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Saturday, 31 March 2012 15:13

The Arc of Life

The Arc of Life

- Living life at any age -

As I turn 40 today, I can’t help but get a bit philosophical about life and its natural course.

As a pastor I work with people of all ages and from all places of life. On any given day, I’ll counsel teens, young adults, middle aged people and senior citizens. I’ve prayed with prostitutes and politicians, dined with drug dealers and doctors; and while I still have much to learn about life, I have a unique perspective that seems worthy of mentioning.

Because I have spent so much time with people of such an array of stations in life, I’ve observed something I’m calling the “Arc of Life.” What I mean by this term is that there is a natural rhythm of life that keeps pace with us, and even limits us, to what we can or should be doing at any given time. I began seeing this arc of life as I have had the chance to develop such close relationships with people of so many different ages and accomplishments. What I’ve seen is that there is a natural arc to life, an arc of productivity, an arc of family, an arc for things of God.

The book of Ecclesiastes has a passage (made famous in the 60’s by Bob Dylan and The Byrds) that speaks to this arc:

Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—2 A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. 3 A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4 A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. 5 A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. 6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. 7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak. 8 A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.

Now you’ll see in this passage that God has ordained certain times for certain activities. There may be a degree of flexibility from person to person, but by and large, life in alignment with the Lord follows this arc: preparation> production> concentration> transition. I have found that our modern society that seeks to throw off all restrictions—people no longer think in terms of proper times and proper seasons. But whether or not we understanding it, our lives follow this arc. The less we live in harmony with it, the less peace and joy we’ll find.

In a nutshell, the arc begins with childhood—this is where children learn about life, about values, about work and play, etc. The lessons they learn here propel them into early adulthood.

Then, in early adulthood people decide upon their course for life. They refine their skills and step away from the edge of the pool and start swimming. Along the way they pick up a spouse, have children, and settle down. They are moving up the arc.

In their middle-aged years (from about 30-50) they are living in a renaissance of personal productivity. They are producers—making something, having an impact, seeing results. They are full of activity—if it can be done, they will do it. Should it be done? Maybe/maybe not, but they’ll give it a try. The folks have time, resources, vision and passion. They are nearly at the top of the arc.

But I have seen—when a person is following God’s natural arc—somewhere between 50 and 60 years old, rather than the typical notion of “slowing down” that the world pounds into our thinking, instead when a person has properly followed this arc, during this time they will enter into a realm of purified productivity—they are ultra productive, but not existing in a realm of hectic activity. They will be wise and seasoned. They will know what matters. They will still have resources of energy and vision to accomplish great things; but they will have the added blessing of seeing life from an eternal perspective. They start marking days and years and realizing that they can leave a legacy if they focus on the right things. They have the discernment to leave behind things that waste time, and they focus on what will count for eternity. Now they are at the top of the arc.

Where they go from here depends on how they have gotten here. If they have followed God’s arc to this point, they are rich with perspective and wisdom. They have much to offer others and seek to pass the baton on to the next generation of leaders. Their joy is found in giving away the riches God has given to them. They have much to offer and people come to them to receive. They continue to lead, but they lead into the twilight, lighting the way for those who follow, and because so few today have followed God’s arc to this point, many people gaze at these saints with love, joy, respect and gratitude.

This is the arc. It is an arc filled with hope, optimism and peace. It’s an arc most could follow, but few choose.

The more I interact with people, the more I see how living out of balance with this arc causes great misery. It seems as though society has increasingly derailed good people from this perspective. Society, with its sophomoric wisdom, tells itself that it can ignore this arc, that there are more immediate ways to happiness, that we shouldn’t be bound by such naïve notions. Yet people wonder why our misery continues to rise, our contentment continues to lower, and we increasingly descend into despair—especially as we age. Life is painful and without knowing their place on the arc, they forsake hope and give up.

And that’s why I thought I’d take a moment to write this post—for many people reading it—there is still time to redirect efforts and recognize our place on the arc.

First and foremost, the Lord needs to be at the center of our lives. Back in High School, I thought I was pretty cool by saying that God was my Co-Pilot. What I didn’t realize then is that a statement like this is simply foolishness. God IS the Lord and master of ALL life—even if we ignore Him or deny this truth. I can say I don’t believe in gravity, but it still dominates everything I do. God is not our co-pilot, He is THE pilot! He has determined the course of our days and the times and places we live. He is moving us along this arc whether or not we admit it. Unless we are surrendered to Him, we’re going to find that each stage of the arc is frustratingly toilsome. We’ll be out of sync with God’s natural rhythms of life.

We’re like a blind person, sitting in a canoe, being carried down a stream. We don’t know where the stream is going and we can’t see where we are, but we’re paddling with all our might into the darkness. The solution is to recognize what God is doing and let Him lead. This kind of trust and knowledge of God requires that we are reconciled to Him. It’s not enough to be fatalistic and just “go with the flow”. It’s more than that—we need to surrender and do God’s will. This means we need to be in a right relationship with Him.

How do we do this? Well, here’s the basics: God is holy and pure and dwells in absolute purity and perfection. Therefore, He can’t have any sin in His presence—otherwise, it wouldn’t be perfect any more. But sadly, each of us sin, each of us do things that are not like God. This means two things: we are out of fellowship with God here and now, and when we die, we will be out of fellowship with God forever (e.g. we go away from God because we can’t enter into His presence). If we are not in fellowship with God here, we are off His path for our lives.

But God wants us in fellowship with Him, God wants us near. So He sent His son, Jesus, to earth to be our atonement. Jesus was perfect—like God—never sinning. His death on the cross was to shed His life for us; to cover us with His perfection. This is His gift to us: eternal life. We don’t earn this, like any gift, we receive it when we reach out for it by faith. We confess to God we have sinned. We ask Him to be the Lord of our lives and turn us from the things that break our fellowship with Him. Once we recognize and submit to Him as the Lord of our lives, His presence and grace infuses everything we do and He enables us to live out His plan for us. Thus we walk the arc, fulfilling His will, experiencing His peace, knowing our lives are pleasing to Him.

Let’s get back to the arc of life…so, how do we teach it to our children? First, we need to connect our kids to the Lord at a young age. From this root stems a successful life (that is, one that is successful in the eyes of God). When God is at the center of our lives, we fulfill each stage of the arc with His hand guiding us and His strength working within us. We have peace knowing that each season is operating unto God and He will not fail to accomplish His will for us.

As we enter into young adulthood, we get equipped for a life of usefulness and productivity. During these years, we need to hold Christ at the center of our lives to keep from getting off His arc. The world is full of wild lures, seeking to draw us from God’s arc for our lives. Countless people burn through these equipping years without gaining the tools they need to really live. The result is the rest of their lives, they feel like they are playing catch-up, never quite in step with the pace of life.

Likewise, we need Christ at the center of our lives as we steam through the middle-aged years. These are the years when we can accomplish so much for eternity. These are the years when we make an impact. These are the years when we accomplish what we’ll be remembered for. Yet how many people rage through these years and just as they leave this era, they look back suddenly realizing the moment has past and the days were squandered? The old rock band, Rush, wrote a song called “Anthem”—I remember singing its key lyrics: “Live for yourself, there’s no one else more worthy living for”. But if this is our anthem, regret will eventually come like the plague.

But if Christ is the center of our lives during these years, we’ll have tremendous productivity—not just in our workplace, but in our homes and in our churches. We’ll go on Short Term Missions trips. We’ll sacrifice to fund overseas church planting. We’ll volunteer for a crisis ministry. We’ll do things that matter.

As we get older, if Christ is at the center of the arc, when we enter those Golden Years—we’ll find they truly are golden. Not because they are without pain or worry (likely, our pain and discomfort will increase) but rather we’ll have a life-time of godly wisdom that we can pour into our children and others in our family and in our church. We’ll have wisdom validated by a life well-lived and people will be blessed in our hearing.

And lastly, when we enter those twilight years—if Christ has been at the center of our lives, we’ll have known that we have spent them for eternity. We’ll see and know that time is short. We’ll have peace and contentment knowing that life has not been wasteful toil, but rather joyful Christ-filled service. We will have been connected to Christ, the Vine (Jesus taught about this in John chapter 15), for our entire lives and will rejoice in the hundred-fold harvest of fruitfulness as Christ has lived our His life through us.

