Monday, December 23, 2013

The Journey of Suffering, and the lies we believe.

"I think something's wrong with Shane."  Those were the words that got me up at 4 am on 11/6/2013.  At this point, we were 32 weeks pregnant, Shane's due date being December 28th.  I shot up, asking her what was going on, and she, in tears, explained that she had passed blood.  I was horrified.  I quickly prayed, and then probably did the worst thing you could do in that situation, go online to find answers.  Heather called the hospital, we felt for our unborn son with mild relief to find he was still kicking, so he was alive for the time being. 

In the hospital, we were shocked to find that Heather was 8 cm dialated, which for you folks that no nothing about birth (which I didn't... I planned on watching all the info videos that day), that meant that he was coming.  I got statistics about how he had an 85% survival rate, that he would need assistance breathing, etc.  I didn't care that the 85% was high, the fact that it wasn't 100% was enough to cause panic to me.  I wondered if we had done something wrong, if we had done something to trigger it.  The doctors assured me that we hadn't, but it can be hard to shake that feeling. 

After a quick labor, he was whisked away by helicopter where there were proper resources for him.  I stayed behind to be with Heather as she healed,  and I kept worrying.  How was his breathing?  What if he didn't make it and I couldn't be there with him?  How could I care for Heather?  If nothing else, going through birth of my son made me realize how weak and helpless I really am.  I had to keep reminding myself of 2 Corinthians 12:9, where Paul reiterates his weakness (of course, the context is different), saying that the Lord had said to him, "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 

What came next was 3 weeks in the NICU, living with a family (which was a major answer to prayer) that was a 10 minute walk from the hospital.  We went to see Shane for the first time since his birth, and the first thing we found out was he had an isolation room.  It seemed great at first, we had our own private room with him.  However, when they handed us gowns and gloves to go see him, Heather and I both had a sense of dread.  "What... what is so wrong with him that we need this stuff?" We thought.  It turned out he was fine, it was precautionary for an infection that he had on him but wasn't affecting him.  They told us he was doing great, just needed to pack on weight and stay warm, or as my friend Dave had told me, "He just needs to chunk up." 

We had our good days and bad days, the doctors would give us timelines for when he would go home, what he would need to accomplish, etc.  Some days it felt like 3 steps forward, others like 2 steps back.  We shared tears when he would struggle, other times anger and frustration.  And then, the guilt.  Oh how I felt guilty.  Why?  Because of seeing the struggle of others, most of whom were not only hopeless physically but spiritually as well.

The first family I ran into had all ready been there for a month.  Their daughter was born at 24 weeks, and the nurses were preparing her for her 2nd heart surgery.  My heart ached.  Others suffered through similar issues, either with surgeries or pre-maturities, others struggled with being in the hospital not just they and their spouse, but had to uproot their large families to watch over the smallest sibling.  I can't imagine the pain, the sleepless nights, the struggles.  And here I sat, worried about my son who was given every vote of confidence that he would be ok, he just needed to eat and keep warm.  The guilt sank into my heart... how could I be sad when I had so much to be grateful for?  Sure, it sucked being in Danville for 3 weeks, not being able to take him home.  It sucked that life got interrupted.  The emotion and shock of him coming early, and roller-coaster ride of him doing well or not well with eating was draining.  But, it's not like I was going through what these people are going through.  Right?

"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."  -- I Peter 1:6-7  

A friend's words were similar to this passage from 1 Peter, that God gives us whatever suffering we need so that we may draw nearer to Him.  Notice in the passage it says "various trials."  It's not about experiencing level 10 suffering which helps your faith, but level 2 suffering that our response should be, "Get over it."  It's saying that each trial we are grieved by has a specific purpose, which is to test our faith in Christ, and to refine it so that we praise and glorify Jesus further.

This flies in the face of a dirty, heinous lie that we, or at least I, believe in the midst of suffering, which is I need to compare my sufferings to others.  So, if my suffering isn't that bad but I'm all mopey, I just need to suck it up and stop complaining.  Or if my suffering is worse than others, my response to them is to stop complaining and trust Jesus.  It's heinous, and can result in cruelty when in actuality the suffering that people have been given is hard for them just as mine is for me.

What we should do is walk with people where they are at, remind them of the promises we have rooted in the scriptures, ultimately pointing them to Jesus.  How do we do that? 

Affirm and tangibly walk with those who suffer - This goes for the single woman who struggles with not being married, the young guy who struggles with besetting sins, to the father or mother who loses their child.  Regardless of the "degree" of suffering, affirm that there is suffering.  You don't need to try and fix it, just listen.  Ask questions, offer to pray with them, let them know you're there for them, whether it means a shoulder to cry on, an offer to talk on the phone, or just affirming that it's ok to feel busted up inside about what's going on.  Offer to look at the psalms, with which many of them paint brutally honest pictures of how the author feels both in the midst of circumstances and towards the Lord.  Randomly text, call, or message them to let them know you're thinking about and praying for them.  Pray for them privately.

Don't lose sight of the Lord's purpose in suffering - In other words, God is not absent in the midst of whatever suffering you are in.  Cry out to Him and confess what you're struggling with.  Be honest in how you feel.  But remember the good that He has done.  1 Thessalonians 5 says that we should "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  That doesn't mean to plaster on a fake smile and say "Praise be to God," to everyone that passes by.  It means that we can thank God that we know, in spite of how much we hate our situation, that He will use it for good.  He has promised that.  "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."  (Romans 8:28)  We can remind each other of God's deep love and grace as we walk through the difficult seasons of life. 

Reach Out - If you're in the midst of suffering, don't go it alone.  Instead, drag yourself into community.  Self-pity, depression, and despair thrive in isolation.  It's easy to think, "no one will understand," or "I just need to be alone right now."  While it's ok to spend some time processing what you're going through, it's actually not helpful to you or to others. Reach out to others for help.  I can't tell you how many times we had people come into our lives, some of which we barely know, and they made us a meal, gave us a gift card, sent us a friendly e-mail or text, or something else very encouraging to our souls.  It has made our time much sweeter.  And, believe it or not, you walking through suffering actually might help encourage others, both in their relationship with God AND in helping them realize it's ok for them to share the suffering they are going through too.

Remember the Lord is your perfect comforter - Everyone is a sinner, so when people attempt to care for you, I guarantee people will mess up.  You will mess up too.  It's ok, we can run into the arms of our perfect comforter in our Heavenly Father, both when our circumstances are hard AND when people don't understand how to care for us in the midst of those circumstances.  He is always available.  He will always listen.  He can always remind you that while we have "momentary" suffering here, Jesus paid the ultimate price of suffering so we might have eternal, everlasting joy. 

