So Help Me God

*Steel-toed boot warning.

Court scenes in movies, television, and books generally show witnesses and defendants swearing to tell the truth with their right hand on a Bible. The practice of swearing an oath goes back to antiquity. In twelfth-century England the practice of swearing on the Word and name of God to declare one’s truthfulness became law. The custom came over with the pilgrims but was never made law as it was one of the many reasons they left the oppressive religious rule of England.
In the day when the Bible was considered sacred text and God was revered, the practice of swearing an oath “on the Bible” was the norm. That is no longer the case and the courts have determined that a witness could simply “affirm” to be honest. But putting one’s hand on the Bible has never been a guarantee of truthfulness, has it? People swore on the Bible and still lied. Even claiming to be a Christian these days doesn’t mean a person will be godly. So what good is the Bible anyway? And who needs it if it can’t make you a better person?
Here’s the ugly truth: we often use the Bible to comment on the ungodliness in our culture and to point out sin in the world. But remember, the Bible was written to the people of God, not to the world. The Old Testament was written to the Israelites and the New Testament is written to the church. Who needs the Bible? I do. You do. The Pastor and the deacons and every member of the Church. Every person who claims the name of Jesus Christ. Because God is speaking to His people. God is calling the church back to Himself. He is telling His people to stop living in sin and repent. He is drawing those who claim the name of Christ into holy living. We can’t hold the unsaved world to biblical standards not following. We can’t rant about homosexual marriage when the divorce rate in the church is the same as outside the church. We can’t judge unwed mothers when pornography addiction is rampant in the church. We can’t demand righteousness we don’t have ourselves. Don’t read the Bible to convict the culture, read it to convict your own heart. “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household . . .” (I Peter 4:17).

Give Careful Thought

Tucked away in the latter part of the Old Testament is the tiny book of Haggai. It is only two chapters, a total of 38 verses but it has a lot to say. Rather, God has a lot to say in this little book. Haggai prophesied after the Jews were released from Babylonian captivity. They started returning home after Cyrus’ edict around 538 b.c. They came back to a ruined Jerusalem, and most heartbreaking of all – a destroyed temple. At first, they were devoted to rebuilding the temple but neighboring nations and their personal issues interfered so they abandoned that work and settled for building “paneled houses” (1:4) for themselves.

Isn’t this how it happens for you and me? We start this Christian walk with enthusiasm and determination, but “trouble and persecution” and the “worries of this life” (Matt 13:21-22) cause us to lose our motivation and desire for the things of God. Before long we’re sleeping in on Sundays and turning our focus on ourselves.

Haggai exhorts the Jews to finish the temple work more than twenty years after it was begun. And he gives them the Word of the Lord. A repetitive word. Five times God says” “Give careful thought . . .” (1:5, 7; 2:15, and 18 twice). The word combination has the idea of taking hold of one’s thoughts – not gently – but by force. This reminds me of Paul’s message to the Corinthian church: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

There are a lot of things that we cannot control, but you and I can – and must – control our thoughts. That includes everything from the sinful imagery we replay to angry conversations we imagine to self-exaltation, self-condemnation, and self-pity. It’s all in our hands – or rather in our minds. I’m preaching to myself here – this is one of the hardest battles I face. It is so easy to let my thoughts run my mind and thus my heart. The problem is, they always run me into a ditch of apathy, doubt, discouragement, and fear. So, I’m taking my mind – and my heart – back. I’m going to give careful thought to my thoughts and bring them into submission to Christ. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. What about you, Beloved? Are you ready to take your thoughts – and your life – back?

Why I would rather study Jesus than Algebra

Do you know who Mahommed ben Musa al-Jhwarizmi is?  He is the person responsible for creating algebra.  If heaven is truly heaven, he won’t be there. In case you didn’t know, I am not a fan of math in any form but I absolutely hate algebra. For the past 9 years, I have been a Theology student studying the Bible.  I love learning, but I bawled my way through a year of algebra. There is no mention of algebra, quadratic equations, factoring, Venn nor Euler diagrams, square roots, linear equations, exponents, polynomials, or rectangular coordinates in the Scriptures. I do not need to learn about angles – I needed to learn about angels. By the grace of God and the patient tutoring of Julia Brown, I passed college algebra with an A. I’m still stunned by that statement.

