It’s not earthquakes, or wars, or supposed events in the heavens. Everyone is talking and writing books about such spectacular signs.
The surprising sign of the last days is … love. That’s right. Here is my text, 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Avoid such men as these.
Although Paul says in verse 3 that one of the signs of the end is that people will be unloving, he says in three other places that another sign is love abounding. Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure. Love abounding – a sign of the end – if not the end of the age, at least the end of our culture and life as we have known it.
Some will reply, “Jonathan, that’s not love.” But Paul doesn’t say that. He calls them lovers. It’s just that the love that springs up in their hearts which is a gift from the God of love is misdirected and misused.
The other day, I posted on Facebook a picture of three homosexual men who were “united” in marriage by a Buddhist monk in Thailand. My comment was that when the definition of marriage ceases to be the union of a man and a woman, then marriage can be anything we want it to be, as long as there is “love.”
The three said, ‘We thought what better way to show our love for each other than by getting married.” The article reported that “The ceremony included the traditional exchange of vows in which the trio declared their love for each other, and in doing so, agreed to share their home and responsibilities.”
Love! Who can argue with this? Shouldn’t people be free to marry the person they love? The former mayor of my city boldly proclaimed this in 2012 at the Democratic National Convention. The audience roared with approval. Of course! It makes perfect sense!
Unless, we have missed a crucial point, that love has limits. Love has boundaries.
The greatest words ever written about love are found in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s not just followers of Jesus who love this chapter but everyone! But when we look closely we find, right in the middle of Paul’s beautiful words, something disconcerting about love. He says in verse 6, “Love … does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth.” Uh oh. Unrighteousness? You mean there are standards for love? Truth? You mean some people might love what is false?
Yes, in the last days, men (and women) will love the wrong things. I suppose that has always been going on, but the last days scenario is that there will be an acceleration of affection for the wrong things.
May I say here that I am not “gay-bashing”? This is not an article about homosexuality. I could have easily talked about corporate greed for Paul says that men will be lovers of money. But the article in the Daily Mail.com on the three guys prompted all this so I use it as an example to press home this point – God has put love within the hearts of all of us. We are made in his image and because he is a God of love it is natural for us to feel and express love. But because of sin, it is easy for our love to be misdirected or to be expressed inappropriately.
We all smile at little boys who want to marry their mother. It is cute. But these little boys need to have their “mother-love” shaped into an appropriate expression of love. It is not right for little boys to grow up and marry their mothers.
In the same way, the love in all of us must be channeled, directed, nurtured, defined. Love must be seasoned with truth and righteousness. Otherwise, it stands in peril of being misdirected and corrupted. This is why Paul also said, “And it is my prayer your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:9-10)
Love? Yes! Love abounding? Yes! Love indiscriminately offered to whoever or whatever or whenever? No!
Love must have knowledge and discernment mixed with it so that we might make right choices about love in order to be pure and blameless for Christ. Love must be expressed appropriately.
This is crucial for the times in which we live. We must have love with truth. We must have love with righteous standards. Otherwise, untethered, unanchored love will drift into greater and greater bizarre-ness. And in the end, love will cease to be, and we will cease to be.
Those are the words that came to a Turkish Christian evangelist who has been proclaiming Christ to the 77 million people of Turkey on her television show. She was an infidel, an apostate from Islam, and horror of horrors – a woman! He posted a picture of himself in an email to her in full battle gear with a machine gun in each arm. He was serious. He finished his harrowing email with the words, “If it takes me to my last breath, I will find you and kill you.”
The woman was filled with fear but she took it to the Lord in prayer and finding his peace wrote back to him! She shared her testimony, spoke of the love of God and finished with these words, “If it takes me to my last breath, I will find you and share the unconditional love of God with you.”
Two weeks later he wrote her again, “You don’t understand. I am a dangerous man. But you speak of a God of love. I do not believe he could love me. I am a murderer. I am a rapist. I have committed many crimes. God could not love me.”
She wrote him back, “God’s unconditional love is matched by his unconditional forgiveness. No matter what you have done, he will forgive you if you turn to Jesus Christ.”
Again, silence for two weeks. Then he wrote back, “I want you to call me and tell me more about this God of love.”
She arranged a secure place and a secure line to contact him. When she reached him he said, “I am ready. I want to have Jesus Christ in my life and he went down on his knees and became a new follower of Jesus ready to spread love instead of hate.”
