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“I Believe In A god That…”

One of my favorite films when I was younger was the classic 80’s flick, The Karate Kid. Filled with iconic scenes and memorable lines, the film garnered a cult following that recently inspired YouTube to produce a spinoff series that catches up with the characters years after the events of the film. Out of all the familiar catchphrases, the one still is recited in pop-culture is the mysterious directive of Karate master, Mr. Miyagi, “Wax on, wax off.” Not understanding why he was told to clean cars and paint fences, (Daniel came here to learn to fight!) he followed the old man’s orders until he could take it no longer. Finally Mr. Miyagi revealed the movements Daniel was repeatedly doing were not simply cleaning motions but were self-defense moves that he could use to protect himself. This changed his outlook and his attitude.

                   “Why are we doing this? What is our end goal?” Knowing the reason why you do something is important; it affects your outlook on life. So let me ask you, why go to church? What is the point? Is it just an optional bonus for some people? The question could be further posed, “What is the point of Christianity as a whole?” Now, obviously your world-view will dictate how you respond.

                   In turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, many people have a view of Christianity that is not Biblical or historic, especially many teenagers who grew up going to church. Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton spent many hours interviewing approximately 3,000 teenagers only to discover that, although most of them self-identified as Christians, the way they expressed their beliefs opposed orthodox Christianity. Smith writes, “To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it.” In other words, perhaps churches have not been clear about the “point” and goal of it all.

                   In order to classify what these teens were espousing, Smith and Denton were forced to coin a new phrase: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The basic ideas are that a god does exist, created the world, and wants everyone to be nice and happy.  However this god doesn’t really need to be a part of your life unless you need help with a problem. And finally, good people go to heaven when they die.

                   Unfortunately, it has been my experience that it is not simply teenagers who believe like this, but the vast majority of people who have even the smallest form of a religious background. Dr. Albert Mohler comments, “Let’s be very clear, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is religion, but it isn’t Christianity. It’s nowhere close to biblical Christianity.” Yet it seems that many people assume the above ideas do accurately reflect Christian belief.

                   While many people will never use a term like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (or any form of Deism) to describe their world-view, it seems to be that the basic tenets are widely-held by many people. In the past, I have simply regarded people who would espouse these types of beliefs as irreligious or indifferent. Yes, they would say they believe in a god, but they simply can’t be bothered by this god. Yes, they would pray if they were in a bind, but to join a group of like-minded people seems preposterous. Yes, they think that they deserve to go to heaven when they die, but solely to be with lost loved ones in a type of paradise not to be with God. According to this mindset, life is primarily about one’s self-fulfillment and happiness while on this earth. It all sounds good, right? So what’s the problem?

                   My question to anyone who holds these types of beliefs is first and foremost, “According to what?” Meaning, where do you get these ideas? I clearly remember a moment speaking with a person about the kind of god she believed in, to which I responded, “Where are you getting this information from? Aren’t you just making this up?” She thought for a moment and admitted, “I guess you’re right.” However, she didn’t seem to be troubled by this self-realization. An entire world-view created in one’s imagination, with no foundation and yet, she doesn’t care… I don’t understand this type of thinking.

                   We must examine our motives. Are we doing something over and over, like Daniel in the Karate Kid, simply because someone told us to do so? Do we know our motive, our end goal? One must remember that growing up in a Christian church and having Christian family members does not make one a Christian ipso facto. And what we believe does ultimately matter. Yes, knowledge of God is only truly achieved through His sovereign hand. Knowing God is what Christian salvation is all about (cf. John 17:3). However, Christians must strive to be evermore clear about the truth of God and the gospel of Christ as revealed in the Bible. We must not allow tradition or culture to get in the way of what is truly Biblical. We must not be like Mr. Miyagi and hide our motives and purposes; instead we must make sure we are understood as we forthrightly proclaim truth to our children, to our community, and to the ends of the earth.  

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.            

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“You Have Faith… But I Have Science!”

Some people may find it strange to note that one of the earliest and most important proponents of what is known today as the Big Bang theory, was none other than astronomer and Roman Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître. As a priest, Lemaître believed in a God that had revealed Himself in a way that mankind could understand. As a scientist, Lemaître believed that the mysteries of the physical world could be understood through observation and intellectual inquiry. Although many today believe there is an uncrossable chasm between faith and science, tracing the history of science tells a very different story, with many of those great minds of the past also being devout believers in a supernatural God. 

