Out of Darkness

by Bill Rudge

The apostle Paul entreats us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-13). As you see the Day of the Lord approaching, realize that each passing moment brings you closer to eternity.

New Levels of Depravity

Our decadent society is free-falling into an abyss of unrestrained, uninhibited, gratuitous sexual addiction. All limits have been removed as virtually anything and everything is acceptable. Today’s generation has adopted the attitude of the Israelites in the days of the Judges, when “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

In various ways people in this day and age take the behavior of ancient pagan fertility rites to new levels of depravity. We live in a world given over to every sexual perversion imaginable as people, driven by an appetite for erotica, unsuccessfully attempt to satisfy their lust for sexual gratification. The Bible says –

Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (Ephesians 4:19).

Many Christians and even pastors carelessly pursue practices and lifestyles that are destructive to their health and testimony, disastrous to their families and devastating to their congregations.

Broken lives, ruined marriages, traumatized families, diminished health and damaged testimonies could be avoided if a fruit of the Spirit – self-control – is exercised. However, those who refuse to repent and do not endeavor to develop discipline, then God’s discipline – whether it comes from reaping the consequences of seeds sown or through remedial judgments – will clean up many in the Body of Christ who tolerate or flaunt immorality.

Come out of Babylon

Time is running out as this nation and world rapidly disintegrate morally. Collapse seems imminent. Priorities and pursuits need to change. Each person must repent of the sin and vileness in their lives and homes. God exhorts each of us to resist the pervasive spirit of apostasy and wanton immorality. He is calling His people to come out of Babylon “so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).

The apostle John encourages everyone who lives in the hope of Christ’s return to purify themselves (1 John 3:2, 3).

The apostle Peter tells us to live holy and godly lives as the day of the Lord approaches (2 Peter 3:9-14).

The Lord Jesus Christ admonishes us to remain faithful.

Challenge to God’s People

In spite of an increasingly corrupt world, Jesus is coming back for a Bride without spot or blemish. So it is time His Church cleans up her act. This is a day and age for believers to evaluate our lives; examine what we are entertained by, contemplate what our minds are exposed to, consider the words we speak, and ponder the meditations of our heart. It is a time to purify our minds and bodies.

Each of us will be tried and tested in our pursuit of holiness and purity. The enemy will use every opportunity and method to pollute our minds with vile images and tempt us to compromise our lives with sinful behavior. We can and must resist by the might of His Spirit and the command of His Word.

The Church does not need pastors who merely tell us how human they are by confessing all their flaws and dark secrets. We need ministers who will show us how they overcame them by the power of God’s Spirit and the authority of His Word. We need Christian leaders who will lead by godly example in a darkening and desperate world. We need those who will inspire us to maintain disciplined lifestyles so we can be effective witnesses with testimonies that shine brightly for His glory.

While God offers the free gift of salvation to everyone who will believe and receive, it is imperative that we seek to walk a path of strength and wisdom in pursuit of purity, maturity, and righteousness as we await the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Be Strong in the Lord

by Jim Weikal

All believers know the stress of suffering as Jesus foretold (John 16:33; Luke 9:23). Jesus was well acquainted with our griefs: Isaiah described the pain of the coming Savior centuries before in chapter 53 verses 3 and 4.

Times of stress and grief are not easy on anybody, but believers have a Savior who understands their predicament. Do not be afraid to cry out to Him, because He does hear us. Run to Jesus Christ when suffering comes. He understands and He cares.

The apostle Paul suffers in a Roman prison due to the persecution set in motion by the infamous emperor Nero – he knows that his death is imminent. So what does a dying man say to a “child in the faith” such as Timothy? Paul points Timothy to the source where he will find the strength to face the challenges of ministry and Roman persecution:

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).

This verse is a straightforward charge to “be strong.” It is a command and not a suggestion. To “be strong” is a continuous action not a one time reaction. Likewise, the Christian today who faces difficulties, challenges, persecutions, oppression and the like, Paul’s command resonates with us centuries later – “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Remember our Master’s words:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

The Temple of Artemis

A Lesson for Us Today from the Church at Ephesus
“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Rev. 2:7

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

214 Ephesus was an important seaport city of the Roman province of Asia. It was the home of the famous temple of Artemis. As one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Artemis attracted pilgrims from all over the Roman empire. The temple played a central role in the life of Ephesus, not only as a place of worship, but also serving as a bank. Those who lived in Ephesus were extremely loyal to Artemis as recorded in Paul’s encounter with Demetrius in Acts 19.