Story #2 – What limits do we place on the power of the Gospel and the reach of God’s grace?
A 16-year Muslim girl was kidnapped, taken to a forest, stripped, tied to a tree and raped. But the father found out about it, got his gun and went to the forest. He found the man and his daughter, put the gun to the man’s head and said, “Either you agree to marry my daughter or I will kill you both.” It would be death for the rapist and a Muslim honor killing for a woman who had been defiled. The man agreed to the marriage to save their lives, but it was horrific for the girl – she had to be married to the man who had molested her. For 25 years they stayed married and even had two children but life was a nightmare for her to be married to this man and she was contemplating suicide.
One night she was watching TV and came across the Turkish evangelist who was speaking that night on suicide. The evangelist closed with these words, “Tonight someone is watching who is contemplating suicide. I urge you, do not do this but give your life to Christ and find his healing in your life” and that night the troubled Muslim woman found peace in Jesus. Her life was changed and two years later she led her rapist/husband to Christ. He is now a new man and together they have a Bible study in their home and share God’s amazing healing power to bring people out of unimaginable darkness into the light of his grace and love.
What limits do we place on the power of the Gospel and the reach of God’s grace?
These are two of the mighty stories we have heard this week at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. We are networking with people to share with them about our video, Gospel presentation “The Renewal of All Things” and our book The Women Jesus Loved. Pray that we could help spread this joyful message to the world. Join us in prayer and in giving for this great effort to get out this great news! Donate here.
One year ago I revealed to friends something God put on my heart. I had kept it secret for months. I had not told a soul for fear that people might laugh at me or think I was arrogant. I believed God wanted to turn our radio program, Stories of the Master, into a dramatic television series.
When I finally shared this – no one laughed. And no one thought I was arrogant. Instead, they joined me in prayer for the impossible. It was impossible because I had no resources or contacts in the television industry.Yet, a few days later my wife and I connected with secular television executives who are believers and who became very interested in exactly what I was praying – turning Stories of the Master into a television show! They actually walked up to us and started talking to us! God brought them to us!
Now, one year later, my son Nate and I will meet again in Nashville, TN on February 23 with Peter Lamberti and Myron Nash of the award winning Lion Mountain Media to shape plans for a 2-season, 26-episode television series where we will tell the story of Jesus to the world. Our prayer is to present the biblical, kingdom-of-God, Jesus in four ways:
Dramatically – Accurately – Thoroughly – Excellently
God has powerfully answered these prayers for his glory to bring us to this point. Now, please join us in prayer February 23 and beyond as we shape Stories of the Master into a television show that will reach the world with the Gospel.
One or One Million – Both are a Privilege!
The Merciful Wife
In a particular section of Kigali of mixed Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, the genocidal war broke out with a bloody vengeance. Neighbors attacked neighbors. In one area a Hutu man murdered his Tutsi neighbor. Later, after the Rwandan Patriotic Front won the war and took over the government, local investigations of the atrocities started. The wife of the dead Tutsi man was asked to identify her husband’s murderer. She refused knowing the Hutu man would be arrested, imprisoned, and perhaps killed in return. The woman said that she preferred to remain silent to save another life. “This is enough. This killing has to stop somewhere. One murder does not justify another killing. We have to break the cycle of violence and end this genocide.” And she chose to forgive.
The Loving Sister
A woman, about 30 years of age, flagged down a car for a ride. The driver of the car was a church pastor who was returning to Ndoleleji from one of his rounds. The pastor did not recognize her but was interested to learn that she had been attending one of his classes to learn more about the faith. “I am a believer,” she said.
When he asked, “What started you on your journey?” she told this story.
“My brother was a Christian, the only Christian in our family. He became very sick. He tried medicine and spent all of his money at hospitals. When I went to visit him a nurse told me, ‘Take your brother home. Take care of him. Wash him. Do not be afraid. You will not catch what he has. But there is nothing more we can do for him.’
“So I took him home but no one in our family would come to see him or even get close to him. All were afraid. Not even our parents would come. I loved my brother. We came from the same womb. I took care of him, cooked his food, and ate with him. I did not care if the nurse was wrong and I did get his sickness. I was ready to die with him because I loved my brother.