In His Grace,

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Why are we surprised? A reaction to the Duck Dynasty Controversy

It's been a few months since I've hit the blogging trail, so just when I started thinking I wanted to make my way back into the fray, Phil Robertson and his comments are plastered everywhere on the internet.  When I first saw it, I must admit I had no idea who this guy was or why he was important.  I quickly learned that he is one of the stars of one of the biggest shows of 2013 in "Duck Dynasty."

The reactions to the GQ interview have been all over the map, most of which are pretty typical.  (The best I've found is an article by Al Mohler, click here to see it).  Most folks bash him and label him as a bigot, homo-phobe, and closed-minded imbecile, the conservative Christian crowd rushes to his aid and says that he has the rights to freedom of speech, and then you have another group who basically preaches, "no one should preach their worldview."  (Which ironically is preaching their own worldview). 

My goal of this blog entry isn't to understand or to judge the character of Phil.  From reading some of the things he's said, he seems like he knows good theology, at least when it comes to sin, holding fast to the scriptures, and our need for Jesus as Lord and Savior from sin.  He also seems to hold his own sin in view, what I mean is that he doesn't make the error of elevating the sin of others (in this case, same sex activity) over his own sin.  He holds to the truth of Romans 3:10-11, which states,

"None is righteous, no, not one 
 no one understands; no one seeks for God,"

As well as the truths of John 14:6,

"Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

In short, he's getting the shaft to some degree.  Again, I don't watch the show, but from those I've talked to who are avid fans, Phil and his family tend to be pretty free with how they talk on the show.  How can A&E justify suspending a man for an opinionated, somewhat crude interview, when that's the type of thing they are making money off of?  Why are people outraged by this when this is the same type of persona that's portrayed on television?   And why is it when people speak out in support of homosexual lifestyles and Christians speak out against it, it's either disregarded or we're called bigots?  But when someone speaks out against homosexuality, it's ok to pile on them and their views?  On a big picture scale, there is a bit of a double-standard, and it's been that way for a while now.   

But, before all the Conservative Christians get excited about reading this, let me challenge our thinking for a minute.  Exactly why are we upset about the outrage?  More importantly, why are we surprised?  Did we forget that we live in a world which is hostile towards Christians?  That we live in a place where sin and death are still present, and that the devil is still prowling?  Did not Jesus say,

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."  (Matthew 10:16-22)

First off, look at the first verse of the passage.  Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Phil, while he was faithful in preaching truth to a liberal, secular audience, spoke in a way that was unwise.  He didn't demonstrate wisdom and how to be winsome in the arena that is GQ and a secular readership.  Though he spoke words of truth, which is good, He didn't have great care with how he spoke.  

We shouldn't be surprised when people get upset because we misuse our words. That's not persecution, it's the fruit of foolishness.   Paul warns in multiple letters to put away crude joking and unwholesome talk.  Proverbs and James both have stern warning about the use of the tongue.  Regardless of how much I agree with Phil and his seemingly firm belief in the Gospel, he should have been more careful.  

Second, even if he did speak with perfect wisdom and winsomeness, why are we surprised by any of the repercussions and backlash?  Why do we expect that he'll (or we) get a fair shake, when Jesus, who IS perfect, got nothing but the most horrific, corrupted, back-stabbing trial and execution recorded in human history.   Those who genuinely follow Christ will be offensive to others.  We'll be persecuted.  And while it's ok for us to fight for the God-given rights we've been given in this country, it feels that far too often instead of looking and pressing into our perfect Savior, we look for sympathy from a country and world that has yet to yield it's hatred (or worse yet, apathy) of the real Jesus found in the bible.  

So how should we respond?

Remember that God is in Control:  Is God surprised that this is stirring up all sorts of controversy?  Is God surprised by the idea that gay marriage is the key hot topic of our generation?  No.  He's not surprised.  If we trust the scriptures to be true, we can even know that He has allowed this to happen.  It's still all part of His grand redemptive plan to rescue His people from sin and death through Christ.  The Gospel is far more powerful than this blip on the radar.  We should act out of that belief.  God can and will use this some way for the good of His Kingdom.

Take advantage of Opportunities to share the Gospel:  Instead of arguing about free speech, let's instead take opportunities to understand why people feel the way they do, and then share the Gospel.  Instead of fighting for our rights, let's be like Jesus and give up our right to be understood and be treated as equals for the sake of sharing our deep love for people that they would know their heavenly Father through Christ.  We can do this by asking good questions, gently exposing lies and sharing truth, and ultimately giving people access to Jesus.   If we really want the culture to shift, we need to make disciples, not political statements.  (Note: by no means am I saying we shouldn't graciously speak up when our rights are being violated.  But I think too often we spend time fighting to be comfortable rather than fighting for lost souls)

Understand the baggage between those who proclaim Christ and those who identify as gay:  One thing I think we need to remember as we engage with folks is to remember the history of the evangelical church.  I can understand the snap judgments people make against evangelicals, because there has been a level of oppression that has occurred from the church onto the homosexual community.  There were movements like "Pray the Gay away" and other non-biblical methods in how Christians handled this particular issue.  I think some of the results is what people now call "gay-friendly" churches, and there is a clear divide that one church is "right" (the one that accepts all people), vs. the one that is "wrong" (churches that hate gays).  I don't think that perception depicts what's actually true of the church, but we need to recognize that if we want to share our thoughts, we are the ones who must work through the baggage to share that the church was never intended to be this divide of acceptance and non-acceptance, but rather that all are called to belief in Jesus and repentance.  

Press into Christ, both privately and publicly:  Phil was right in what he said.  Same sex activity and lust is sinful.  So is heterosexual lust and adultery.  So is disobedience to parents, greed, murder, etc.  If you want more of a concrete list, look at Romans 1:18-32.   But, as you look closer at the passage, you'll notice the main point is not "hey, let's stop these things, that's not Christian or moral."  The main point is that all of these sin patterns are evidences that we do not honor God as God.  And we are ALL guilty of that.  So, press into Christ.  Be in the word and speak to your heavenly father as you both see the sin of others, and as you are confronted and grieved by your own sin.  Be willing to walk with others in the midst of their sin, pointing them to a God who loves them and proved it by dying on the cross for them.  Be willing to share your brokenness with others.  That's the beauty of the church:  it's a hospital for the weak, broken, sin-sick souls who know they can be healed by Christ, and help each other towards Him.  It's a group of people who know they're messed up but have confidence that Jesus is always stronger than their obscenely long list of mess-ups, shame, and brokenness.   And know, that if you aren't a Christian, you're welcome to partake of Jesus too.  But he'll radically change you, you won't be the same, and it will be for your eternal best. 

