Andy Johnson – "The Redneck Preacher" shares what goes on in that mind of his………..

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Osteen, Oprah, and Prince

(**Note** This is the unedited version of  the February 2nd, 2012 article that was published in the Louisiana Baptist Message publication, authored by Pastor Andy Johnson**)

America’s Preacher” now has a new name….or, so says Oprah Winfrey.

Recently on her OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) show titled “Oprah’s Next Chapter”, the 57 year old talk-show icon interviewed the Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Pastor Joel Osteen, and his wife Victoria. Lakewood Church is the largest church in America today, meeting in what used to be the Compaq Center in downtown Houston. The building has a 16,800 seat capacity.

Questions concerning televangelist scandals and mega-church business practices were among some of the topics of discussion, as well as the 48 year old Pastor’s success in authoring several New York Times bestselling books. But the questions that remain are the questions that leave us wondering why this church and many like it have become so popular in today’s culture.

One thing that puzzles so many is the blatant absence of many Scriptural references in Pastor Osteen’s sermons. In the interview, Osteen addressed this from the perspective of when he succeeded his father, John Osteen, when he suddenly passed away, causing a Pastoral vacancy in Lakewood Church:

“…I got comfortable and said, ‘Okay, I don’t have to quote twenty-five Scriptures or read a long text to feel like I’m doing the right thing’…I got into my groove when I started encouraging and telling stories, and just taking a part of the Scripture and make it applicable…”

Many evangelicals are sincerely offended by his easy-believism methods of perspective and positive thinking. However, obviously, many believe that Osteen is preaching the right message at the right time in history.

Oprah referred to him as “America’s Preacher” during the interview, pushing the baton from the Rev. Billy Graham who used to don the name, to Pastor Osteen, whose church has the largest membership of any mega-church in America (approximately 66,000 members).

Osteen is simply at the top of the stack of a massive “felt-needs” based religion. To its credit, the movement has massive momentum – seen in the upsurge of motivational messages being preached from church pulpits all across the land on a regular, consistent basis. Motivation is the watch-word of the day, and people flock to it like moths to a flame.

The only problem is this type of teaching and religion is quite shallow. There is hardly any mention of sin, repentance, and/or holiness.

And certainly no mention of hell.

Pastor Joseph & Wendy Prince

So why is there such magnetism toward this sort of ministry? If you were to ask Pastor Joseph Prince, the response would be startling.

Prince is the Senior Pastor of New Creation Church in Singapore, one of Asia’s largest churches. His doctrine is not unlike Osteen’s in that he preaches an easy-believing, motivational, favor-of-God, positive self image type message.

He and his wife, Wendy Prince, recently made their first journey to America and met with Pastor Osteen and his wife, Victoria. They sat down for an interview on an episode of TBN’s “Praise the Lord” program. Pastor Prince directly tackled the issue of the style and method of the new, popular doctrine of righteousness. He even pointed to 2nd Corinthians 3:9 and Romans 2:4 as the core of his belief in the preaching of a feel-good Gospel:

“…it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. Under the old covenant, you have to repent first before God blesses you. But under grace, the new covenant, is the goodness of God that leads one to repentance.”

This ‘old covenant’ is referred to by Prince as the “ministry of condemnation”. In the interview, Prince essentially tipped his hat to the great revivalists and evangelists of old who would preach hell hot and heaven sweet, bringing many tears and much repentance before God.

The ‘new covenant’ referred to by Prince is the “ministry of righteousness” which he gladly dons on his, Pastor Osteen’s, and the multitude of other ministries in the world today that share this same view on the doctrine of grace.

The problem that seems to surface is the happy-go-lucky sensation coming from their message that seems to say that you simply need to have a little more faith and everything will sway in your direction. God will grant you favor, wealth, health, and blessing if you just stay in the right mind-frame and think positively.

While I do not disagree with the premise that God is on the side of His children, I, as well as many others, do take issue with the lack of an authoritative context in which the message goes forth.

I also take issue with the fact that millions of people buy into the entire premise of God’s grace without first facing the reality of their own sinfulness and wickedness before the Lord God. To this thought, I say that it is highly plausible that the millions who become addicted to this grace-filled, ooey-gooey, happy-God teaching have never considered their own sin as being a deal-breaker with a thrice Holy God.

I understand that times have changed and the message that we preach should be relevant. But I disagree with the premise that we have somehow entered into a new era where sin needs no longer to be preached against, repentance doesn’t need to be encouraged, and impending judgment from God should not be spelled out.

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The Young Adult Mystery…

No matter what age category you tag onto ‘young adults’, it is clear that the 18-35 year old bracket of believers are missing from our church attendance rolls. They remain to be a riddle wrapped up in a mystery tucked away inside an enigma.

