Secret Faith

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“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself  . . .” Daniel 1:8

He was part of a group of athletes from out of town.  He and his teammates were seated across the pizza parlor and it was obvious they had been drinking for a while.  Their conversation had been punctuated with profanity and sexual comments, and this young man had been a full participant.  He hoisted his beer above his head and toasted their victory with a few choice expletives.  With his arm raised high, I could see the WWJD bracelet he wore.  It was faded and dirty, but I recognized it right away.

I shook my head as we stood to leave, just as the young man walked to the restroom.  As my husband paid our bill, he walked out and I commented, “You guys must have had a great day today, you’re doing a lot of celebrating.”

“Yeah, we beat everyone today – we’re the CHAMPS!”

“May I ask you a question?” I queried.  He nodded his assent.  “What’s that bracelet you’re wearing all about?”  He glanced down and his wrist and quickly pulled his shirt sleeve down over the bracelet.

“Awe, it’s just something I got at church a while back.  My mom likes for me to wear it.”

“What does it mean?”

“It says WWDJ I think.  It just means . . . well I guess it means I’m a Christian.”

“Really?  Wow, that’s great! I didn’t know Christians could get drunk and cuss like that!  I guess it’s no big deal anymore is it?”

He shifted his weight back and forth on his feet.  “Hey, I’m still a Christian in my heart, isn’t that where it matters?”

“I don’t know.  Is it?”

In contrast to the young man in the pizza parlor, consider Daniel and his friends.  They were part of the exile to Babylon and had been taken with a group of elite young men to be indoctrinated into the culture of their captors.  They were given “royal food and wine” (Daniel 1:8), food which was forbidden for a Jew.  They asked to be excluded from the meal plan in favor of foods that would not compromise their faith.

Now you might ask, what harm would there be in eating and drinking the provided food as long as they remained true to their faith in their hearts?  As the young athlete said, “Isn’t that where it matters?” Couldn’t they set aside their convictions since they were captives, just go along with the others who had no such qualms?  While they chowed down they could tell God, “This doesn’t change who I am. You know I’m still a Jew at heart.”

Or when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were ordered to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue, what harm would there have been to go along on the outside, as long as they still claimed their Jewish status in their hearts?[1]  Maybe Daniel could have outwardly pretended to pray to the King, but kept his heart for God?  It sure would have kept him out of the lion’s den.[2]

Jesus gives us the answer: “By their fruit you will recognize them,” (Matthew 7:16).  Fruit in Scripture is evidence of what is inside.  If a tree has the sap of a peach, it’s not going to produce a pear.  Likewise if we are truly Christians in our hearts, we will not exhibit ungodly behavior.  That’s not to say that Christians don’t occasionally stumble in their walk.  But they feel the sting of conviction and repent in sorrow for their failing.  A Christian cannot be comfortable living like the world.  I would even go so far as to say, it you can live like the world while claiming to be a Christian, you might want to re-examine your relationship with Christ.

Secret faith – faith that only exists in your heart but not in your words and actions – is a contradiction in terms.  Genuine inward faith has an outward expression.  It can’t be kept hidden away or tucked up under a shirt sleeve when it’s not convenient or popular to be a Christian.  Faith has to be lived out loud.  I don’t mean standing on a street corner with a Bible and a sign, but rather standing apart from the culture and the influences of the world.  I mean not participating in ungodly behavior.  I mean saying “No” when you are enticed to compromise your faith.  I mean making choices that may seem odd to others, but that reflect Christ in your heart.

Had Daniel and his friends compromised with the food issue, it would have been easier to give in with the statue or prayer.  They would have blended in to the culture and had no influence for the Lord.  They certainly would not have encouraged us with their example of uncompromising faith.  Likewise, the stand you take today in small things will determine the stand you take tomorrow with larger issues.

In other words, your outward faith matters.  It really, really matters.

[1] Daniel 3

[2] Daniel 6

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Jesus – the Friend of Sinners

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“Those who oppose [the Lord’s servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

“Your “god” is a bunch of bunk! He’s just your imaginary friend in the sky!”

“Well, we’ll see who’s right when you are burning in hell buddy – God hates wicked, evil people like you!”