In His Grace,

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Rebellion is my Default setting

"The message of Jesus's parable is that both approaches are wrong." -- Tim Keller, The Prodigal God  (in reference to the the parable of the prodigal son, and how both sons approach to God is wrong)

I often play this game where, at some point, I become a good guy.  It starts like this... I get busy doing "Godly things," like I give a good talk, or I read a lot of scripture and a lot of good books.  I have very fruitful discipleship times, both with those younger than me and with men who are older.  I'm given encouragement that I'm growing in Christ.  And suddenly... I start believing I don't need Jesus.  Jesus boosted me up to get to where I am, but I no longer need Him.

My default setting is rebellion... and I take any chance I get to do so against my Heavenly Father.  The best way I've done so is to do enough good to avoid seeing my need.  For instance, there are mornings where I'll actually say to myself, "hmm... I've really been in the Word lately... guess I can skip today!"

This is a giant red flag... the point of being in God's Word isn't to check it off my daily list of Christian activities... but it's to put myself in a place where I must humble myself under the authority of God.  It's what I must do to understand my desperation for Him.  It's what I must do to understand that God is God.

It's by God's Grace in Christ that I can even see my rebellion.  He reveals my pride to show me when I'm not trusting Him.  He allows me to still be jealous of others talents, so I can see when I'm living to the flesh rather than living to the spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).  He allows me to see my anger when I'm judging others without remembering my own sin.  He allows me to see my selfishness as I struggle with gluttony, lust, and laziness.  It's by God's grace that He allows His Spirit to convict me in my times of deep pride, and it leads me to desperation, repentance, and fighting to believe the Gospel.

Have you considered that, as Keller writes in the quote above, that our normal approach to life is actually rebellion against God?  Maybe you can relate with what I've shared with you.  Maybe you see yourself angry at others because they possess different or more refined skills than you?  Maybe you see yourself running over and over again to pornography, food, or alcohol, even when it seems like you're doing "well" in your walk with Christ. You ask yourself, "how could I still struggle with this?  I've been a Christian for a long time now!"

The potential reason is that you operate, like me, under a default setting.  And that default setting is to rebel against God.  And we do it blatantly, and we also do it covertly by doing enough good to avoid feeling desperate for Jesus.

So what can we do?

Remember who we were --> Paul is adamant in Ephesians 2 that we remember our alienation from Christ, so that we would see Jesus more appropriately, that He did a remarkable work in saving us and reconciling us to Himself.  We were dead, and we were alienated, but we are now alive and brought near.

Remember who we are -->  We aren't Christians because of what we've done.  In fact, all we could ever do apart from Christ is mess things up more.  But Jesus indwells us, and gives us power.  Because of that, as we do good things, whether it's share the Gospel, teach the Word, stand up for Him by the way we do our work, the way we study, the way we manage our finances, we give credit to HIM for allowing us to be effective in any realm of ministry or life.

Remember where we are -->  We aren't in peacetime.  We're actually at war, and if we aren't focused on the battle at hand, we will fail and forget Christ.  So fight, repent, and repeat.

To do anything else is merely escaping reality that we're worse than we could ever imagine, but more loved than we ever dared to hope through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Responding to death

It's been a while, but I'm finally wrapping up the series on how we view death.  We've looked at how we're often surprised by death, the vanity of our lives, and the lies we believe about both heaven and hell.  Now here's the question I want to explore: how do we respond to death?

1. We Respond by sharing the Truth of the Gospel -- If we really understand the doctrines of heaven and hell, God and sin, and what Jesus came to do on the cross, we should be motivated by love to share the Gospel with people who are running head-long for hell.  We don't look for conversions to add to our Christian belt loop, nor should we get angry if someone rejects us or has a hard time believing the Truth.  We simply need to respond in love by telling them the good news of Jesus life-saving news, and their need to respond in repentance and belief.

2.  We Respond with Compassion -- I think as Christians we downplay death if the person was a Christian, saying we should celebrate because he's in heaven, and if non-christians die, we often second guess and wonder if he/she was saved at the 11th hour.  Instead, I think we should respond in two ways.  One is to enter in with those who are grieving.  Jesus wept when Lazurus died, even when He knew He was going to raise him from the dead.  Why?  Because death is an unnatural thing that was caused by human sin, and it absolutely decimates us.  (I'm not saying you can't celebrate that the person is in heaven, but it's ok to grieve, and it's ok to let other people grieve.)  

The other is to consider how to care for those affected most by the death, in hopes of sharing the Gospel (both to believers and non-believers).  The Gospel is the most compassionate thing we can offer at a time of grief, as Jesus promises one day there will be no grief, no more tears, no more suffering, and no more death.  But we must aim to share this truth sensitively, lovingly, and genuinely.  So don't just drop a Gospel Bomb, but find out how you can make meals for a family that's grieving, offer to help with the details, give people space if they need space.  Understand how to love them, in hopes of moving the proverbial ball down the field.

3.  We Respond with Hope -- One of our greatest weapons as Christians is our reason for Hope.  As life falls apart around us, we can stand and say, "one day, life isn't going to be this way!"  Not convinced? Check out Revelation 21.  I'm often tempted to believe that when I die, all this Christian stuff was for naught, that I was never really saved, and either there is no God, or God isn't who I thought He was and He wouldn't ever tolerate a guy like me.  But the hope of the Truth of the Gospel is that if you trust in Christ, you have eternal life with God.  Your life has been purchased by Jesus' blood!  There's no bigger price that can be paid, God spared no expense!  If He did that, how could He change His mind and say, "you know... I thought I would save you, but you've messed up too many times."  It's absurd, Jesus is sufficient to reconcile all things to Himself!  (Col. 1:15-23)  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The lies we believe about Hell

Have you ever noticed that hell is a touchy subject to talk about?  What is it about hell that makes it so difficult?

I think often the issue has to do with what we believe about ourselves, and what we believe about God, but not necessarily about the place of hell itself (though, there are many who don't believe in an eternal hell).

Do you believe you're good enough to avoid hell?  I deceive myself with this lie all the time, that I actually think I can avoid hell all together if I'm strong enough.  What we don't realize is that hell is first and foremost the absence of God and His love, mercy, and justice.  That in itself is eternal torture.  But we don't actually believe it, we believe hell is for bad people and that they will burn for eternity, and it's clear who's going there and who's going to heaven.

But what if it wasn't so cut and dry?  (Disclaimer: Jesus is the only way to avoid hell and enter heaven) What if I told you that while God is just and judges you at the end of your life, you and I are actually hard-wired to run headlong for hell?  Check out Romans 1:18-24

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."  

This passage depicts the deep-rooted rebellion that resides in our hearts against God.  Do you see it?  The author argues that God has shown His eternal power and divine power since the beginning of Creation through creation, and that while we have recognized that there is a God that is accessible, we chose to make our own gods instead, gods that serve us.  They are gods that actually make us our own gods.  

