Saving the Best for Last

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I always eat the least favorite thing on my plate first and save my most favorite thing for last. When I have chores to do I do the hardest one first then do the easiest last. Why? Because I know that if I eat my favorite food or do the easiest chores first, I will give up before I do the rest. It’s a discipline I learned as a kid: “save the best for last.”

I think that is a very simple explanation for Paul’s message to the churches in Rome.  He said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (8:18). Let’s get the truth out on the table – this life is hard. And the Christian life, I believe, makes it harder. Christians are constantly at odds with the culture of the world. Our priorities are very different. Our desires are (or should be) counter-cultural. Our sense of right and wrong rubs against the ever-changing “morals’ of the day. And our worldview is 180 degrees from the ethos of the world. Sometimes we wonder why we continue to swim against the stream and make ourselves a target of the enemy. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go along with the world and save ourselves the struggles and pain? Maybe. But at what cost? “Glory.” The reward for endurance and perseverance is glory. And not just a glory we can see at a distance. Paul said the glory to come is “in us.” He told the church in Corinth that this is “an eternal glory that far outweighs our light and momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Maybe you don’t consider your troubles “light and momentary.” You may have lost a job or a friendship because of your commitment to your faith. You won’t be the first. The history of the church is written in the blood of men and women who died for the name of Christ. It still happens today in certain parts of the world, and I believe it is coming to the Western church soon Paul isn’t dismissing these hard things. But he is saying there is something better coming, something that makes all our difficulties in this life pale in comparison. He said, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Those are not just fluffy words – they are a rock-solid promise from the heart of God. You and I cannot imagine the glory that is coming. Hang on Beloved, the best is yet to be.

All or Nothing

Reading in Luke 14:25-35 where Jesus talked about the cost of being His disciple. It’s much higher than we imagine. He said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (v. 33). The cost of following Jesus is everything you have and everything you are. It’s every minute of my time. It’s every dollar you have. It’s every thought in my mind and every desire of your heart. It’s my hopes and dreams and it’s your will. It’s my physical body, my abilities, and it’s your identity. “That leaves nothing for me!” you may say. That’s exactly the point.

Jesus said that there is no such thing as half-hearted disciples. You are either all in or you are all out. He said that a builder will determine the cost of a project and whether he can make that investment before he jumps in. A king will determine the strength of his army before engaging in battle. He said you and I are to consider whether we are willing to give up our lives and our very selves to follow Him – and if we are not, then we cannot be His disciple.

We have confused church membership with discipleship. They are not the same. This may be news to some but, church membership doesn’t get you into heaven. The church rolls are not the Lamb’s Book of Life. And this may shock you, but praying “The Sinner’s Prayer,” isn’t the ticket to heaven. Parroting words will not get you eternal life. Wholehearted surrender to the risen Lord – the Son of God is the only thing that will. Jesus said discipleship – the kind that is all-in, all the time, all the way to your last breath – is the mark of a heaven-bound saint.

Is it enough to show up on Sunday, pay your “dues,” sing, stay awake for the sermon and pat the preacher on the back on your way out the door? Not to Jesus. He demands more of His disciples than that. The modern church of lite and comfort is in for a rude awakening. It’s time to decide, Beloved. Are you willing to abandon all you have and all you are to be a disciple of Jesus? Have you counted the cost and deemed Him worthy?

Hebrews: Church Leaders

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“So you want to do something in the church,” the Pastor said.

“Yes, sir!” the man answered.

“What do you think you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you have?”

“We could use some help in the youth department.”

“Hmm. Teenagers are not really my thing.”

“Okay, we need people to help with cleanup after Wednesday night suppers.”

“Oh. Well, I was thinking of something . . . more . . . I guess, more important.”

“Well, tell me what you have in mind then.”

“I want to be a deacon – you know, hand out the bulletins and take up the offering.”

“Being a deacon is much more than that, it’s a calling from God. Deacons are spiritual leaders in the church.”

