Daniel 7 “The Return of the King”

Introduction: REM, It’s The End Of The World

Do you remember the band from the 1980’s, REM? I do. They had a song called “It’s The End Of The World” and it goes on to say, “and I feel fine.” Tragically, for many people when the end of the world comes they won’t feel fine. This is not just a pastor overstating something for dramatic effect, it is the sobering truth.

Read passage: Daniel 7


15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. 16 I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. 17 ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’

19 “Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet, 20 and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions. 21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.

23 “Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast,

there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth,

which shall be different from all the kingdoms,

and it shall devour the whole earth,

and trample it down, and break it to pieces.

24 As for the ten horns,

out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,

and another shall arise after them;

he shall be different from the former ones,

and shall put down three kings.

25 He shall speak words against the Most High,

and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,

and shall think to change the times and the law;

and they shall be given into his hand

for a time, times, and half a time.

26 But the court shall sit in judgment,

and his dominion shall be taken away,

to be consumed and destroyed to the end.

27 And the kingdom and the dominion

and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven

shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;

his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,

and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’

28 “Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.”

There are 4 beasts which represent different empires and rulers

The four empires, in chronological order:

Babylon: Having it’s wings torn off is most likely a reference to when King Nebuchadnezzar was humbled because of his great pride.

Medo-Persia: Being raised up on one side is most likely a reference to the fact that the Persians were more powerful than the Medes.

Greece: Their speed of attack was like a leopard, they had no rival. The four heads pointed to the fact that Greece’s Empire would be divided under 4 different leaders.

Rome: The fourth kingdom. The ten heads are leaders that would appear in the future. The eleventh head is a reference to the Antichrist.

Daniel’s response is that he was greatly troubled by all that God revealed to him.

The Ancient of Days takes his seat

Verses 9-10 mentions one of my favorite names for God, the Ancient of Days. This is a reference to God the Father.

His clothing was white like snow communicates his holiness.

His throne of flaming fire, and a river of fire flowing from his presence speaks of the fact that he will bring judgment. A topic that many churches fail to speak of, but nonetheless it is a part of the Word of God.

Books were opened. In Revelation 20:15 we learn that this is the Book of Life, also called the Lamb’s Book of Life. All those whose name is not in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.

The beasts are judged and the 4th beast is destroyed

We see Daniel 7 unfolding in the future in Revelation 19.

17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and mall the birds were gorged with their flesh.

The kingdom is given to the Son of Man

The Son of Man is a reference to Jesus Christ. This is a name that Jesus frequently used to describe himself. Jesus took the title from the book of Daniel. Son of Man means a number of different things: 1) it means that Jesus is human 2) it means that Jesus is divine 3) it means that he is coming back one day in the clouds.

Matthew 24:30, speaking of Christ’s return says this, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven.”

The context of this passage leads us to believe that this will be a literal, earthly reign of Jesus on earth

How are we to respond to all of this?

We need to be on guard against merely attaining head knowledge. The main goal of this passage is not meant to give you the tools by which you can draw up a cool chart of the end times. The goal of this passage is to get you to live differently in light of the return of Jesus!

We need to be ready for spiritual warfare. We are living right now in a Babylonian culture. The devil and his other fallen angels are real and they want to stop and destroy us. Are you praying? Are you in the Word of God? Are you fighting a spiritual battle or have you been distracted by civilian pursuits (culture war)?

We need to make sure that our life reflects the awesome glory of God. We should be holy as God is holy. Is your life being transformed into the image of God? We should be living every day life with a sense of urgency. Does the thought of the Second Coming of Jesus cause us to live differently? Do you have a passion for the lost?

We need to be assured that Jesus wins! In the end, the battle between Jesus and the Antichrist is really not much of a fight. It is the breath of Jesus that overpowers the Antichrist. Fully showing the awesome power of Jesus.

“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” -2 Thessalonians 2:8

Daniel 4-Repentance

Introduction

What would you say needs to change regarding the American church? How would you answer that question? I would like to make a strong biblical argument that what the American church needs the most is to repent of their sin and turn back to their first love.

