Plagues, famines and pestilences are regularly mentioned in the Scriptures. Along with widespread pandemics, such as we are facing today, there is a tendency to assume that all events of mass destruction–including hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, etc.–are signs of the end of days. Keep in mind that these disasters have been around for thousands of years, and almost every generation sees these things and says the Lord must be returning soon. Yet, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). We ought not draw conclusions where Scripture does not, but we are to be ready and expectant, as this keeps us focused on Jesus and sharpens our eternal perspective (Matthew 24:42-44).
Such considerations usually lead to the age old debate as to whether the Lord allows these disasters or sends them. No matter where you stand on this issue, what is clear is that He is sovereign and we are to rest in Him (Psalm 115:3, Colossians 1:15-20, Matthew 11:28). I recently posted a video about three storms that are found in the Bible. Each storm has a different purpose and theme, some of which are clear and others, not so much. Those who are in Christ Jesus need not fear. Rather, “keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed” (Acts 27:22).
For further reading and consideration, you can download an article below from Joel Rosenberg of The Joshua Fund. His article includes a survey of instances of plague and pestilence found in the Scriptures and how we might respond today.
-pastor mikeClick here to Download the Article
I have often said, in sermons and in conversation, that the world is not getting better, but is actually getting worse. This sometimes meets with pushback from people who see the accomplishments of recent decades as evidence of our great progress. They have a good point, and here is why.
They remind me that we are living longer, and that the latest surgical procedures and medical advances are keeping people alive who otherwise would have died. We have access to knowledge and education like never before. We can FaceTime with friends across the globe. We can go online and check out medical issues that, in times past, might have taken weeks or even years to diagnose. Compare that to people in Rome in the first century, who were exposed to horrible conditions and disease. Ancient Babylon was even worse. Certain advances in medicine and technology have changed our lives for the better.
I totally agree with all of the above, and I could add a lot more to the list.
But at this point, I want to make myself very, very clear. The examples we’ve mentioned, which could be magnified many times over, are what I will call the apples. Apples are the good things, the discoveries and inventions that have bettered our world.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have what we can refer to as the oranges—these would be the addictions, insomnia, diseases, suicide, depression, bankruptcy, divorce, child abuse, sexual abuse, eating disorders, binge drinking, hate, gluttony, and a host of other maladies that are on an exponential rise and plague the world. Many, many people are drowning in troubles that we never anticipated in our pursuit of progress. And there is no sign that those troubles are slowing down.
So in contrast to apples, the oranges are those hurtful, evil things in the world that continue on, despite our growth in areas of technology, medicine and education.
Much confusion comes when we mix the apples and the oranges. So the question remains: Is the world getting better or worse? The answer depends on how you weigh the data. It may seem like there are more apples than oranges, or that at least the apples and the oranges cancel each other out. But let’s zoom in and take a closer look at the issue by turning to the Scriptures, our only source of authority. We will look at two passages that, I believe, need no special interpretation. Read carefully what Jesus says in the following text:
What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. (Mark 7:20-23)
Note that Jesus is not singling out some wicked individual. He is talking about you and me. He is revealing that all people have the disease of sin in their hearts, and He gives no indication that this malady will improve with time and progress.
Let’s take a look at another verse. This is from the apostle Paul.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
What I want us to see here is that all of these evil bents have been with humanity since Adam and Eve sinned. Yet Paul is quite clear that they will only increase over time, growing worse and worse until the time the Lord returns. We could go through each issue at length, but I have selected just three.
Lovers of themselves: People have always been narcissistic and focused on themselves. But today we have a magazine called Self, we take selfies, read self-help books, we practice self-love and self-care to improve our self-esteem. Paul could not have imagined our technological advances, but he knew that people would always be looking to take advantage of any advancement that promotes “Me.”
