American Babylon (Part 2)

Due to their rebellion against God, all of Israel was taken away into captivity. The ten northern tribes were conquered by the Assyrians. The two southern tribes were eventually taken by the Babylonians. Israel and Judah ended up captives because of their disobedience to God. These nations were conquered for their refusal to repent.

As mentioned in my previous post, some writers have made comparisons between Judah’s experiences in Babylonian captivity to the church’s struggles in American culture. The church faces many struggles in our culture today. The struggles we face are not unlike the struggles Judah faced in Babylonian captivity. One similarity is that we are exiles living in a strange land. This world is not our home. Just as Judah was taken away into a strange and foreign land, the church doesn’t fit in with American culture. This is not the only similarity. What else does the church today have in common with Judah of old?

Another commonality the church shares with Judah is that we live in an age of uncertainty. Judah faced many questions as a nation. Imagine the experience of being dragged away from your home country. Everything in your life would be uncertain. Your mind would be racing with questions. “What’s going to happen to my country? What’s going to happen to my family? What’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen next?” America also faces many questions as a nation. In reality, our minds are filled with these exact questions. We often wonder what’s going to happen to our country. We are concerned about our futures and the futures of our families. Listening to news reports often brings a sense of dread concerning what’s going to happen next. How can we deal with all of this uncertainty? God had a plan for Judah during their captivity. Jeremiah reveals God’s plan to Judah in Jeremiah 5:18. “Yet even in those days,” declares the Lord, “I will not make you a complete destruction.” Judah would pay the price for their disobedience. Nevertheless, God still had a plan for them as a people. God did not turn His back on His people.

Our age is full of uncertainty. You need to know there are some things that will never change. We can find certainty in these ever changing days. We can find certainty in God’s Word. Read Isaiah 40:8. These words were delivered to the nation of Judah while they were in Babylonian captivity. Even in these hard times, there was a place where Judah could anchor their lives. You can anchor your life on God’s Word. God’s Word is not going to change. God’s Word is certain. You can also find certainty in your mission as a Christian. God’s plan for the church is an eternal plan; an unchanging plan. Jesus’s words to His apostles in Acts 1:7-8 will continue to comprise God’s mission for His church. You can anchor your life on your unchanging mission from God. You can also anchor your life on God. God did not abandon Judah. Judah turned their backs on God. God was still there. God had not moved. James 1:17 and Hebrews 13:8 reveal the unchanging nature of God, the Father and God, the Son. You can anchor your life on God! We live in an age of uncertainty. What does our future hold? Consider the following; if you are in Christ, you are saved! If you are in Christ, you are forgiven. If you are in Christ, you are in the eternal kingdom. If you are in Christ, you have a mission. If you are in Christ, your future is heaven. There are better days ahead for those in Christ!

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American Babylon

The nation of Judah was heading toward a cliff. They were on a crash course with calamity and captivity if they didn’t change their ways. Judah received numerous warnings to repent. Isaiah and Jeremiah literally begged the nation to change course and turn back to God. Isaiah’s message in Isaiah 1:19-20 is unmistakable. “If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. Truly the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The nation did not heed this warning. They refused to repent, and were punished as a result. 2 Chronicles 36 marks the beginning of Judah’s captivity in Babylon.

Judah faced many challenges while in captivity. Judah lost everything it valued. They were dragged away from their home country. They lost their freedom. They were given new names. They were engulfed by a new culture. Jehovah God had no value in this land. The book of Daniel illustrates many of the struggles they faced as a nation. They were exiles. They were aliens living in a strange land. Babylon was marked by distinct characteristics including consumerism, hyper-individualism and moral compromise. Judah was enslaved to these godless people.

Some have made comparisons between Judah’s experiences in Babylonian captivity to the church’s struggles in American culture. America, like Babylon, is marked by distinct characteristics. The description of Babylon above fits America. America is filled with consumerism, hyper-individualism and moral compromise. The church faces many struggles in this environment. The struggles we face are similar to the struggles Judah faced in Babylonian captivity. My next three blog posts will identify some of the challenges the church faces in today’s world.

We are exiles living in a strange land. This world is not our home. God has set eternity in our hearts. We are aliens living in a strange land. Peter uses this exact language to describe the Christian plight in 1 Peter 2:11-12. In Philippians 3:20 Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Citizenship has its privileges. American citizenship has many privileges including opportunity and freedom. Being a citizen of heaven brings even greater privileges. What is more important to you…being a citizen of America or being a citizen of heaven? This world is not our home. It is easy to become too comfortable with our life here on earth. We should long for heaven. We should anticipate heaven.

