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My Best Friend Went to Hell

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My Best Friend-2Over the years I have come to realize that finding a real friend is not easy. Surely a real friend is more than just being on someone’s Facebook page at the click of a mouse. A friend is a lot more than a casual acquaintance you see at school or work. It is much more than being around someone you work with or walk past at school in the hallways between classes. It is much more than living in the same neighborhood. Finding real friends can be challenging at times.

When I was a kid, my friends were people I spent time with over many years. I knew all of them personally. We grew up in the same neighborhood, spent time together on camping trips, Cub Scout events, played on the same sports teams at school and did our homework at each other’s house once in a while. My friends were people I knew I could count on. If I had a problem or they needed me, we would be there for each other one way or another.

Should We Cut the Baby in Two?

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Solomon Baby Judgement-2As we continue to watch the recent deadly tensions in Israel between the Israelis and the Palestinians over the Land and control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, most people fail to see the profound issues that are under way. From Presidents to Popes, no one seems to have found any lasting answer about what to do. Finding a lasting peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis has turned into the most vexing political and spiritual problem in history.
 
At the heart of this conflict is the belief that the Israelis are occupying lands that belonged to the Palestinians before the State of Israel was reborn in 1948. The Israelis are seen by many as a group of people who stole the land from its rightful owners and continue to take more and more of it through their growing settlements. In addition to the land, there is also a spiritual issue at work as well on an even deeper level. The majority of Palestinians are Muslims and believe Jerusalem to be the 3rd holiest city to Islam after Mecca and Medina. This belief has led to charges that the Israelis are trying to steal the Temple Mount and Jerusalem away from them.

Why Socialism Is Destined to Fail

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Churchill-Quote-2I sat back this past week and watched the Democratic Presidential Debates. It seemed like every sound byte was another candidate talking about another promised giveaway program that seems to be meant to buy votes. Some of the candidates even wanted to give away money to people who were not citizens. Sadly, we are truly nearing the end of this Country as we know it.  Back in 1776, around the time of our Nation’s founding, a European historian, Alexander Fraser Tytler, published a work entitled, “The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic.”  In his work, Tytler made the following observation:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loss of fiscal responsibility, always followed by a dictatorship. The average of the world's great civilizations before they decline has been 200 years. These nations have progressed in this sequence: 
 From bondage to spiritual faith,
 From spiritual faith to great courage,
 From courage to liberty,
 From liberty to abundance,
 From abundance to selfishness,
 From selfishness to complacency,
 From complacency to apathy,
 From apathy to dependency,
 From dependency back again to bondage.

Have You Heard of the Gospel of Judas?

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30 PiecesIf there is one name that is universally recognized for betrayal and evil it is Judas Iscariot. The name of Judas is infamous in the minds of people around the world and throughout history.

Something went wrong with Judas and his understanding of Jesus and why He came into the world. Judas wanted another Jesus. He didn’t value and love the real Jesus. Judas wanted Jesus to fulfill his ideas of ministry, so when the Cross came near, Judas sold our Lord over for 30 pieces of silver to the religious leaders. Many books have been written and sermons given on why Judas betrayed our Lord. While we may never know the real reason with precision, an excellent case can be made for what Judas was thinking. The reason I say that is because the same thinking is going on today in the Church world.

You see, Judas’s real focus was on this life. Like many of the Jews of his day, he looked for an earthly salvation. He wanted a conquering king like David of old, who could empower Israel and restore her to greatness over enemies like the Romans. Judas did not want the Cross. He wasn’t concerned about sin or the spiritual solution to that problem. He was more interested in earthly solutions that met his needs.  In the end, Judas created his own “gospel.”

Are We Living in Virtual Reality?

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GamerJust the other day, Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook, was pictured wearing a virtual reality headset. Facebook is investing billions of dollars to explore taking their social networking to another level, by incorporating it with virtual reality. Many people may not be aware of “virtual reality,” but it is an attempt to create reality for people using technology. People are fitted with headsets and other controls to allow them to experience life in another dimension. According to Wikipedia:

“Virtual Reality (VR), which can be referred to as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated life, replicates an environment that simulates physical presence in places in the real world or imagined worlds and lets the user interact in that world. Virtual reality artificially creates sensory experiences, which can include sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, and more.”