Lovers of money: Man has always had an affair with money, but the ability to gain it, leverage it, lend it, borrow it, and invest it is well beyond what anyone thought possible in the first century. Yet an affair with money is still an illegitimate affair. Love of money has led to divorce, excess, neglect of the family, and a myriad of other problems—many of which can be found in Jesus’ list in Mark 7:20-23.
Disobedient to parents: This is not a new problem either, of course, but the epidemic of rebellion seems far greater than before. I have been able to see it in my own lifetime. The biggest problems in the public school system in the late 50s and early 60s were pulling girls’ hair, running in the halls, and smoking out back. These are not the problems of today. An avalanche of depression, sexting, teen pregnancy, drugs and other R-rated issues now fill the principal’s inbox on a daily basis. And in television, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and The Andy Griffith Show used to have one thing in common: a father who led the home with integrity and was respected by his children. But today technology has made it possible for children to watch endless hours of shows that paint the parents as buffoons and the children as the real authorities in charge. Video games, movies, books and other avenues that promote this skewed dynamic have captured the hearts and minds of our youth.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the list that Paul gives us is that he never should have made such a prophetic statement. Anyone living at the time would have known that man is intelligent and will one day conquer all these problems. With all of our advancements in knowledge, education, technology, and medicine, such a dire prediction of the last days is absurd. All of our apples should reduce the friction Paul predicted would happen. But Paul was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to write what he wrote, and he makes it clear that the oranges remain. So who is right; those who have predicted utopia? Or Paul, who predicted perilous times?
If you’re talking only about the apples, then all is well! But if you consider the oranges, the prospects look pretty bleak. Living longer, being safer, having air conditioning, and getting laser surgery to give you 20/20 vision are not the real issues at hand. The real issue is the human heart. It has always been “evil from its youth” (Genesis 8:21), but now it has more opportunity, largely through technology, to pursue or express that evil for longer periods of time. Paul may have never known about computers, but his list of sins in 2 Timothy 3 was his way of predicting that evil would go viral.
So I hope this is clear. I thank God for the good gifts he has given mankind that have helped us navigate the deep waters of physical pain and make life more tolerable. If Heaven were gained by good works, then the man who invented novocaine would be the first to enter. I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to communicate with people around the world. I’m amazed at the unprecedented access to knowledge we have in these current days. These are good apples for which I am grateful. However, the bad oranges that plague the whole world are produced daily by hearts that have not been redeemed, and sometimes, even by hearts that have. This is why we, as believers, are not to get attached to this world. Because of sin, this world is in darkness and decay. Pile on as many apples as you want – those rotten oranges remain. Does that mean we shouldn’t try to produce as many apples as we can? By no means! We as believers are here to bring light to show the way out of the darkness and to be salt to impede the decay. But let’s be clear about where our hope lies. No amount of education, medicine, or technological advancement can cure the wickedness of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). As great as those advancements are, they only deal with the symptoms of our plight, not the root cause. If Jesus is correct, the real issue is that evil rises up from within. We see the external effects of evil, but evil is not primarily an external issue. Evil is a heart issue. And while apples may fill the belly, they can never redeem the heart.
The point of all of this is not to doom-and-gloom you into depression. It’s to help us see that the bad news is really bad, so that we can remember that the Good News is really good. The world is getting worse, and no amount of medical, intellectual, or technological advancement can stem the tide. If evil comes from inside a person, as Jesus claims, then we are the problem. And as I have said many times, when the problem tries to solve the problem—well, that’s a problem. The world is helplessly broken and cannot fix itself.
But ultimately, we are not called to put our confidence in the apples, nor to despair over the oranges, but rather to rest in the finished work of Christ. In Him, we can have hope and joy no matter what is happening in the world around us. For those who believe in Him, the One who is “making everything new” (Revelation 21:5), the world will be better someday, and for all eternity.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
For those of you unfamiliar with the world of theology, allow me to introduce you to the greatest theological mind in the last century – Dr. R.C. Sproul. In a culture awash with theological liberalism, Dr. Sproul has been one of the greatest defenders of the faith in our lifetime.
