Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Adulterers and Enemies of God

“Most of us would rather fit in, than stand out. Christ is expecting us to stand out so that people can see the difference.” ~ Dave Stone, I’d Rather See A Sermon

One of the difficult responsibilities that we face as Christians is living in the world without being part of the world. It is difficult because, for what ever reason, the world is so attractive to us. We long to be like our friends and have the stuff that we see advertised on TV. We don’t want to be different. We want to be the same as everyone else, and do it with the blessings of God.

We get so caught up trying to fit into this world because the things of this world seem so real to us. This world is so real because it is right here for us to see, touch and feel. This world is right at our fingertips. The same cannot be said about God’s blessings.

 Though they are abundant and constant, so often they seem to be off in the distant future in a different place. It is hard to follow the wisdom of God when it seems to go against the wisdom of this world. Too often God seems to make no sense to us when compared to the advice we get from our friends.

No matter what we desire God wants us to live differently from the world. We may not see the compromise in watching certain movies, with the jokes that we tell, or even the clothes that we wear, but God does. This is what God thinks when we try to live like the world:

{4} You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you and enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God.
{5} What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful?
{6} He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.”
(James 4: 4-6; NLT)

We cannot desire the things of this world and the things of God at the same time. God is very exclusive when it comes to our relationship with Him. God wants us 24/7. He will not tolerate us giving Him Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. God wants it all, and more than that God deserves it all.

Take a look at the words the James used when he talked about people who wanted both God and the world. James calls such people adulterers and enemies of God. Those are not good things to be, but that is what we allow ourselves to become when we desire to be like this world in our speech, actions, dreams, appearance, and purpose. God wants us to be different. Are you going to be exclusive in your relationship with God?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Relational Generosity

"While the Scriptures remind us that the greedy stir up dissension; the generous nurture wholeness. While generosity is motivated by love, greed is fueled by lust. Greed is narcissistic; generosity is Christlike. Greed is a product of self-love. Generosity is the product of selfless love. The latter knows Jesus to be the greatest lover who ever lived. The former would mistakenly attribute that person to the likes of Casanova. This contrast is critical in that the greatest application of generosity is not financial, but relational. This is perhaps the best and truest measure of nobility. Do we treat people as objects to be used or gifts to be treasured?" ~ Erwin McManus; Uprising (p. 159)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Through the Darkness

I could hear the others calling in the darkness, though I could not see them. The darkness seemed to be different than anything I had experienced before. It seemed to creep and to cover. It seemed to be alive. A great doubt crept into my heart and I realized our mission was doomed to fail, there was no way we could overcome such darkness. As I was ready to give into my despair I remembered; ‘My Word provides light for your journey.’ Once again Arkia’s promise brought hope out of despair.

I could sense another next to me. I put my hand on his shoulder. ‘The darkness is overwhelming. All is lost.’ Halen whispered.

‘Take courage my friend. All is not lost. Do not focus on the darkness around you. Think about the light Arkia has placed in your heart.’

‘It seems such a small thing compared to this vast darkness. How can such a small light make a difference?’

I smiled and lifted my staff. ‘Arkia, the Keeper of Light, illuminate the way,’ I prayed.
My staff began to glow providing us light. ‘Even the smallest light is able to chase the darkness away. Come let us find our friends.’

Friday, October 27, 2006

Who is Your King?

In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6; NLT).

In the book of Judges we are able to read the story of the nation of Israel and the settling of the Promised Land. The recurring problem this young nation dealt with was the unwillingness to surrender to God’s rule.

As long as God provided them with a leader: Moses, Joshua, and the various Judges the people seemed to do what was right, but once these leaders were gone the people seemed to always follow the religious practices of the kingdoms around them.

This unwillingness on Israel’s part to accept God’s rule led to the consequence of invasions by other kings. There was no Israelite king who ruled Israel, but they were kings ruling Israel. These kings were cruel and the devastated the nation and kept the Israelites in bondage. Because they would not accept God’s invitation to be King, God allowed the invasions to occur.

The Old Testament often gives us a picture of what historically happened as a metaphor of what happens to us spiritually. Just as Israel needed to surrender to God lordship, we too need to surrender to God's rule.

We may think we don’t need a king in our lives, we may think that we are free to do whatever we please, and we may think that we are not bound by the chains of a tyrant. But that would be an illusion of the Evil One. The reality is that you are chained and enslaved. The habits you cannot break are not the result of your weakness, but are slave chains given to us by a cruel master. The lust, selfishness, and greed of your heart are the chains in which you have been bound. “I am free,” you yell, and then you fall back into whatever addictions you have that bring you so much comfort.

The reason you get drunk, high, and pursue sexual pleasure is not because you are free to do so, but because you have been enslaved to believe that these are the things which will bring you happiness. Even though you have discovered that they are source of pain, and not happiness, you are powerless to break free. You are the slave of a cruel tyrant and he is out to make your life hell.

My King on the other hand did not come to enslave but to free. He does not steal life, but gives a life that is beyond our imagination. He invites everyone to accept His Kingship, and He promises to help us throw off the chains that have us weighed down. He promises to give us hope and purpose. He offers a relationship that is worth more than the life which we live.

While Jesus is offering all people the opportunity to accept His Kingship there will come a day when this invitation will cease. Jesus is preparing to return and on that day no one will be able to stand against Him. Everyone will bow before Him, either in absolute terror or in absolute love, and worship the King of kings.

Now is the time for you to defect from the kingdom of this world and become part of the Kingdom of Heaven. The day is coming soon when there will only be one King left standing, and on that day I want to be on His side.

