The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

In his book, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” (1684) John Owen wrote to combat a false doctrine of his day; namely, the un-biblical teaching of universalism. This book has much to say even to our modern context. However, I would like focus upon the very title of the work. Why should we discuss the death of Christ?

The death of Jesus Christ was no ordinary event. In fact, the death of Christ is the singularly most significant event in history. Why should we care about the public execution of a poor, small town carpenter? It’s because that carpenter was none other than God in the flesh sent to earth to redeem a people for Himself through a voluntary, sacrificial death. If this bold assertion is true, then His death has monumental implications in our response to it and to how we then live our lives.

Eternal Purpose Through Death
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus mentions His mission here on earth, stating the He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Statements such as these make it clear that Jesus was not merely some religious guru unwittingly killed by outsiders. His very purpose was to die. When we celebrate the incarnation of Christ (God becoming flesh) during the Christmas season, one truth often pointed out is that this baby born in a manger is born in order that He may die. In fact, this was the very purpose of God, that evil men would put Christ to death. Acts 2:23 states, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” God brings about His purposes and plans even through the evil intentions of the hearts of wicked men. Therefore, we see the greatest tragedy in human history, the death of Christ, is also the greatest joy for those who trust in Him.

Joy Through Death
Why is the death of Christ a joy for Christians? It is through His death that we are made right with God and brought into a relationship with Him. Through the death of Christ we can have true, transcendent joy and peace. Through the death of Christ, reality and life make sense. You see, from a biblical Christian perspective, the death and resurrection of Jesus is not simply something we celebrate at Easter every year; it is the very heart and soul of who we are and we hope in.

Throughout history, many have tried to diminish the extent and power of Christ’s atoning death. Some people teach that Christ’s atonement merely “wiped the slate” of the man born into sin, but after that, it is up to man to live a life worthy of God. However, the worth and value of the atonement of Christ is far beyond anything we can ever imagine. When Christ shed His blood upon the cross of Calvary, he paid for the sins of his people: past, present, and future. Because of the unconditional nature of the election of God, and the fact that Christ’s sacrifice for his people is undeserved, and not earned, we can also have comfort in the fact that the salvific effects of the atonement can never be lost in the life of the believer.

Life Through Death
The perseverance of the saints is a foundational truth within the Christian faith, and not only because it comforts the soul of man, but because it is wrapped up so tightly within the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrificial death. “The law has but a shadow of the good things to come.” (Hebrews 10:1) Within the nation of Israel, Jews would continually offer sacrifices in order to make themselves right with God. But even as soon as the sacrifice was offered, they would leave the temple and fall into sin. Although this sacrifice was commanded by God, it was not fully sufficient to cover their sin for all time. Repeated sacrifices were necessary. As Hebrews explains, the “shadow” of the sacrifices can never make perfect those who offer them. In the same way, we can be certain that no modern person can be made right with God by “being good enough”; we always fall back into our sin.

However, Christ is the substance of what the shadow of sacrifice is pointing toward. Because He offered His body, sacrificing Himself, we can be sure we are sanctified through Him, once for all, when we trust in Him. “When Christ had offered for all time, a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 10:12) These verses clearly show the role of Christ as our priest, relating back to the idea of the priests in the temple. There were no chairs in the Temple; these men did not sit down until their work was complete. When Christ, as our priest, sits down beside the Father, we see the completion and finality of His sacrifice. His work is done and accepted as sufficient by God the Father. The act of God raising Jesus from the dead proves that God accepted the sacrifice of Christ.

Death to Death
What does the death of Christ have to do with me? Everything. It is the instrument through which God brings broken, sinful people to Himself. Apart from the death of Christ, we are utterly lost and hopeless. However, when someone turns from their sins and turns to Jesus, he or she can bold proclaim, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55) It is then when we truly see the death of death in the death of Christ.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“Theology Matters”

“Religious truth is whatever makes you feel better… Whatever your personal beliefs are is just fine as long as you keep them to yourself… That is just your ‘interpretation’…” Phrases like these abound throughout conversations with friends and family all over the world. Many try to dismiss the attempt to make any truth claim when it comes to spiritual matters. So the question is, “Why does it matter to know truths about God?” Is one wasting one’s time to even begin such a journey of discovery? Why study theology?