I sat at the table in shock as I listened to this ugly exchange.  It began when I contacted a man who was an atheist because I needed to do several interviews for my apologetics course in seminary.  We were sitting at a sidewalk table of a coffee shop.  I had a series of questions to ask him about life and God and as he answered them, a couple from a nearby table listened.  As they got up to leave, the woman stepped over and asked about our discussion.  I explained about my class and that Rob was kind enough to help me with this assignment.  Then her husband stepped in and began to berate Rob for his lack of belief.  It quickly escalated to the exchange you just read. 

As they walked away – well the man stormed off – I apologized to Rob and told him we could discontinue our interview if he preferred.  He laughed and said he enjoyed the argument, he loved to get Christians flustered and angry.  Then he asked me, “Why haven’t you given me a piece of your mind about my disbelief or try to convince me to believe in your God?”  I told him, “I’m not going to attack you, but I have been sharing my faith all along.”  He looked at me with a puzzled expression that began to soften as he said, “You really have, haven’t you?  You’ve been kind and respectful as we’ve talked, you’ve shared pieces of your testimony and your faith without shouting or pointing a finger at me.  You actually unnerve me more than that other guy did.”

In the verse just prior to our key verse, Paul says that “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful,” (2 Timothy 2:24).  In these verses Paul is saying that as believers, our character should be the same as Jesus: kind, gentle, helpful and sympathetic.  Why?  Because they have been taken captive by the devil.  They have been deceived, let astray, fooled, and fed lies to the point that they can’t recognize the truth of God’s existence and His love.  They are under the influence of satan, and they deserve our pity rather than our hate.

If you look in the gospel accounts, Jesus saved His harshest words for the religious crowd who rejected the lost, the poor, the lonely and the wounded – and Him. They were the self-righteous scholars who diligently studied the Scriptures, but missed the whole point of God’s plan.  They shut out the very ones God loved, but Jesus welcomed them and loved them.  It’s no wonder He was called “a friend of sinners,” and I believe He bore that title with delight rather than shame.  I know I would never have been accepted by the religious elite, but Jesus accepts me just as I am.

If you are a Christian, you have a call to be “salt and light” in the world.  Salt to preserve the image of God in your fellow man and light to lead the way to the cross and redemption. Finger-pointing, harsh words and belittling attitudes will never win anyone to Christ.  But a kind and gentle spirit will.

If you are not a Christian, let me assure you that Jesus does not look at you with hatred or disgust; He does not see you as His enemy – He died so that you could be His friend for eternity.  He loves you with an everlasting love that will never turn you away.  Please come and see for yourself that He is a gentle King and a kind Savior.

People Get Ready!

kneelingprayer“I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.  Do not make yourselves unclean . . .” Leviticus 11:44

When God prepares a people for a great move on His part, He always calls them to repentance – confessing and turning away from sin, and consecration – setting oneself apart exclusively for the Lord. Prior to the exodus out of Egypt, the people were to cleanse their houses and anoint their doorframes with the blood of a Lamb.  By this they ridded their homes of impurities and were set apart from the Egyptians who would suffer the wrath of God.  Just before they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the Israelites were commanded to consecrate themselves “for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 3:5).  Often King David ordered his men to consecrate themselves the day before a great battle.

All four gospels note the calling of John the Baptist who was sent to “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Mark 1:3).  In the first-century world, before a king came to visit one of his cities, the call would go out to level the roads on his path.  John was also calling for “straight paths” before the coming King, but it was a call to repentance and consecration.  It was a call for the people to prepare their hearts for the Lord.

Christians have pleaded with God for a great move of His Spirit in the United States.  We want God to “do amazing things among us.”  But are we hearing the call to prepare the way for Him?  Am I heeding the call for repentance?  Am I carefully examining my life for habits, desires, laziness, distractions and selfishness that serve as a quiet rebellion against God?  Are we consecrating ourselves unto the Lord?  Are you willing to let go of everything, no matter how attractive or comfortable, that draws your heart away?  Are you getting rid of everything that that compromises your testimony and drags you into the world?  What T.V. shows, movies, music, magazines, and websites need to go to make your heart ready for the Lord?  What attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, rights, and worldly influences do I need to turn from in order to be used for the Kingdom of God?