With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands and encourage those who have weak knees. Say to those who are afraid, "Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you (Isaiah 35:3-4; NLT).

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-2; NLT).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Being Light

A couple of years ago while reading through 1 John I had a Burning Heart Moment, and I knew that there was a truth God wanted me to understand. That morning this is what I read: “If anyone says, ‘I am living in the light,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves other Christians is living in the light and does not cause anyone to stumble” (1 John 2:9-10; NLT).

The thought I had as I read this passage was: it is our love which makes us lights! Before that moment I always associated light with truth. That resulted in my thinking that if we are going to be lights then we had to preach, teach, and live out truth.

 What I have come to realize is that being light is more than proclaiming truth. From this passage we learn that it is our love which makes us the light of the world. Without love we still live in darkness, but our love, which provides a sharp contrast with the way of the world, shines for all the world to see.

Why is our love a light? One reason is because love reveals life the way it is supposed to be lived. One of the lessons I have tried to teach the congregations that I have been a part of is that is it vitally important that we genuinely love each other. We need our churches to be seen as loving families.

The world is filled with places where people are abused, where they are taken for granted, or they are simply ignored. If the Church participates in these same actions then we will look exactly like the world.

To be lights requires that we stand apart from the world. That is why John talks about loving other Christians. If we can’t love other Christians, how can we love those in the world? If we can’t love other Christians, why would the unloved who are lost want to be a part of God's Family? Our love for each other meets a need that everyone has in their hearts.

A second reason love makes us lights is because love deals with our actions. Truth deals thoughts and philosophies which are constantly argued and debated. When we reduce Christianity down to just being truth we turn it into just another philosophy/religion that is debated. If the truth of Christianity is lived out through our love then the Gospel moves from something that is debated to something that is real, practical, and transforming. Our love is proof that the message is true.

To be the light of the world means that we love: Love God, love the Church, and love the lost. We can possess all the correct doctrine and have all the rational arguments for God's existence, but they are meaningless without love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

 What frustrates me is to see so many people who claim to be standing for "God's Truth," but who are so very unloving in their approach. Most of the time I agree with what they are saying, but I shake my head because by their approach I know they have missed the point. John is clear: When we live in an unloving manner we prove that we are living in darkness! Now that is something to consider.

So how can we live a life of love? It begins by doing loving actions, regardless of how we feel about the person or situation. If we wait until we feel like loving then we will never love. Love begins by making the choice to be kind and respectful to other people. When we do this we begin to shine in the dark world around us.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Covenant Relationship

God deals with people through the use of covenants. Carl Ketcherside in his book The Death of the Custodian wrote:
The fact is that God has chosen to relate to man on the basis of covenants. He is a covenant-making God. No one who ignores this fact will ever grasp God’s plan and purpose in any age (page 15).
I want to throw this idea out to you: We have a covenant relationship with God and not just a personal relationship with God. Yes, I understand we view marriage as a covenant relationship and that relationship is also a personal relationship, but God’s covenant is not just for an individual person, but it is for a people. 1 Peter 2:9 reminds us:
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light (NLT).
This means we are in this together. We have a responsibility to and for each other. None of us should try to walk the journey of faith alone. It is important that we help each other as much as possible because our lives are linked (whether we like it or not).

I bring this up because I think our focus on a “personal” relationship with God sidetracks us from what God has really called us to be—a covenant people. Leon Morris in The Atonement wrote:
It mattered intensely to Old Testament Israel that the nation was in covenant relationship with the one and only God. All its thinking and living revolved around this fact (pg. 22).
Sure Israel is not a great example of covenant faithfulness, but I still have to wonder what the church would be like if our thinking and living revolved around the reality that we are in a covenant relationship with God. Should this reality (being in a covenant relationship with God) change our thinking and the way we “do church”?

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Hope You Don't Burn in Hell!

Several years ago I was at a meeting with other youth ministers planning a week of camp. During the meeting we discussed how we could do a better job at holding the campers accountable for the commitments they would make during camp. One of the other youth ministers said this:

“I am the type of guy that if someone doesn’t live up to their commitment to God I hope they burn in Hell.”
I remember sitting there shocked that he would say something like that, and even more shocked than no one else challenged him on his statement. Is this really the attitude that we as Christ-Followers should have? To me it sounds contradictory to what we find on the pages of the Bible. Consider these passages:

{22} Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. {23} Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. There are still others to whom you need to show mercy, but be careful that you aren’t contaminated by their sins (Jude 22, 23; NLT).

{19} My dear brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wonders away from the truth and is brought back again, {20} you can be sure that the one who brings that person back will save that sinner from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins (James 5:19-20; NLT).

{1} Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. {2} Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ. {3} If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself. You are really a nobody (Galatians 6:1-3; NLT).
It seems clear to me that rather than hoping a person burns in Hell for not living up to their commitment we are to do our best to restore that person to a relationship with the local church family and with God. We have a responsibility for the lives of other people. According to the Apostle Paul when we don’t share in the burdens and problems of others we are not obeying the law of Christ.

Being a Christ-Follower means being a part of a community. The New Testament is much more concerned with the community’s relationship with Christ than with the individual’s relationship with Christ. If we get so caught up in our own “personal relationship” with Jesus that we neglect other Christians then we are not being true to what following Jesus is all about.

It is the person who is working so hard on their relationship with Jesus that can say what my youth minister friend said so long ago. Why? Because if other people aren’t putting the same amount of effort into their commitment as they are then those slackers aren’t worthy of Heaven.

When we spending time helping, ministering, and serving others we begin to develop compassion for them. We realize the obstacles they face as they try to live out their faith and the difficulties in their lives that hinder their relationship with God. Our hearts begin to beat like Jesus’ heart when we reach out to other people, especially other Christ-Followers.