Truth Matters
The first answer to all of these objections has to be that truth matters. We live in a time and culture where most people believe that truth is relative; that is, that truth is whatever you want it to be. However, from a biblical worldview this is not a tenable position. Followers of Christ must hold that truth is objective because we have an objective standard, the Bible. Therefore, we believe that truth can be known because of God’s self-revelation, and that we should desire and strive to know that truth as much as humanly possible.

Definitions Matter
Secondly, if human beings are in the state of sin which the Bible tells us that we are, and that we can do nothing to rectify this problem by ourselves, then we need to know what God has done for us. Only the true God can save you from your sins. Many people claim to know God and even say that Jesus is their savior. The question is, “which Jesus are you talking about?” The Apostle Paul states, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed… you put up with it readily enough.” (1 Corinthians 11:4) Paul is concerned when people say that they believe in Jesus but the one they believe in is not the true Jesus.

Imagine I come to you proclaiming myself to be the President of the United States. What would you say to me? Perhaps I even told you that my name was Donald Trump. Would you accept me as the President? I don’t think so. You would recognize that even if I use that title and name of the President, we are different people; our characteristics makes that clear. In the same way, merely using the words “God”, “Jesus”, etc. don’t in and of themselves mean anything. We must discover through the details and characteristics who we are talking about. Is Jesus the Son of God or simply a traveling moralistic teacher? Is Jesus God in the flesh or a created being? Fundamental questions must be considered as to which Jesus we are talking about, because only one Jesus can save you, the Jesus of the Bible.

True Hope Matters
Finally, only the Triune God of the Bible can bring you peace and comfort in this broken world. People everywhere are daily dealing with and struggling through a multitude of issues. People killing one another, children being abused and abandoned, and relationships torn apart are all frequent occurrences in a world that is living out the consequences of sin. Through all the stress and strain we long for peace. We long to bring peace and comfort to our friends and family members who are going through these troubles.

Why is it important to know truths about God? Because knowing the true God brings peace. Jesus tells His followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) You see, Jesus brings a peace to the hearts of His people that the world can never bring. He brings a comfort that is alien to us, a comfort that gives us the ability to move forward in life no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. A false Jesus cannot do this– a false ideology cannot do this,–only God can.

Theology Matters
We should be on a life-long pursuit to know God as He truly is, as He has revealed Himself. I want to leave you with a quote from “Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris.

“I’ve come to learn that theology matters. And it matters not because we want a good grade on a test but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live… Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong. I know the idea of ‘studying’ God often rubs people the wrong way. It sounds cold and theoretical, as if God were a frog carcass to dissect in a lab… But studying God doesn’t have to be like that. You can study Him the way you study a sunset that leaves you speechless. You can study Him the way a man studies the wife he passionately loves. Does anyone fault him for noting her every like and dislike? Is it clinical for him to desire to know the thoughts and longings of her heart? Or to want to hear her speak?

Knowledge doesn’t have to be dry and lifeless. And when you think about it, exactly what is our alternative? Ignorance? Falsehood? We’re either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what He’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imaginations and misconceptions. We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.”

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

Stop Saying OMG!

Stubbing your toe must be one of the worst pains in the world. Well, I guess that’s not exactly true, but we sure act like it sometimes. We’ve all done it, you stub your toe on the bed and the words that come out of your mouth wouldn’t be permitted on HBO! (A little hyperbole, but the point is made.) Perhaps you’ve even been surprised with some of the profanity you’ve spoken. However, I bet if you yelled out, “Oh my God! That hurt!” or “Jesus Christ! I’m in pain!” you wouldn’t even bat an eye. In fact, most people wouldn’t. But what if I were to tell you that I’d prefer you use one of those common four letter words instead of God or Jesus? Why? Because this is a bigger deal than you may think.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” I’m sure we’ve all heard this before. This is the 3rd of the 10 Commandments that Moses receives from God in Exodus chapter 20. However, you may not be aware of the words that follow this statement. “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) Meaning, God takes this very seriously.

You see, we look at the 10 Commandments and think, “Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, yeah, those are the big ones.” We go on to assume that lying, coveting, or using God’s name as a curse word is really not that bad. “Hey, we all do it, right?” Yet, God says He will punish those who misuse His name. We usually save punishment for serious crimes. Yes, God sees this as a very serious crime.

