"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Ronald Reagan, Roy Benavidez and YouTube's Best

This weekend marks the 15th anniversary of the death of one America's greatest heroes. Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Major Sergeant Roy Perez Benavidez (August 5, 1935 - November 29, 1998). The video below begins with President Ronald Reagan telling what my wife calls "the most incredible military act of courage" she's ever heard of, and then Roy follows up with a speech that he gave to a group of young men. In my opinion, the video below represents the best 25 minutes you will ever spend on YouTube. This Thanksgiving 2015, I am grateful for Roy Benavidez and the beautiful illustration his life gives of the importance of "duty, honor, country." Get you a cup of coffee and watch. You will not regret it. --

How Do You Know Christianity Is True? Why Every Christian Should Read and Know Daniel 11

We live in a day of texting, not reading. For this reason, we've produced at least a generation of non-critical thinkers in the United States. It's difficult for many Christians to respond to the question, “How do you know Christianity is true?” Sadly, the faith of Christians is becoming increasingly blind and ignorant. 

Many Christians feel their faith is real, but can't explain why. For example, "Since I came to Christ,  my life has taken a turn for the better" is a common refrain of believers. Christianity is real to many because of their experience and feelings.

Unfortunately, testifying of one's comfort and changed life in believing the Christian message is not a unique religious testimony. The Taoist, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Hindu could all say the same thing. Even the radical Islamic believer trusts his life is better because of his faith in Allah. All faiths have the claim that lives will be changed for the better because of their unique, religious faith. Ironically, even skeptics and atheists will argue that their lack of faith in God brings just as much peace and feels just as right to them as the faith of the religious.

So how do you know Christianity is true? What is the basis for your assurance that Jesus Christ represents the truth of God, and followers of Jesus are in possession of the truth that other faith religions don't have?  How do you know that the God of the Bible is the One True God and the biblical account of Him coming to earth, dying on a cross, and rising from the dead for the deliverance of sinners is the message that should be accepted above all other religious messages?

Other than your personal experience and testimony, you may have little or no idea how to defend your faith. You may even be uncomfortable proclaiming the exclusivity of Christ, as are many theological liberals, because you don't have a firm foundation for believing in the exclusivity of the Christian faith. Even worse, you may know that your inability to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" is probably your greatest weakness as a follower of Christ.  

So let me help you.

*Only the one true God can foretell the future

The Lord says in Isaiah 42:8-9 "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another ... new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you." 

This is an astounding claim which, if true, conclusively proves that the God of the Bible is the one true God. 

God alone or, more precisely, the one true God alone, can tell us future events before they happen. The LORD, the God of the Bible, makes this claim for Himself. He says that He tells us things “before they spring into being” (Isaiah 42:8-9). No other god can do this. This, in the end, is the only way to be sure that Christianity is the one true religion and the God of Christianity is the one true God.

There is not one religious book in the world, other than the Bible, that even attempts prophecy. There are no prophecies in the Quran of Islam, the Diamond Sutra of Buddhism, the Smitri of Hinduism, the Pearl of Great Price of Mormonism, or any other holy book of the world’s religions. No other religious book, other than the Bible, even attempts to prophecy the future. God tells the biblical prophets the future, and the Bible prophecies recorded for us are so accurate in foretelling future events that nobody should ever doubt the message the Bible contains.

The Lord inspires His prophets to speak of things “not yet sprung forth,” and we are able to verify these prophecies because we have lived to see them fulfilled. For example, one set of prophecies, made hundreds of years before their fulfillment, are those prophecies regarding the coming Messiah. These “Messianic prophecies” include statements foretelling that the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham (Gen. 12:3; Gen. 22:18), would come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), and would be a direct descendant of King David, (2 Sam. 7:12 and 13). The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zech. 9:9) and would suffer silently before his accusers (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 53:5; Isa. 53:7). He would be considered a criminal and executed with other criminals (Isa. 53:12) while making intercession for those with whom he died (Isa. 53:12). The Messiah would have his hands and feet pierced (Ps. 22:16). He would be buried in the tomb of a wealthy man (Isa. 53:9) and his dead body would not see decay (Ps. 16:10). He would also rise from the dead (Ps. 2:7-9; Ps. 16:10 and 11; Isa. 53:9-12). These Messianic biblical prophecies (and dozens more) were given at least five hundred years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth came to earth and fulfilled them all.

Skeptics might object that Jesus could have read the writings of the Jewish prophets and self-fulfilled everything they said about the coming Messiah. I find that argument rather ridiculous, but rather than resting my assurance in the veracity of the Christian message on the fulfillment of biblical Messianic prophecies in Jesus Christ, I turn to the the stunning and amazing prophecies of Daniel 11 and 12 and discover the capstone defense of the Christian faith. The fulfilled prophecies of Daniel 11 and 12 give us irrefutable evidence that the God of the Bible is the one true God, and that He has chosen to reveal Himself as Emmanuel (i.e. “God with us”) in the Person of Jesus the Messiah.

Daniel is one of those Bible books that many Christians avoid because they find it difficult to understand. However, with just a little knowledge of world history, the ability to place Daniel in its proper context to ancient Hebrew history, and the patience to study the Bible for something more than serendipitous personal devotionals, you will find yourself supplied with an Anchor of hope in Christianity that can never be shaken or taken away.