The apostle Paul commissioned Timothy to oversee the church at Ephesus. One particular problem that Timothy faced in addition to the influence of Artemis, was the infiltration of false teachings into the church. Paul admonished Timothy to remain steadfast to what he had been taught:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Paul knew it was the Word of God which would give Timothy and the church at Ephesus the spiritual discernment and strength it needed to remain true to the faith.

Just like Timothy, we find ourselves being bombarded today by a panoply of spiritual teachings; we are surrounded by a smorgasbord of beliefs. In the midst of this plurality of teachings, how do we spiritually discern what is and what is not of the Truth? People I encounter often use the “Jesus rule,” trying to answer this question. As long as what is being taught mentions Jesus enough times, then surely it must be right! Others appeal to their subjective experience and conclude that if it makes them feel better or closer to God, then it must be right.

However, proclaiming the name of Jesus and subjective experience are, in themselves, insufficient to avoid the deception of false teaching. An objective standard by which to spiritually discern the array of teachings and practices around us is required. In the case of the Christian, God has given us this objective standard — the Word of God. Just as Paul urged Timothy and the church at Ephesus to be equipped with the truth of Scripture, so must believers today.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go to Turkey and visit the ancient city of Ephesus. I was amazed at how this leading city of the past was merely a pile of rubble. All that was left of the temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) was a single standing column. As I looked upon the stone and marble, I realized that the church at Ephesus, which once stood for the Truth in this city of religious pluralism, was now among the ruins of the past.

Many Christians today are caught up in the various spiritual teachings of our time. With little or no discernment, they run from one idea to another and from one mystical experience to the next. This lack of spiritual discernment by the church today will come to a sad end — just as in Ephesus. Unless we are grounded in God’s Word, we will not have the spiritual maturity needed to escape the spiritually counterfeit dangers of our time.

Lest we suffer the same tragic fate as the church at Ephesus, we must maintain a love and passion for Jesus Christ by never leaving our first love (Revelation 2:4). My prayer is that all believers discern and reject the infiltration of false teaching. We must study, search and reflect upon Scripture, then apply it to our daily lives. It is reassuring to know that biblical Christians are overcomers who will be granted the right to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

Living with Hope and Leaving a Lasting Legacy

Making a New Life Resolution for 2019, part 6

In the previous blog, I shared with you my seventh and eighth New Life Resolutions:  7) Reflect in an authentic way to others the transforming power and reality of Jesus Christ in my life; 8) While I should grieve over the wickedness in the world, I will still approach non-believers with the same love and grace that Jesus has shown me. Let us now examine the final two New Life Resolutions.

Resolution 9:  When I face difficulties and challenges, I will think of those who face daily persecution and have given their lives (martyrs) for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Since we live in a fallen world, all of us will experience pain and suffering. While we cannot avoid this, we can choose how we respond. Will we respond like the children of Israel who grumbled and complained, or will we respond with hope and joy? As Peter encouraged those Christians who were facing persecution,

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4)

A book that I recommend every Christian read is “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.” It details the many men and women throughout history who have given their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ. Their commitment and love for Jesus in the midst of difficult challenges is truly inspiring. One such example is a girl named Mary who, along with her family, was given the choice to renounce her faith in Jesus or die. In their refusal to deny the very One who had given His life for them, they were all shot. Mary would be the only one who survived but would be paralyzed by the bullet that had severed her spinal cord. In response to this tragedy, she makes the following profound statement, “Everyone has a vocation. I can never marry or do any physical work. So I will offer my life to the Muslims, like the one who cut my father’s throat, stabbed my mother while cursing her and tried to kill me. My life will be a prayer for them.”

The lives of those who have faced persecution and even death have provided me with a resolve to approach the challenges in my life, which are much less, with the same faithfulness and trust. I have come to recognize that these challenges be opportunities for spiritual growth, to help encourage others in difficult times, and to show others that the God of the Bible is faithful. This life is but a moment in comparison to eternity and one day the pain and brokenness we experience will forever be wiped away:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying,

“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them   He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever (Revelation 21:3, 4).