God blesses us daily. He gives us life and breath and all the good things in this world. (James 1:17) How do we thank Him? We use His name as way to express disgust and annoyance. We treat the holy name of God as common, filthy language. How would you respond if people started using your mother’s name to express disgust or hatred? You would be offended and want it to stop. So why do we persist in using God’s name in this way?

Why do we do this? Why is our response, “OMG!” or “Jesus Christ”? The answer may surprise you. We disrespect and treat as worthless that which we hate the most. Do you realize that no other person in history is hated as much as Jesus Christ that they would use his name as a curse word? No one stubs their toe and yells out, “Adolf Hitler, that hurt!” We profess to hate Hitler and the atrocities that he committed, yet, interestingly so, not enough to trample his name through the mud.

You may say, “But I don’t hate God.” The truth is, we are all born into this world as God-haters. (Romans 1:30 cf. Psalm 51:5) We rebel against God because we desire to worship ourselves instead of Him. Our language is merely a glimpse into our hearts. Do you profess to love God and yet continue to use this type of language? Maybe this would be an opportunity to ask yourself some hard questions. “Do I really love and trust Jesus for my salvation, or have I been playing a religious game?” It’s not a bad thing to ask these types of questions; in fact, the Bible encourages we do so. (2 Corinthians 13:5, cf. 2 Peter 1:10)

I get it, sometimes things just “slip out” and we can’t help it. Or can we? Do our words really reveal part of our hearts? Listen to words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” When His disciples are perplexed about this teaching Jesus responds, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:11, 18-19) You see, the mouth reveals the heart, the place where our sin grows until we act upon it. If our mouths are constantly using God’s name in vain, we should be aware that this points to a heart problem.

Next time you feel you need a word to express disgust, surprise, or annoyance, please, try to be a little more creative. I know, stubbing that toe hurts and you need to say something, but don’t use your Creator’s name, use your own name. Maybe that would change the way you think about it.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

Learning How To Disagree

Opinions. We all got them. We all think ours are correct, and want others to agree. In fact, I think I could explain it better in a poem.

Opinions, opinions, everywhere.
You have an opinion, but I don’t care.
I’m much too smart to listen to you.
Before you speak, this conversation is through.
I know that you’re wrong right from the start.
I don’t want to hear it, not even one part.
Don’t waste your breath or my precious time,
because the only opinion that I’ll hear is mine.

I’m no Longfellow, but hopefully you get the idea. We have reached a staggering level of dismissiveness when it comes to discussions between people with different perspectives. No longer can we sit down, listen to an idea, weigh the logic of their argument, and then offer a rebuttal based on it. No, we plug our ears, and when it is our turn, we simply go off on our own personal diatribe of opinions, never once interacting with the other’s argument.

This form of “dialogue” is exacerbated on social media. For some reason, likely the perceived anonymity, people feel brave sitting behind a keyboard. They no longer have the restraints of polite society, nor, it sometimes seems, the expectations of logical thought. What passes for discussion, political, religious, or otherwise, is often nothing more than an utter display of thoughtless buffoonery. (I say that with love.) However, I have not given up on social media as a place where ideas can be discussed, debated, and even disagreed upon with civility. Today, I offer a few helpful tips on how to disagree well.

1) Listen Well
This may seem obvious, but we must listen to the people with whom we disagree before giving a response. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13) Too often people talk past one another because they refuse to listen to the other position. A good discussion can only be had when opposing sides listen to one other, trying to grasp the point of the argument.

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) Again, constructive conversation can be had between people with opposing ideas, but we must be prepared to listen and think before we respond, refraining from fits of anger that only cloud our judgment.

2) Argue Well
Once you listen to the opposing view, now you are ready to offer your rebuttal. How? By ignoring everything the person presented and responding, “You’re stupid. Educate yourself, you kool-aid drinker”? No, this never progresses the discussion in any meaningful fashion. Yet, this type of “witty” response seems to predominate on social media. This is NOT good argumentation.

Rather, we should take two basic steps: 1) Engage with the content of the individual’s position, and 2) Offer your opinion with supporting evidence. Sounds simple but this is rarely achieved online.