The Power of Fulfilled Prophecy

After Persian's conquest of Babylon on October 11, 539 B.C. God told Daniel about other major world events that would occur over the ensuing six hundred years -- from 530 B.C. to 70 A.D--and Daniel, in turn, foretold to the Persian/Mede Prince Darius these future world events.  The prophecies God gave to Daniel included world events that would occur during the years between the close of the Old Testament (Malachi) in 440 B.C. and the beginning of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in 4 B.C. The world events occurring between the Testaments include the fall of the Persian Empire (modern day Iran), the rise of the Grecian Empire (modern day Greece) and Alexander the Great’s conquest of the known world, the premature death of Alexander at thirty-three years of age and the division of Alexander’s empire into four districts (north, south, east and west), the great conflict between the Seleucids of the north (the Syrians) and the Ptolemies of the south (the Egyptians), and the ultimate rise of the Roman Empire and the establishment of Roman emperors as the “gods of the world.” Daniel foretold the first century BC events including the rise in power of Julias Caesar's adopted son Octavius, otherwise known as Augustus Caesar, the attempted revolt by Antony and Cleopatra against Octavius, and the assignment by the Roman Senate that Herod the Great rule the Jews in Judea on behalf of the Romans. Finally, in the first century AD the Roman Empire made the determination to destroy the Jewish Temple and the city of Jerusalem, effectively ending the Old Covenant Hebrew system of worship.   All of the above events occurred during the 600 years from 530 B.C. to A.D. 70.  and Daniel prophesies each and every one of the aforementioned events in specific and mind-blowing detail in Daniel 11 and 12. These prophecies are given by God to Daniel for one purpose--to identify the date of the coming Savior of the world. Daniel is accurate in every detail, giving the precise sequence of order in which these future events would occur, over five hundred years before they happened,

How could Daniel prophesy these things? God told Daniel about world events “before they sprang forth” and commanded Daniel to write down the prophecies hundreds of years before they were fulfilled. Think about this. The ability to foretell world events for the next 600 years in stunning detail would be astonishing confirmation that the One who told you the future is the true God of the universe. We can’t even tell who the next President of the United States will be, but God knows the end from the beginning, and should He choose to tell us the future, we would tell others in order to prove that our God is the one true God. This is precisely what Daniel did. God was telling the world when He was coming to earth, and your confidence that "all the fullness of the Godhead" bodily dwelt in Jesus Christ is supported by fulfilled the fulfilled prophecies of Daniel.

Daniel in the Dead Sea Scrolls
So accurately do the events described in Daniel 11 and Daniel 12 correspond with actual history that the infidel, Porphyry, could not evade the force of the argument that the Bible was written by Divine Inspiration except by claiming Daniel was written by an imposter after the events prophesied had actually occurred. Porphyry and other scoffers of the Bible long claimed that an unknown Hebrew scholar, after the fall of the Persian Empire, after the rise and fall of the Grecian Empire, and after the ultimate rise of the Roman Empire and her emperors, pretended to be Daniel and wrote the book of Daniel. Their theory, however, was dashed to pieces by a shepherd boy who threw a rock into a cave in Israel in 1947 and science discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. It has now been conclusively proven that the Daniel manuscript in the Dead Sea Scrolls dates from before the fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel 11 and 12.

God refuses to share His glory.

For an incredible exposition of the fulfilled prophecies of Daniel 11 and Daniel 12 see this rare 1838 book by James Farquharson, LL.D. F.R.S. entitled "Daniel's Last Vision and Prophecy." To assist the reader who wishes not to dowload the full PDF file linked above, I am offering an abbreviated exposition of Daniel 11, to show the power of fulfilled prophecy and why you never ought to doubt Jesus Christ as the one true God.

A Brief Review of the Fulfilled Prophecies of Daniel 11

(Daniel 11:1) “In the first year of Darius the Mede, I arose to be an encouragement and protection for him" —

Daniel Before King Darius (535 B.C.)
Daniel had been a Hebrew captive in Babylon (modern day Iraq) since 607 B.C. However, God determined that the Babylonian Empire would fall to the Medes and Persians on October 11, 539 B.C., an event chillingly described in Daniel 5. God told the leaders of Babylon – Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin,” which means “you have been weighed in the balances [of God’s justice] and found wanting.” God judged Belshazzar and the Babylonian leaders for their desecration of the Hebrew Temple vessels, and the Lord brought down the kingdom of Babylon through an invasion of the Medes and the Persians. The Hebrew captives in Babylon, including Daniel, became the captives of the Persians. Two kings ruled Babylon simultaneously in 535 B.C., Cyrus (the Persian king) and Darius (the Mede king), as their armies continued a conquest of the known world. Daniel 11 opens with Daniel being encouraged by the angel Gabriel that he (Gabriel) had "encouraged" King Darius the Mede. The order had been given by Cyrus (and Darius) to release the Jews from captivity in order allow them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their city and the Temple. The forces of hell did not like Cyrus' edict to release the Jews, and Gabriel, on behalf of Israel, "strengthened" Darius to follow through. This prophecy of Daniel 11 and 12 is called “the latter prophecy” or “the last prophecy” of Daniel. The prophecy encompasses events that would occur in the world over the next 600 years (530 B.C. to A.D. 70).

(Daniel 11:2) “Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than them all.”

Here Daniel is given a glimpse into the future. Four additional kings of Persia would arise after the reign of Darius and Cyrus. History records that things happened precisely as Daniel recorded them. The first king was Cambyses, the son of Cyrus who ruled the Persian kingdom from 530-522 B.C. The second king was Bardiya (522 B.C.). The third king was Darius, the son of Hystaspes, who ruled from 521-486 B.C. The fourth king was Xerxes, who ruled Persian from 486 B.C. to 465 B.C. and was involved in continual attempts to defeat a newcomer to world power--Greece. After Xerxes, the Persian Empire would be ruled by lesser Persian kings.
Xerxes  as portrayed in the movie 300

Ironically, many young people today are familiar with Xerxes. Fascination with ancient Sparta, and particularly the Battle of Thermopylae, has led to a rise in popularity of Xerxes in modern culture. He is depicted as a massive, evil and incompetent giant in the modern Hollywood version of the movie 300, played by Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro. This portrayal of Xerxes angered the government of modern Iran. The video game Assassin's Creed II gives Xerxes cult status. He is the leader of the Persian Empire in the video game Civilization II and Civilization III. American rapper King Gordy released an album titled Xerxes the God King on August 1, 2010. Most Christians do not even know that the Bible accurately prophesies that the fourth Persian king after Cyrus, King Xerxes, would be the richest (most powerful) king of all Persian kings. Other Persian kings would follow, but none would hold the distinction of being as powerful as Xerxes, the fourth king after Cyrus. It is during the reign of Xerxes that the biblical story of Esther occurs.