I believe God is getting ready to do a great work in the world.  But it will require people who are willing to set everything aside to join Him.   That means whole-hearted devotion to Christ and an unwillingness to compromise with the world.  I also believe a great battle is coming in this nation; the lines have already been drawn in our culture and our courts.  Only a people with pure, consecrated hearts will be able to stand firm in the face of it.   

Beloved, are you willing to set ourselves apart exclusively for Christ?

In the Waiting

waiting“Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

When God calls a person to service, it is not always immediate nor is it a straight path to their place of ministry.  God declared that Abraham would be the roots a great nation, but it took twenty-five years for the child of promise to be born and a couple of generations for the nation to grow.  Young Joseph had a vision from the Lord of himself in a high position, but he got there after several years of treachery, slavery and prison.  Samuel anointed David as king of Israel, but he tended sheep, served in battle and was on the run for many years before actually taking the throne. 

And then there is Paul.  The scene in Acts 23 has Paul under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus.  For years he has been harassed and persecuted for the Gospel, now he is a prisoner, accused by the Romans of inciting riots and by the Jews of blasphemy.  To truly understand Paul’s call, you have to go all the way back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that this man would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles and kings.  At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny.  As he sits in his cell, the Lord Jesus comes to him and speaks our key verse to encourage Paul.

Does this mean the apostle will be released and travel directly to Rome to preach in the great halls of the palace?  Not exactly.  Acts tells us that Paul escaped a murderous plot through a midnight run, endured multiple trials under Roman kings, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake bitten along the way.  But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.”  God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and the rest of Acts and church history tells us that Paul did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome, despite doing so from prison.  But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment.

I’m going to be bare-bones honest with you – I’m living in that empty “in-between” space right now.  More than ten years ago I heard God’s call to ministry, but in the waiting I’ve nearly lost hope.  I’ve been pursuing seminary to prepare for God’s work.  But as I walk through the aisles of Publix at my job every day, I wonder if I’ll ever get there.  That’s when I return to the stories of Abraham, Joseph, David, and especially Paul.  And that’s when I recall V. Raymond Edman’s words: “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  My friend, I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition.  But I do know that the God who spoke over your life and mine is faithful.  His word never returns void.  I am praying that you and I will stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

Who Are You?

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)! 

One of my favorite Bible characters is Gideon, a man who saw himself and his people as helpless, hopeless and small before their enemy.  We first meet Gideon in a winepress threshing wheat, which is an odd place for such a task.  Wheat was threshed on a high, open spot where the breeze could catch the chaff (or waste) and blow it away while the heavier grain falls back to the ground.  There’s not much breeze down in a winepress, but Gideon was threshing away, hiding from the marauding Midianites.

A stranger calls out to him “The Lord is with you mighty warrior” (v. 12).  I imagine Gideon spun around looking for the person he was addressing.  What Gideon doesn’t realize is the stranger is the Angel of the Lord, and he was calling Gideon by the name the Lord had given him.  Mighty Warrior.  The angel tells Gideon that God is appointing him to deliver the Israelites from their enemy.  Gideon isn’t buying it. “How can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family” (v. 15).  Gideon sees only his weakness and smallness. He compares himself to the enemy and knows he doesn’t measure up.  But Jehovah God sees Gideon as the man He will empower to accomplish great things for Israel.  God promises Gideon “I will be with you and you will strike down all the Midianites” (v. 16).  And that’s the whole point.  God isn’t looking at what Gideon is or what Gideon can do; He is looking at what He will do through Gideon, at what He had destined Gideon to become – a mighty warrior.

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?  Someone small and insignificant?  A person who has been rejected or abandoned?  Do you see someone whose life is riddled with bad decisions and wasted years?  My friend that is not how God sees you at all.  He sees you with eyes of everlasting love and tenderness.  He sees you as His beautiful creation, a reflection of His own image.  And if you are in Christ, He sees you as redeemed, restored and renewed, ready to fulfill the purpose for which you were created.

Beloved, nothing and no one defines you but God.  Whatever your past has been, whatever other voices have said about you, whatever the enemy has tried to tell you about yourself, hear this above anything else:  You are who God says you are.  And He has said you are His child, the apple of His eye, His beloved.  He has declared, “You are mine.”