Here is Paul's take on God's wrath:

"Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen."  (Romans 1:25-27)

In other words, we openly rebel against God, and He lets us.  People often ask, "Why would a loving God send people to hell?"  This passage answers with this:  "Because they don't want to go heaven, because that's where God is and will always be.  To be content with heaven, you have to realize that God is God, you are not, and greatest joy is found when He is master of all."

This flies in the face of what we typically believe about hell.  We often believe that hell is for the baddest of bad (which is true), the justice we want to administer will finally be given (partially true), and that we can do enough good to outweigh the bad (not true).  Or, if you realize you're a hellion, you think of hell as one giant reunion with your friends where the beer (or stiffer drink of choice) will keep flowing and other pleasures will greet you eternally.  

Here's the truth about hell:  We're all the baddest of the bad, because we've rebelled against God (Romans 3:23).  We all desire to run hell-bound races as we tie our hopes in anything other than God.  It's not going to be fun, in fact it's going to be eternal torture.  Want proof?  If you root for any sports team, and your hope is tied to their success, your life becomes a living hell.  I love my Ohio State Buckeyes, but I realized that if they are my god, my life becomes anxiety ridden to the point that even if they win the championship this year, I'll immediately be anxious to see if they can continue winning.  What are the objects you put on the throne?  Ask yourself, "what do I need to happen for me to stay happy?"  Chances are your answer is actually what puts you in hell on earth, and it will only get worse.

The greatest taste of heaven you could ever have is here, because God is still active and present in this life.  But if you're still present, you can still change course, because God so loved the World that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)  

So if you want to escape hell, where nothing satisfies, ask Jesus to rescue you.  Ask Him to change your heart.  Ask Him to help you see God not only as your God, but as your treasure.  He's the only one that can give you joy and satisfaction for eternity.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The lies we believe about heaven

"And they say there's a Heaven, and those who will wait.  And some say it's better, but I say it ain't!  I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun." -- Billy Joel
Was Billy right?  Some say that heaven is worth it, but it sure doesn't seem like we believe it as a culture.

I remember when I was younger, cartoons depicted heaven as the beautiful place where I'd receive angel wings, get my own cloud, and get a harp to play.  If that were true about heaven, I'd agree with Billy Joel's song "Only the Good Die Young," that heaven is a boring place where boring, good people go to live their boring, good lives for eternity.  Meanwhile, the party is happening elsewhere, and while we aren't supposed to like it, it's really pretty awesome.  

Other people view heaven differently.  I've heard many different opinions on the matter, many from my own mind as I've considered death probably more often than most people.  There's the theory that heaven is just a state of being after we die, that it's just a deep sleep for the rest of time.  Heaven could be a place where we get everything we want!  It could be a nightclub that's run by the Rat Pack (Not kidding... the movie Down to Earth describes it as such).

But what's amazing to me is that two things typically happen when people talk about Heaven:  It doesn't seem better than this life, but people would rather go there than the other place.  

But what's really true about Heaven?  Well, let's look at what scripture says:

It's God-Centric:  In Revelation 4, you see this beautiful and vivid picture of heaven.  In the center of it all is not man, but God.  The biggest thing about Heaven is that we live with God.  And He's not the crazy neighbor down the street, rather He's the one we worship, adore, and commune with.  He will be our greatest joy.

It's Free of Sin:  Billy Joel would be sad by this, but that's because he doesn't realize the point of repenting of sin.  Living without sin isn't ridding ourselves of fun, it's actually enhancing our joy by celebrating things in the proper way!  And by being free of sin, we become free of any shame, brokenness, and sadness.  Revelation 21 says as much!

It's Tangible:  We won't be merely spirits wandering about like the ghosts of Hogwarts in Harry Potter.  We'll have new bodies.  How do we know this?  Well, when Jesus came back to life, he ate a fish.  He digested it.  It didn't just go through him, he actually ate it!  (Luke 24:41-43).  In Revelation 19, there's a Wedding Feast that we'll be a part of!  It's a BIG party, and we will feast!  

If this is truly what Heaven is, how should we respond?  One thought is that we need to invite people to this eternal party by sharing the Gospel with them.  Another is that if you are reading this and aren't a Christian, you can actually be a part of this party by following Jesus!  

"But what if I don't want to follow Jesus?  Can I still come?"  Maybe you've been asked that, or you've asked that yourself.  My question in return is, "If the main figure of heaven is God and worshipping Him, why would you want to go if you don't want to worship Him now?"

One last application is this:  If heaven is an eternal party that's free of death, sin, and brokenness, that brings us in close communion with the lover of our souls, we can embrace the trials and sufferings of this life with our hope set on eternity.  It means we don't need to have the good life here, because we are guaranteed it later.  So press on living and sharing the Gospel of Jesus.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The vanity of our lives

"Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity."  -- King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 1:2

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” -- Oscar Wilde

"Life sucks, and then you die!"  -- WWE chairman Vince McMahon

I was 13 when I got sucked into the world of professional wrestling.  I didn't care that it was fake, for some odd reason the story telling was so riveting that I had to watch.  Guys like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin weren't just good athletes, they were captivating entertainers (not too mention a bit crude!) 

But it wasn't any one of their promos that has caught my attention to this day.  It's probably been 10 years since I've actively followed professional wrestling, but one quote rings in my head, because it was probably one of the truest things ever said.  Vince McMahon, owner of the company, gave a long speech to the crowd, and ended with the quote mentioned up top.  "Life sucks, and then you die."  

Wrestling isn't real, but that quote sure feels real.  Pain, suffering, disappointment, and then death.  And what's crazy, is that as you look at the lives of those who have had much, as well as those who have had little, both lament over the pointlessness of it.  

King Solomon had it right when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes.  He says it was vain to live in self-indulgence.  "I said in my heart, come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.  But behold, this also was vanity.  I said of laughter, 'It is mad,' and of pleasure, 'What use is it?'" (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2)  This is Solomon!  If you don't know who this is, let me give you a quick snapshot: King at the peak of Israel's prosperity, had massive riches, so much gold that he decided to overlay shields with it.  He had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  He gave 20,000 baths of wine to servants to build the temple.  20,000 baths is roughly 120,000 gallons of wine.  What do you do with that much wine!?

Not only did he have resources and women, but he also knew wisdom.  He's cited as being the wisest of men, that God blessed him as the wisest man in all the earth.  Here's what he says about wisdom:

"So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly.  For what can the man do who comes after the king?  Only what has already been done.  Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.  The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness.  The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness."  

Stop there.  Seems clear right?  We should definitely pursue wisdom.  It leads to more gain than folly.  But look at how Solomon ends.

