The Truth About Love

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“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (2:15-16).
The heart and soul of true love is the love of God. This is perfect love (1 John 4:18). And it is nothing like the “love” this -world desires. In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.” Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness. If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires. But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive. Should I, in “love,” allow my granddaughter to play with the phone charger? That’s her little heart’s desire. Or should I keep her from something that can hurt her? Shouldn’t I also care about someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction?
Today, eros “love” – sensual love – has taken hold of the culture. “Love” has become anything that satisfies the flesh, no matter how perverse or damaging. And responding in “love” means we affirm and applaud this twisted version of love. But that is not love. The truest expression of real love was at the cross: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves all humankind, and He knows that sin is not in our best interest, but salvation is. He acted out of perfect love to provide what we needed most.
What this culture calls “love” is often nothing more than self-indulgence. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Friend, it is time for us to speak the truth in love about love.

Choosing Jesus

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The Lord said: “These people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip-service–yet their hearts are far from Me.” Isaiah 29:13

When the Columbine massacre happened in 1999, the story was told of a young woman who died because she affirmed her faith in God. I remember a friend insisting, “I would have said ‘Yes!’ too – I would take a bullet for God!” Yet I saw her daily life, and it denied her profession. I think for so many Christians in America, we believe that “making the choice” for Christ means one day standing before a firing squad and saying, “I believe in Jesus!” then bracing ourselves for the gunfire. We don’t realize that the choice is made every day in a thousand small ways.

In choosing time with God over an extra hour of sleep. In choosing to turn off worldly programming. In choosing to speak gently in the face of insult. In choosing to have our kids in Sunday School rather than on the ballfield. In choosing to love and care for our lost neighbors rather than avoiding them. In choosing to put down the cellphone and talk to our children about our faith. In choosing to run away from pornography. In choosing to worship God rather than a politician. In choosing humility over anger. In choosing surrender and submission to Christ over national rights and privileges.

The thing is, if we’re not making these lesser choices every day, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re going to make them when it’s a matter of life and death. The proof of our relationship with Christ is not in a sensational act of courage, its in the quiet moment-by-moment choices we make day-after-day.

Beloved, are you choosing Christ?

Are You Sure About That?

What do these statements have in common?

“Copy and paste this to your page to circumnavigate the Facebook algorithms and see all your friends again!”
“If you’re being held up at an ATM, put your pin in backwards and the bank will alert the police.”
“My lawyer friend said to copy and share this legal statement to prevent Facebook from using your photos and posts without your consent.”
“When Jesus folded the napkin, it was a sign that He is coming back!”

Besides the fact that they are shared over and over and over on social media, they are all false. They are lies. But because they have been passed on multiple times, people assume they are true. And they keep sharing them.
Paul warned about false doctrine that takes deep root in the church. He said, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). In the three letters Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, he prefaced several statements of doctrinal truth with the words: “Here is a trustworthy saying:” He wanted these two young men, whom he had assigned to care for the believers in Ephesus and Crete, to be careful with what they believed and what they taught. He wanted them to only pass along “trustworthy sayings.” My favorite Bible folks are the Bereans from Acts 17 who were considered “noble” because they checked out everything Paul told them. They didn’t take his word for it. They wanted to know if what he was saying was true.
I want you to be a Berean. On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In your daily life. In your knowledge of the Bible and spiritual things. In what you pass along to friends and family. In what you teach your children. Check things out. Especially where it concerns the Scriptures. You need to build your faith and your life on “trustworthy sayings,” not “myths and old wives’ tales.” As Paul said, “Train yourself to be godly” through daily Bible study (not just a 5-minute devotional), meditation on God’s Word, and prayer. Fill your mind and your heart with truth.
What do you believe? Why do you believe it? Because it’s what you’ve always heard? Or because you’ve checked it out for yourself and found it to be trustworthy and true? Be a Berean Beloved.

Not Your Warm and Fuzzy Devotional

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There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”

What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?

Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?

But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.

Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.

What are You Talking About?

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“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

I confess – I spend far more time on social media than I should. I love seeing pictures of your kids and grandkids (sorry, but mine is cuter). I like silly memes and funny posts, especially in this season when the world is so grim. And I love to read your testimonies of God’s goodness and faithfulness to you. Those kinds of posts make my day. I do not like political posts. I do not like posts that contain the words: “like and share,” “bet I won’t get one share,” or “make this go viral.” I don’t like fake posts – grocery stores or fast-food restaurants giving away $250 worth of food or warnings about false dangers. But what I dislike the most are false posts that are “religious” in nature. The one about why Jesus folded the napkin. Images that have been manipulated to look like Jesus in the clouds. The urgent prayer request for 20 Coptic Christians set to be executed or the little kid that shot himself with a nail gun. It’s important to share prayer needs and stories of faith – but only if you know for a fact that they are true.

This world needs truth. Not made-up stories. There are a LOT of people saying a lot of things about God, about Jesus, about Christianity. Not all of it is right and true. That’s Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15. He was advanced in Judaism and highly educated. He knew a lot of stuff about God. But He said only one thing was “of first importance”: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared [to many]” (v. 3-8, paraphrased).

I will occasionally post something silly or fun, or something meaningful and encouraging, but I am careful and selective about what I put out into the cyber-world. Because only one thing matters: Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, resurrected, and coming again. If the world learned about Jesus only through your conversations: verbal, social media, even overheard in the coffee shop (if we ever get back to the coffee shop) would they hear the truth? Would they hear what matters? Beloved, are you saying what’s of first importance?

Don’t Drift Away from God

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Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.

 

And Who Is My Neighbor?

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This week our Ladies studied the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). I ran across this modern adaptation of the parable and it spoke volumes to us. (Disclaimer: This has been edited for space and application.)

[Jesus is speaking to a group of Southern Baptists:]
An elderly couple was mugged and robbed by a group of thieves outside a restaurant. As the couple lay dazed and bleeding on the sidewalk, a Methodist preacher walked toward them on his way to Bible study, but instead of stopping to render aid, he crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way. A short while later, a couple of Baptist preachers came along, but since they were running late to their prayer meeting, they also crossed over and hurried on their way.
Finally, an atheist came along and felt compassion for the couple. He rendered whatever medical aide he could, then helped them into his van and drove them to the nearest hospital. He paid the deductible cost of their insurance and made arrangements to further pay any amount not covered by their policy
[Jesus then asked], “Which of the people who came upon the couple acted as a neighbor to them?” The Baptist replied, “The one who had mercy on them”. [Jesus then commanded] “Go and do likewise”.

The man who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” wanted to know whom he was required to “love” according to the Law. Jesus said the point is not the limit of the Law, it is being the one who goes above and beyond in compassion. Beloved, who needs you to be a neighbor today?

Is the Christian Church Dying?

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The pollsters tell us that in the last ten years, Christianity in America has declined by more than 10%. Of those who claim to be Christians, less than half report regular church attendance. Those who claim no affiliation with religion – the “nones” have increased – from only 6% in the early 1970’s to 22% in 2019. [1] Add to those reports the rise of hatred against Christianity and the trend for modern churches to turn away from biblical truth and you begin to wonder if the true church has a future at all. Is Christianity dying? Is the Christian church going to survive?

Christianity is by no means dying and the church will survive because her Head is Jesus Christ, the ultimate and eternal Victor. But the church and her children will take some difficult blows. Jesus warned His followers that the world would hate those who love Him, He said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). When we become Christians and live like Christians, we will become offensive – not acceptable – to the world.

Perhaps the unpopularity of the Christian faith will be her saving grace. When being a Christian becomes a stigma instead of a tradition, only the most devoted to Christ will remain. Throughout the history of the church, God has often used persecution and oppression to purge and purify His people.