Resolution 10:  At my death my family and friends will rejoice over the life I have lived, and that I will have the ability to say with my final breath, “It is finished”; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

I recently had to visit a friend who is facing terminal cancer. With only months to live, he shared with me how many regrets he has as he approaches death. Full of remorse for wasted time and making poor choices that have negatively impacted both his children and grandchildren, he is now trying his best to redeem what time he still has left.

Reflecting upon what my friend said made me want to have the resolve to not approach my death full of regrets. I want to live my life like Jesus who, not distracted by the insignificant things of this world, lived his life with resolve to fulfill the will of His Father. Thus, with no hesitation in His voice, He was able to say with His final breath on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). I also want to live my life like the Apostle Paul who, despite the obstacles in his life, took the Gospel to every corner of the Roman Empire. As a result, in the final letter he wrote to his dear friend Timothy he was able to say,

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Conclusion

My prayer for all of you is that you will choose to live your lives with resolve. A resolve where you seek His glory, desire His presence, and live for eternity. Regardless of where you are in your journey with Jesus, remember these words:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).

A Change of Attitude, A Change of Heart

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

Making A New Life Resolution for 2019, part 2

In the previous blog we talked about the importance of making a New Life Resolution for 2019, a resolution that brings about a change not only in our attitude of how we see things but, more importantly, a change in our heart in what we desire in life. In this blog I will begin to share the 10 New Life Resolutions that I have set for myself for 2019 as well as the remainder of my life. With God’s help, I want to use these resolutions like Jonathan Edwards used his, not as a law that binds me, but as a compass to guide my life and help me press forward toward the goal of becoming more like Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:12-14).

Resolution 1:  In all my decisions I will do that which brings the most glory to God

This resolution defines the mission statement for my life. It reflects the reality that my life should be centered and focused upon the person of Jesus Christ, a desire that in all my decisions I will ultimately seek to exalt Him and not myself. As Paul sat in a Roman prison waiting for his eventual fate, he makes the following statement,

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die” (Philippians 1:20, 21).

Despite his circumstances, and regardless of the outcome (life or death), the Apostle Paul wanted Jesus to be glorified. So too, I have found myself in situations where I have had to deal with pain, injustice, heartbreak, uncertainty etc., and like the Apostle Paul, I ultimately want my desire in these situations to lead to Jesus being glorified.

I once heard a chapel speaker say that, like Jesus, we should not live by our rights but respond by doing what is right. In Jesus’ life he was within his rights to avoid going to the cross to die, but he recognized that the right thing to do was to fulfill the will of His Father by giving up His life for the sins of humanity. A great illustration for all of us to step back and ask ourselves is: “Is my response and decision to this situation in my life a matter of me doing what I am within my rights to do, or am I responding by what is right, which is to bring glory to God?”

May the words of David reflect the very core of our being:

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart for your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” (Psalm 86:11, 12).

Resolution 2:  To do a weekly spiritual examination to identify specific areas where I can grow in my faith with the Lord

In our Christian walk, it is very easy to become content where we are in our faith.  Recognizing that we serve a God who is gracious and merciful can often be used to justify the need to avoid personal growth and accountability. While it is true that we can never earn the grace and mercy of God, we must recognize that salvation is merely the starting point. Every day we should be striving, or as Paul says, pressing on toward the prize of being more like Christ (Philippians 3:12-14). In this pursuit, a weekly spiritual examination can help us avoid becoming stagnant in a past decision that we made to follow Jesus. Specifically, for me, it is a weekly reminder to never grow weary in the fight against sin in my life.

The following are some great questions that have not only helped me in my spiritual examination, but they also provided a platform to help me set forth my New Life Resolutions:

Question 1:  How am I spending my time?  Into what, or who, am I investing my time and energy?

Question 2:  What is the standard for my life?  What or who do I look to in making decisions for my life?

Question 3:  What testimony am I providing in this life and what legacy will I leave when I am gone? How would others (family, friends, co-workers etc.) describe me now and at my funeral?

Like the potter molding the clay, I want God to mold me every day into the person that He wants me to be. I want God to show me where my motives and actions are not in line with His will. In the words of David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23, 24).

In the next blog we will examine Resolutions 3 and 4. Until then, may we all continue to live a life of resolve.