I was recently asked how to get young adults to attend church. The answer that I gave stands firm: There is no “chapter and verse” proven procedure or program to get a young adult interested in church.

The truth is young adult attendance is an anomaly.

I find that the questions being asked about why young adults cease from church activity are slightly misguided. Many churches work and toil and labor to the point of hopelessness to get young adults active within the Body of Christ. But we all would do well to take a moment and look at what has taken the place of church in a young adult’s life.

And the more you look, the more bizarre the reasons get.

In an article published on a Protestant website, a study done in March of this year linked church attendance to obesity.

Researchers at Northwestern University followed more than 2,400 people ages 20 to 32 for a period of eighteen years and found that middle-aged congregants who attended religious services on a consistent basis were twice as likely to become obese.

Okay, so maybe young adults abstain from church because……they don’t want to gain weight? Sounds a bit shaky to me (although I love chicken & dumplings).

A 2007 Pew Research poll reported that eighteen out of one hundred young adults, ages 18 – 30, leave the church for “political reasons”.

I guess they couldn’t handle the donkeys and the elephants sitting together in the ‘Amen corner’?

The same poll reports that twenty six out of one hundred leave the church because “the church members seem judgmental or hypocritical”.

Then you have the ‘summer sleepers’ who contribute to the ‘summer slump’. These are the ones that take a vacation during the summertime, children in tow, and in doing so somehow permanently vacate the church.

Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway Christian resources, said in May of 2010 that if the trend in young adults abstaining from church continues, “…the Millennial Generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships.

But obesity, politics, criticism, and vacations can’t be the only reason why there is a gaping hole in young adult church attendance. We have to at least entertain a hard reality that young adults are just plain bored with church.

I voiced this to a friend recently, and his reply may be the same as yours: “What are we supposed to do? Put on a show for them?” Not exactly. Ministers are called to feed sheep – not entertain goats.

However, there are a few things that we can do to change the method of our message. And probably the number one thing that needs to be revised in many Baptist churches is worship.

Let me first state that I am 31 years old and I am a young adult. And I love “The Old Gospel Ship” just as much as “God of Wonders”. I’m vastly different compared to my peers who are tired of ‘old-fashioned’ worship.

But ‘worship wars’ will only drive young adults away. And who is ever completely satisfied? The older generations has their own likes and preferences, the younger generation has their own likes and preferences, and the young adults stuck in the middle get what? Usually, they get the disharmony and tempers of the ‘worship warriors’ battling it out. I can’t much blame them for not wanting to get in the middle of it all.

Colossians 3:13 says we are to ‘Forbear’ one another. Literally, that means ‘put up with’. It’s a give and take over likes and preferences.

And besides all of that, is the music more important than the message of the Gospel that is contained within the music? Read the lyrics sometime, and forget about the music. Many of the traditional worship hymns are rife with deep, profound truth and spiritual exhortation. The more contemporary worship is profoundly exalting to the Lord Jesus Christ too.

Also, the technology that is available to churches for a meaningful worship time is nearly unlimited today. If we’re willing to blend, mix, change, and try a few new things in our church worship experience, we may cause a renewed interest.

Another area that we would do well to address is the family. Many young adult couples have no desire to drag their children kicking and screaming to a bland, colorless, lifeless nursery or children’s church. As a parent of three children ages 8 and under, I understand.

But at the same time your children may be too young to allow you to worship the Lord with liberty. The church that addresses the constantly shifting needs of children is a church that will be ‘user-friendly’ to young adults.

A few cans of bright paint, some nails and a hammer, and a child-friendly atmosphere can do worlds of good. A facility update is always exciting.

Staff is important also. A working schedule of duties for children during the worship time and for educational purposes (Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Bible Study, etc.) will help to give a sense of ease to young adults who struggle to find their footing in their walk with the Lord. No parent likes the surprise of coming to church to find out that there is no one who will attend to the demands of and teach the Word of God to their rambunctious 5 year old. It’s a big let-down, and the loss of confidence is tremendous.

Young adult fellowships and small group gatherings outside of the church can bring interests up too. You can make it to be a kid-friendly environment and have fun with the entire family in attendance. Young adults long for interaction on an informal platform where they can be themselves and loosen up a bit.

In our part of the country, a crawfish boil may be in order.  Maybe a young ladies’ informal gathering off-site at a member’s home.

Have a Mom’s day out and let Dad keep the children for the day.

Have a Dad’s day out to the lake and let Mom keep the children for the day.

Or pool together and have a babysitter so all the couples can go to a restaurant for food and fellowship.

