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
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“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
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“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
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“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
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“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
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Keep Your Eyes On Jesus”

A familiar passage in the Gospel of Matthew is the Apostle Peter calling out to Jesus as he sees Him walking on the waves of the sea. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” To which Jesus responds, “Come.” (Matthew 14:28-29) As Peter makes his way onto the water, things seem to be going well until he begins to look around; then being filled with fear, he starts to sink. As he cries out Jesus grabs him by the hand and pulls him to safety. Peter is questioned about His doubt while the disciples fall down to worship Jesus. What’s the point? Keep your eyes on Jesus!

Sounds simple enough, right? Christians must live with their eyes fully focused on Jesus every step of the way. Similarly, Bible-believing churches must remain focused on Christ. However, it seems that is not always the case. Too many times professing Christians and churches have substituted something other than Christ to focus upon. Whether we are talking about political agendas, humanitarian causes, or theological imbalances, we must recognize any “double vision” in order that we may call out, as Peter did, “Lord, save us!”

When the church gets sidetracked and loses focus, it is usually because there are important and worthwhile things to attend to. That is to say, even “good things” can become bad when they take the center stage position that belongs to Christ alone.

Political Involvement
Desiring godly political policy is a good thing. Christians should be involved in the political process and should vote with firm footing on a biblical worldview. However, good politics will not save us. “If only this person was in office and not that person. If only this law would pass and not that one. If only this political party was in power and not that one… then all would be right in the world.” Dear Christian, if this type of thinking pervades your mind and conversation, you are sinking. Turn your eyes back to Christ.

Humanitarian Causes
Helping other people is a good thing. Throughout the Bible we are called to care for, feed, and clothe the poor and downtrodden. So many churches begin outreach programs in order to follow these commands. Yet taking care of physical needs is not enough. The primary need of every person in this world is not physical but spiritual. Feeding and clothing people who remain dead in their sin leaves them no better off than when you first “helped” them. Yes, we should help with physical needs but our primary goal should be to share the saving message of Jesus Christ with people. When any humanitarian cause becomes our primary, all-encompassing mission as the church, we’ve lost our focus on Christ. Under the water we go…

Imbalanced Theology
Theology is studying the truths of God’s word. I love studying theology! I love opening the Bible and learning more about God. I love reading books and taking classes on theology. Theology is a good thing. The purpose of studying theology is so we can know God more and worship Him more. Yet, when studying becomes about being a “know-it-all” or gaining religious superiority, we lose sight of Christ and begin to sink

Likewise, an imbalance in our understanding of theology can lead to loss of Jesus-focus. Too many individual Christians and even whole churches can become obsessed with certain topics (usually secondary or tertiary issues) at the expense of the focus of the Bible writers, namely, Christ and Him crucified. The Bible tells us we are to teach the “whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27) Nevertheless, instead of focusing on the primary teachings of the Bible, some people get distracted with end times issues. They want to know the details of what’s going to happen in the future, so most of their time is spent trying to connect current events with prophetic texts. Or, some get distracted by focusing on spiritual warfare issues. Every little thing that goes wrong in their life is attributed to Satan or demons. Again, theology is important and each of these topics has their place. What I’m trying to say, however, is these should not be the topics we are consumed with; we should be consumed with Christ. If a Christian can give you details on Daniel’s 70th week or tips on how to exorcise a demon but cannot give you an orthodox definition of the Trinity, they may be sinking.

We must keep our eyes focused on Jesus. We must remember that all that we have and all that we are is because of Him and what He has accomplished for us upon the cross. I echo the words of the Apostle Paul in 2nd Corinthians 11, “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Beloved, don’t take your eyes off of your Savior!

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

“Life Is Sacred” Part 3

“If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you?” We’ve all heard this before. You may have even said this before. The point, we all understand, is to show kids that they don’t have to do or be like others around them. However, take a look at popular trends and you’ll notice that indeed, everyone does do exactly what their friend does. What are the new styles in clothing and music? That’s what is going to be everywhere. We can’t help it: advertising does work. Don’t believe me? I could list for you a number of stupid things that I have bought throughout my life because it looked so good in the commercial but it turned out to be nothing other than cheap garbage.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking about the very difficult subject of suicide. In this brief series of articles, my aim has not been to deal with the very nuanced reasons an individual might have for taking their own life. Rather, I’ve been trying to point at a bigger (and I believe foundational) culprit in the landscape of the suicide issue; namely, that our popular culture has such a disdain for life that suicide has become merely a choice among others.