            Before Lemaître’s proposal, the consensus of the scientific community was the eternality of the universe, that is, the belief that the universe has always existed. It was regarded as “religious” to think that the universe had a beginning. In fact, famed theoretical physicists Stephen Hawking writes, “Many scientists were unhappy with the universe having a beginning, because it seemed to imply that physics broke down. One would have to invoke an outside agency, which for convenience one can call God, to determine how the universe began.” 

            So while all of the evidence was coming forward that the universe did in fact have a beginning, something that Bible believing people have always affirmed, many in the scientific community did not want to believe the objective evidence because of their emotional response. Objectivity is when one is “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.” I believe this example is helpful in pointing out that even when we affirm that we are being objective in our view of evidence, all people must be aware that we have particular beliefs that we hold for emotional reasons. All people have beliefs that are, in a very real sense, beliefs of faith.

            It was not until the 1960’s that the universe having a beginning became the scientific consensus. But instead of the evidence of a universal beginning convincing all people of the truth of God as the Beginner, many people had to convince themselves that the universe came forth out of nothing — that is, there once was nothing and for no apparent reason, there was suddenly something. Stephen Hawking writes, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.” To be fair, Hawking does go on to try to explain why he thinks this; however, consider such a statement in light of everything else you know about reality. Does something ever come from nothing? Not only is this sort of thinking non-scientific, it is a full-blown statement of faith. Hawking is relating something he believes without empirical evidence; in other words, something he believes by faith. 

            With all of this in mind, I believe that, simply stated, there is an infinite, eternal being, who created all things. I believe the Creator has revealed Himself to all mankind through His creative work. The Apostle Paul writes that God has plainly made Himself known stating, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:20).” Additional, I believe this Creator entered into His own creation in the person of Jesus Christ revealing further that our Creator is personal and not merely some cosmic force. The actions of Christ proclaimed His true divinity and finally, His resurrection from the dead solidified His claims. How can I believe these things? Are these just faith statements or do they also contain scientific inquiry?

            I look at the world around me, I see all that has been made, I recognize that there is a maker. I learn of the life of Christ and the claims that He made, I learn that He was killed by Roman officials, a fact that has little dispute even among irreligious historians, and that He rose from the dead three days later, appearing to many people including an appearance to a crowd of over 500 people (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:6). I read of these events in the most widely dispersed, historically reliable, best attested work of antiquity, the Bible. Finally, I have had an encounter with this Creator God through the new birth of His Spirit. Biblically speaking, the idea of Christian regeneration, or the new birth, is something that is an objective work of the Spirit apart from the will of man.

            I am not asserting that Biblical Christianity is solely an objective stance simply come to through a series of tidy arguments; obviously faith is vital for Christians. The primary point I am trying to make is that all beliefs, including those held by atheistic or agnostic scientists, have an aspect of faith to them. Therefore, when one asserts, “You have faith, but I have science” as if they automatically have the intellectual “higher ground”, you can assess their statements and point out their faith.

            Biblical Christianity makes sense. It makes sense scientifically and spiritually. It makes sense of all that we see and all that we cannot see. As C.S. Lewis eloquently put it, I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Hawking quotes are from his book “Brief Answers to the Big Questions”.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.            

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“By What Standard?”

Many times when people with varying world views and belief systems are having a heated conversation you will hear each person state particular ideas without offering any evidence to back up those ideas. Generally speaking, the ideas that we feel we don’t have to question are our presuppositions. In other words, no person is coming to a conversation with a completely neutral position, instead, we argue from our held beliefs. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as we recognize that we are doing it. Being blind to our own presuppositions or assuming that they are universally believed is a prime reason so many conversations do not end well.

            We must be able to get to the root of our beliefs in order to have constructive conversations. We do this by asking two primary questions. 1) Why do you believe what you believe? And 2) What is the standard or foundation for your belief? Let me explain using an illustration that I have used many times in the past.

            Imagine I’m working on a puzzle. After hours of work, I put in the last piece, smiling as I look at my accomplishment. You look at my work and say, “Something is wrong.”

            Amazed at your seemingly rude comment, I respond, “What do you mean?” You tell me I did the puzzle incorrectly, that I need to go back and correct it.

            “What gives you the right to say that I’m wrong? Who made you an authority on this puzzle?”

            “I don’t consider myself an authority. However, if you look at the picture on the box, you’ll see that yours doesn’t match. I may not be an authority, but the puzzle box sure is.”