“One day my brother said to me, ‘My sister! You are such a good person. You are the only one who helps me. You must become a believer and be baptized. Please go to the next town. The pastors have an outstation there. Ask them to pray for me.’ So on Sunday night I went and I told them about my brother.
“That week a group from the Church came to visit my brother. They brought food. They sat with him. They came every week. They were with him when he died. Not one of my family came to bury my brother. No one in our village came. They were all afraid but the Christians washed his body and buried him. I decided then that I wanted to be one of them, and that is why I am in your class and a believer!”
In June 1994 this woman was baptized and is part of the New Africa that is arising out of the old, dying Africa.
Greater Than Ebola
Ebola, as dreadful as it is, cannot stop the Gospel. Last year, this African evangelist told this story.
“I wanted to visit my people but in order to do so I had to cross national boundaries. Due to Ebola the borders were closed. So, I waited until 2am to sneak across and come to my village. The brethren greeted me enthusiastically. We had a wonderful service together worshiping the Lord but the greatest joy was still to come.
“The following day, the Muslim people in my village invited me to lead them in prayer. I told them, ‘I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian.’ But they said, ‘Our imam is dead and we have not opened our mosque since that time. We have been praying in our homes but seeing you Christians gathering and singing has challenged us to meet together again. We want to meet with our Christian neighbors in our mosque and ask you to lead us in any form of prayer that you know.’
“I consulted with my Christian friends and they thought the whole situation was full of irony and funny because these same Muslim neighbors had been persecuting them for years. And I had my own doubts. I had been saved by the grace of God and I never wanted to enter a mosque. But after some time of reflection my Christian friends and I agreed to hold our service in the mosque. My Christian brothers led the praise, worship, and prayer. The Muslims listened to us and kept saying “Amen,” through the service!
“Then I preached on the miracles of Jesus from the book of Luke. I spoke on all of them. I just kept on reading and explaining to them and they listened to it all. You should have seen the faces of our Muslim neighbors! When the service was ended they asked me to come back. I have not been able to, but one of the other Christians in the village says that now, every Sunday, the entire village comes to their gathering under the tree to hear the Word of God preached.
In 1967 Albania was declared the world’s first atheistic state. Every church, mosque, synagogue, and temple were closed and converted into secular meeting places. Religious leaders were publicly humiliated. Today, Albania is a secular state and religious freedom is allowed. Many people and organizations have stepped forward to preach the Gospel and renew this country which was devastated by Communist rule, and we have been excited to be part of this renewal.
This Wednesday, December 17, our brothers and sisters in Christ at Radio 7 in Tirana, Albania will host a Christmas outreach. Among their many activities will be the distribution of 1000 copies of our video The Renewal of All Things in the Albanian language. They will also reach out into neighboring Kosovo which is ethnically 95% Albanian.
Radio 7 is also translating our video into Serbian, Greek, and Macedonian for future distribution. Please join us in prayer that God would use this video mightily to reach multitudes for Christ in these southeastern European countries.
Don’t wait! Please take one minute right now and lift this up to the Lord. Thank you!
Have you seen the video? It begins this way: “Why? Why is there so much sorrow and sadness in the world? It was not always this way but it became this way through the ‘Great Catastrophe.'” Watch now and learn how God worked throughout history to restore mankind to its original purpose through his promises to Abraham and his descendants and through the work of his greatest son, Jesus of Nazareth.
When people hear the stories of Jesus in their emotional depth they are often much more open to the life-changing truth contained in those stories. This is why I created Stories of the Master and tell his stories throughout the world. One of my favorites is from Luke 7 where the woman wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Over a century ago, a great commentator said, “This story is to be wept over as much as studied and explained.” I agree.
This Saturday, December 13, from 1-3pm I will be at Viva Bookstore at the Viva Galleria at 8407 Broadway in San Antonio. In addition to a book signing for The Women Jesus Loved, I will give a talk on Jesus and Women, and will give a dramatic presentation of the story, “The Woman Who Wept at His Feet.”
You will see many kinds of books on many kinds of “spirituality” at Viva Bookstore. We are glad to introduce the truth of Jesus and be a witness for him as I share the story of “The Woman Who Wept at His Feet,” and give a brief talk on Jesus’ revolutionary love for women. Please join us!
If you live in the San Antonio area, please join me and bring your friends. If you cannot make it, please pray that God would use this time to spread his word.
Thank you for your prayers!