"And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.  Then I said in my heart, 'What happens to the fool will happen to me also.  Why then have I been so very wise?'  And I said in my heart that this is also vanity."  (Ecclesiastes 2:12-15)

He continues on throughout the book about the vanity of life.  It doesn't matter if you're wise, or pursue folly, whether you have lots, or little, whether you work hard, or work little, if you're honored, or despised.  You and I mean very little to this world.  But we mean very much to the creator of it... and that's the point.  We do everything to grasp at whatever little meaning and fulfillment we can get in this life, that we miss the fact that it has never been about THIS LIFE.  Solomon says at the end of his book, "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth..."  He's not saying this to sound spiritual.  He's pointing to the hope of a better, eternal life to come.  

Revelation points to this further, that there's a life to come which has no more death, no more pain, no more suffering, no more shame.  And it's one where God will live among us, where we will no longer struggle with the bondage of sin, because Jesus destroyed it once and for all on the Cross.

What does this mean for us:

Repent of living for now:  What I don't mean is that you shouldn't consider how to live in this life.  But we need to ask God to get our minds focused on the better life ahead, versus trying to make life here as our final destination. 

Understand our need:  Understand that people have 2 potential destinations: eternal hell without God, or eternal glory with God.  And act on it, and repent of apathy of people who are running head-long for hell.  

Remember Jesus:  Jesus had every right to stay in heaven and do what He wanted to do.  Instead, He came here, and instead of demanding that his needs be met, he poured out His life for our sake.  If we cling to Him, we can pour our lives out knowing that greater life is found in eternity.

Let's seek Jesus, rather than settle for our crummy little kingdoms here on earth.  Because in the end, this life will always come up short, but Jesus will satisfy now, and has promised eternal satisfaction through His death and resurrection.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Surprised by Death

"But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'" -- Genesis 3:4-5

"For as in Adam all die..." -- I Corinthians 15:22a

Ever since I was young, I've had an obsession about death.  I'm not sure if it's healthy or not, but it has caused me many sleepless nights over the course of many years.  The question "am I going to wake up in the morning," has run through my head more often than I can count. 

As I've shared this with a few people, they've often replied by saying, "you're far too young to die," or "you're healthy," and "don't think like that."

And you know what?  On most days, I'm convinced I'm invincible.  I control my life.  I'll live at least until I'm 80 or 90.  Heck, I still have most of my grandparents living, my grandfather the only one who has died... and that was at the good old age of 85.  I have at least a good 60 years left in me... right?

This past week shattered the illusion.  Three people who I knew, but wasn't particularly close with, died.  All three were different ages, I knew them in different contexts, and all died in very different ways.  One, a 95 year old who I only knew through a few people I worked with, had been longing to be with Jesus for years as his body deteriorated.  Another was a restaurant owner that I had done bible study with, probably in his 60's or 70's.  He just got remarried, and a year later he died of a massive heart attack while playing a round of golf.

It was the last one that broke the proverbial camel's back.

A young man... a police officer from Maryland, who I happened to graduate with.  He died at the age of 27, in a plane crash off the coast of Ocean City.  As part of the social media age, it was his death that sparked the most response.  It broke my heart, seeing people that I went to high school with so deeply saddened.  And though I didn't know him well, I sensed a sadness knowing that someone I went to high school with had passed... I would never get to see him again.

As I considered these three deaths, and the massive response of sadness, I began to consider a question that had been posed in another article I had read:  "Why does death still surprise us?"

Think about it... there are few absolutes in this life for every human being.  One of them is that every person will die.  And death never submits to our plans... it always interrupts our lives.  This is a morbid thought, but have you considered that as you sit at your computer screen reading this post, your life is a minute closer to ending?  And that it could end very soon?

You can die of natural causes, or you can die from any number of accidents or pre-meditated assaults.  In other words, we can die in any moment, from any circumstance, whenever death chooses to come.  It's much bigger and badder than you or me.

So... why are we so surprised by it?  Why is that anytime someone dies, one of the most oft-used phrases I hear is, "It wasn't his or her time to go," or "They had so much life left to live?"

I think this is for a few reasons.

1.  We suppress the truth about death:  If we had a sober mindset about death, wouldn't we consider changing how we live?  We'd give far less excuses about not doing evangelism or doing other things that scare us about serving Jesus.  We don't see death as a big deal by not seeing people as either heading for eternal joy with God or eternal damnation without God.

2. Death was never meant to be:  God's original garden was meant for Adam and Eve, where God promised them that they would only die if they did one thing; eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But they (like us) were deceived by the Serpent, and chose to go after their selfish desire to try and be like God without actually depending on Him.  Death came for them, and has come for everyone else since.

3. There are whispers of death being defeated:  Everyone I know wants to leave a legacy.  That's why so many people are addicted to video games or other things that guarantee a fake glory, because we all long to be glorified forever.  There is a glory that lasts forever, and we all long for it.  However, it doesn't come from having lots of kids, doing something great in ministry or in the secular world (sports, music stars, business leaders, authors, etc.), to the virtual realm of video games.  It comes from a man who died on the cross so that one day we CAN have eternal life and live in glory with God.

As I continue to process about the idea death, stay tuned as I take a look at how we suppress the truth about death, and how we can gaze into the glorious truths of God and His Word.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Subtle lies I believe

I Peter 1:13 says, "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

As I was studying this passage this morning, I asked myself the question, what does he mean by sober-minded?  The dictionary definition of the word is sensible and rational.  As I see that definition, I easily think to myself, "Oh, I'm typically sensible and rational."

This is right where Satan and my sinful heart want me... forgetting every instance where I am subtly irrational and insensible.  Like with sin and the spiritual state of every person I interact with.

What are some of the ways I fall into this trap of deception?

"This sin won't actually hurt me, God, or anybody else." 

"This person really doesn't need to hear about Jesus right now."

"This is my time to do what I want."

"Was God really clear about this particular action in the scriptures?"

"I don't need to talk to this person about this conflict... our personalities just clash."

Have you ever had one of these pop into your head.  This should signal a loud screaming warning signal in our minds, because we're in danger of being deceived about the massive danger of walking away from Jesus.  I appreciate later in the letter, where Peter says that one of the responses we should have to Jesus rescuing us is, "so put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander." (I Peter 2:1).  One of the things that hits me hard is the fact that these are all relational terms, that the subtle lies and deceptions we fall prey to actually destroy relationships along with ourselves.  It destroys our relationship with God, because we sin much more willingly AND choose to see it in a way that it's not a big deal.  It destroys our relationships with others, because we don't see our wrongdoing in the matter.