“Yes! I can do that – I can be a leader.  Go call the rest of the guys to come lay hands on me!”

I may have embellished this conversation just a bit, but the truth is, a lot of people want to be leaders in the church. But leadership is not something to be taken on a whim; it is a holy responsibility and should be approached with reverence – and a calling. The author of Hebrews addressed “the laying on of hands,” as part of the ”elementary teachings” of the faith (6:2). This is a practice within the church of conferring a spiritual office on someone who has proven their call to leadership, usually as a pastor, elder, deacon, or other position of ministry.  It expresses the gravity of the role they are assuming in the church.

Paul warned Timothy to be careful in selecting leaders for the church in Ephesus. He counseled him not to appoint out of partiality or favoritism then added, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” (1 Timothy 5:21-22). Church leadership should never be handed out as favors and candidates for church leadership must prove their calling and fitness for service. You’ve probably seen the damage that can result from ungodly leaders – they can destroy a church and people’s lives.

What should we look for in a leader? The Bible gives us a great example in Acts 6 through Stephen who was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), “full of God’s grace and power” (v. 8), and spiritual wisdom (v. 10). He knew the Scriptures well (I once had a deacon ask me where in the Bible is the story of the Little Drummer Boy). Stephen died defending the name of Christ. That’s a man who is called to serve the church. Beloved, we must be wise in choosing leaders and wise in whom we follow, lest they lead us right to the gates of hell.

Rock Solid Faith

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“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:43).

A sinful woman encountered Jesus one day and an entire village was changed.  The Samaritan woman found Jesus at a well.  He told her who she was, and then He told her who He was.  She ran to her village and called her neighbors to meet the man who changed her life.  And they came.  And they believed.  Not because of what the woman said about Jesus, but because of what He said about Himself.  “Because of His words many more became believers” (v. 41).  Second-hand faith is not a sustaining faith.  We must hear and know Jesus for ourselves.

I am so grateful for my time as a seminary student.  That experience stretched my mind and my faith in ways I never imagined.  In seminary, I learned how to study the Bible for life, how to search out its treasures, and discern God’s truth.  I learned how to think critically.  Most of all, I was challenged to consider what I believe.  I looked at everything I believed and examined it carefully, scripturally, practically.  I found some things that needed to be challenged and changed, and some things that needed to be nailed down as the foundation of my faith. I no longer stand on what others told me about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church, and my faith, I stand on what I know is true and right.  I know what I believe and I believe what I know.

You don’t need to go to seminary to build a strong foundation of faith.  All you need is the Bible and the courage to examine your beliefs through God’s Word and His Spirit. You need to find out if what you believe is really true.  Because that’s the kind of faith that stands firm against the winds of the culture, against the “wisdom” of the world, against the threat of suffering, persecution, and death.  Do you really think the martyrs of old would have died for something they weren’t convinced was true?  Beloved, you need to be sure of your faith and your convictions. You need to be certain that you have a faith that’s worth living – and dying for.

Not a Christian Nation Anymore

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Like many of you, I have watched with sadness the declining influence of the church on the nation. I have also grieved the decline of the church itself. While it is by no means dead, it is quite ill. It has replaced the true gospel with the junk food of social justice, pop-psychology, and “God wants everyone to be happy” theology. It has drunk the wine of complacency, apathy, and laziness. It has become addicted to the drug of the culture, “tolerance.” It is nothing like the church of my youth.  

I grew up in the 60’s. It was much easier to be a “Christian” in those days. It was what was expected. If you went to church, the culture smiled on you. Even those who didn’t go to church had a sense of respect for those that did. But that’s not the world we live in anymore. I miss the time when right was right and wrong was wrong and everyone knew the first three verses of Amazing Grace. But while the Christianization of America looked good on the outside, it was not all good. It was akin to the reign of Constantine in the 2nd century A.D. when, because of the Emperor’s Christian zeal, every citizen born in the Roman Empire was deemed a “Christian.” The true heart of a Christ-follower was long forgotten as the populous did what was expected.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). What is the will of the Father? “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). The will of the Father, the mark of a true Christ-follower was not to sit in a church pew, but to believe in Christ.