Make no mistake about it, the primary problem for the Jews who were in exile in Babylon was that they had forgotten God and pursued after idols. God used the Babylonian Empire to bring judgment and hopefully to lead his people into repentance.

DA Carson, one of my professors from Trinity writes this, “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” Repentance is a gift from our holy God and we desperately need it.

Passage: Daniel 4

19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and this thoughts alarmed him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies! 20 The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, 21 whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived— 22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. 23 And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’ 24 this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, 25 that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. 26 And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, hand your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

God’s sovereignty is meant to encourage believers living in a Babylonian culture

I believe this is one of the main themes in the book of Daniel. It would have been completely understandable if the Jews who were in exile to have wondered what in the world God was up to. Truth be known, they should have figured out after all the prophets had warned Israel that they were in exile because of their rebellion against God. The Israelites were slow to learn. They are a lot like you and me.

How is God’s sovereignty being revealed in Daniel 4? King Nebuchadnezzar was absolutely filled with pride. He was responsible for building two ancient wonders of the world, the hanging gardens and the walls of Babylon. Both were massive and absolutely amazing. Nebuchadnezzar was the single most powerful man on earth and this point in time. In one second Nebuchadnezzar goes from being the most powerful man in the world to being humbled by living as if he were an ox. This demonstration of power by God reminded the Jews that their God was in control at all times.

It is also a reminder for you and me today that even though the pandemic is still raging, the political world is broken, that God is still in control. We should not be a people of fear, worry and anxiety. When people look at us they should see people who are hopeful and filled with joy because our God is good and he rules over the entire universe.

God will disturb our comfortable life to lead us to repentance

Nebuchadnezzar had the good life. He had all the money, power and fame that a person could ever hope for. Then God speaks to the king through a dream. Daniel must be brought in to interpret the dream. Basically God was warning Nebuchadnezzar that he is going to lose everything if he does not repent. 12 months go by and the king does not take the Word of God seriously. Nebuchadnezzar is humbled and made to live like an ox for seven years.

This reminds me of the story in Luke 12 where Jesus warns people about living for temporary pleasures by talking about the rich fool. In verse 19 we read this: Soul, you have ample good laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays treasure up for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Are you pouring out your life for the good of others?

Are you tithing and giving generously?

How are you approaching retirement? The number one question you should be asking if you are thinking about retirement or if you are retired is this, how can I use these days for the good of others and for the glory of God?

God wants to use us in the lives of people who are in spiritual danger

God strategically placed Daniel in king Nebuchadnezzar’s life to point him to his great need for God. God has likewise placed each one of us where we are so that we can point people to Jesus.

Who are you reaching out to? Who are you discipling? (One of the most important questions Christians can ask and answer). Can we really say we are followers of Jesus if we are not obeying the Great Commission?

God’s people must be characterized by lives of deep worship

In verses 34-35 we find out how Nebuchadnezzar responds to his great humiliation.

34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and she does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding of the power and greatness of God led him to worship God. I believe this reveals that the king finally God it and embraced Yahweh as the one true God.

What are you worshipping these days? Are you drawing closer to Jesus or would you say that you have spiritually plateaued? Let’s all recommit to seeking after Jesus with all of our heart.

Daniel 1 (Part 1) Introduction

This past Sunday I began preaching through the amazing book of Daniel. I plan on preaching through every chapter and verse of the book. As I started thinking and praying about preaching from this book I was amazed at how timely for the world we live in today. About fifty years ago Richard Niebuhr famously wrote in his book, Christ and Culture, about the different ways that Christians should respond to the culture in which they live. Many others have written on this same topic with a variety of opinions. I am loving Daniel because we learn so much by watching how a godly man (actually he was a teenager in the opening chapters) responds to a quickly changing culture (from Judah to Babylon!)

So my plan is to make a post here each week regarding every chapter of Daniel. Yes, I am even going to preach through the 70 weeks. Buckle up! Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas along the way.

