Do As I Say – and As I Do

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When my son was about 3, he had a child-sized toy car in which he logged a thousand miles. My brother would say, “Troy, get out of your car like Mommy does!” And Troy would shove the car door open, jump out and SLAM the door as he walked away. My brother would be in hysterics at my embarrassment.

Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That’s a risky statement for most of us, but he said it with confidence because he was committed to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Paul poured himself into Timothy and Titus and John Mark and many others, leading by his words and his everyday example. But who influenced Paul?

Stephen was chosen as a disciple of the new Church. He was “a man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8). But a group of jealous Jewish leaders stoned him to death. He died with his eyes fixed on his Savior and his testimony on his lips (Acts 7).

A young man in the crowd was watching. “The witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:58). Saul walked away with a murderous hatred toward Jesus’ followers – and a seed that had been planted deep within his spirit. Saul chased believers across the region, arresting as many as possible. Until God caused that seed to sprout on the road to Damascus. The Christ-hater became a Christ-proclaimer and the Christian faith had one of its boldest and most faithful witnesses. Did the death of Stephen have any influence on Paul’s conversion? I believe so. Saul – AKA Paul would later paraphrase Stephen’s message when he said “The Lord . . . does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24; 7:48).

In our everyday moments, when we are not even aware, we are affecting those around us. That is a sobering thought. Little ones are watching us as we cook supper, brush our teeth, fold laundry and yes, drive the car. The store clerk, my coworkers, your neighbors, fellow shoppers, your child’s friends are all within our sphere of influence. Everything we say and do – especially in those unguarded moments – makes a deep imprint on others.

So I ask you, Beloved, are you planting Jesus-seeds in the world?

Tested and Tried

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I am a “word nerd” – I love words. I especially love to discover the root of Biblical words because that brings a deeper understanding of what the original text was saying, which is crucial to studying the Bible for life transformation. Hebrews 11:17-19 describes the account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to the Lord. The passage says that “God tested [Abraham],” and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” So I grabbed my exhaustive concordance (my favorite tool for deeper Bible study) and discovered something so vital to the Christian’s walk I knew I had to share it with you.

The word “tested” (peirazo in the Greek) has two meanings: to temp and to examine. Listen to the follow-up: “The difference between a test and a temptation is found in the tester’s motivation and expectations: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and so sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no focus on making the believer fail.” The devil will put you in tempting situations with the intention of bringing you down. God puts you through tests with the express purpose of perfecting you. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

Beloved, I don’t know what temptation or test you are facing in this season, but I now that there is only one right way through: with God. He will not let you fail.

This is My Testimony

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I was always a church kid. From the cradle roll in the church nursery to a “sunbeam” with perfect attendance bars cascading from my pin.  I “asked Jesus into my heart” and was baptized when I was 9. I tried hard to live by the rules, but always had a nagging sense that something was “off.” So I tried harder. For every time I fought with my brothers or disobeyed my mother, I sentenced myself to extra chores as penance.  I swore I would do better – that I would be better. I repeatedly “rededicated my life to Christ,” And I failed more and more. As an adult I heard preachers talk about thinking they were saved, even serving in ministry, only to discover that they were really not. Surely that was me. So I would pray the “sinner’s prayer” again and wade through those baptism waters trying to get it right.  I was convinced that I had to do and say all the right things to be saved and finally stop the cycle of sin in my life.

Then in my late 30’s through the Scriptures, I came to understand grace. Paul said, “It [meaning God’s compassion to sinners] does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16). A light dawned in my heart and I realized that it wasn’t anything I did or anything I was that saved me. It was the work of Christ because of the love of God that saved me. The only thing I contributed to my salvation was realizing that I was a sinner in need of a Savior.  I surrendered to His amazing mercy and grace and was set free from the demands of my own guilt and shame. I am no longer driven by the need to be good enough for God. Now I am driven to live by the Word and the Spirit. I desire righteousness, not doing everything right.

Mine isn’t one of those “powerful testimonies” of Jesus saving me out of a life of debauchery – though I was just as lost as the ones who were. But I’ve discovered that it is a testimony a lot of people who live a frustrated Christian life can connect with. Beloved, God didn’t save you because of you, He saved you because of Jesus. And Jesus is enough.

Salty Christians

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I’m studying in Matthew 5, and Jesus is speaking about being salt in the world. He said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (5:13). That caught my attention. “How does salt lose its saltiness?” I wanted to know the practicality of Jesus’ statement so I went searching for a “scientific” answer, not just a “biblical” answer. I learned that

  1. Natural salt without additives won’t ever go bad. But when it is refined for cooking iodine and anti-caking agents are added to it; these degrade over time, reducing the life and effectiveness of the salt.
  2. When Sodium chloride is exposed to moisture it breaks down and eventually evaporates.  In New Testament times salt was generally not pure and contained many compounds that held up to moisture. The sodium chloride would evaporate, but the other compounds remained, leaving behind a white powdery substance that looked like salt but had none of its flavor.

So what was Jesus saying? Salt is our witness in the world – and two things will render our witness ineffective: adding things to it that do not agree with the truth and taking away from the truth leaving a witness that has no saving power.

Jesus said this false “salt” is “thrown out and trampled on by men.” This perfectly describes the witness of the church today where political correctness is added and the truth is watered down to make it culturally appropriate. We no longer tell people they sinners and the blood of Christ can save them. Instead, we tell them that God wants them to live their best life now, to be comfortable in their sin, and to practice social justice. We have exactly what Jesus was describing: a worthless witness. Is it any wonder that the world holds the testimony of the church in contempt and tramples all over it?