From here, for God’s people, there will be no “end” that awaits us, but rather a beginning—a beginning of the next phase of life (REAL life) where we walk with Christ face-to-face, in glory, without the weight of sin; where we can fellowship with Him and His people with purity and joy. We will step into eternity in harmony with the arc of life, knowing that indeed God has always been faithful.

So beloved, like it or not, you are on this arc. How are you doing? Is Christ guiding you on the path? Is He the Lord of your life in all His entirety? If you are young, are you gathering the resources to live life well? If you are middle-aged, are you maximizing the productivity of these days? If you’re in your golden years, are you using your wisdom and remaining reserves for eternity? Are you in the twilight years? Are you looking forward to forever with the Lord letting these last days be spent in fellowship with Him and His people? I prayerfully hope so.

The arc of life…to follow it in righteousness is to know peace and joy and productivity. To fight against it is to know toil, frustration and ultimately despair. If you have not aligned with God’s arc for your life, now is the day for repentance. Now is the day to let Him be the Lord and surrender to His will.

Again, if you’re not sure, here’s how:

Begin by praying to God and recognizing that He is holy and right about what is good and righteous. Recognize that you have not lived with absolute purity before Him. Recognize that when you measure yourself against His purity, He has every right to cast you from Him into Hell. But also recognize that He has provided His Son Jesus in your place. Jesus lived a perfect life and when He died, He died as a substitute for God’s people—that way, God’s holiness and justice are preserved, and we can be forgiven. Call out to God for forgiveness. Repent and turn your life to follow His ways. That means knowing what the Bible says by reading it. That means doing what the Bible says. That means joining with a church and getting involved. That means talking with Him in prayer and listening to His Spirit.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably not too late to align yourselves with God’s arc of life. If you do that, while I won’t guarantee that life will go perfectly, I can guarantee that God will be with you and strengthen you to accomplish and persevere through all that He brings your way.

Thanks and God Bless.

Those are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 08 December 2010 23:16

Getting God to do what you want

So often, I meet people who are trying to get God to do what they want. They'll try anything--anything from bartering with God, to various "do-gooder" actions, to trying to buy God off with gifts of money or time. It's pretty common. This may sound ludicrous to the average person when all is going well for them, but for those who are anxious or desperate, these kinds of steps become a bitter reality; they are desperate, they've tried everything, and when nothing else seems to work, they turn to God.

Sadly, it's not unheard of for a religious charlatans to take advantage of this common dilemma for people. In my opinion, most modern TV evangelists are essentially hawking a method to manipulate God-- they say that if you want God to do some particular thing all you have to do is follow a certain set of steps--namely send that particular TV evangelist lots of money to demonstrate your faith--and God will respond by bringing to fruition whatever it was you "claimed" by faith. Here's the problem with all of this: God is not a genie, He's not a vending machine, He's not at our beckon call, waiting to fulfill our latest wish.

The problem is that so often we want God to act on our terms--when and how we think is best. We are convinced that this particular pressing matter is not a fanciful whim but something of major importance that God must provide. We want a spouse, we want healing, we want a certain career, we want a specific lifestyle. We want, we want, we want.

And so often, I've heard people mutter in disgust that God didn't fulfill His end of the bargain therefore they don't believe in Him, or won't follow Him, won't honor Him, or something along those lines. Since God didn't do what they wanted, they won't do what He wants from them. But this mindset is fraught with problems!

First, it misunderstands the nature of God's supreme wisdom. So often the thing we want is truly harmful to us or detrimental to the plan He has for us. Case in point: when I was a new believer, I knew a beautiful young model who was a customer in my parent's store. I began praying that God would make it so that I would date her. Now, that's a crazy idea. This woman was a million miles away from the Lord. She was on a different life-track than me. And let's be realistic, I'm a pastor and that's not exactly the kind of life that would endear the fidelity and devotion of a young model. As it turns out, God knew what was best for me all along and now I have a fabulous wife and marriage. It took time for me to figure out that my Heavenly Father knows best.

Second, this mindset misunderstands the nature of God's supreme will. The average person thinks that God is actively involved in making us happy and comfortable. But that's not what going on at all! I've heard so many people say words to the effect that "God wants me to be happy". Now what we need to accept is that hard truth, that as dissonant as it sounds to our minds, God does NOT necessarily want us happy (I'll explain in a moment). We need to realize that we are all under God's judgment--even me, a pastor. The Bible says that all of us have sinned, all of us have gone astray, all of us have cast off God's rule from our lives and all of us seek to live as Lord of our own lives. Rather than giving us happiness in life, God's most important goal our our lives is that we come to Him in repentance so that we can get back on track with His will for our lives. Think about this, if we're striving for things that God does not want for us, why would He want to encourage us along a path that He knows is not in our out best interest?

What people don't understand, is that one of the main reasons for the pain and misery in this world is to prove to us that life is NOT perfect and that we need a savior. The goal of pain is to bring us to God, that we might come to Him and be reconciled to Him. God is the highest source of all that is good, and joyful and meaningful in this world. However, as long as a person seeks to find happiness in something not rooted in Him, then He will not condone, support or encourage them on their path. They will never find the peace and joy they seek because true peace and joy only come from Him and He will not give these gifts to those who do not seek to find them in Him. So often, people want God to coddle them in their rebellion and sin when in reality He is calling them to utterly abandon their old life and living their new life in Christ.

Third, it misunderstands the nature of God's dealings with us. Again, when people want some thing--often they are asking for an outright miracle that disregards the laws of science, consequences, reality, etc. The average person has a poltergeist view of God--that He should make things levitate across the room to do things like: prove His reality, make our lives easier, guide us in decisions, etc. This is not how God works with us. He is not out to suspend the laws of nature to placate our whims. In nearly all cases, God wants us to proceed the old fashioned way--through careful obedience to His prescriptions.

Fourth, trying to manipulate God is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding about how we determine and/or learn God's will. Along with these ideas and matters I've already mentioned, people seem to think that God will communicate His will to them through wild and fantastic signs. I've heard about people driving by signs as they were praying, and taking the message of the sign to be a message from God. Yikes! That's just an absurd, Ouji board view of how God talks with us. The reality is that God has given us broad and specific instructions in His Word; the Bible. The Bible contains everything we need for life and godliness. We don't need anything else. All we have to do is learn what it says, and prayerfully live out what we've learned. That's how God guides us and directs our steps. As we follow God along the path, there will be plenty of times where the expedient route seems easier, better, happier, wiser, etc. But the scriptures say that there are ways and routes that seem right, but really lead to death.

So with all of these points that I've listed, rather than seeking to manipulate God, what we really need to to is seek Him to be able to surrender our whole lives and hearts to God. His will and plan for us is best. He is wiser, more righteous, more loving than us and what He wants is vastly superior to what we even want. The peace, joy and satisfaction that we are looking for in life will not come from us getting God to do what we want, but rather when we learn to trust Him, walk with Him, obey Him and then to be filled with the love, joy, peace and strength that He supplies.

So, those are my thoughts, I'd love to hear yours.
Published in Blog

He's so great, really, when you think about it. He allowed a kid who was into all kinds of mysticism, who was involved in a pretty rough crowd, who was haughty and prideful and selfish—He immediately took me in and began His divine heart surgery to change my life. The next few months were pivotal to my growth in the Lord. He took my hand and literally directed the way. I was too zoned-out from the accident. I was dazed, I was half crazy with grief. I was in shock.

– Excerpt from Russ' Story.

Russ Brewer’s Story as of 12/1/00 given before a Korean High School Group

Good evening. I am excited to tell you about the changes that the Lord has brought into my life. It is my prayer that you will hear of my mistakes and be able to avoid them yourselves. It is my prayer that if you don’t know Jesus Christ now as your Lord and savior, that by the end of my message, you will put your faith and trust in the Lord of our universe.

Although this story may look like it’s about me, it’s really about how God directed my life and protected me. He did this because of His love for me and He will do the same for you. As you will hear from my story--more than likely, at some point in your life, pains will come your way. But pain and trials are gifts from God where we can turn to Him; purify our faith, and glorify Him as Lord. When the trials come, it is not right to ask why, for that is in the mind of God. Rather you should ask how are you are supposed to respond as a godly child of the Lord.

I will probably take every last minute Pastor Chi has given to me, so hang on and here we go.

