Monday, September 18, 2017

What We Call Exposure God Calls Freedom

The Bible makes the point that the fear of man is a snare. In other words our fear, or if you prefer our concern, over what others think about us can end up entrapping us.

In the case of trying to deal effectively with and defeat our sin addictions, or if you prefer--sin struggles or besetting sins, our fear of what others think about us will entrap us in our shame to the point that we will not pursue the only real and lasting means of freedom there is, which is confession or what we often think of as self-exposure.

No one and I mean no one wants to be exposed for who they really know themselves to be and what they know themselves to have done or be doing. In fact, if I were a betting man, I would be quite confident wagering a couple month’s salary that one of the biggest fears most Christians have is the fear of exposure.  Most of us are deathly afraid of having our past as well as our present hidden thoughts, motives, attitudes, actions, words, and especially our besetting sins made public for anyone and everyone to see. And if you don’t think we’re all that concerned about what others think about us—what’s the first thing we do when we find out someone has hacked our Facebook account and posted something morally questionable or ridiculously stupid in our name? Well, obviously, we get rid of the post ASAP and then make sure we get the point across several times that “it wasn’t us” never-minding the fact that if the truth really be known--what was posted was fairly mild compared to what we know to be true about ourselves.

All of us, myself included, are very much concerned with how others perceive us, actually see us, or know about us and especially our failures. We don’t want others, especially our peers, to think less of the image we are working tirelessly to project of ourselves. The problem with all this however, is that we are projecting an image of ourselves that is not real thus forcing us to live and perpetuate a lie all because we value the opinion of others more than we do the truth and the only opinion which really matters—God’s. This devaluation of God and over-evaluation of man leads us to run from the one thing that can free us from this trap of shame that keeps us from experiencing eventual freedom from our sin issues and greater intimacy with God. That one thing is exposure in which, we expose ourselves before God and man for who we really are—sinners, what we are really struggling with—sin, and what we really need forgiveness for—our sin.

The Bible puts it this way in Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses [exposure] and forsakes [repentance] them will find compassion.” In other words, what we call exposure God calls freedom.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why Is There A Picture of A Coast Guard Boat On My Blog?

That's a good question.  The fact is, I served in the U.S. Coast Guard for a few years back in the day.  I started in Kodiak, Alaska and then was transferred to a rescue station on Lake Michigan where I was a small boat coxswain on a 41' rescue boat.  In the Coast Guard, the coxswain is the person in charge of the boat, its crew, and how the mission is to be carried out.  So, basically my job was to ensure our boat and crew were ready at all times to assist and rescue those who were in danger of perishing.  It was also my job to make sure my crew didn't get sidetracked and lose sight of our mission.  The mission, not us or our concerns, was the priority every time we went out.    

So, in part, my affection for the Coast Guard is one reason for using such a picture.  But, its not the only reason.  You see, the Coast Guard's mission is to rescue people who are in trouble and in danger of peril.  As I see it, that's the church's mission too.  We are to be involved in rescuing the perishing.  And this picture reminds me of that so that when I find myself immersed in all the nitty gritty of church life especially the administrative details, the inevitable internal conflict that comes when sinners rub shoulders, and yes, the good stuff too, I don't forget that first and foremost we're a rescue outfit.  We are tasked with the mission of rescuing, with the gospel, those who are perishing.  And we do it all for the glory of God and the eternal joy of those people who will believe the gospel and be rescued.


Our Eternal Weight of Glory Will Blow You Away

What if I were to tell those of you who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ that your greatest occupational duty or job, if you will--the one that will be the most rewarding, most fun, most adventuresome, most interesting, most exciting, and really thrilling with absolutely no negative downside whatsoever—is being prepared for you right now, even as I speak?  And what if I were to tell you that you are being prepared for this job, this really awesome responsibility and in fact great occupation through your suffering, trials, afflictions, loneliness, heartaches, pain, grief, sin battles, and even your failures?  Would you believe me?

Well—believe it or not this is what the Bible teaches in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 where the apostle Paul makes the point that God is using our afflictions, pain, and suffering to produce for us an eternal weight of glory. Essentially, what Paul is pointing out is that . . . .as believers, the secret to not losing heart and becoming discouraged with our troubles, afflictions, heartaches, failures, suffering, pain, grief, and yes, even our sin--is knowing that God is using these very things to not only prepare us for Heaven but specifically to be able to enjoy heaven to the hilt. And it is this enjoyment of heaven that Paul refers to as an eternal weight of glory.

We don’t use the word “weighty” very much anymore but back when we did it had the idea of something important which had a certain heaviness to it in the sense of a weighty responsibility, a hefty obligation, an important duty, and even an all-consuming occupation.  So what Paul is saying is that through our afflictions God is preparing us for some kind of weighty responsibility and full-time all-consuming occupation, if you will.  And then he qualifies this eternal weight by describing it as having something to do with "glory”.

The word “glory” from which we get “glorious” is referring to that which is full of splendor, beauty, brilliance, grandeur, magnificence, and wonder so as to be fully marveled at and enjoyed with intensity.  It is what Jesus can’t wait for us to see, experience, and enjoy in John 17:24.

"Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."

And if our enjoying His glory is what Jesus is looking forward to then it must be big.  To see and enjoy God’s glorious presence and His glory in all that He has prepared for us in Heaven will be the adventure, pleasure, and purposeful occupation of an eternal lifetime.  Here's a dismal illustration in comparison to what Jesus wants for us but it at least gets you thinking along His line of thinking.  Can you imagine getting a job at Disney World and the boss tells you the only thing you have to do—your primary responsibility—you’re duty and the very  reason you get up every morning is to come here and enjoy me and everything that is in this park to the best of your ability.  That is what I am paying you for.

And what the Bible wants us to see is that God is using our afflictions, our trials, our suffering, and yes—even our pain to refocus our spiritual eyes, senses, and perceptions on what is real, valuable, and eternal as opposed to what is transitory, fleeting, inferior, and really nothing more than fruitless joys in comparison.  That is what He means in 2 Corinthians 4:18 when He tells us that what we can see, perceive, and comprehend on this earth and in this life are temporary but what we can’t see and comprehend yet, because it is simply beyond our ability to see, perceive, comprehend, and let me add—enjoy yet—is eternal.

So, our momentary light afflictions of living life in a sin-ridden, sin-loving, sin-sick, sin-afflicted, ever dying and suffering world as people who are afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down is preparing us for heaven so that we can fully enjoy it.  Our afflictions are producing within us a taste and a desire for something far superior and far more enjoyable than anything we have ever known or imagined. And this enjoyment of heaven is described as an eternal weight of glory because it will not be a half-hearted, temporary, fleeting, momentarily enjoyable diversion from pain or an interruption of life’s routine boredom.  