            I take a deep breath, look at the box, and finally admit you are right. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I can see that many of the pieces don’t actually fit together but were forced together. As I use the box to correct the puzzle, the picture becomes clear. Originally, my puzzle appeared to be an abstract painting, but now I see that it is a lake with a boat and a big blue sky filled with clouds. It’s a beautiful picture and I almost missed it.

            In this example, the puzzle box is the standard or objective measurement by which one is to judge the correct construction of the puzzle. Sure, you may be able to force some pieces together, but unless you use the true standard to judge the puzzle you will always be off. Similarly, if one were to ask the second person why he believes that the puzzle was wrong, he could simply point to the box. In other words, the question is, “Why do you believe what you believe about the puzzle being wrong?” The answer would then be, “The box shows that it is wrong.” We’re not talking about emotions or “this is the way I was raised”, we are talking about objective standards for belief.

            You see, this is important for all people to consider. Whether you consider yourself religious or nonreligious, a Christian or an atheist, a Republican or a Democrat, why do you believe what you believe? By what standard do you support your belief? Are your beliefs grounded in objective truth and reality? Or do you believe particular ideas because your parents did? Or because you’ve been swayed by culture? Or because you have an emotional attachment to a particular view? There are many reason we believe certain ideas, however, the question remains, “What is the standard of your belief?”

            One person might say, “I believe that God created the world in six literal days. That Adam and Eve were the first humans from which all people today have come.” Another person might say, “I believe that the universe came about through the Big Bang and that human beings are the result of billons of years of natural evolutionary processes.” Still another says, “I believe the earth was made by the Fairy Queen from Candy Land.” How would one go about judging each of these beliefs? Which one is true? “It’s true if it’s true to you.” No, that’s not a tenable position. We tend to go hyper PC when dealing with beliefs. That is not helpful to anyone. Instead, we can start by asking the two questions mentioned above.

            Imagine a brief conversation between the above people (we’ll leave out the Fairy Queen for now). “I believe that God created the world because it’s part of my religious faith.” The other person interjects, “Well, I believe in the Big Bang and evolution because it’s science. And I believe in science.” Now, this could be a very short conversation that wouldn’t get anywhere if these two people don’t start to address each others presuppositions. For instance, what is the standard for religious belief? Is there objective reasons to believe in God and His revealed truth? Likewise, what is the standard for scientific inquiry? What can science tell us and what are the limits of science? Perhaps, some might find it interesting the faith and science actually tend to go hand in hand. So whether you would say you believe in God creating the world, the Big Bang, or somewhere in between, my question is why do you believe that? If your response is simply because of my religion or because of my belief in science, I don’t think you’ve thought it through enough. What is the standard for your belief in science or faith?

            Over the next few weeks, I want to continue to engage each reader with a number of arguments and propositions intended to get us all to examine what we think we know. What are the standards for what we believe and are we willing to examine these core issues? Finally, if we see contradictions or false ideas in our belief systems and world views, are we willing to change them accordingly?

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.            

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Test All Things”

Why do you believe what you believe? Last week I discussed the important idea that not every belief is created equal; in fact, some beliefs are outright wrong. Just because an individual is sincere and devout about a particular set of ideas does not make them true. This may be a hard “pill” to swallow, but truth is important and grasping truth is important.

For instance, the idea that the earth is the center of the universe, geocentrism, was the commonly held belief among the best and brightest minds for 1,500 years following Ptolomy’s  work, “Almagest”, which codified this model in the second century AD. However, the idea was wrong. We know this today: the earth is not the center of the universe. That is not to say that Ptolomy was an idiot and we should make fun of him. Nor were those who came after him who believed in and even built off of his work. Yet the fact remains they were wrong about the geocentric model of the universe. Is that rude or mean-spirited to say? Is it wrong to point out?

Do you believe anything that is false? “Well,” you may respond, “that’s a stupid question. Why would anyone knowingly believe something that is false?” That is exactly the point. No one thinks any of their beliefs are wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t believe them. But obviously, with all of the varying and contradictory beliefs out in the world, some people must be wrong. Now, I don’t know about you, but I do not want to base my life on false ideas and assumptions. I want, as much as humanly possible, to know and believe only that which is true. Therefore, I am constantly examining my ideas and beliefs in order to discern whether or not they are viable. When was the last time you questioned a firmly held belief? Whether the topic is political ideologies, sociological concerns, or religious beliefs, are you willing and able to assess what you have thought to be the truth? 