I grew up in Middletown New Jersey. Growing up, my family attended a non-Christian church called Christian Science, not to be confused with Scientology by L. Ron Hubbard. Christian Science was started in the late 1800’s by a woman named Mary Baker Eddy.[1] She wrote many books detailing her brand of spirituality, the most notable is her book called “Science and Heath” which her followers believe to be as equally true as the Bible. In Science and Heath, Mary Baker Eddy explains that God made man in His image and likeness, therefore we are all gods. Thus since God cannot break his arm, neither can we. Since God cannot get cancer, neither can we. The reason why people appear to have broken bones and other illnesses is because of sin. Sin is not a violation of God’s holy law; rather it is incorrect thinking about who we “truly” are. Sin is error. Sin is being wrong in our conclusions about ourselves. According to Christian Science, if we think we have cancer we are sinning. The solution to sin is found in the great healer Jesus Christ. Jesus was not God per say, nor did he die for our sins on the cross. Rather He was the way-shower who told us how to really view who we are. Jesus tried to show us that we were gods and that if we recognized that, we could heal ourselves just as He healed others.

Christian Scientists deny Christ’s death on the cross as being anything other than tragedy. They don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God nor do they believe in heaven or hell. All of us, according to their beliefs, will “translate” into another existence. Death is only a doorway to the next reality. People don’t go to hell because there is no hell because there is no real sin against God. Again, sin is just an erroneous understanding of who we are.

This was my exposure and spiritual diet for most of my childhood. Christian scientists are warm, kindhearted people. The books they read from are very complex and the language is old and difficult. Yet, my Sunday school classes consisted of three or four children in the same grade sitting around a small round table with one adult teacher who taught us theology. We learned their wrong beliefs about sin, healing, Jesus, God and power. I advanced through these classes from age 8 or 9 up till about 15 years old.

My parents actually never ever went to that church the entire time I was there. They were raised by Christian Scientist parents (that is, my grandparents) and both had independently forsaken the religion for themselves. Thus when it came to teaching their children religion, although they didn’t actually agree with Christian Science, it was natural that they would send their kids, my sister and I, to the only religion they knew.

Thus we were “nominal Christian Scientists.” On most Sunday’s my parents would drop my sister and I off at church and then go out for breakfast on their own. After 90 minutes they’d come back, pick us up and we’d go on our way. My parents never taught me Christian Science doctrine because they weren’t real impressed with it themselves. Thus when I broke a bone my parents took me to a doctor. When I needed a tooth filled, they took me to a dentist. Yet, to a degree, we were quasi-practicing Christian Scientists. That is, when we had colds we didn’t take cold medicine, when we had aches, we didn’t take Tylenol or Advil. Generally the watchword around my house was for general minor stuff, was “mind over matter”.

Like other good Christian Scientists, my parents were the kindest people on the street. They had well developed ethics and codes of conduct and behavior. I was raised to highly value the worth and dignity of all people. Jesus’ golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was often quoted and applied in my home. During my childhood, I watched my parents take into our home people beaten by their spouses; others near death from alcoholism. I saw my parents helping with all kinds of volunteerism. Thus they were good people, perhaps better than the average home. These values were deeply instilled in me and although I didn’t know Jesus Christ as my Lord I did admire and follow His example of love and selflessness.

However, you can imagine that a religion, which denied Jesus, the Bible, Heaven, Hell and Sin, doesn’t really re-enforce deep convictions within its followers. Christian Science is New Age mysticism glossed over with Christian ideals. God is a transcendent, impersonal force to be used for one’s own advantage. The New Age mysticism is the same. It seeks to use mystical forces to achieve benefit for the person. Both are selfish, self-centered, and power-hungry. They do not seek to exalt, honor, worship and serve the Holy Creator. Rather both seek to selfishly give honor to evil that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. New Age often incorporates the beliefs of mediation, astrology, Zen Buddhism, and a bunch of other stuff into a giant salad bar from which its adherents pick and choose what sounds best to them.

Although my family wasn’t off the deep end, we were still in the dangerous waters of New Age. In my family, we did often speak of God and Jesus, but we also spoke of a whole realm of spiritual things. My parents weren’t teaching us doctrine of any particular religion, rather our family was always curious and open to what might be out there. The trend towards spiritual mysticism continued and deepened as I went through high school and through various means I had developed a sizable personal New Age reference library complete with books on out of body experiences, channeling, black magic, Stonehenge, meditation, etc.

I now know that I was playing with evil and I have suffered the spiritual consequences of my sins. One might ask if it’s really a sin to read books on the occult. Well, the book of Hebrews says that whatever is not of faith is sin, and Deuteronomy prohibits going to psychics and mediums and those who practice divination. I initially began reading the books out of curiosity, but eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I was reading because I believed them. Thus, I was sinning against the holy Lord who alone is wise. God’s plans are high—lofty—beyond the mind of man—and we are to only read and accept that which He has already revealed in God’s word. Any attempt to reach up to the infinite and pull it down to the finite is a sin against God. I Cor 10:13 says "So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it."

Well, once I entered High School, I started spending time with a pretty interesting group of guys. When I first starting hanging out with my friends they were really great people. Most were quite smart but bored with our classes. Some of us were boy-scouts and some nature lovers and our main hang-out was at a rope swing in the woods.

There was a large, heavily wooded park beside of the neighborhoods. (Now this is the east coast New Jersey. Have you seen the movie The Last of the Mohicans? Well, remember all the dense, green forests they ran through and you are pretty much picturing what we were hanging out it). In the middle of this park, about a 10 minute hike in, stood a large tree at the edge of a small rise of ground. A small stream ran through the middle of the park, over time cutting a small gully about 20 feet deep and 100 hundred yards wide. A tree stood at the edge of the top of the gully and it had a great, thick hemp rope. We spent so much time there we pretty we became experts. We would leap out, grab the rope and swing in every way imaginable. Once we even tied a couch onto the rope and we all jumped on it while it swung around. Lots and lots of fun, and a little dangerous—I spent a night in the hospital because of it, but that’s another story.

Every day we’d go there and hang out until the sun went down. We did this for years, thus over time we started bringing stuff back there with us. At first we brought back boom-boxes and chairs. Then we started grabbing furnishings that people were throwing out like couches and carpets. And I suppose that once or twice we liberated people’s porches of things they weren’t intending on throwing out. After a while, we had this area completely carpeted and decked out with so much furniture that it looked like someone’s living room in the middle of the woods. Of course this started out as a great idea, but eventually the rain made us regret our exterior decorations.

In the early days we mostly drank alcohol. Sometime around our sophomore or junior year my buddies began to smoke pot. I was vehemently against it and often preached how pot was a gateway drug that leads to other problems. Some listened, most didn’t and I gained the nickname “Captain Morals.”

Well I don’t want it to sound like we were druggie-criminals. Although we played rough, we also were still pretty good people. Our numbers grew. We had a lot of cheerleaders and popular kids hanging out with us, we had smart kids, we had athletes, heavy metal band members, sweet catholic school girls etc. Most of us drank, a lot of my friends did drugs. For me, I had been drunk so many times and I was tired of making a fool of myself. Some people like being fools, I was never partial to it myself. I finally gave it up after partying with one of my best friends and a beautiful cheerleader. I’m fairly certain that the last time I was drunk was about 17 years old—a pretty early age to have the complete development and cessation of a drinking habit.

By the time I had graduated, my mysticism was in full swing. I mediated (you know, the kind with your legs crossed and eyes closed), I had attended meditation seminars, I owned all kinds of books about New Age, the Occult, Stonehenge, and Black Magic. I wore all kinds of crystals and I new what the therapeutic benefit was to each crystal. I had some pretty developed ideas about life, the universe, and everything. Now I have to tell you that New Age religion is not like Christianity. There are no real doctrines, no concrete facts and no basis of understanding. Thus, even the term New Age is a misnomer and I would have never used it back then, I only use that term now because it makes talking about it simpler.

No one in New Age pushes their views upon others. There is no orthodox opinion, everyone pretty much has ideas and even books are basically the sum of a person’s opinions about a particular topic. Thus within New Age there are crystals, runes, tarot cards, meditations, Buddhism, the Bible, prayer, Out of Body Experience, Séances, Magic, Environmentalism etc. A person can be totally immersed in it and yet not adhere to any one particular belief system. Thus was the case I me. I believed in Jesus, I believed in Buddhism, I believed in Meditation, I believed in crystals, I believed in Environmentalism, I believed in Out of Body Experiences and I believed in Political Activism. I had managed to roll all of these ideas together into a developed world-view that I called Russ-Archy.