It turns out that I am more drawn to the purpose of learning than the facts of learning. In other words, the “Why” is what’s important to me. The reason I hated algebra was because I couldn’t find any purpose for it. When I asked Julia, “Why do I have to learn this stuff?” The answer was always, “So you can do higher algebra.” So . . I am slogging through something I hate just so I can do more of it? No thanks! If I know the “why” I can press on. Words have that kind of purpose for me. So does living for Jesus Christ.

The “why” of being a Christian, of following Jesus, of praying and studying the Bible and teaching and witnessing and proclaiming is the force that makes me get out of bed every morning. The “why” is the reality of eternity and of the love of God and the power of transformation and the hope that comes through faith in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). He is the “why.” He is the purpose – the eternal purpose of my life and all creation. We invest ourselves in a lot of things. But what has eternal significance? People. Truth. Love. Jesus. The “why” is because these are all that will matter in the end.

What Has Happened to the Church?

Charles Spurgeon said, “If we cannot be torn in pieces by the roaring lion, we may be hugged to death by the bear.”

(I hope you’re ready for a history lesson)

In the earliest centuries of the Church, Christians faced unfathomable persecution. Their property was confiscated, their jobs taken away, and they were subject to physical attacks. Steven, the first martyr was stoned to death for the name of Jesus. James was beheaded for His commitment to Christ. Paul wrote of “troubles, hardships and distresses, beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Cor 6:4-5). He was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19), shipwrecked three times (2 Cor 11:25), and in constant danger everywhere he went (2 Cor 11:26). We’re all familiar with the stories of Christians facing lions in a public arena for the amusement of the Romans. These men and women gladly surrendered their lives rather than deny the name of their Lord, Jesus Christ. The faith of the martyrs shone brilliantly and boldly against the dark backdrop of persecution.

But in later years, when Emperor Constantine of Rome (272-337) declared Christianity as the state religion, persecution in the west ended and every citizen became a “Christian”–whether they believed or not. Being a Christian was all about nationality, not grace as Christianity was fully embraced by the civilized world. It could be considered the worst thing to ever happen to the church. The standards for Christians became more and more lax over the centuries, and by the twentieth century “Christianity” looked nothing like the faith that men and women once died for.  It had been smothered in a bear hug of cheap grace as the church preached a “light” version of sin and salvation.

But I believe we’re coming back full circle to the days of persecution for true believers. Once again, Christians – Bible-believing, Christ-following Christians are persona-non-grata. Christianity has become the enemy once again. Even in the church.  As churches embrace every sin that the culture can dream up, they also reject the truth and those who live by it. Subtly, degree by degree, hatred for true believers is growing and they are being forced out. It’s happening in churches right now in your own community. The days of the bear hug are coming to an end – and it may be the best thing for the church. It’s certainly following in the footprints of Jesus who said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25). The lion is stirring again. Beloved, are you ready to stand firm?

Do You Believe?

No other event on the stage of world history is as important as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Skeptics have long sought to discredit Christianity’s claims with attacks on the foundational veracity of the gospel.  So is it really true? Let’s take a look at the facts that are recorded in the secular history of the time.

The Jewish and Roman historical records note that a man named Jesus from Nazareth was crucified at Golgotha and buried in a garden tomb.  The grave was sealed and Roman guards were posted to prevent the theft of the body.  History records that the condemned man’s tomb was found empty three days later, despite the extreme measures the Romans took to secure the grave.  Jewish records note the claims of Jesus’ followers that their Lord had been resurrected.  Historical writers of the time frequently mention eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus, just as Paul spoke of Peter, the Apostles, more than five hundred brothers, James (Jesus’ own doubting brother), and finally Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  In these verses, Paul reminds the believers of the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (v. 3-4).  These verses are almost certainly a creed that was well established in the ancient church and based on the testimonies of the very ones who firmly and emphatically believed they saw the literal resurrected Lord.  These are men who had been transformed from terrified, despondent fellows cowering behind locked doors (John 20:19) to bold witnesses willing to die for their faith, confident in what they saw (Acts 4:1-20).

The gospel message – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – is strongly supported by men and women who had an encounter that transformed their lives and the landscape of world history.  The evidence is clearly shown in their testimonies and the traditions that are built on the foundation of their testimonies.  The eyewitness accounts of Peter, James, John and Paul, and hundreds of others, combined with the early creedal statements of the church provide good support for the claims of the resurrection of Jesus. 