Now, obviously I am personally coming from a particular perspective and worldview and I am not shy about it. I am writing as a Bible-believing, Christ-following, local church pastor; however, I commend inquiry to all people, even those I shepherd in the local church. You see, if one believes they possess truth about any given subject, there should be no fear of examination. Truth remains truth even in the midst of intense scrutiny. 

Likewise, the Bible itself commends people to examine whatever is presented as truth. Contrary to commonly held assumptions, Biblical Christianity does not require nor demand blind faith. Rather, any idea put forth is to be scrutinized. The Apostle Paul writes, “Test everything; hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).” Christians are not simply to believe something because a leader or teacher asserts it as truth. 

In fact, the Bible praises the people of the ancient city of Berea because they did not simply believe Paul’s preaching; instead they examined his teaching, thought it through, and weighed his logic in order to come to a conclusion. “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11).” Similarly, as I present truth in my own local church, I constantly remind the congregation to not simply believe something because I say it, but to test what I say. Again, truth has nothing to fear.

On my bookshelf are a number of volumes with which I have enormous disagreements, authors ranging from Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens to Bart Ehrman and Rob Bell, each with its own slant and each trying to uproot historical Christianity in its own way. Why are these books be in my office? Why would I want to read through pages and pages of material that I believe to be false information? Because inquiry is important and truth has nothing to fear. I am willing to give these authors a fair hearing. I am willing to listen to their arguments and to try to understand where they are coming from. Finally, I then am able to make an educated, well thought-out response to that which I disagree with in their belief systems. This is what healthy dialogue looks like, listening and thinking before responding. 

Are there books or articles that you won’t read because they go against your worldview? Do you believe that the “other side” has nothing to say that will ever change your mind, so you will never give them a fair listen? Do you have religious leaders who warn you to stay away from “anti” material, content that goes against your organization, and to only consume material produced by your particular group? Surely, truth has nothing to fear, so why not do the research, read the books, have the conversation with a person who has opposing views? In the end, don’t we all just want to know what is true? Or does our pride and arrogance come before truth and inquiry? 

Over the next few weeks, I want to engage each reader with a number of arguments and propositions intended to get us all to examine what we think we know. If you consider yourself a Christian, an atheist, a spiritualist, or nothing at all, I encourage you to read and test what is presented. Let us humbly seek truth together.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.   

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Faith and Bloodletting”

“It’s all the same in the end… Just be a good person, help others, and we’ll all have one big party when we get to heaven. I mean, do you really believe in a god that would send people to hell for believing in a wrong religion?” Ever hear this type of sentiment? Perhaps you’ve spoken this type of sentiment. In fact, I think I have spoken something similar to this at a point in my life. However, upon closer examination does this type of logic hold up? Can we say that all belief systems are created equal and lead to truth, lead to God?

Perhaps an historical anecdote will help make my point. George Washington was a very brave and strong man. It seemed that nothing could kill him. As a boy, fighting small pox (a disease that killed many), and later as a solider fighting in many fierce battles, Washington always seemed to get through unscathed. That is until he met his deadliest foe… his doctors. On December 12th, 1799 Washington spent the day out in the blistering cold working around his plantation. He woke up the next morning with a severe sore throat that became increasingly worse throughout the day. When he began having trouble breathing and speaking the doctors were called.

Upon examination, the doctors agreed that the best treatment would be bloodletting. This common medical practice of the time involved bleeding a patient of “diseased” blood in order that the body would produce fresh blood. Blood was drained from Washington pint after pint. When this didn’t seem to be working the doctors also gave him laxatives to drain his bowels and vomit-inducing drugs to drain his stomach. At the same time the doctors were draining the life out of Washington. On the morning of December 14th, George Washington breathed his last.

What happened there? Washington was surrounded by 3 doctors! The problem was that the medical procedure that they chose to employ was not based on fact. The outcome being that the very procedure that was intended to save his life was what took his life. If this is what happens when ideas about our physical needs are false, even when preformed in ignorance and with sincerity, why should we think any less about the importance of our spiritual and eternal needs?