INTRODUCTION

What in the world is going on in the USA?

We imagined 2021 might be a fresh start and things would get better. As Bono says, “nothing changes on New year’s Day.” Anger, polarization, cynicism are rampant. Sexual immorality has become status quo. There is gender confusion. We are post-Christian. Secularism feels like a growing religion. Moral absolutes seem old fashioned. What in the blazes is happening?

We are living in a BABYLONIAN CULTURE. How do we live as exiles, on a day-to-day basis, in a Babylonian culture?

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Author: Daniel, his name means “God is my judge”

Babylon: At the time of Daniel Babylon was the largest and most powerful city in the world. The Euphrates River ran through the city. Today the remains of the city of Babylon are in the city of Iraq. The primary god of the Babylonians was Marduk. To the honor of Marduk there was a 7 story ziggurat. A ziggurat is in the shape of a pyramid and this one went about 300 feet high.

The invasion of Judah by the Babylonians: Before the invasion of the Babylonians into Judah, in the year 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was invaded by the Assyrians. 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came in and conquered Jerusalem. Remember, after the rule of king Solomon the kingdom was divided into the north and south.

Why did the conquest of Jerusalem take place? In Isaiah 24:1-6 we read this:

1Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate,
and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
2 And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
as with the slave, so with his master;
as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
as with the lender, so with the borrower;
as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
3 The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered;
for the Lord has spoken this word.

4 The earth mourns and withers;
the world languishes and withers;
the highest people of the earth languish.
5 The earth lies defiled
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed the laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.

6 Therefore a curse devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched,
and few men are left.

Outline: Chapters 1-6 are amazing stories that many children know. Chapters 1-7 are filled with visions and prophecies that many scholars have a hard time understanding and interpreting.

Languages used: 2:4-7:28 is in Aramaic, the rest is in Hebrew

Main points of Daniel 1) God is sovereign over all 2) We are called to live a holy life as exiles in a Babylonian culture

EVEN IN THE DARKEST OF TIMES, GOD IS IN CONTROL

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 

Things had gotten really bad for Israel. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been invaded by Assyria in 722 BC. Now the southern kingdom had been invaded by Babylon. It is not possible for a nation to sink any lower. The very God who had raised them up and chose them now is the One who is judging them for their lifestyles of rebellion.

God is the One who gave Jehoiakim into the hands of the Babylonians. In Jeremiah 21:5 we read, “I (God) myself will fight against you, with outstretched hand and strong arm, and in fury and great wrath.”

The invasions by other super powers into Israel was by the very hands of God. Not luck. Not bad fortune. God was judging the sins of his people people they had broken his covenant.

We are tempted today to believe that God is out of control. We will start believing these lies will begin to experience worry, stress, and anxiety. The greatest antidote to anxiety is an understanding and belief in the sovereignty of God.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. -Matthew 10:29

GOD WILL PLACE US IN DIFFICULT SITUATIONS TO USE US FOR HIS PURPOSES

3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family1 and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. -Daniel 1:3-4

Judah invaded, temple of God has been looted. The vessels of God were placed in the house of a pagan god (Marduk). The Babylonians think that by bringing Daniel and the other exiles to their city that they are winning. But God is very strategic. Daniel and his friends are going to be used by God in some incredible ways.

God has placed you right where you are at for a strategic kingdom purpose. You might not like your job. You might not like your neighborhood or your city. But you are not there by accident. God wants to use you for his holy purposes. How can God use you at home, school, in the workplace?

WE MUST STRIVE TO NOT CONFORM TO OUR BABYLONIAN CULTURE

8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. -Daniel 1:8

The Babylonians wanted to assimilate the Jews through their culture. Daniel and his friends were given new names. Names that were connected to the Babylonian gods. Daniel stood firm when it came to the food he was going to eat? Why? Could be for several reasons. Perhaps the food had been offered to idols. Maybe the food broke their dietary laws. What we do know is that this was a compromise that Daniel knew that he could not make.