(Daniel 11:3-4) “And a mighty king shall stand up that shall rule with great dominion ... but as soon as he has arisen his kingdom will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass, though not to his own descendents.”

This “mighty king” that arose was Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), the ruler of Greece during the rise of the Grecian Empire. Alexander the Great (Greek: Megas Alexandros) conquered all of the former Medo-Persian Empire as well as the rest of the world, and sat down and wept when he realized there were no worlds left to conquer. Alexander died at 33, at the peak of his power, and just like Daniel 11:3-4 prophesies, Alexander’s Grecian Empire was divided among four people—Seleucus (north), Antigonus (east), Philip (west) and Ptolemy (south). These four were Alexander's generals and not his relatives or descendents.

Again, many modern Christians may watch the 2004 epic film Alexander, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Colin Farrell, but never realize that the the prophet Daniel, in Daniel 11:3-4 prophesies accurately and in stunning detail the accomplishments, downfall and division of the kingdom of Alexander the Great--two hundred years before Alexander was even born. It is through a lack of understanding fulfilled prophecy that many Christians have little stomach to stand up against those who pronounce us arrogant for saying Christianity is the only true religion in the world.

From Daniel 11:5 through 11:23 we have a vivid description of the kings of the South (the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt) warring against the kings of the North (Seleucid Dynasty of Syria). The Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt reigned from 305-30 B.C. when it was finally conquered by Roman Empire. The Ptolemies were the 32nd and last dynasty of Ancient Egypt. The Seleucid Dynasty reined over the Greco-Syrian Empire from 312-64 B.C. Again, most people have no clue that the Bible vividly describes the rise of the two greatest kingdoms of the 4th century B.C. and their wars against each other -- hundreds of years before the kingdoms arose and the wars occured. In this section of the prophecy there is a detailed description of the different kings that would reign over the Northern kingdom (the Seleucids of Syria) and the Southern kingdom (the Ptolemies of Egypt).  The prophecies of Daniel in these verses, detailing the various kings of the Ptolemy Dynasty of Egypt and the Seulicid Dynasty of ancient Syria and their actions, can be compared to actual history and it is irrefutible that events in the two major world empires of 300 B.C. to 170 B.C. occurred precisely as Daniel foretold they would.

Slaughtering a pig on the altar
In Daniel 11:24-35  we have a lengthy and vivid description of a Seulicid king named Antiochus Epiphanes (215 B.C. to 165 B.C.) who battled the Egyption Ptolemies, but lost his most aggressive campaign against them when the rising Roman Empire sided with the Egyptian Empire and "drew the line in the sand" in 168 B.C. and told Antiochus not to cross it or he would be entering into war against both Rome and Egypt. This is where the saying "a line in the sand" originates. Antiochus did not cross it for fear of the Romans and, humiliated and angry, Antiochus left the outskirts of the Egyptian empire and made his way back north to Syria. However, he stopped on his journey back home in Jerusalem and vented his anger against the Jews and the Temple of the Jews. In this section of  Daniel's prophecy  (remember the prophecy was made in 535 B.C.), Daniel  vividly foretells what Antiochus would do against the Jews and the Temple in 168 A.D. The "abomination of desolation" (v. 32), which occurred in the Hebrew Temple of Jersualem, included Antiochus slaughtering a pig on the holy altar. Many Jews were also murdered by the wicked king.  

(Daniel 11:33-35) “ ... but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”

The people who “know their God" and are strong, in context, are the Maccabbees. These three verses in Daniel describe the Jewish followers of Judas Maccabeus,  who arose in revolt against the tyranny of the "evil king" Antiochus . They led the Jews to seek to overthrow the Seulicid Empire and Antiochus Epiphanes beginning in 167 B.C. The war of the Maccabbees against the Seulicids lasted for seven years and is recorded in the historical books of I and II Maccabees.

(Daniel 11:36) “And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods ...

The description of the king who prospers and exalts himself above every God is a reference to the rise of King Herod the Great, who put an end to Maccabean (Hasmonean Jewish) rule of Judea. Herod was made King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 39 B.C. but it took him three years to defeat the Maccabeans and gain control of Jerusalem in 36 B.C. Herod's allegience throughout his reign as King of the Jews was to Rome. 

Herodium, one of Herod's walled "fortresses."

(Daniel 11:37-38) “Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. But in his estate shall he honor the god of fortresses [Hebrew: Maozim]: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honor with gold, and silver …”

This prophecy of the one who worships the god of fortresses (Maozim) refers to Herod the Great (74 B.C. to 4 B.C.).  Herod was an ethnic Idumean and worshiped the "god of fortresses." He built over a dozen heavily fortified fortresses, including Herodium and Masada during his tenure as King of the Jews. His fortresses are still able to be to toured throughout Israel today.

(Daniel 11:39-44) Describes the expansion of the King Herod's influence and grip of power over all Judea, the land of the Jews, and the rebuilding of the Temple with "costly stones," which Herod heavily fortified to garrison his army (i.e. "the Antonia Fortress").  The Roman Senate had designated Herod King of the Jews in 39 B.C., but it took Herod three years to defeat the Maccabeans and gain control of Jerusalem. Herod the Great, ruled Judea with an iron fist from 36 B.C. to 4 B.C. Though he sought to gain favor with the Jews by ordering the rebuilding of the Temple, called "Herod's Temple," he was a singularly vile and wicked 'King' to the Jews. 

