Christmas is now in the rearview mirror and a new year is fast approaching. A new year always brings optimism and hope as we reflect on the difficulties of the previous year. 2020 was definitely a runaway dumpster fire inside of a nitroglycerin plant.
I know 2020 was a year of tremendous loss for so many people and I am by no means making light of anyone’s pain. 2020 was difficult for me as well. I tested positive for Coronavirus. Praise the Lord I had a very mild case, with my only symptoms being a sinus headache and a cough. The symptoms lasted for three days, but I kept testing positive for two months. To say that I grew frustrated would be a major understatement. However, I was thankful that I was paid by my employer during my time off and my family brought groceries when I was unable to get to the store.
2020 was an eye-opening year for me, especially in terms of my faith. No matter your opinion on the lockdowns, I found it very disheartening that churches all across the United States so easily surrendered their First Amendment right to assemble and worship God. My own church did this as well. Churches were closed or at reduced capacity, yet people were allowed to gather in large groups and burn down cities all across the country, including my hometown. You can riot, but you can’t worship Jesus? Anyone else have a problem with that?
I know that the technology exists to watch church online anywhere in the world. I have no problem with individuals deciding not to attend in-person services, or even churches making that decision for themselves. My problem is with the government interfering into the affairs of churches. Religious freedom was infringed upon and not one strong objection was raised. History shows us that once governments begin to encroach upon liberties, the citizens never get their liberties restored. It’s time that we wake up realize that we are in a fight. The fight is only going to get tougher from here.
2020 has served as the year I went back to my spiritual roots- the strong church and the uncompromised teaching of the Word of God. It is time for the Church to go back to being the Church. So many churches focus on a 3-5 week sermon series, each message with 3-5 points, yet will not make one mention of the blood of Jesus Christ, hell, sin, or the need for salvation. The times are too perilous for us to be playing games. In the coming new year, I am strengthening my roots and reaffirming my foundation in Christ without compromise. I urge you, brothers and sisters to do the same.
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:6-8, KJV).
“The Road Not Taken” is perhaps the most famous poem written by the American poet Robert Frost. In the poem,a traveler in the woods comes across two paths- one path was well worn from frequent travel and the other looked much newer, less traveled. The traveler chose the road less traveled and it made all the difference in his life.
It’s human nature to do things our way- we want make our own path in life. The younger generations will always discount the wisdom of the older generations. However, if we were to take the time to listen to our elders, there is much wisdom to be gained. No matter what we have gone through in life,the older generations have gone through the same things we have and possibly harder times. So why would we spend a lifetime making our own mistakes when we can learn from the lessons and mistakes of others?
What if we were to take the road well travelled? I believe we would probably encounter less obstacles because of the witness of those who have gone before. I see the same issues occuring in the modern American church.
I set foot inside of a Baptist church this past Sunday, the first time I’ve set foot in one since college. This church was in a non-descript building, off of a major road. There was no fancy band- just the pastor on an acoustic guitar and another gentleman playing a stand-up bass. The lyrics to the songs were not on a large projection screen, but in the hymn book located on the wooden pews. The message was not part of a four part series with four points, but a fiery sermon preached out of the King James Bible. There were not hundreds or thousands of people in the services, but possibly 75 people. Just a simple country church with the pure Gospel and a warning of hell for those who didn’t believe. Of course not the most seeker-friendly message, but a powerful word the Church needs to preach in the U.S. and around the world.
I had to look up the exact verse, but Jeremiah came to mind- Jeremiah 6:16 from the King James says, “Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, we will not walk therein.”
If the church is to survive, we must get back to the old paths- we must preach the true Gospel,no matter how offensive it may be to modern oversensitive ears. Your church might have plenty of seats filled, but how many of them are getting saved?
Scripture gives us plenty of examples of what happened when the Israelites wandered off the path. I’m just going to list a few examples, but I encourage you to study this further. All verses are from the King James version.
Jeremiah 7:23-24: “But this thing commanded I them, saying, obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.”
Isaiah 59:7-8: “ Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are the thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.”
I believe God is warning our current generation about the evil,death, and destruction in our current day. It’s time for the church to quit being a self-help center and preach the word in this season!