In essence, what God is doing in all of our pain and afflictions is rewiring us for glory.  Because in Heaven that is what life is all about—enjoying the intense, unending, ever-increasing, tangible, actual, palpable, rapturous, and real pleasure of God's glory which will unrelentingly capture your full attention and appetite—once God has rewired you to be able to take it all in.

Friday, April 28, 2017

You're Either Taking Ground Or In Retreat

One of the things I have learned over the years both from Scripture as well as my own personal experience is that no matter how mature in Christ, how passionate about the gospel, how effective in ministry, and even how greatly we have sacrificed for the Faith all of us are still very much prone to wander from the Lord and life we love.  And it doesn't take much to get us wandering.  For many of us its not as much an intentional wandering as much as it is caused by the unintentional neglect of spiritual priorities.  

One of the vivid examples the Bible gives us of such neglect is found in the Book of Nehemiah.  In this autobiographical report, Nehemiah gives us a “play by play” analysis of everything that took place when he traveled from the Persian city of Susa to Jerusalem to lead in the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem as well as lead the people in a spiritual revival.  The climax of this revival is seen in chapters 8-9 where the people, upon hearing the Word of God, read and taught, respond by confessing and repenting of their sins.   Then in chapter 10, they signed a covenant in which they promised to obey and honor the Lord from here on out.  

What a tremendous response to the preaching of the Word of God.  I’m sure Nehemiah was ecstatic.  What preacher wouldn’t be thrilled to have a whole nation respond to the Word of God in such powerful expressions of love and loyalty to the Lord?  

Well after his twelve year success in leading in this great work for God among his people, Nehemiah needed to return to his day job as the cupbearer to King Artexerxes back in Persia.  In preparation, he did what any good leader would do under the same circumstances and made sure his leadership would be carried on by qualified men.  Once theses arrangements were made, he then left to resume his service to the king.

Now, fast forward twenty some years and Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem, only to find that in the approximately two decades that he had been gone, the people had drifted back to the way they were before he had come the first time.  I’m sure he was shocked to hear about and actually see for himself that the mountaintop experience of twenty years ago had become a distant memory in the people’s minds and hearts.  And I’m certain that he must have been greatly saddened to find that the people’s zeal for God’s praise and glory, twenty years ago, was no longer a driving force in their lives.

Nehemiah 13, is the record of how quickly and gradually God’s people can move from a spiritual high to spiritual decline.  Its a good reminder to all of us that even in our strongest and most vital of moments with God, we are still very “prone to wander from the God we love”.  

It appears, from reading chapter 13, that the people began their departure from Nehemiah’s reforms in very small and seemingly insignificant steps that amounted to not giving full attention to all of God’s Law.  A careless attitude toward the Temple (13:4-9), a failure to take seriously the corporate worship of God (13:10-14), a disregard for the Lord’s Day (13:15-21), a nonchalant attitude on the part of the spiritual leaders toward their responsibilities (13:22), utter disregard for God's standards on marriage (13:23-27), and leaders who followed rather than led the people (13:28-30).

Spiritual and Biblical reform is always an ongoing experience.  If not, it, very quickly, becomes “dis-reform”, which more often than not leads you and I back to square one in our walk with the Lord.  Whatever progress you have made in Christ, whatever growth and maturity you are enjoying, however far you have come spiritually—don’t forget—until Heaven, when sin is completely removed, your heart is still prone to wander from the God you love.  Therefore, as Proverbs 4:23 commands:  “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Repentance Is The Means To Happiness

Repentance is not an end in itself but rather a means to a fuller, richer, and greater enjoyment of God.  To the degree that we are willing to repent of our sin-to that degree and that degree only are we able to experience and enjoy God's fellowship.  If unwilling to repent of sin as unbelievers we lose any hope at all for a positive relationship with God.  If unwilling to repent of sin as believers, we, while still possessing a relationship with the Lord, forfeit fellowship with Him and any enjoyment in this relationship.  On the other hand, if willing to repent of our sin completely, we gain complete fellowship with God.  If our repentance is somewhere in between so is our experience of fellowship with and enjoyment of God.

According to the Bible, we cannot love the world and God at the same time (1 John 2:15).  It is simply impossible for a person to love such diametrically opposed entities as God and the world at the same time.  However, this is not what most of us try to do.  We usually do not find ourselves completely at one end of this spectrum--loving only God or loving only the world.  But, in all honesty, we do often find ourselves somewhere in between don't we?!  And to the degree that we love the world or our sinful fleshly desires we do not love God.  Our love for God and our experience of God's love for us correspond to our love for the world and our sin.  If our love for the world increases due to sin then our love for the Father and our experience of His love decreases.  If, on the other hand, our love for the world decreases through repentance of sin then our love for God and our experience of His love increases.  Thus, is the value of repentance.  Our repentance then is not an end but rather a means to the end of loving God and experiencing and enjoying Gods love for us in a greater and much more intimate way.

Therefore, God's commands to us to repent of our sins and turn to Him are commands for us to leave our inferior pleasures behind so as to find superior joy, happiness, and fulfillment in pursuing God and His pleasures.  Repentance then, rather than being a "kill-joy", becomes the portal through which we find true joy.  God is not commanding us to stop sinning to deny us but to delight us.  He is calling everyone everywhere to repent and turn to Him (Acts 17:30) in order to let them drink from the fountain of all true and lasting pleasure.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Going Deep! Why Does The Bible Call Jesus "God's Only Begotten Son"?

Ever wonder why the Bible calls Jesus "the only begotten Son" in John 3:16?  Jonathan Edwards, the American pastor-theologian of the 18th century and the guy who is better known for his sermon entitled, "Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God" has a robust take on that question which I want to try and accurately summarize here.  If you'd rather go straight to the horse's mouth, so to speak, just get yourself a copy of Edwards' unpublished essay on The Trinity. You might want to pick up a dictionary specializing in 18th century terms and prose while you're at it.  If you don't have the time to pick those up you can take your chances with my summary.

First things first though--Edwards understood that the word "begotten" was not being used to speak about the Son of God as having a point of beginning, origin, or birth.  Rather, the word was used, especially in John's writings, to communicate the idea of the Son of God existing as a "unique and one of a kind" type of Being completely equal to and always existing alongside the Father as a separate person from the Father (Jn. 1:14, 18; 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:9).  So, how is it then, if the Father and the Son are two separate co-equal and co-eternal divine Persons that the Father is the "begetter" and the Son is the "begotten"?  What does the Bible mean when it states that the Son is begotten of the Father?