During that time my parents owned (and still own) a small gourmet food store. I had agreed with them to manage the store. So the day after high school graduation, I took over running the family business. Running the store took up most of my time and I had a lot less time to spend with my friends.

So there I was managing the family business the day after I finished High School. I had to hire people, fire people, create and implement business plans, work with vendors, customers, salesmen and the whole deal. I can remember the startled look on countless people’s face when they’d ask for the manager of the store and I’d come out from the back to talk with them. Invariably they’d try to conceal their shock. I was good, cocky, and impressive. At first people didn’t respect me because of my age, but after I was consistently in charge and the ship ran well, they began to respect me because of my age—they couldn’t believe that a 18 year old kid could do what I was doing. But it is often when you are at the highest that you have the farthest to fall.

On August 16th, 1990 my best friend C.J. and I were planning on going to a coffee shop called the Ink Well. It was a great, cozy little place where no tables or chairs matched and the atmosphere was so casual that you’d often just start talking to people at tables around you. C.J. and I loved to talk about life. We talked about everything, as I’m sure you guys do too. Only a few months prior, we concluded that there was nothing to live for. We felt that there was no real reason for life, ethics, humanity etc. We had been taught in school that we evolved from animals and I didn’t think of God as personal, but rather a force to be used. Thus there was no reason to live. I wasn’t suicidal, just this was the natural conclusion to everything I thought and had been taught. This is the natural conclusion of any honest person who doesn’t have the Lord.

The Inkwell was located only a few blocks from the ocean and we had to take a road called Ocean Ave. Now, Ocean Ave pretty much describes what this road was like. It ran parallel to the shoreline and on the land-side was all business and homes and on the shore side it was intermittent beaches, restaurants and hotels. It was a major road with two lanes each way, lots of stop-lights and fast strips of road between them. It was on this road that my life changed.

That night C.J. and I were having a great time. It was a clear, warm August night. It was around 10 o’clock. We had the convertible top down and the stereo was playing. The speed limit varied from 45-50 miles an hour.

Then, right in the midst of conversation, suddenly C.J. screamed, “Russ!”

We were going through an intersection. My light was green and I hadn’t slowed at all. When C.J. screamed my eyes darted to left. Coming through the intersection, going against his own red light, was a person jamming through the intersection on a BMX bike right into my path. He was looking down, pumping hard and came so fast that I never really had a chance to hit the brakes.

He was a 16 year old boy. I hit him going about 50 miles an hour. His body crashed up the hood, into the windshield and flew right over our heads onto the pavement behind the car. The windshield smashed into thousands of pieces and showed little glass cubes over C.J.

We skidded to a stop and I ran back to the kid on the road. C.J. immediately went for help. I stayed with the kid and kept telling him he’d be alright as if he could hear me—but he never could. He was too badly damaged, he wasn’t even conscious. As I held him and as his blood soaked into my jeans I watched his dazed eyes roll back into his head.

The police came a few minutes later and blocked off the intersection. An ambulance arrived soon afterwards and took him away. Someone spray-painted a white body outline where the boy lay. The stuff he had with him was everywhere. His bike had skidded in a crumpled mass a hundred yards away. He was listening to a walk-man at the time and now pieces of it were scattered all around. The cops carefully painted little white circles around every fragment. More cops arrived and started measuring skid marks and trajectories attempting to determine what happened. A crowd started gathering and within 15 minutes there were probably more than 50 people peering over the yellow police tape that circled the intersection.

The cops put me in the back on one police cruiser and C.J. in the back of another. I sat there looking at the accident scene and the people. Some people were crying, some were talking amongst themselves. Most were curious. I made a call to my parents and they were on their way—it’d be 30 minutes before they would arrive. So I sat in the back of the car and looked at it all.

I was devastated. I felt such grief, such terror, such horror. I hope that I’ve painted a picture of what kind of person I was. I was a good guy, weird but good. I was sickened by the blood, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I had caused that kind of damage to another person. It was a pure accident sure, and in most ways I was entirely innocent. But I didn’t know that then, I was in shock and utterly, utterly, utterly devastated.

I spent much of the night at the police station telling them what happened. They could see that I wasn’t drunk or high and my story matched right up with C.J.’s. So they let both of us go. That night when I finally went to sleep, every dream that I had was saturated with the theme that I had done something horribly wrong and nothing that I could do now would undo what was already done.

Death has such finality. There is no undoing death. It’s permanent. It’s forever. I had caused the death of a 16 year old boy. No matter how much I regretted it, I couldn’t go back and change what happened. I couldn’t go back and take a different street. I couldn’t go back and leave my home at a different time. I couldn’t change my destination. The unthinkable had been done and nothing would or could alter it.

The next morning was the beginning of the rest of my life. I woke up with a heavy pallid dread permeating everything about me.

I want you to get this next point: somehow and in some intangible definite way, I knew that God was huge, gigantic and personal. By killing someone, I had stepped into the role that is only for God. I had taken a life and I suddenly felt extreme dread that I was going to have to give an account to a holy and angry Judge. It was as if out of the woodwork came God calling to me from every direction saying the blood of this child cries up from the ground declaring my guilt—not so much guilt for the accident, but guilt for all the New Age mysticism, all the times I’d cursed the name of God, all the times I did whatever wickedness my evil heart desired.

I suddenly saw that all my New Age was an offense to a holy God. I was more certain of that than anything else in my life. It was as if I had been a child out playing and being bad and suddenly getting caught by my dad. As if I had been warned over and over not to play with matches and suddenly I burned down the house. As if all the heavens echoed solemnly “I told you so”. I knew that I had sinned, I knew that all of my mystical spirituality was sinful and evil and selfish and offensive. I knew that what was needed most then was to humbly, and sheepishly, and meekly go to my heavenly father and beg forgiveness.

And please don’t misunderstand me, my guilt was not so much for the accident, but for all the sins I had committed that led up to it. My selfish meditations, my selfish grasping at the mystical world for power. My vain and ego-centric views about how mystically powerful I was. My black-magic text books, my books on the occult. My fascination with acid rock—everything about my life violated God’s holy law and I was deeply guilty of sin.

But then the Lord stepped in and gave me new life in Christ.

By God’s sovereign hand, my parents set a lunch appointment for me and a pastor from a nearby church. This of itself was a miracle. My dad had been attending a conservative Baptist church for a couple of months on his own. Remember, at this point it was years since any of us had attended a Christian Science church and my dad had begun to seek the Lord on his own. He didn’t really talk much about it, but somewhere in that whole process, my father quietly gave his life to the Lord.

So when this accident occurred, my dad said, “Russ, why don’t you meet with the pastor of this church I’ve been attending. He’s agreed to meet with you and this is the kind of thing pastors are for.” I knew I needed council about God, so I agreed to go.

The pastor picked me up around noon in his purplish blue hatchback station wagon and we went to a diner. New Jersey diners are a world to themselves. They are open 24 hours, often have great, cheep food and usually a very faithful customer base. We went to one of my favorite diners called The Shamrock Diner.

When we got there I didn’t want to break a poor pastor’s bank, so I ordered a chocolate milkshake and he ordered a hamburger and fries. We said grace. It’s kind of funny to think that the first time that I can recall saying grace was over a chocolate milkshake.

My pastor asked me questions about the accident, about the prognosis, and about what I was going to do. He then asked me a question that I’ll never forget. He said, “Russ if you were to die tonight, and God were to say ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ What would you say?”

You can see from all that I’ve told you, that I was so very far from God. It didn’t matter that I picked up the Bible every now and then. It didn’t matter that I even prayed every now and then. No matter what outside form of religion I had, it was thoroughly mixed with New Age. I didn’t believe in the true God so whatever answer I gave was not based on faith. Therefore it was wrong.

Well, Jonathan, the pastor, didn’t really know what to do with me. My views were so completely contrary to what God’s word says that there really wasn’t much that he was able to do but tell me that I needed to read the Bible and begin sorting out my ideas. After a while we had to go and he dropped me off back at my home. I asked him what he’d recommend me reading in the Bible and he gave me a couple of passages.

Well, that day was surreal. I had to go back to the police station one more time to give them more information. That's where I found out the boy had died. It was awful.

Later that night, I went out for a cigarette. I’d often take walks through the neighborhood and smoke. So that night I went out to my front yard and decided not to walk but just think about all that happened. I knew I was in trouble—I knew I needed the Lord—and I knew it was time to ask for his forgiveness.

I looked up, thought for a moment, and said “God I’ve really screwed up my life, I give it over to you.”

