A note for Teens…

A mom I know from the local church asked several of the men, myself included, to write a letter to her son for his thirteenth birthday. Unusual but interesting request. I applaud her desire for diverse perspectives and encouragement for her son from people who have a relationship with God. I know she wants people to speak positive words into her son’s life because I want the same for my son and this is a way to do that. I hope it is well received and because she asked below is a generic version of what I wrote for her son’s thirteenth birthday.

Dear Teenager,

You are quickly growing into a man transitioning from childhood to adulthood. How I personally survived those teenage years is an act of God’s grace. I was not smart and I made many mistakes. But that is ok because I had and still have a relationship with Jesus. That relationship made me what I am today and I want to share with you a few keys of success for life that I have learned from Jesus.

Love the Bible. Memorize as many verses as you are able and as the Holy Spirit leads. God’s word is the greatest wisdom ever given to men and if you pay attention, put into practice what you find there then you will win at everything that matters. Here are some verses that have saved me along the way.

If someone wants you to do something you know is wrong then speak this verse out loud to their face if necessary. God’s word will cut them to the soul. God’s words spoken out loud are powerful.

My son, if sinners try to lead you into sin, do not go with them. – Proverbs 1:10 NLV

Life is not always fun and part of growing up is taking the good and the bad and being happy with where God has placed you. If you complain endlessly then life will never be fun. Godly men are disciplined and prepared for both the hard parts of life as well as the fun parts of life.

Do everything without complaining and arguing – Philippians 2:14 NLT

I have made mistakes and you are going to make mistakes. You will fail. However, what separates my failures from the failures of others is that God is my father and he never fails. He is always there to pick me up. Build your life, your relationships on Jesus Christ and God will pick you up every time.

for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity. – Proverbs 24:16 ESV

The Biblical number of perfection is seven as in God rested on the seventh day. Everything God does is perfect and God will make you a winner even when you fail because you put your trust and hope in Jesus Christ.

Christ Only Always,

Human Effort

Psalm 139:21 | God’s Side

God loves everyone. God is love. For God so loved the world… These are messages one will hear in Church. It is true that we who are alive right now are living in an age of grace and mercy. Where God is calling women, men, children, elderly, black, white, LGBT+, and all other identifiers society places on us to know him and to be in relationship with him. God has one identifier for human kind and that is “people”. We are created by him and in his image. God’s grace and mercy are truly loving in an unselfish way.

Yet that grace, mercy, and love cannot compromise the sovereign holiness of God. While we live in the moment of grace and mercy that moment is just that a moment that will pass and fade much too quickly. Psalm 139 is a famous Psalm attributed to King David. He sings of a God that he has known in a personal relational way. He sings of a God that is all knowing, all powerful, and to whom David owes everything. God made David a King. God saved David from death many times. God made David’s very body and spirit. King David sings of a perfect loving God.

However, David also sings of a Holy God and this verse about God’s holiness is offensive to our modern ears.

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. Psalm 139:21-22 ESV

To hate with a complete hatred seems… well contradictory and in opposition to the teachings of Jesus.

The Bible, God’s love letter to people, is never contradictory so there is a perspective we need to keep in mind here in regard to David describing his alignment and desire to be with God in holiness that is expressed in terms of hatred. David is moving to God’s side in the spiritual battle against evil. There is actual real evil in this world and it is to be hated. Holiness demands that we hate what is evil. Evil murders, steals, and destroys everything for selfish gain. One of the most interesting exchanges between man and angel happens to Joshua at the battel of Jericho.

13 And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, “Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies’?” 14 He said, “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.” Joshua fell, face to the ground, and worshiped. He asked, “What orders does my Master have for his servant?” Joshua 5:13-14 MSG