Essentially, Edwards makes the point that because God is unlimited in His knowledge He knows everything perfectly and comprehensively about everything and everyone including Himself.  Now, knowing everything there is to know about me may not seem like a big deal but God knows everything there is to know about everyone without exception.  And if that still doesn't impress you, try this on for size--God knows Himself and everything there is to know about Himself as an Infinite Being with a perfect, full, and totally comprehensive knowledge.  In other words, God, Who is, by virtue of His being Infinite, unknowable, knows fully and comprehensively everything there is to know about Himself.  That is impressive!

Edwards explains that God has always had perfect and totally comprehensive knowledge of Himself.  Therefore, God's perfect knowledge of Himself is as eternal as He is.  Furthermore, because God's knowledge of Himself is absolutely perfect in every detail His knowledge of Himself is really nothing less than a perfect reduplication of Himself.  It could not be otherwise.  If God's knowledge of Himself is absolutely perfect, all-encompassing, and fully comprehensive then for it to be all those things it would have to be more than a mere picture, thought, reflection, or idea--it would have to be a real person just like Him.   For how could God have a perfect knowledge of Himself and it not be exactly the same as Him?!  And if it is the same as Him it must be another person just like Him in every way completely equal to Him and as eternal as he is.  It  would have to be the One we call Jesus.  (2 Cor. 4:4, 6; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15, 19; 2:9;  Heb. 1:3)

Edwards put it this way:

". . . that idea which God has of Himself is absolutely Himself.  This representation of the Divine nature and essence is the Divine nature and essence again: so that by God's thinking . . . there is another Person begotten, there is another Infinite Eternal Almighty and Most Holy and the same God, the very same Divine nature.  And this Person is the second Person in the Trinity, the only Begotten and dearly Beloved Son of God; He is the eternal, necessary, perfect, substantial and personal idea which God hath of Himself."

This, then in very simplified terms is Edwards answer to how Jesus Christ can be co-eternal and co-equal with the Father so as to have never begun yet still be begotten.    

Monday, April 10, 2017

Another Day--Another Chance To Say "No"

I like to remind myself, from time to time, that every day I wake up and find myself conscious and breathing is another day to fight sin in my life so as to make much of Jesus by my life.  I don't know about you, but, it seems to me that I am fighting some sin issue or another in my life every day.  
And the fact is, some days are better than others.  That's a positive way of saying that some days are worse than others.  Regardless, however, of how the previous day's battles went I can always count on another day and another battle as long as I am still this side of glory.

When I was a younger believer this was not a comforting thought or proposition.  Much of my time in prayer used to be asking God to take away the battles, to remove the temptations, and to make me invincible to falling.  Now, there is a sense in which I am thankful for the battles because they not only serve to remind me God has not taken me off the battlefield, they are also my opportunities every day to express in a very real and tangible way my loyalty to my King.

Someday, when this life is over and real life begins there will be no more personal battles with sin for me and what a glorious day that will be.  However, on the other hand, I will never ever have the opportunity, out of love for and loyalty to my Savior, to say "No" to temptation again either.  So, now I don't ask God to remove temptation or my sin issues from me.  I ask for His help to prefer Him over them and thank Him for giving me another day to fight--another day to say "No".

Sunday, April 9, 2017

What Is Your Church Known For and Driven By?

Churches are known for and driven by all kinds of things.  Many are known for their tradition and have as their motto: We’ve never done it this way before.”  Some churches are finance-driven and the only thing the membership wants to know before making a decision is "How much will it cost and can we afford it?"  Others are numbers-driven, having as their bottom line--a bigger budget, a bigger building, and a growing membership roll.  Others still, are known for a certain theological perspective such as being reformed or non-reformed, charismatic or non-charismatic, seeker-driven or non seeker driven, contemporary/blended worship or traditional, etc. Finally, there are churches known for and driven by programs, activities, ministry, personality, social causes, and a plethora of other possibilities.

So, what is your church known for and apparently driven by?  

Personally, I think that whereas its not a bad thing for  churches to be known for what they believe and stand for or against they should, by all means, strive to be grace-driven and here are some reasons why.  First, grace-driven churches are driven by God’s saving grace-in forgiving sinners-to preach the gospel.  Second, they are driven by God’s sanctifying grace-that grows believers in grace-to preach the Word of grace to one another as well as to deal with each other in grace, correcting one-another in grace, accepting one another as Jesus accepted them freely, unconditionally, and over and over again.  Third, they are driven by God's extravagant grace-in which He gave His own Son Whom He loved to save sinners whom did not love Him-to take serious risks, expend great energy, significant resources, and exhaustive creativity in communicating and demonstrating the Gospel of grace to unbelievers both nearby and far away.  

God is grace-driven.  His plan of salvation, His desire to redeem, and His move to crush His own Son (Is. 53:10) so as to save us were all grace-driven acts.  But, while grace-driven, these acts were not simply carried out to make much of us and our need.  No, God’s grace-driveness is not about making much of us which is often what many  a church's "pet" distinctions and preferences are driven by.  God's grace-drivenness is not an end in and of itself just as we are not an end in and of ourselves.  To think that would be to terribly misunderstand and pervert God's grace, which is a means to a much greater end.  That end is God’s glory. God is grace-driven because God is passionate about His own glory.  He justifies for His glory.  He forgives for His glory.  He redeems for His glory.  He saves for His glory and He keeps us saved for His glory.  God’s grace-driveness is first, foremost, and fundamentally about and for His glory.

And this ultimately is for our good in that whereas, God's grace saved us-God's glory satisfies us.  You see, God's grace is the means by which we are able to see, enjoy, revel in, and forever be amazed by the glory of God.  This is what Jesus wants for us.  That's why He asked His Father in John 17:24 that we who have been given to Him by the Father be with Him so that we may see His glory and be forever satisfied.  Grace is the means to glory!

And thus, if any church really desires to glorify God as well as to enjoy and be amazed by God and His glory—she absolutely must be, among other things, grace-driven! 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Sanctification And The Gonzaga-North Carolina Game

Last night we watched the NCAA basketball championship game between Gonzaga and North Carolina.  In all honesty, it wasn't a very good basketball game.  Even North Carolina coach Roy Williams thought so, calling it "an ugly game".  Both teams were sluggish, stiff, ungraceful, and just seemed out of sync.  The referees were't much of a help either blowing their whistles so often they, rather than the teams playing, controlled the pace of the game.  But, interspersed among all the missed shots, missed opportunities, fouls, turnovers, and some really poor performances by all involved there were some really great moments that brought the crowd to its feet too.