It's in these little moments in which we need to be sober-minded, when we're tempted towards selfishness and pride, fear, and isolationism.  We must prepare our minds, and to do so, we must set our hope FULLY on the grace of Jesus Christ.


Be sober-minded about your sin - Find sin and confess it

Repent- Turn away from it, and turn to the Lord.

Remember the Gospel - Fix your eyes on Jesus, and see Him that much more amazing that He forgives you of your obscene rebellion even now.

Ask God to prepare your mind - Pray, and ask that the Lord would help you reject lies in the midst of spiritual battle.

Don't get sucked into the subtle lies, and always be on guard.  Don't allow your sin to suppress the truth, but rather trust in the majestic truth that Jesus died for sinners.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Escaping through worry


God's Word is powerful.  It's far more powerful than anything we can imagine.  It created stars, planets, ants, and droplets of water.  He spoke and it happened.  And God is a good, loving Father.  He disciplines us because He loves us, and He makes us lie down where we can find life in Him (Psalm 23).

Yet, everyday, I find a way to trivialize God's voice and elevate my own above it.  Want to know how?  By being worried.  I'm worried about my health, my marriage, my future, my finances, my ministry, my reputation, my safety during storms, the next presidential election, whether there's a killer in my house, etc.

It's easy for me to be anxious.  And yet, I think in the day to day, we actually suppress the truth about God and us through our worries.  What's worse?  We often disguise our worry and anxiety as "wisdom."

Maybe, like me, you've seen yourself say these things to yourself or to others.

"I need to make sure I get to the gym today, because, well, you know, it's wise to do everything to stay healthy."

"I need to beat this sin, and I certainly can't share it, because it wouldn't be wise to let everyone in on how I struggle.  It would ruin my influence."

"I need to plan out now how to make more money, because who knows what could be coming down the pike in 5 or 10 years.  It's wise to think how we can save more."  

Now, I know what you're thinking.  These three statements are perfectly reasonable things to say.  There's nothing inherently wrong with them.  Here's the key... do you feel guilty when you miss your time at the gym, or if you eat something a little less healthy?  Or maybe you feel guilty if you gain an extra pound.  What if you feel guilty because you're growing slower than you want in a particular area of your life.  Are you obsessed with the idea that you need to keep making more money to survive?

Or what about this... are you fearful that when you sin, God is going to take away your salvation?

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."  (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Notice in this verse how Peter emphasizes our need to humble ourselves.  Earlier, he outlines in the passage that we need to clothe ourselves with humility, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  But notice how he says to humble yourself.

1. Under the Mighty hand of God - Understand who you're ultimately humbling yourself to, which is the God of the entire universe

2. So that at the proper time He may exalt you - The purpose of this humbling is so that we will ultimately be exalted by God at the right time (heaven)

3. Casting all your anxieties on Him - Wait, what?  How is this humbling ourselves?  As a note, casting is a participle that modifies the main phrase of 'humble yourselves.'  A way to humble ourselves then is to let God handle our worries, rather than try to tackle them on our own.

4. Because He cares for you - The reason we can cast our anxieties on him is because He is a loving Father who cares for us.

To sum this all up, this 4 point sermon is saying, "If you're in Christ, stop worrying about your life, God is in control and He loves you, so live in that reality."

It means that if finances are tight, the solution isn't just "I need more money."  The solution is, "God, you're in control, what are you trying to teach me right now, and how can you help me honor you."

If your marriage is getting harder, the solution isn't just "How do I make all the issues go away."  The solution is, "God, you're in control, how do you want me to serve my spouse in the midst of these obstacles."

If your walk with the Lord has been rocky because of struggles with indwelling sin, the solution isn't, "God I promise I'll do better."  The solution is, "God, you're in control, and through the power of your Gospel, I will one day be transformed.  Help me to feel the weight of my sin more and help transform my heart."

Ultimately, our circumstances will forever change when we rid ourselves of this broken world, our sin-ridden bodies, and Satan is finally vanquished.  Until then, we can live in the reality that sufferings, broken relationships, bad circumstances, and messed-up emotions WILL be redeemed because of Jesus.

If God is who He says He is, who are we to think that our voices and feelings are more accurate than the truths of His Word? 

Monday, May 27, 2013

When the feelings aren't there

In looking at Ephesians 2, I see that while I was dead in my sin and trespass, Christ died to make me alive in Him.  When I first understood what this meant, it radically altered the way I viewed God, and gave me a jolt of compassion for those not in Christ.  It meant that people who have Christ have life everlasting, while others are running headlong for hell.  I could do nothing but feel sad for them, and a burden to share the gospel knowing the joy I had in Christ.

Fast forward, and while I still believe that truth, the overwhelming feelings aren't there all the time.  In fact, many times I feel dead, while I look at the world and can feel like I'm missing out on all the world has to offer.  I often think of how one psalmist "Better is one day in your courts..." and hang my head, knowing that most of the time I'd rather have thousands of days elsewhere.  Psalm 73 even mentions this.  The author, Asaph, is confessing that he wished he could live large like others.  He mentions that he almost 'slips,' wanting to go the way of the arrogant and proud.

But he doesn't!  In the end, he says two things that stick out to me:

The crowd that escapes by living large doesn't actually find refuge:  In Psalm 73, Asaph notes that they have no pangs until death (v. 4), they don't have the same amount of trouble as others (v. 5), and they sit loftily and speak maliciously against others and God (vs. 8-11).  They seem in control and have everything they want.  Except they have set themselves against the Ultimate Authoritative being of the Universe.  Verses 17 and 18 share Asaph's sentiments, as he realizes that God has set them in 'slippery places,' where they will fail and be ruined.  Ultimately, those who have the 'easy life' is merely ignoring reality of living in a broken world that is in need of Cosmic Intervention both on a personal and universal scale, and will ultimately be destroyed by their own devices if they do not repent.

The Honesty of the Psalmist:  If you look at Psalm 73, the honesty and vulnerability of Asaph is refreshing and real.  He speaks of how he wished he could be like the "in" crowd (vs. 2-11), and how he went against the Lord in his thoughts and heart (vs. 12-15, 21-22).  He looks at that crowd and thinks, "this is appealing."  But then, he remembers both the folly of the crowd, and the deep love of his Heavenly Father.  He (Asaph) knows God will do good to His people (v. 1), he remembers that God will put an end to the wicked (v. 16-20, 27), and he remembers that it's God and His power, not the will or the strength of Asaph's faith, will ultimately deliver him, even if Asaph fails.

How does this apply?
Our Faith isn't dependent on the strength of our feelings or circumstances: I love v. 26, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."  This is immensely freeing.  If God is the strength of my heart, than I don't need to feel guilty when my feelings aren't strong.