All medical ideas and practices past and present lead to healthy people, right? Wrong! In the same way, it is a lie to say that all religious systems or spiritual ideas lead to God. The popular culture espouses such thinking in order to be “kind” and “loving” to all people. I understand the desire to be kind, but is encouraging belief in a false god really loving? If someone stepped on a rusty nail and had the belief that a lucky rabbits foot would keep them from getting Tetanus would you encourage them to keep believing in that rabbits foot? Would that be a loving thing to do? No, it would be foolish, especially since we have reliable treatments for Tetanus. The loving thing to do would be to tell the person that no matter how sincere their belief in the rabbits foot is, they are wrong and should go to the hospital for a Tetanus shot.

Similarly, it is not loving to encourage false beliefs about God. True followers of Jesus Christ must be bold at pointing out error and pointing to truth as it has been revealed by God His word, the Bible. I recognize that many people believe things with great zeal and sincerity. However, this alone does not make it true. Jesus speaks of people who had all the outward appearances of being His followers and great zeal in doing so and yet, He identifies them as strangers. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Likewise, the doctors who attended to President Washington were sincere in their care for him. However, their sincerity did not equate with truth. In sharing truth and correcting error it is not the goal of the Christian to win an argument or make the other person look stupid, the goal is that people would come to the true knowledge of God and be saved. That is why we are called to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) The desire for truth is a means to knowing God, not to become puffed up with arrogance.

Are you ready and willing to accept bloodletting as a legitimate medical practice today? I don’t think so. So why should you be ready and willing to accept any old idea about the truth of God. Not all religions are created equal and many may claim to be the way to eternal life but in the end they lead to eternal death. Now, is that a statement from a mean and arrogant person, or is it words of love and concern? You tell me.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

When Loved Ones Are Far From God

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).” These are some of my favorite words in the Bible. They remind me that my life should be characterized by joy, prayer, and thankfulness to my God. However, at times I find myself lacking in joy when I consider the fact that so many people I love do not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. I am not alone in this struggle. Many followers of Christ find themselves at a loss when they see their loved ones living a life in rebellion against God. What can be done?

The first thing we must remember is God can always be trusted; we must never think He is not in control. As Abraham is interceding for the city of Sodom before its destruction, he asks the question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just/right (Genesis 18:25)?” The answer is “yes”. God always does what is good and just, therefore we must trust in Him at all times, even in the most difficult of situations.

This is not a “blind faith” that I am insisting on. Rather, as we read the Bible and see God’s faithfulness in the past, we should be certain that God will remain faithful in the future. Again, this is not wishful thinking, but based on the very nature of God. Paul insures Titus that God’s call of salvation, though in eternity past, will most certainly come to fruition because of the fact that God cannot lie (cf. Titus 1:2). The apostle’s evidence for his statement is the foundational truth about God Himself. Therefore, we must continue to lean on God, trust Him in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations, and know that He is truly “working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).”

Secondly, God cares about our lost loved ones more than we do. This may be hard for us to believe at times. However, He is their Creator, He is their God, He provides for them daily, even as they continue to turn their backs and walk away from Him. Loving their sin more than God, people continue to suppress the truth of Him and His power in their unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18) However, while this is going on, God still is caring and patient. (Matthew 5:45) “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) It is the desire of God that our loved ones repent and turn to Him. He desires they would “be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

Finally, we must heed the call we have been given to be ambassadors of Christ. We are to be the vessel God uses to implore the world to be reconciled to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:20) Do we intentionally share the truth of Christ and His gospel message with our lost loved ones? Do we look for opportunities to bring up spiritual conversations? Do we offer to pray for our lost loved ones? Do we share how God has been working in our own lives? If not, I beseech you dear Christian, pray for the boldness you need to lovingly be a witness of God’s grace. We must put legs to our prayers and not give up proclaiming the gospel. Put on the “beautiful feet” of one who brings the good news of Christ and take that news to your loved ones while there is still time. (Romans 10:15)

“But you don’t understand, my loved one is so far from God, I don’t think they will ever come to know him. They outright hate God and mock God.” Yes, I do get it. In fact, at one point in my life, I was that person. I thought I was too smart, too sophisticated to believe in God. Belief in God, I asserted, is merely an intellectual crutch for those who just can’t cope. Yet, when I least expected it, God, in His mercy and grace, changed me from the inside out. However, I am not some special case, God has done and continues to do this in people all around the world.

Be encouraged, then, as you read about the Christian hater Saul and how Jesus Christ completely changed everything about him (Acts 9). Be encouraged as you read about how God can humble even the most stubborn hearts, as He did in the life of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-37). Be encouraged as you hear to the testimony of God’s holy, inspired word: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save (Isaiah 59:1)” and “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25).”