We need to take some time and evaluate our lives. Do I find it easy to judge people who don’t live up to my standard of what a Christian should be? Do I spend time helping other people? How have I shown compassion to someone who is struggling with life? A relationship with Jesus is more than believing the right things; it is also about doing the right things.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

What we Know is Enough

"Our approach to apologetics assumes that we are engaging an individual who has a cohesive view of truth and reality. When a person freely and often contradicts himself without regard to continuity and does not see that contradictions as evidence or proof that he is wrong, it leaves Christians frustrated and paralyzed in the work of evangelism...For too long we have hidden behind the rightness of propositional truth and have ignored the question of whether or not it works. Does the faith you advocated get you to God? If people are observing your Christianity and reserving their allegiance to see what team actually wins, is there enough evidence in your life to cause a person to see Jesus as sufficient? What an incredible opportunity we have in a world of uncertianty! We know that God is and that Jesus is his name. There are many things that we don't know, but what we know is enough." ~ Erwin McManus; An Unstoppable Force; p. 58

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Finding Our Place in the Story of History

“The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories…But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of subcreation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien; The Tolkien Reader

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact…It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences…By becoming fact it does not cease to by myth: that is the miracle.” ~ C.S. Lewis; Mere Christianity

The power of story is great. It has the power to make us believe things that we never would have thought possible, to dream things that are bigger than ourselves, and to understand the desire of our hearts. For both Tolkien and Lewis it was story which gave real meaning to the world.

Story can take on many forms. For Tolkien and Lewis they were primary concerned with myth and legend. For our society today we are concerned with the visual stories on television and the movie screen. The reason these things are so seductive, the reason they pull us in is because they are able to show us glimpses of the life we were created to live.

One of primary thoughts John Eldredge puts forth in his books is that the stories that we love reveal to us the desires God has created in us. For example I love the movies Gladiator and The Magnificent Seven. Why? Because I long to have the courage that is displayed by Maximus and Chris (the leader of the Seven). I love The Last of the Mohicans. Why? Because I desire to be the one who rescues the Beauty from the hands of the enemy. God uses story to help us discover the longings of our hearts.

But the greatest story God uses, the one He used to reveal to us Himself, is History. History is the account of God working in this world. Notice how both Tolkien and Lewis recognize the importance of History. When we neglect the study of History, when we make stories just about us, we miss out on what God desires us to know. It is through the study and telling of History that we come face to face with the God who is seeking to redeem all of creation.

This idea of History as God’s story was very important to the first century Jew, and thus it needs to be very important to us:
This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and honorable fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he moved to Haran” (Acts 7:2; NLT).
Stephen goes on to give a short account of History to illustrate that Jesus was indeed the One God promised long ago.
So Paul stood, lifted his hand to quiet them, and started speaking. “People of Israel,” he said, “and devout Gentiles who fear the God of Israel, listen to me” (Acts 13:16; NLT).
From that introduction Paul tells a summarized version of God working through History to bring salvation to people. Paul reminded the people of the Story they were a part of.

If we are going to reach people in this post-modern, post-Christian, and pagan age that we live in we need to return to Story. People are not going to be motivated to change because we can list 20 virtues for Christian living. Lives will not be transformed if we allow ourselves to be pulled into senseless philosophical or scientific debates. Change will only occur when people come to realize they have fallen into a story, and how they live determines what type of character they will be.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Following Jesus' Example of Influence

The longer I follow Jesus the greater my sadness becomes for the world we live in. I am sadden because so many people are unaware that there is a better way to live their lives. Pain and sin dominate their lives and they don't even know that there is a problem. They have come to believe that this is just the way life is supposed to be and they hardly give it a second thought as they seek ways to dull the pain.

Jesus traveled through all the cities and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And wherever he went, he healed people of every sort of disease and illness. He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest, ask him to send out more workers for his fields” (Matthew 9:35-38; NLT).

While we may have made advances in technology since the time of Jesus the human need remains the same. People still want their lives to count for something and for their pain to mean something. The needs of people have remained the same, but they are still uncertain where to turn to for help. Casual sex, drug use, and pornography are just some indications that people are in search of some how filling the need they have in their hearts.

How should the Church(a community of Christ Followers) respond to this reality? It would seem to me that if we are truly interested in following Jesus' example then we first must develop compassion for the lost. It is my opinion that the Church I have witnessed in the United States tends to judge before we have compassion.

It is true that what the homosexual, the pornographer, and the drug user do is evil, but often their actions are the result of their search for something that will fill the need in their hearts and to heal the wounds in their spirits. Yes they are living outside of God's will, but they are also being deceived and manipulated by Satan. No matter how awful their lives may seem we need to remember that they are dying and on the road to Hell. What is even worse is that many of them don't even know let alone know where to turn for help.

The second thing we must do in order to influence these people, the way Jesus did, is to be active in their lives. In this passage we notice that Jesus took time to heal people of their sicknesses and to teach them God's truth. Quoting God's Law to people who don't accept God's authority does little good. If they don't recognize Him as having authority they certainly wrote obey His Law. The way we bring God's truth into the lives of other people is through our relationship with them. We show them that we love them and through that love relationship the influence of God's truth is able to travel.

Finally if we are going to follow Jesus' example of influence we must pray for workers. We can only do so much and influence so many people. In John 17 we notice that Jesus prayed for those people, through the centuries, who would carry on His work. We too must pray for people to go before us and come after us as we seek to bring the Good News to people. Through our prayers we make sure that God's Truth still influences people, even though we may not be directly responsible for it.