Once the relationship has been established (or re-established), invite them to Sunday School. Let them know there is a community of believers that will help them to grow spiritually and support them however they can.

But most importantly, whatever method you employ to reach out to young adults, make sure that Christ is the center of all things. Decide beforehand that the love of Jesus will permeate throughout all of the activities and events and decisions that will be made to rescue young adults from the world and bring them back into our respective fellowships.

The Submerging Emerging Church

There is a postmodern movement in the churches of America that is commonly known as “the Emerging Church”. The ‘movement’ began in the late nineties, and gained momentum early in the new century.

One of its most prominent leaders is a man by the name of Brian Mclaren, Pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church near Baltimore, MD.

In a 2005 Baptist Press interview, Mclaren defines the ‘movement’: “…there’s got to be a lot more humility and a lot more gentleness and (we feel that) that the Gospel is made credible not by how we argue and make truth claims. But it’s made credible by the love and the good deeds that flow from our lives and our community.”

One of the more bizarre assumptions by Mclaren is that the message of the Gospel is not about who is going to Heaven or Hell, but that the primary reason for Jesus Christ coming to earth was to fix the culture with a social Gospel; to fix poverty, to eliminate unhappiness, to repair the grimness of the situation in the social world.

A result of this type of liberal doctrine is the watering down of the Sacredness of Scripture and the dismissal of any absolute dogma regarding Bible doctrine.

But probably the most noticeable result of this ‘movement’ is the blatant apathy and indifference of the next generation to provide a bold evangelical witness for salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, many are focused on Christ repairing the situations and circumstances in which they live in.

From this movement, younger generations are applying Christ to the fruit of unrighteousness rather than dealing with the root, which is salvation. More emphasis is initially placed on right living rather than emphasizing the need for forgiveness and redemption in the Lord Jesus.

I recently preached to a group of teenagers at a Saturday night youth rally. The emphasis of the rally, I was told, would be geared towards right living and bearing Spiritual fruit.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In the world in which we find ourselves today, the new generation could use a double-dose of respect for their elders, behavior modification, setting a good example as a Christian, etc.

That night I preached on the Rich Man who was found in Hell upon death. It was noted that the man had all of his senses about him in Hell: Seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing.

For an eternity the Rich Man would hear the cries of the damned that died apart from Christ. There were three that were mentioned: Cain, who asked the Lord “Am I my brother’s keeper?”; Judas, who sold the Lord Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and hanged himself; and King Agrippa, who, after the Apostle Paul had presented the Gospel to him, said “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”.

These men, just like the Rich Man, would remember for an eternity each and every single time that they were presented with the Gospel.

The point that I made to those young people that night is that Hell is real. Hell is not a parable, Hell is not a figment of the imagination, and Hell is not an allegory or a symbolic representation to scare people into getting saved.

Some people think that it is offensive and rude to ‘scare’ someone into getting saved by telling them the truth about a real, literal Hell. In my opinion, I would much rather ‘scare’ someone into Heaven than love them into an eternal Hell.

Brian Mclaren

Yet, that’s exactly what Brian Mclaren and many of the Emerging Church leaders endorse.

In a 2007 interview, Mclaren said: “A lot of arguments happen among religious and non-religious people about the question of ‘Who’s going to Hell and who’s going to Heaven?’ And a lot of times Christians get into this argument by saying ‘We have the only way into Heaven’. And people often ask me what do I think is the way into Heaven.

“I have a problem when they ask me this question because it assumes that the primary purpose of Jesus coming and the primary message of Jesus was a message about how to get to Heaven.”

If I may, Mr. Mclaren, on this issue Jesus was crystal clear: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10

As for the issues of social progress and ‘lifestyle evangelism’, the Rich Man who found his place in Hell upon death was ten times more concerned with the spiritual state of his five brothers than he was their social status, poverty level, and lifestyle. The only problem was that it was too late.

One young man came forward in the invitation at the youth rally to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior. He shocked everyone. He was thought to be saved and he thought himself to be saved also. Yet, he had been living in darkness for some time.

After the invitation was given and the rally was concluded, two other students gave their hearts to Christ. They thought they were saved also.

I guess they got ‘scared’ into Heaven.

Sorry Mr. Mclaren. I’d rather stick to the fundamentals of the Gospel.

RE-VIVE-AL

Revival…

 

 

I know, I know – it’s something that I probably speak about way too often, and you’re probably tired of it. Forgive me. I desperately desire to see God’s manifestation upon His people, and I will do just about anything it takes to see that happen. I guess my personal, daily encounter with revival is what brings me to speak about it all the time. But it is because of that redundancy that I want to take another look at it. Do we really understand what it is?