The well-known British preacher, Charles Spurgeon once said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.” May this be our cry as we pray and speak to those who are outside of Christ. All the while rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks to our great God and King because we know He will do what is right. Finally, don’t lose heart, don’t give up hope, no matter how far they may be from God, because God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).”

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

ALL THINGS NEW

When I meet people and they find out I am a pastor, I usually get a few different responses. One I hear most often is the assumption that, as a pastor, I primarily deal within the realm of morals and ethics. I recall a conversation I had about raising children and dealing with behavior issues. After relating several instances when my own children were misbehaving, the person responded, “Yeah, that must be tough for you when your job is to teach morals and good behavior.” The comment didn’t come across as judgmental or rude; the conversation was very light and friendly. However, this caught my attention because it reflects a view many people outside of the church hold, that of the duty of pastors. Many think our primary aim is to merely instill morals and ethics to our congregation, that our goal when dealing with rowdy children is simply behavior modification.

Is that right? Is that what we want in the church, a behavioral and moral change? Well, yes and no. This is what I mean–yes, as followers of Jesus Christ we do desire to see people change. We do desire to see people turn from sinful life patterns and turn to Christ. When it comes to our children, yes, we want them to behave in a way that reflects the truths found in the Bible. The difference, however, is that we don’t want that to be the end of the matter. Meaning, our primary aspiration is not behavior modification in and of itself. We long to see behavior changed as a reflection of what God is doing in an individual’s heart. In fact, biblically speaking we do not believe there can be true, lasting change in a person until there is first a heart change, and a heart change can only come through the grace of God. 

The Bible gives us a very clear picture of the human race and the truth is, it’s not a pretty picture. This can be a hard fact for us to swallow because we have the idea that mankind is really “not that bad”. However, the Bible uses other words to describe us. The Bible says that we are “dead in [our] sins” (Colossians 2:13), that we “cannot please God”(Romans 8:8), we are “without hope” (Ephesians 2:12), and that we are “God-haters” (Romans 1:30). Not the encouraging message that people generally expect to hear from the Bible; however, it is the truth of our fallen human nature. When we look at this picture, seeing who we actually are, it may seem bleak. It is. Yet it makes the glorious grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ shine brightly through the darkness. 

You see, according to the Bible, behavior correction alone is a futile task. A pastor would be wasting his time if that were his sole desire. If we are dead, hopeless, God-haters, then what we truly need is God to do a miraculous work in us. Dead people can do nothing to make themselves look more alive. Putting makeup on a dead person may look good for a time, but eventually they will begin to rot. So what do they need? They need to be made alive, they need to be miraculously brought to life. It is the same for the broken sinner. We have no hope within ourselves, for an outward change of behavior is merely a white-washed tomb. We need God to bring us to life.

Jesus speaks about this amazing mystery in John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus, a religious leader, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was a man who had spent his entire life trying to live up to religious and social expectations, trying to be a “good” person. The truth is, however, Nicodemus remained spiritually dead. No matter how much he tried to mask his sin and no matter how much good he tried to do to outweigh his sins, he was still broken and guilty before a holy God. Jesus knows Nicodemus’ heart and He knows that what he actually needs is a new birth. 

This is what pastors are looking for in their congregations and parents in their children, a new birth. Good behavior and changing of sinful life patterns reflect that new birth. So the call from the church is not simply “stop doing that” but to come to Christ and live. It is only when we come to Jesus, confess our sin, and trust in His finished work upon the cross that we can have any hope of change. It is at this moment of faith that a person is born again by the Holy Spirit and is able, through His power, to live a life that glorifies God. As the Apostle Paul states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) It is then, because of the grace of God I can say I am not who I once was. God has made me new!

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

When Christmas Seems Unbearable

“Smile! Be Merry! It’s a happy time of year!” But what if you can’t smile? What if you don’t feel the “holiday spirit”? If this is you, you can be sure you are not alone. Many people have those same feelings this time of year. Perhaps, you will not even be able to pinpoint why you feel this way; you just do.

Medical professionals have concluded that certain individuals may be more prone to what is called “seasonal depression”. Unfulfilled expectations, financial pressures, and excessive commitments during the Christmas season can all bring about feelings of stress and anxiety. Perhaps the past year was filled with difficulty, or even tragedy. For instance, losing a loved one can make the holiday season almost unbearable.