Donn Leach in What the Bible Says About Jesus wrote; “Jesus knows that many are ready to repent if only some messenger bring the good news of the kingdom to them (Matt. 9:37, 38). But more messengers are needed. God can supply more messengers if His people will pray.” Prayer is one of the most important things we can do as we seek to influence the world and thus bring about change. People are not changed by our wise words or arguments but the power of God. The power of God is best seen in our love for other people.

The first step in all of this is having compassion for the people of the world, seeing them as Jesus saw them. Jesus not only saw people’s sin, but He also saw their need. He knew that their only hope was love and truth not judgment and law. As we seek to influence the world for Jesus we have to ask ourselves the question: What am I offering people? Truth and love or law and judgment?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Best Life

Each one of us has an image of what life should be like. Some of us might picture life to be a mansion on a hill and tens of millions of dollars in the bank. Others of us might define life as a two-story house with a white picket fence and a nice family. Still others of us might see life as comfort and security having enough resources to do what we want to do when we want to do it. Every once in awhile we will stumble upon what we think life should be like and we will say, “Now this is the life.”

Besides these brief glimpses we get now and again, how many of us have the life we imagined? If you have that life has it met expectations?

Many us are frustrated with our lives because they are not what we wanted our lives to be. In order to deal with this frustration we have convinced ourselves that this is just the way life is supposed to this way. We grit our teeth and tell ourselves, “Life is hard. It is filled with struggles and difficulties. That is just the way it is.”

When we approach life in this manner I think we set ourselves up to miss out on the real life God created us to enjoy. I am not saying that hardships and difficulties shouldn’t be a part of your life, but what I am saying is that there is a type of life that is able to redeem those struggles we experience in life.

The Apostle John writes about how we can live the life God created us to live:
24 So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father.25 And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us (1 John 2:24, 25; NLT).

There are two truths that I want to pull from this paragraph. The first is this: Life follows obedience. You want to have life? Then obey Jesus. Life is found in loving God, loving our neighbor, sacrificial service, generous giving, and helping the needy. It is through our action that we discover the life God created us to live. Life isn’t granted to us because we believe the right things, but life is given to us when we respond in faith to what Jesus has taught. Life isn’t found in Bible Study and Church attendance. It is found when we apply the lessons we learned there to our lives.

The second truth is: Life is fellowship with the Father and the Son. Apart of Jesus, and thus apart from God, life cannot be found. It is when we abide in Jesus, and thus have a relationship with the Father, that we are able to live life. John is very clear how this fellowship happens. Fellowship with God is the result of our obedience. We choose whether or not we are going to have fellowship with God by the way we live our lives. If our lives are lived in response to faith then we will have fellowship with our Creator, but if we live in response to fleshly desires we will find death.

John describes this life as eternal life. I think we get caught up with seeing eternal as a length of time, or more accurately life with no end. It is forever or life that keeps getting stretched out. I have a feeling the eternal life is more than just life without end. A lot of something isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially if that thing is mediocre or poor quality. So in my mind it stands to reasons that eternal also stands for the best quality of life. The best type of life is available through a fellowship with God.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Choose to Live

“Our choices either move us toward God and all the pleasure that comes in Him or steer us away from Him to a life of shame and defeat.” ~ Erwin McManus; Seizing Your Divine Moment

The direction of our lives is determined by the choices that we make. There are choices which you will make during this time in your life that will affect the rest of your lives. It is very important that we have a good foundation in order to make the right choice.

That foundation is the Word of God. God is our Creator and that means He knows what the best for our lives is. His Word is intended to help us navigate life so we can experience the best He has to offer us. Check out what Jesus said concerning the foundation of God’s Word.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” ~ Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV)
If we are going to obey Jesus there are three actions we have to choose to do. First, we must decide to LISTEN to Jesus. We can make a decision not to listen to what Jesus has to say and avoid reading God’s Word. If we refuse to listen then we will never know how God wants us to live.

Second, we must decide to TRUST what Jesus says. This is the first element of faith. It is not blindly accepting what Jesus says, but it is accepting what He says based on experience or evidence. There is solid evidence to believe what Jesus says, and the more we trust Jesus the more experience we gain in order to trust Him in the future.

Third, we must decide to CHANGE the way we live. This goes along with trust, but it takes trust a step further. We can accept and trust the Words of Jesus and obey Him when what He says seems logical to us. Choosing to changes means we will obey Jesus even though it goes against the way we are used to doing things. To change is saying, “I was doing it the wrong way and I am willing to do it your way.” Admitting you are wrong is never an easy thing to do.

If we are going to find the pleasure God created us to enjoy the first choice we have to choose is to use God’s Word as the foundation for making choices in our lives.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Dangerous Will of God

The call of Jesus to follow Him is not a call to a life of ease. Not only is following Jesus not easy it is also not very safe. New Testament Scripture is clear that a person following Jesus will be opposed by Satan and the world. In other words we should expect to face hardships and difficulties as we bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.

This mission is of supreme importance and is worth all the difficulties we might face along the way. Donn Leach in his book What the Bible says about Jesus wrote; "The importance of Jesus' mission in His own eyes is seen in that He did not hesitate to enlist people to suffer and die for it" (pg. 190). Each of the apostles, whom Jesus personally called, faced opposition from the world. These men were beaten, put into prison, and most likely all put to death, with the exception of the Apostle John (who was exiled). Jesus sent His disciples on a mission knowing that He was sending them to their deaths.