The Ground Zero of God's Love

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Temple Mount-2This past week has marked yet another season of murder, violence and tension surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. What else is new? The Temple Mount area, and the surrounding Old City of Jerusalem, has become the most fought over area in human history. This pattern has seemingly gone on for the last 4000 years or so…..ever since Abraham visited the area with his son Isaac in Genesis 22. When you visit Jerusalem today, one never knows if you will be able to visit the location or not due to the unpredictable political and spiritual issues surrounding the area.  It is as though the tensions of the whole world are somehow contained in that small piece of ground. While few may care or even understand the issues, all of our lives are somehow eternally connected to those few acres in Jerusalem, its’ peace and future. Jerusalem has truly become the “Ground Zero” for every event in our world today.

The current tensions on the Temple Mount primarily express a conflict between Jews and Muslims. The Jews see the Temple Mount as the location of their two holy temples built by Solomon and Zerubbabel, where they worshipped the God of Israel. Muslims, however, refuse to even acknowledge that these temples were ever built there, let alone expressed true worship to the true God. Instead, the Muslims believe that this area is central to the Islamic faith. Regarding this issue, Wikipedia states:

Welcome to Starbucks Community Church

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Coffee-creamDuring my past 30 years or so of ministry I have watched a growing phenomenon emerging in the Church world that has shaped American Christianity like nothing else. It is the rise of the Mega Church. It kind of started with Pastor Bill Hybels doing market research in the Chicago area about what people liked and didn’t like about a typical church. That market research birthed what became the Willow Creek Association and a new way of doing church. Many others have joined this movement. Some of these leaders have become celebrities that are widely known around the world. While I am not sure Bill Hybels or anyone in this movement would agree, the movement seemed to move the Church more toward the audience’s wants and less toward God’s Word and will…..at least at first glance. It was and is assumed by the architects of this movement, that the Lord would still be there, whatever was done in His Name. The message of this movement came down to almost a simple slogan that went something like this, “same message different methods.”

What started as a more audience driven ministry has really blossomed. As an example, I recently read about a large church in Texas and its ministry to over 24,000 members that continues to rapidly grow. Their 140 acre campus has a health club, game arcade, sports field and a food court with a series of restaurants including a Starbucks. Kids love to go, and why not? Everyone is having fun and getting their needs met. It surely seems to beat “boring old church.” The pastor gives an altar call every week and it seems things just couldn’t be better, almost a heaven on earth. As a matter of fact, there really isn’t a Country Club in the area that could beat it. It finally appears the Church has beaten the world at attracting people. Who wouldn’t want to belong to such a place or go forward and accept Christ? After all, you get the best of this life and a trip to Heaven when your fun is over. Sign me up, right?  You can find a version of the above in almost every city in the Country and it shows no sign of stopping. Some of these mega churches are becoming larger than an average size town or small city. Things are so good, you might even wonder if the Lord has returned.

What about Russia?

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saint basils cathedral moscow 5163351One of the hardest things to watch these days are the silly attempts by our political leaders in Washington to totally ignore reality in their mishandling of foreign policy. There seems to be no end to it. While volumes could be written about the current chaos with the Iran “deal,” there seems to be a close runner up. The runner up candidate goes to our dealings with Russia and their leader, Vladimir Putin.

A few years ago on March 6, 2009, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, held a media event in which she presented the Russian diplomatic leader, Sergei Lavrov, a symbolic red button they were both to publicly push at a joint meeting. Pushing the red button was supposed to signify a new beginning of relations between the USA and Russia. It was as if all you had to do was push a button in front of cameras and world history and the Bible would be changed in a moment. It’s hard to believe people believe such things….but they do. Looking back now, most of the world realizes all of this was a silly publicity stunt which has now been shown to be very dangerous to the peace and security of the entire world.

Knowing the Lord

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Knowing Christ LakeJust the other day, a person sent me a devotional from a local mega church that said the goal of the Great Commission is to be more like Jesus. The devotional read:

Today, as you open your hands and welcome God into your day, think of a significant relationship and one thing you can do (in the next few days) to encourage that person to be more like the Christ. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something big or dramatic, but think of something you can continually do as you help them become more like Jesus.
 