Jesus has paved the way for us and He will guide us along the path, as God has promised in Scripture
Isaiah 42:16: “And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and make crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”
Just as the wisdom of the elders is avaliable to everyone who has an older parent, grandparent, or family member, so is God’s wisdom and direction to walk the ancient paths available to us. It’s in His word. All we have to do is ask and seek. As David put so wonderfully in the Psalms.
Psalm 25:4-5: Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me:for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”
Psalm 23:3: “He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
We will see God’s guidance along our path as Proverbs states.
Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Some other translations may say “make your paths straight.
Proverbs 4:10-11: Hear, O my son,and receivemy sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in the right paths.
In order for us to get back on the ancient paths, we have to start lifting and walking.I’m not talking about joining a gym, but strengthening our spirits,as the writer of Hebrews puts it:
Hebrews 12:12-13: “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; butlet it rather be healed.”
In these last days, we must work out our salvation, because the time is short. If you have wandered off the path, get back on it. Take the well worn path and you will find the Lord. If you don’t know the Lord, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, believe you’re a sinner,confess your sins to God and allow Christ in your life. You will be on the greatest path of all- the path to heaven.
The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy serves as a transitional piece of literature. On one hand, Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell to the Israelites while on the other hand, Deuteronomy sees the Israelites’ final preparation to enter the Promise Land.
Moses, because of a disobedient act (Numbers 20:8), was unable to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land. Moses was preparing to die and addressed the Israelites three times in Deuteronomy- 1:1-4:43, 4:44-28:68, and 29:1-30:20. I’ll be discussing elements from the first farewell address, specifically, Deuteronomy chapter four. While yes, the Israelites are the intended audience, and by extension, the Jewish people, I believe there are principles in this passage which also apply to modern day Christians.
Moses reminds them of their uniqueness as God’s people
“See I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear all about these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to Him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, NIV).
Christianity is also unique among the world’s faiths. In other religions, the focus is solely on trying to do good deeds and hoping that your good deeds will outweigh the bad deeds. Maybe the other religions find themselves tripped up with rituals and man’s traditions. In essence, you have to work for your god’s approval. However, in Christianity, God provided a way for us to come to Him, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We must acknowledge our sins and accept Christ and we enter into a relationship with God; it’s really that simple. Just as Israel’s obedience to God’s laws made them unique among the nations, so too should our devotion to Christ make Christians stand out from the world around us.
We must always remember and share God’s teachings
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9, NIV).
We must keep ourselves from idols
During biblical times, an idol was something worshipped as a god. These idols, of course were manmade and were shaped as people, animals, gods, etc. Idolatry is forbidden in both the Old and New Testaments. The reason idolatry is forbidden is we are not worshipping the One True God. We are worshipping an idol of a bird as opposed to the Creator of said bird. Idol worship still occurs today, although in different forms as biblical times. Have you ever though about the things you put before your relationship with God? Money, your electronic devices, the pursuit of fame, sports, material possessions are all examples of objects we can turn into an idol. We must be careful to put God first in our lives.
“Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that He made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24, NIV).
God is open to receive us when we stray
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel and later Judah, would stray from God and worship the gods of other nations. God would bring judgment on His people, they would repent, God would forgive, and the cycle would start over in time. Israel was the embodiment of the Prodigal Son parable as Jesus spoke of in Luke 15. There have been times in my twenty plus years of being a Christian that I have wondered from God’s ways. However, our God is a forgiving God who has welcomed me and countless others into the fold. God warned the Israelites of the consequences for their continued disobedience, but He also said He would be there when they came to their senses.
“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey Him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which He confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31, NIV).
Obedience to God is acknowledging Him and His Word
If we stay in right relationship with God and obey His teachings, we will experience more joy and less frustration in this life. Putting things together is always easier when we read the instructions.
“Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep His decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.” (Deuteronomy 4:39-40, NIV).
As we go about our days, even in the midst of turbulent times, let us remember the Word and commands of the Lord. God’s truth is still truth, even if the world tries to define its own truth. Be blessed.
The United States is experiencing a time of lawlessness, the extent of which I have not witnessed in my lifetime. The politicizing of the Coronavirus, protests for social justice, and the rioters who have taken advantage of said protests have created a tinderbox of lawlessness.
In major cities all across the country, mayors have ordered police departments to stand down as these cities have been burned and destroyed, which give them the appearance of a war zone. There are increasing calls to defund police departments and there is certainly no respect for the government or the president. I’m not going to inject my personal politics into this discussion, but I want to use this unruly time to draw a biblical parallel.