Be honest:  If you're like me, it's easy to hide sin or other 'sinful desires,' because certainly God wouldn't want someone who is tempted to want to be like the wicked.  The truth is, we are far more wicked than we dared imagine... and we are far more loved because of Christ (Romans 5:8).  Be honest with God about lack of passion, about how you struggle, and why you don't have what the wicked have.

Submit to God's view:  One thing about the wicked is that they question God's knowledge and authority in an arrogant way.  It's ok to ask God questions, but it's sinful to question His authority in doing so.  So be honest, but also realize that God has far more knowledge and wisdom that you do.  He has put you in your specific situation for a reason, and ultimately it's to draw you closer to Himself through Christ, and for you to give Him glory, even if you don't feel like it.



Friday, April 26, 2013

Escaping through perfection

I've been reading this book called "Stop Asking Jesus into your Heart" by J.D. Greear, and it has been one of the most impactful books I've ever read.  As you might guess from the title of the book, it's all about how to know whether you're saved.  You might be wondering, "why would a missionary be reading a book on the assurance of salvation?"  Well, if you've been paying attention to the blog for a while, you know that I've often shared my struggle of believing if I'm really saved or not.  So no, I'm not reading this as a book to learn how to minister to others (primarily).  The reason I'm reading this book is that in spite of writing a blog, doing ministry, seeking to repent and believe the gospel, doing other good works, etc, I don't always feel the Holy Spirit at work in me.

Look, I'm a bad person.  And if any of you argue otherwise, you don't know my thoughts.  You don't know the things I struggle with when I'm alone, or my constant anxiety.  I'm constantly questioning and disobeying the Lover of my Soul.

My guess is that I'm also not the only one.  And my guess is, like me, you do what I try to do: lace up your shoes, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and make yourself better.  Maybe you promise God to never ever sin again.  Maybe you promise you'll lead more bible studies, join more Christian Fellowships, and even only watch sermons on Youtube!   You are going to become the best Christian you can be.

This is pride, and it's escaping the true reality that, because of the Fall of man in Genesis 3, we are severely messed up.  We rebelled cosmically against the Creator of the universe, and it went bad for us.  The entire creation, including our wicked hearts, fractured.  Without Jesus, how on Earth could we ever fathom to be made whole again?

Yet we try.  We often take one sin and make it a bigger deal than the others.  A big one is sexual sin.  "If I only beat this thing, I will be holy."  The problem with that is two-fold: 1. we assume that we have the power to defeat the power of sin on our own and 2. we think the thing standing in our way of holiness is one sin.  We miss the point that we are cosmic rebellers!  We are far worse than just that one sin, that sin is just fruit that we're messed up!

Get this, though.  With Jesus, in spite of our sin, we actually have true escape to perfection!

Greear says this in his book, "Repentance, however, means recognizing Jesus' authority and submitting to it, even though you know your heart is weak, divided, and pulled in conflicting directions.  Repentance includes a plea for God to change your inconsistent, divided heart."

He goes on further to say this, "Belief in the gospel is not demonstrated by "never falling" but by what you do when you fall.  Paul fell often but each time he got back up looking toward God, thanking God for forgiveness and that the process Jesus had started in Him that He was sure to complete." (Phil. 1:6)

Lastly, Greear goes on to talk about why Jesus chose to get baptized.  In Matthew 3:15, Jesus says he is being baptized to fulfill all righteousness.  In response, Greear writes this, "Whose righteousness would that baptism fulfill?  His righteousness was already fulfilled, and could not be any fuller!  It was MY righteousness he was fulfilling.  He was undergoing a baptism of repentance in my place, repenting in a way that could truly be called 'righteous,' so that His death could be a perfect substitute for mine."

In other words, if we truly believe the Gospel, Jesus is our PERFECTION, our RIGHTEOUSNESS, our EVERYTHING.  Because of Him, we are perfect in God's sight!   There is nothing you have to do to have Jesus, other than realize you need Him.  When we ask, "what else must I do," Jesus says "It is Finished."

Now, before everyone freaks out and says, "well, don't I have to do something for God?"  Let me explain.  Yes, we are called to submit to God in everything.  But the first thing we must submit to is the fact that we cannot submit to God on our own strength, and that we need Jesus and His Gospel.  That then allows us to respond to Jesus and His saving, transforming work on the cross, by submitting to God in all other areas of life.  Our lives should increasingly reflect Jesus because we have been so stirred by what He has done for us, not because we feel the need to be perfect for our salvation.  Jesus is no longer the killjoy of all our fun, but instead He is the ultimate joy who shows us what really isn't fun (the enslaving power of sin). 

How do we apply this?  Well, here's what I've been thinking:

Submit to the Gospel - You are not required to get all your ducks in a row, Jesus has all ready done it.  As a friend of mine has said, 'all you need is to need Him.'  That's it.  You're never going to be perfect on your own, so stop trying and submit to the one who has been perfect for you.

See things from Jesus' perspective - It's easy to look at the doctrine of grace and think, "wow, this means I can do whatever I want, when I want."  Sure, that might be true, but if Jesus came to die to slay the giant of sin and death, why would you want to willingly continue doing the things that were killing you before?  As Paul writes in Romans, "Should we go on sinning so that grace may abound?  By no means!"  Instead, being freed by the Gospel means that we are free to see things from Jesus point of view (which is the right one) and let Him sanctify us so that we can reflect more of the perfection and righteousness that Jesus has all ready achieved for us. 

Cast your anxiety on Jesus - If your standing with God is assured, you don't need to be anxious about your approval.  You don't need to be anxious about your struggle with that certain sin.  You don't need to be anxious if God will provide for you.  He has promised that if you repent and believe the Gospel that you are ultimately approved by Him, without reservation, and that He will provide for you not only in Heaven, but in this life as well.  Repent of your anxiety/distrust, and trust that God is going to take care of you, even if it's not the way you would prefer. 

I'll leave you with a song lyric that has truly touched my heart over the past several weeks:
"Behold Him there, the Risen Lamb
my perfect spotless, righteousness!
The Great Unchangable I Am,
The King of Glory and of Grace!"

The King of Glory and of Grace is our risen lamb, and He is our perfection, our spotless record, and our righteousness.  Let's not try to be perfect on our own, but accept the perfect record of our savior.

In His Grace,

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The danger of complacency

War is a common theme throughout the scriptures.  It starts all the way back in Genesis, and then you see wars pop up all throughout the Old Testament.  The imagery and warning of wars continues throughout the New Testament. 

Ephesians 6 might be the greatest example, where Paul urges the Ephesian church to put on the entire armor of God as they fight against the Spiritual forces of darkness.

As God often does, He used the physical, material war to illustrate an even greater war waging in the spiritual realm, where Satan, our flesh, and the world fight against the powers of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Paul and others pick up on this, and they urge their churches to fight by equipping themselves.