While the sentiments of the above devotional sound good on the surface, they reveal a very serious problem going on in the Church world today. Huge numbers of churches are sharing a message that has nothing to do with the Gospel or the Lord’s goal in redemptive history. Many people have come to believe that the Lord’s main goal for us is to be like Jesus, follow His example, be a good person and live a moral life of love and service to others. Millions of people are reading devotionals like the one above and hearing messages in their churches that we need to help others “become more like Jesus.” Somehow the salvation and Savior part of the Great Commission and resulting fruit of real discipleship is being confused or lost altogether. If we are not careful, people will be led into self-improvement through their good works and human efforts and the finished work of the Cross will not even be in focus.

Have You Heard of the Days of Awe?

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Separated until the veil-3If there is one area where Christians and Jews miss each other today it is the fact that we have a different understanding of our holidays. As an example, Christians have Good Friday, while Jews have Passover. However separate their meaning is to each faith, these two holidays are very closely related. The Jews celebrate the Passover deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Christians celebrate the deliverance from sin through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. What each group commemorates actually happened on the same Hebrew calendar date. In reality they actually are the same event, as they have the same meaning….deliverance from bondage. That said, most Christians and Jews still live in totally different worlds. Christians joyously affirm that our Lord Jesus Christ is Israel’s Messiah and deliverer, while most Jews today are still waiting for the coming of the Messiah.

If you look at your calendar this month, you will find that September 23 is another Jewish holiday that most Christians have missed. It is the holiday of Yom Kippur, set on the Hebrew calendar day of Tishri 10. Yom Kippur is seen by the Jewish people as the most holy day of their year. All over the world they celebrate this holiday outlined in Leviticus 16 that gave their Nation a wonderful way to find grace and favor with the Lord. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and made an offering of atonement for sins of the Nation to maintain God’s covenant with them.

The Pope and Prophecy

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President and PopePresident Obama is currently in the midst of hosting Pope Francis in Washington. It is an historic visit for sure. Only two other Popes have ever visited the White House, his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, and Pope John Paul II in 1979. Pope Francis, however, will be the first Pope ever to address Congress. Over the years, many people have asked me questions about the Pope and any role he might play in Bible prophecy. Whatever view you have about the Pope and prophecy, we can’t totally ignore the fact that there are important things under way.

Both Pope Francis and President Obama seem to be kindred spirits on topics like the problems with Capitalism, need for more open immigration and the need to address supposed climate change. Both leaders talk a lot about social justice on a global level and the need for wealth redistribution. However, what is fascinating and troubling at the same time, is that there is no stated plan to talk about the recent genocide of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS, even though both leaders are professing Christians. There is no plan on talking over the nuclear “deal” with Iran that threatens to destroy Israel, and spread terrorism around the world. There also appears to be no plan on talking with the President about abortion and the selling of aborted children’s body parts, as seen in the recent Planned Parenthood videos, or any clear discussion about the removal of marriage definitions from the USA by the Supreme Court and the Obama Administration. Surely one would have thought such things were important enough to the Pope to be key issues for discussion with the President. We can certainly hope such discussions take place, but it seems unlikely right now. It appears the Pope's visit may be more about global politics than the Gospel.

The Great Debates of Life

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I spent part of my evening last night watching another round of the “Republican Presidential Debates.” It was fascinating to watch a bunch of smart people argue and debate about every possible issue. Each of the candidates is very passionate that they are right and would be the best President, while others are not so right….or just plain wrong.

What we see taking place in our political arena is exactly what happens to all of us every day. These debates cover every subject, and everyone seems to have a passionate opinion. People will debate and argue about the best football team, the best college, the best way to worship, how to grow a garden the right way, the worst presidential candidate and the best. I really think it would be impossible to find a topic people don’t have a passionate opinion about. And, of course, everyone thinks they are right.

Jesus and the Trump Factor

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Boldness
It’s rare that a political figure captivates the media and the country the way Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has of late. Whether you hate him or love him, he surely isn’t boring.  He has taken the political process by storm, and that shows no signs of letting up. He speaks his mind and doesn’t care what people think about him. For some he represents the kind of leadership the country has needed for a long time. He is rich, bold, and appears not to be controlled by any special interest groups. When he speaks, he acts like he owns the place and doesn’t care whose toes he steps on. He promises people that he will “Make America Great Again” by cleaning house and driving out those standing in the way. Donald Trump is truly an American political phenomenon.