While on earth, we have a mission. We strive to influence this world for Jesus Christ. It is the greatest of tragedies when this world influences the church more than the church influences the world. Daniel was one of the Israelites taken away into Babylonia captivity. He was forced to leave everything he knew. He lost his home. He lost his freedom. His name was changed. Despite these struggles, Daniel still made a difference in this new, strange land. Daniel stood up for God through these trying times. His influence in Babylonia was amazing. Take a minute to read Daniel 6:25-27. Daniel influenced a nation through his faithfulness. We can make this same impact in our world today. Like Daniel, we are exiles. Like Daniel, we are strangers living in a strange land. Like Daniel, we can make a difference!

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A Scene of Hope

Three Predictions:
• Oklahoma State will win the Big 12 football championship this year. OSU is the preseason pick to the win the Big 12 title. This is the first year OSU has garnered this honor. OSU will lose one conference game, but will beat OU on its home field late in the season to secure the championship.

• Ohio State will play Alabama in the BCS National Championship game. I was tempted to pick South Carolina or Georgia to end Alabama’s SEC dominance. In the end I’ll stick with the fightin’ Sabans.

• Johnny Manziel will not step on the field this year for the Texas A&M Aggies. Controversy seems to follow Manziel wherever he goes. Manziel’s next stop will be the NFL. It’s too risky for A&M to play the embattled quarterback.

One Truth:
And now for one truth…one of the great pictures of hope in the Bible is found in Revelation 7:9-17. God’s Revelation to John was important for many reasons. At this time in history, Christians were under duress. They were facing intense persecution. Their faith in God often led to imprisonment, torture and at times even death. These people needed a message of hope. They needed something to help them stay faithful to God through these challenging times. Revelation provided them exactly what they needed. Take a few minutes to read Revelation 7:9-17. As you read focus on how God is described.

What do we learn about God in this text? God is worthy of worship. The multitudes join together in praising God. The angels also worshipped God. God deserves to be worshiped. Worship is not about me. Worship is about God. Worship is the creation offering praise and honor to the creator.

We also see God is Savior. In Paul’s letter to Titus, both Jesus and God are described as our Savior. In Titus 1:3; 2:10 & 3:4, Paul describes God as Savior. God has a plan for His creation. His plan starts with our salvation. Jesus commissioned the apostles to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” The apostles were to share the message of the gospel with the world. Before Jesus ascends back to heaven He tells these men that they “shall be His witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Revelation 7:9 is the result of this preaching.

This text also reveals God as King. It is God who rightfully sits on the throne. God is King. What does this knowledge mean for us? What implications are there for us knowing God is King? God must be obeyed. God must be served. It should be easy for us to serve God because of what He has done for us. When Jesus came to earth He revealed the Father to us. The more we know about Jesus, the more we will know about God. We know Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Yet while He walked this earth, He lived the life of a servant. Jesus served others. Jesus did the will of others. Jesus gave to others. Jesus was humble. He was still King! He was still Lord. He simply led from the position of a servant. The title “servant” beautifully describes Jesus. This title also describes God. God is King. He sits on His throne. He also is a servant. God served us by sending His Son to this earth!

Finally we see God as a comforter. Notice the picture in Revelation 7:17. God wants His people to be comforted. This has always been true. In the OT, God sends a message of comfort to the nation of Israel through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 40:1. As a result of Judah’s rebellion against God, they were taken away into Babylonian captivity. Despite their rebellion, God loved His people. He wanted them to be comforted. His message to His people in captivity centered on comfort. “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. Isaiah offered a message of hope to the nation of Israel. In similar fashion, John’s Revelation was a message of hope for Christians of his day. They were struggling…but there were better days ahead. They were being persecuted…but there were better days ahead. They were abused and mistreated…but there were better days ahead. If you are in Christ…if you are a Christian…if you know Jesus as Savior, there are better days ahead!

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Stop Hesitating

“How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” Elijah challenged the nation of Israel with these words in 1 Kings 18. Many need to be challenged with these words today. God needs committed followers. How long will we hesitate between two opinions? Life is about choice. We are faced with choices every day. Some choices are small. Others are big. The most important choice we will make involves our commitment to Christ.