What can be done? You might be thinking, “This guy’s a pastor! He’s just going to say ‘have faith’ and then everything will magically get better.” Yes and no. I do believe that ultimately everything in life boils down to spiritual issues and one’s relationship with God. However, no, I do not think we can simply broad-stroke each individual’s feelings with a silver bullet Bible verse, or instruct people that if they merely change their thinking, everything will be better. What I can offer is hope.

Hope is a word that is fundamentally misunderstood. These days we generally use the word hope as a synonym for wishful-thinking, uncertainty in one’s desire. However, the Bible uses the word hope to signify the feeling of confident expectation. The Apostle Paul ends his letter to the Romans by saying, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13) God is not a God of “wishful-thinking”, nor does He desire that we abound in uncertainty. Rather, saying that God is the God of hope gives us certainty that the promises He has made will come to pass. Time may move slowly and trials may come upon us, but God’s promises to His people will be kept. This is our hope. If you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression this Christmas season, let me remind you of the hope of Christmas.

You see, we cannot separate the birth of Christ with the mission of Christ. That baby lying in a manger came to earth with a specific purpose. Jesus entered into His own creation in order to bring light and life. Since the fall of mankind and the entrance of sin, life has not been how God intended. The hatred and strife that permeates society, the sickness and disease that destroys families, the anxiety and depression that causes so many to despair of life are all the consequences of living in a sin-stained world. God knows this, cares about us, and He is making all things new. (Revelation 21:5) Jesus came to earth in order to save us from this broken world.

This is the hope of Christmas: that even when Jesus was still in the womb of his mother, Mary, she cried out “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:47) Zechariah proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” (Luke 1:68) How could Mary rejoice in a Savior and Zechariah say that He has redeemed His people even before Jesus’ birth? Only because those statements are spoken with hope, the confident expectation that God does not fail in His purposes. Jesus would grow, He would live a perfect life, and He would die as a perfect sacrifice for His people. If you come to Christ in repentance and faith, you can be sure that your present suffering is not the end. You can be certain that one day all of the trouble you have in this dark world will cease, and you will be with your God and King forever.

So even when it is hard, I encourage you to, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) God has not left you alone. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) This is something we can hope for.

If you are not a follower of Christ and are struggling with finding hope, I tell you this: you can look in a lot of places to find meaning and hope, but I know (from personal experience) you will not find it. True and lasting hope only comes through Christ and what He accomplished upon the cross. I cannot offering a quick fix for all of your problems. I simply offer hope through those problems, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

One day when you leave this world, when you die and stand before God you can have hope, not because of who you are or what you’ve done, but because your trust is in Christ. My hope this Christmas is that the baby lying in the manger is my Savior. Is this your hope?

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

When Tragedy Hits

November 11th, 2018 will be a day that many in our small community of Globe-Miami will never forget. You see, it has become common for us to turn on the television and to hear news of tragic events in various places across the country, yet when it happens in your own backyard it hits you differently. “Why did this happen? Why would somebody do such a thing to another human being?” These and other questions flood our minds in the midst of such a tragic situation and it is likely that answers may never fully come.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow; will it be celebrated by those who lost loved ones? Will those who experienced such a tragic event even want to set aside a day to focus on giving thanks to God? Honestly, I cannot answer for them. And whatever they decide for themselves is okay. The amount of time that goes into healing from a situation like this varies. It will take time, prayer, and loving relationships for people to be able to truly heal. In times like these, one must hold on to the promises of God even when it seems difficult to do so. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

Perhaps, you may say, “Don’t give me that ‘religious’ nonsense right now. If God is so great, why did this happen? Obviously, God doesn’t care. This is not a time for God!” Though that may be an appropriate reaction right now. In fact, throughout the Bible (particularly the Psalms) we see similar reactions when tragic events occur. This means that God understands us, He knows that life can be hard. So go ahead, be angry with God, He can handle it. But if you are going to be angry with God, tell Him! 