Beloved, is your witness pure and true? Do you need to take away some additives and bring your conviction back to its natural state? The world has enough fake seasoning – they need the real thing. Be salty in this generation.

All Tangled Up

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It’s almost that time! Thanksgiving is only two days away and many people are already decorating for Christmas.  In this year from . . . well you know – lots of folks are making ready for the holidays early to lift their spirits and bring some much-needed Joy to their homes. You know what that means, don’t you? The annual untangling of the Christmas lights. How many hours have we spent trying to turn that snarl of wires and bulbs into a smooth strand? “Pull that end through this loop. No! THIS loop! Wait, the bulb is stuck. Why didn’t you put them away right last year?” How many times did we chunk them and go out and buy new lights?  More than I want to confess.

Tangled lights are frustrating.  Tangled lives are heartbreaking. You didn’t mean to get so deep into that sin, that relationship, that dark situation, that addiction, but here you are and you can’t figure out how to get free.  I know of a few people in the Bible that would understand. Like the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs in the Gerasenes. He was possed by multiple demons – so many that they called themselves “Legion.” The townspeople tried to chain him, but he broke free of them every time. Yet he could not free himself from the demons. Or a woman named Mary (probably) from Magdala who was also possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). Or an unnamed woman from Samaria who had been entangled in sin with multiple men (John 4). Or a little man named Zacchaeus who was tangled up in greed with the Roman rulers (Luke 19). Or a very religious man named Saul who was so caught up in self-righteousness that he set out to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). Jesus set each one of them free from the things that bound them.

Or if you need a more recent example, look at the one who is writing these words right now.  Oh, the chains that Christ has broken in my life! He has set me free from a life tangled up in sin, selfishness, depression, fear, self-hatred, unforgiveness, abuse, anxiety, foolishness, and so much more. Beloved, whatever you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in – God can unravel your mess. It’s why Jesus came. So that you might know the truth – that God loves you – and be set free (John 3:16, 8:32).

Overcoming Evil

img_warrior“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

We are surrounded by evil.  It plays out every evening in the newscasts and in our morning paper.  Evil runs rampant down our streets and through our neighborhoods.  Every act of hate and violence has its roots in evil.  It is a word we need to use again, because it is a reality in this fallen world.  You might want to check out my thoughts on the subject of Evil from a post just a few months ago.  So this morning as I came to my devotional time, my heart was heavy with all the evil we have seen in recent months.  In this nation and all around the world, evil is everywhere.  Who can save us from the presence and power of evil?

The past few weeks I have been doing a personal study of the titles of Jesus in the Bible, and this morning I thought, I need to find a title that reminds me that Jesus is the victor over evil.  When I looked at the next title on the list, I thought, this one is perfect for this evil world:  Jesus is the Son of God.  The Son of God is perfect because it encompasses every facet of Jesus’ character.  It expresses the power of Jesus, the holiness of Jesus, the perfection of Jesus, the eternal nature of Jesus, and the sovereignty of Jesus.  The Son of God fills our need in this evil world, because the Son of God is also the Overcomer.   He declared it to be so saying, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As the Son of God, Jesus overcame evil when He resisted Satan’s temptations in the desert.  He overcame evil when He stood in the presence of the demons and they had no choice but to acknowledge and obey Him. And above all, He overcame evil by His resurrection from the dead.  He shattered evil’s hold on men, declaring that all who believed in Him would be free from its power.  Evil could not overcome the Son of God.

Jesus overcame evil by divine power.  Paul said, in our key verse, that we can overcome evil by good.  Mind you, not by “being good,” for only Jesus is good.  You and I can never be good enough to overcome evil.  But there is a way, and we find it in the last book of the Bible.  Standing in heaven, watching the end unfold, John heard a “loud voice” proclaim: “They overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the world of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).  There are only two things that will guarantee our victory over evil and the evil one: the blood of the Lamb, which is salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ and our testimony.  But what testimony overcomes evil?  John knew.  “Who is he that overcomes the world?  Only he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5).

Jesus, the Son of God, who overcame the world, is our good testimony.  God the Father proclaimed it at Jesus’ baptism, when “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 4:17); and again at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).  The disciples declared it when they saw Jesus and Peter walking on the water, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). Peter pronounced it in his confession saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  Jesus built His church on that very confession.  Even the Roman centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” when the ground quaked the moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:54).  Paul repeatedly preached that Jesus was the Son of God.  The martyrs of the ages past died with the good confession on their lips—“Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

As this world becomes more and more evil, only the good confession of the Son of God will sustain believers.  It has for centuries and it will not fail us in this generation.  We will be branded as fools.  We will be oppressed and persecuted.  It will cost you and me our very lives, but we too will overcome by the declaration that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The world doesn’t need to hear Christians making accusations and pointing fingers.  They don’t need to know our thoughts on current affairs or politics or even morals.  In fact, the world is sick to death of hearing our opinions, however good they may be.  The world needs to hear the Gospel that has been our witness for more than two thousand years:  “Jesus Christ is the Son of God!”  It is the core truth of the Christian faith.  Everything else comes from that good confession.

All evil bows to the divine Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Will you?

Oh, Lord Jesus, You are the Son of God, the Holy One, the only One who can overcome evil.  I claim the good confession as my own and I will live—and die—by it.  Amen.