Chapter One of The Women Jesus Loved – “The Woman Who Wept at His Feet,” is now available for order for only $5. This small booklet tells the story of a woman burdened by sin and set free by Jesus’ love. It provides a great taste of the entire book and is an excellent way to introduce your friends to all the stories of Jesus.
My friend Scott Freeman has written and illustrated an award winning book called Naomi’s Gift. Call me sentimental, but every time I read it, I get choked up. You will be touched also when you read it for yourself, and so I am very happy to recommend Naomi’s Gift to you this Christmas.
Scott and Mollie Freeman are graduates of the Kansas City Art Institute. They have raised five children and live in Loveland, CO. They love Christ and use their God-given talents to expand the kingdom of God. Like Narmin Backus who we talked about in a recent blog and who is reaching her Azeri people with art, dance, song, and storytelling, Scott and Mollie use their grace-given talents to visualize the beauty of our King and his kingdom.
Scott and Mollie have branched into creating beautifully illustrated children’s books that help you reinforce a biblical worldview in your children. Reading great stories to your small children is one of the best ways to instill a biblical worldview in their hearts and minds. Big Picture Publishing is committed to help you normalize and reinforce spiritual truths and realities revealed in the Bible.
Please go to their website to learn more about this great ministry.
People with great talent such as Scott and Mollie, who love the Lord, and who can articulate their kingdom of God faith are rare in this world. Scott and Mollie are a treasure in God’s great family. Please pray for them. Visit their website and learn more about their ministry. Tell others about them and purchase their children’s books for your children and grandchildren. It is a privilege to be associated with them in God’s great kingdom plan for the world.
Would you like to hear Naomi’s Gift? Saturday,December 6, you can call 712.432.7146 and listen on your phone or go to WGSradio.com to hear this wonderful story for the whole family.
Do you know where Azerbaijan is? It sounds like an exotic, faraway place and it is for us in the West but God has been working mightily in this land in many ways.
First Programs for Azerbaijan
In recent weeks I have had the privilege of becoming acquainted with Global Heart Ministries which focuses on outreach to Central Asia. They have just finished taping 13 television shows for Azerbaijan featuring Narmin Backus and her art, singing, and dancing. These programs are the first Christian programming for the people of this great nation and we rejoice with them!
I invite you to watch this 3-minute promo spot for their television shows. This spot is provided with English translation.
Getting to Know Narmin
I have had the privilege of getting to know Narmin. She loves the Lord with all her heart and wants to reach her people with the Gospel. Narmin teaches art at a Christian school in Houston and is fluent in English, Azerbaijani, and Russian. She is reading The Women Jesus Loved and has been deeply touched by it. She also loves the video The Renewal of All Things and has started translating it for her people to hear the Gospel.
Please pray for Narmin’s ministry to her people and pray that her translation work for WGS will result in multitudes hearing the Gospel and coming to Christ.
Word of God, Speak!
Your prayer and financial partnership enable us to provide resources for people like Narmin and countries like Azerbaijan. Thank you for your help! To donate to WGS, please click here to help spread the Gospel in Azerbaijan and other countries.
I’ve never been a Joel Osteen basher. Years ago I listened to some of his messages and was uplifted by them. At the end he invited people to embrace Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Yet, the video below where Victoria Osteen gives a brief exhortation is a great illustration of what happens when anyone divorces Jesus from the story line in which he lived, acted, and proclaimed his message of the kingdom.
Jesus is very popular all around the world – unfortunately – many people have the wrong Jesus. In our world we can find a Hindu Jesus, a Muslim Jesus, a Mormon Jesus, a New Age Jesus, and in this ministry, a self-help, therapeutic Jesus who exists to help us be all we can be. It’s not that these people are crazy. I’m not even sure I would call them evil. It is that they, along with so many others, have lifted Jesus out of the story line of Scripture (the kingdom of God) and placed him within another story line. In my next book, Changing the Stories of the World, coming out in November of this year, I address this very important point – we must recapture the story line of Scripture in order to avoid such nonsense. We must learn and retell The Story accurately. We must recover the “kingdom of God Jesus” – or we open ourselves to delusion and deception.