Probably, more than anything, what impressed me about this particular game was the fact that the players, in spite of how bad and how ugly their game looked, didn't walk off the court and quit until the final buzzer sounded.  They kept running the plays, as sluggish and sloppy as they were, totally committed to finishing.  At the final buzzer two exhausted teams left the court.  Both had persevered to the end.  Their performances were anything but stellar but they finished and in the end this is what registered with me.  Real basketball teams....real basketball players play all the way to the buzzer no matter how well or poorly they are playing.  That's just what they do!

All-in-all, the game reminded me of what sanctification--at least mine looks like.  Simply put, sanctification is the theological term we use when talking about the process every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ goes through in this life, after salvation, of becoming more and more like Christ.  This process of sanctification or growing in Christ entails fighting and saying no to personal sin and yes to God by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in which the believer's life is characterized more and more by such qualities as joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  It is a time of growth in Who God is, what the Bible teaches, obedience to the Word of God, and building and maintaining relationships with other believers.  But, it is not a process characterized by sinless perfection.  That doesn't happen until Heaven.  It is characterized by perseverance though.  Real believers keep growing and keep going in spite of how ugly and messy their fight with sin and fight to be holy often looks.  That's just what they do!

I don't know about you, but my sanctification has been a pretty messy process.  Likening it to the basketball game, there have been days, weeks, months, hey there have even been years when it seemed like I missed far more shots than I made, sluggishly stumbled through most of the plays, couldn't get in the groove, had very little momentum, and.....well, I hate to admit it.....talked a much better game than I played.  Now, this is not to say there haven't been some great moments--some really unbelievable "bring the crowd to its feet" moments because there have been.  They have been few and far between but there have been some.  There's also been some growth, which while slow in coming is still real and enduring.  And there has been the grace of God and only by the grace of God......I am still in the game, still on the court, still running, still shooting, still playing "D", still cheering my teammates on, still fouling, still being fouled, still making the plays even if they're not pretty, with never a thought of quitting until the final buzzer sounds.  And in our sanctification this is what matters because real churches.....real Christians keep fighting their sin, keep pursuing holiness, keep cheering their fellow-believers on, keep confessing their sins, keep themselves in the Word, keep praying, keep serving, and keep on keeping on no matter how ugly it sometimes looks.  That's just what we do!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

What's A Spiritual Leader To Do?

You can't miss the leadership section of any Book store or internet site for that matter--its simply too big.  Do a search on Amazon for books having something to do with leadership and you'll come up with almost 200,000 books with the word "leadership" in their titles.  In 2015 alone, over 1200 books were published that had something to do with some kind of leadership in some field.  Add to these numbers the hundreds of blogs being written that have something to do with leadership and you have a mountain sized stack of resources on leadership that have been written and read.   Throw in the almost just as many definitions of leadership and opinions on what's a leader to do and you have a major leadership traffic jam on your hands. 

In 1991, Joseph Rosa, a professor of leadership studies at the University of San Diego, took on the challenge of reading as many books on leadership as he could in preparation for his class.  After reading all that he could get his hands on reaching all the way back to 1900 he found that the "experts" on leadership  had defined it in more than two hundred ways.  Comparing the differences in definition as well as what each writer suggested were the fundamental tasks of leadership, Rosa states that the closest the different books came to a consensus definition of leadership was that it was simply "good management".  In practice, Rosa wrote, "leadership is a word that has come to mean all things to all people."

The subject of "spiritual leadership" is no different.  Literally hundreds of books, blogs, and internet sites are devoted to the topics of spiritual, pastoral, and ministry leadership. Interestingly enough, they all come up with the same kind of varied conclusions about what spiritual leadership is and does.  Since so many others have thrown their opinion into the mix I thought I'd give it my best shot too.  So, here is what I think spiritual leadership is basically all about and does.

Spiritual leadership is influencing God's people to think, act, and react like God's people in any and every circumstance of life.  As for what a spiritual leader does, I think Craig Hamilton hit it right on the head in his book entitled Wisdom in Leadership when he makes the point that the number one thing a spiritual leader does in any given situation is to ask and answer the question, "What does the Bible say?"  The number two thing he does is to lead God's people to do what the Bible says.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Beware of The Barrenness of A "Too Busy" Life


In all honesty, we probably find that both of these kinds of lifestyles are ours depending upon where we are and what we are doing on any particular day. But is there a quality of life difference between the two? I think there is. Throughout God’s Word, we are told to busy ourselves with good works however the business of busyness is to be done in a quietness of spirit that reflects dependence upon God to accomplish the tasks set before us. Isaiah 30:15 addresses this in stating to the very busy people of Judah that “. . . in repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength—but you were not willing.” What weren’t they willing to do? First of all, they were unwilling to slow down, take a breath, and spend time reflecting upon their own relationship or lack of a relationship with God. Second, they were not willing to step on the brakes and put a stop to the flurry of activities their lives were becoming overwhelmed with. 

I think the reason for Judah’s problem with busyness is our problem. I also think we often stay busy for the same reasons they did. You see, they were unwilling to slow down because to slow down meant they would have time to think and then they would have to deal with their “issues”, whether those issues were with God or others. A lifestyle characterized by busyness and the constant “fluttering of wings” that must be involved in activity after activity and project upon project is often characteristic of a person who is afraid to allow time and space in their day to think because they have undealt with issues (read—sin) and/or guilt, fear, shame, insecurities, etc. that they are unwilling to face. The people of Judah would not slow down because they were unwilling to repent. Their hustle and bustle lifestyles in which they rushed about from place to place and activity to activity were indicators that they couldn’t stand the quietness of a life examined and in touch with God.

I realize that there will be people reading this that will argue, “busyness and activity are my personality—it’s the way I’m wired”. I don’t doubt that there are people who by nature are more prone to a busy lifestyle than others. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with occupying your life with productive and meaningful activities that God is leading you and energizing you to accomplish. I consider myself a busy person in these terms. However, I also realize that apart from time spent in quiet dependence upon God in which I stop, take a breath, and apply the brakes so that I can relate to Him and to my own family, I could never accomplish the tasks God has placed before me. 

Years ago, I learned that the Bible does not teach that believers are to meet other people’s needs regardless of what they are. Yes, you read that right. I learned instead that we are to be busy engaging ourselves in meeting “pressing needs” (Titus 3:14). Everyone has needs. And if you believe it is your job to try and meet everyone’s needs you will live a frenzied, harried and really unproductive life for the Lord. Our responsibility is to meet “pressing” needs. Those are needs that are real. These kinds of needs as defined by the Greek word Paul uses in verse 14 have to do with the necessities of life rather than the comforts or conveniences of life. These are needs that if not met will radically affect a person’s ability to survive physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Now, to obey the Lord in this you must have and use great discernment in determining what is a pressing need and what is not. This, my friends, takes prayer and thought. And this requires a quiet heart.