We need to be able to truly understand the other person’s position so that we know why we disagree. In fact, to truly give a good argument, you should be able to state the opposing position in such a way that the other side can say, “Yes, that is what I believe.” Instead, people generally give a vague, inaccurate picture of the opposing view and then argue against that. This is called the strawman fallacy and is a dishonest way to argue. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

Instead, know the opposing view well by listening well, and then interact with the actual argument. For instance, you could say, “You stated here (fill in the blank), and I recognize that by this you mean (fill in the blank). However, I disagree with your assumption here (fill in the blank).” This is the beginning of a constructive conversation with someone you disagree with.

3) Grow Well
However, simply expressing your disagreement is not enough. In order for both parties to grow in their understanding of one another, you must now offer your opinion on the topic, supporting your views with evidence. This means, instead of only saying what you believe, let the other person know why you believe in that way. Do you have facts that support your thinking? Can you quote others who have articulated your position in the past? This was the practice of the Apostle Paul as he traveled from town to town. “Paul went in, as was his custom… reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” (Acts 17:2)

Building a case for your position with corroborating information allows your ideas to be understood more clearly and helps the other person know why you believe as you do. This not only leads to better thinking, but also better rapport with those who remain contrary to your ideas. Yes, they may still disagree, but are more likely to remain friendly in future conversations.

So please, next time you are perusing your social media site of choice, or even having a face-to-face conversation, and notice something you disagree with, do not say, “You’re wrong, you big dummy.” Don’t allow the instantaneousness of clicking “reply” move you past the stage of thinking. We can disagree on things. That is the great blessing of living in this country. Free thought is not only allowed, but is greatly encouraged. Yet, free thought still requires “thought.” Let us disagree, but let us disagree well.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

4 Reasons To Have Hope

As I jump into my car every morning to head to work, I turn on the radio to catch the most recent news headlines. I used to think this was a good way to start the day. Now, I’m not so sure. Yes, it’s important to keep up-to-date on current events, but it seems to me that the only “news-worthy” stories we hear are all very depressing. In fact, if one were to go simply by the news coverage, you would think there was almost no reason to have any hope in this world.

However, no matter how much we blast politically-fueled, argumentative stories, there are still reason to have hope in this world. You may come up with a different list than I have, but I would like to share 4 reason to remain hopeful despite the tumultuous world we live in.

1) You Are Alive
I think one of the most obvious and yet disregarded reasons to remain hopeful in this world is the plain fact you are still alive. Life is a precious gift from God and everyday should be treated as such. Every morning is another opportunity to move forward, try something new, or work on making a change. I don’t mean to get all “motivational speaker” on you, but it’s true. I’m not saying that every day of your life is going to be good; I’m saying that being alive itself is the good thing.

We all recognize that as we get older, time seems to move more quickly. One minute you were 18 years old, full of dreams and passion, the next you’re a grumpy old man wishing everyone around you would just be quieter. “Where did the time go?”, you may think to yourself. Yet, if you still have breath in your lungs and blood in your veins, you have life. Don’t simply sit back and reminisce about the “good ol’ days”, live your life today.

2) Jesus Is King
It matters whose in office, right? Well, the primary offices I care about are Prophet, Priest, and King. Only one person fills these offices, Jesus. One of the main reasons we feel hopeless is because we look at the political sphere and we are all baffled. We scratch our heads wondering how we got to this point.

“Will things ever get better?” The answer is yes. Things will get better, not because your politician of choice sits in office, but because Christ is the ultimate ruler of all. Finding hope then, is a matter of remembering the big picture of the Bible: God creates, sin destroys, Christ redeems, and finally, His kingdom comes in its fullness. My hope then, is not for current political satisfaction (although I do pray for movement in the right direction), but is in Christ as King.

3) He Brings Blessing To All
All people can enjoy life and be hopeful for the days to come because of the blessings of God. God liberally bestows so much goodness in the lives of all people, not just Christians. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) Therefore, if you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, you still receive the benefits of living in God’s world.

An individual living in a foreign country for a time may not belong, but they often receive the benefits of citizens while they remain. Similarly, living a God’s world brings many blessings. “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:16-17)

4) Salvation Is Freely Offered
At the same time, we must recognize that God’s goodness and blessings to all people have a very important purpose: namely, in order that people would turn to Him in faith. “Do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) When we see how gracious God is to us, our response should be to trust Him, love Him, and to serve Him. We can be hopeful in this world when we see that His gift of salvation, of eternal life, is offered to all without distinction.

