Good News for 2017

2017Check out the audio version here.

Take a look at our passage for today found in Rom. 10:11-15.

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.”

I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2016.  There were some items that people will consider good news while most people will consider it all bad. Here are the top news stories of 2016 according to AP.

  1. US ELECTION: This year’s top story traces back to June 2015, when Donald Trump descended an escalator in Trump Tower, his bastion in New York City, to announce he would run for president. Widely viewed as a long shot, with an unconventional campaign featuring raucous rallies and pugnacious tweets, he outlasted 16 Republican rivals. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton beat back an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, and won the popular vote over Trump. But he won key Rust Belt states to get the most electoral votes, and will enter the White House with Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.
  2. BREXIT: Confounding pollsters and odds makers, Britons voted in June to leave the European Union, triggering financial and political upheaval. David Cameron resigned as prime minister soon after the vote, leaving the task of negotiating an exit to a reshaped Conservative government led by Theresa May. Under a tentative timetable, final details of the withdrawal might not be known until the spring of 2019.
  3. BLACK MEN KILLED BY POLICE: One day apart, police in Baton Rouge, LA, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and a white police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. Coming after several similar cases in recent years, the killings rekindled debate over policing practices and the Black Lives Matter movement.
  4. PULSE NIGHTCLUB MASSACRE: The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded on Latin Night at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people over the course of three hours before dying in a shootout with SWAT team members. During the standoff, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
  5. WORLDWIDE TERROR ATTACKS: Across the globe, extremist attacks flared at a relentless pace throughout the year. Among the many high-profile attacks were those that targeted airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a park teeming with families and children in Pakistan, and the seafront boulevard in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed when a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration. In Iraq alone, many hundreds of civilians were killed in repeated bombings.
  6. ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ambushes and targeted attacks on police officers in the U.S. claimed at least 20 lives. The victims included five officers in Dallas working to keep the peace at a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in MN and LA. Ten days after that attack, a man killed three officers in Baton Rouge, LA. In Iowa, two policemen were fatally shot in separate ambush-style attacks while sitting in their patrol cars.
  7. DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMAIL LEAKS: Hacked emails, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed at-times embarrassing details from Democratic Party operatives in run-up to Election Day, leading to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials. The CIA later concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hacking in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton.
  8. SYRIA: Repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia’s help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction.
  9. SUPREME COURT: After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to fill the vacancy. However, majority Republicans in the Senate refused to consider the nomination, opting to leave the seat vacant so it could be filled by the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump has promised to appoint a conservative in the mold of Scalia.
  10. HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS: Amid the presidential campaign, the FBI conducted an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails she sent and received as secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton for carelessness but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges.

Those are just the top stories and you might argue there was one piece of good news, but the rest are clearly what we would call bad news. We typically focus only on bad news.

As Christ followers, we have the privilege to share the good news that is always good. The good news we have is called the Gospel. We just celebrated Christmas which tells the story of how Jesus was conceived of a virgin and born into this world. We must go further and tell people that He lived a sinless life as He walked the road to Calvary where He willingly gave up His life so that we could be reconciled with God. Jesus died on that cross, but three days later, He rose again defeating death. He was seen walking about by the multitudes and He gave people hope. Jesus ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. That’s all exceedingly good news. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

As we move into the New Year, there’s going to be crises, challenges, and problems. Let’s focus on living for Christ in spite of our circumstances. Let’s adjust our attitudes and focus on the positive.

As I look forward to the coming year, there are a few things I would like to see happen:

I’d like to see people truly commit their life to Christ. It’s clear that this is what God wants: 1 Tim. 2:4 says, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Somewhere along the way, we decided that sin is relative. There is no standard of conduct, but the Bible is very clear that we have a sin problem. Rom. 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Is. 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But I have more good news: God has given up on us. God draws us to Him through the power of the Spirit. Jo. 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” God made a way through Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We have been justified in Christ: we are declared righteous based on the merits of Jesus. We have been sanctified: Christ’s righteousness is applied to each of us every single day. It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone knows they’re welcome at the foot of the cross. Jo. 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Peter said it this way:“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Pet. 3:9) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (Jo. 3:16) You don’t have to be a certain way to get Christ, come as you are.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about their personal faith and ministry. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in the life of the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 records his conversion experience. The same Holy Spirit that transformed that murderer into an apostle lives in us so why do we have such low expectations from Christians today? Saul was lost. He finally recognized where he was without Christ and made a decision to follow Him and immediately began preaching. The people of the day were confused at this miraculous transformation, but that didn’t deter Saul from telling others what had happened. Acts 9:22says, “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” We need a renewed passion for Christ.