This mission is still dangerous. Jesus told us it would be:
18 "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.20 Do you remember what I told you? `A slave is not greater than the master.' Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.21 They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the One who sent me (John 15:18-21; NLT).
We may not have to fear for our lives because of religious or governmental opposition, but we are still going to be opposed. Satan is not going go quietly and he is going to fight us tooth and nail. When we start making a difference for the Kingdom of God in this world we had better watch out.

I know a youth minister forced out of youth ministry by the elders because he wasn't playing by their rules, even though the youth ministry was making a difference in that community. That youth minister still hasn't returned to ministry because of the wounds he experienced.

I know another man who made a mid-life career change to enter the ministry, and now just as things in his ministry are beginning to take-off he needed to step aside to repair the relationship with his wife.

There are story after story we could tell of people who were making a difference for the Kingdom when they suddenly came under attack. Sickness, death, broken relationships, and financial problems are all ways Satan attacks us in an attempt to keep us from moving forward in our mission. If we are not prepared for these attacks they can cripple us and ultimately prevent us from becoming the people God created us to be.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Hebrews 11. Read what the author of this book writes in verses 35-38:
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons.37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,* and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground (NLT).
The life of faith is not supposed to be easy. God has called us to live out a dangerous mission. The most dangerous place for us to be is in the center of God's will, because it is there that we will be most opposed. Is this mission from God worth risking our lives to carry out? Jesus certainly thought it was.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dead to Life

"God's warning to man was that if he ate of the forbidden fruit, he would surely die. Adam and Eve did eat of the the tree, but there was no apparent death at the moment. I think we often assume God was speaking metaphorically. Yet what we find throughout the Scripture is that in the most important way we truly did die. We are now dead in our trespasses and sins. We are in a sense even dead to life. We merely exist and think we are alive. We have traded the authentic for the imitation. Human history can be summarized as a desperate search for life. We look for it everywhere and in everything. We pursue wealth, power, success, pleasure, and endless experiences just to feel alive. Yet with all that we gain, there is always the inescapable stench of death all around us. Even if we gain the whole world, we die with our souls empty and hollow." ~ Erwin McManus, Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul (pp. 5- 6)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Don't Live Alone

You must not go alone. From the beginning, right there in Eden, the Enemy’s strategy has relied upon a simple aim: divide and conquer. Get them isolated, and take them out.” ~ John Eldredge; Waking the Dead

The one thing in all of Creation that God saw that was not good was that man was alone. To remedy that situation God created a woman to go along with the man. Now there is obvious implications for marriage here, for God did not create another man to be Adam’s companion, but he created a woman.

This relationship between Adam and Eve provided the solution to the only problem Creation saw before sin entered the picture. First, there was the companionship and intimacy which developed between these two lovers. They were exactly what they needed to help the loneliness that was in their hearts.

Second, from their love would come other people ensuring that there would always be opportunities for a person to be part of a group of other people. The creation of man and woman was not just about showing the importance of marriage and male/female companionship, but it was also about creation of other people. God blessed them and told them, Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and birds and all the animals (Genesis 1:28; NLT). God created us to have relationships with other people.

Not only do we miss out on much of what God has planned for us when we neglect the relationships in our lives, but we allow Satan the opportunity to fill that void in our lives. I am convinced that one of the best ways to overcome temptation and to resist Satan is to be around other people, especially other Christians, who will encourage us to do what is right. With out companionship we are more likely to fall.

I struggle with making and maintaining relationships. I am very introverted and I am happy spending large portions of time by myself. The problem is that it is when I am alone, when no one else is with me, that Satan really can work on me. The fear, doubt, and insecurities which plague my life are a result of not having constant companionship in my life.

Don’t think that extroverts have it much better. Sure they are out going and seem to make friends easily and have many different relationships. The problem is that many times these relationships are superficial and do extend much further than casual acquaintance. The extrovert can be just as much alone in a room full of people as the introvert is sitting at home alone.

For us to deepen our relationship with God and to walk by faith it is essential for us to develop meaningful relationships in our lives. We need other Christians in our lives willing to stand by us, encourage us, to help us out, to pray for and with us, and just to be friends we can count on no matter what happens. This world is tough and it is impossible for us to make it through on our own. We need the love and companionship of other people.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds. ~ 1 Peter 3:8; NLT

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

United with Jesus

The Christian has a special relationship with God because of Jesus Christ. Our relationship with God is not based on anything that we have done, not by our merit, but solely on what Jesus has done. We are able to enjoy a relationship with God because we have been united with Jesus.

The first part of Romans 6 reveals three areas in which we have been united with Jesus:
1Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness? 2Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3Or have you forgotten that when we became Christians and were baptized to become one with Christ Jesus, we died with him? 4For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. 5Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised as he was. 6Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8And since we died with Christ, we know we will also share his new life. 9We are sure of this because Christ rose from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10He died once to defeat sin, and now he lives for the glory of God. 11So you should consider yourselves dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 6:1-11; NLT
First we see that we are united with Jesus in His death (verses 1-3). This is made possible through baptism. This is one of the passages in the New Testament which remind us that the ritual of baptism was a very important part of the believer’s life. So what does this mean? Why do we want to be united with Jesus in His death? Jack Cottrell commenting on this passage wrote:
“Since Jesus died for the express purpose of taking our guilt upon Himself and paying the eternal penalty for our sins, when we are united with Him in his death our guilt is removed and our status before God is such that our penalty is considered paid. The blood that He shed in His death is applied to our guilty souls and becomes our shield to protect us from the deserved wrath of God. Thus because of this union with Christ we are forgiven or justified” (Baptism: A Biblical Study; p. 81).
It is this union with Jesus in His death which guarantees that our sins are taken care of. We have put our faith in Jesus and His death to cleanse us from our sins.