The call of the Gospel is to go forth to people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” (Revelation 7:9) Christ’s command is to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Not only different backgrounds, but people with various proclivities to particular sins can come to Jesus for salvation. Sometimes religious people think that particular sins are beyond redemption. However, God’s word says otherwise. “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through [Christ].” There is no one who is so far off in their sin that cannot be forgiven. Hope is truly found when we come to understand our need of Jesus.

I likely will continue to listen to the news. Yet, rather than allowing the news of this world to dictate whether or not I have hope, I will turn to what God has said in His word. I will be hopefully in who He is and what He has done. “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)

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

Don’t Take My Word For It

My name is Nick and I make mistakes. Shocking, I know. However, I felt it important to come clean. I am indeed a fallible human being. I have often been swayed by emotion. I have been bull-headed and not listened to reason. I’ve taught information that wasn’t the pure truth. I have run my mouth when I should have listened. I am not perfect in my understanding or my dissemination of knowledge. And that gives me peace.

Why? Because I recognize my goal is not to point people to my own knowledge but to the God of perfect knowledge and understanding. You see, the only perfect, infallible standard of faith we have is the Bible. No other document, book, organization, or individual can truly speak for God. Many claim to, but upon close examination, are proven false and much less than divine.

It becomes dangerous when one asserts this type of divine authority. A quick look around gives proof of how people have been manipulated, abused, and taken advantage of because they believe that a person or institution speaks for God. When all authority is in a person or organization, sinful hearts will do what they always do: serve self.

Even in modern times religious people have been bamboozled into living in communes, practicing polygamy, giving all their money to an organization, even committing mass suicide. All because they believed their leader(s) spoke for God. These people, rather, should have listened to what God has already said in His word instead of practicing unquestioning obedience.

Checks and Balances
God provides ways of knowing whether someone is speaking truth. Never were God’s people expected to follow leaders blindly. In fact, explicit instructions are given on the importance of discerning truth and practical steps of doing so. These checks and balances are imperative for anyone who calls themself a follower of Christ. Otherwise, you may end up in a sub-Christian, cult-like group. You may have good intentions, but you will be following a system that is not God given.

1. You Must Test Your Leaders
God calls us to weigh whether something is truth or error. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) The Apostle John is adamant that we must test what we are taught. Here, John contends against false teachers who preach that Jesus didn’t come to earth as flesh but merely as a spirit. (1 John 4:3) Should the church believe this because some leader taught it? No, they should look at what God has already revealed and test it to see if this new teaching is in line with God’s word. “Test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

The standard for weighing truth cannot be our own feelings! “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, cf. Proverbs 28:26) Emotions are not a good standard for deciphering truth. Instead, we must look to the solid rock of God’s written, inspired word; this is our measuring rod of truth. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

2. You Must Test Their Prophetic Utterance
Many have claimed to speak for God, and even pronounce future events. Instead of blindly accepting these “prophecies” we must use the test God provided. “How may we know the word the Lord has not spoken? When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously.” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

Stated simply, if one claims a prophecy of a future event, which does not happen, they are a false prophet. So false prophecies of the end of the world such at the Millerite “Great Disappointment” of 1844, Charles Taze Russell’s 1914 false prediction, or even the sad display of Harold Camping in 2011 are examples of this test in action. “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” (Deuteronomy 18:20) Although we would not take this action into our own hands, we recognize how serious God takes it.

3. You Must Test What They Teach About God
What if a prophecy does come to pass? Then should you follow blindly? Not quite. Again, God gives provision for this. “If a prophet… gives you a sign or a wonder, and… [what] he tells you comes to pass, if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3) Even if the prophecy comes to pass, God still requires that His people test what is being taught. Why? “The Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart.” (Deuteronomy 13:3)

Therefore, when Joseph Smith says that “You have got to learn how to be a god yourself” and teaches that God is merely an exalted man who achieved godhood, we must compare his teaching with what God has already revealed about Himself in the Bible. God speaks in Isaiah 43:10, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” Later He states, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” (Isaiah 44:6, cf. Isaiah 44:8) To follow a god who is merely an exalted man, then, is to “go after other gods.”