What few, if any, have seen in Trump’s candidacy is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, when our Lord came the first time, the religious establishment of Israel was taken over by special interest groups. The Temple, which was the center of their religious life, was run and controlled by the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

Understanding Holocausts

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Never AgainHave you ever heard someone say, “Never Again,” referring to an event of history?  That phrase is always used to refer to the Holocaust during World War II in which over 6 million Jews were murdered, largely in the crematoriums of the Nazi regime.  The phrase “Never Again” is designed to express moral outrage for what happened and to serve as a powerful statement to make sure it never happens again. Because the Holocaust evokes such horror in the minds of most people, any time its memory is brought back you have an audience. So when former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, now presidential candidate, accused the Obama Administration last week of marching the Jews in Israel to the ovens of the Holocaust in their nuclear deal with Iran,  it created a media sensation and deep reaction around the world.

Returning to Chaos

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Chaos
If there is one word I would use to describe the world’s conditions today it would be chaos. None of us can even begin to stay up with the moral and spiritual chaos and confusion unfolding around us. Many of us are numb to the news, the constant battles, political fighting, terrorism, violence and lack of meaning out there. And worst of all is the fact few have any answers on what to do about it.  We hear 100 opinions every day from politicians, the media, scientists, professors, and other supposed experts, but almost no one can ever agree on anything. All of this leads to some important questions: Is life supposed to be this way? Are there any answers out there? Is there any hope for our children? What are we supposed to do? Is life just a bunch of chaos ... and then we die?

Now the interesting thing about today’s world is that it is a replay of conditions before the world was even here. If you go back to Genesis 1:1-3, the world started out in chaos and darkness. Sound familiar? Everything was chaotic and nothing made much sense. Suddenly, the Spirit of God began to move and God spoke for the first time in history and said, “Let there be light.”  That one phrase changed everything. Not only did life begin, but God said it all was very good.  God was so happy with the order, beauty, and glory of the world that He rested because there was nothing more to do.

Israel Alone

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be my friend 2
I wonder what the conversations are like in Israel today about Iran. I wonder what Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is thinking right now about Israel’s’ relationship to the United States.  Surely the Israelis have to be worried and concerned after the world’s recent nuclear “deal” with Iran.  After all, a thousand miles away in Tehran, the leaders of Iran are plotting to destroy them and make no apologies about saying it publicly on a weekly basis. Some Iranian leaders have even spoken about finishing what Hitler started in Europe. Not exactly the kind of language that gives you much peace and security for the future.

What has started to dawn on the Israelis in the last few months is that they are alone in world.  When the State of Israel was first resurrected as a modern nation back in May of 1948, the United States was her best friend. President Harry Truman not only became the first world leader to support the new state, but started a strong relationship with Israel that has continued with every successive American administration ... until now.  As the drama and tension between the Obama Administration and Israel has continued to ramp up, the Israelis have never felt so alone and confused.  What do they do?  Where do they turn?  Who are their real friends?  What’s next?

Killing Our Consciences

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conscience 2
It’s the underreported story that could make you cry. At least for those who heard the real details of the story.  Officials at Planned Parenthood have been selling aborted children’s body parts to make money for themselves.  Perhaps the worst of it was the recent interview with Dr. Mary Gatter, who was president of Planned Parenthood Medical Director’s Council until 2014, and still advices the organization. Dr. Gatter wanted to get more money for the children’s body parts so she could buy a Lamborghini, a fancy Italian sports car.  The coldness and evil of this story has even shocked veteran news people.

America has been on this road a long time. Ever since abortion was legalized in 1973, when Roe vs. Wade decision was issued, human life has increasingly been devalued.Abortion is a business, so we can’t be totally surprised when people are trying to make more money from it.  What is so shocking is the coldness of well-educated people in the medical community to the suffering and death of these children for money. The last time the medical community behaved like this was in Nazi Germany. Sadly, these children were someone’s son or daughter, they were someone’s grandchild.  They were Americans that never got to enjoy life and live the American Dream.  They never rode a bicycle, blew out birthday candles or got married. They were murdered and that crime didn’t end with their death. Now we are told someone not only killed them, but profited from their death, purely out of self-interest and materialism.

Covenants with Death

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neville chamberlain
I have never seen anything like it in my life time, have you? The Obama Administration has just forced on the world a nuclear deal with Iran that few can believe.  Never mind that Iran is the most notorious terrorist nation in the world. Never mind it is a nation that swears to destroy Israel and America on a weekly basis. Never mind it is a nation committed to arming Israel’s enemies like Syria, Hamas in Israel, and Hezbollah in Lebanon to carry out their evil agenda.  Never mind their leadership openly talks of starting a world war to bring the Mahdi forth and create an Islamic paradise.  Even the name of their country was changed from Persia to Iran out of support for the Nazi’s Aryan (Iranian) anti-Semitic worldview before World War II. In some ways, the nation of Iran is the modern devil in the world today. How ironic that they use that term, “the great Satan,” for America, while Israel is seen as the “the little Satan.”