Joshua needs everyone to pick a side for the battle. After Angel speaks Joshua drops his side and moves to the side of God wanting only to know what God’s mind would be for the upcoming battle. We hear this all the time especially in political fights. “God is on my side”… NO! God is not so small a god that he is on anyone’s side. Everything revolves around God because he is God. We do not pull God into our corner. We do not rub the magic lamp and get three wishes. God never says I am yours to command. David is saying whoever is your enemy. Whoever God hates and whatever God hates. Then I too will hate that as well. Of note here is an ugly place where this mindset may take people down an evil path. Think for a moment of the author David who is a King and who commands armies. David is a warrior who has killed men in battle. David does not say that he will be an instrument of justice or war against God’s enemies. David acknowledges that these are not his enemies that he will hate but they are God’s enemies and David knows that God will deal with them in his time and in his way. While we know God loves us and we should love others even those who are unloving that does not mean that we should excuse any behavior or that we in our own personal lives should live any way we want. God made me. He knows everything that is true and I should trust him. Therefore, whatever God calls right and whatever God says is real then those things I will love and whatever God calls evil and whatever God calls wrong I want to hate. Yet as a follower of Christ I will speak grace and mercy to anyone that has an ear to listen. For God so loved the world that he made Jesus available to anyone that will move to God’s side in this time of grace and mercy. Take advantage of this gift dear reader.

1 John 2:5 | My Lifelong Fear

I have a fear. A real fear. I have a fear that I will not be able to run the race. The race of life before God. I am a sinner with all my issues but I want to love God and I want to obey Christ living the life he has for me. I have seen so many people fail and fall. People when I was a child that I looked up too. People that as an adult I liked their books or their message in media. The Ravi Zacharias issue brings up this fear in a very acute way. I did not see this coming and it dredges up memories from my past fear that I would not be able to run the race.

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7 ESV

I fear things I don’t understand. How can a person who serves and loves God fall so far from God’s standards? I am not talking about a one-time issue but a pattern of behavior that is outside of God’s grace? King David sinned as great as anyone can sin when he stole another man’s wife and had that man killed. Our hearts are evil but David returned to God and repented because of the relationship David and God shared. The Ravi issue demonstrates an ongoing pattern of planning and preparation for sin. It is stunning as I try to understand and that fear of my own failures clouds my mind.

5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 1 Kings 3:5 ESV

When I was a young man, I read the account of King Solomon and how he was given everything by God. Tom Brady’s wins are nothing compared to the wining that Solomon was given. Yet at the end of his life Solomon did not run the race well. This account of Solomon’s life and Solomon’s self-reliance scares me. I am afraid of this for myself. Solomon asked for wisdom when God would have given him anything. Asking for wisdom is even a credit to Solomon but what good is wisdom without a relationship with Christ the maker of Heaven and Earth? My prayer then and my prayer now is that God, Father, Savior, Jesus… I pray for the grace and mercy to run the race with endurance to the end. An end that is in your arms with you. That is the goal. An everlasting relationship with my maker? Is can’t be about stuff. Fame. Success. Power. Money. Land. All of it will one day be gone. That is temporary. Jesus is eternal.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. … 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:1-6 ESV

So, I look to the examples of those who have finished the race. I take my fear a very real fear and a justified fear to the truth that John speaks and I come away with reminders.

When I sin I have an advocate in Jesus Christ. Jesus loves me and died for me. Even if like King David I travel far from God and turn my back to him all hope is not lost. I will make mistakes but Jesus will be my advocate and I pray that at that moment I turn to him as I once did. Jesus can make right what I made wrong.

for the righteous falls seven times and rises again Proverbs 24:11a ESV

My life must continually be turned away from the comfort of this world to the eternal perspective. If my life does not reflect the commandments of Jesus then I do not know him or love him. Do I love him enough to alter my lifestyle and my quest for money in this temporary world?

“[Jesus speaking] If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV

Finally, I must abide in Jesus. Every day I must turn to him. Every moment I must seek what Jesus wants. My very being must always be about Christ. Christ only Always. Whoever abides in Jesus will walk in the ways of Jesus.

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 ESV

2 Thessalonians 2:7 | Lawless Truth

The phrase that drives me crazy is “this is my truth”. It drives me crazy because truth is true independent of what people believe. When I grew up someone might say “this is what I believe to be true”. Which leaves room to say I could be wrong about what is true because truth is truth independent of me or what I believe. Fast forward to today when someone say “this is my truth” they are in effect saying truth is created and defined by me. Even if reality and facts prove me wrong it does not matter because whatever I believe is in fact true. I think this is one of the reasons for the rampant increase in depression and anxiety because when an individual’s version of what they manufacture to be truth collides with the raw actual truth of reality their personal truth fails and leaves them vulnerable and lost.