The most productive Christian is usually not the busiest one. This is a hard lesson to learn, especially for the likes of me. But it is a necessary one to learn. Jesus taught it often and even made a point of letting us know which is the better way when it comes to a blustery busy spirit that is always trying to be “busy” for the Lord and a calm quiet spirit that desires to be with the Lord. You know the story. Its found in Luke 10:38-42. The main characters were two women, Mary and Martha. While Martha fluttered, fumed, and fussed—Mary sat and listened. In assessing whose activity was most valuable Jesus put it this way: 

"Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, Which shall not be taken away from her.”

By the way, the Greek word used for “pressing needs” in Titus 3:14 and the word "necessary" above are one and the same.

Let’s not get caught in the trap of unbridled busyness. Let’s be busy but busy doing the right thing, which will inevitably lead us to accomplish the right things.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Interruptions Are Our Work

I tend to be task oriented.  Always have been and probably always will.  I enjoy working hard to complete a task such as writing a sermon, preparing a Bible study, building a shed, cutting and stacking a couple cords of firewood, and well you get the idea.  I like setting and achieving goals in life.  What I don't like are interruptions.  And I will go to great lengths to prevent them from happening.  But, over the years I have come to see that my battle to avoid interruptions has been and still is a losing battle.

Its a losing battle for the simple reason that interrupting my work seems to be God's work and He is very good at it.  And the fact is, I think the reason why God has made it one of His pet projects to  consistently interrupt my ministry work is because He was trying to show me what real work is.  So, by interrupting my work with His work God has taught me that real ministry is about people not projects.  Its about putting people work before paperwork.  But, because I am a slow learner and tend to default to tasks and projects rather than people God interrupted me with....wouldn't you know it.....people.

Then one day it dawned on me--interruptions are God's work or more accurately, interruptions are God's way of refocusing me on His work so as to not let me waste my life on my work.  As Henri Nouwen, who wrote Out of Solitude put it,

"A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame.  Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny twinkle in his eyes: 'I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.'"  "This is the great conversion in life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return . . . ." 

So, with these thoughts in mind and since God continues to interrupt my work with His work or better yet, with His divine appointments for my good I have made it my new goal to do something really radical in my life and that is to make more room for people so as not to waste my life pursuing the tasks that don't matter all the while missing the people who do.


The Great Divide

The chasm between profession and practice in our lives as believers and followers of Jesus is sometimes huge.  Disastrously, the empty space is growing as churches and Christians alike fail to see the connection between faith in Jesus and life in the world.  This happens when we see our faith as being merely another category of life rather than life itself.  Or when we understand Jesus as being relevant to Bible study, church, and prayer but not to mathematics, sports, what we wear (or don’t wear), how we eat, making a buck, what we view on the internet, retirement, politics, and even Craig’s List.  It is as though we cannot see how our faith in Christ connects to the totality of our lives.  We, like young children told to connect the dots so as to find the picture in a coloring book, struggle because we are so intently focused on the individual dots—we can’t see how they connect and obviously miss the big picture.  And because we can't see the big picture of how our faith in Christ is to relate to all of life we are not able to live in the world as functional believers.  In other words, when it comes to being salt and light in the world we are often dysfunctional.

The fact is, our faith in Christ affects every one of the dots in our lives so as to not only connect them to each other but to connect them to Christ so as to create the Big Picture also known as a Biblical world view or philosophy of life that is indeed Christian or Christ-centered and therefore spiritually functional.  The apostle Paul makes it very clear that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3).  This essentially means that living life apart from Christ is unwise, ignorant, incomplete, disjointed, full of gaps, and really an inferior way to live.  Furthermore, if, as the Bible makes the point, that "in God we live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28) then to try to live our lives or even a part of our lives apart from God can only result in frustration, anger, depression, and eventually spiritual disaster.  It is even demonic in the sense that Satan’s intent from Genesis 3 has always been to separate man from the relevance of God to his life so as to distort and eventually destroy the Big Picture of Life. 
This means that living a life apart from seeing and applying the relevance of our Christianity to every area of our lives will result in an inferior and spiritually dysfunctional life.  Family life lived and practiced apart from seeing the relevance of Christ to every aspect of family life, all the way from the T.V. to soccer practice to homework to the family meal, will result in a spiritually dysfunctional family which produces spiritually dysfunctional children who become adults who, while perhaps claiming the title Christian, see none or very little relevance between it and the lives they are living and desire to live. 

Until we as Bible-believing Christians start becoming more Bible-applying Christians who see the relevance of our faith to and in every area of life and thus, cease compartmentalizing our lives between the secular and the spiritual any positive and spiritually constructive Christian relevance we might have in this world and in our own families is fairly trivial.  We must do away with the “Great Divide” between what we know and how we live, between the church and ball field, between manna and math, and between making a living and making a life.  We must sack this unbiblical thinking that sees faith in Christ as just another aspect of life when it is clear from Scripture that Christ is our life—which is all-inclusive of every fragment of our lives (Colossians 3:4; Galatians 2:20). 

Until our faith in Christ oozes through and out of the church into where we live out the vast majority of every hour of every day, the Christian and the Church alike have no essential beneficial bearing or positive influence for Christ anywhere.  Faith without works is indeed dead because an unapplied faith in any area of the believer’s life is a dead faith in that arena of life.  And the influence of a dead faith is much the same as a dead body left to decay—it stinks! 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Gotta Remember Those Bumper Stickers

A man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.  The tailgating woman hit the roof, and the horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection.

As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, finger-printed, and photographed, and then placed in a holding cell.  

After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.  He said, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the 'What Would Jesus Do?' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk.  Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car!" 

Friday, March 24, 2017

We Never Stop Needing The Gospel

It’s not uncommon for Christians to think they can move past the gospel after initially accepting it. “You come to Jesus by faith”, they argue, “and then you need to white-knuckle it and work hard at living the rest of the Christian life on your own”. These Christians mistakenly say that the gospel is the “ABCs” of the Christian life. The Bible, on the other hand argues that the Gospel is the “A to Z of the Christian life.” The gospel means “good news.” Why would you ever want to move past good news? Paul asked that very question to the Galatians: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? ...Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and work miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:3, 5).

If the gospel is “good news,” then there must be bad news, right? The bad news is that we cannot have a right relationship with God because we are rotten from the inside out. Even our best deeds are utterly disgusting to God (Isa. 64:6; Phil. 3:8). It’s not just an external problem; we do not just do bad things, we are bad (Rom. 3:10-18). Because of this, the gospel is rooted in God’s self-substitution for sinners. Because we cannot obtain righteousness before God, he must stand in our place as our perfect substitute and obtain an alien righteousness or righteousness not our own for us. God did this through Jesus Christ.