Still, facts alone cannot convince anyone of the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Generations of believers who have also experienced this life-changing Jesus provide the greatest proof that the claims of Christianity are true. People like me. I was a sinner, lost and bound for hell, but I heard the good news that God loves me and send His Son to die for my sins and rose to life three days later. I believed in Jesus. His Spirit lives in me and I have been changed. Forever.

Beloved, this same Jesus died for you too. He can change your life and your eternal destiny. Will you believe today?

Hebrews: The Disgrace of being a Christian

I became a Christian at nine years of age. I still remember sitting in the pew after I was baptized and feeling the water dripping from my hair and down my back. I remember standing in front of the church and receiving “the right hand of Christian fellowship.” One of my teachers hugged me in class on Monday and congratulated me on my decision for Christ. But for first-century believers, being a Christian was vastly different.

The writer of Hebrews said, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publically exposed to insult and persecution, at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33). For a Jew to make a public profession of faith in Jesus was, at best, to open yourself to public ridicule and often worse. Many lost their employment or the community would cease doing business with them. Sons were disowned by their fathers and wives faced severe repercussions from their husbands, including beatings. They were stripped of their possessions, even their homes, and many were imprisoned just for taking hold of new life in Christ.

How did these early believers respond to such awful treatment? Better than I would have. “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property . . .” (v. 34a). They found Joy in the persecution they faced. Why on earth? Because they weren’t thinking about earth. “You knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (34b). They were thinking about heaven and eternity. They were thinking about what Peter called, “an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4).

They remind me of the apostles who, after being beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching the name of Jesus, rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

I live in the US where the cost of being a Christ-follower is mild compared to the early Christians and to believers today in places where faith in Jesus is tantamount to a death sentence. We might get insulted on social media, and some factions are working through the liberal courts to shut down Christian businesses, but on the whole, being a Christian here is not a hardship. And maybe that’s the problem. But I am certain it’s coming. The cultural winds are shifting to the left and blowing in real hatred for God and His people. You and I need to be ready. It takes a firm faith and an eye to eternity to rejoice in the face of persecution. Beloved, are you willing to suffer disgrace for the Name?

Blood-stained Faith

I know, this is Hebrews Monday, but this morning the Holy Spirit has a different word from the Word. It is one of those Old Testament to  New Testament connections I love so much.

The psalmist said, “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands” (Ps. 149:6). You probably picked up on that “double-edged sword” and recognized it from Hebrews 4:12: “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword . . .” You may also recall John’s vision of Jesus in heaven: “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (Rev 1:16). You know that this sword is none other than the Word of God – the Bible – the Holy Scriptures. You know that in the Armor of God the sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon we have (Eph 6:17) – but it is enough because the Word of God sends satan packing. This sword is powerful and purposeful.

But the Spirit made another connection for me as He reminded me of the scene in heaven. Under the altar dwelt “the souls of those who had been slain” – martyred saints. Why? “Because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (Rev. 6:17). And what was their testimony? The same writer said, “And this is the testimony: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son’” (1 John 5:11). Do you see the connection?

What is praise but declaring the great Name and work of Almighty God? The martyrs throughout the history of the church have held tightly to the name of Jesus and the Word of God as their source of strength and conviction. But martyrs are not only part of the church’s past. Believers are being slain for their faith today, and as the world moves farther away from God, more saints will face the same fate. Maybe even you and me. How will we endure? How will we not fail our Savior? The same way they did. With the name of Jesus on our lips and our hands frozen to the sword (2 Sam 23:10). Come to think of it, this verse is right in line with the message of Hebrews: stand firm in Christ Jesus and do not lose heart. Hard times are coming Beloved, but so is Jesus!

God loves you. Yes, you.

