh, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

Elijah spoke those words in 1 Kings 17:1. His audience was the evil King Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel. We may well be familiar with this biblical account that displayed God’s power over the elements; He proved His sovereignty to the nations, while feeding Elijah from the beaks of ravens, and soon through the never-ending supply of oil with the widow of Zarephath. We understand why Elijah pronounced the withholding of rain, but what about the first part? Why did he begin by stating that God lives?

To understand why that was crucial, we need to understand what the Canaanites believed about Baal. In the old city of Ugarit a clay tablet was discovered that sheds light on the Mesopotamian mindset of the ancient Near East. Baal was believed to be the god of rain (as well as storms and lightning; his association with rain caused him to be thought of as a fertility god as well). His nemesis, Mot (whose name means death), was believed to have killed Baal, causing a stoppage of rain. The legend goes that Baal came back to life and sent the rain, but the struggle with Mot never ended. During the rainy season Baal was thought to be alive and in control, but during droughts it was believed that Mot had once again killed Baal.

To the average Canaanite, sometimes Baal was alive, and that was good, and sometimes he was dead, and that was bad. Now going back to Elijah’s pronouncement against the Northern Kingdom of Israel, we see why he began by invoking the living God Yahweh. His point was not only that God is always alive, but also that He is stronger than Baal or Mot, sending and withholding the rain as He pleases. He is El Gibbor, the Mighty God of whom Isaiah prophesied (9:6). Isn’t it great to trust in the eternal, all-powerful God of the universe? We do not need to worry if He is alive or prevailing in a cosmic struggle. We can say with Elijah, “As the Lord lives…”

Sunday, July 8, 2018

God Doesn't Change

God Doesn’t Change

If you see something, say something. That is a fairly common mantra of law enforcement in post-9/11 America, but it doesn’t always work out in practice. For example, a recent Ohio middle schooler was suspended for seeing something, but failing to say something; a fellow classmate pointed a toy gun at him at school, and the eleven year old was punished because he did not want to be a snitch. Conversely, a middle schooler in Alabama was punished for seeing and saying something; on the ride home from school he overheard students talking about bringing a gun to school, so he dialed 911 on his cell phone. The bus was soon surrounded by law enforcement, and when it was determined that the students in question were discussing Nerf guns, the would-be Good Samaritan was suspended for causing “needless panic and chaos.”

One of the great things about America is state and local governments are allowed to make most of their own laws, deciding what works best for their people. A downside to that is there is often no universal law, so situations like the one mentioned above can happen. One of the great things about God is that He does not change, and His laws do not vary from person to person or state to state. Hebrews 13:8 describes Jesus as “the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Malachi quotes God as saying, “I am Yahweh, I do not change (3:6).” The things we read about God in His word are just as true today as they were to the original audience (understanding them in their natural context and literary genre, of course). We do not need to worry that tomorrow we will wake up to discover that God is no longer slow to anger or abounding in mercy; there is no danger that God will relinquish His title as Judge of all the Earth or Abba Father.

Not only is it good news that God will not change in His nature or character, it is also true that His plan of salvation is likewise fixed. God will not suddenly institute a works-based salvation or religious ritual system in order for us to earn eternal life. It has always been, and will always be by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). It matters not whether we live in Ohio or Alabama; we do not need to check with our local councils or churches to see what we must do to be saved. The answer to that question is as true for us 21st Century Americans as it was for that 1st Century Philippian who asked it: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved (Acts 16:30-31).”  

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Who is the Goat?

A new acronym that has been created through social media is “the GOAT,” or the Greatest Of All Time. During the NBA Finals the questions kept coming up, Who is the goat? Is LeBron James the goat? Is Michael Jordan still the goat? During football season questions abound about Tom Brady being the goat. The question is new, and somewhat strange, but our generation is not the first to ask it. In fact, Daniel tried to figure out who the goat was thousands of years ago.

In a troubling vision, Daniel saw a ram with two horns get crushed by a goat with one horn between his eyes. He prayed for understanding of the vision, and God sent the angel Gabriel to explain it in general terms. History has filled in more of the gaps for us. Who is the ram? According to Gabriel, the ram depicted the Medo-Persian Empire, thus the two horns. So who is the goat? Gabriel said the goat was Greece, and history confirms that the goat was Alexander the Great, who in 331 BC defeated the Medes and Persians and became the world’s superpower. However, in the vision the goat’s horn broke off, and four other horns came in to replace it (historically, Alexander the Great died an untimely death, and with no successor, his kingdom was divided into four parts and ruled by four men); one of the four horns became a terror, and would eventually destroy God’s temple and end the daily sacrifices.

History tells us that horn was Antiochus Epiphanes, an absolutely evil monster who desecrated the temple by offering a pig on the altar in 167 BC. Or was it in AD 70 when Titus destroyed the Jerusalem temple? Or will it be when the Antichrist comes during the Great Tribulation? I believe it is all three. Daniel, like many of the prophets, gave a prophecy that had layers of fulfillment. The immediate fulfillment was with Antiochus and Titus, but the ultimate fulfillment will be shortly before the Second Coming of Christ.

While Daniel gives us a clue as to the ram and goat, he also tells us who the real GOAT is. In his other vision Daniel described the Ancient of Days, the most powerful ruler who will sit on the throne forever. There will always be evil people and corrupt rulers, but the best news we have is that Jesus is the Ancient of Days—He is from everlasting to everlasting, and once He sets His throne on earth in the New Jerusalem, His kingdom will have no end.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

No Other Gods

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

That was the first commandment God gave Israel at Mt. Sinai. When we think about those words in context, it should be a no brainer; why would they want any other gods? Every single Israelite knew nothing except life in Egypt, and the dozens of gods of the Egyptians. They were monotheistic, but the Egyptians behind them and the Canaanites before them were polytheistic. The Lord knew the temptation would come to follow the gods of the pagans around them, but think for a minute about what Yahweh had done for them.

First, He led them out of slavery. We know about the Ten Plagues sent to the Egyptians, but don’t forget that Israel was spared from the plagues. That action of God showed He could handle Israel’s enemies and at the same time be their protector. Second, God did not leave them on their own after the tenth plague, but instead supernaturally guided them as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. Third, when Pharaoh was bearing down on them, God parted the Red Sea for Israel, then drowned Egypt by sending the water back down.

On the way to the Promised Land Israel was attacked by the cowardly Amalekites, who tried to pick off the women and children and elderly. These lifelong slaves who knew nothing of war were able to fend off the professional pirates, for as long as Moses’ arms were in the air, Israel was victorious over Amalek. God continued to provide for them by sending manna from heaven and water from a rock. So when He began the Ten Commandments by saying to have no other gods besides Him, it should have been an easy decision. The gods of the Egyptians were humiliated by Yahweh, and the Israelites would do well to keep their trust in Him.

The provisions of God in our own lives might not always seem as miraculous, but James reminds us that every good gift in our lives comes from Him (1:17). When we remember that He keeps our hearts beating and our lungs breathing, and the million other blessings in our lives, why would we want any other god besides Him? If Jesus is not the Lord of your life, call out to Him today for the greatest gift of all—the salvation of your soul. If you have already been saved, thank Him for the many blessings in your life today.