Summing Up
God cares about truth; therefore, we should care about truth. I recognize I am not the sole depository of truth (and I am thankful for that), but God has given us the Bible so we can understand His truth. I will never ask you to simply believe what I say (or write) unless I can prove it from God’s perfect word. Don’t take my word for it, open the Bible yourself and see if these things are so.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“The Long Haul”

“Are you in it for the long haul?” I’ve asked this question dozens of times sitting across the table from an excited couple preparing for their wedding day. “Once this is done, it’s done. There’s no turning back.” I’m not trying to scare them, but pointing to an important truth: namely, marriage is intended to be an enduring commitment that lasts a lifetime. There is no eject button. There is no “try again”. The vows state that you will be committed in good times and in bad times, “for better or for worse”; eventually, you will come to experience it all.

The problem is, we no longer believe this as a culture. Instead, we see marriage as dispensable as a gym membership. “Hey, I tried it and it just didn’t work out for me.” So every year marriages end in divorce, breaking up families, crushing commitments, and setting up individuals to go through the same pattern once again. That is why, when I counsel engaged couples, I want to make sure they understand what they are getting themselves into, that they have counted the cost.

They same idea applies to anyone who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The same question should be asked: “Are you in this for the long haul?” Have you have come to understand that you are a sinner in need of grace, that you are utterly lost by yourself, that you need a Savior? If so, have you counted to costs? Do you know what you’ve gotten yourself into?

1. Christ Must Be Your First Love
A wealthy young man inquired of Jesus how he could gain eternal life. Instead of telling him to believe in God and pray a prayer, Jesus gave him the law. “You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.” The man replies he has kept all of these laws since he was a youth. Jesus responds, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The text goes on to tell us, “When [the man] heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.”

What was Jesus doing here? He was revealing the heart of the man. You see, the man may have said he wanted to follow Jesus, but the reality was his true desire was his earthly riches. If anyone truly is “in it for the long haul” of this Christian life, he or she must truly love Christ above all things. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)

2. You Are Not In Charge of Your Life
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Another very straight forward passage from God’s word. If you have been born again by the Spirit of God then you belong to Him! That means that you are not in charge of your life, God is.

In our modern American culture, we believe that we are fully autonomous. Meaning, my life is completely in my hands and I’m going to do whatever I want to do. This is especially not true for followers of Christ. You cannot do whatever you want to do. We may feel the urge to indulge in sin and the cravings of the flesh. However, for the sake and glory of Christ we must put our sin to death! (Romans 8:13)

3. The World Will Hate You
In a world where we all want to be liked by other people, this may be one of the hardest things for Christians to grasp. Yes, people will hate you. People will mock you and speak ill of you. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) How can you know if you are in this for the long haul? Ask yourself whose approval do you desire most, God’s or the world’s?

Have you counted the cost? Is it worth it for you to follow Jesus? Are you in this for the long haul? These are serious questions we all must ask ourselves. Everyone wants to go to heaven. That’s why neither Jesus nor His apostles ever asked someone whether or not he wanted to go to heaven. Rather, the Gospel call was, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25) This is the joy of the long haul, that although the journey may be rough and difficult, at the end of it all, it is worth it.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“When God Doesn’t Hear Your Prayers”

Having a close friend, someone you can talk to about anything, is important. Yet we’ve all been in a situation where those same bonds can become fractured. In these moments it is no longer an easy thing to pick up the phone and connect. Similarly, followers of Christ must recognize that we have a great, merciful God who loves to hear the heart cry of His people but that connection can become fractured at times. What I’m trying to say is, God doesn’t always hear your prayers.

That idea might seem foreign in our day and age. We sometimes have a vision of God being some cosmic grandfather who doesn’t care about our actions but merely “sees the good in us all.” Biblically speaking, nothing could be further from the truth. God cares about who you are and what you do. And sin is such a big deal to God that the only way for Him to appease His holy justice was to send Jesus to be die in the place of His people. Sin is a big deal to God, therefore it needs to be a big deal to us. One way we can come to understand this is through the way the Bible speaks about prayer.