That’s all I said. Nothing fancy, nothing elaborate. But it contained the right ingredients.

You see, my heart absolutely recognized that all of my New Age mumbo jumbo was really a mockery of God. I had offended the Holy God of the universe. I was truly sorry for it—not just for the accident, but because all of my mysticism was wrong.

My prayer was also filled with faith. I wasn’t trying to get out of jail free, I was recognizing that God was in charge of the universe. I recognized that I had ruined my life. I recognized that God is trustworthy with my whole life and could lead it better than I. I recognized that I had wasted my life and believed that the whole thing needed change and I was giving it to God so that He could make it useful to His plan. My friends, this was the prayer of faith. This was the prayer of salvation. I remember that moment so clearly when instantly my heart was changed.

Well…that’s the first part of what we’re going to talk about tonight. So far, that’s just the introduction, now for the sermon.

I want to tell you how my life changed. You see, God is the One who is in charge of this giant space ball we call earth. God runs the planet. God runs the universe. If you were to get into a spaceship and fly a million miles into the heavens, you would never have left the presence of the Lord. Think about that…If we both prayed at the same time thousands of miles apart, God would hear both of our prayers simultaneously. So this huge, giant, powerful God deserves our whole lives. So I gave him mine. Have you given him yours?

All this is just over 10 years ago (1990). I was 18 years old. My condition of life was as follows: I was running the family business, I was dating a girl from high school, I had a whole lot of garbage beliefs, I had pretty strained relationships with my parents, and I was literally in a state of shock because of the accident. This was a lot of deep garbage to work through, but the Lord carried me the entire way. God is faithful when His children’s lives are blown apart, He is there to help along the way. He does more than help, He completely carries those who love Him. And that is what the Lord did for me.

He’s so great, really, when you think about it. He allowed a kid who was into all kinds of mysticism, who was involved in a pretty rough crowd, who was haughty and prideful and selfish—he immediately took me in and began His divine heart surgery to change my life. The next few months were pivotal to my growth in the Lord. He took my hand and literally directed the way. I was too zoned-out from the accident. I was dazed, I was half crazy with grief. I was in shock.

Have you ever heard about how horses get to know their areas so well that when a rider falls asleep the horse just carries them right home without having to be directed? Well, that’s kind of what it was like between the Lord and me. I was mentally shot, in some ways asleep, and God put me on His back and carried me to His home.

But the ride home was a bit of a journey. After I was saved, most of my theological ideas didn’t change right away. All I was really sure of was that I had violated God and now gave my life to Him. Besides that, in the very early days I still believed most of my mystical ideas. I didn’t believe the Bible was the Word of God. I didn’t believe that Jesus was God. I didn’t believe that Heaven or Hell existed. I didn’t believe a whole lot at that point, but what I did believe was that God was awesome and I wanted to learn as much about this true God who held the universe in His hands.

Yet, when I gave my life to the Lord, some things did change right away. For one thing, my view of God completely changed from then on. I no longer mocked God (which I formerly did haughtily all the time). Instead, I was reverent and feared Him. This is important, because in my haughtiness I had often made fun of God and also of Christians. I never did this again.

One more thing changed in how I felt about God. Back in my New Age days, I felt very close to the spiritual world, very in touch with who I thought was "God". After I gave my life to the Lord, I began to feel less and less connected to "God". At the time this concerned and bothered me. I had been under the impression that converting to Christ would draw me closer to the Lord, not push me away. But what I didn't realize then, and what I do realize now, is that the "God" who I felt close to wasn't God at all. I had worshipped a false God and any closeness I felt back then was a fabricated being of the demonic world. In reality I was actually close to the demons whom I served.

At conversion, God graciously took me out of the New Age spiritual arena so that I was no longer in close proximity to those demonic forces. Thus I no longer felt close to "God". What I didn't know was that God had rescued me and I was only suffering from the kind of withdrawal pain a drug addict feels when he gives up heroin. Once I began to serve the true God of the Bible, naturally I'd feel distant from my New Age "God". Now, after years of faithful commitment to the Lord, I feel closer and more connected with God than I ever did to that false god in the old days.

Another thing that changed was that I never ever practiced or did a single mystical act again. God is too holy for that. I had His spirit in me and I wasn’t about to disgrace the Lord by messing with the occult. God’s word says in Deuteronomy 18:10 “Let no one be found among you who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” God’s Word was clear that these sorts of practices were evil so I immediately forsook them. Early in my new life in Christ, I came home one day, looked at my books on New Age, gathered them together and threw away all but one. The last book was on black magic. I burned it. That was the end of that.

However, there was still all kinds of wrong beliefs floating around my head. Only the transformation by the Lord, persistent Bible Study, Hours of Prayer, Fellowship, Godly Council, Submission, and time would change those ideas from error to truth.

A couple weeks after I came to Christ, my pastor’s wife stopped into my store and invited me to a small group Bible study, thirsty for the truth I quickly agreed. Within a few days I was encircled by college aged Christians trying to answer my rapid-fire questions. Boy, I would give anything to be able to go back in time and watch myself back then. I’d like to just sit near by and listen to what I said at my first bible study meetings. You know my crazy ideas must have singed their hair. It must have been so exciting for them to have a real-live fruitcake finding out God’s truth for the first time. It must have been wonderful for them to watch me slowly change from sin to the ways of the Lord.

The first meeting I went to happened to also be the first week they were going through a Bible Study booklet on the Gospel of John.

I was familiar with the Gospel of John. I had read the Bible before I was saved and when I was a kid I spent two weeks at the Word of Life Bible camp in Schroon Lake New York. As a Christian Scientist, I had memorized all the books of the Bible. But it didn’t really make much sense and I wasn’t very impressed. To my unconverted mind, it seemed like the authors kept on repeating themselves over and over. I can remember distinctly wondering why people were so fanatical about it.

But now, as I was attending that Bible study, I had the spirit of God dwelling in me. Reading His truth through the eyes of faith was like a neon sign buzzing right before my eyes. It was so clear, so vibrant, so powerful.

I can still remember that first study when my pastor asked us if we knew a verse that told of the purpose of the gospel. “Of course we don’t” I thought to myself; thinking pastor was crazy for even asking. But my head whipped hard to the right when a guy starts quoting John 20:31 verbatim, “but these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” My shock that anyone knew the answer was only matched by the joy in my heart as I heard that Jesus was the Son of God and offered Life to those who believed in Him.

I went home that day with a whole new life in me once again. My heart was bursting with excitement and joy. I remember driving home that night down New Monmouth Road rejoicing that the wonderful presence of the Lord and the power of His Word. For the first time, Jesus was really with me. He had led me to the Truth. I was hearing something that was absolutely certain. For all my life, I’d only heard man’s foolish opinions and deep down I knew it as such. But finally, for the first time, I was hearing the very words spoken by God to men. And the words resonated deeply within me. They resonated truth. They resonated authority. Their very force said, “THIS IS GOD’S WORD. OBEY IT”. And I went home that night see the Truth as if a bolt of lightening had lit up the dark sky of my life and for the first time I could see clearly that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the Messiah whom we were to love, honor, worship and cherish.

Every week was like that—some new truth shattered the windows of my old foolish philosophy. I can remember talking with my pastor after small group one day. I said to him, “I’m really enjoying reading the red words of Jesus, (I had a Bible that put Christ’s words in Red) but I’m having trouble believing the rest of the Bible is really from God.” I wasn’t thinking of any specific passage, I was just telling him my opinion on the Bible. He looked right at me and said, “Russ, that is just disobedience. You have to submit to all of God’s word. The words of Paul are just as inspired as the words of Christ.” Again these words thundered in my ears and I knew absolutely what my pastor said was true. And from that moment forever, I read the whole Bible as God’s word.

One thing I’ve learned is that you have to go where the truth is. If you guys haven’t noticed already, everyone has opinions about life and the world. Some people think that aliens buzz through the sky, some people think that killing an animal is the same as killing a human, some people think that sex or money or drugs will satisfy, some people think that if you have enough friends you’ll be happy, some people think that everyone goes to heaven, some people think that everyone gets reincarnated, some people think there’s no God, and some people think that everyone is god. Since I’ve dabbled in most of the junk that’s out there, I can confidently say that there is no truth out there except for God’s truth. Everything else is at best a thin covering over fakery. Everything fails in the face of true tragedy except for Christ. There is no other truth except for what’s in God’s Word.