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” -Psalm 13:1-2

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” -Psalm 22:1-2

“How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing?” -Psalm 35:17

Truthfully telling God about your anger, fears, and sorrows can be the beginning of healing and growing. Through this time, you may discover you have much to give thanks for even in the midst of such suffering. I’m not saying it is easy, and I don’t mean to belittle the horrific nature of last week’s events. What I am trying to say is that once you express your feelings to God, don’t run from Him. Rest in Him. The words of Christ beckon us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

If you’ve ever read the book of Job, the first two chapters make completely no sense if you don’t keep in mind who God is. Job is a man blessed with many with good things. He has money, family, and integrity (a rare quality). But it doesn’t last. Job loses everything in one horrific day. All of his wealth is gone and all his children are killed. What will Job do now? In a moment such as this we might want to follow the advice of Job’s wife: “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9) Yet, that is not his response. In the midst of sorrow, Job professes his continued trust and loyalty to God, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

How can he do that? How can Job be so naive? God must hate Job! Right? Otherwise, why would an all-powerful God allow this to happen? That is where the book of Job really shines as a insight into the mind of God as to the “hows” and “whys” of what God is doing in His people through heart-wrenching situation. God never leaves us or does anything without purpose. Job came to understand this after the long and difficult period of waiting and wondering. “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) It was a time in Job’s life where the temptation is to despise and run from God; yet what we really need in times like these is to come to know God more, to come closer to Him. “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.” (Job 42:5)

I pray for the peace and comfort of God to envelope all of those who have been affected by this tragic event. I don’t pretend to know exactly how you are feeling right now, but I pray you will find a hope in God that will guide you as you move forward in your grieving and healing. Look to Christ, the One who sacrificed His own life that His people may live. Hear the promises that await those who have put their trust in Him: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4) Until that day, live with hope in Jesus Christ. 

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

Post Tenebras Lux

There are some moments in history that seem to stand out among the rest. In fact, we set aside particular days in order to remember various historical events. Holidays such as Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day are intended to focus our attention on those past events that have shaped our present reality. A day that has become increasingly significant to me as I view the vast scope of world history is October 31st, 1517, what we now refer to as Reformation Day.

As a Christian, I find the time period of the Protestant Reformation to be particularly intriguing. Not because I believe the Reformers came up with new ideas or forged new territory, making progressive leaps into the unknown. Rather, the strength of the Reformation was in pointing people back, not to a time or system, but to Jesus Christ. The Reformers desire was not to start a new church or type of religious insurrection, but to see the church and her leaders move back to the Bible, back to what God has said, not what men and their traditions have said.

As we take a closer look at some of the issues that the Reformers were dealing with, we will see that they were not simply matters of church politics but were issues that touched to the very heart of the Gospel. “How can a sinful person be made right with a holy God?” Reformers struggled with. questions like these, to which they found no satisfying answers within the traditions of the Roman church.

However, when the Reformers, guided by the Holy Spirit, opened their Bibles, everything began to change. The truth of the Word of God that had been kept from the average person, that had been locked up in Latin and forbidden to be translated into the common tongue, began to burst forth into the hearts and minds of the Reformers and overflow into society as a whole. The impetus, then, for the Protestant Reformation, was not political or economical, but Biblical.

The dark times of Biblical ignorance was coming to an end, as the Reformers diligently taught the Bible, translated the Bible, and made sure the average person understood the Bible. Post Tenebras Lux — after darkness, light. This brief Latin phrase became a battle cry as John Calvin and other Reformers saw the glorious Word of God shine forth, and breaking the darkness of the false Gospel and doctrines of Rome. The chains of religious bondage that held people down, the rule of the papacy that contradicted Jesus Christ, and the selling of indulgences that cheapened the Gospel of grace were all seen for what they were in the light of God’s holy, inspired Word, the Bible.

We are now separated from the beginnings of the Reformation by over 500 years. However, that does not mean the Reformation is over. In fact, the cause of the Reformers, and the need for the light of God’s Word to go forth, is stronger than ever. We live in a world that is increasingly hostile to truth, a world of spiritual apathy; where religious bondage increases, sin is glorified, and hope is elusive. What is the answer? While many may jump into a political, social, or economical tirade, the answer is that we need “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4) to break out into the dark corners of our world. We need the Bible to be heralded as the banner of truth. We need to pray that God’s grace would extend to the hearts of those who are trapped in religious bondage. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit would draw to Himself those stuck in addiction and sinful life patterns that they may be convicted of their sin and see their need of the Savior.

No, the Reformation is NOT over. In fact, the Reformation will not end until Christ comes again. Until that day, we must be constantly reforming every aspect of our lives to the revealed Word of God, the Bible. So open your Bible today and hear the Words of your Creator. If you find yourself in darkness, open the words that bring light. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

Get a FREE download of my new E-booklet on the 5 Solas of the Reformation by visiting www.CrossHopeBible.com/5-solas.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
facebook.com/MBCGlobe