Rock the Boat!

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When I read in the Scriptures about the early church, I’m jealous. They had such an incredible experience witnessing “many wonders and miraculous signs” (Acts 2:43).  I long for the sense of purpose and community that they had: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v.42). They met daily and “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God (v. 46). And He blessed them greatly: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47). What an exciting, fulfilling time to “belong to the Way” (9:2). Even the community outside of the faith appreciated them, “they enjoyed the favor of all the people” (47).

Well maybe not everyone.

After healing a man who had been crippled from birth, Peter and John proclaimed the gospel to the astonished crowd.  A great number of people believed and that angered the Jewish authorities. They questioned the apostles who then boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus to them. They commanded Peter and John to stop teaching in His name. Their response? “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20). Later they arrested and flogged them. Remarkably, they rejoiced at their mistreatment “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (5:17-41)

How very different from our modern, western culture, where religion is regarded as a personal preference and not a life-giving entity. In the US the battle cry is “separation of church and state,” and in our workplaces, schools, the public square, even among our peers, we are told to keep our religion to ourselves. Unlike the bold apostles, we do it because we don’t want to rock the boat. But true Christianity is all-or-nothing. It spills over into every aspect of our lives because “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We’ll gladly take the scorn of the world for the Name. Besides, it’s only going to get worse, not better. Beloved, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s time to not only rock the boat but get out of it and walk on the water.

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?

The Art of Spiritual Warfare: Know Yourself

A couple of days ago I shared a quote by Sun Tzu, who is credited with writing The Art of War. His premise is that victory in war comes when you know your enemy and know yourself.  From that we explored scripture about knowing our enemy the devil, but more importantly, knowing God. Several of you asked for more on “knowing yourself.” Honestly, I purposely skipped that part of Tzu’s quote because, in the current “Christian” marketplace, there is a glut of music, books, studies, and messages that are heavily self-focused. I believe it is an unhealthy trend. The church has forgotten Jesus’ call.  It’s really hard to “deny yourselves” (Luke 9:23) when you’re always thinking about yourself. But I digress.

There is a biblical directive to “know yourself” – especially in the face of spiritual warfare. The enemy loves to attack your heart. When he says, “God could never love you,” you need to know that He has promised to love you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  When he says you are worthless you need to know that God purchased you at a very high price – not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of His Son (1 Peter 1:18-19). When satan says God has forgotten you, be assured that you are engraved on the palm of God’s hand (Isaiah 49:16). Your Father says that  “you are precious and honored in my sight” (Isaiah 43:4). You are redeemed (Galatians 3:13). You are sons [and daughters] of God (Galatians 4:6). You are chosen (Ephesians 1:4).

But there’s another kind of war that your enemy wages You need to know who you are when temptation hits – and you need to know who you are not. Paul said you used to be a slave to wickedness, “but now you have been set free from sin (Romans 6:19-22). You once were dead in your sins but now you are alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13). “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Then he added, “Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Over and over Paul drives home the point – you used to love sin – BUT THAT’S NOT WHO YOU ARE NOW. (Yes I’m shouting – I want you to get this.) You are “more than conquerors” in this battle (Romans 8:37). That, Beloved, is what you need to know about yourself.

Not a Princess

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I stood next to a table filled with t-shirts at a woman’s conference and a pink one caught my eye. It had a sparkly crown on it and the words: “I’m a princess!” My Daddy is the King of the Universe” The woman next to me picked it up and handed over her credit card. “Don’t you just love this?” she asked me. “It’s very cute,” I answered. In my head, though, I said, “But I don’t want to be a princess.” Princesses are fluffy, and I’m not the fluffy sort.

I want to be a queen. Like Esther, who wore her very best dress and crown to go to battle for her people. She could have let Haman slaughter the Jews because she was safe and well-kept in her palace in Susa. But when her uncle Mordecai told her, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14), she waged war against her people’s enemy with feminine wisdom and godly courage.

I want to be a warrior. Like Deborah, who was the only female judge of Israel mentioned in Scripture. When the commander of Israel’s army refused to go into battle without her, Deborah accompanied Barak and ten thousand men to a great victory, singing, “March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21). I want to be like Jael, who lured the enemy Sisera into her tent and drove a tent pet into his temple as he slept (Judges 4:21).

I want to be the Lord’s handmaiden, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who, when told she would endure a scandalous pregnancy, said “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38). I want to tell everyone about Jesus like Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and the Samaritan Woman (John 4:39) and Mary Magdalene (John 20:18). I want to be like Dorcas, who was full of good works which she did (Acts 9:36).