On December 14, he went home to meet the Savior he has faithfully preached about for the last fifty years of his life. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” were no doubt the first words he heard upon entering his eternal home and walking into the presence of his Lord.
God gifted Dr. Sproul with a mind that was far beyond that of the greatest of scholars. A scholar himself in numerous fields, he was a superb philosopher, an accomplished linguist, a master logician and a theologian beyond compare. What he casually knew about various disciplines often exceeded the knowledge of scholars dedicated to those fields. To challenge R.C. to a debate was to face sure defeat even before the first words were spoken. His mind was a true gift from God and a true gift to Christianity – a gift well-stewarded in advancing the Kingdom.
When Dr. R.C. Sproul left this world, I am quite certain 90% of its intelligence left with him. But our great loss is overshadowed by his great legacy. May God bless Dr. Spoul’s legacy, and may it continue to bear gospel fruit for generations to come.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. -Philippians 1:21
After the devastation left by several hurricanes this year, Reston Bible Church engaged in relief efforts in Texas and Puerto Rico, providing manpower and supplies. Here’s a brief update from two trips. If you’re interested in future relief trips, please contact Dale Peak.
Wilfredo and Glorimar Corps are long-time RBCers originally from the town of Aibonito, in the center of Puerto Rico.
As most of us are aware, Puerto Rico as recently been devastated by two hurricanes. When they visited Aibonito a week ago, Wilfredo and Glorimar were dismayed to discover both the extent of the damage and that much of the aid sent to Puerto Rico has not reached inland, where their town in located. Many families there are hurting, as well as a large senior assisted-living facility that is unable to provide three meals a day to its residents.
Twenty-two years ago, Wilfredo and Glorimar planted Primera Iglesia Bautista de Aibonito (First Baptist Church of Aibonito) in their garage. The church continued to grow even after the Corps left Puerto Rico for the mainland United States. Today, we have the opportunity to partner with this church to bring much-needed aid and supplies to the people there. The church has procured a waiver from the Puerto Rican government that will allow us to send a large amount of supplies and aid without import taxes. Wilfredo and Glorimar will be on-hand in Puerto Rico to receive our shipment of donated items, transport them to Aibonito and deliver them personally to people in need.
On Sunday, October 22, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., we will have a truck parked in front of the main building on the traffic circle where you can drop off aid and supply items you see on the list below. The goal of this project is to provide some basic necessities to sustain the people of Aibonito for the next 30-90 days, the estimated time frame until power and basic utilities will be restored to the town.
Here is a list of what we need:
- Power generators
- Extension cords
- Personal water filtration systems
- Drinking water
- Lamps (solar- and battery-powered)
- Non-perishable food items (canned food or items that don’t need refrigeration and can last 60-90 days)
- Powdered milk
- Baby formula
- Baby diapers
- Batteries size D, AA, and AAA
- Battery-operated fans
- Mosquito nets
- Mosquito repellent
- Solar-powered chargers (for phones and other electronics)
- Adult diapers
- Tarps (any size, the bigger the better)
- Power inverters
- Bed sheets (all sizes)
- Over-the-counter medication (Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, etc.)
- Clothing (not heavy or winter as PR is tropical year around)
- Personal hygiene items
Feel free to donate any of the items above in bulk as we are planning on a large container in which to ship them.
Finally, if you order anything from Amazon, please consider using smile.amazon.com, where you’ll find the exact same shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to RBC’s Benevolent Fund. You use the same account on Amazon.com and AmazonSmile, so your shopping cart, Wish List, wedding or baby registry, and other account settings are the same. On your first visit to AmazonSmile, simply select Reston Bible Church as your charitable organization. The website will remember your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make from then on will result in a donation.
We are looking forward to seeing how God will use the people of RBC to share Christ’s love with recent victims of natural disasters, first in Texas and now in Puerto Rico. Thank you for your willingness to help so many hurting people.