The Apple Bytes Back

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apple 2Can you imagine taking away a person’s cell phone these days without them having an anxiety attack? Many of our young people seem to have fallen under the spell of their phones and treat it like a best friend. The power of this technology is so profound that we scarcely have any idea what it is doing to our lives and our world today.I wish every person in the world could read this article. My reason for saying that is because it would be wonderful for people to have some idea about the real, spiritual meaning of this technology in our lives.  Sadly, it appears that few have any idea about the Biblical and prophetic role of technology and where all of this is going.

When the founders of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, had a vision of a personal computer on everyone’s desk back in 1976, people probably thought they were a little crazy. Certainly no one ever dreamed that less than 40 years later there would be an Apple in everyone’s hand. The brand name “Apple” has probably become the most recognized symbol of technology in the world today making the founders and shareholders of Apple Computer incredibly wealthy.

The Runaway Bride

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Running BrideFor many Christians, one of the hardest things to do is to see oneself as part of the Bride of Christ.   Some have never even heard of the Church being a Bride.  Perhaps it is too personal, too close, to see the Lord as the Bridegroom and us as the Bride.  Maybe it’s uncomfortable to think of God living with us day to day like a spouse.  After all, do we really want that kind of accountability in our lives with the Lord? Isn’t the Lord just for Sundays, funerals, baptisms, weddings, and when we need help?  And then there are the sexual identity problems.  How do Christian men see themselves as a “Bride”?

The problem, however, with all of these struggles is that if we don’t see the Lord as a Bridegroom and the Church as a Bride, then we can’t understand life and the Institution of Marriage between a man and a woman. 
The world performs millions of marriages every year and in every faith. And yet people remain, for the most part, clueless to the meaning of the event they’re celebrating as a high point in their lives. We all need to stop and ask ourselves, “What is this ceremony or institution all about?” Surely, we didn’t invent things like men, women, virginity, sex, honeymoons, wedding receptions, unity candles, the father giving away the bride, the best man, white dresses for the bride, resulting children, families...  I could go on. No, all of these things are not just religious or cultural traditions invented by us. The Lord created marriage, and all the items mentioned above, to be a sermon series about His love for us.

Christians in the Lion's Den

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It is the most underreported story of 2015. The story I am talking about is the persecution of Christians around the world... and closer to home. More Christians are being marginalized, persecuted, attacked, and killed than at any time in history.  

Sadly, most of these stories are being buried by the media and our leaders in government to promote their own political agendas. Even President Obama, a professing Christian, has remained virtually silent on the subject.  No one wants to talk about it.

The persecution of Christians is hardly something new for the Church or for the saints in the Bible. It is found throughout the Old and New Testaments and regularly in Church history. The Lord Jesus said it would be part of the Christian life in John 15:18-21 and our Lord’s prophetic words are coming to pass before our eyes.

Savoring the Savior

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hallelujah
I have never been attrascted to people who are always negative. I think that is true of most of us. As a pastor, I have been called to preach the Gospel. Now as part of that calling, there is always the danger of being seen as too negative. After all, we have to mention sin because without sin there is no reason for a Savior. Jesus is not a divine success coach, or someone to help us feel better, or just a role model for a good life. The Lord Jesus is our Savior, who satisfies the wrath of God against sin through the Cross and gives us life eternal and victory over sin, death, and Hell.

Worldview 101: the Great Culture Wars

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sunrise
In my 30 years as a teaching pastor, I have met few people who have really understood the idea of a “worldview.”  A worldview is how you view the world.  It ultimately reflects your view of the Lord and what life is all about.  So it is much more than a person’s viewpoint as a “liberal” or a “conservative,” “Democratic” or “Republican”, which seems to dominate our public discourse.  It deals with eternity and the spiritual intangibles of life.

All of our battles today are about worldview.  That battle found a lightning rod in last week’s Supreme Court decision to support Gay Marriage, but it really has been driving every disagreement and conflict. Gaining clarity about a person’s worldview is the only way to make sense of life.  Most of us got our worldviews from our families and/or religious traditions.