No other book changes lives like God’s word. Before my accident, I read tons of junk books but none of them had any power. They all claimed to have spiritual power. Yet the façade of power vanishes when life’s trials hit. When it came to working when you needed them most, they couldn’t do a thing. They fell apart. After my accident I couldn’t mediate, I couldn’t just wear a crystal and feel better! Things like crystals and meditation, all that stuff “works” only when life is going well. When life falls apart like mine did, there is nothing but the rock of Jesus Christ that will support deep grief. Without the truth of God, I wouldn’t have made it through that trial.

During the winter after I was saved, my pastor had encouraged all of us to memorize the entire book of Philippians from the New Testament. I had never even read the book of Philippians. I didn’t know what it contained. But that opportunity seemed like a chance to really learn a portion of God’s word, so I agreed.

For those of you who memorize the Bible, you know how you have to repeat phrases over and over to get them down. You also know how repetition can really deepen and enhance your understanding of the passage. For me, it was all that—times 10. I was literally reading the verse for the first time in my life and then memorizing them. I don’t even think I read through the whole book of Philippians before I began to memorize it. But I was blown away by God’s truth. For that project, I memorized all the time, especially while driving. I’d get to a stop light, pull out the Bible quickly grab a phrase and repeat it over and over and over until I got to the next stop light. Then I’d do the same thing again. I did this for all 120 some-odd verses of the book of Philippians.

God’s word was so thrilling. Day after day the divine scriptures gave me the answers to all my questions. Remember how I used to think that there was no point to life? Well, Psalm 34:3 says “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” So then I knew I had a purpose and it was to glorify the Lord.

I used to wonder why I existed, but Eph 1:4 says it was God who created me according to His will. Then I knew that I existed because God had created me.

I used to wonder why there was so much pain and evil and I learned that Adam and Eve rebelled against God and that their sins were passed on from generation to generation up till this present day.

Around that time, God’s word showed me how Jesus spent lots of his time with his disciples and taught them Truth. Well, my pastor knew God’s word back-to-back so I asked him if he would mentor me. I was honored when he agreed to meet with me. Right off the bat he got involved in every area of my life and shone the light of the scriptures upon it. There was so much junk in there that we had plenty to talk about. It was great. We’d meet every week or two and I was able to just throw issues and questions at him and listen to him bring God’s Word to bear on the topic. The power of God’s Word was changing me inside out.

By February, remember my accident occurred in August, I saw in the scriptures how God’s people are baptized in the name of Christ. That was all I needed to see. When I was an infant, I was baptized but no one needed to tell me that it was a sham—I knew it was. I knew I needed to be baptized as a believer. The next time my church offered a baptism class, I was there. Then in March, 7 months after I came to Christ, I was fully immersed in water before a congregation of God’s people. The day of my baptism was one of the most joyful days of my life.

By the next summer, I had been a Christian almost a year. My church was sponsoring a short-term missions trip to Jamaica teaching kids Vacation Bible School. I asked if I could go and the church agreed. The Lord started convicting me of smoking and I knew that I couldn’t go to Jamaica and smoke at the same time. Up till this point, after every Bible study, just as soon as we finished praying I’d dart out for a quick smoke. I was so worldly I didn’t even think that the people in the group noticed what I was doing. Of course, while I was smoking, they were praying for me to quit. One day the Lord just impressed upon me a passage in First Corinthians that says we are God’s temple. I began to see that if my body was created by God, I had no right damaging it by smoking. So one day I went around to all of my Christian friends and said, “I’m quitting smoking today, pray for me.” Well they did pray and I did quit smoking. I had tried to quit twice before. That is, before I knew the Lord. But once I was saved quitting smoking was surprisingly easy.

Back to Jamaica. Our team of 10 people or so met regularly to prepare. In August, a year after coming to Christ, we flew down to Jamaica. We taught bunches of little kids about Christ and God’s word. Telling other people God’s truth was invigorating. And do you know what? For the first time, I felt God’s power working through me. It was a power and strength I’d never felt prior. God’s power on that mission’s trip was a hundred times greater and stronger and truer than anything I ever felt with my other New Age stuff. And it was on that trip God confirmed that I should only serve the Lord with my life in full time ministry.

When I got back from that trip I heard Moody Bible Institute was a free school that trained Christian leaders. The "free" part was pretty cool so I applied. A few months later they sent me an acceptance letter and the following fall I flew out to Chicago. When I went to Moody I was only a Christian for a couple of years. At the time I thought I knew so much. But at Moody I began to learn structured, ordered theology, Bible study techniques, Church history and a whole bunch of other stuff.

After I graduated Moody, I took a few years off, got married, had a daughter, and applied to Master’s Seminary. I came here because of Master Seminary’s deep love for God and His Word. These professors are godly, wonderful men committed to lifting up the name of the Lord in the classroom and they are committed to showing us how to honor the Lord with our future ministries.

I want you to know, however, that not all of life has been a thrilling James Bond action sequence. I’ve known the Lord since 1990 but along the way I’ve felt a lot of pain. Christ doesn’t say “Come to me and I will make you happy.” No, He says “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Although there has been pain in my life since then, I have been able to rest in the strength and love and will of our Lord. And that has made all the difference.

So this is my encouragement to you. Many people will try to tell you that you are just kids, you’re just Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors in High School. Teachers might treat you as little kids, and others might not give you respect. But realize this, that when David fought against Goliath he was probably in his teens; when Daniel, Shadrach, and Abendego were thrown to the fires, they were most likely in their early teens. Guys, these are the heroes of our faith and they were younger than some of you are.

So when people treat you like kids, be humble and understand that for a time you are going to have to accept the negatives of being young. But don’t ever believe that you aren’t full-grown vessels for the Holy Spirit. When I was in High School, I was dealing with grown –up issues. I might have been foolish, but the issues were still there.

I was out every weekend until 1, 2, and 3 in the morning at parties. I was helping friends find out about abortions if they needed them, my friend’s parents were getting divorced, some friends lived on their own, some were heavy into drugs, some were going to get married in a couple of years, some were going to have kids that are now almost as old as some of you, a lot were fighting with their folks, some had mothers who literally had mental breakdowns, most of us were suspended from school at one point or another etc etc etc. My point is this: these problems that me and my friends were going through were real life problems that required real life faith in a real life God who ALONE had the real solution that would really fix life.

No one ever told me the gospel when I was in High School. I heard it as a kids when I went to that camp, but I forgot it by the time I hit jr high. No one ever told me I was racking up sins against a holy God that would affect me for years to come. No one told me these things. Well, I am telling you. Guys, you might be young, but you’re not little children. Thus handle your lives like adults. You have an opportunity to live your lives in complete obedience to Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for less.

Don’t allow yourself to be deceived by TV, your friends, teachers or whomever. Don’t do things that will rack up lasting damage. This means, read your Bible, live faithfully and worthily of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says of Timothy, “I have no one like him … for all seek after their own things not those of Jesus Christ.” Well, you guys—decide now to live your lives fully for the cause of Christ. Pick up your cross and carry it for the name of Jesus. Be a light to the losers like I was. Tell others about Christ, we’ll listen if God puts it on our hearts to hear.

Don’t get caught up in sex, drugs. Don't believe the skewed thinking of the worldly media that paints a picture of a life that does not exist. You who know the Lord, you have the Holy Spirit in you—live wholly for the gospel. Make the changes you need to make—make them tonight. Decide tonight, decide right now, decide to live for Christ.

Perhaps some of you are like I was. You’re completely far from Jesus Christ. Come up to me, right to me, talk to me or talk to Pastor Chi and we’ll help you to put your faith in Christ.

Listen, those whom God has chosen to be saved have faith, those who have faith are saved. Those who are saved lived like it. If you’re not living for the Lord then you need to throw off the things that are hindering you and set your heart and mind on Jesus Christ. Press on towards the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


Thank you.


Russ Brewer

[1]In her day, doctors were poorly trained and modern medicine was still in its infancy. Medicine was often ineffectual or flatly toxic to the patients. Many people became ill or died because of improper treatment. People were afraid of illness and distrusted the abilities of doctors to wisely treat their maladies. One day Mary Baker Eddy was walking down an icy street of Boston Massachusetts when she slipped and fell. The seriousness of the fall like that in those days threatened death. Mary Baker Eddy was hospitalized for many weeks and her health continued to fail. When the prognosis was bleakest and the doctors pronounced that there was nothing else that they could do, Mary Baker Eddy turned to the Bible as if it were a magic spell book. In the New Testament, Mary Baker Eddy found a God who actively heals people from their infirmities and she concluded that this healing ability was available to her as well. While in her hospital bed, she began to formulate a religion that was capable of miraculous healing. Somehow, against the prognosis of medicine, she was healed and fully recovered. She documented her new form of religion and began what is now known as Christian Science.