In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he takes the time to clarify the End Times timeline. From the text, it appears that someone either inside or outside the Church of Thessalonica has spread the message that Jesus’ return (the day of the Lord) has already past. This news, of course, has upset many members of the church. However, Paul takes the time to reassure the believers of the sequence of events.
“Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, NASB).
Imagine the feeling that you missed Jesus’ return or you missed the rapture. The Thessalonian Church members must have felt devastated and hopeless. Paul goes on:
“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-6, NASB).
First we will see people fall away from Church teaching and people will began to live their lives as they see fit (1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 2 Timothy 3:1-7; 4:2-4). We can definitely draw a parallel to our times and Paul’s teaching to the Thessalonians.
Out of this chaos, a leader is going to rise, who of course will be the Antichrist. An interesting side note, the term anarchist means “without a ruler,” thus someone who doesn’t want to live by the rules, especially God’s rules. So under the guise of this false freedom, the Antichrist will demand worship. Paul’s reminder of his previous teaching is also a reminder for us to turn back to God’s teachings.
The current state of the world is nothing new, as there has always been rebellion against authority and God. The seeds of this rebellion go far beyond current headlines.
“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12, NASB).
What then, should be the Christian response to the current state of affairs? I believe we should hold onto the teachings of Christ. I believe we must exercise great discernment before we jump on any political bandwagon. In the age of the Internet and Social Media,movements go viral and gain steam before anyone really takes the time to learn about said movement. I also believe Christians need to look after our brothers and sisters during this time. These uncertain times have created a time of social and physical isolation, as many could not attend church services in person. I believe this is a time for the Church to find ways to draw closer to God and each other.
Paul concludes this section with encouraging words:
“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:12-17, NASB).
I’ve often wondered happened to reason, rationality, and common sense in American society?
As I write this post, the United States is experiencing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. (I have tested positive multiple times, yet remain asymptomatic). The U.S. response to the Covid-19 has been irrational and erratic at best. The politicized mainstream media (including conservative and liberal pundits) waffled between “We’re all going to die” and “This is a hoax to influence the election.” During the discussions of the pandemic, the middle ground has gone the way of the dinosaur.
People have protested state stay at home orders and people have viewed masks mandates as an attack on personal freedom. There are cities which are threatening to penalize non-mask wearers with fines and or jail time. Many major companies, including Walmart and Starbucks are now requiring customers to wear masks or they will not be allowed inside the store.
It’s human nature to defy authority. People still smoke despite the health warnings and proven links to cancer. There are people who still don’t wear seat belts; motorcycle riders refuse to wear helmets; drivers speed and underage college students will find ways to get alcohol. However, I believe the United States is going through a time of lawlessness, where the rights of the individual are being trampled on by the government and society.
There have been protests and societal upheaval coupled with a war on science, which has become politicized as well. Calm and rational voices are drowned out by mob rule. People are criticized equally for taking a side and not taking a side. The voice of the crowds on both sides aren’t listening to each other. Intellectual society has gone from John Stuart Mill’s “Marketplace of ideas” to “I only want to hear my opinion coming out of your mouth.”
What’s a rational person to do? I believe the important thing to do is to continue practicing reason,rationality, and common sense. Do not follow the crowd because you might get lost. Be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, but don’t act on emotion alone. I believe the reason for the vitriol in our political discourse is because people now argue from a place of emotion and see disagreement as a personal attack on them. During these times we must also practice emotional maturity. Try to find a solution to a problem without attacking someone else.
Along with practicing reason and emotional maturity, recognize the value of every person- even if they disagree with you. It doesn’t matter if someone is a Christian or an atheist, straight or gay, white or black, or any other way society tries to divide us- we can find common ground and respect each other. It’s still possible to agree to disagree. Don’t let petty political bickering destroy relationships with family and friends. Also, if you spew venom and hostility at someone, how do you ever expect them to see your side of the issue?
I believe the time has come to throw off the shackles of division and seek peace and healing. As the Bible states:
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:12-18, NIV).
On a personal note,I have started a podcast, called Life in Progress. You can find it at https://anchor.fm/michael-raley. You can also find it on Google Podcast, Breaker, Pocket Casts, Radio Public and Spotify.