Five years into Herod's reign over the Jews (31 B.C.), Cleopatra of Egypt convinced Antony to attack Octavius of Rome. The year long battle between the "king of the south" (i.e. Cleopatra) and the king of the north (i.e. Octavius) is vividly described in Daniel 11:40-44. Octavius initially defeated Antony and Cleopatra in the naval battle called Actium (September 16, 31 B.C.), overwhelming the aggressive Egyptian forces "like a whirlwind" (v. 40). King Herod of Judea, who had initially aligned "with" Cleopatra, eventually switched his allegience to Octavius. After Cleopatra and Antony retreated their forces to Alexandria, Octavius marched his Roman armies south, through Judea,  moving his massive infanty to attack the Egyptians forces in Egypt. Octavius' army defeated Antony and Cleopatra and their Egyptian armies in 30 B.C., putting an end to the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt

After the the conquest of Egypt, Octavius (63 B.C. to A.D. 14) became the first emperor of Rome, receiving the title Augustus Caesar from the Roman Senate. Augustus was the first in a long line of Roman emperors who would claim 'deity' for themselves. The Roman Emperor became known as “The Son of God and the Savior of the World” according to Roman inscriptions of the day. It is to this foolish designation of the Roman Emperor to which Peter refers in Acts 4:12: “For there is none other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

King Herod of Judea, in tribute to the new Emperor of Rome, and possibly hoping to make the Emperor forget Herod had initially alligned "with" Cleopatra, built for Augustus a city on the Mediterranean coast in Judea and called it "Caesarea by the Sea," the place the Apostle Paul would later be held as a prisoner before being shipped to Rome. It was during the reign of Caesar Augustus as Emperor of Rome (30 B.C. to 14 A.D.) and King Herod as Roman tetrarch of Judea  (36 B.C. to 4 B.C.), that the prophesied Savior of the World, the eternal Son of God and true King of Kings would enter the world (i.e. "At that time Michael ... shall arise"). When Herod the Great heard the rumors of this "coming King" he was greatly troubled.

The Magi from the East
(Daniel 11:44-45) “But rumors from the East and from the North will trouble him: and he will go forth with great wrath to destroy and annihilate many. He will pitch the tents of his royal pavilion between the seas and the beautiful Holy Mountain; yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him."

“Rumors from the East and from of the North shall trouble him” is a reference to the Wise Men who came asking King Herod, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews.” In great trouble and inner turmoil, not only because of the words of the Wise Men, but also because of threats from the North (Rome) against him, Herod ordered all young boys in the land of Judea put to death. Yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him. The death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C. is an astonishing portrayal of isolated abandonment, even by those closest to him, and an inability to cure him of his multiple diseases. Daniel 11 concludes with the death of King Herod in 4 B.C., which corresponds precisely to the year of the birth of Jesus Christ, the true Son of God and Savior of the world (Luke 2:1).

"At that time Michael... shall arise" (Daniel 12:1).

I find it so unfortunate that many modern-day Christians have missed the power of fulfilled prophecy in Daniel 11 and 12 and, as a result, have missed the clearest evidence there is that Jesus Christ is the one true God. The purpose of God giving Daniel a glimpse into the future was to confirm that the Son of God and the Savior of the world, Jesus of Nazareth, born in 4 B.C. was the one true God of the universe come to earth. God gave Daniel a glimpse into the future, something only the one true God can do, in order to reveal WHEN MICHAEL SHALL ARISE.

Futurists--those who constantly try to tell us that Daniel 11 and Daniel 12 are prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled and relate to some future antichrist and a future coming of our Lord--have missed the power, the purpose and the truth of Daniel's prophecy. In closing, I leave you with the words of two people, John Gill, the greatest Hebrew scholar Baptists have ever produced, and 19th century Scottish pastor James Farqurharson as they reveal who "Michael" is in Daniel 12:1 (I trust John and James much more than I do Tim Lahaye or Hal Lindsey).

"Michael the Archangel, who has all the angels of heaven under him, and at his command, is the Son of Godour Lord Jesus Christ; who is as God, as the name signifies, truly and really God, and equal in nature, power, and glory to his divine Father" (John Gill).

"It is  undeniable that the archangel Michael is the only archangel of whom we know any thing from holy writ. It cannot be proved from holy writ,—and if not from holy writ, it cannot be proved at all,—that any archangel exists but the one archangel Michael; and this one archangel Michael is unquestionably the Michael of the book of Daniel. The Archangel, in 1 Thessalonians 4.16, whose voice is to raise the dead, can be no other than our Lord; and in the 9th verse of Jude, the Archangel is named Michael. Although not of “the nature of angels" (Hebrews 2:16), our Lord is their Commander, for authorities, and powers, are subject unto him (I Peter 3:22), and “thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, and all things, were created by him, and for him" (James Farquharson)

In summary: The book of Daniel was written in the 6th Century BC (539/538 B.C. to be exact) and describes in detail the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Seleucids of Syria, the Ptolemies of Egypt, and the Roman Empire—hundreds of years before they ever existed. The details of these historical events are so accurately foretold by the prophet Daniel that pagan scoffers have ridiculed the book of Daniel by saying it could have only been written AFTER Rome came to power and conquered the world, and that the author of the book "claimed" to be Daniel the prophet. In 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, including full copies of Daniel manuscripts that date back well before the fulfillment of the Daniel prophecies.

The basis for your trust of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is fulfilled prophecy. Only the one true God can tell us the future, long before the events of the future "spring forth." He told us about world events immediately preceding the time "Michael ... shall arise." It happened just as He said.

Michael, the Son of God and Savior of the world, has come. All religions are not the same. There is only one true religion and only one true God, and may an understanding of Daniel 11 and 12 cause you to never shrink away from boldly proclaiming the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, for "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Fight in the Name of Your Temporal Government, Not Your God: ISIS and the Follower of Christ

I have read more than a few people on Facebook invoke the name of Jesus and their Christian faith when calling for "war without pity" on the cold-blooded ISIS murderers in Paris.

That's very unwise. Without doubt every Jihad John assassin should be hunted down and killed. Every Parisian murderer should be tracked and his life taken from him swiftly. The French President initially called for "war without pity" on ISIS, and he's absolutely correct. The United States, Russia, France, and every European country that loves freedom should bomb ISIS command centers, supply depots, and training compounds. Bomb them mercilessly. But always do it in the name of one's government, never one's Christ.