At the center of this self-substitution is the cross. Because our sin is against an infinitely holy God, we deserve infinite, unimaginable condemnation and wrath. Thankfully, Jesus lived the life we should have lived and he died the death we deserve to die. He absorbed the wrath of God for us, and became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). It is on the cross that Jesus exchanged our sin for his righteousness in order that we might be justified (i.e. declared righteous) before God (2 Cor. 5:21). Those who receive this by faith–not works–are justified (Rom. 3:24-25; see Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). Therefore, Jesus is our complete substitute Savior. This is good news.

But, this good news is meant for more than to merely save us—it is also the good news we need to live as saved people who are actively fighting their sin and sometimes not fighting it so well. Jesus is still our substitute. He will never stop being our substitute and we must never forget it because it is what keeps us saved. Our acceptance and acceptability with God is never based upon our performance or holiness. It is always based upon Christ’s who was at the cross and is forever in Heaven our substitute.

So, far more than being the ABC’s of the Christian life, the Gospel really is the A to Z of the Christian life. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Evangelism Strategy That Works

So, how are we going to win our town for Christ?  Which program should we consider?  Which direct mail campaign seems promising?  What community activity might we piggy-back on to share the Gospel?  These are the questions many churches spend a lot of time trying to answer as they consider how they might impact their communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The problem with these kinds of questions however is that if all our evangelism turns out to be are programs and events we have missed the heart of what make up the core elements of evangelism which are loving Jesus, loving people, and loving life.  

Strategies, plans, programs, activities, and events are not wrong.  However, like the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, if we have the best of evangelistic strategies but do not have “love” we are simply making a lot of noise when we should be making a lot of disciples.  Strategies and programs work best when accompanied by and in fact motivated by love—for Christ, for people, and for life.

Enthusiasm for evangelism does not begin with evangelism.  Being told we must evangelize or being made to feel guilty about not evangelizing just leaves us feeling empty and of course—guilty, which does very little in motivating us to make disciples.  The fact is, you and I will never attract people to Jesus if we are not excited about Jesus.  Enthusiasm about and passion for Jesus creates interest in Jesus.  People who are in love with Jesus, whose passion is Jesus, and who love to talk about Jesus because He really matters to them will naturally be evangelistic.  They won’t be able to help themselves.

The second core element in evangelism is loving people.  When we really love people we will desire to love them to Jesus.  Loving people just enough to build a relationship with them but not enough to ever share Jesus with them is not true love.  True love desires to meet real needs in other people’s lives.  These needs we desire to meet will be physical, emotional, social, and if we really love them—spiritual. True love—biblical love does not merely bring a person bread to eat without also, at some point, share with him the Bread of Life.

Finally, the third essential core element in evangelism is loving life.  Christians who do not love life make very poor evangelists.  Believers who know their Bibles understand that God has given us life not only to live but to enjoy.  Certainly, some days and some seasons of life are harder and more difficult to enjoy than others but the believer who knows his Bible, trusts his God, and believes the promises of God has every reason to find joy in living even on the hard days.  And it is when we find that illusive joy on those days, when the clouds seems their darkest, that the unbeliever sits up and takes notice that we have a hope they don’t have (1 Peter 3:15).  

This love of life can also be discerned as an interest in life—as seeing all of life as God’s theater in which He is displaying His glory.  Believers who are not interested in life and not captivated by anything about life and thus cannot enter into other people’s lives don’t make very good evangelists.   Life is the bridge the Gospel uses to capture people’s attention.  Enthusiasm about life and God’s good gifts which He grants all of us, believer and unbeliever alike, enables us to connect around a common denominator with people who do not yet know that what they are enjoying is God’s gift. 

It all makes me wonder that if I did a better job at enjoying Jesus, people, and life maybe I wouldn’t have to work so hard at evangelism.  We enjoy what we love and we are passionate about that which we love to enjoy.  If Jesus is Who we love and we enjoy Him so much we can’t help but share Him with the people we love enjoying life with—we may find evangelism happening and we never even handed out a tract.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Christianity Is WAR (a repost from June 2013)

Christianity is war, plain and simple.  If you don't know this and you are a Christian you are in trouble.

It is a war far more real than you think. The fighting is intense, long-lasting and real victories are hard won and more rare than you think, casualties abound, retreat is commonplace, and taking and holding ground far more costly than ever imagined. Our war is the ultimate reality all earthly wars point to. They are but the picture, as real and terrible as they are. Our spiritual war is the reality as unreal as it sometimes appears to be.

Our weapons are not made of metal and plastic but are divinely powerful designed to destroy all that is in us that is opposed to Christ. Our enemy is a brutal, savvy, treacherous, highly skilled, and unbelievably enduring foe whose greatest strength is its close proximity to us....for our enemy is always with us 24/7. It is none other than our sinful flesh, our old man, if you will, whose nature it is to oppose, fight, and if it could, destroy the spiritual life within us that is becoming more and more glorious everyday as it is being conformed moment-by-moment into the image of Christ 24/7 whether you realize it or not.  Our enemy will never quit, be reformed, tamed, surrender, tire of fighting, or concede. Its fight is to the death and only in our death will its head never rise again.

But while our flesh presents itself as such a formidable foe it can be defeated even if not destroyed. It can be resisted and it can even be used to encourage our battle hardened and weary souls when seen aright for what it is and why it is. You see, the mere realization that we have a sinful flesh that opposes us in our desire to pursue Christ assures us that our pursuit of Christ is real and something the enemy of our soul finds worthy of opposing.

The truth Christians must learn and can only truly learn through spiritual hand-to-hand combat with an enemy who seems to prevail against us at every point is that the mere fact that we are being opposed by and opposing our sinful flesh provides us with an assurance of salvation we could find nowhere else. For you see before salvation, we were at peace with our sin but at war with God. After salvation, we are at peace with God but at war with our sin.

Listen, I know firsthand how ugly this battle can get. I also understand how demoralizing and discouraging it often becomes to lose battle after battle. But don’t diminish the value of the battle whether won or lost. Only believers are at war with their sinful flesh and thus, the greatest value may not lie so much in your successes as much as in the fact that you’re in the fight.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Faith in Christ or Faith in Faith?

One of my biggest struggles as a younger Christian was that of great doubt.  Oh, I didn't doubt the Gospel and its power to save nor did I doubt God and His promise to save anyone who comes believing.  And I certainly did't doubt the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ's sacrifice for sinners who believe.  No, I was rock solid on all of those.  My problem with doubt was that I doubted me or to be more specific I doubted the quality of my faith.