Second we see that we are united with Jesus in His resurrection (verses 4-6). Jesus may have been crucified and killed, but He did not remain dead. The power of Jesus is ultimately seen in His resurrection, not His death. The death of Jesus means nothing without the resurrection.

When we are united with Jesus in His resurrection means that we have a new life. Whoever we were before our baptism no longer exists, and now we have a new life. Even though we still live in the flesh, when we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and live a life of faith, our lives change. It is a process that continues to happen as long as we live in our current bodies, but our hearts shift from being selfish to selfless, and we begin love God with our entire beings.

Not only are we given new lives, but being united with Jesus in His resurrection also guarantees that when we die, physically, that we will be raised to spend eternity with God. When we are united with Jesus we have hope of eternal life.

Third we see that we are united with Jesus in His freedom (verses 7-11). Sin no longer has control over us. We now have a choice on how we will live. Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life wrote; “On the path to spiritual maturity, even temptation becomes a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block when you realize it is just as much an occasion to do the right thing as it is to do the wrong thing. Temptation simply provides the choice” (p. 201). No longer do we have to follow our sinful desires, but we have a choice. Now we have the option to follow where Jesus leads.

The commands of God are not restricting, rather they help us to avoid the enslaving nature of sin. Jesus understood this freedom during His time on earth. He was perfectly obedient to God’s will, and thus Jesus escaped being enslaved by sin. When we are united with Jesus we are given the opportunity to experience the freedom from sin as we live a life of faith and obedience.

Christians are united with Jesus and this gives us a special relationship with God. Since we have been given this wonderful opportunity we need to take advantage of it and discover the life God has planned for us. We need to live a life which will reflect the glory and love of the One who has given us so much.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Compassion for the Lost

Luke 19 gives us an interesting insight into the heart of Jesus. Jesus is returning to Jerusalem to begin the week leading up to His crucifixion. As He rides down from the Mount of Olives towards Jerusalem His followers begin to hail Him as king:
"Bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven!" (Luke 19:38; NLT)
But as they neared the city Jesus began to cry. The Greek word here means to wail. This isn't a silent cry with tears slowly running down His cheeks, this is all out sobbing. What an odd sight! He is being proclaimed king and He cries uncontrolably.

Why does Jesus cry? Jesus cries because He sees a city full of people, representing a nation full of people, and He knows their fate. Especially those leaving in Jesursalem. They would die horrible deaths at the hands of the Romans. The holy city would be turn down and the temple destoryed. Jesus says this:
"They will crush you to the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you have rejected the opportunity God offered you" (Luke 19:44, NLT).
Jesus sobs because the horrible reality that awaits the citizens of Jerusalem.

Have you ever sobbed for people because the horrible reality that awaits them apart from Jesus? There is no law that can be passed, no program that can be implemented, and no amount of money that can save people from Hell. My heart constantly breaks for the citizens of our nation because they are slaves to sin, their lives are being stolen and destoryed (John 10:10) and the only thing they have to look forward to is more misery.

Being a disciple of Jesus means to care about the things and people Jesus cared about. If Jesus cared about the lost don't you think we should to? Jesus went to the Cross, what are you doing?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Campbell on Jesus

In 1863 Alexander Campbell wrote:

Our kinsman Redeemer is now the absolute Monarch of the whole creation of God. All the angels, principalities and powers of the universe are at his command. What an honor to humanity!

Unitarianism is but another name for deism or theism. It is not Christianity. It is not the gospel of the grace of God.

Divinity, absolute Divinity, in all its grandeur, dwelt in him, and shall forever dwell in him. "All things were created by him and for him." And he was before any creature--the eternal Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.

Why should any man of good understanding make an effort to undeify the second Adam--the Lord from heaven, and the Lord of heaven! Did he not say, "I and my Father are one" (John x. 30)? His contemporaries called this blasphemy, and took up stones to stone him. This was the second effort made to murder him. With the Jews, this was blasphemy of the first degree. He was not, however, disposed to take it back, or explain it away. He condescended to reason with them. He argued the case: "If I do not the work of my Father, believe me not. But if I do the works of my Father, believe not me, but believe the works: that you may know and believe that the Father is in me and I in him. Hence many there believed on him" (John x. 41).

I should cheerfully maintain his claims in New England, or in Old England, against any man of character or reputation who assumes Unitarianism, Arianism, or Socinianism, with either tongue or pen. I write not this boastingly, but with an ardent and philanthropic desire, believing, as I do, that there is not another name given under these heavens by or through which any human being can be saved. My motto is, "He that believes the gospel shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned," and consequently exiled forever from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Review: The Great Divorce

I picked up The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis several years ago. I began to read it as soon as I got back for the book store, but gave up midway through chapter 2. I simply had no interest in the story.

Having read all the other C. S. Lewis books in my personal collection I decided to return to this book I found so difficult to read a few years ago. This time around I was captivated by the story. What made the difference? Part of it has to do with the fact that I wrote a research paper on the nature of hell for Turning Points in Systematic Theology the one semester I was at Lincoln Christian Seminary. Another part of it has to do with how I view stories now. I wasn't interested in The Great Divorce the first time around because it conflicted with how I viewed Heaven and Hell. C. S. Lewis appears to be saying that the people in Hell will get a second chance at Heaven and this bothered me, and so I kept the book on the shelf.

When I read the preface I realized that the truth in this story isn't found in the description of Heaven and Hell that Lewis paints, but in the reactions of the people found in both places. Though Lewis didn't say this, it appears to me one of the things he was trying to do was to explain why people in Heaven will be able to experience Joy even though there is so much misery in Hell. A second objective I think he was trying to accomplish was to show why people in Hell wouldn't be happy in Heaven.