These days, a general commitment to Christ substitutes for repentance. We’re satisfied with mediocrity; we’re satisfied being halfway committed to Christ and His bride. Committed means to be wholeheartedly dedicated. I often say I wish people would be half as committed to their walk of faith as they are their favorite sports team. Faithfulness has been replaced by casualness. We spend a lot of time and energy engaged in things that don’t really matter when you consider eternity. We have a tendency to take things for granted. We think God will always be there and we’ll start really serving Him when we’re ready or when we have time. Remember Saul persecuted the church and then met God and his life was never the same. Today we have people meet this same God and their lives are no different. What’s really disturbing about that is many people in the church are okay with it.

In 2017, I’d love to see people get passionate about God. I’d like to see people take Bible study with us. In 2016, we had over 200 people take Bible study with us in person and online and studied the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and now we’re studying God’s covenants. What I have observed over the last 17 years I’ve been in ministry is that people who consistently study and apply the Bible to their lives grow stronger in their faith. When the challenges of life occur, you’re better equipped to handle it. Other people will see this and ask you how you did it. You use that as a springboard to tell people about the power of God that is available to them. It would be really nice if that power you speak of is evident in your own life. More often than not, we treat God as the genie in the bottle. We reach for Him when we want something and then we put Him back on the shelf for another day. That is not how you worship the God of the universe. We’ve got it backwards: we look for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him.

I think we have a tendency be complacent. Matt. 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” To put anything above the Lord is foolish, but we do it all the time. I think few people would admit that, but our actions speak louder than our words. I’d like to see people get more involved in the opportunities we have here. I think we’ve gotten lazy in our faith. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work hard. Fewer and fewer people make themselves available to do the hard, stressful, and emotionally draining work of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are willing to persevere. More and more people say no to serving in the church What have you said yes to? I’d like to see people really make connections with others. There are people very casual about participation in the things of the church. We have people that miss one, two, three, four weeks and no one seems to notice and if they do notice, nothing comes of it. I’d like to see people participate in intentional ministry.

I’d like God’s people resist Satan. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (Ja. 4:7) We cannot resist the devil in our own strength. We must first submit ourselves to God.  Then we can stand against Satan in the strength and might of the Lord Himself. Resist his destructive plans. Satan is a destroyer. He will try to destroy your home, your church relationship, your testimony, etc. Once you say yes to Satan, it becomes easier the next time, and easier. Satan’s way is never good, but unfortunately, even Christians are too ignorant to recognize this. Stay far from sin. Don’t see how close you can get.

I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2017. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised in John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” We’re too attached to this temporary home. We work to have things that will pass away. We spend the majority of our time on things that have no bearing on eternity.

What do you want to hear and see by the end of next year? How many will you share Christ with? How will you serve the Lord by serving others? Will you live the life of holiness God has called you to live? How authentic will you be?


Does Conversion Mean Change?

ArrowYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the parable of the minas. We learned that Jesus will hold us accountable for stewardship; He’ll reward faithfulness and judge disobedience. Every one of us, every child of God is to do God’s business until He comes back. This morning we’ll ask the question “When a person genuinely turns to the Lord, should that change their approach to money?” In what ways does a real relationship with God impact our values?

I encourage you to take the time and turn to Luke 3:10-14.

Here’s the back story. John has come on the scene and is preaching in the area of the Jordan River. We need to take a look at John’s view of salvation. To keep it in context, Lu. 3:3 says, “And he [John] came in to all the district around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” Repentance literally means change of mind. For John, salvation meant change and it should mean change for us too. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17) John preached about turning away from sin and to God. This change is not only possible when you have a relationship with Christ, it is expected.

In v. 7, John calls a group of people vipers. That seems pretty harsh given his message of forgiveness in Christ. Vipers are poisonous. You need to stay away from poisonous  snakes. They are dangerous. John is really asking them, “Who told you that getting baptized will protect you from the coming wrath?” John’s implied answer is, “Not me!” He is addressing insincere converts, people who have a salvation that is in words only. Maybe they’re caught up in emotion.  Maybe they’re friends are doing it. Maybe they’re out to get something. The real reason these vipers are coming is not stated, but John is very clear about why he speaks about a, “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” according to v. 3. Verse 8 tells the story: “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” There are certain things that must happen following true conversion. Baptism and holy living go hand in hand. Baptism is the outward expression of what occurred inside.