Published in Russ

A quiet and side debate in Christianity has been going on for centuries. Many of us probably don't know much about it and most of us probably don't care. Indeed, in many ways, the debate itself may appear irrelevant, though in reality it is not.

This debate deals with the nature of Christ's work on the cross. The issue is about whether Christ's death on the cross atoned for a limited number of people or if all people of all times were covered by Christ's blood.

Those who believe that Jesus died for all people look to the classic verse of John 3:16. They say that John 3:16 teaches "God so loved the *world*" and they say this use of the word "world" indicates that God's provision of salvation extends to anyone--God's salvation is not fixed, limited or just for specific people. They also go one to say that since this verse says "...whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" therefore, "whoever" must mean that the offer is open to all. Additionally, they also cite other verses such as 2 Peter 2:1 which says that false teachers deny "the Master who bought them..." and 2 Peter 3:9 which says that God does not wish anyone to perish...

I'd like to take a moment to add my two cents to this debate.

Now, at the outset, we need to understand that I'm not saying that we can just sit back as the frozen chosen. Nor am I saying that we don't have a responsibility to go out and reach the world for Christ. Likewise, I am not saying that God does not love the world, or that if someone comes to Him, He will reject Him; indeed, anyone who does come to Him, comes because God is drawing them to Him (John 6:44) and that all who do come to Him will be accepted by Him (John 6:37).

So the debate is not about these matters of practicality, but more about the theoretical extent of Christ's atonement. Often the terms thrown around are "Limited Atonement" versus "Universal Atonement." If it's not clear by now, I land on the side of "Limited Atonement" though I prefer to call it "Particular Atonement" or "Definite Atonement" or even better, "Full Atonement" because only those who are born-again have their sins fully atoned.

We need to begin by understanding what the Bible says about atonement. The very term “atonement” is literally the words “at” and “one” and “ment” all put together. The Hebrew word “atone” is the word “kapar” which is what we get “Yom Kippur” from (e.g. the Day of Atonement). At its root, kapar meant to “cover” –it was used of the pitch that covered Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6:14. Once our sins are covered, God’s wrath is turned away and we are no longer His enemies.

The book of Leviticus establishes the basis for our understanding of atonement. Leviticus explains that our sins need to be covered by an innocent life. When it is, we are “at one” with God—that is, that our sins are removed and we are in fellowship with God. Every Jew that had their sins atoned for were forgiven and in a right relationship with God (Lev 4:26, 5:16). This covering, this Yom Kippur, was only available to believing Jews. In fact, if they did not believe, Leviticus 23:29 says that they should be cut off from their people. The Jews were the first of God’s people to believe in a particular atonement—that it was only available to those who would rightly recognize what God had provided.


I believe that the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians believe in a "Limited Atonement" though they may not say it this way. Here's why:

When we use word "atone" we are saying that Christ's blood fully covers our sins. If our sins are fully covered, we have full access to God and heaven after we die. Thus, if every person was fully atoned for by Christ, then every person would be heading to heaven--this is called Universalism. But no Bible believing Christian believes in Universalism because scripture clearly explains this is not the case. For instance, where is Judas now? Jesus said of him in Matthew 26:24 that it would have been better for him not to have been born. This can only mean that Judas is not in Heaven right now, but rather in Hell. Therefore, if Judas is in Hell right now, we can all agree that there is at least one person in Hell (though in reality, scripture indicates there are many more). So my question is this: If Jesus fully atoned for all of Judas' sins, why is he in Hell? Some might say, "Because of his unbelief. That's the only sin that cannot be forgiven." While I may not agree with the merit of this statement, the statement itself confirms my point: Jesus did not fully pay for every sin of every person because there are some people who He did not pay for their sin of unbelief. Therefore, they have at least one sin that has not been atoned for and thus we all agree in a Limited Atonement! Hooray!

Now, so far I've given some logical reasons to help settle the concerns of those who believe in an Unlimited Atonement. But what surprises me about this debate is that we are so unwilling to let scripture speak for itself. Indeed, scripture makes it quite clear that only a limited, specific group of people will be elect--that is, chosen by God for salvation. Passages such as Ephesians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:1-2, Colossians 3:12 all indicate that we are selected and chosen by God to be in Christ.

The reason for the debate is that there are other passages that likewise speak of what seems to be a universal atonement. For instance, 1 Timothy 2:6 says that Jesus “gave Himself as a ransom for all.” 1 John 2:2 says “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” Do these verses, and others, indicate that every person in the world is atoned for and thus in a right relationship with God? Well, here’s some further thoughts on this question.

The question, then, is not about what the Bible teaches, but how do we understand what these verses mean?


Sadly, the debate has been waged for centuries and I don't claim to have all the answers. Yet in the matter of John's references to the "world" (and by extension, Paul’s use of “all”) I think that his point is fairly clear.

The question, then, is not about what the Bible teaches, but how do we understand what these verses mean?

Well, the debate has been waged for centuries and I don't claim to have all the answers. Yet in the matter of John's references to the "world" I think that his point is fairly clear.

A study of John's gospel reveals that he admits to driving the reader to several conclusions:

1) That Jesus is God (John 1:1, John 5:18, John 10:10, John 20:28).

2) That we need to believe in Him for salvation (John 1:12, John 3:15-16, 36, John 20:29).

3) The offer of salvation is extended to all people (passim).

Now, Point #3 is the crux and requires careful study.

John uses the word "world" numerous times in his Gospel. It's the Greek word kosmos and has many facets to its meaning. the word itself is about as portable and elastic as our word "world" in English. Kosmos can mean earth/planet (e.g. the world we live on), the way of society (e.g. the way of the world), a sphere of being (e.g. the wide world of sports) etc. Now with all these semantic ranges of meaning, what is John's nuance in his gospel?

The answer lies in John chapter 4. Here we have John's account of how Jesus blew apart the dividing walls of Palestinian society of the day. In John 4, Jesus was talking with the infamous woman at the well. She had been rather loose in her morals and shunned even by her own people. Adding insult to injury, she was also a Samaritan, a rogue group of people who had an aberrant view of God and His Word. Clearly this woman had many strikes against her and if there was ever someone unfit for heaven, it was this gal. And yet, Jesus' lovingly offered her the words of eternal life.

Now to see how John chapter 4 decodes the word "world", we need to see that Jesus stuck to some important truths. In verse 22 He maintains that salvation is from the Jews. This quick statement is critical in this passage and cannot be overlooked. Saying that salvation is from the Jews is Jesus' way of affirming all that had been previously taught in the Old Testament, namely that God's solution to sin and God's renewal of the person to make them fit for heaven was only sourced in the Jewish religion. If anyone in that age wanted a relationship with God, they HAD to become Jewish. This gets to the heart of salvation and election--God has ALWAYS been particular in choosing His people. Just as a groom is particular when he chooses a bride to the exclusion of all other women, God has likewise been particular in choosing His bride.

So, the Samaritans were a hybrid Jewish spinoff; were they accepted too? The answer is No, by Jesus' words here, the Samaritan religion itself was invalid. Just because they worshiped the same "God" in name as the Jews, their religion had so many problems that it was incapable of producing salvation. In order to be saved, they needed to repent of their man-made, false religion, and they needed to come to God on His terms as Jewish believers.

So back to the story: Jesus meets this woman and something amazing happens to her. While we could go into great detail, it's suffice to say that the woman acknowledges her sin, repents, and goes to bring others to Christ as well. In this startling  turn of events a Samaritan woman is offered salvation, her people are offered salvation, and they gladly embrace Christ--not that they might become Jewish, but that they would become born-again and members/citizens of God's family through Christ.

