Independence Day

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“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Galatians 5:1

Here in the United States, July 4th is our Independence Day – the day when our nation’s founding fathers declared our freedom, vowing that America was no longer subject to the British. They wrote and signed a “Declaration of Independence” to proclaim their right to sovereignly rule themselves. In the spirit of this day, I am declaring my own independence.

I declare that I am no longer subject to the lies of the devil or the world. I will be a wise Berean and take everything I hear and “examine the Scriptures” to see if it is true (Acts 17:11). I will listen only to God’s Word because His Word sets my heart free (Psalm 119:32).

I declare that I am no longer subject to sin. I have been set free from sin through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:18). Sin is not my master (Rom. 6:14). It has no power over me and I will not submit to it anymore.

I declare that I am no longer subject to fear. I am a child of God and He has lavished His great and perfect love on me (1 John 3:1). Perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jn. 4:18).

I declare that I am no longer subject to the opinions of others. “If God is for me, who can be against me?” (Romans 8:31). What does it matter what other people say about me if I am accepted by God through His Son?  I seek only His “Well done!” (Matthew 25:21).

I declare that I am no longer subject to my own emotions.  I will “set my heart at rest in His presence whenever my heart condemns me. For God is greater than my heart” (1 John 3:20). I will bring my emotions under the control of the Holy Spirit and not allow them to control me.

This is my Declaration of Independence. And it is also my Declaration of Dependence on God because He is the sovereign Ruler over my life. He has set me free from all these things and from the punishment I deserve – the punishment His Son bore for me. I am subject only to Him. So, what about you, Beloved? Will you declare this July 4th as your Independence Day?

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.

Is He Lord?

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I had a t-shirt that got me into trouble in middle school. It wasn’t racy or low-cut or provocative – it was what it said. No, it didn’t have profanity on it or racist comments.  It said, “As long as there are pop tests, there will be prayer in school.” By my middle-high school years, faculty-led prayer had been banned from schools for ten years. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools. Fifty-nine years later we are reaping the consequences of that decision. Deadly, horrific consequences.

After the 9/11 tragedy, Anne Graham Lotz commented, “for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection.” What fools we have been.

But we were not the first to tell God to leave us alone. The Old Testament Prophet Amos tried in obedience to deliver the word of the Lord to the people but they told him, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (Amos 7:16). In other words, “Shut up and leave us alone.” And so God did. He told them, “The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). They had said, “We don’t want to hear from you, God,” and He gave them what they wanted – silence from heaven. For four hundred years. Years of great oppression and persecution and struggle.

You and I can’t plead for God’s help in a crisis and then reject His holy and righteous ways when they rub against our “freedoms.” And I’m not just talking on a big, national scale – I’m talking about our every day lives. The missionary Hudson Taylor said, “Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.” You and I have to be all-in. What say you, Beloved? Is He Lord or is He not?

Godly People in an Ungodly World

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“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the internet and you are face-to-face with evil. You don’t even have to look for it; it’s on roadside billboards, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news. Satan rules the world – for now. Yet believers are called to live godly lives in an ungodly world. How?

Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I love this verse and the two contrasting words. “Shrewd” means “wise, sensible” and comes from “thinking and understanding.” Simply put, we need to think, then make a wise determination. Let’s be honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told. If you don’t believe me, spend a day on Facebook. We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in. Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent which means pure, not mixed with evil. His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord. Despite what the bumper sticker claims, God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for you and me.

We must let the Word of God be the determining factor in everything we do and say and think. The world will not tell you the truth. The Word will never tell you a lie. Beloved, be wise – consider everything through the lens of Scripture. It will never steer you wrong. Be innocent – keep your mind and heart pure from the world’s philosophies and attitudes. It might help to turn off the T.V., put down the newspaper, and log off of the internet. That’s how we live “in the world,” but not “of the world” (John 17:15-16).

A Safe Place in the Storm

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A storm is raging outside my window this morning. Thunder rumbles a warning as the wind howls and the rain beats down. In the next county, a tornado warning has sent people scurrying for their safe place. Farther up the state, families are trying to recover from this same system that has destroyed homes and neighborhoods. We really shouldn’t be caught off guard by them; it’s spring in the South and we know every year that these storms are coming. They’re still frightening to go through though.