How would you describe your current relationship with God? Does the word “commitment” describe your walk with God? Humanity often waters down Christianity. Jesus never did this. How would you define Christianity? Listen to Jesus’s definition in Luke 9:23. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Each time I read these words I’m amazed at the bluntness of Jesus. Jesus always spoke the truth. Being a Christian is tough. It is challenging to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. It’s not impossible…but it certainly is challenging. Jesus is clear in His expectations. He doesn’t want half-hearted followers. Jesus expects commitment. What do we learn about being a Christian from Jesus’s words in Luke 9:23?

1. Being a Christian involves denying self.

What are your current goals? Do you realize God has goals for your life as well? God wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2). God wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2). God wants His people to seek Him first (Matthew 6:33). Are you fulfilling God’s goals in your life? Jesus not only talked about self-denial. He showed us how to do it. In Matthew 26:36-46 we find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is praying to His Father as the shadow of the cross inches closer and closer. Jesus knew the agony that awaited Him. Jesus prayed for another way. There was no plan B. Jesus was God’s plan for our redemption. In the garden, we watch as Jesus lines His will with the will of His Father. Jesus denied Himself…even though it meant death.

2. Being a Christian includes taking up our cross.
In the last days of Jesus’s life He makes His way to Jerusalem. He walked to Jerusalem knowing He would be betrayed by Judas. He walked to Jerusalem knowing He would be arrested and beaten. He walked to Jerusalem knowing He would be denied by Peter. He walked to Jerusalem knowing He would stand on trial before the cowardly Pilate. He walked to Jerusalem knowing He would fall into the hands of ruthless torturers. He walked to Jerusalem knowing He would be killed. The last walk of Jesus’s life was not easy. His last walk involved a cross. Jesus literally took up His cross and walked to His death. Jesus did this for you…for me. He asks us to do the same. If we wish to follow after Jesus, we must take up our cross and follow Jesus.

3. Being a Christian is a daily walk.

Life is everlastingly daily. We need a daily walk with God. What are some things that comprise the daily life of a Christian? Every day we will face temptation. Every day we will have spiritual opportunities to seize. Every day we will face struggles and obstacles. How can we resist the daily temptations we face? How can we find the time to minister to others around us? How can we overcome the obstacles and struggles that accompany life? We need a daily relationship with God. In Jeremiah 2:32 the prophet writes, “Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number.” These words were an indictment on the spiritual condition of Israel. Do these words describe our walk with God? How many days has it been since you poured your heart out to God in prayer? How many days has it been since you studied and meditated on the word of God? How many days has it been since you studied God’s Word with your family? Christianity is a daily walk. God should be able to look at our lives and say, “My people have walked with Me days without number.”

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Dealing with Conflict

How would you finish the following sentence? Relationships are ______________. Here are some words that come to my mind. Relationships are a tremendous blessing. Relationships are rewarding. Relationships are challenging. Relationships are tough at times. Conflict is a part of relationships. Even the best marriages have conflict from time to time. Even the best of friends have to deal with conflict at one time or another. Even Christians will have to deal with conflict. Paul addresses conflict in the church in 1 Corinthians 1 and Philippians 4. Paul’s advice to these churches can help us deal with conflict in our individual lives.

The church in Corinth was dealing with conflict. These Christians were facing division amongst themselves. Some in the church were loyal to Cephas (Peter). Peter was instrumental in the building up of the Lord’s church. He preached the first gospel sermon following the ascension of Christ in Acts 2. We can see why some were committed to following Peter. Others at Corinth were devoted to Apollos. Apollos stayed in Corinth after the church was established. He helped equip the new Christians in this city. Apollos helped them mature and grow. It made sense that some were devoted to him. Still others were loyal to Paul. It was Paul who brought the good news of the gospel to this location. He was responsible for telling them about Jesus initially. The problem the church was facing is stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:12. “Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos”, and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Their problem in one word was division! The solution to this problem is made clear in verse 13. “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The answer to this conflict is also stated with one word; Jesus! Paul urged them to remember who died for them. He urged them to remember who saved them. When we face conflict in our relationships we need to remember Jesus. Reflect on His life…remember his sacrifice…realize his selflessness.

Paul addresses another conflict in Philippians 4. This conflict existed between two ladies; Euodia and Syntyche. The path to peace is laid out by the apostle. He encouraged these two ladies “to live in harmony in the Lord.” Once again Jesus is named as the answer to conflict. Paul also calls on the other Christians to help these women repair their relationship. Imagine that…people helping solve a conflict as opposed to making the conflict worse.

We will face conflict in our relationships. Conflict is a part of life. We will have conflict in our marriages. We will face conflicts with our children. We will have to deal with conflict in the church. Remember the words Paul issued to the church at Corinth and Philippi. Jesus is the answer. He is the way to peace.