Most who are reading this all know and more than likely affirm the truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone for God's glory alone.  I certainly didn't doubt it in any way, shape, or form.  But having said that let me tell you a secret.  I did sometimes doubt whether my faith was of the kind and quality that could truly be considered as saving faith.  Here are some of the questions that from time to time overwhelmed me.  "Did I really believe the right stuff?"  "Was I really serious and sincere?"  "Did I truly understand the Gospel?"  "Was my repentance real and genuine?"  "Were my motives pure?"  I could add a few more but I think you get the idea and I wouldn't be surprised if some of you haven't asked the same questions from time to time.

Well, I don't need to tell you that these kinds of questions not only lead to serious doubts about one's salvation they also arise from and lead us back to serious theological error about salvation.  You see, these are the kinds of questions that more than revealing the quality of our faith reveal the object of our faith.  Let me explain by asking another question.  What is the true object of saving faith?  The answer is simple isn't it.  The true and in fact only object of saving faith is Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins.  This is the object of faith if one is to be saved.  But when we get wrapped around the axle concerning the quality of our faith so that we doubt our salvation we have made that the object of our faith.  Did you get that?  When we doubt the quality of our faith in terms of whether it was of a kind, sort, or quality able to save us we have in essence begun to trust in our faith for salvation rather than Christ.

Faith is not our savior, it is what connects us to the Savior.  Faith is not our physician, it is what brings us to the Great Physician.  Faith is not our righteousness, it is the tie between us and our Righteousness.  Faith is not our perfection but it does trust in Him Who is Perfect and Who perfectly satisfied the wrath of His Father for all of our sins.  Faith is not Christ, the cross, the blood, or the atoning sacrifice.  It is merely the desperate look upon Christ on the cross shedding His blood as our atoning sacrifice.  A desperate look but a believing look.  An imperfect look but a trusting look.  An ignorant look but a desiring look. 

As the hymn writer Horatius Bonar wrote almost 150 years ago:

"And as faith goes on so it continues; always the beggar's outstretched hand, never the rich man's gold; always the cable, never the anchor; the knocker, not the door, or the palace, or the table; the handmaid, not the mistress; the lattice which lets in the light, not the sun."  Faith, without virture or worthiness or even power in and of itself, connects us with Him Who is infinite Virtue, Worthiness, and Power.  Faith, which has no ability to apply mercy, grace, or pardon is the necessary tie between those things and us.  

Faith is rest not toil and thus to worry about our faith or the quality thereof is contradictory to its very definition.  Remember, God has demanded and provided for Himself a perfect righteousness on the believing sinner's behalf.  No where in the Scriptures that I can find has he ever demanded or provided a perfect faith.  So even the weakest, most frail, small, and even confused faith can and will connect us to Him Who is our strong, loving, merciful, and ever-forgiving Savior--even that faith that can only cry out, "Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief."

I hope this helps you as much as thinking about it helped and still helps me.  

What Makes Heaven Worthwhile Is Jesus

When you think of heaven what do you think of?  Do your thoughts run along the lines of golden streets, no pain, no tears, seeing dearly missed loved ones, a brand new perfectly working glorified body, no more sin, and heavenly delights unimagined?  Well, without a doubt, heaven does encompass all those thoughts as realities but, not as the ultimate and all-encompassing Reality and Joy. And, if all that heaven consisted of was these realities without its ultimate Reality and Joy, namely Jesus, heaven would not be heaven and I would not want to go there!

Heaven is Jesus plain and simple.  It is not so much the place as it is the Person and being able to be with this all-glorious Person, gazing upon His glory, and enjoying His glory for all of eternity.  Again, I say, if Jesus is not in heaven I will not want to go there for without Jesus it is hell.

An interesting story occurs in Luke 9 that illustrates and explains my point.  After asking His disciples who they believed He was in verse 20 and hearing Peter’s confession that He was the Christ of God, Jesus goes on to explain to His disciples that He was going to die, be raised up on the third day (v.22), and then return to earth in His glory (v. 26).  Following this mention of His glorious coming, Jesus, within the same context emphatically states that among those listening to Him were some who would not die before seeing the kingdom of God.

Thus, it seems to me that Jesus is equating the kingdom of God with the seeing of Jesus in all of His glory.  I think this is reinforced in the next few verses describing for us Christ’s transfiguration.  Note that in verse 28, Luke ties in what he is about to describe with what Jesus has just said.  He does this by bringing to our attention the fact that the transfiguration occurs some eight days after Jesus had said what He said about coming in all of His glory.  Then Luke describes what happened in the second part of verse 28 all the way through verse 35.
First, he mentions that Jesus took along with Him, Peter, James, and John to the mountain to pray.  These three, I am supposing, are “the some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God” in verse 27.  And what was it that they were to see?  What exactly would they get a chance to see that Jesus calls the kingdom of God in verse 27?
Note the description Luke provides in verse 29.  While Christ was praying, the appearance of His face changed.  The text says that His face “became different”.  By comparing Luke’s description with Matthew’s of the same event, we find out that His face began to shine like the sun.  In other words, Jesus begins to unveil His glory and as He peels back the flesh, so to speak, the three men ultimately see what none of us will be able to see until heaven, Jesus in His glory with His face shining so brilliantly and gloriously that the only comparison that can be made is that it was like looking directly into the intensity of the sun. 

Next, Luke tell us that Jesus’ clothing then became “white and gleaming”  (Luke 9:29) whereas, Matthew describes them as becoming as “white as light” (Mt. 17:2).  In other words, the glory of Christ’s divine nature radiated throughout His face and body so that even His clothing became brilliantly and exceedingly white (Mark 9:3) and Luke adds, “gleaming”.  The Greek word translated gleaming means emitting light as lightening emits light in the sky when it flashes.  Thus, Jesus revealed in His glory shines forth in light which is so brilliant, so intense, so magnificent, so powerful, and so pure that it is as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:16, unapproachable for the unglorified human eye.
It was this glory that the three apostles would see when they woke up.  Yes, that’s right.  Up until now, they are asleep according to verse 32.  But when they woke up what they saw was Christ’s glory.  What a picture this is for us who believe and who will one day lay down this body with all its hurts, ills, cares, and troubles only to wake up in the presence of the glorious Savior so as to see His glory.  But before we go there, let’s see what else occurred at the transfiguration which, give us even more of a hint as to what heaven is all about.

Go back to verse 30.  Notice that as Jesus is revealed in all of His glory two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah.  Furthermore, in the next verse we see that they also appeared in glory or splendor and they were talking with Jesus about His coming death.  Now think about this for a minute.  Don’t pass it by too quickly because here you have a beautiful description of what heaven is all about.  In a nutshell, heaven is real men, who having been given glorified bodies are able to talk face-to-face and thus fellowship with the all-glorious Son of God as they gaze upon Him in His brilliant, dazzlingly, infinitely intense, and unapproachable glory and find that rather than dying they will do it all over again every day for the rest of eternity.  Wow!  That is a glorious heaven indeed.