We are thankful for many who seek justice and love mercy. Over the past year, we have been able to contribute to both of these organizations because of your generosity.
An opportunity has arisen to show the love of Christ to Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas.
Christian Fellowship Church and RBC are teaming up with Samaritan’s Purse to sponsor a trip to the Corpus Christi area (one of the hardest hit) on November 5-11. Samaritan’s Purse is providing meals, lodging and tools — all you need do is get there. We estimate the cost to be $475 per person, which includes airfare and ground transportation while there. We have reserved a block of 15 plane tickets that must be purchased by Wednesday, October 4, on a first-come, first-served basis. The tickets are non-refundable, and background checks are required. If you have other questions about this work trip, please contact Dale Peak at email@example.com.
Participants must be 18 years of age to register. Participants 17 and under would only be allowed to participate if a parent or guardian was participating in the trip as well. Registrations will be on a first-come, first-served basis and space is very limited. Once registered, a link will be sent to each registrant to fill out the paperwork required by Samaritan’s Purse. You would not be considered officially registered until all paperwork is filled out completely. Please note that this is very appropriate, high-energy / low-skill work during the first phase of disaster response.
From Samaritan’s Purse
Thank you for partnering with Samaritan’s Purse as we minister to families whose homes were damaged during Hurricane Harvey. Far beyond the physical help you will extend to the homeowners, the spiritual and emotional support you offer to them is even more important. We hope your volunteer experience is rewarding and life-changing. Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 mph. Harvey remained a powerful storm and has brought torrential rain to Texas in the days that followed. Our response to this storm includes debris removal, roof tarping and mudouts.
Please pray for the hope of Christ to reach theses devastated regions.
For those of you who have been here 10 years or longer, you probably remember our extensive involvement with disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina (sending a dozen work teams and a truckload of food and other supplies). At the moment, we ask that you pray, pray, pray for the victims and for an effective response that demonstrates God’s grace and love. Disasters like this often provide many opportunities for people to talk about Jesus Christ because of their joyful endurance, hopeful spirit, and works of love.
Here’s where we currently stand. As we did with Katrina, we are waiting until things settle down somewhat to determine our course of action. We certainly do not want to be in the way of early response teams, FEMA, etc. as they continue to rescue people and sort out needs. We also must find a church or churches in the area to partner with. We have learned from experience that this is the most effective way to extend our help from so far away. When it is safe for us to enter affected areas, we may once again send work crews to help clean up and repair. However, we need to wait until the danger has passed so as not to complicate the ongoing rescue operations. For example, many churches there are currently overwhelmed by acting as temporary shelters housing evacuees. They cannot accommodate work teams right now. Some hotels are reporting 10 or more people per room with little more than the clothes on their backs. So, as hard as it is, we must wait patiently for the right moment to be the most effective – remember, we sent our first team to Katrina (I was part of that team) six weeks after the storm.
If you feel led to do something now, there are options for you. If you want to go or give, we recommend contacting one or more of the following:
- Samaritan’s Purse is currently on the scene assessing the damage. We have teamed with this organization in the past and have been richly blessed by it.
- The American Red Cross is taking donations to help victims and asking people to donate much-needed blood at local drives.
- World Vision is assembling Family Food Kits.
- SPCA is helping families connect with lost pets.
Finally, if you have family members who have been severely affected by Harvey in the greater Houston area, or by Irma in Florida, please let us know. If and when we do send teams, we would love to start by rebuilding homes of your loved ones.
Please address your immediate questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and continue to pray for Houston and Florida!
This post has been updated in response to the impact of Hurricane Irma in Florida.
Many weeks ago, we made an announcement that Dr. John Brewer and been recommended for termination as principal of Dominion High School. By now, many of you know that the Loudoun County School Board concluded their discussions last Monday and voted 6-3 to reinstate John as principal beginning April 17.