A few weeks ago I read an article in Christianity Today magazine on how issuing forgiveness to other people is the new hot topic. Everyone is talking about it including the secular doctors of psychology and medicine – Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz – and many others. The “buzz-phrase” is “do yourself a favor and forgive others,” or “forgiveness is about you.” Well, that is partly true. When we choose to forgive we do free ourselves. Yes! Of course! That is a good thing. The article, however, showed that this a side product and not the biblical emphasis. The biblical emphasis is, “Forgive others just as God has forgiven you.” The primary reason we forgive others is that we have been forgiven. This biblical emphasis keeps God at the center. The new emphasis we hear in churches and on pop psychology TV puts man at the center – do it for yourself.
This is yet another form of idolatry. Anytime we put anyone or anything at the center, we become idolaters. The video of the Osteens is unfortunately another example of Western idolatry.
I didn’t watch the video. The news was sickening enough of the latest atrocity by ISIS. Why the title, then? Glorious beheading? Because the executioner, no doubt, is being celebrated in many quarters today. He is seen as a glorious man. He sees himself this way. Let me explain.
In the ancient world, what constituted manhood and glory was very different from our world. Thomas Cahill, in his book, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, says:
“Where modern historians count the casualties and detect cruelty and inhumanity, the ancients saw only glory. Public action – that is, by war and conquest – was the most dangerous and, in consequence, the most noble of all human endeavors.” Using Alexander as an example, Cahill continued, “If Plato was the measure of all subsequent philosophy and Phidias of all attempts to carve a man in marble, Alexander was, therefore, ‘the Great,’ the greatest man who had ever lived … the measure of man himself.”
Alexander was the man who, upon taking command of his deceased father’s armies, slaughtered the inhabitants of Thebes, pulled down the city, and enslaved any survivors because they did not want him to reign over them. I’m sure many people were beheaded. It was a glorious endeavor for Alexander – although, of course the Thebans would not have agreed. Then, after settling this “dispute” about who was in charge, he set out to conquer the world because … well … that is what real men do.
It is this type of thinking that controlled the executioner – visions of nobility and glory. It is this type of thinking that pervades ISIS. It is a holdover from the ancient world and wedded to Islam, which, according to its founder, has as its goal the forcible takeover over the world by the sword if people will not submit, which, by the way, is what the word “Islam” means. Islam is ancient thinking.
This is what makes the message of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom, so remarkable. In a world entrenched with a wrong vision of manhood and glory, even among his own people, Jesus pointed to a new destiny and walked a new path. It undercut, completely, the dominant worldview and vision of every nation in his day, including his own. Predictably, both Roman and Jewish rulers did not like his message and executed their worldview against Jesus, literally, by nailing him to a cross. So much for humility, so much for servanthood, so much for mercy, so much for going the extra mile and praying for those who oppress you. Jesus’ new vision of glory and manhood was obliterated … until the third day when God raised him and enthroned him at his right hand as the true Lord of heaven and earth.
The way of thinking that led to the beheading of James Foley will be with us until the better idea of manhood and glory takes hold deep within the hearts of people and nations. It must change underlying worldviews and ideas of destiny and glory. Cahill concluded that the wrong way of thinking continues “to infect the brains of all those who take up weapons of destruction in what they believe to be a noble cause. Indeed, down the whole course of history, the invincible warrior with raised sword has been the archetypal hero of the human race.”
The world needs a new kind of hero and a better idea. That “better idea” we call The Gospel of the Kingdom. And it is more than an idea. It is embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, the true Lord of heaven and earth. This is the message we are supposed to preach. This is what the early church preached. They proclaimed that Jesus was Lord which meant that Caesar was not Lord. That’s why they got into trouble with the authorities. You can check it out in Acts 17:5-8. Our message is primarily not a wimpy message of “pray this prayer so you can be sure of going to heaven when you die.” If that is all the early church preached they would never have been persecuted. Although that point is true, it falls far short of the historic Gospel.
Our message is that there is a true Lord of heaven and earth who has come to reign over all. He summons the nations to obey him, to follow his path, and to seek true glory and true humanity. It is the message ISIS needs to hear, the entire Arab world needs to hear, and for that matter, the message every nation needs to hear for all are still infected – to varying degrees – by the disease of wrong ideas of glory and manhood.
The only way to change deeply entrenched ideas is with stronger, more powerful, more imaginative, more compelling ideas. The Gospel of the Kingdom provides this, the Gospel that points to the one who lived it and who overcame all adversity, the Gospel that proclaims Jesus is Lord of all.