The Runner’s High

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“Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
If you look at me, you will quickly discern that I am not a runner. I am not physically active and it shows. I have a good friend from elementary/high school who does run and she is healthy, fit, and has incredible mental and physical energy.  I get winded walking to the mailbox. 
 
Paul had a lot to say about running, but not for physical health. Paul was running a race. He had a higher purpose in mind that covering miles. He wanted to run well and to especially finish well.  I encourage you to grab your Bible and read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – I’ll wait here for you.  At first glance, this appears to be about running for the “prize” of heaven, but J.D. Walt highlighted in today’s Seedbed Daily Text that the prize is not about something far off that we have to work harder and run faster to reach. It is about a relationship with Jesus – right here and right now.  It is the realization that Jesus is our running companion. He’s not standing at some far-distant finish line but is running right alongside us.  I also believe Paul is talking about endurance.  About putting your foot down one more time and one more time because Christ is your source of strength when your legs are heavy and your breath is labored. He is the voice shouting encouragement in your ears.  I also believe Paul is talking about being purposeful as you run – in letting go of everything that compromises your ability to stay in step with Christ.  I’m seeing more and more that our ideals (especially our American ideals) are weights on our feet.  They are being turned into the enemy of the Gospel as we set them up higher than heaven.  Being a citizen of heaven trumps being a citizen of any earthly nation.
I do think there is a prize waiting for you at the end of the race. It is hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when you and Jesus bust through the tape at the edge of heaven. That’s the “runner’s high.” That’s worth lacing up your running shoes, Beloved.

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?

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.

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/

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.

A Snowflake in an Avalanche

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“O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you” (Daniel 9:8).

I quote a lot of people, but I never thought I would quote Voltaire, the French Enlightenment philosopher who was an outspoken critic of Christianity, but I ran across one of his quotes and thought it was very powerful. “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Stop and think about that for a moment. An avalanche can be traced back to millions of harmless, individual snowflakes that come together to create a massive wall of white with destructive power. But who would lay the blame on a single, lacy snowflake?
That thought brings two things to mind. As Christians we look around in shock at the world that has turned from acceptance to hatred for the church. We shake our heads at the lack of morals of this country and the laws that declare wrong as right and right as wrong. And we look in disbelief at “churches” who have embraced and celebrate sin, putting a religious stamp of approval on what God has declared unnatural and ungodly. I’ve witnessed an incredible amount of moral deterioration in just my lifetime. And we sit, like frogs in a steaming stewpot wondering, “What happened? How did we get to this point?” We got here by ignoring the snowflakes. The church turned a blind eye to the first signs of compromise. We didn’t want to raise a fuss. It’s such a little thing, we shouldn’t make a big deal over it. We need to pick our battles. We have to be culturally relevant. We don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. One wink at sin, one shrug of our religious shoulders – then another and another and another. And here we are in a sin-saturated nation with no voice to say otherwise.
The truth is, we are each individually responsible for the state of the nation. We overlooked the snowflakes of compromise in our own lives long before they started swirling in the culture. We turned the disciplines of holy living – Bible study, prayer, service, faithfulness to the church– into suggestions for living your best life. We made the church one option among many in our busy, over-scheduled lives. We decided purity wasn’t as important as entertainment and freedom in Christ meant no restrictions. The snowflakes eventually caused an avalanche that pushed us over the edge and away from God.
But the same principle can turn it all around. What if you and I decided, as individuals to turn our hearts back to God, to return to the disciplines of holy living and the priority of righteousness? What if we spent time in Bible study and prayer every day? What if we determined to make purity and faithfulness the rule rather than the exception? What if we followed the Spirit without compromise? What if we purged the sin from our homes and our lives? What if the church turned back to God in repentance and godly sorrow? What if we taught the Scriptures rather than cultural, feel-good-about-myself messages? What if we decided that our kids needed the church more than they needed sports? What if we recognized that we’re supposed to be different than the culture around us? What if we accepted the responsibility for the state of our nation? What if we cried out to God for revival? What if every person who claims the name of Christ told just one lost person about Jesus? What if – one believer at a time, one church at a time – we created an avalanche of godliness and holiness that could push us back to God?
If one snowflake can be part of a wall of destruction, then one believer can be part of a wall of restoration. I believe it’s possible. I also I believe it is necessary. I believe our nation is in a precarious position, so near the edge of a very steep cliff. We are in danger of falling into a dark abyss from which we might never recover. The time for personal godliness is now. The time for the church to repent is now. We must walk back the compromises we’ve made – in our lives and in the church – while there is still time. A single snowflake is not the problem, but it is part of the problem. A single committed believer is not the whole solution, but you and I can be part of the solution. On our own we have little influence or power, but together with God, we can change this nation. We must – before it’s too late.