This assimilation makes me think of modern day universities. Professors with degrees promoting philosophies that run contrary to the Word of God. All too often our young people are being assimilated into our Babylonian culture to the colleges that we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to.

In Scripture Babylon came to represent all culture that works against the will and design of God. In 1 Peter 5:13 we find, “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.”

When Peter wrote this letter he was not anywhere near Babylon. What in the world does he mean? Peter was using Babylon as a metaphor for any culture that is totally at odds with the kingdom of God.

The world’s strategy is to reprogram you through a Babylonian culture.

Entertainment: Screens, the internet, social media is impacting us far more than we are aware of.

Wealth: Persecution does not seem to work against Christians. In fact, persecution seems to fan the flames of Christianity. Wealth, now that is a different story. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” -1 Timothy 6:16

Politics: We will be talking about this on a number of occasions throughout this series. Politics is making people angry, volatile, depressed, and at times so mad that they are literally willing to kill people because of their political beliefs. We are being discipled by the nightly news. The result is that we are bringing contempt upon Christianity by the watching world.

Sexual immorality: The only thing that is new about this is that sexual immorality is becoming more main stream. We allow things into our minds and homes that 20 years ago we never would have dreamed of.

How does this chapter point us to Jesus Christ?

I am of the strong opinion that every book of the Bible points us to Jesus Christ. In Luke 24 we read this, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he (Jesus) interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Daniel was a prophet and his words, prophecies, and visions point us to Jesus Christ.

Think of the missionary likenesses between Daniel and Jesus. Left the safety of home, entered into am incredibly dangerous culture, all for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes.

We will stay in chapter 1 this coming Sunday. We will be looking specifically at some really bad ways Christians respond to culture, and some biblical ways as well.

Thoughts? Ideas? Love to hear from you!

Is anti-bullying a trojan horse in our public schools?

This Sunday I am preparing to preach a sermon on transgenderism. Then on Jan 22 our Care Ministry is going to be hosting a movie about sexuality and transgenderism. You can learn more about the event HERE.

So, I have been doing a lot of reading and studying as of late. One book that is utterly fascinating is “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” by Abigail Shrier. Shrier has done an excellent job when it comes to research on this topic and it shows in her writing.

On page 71 she begins to talk about the connection between transgenderism and anti-bullying policies and laws. I wanted to learn more about this because the city in which I live has been having these types of discussions.

How did a radical view of gender become so common place?

How did educators and activists manage to mainstream a radical view of gender through the schools? Like so many successful sales, this one was facilitated by irresistible packaging: anti-bullying. Appealing to both a moral imperative and Gen X parents’ extreme preoccupation with the children’s physical safety, the pitch was hard to resist. All of this sexual orientation and gender identity was necessary-educators claimed-to prevent the battery, harassment, and acute psychological distress of LGBTQ children. p. 71

Shrier’s point is that the radical view of gender is taking place in our schools, at least partially, by anti-bullying initiatives.

Anti-bullying is great, but what else is happening here?

I have no doubt that legislators who pass anti-bullying laws and educators and school boards who implement gender identity and sexual orientation are sincerely concerned about the welfare of LGBTQ-identified students-as all decent human beings ought to be. But where a measure taken to fix a problem goes so far in excess of remedy, it becomes clear that simple remedy was not primarily what the fixer had in mind.

This is the sense in which so much under gender identity and sexual orientation, delivered with the tireless passion of priests, pretext for an ulterior motive. There is simply no good reasoning for insisting that students be made to imagine themselves as gay or transgender of pansexual. There is no very good reason to imagine they might be a boy in a girl’s body or a girl in a boy’s. There is no reason to teach students, in the words of one of the most highly regarded manuals, that the “expression of transgender identity , or any other form of gender expansive behavior, is a healthy, appropriate and typical aspect of human development.

Let’s pause for a moment. The above paragraph should concern you quite a bit. Is there a better way to promote anti-bullying in our schools? Yes.