 

I mean, after all, if someone talks and talks and talks about something over and over and over again and nothing ever comes of it, then I believe it may be time to ask the question “Why hasn’t anything happened yet?”

 

This is akin to the man who wanted to be able to play piano. While standing in his church fellowshipping with a few folks, Bob pointed to the church piano and said “I’d really love to be able to play that piano. I just wish I could sit down at it and make wonderful music.”

That doesn’t sound so bad……until he had said the same thing to the same people every single Sunday for an entire year. Once Bob’s friend had finally had his fill of listening to his empty wishes and hopes, he asked “Brother, if you want to play that piano so bad, why don’t you go take some lessons and actually learn how to play it rather than just wishing and hoping for it?”

 

The same thing happens when it comes to revival. Ask any good southern, Bible-believing Christian if they want to see revival and you’ll get a favorable response every time. Yet, we still don’t have it, so that would lead me to assume that we either really don’t want it or we don’t understand the nature and definition of what revival really is. I believe it is the former. We love to talk about it, sing about it, and wish for it……much like Bob talked, crowed, and wished to be able to play the piano. But Bob was unwilling to personally get involved enough to know how to play the piano. So also are many who beat their jaws about revival.

 

So I decided to take another look at revival to see if I had missed something. The word “revival” has three separate parts to it that need to be separated in order to fully understand the word.

 

#1: “Vive” is the root of the word and needs to be addressed first. “Vive” (pronounced ‘veev’) defined means “long live”, or “to give life to”. In other words, it means that there is some life present. “Vive” is the root of several words, such as “Vivacious”, and “Vivid” – all of which have to do with the living. If you will recall, some years ago Taco Bell had a very successful advertisement campaign that centered on a little talking Chihuahua enjoying an entrée called a ‘Gordita’. The dog would stand before a large crowd that would hush when he stepped to the podium, as he shouted “Viva Gorditas!” In English, that simply means “Long live Gorditas!” It was cheesy (no pun intended), but the point is that from English to Spanish the word does not change. Whether “Vive” or “Viva”, the word means that there is life present.

 

A church is generally assumed to be full of people who are dead to sin and have been made alive unto Christ. We’ve been born again, and we are as alive as we can be. The new walk with Christ has given us life in abundance, and His death at Calvary paved the way for us to experience life to the fullest – to the extent that we are eternally secure in the Father’s hand.

 

It was the famous 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody that once stated: “One day they will come to you and tell you that ‘D.L. Moody is dead.’ Don’t believe it for even a second! I will, at that point, be more alive than I have ever been in my life here on this earth!”

 

#2: “-al”: The suffix “-al” simply means “pertaining to”, or “of”. Generally, any word that ends in “-al” has this meaning. “Supplemental” simply means “of, or pertaining to supplements”. “Rental” means “of, or pertaining to rent”. “Survival” means “of, or pertaining to surviving”.

 

So when you put just these two words together, “vive” and “-al”, it simply means “of or pertaining to life”, or “of or pertaining to the giving of long life”. We go to church to learn more about the spirit life and the ways of God from the Word of God. These are things that pertain to being alive in the Spirit and being sensitive to the leading and guidance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church continues to march on as a life giving institute purchased by the Lord’s own sacrifice at Calvary.

 

But from time to time life drifts into stagnation. The same ways of obedience become ho-hum, and the spirit life that once shone so vibrantly in your life begins to fade and become dimly lit. We begin to go through the motions of religion rather than functioning in a vibrant relationship with Christ. Does that mean that you’ve lost your salvation? If you’ve truly been born again of the Spirit, there’s no way you can lose your salvation. However, you can lose your way from time to time. And that goes for the leadership as well as the layman. This leads to the last point part of the word, which is actually the first part of the word……

 

#3: “Re-”: This one is simple. It means “again”, or “once more”. Put these word fragments together and you have “Re-vive-al”, or “Revival”. It does not mean that you are dead spiritually, but that you have to be renewed and refreshed in your spirit walk with Christ.

 

But here is where the problem exists.

 

The reason why we don’t see any significant movement of God’s Spirit on a body of people today boils down to a simple truth. If we don’t experience revival, this can only mean that we are content with where we are in our Spirit walk with Christ. Complacency is prohibiting God’s anointing and His Power from manifesting itself in real, Holy Ghost revival.

 

The only way for real, lasting revival to take place is for us to get uncomfortable in our complacency. Many are uncomfortable now, but are content to remain complacent because of the inconvenience that revival would cause. Simply put, revival would disrupt our lives, and we don’t want that. There is nothing ‘convenient’ about taking time out of your day to pray, to read the Bible, to seek God’s face, or to help out a neighbor. However, we find it convenient to be caught up in the trappings of the world. We do our jobs and come home to shut the door and not let anything interrupt our schedule of American Idol and Jeopardy.