The Great Divorce is not Lewis' attempt to explain what the afterlife is like. This is what he wrote in the preface:
I beg the readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It is of course--or I intended it to have--a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. This last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.
In other words Lewis wanted the story to be read as a story and not a doctrinal treatise on the nature of Heaven and Hell. To read it is such a manner robs the reader of the wonderful insight Lewis offers to the nature of man and the choices we make every day.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Making an Apology

In the first couple of centuries after the resurrection of Jesus a lot of misconceptions about who his followers were, what they believed, and how they worshipped serviced throughout the Roman Empire. The common charge against Christians was that of atheism because the pagans had a difficulty grasping the concept of one God. Rumors of orgies and cannibalism during Christian worship spread through the Empire. The fact that the early church was largely made up of underclass people and slaves made it suspect to upper-class.

In order to explain themselves different individuals attempted to write formal "apologies." In the Greek this means: a response to an accusation, explaining why a person believed or acted in a certain way (A History of the Church: From Pentecost to Present, James B. North, pg. 39). There was a need to explain themselves to the culture in which they lived. It is difficult enough to follow Christ in this world without having to deal with misunderstandings and false accusations. According to James North these apologists had two objectives:
on the one hand they were trying to answer the false rumors that were current about them, gross misunderstandings and untruths; on the other hand they were trying to gain a hearing for Christianity and explain its fundamental doctrines (A History of the Church; p. 39).
Living in the 21st Century we are again in need of apologists. The apologists of the last century, of the modern age, who gave us a rational reason to follow Jesus and evidence for the truthfulness of God's Word did a marvelous job. The Church needed people like C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell to answer the challenges the Church was facing during that time.

Now as our culture moves away from the scientific method as the means for determining truth we once again need new apologists willing to provide carefully considered responses to the challenges the Church is facing today. We still need people willing to carry the torch of Lewis and McDowell, but there is a need of a different kind of apologist today as well.

This type of apologist must be able to use story to convey truth. As J. R. R. Tolkien wrote; I believe that legends and myths are largely made of "truth," and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode (Finding God in the Lord of the Rings, pg. x). Many of the people who would be classified as "postmodern," aren't as concerned about if it actually happened as they are about the "ring" of truth. Does it sound right? Does it make sense? A skillful storyteller can weave God's truth into a story and thus gain the ear of a person.

This type of apologist must be able to make the complex simple. Too often preachers and theologians take the simple and make it complex and in the process turn people off to what is being said. People are just not interested in what the Greek says or what some dead guy thought about this verse or that passage. To be honest sometimes I find it hard to care about those things. We need people able to make God's truth relevant to the lives of people again. People will listen if what they are being told is easy to understand and relevant to their daily lives.

This type of apologist must be a scholar. He/she must be grounded in God's word and have a grasp on the doctrine of the Christian faith. To be honest one of the weaknesses of the Church today is that her leadership is not very scholarly. Too much of our doctrine comes from the "pop-Christianity" books sold at Christian Bookstores and are better trained at growing a business than leading a local Church family. Only when we know what we believe can we clearly and simply articulate it to others.

Times are changing and as times change so do the challenges that face the Church. We must be ready to meet these challenges in an adequate fashion. So while the methods of sharing the Gospel and defending the Faith may change the Truth upon which they are built does not. The reason the Church is able to adapt to change is the because of the firm foundation of Truth that She is built on. That is something we can hold on to as we seek to impact the world.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Pleasure through Morality

“This is the great lost truth of the Christian faith, that correction of Judaism made by Jesus and passed on to us: the goal of morality is not morality—it is ecstasy. You are intended for pleasure!” ~ John Eldredge; The Journey of Desire

One of the great lies the human race has believed from the Beginning is that pleasure is found outside of morality. To often we believe that pleasure is found by breaking the rules and living the moment. God's Law, or morality, seems to stand in the way of our having a good time. The party mentality isn’t just something new invented by students on college campuses, but has gone back thousands of years. So many people have given their lives away to the party in an attempt to feel good.

Morality seems to be God's attempt to keep us from having a good time. Morality tells us not to get drunk or high. Morality tells us that sex should be between a man and a woman, and then only within the bounds of marriage. Morality says to be a servant to other people, even though by serving you will have to sacrifice your personal time and money. Morality seems dull compared to the party. How can pleasure come through doing the right thing?

Ravi Zacharias talks about this issue in his book Cries of the Heart. “For true pleasure the price is paid before it is enjoyed. For false pleasure the price is paid after it is enjoyed” (Ravi Zacharias; Cries of the Heart; p. 142). There is no doubt that illicit sex and pornography bring pleasure to people, if they didn’t people wouldn’t participate in them. The high of drugs, which include alcohol, gives people pleasure, which is one reason people continue to use them even in the face of negative consequences. Yet are these the types of pleasures God created us to enjoy? God created us to experience pleasures which add joy to our lives, not pleasures which enslave us.

The bottom line is that the false pleasures so many people chase after end up costing them in the long run. The cost is seen in disease, broken relationships, crime, and an empty life which they desperately want to change. To ignore morality and to embrace pleasure may seem fun in the short term, but it is going to cost in the long run.

To pay the cost of morality, to practice self-control, and to obey the commands of Jesus bring happiness and joy, the greatest forms of pleasure. Ultimately pleasure isn’t about the feelings produced by a high or an orgasm, but about the love one has for others and the knowledge that his/her life has been productive. False pleasures tear down the trust and love needed to produce loving relationships and lasting achievements. Relationships are the key to experiencing the pleasure God intended for us to have.