500 years ago Martin Luther faced similar circumstances to what Christians face today. The Ottoman Empire (Muslim) rapidly expanded their territory into Europe through terrorism and organized armed advancement during the 1510's and 1520's. As the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) armed itself to fight the Turks, Luther opposed armed resistance and wrote:
"To fight against the Turk is the same thing as resisting God, who visits our sin upon us with this rod.” (Explanation of the 95 Theses, 1518).
Pope Leo the Tenth condemned Luther for his pacifism. Thomas More also vehemently disagreed with Luther by issuing this astute assessment:
"It is a gentle holiness to abstain for devotion from resisting the Turk, and in the meanwhile to rise up in routs and fight against Christian men, and destroy as that sect has done, many a good religious house, spoiled, maimed and slain many a good virtuous man, robbed, polluted, and pulled down many a goodly church of Christ."
To put More's argument against Luther in modern terms: "Luther, why the heck do you consider Catholics more of an enemy than you do the Turks?"

Within a decade Luther changed his mind about fighting the Ottoman Empire. In 1528-1529 as the radical Islamic terrorists surrounded and laid siege to Vienna, Austria, Luther wrote a short pamphlet entitled On War Against the Turk. Luther's little pamphlet, available in English,  is difficult to understand for the person unaccustomed to comprehensive reading. In essence, Luther argues for war against radical Islam in the name of temporal government, not God. I would urge any Air Force pilot, Army soldier, Navy sailor, or Marine commando who confesses to be a Christian to read Luther's  On War Against the Turk.

I won't get into the reasons Luther changed his mind (you can read it for yourself), but I will summarize Luther's argument with this succinct statement:
War is a temporal state, fought by temporal governments, to bring about a temporal peace.
The best illustration of the above principle is Field Marshal Earl Wavell's comment on the treaties that brought an end to the First World War. He said:
"After 'the war to end war' they seem to have been pretty successful in Paris at making a 'Peace to end Peace.'"
Wavell understood that both war and peace are only temporary. We Christians belong to an eternal Kingdom "that is not of this world" (John 18:36).  Christ will one day usher in His eternal Kingdom on this earth - either through His physical return or His spiritual reign in the hearts of all people (depending on your eschatology) and that's when "the meek will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).

Until that time of Christ's reign, "temporal governments make temporal war to create temporal peace." If you must fight radical Islamic terrorism, and it seems the world is now being called to fight, we must make sure that we fight in the name of our temporal governments, not God. Luther puts it like this (emphasis mine):
"Christ says that a Christian shall not resist evil, but endure all things, let the coat go and the cloak, let them be taken from him, offer the other cheek..."
"The Church ought not strive or fight with the sword; it has other enemies than flesh and blood, their name is the wicked devils in the air; therefore it has other weapons and swords and other wars, so that it has enough to do, and cannot mix in the wars of the emperor or princes..."
"Nevertheless, what the emperor (state government) can do for his subjects against the Turk, that he should do, so that even though he cannot entirely prevent the abomination, he may yet try to protect and rescue his subjects by checking the Turk and holding him off. To this protection the emperor (state government) should be moved not only by his bounden duty, but by his office"
"It is a fact that the Turk is at our throat, and even if he does not will to march against us this year, yet he is there, armed and ready any hour to attack us, when he will, and yet our princes discuss, meanwhile, how they can harass Luther and the Gospel. It is the Turk! Against it force must be used! It must be put out!"
As a side note, at the very time Luther wrote A War Against the Turk, he penned a church hymn entitled A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still, or otherwise translated A Might Fortress Is Our God, writing the hymn as the Turks approached Vienna in 1529. The truth of that hymn is very real - and very personal. It's a great song to sing as a follower of Jesus.

However, when a professing Christian raises his hand and swears allegiance "to support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States" against "all enemies, both foreign and domestic," he or she must never forget that she is swearing
"to bear arms on behalf of the United States."
We will fight Islamic terrorism. We are at war. We will fight ISIS like our forefathers fought the Nazis.  However, we fight for the temporary government of the United States of America (or Canada, or France, or Russia, or etc....) and not God. Let's keep our faith and our Christ separate from our government and war.

Real Prosperity Requires No Change of Scenery; Properly Understanding the Jer. 29:11 Promise

There is a promise from God in Jeremiah 29:11 that is often quoted and nearly always misinterpreted. God says, "For I know the plans I have for you... plans to prosper you and not harm you...plans to give you hope and a future."

Christians in the habit of plucking verses from their context are unable to tell you the circumstances surrounding this promise. For example, when was this promise given? To whom was God speaking? What occurred to cause God to make this promise?  These three questions are examples of the things that should be asked before a Christian makes any assumptions. If you are claiming this promise in the belief and hope that God is about to change your environment for the better, then you have no understanding of its meaning.

It's important that you read the following two paragraphs very carefully. Too many Christians 'zone out' when it comes to history, but the diamonds in God's Word are only discovered after the necessary dirt work. "Bloom where you are planted" is an ancient phrase that has its roots in this Jer. 29:11 promise. I hope to show you that God may never change your environment, but your ability to "bloom" or personally prosper is never contingent on such change. That's the meaning of this Jeremiah 29:11 promise. Let me show you.

In 609 B.C. a very wicked and brutal empire took control of the world. The Babylonians (sometimes
called Chaldeans in the Bible) defeated the ancient Assyrians and the Egyptians and took the stage as world conquerors. Two years later Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar launched his first of three attacks against Jerusalem and the Jewish people (607 B.C. - 597 B.C. - 586 B.C.) Each successive attack during this 21-year time period was more brutal than the previous, ending in 586 B.C. with the destruction of the Jewish Temple and the desolation of the entire city of Jerusalem.

It was during Nebuchadnezzar's first aggressive move against Jerusalem (607 B.C.) that Daniel, his three friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), and other Jewish leaders were taken captive. Ten years later (597 B.C.) Nebuchadnezzar came back to Jerusalem to get more Jews to assist the Babylonian Empire in building better roads, erecting stronger walls, and creating greater weapons. Nebuchadnezzar didn't take all the Jews into captivity. Far more Jews remained in Jerusalem than were taken prisoner, including the prophet Jeremiah who began placing a yoke around his neck proclaiming to God's people that the Babylonian captivity would last "until the seventy years for Babylon have expired" (Jeremiah 29:10 NAS).