And this is what I want to focus on today. When we say that this is our truth and we manufacture our own set of facts and rules for how things should be we are in effect saying that we are lawmakers. I am defining a set of laws for how the world will be governed in my presence. However, if my truth violates actual real unchanging truths then I am in effect working in a lawless state of being in regards to my relationship with reality.

This idea of lawlessness where we live based on a lie and call it true is how Satan operates and this lawless state of saying that I will have my own truth is in direct opposition to God from whom all real actual laws and truth flow.

7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV

The antichrist is described by Paul is called the lawless one. Imagine for a moment Satan who is created the most beautiful and powerful of all God’s angels. God when he creates this angel tells him that he is created and what his purpose will be as an angel. But Satan sees the glory of himself and thinks… Who is this God to tell me what is true? I am his equal and this will be my truth. So, Satan spins up a story of his own truth that he is God’s equal the yin and yang the good and bad who will be at war fighting for power. This is lawlessness at work. But Satan has a problem with his lawless truth. Satan is not equal to God and Satan is only permitted the freedom and power that God allows. To be Satan in this situation is quite depressing as well as fundamentally evil.

Paul tells us that Satan is at work with his lawless truth and Satan’s example enters our heart as we follow the same lie about ourselves. You be you. Go get what is yours. You can be or do whatever you want. Thankfully Paul tells us that this lawless lie is restrained to keep us from going full crazy. God is keeping a lid on the craziness for now but it seems to me that we have entered a new season where maybe God is removing the restraint as we see more and more people claiming their own truth and eventually as the restraining hand is removed all this lawlessness will be dashed on the rocks of reality.

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV

We don’t need to make up our own truth to claim something to make us happy. Joy and peace in this short life come from God. Truth comes from God. Jesus, who is God in the flesh, came to die and be raised to life to forgive us of our lawlessness. Humbly come before God and his real truth ask him for his saving grace and he will “lavish” on you wisdom and insight. You will understand his purpose to make us whole and bring us into a relationship with him our Creator.

Matthew 5:16 | So Bright I Need Shades

I am perplexed by the modern invention of social media where anyone at any moment often unexpectedly might become famous or infamous. Much like winning a lottery the instant fame is a rush that might destroy one’s life or propel them to new heights of opportunities. When social media hijacks someone’s life the good or bad results really comes down to the character of that individual. Is the viral moment something awful or funny or noble? When I was a child, I thought about the idea that God sees everything that I do good or bad and that I was responsible for my actions. I tell my own children that they should operate their lives as if someone is filming everything they say or do and they will be judged more harshly by man than God.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 ESV

Biblically speaking it is a vanity of ego and pride to seek out social media attention. But we all do it with the perfect photos of something wonderful we have done. Or the glowing reviews we give to a significant other to make our friends jealous. I think the obsession the twenty somethings have with travel is so they can post the pictures online. Look how wonderful I am. Yet here is Jesus telling the disciples that they are a light that cannot be hidden and that they will get attention for “all your good works”. Seems like a contradiction to me.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 ESV

The contradiction then lies in who the attention points. If I work hard to gain social media attention or attention in life then I must ask why am I doing that work? For my own personal glory? For my own ego? Or is the work I am doing inspired by the Holy Spirit being noticed in spite of me? Are people looking at the work and thinking wow God is amazing? The light Jesus is talking about is not my light but the light that comes from him. The light of my life should not be my ego. The light proclaimed and flowing out of me is sourced from God and everyone in my orbit, family, friends, coworkers, enemies, and neighbors all know this light is different than the darkness of the world.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Exodus 34:29-30 ESV

While the light I shine is not literal but spiritual there is a physical example that illustrates spiritually what is happening when we abide in Christ.  Moses who spent more time in the physical presence of God than any person since maybe Adam and Eve is impacted by being in the presence of God. Unknown to him when he brings the ten commandments to the people, they are afraid because Moses is literally glowing. He is reflecting the light of God back toward others. When we spend time in the light of God’s truth, abiding in Christ our lives reflect that light of truth. Jesus tells the disciples that God’s light will shine forth from them and there is not anything they can do to hide that light.