Okay, now getting back to the word "world" in John's Gospel-- the most important key in all of this is found down in verse 42, where the people make an important and startling conclusion--a conclusion that decodes John's use of the word "world" throughout his gospel. In John 4:42 the people say, "...we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the *WORLD*." In essence, they realize and see that Jesus is from the Jews, He is God's prophet, He is God's Savior, He is God's appointment means of salvation. And yet, though Jewish Himself, Jesus' offer of salvation is extended to anyone in the whole *world* even though they are NOT Jewish!!! They have been getting the short end of the stick for a while--all along, they've been hearing from the Jews that they are not really God's people because they are not really Jewish. Up till now, the Jews were right to say this. But now that the Samaritans have heard the Gospel from Jesus the Jewish Messiah, they now understand that He is God's gift, not just to Jews; but to them (the Samaritans) too! And not just to them; but to anyone in the WORLD who comes to Him like they did!Their use of the word "world" here proves that they are not thinking of every single person, but rather every people-group can come to God on the basis of Christ's death.

God's salvation is extended to ALL people of all nationalities. We see this in John 11:51b-52 which says, "...Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." It doesn't matter if they formerly were radically sinful, from a the "wrong" ethnic group, or following a corrupt religion--if they come to Christ with humble repentance and faith, salvation is for THEM TOO! Salvation is no longer about national or cultural identity, it is about a reconciliation with God through faith and trust in Christ Jesus alone.

Lastly, even though the offer of salvation is meant for all nations, and is not limited to just the Jews, we need to remember that only those who are chosen (John 6:65) and called (John 6:44) can believe. Indeed, John 14:17 tells us clearly that the "world" cannot receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:17) because He has blinded the hearts/eyes/minds of some (John 12:40). Thus, in His high priestly prayer, Jesus specifically says, "I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours (John 17:9)."

Did you get all that? This is a brief summary of what John's Gospel has to say about God's offer of salvation to the world. On the one hand, you can't get much more election-heavy that John, on the other hand, indeed the offer of salvation is given to all nations. This doesn't mean that Jesus atoned for each and every person, but it does mean that His grace is available to anyone regardless of their national or cultural identity. 

This understanding of the word *world* unites with the overall purpose of John's Gospel. You may remember that according to John 20:31, his gospel is specifically an evangelistic book to be read and pondered by all people, not just for Jews 2000 years ago, and that the readers would call upon Christ as Lord and Savior. Just as John's Gospel is intended to be read by any people group in the world, likewise the Gospel itself IS God's message for the whole world. It's God's offer of redemption and salvation to all people. This doesn't mean that all people are universally atoned for, but rather the offer is open and extended to everyone.  These uses of the word "world" throughout John's Gospel indicates clearly that God's grace and mercy extends to all people for all times. Indeed, we worship and serve a great and mighty and good God.

Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts too...

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Wednesday, 18 March 2009 14:20

Knowing God's Will and Purpose for Our Lives

Colossians 1:9 "For this reason we also, form the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding."

So often, when we think of “God’s will,” we ask ourselves the question, “What does God want me to do right now? Should I marry this guy? Should I move to this town?" With sincere motives, we want to live out God’s plan for our lives.

While I think it is important that we pursue obedience to God plan for our lives (and it’s vital to our own joy and happiness), Paul’s point in Colossians 1:9 at the beginning of this post is to seek to understand God's overarching purposes rather than His specific plan.

In verse 9 above, Paul prays that the Colossian believers would grow in the knowledge of God's "will". The word Paul uses for “will” is the Greek word thelamatos. Louw and Nida’s excellent Greek dictionary explains that thelamotos means “intended” or “purpose.” This is not the typical way many believers think of God's will. When lots of people read about “God’s will” they have a knee jerk reaction that may not always be warranted. Thelema (the word for will in 1:9) speaks to the "purpose" of something. There's another Greek word, boulomai, that speaks to the "plan" of something. Boulomai is the word for “will” in the sense of God’s intentions and plans and directives. Since Paul uses thelema rather than boulomai, his prayer is that the Colossian beleivers might grow in understanding God's intentions and purposes for their lives.

So often, Christians get off track because they are not living according to God’s intentions or purposes but rather for their own. They might do Christian stuff, but for the wrong reasons. And since their motives are misdirected, when they do not find what they are looking for, then walk away confused, discouraged or even bitter. This tragic result stems from being focused on doing the wrong things or with the wrong reasons. The Lord never promised to blessed everything we do (even if the stuff we do "for" Him) just those things that conform to His purposes and plan. Until we understand this, we will be spinning our spiritual wheels.

Two clear examples come immediately to mind:

First, it is common for people to come to God in order to fill their heart with peace. This is understandable; life is hard and they want reduction in the pressure. So they come to God and pursue Him for the purpose of gaining inner peace. The problem with this is that God is not a spiritual genie here to grant our "three wishes." Rather, He is our Lord. God’s purposes in our life is for us to live in fellowship with Him and submission to Him—and only as we are rightly aligned with Him, will we find true, lasting, enduring peace. When a person elevates peace to the ultimate purpose of living for Christ, they have gotten the cart before the horse.

Another example of misunderstanding God’s purposes is in the case of why many people come to church. So often, people come to be inspired or motivated or touched. Again, if we are right with God and in fellowship with Him, we will be inspired and motivated at the clear teaching of His word. But that is not why we come to church. We come to worship and serve Him. That is the primary purpose. Personal inspiration is way down the ladder.

What is most tragic about these two examples is that when people replace God’s true purposes with their own misguided purposes, the net result is usually that they don’t find what they were seeking. They come to church and don’t feel inspired, they follow God and don’t feel peace. They came to God with the wrong purpose and end up not finding the blessings they sought. Tragically, if they had just surrendered to God’s purposes, they would have received these blessings and so many more.

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is a worthy prayer for us all: that with ever-growing spiritual wisdom and understanding, we might live according to God’s purposes for our lives—that our walk might be worthy of Him, that we would see the fruit of His Spirit in our lives, strengthened with His strength, filled with His joy—and these come as we surrender to God’s purposes for our lives.
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Tuesday, 11 August 2009 14:11

Walking in Fellowship With God

I have always believed that our fellowship with God is entirely from his working in our lives. It was he who knew us before we were born. It was he who called us and chose us. It was he who absorbed our disobedience and rebellion upon himself as he hung on the cross and removed our sin. It was he who orchestrated the circumstances by which we call out to him for forgiveness. It is he who gives us the renewal that comes through a relationship with him. It was he who placed us in the right church to have fellowship with others who know also him. It is he who gives us spiritual understanding to make sense of his word. It is he who walks with us and guides us through life’s confusing maze. It is he who protects us and strengthens us in life’s stormy waters. It is he who will lead us across the threshold of death into his glory and presence. It is he who will be our light and joy for all eternity.

These concepts were further underscored during the last couple of mornings in my time of personal worship and prayer. I’ve been reading 1st Corinthians for the umpteenth time and in this particular go-over, I’m struck by the force of Paul’s insistence that all that we are is all of God. In his opening address to the Corinthians he identifies the intended audience. In chapter 1, verse 2, Paul describes the readers as “saints by calling”. They were (and we are) in Christ only by his calling; there is nothing we have added or done that we might be in Him. We were called off the path of the world over to join him on the path which he is on. We were called from fellowship with darkness to fellowship with the light. It was all of Him and nothing of us.

This idea of God calling us into fellowship with him is further underscored a few verses later in verse 9 where Paul writes, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is God Himself who brings us into fellowship with Christ. It is God himself who leads us into deeper, purer fellowship in Him; especially as our hearts and minds are renewed and what we think/feel about the world is increasingly reflecting his perspective. Likewise, in verses 24 and 30 and 2:14, Paul explains that this calling produces a change within us. We are no longer confused by scripture, incorrectly seeing it as a set of religious aphorisms, but God’s instruction manual for life. Once we are in fellowship with God, suddenly we see the Bible for what is really is: the word of life, the wisdom of God—for life in the here and now as well as life in the hereafter.

Lastly, in 1:26, Paul challenges the Corinthians to “consider their calling.” This is one of several appeals in scriptures to each of us that we might pause in the flurry of life and give thought to our relationship with God. Have we truly met God and been transformed in that meeting from lawbreakers to law abiders? This change can only happen by God, but we can look and see his fingerprints in our life. There is the implicit expectation that in examining our calling some will see that indeed, we were called out of the world into fellowship with Him and we will give even greater praise and thanks to our heavenly Father. Yet others will see that this calling is not true of them. Perhaps they thought that knowing God meant being “spiritual” when in actuality such “spirituality” might actually mean further rejection of the true Lord of the universe and submission to his word. Paul’s hope was that in considering our calling, if we realize we do not know the Lord of the universe, then we would call out to him for mercy and forgiveness to be restored to his holy presence. Then, once reconciled to him, we might walk in close, personal, joyful, fellowship with Christ.
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