It has become far too simple in the church today. People claim to know Jesus Christ, yet there is no change in their lives. Salvation involves a total change of mindset, life, and direction. John says to, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Lu. 6:43-45 says, “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Back in Lu. 3:8 John says, “Do not begin to say ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” In Jo. 8:37 Jesus said, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.” In other words, if there is no repentance, it doesn’t matter who your daddy is. John brings this sobering line of reasoning to a close by saying, “Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Lu. 3:9)

John goes on to provide some practical instructions. In v. 10 the crowds ask John, “Then what shall we do?” John told them that real repentance brings forth good fruit that result from a change of heart. Don’t think John is talking about a salvation based on works. To demonstrate that, John says in v. 11, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him that has none, and he who has food is to do likewise.” Clothing and food are consistent with 1 Tim. 6:8 that we saw in part 1 of this series. This instruction is consistent with O.T. teachings found in Job, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Any real faith must have social concern for the poor and unfortunate. Caring for the poor among us is a common theme in Luke’s writings. Lu. 6:30, “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.” Lu. 12:33, “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.” Lu. 18:22, “When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Repentance results in change. According to Luke, this change should involve possessions.

The tax collectors ask John the same question in v. 12, What shall we do?”     This is really interesting. Being a tax collector was synonymous with sin. Regarding church discipline in Matt. 18:17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Jesus compared someone unrepentant with a tax collector. The gospel message is not just for some people. People say God can’t or won’t save me because of  . . . . you fill in the blank. Tax collectors were some of the most despised people in the community. Their testimony in a court of law wouldn’t be accepted. These tax collectors were Jews that worked for the Roman government; they collected more than was owed. We would call them thieves, but even thieves can repent. What are they to do? “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to” (Lu. 3:13) Notice they didn’t have to quit their job, just become honest.

The final group, the soldiers ask John, “And what about us? What shall we do?” These soldiers were likely Jews who signed up for military service or were conscripted by the government. They received little pay, but could force people to give them money. John says, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” Like the tax collectors, the soldiers were charged to become honest.


What’s this all mean? According to John, repentance is not confined to religious acts or private life. True repentance impacts your work; it impacts your private and public life.

Therefore, true repentance impacts your stewardship. No matter who you are, you are to share what you have with others. No matter who you are, you’re to be honest in your business and private dealings. That’s the power of Christ’s transformation of the heart.

God’s Reaction to Repentance

You can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we saw Jonah taking advantage of the second chance he was given. He diligently preached God’s message to Nineveh and as a result, the most miraculous transformation in history took place. Everyone from the king down to the most common of people came to recognize the truth of God. The truth resulted in people turning from wickedness to God. The king did what was right and if God wanted to relent and withdraw His judgment, that would be cool. Let’s see what happens next.

Our story continues in Jonah 3:10-4:3 that says, When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”

God’s mercy is revealed in Nineveh. Ever vigilant, ever seeing, v. 10 tells us, When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.True repentance leads to mercy, but God is not obligated to give us mercy. It wasn’t the prayers and fasting that led to God relenting although that was good. God relented only after, “They turned from their wicked way.” True repentance always leads to a change of heart, a change of attitude, a change in direction. You cannot say you’re sorry for your actions and continue engaging in the same actions. You cannot say you have a relationship with God and continue to hate your brother, to practice immorality, to continue to lie, cheat, and steal. Actions speak way louder than words. This is really brought home in 1 Jo. 2:1-6. John says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” I don’t know how you can get any clearer than that.

Nineveh turned from their wickedness and God did as the king hoped – He relented. No fire, no brimstone as had occurred in Sodom and Gomorrah. Nobody struck dead where they stood. Are you asking yourself, “But wait a minute, then Jonah’s prophecy didn’t come true and he is a false prophet that should be stoned to death.” In order to understand what just happened, we need to know what the word relent means. It’s also translated as repent or to change your mind. God changing His mind is a hard concept for us. At Nineveh’s repentance, God changed His mind about overthrowing the city. This is consistent with His justice, His mercy, and His righteousness. I often say God can do anything because He is God. I think everyone understands fundamentally what I’m saying, but God can’t really do anything. He can’t break a promise; He can’t lie; He cannot do anything against His inherent character. Ja. 1:17 reminds us that, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  Heb. 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” God always does what He says He’s going to do, but if a condition is met that was previously established, God can change the course of action to suit His purpose. Moses frequently prayed that Israel wouldn’t be destroyed because of their sinful behavior. In fact, the O.T. is full of examples where God responds to His people.

Nineveh recognized the truth that Jonah told them and they turned from sin to God. It must have been genuine repentance or else God wouldn’t have changed the plan. God’s desire is that people turn to Him. 2 Pet. 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God loves you with an incredible love and wants to spend eternity with you. He will do whatever it takes to get your attention. God’s goal for Nineveh was not destruction, but for repentance and reconciliation between Him and the sinners in that city.