Put into the bigger picture of eternity the life lived in pursuit of false pleasures will pay the ultimate price of being separated from the source of Love and Joy, God; while the life lived in faith and laying down of wills will experience the ultimate relationship with the Creator. God wants us to experience pleasure! The question is are you going to sell out to the fleeting pleasures of the party, or are you going to pay the price to experience pleasure the way it was meant to be? That is the choice God has given you to make.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Change in Culture

I have been thinking the past few days how much the United States has changed in the past 100 years. In many ways we can look at our culture and see that it has taken a turn for the worst. Sure there are many good things that we have access to that weren’t around 50 years ago let alone 100, but our morals and values seem to have sunken to all time lows.

Take for example the terrible tragedy in Bailey, CO this past week. This sort of thing was unheard of a generation ago, but violence and sexual assaults are becoming an all too frequent part of life for us today. In some aspects it seems like we are coming to accept them as a part of life. A tragedy but something we have no control over.

Why has our culture taken this dreadful turn? In the first century a handful of Christ-Followers impacted an empire. In this past century hundreds of thousands of Christians were unable to influence the direction of a nation. This loss of influence has not been due to a lack of political influence. One could argue that the Church in the United States is more political than ever before, and still things go from bad to worse.

Part of the problem has been complacency. During that short period of time (remember the frontier in the United States was a godless place) when it appeared that everyone lived according to God’s law the Church in the United States went to sleep. It seemed like everyone was a Christian and that the United States was a Christian nation. They were not conscious of the changes that were taking place in this country and had no clue how the new forms of media (music, movies, and television) were going to influence the nations values.

A second part of the problem is that faith became more of an intellectual pursuit rather than a lifestyle. Evangelism became about convincing people that God existed and Jesus rose from the dead. So Christians took up the task of debating and trying to prove to the world that we are right, while missing the pain that was actually at the root of the questions people asked.

A third part is that “Christian” became a sub-culture. Christian bookstores selling Christian music, books, and collectibles came into existence drawing a line between Secular and Godly. Rather than engaging the culture around us we sought to separate ourselves from it. One of the results of this are shallow Christians who never get past the pop-Christianity that is sold in many of these stores.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News. It is Good News for me, for you, the Muslim in Los Angeles, the Jew in New York, the Hindu in Phoenix, the agnostic in Seattle, or the atheist in Washington. The Gospel is Good News for everyone, whether they accept it as Truth or not, because it impacts the lives of those who believe. When I am a follower of Christ I am a better citizen, neighbor, enemy, friend, son, brother, and husband (hopefully). Living out the Gospel I impact the lives of all those around me, and thus I influence the direction of the culture.

How can we reverse the direction our culture is taking? We live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our lives.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Illuminating Conduct

One of the ways the Church can be a light in this dark world is the love Christ-Followers show to each other. I am firmly convinced one of the reason the Church in the first century grew like it did was because of the unique love that existed between her members. The world is a tough place and loving relationships in which we can feel safe and secure are hard to find. The Church can be different because of the love we show to one another.

Peter writes: Finally, all of you should be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it (1 Peter 3:8-9; NLT).

Peter is writing about Christian conduct in these two verses. I believe he has in mind certain principles that should govern our lives as we seek to be different from the world. In order to shine in the dark we need to live differently.

First, Peter says that we need to be of one mind. We can recognize the difficult with this because we know that it is difficult to get total agreement on anything. There are so many different influences which account for what we believe and how we live. Bruce Oberst wrote; “Few of us always agree on how to carry out the thousand details of everyday life. But we should strive to have the same basic goals, purposes and motives, that provide the very foundations of Christianity” (Letters from Peter; pg. 81).

A successful football team is guided by the same goals of winning games and championships. Though the different players may go about achieving these goals in different ways the goals provide a unity and vision which is essential to achieving the goal. The church needs to have a firm grasp of its goal. Generically that goal is to make disciples of all nations, but how local congregations accomplish that, and how individuals get involved varies this goal should provided the unity that is needed. Understanding the local church’s purpose is essential for the unity of that church, to be of one mind.

Second, Peter says we need to show sympathy to one another. Each person is different and thus each has different struggles. Something may not be a struggle for us, but it could be faith threatening to a brother or sister in our church. Rather than passing judgment because they cannot live up to the standard we think they ought to live to or ignoring their situation we need to offer our help. If a person is struggling with sin we need to provide them with the pray, resources, and encouragement to overcome it. If a person is struggling with a difficult situation we need to offer them our prayers, presence, and assistance. Sympathy is not simply a feeling, but it is what we do to help each other in time of need.

Third, Peter says we need to love one another. Here Peter reminds us that the church is like a family. We are to love and care for one another in a similar manner of what we would expect to happen in a family. That means bearing each other burdens, putting up with those things that annoy us, and sacrificing to help each other out. If a Christian can depend on no one else he/she should always be able to depend on other Christians. In a selfish world the sacrificial love of Christians should provide people with a hope and draw them closer to God.

Fourth, Peter makes it clear that we are not to retaliate against those who have wronged us. To repay a wrong with a wrong is the way of the world. It makes the Church no different than the world. When we love people, regardless of what they have done or said to us we show them that there is a better way to live. We provide evidence that the way of God is different. When we retaliate we darken the light of love and compassion that should characterize the church. We can only be lights if we are different from everyone else.

Peter tells us that we should live differently from the world, and that includes the way we treat other Christians. Living in this manner allows us to be lights in a dark world as we show them that there is a better way to live.

Accept the Differences

Most of us understand that people are different and those differences are a good thing. The world would be a boring place if everyone beli...