God Only Hears The Prayers of His People
If I’m out in public with my daughters and I hear one of them call, “Daddy!” I turn immediately and listen. However, if another child calls “Daddy!”, I simply ignore it. Why? My responsibility is for my children. The children of God are those who have come to trust in Christ through faith alone. These are the ones who have been given “the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) These are the ones who hear the voice of their Shepherd and know that they belong to Him. (John 10:3)

Those who do not belong through faith to God’s family remain separated from God because of their sin. The Prophet Isaiah says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” The consequence of this separation is that God does not hear your prayers. Isaiah continues, “and your sins have hidden [God’s] face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2) So when a non-believer tells me they’re praying for a new job, or for healing, I wonder why they think God will listen. This person continues to ignore God in every aspect of life. The prayer that really needs to come from the mouth of unbelievers, and one that I know God hears, is the prayer of a contrite heart who makes a confession of sin and a desperate need for Christ. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

God Does Not Always Hear Christian Prayers
“What do you mean God doesn’t always hear the prayers of Christians?” If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ, God doesn’t just save you from your sins (justification) but He desires that you are continually growing and maturing (sanctification). One way God does this is by teaching that our prayer life will be hindered when we indulge in sin. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18) Loving my sin more than God is a sure way for me to lose connection with Him.

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15) Dr. John N. Oswalt comments, “Prayer is not a device that allows sinful persons to continue in sin. Rather, it is a way that a repentant worshiper communicates with a gracious God. Prayer is useless without true repentance.” True followers of Christ will hate having a fractured relationship with their God. Therefore, we must recognize this situation in order to confess and turn back to God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

God Does Not Hear Selfish Prayers
Finally, we must keep in mind the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not the Christian version of making a wish. Prayer is first and foremost communing with the God of the Universe. Prayer is aligning our heart and will with God’s. Therefore, God will not hear our selfish prayers. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3) Pastor John Skaggs of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church comments on this verse, “God is not a Genie in a bottle to summon when you have a wish. God is holy, holy, holy and will be treated as such by his children.” I don’t care what those false teachers on “Christian” television say, God is not going to hear your petty prayers for fancy cars or bigger houses.

Prayer is an amazing gift from God. Being able to communicate with our Creator is simply mind-blowing. So please, pray and pray often. But remember, if you want God to really hear, approach Him in His way: humbly, with a desire to have His will be done. Having direct contact with the God of the universe is the most important connection you could ever have. This is the relationship that we should desire above all.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“I Never Knew You…”

“Yeah, I’m pretty much a movie star now,” I said jokingly to my friends as we entered the theater to see the new film “The Visitor” for the first time. “I’m close personal friends with the star, Richard Jenkins.” Truth is, I had a great opportunity to be on the set of this film for a whole day. I got to see the ins and outs of a working set, I got to hang out at craft services, I even had the opportunity to chat with the star of the film for a few moments between takes. Was I lead character? Not by a long shot. My job was to walk around and not say anything. I was simply a background player or extra, just one step above a stage prop. However, I was grateful for the experience and so excited to see the final product. After which, the joke was that I would get to sit next to Richard Jenkins at the Oscars (he ended up being nominated for his performance) because we had become such great friends during production. Lucky me!

Yet, I bet that if I was to run into Mr. Jenkins sometime, he would have no clue who I am. Sure, we exchanged a few words but we don’t truly know each other. I may think I know him, but he would say that he does not know me. If he was walking down my street, I might call out “Hey, I know you. Come join us for dinner.” But if he saw me walking down his street, nothing. Get the picture?

One of the scariest verses to me in the Bible is not the “fire and brimstone” passages some people may think of; no, I think one of the scariest passages is Matthew 7:21-23. These three sentences scare me because in them, Jesus points out a hard reality for us to swallow, namely, that there are many people who believe that they know Jesus and are following Him, when the truth is quite the opposite. “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?’” These people claim all of this service to Jesus, and what is His response? “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Why does this scare me? Because of the false hope that numerous individuals have: because they have been deceived or are self-deceived, they will never seek to truly come know Jesus. I fear for their eternal destiny.