Think about it. 70 years for Babylon to reign as a world empire. That's a long time for people to be held in Babylonian captivity. The United States war in Iraq has lasted a little over 10 years. Can you imagine having your husband, son or other loved one in Iraq without having the ability to see him or hear from him for decades? Or reverse the role. How would you like to be a young Jewish artisan or servant in the Babylonian Empire like Daniel and his friends, only to hear in a letter from Jeremiah that your captivity will only end after Babylon's 70-year world reign comes to an end? More than a few Jews didn't like hearing Jeremiah's proclamations of a long captivity (Jeremiah 25:25). One such Jew was a priest and false prophet named Hananiah. He mocked Jeremiah's prophecy (see Jeremiah 28), ripped the wooden yoke off Jeremiah's neck, and told the people that "God told me the captivity would last just two more years" (Jeremiah 28:3). The Jews in Jerusalem began believing the false promise that God would change their circumstances soon.

It was at this time that God had Jeremiah send "a letter" to the captives in Babylon. The letter is what we know as Jeremiah 29. God knew that the false hope of quick release would make its way to His people in Babylon, so He speaks to them in Jeremiah 29:4-10:
"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce (i.e. "bloom where you are planted"). Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’  For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,' declares the Lord. For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place (Jerusalem)."
Oh my. Only after these instructions to plant where you are, pray for your wicked masters, and be at peace with your environment does God give the Jeremiah 29:11 promise:
"For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope."
Oh boy. I'd like to ask you a question. Which prophecy inspires more hope? Is it Hananiah's false prophecy of captivity for less than two years? Or is it Jeremiah's prophecy to "bloom where you are planted" and experience a long captivity? Think before you answer. Babylon would last as an empire for 70 years. Jeremiah knew this, for God told him (see both Jeremiah 25:25 and Jeremiah 29:10). That means when Jeremiah sent his letter to the Jews in Babylon in 597 B.C. the Jews still had an additional fifty-eight years of captivity left. 58 years of captivity versus 2 years of captivity. Which prophecy sounds better to the Jews at first hearing?

The common trap laid for us by our enemy is the one where we measure our personal prosperity by how quickly God changes our environment for the better. It would be wise for us to stop assessing God's favor in this manner. God's purposes are much broader than our individual lives. That doesn't mean God doesn't care about me or you, for He does. He gave us His only Son. To "bloom where you are planted," is to trust that God knows the bigger picture and is at work on a grander scale, fulfilling a greater purpose that we can't even understand right now. So any measurement of my personal prosperity or God's favor for me must always be independent of my current circumstances. God is at work even when I can't see it.

One of the men who heeded Jeremiah's words to "bloom where you are planted" was the prophet Daniel. We know, in fact, that Daniel often read Jeremiah's letters while he was in Babylonian captivity (see Daniel 9:2). Daniel listened and obeyed God's instructions. He built a house. He planted a garden for his produce. He prayed for the wicked kings of Babylon. He lived in peace. He was present at the king's palace in October 539 B.C. -- exactly 70 years after Babylon had become a world empire - when the hand of God wrote on the wall "Mene, mene, tekel upharsin." That very night God's justice was executed against the Babylonians and the Babylonian Empire came to an end. God had led His servant Cyrus, King of Persia, to divert the Euphrates River and the Persian army crawled under the great walls of Babylon on a dry river bed and took the city as their own. God's purpose for Babylon was over.

Daniel never left Persia to go back to Jerusalem, even though Cyrus allowed the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple and their city. Daniel's tomb is in Susa (Iran), the ancient capital of Persia (modern Iran). Because the Persians loved Daniel's ability to "foresee the future," they deemed him the greatest "magi" of all. The Persians revered Daniel, kept his scrolls in Persia and studied them at their universities. The magi in the east came to understand through reading Daniel's scroll (the book of Daniel), that a great King - a King above all Kings - would be born among the Jews. Five hundred years after Daniel's death, magi from the ancient Babylonian and Persian Empire lands (i.g. "magi from the east") came to Jerusalem and asked Herod:
"Where is He who is born King of the Jews" (Matthew 2:2) 
The magi eventually sought Jesus because Daniel bloomed where he was planted.

I propose that if you find yourself in a difficult situation that God seems in no hurry to  change, and you learn like the ancient Jews to "bloom where you are planted," there will come a day when those around you will come looking for your King.

That's your greater purpose.

Upside Down Church Through Inside Out Christianity

It's difficult for some believers to grasp that they are the church. Anytime I hear of Christians who are "upset with the direction of a church," or "angry with the church," or "tired of the church," I wonder if they truly understand what they're saying. They are the church, but it's rare to hear a Christian say "I'm angry with myself," or "I'm tired of myself," or "I'm upset with the direction in my life,"  etc.... Why is it that so many see "the church" as something other than themselves in union with Jesus Christ?

I think the fault lies with Christian leaders -- particularly us pastors -- who for many centuries have attempted to place churches and church ministries on par with ancient Temple and Old Covenant worship. From massive church buildings erected to inspire, to stained glass windows or elaborate decor intended to tell stories, to a "priesthood" of authoritative pastors/leaders who separate themselves from 'laity,' to injunctions to tithe into the storehouse of the church or risk being devoured by the devil, and to programs that are set in stone (unalterable and unchangeable)  like Israel's Ten Commandments, the modern church looks more like Old Testament Israel than the early followers of Christ who were radically different from the "religious."

The early Christians were known for their radical departure from dependence on a worship place, authoritarian priests, and any religious performance through ceremony, holy days or sacrifical 'offerings.'  As Adolph Safir reminds us in his brilliant work on Hebrews:
“The Greeks and the Romans were not merely astonished at, but felt irritated by the worship of the early Christians, who without image and altar, without priests and vestments, appeared to them as atheists, men and women ‘without gods’ and at times felt threated by the mysterious power Christians possessed as they rejoiced in suffering and met with calm courage the tortures of death itself” Adolph Saphir.
The crystallization of the institutional church using Jewish modes of worship is not limited to Roman Catholicism beginning in the 4th century AD. Eventually, Baptist churches and other conservative evangelical churches, though historically shouting loudly 'no creed but the Bible,' have come to ignore the New Testament teaching on the nature of the true church and have now:
(1).  Replicated Israel's hierarchy of priestly authority (calling them pastors); 
(2). Imitated Israel's emphasis on a particular type of worship at a specific place (calling it sanctuary worship); and
 (3). Perpetuated Israel's obligation to the old 'if-then' covenant with God ('if we will obey God, then God will bless us').
The freedom of a sinner to personally trust Christ and experience the power of God at work within--transforming that sinner from the inside out - is substituted for a form of behavioral control imposed by a spiritual authoritarian from without (usually a pastor) who uses Old Covenant passages of Scripture to bind believers.