I’m not trying to trivialize suicide or those who have struggled with these thoughts, I’m trying to point out that we are all products of our environment and perhaps we live in an environment and culture that has nurtured a disdain for life to the point that we’ve normalized this saddening act. In fact, it seems to me that we not only have normalized that act of suicide, but by our jokes and romanticizing, we make light of suicide.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Uh… I just want to kill myself.” Why? “Because the ice cream machine was broken at McDonalds.” Now, we all know that person doesn’t really want to commit suicide because they can’t get a dipped cone, but why this choice of language? Why do we think that it’s ok to express frustration in terms of ending one’s own life? We take something trivial, like ice cream, and we raise the stakes by making it a life or death situation. I’m not saying that people kill themselves because we make jokes about suicide. What I’m trying to point to is how we have made such a serious topic into something as common as talking about the weather. Also, I have to wonder how much the idea of seeking a permanent solution (suicide) to temporary problems has infiltrated the minds of people, if only in part, by this type of jesting.

Secondly, we’ve romanticized suicide to the point that we’ve made it seem that there is something larger-than-life or even beautiful involved in the act. This is especially true when we hear of celebrities who have taken their own life. “Musicians and actors are such great artists so they must know something about life that us common folk do not.” Celebrities are cementing their legacy when they take their own life. “Now they will always remember me.” This all seems attractive in some way to many people. So much so that after a celebrity commits suicide you can be sure that the number of suicides and attempted suicides will rise. According to CNN, there was a 10% increase (nearly 2,000 deaths) in the suicide rate following the suicide of actor and comedian Robin Williams in 2014, most of them enacted in the same way as Williams. “If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you?”

Again, this is a very sad and difficult topic. We don’t want to simply turn these horrible deaths into statistics. At the same time, we need to recognize that, as a culture, we will reap what we sow. Because we’ve treated suicide in such a loose fashion for so long, we can’t act surprised when these type of deaths happen. Life is precious. Why can’t we pass that on to the culture? I pray we can stop treating life as expendable and cheap. We must not continue the atrocities at abortion clinics, we must move forward with laws that prevent doctors ending people’s lives, and finally, we must stop this easy attitude we have with suicide. Life is a gift from God, it’s time we start acting like it.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)

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

“Life Is Sacred” Part 2

If you read last week’s article, you’ll remember we are dealing with the difficult topic of suicide. Suicide is becoming more and more prevalent, seemingly affecting more people. I contend that part of this influx is due to our modern ideology, or what has been termed the “culture of death.” In other words, we live in a culture that has no respect for the sacred gift of life and that sort of thinking flows into many areas.

Jumping Into A Volcano
Do you remember the 1990’s film “Joe Versus the Volcano”? It has since become something of a cult classic. An “average Joe” is stuck in a meaningless, boring life. Lost in a dead-end job, lacking of romantic fulfillment, his daily purposelessness is slowly eating away at him.

Eventually, Joe is told that he has an incurable disease. Which then leads him to meet a business man who an interesting proposition. The man needs to buy a rare mineral from a small tribe of Pacific Islanders, who will only sell if someone volunteers to be a human sacrifice by jumping into a volcano to appease the wrath of the “fire god.” The business man pays handsomely for Joe to enjoy the final days of his life, if he is willing to commit suicide in a few days. With nothing to lose, Joe takes the offer…

Truth In Comedy
“Joe Versus the Volcano” is not intended to be anything more than a light comedy. However, a message can be extrapolated that is important for us to see in our modern context within the “culture of death.”

It is becoming common in the world for people to ask a doctor to end their life. These people are suffering with a horrible disease and will most likely be dead soon anyways, right? Two problems arise here. First, life and death are the prerogative of God alone. (1 Samuel 2:6) Killing someone who is sick is still killing someone. Second, we are continuing to learn the trajectories of this type of thinking. For instance, what should be the criteria to opt for so-called “Right to die” or more commonly, Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS)? Terminally-ill, pain, unhappiness, no more money for medical treatment, or just bored with living, how far do we take this?

You might be thinking that I am making the “slippery slope” fallacy. The idea that the “Right to Die” laws could possibly lead to ludicrous outcomes. However, ideas that at one time seemed far out are now sad realities.

The basic argument is always: “Terminally ill people should have the right to die with dignity. They should be given the right to end their lives if they are in continual, painful suffering.” It was as if proponents of PAS were drawing a line stating, “This is as far as we are willing to go.” The problem is that if you don’t have a standard by which to judge your worldview, that “line” is liable to move.

As you look around the world, you will find that this line has moved further than PAS proponents ever said it would. For instance, The Netherlands began their journey in government sponsored suicide in 2001. Since then, the practice has moved from PAS for the terminally ill, to those who are dealing with “hopeless or unbearable” suffering, now which includes those with mental illness. That last one especially should catch your eye. Mental illness is now a reason to let a doctor end your own life in the Netherlands. (And how do doctors even define mental illness? What a wide range of extremes there are!) Not to mention that in 2010, a citizen’s initiative was put forth to legalize PAS for people over 70 who are simply done living their lives. Do you see what I mean, it truly is a slippery slope!