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. John 3:19-20 ESV

Unlike social media where one wants to shine for the approval of other people. The light Jesus spoke of was an exposing, convicting, holy light from God. Many people hate that light and will pull away from it, try to ignore it, or even try to stamp it out. But you dear reader are here because either you are called by God to live a holy life that glows in this dark world or you dear reader are craving a relationship with God to be blessed with light in your own life to see in a dark world. Both reasons require a loving relationship with God that is lead by the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus Christ. Embrace that relationship take your cares, worries, loves, and success to Jesus and adore him. You will be giving so much light everyone will take notice.

2 Peter 3:9 | There is not Much Time Left

Life is hard. Anxiety levels are high. All in the middle of this is a world-wide lockdown because of COVID. Personal circumstances vary but in general life is difficult for those without money and for those with money. For Christians many see the society crumbling due to sin and they hope and pray for Jesus to return. The Bible has promised that Jesus will return and take those who are called by his name out of this world. This world is temporary and all the power and control that people fight over is temporary.

11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. Revelation 3:11 ESV

Since the very beginning of the Christian church the faithful have been waiting for Christ to return. Yet here we are 2000 years and going with no second coming. So, then what is going on? Where is Jesus? Why is God letting war, disease, sin, and death continue on with end?

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 ESV

The answer to those questions is wrapped up in the gospel of Jesus. God has a plan that he implemented at the beginning of creation and one major step in that plan leads to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is God in the flesh. We are on the completed side of that milestone. Jesus died to save sinners and we are all sinners. In God’s plan we have yet to reach the milestone of Jesus returning and like little kids going on a trip we keep asking “are we there yet”? God is not there yet and that is what I mean by these questions are wrapped up in the gospel of Jesus.

Why has Jesus not returned? Because when Jesus returns the grace, mercy, and chance to repent and become children of God is over. God it taking his time at his own pace because he is giving everyone on this planet a chance. The opportunity is now to accept Jesus Christ as savior.

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. John 3:5 ESV

Spirit here is the Holy Spirit of God. Unless the Holy Spirit of God comes to rest in your heart and unless the Holy Spirit of God marks you as a child of God when Jesus returns you will perish. Now is the time of grace and mercy. Now is the time to decide to submit to God or to submit to self. The choice is yours. Humble yourself before God and ask for Christ’s saving mercy to invade your life. If you don’t then when Jesus does return it will be too late.

44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:44 ESV

Ezra 8:21 | Self Absorbed, Anxious, and Alone

In my industry there is an influx of college hires, a new generation, and this new generation is changing the culture of the companies I work for. This generation is very much into saving the planet. They are into serving the community through activities that the company pays for. They complain immediately to any kind of disciplined hand of correction.  They bringing their collectable action figures to the office. They watch YouTube videos of their favorite stars while in the office. Not many have children and even less are married. The change to culture makes me ponder about the future of the country.

I am not convinced that the next generation’s desire to make corporate or government institutions their religion is a positive advancement for society. Government and other institutions should not be the spiritual structure of one’s life. Making government or wealthy business people the center of spiritual life will leave society dashed on the waves of ever-changing opinions of flawed peoples.

Ezra with a mandate from the unchanging God to return Jewish exiles home to Jerusalem had an opportunity to restore the Jewish community outside of the corporate and government institutions of their captivity. He had an opportunity to lead people away from dependence on men and this world and into a life dependent on God. The Christians of this age would do well to look at Ezra’s example because I fear that the Christian culture is almost indistinguishable from the self-absorbed culture at large.

21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. Ezra 8:21-23 ESV

Ezra had secured approval from the king ruling over the Jewish exile to return to Jerusalem. This was a once in a life time opportunity and Ezra, to his credit, boasted in God and also to Ezra’s credit he then humbly placed his trust in God and allow God to be glorified by that trust. We as an American culture, and more importantly Christian culture, have grown dependent on government bureaucracy, school sports and activities, and non-Church institutions for our well being and health. The results are not good. Anxiety, drug use both prescribed and illegal, suicide, family disfunction, sexual abuse, and other selfish acts of sinfulness have come to dominate society. We are not healthy because we, as Christians, have not humbled ourselves before God and placed our trust in him.