The simplicity of New Covenant worship 'in spirit and in truth'  has been overwhelmed by the desires and the demands of leaders within the institutional churches. We pastors, often in an attempt to protect our jobs and salaries (or future jobs and current reputations), spiritualize everything we do, acting as if our ministries and programs are God's ministries and programs. The greatest danger I face at Emmanuel is the temptation to forget that what is done at the building on Sundays and Wednesdays is just a part--a small part--of who we are as a people. Whether it is giving, serving, or attending other places of worship, our people should have the liberty and freedom to give, serve, and attend wherever the Spirit leads.

Christ's church always leaves the building on Sundays, therefore the church should never be called the building. Whatever is done on Sundays or Wednesdays in the building should be designed to empower and encourage "the church" (you) to worship in spirit and truth every day of the week. My job is to lead people in such a manner that they cheerfully give to the Lord, joyfully serve the Lord, and willingly worship the Lord. A good pastor will always remind God's people that Christ's church extends far beyond the membership rolls of any one corporate church. If the Spirit leads someone at Emmanuel to join another corporate church, an institution that uses different methodologies and ministries to encourage "the church" to give, serve and worship - then great! We are all on the same team.  We are the church.

In addition, if the Spirit leads the people at Emmanuel to give less, attend less, and serve less, then our budget, our ministries, and our organizational mission efforts will shrink. If the Spirit leads our people to give more, attend more, and serve more, then our organizational ministries will expand. Regardless, the New Testament is quite clear that our church is not a new Temple, our pastors are not a new priesthood, and our religious activities are not prescribed by any law. God's people should give, should serve and should worship as the Spirit leads, where the Spirit leads, and as long as the Spirit leads. It is not the Law that constrains us but the Spirit who compels us. Unfortunately, many modern Baptist churches have taken promises and laws of the Old Testament and attempted to force them into the New Covenant church. The result is a dysfunctional gathering of law worshippers who are more concerned with conformity than a gathering of strong, individual believers who are empowered by the Spirit. 

I can almost hear objections from some pastors who say, "But the Word of God prescribes bringing the tithe into the storehouse! The Word of God demands that God's people 'touch not the anointed' in the church! The Word of God dictates everything we do at our church!" My response is simple: "Which portion of the Word?" The Word pertaining to Israel in the Old Covenant or the Scriptures pertaining to followers of Christ in the New Covenant? Read carefully the following verse in Hebrews 8:13:
"When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first (the old) obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear."

The book of Hebrews was written around AD 65, thirty five years after the death of Christ. The writer of Hebrews says in this verse that God’s old agreement with Israel was made obsolete by God, is growing old and will shortly be abolished (disappear). The old agreement God had with Israel is called "The Old Covenant" and it is found within the Old Testament. Old Covenant worship revolved around the Tabernacle/Temple, the priesthood, and the festivals and sacrificial rituals (collectively called "The Law" in the OT).  The Law was an "if/then" agreement where God promised to Israel His blessings "if" Israel obeyed the Law. The writer of Hebrews tells us three explicit things about this Old Covenant and the "if/then" promises of God that came with it.  (1). The Old Covenant has been made obsolete.' (2). It is 'growing old,' and (3). It will soon be abolished. This biblical truth leads us to ask three questions:

When did God’s covenant with Israel become obsolete?   In AD 30 Jesus the Anointed One died on a hill called Golgatha. The night before He was crucified He took a cup of wine and declared, "This cup is New Covenant of my blood shed for the remission of your sins." The next day, on the cross,  Jesus cried “It is finished!” Everything about the Old Covenant-- all the laws, the rituals, the sacrifices and the types--were all fulfilled in Christ. The Old Covenant had served its purpose (as a schoolmaster that points the sinner to Christ) and is now fulfilled. God made it obsolete in the death/burial/resurrection of Christ.

Just like your old television set is made obsolete by the new wave of communication called HDTV, so too, the old pattern of worship in ancient Israel was made obsolete by the new pattern of worship opened up at the cross. The veil was ripped, so the sinner has direct access to God through Christ. And the good news about this new way is that the sinner who comes to God by Christ is guaranteed that he will 'never be cut off from the goodness of God' (Hebrews 7:25). No longer is worship about Temples, priests and rituals. In the New Covenant, those who truly worship God worship Him in "spirit and truth" (John 3:23).

When did God’s covenant with Israel grow old? For forty years (a Jewish ‘generation’) after the cross, from AD 30 to AD 70, the Temple remained standing. For those forty years the early followers of Jesus Christ came to the Temple to pray, worship, and proclaim the new way to God through faith in Jesus Christ. It was on the steps of the Temple that Peter healed the lame man by saying, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I to you. In the name of Jesus Christ arise and walk." The disciples preached Christ in and around the Temple grounds, but the Old Covenant Temple way of worship was 'growing old.'

So too, when the Apostle Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he eventually came back to Jerusalem and Acts 9 says he "preached Christ boldly at the Temple." The Jews were so furious with this former Old Covenant Hebrew who now advocated the new way to approach God that they sought to have him killed,. The disciples thwarted the Jews plan for Paul by secretly escorting the Apostle out of Jersualem for his own safety. Old Covenant worship was growing old. The phrase 'growing old' must be interpreted within the context and time of the writer of Hebrews. He was living in the mid-60's AD, and for over three decades since the death of Christ, Temple worship among the Jews continued --but it was growing old and would "soon disappear" (be abolished).

