Lamentations 3:24 “I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
Have you ever felt hopeless, worthless, or just downright useless? I believe we all have those days, months, or even years where we feel like we are nothing but a shadow in a world of color—like our existence means nothing, or that the day of our birth was a catastrophic mistake in the time continuum.
And while all those things might feel very real to you, I am here to tell you that they’re wrong. In fact, they’re straight up lies.
Check this out: Jeremiah 1:5 states, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” Did you catch that? God knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb. He knew you before you were born. And on top of that, He set you apart from the beginning of time to be someone of substantial worth in His name. Bam! Take that hopelessness!
God is the author of all hope. Hope brightens the darkened soul; it breaks the slave’s chains; it sustains those in spiritual exile, comforts those in a place of suffering. When our hope is in God, our spirits cannot be crushed.
Here’s my point: Today is a day to focus on the hope that God has purposed for your life. It is the day to break away from the lies of Satan and to realize you are purposed for a life with God. Don’t let the opinions of people interfere with the directions given to you by God.
Does this mean things are going to be perfect? No, but this does mean that you have someone in your life who gives you worth, acceptance, and love.
Tell a stranger that your hope is found in God. Share the hope of your Savior to someone who has yet to know it.
It is important as believers for Christians to learn church history. It helps us learn from our ancestors. Followers need to understand where we came from to understand where we are going. We can also learn from the mistakes of early church leaders if we understand their missteps. Lastly, learn key events that occured in church history over the last 2,000 years.
The earliest Christians did not have church buildings. They typically met in homes. (The first actual church building so far found is at Dura Europos on the Euphrates, dating about 231.) They did not have public ceremonies that would introduce them to the public, and they had no access to the mass media of their day. So, how can we account for their steady and diverse expansion over the first three centuries?
After the Apostle Paul, we do not run across many “big names” as missionaries in the first few hundred years of Christian history. Instead, the faith spread through a multitude of humble, ordinary believers whose names have been long forgotten.
Early Christianity was primarily an urban faith, establishing itself in the city centers of the Roman Empire. Most of the people lived close together in crowded tenements. There were few secrets in such a setting. The faith spread as neighbors saw the believers’ lives close-up on a daily basis.
And what kind of lives did they lead? Justin Martyr, a noted early Christian theologian, wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius and described the believers:
“We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity.
Before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God.
Before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need.
Before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause.”
In another place Justin points out how those opposed to Christianity were sometimes won over as they saw the consistency in the lives of believers, noting their extraordinary forbearance when cheated and their honesty in business dealings.
When Emperor Julian (“the Apostate”) wanted to revive pagan religion in the mid-300s, he gave a most helpful insight into how the church spread. This opponent of the faith said that Christianity “has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers and through their care of the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar and that the [Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help we should render them.”
On the surface, the early Christians appeared powerless and weak, they were an easy target for scorn and ridicule. They had no great financial resources, no buildings, no social status, no government approval, no respect from the educators. And after they became separated from their first-century association with the Jewish synagogues, they lacked institutional backing and an ancient tradition to appeal to.
But what finally mattered is what they did have. They had a faith. They had a fellowship. They had a new way of life. They had a confidence that their Lord was alive in heaven and guiding their daily lives. These were the important things. And it made all the difference in laying a Christian foundation for all of Western civilization.
Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. . . .
If I could have been present at certain moments in history, one event I would like to have seen was the veil of the temple being torn in two.
In the inner court of the temple in Jerusalem, in the Holy of Holies, was the Ark of the Covenant. That was where the high priest would go once a year to offer atonement for the sins of the people. A veil, a very thick, woven curtain, separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple.
When Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, that heavy curtain was torn from top to bottom. It was not ripped from bottom to top, as though a man were ripping it. Instead, it was ripped from top to bottom, because God was ripping it.
God was saying, “You no longer are on the outside. You can come in. My Son has made a way for you.”
The apostle Paul explained how we can now draw near to God:
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:19–22)
Many today still stand outside, they are satisfied with anointing oil, blessed water, aprons, prayer points from their pastors who prefer them to know half-truth because of the gratification they enjoy. Outside is dangerous and cold, God wants you to come into the inner room where you will keep warm by His presence. The psalmist says, “they that dwell in the secret place of the Most High.” No one can keep his secret in the open, please come in. The magicians and false prophets stays outside because there is no place for them in the inner temple, separate yourself from amongst them. The veil was torn. Come to the Father, He is not angry with you. Jesus is now our Intercessor. We don’t have to go through a person to reach God anymore. We don’t have to go through rituals anymore. Instead, Jesus made a new and living way for us to reach God.
Jesus paid it all. And that is so important to remember.
Many today are worried about the Zika virus. But I’m just as concerned about certain destructive doctrines that are spreading like an epidemic.
During a recent trip to Uganda, friends there told me of a growing church in the capital city of Kampala that has been infected by the most serious form of American-style “hypergrace” teaching. This church attracts hundreds of young people who like the idea that they can fornicate whenever they want and still be right with God.
False doctrines are nothing new. In the first century, Paul sternly warned Timothy about certain preachers who know how to slice and dice God’s Word to make it fit what people want. He wrote in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but they will gather to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, having itching ears, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn to myths.”
The King James Version says the crowds who crave this reconfigured gospel “have itching ears.” The Greek word here,
knēthō, can mean “to tickle” or “to itch.” It means that people will gravitate toward teachers who tell them what they want to hear instead of what they need. And while the Bible sharply rebukes the teachers of these dangerous doctrines, Paul also blames the people who ravenously consume this distorted message.
The warning is clear: Be careful what you listen to!