So, what does trust in God look like to the modern person? When I look at what I believe to be disfunction of the next generation here are three areas of focus that I think Christians are missing. These three areas I have struggled with myself and I have altered my lifestyle on more than one occasion to focus on these three areas.

First build life around the Church. Christians that look to government for solutions like the rest of society are always in meltdown when the political candidate of their choice does not win. We are not trusting God for the future. Ezra could have asked the government for a solution but he knew that solution was doomed to fail. Looking at government to fix culture is backwards. Government is a reflection of culture. So trust God and a major way to do that is through corporate worship through the local Church. Fellowship and discipleship. Community of believers living life together is the way God has designed us. We are built for close community relationships. And for those of struggling in fear and anxiety one of the greatest benefits of building life around church is a spiritual gift of encouragement.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.  Romans 1:11-12 ESV

Second build life around family. Children rebelling against parents. Parents being self-involved and not engaged in the life of their children. Not getting married. Not having children. These are all recipes of a lonely and broken life. God wants men and women to be married and to reproduce. But if you live a life that is self-absorbed then you will ultimately live a life that all alone. If it is God’s will for you then be married and grow a family. Yes it will be difficult. Yes it will be heartbreaking. Yes it will cut into your ability to “have fun”. But the blessings and the benefits of serving others in family will not be a regret. The only possible regret is not starting that family.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. ​Genesis 2:24 ​ ESV

Third and finally is to build life around God honoring education. Government education in current society has become hostile to family, church, and God. Many teachers are open and vocal about their desire to undermine the culture and ethic of the family a child comes from. If you have the means no matter the age of the children seriously consider altering everything to homeschool those children. If you have the means then look into different forms of private education. Post pandemic the other options of pod school and online learning are becoming available. Ask God for a way to put him first in education if you don’t see any other path. God will honor such a request. If you do not have the means then this is where the Church and the families of the local church need to step up and help support one another to start school pods or to take on other children to an existing home school. We as a church family need to build our lives around the larger church family and focus on teaching children to know and understand the wisdom and knowledge of God.

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10 ESV

I know that these three things are difficult because these are all consuming. Living life married with children, serving in a church, and homeschool will make you strange and you will feel that judgment from the world and your own extended family. Living life by these three as Christians will be costly in time and self fulfilment because these will interfere with the ambitions of the world. But the reward will be peace in chaos. The rewards are eternal with a life well lived in Christ and in the here and now the reward will be a life of healing selfless love vs the destructive self-love the world has to offer.

Galatians 5:21 | Inheritance of Life

I hear conversations when talking of spiritual things where people want to speak positively that God has many ways to heaven, many ways to acceptance, many ways to peace, or many ways to salvation. I nod along at such uplifting talk and I think how does one interject truth into this flowery but meaningless language? I don’t like to argue and I certainly do not enjoy bursting someone’s bubble but the truth is too important for all of us trying to make our way in life.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:21 ESV

We live in a moment of grace and mercy. God in his loving wisdom gave to us the Bible, the most printed book in all of history, for us to understand His nature, to understand His character, and to understand His plans for humanity. And it is here at this plan for humanity that the idea of many ways to find reconciliation with God are not found in the text. What one does find is a Jesus that spent much time dividing people and running off potential followers with hard truths. There is but one way to reconcile with God and that is to understand the war waging between the flesh, our lustful selfish desires for physical satisfaction (sin), and the spirit, God’s peace, love, and mercy that we are in desperate need to receive. God tells us that he is the King, the Father, who has an inheritance for those that find life by way of the Spirit. Jesus promises the Spirit filled life to his disciples…

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:15-17 ESV

Jesus is telling any that will listen that a life lived like the world, dominated by the selfish wicked flesh, cannot be reconciled with God. Peace cannot be found because peace can only come from an unselfish life lived by way of the spirit. This is the way God has ordained reconciliation and life. Think on this and think on this future moment that Jesus describes for all peoples. Where will you sort out?