Storms are raging in the world around us. Not storms with rain and wind and tornadoes, but storms of hate and anger and oppression. These storms are the work of the devil, God’s enemy and the enemy of everyone who loves God. We should not be taken by surprise when they hit because Jesus warned us this was coming. He said that the world (who operates under the influence of the devil) would hate us and persecute us because we belong to Him. He told us, “If they persecuted me [and they did], they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20). It’s still frightening though.

I have a good, sturdy house that has weathered storms and a recent category 5 hurricane. I have confidence that it will protect me and my family from this morning’s wind and rain. Jesus didn’t offer you and me a safe house to ride out the cultural storms. But  He said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). How did He overcome the world? By His presence in it. Jesus came bringing light to this dark world, and John declared that darkness cannot overcome the Light of Christ.

I have confidence in this Light and I trust the Lord Jesus’ power over the darkness in the world. Everyone who puts their faith in Him lives in His Light; the darkness has no power over them. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that the devil stops trying, but he cannot win against those who are covered by the blood of Jesus. You need to know that Beloved. Jesus has overcome the darkness and evil and death and the devil. You couldn’t find a safer place to be.

2020 From Higher Up

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to struggle to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

This has been a hard year for all of us, full of change, frustration, and disappointment.  We hate the masks.  We miss hugs. We want to get together with friends and family. Kids are isolated, trying to learn from a computer screen. Many people have lost their jobs and businesses because of shut-downs. We are sadly watching our seniors wilt away from loneliness. Fear and fatigue have gripped the world. For me, the hardest part of this year was knowing my brother died alone in a hospital after a motorcycle accident; we were not permitted in the facility to be with him. Many shared the same heartache.

How do we deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair or approach it from a higher perspective. David’s Psalm speaks volumes to us: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). David wanted to view his circumstances from a higher perspective – from God’s vantage point.  What a difference it makes when we do the same. Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of this. But I learning more and more to climb up on the Rock that never fails.

I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your ability to face it with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near or distant, as caring or unconcerned. Beloved, God is in this with you. He is faithful. You can trust Him. He is you Rock – a high place on which you can stand. Climb up and watch Him work wonders.

REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!

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He stood on the corner of a busy intersection in Tallahassee holding signs that read: “REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!” “JESUS IS COMING AGAIN! ARE YOU READY?” People gave him the middle finger salute of ridicule.  I doubted that his methods were very effective, but I knew that he was not wrong. The end is near. Jesus is coming back. Soon. But this has been said in every generation since the Apostle’s day. Before the dust had settled at the empty tomb, Peter and Paul were watching the eastern skies. Maybe I’ve just become very cynical in my “old age,” but I believe the signs are so prevalent that we really are in the last days.

Let’s consider Paul’s words in the context of our world today: “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves (the ‘selfie’ generation), lovers of money (how high did the latest lottery get?), boastful, proud (entertainers and athletes), abusive (people punching out random strangers), disobedient to their parents (ever raised a teenager?), ungrateful (see the previous), unholy (sexual deviants in church leadership), without love (mass shootings), unforgiving (how high is the divorce rate?), slanderous (politics in general), without self-control (how high is the illegitimate birthrate?), brutal (Antifa), not lovers of the good (Washington, D.C.), treacherous (I refer you back to politics), rash (daily shootings), conceited, (refer back to boastful and proud ), lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (pretty much the world in general), having a form of godliness but denying its power (the Western church). ” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, adapted).

Globally many things are coming together according to prophetic Scriptures of the end. Nationally, evil rules the day from the highest office in the land to the decisions of the local school board. Jesus spoke of the end of the age with an increase in war, natural disasters, famine, persecution of Christians, unholiness in holy places, and an increase of wickedness and a decrease of love. If you don’t recognize these things in the world today, you need to put down your phone.

But there is still time – at least a moment – before the end.

Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, are you spreading the gospel?

Beloved, it is time to repent because the end is near. Jesus is coming back. Are you ready?

Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes, part 1

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This will be a little different. Once a week over the next couple of months, we’re going to study the Sermon on the Mount. While this devotional is not written specifically as encouragement, studying the Word of God always encourages us. The focus of the Sermon on the Mount – in fact, Matthew’s focus for his Gospel – is the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Matthew wants to prove that

Jesus is the long-expected King in the line of David and the promised Messiah.Jesus opens with what we know as “The Beatitudes,” nine times that He describes people who are “blessed” in the Kingdom. The first four, vs 3-6, turn the idea of blessing on its head.