Do you realize you're at war?  Or are you living like it's peace time?  Are you complacent?

Here are some signs that you might be complacent to the spiritual battle:

- Response to your own sin is minimal
- Easily drawn to entertainment instead of time with Jesus
- The gospel becomes less important
- Excuse the "respectable sins" because "everybody does it, even Christians"  (i.e. stealing soda from the McDonald's by asking for a water cup and then getting soda, or illegal downloading of music)
- Getting mad at friends/other Christians for sharing the Gospel because it's awkward and don't want to upset others or be embarrassed

Ever been there?  The enemy's best tactic to keep us from fighting the war is to convince us that there is no actual war to be fought.  Fighting for lost souls instead becomes less important as a person's feelings (Ephesians 2 mentions that we were dead in our trespasses and sins!  What's worse, feelings getting hurt, or someone staying eternally dead!)  Fighting against sin, which enslaves our souls and lead us to death (Romans 6:23, Genesis 4:7), is treated as just a simple bad habit.  Rather than the Gospel being the most important news in our very lives, the gospel becomes less central to our lives and we fail to see life through the lens of it and the scriptures. 

How do we see that we are at war?  Here are a couple of practical things I'm learning:

Be in relationship with Jesus!  --> Find true refuge in your savior, and ask Him to show you His heart through prayer and His word!

Know that the War is won!  -->  On the cross, Jesus said it is finished.  God's victory is secured through the Gospel!

Find Joy in fighting the battles -->  As we fight to live for Christ, God continues to transform us like Him.  So though we may go through hard trials, find joy in the fact that you and I are becoming more like Jesus as we press into Him.  He will perfect us and make us more holy (Philippians 1:6)

Cling to the Gospel -->  It's easy to want to give up.  You don't want to see sin as bad.  You don't want to believe people are going to hell without Jesus.  You don't want to have to struggle that we are more messed up than we ever knew.  But God sent Jesus when we were at our worst!  (Romans 5:8).  It allows us to cling to the truth that while we are worse than we could ever imagine, God gave Jesus up so that He could transform us, and bring hope to eternally dead people by making them eternally alive.  There is hope, and we know that more will come to see Jesus as Lord and Savior, and there will be a final victory against sin, satan, and death.  It's guaranteed by Christ.

In His Grace,

PS: Check out Andy Cimbala's Blog The Relentless Fight, which is devoted to fighting the lifelong fight of faith.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

End it...

James 1:27 says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

A dear friend and sister in Christ (Katie Mumper) messaged me last week and asked me to write something to promote an anti-slavery movement.  At the time, my mindset was merely to help a friend with something she's passionate about.  I mean, slavery and sex trafficking, while awful, doesn't affect me or most of my immediate circles, so it's often out of sight, out of mind.   Besides, my job is to make Jesus known... not to stop the sex trade or child labor.

I'm convicted and humbled at how I don't often respond with deep sadness, nor action to stop it.  My prayer is that God will soften my heart more and more, and that as I respond in faith to the call that we should seek to love those in need, my heart will also soften.

But a question that I have is, how do I actually make a difference?  Here are a couple of thoughts:

Learn more about the slavery going on:  Go to this website to learn more:

Search the scriptures to see Jesus' care for the physical needs of His people:  In Luke, when John the Baptist asks if Jesus is truly the messiah, Jesus replies with a passage in Isaiah.  His point in it, is that physical needs are being met (the blind now see, the deaf now hear) as well as the spiritual.  In fact Jesus often uses the physical to teach about the spiritual.  So while we should ALWAYS be concerned for the souls of men and women and their eternal salvation through Christ, we also need to deeply consider how to care for the physical needs as Jesus did as well.  (James 1:27, Hebrews 13:3)

See yourself as a constant influencer:   Do you realize that if you choose to fight against lust, you actually are working against sex trafficking?  That if you encourage other men and women to stop looking at pornography and to stop lusting, that we can change the culture as one who abuses women and men, and instead one who seeks to care for them and treat them as equals?  Or that as you let other people know about how we can end slavery, you are enlisting more people in the fight through prayer, giving, and even devoted workers to stop the industry? 

Pray for the church, and for God to work globally: God can end slavery, and He ultimately will when we are in heaven!  And as we fight and pray, the culture of slavery will shift as we as His people pray and ask Him humbly.  We as believers can also look to the hope of heaven, and that we are seeking to make this world as much like heaven, so that people can see the grace of God and turn to Jesus!

In His Grace,

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The days after Easter

There's an overwhelming build-up to Easter, whether we realize it or not.  Fat Tuesday.  Ash Wednesday.  The lenten season, where traditionally you give something up for 40 days to draw closer to Christ.  Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday.  It's deserving of it's significance, and not just for Easter Egg Hunts and candy-filled Easter Baskets.

It helps us remember the greatest moment in the course of human history, the day God's Messiah defeated the giant of sin and death.  Think about that fact for a minute.  Let it sink in: someone DEFEATED death.  Like, he died and then came back to life in a new body.  And with His death and resurrection, Jesus enables us to repent from our sin, our deadness, and turn to true, genuine life in Him. 

That's insanely good news!  So here's my question:  How are you going to be impacted by it?

If it's really true that Jesus came back from the dead, that He transformed you from dead to alive (Ephesians 2) and made you into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), how will you respond?

If you're like me, you're tempted to go into Monday as if nothing happened. 

My one bit of counsel for you (and really, for myself): Don't think about what happened on Easter Sunday only during Easter Sunday.

Romans 1:16 says "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..."  The Gospel IS the power of God!  If it truly is of great power, we need to be thinking of it ALL the time!

What does this mean for us?

Believe the Gospel, ALWAYS:  Easter is great time to celebrate the truth of the resurrection.  But don't let it be the only time you remember Jesus.  The Gospel is the whole point of our faith... don't put it on the back burner.  Instead, remember it always as the main thing we hold onto.

Let the Gospel transform you: We all have things we'd like to change about ourselves, and sin patterns we'd like to stop doing.  Killing sin necessary in our pursuit of Christ.  But as soon as we place destroying a specific sin OVER our pursuit for Christ, the Christian walk becomes less about the glorious Gospel, and more about YOU conquering your issues.  The problem with this is it gives the illusion that you and I can actually beat sin without the help of Christ's transforming power through the work of the Holy Spirit.  It's our faith in Jesus that ultimately transforms us and helps us defeat the sin that so easily entangles us.

I hope you're encouraged to keep pursuing Christ, and to remember that Easter is not meant to just be a once-a-year holiday, but rather one method to remember and celebrate that God defeated the powers of sin and death through His Perfect Son, Jesus.

In His Grace,