All that’s required is the insistence that the students display decency, civility, and kindness to their classmates. Follow the Golden Rule. Stand up to bullies. And singling out of others for their differences-physical, religious, sexual, or otherwise-should be met with neither indulgence nor toleration. Bad behavior should be met with swift punishment. p. 72-73

The point that is being made is that any reasonable person hates the idea of bullying. And furthermore, that in the schools (and society in general) we should work to stop bullying. But, we don’t have to go so far as to “indoctrinate” young children in “gender ideology.” As parents, and concerned citizens, it is imperative that we stay alert to what is being taught and promoted in the schools where we are sending our children.

“Irreversible Damage” by Abigail Shrier is a must read.

Transgenderism

On Sunday, Jan 10th, I will be preaching about transgenderism.

Our Care Ministry is going to be hosting an event about the topic of transgenderism on Thursday, Jan 22, 6:30 pm.

Why are we doing this? We want to address this issue because we love people and we want them to know God’s Word and to experience it’s life transforming power.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2021

6:30-9:00PM

NEW LIFE CHURCH


In His Image is a critical and urgent message designed to equip the church to answer culturally controversial questions about gender and sexuality from a biblical perspective. Every church in America is filled with hurting people asking these tough questions: Can you be gay and be a Christian? What if someone genuinely feels trapped in the wrong body? Did God make me this way? Is change even possible?

This feature-length documentary presents much-needed truth with compassion and clarity through powerful personal testimonies, careful Bible teaching, and scientific evidence.

Please join us as we watch the movie together.

Following the movie, Denise Shick will join us via Zoom for a Q & A session.

8960cb_6d8e3bf9bd174e51a9c29e9541c73352_mv2.jpg

Denise Shick is the Founder and Director of Help 4 Families, a Christian ministry that compassionately reaches out to family members who are grappling with the emotional and spiritual issues encountered when a loved one identifies as transgender. She is the author of My Daddy’s Secret, When Hope Seems Lost, Understanding Gender Confusion—A Faith Based Perspective, and has published articles in The Federalist, American Thinker, The Daily Signal, and BarbWire.

The Vanity Of Running Programs

What God Has Been Doing In Me Lately

Over the past year or so I have had an increasing desire to see the Holy Spirit at work in a new and powerful way. I have been asking God to start with me. Little did I know that telling God that I want to know and experience him as much as I possibly can that it would mean…pain. Why did I fail to recognize this? Your guess is as good as mine. The pain came from confession and repentance of sin in my own life. I think back to Isaiah right before God sends him out on mission. First things first. Isaiah must see God in all of his holiness and glory and simultaneously be undone by his own sin. Then Isaiah is ready to do ministry. As I have been reflecting on spiritual renewal it seems the pattern over and over again in Scripture is that repentance is the starting point for God to be at work in a new way.

The beautiful thing about confession and repentance is that there is a renewed sense of intimacy and joy in Christ. The worship songs you hear are sweeter. You begin crying when you hear stories of how God is at work. There is a energy and determination that grows within you to see the sleepy awakened and the lost saved. There is no better place to be then just one step closer to Christ.

The Vanity Of Running Programs

As I have been praying for the Spirit to be at work in a new way in my life, family, church, and the community all around me I have become aware of the futility of simply running programs in the church. First you must understand that as a church we have talked about our mission (the Great Commission), we have brought in a consultant to help us work on our Vision (Deeply Rooted In Six Counties). We just wrapped up working with another consultant to help us develop a leadership pipeline. I definitely believe we need to plan and strategize, but it is not enough. Not nearly enough.

I am preaching through the Psalms of Ascent and this coming Sunday I am preaching on Psalm 127. Here is are the first two verses:

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over the city,

the watchman stays awake in vain.

2 It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved asleep.

Perhaps another way of putting is that unless the LORD (YAHWEH) builds the house you are just wasting your time. Three times in this passage Solomon tells us that doing things in our own power and strength is nothing more than spinning our ministry wheels. Lots of smoke but no fire.