 

Yet, we still call ourselves followers of Christ. Is this acceptable?

 

Our communities will not see revival until people begin to be hungry enough to start allowing some inconvenience. Our lives will not be changed until we are desperate enough to not be content with second best. If you are a follower of Christ who is nominal in your walk with the Lord, I challenge you to begin to look at the big picture of your life and ask what could be cut out to give some time for the Lord. The laundry can wait to be folded; no one is going to die if you turn the television off for an hour; the world will not stop turning if you are late for your Zumba workout; you don’t have to go shopping on your lunch hour.

Meet with God. Seek His heart. Listen for His Voice.

 

And when you get stale and stagnant in your faith walk with the Lord, rinse and repeat. Start over again. Go to a quiet place. Meditate on His Word. Do something that you’ve never done before – cut the cell phone off! Give the Lord a sacrifice of your time in order that you may draw ever closer to Him……and experience His life in the Spirit again and again.

 

Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified. ~Psalm 70:4~

 

A Stagnant Stench

During the intermission to a theatre performance, a small fire broke out backstage that quickly was deemed “out of hand”. As the fire department was being called, the emcee came before the audience who were being seated for the performance. His intention was to keep order and peace and have everyone evacuate without a raving panic sweeping the place. So he decided to be gentle and kind in his announcement.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I regret to inform you that there is a fire that has just broken out backstage and we are going to have to cut our performance short tonight and ask you to evacuate the theatre. Please exit calmly and quickly.”

The audience began to laugh and applaud, shouting “Bravo! Bravo!” with every warning the emcee announced.

The emcee, flustered, calmed the audience and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is not a joke. I am as serious as I know how be. There is a fire backstage. The fire department is on the way, and we must evacuate this theatre as quickly as possible.” He was still very calm, cool, and collected, knowing that if mass hysteria broke out there would be a great deal of confusion and possibly someone getting injured in the process.

The audience began to cheer even louder, clapping and drowning out the sound of the emcee, who was visibly frustrated.

Finally, as the emcee’s anger continued to grow, he shouted, “FOR GOD’S SAKE, THERE IS A FIRE IN THE BUILDING! THIS IS NOT A JOKE! EVERYONE NEEDS TO EVACUATE NOW! YOU WILL DIE IF YOU JUST SIT HERE!”

Again, the audience cheered, this time standing to their feet with whistles and shouts of adulation for the passionate performance the emcee gave. As the audience continued to drown out the voice of the emcee, smoke began to creep into the dimly lit theatre…

 

 

The purpose of a theatre is for entertainment. That’s what the folks in the audience come for – to be entertained. There is no sense of danger when the emcee comes to make his grim announcement. The people just respond the only way that they know how and the only way that they assume that they are supposed to respond.

I think that this is the exact perception that some people have about the house of God today. Many attend church on Sunday morning assuming that they will be entertained and have their senses tingled by the wonderful music and the orator’s skill.

Even when the message is grim, the people just respond the only way they know how by saying “Amen” when he hits a high point or gets a little excited about the content of the message. Sadly, much like the theatre, the smoke creeps in and catches people unaware and oblivious to the condition of their own heart.

The church today has become so Gospel-hardened that if the minister were to preach a fire and brimstone message many would casually listen and nod in affirmation, but never check their standing before the Lord. The messenger who has been sent to the Church to warn about the coming judgment, the penalties and pitfalls of sin, and the destination of those who are found apart from Christ upon death – by and large, he is given a pat on the back for a “job well done” when the people leave the service.

What a tragedy that we cannot even smell the stench of stagnation in our Churches today.

I don’t make it my habit to talk about other Preachers/Pastors, for I know that I am imperfect and flawed just as they are. But, by and large, what happens in these situations where the people in the Church only desire to be entertained is that the minister will oblige their request. He will cease the preaching on the total depravity of man, on a Christless hell, on the brutality of the Cross, and  other controversial things that makes folk “uncomfortable” in order to keep the  few whom he feels will walk if he does not transform his message. Unfortunately, the result is usually a large following of individuals who enjoy having their ears tickled.

When the Pastor reduces his message to a motivational speech, the Body of Christ becomes impotent. There is no spiritual power, there is no anointing, there is no blessed unction……and the flock suffers because of it. The most devastating part of all this is the fact that we’ve herded a multitude of lost sheep into a large stall and told them “You’ll be just fine if you stick together, believe in yourself, and think positive.