And now for something completely different. We see God’s mercy poured out on Nineveh. For a preacher of God’s Word, this is an incredible response. Peter preached his first message and 3000 people were saved. That’s huge, right? Not compared to Jonah’s message. The response in Nineveh was overwhelming. Everyone responded to the truth of God’s messenger. Oh what a feeling! Jonah has got to be over the moon. Here’s the contrast: Nineveh repented, God relented. Joy all around. Verse 1 says, “But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.” This is not a normal response when people are radically and totally transformed by the Gospel. Why was Jonah so angry? The Scripture is not clear, but there are several possibilities. Remember Assyria was led by wicked leaders that wanted to rule the world. Assyria threatened Israel’s existence and was a likely target. Some say that Jonah was embarrassed that his prediction for destruction did not come true and as a result he lost credibility as a prophet. Others suggest Jonah believed Israel’s devotion to God was declining and this judgment would cause Israel to wake up and serve as a reminder to the Hebrew people that God is God. While the exact reason for Jonah’s anger is not known, this is what we do know. Jonah’s response to Nineveh’s salvation is not a godly one. That’s really an understatement. How much do you have to hate someone to be angry because they responded to what you told them to do? If Jonah’s initial disobedience was not an indication, then his response to Nineveh’s repentance clearly leads you to the conclusion that his heart is not right with God. How quickly Jonah forgot his responsibility to God and the great privilege to be a part of God’s plan.

Jonah’s lame explanation. Verse 2 gives us some insight into Jonah’s heart. He knew exactly what would happen in Nineveh and confesses to the Lord. It’s good that Jonah prayed, but his prayer is a prayer of selfishness, a prayer of complaint – the pronoun “I” occurs four times in this verse. This is way different than his prayer back in 2:2-9. What happened to Jonah’s confession that, “salvation is from the Lord?” Isn’t that the possibility for everyone? People just need to hear the truth of the Messiah? At some point after God told Jonah to go the first time, there was some discussion between the two. In v. 2 Jonah says, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country.” What Jonah anticipated God doing happened and Jonah was the tool God chose to achieve His goal. Jonah was thinking of himself, not the kingdom. Instead of showering Nineveh with the same kind of grace God had granted to Israel, Jonah wanted Nineveh destroyed without the opportunity to repent. Will we join Paul by saying, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31) It’s easy for us to think that God loves us more than our enemies or the enemies of God. We wrongly conclude that God could never love those people that are bent on our destruction, that desire to hurt us, that desire to cripple our country, and our faith. See that’s what happened to Jonah. He was focused on himself. He lacked the wisdom to keep his mouth shut and essentially tells God, “I told you so.” That was his excuse for running to Tarshish. In Jonah’s mind, if he could just delay his trip to Nineveh, maybe God would destroy the place before he got there. Don’t think that Jonah doesn’t know who God is or has a skewed view of Him. He tells on himself in the second part of v. 2. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” Talk about hypocrisy.

Let’s recap. The Word of God comes to Jonah and tells him to go to Nineveh. Jonah jumps on a boat to flee from the presence of the Lord. God throws a storm at the boat. It was determined that Jonah was the cause. The sailors throw him overboard. Jonah hits the water, a fish swallows him and the storm stops. Jonah recognizes his rebellion and begs God for a second chance. God grants a second chance and the fish vomits Jonah onto dry land. Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches what God tells him to preach. All the people in Nineveh recognize their sin and repent. God changes the course for Nineveh because they repented. Jonah gets mad because God is loving and kind. What Jonah tells God is really a quote from Ex. 34:6, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” These people didn’t deserve God’s lovingkindness. At least that’s what Jonah thinks. Since Nineveh repented, Jonah told God, “Please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” How much hatred must be in a person’s heart that he’d rather be dead than see people converted? No joy that God used Jonah in a mighty way. No eager anticipation to see how God would miraculously change these people’s hearts and lives. No thought of how many other people could be reached with the Good News because these people turned from wickedness to God. That’s the problem; Jonah cared about Nineveh getting what he thought they deserved. Jonah forgot all about the grace he was shown and the salvation God provided to him. What’s even more offensive is that Jonah begged God to save him back in chapter 2 and now he would rather be dead.

We cannot forget the love of God that applies unconditionally to humanity. John 3:16 is always applicable. Salvation is not based on our goodness or badness. It’s not based on what we do or have done; it’s all based on what God did through Jesus Christ. Just because we are saved by grace, that is no excuse or justification to live outside of God’s will. Each of us has a mission.