When was God’s covenant with Israel abolished? In AD 70 God used the Roman army to utterly destroy the Temple. Just as Jesus prophesied forty years earlier (Matthew 24), the Romans did not leave one stone standing upon another. This destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the Old Covenant way of worship was prophesied by the prophets and Jesus for centuries. Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant they had with God, and God therefore abolished it and instituted a new covenant. Again, it is not as if there was no good purpose for the Old Covenant. If it were not for the Law (the biblical way of describing the Old Covenant), Paul would not have known sin. The Law acted as a mirror, reflecting back to the Hebrews their sinfulness and God's holiness. In addition, the Law, particularly through its festivals, rituals and symbols, portrayed a coming Anointed One (Messiah) who Himself would take away the sins of the world. When the Messiah came and fulfilled the Law, the Old Covenant was made obsolete by God, grew old in time, and was eventually abolished (disappeared) in AD 70. The Temple was gone.

The dwelling place of God in the new agreement that He has made with sinners, called the New Covenant, is the life of the individual believer. It is the life of God in the soul of man that is the true miracle of the New Covenant. The power of the Spirit of God changes the sinner from the inside/out. We are the Temple of the Living God. For this reason, any institutional church that tries to substitute itself as the old Temple, its pastors/priests as the Old priesthood, and operate by Old Testament "if/then" principles and promises, is denying the truth of the New Testament.

The New Covenant changes the way we worship God every day of our lives. The Old Covenant agreement between God and Israel was a come see religion. Come see the Temple. Come see the rituals. Come see the festivals. The New Covenant is a go tell religion. Go tell sinners of the Savior who has guaranteed the Creator’s goodness to those who trust Him. Christianity is radically spiritual, internal, personal, and trans-cultural (all people). Some of the best worship you can have is with family or a small group of believers around a camp fire at a lake, or at home around the dinner table, or at a backyard barb-e-que. Believers are the church. God dwells in us. Where we are, there He is. We don't behave one way 'at church' and another way everywhere else. We can't do this because we ARE the church. Further, since the life of God is in the invidual sinner who trusts Christ, there is no hierarchical authority in the church. Every believer is a priest unto God.
The New Covenant changes the way we apply Scriptures from the Old Testament. The “If … then” Scriptures are seen as part of God’s promises to the people of Israel. Let me give you three examples of “if/then” promises that Christian people use wrongly.

(Example 1): If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek  my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).

That is a great Old Covenant promise. Israel often failed this condition of humble repentance, and as a result, they were often taken captive by foreigners and there land was destroyed. This verse, often quoted by Christians, is not a New Covenant promise.

In the New Covenant God says that He "is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we even ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Eph. 3:20). This is the New Covenant promise. When you come to God by faith in Christ, God resides within you and has begun a work in you that He will carry to completion. Do you find yourself pulled toward addictive sins as a believer? He will eventually break you of them for your good and for His glory. The alcoholic who comes to God by faith in Christ need not worry that a relapse into drunkenness will cause the favor and goodness of God to withdraw from Him. In the old agreement he would have worried, because in the old agreement it was his obedience that ensured God's goodness, but in the New Covenant it is God's goodness to Him in Christ that ensures the sinners' eventual obedience. God is conforming, and He will continue to conform, every sinner who trusts Christ into the image of His Son. It is a guarantee dependent upon His fidelity and strength not your own.

(Example 2)If you bring the tithe … then I will rebuke the devourer for you” (Malachi 3:10).

This is an often quoted Old Covenant promise by pastors, used as an enticement (and/or threat) for the New Testament believer to give to his or her local church. This promise, given to Old Covenant Israel, is another if/then promise. The rebuke of the devourer is given IF Israel brings their tithes to the Temple. If the people of Israel do not bring their tithe to the Temple, then the devourer is free to reign and destroy their possessions.

In the New Covenant, Jesus died and in His death He “destroyed the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). In the New Covenant, the devil will seek to devour you as a 'roaring lion,' but as Bunyan so eloquently pictured in Pilgrim's Progress, the lion is chained. Naturalists also tell us that only teethless lions roar. The truth of the New Testament is quite clear. The "strong man" (Satan) who was once at peace in his home (your life) and was well armed, was disarmed and dislodged by One "stronger than he" (Jesus Christ) who has now taken up residence within you (Luke 11:21-22). As a New Covenant believer in Christ you don't give money to your local church in order for God to rebuke the devourer. Malachi 3:10 is an Old Covenant promise. The devourer is already REMOVED from your life. Jesus is now your Lord. You give as you follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The more you comprehend the work of Christ on your behalf the more you cheerfully give, the more you joyfully serve, and the more you radically worship! In other words, in the New Covenant, giving is a matter of the heart, not the Law. As the Spirit leads you to give to ministries that proclaim the good news of Christ, care for the needs of fellow man, and work hard to do kingdom work--then give!

(Example 3): If you call upon me in the day of trouble; then I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15).

Again, that is a great Old Covenant promise, but it is nowhere close to the incredible truth of the New Covenant Scriptures. In the New Covenant, God delivers His people even when they find themselves emotionally, spiritually and personally “dead in our trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). His amazing and agressive love for His people through Christ ensures that He will "never, no never, no never" (five negatives in the original) leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). It is interesting that in the first portion of Hebrews 13:5 says that we should have "the kind of character that is free from the love of money BECAUSE God will never leave us or forsake." We  do not live this way IN ORDER for  God to never leave us or forsake us. Words are important.

In the New Covenant our lives are a response to God's goodness to us in Christ. In the Old Covenant, people lived their lives in order to obtain God's goodness. If you ever find yourself being motivated to do something in order to get God to do something in return, you are living under the principles of the Old Covenant. Unfortunately, the Old Covenant, and Old Covenant churches, and Old Covenant promises will always let you down. However, the new agreement that God has with sinners will never let you down. "He is able to save to the uttermost  (i.e. a guarantee that you will never be cut off from God's goodness) those who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25). 

This post might have turned upside down your understanding of "the church." If so, I hope you might land on the realization that you are the church and the Spirit of Christ is changing you from the inside out.