The Bible says in Psalms 107:11-12 says “Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help.”

How tragic it must be to go through life and live out your own personal spin on spirituality, only to stand before God on that day of judgment and find out that you were wrong. And to add insult to injury, to finally discover that you had the answer to it all and never chose to look into it.

Hope for the Weary…

Christians have a tendency to become worn and weary as we fight the good fight of faith in these last days. It seems as if our efforts for the advancement of the Kingdom sometimes fall short due to an apostate attitude toward the things of God. Many in our world today do not share the same passion for Jesus that we do, so it is understandable to a certain degree that we become discouraged and down-hearted from time to time.

I am no different. It saddens my heart to see the blatant apathy and disregard that some of my fellow believers have towards the advancement of the Gospel. We are called to be light in a darkened world, but, if we were honest, sometimes our batteries get weak and we need recharging.

Dwelling in the temporal things of this world can get you there quick too. If you don’t keep an eternal perspective, things can get out of hand quick. We have to remember that, though we are in this world, we are not of this world. We are but strangers and pilgrims seeking to spread good news to those who will hear us.

As I meditate on that thought, my mind wanders to Isaiah 65. In this blessed chapter, we learn some things that help us to draw a strong contrast from our present state of being to our blessed state of being we will one day obtain. This particular passage goes into the future, after the closing hour of the 7-year time of Tribulation on the earth, and speaks of the Millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth.

The only thing that stands in the way of us obtaining all of the promises contained in this chapter is TIME. We must remember that our God does not dwell in time like we do. He is above and beyond it. So when the Word of God states that we as believers possess something, we must take into consideration that God is already in what we know as the future, watching us receive what has been promised to us in the present. God keeps His Word.

Verse 17 states that “…the former will not be remembered, nor come into mind.” In that wonderful day, we will have no more memory of sin’s devastation on our lives. I find this especially comforting since there are a multitude of Christians who have a hard time letting go of the poor decisions that they have made in the past.

But furthermore, I believe that this touches on a grander scale. Each year we are reminded of the atrocities that occurred on September 11th, 2001. We are reminded that religious fanatics murdered 3,000 innocent people, and we pause briefly to relive the sorrowful effects it had on our lives that day. I believe there is coming a day when we will not have to relive the horrific effects sin has had on our life anymore, no matter what tragedy you’ve weathered in live.

Verse 18 states: “…for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.” I believe this tells us that there will be no more sour fellowship. Today we have ‘irreconcilable differences’, divorce, disputes, and disharmony……and, even though it sounds like I am describing the lost world, I’m only referring to those within the Body of Christ. What a tragedy that we can’t get along and we constantly fight and fuss, but what a blessing it will be in that day when there will be unhindered, unbroken fellowship between us all.

Verse 19 declares that God will “…rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.” I don’t have to go into the storied history of the Jewish people for you to realize that there has been intense persecution of the people of God since the very beginning. What a blessing it will be in that day to have no more adversaries who launch terrible persecutions towards God’s chosen people.

But this goes a bit further to touch even you and I. In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul teaches how that Gentile believers were grafted into the Body of Christ. In other words, we who are not Jewish are taken under the wing, so to speak, and brought into the fellowship through the blood of Christ. And certainly we can see that this is true from the book of Acts where Peter first extended the Gospel to the Gentiles and they received it (Acts 10).

Today it is estimated that somewhere upwards of 160,000 Christians give their lives as martyrs for the sake of the advancement of the Gospel. You don’t hear that stat on the regular news media. It is a stated fact that there is an intense persecution against anyone who will name the name of Christ, but it is also a stated fact that there is coming a day when we will not have to worry about persecution anymore.

Verse 20 tells of a time when there will be justice in life. For example, it tells us that there will be no more infants who die shortly after they are born. I’ve had the unfortunate duty of officiating a funeral of a precious little child who was taken to Heaven shortly after birth. It is an especially sobering experience to stand next to a casket that is no bigger than a large shoebox and see the faces of that child’s parents looking to you, hoping to hear some words of comfort. It is unjust. It is wrong. It is out of order. No parent should have to bury their child, no matter how old or young they are.

We have words of comfort that we give in the here and now to help us to cope. One passage of Scripture that I have especially taken comfort in is Zechariah 8, verses 4 & 5:

“Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.”

What a blessing to know that the natural process of death will one day be extended and the man or woman that is 100 years old will be as agile and have as much energy as a 5-year old, and they shall be considered “young” who make it to 100. No more arthritis, cholesterol, blood pressure, migraines, or feebleness.