Maybe we are all asking the wrong questions. We ask things like, how did it go on Sunday? Who was there? How many were there? I’m thinking the better question is, how was the Spirit of God at work? What took place that only can be explained by the Holy Spirit being present and active?

These questions, kinda like repentance, lead to pain. Perhaps some of you in ministry know what I mean. It’s much easier to count numbers than it is to honestly evaluate if the Holy Spirit is really at work or not.

What Would Spiritual Renewal Look Like?

The elders and I are reading a wonderful book by Ray Ortlund Jr called “When God Comes To Church: A Biblical Model For Revival Today.” You can get the book for free HERE. It is excellent. It is biblical. It is dangerous. Why do I say dangerous? Because it is wrecking me for the status quo and giving me a stronger desire to see God at work in our church and community. Ortlund describes renewal like this:

When God rends the heavens and comes down on his people, a divine power achieves what human effort at its best fails to do. God’s people thirst for the ministry of the Word and receive it with tender meltings of the soul. The grip of the enslaving sin is broken. Reconciliation between believers is sought and granted. Spiritual beings, rather than material things, capture people’s hearts. A defensive, timid church is transformed into a confident army. Believers joyfully suffer for their lord. They treasure usefulness to God over career advancement. Communion with God is avidly enjoyed. Churches and Christian organizations reform their policies and procedures. People who had always been indifferent to the gospel now inquire anxiously. And this type of spiritual movement draws in not just the isolated straggler here and there but large numbers of people. A wave of divine grace washed over the church and spills out on the world. This is what happens when God comes down. And that is how we can pray for the church today.

My response to this? Holy Spirit come.

All Of This Leads To Prayer

I do have a longing to see spiritual renewal happen. But I am more convinced then ever that the only way it will happen is when God’s people pray. Fervent prayer. Church wide prayer. Persistent prayer. A kind of praying that heats up our heart first and then spreads to others. I must make prayer more of a priority in my life and it must become more of a priority in the life of my church.

Finding Joy As We Are Waiting And Praying For Renewal

There is a spiritual danger in all of this talk about spiritual renewal in our lives and in the church. How do we respond when we pray and we don’t see it happening? I have learned the hard way that if I am not careful all of this longing for God to work can lead to frustration and disappointment. “Why isn’t it working?” “God, what is wrong with everyone?”

For me the key is to keep watching and finding joy in the small evidences of God’s grace. I must find my joy in Christ, not necessarily whether or not my prayers for revival happen on my time table. I must patiently, persistently continue to pray for God to work in a new way and still love God and others as I live in the in-between.

What is Progressive Christianity?

Perhaps you have had conversations with people and as you talked about Christianity their beliefs began to appear quite different from what you grew up believing. Topics such as sexuality, gender, authority of Scripture, reality of heaven and hell, etc.

But you had a hard time figuring out where their beliefs were coming from. You were wondering why their faith was so different from the orthodox faith you have held onto for years. In our culture this is going to happen more and more. And the book I am introducing here is a great place to begin to understand what is going on.

I want to strongly encourage you to buy and read the book, “Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity” by Alisa Childers.

In the book Alisa does a good job of communicating what progressive Christianity is and why we so urgently need to know about it.

What are the main beliefs of progressive Christianity?