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Matthew 25:31-34 ESV

Isaiah 2:6 | Pulling away from Culture

As a parent of teens, I am in the phase of life where I am actively thinking about their future. Are they prepared for the world? Are they innocent of evil but not naive to cruelty and selfish lusts of mankind? Are they enthralled and distracted by the current culture? Or could it be said that they might be different or maybe a little strange? I pray, God, that they would be counter cultural. I pray, Father and King for their sake, that they would forsake everything this world offers to love, serve, and be devoted to you through Jesus.

I worry that the public square has no room for Christians who love Jesus. I have seen it change in my lifetime. Leadership positions in all stratus of society from government, public companies, non-government organization, news media, and education are held by the culture in an increasingly oppressive way. There is no room for ideological diversity. A pluralistic society in thought is no longer the norm. We are told what to believe and how to act. Anyone that does not conform will be shamed or canceled to prove a point. Twitter mobs roam from outrage to outrage facilitating the oppression. So where do my kids go from here as they mature and start their own lives? Do they join the culture and be absorbed by it? Do they forge their own unconventional path?

For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners. Isaiah 2:6 ESV

God rejected his people because they choose live like the rest of the world around them. They choose the gods of the Philistines. They wanted a path for their children that looked like the lives of children of people who had no regard for God. When I was a young man chasing after young women my overriding constraint was to ask a question. Will a relationship with this young lady pull me toward God or pull me away from God? Most of the time the answer to that question was away from God. And that is the root of what God wanted from His people. He wants people who are devoted to him and not people who are devoted to a culture that has no regard for Him.

31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” Exodus 23:31-33 ESV

I pray for my kids as they transition into adulthood. What relationships will they choose? Will they choose relationships that pull them toward God or will they choose relationships with the world that pull them away from God? If they choose poorly then the world will become a snare to them and then they will be just like everyone else.

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:22-26 ESV

Lord I pray for my kids and for the youth of this present age. Draw them to you. Pull them in close that they might worship you and not themselves. Keep them from the snare of distraction and anxious living that has cursed the youth of this present age. Make them strong because they love you first. In the name of Jesus I pray.

Isaiah 1:18 | Unchanging Reconciliation

There is a common mistake many make when approaching the Bible to learn about God and his nature. That mistake is that the God of the Old Testament is somehow not the same as the God of the New Testament. God is who He is and He does not change so who God is, his character and his nature, are the same from the beginning of the Bible to the end.

When one reads the opening Chapter of Isaiah, a major prophet in the Old Testament, the news Isaiah had to report from God is not good. At that time king Ahaz was evil because of his deeds and because of his heart. He had no room for God and would not submit to God’s plan and order. At this same time Ahaz has many enemies and the nation of Judah is living in a precarious world where Assyria is just one campaign away from turning its attention to Judah for conquest.

One might ask why does God allow this war and suffering. But the truth is the war and suffering are our own doing. It is the outflow of our rebellion and sin against God. Death is what God promised Adam as the result of sin. While God allows us to be rebels that does not mean that God will cover the consequences of our evil if we desire to continue in our rebellion.

18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken Isaiah 1:18-20 ESV

God speaking through the prophet Isaiah is reaching out to the people of Judah and to their King. Let us reason together. Let us argue. Let us come to an understanding about what is right and who is in control. God in his mercy and grace is telling the people there is an alternative to the coming war and destruction. But they need to listen and engage with him. Ahaz being full of his own self refuses to listen and the resulting judgments eventually result in the nation of Judah being “eaten by the sword”. We as readers of the history blame God and see God as fire and judgement on the people.

But what we see of God recorded over hundreds and thousands of years in these verses is the same for us living in this current New Testament age. God has sent us better than a prophet. God himself came in the form of a man and provided the path to turn our scarlet sins into garments white as snow. Each of us now has an opportunity to have the Spirit of God drawing us from rebellion to reconciliation. Just as God wanted for the people of Judah he wants for us now.

8 And when [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11 ESV

God’s plan and his grace from the beginning in Genesis to the terrifying end in Revelations is the same. Come let us reason together. At this moment we still live in the time of grace and mercy where reconciliation and submission to God perfect plan is available. Are you convicted of your sins? If so then the Holy Spirit of God is reaching out to you. Reason with him and be willing to obey. God’s plans are good and his quality is an unchanging trustworthy rock in a time of ever-changing lawlessness.