Thankful For Life
Instead of showing the world that life is only worth living if you are well off, healthy, and wealthy, what if we taught that life is a precious gift no matter the circumstances? Again, I am not trying to minimize anyone’s pain or suffering. I am trying to say that life is worth living. This is the message that we should be passing on throughout the culture and to our children. God created us, guides us, and calls us to Himself. Yes, we will struggle and deal with all sorts of junk in this world. However, that is why God sent Jesus Christ to save us. So let’s recognize that we are lost and powerless by ourself; yet let our answer be to turn to Christ and live instead of seeking to kill ourselves.

We must be thankful for the gift of life that God has so graciously bestowed on all his creatures. Let’s confront this “culture of death” that is pervading the thoughts and minds individuals throughout this world. Instead of teaching that life is cheap through death agendas like abortion, PAS, and culturally accepted romanticism of suicide, let us move forward with the gospel of Christ that brings meaning to life now and eternal life to come.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

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

“Life Is Sacred” Part 1

One of my favorite films is the Christmas classic, “A Christmas Story.” I love to watch Ralphie and his seemingly-impossible journey of trying to acquire a Red Ryder BB gun. However, one scene sticks out in my mind as I write this article.

As Ralphie and his family are driving home, they have a blowout and Dad gets out to change the tire. Ralphie tries to help by holding the lug nuts, which, after an accident, spill out on the road. Ralphie lets out an expletive (and it wasn’t “fudge”). And both parents are shocked at their young son. “Where did he learn this word?”

The truth is, Ralphie had heard his father use that type of profanity many times. Yet, the blame is skirted to a friend. As we watch, we can’t help but ask the question, “Why are these parents so oblivious?” Don’t they understand that kids are sponges? Learning is not something that simply takes place in a classroom, but through every word we say and action we do in front of our children.

Over the last few weeks the topic of suicide has come to the forefront once again as we have received news of more celebrities taking their own lives. Let me make this very clear, suicide is always a tragedy and should never be taken lightly. It should break our hearts when this discussion comes up. At the same time, I can’t help but see the connection between our modern, cultural ideas of life and death and the rate at which suicide seems to be becoming more and more common, and not just among the rich and famous.

You see, our culture as a whole, has been teaching for many years now that life is not something that is sacred; rather life is cheap and expendable. How so? No one is teaching that outright. That is irrelevant. How did Ralphie learning to cuss? We’ve been teaching the desacralization of life through many means, including: 1) The killing of babies in the womb for purposes of convenience. 2) The legalization of so-called “Physician Assisted Suicide” 3) The romanticizing of suicide. (We will look at 2 and 3 in the coming weeks.)

Firstly, and I recognize this is a very contentious topic, the issue of abortion has done so much to cheapen the sanctity of life. Many studies have been done throughout the years to ascertain why abortions are sought (I’ll let you do your own googling) and the overwhelming response is for purposes of convenience. Either the parents feel they cannot afford a child, the pregnancy was an “accident”, or they are trying to hide their sexual exploits. In other words, millions of parents have been willing to sacrifice their own children on the altar of convenience. Usually, when you hear this topic in the political area it goes something like this: “What about when the mother’s life is in danger or in instances of rape?” The problem is, these reasons are less than a half of a percent. Meaning, the one who makes this type of argument is going for an emotional response not a thought-out position. We can answer those types of questions, but first we must agree that most people who desire to have their babies killed do so because they don’t want to be bothered by their children. Tell me, what kind of message do you think our young people are getting when this is being argued all the time in the public sphere? (How did Ralphie learn to cuss?)

You see, we’ve tried to make this topic of abortion not about a baby’s life or death but rather a topic about choice. So those who support abortion have garnered such banners as “Pro-choice” or “Pro-women’s health”. When the reality is, abortion is about the choice to take another human being’s life. “It’s our CHOICE.” So why should we act surprised or be sad when someone takes their own life? They simply made a choice. We’ve blasted out the message that life and death is only a choice that we get to make. Naturally, then, it follows that if we are fed up with life, we can choose death. If we can make this choice when someone is a baby, why not when we are older? Let’s be consistent. Right?

Obviously, when we turn on the news and hear of a celebrity who has taken their own life or we have a friend or family member who has commited suicide, we weep. As we should. We call suicide tragic and wish that the person would have reached out for help. Why do we respond in this way? Because whether or not you want to acknowledge it, you know that life is a precious gift from God. Life is to be cherished and fought for and loved and lived. Life is sacred and we must come to remember that as a culture. We must celebrate life and not try to find more and more ways to end it.

Life can be hard and can come with many struggles. I am not trying to belittle your experiences. However, there is true hope available. Ending your own life is not the answer. Hope and healing can and do come from Christ alone. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. Talk with someone. Don’t listen to the “culture of death.” Reach out to a friend or local pastor. Open up the Bible and see what God has done for us so that you may have LIFE. Listen to the words of Jesus, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) (www.TheExitMovie.com)

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

“I’m Not Who I Once Was”

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