Jesus said blessed are “the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” But these are people who are nobodies in the world. But remember, we’re dealing with Kingdom values, not the world’s values.The poor in spirit are those who realize that they have nothing to offer God for their souls. They have no hope in themselves for eternal life. Their hope is in the promises of God. They will receive the Kingdom. Those who know they have nothing are given everything.

Those who mourn are mourning their sin. Jesus said they will be comforted. How? Paul said that “godly sorrow” for our sins “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Those who mourn are comforted when their sorrow turns to repentance then forgiveness and the burden of their guilt is lifted.

The meek are not the weak. Meekness is the fine art of being kind and gentle towards others, especially those who “do not deserve it.” It’s how God treated us. The meek, Jesus said, will “inherit the earth.” Now honestly, who would want this earth? But wait. Rev. 21:1 says that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” A new earth would be a truly blessed gift.

Then, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” How do you know that you’re hungry? You have hunger pains. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness feel genuine pain at the unrighteousness in the world. If you don’t, you may need to check your relationship with God. Unrighteousness breaks the heart of God. It should break our hearts as well. How do we deal with hunger? We eat. This unrighteous world is hungry for God. Let’s feed them the Gospel. We – and they – will be filled, satisfied, beyond measure.

What does all this mean for you? Unless I miss my guess, you, like me, are not great in the world’s eyes. But God has great things in store for those who trust in Him. Beloved, are you blessed by the world’s standards, or by God’s?

Real Love

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This is the week building up to Valentine’s Day, and I plan to write about love all week. Not sappy, “Hallmark movie” love, but the love that is true and perfect and eternal.

I’m intrigued by a verse in 1 John: “Everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and caring out His commands” (5:1-2).  I expected that John would have said “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by caring for one another, meeting needs, sharing the blessings of God, etc.” But he says that love for one another is revealed in our love for God and our obedience to His commands. That seems strange until we realize that love for God will always manifest itself in love for people. A heart that loves God will love what God loves.

The heart and soul of true love—of agape 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? If my granddaughter desires to run into the middle of the street (and she does), does love demand that I allow her to do so? No! Because grandmother love has a greater demand: that I do what is in Joy’s best interest. So even though it made her very angry, I stopped her before she reached the end of our driveway.  Should I be any less concerned when I see someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction? Real love cares enough to say “This will destroy you.” Paul said that love “always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Is it protective to say, “Because I love you, I approve of your sinful choices.”? Real love doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin.

God is the source of real love. 1 John 4:7 says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Beloved, it is time for us to speak the truth in love while we also speak the truth about love.

What is the Church Talking About?

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Ever stood outside a church or in a classroom as the folks gather and listened to the conversations? “Man, did you see Harris hurdle that defender?” “I see you bought a new truck.” .My neighbor shot a 12-pointer this week!” “You gotta try the new diner down the road – boys, that’s some good eating!” “I didn’t vote for him and I’m not gonna support him!”  I’m guilty too. I talk about clothes and kids and grandchildren and work and I admit that too often more of our ladies’ prayer and accountability group is eaten up with everything but prayer and accountability. Conversations among believers aren’t always about God, are they?

A verse in Malachi is very convicting and I think should be written on every believer’s heart: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.  A scroll of remembrance was written in  His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name.  ‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:16-17a). Did it ever occur to you that God is listening to the conversations of His people? Of course you know that, but did you know that He is paying very close attention to what we say when we are in each other’s company? That He is “taking notes?” I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty sobering. What do you suppose Paul and company said to each other as they gathered together? Did they talk about tents or politics and grumble about the state of the Roman government? I don’t think so.  I think they ran up to one another and said, “Did you hear what God did for me this week?” “Will you come and kneel with me? Brother so-and-so needs our prayers.” “She was a woman of low morals, but Christ saved her and she loves Him so much!” “Let us pray together right now for our persecuted brothers and sisters!” The Scriptures say they were immediately and constantly in prayer together. Perhaps we’ve found the cause and the cure for our dry and fruitless churches.

When the people of God are together, shouldn’t our conversations center around awe of God’s deeds and honoring His name? How it would delight His heart to take note of those discussions.  Jesus said our words reveal the condition of our hearts (Matt 12:34).  To the world and to God. Beloved, what are you talking about?