On behalf of John, his wife Rachel and their daughters, they wanted us to pass on their deepest gratitude for the outpouring of support and prayers you showed them during the time of uncertainty. The LORD Jesus answered our prayers by having the School Board reinstate John as principal, and so we rejoice with the entire Dominion community that he will be back serving there soon.
While we care about John returning to his position as principal, we care even more for the reputation of his character when it is maligned. The incomplete facts found in newspapers, web sites and uttered elsewhere is partially due to not having access to all the facts. So much of what has been written and said could easily leave people suspicious of John’s basic character and integrity on a number of fronts.
A few things to bring to your attention: Several weeks ago, an independent hearing officer chosen by the Loudoun County School System heard two days of testimony from the Superintendent, school attorney, John and his attorney. The testimony centered on eight specific charges on why John should be terminated as principal. The hearing officer concluded that none of the specific eight charges – considered either individually or collectively – warranted termination. In summary, the hearing officer ruled 8-0 in favor of John as it pertains to termination. Nevertheless, the hearing officer did recommend some form of probation.
In order to place John on any form of probation, legal technicalities required that his current contract first be terminated so a new contract with terms of probation could be offered. That is the reason the board first voted 9-0 to terminate John. The first vote was not to agree with the Superintendent’s recommendation to terminate, but to satisfy legal requirements regarding his current contract. If this technical procedure had not been required, then the School Board would have voted once with six members voting to reinstate John and three voting to terminate him.
John acknowledges that there are some process and procedural matters that he should be more cognizant and alert to. Keep in mind that in his many years in the Loudoun County School System, there is no pattern of problems, even in those areas that he will be more attentive to. Furthermore, he has never ignored or treated lightly any allegations of misconduct by any teacher or student, and he has never coerced or manipulated any student to ever attend Reston Bible Church. It is also noteworthy that the teacher who was the catalyst for all this applied to multiple school systems around the country including the one in Florida. Each of them, except Florida, contacted either LCPS or John to further inquire why the band teacher abruptly resigned. After hearing a fuller explanation, all of them declined to extend an offer. Again, only the school system in Florida did not perform the due diligence all the other school systems did.
This does not constitute our full opinion on this saga or address other important issues, but we hope as you think of John and Rachel in the future please continue to pray for them, the Dominion High School community and everyone involved in LCPS administration according to each one’s need. John and Rachel have been an excellent example of the admonishment in 1 Peter 2:12-23, which we hope you’ll take some time to read.
This month, we have the opportunity to reflect on the sanctity of human life.
And that is certainly a topic worthy of reflection. Such a phrase represents far more than just a political issue or a cultural debate. Rather, it is a reminder of the value placed on us by God Himself.
All life is miraculous and amazing, a dazzling display of the Creator’s intricate design and handiwork. But human life is uniquely precious, significant, and sacred. How do we know that? Because Scripture, from beginning to end, reveals the profound esteem given to Adam’s descendants.
Human life is sacred because it is made in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Human life is sacred because it is elevated above the rest of creation. “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).
Human life is sacred because God takes special care to craft each one. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14).
Human life is sacred because it is eternal. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
Human life is sacred because Christ was willing to pay an inexpressible cost to redeem it. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Human life is sacred because all of heaven celebrates when a sinner repents. “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
Human life is sacred because it is made for God’s glory. “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:7).
Human life is sacred because God loves it beyond measure. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
A question that may be at the forefront of our minds this month is: When does life become precious, sacred, and valuable? Is it when we’re holding a crying newborn at the hospital? Right before birth? When we see little arms and legs moving on an ultrasound? When we hear the first heartbeats? At the moment of conception?
Or maybe long before? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
Science may be able to speculate about when life “begins,” but only the Creator of life can assign it true worth. And He has assigned it immense worth. Incomprehensible worth.
So this month, and every month, we reflect on life. We marvel at life. And much more so, we marvel at the One who formed us.
Here are some post-election considerations from Pastor Mike as we interact on social media. As you interact with those around you – even (or especially) those with whom you disagree – consider how you might live out these these words from Colossians 3.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.