Jesus also said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). When they were imprisoned and beaten for their testimony of Jesus, the Apostles were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Persecution is on the horizon for the church in the U.S. – it’s already a reality in other parts of the world. Beloved holding fast to your faith in Jesus may be the hardest thing you ever do. But it will also be the sweetest. Be faithful to God, walk in His Truth, refuse to compromise the faith and the message, and trust Him to either stand in our defense or stand to receive us into heaven.

[1] https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

God Bless Us Everyone!

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Ebenezer Scrooge was the quintessential Christmas grump. The light and fun of the season eluded him – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he chased it off. He rejected every spark of happiness or celebration of the season and did his best to squash it for others. He was bitter, hard, greedy, and rude. Scrooge had no Christmas joy. What changed his attitude? When the Spirit of Christmas Future showed him the difference between the grief expressed at the death of Tiny Tim and the indifference at his own passing. Realizing that he would die a lonely death and no one would care, Scrooge determined to “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

In a culture that regards “the holidays” as big business, what does it mean to “honor” Christmas? Is it singing non-offensive festive songs? Is it toy drives and food collections? Or does it mean actually saying the word Christmas – and emphasizing the first six letters? Is it posting “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” on all our social media accounts?

I think, perhaps old Ebenezer got it right. For Scrooge, honoring Christmas meant opening his heart (and his purse strings) to joy. And it meant sharing that joy with everyone he met. After his change of heart, Scrooge, Dickins said, suddenly discovered that “everything could yield him pleasure”[1] He understood that real joy wasn’t just for a season – it lasted all year long and included everything and everyone around him.

Beloved, does your joy gets packed away with the Christmas decorations? Then your joy is in a holiday on a calendar, not in the One we celebrate. Real joy is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Real joy comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life in heaven. That is joy that carries you all through the year and through the ups and downs of life. I’ve heard it said that Christians are the only ones who can truly celebrate Christmas because they know the joy of redemption. If Christmas is only a season of joy, then you need to find the reason for the season and know the joy of Christ “all the year.”

[1] http://www.authorama.com/a-christmas-carol-6.html

Is This Really Christmas? – First Day of Advent 2019

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Thanksgiving night, after feasting with family, we fell into our chairs in front of the television in a tryptophan-stupor. My husband found “The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration” on T.V. The show featured multiple popular entertainers singing traditional and not so traditional Christmas songs. There were huge studio audiences in both U.S. locations, with singers, dancers, and of course, Mickey and Minnie Mouse – and I couldn’t help but think how different this “Christmas” celebration was from that holy night.

The Disney parks were packed with people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, squeezing in as close to the stage as they could get. The little town of Bethlehem was packed too, so much so that a young couple, she very heavy with child, could only find lodging in a stable – little more than a cave (Luke 2:16). The parks were awash with dancing lights and fireworks. The man and woman greeted their first-born child in the dark cavern they shared with the animals. The singers for the program were introduced to the adoring crowds with much fanfare by the emcees. The birth of Jesus was announced by a host of angels to lowly shepherds watching over their sheep in the Judean hillside (v. 8). The singers sang such Christmas classics as “Santa Baby,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Deck the Halls.” The angel chorus sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men” (v. 14). The fans screamed and applauded as their favorite stars in glittery costumes sang and danced. The shepherds were awe-struck by the child who was wrapped in rags to protect His tender skin from the prickly straw in which He lay (v. 12). They were amazed and glorified and praised God for all that they had seen and heard (v. 20). How strange that a modern festive celebration originally meant to mark the birth of the Christ child never mentioned His name at all.

This is Christmas in the 21st Century – at least in the world of media and entertainment. But the real Christmas isn’t in fireworks and Santa and screaming fans. It is the quiet presence of the Baby and His parents huddled together in the straw. It is joy and peace and hope and love wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Christmas is Jesus. Nothing more and nothing less. This Advent season I hope you will join me for daily reflections on the season and the Child who changed the world. Let’s find the real heart of Christmas.