I don’t know the actor Richard Jenkins. I met him once, but I don’t know him. However, the important question is, “Do you truly know Jesus, and does He know you?” I don’t want you to go about your life with a false hope. I don’t want you to die and stand before the holy Judge without Christ as your advocate. So I would like to encourage you to question yourself right now. You see, in our modern American church we tell people to look back to their baptism, or the time they walked the aisle, we tell people not to question their standing with God because they’ve prayed the “sinner’s prayer”, they’ve been attending church, they even read their Bible from time to time. However, the Bible says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

This may be a good place to start:
1. Do you hold fast to your confidence in Christ as your savior? Or does it depend on who you are with? (Hebrews 3:6)

2. Do you desire to live in obedience to God and His word in faith and morals? Or do you follow the whims of the flesh and the norms of culture? (Luke 6:46)

3. Are you growing in holiness and purity as the Spirit works in you? Or are you enslaved by the flesh? (1 John 3:3)

4. Do you desire to display the fruit of the Spirit which is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Or would you be better characterized by the works of the flesh? (Galatians 5:19-23)

5. Do you desire to be with God’s people? Is being part of the local church a priority? Or do you think that church is optional? (1 John 3:14, Hebrews 10:25)

Examine yourself while there is still time. Don’t go through life with a false hope! At the same time, don’t think that if you can follow a list (like the one above) that that will make you right with God. No, testing yourself is a means of revealing your heart to yourself. No one else can do this for you. However, if you fail the test (as Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 13:5) your only hope is to call out to God. Humble yourself before God, recognize your failings, and then trust in Christ alone. Then come to truly know Him through His holy inspired word, the Bible. “This is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“Don’t Send Me Vibes… Pray!”

I’ll be the first to admit it, life is hard. It doesn’t matter who you are, there are days when you just don’t feel like getting out of bed. Stress and anxiety can become so overwhelming that it may even start to affect your health. You’ve been there, I’ve been there, it’s no fun. What can we do? I’ve learned that letting other people in on what is happening in your life helps. Other people can give you a different perspective and perhaps a little clarity on the situation. Also, its helps to know that other people are praying for you. Yes, prayer is vital. However, it seems like we don’t believe that anymore.

Social media has connected the world like no other time in history. We can have a moment by moment glimpse into individuals lives. We don’t have to wait for news to be passed on when something happens, it’s posted instantly. This also gives us a striking glimpse at what people believe, and maybe not in the obvious way that you would think. When someone posts about having a hard time with stress, anxiety, health, a death in the family or a number of other difficult situations, the way people comment lets us in on what they believe. “Sending good thoughts your way. Sending vibes out into the universe. I’m thinking of you.” These and similar sentiments point to a disheartening reality: namely, we think we don’t need God.

I understand the desire to say something nice when someone is hurting, but are these types of comments really “nice” at all? What is a “vibe” and how exactly are going to send it? Do you possess some sort of a Jedi-like power that we are not aware of? How exactly is this “vibe” going to help this situation? Does sending said “vibe” into the universe make it more powerful? Yes, I’m being a little tongue in cheek, but honestly, what do we expect to happen with such comments?

Or hearing that someone is “thinking of you.” Ok, that’s nice I guess, but how does that help? Next time my daughter hits her head, instead of getting her an ice pack, I’ll try telling her that I’m thinking of her. Do you think that’ll go off well? Probably not. Don’t think about me, do something. Again, unless you have Jedi mind powers, your thoughts are useless.

So… what can we do? Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one; we can pray. “But isn’t praying the same thing as sending vibes?” Perhaps, but only if you are doing it the wrong way. Sometimes I hear people say, “Sending prayers your way.” If that’s what you mean by prayer, then yes, in this case, praying would be just a synonym for vibes. However, if we look at what the Bible says about prayer, we will see that a prayer in not something that is sent to another person, rather, prayer is communication with the Almighty God of the Universe.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” We’ve all heard this quaint saying and there is truth here. Prayer is not asserting my authority or ability on a situation but calling out to the One who has all authority and power. I pray, therefore, because I know that God is in control. I pray because I recognize that I am powerless by myself; I am utterly dependent on God for everything. It is only when I see my weakness and inability that my trust in God is truly strengthened. This is why the Bible says, “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6), and “They ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)

Please, don’t send me vibes. Pray for me! Next time someone is having a hard time, don’t tell them that you are sending them thoughts or vibes. Instead, let them know that you are calling out to the Creator on their behalf.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