I’m taking a “Counseling and Spiritual Integration” course this semester and we are our clients. This week I worked on the feeling I struggle with the most: accepting love. The issue is rooted in my childhood.  The Holy Spirit drew my mind to the verse I pray over my granddaughter every day: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

I dug into that verse and examined the dimensions that Paul used to try to express this love. I thought about the highest thing I knew – outer space, and the longest thing – eternity, and the deepest thing – the ocean, and the widest thing – the arms of Jesus stretched out on the wooden crossbeam. His love is higher and longer and deeper and wider than that. I thought about how God’s love doesn’t depend on me. It’s all Him – God is love (1 John 4:16). It’s perfect love (v. 18) so I can’t mess it up no matter what I do or don’t do. It’s a love I can rely on (v. 16). God doesn’t love me because I love Him, He loves me because it is His very essence (v. 7,10). I thought about how God is so generous with His love. John said that He has lavished His great love on me and had claimed me as His own child. (1 John 3:1). The truth is, I don’t deserve God’s love, but He gives it to me anyway.

I’ve been in teaching ministry a long time and one of the most consistent issues Christians struggle with is feeling unloved. It affects us in every aspect of our lives, in our friendships, marriages, raising children, working and community relationships, and it’s rooted in our relationship with God. We can’t give what we don’t have. But when we are “rooted and established” in the unfailing, unending, unshakable love God has for us, the fruit will be all the sweeter as we share it with others. Beloved, hear this clearly and receive it deeply: God loves you. Yes, you.

This is My Story

Mom, me, brothers Jimmy and Michael, Easter Sunday, mid-sixties, Okinawa, Japan

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Several years ago a Sunday School teacher said: “The only reason I’m a Christian is that Jesus had the best offer.  If someone had presented something better I would’ve taken it.”  I left that class and never returned, But I also examined my own heart and asked myself why I am a Christian.

I grew up in a good, Baptist home. Mom took us to Sunday School, church, Sunbeams, Vacation Bible School, and so on.  I knew about the God who created the whole world and the sun, moon, and stars.  I knew about Jesus and the cross and the empty tomb. I knew that I wanted to go to heaven, so I asked Jesus into my heart when I was nine years old and was baptized. I rarely missed a Sunday or Wednesday night as a kid.  But as I grew up church and faith went on the back burner.  I became less concerned with heaven and more focused on the things of earth.  I married, and then my world came crashing down when my marriage failed.  I went back home a broken woman and returned to the church of my childhood.  And I got deeper into the Bible than I had ever been and saw God and Jesus with new eyes. I realized that what I had was “faith” in sweet Bible stories, not saving faith in the Son of God. He moved my heart to believe the gospel and receive His gift of salvation. 

I am a Christian because God saved me through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  I have eternal life in heaven because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  I am not bound as a slave to my sins any longer, I am now bound up in the freedom of Christ.  Every day I remember both who I was as a slave to sin, and who I am now, a freed daughter of God.

Can you say the same?  Do you know the freedom that only comes through Jesus Christ?  Do not remain in the chains of sin for one more minute Beloved. Right now tell God you want to be set free.  The chains will fall and you can walk away as His child. That’s my story. I pray it is yours too.

What a Ride!

See the source image

I remember hearing about a man from a country where it is deadly to be a Christian who was visiting the US. On his first stop at an American church, he talked about having armed men invade his house and threaten to kill him if he didn’t denounce his faith in Christ. After 3 three months of visiting around this country speaking in multiple churches and staying in church members’ homes, he prepared to return home. He spoke to the first church once again and what he said stunned the people. “I thought it was dangerous to be a Christian in my country, but it is more dangerous here. I am only in danger of being killed for my faith, but you are in danger of having your faith die a slow and miserable death because you are spoiled by comfort and ease. I am going home where my faith can grow strong again.”

When Moses was preparing the Israelites to enter the Promised Land, he told them, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.” The danger of complacency was very real for the fledgling nation, and it is just as real, if not more so for us today. Moses warned them that when they are satisfied, “and “build fine houses and settle down,” when their wealth increases and they become a powerful nation, “then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” . . .  “so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10-20, selected verses).

Remember, the Lord was talking to His people. I believe the Lord would say the same thing to Christians in the West today –people who claim to belong to Him. And He would be absolutely right.  Jeremiah spoke about a nation that was “like wine left on its dregs,” that had not been stirred as it fermented (Jer 48:11). It was ruined by excessive sweetness. And so are believers who become satiated by the pleasures and wealth of the world. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25). I don’t want to hoard my life. My desire is to come sliding into heaven out of breath, armor all dinged up, shouting, “What a ride!” knowing I gave it all for Christ.