Verses 21 and 22 speak of the people dwelling in safety and security. I know I’m a bit old-fashioned for my age, but I remember a time when you didn’t have to wonder in the middle of the night if you had locked the door or not. We had a measure of innocence at that time. Today, we spend billions of dollars annually on security systems, security personnel, firearms to protect and defend our home, lighting to light up the night, etc. Praise God there will soon be a day when we can dwell in peace and safety.

But these verses also state “…they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them…they shall not plant, and another eat…” I believe this tells us that we will one day enjoy the fruits of our labor. Life today moves at such a rapid pace that we really don’t have time to enjoy what we work hard for. We are “connected” at all times. Cell phones, the internet, and the 24/7 news cycle keep us so pumped up on current events and status changes that at the end of the day we feel like there should be 27 hours in a day rather than 24 so that we can get everything done.

Ecclesiastes 5:18 says “It is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.” God’s original plan was for us to work hard, but to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor. There is coming a day when we won’t be rushed, and we can enjoy all of the blessings He bestows upon us.

These are but just a few of the great promises that we have that we can place our hope and trust in. When we walk through this life and encounter trouble, just remember that the system that we now live in is fallen and broken because of sin. In that glorious day it will be when we no longer have to face the devastating effects that sin has had on our world and on our own lives.

And when you’re weary………these things can offer great hope.

The Redneck Christmas Blog

Well, it’s that time of the year again. It’s time for turkey and dressing, time for itchy sweaters and footed pajamas, time for hot chocolate and marshmallows, and its even time to break out the video camera and dig through the junk drawers to find a blank tape. It’s time to see the family that you don’t really care for but tolerate just for the sake of the season. And if you have family on the way in from out of town, it’s time to fold out the bulky, inconvenient hide-a-bed and be appalled by Uncle Bob’s incessant desire to pass gas at the dinner table . . . . . and giggle about it. Yes folks, it’s Christmas-time again.

On Christmas morning little Bobby will get a new battery-powered fire truck with all sorts of annoying bells and whistles, little Jerri will get some new Barbie dolls, Billy will get the latest war game to play on his X-box, Jen will get her first cell phone, Dad will get another tool to put into his toolbox, Mom will get a new house-coat with matching slippers, Grandma will get pictures of the kids, Grandpa will get a new fishing hat and pocket knife, etc.

Wrapping paper will be strewn from one end of the house to the other; the flash of the camera will keep blinding everyone, smiles, laughter, tears of joy, voices . . . . Christmas.

But in the midst of the entire Commercial hustle and bustle that we’ve made Christmas out to be – giving presents, sharing laughter, enjoying family – many times we don’t even mention the real reason why this time of the year is so very special. Sadly, the economic woes of the times are dictating the activities and thoughts of many during this season. Some who were in a better financial state in times past now worry if their children will get everything they wished for in their letter to Santa Claus. And, truthfully, “Santa” has a lot on his shoulders these days – what used to be acceptable for a child’s gift is now just a what-not to put on a shelf and look at. I believe Santa now has an account at Best Buy . . . . . but what do I know? (*wink*)

What ever happened to those good old days when things were simpler? Days when the only electronic device you’d get for Christmas might be a remote controlled car or truck? Days when some of the items in your stocking consisted of things that were actually useful, like an apple or an orange or a package of fresh, new socks?

I remember those days.

Back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my family and I lived in a trailer off of a little dirt road that adjoined to the black-top road about 100 yards away. Some people called where we lived a community, and others called it a “nook” in the woods. (If you’d say that now, there would be an onslaught of people heading to the woods to find an e-reader, but that’s another story for another day) “Town” (the big town of Bastrop, Louisiana) was twenty or so miles away. Winters seemed colder back then, but I must admit I spent a lot more time outside then than I do now. My Daddy was a farmer, and my Mama was a homemaker. The cash was scarce, and the bills were plentiful.

So Christmas was simple.

After setting out some milk and cookies for Santa, we would make our journey to Granny & Papaw’s house in town for Christmas supper and presents afterward. Supper has been served there at 6pm sharp every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember. We would eat turkey and dressing, ambrosia, pistachio salad, and rutabagas. Well, I never ate the rutabagas. Rutabagas are one of those things I will have to ask God why He created when I get to Heaven. (Yuck!) But somehow they would always make it to my plate (and secretly get stuck in a napkin and tossed in the trash when no one was looking).

Then, after everyone was through stuffing their faces, we would gather in the small living room around Papaw Baker to hear him read the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2. I hate to admit this, but my cousins and I weren’t nearly as interested in the Christmas story as we were the little white envelopes that were in Papaw’s shirt pocket. That was our Christmas present from him: A shiny, sleek, brand-new twenty dollar bill for each of us! One of us kids would be nominated to be “Santa” and pass out the Christmas gifts. Another given was my Aunt who was an Avon distributor. We always knew that we’d be getting some deodorant or cologne from her. Then, Papaw would ever-so-slowly reach into his shirt pocket and pass out those cherished little white envelopes to each of us.