No, I don’t want to be a fluffy princess. Crowns are for heaven – to be cast at the feet of Jesus. Right now you and I need the helmet of salvation. There’s a war on and the Kingdom of God is calling us into battle. Are you ready? “March on my soul; be strong!”

Hebrews: Am I a Child of God?

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The humanity of Jesus has long been a point of contention among scholars, theologians, and skeptics. It is difficult to grasp the idea that Jesus is God. A man. The divine in human flesh. It raises so many questions. Why would God subject His one and only Son to the frailties of a human body?  Why would He send Him away from perfection in heaven to walk with sinful men? Why would He impose death on His own Son for such sinful, ungrateful creatures? The author of Hebrews gives us several points in these next eight verses.

We’ll start here: “In bringing many sons to glory . . .” (Hebrews 2:10a).

God’s plan was to “bring many sons to glory,” to bring lost human beings into His eternal family. You have probably heard someone say “We are all God’s children.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it isn’t true. We are all God’s creation, but only those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior are God’s children. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister . . .” (Matthew 12:50). 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 children of God believe in the Son of God. God’s desire is not to build a household of servants or an army of soldiers or a cult of mindless followers, but a family. Jesus’ death and resurrection are His means to accomplish that goal.

How do you know if you’re a child of God? If you “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). If you “obey His commands” (2:3; 5:3). If you “walk as Jesus did” (2:6). If you “love your brother” (2:10; 3:10, 11; 4:21). If you do not “love the world” (2:15).  If you “do what is right” (3:10). If you “love with actions and in truth” (3:18-19). If you “acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come from God” (4:2). If you believe “that Jesus is the Christ” (5:1). If you “do not continue to sin” (5:18).

The only question then is, Beloved, are you a child of God?

What Is a Christian?

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How do others know you’re a follower of Christ? Is it your “Daughter of the King” T-shirt? Maybe it’s the fish on your car or posting Jesus memes on social media. Perhaps it’s how you rail against sins you would never commit. Do these things say you are a Christian? No more than sitting in a garage says you are a car. There are three things that Jesus identified as marking His followers.

Love – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Twice: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” ((John 15:12). And again: “This is my command: Love each other” (15:17). Three times Jesus said, “Love one another.” And this is the only time in all four gospels that Jesus called His words a “command.”

Fruit – “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Fruit is the evidence of what something or someone is. A peach tree bears peaches. A banana tree bears bananas. A Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit: love (there it is again), Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Persecution – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). If you belong to Christ, you have a target painted on your back.

The church wants to say it is all about doing and saying the right things. The world says it is approving all kinds of sin for the sake of “love.” But Jesus said the mark of a Christian is love for the Body of Christ, producing fruit, and being hated by the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little uneasy right now. Beloved, what is it about you that tells the world you belong to Jesus?

Don’t Decorate Your Life With Jesus

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I love roosters. I love their colors. I love how they strut. I love to hear their “cock-a-doodle-do! I love the life they represent – rural, peaceful, simple. Oh, I’ve never had a rooster. But I love them. For decoration. My kitchen and dining room are an artistic barnyard with figurines and pictures of roosters all over. I love how they look and the peaceful feeling they inspire, but that’s the extent of my connection to roosters.

Paul lamented people who go through life “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). People who love the idea of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus and the wisdom of Jesus. But they don’t know Jesus. He talked about “weak-willed women who are  . . . always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (v. 6, 7). As a Bible teacher, I’ve seen this too many times. Women – and men – who, like the Greeks in Athens, love to listen and talk about the latest ideas, but nothing takes hold in the soil of their hearts. They can sound Christiany and they post great Jesus memes, but there’s nothing of substance and no fruit growing in their lives.  They like the peace and love that Jesus talked about, but they don’t want the righteousness, holiness, and suffering Jesus also talked about. My heart breaks for them because they are only deceiving themselves.

Friend, I don’t want you to follow me – I want you to follow Jesus. I don’t want you to take my words to heart – I want you to take The Word to heart. I want you to put your own roots down deep into the rich truths of Scripture and grow and flourish with sweet fruit. I want you to love Jesus and the Word because you have a real relationship with Him. Beloved, if all you ever do is decorate your life with Jesus stuff, my ministry will have been in vain. I want you to know and love Him with all your heart and mind and soul. I want you to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19). The life of Jesus.

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

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The world has many different views of what a “Christian” is.  In fact, the church is pretty confused about what it means as well. The title “Christian” was not coined by the Lord Himself or by His disciples. “Christian” was a designation given to the “Followers of the Way” – the first believers – by those outside the church (see Acts 11:26). It meant, “little Christs” because these people were keenly identified with Jesus by their words and actions. Not so much today.