  1. They don’t see the Bible as inspired or authoritative for our life. “Make no mistake, just like historic Christians, progressives find Scripture compelling. The difference is that, rather than viewing it as the authoritative Word from God to people, they see the Bible as an antiquated library of books that we can examine like ancient relics. In their view, the Bible is our spiritual ancestors’ best attempts to understand God in their own cultures, using whatever knowledge they had at the time. Because humans now have a higher and wiser view of God, progressives believe we can now read the Bible the way it is meant to be read-not as the authoritative Word of God, but as our predecessors’ spiritual journal.” p. 155
  2. They don’t believe in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. “However, with their denial of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, many progressive Christians take it one step further: Jesus is no longer our Savior but an example of how we can do good works in the world and forgive others. That has become the highest virtue, and all other truth claims are judged by it. Thus the progressive gospel is Jesus + social justice.” p. 105
  3. Hell and judgment have been rejected. “With it’s view of the Old Testament God as petty and spiteful, it’s denial of God’s wrath and hell, and its discomfort with the blood atonement of Jesus, progressive Christianity looks a bit like warmed over Marcionism.” p. 112
  4. They believe in universalism. “…it’s simply the belief that all human beings (and in some cases, even fallen angels) will be saved and spend eternity with God. Some in the progressive Christian paradigm deny the idea that sin separates us from God altogether, rendering any need for a meaningful “salvation” unnecessary.” p. 186

These are not all the progressive beliefs that are mentioned in Alisa’s excellent book. Instead, these are the beliefs that she mentioned that stand out to me. The book also does a wonderful job of carefully explaining how these progressive beliefs are wrong and what the Word of God actually teaches. Again, I would encourage you to buy and read the book.

“As I’ve learned, progressive Christianity is not simply a shift in the Christian view of social issues. It’s not simply permission to embrace the messiness and authenticity in Christian life. It’s not simply a response to doubt, legalism, abuse, or hypocrisy. It’s an entirely different religion-with another Jesus-and another gospel.” p. 76

Quotes From “Born Again This Way” by Rachel Gilson (LGBT)

One of the most controversial topics in our culture, and in the church, is the issue of homosexuality. I have found lately that many Christians don’t even want to talk about issues like this because of the possible backlash by their family, friends and peers.

Recently I taught on this issue for about 25 minutes. You can find that talk HERE.

Rachel Gilson, I believe, does a good job of speaking biblical truth in a loving and gracious manner. In her book, “Born Again This Way”, Rachel explains in fascinating detail how she was immersed in a gay lifestyle and the changes that occurred because of her coming to know God and the truths in his Word.

In case you were wondering, I strongly recommend this book to you and anyone who wants to learn more regarding what the bible teaches about same-sex attraction.

Here are a few quotes from the book that stand out to me.

The hilarious theft of Mere Christianity

Not long after, I was in the room of an acquaintance. She was grabbing some item, and as I waited for her in her entryway, I spotted her bookshelf. It featured a small volume called Mere Christianity. The author’s name, C.S. Lewis, rang a faint bell, but I hadn’t been raised on The Chronicles of Narnia so I couldn’t place it. Nevertheless, I desperately wanted to read the book. So I stole it.

What is truth?

In this sense, I was obeying before I understood. To my mind, God’s prohibition on same-sex relationships made no sense. My heart fully embraced the “love is love” narrative-the logical move from “God is love” to “People fall in love” seemed to validate all consensual romantic adult relationships. Weren’t they all potential expressions of this higher reality? This seemed elegant and obvious. I wasn’t craving murder or theft, but love, intimacy, and companionship! I didn’t understand; but would I trust him? Would I take as truth my word or God’s?

Sometimes we wonder why we can’t have something we strongly desire (I thought this quote about the garden of Eden was wonderfully insightful!)

So instead of giving those first humans a law that seemed obvious, God chose one that seemed odd. He told them that they could not eat of one particular tree in their richly appointed garden. Think about that: the law was not to eat a fruit. It sounds almost ridiculous-after all, even vegans eat fruit! How could there be anything immoral in it when it didn’t even require an animal to die? What is the motivation to obey a law that seems nonsensical? It can only be deep trust in the one who asks.

(Now we have to ask how this applies to our views regarding sexuality)

Does it make me weird that I have strong contradictory desires?

How could I be caught between such contradictory desires? On the face of it they should have been mutually exclusive of each other. Yet maybe you too know how it feels to be torn between two camps. Your pull towards something forbidden feels as strong as a super-magnet. But it doesn’t extinguish your opposite pull toward Jesus, your real desire to honor him. You feel that you could be ripped down the middle. While the experience is alarming, God’s word assures us that it’s a challenge which is normal for the Christians.