But there’s more.  Notice what they were talking about.  Verse 31 says they were talking about His departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  That is, they were talking about His up and coming death on the cross as the substitute for all who would believe in Him.  What does talking about the cross have to do with us once we are in heaven?  Everything!  You see, we too, will have the glorious opportunity to be with Jesus in His glorious presence, gazing upon His unspeakable splendor, talking about what He accomplished for us in and at the cross.
Then and only until then will we be able to see the fullness, the beauty, and yes even the shame and ugliness of the cross on our behalf.  Then, we will be able, to finally, with all the saints, comprehend the love Christ had and has for us. Then we will find our soul’s capacity for joy not only hugely enlarged but over flowingly full.  Then we will see that the essence of the kingdom of God is Jesus and experiencing Jesus in all His glory forever.  And then we will finally see that the Ultimate Reality and Joy of Heaven is Jesus!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Loving God Is The Key To Fighting Sin

In studying 1 John 2:15-17, I got as far as verse 15 and had to stop.  In considering John’s remarks, I came to the conclusion that it is not possible for the believer to love the world and love God at the same time.  We simply were not created with the capacity to love both at the same time nor were we created with the capacity to experience the love of God while our heart is filled with love for and of the world.  Thus, John’s statement: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

To the casual observer, John is simply making the point that if you love the world, you cannot love God at the same time.  However, I think he is doing more than that.  You see, if it is impossible to love God while you are in love with the world then the reciprocal truth would be that it is impossible to love the world while you are in love with God.  Thus, John is doing more than stating a fact about the impossibility of loving both the world and God at the same time.  He is, essentially, giving us the key to how we are to overcome the world’s encroachments into our lives.  If we are in love with the Lord, that is, we love Him with all our heart, mind, and soul we will not be tempted to love the world and what inferior pleasures it offers us.

The battle, then for the Christian, is one of, to what degree do we love the Lord?  To love Him with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul leaves very little room for which to love the world and its sinful allurements.  Perhaps this is why it is the greatest commandment.

Now, lest you think that this is not such a hard thing to do.  Keep in mind, that this is the battle of your life and for your life—to be so in love with the Lord, so satisfied with the Lord, so captivated by Him that sin’s “fruitless joys”, as Augustine referred to them, have no power over you.  This is the battle of faith.  What I mean by this is that the battle to love the Lord more than sin and the battle to prefer holiness to sin’s immediate gratification is a battle to believe the Word of God and its promises of an exceedingly far superior joy and happiness that is to be had and experienced through obedience and lost through disobedience.  Thus, in the truest sense, in spite of how it seems, to sin is to lose the opportunity for true pleasure.

So, where does one begin in his quest to prefer holiness to sin?  In Romans 6:17, Paul, in commending the believers for an obedience from the heart made the point to thank God for it.  Thus, the best place to start in preferring holiness is with God in that the believer turns to God in faith for faith and then to God’s Word for the promises that motivate us to obedience.  As one has well said, “It takes God to love God.”  In other words, “we love Him because He first loved us”.  In practical terms, this means we cry out to God for the faith that will take Him at His Word and believe that He is by far our greatest treasure and pleasure in this life and the life to come.  As Psalm 16:11 so aptly states about God, “In your presence is fullness of joy; In your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why Every Believer Should Watch Violent War Movies

Ok, let me backtrack just a moment and say that I really don't think we should all watch violent war movies.....but it did get your attention didn't it?!

And here's my point.  I don't think most of us who profess Christ as our Lord (read: Commander-in-Chief) and Savior truly understand the spiritual war we are in and especially how violently our enemies oppose and desire to severely damage and if possible destroy our very souls.  Now my use of the plural form of enemy is not a typo.  I am referring to the dark threesome of our sinful flesh, the world, and Satan himself.  This is a devastatingly powerful alliance which, has committed itself to the total destruction of our souls.  These three are as committed as they can possibly be to fighting a full-scale, take no prisoners, brutally savage, all-out, merciless, and spiritually toxic war against our very souls with the intent to, at the very least render us inoperative and no longer effective as combatants in battle.  More desirable than this however, to this unholy alliance, is to so damage our souls through a barrage of effective, soul-crippling, spiritual-life-sapping, and collaterally damaging attacks that we look, live, and feel more like our enemy than we do our King.

Some of you don't need a war movie to help you envision the destruction of war because you were there.  You've seen what war does.  You've heard the cries, felt the darkness, and captured the destruction in your memories never ever to be forgotten.  Others have experienced the carnage of war as a result of its collaterally damaging affects which with precise potency can be even more savage than the first-strike itself.  For those who have never seen or felt war there are war movies.  And I'm not talking about the sounds of bombs off in the distance, bases still intact, no blood, no screams, non-terrifying movies of a generation ago with actors still wearing unsoiled, unspoiled, untouched, unmarred, and still gleaming uniforms.  No, I'm talking about movies like "We Were Soldiers and Young" and "Hacksaw Ridge" in which the watchers are shocked, sickened, and may even find themselves forced to turn away from the carnage depicted on the screen.

You see, war destroys.  That is what it is designed to do.  Wars are fought to destroy the enemy as ferociously fast and effectively as possible.  Wars are all about crushing and terrorizing the enemy so as to make him give up the fight, surrender the cause, and never rise up in arms again.  And this is what our three-fold enemies have in mind for us.  Don't believe me?  Take a look at 1 Peter 2:11.  Peter does not use the word "war" for its attention grabbing value.  Rather, when he tells us that our fleshly lusts are waging war against our souls think about those really violent scenes in those war movies you have watched lately and then come to grips with the fact that this is no movie.  This is the real thing.  What your fleshly lusts are doing to your soul are for the intent of so severely damaging your soul that you surrender the fight, are taken prisoner, and lost to the cause.  This is spiritual warfare and it is deadly to the soul that is unprepared or unwilling to fight (Rom. 8:13).

That's the bad news.  The good news, however, is that no matter how critically wounded the soul it can be restored.  No matter how devastating the damage our souls can be revived and renewed.  Psalm 19:7 gives us this hope.  But you need to look it up and read it to find the hope.  No one else can do this for you.  Its your soul, your battle, and your duty.  Read it and you will see.  Then read verses 8-11.  There is indeed hope for even the most severely damaged souls who will give their attention to God's Word and fight.  It is possible to restore the soul, reengage the enemy, and win the war!  Don't Quit.  Don't Give-In.

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13