To the culture, a Christian is someone who is filled with hate and intolerance. Strangely enough, the only ones the tolerant culture will not tolerate are true Christians.  In many churches today, a Christian is someone who shows up semi-regularly for church and throws a couple of bucks in the plate.  Oh, and they must not speak out against anything anyone chooses to do or be all for the sake of “love.”  Individually, a Christian is someone who posts Jesus memes on social media, right after posting something laced with profanity. They know just enough Scripture to prove themselves right in their own eyes.

Saying “I am a Christian” does not get you into God’s heaven. Paul said the key to heaven is a profession of faith. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

There is an important distinction between saying “I’m a Christian” and saying “Jesus is Lord.” What we are to confess with our mouth is the Name, the identity, and the Lordship of Jesus. And it’s not just words we spout, it must be a confession of our heart. I tried an experiment with this when I had to interview several non-believers for my Apologetics class. I asked each one to say, “Jesus is Lord,” and every one of them refused because they said, “I don’t believe it.” Remember what Jesus said – “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). And the heart that believes that Jesus is Lord will lead the mind and body to act like it.

Claiming to be a Christian has no saving power. Professing the Name and Lordship of Jesus Christ does. The true confession of faith is not what I am, but what Jesus is.

It’s Time to Grow Up

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I grew up a church kid.  I was on the cradle roll, became a Sunbeam, then a G.A. and on up the church ladder I went. I never lacked for instruction. From my earliest childhood, I heard stories about Jesus. About angels, shepherds, and wise men. About the mean old devil in the wilderness. And oh, the miracles: blind eyes opened, thousands fed from a few loaves and fishes, walking on water and calming storms. And of course, I learned about the cross and the empty tomb. I heard them all and believed they all were true. But I still didn’t believe in Him. It took many years and a lot of patience on God’s part for me to go from stories to faith.

The author of Hebrews implored his readers to move beyond the milk of “elementary teachings about Christ” and feast on solid food like mature Christians. It’s interesting that these “elementary teachings” are “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (6:2). Here’s what shocking: he said their lack of spiritual maturity was because they are “slow to learn” (5:11). Does that mean that they were struggling with these rudimentary issues?  No. The word “slow” means lazy. They hadn’t put forth any effort to learn. They’d been content with “elementary” knowledge rather than graduating to the deeper teachings of the faith.

I would say that the vast majority of folks sitting in the pews today don’t have even an elemental grasp of the basic tenets of the faith. So, if the Hebrew Christians were considered “slow to learn” because they only understood “elementary teachings”, what does that say about the church in our generation? We’ve become content with a “preschool” faith. Bible stories and psychological “Bible” studies and a religion of the new holy trinity – me, myself, and I. That’s not going to help us in the days of persecution that are on the horizon.

Are you ready to put the bottle down and dig into some solid spiritual food? I’m going to dedicate Monday’s devotionals to dig into the book of Hebrews in the days, weeks, months ahead. Beloved, grab a fork (and your Bible) and join me at the table. Let’s sink our teeth into something satisfying.

A Hill to Die On

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Bible teacher Beth Moore (I know, she’s a lightning rod right now) said that there are spine issues and rib issues in the church. Meaning, a broken rib is painful and uncomfortable but is not usually life-threatening. But a broken spine can cause paralysis and even death.

There are points we debate in the church that are rib issues. They are really not the mountains we make them out to be.  And the enemy uses those issues to cause a great divide in the Body of Christ and bring scorn on her witness in the world.

But then there are matters we confront that are spine issues. They are hills worth dying on and spiritual truths that must not be left up to debate or cultural interpretation.

One of the most crucial is that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and has complete authority over the church.

In the past, the church argued over matters of doctrine. Was Jesus both fully divine and fully human? Was He even the Son of God or just a holy man? Was His resurrection bodily or only spiritual? Today, the hottest issues are homosexuality, abortion, and the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to God.

But all these are only symptoms of a more severe, more deadly disease – disregard for the Word of God.  At the very root of all these debates is the question of the authority of the Scriptures.  Every discussion the church enters should ask the question: “What does the Bible say?”  And we must align ourselves accordingly. Peter said that the Scriptures came to men from the Holy Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:21). If the church is approving of or teaching things that disagree with the Scriptures then that is very much a spine issue. That will cause great damage to the Body.

Okay, but what does that mean for you and me in our daily lives? We also must submit to the authority of the Bible. In matters great and small, the Word of God must have the final say. In your thoughts. In your choices. In your words. In your marriage. In your home. In your relationships. In your job. The Bible is not just “the Good Book.” It is the holy words of the holy God of heaven and earth. Beloved, it is your life (Deut. 32:47).