The de-Christianization of America may be the best thing that ever happened to God’s people. As the culture takes a deeper hold on the church the faithful will be pushed out and ostracized. Only pure-hearted Christ-loving believers will stand firm. And just as happened throughout the history of the church, God will use the world’s hatred as a purifying fire to burn away the dross and bring out the gold. Those who kneel before Christ today will stand firm in the face of persecution tomorrow. What will it be for you, Beloved?

To Be a Mighty Man (or Woman) of God

King David was a mighty warrior. His feats are recorded all through 1st and 2nd Samuel. Every child knows the story of David and Goliath. David defeated many kings and conquered many enemy nations – but he didn’t do it alone. 2 Samuel 23 is a record of David’s “mighty men” who fought by his side. There was Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed 800 men in one encounter, and Abishai who killed 300. Benaiah killed a lion and a “huge Egyptian” with the man’s own spear. But there are two in particular that captured my attention.

Eleazar was with David when he faced off against the Philistines. The Scripture said that the rest of the army of Israel retreated, “but [Eleazar] stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.” (v. 10). Shammah also faced an army of Philistines on his own after Israel’s troops fled. “Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory” (v. 12).

Do you see the similarities in these accounts? Both men stood firm when everyone else had fled and The Lord brought about a great victory. I want to be like them. I want to stand firm in the Lord, no matter the size of the enemy, even if I stand alone. I want to hold the Sword of the Spirit with such a tight grip that my hand freezes around it. I want a faith that keeps me in the good fight till the end.

Like Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Still today, Christians around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. I want a faith like that – one that stands the ultimate test.

I want to be a “mighty woman of God.” I want that for my granddaughter. I want that for you too, Beloved. When the world demands that we deny Christ and bow to the culture, I want us to stand our ground, hands frozen to the Sword of the Spirit till the Lord brings the victory.

God Bless America

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For weeks leading up to the election, I prayed. I didn’t pray for President Trump to win. I didn’t pray for Biden to win. I prayed for God’s will to be done in America. Days after the voting ended we still don’t know whom the President of the United States is going to be in January 2021. To the consternation of the majority of Christians, it appears that Biden will take this election. I have heard the theories of stolen votes and impropriety by the Democratic Party. I’ve also seen and heard all the hand-wringing about the destruction of religious liberty under a Biden/Harris (or Harris/???) administration. That is a very real possibility. Why would God allow that to happen? Because it may very well be the best thing for His Church.

Acts tells the story of the birth and growth of Jesus’ Church. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the first-century Christians. Acts 7:54-60 tells the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. Immediately afterward, “A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  God’s faithful people were running for their lives. Again, we ask, why would He allow that to happen? Because “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). It was the persecution of the church that allowed the Christian faith to spread across the world.

What is God’s will? Is it the preservation of the United States of America? Or the preservation of His people, the Church? Around the world and throughout human history, the church has experienced the most growth – not just numbers, but growth in faith and strength – where she is being persecuted. Where the church was accepted and approved, the numbers may have increased, but the quality of faith suffered. Nothing spells the downfall of Christianity more than popular acceptance. This nation was founded largely by Christian men on Judeo-Christian values. But this nation is not a Christian nation and has not been for a very long time. Church membership was expected for generations, and like the church under Constantine, the moral value diminished greatly. I believe with all my heart that the church will undergo persecution in the coming days. And it will be a purifying fire. Those whose hearts are not devoted to the Lord will flee to save their skins. Those who remain will be the unshakable core that God will preserve and strengthen. Church buildings may be shuttered, but the Church will be healthier than ever. Beloved, do not fear what is to come. God is at work, and His work never fails.