Our desires are not a reliable compass

Perhaps you’ve heard a modern version of this blame shift. Our culture says that all sexual expression and desire is good and right, as long as there is consent. If you feel it, do it! So we conclude, “I feel these desires sincerely. I didn’t ask for them, therefore they must be from God. God doesn’t make mistakes.” This is just a different way of shifting the burden to God. Saying that those desires are from God simply because they exist is a confusion between God’s perfect will-what he desires actively for humanity-and God’s permissive will: that which he allows given the circumstances of redemptive history. He is clear throughout Scripture that our desires are not a compass for goodness because they are broken. He is the compass for goodness, and he tells us plainly what pleases him and what will result in our thriving.

Sometimes those who claim to love God give us really bad advice about sexuality

Our desires whisper lies in our ears. They gather steam from our culture and shout over any objections. For those of us who experience same-sex attraction, the danger is very real. Every piece of our culture is going out of its way to affirm that impulse that exists unchosen in us. Everywhere we turn, someone is telling us that freedom is found in obeying these desires. Sometimes the voice comes from those we trust most in this world: those who claim to love God.

Leaving sin can be agonizing

For those of us with same-sex attraction, denying those desires will feel like death, because it is. When I left Anna, it was agony every day for months. Yet it as completely worth it, just as Jesus had promised that we would gain our lives only by losing them.

Same-sex attracted people have a powerful ministry to offer the church

That grew eventually, like a pearl that takes years of irritation to form, into a realization that same-sex attracted Christians have unique and powerful ministries-that is, we serve the church and the world through our example of obedience. How so? Because we witness powerfully to the beauty of Jesus over romance. Because we embody the necessity of relying on him alone to choose holiness. And because we prophetically call the church to honor God and neighbor by neither taking away from nor adding to God’s word on sexuality.

What would it take to live a life of celibacy?

To choose celibacy, Jesus must be really precious to you. What a chance to testify that he is! What an opportunity to call into question the narrative of salvation-by romance, and to point to what all love dimly reflects. And not just with your words, but, like an Old Testament prophet, with your life. You only give up something awesome for something even better. I could only give up the pleasures of a girlfriend-even someday a wife-for the more pleasurable embrace of Christ.

The power of the beauty of Christ

Without the beauty of Jesus, we won’t leave the safety of our LGBT family.

Turning romance into an idol

I am persuaded that most people in the church have a vision of marriage as the consummation of romance, inseparable from it. This is why so many of us tend to end our marriages when the romance sputters. Too many decisions to marry are not calculated with everything in mind, because romance is present and strong. It reminds me of Jesus’s words in Luke 14:28: “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

Soulmates

One of the greatest deceptions of the modern West is the idea that you are not truly happy-or even truly alive-until you’ve found your soulmate.

Church must be a safe place to talk about these issues

I’m convinced that for both of us, being able to identify our attractions without shame early on has helped us to process them later in a healthy way in Christ. By contrast, many people who grow up in the church did not find it to be a safe place in which to discuss same-sex attraction, let alone to admit to experiencing it.

Should you call yourself a “gay Christian”?

And what then about the language question? Should you call yourself a “gay Christian”? Or should you use language like “same-sex attracted”?

I worry that calling oneself a gay or queer Christian creates too much opportunity for this part of our lives to shape our identities in ways that are unhelpful-to perhaps close us off from things God may want to do, or allow types of compromise with attraction. It’s all too easy to slide from recognizing something as true about myself to seeing it as the truth about myself. I want us to be sober and watchful in our language choices.

Let’s be kind and gracious to one another

But above all, I want us to be charitable to ourselves and toward each other. The stories of what God is doing may surprise, delight, or alarm us. Let’s listen to each other rather than shutting one another down. Let’s admonish one another in love, rather than firing shots at each other on social media. Let’s warn each other of sin, and point each other to the confounding grace of our Savior, rather than condemning one another as heretics or Pharisees without so much as a trial.