Below I have included some practical lessons from Proverbs that will help you handle conflict when it arises in your life. God always has answers for us. I encourage you to live out these words from Proverbs in your life.

Ways to Resolve Conflict
1. Learn to drop things – Proverbs 17:14
2. Talk rather than avoid – Proverbs 15:23
3. Select an appropriate time – Proverbs 15:23
4. Do not lose control of your emotions – Proverbs 15:18
5. Overcome your pride – Proverbs 13:10
6. Watch what you say – Proverbs 13:3
7. Resolve hidden agendas – Proverbs 18:17
8. Learn and make changes – Proverbs 24:32

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We Need Each Other

We are created for relationships. We need each other. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” These familiar words in Genesis 1:1 launched the creation of the entire world and everything we see in it. Genesis 1 and 2 records the specific events of God’s creation. God created everything with His spoken word. Everything God created was good. God’s stamp of approval was placed on each aspect of His creation. God is perfect. His creation in the beginning was perfect. The first time in scripture where God identifies something as “not good” is in Genesis 2:18. Here God says “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” God created us. He knows us inside and out. God understands our need for relationship. God knew it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. He knows it’s not good for us to be alone.

Jesus launched His public ministry in Matthew 4. Matthew 4:23 is the best summary of Jesus’s ministry. “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of sickness among the people.” Jesus didn’t live His life in a vacuum. He didn’t retreat to a corner when He came to earth. He ministered to the people. He built relationships with individuals around Him. Jesus didn’t minister alone. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus invites Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him. In Matthew 10, Jesus selects twelve men to occupy a special place in His ministry. These twelve men were chosen as apostles and were commissioned to reach out to the lost house of Israel. These men were close friends of Jesus. Jesus needed friends. He desired relationships with other people while walking on this earth. Within this group of twelve emerged three men who seemed to be even closer with Jesus. Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus to some special places. They witnessed events the other nine did not see. In Matthew 17, Peter, Andrew and John were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. In Matthew 26, these same three men accompanied Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. We can confidently say Peter, James and John were Jesus’s closest friends. Jesus needed friends. He desired relationships with other people.

When we examine the NT church we find many characteristics. One of the great qualities of the NT church was there dependency on each other. The early church faced many struggles and trials. They were persecuted in ways we don’t even want to imagine. They were reaching out to worldly cultures full of idolatry and immorality. How were they able to make it? They not only survived. They thrived. How were they successful through these challenging times? They were there for each other. The early church was community. They depended on each other. The church in Jerusalem was there for each other. Read Acts 2:43-45, Acts 4:32-37 and Acts 12:12. These people loved each other. They took care of each other. They prayed for each other. Do we have this level of concern for each other today? The Christians in Rome were there for each other. The church in Rome endured intense persecution. They survived together. Take a look at Romans 12:10-16. Every Christian…every church needs to take these words to heart today. We need each other. We are created for relationships. Even in those moments when we don’t like each other…we still need each other.

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One Mind, One Purpose

The goal of a Christian is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Our desire is to mirror the life Jesus lived. We strive to serve the way He served. We seek to love the way He loved. Our desire is to sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed. Despite our loftiest ambitions, we at times fall short of achieving these goals. We want to live as Jesus lived, but we are far from perfect. What do we need to better imitate the life of Jesus? What does it take to be like Christ? In order to live like Jesus we must learn to think like Jesus. We will struggle in our attempts to be like Jesus until we develop His mind.

The NT writers offer a continual challenge to develop the mind of Jesus. Listen to the words of Paul and James.

• 2 Corinthians 10:5-6—“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,…”

• Philippians 2:1-8—“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

• Philippians 4:8-9— Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

• Colossians 3:1-4—“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

• James 1:5-8—“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Christians should be single-minded. We should have the mind of Christ. Paul describes the mind of Christ in Philippians 2:5-8. “Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus.” How would you define the word “attitude”? Attitude can be defined with three words; how you think. Describe your attitude. Are you thinking like Jesus? Do your thoughts line up with the thoughts of Jesus? To think like Jesus we must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. To think like Jesus we must be devoted to fulfilling one purpose. To think like Jesus we must regard others as more important than ourselves. To think like Jesus we must be humble. To think like Jesus we must think on the things above not on the things on earth. Our goal is make Jesus our life as Paul wrote in Colossians 3:4. Before you can live like Christ, you must learn to think like Jesus.

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