Making a New Life Resolution for 2019

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

As we move into 2019, many of us will be going through the yearly ritual of setting New Year’s Resolutions. With pure intentions, we use our resolutions – from exercising more and saving money to finding a significant other – as a way to better our lives. While it is admirable to make changes that can affect our behavior and circumstances, as Christians we need to make a NEW LIFE RESOLUTION – a resolution that can bring more than external change but an internal change. A change in our attitude in how we see things, and more importantly a change in our heart in what we desire in life.

A biblical passage that I believe speaks to the heart of a New Life Resolution is Philippians 3:12-14. Writing to the church at Philippi while imprisoned in Rome, the Apostle Paul asserts the following:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul lays out the purpose/goal of the Christian life, which is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul acknowledges that he has not yet attained this goal and still has room to grow spiritually. Thus, to help him in the process to be more like Christ, he details two steps that he has taken. First, he forgets what lies behind. Paul recognizes that spiritual success and failures of the past cannot be hindrances towards achieving his goal of Christlikeness. Second, he presses on (moves forward) toward the prize. The Greek word for press was used of a sprinter, who ran his race with aggressive energy. This is important to keep in mind because most people fail in their New Year’s resolutions. Studies have shown that 80% of people fail by the 2nd week of February, and less than 10% ever achieve them. So, as we set New Life Resolutions for our lives, we cannot be passive and idle in our efforts, but we must PRESS forward with every ounce of our being. We must never grow weary in our resolve to become more like Jesus Christ.

Many of you are probably familiar with Johnathan Edwards. He lived in the 1700s and is considered by many to be the greatest preacher and theologian in American history. He also played an influential role in the first Great Awakening, which was a spiritual revival that swept through the American colonies. What you may not know is that at the age of 18 he became the pastor of a church in New York. Recognizing the seriousness of this call, and not wanting to waste the opportunity God had given him, Edwards wrote a total of 70 resolutions for his life. He used these resolutions not as a law to bind him, but as a compass to guide his life and to examine his spiritual progress. While I encourage all of you to read his 70 resolutions, they can be summed up in the following:  “Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” In accomplishing these resolutions, Edwards identified two keys. First, he needed God’s help. In his own words, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.” Second, he knew that he needed to review them weekly.

Like Edwards, I have set forth resolutions for my life. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing these resolutions (10 in total) that God has impressed upon my heart.  As we go through them together, my prayer is that you too will take on the challenge to make a New Life Resolution for 2019.

Consequences of Compromise

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

Instead of transforming our culture, the church is being transformed by the culture.

Sermons being promoted with sexual images, worship being infiltrated by secular songs, the preaching platform shared with Star Wars characters – yes, these are just samples of the efforts taken by many churches to make Christianity “relevant” to our modern culture. Church growth experts tell us these “adjustments” are necessary if we want Christianity to survive the tides of cultural change.

However, when we approach Christianity in the above manner, three drastic results follow.

First, Christianity becomes a man-centered system of beliefs. Like a person picking and choosing different foods at a buffet, each of us can pick and choose what we want to include in our own version of Christianity: If church is “cool” and “fun,” then we can be cool and still have fun enjoying the things of this world – a far cry from Jesus’ call of self-denial:

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).

Second, Christianity loses its power. The focus of bringing people to Christ begins to center around the latest trends and church growth methods. These are supposedly the key to unlocking the hearts of the “un-churched.” As our culture changes, these will also change so that we can maintain a message that is appealing to our audience. Definitely a different evangelistic approach than the Apostle Paul:

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified…and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Third, Christianity loses its uniqueness. When the Gospel is presented with all of the regalia of cultural relevance and excitement, it loses its distinction. Instead of being a channel of transformation in our culture, it becomes transformed by the culture (see Romans 12:2). Thus, the Christian faith becomes merely another system of thought that blends into the cultural landscape. What a sad result when, in contrast, we have the opportunity to share with others the unique message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed (Romans 1:16, 17).

So while we may adapt our method of presenting the Gospel we must never change, water down, distort or cheapen the message. We must not be so “open minded” that we accept virtually any practice, phenomenon or teaching. Instead, be “Bereans” who wisely question, evaluate and discern. Any methodology that alters the Gospel message itself or compromises the way we live out our faith must be rejected. The Lord Jesus will be the final judge of all methods, techniques and teachings, as well as those who propagate them (1 Corinthians 4:5).