After we said our good-byes, we made our way to the even smaller town (more like a dot on a map) of Bonita, Louisiana where Grandmaw and Grandaddy Johnson were awaiting our arrival. This worked out well for me because they had already eaten their Christmas supper and the leftovers were still on the table. And, remembering the rutabagas that I had secretly tossed in the trash, I would always sneak to the table while no one was looking and munch on some more spectacular Christmas food. More presents, more laughter, more family.

Realizing it was getting pretty late, Mama & Daddy would say their goodbyes, load up the presents, and start the journey home down the long, winding Hopkins Hill road. It seemed like it took an hour to get home. I couldn’t wait to see if Santa had made his stop at our home yet (although I never quite understood how he got in since our trailer didn’t have a chimney).

Mama would always point out the now half-glass of milk and the half-eaten cookies to me, but I was more interested in what was under the tree. I remember getting my first set of Tinker-toys one Christmas, as well as some G. I. Joe action figures. I even got the He-Man and Skeletor action figures from the Masters of the Universe cartoons! And as always, when all of the presents were unwrapped, Daddy would point out that the stockings on the wall were full. So we’d pilfer through and find more goodies that “Santa” had left behind.

Looking back on those times makes me realize that we have commercialized and compacted Christmas to such a degree now that our children believe Christmas was all about getting “stuff”. Yes, that is part of it. But getting “stuff” would not be possible without the participation of loving family members that make it happen. Without family, none of this even matters. What child wants to receive a gift and open it alone? That’s no fun.

That’s why I love the fact that Mary and Joseph weren’t all alone that night in the barn. Oh sure there was the occasional braying of the donkey and lowing of the oxen, but that doesn’t bring comfort like the words of excited shepherds can.

The shepherds. Think about those guys the next time Uncle Bob runs everyone away from the dinner table. The shepherds were the outcasts of society. Plus they didn’t smell that great. You certainly wouldn’t catch a Pharisee or a Scribe shaking hands with one of these scrubby fellows. Yet they were the very ones who witnessed a manifestation of the Heavenly host singing “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace; good will toward men.” God chose to tell them about the greatest miracle of all time FIRST.

Christmas is about the greatest gift ever given, in the oddest way possible. A baby, a hay-filled manger, some swaddling clothes, farm odors, and stinky shepherds. Not the best circumstances, and certainly not the most sanitary.

Yet, this is the way that God chose to implement His Master plan of redemption for you and I.

And He chose to use the comfort and means of the family to do it with.

Many people in our society today testify to their belief that the family no longer matters – that it’s outdated and needs to be “traded in” on more modern cultural norms. Kids don’t even want to come home for Christmas anymore for any number of reasons. “I don’t like him”, or “I just don’t fit in”, or “They’re not my ‘kind’ of people anymore”, or (I love this one) “They’re just too old-fashioned”.

Or, what’s worse is the 24/7 news cycle that tries to spin Christmas into some sort of quasi-magical family time where people get together and exchange gifts for no other reason than exchanging gifts, and not even mention the word “Christmas”. Instead they substitute it with “holiday” or “seasonal” day. Holidays are important, and family is important, but  listening to the liberal media describe Christmas and the reason we celebrate this time of the year is about like listening to Jack Kevorkian describe himself as a compassionate guy. And Heaven help us all if they attempt to describe the purpose for the advent of the Messiah! The secular world just doesn’t get it.

Just remember during this holiday season that the reason Christmas is a big deal is, not only because He is the Savior of the world, but also because of family: a husband and wife that couldn’t find any room at the inn, but found comfort in having smelly surroundings and smelly shepherds present at the birth of their first child. Our Savior was born with earthly parents that, despite all odds, surrounded Him with love. He was a part of a family here on this earth. And Christ would go on to provide access for all of us into God’s family by His death, burial, and resurrection.

Though Uncle Bob’s flagellates disgust you, remember he’s still family. Though your Grandparents are “old-fashioned”, remember that they’re still family. And even though you may already know that your Aunt is going to get you some deodorant from the Avon catalog for Christmas, just remember she’s still family. Love them. You’re making family memories that will last a life-time.

God accepts us just as we are and gives us the privilege of being an even bigger part of His family of misfits and mess-ups. We’re far from perfect, but thanks be to Him that we’re forgiven!!!

Have a very Merry Christmas, and a wonderful New Year!