There are many false doctrines circulating today, but there are four that have spread widely in the modern Pentecostal/charismatic movement. You may not be able to stop the person who is preaching these heresies, but you should never, ever submit to this teaching or support it financially. Don’t ever believe these four lies:
Lie No. 1: You don’t need to repent of your sin or focus on sin. This is the crux of the “hypergrace” movement. While it is true that many legalistic Christians don’t understand God’s love and forgiveness, we can’t swing the pendulum to the other extreme and portray God as being lax about sin. God is still holy, and true grace gives us the power to live a holy life. If a preacher minimizes repentance, or says you should never worry about sin in your life, you should run out the door.
Lie No. 2: You can live however you want to live sexually. Jesus Himself warned us in Revelation 2:20 about the influence of “Jezebel” in the church. He said she was leading Christians to “commit acts of immorality.” You can see tolerance of sexual sin in many segments of the church today. Catholic bishops allowed their own priests to commit child sexual abuse for years; mainline churches have embraced same-sex marriage. But their error is no worse than that of certain charismatic preachers who minimize or ignore the sin of adultery and cohabitation among straight people. We should never evaluate a minister just by what he or she preaches; we should also take note of what he or she refuses to confront from the pulpit.
Lie No. 3: You can buy God’s blessings. I do not believe in a poverty gospel, but the prosperity gospel that emerged in this country in the 1980s almost ruined our witness. The greedy televangelist who manipulated audiences to give in the offering so he could buy airplanes or mansions will give an account for every soul he turned away from Christ. Especially egregious are the preachers who promised people healings, spiritual gifts or the salvation of loved ones in exchange for a $500 “seed” offering. God’s blessings are free. Shame on those who merchandised His anointing.
Lie No. 4: God never calls us to suffer. Whenever the church enters times of prosperity and ease, our message gets soft. This happened during the 1980s, when preachers in silk ties told us we could name and claim whatever we wanted in Jesus name. And while the verses they quoted about faith certainly apply to prayer, they mixed the message with the idea that life with God is like a bowl of cherries and that any hardship that comes our way is from the devil. These preachers avoided 1 Peter 4:1, which says: “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust an arrogant preacher who says he never has struggles or problems. I don’t follow a man because he has a Lexus or a four-car garage; I look for a broken minister who walks with a limp. The preacher who says Christians don’t suffer has never felt the fire of God’s testing, and he is likely an illegitimate son since he has never known the Father’s discipline.
God is cleaning up His church today, and He is refining the message we preach. Don’t prop up or support the false doctrines of the past. Purge their influence from your life and embrace the true gospel—the message calls each of us to take up our cross, die to our own desires and be mature disciples.
I’ve spent the past week sitting by my father’s bed in a hospital in Georgia. He fell while doing yard work (no 89-year-old man should be trimming weeds) and he hit his head on the concrete walkway behind his house. He has a fractured rib, 12 stitches in the back of his head and two bruises on his brain.
After a week, he still has no idea where he is.
On Monday, he said my name. On Tuesday, when I asked him the name of his church, he answered correctly. But when a nurse asked him who I was, he told her I was his grandson.
We don’t know what the next day holds for my dad, or the next month. Hundreds of people are praying for his healing, and there are signs that his motor skills and brain function are slowly coming back online. But whether he pulls out of this and goes back to driving his car, or whether he ends up in months of rehab, or if he dies, I’ve had to face the reality that we all get old, life is terribly fragile and death is inevitable.
We don’t do a good job preparing people for death and dying. I never had a class on it in school. We rarely even talk about it in church until someone has a funeral. It’s easy to develop a notion that life goes on and that we will never get old.
Yet the Bible doesn’t dance around the topic of death. In Genesis, the word “death,” “die” or “died” appear 68 times. It reminds us: “And Adam died,” “And Abraham died,” “And Isaac died.” One entire chapter, Genesis 23, is devoted to the death and burial of Sarah. On and on it goes, like the somber toll of a bell. Death is a cold, dreary specter that is an undeniable part of our existence on this side of eternity.
King David talked about walking “in the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4a). He could write those words because he faced life-and-death crisis regularly. Only those who have lost a loved one or cared for a sick person know how tangible that shadow of death really is. It weighs on us like a thick fog. It makes us feel lost and alone.
I have felt that fog this past week. I felt it when I had to restrain my dad from pulling out his IV tube. I felt it when I asked him a simple question and got a blank stare. I felt it when I heard another patient in the hospital scream in pain.
Yet David was sustained in that dark season. He was not overcome. He wrote: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me” (v. 4). We have the promise of His presence no matter what is going on around us.
If you are walking through the valley right now because of a death, an accident, a serious medical condition, a financial crisis, the loss of a job or any other tragedy, stand on God’s immovable promises and let His words bring security to your soul. These four promises have meant the most to me during the past seven days:
Nahum 1:7 says, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.”
“God is good, all the time,” has become a religious cliché. But it is a powerful truth if you let the words sink in. When we walk through dark times we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness. Don’t let the devil accuse God of abandoning you; run into the Lord’s strong arms and let Him remind you of His faithful care.
John 16:33 says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
It does not matter what the world throws at you. Jesus said we would face trials and tests, but those words are followed by a comma, not a period. He calls us to face our difficulties with faith. He has already overcome every possible problem we could face. Knowing this will give you supernatural peace.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
When we face a crisis, our first reaction is to worry. But the antidote to worry is prayer. Share your fears and anxious thoughts with Jesus and let His peace override them. His peace will shield you from the darkness of despair.
John 11:25-26 says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” This is the ultimate source of all our joy.
Death is not final when the person who dies is a Christian. Jesus removed the sting of death; it has been swallowed up in Christ’s ultimate victory. Don’t let death or the threat of death steal your hope.
Let God’s promises guide you like signal lights through your dark valley. The future is bright on the other side.