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theology

~Change the culture and Become Missional as a Church~

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Chances are you have a very well thought-through mission and vision.

And that’s fantastic.

But have you ever thoroughly thought through the culture of your organization?

Here’s why that matters:

Your mission and vision determine the what and the why of what you do.

Your culture determines how your organization feels and behaves.

And, in most cases, your culture trumps your mission and vision. Often without anyone saying a word or even realizing it, you can undo a great mission by having a terrible culture.

If you’ve ever struggled with why a compelling mission and vision haven’t taken you further, maybe it’s time to look at your culture.

The truth is simple: A bad organizational culture will kill a great organizational mission.

Yes, You’ve Left Great Missions Behind Because of a Bad Culture

You’ve already left great missions behind because of bad organizational cultures.

You went to a home design store that had the exact product you needed, but you left because the staff didn’t care or because the owner treated you poorly.

You avoid a certain location in a restaurant chain you otherwise love because the staff always get your order wrong and the restrooms are rarely clean.

You didn’t stay long at the company you first worked for after graduating, not because it wasn’t in your field (it was), but because you really didn’t like the people you worked with.

None of these problems are really mission or vision problems. At their heart, they’re cultural problems.

And if you think about it, you probably have a few places you visit regularly not because you even like the mission or vision, but because you like the culture?

Ever go to a coffee shop or favourite restaurant when you weren’t all that hungry, just to hang out? Miss your college days because you loved the people you were with? I sometimes go to my favourite bike store even when I’m not buying anything because I love the vibe and conversation (and even the smell). That’s culture.

Your problem often isn’t what you believe as an organization, it’s how you behave.

 Many churches that have a culture problem exhibit similar signs. Here are some I’ve observed.

(By the way…because culture problems are often people problems and sin problems, the phenomenon is wider than just church. So even if you don’t work in church, some of these signs might seem uncomfortably familiar.)

Here are 5 signs your culture needs to change:

1. You judge the culture around you, rather than love the people in it

For some strange reason, most of us in the church today are known for our judgment more than our love. This is almost criminal, as Jesus said that the defining hallmark of his followers should be love.

It is impossible to judge someone and love someone at the same time. Certainly, you can discern that there are issues. But to judge is to put yourself above someone. (I would cite scripture here, but I think we all know the Bible couldn’t be clearer about not judging outsiders).

Somehow we’ve flipped it. We let people on the inside off the hook and judge people outside. And then we wonder why our church isn’t growing and why our church is serially unhealthy.

Many churches aren’t growing because people judge more than they love. It’s human nature to gravitate to people who accept us (this explains everything from gangs to clubs to friendships), and I believe the point of the cross is not judgment but salvation through Christ.

If you lead a Christian church, your mission is to reach people, not judge people.

2. You don’t talk the way you talk outside of church when you’re in church

Even if you love people, someones Christians have this weird habit of behaving in ways that are just…strange.

When there is a significant gap between how you talk to people in the grocery store and how you talk to people in church, it’s a sign you might have a cultural barrier that new people will find hard to surmount.

I realize people have traditions, but sometimes these traditions get in the way of the mission. If nobody can understand what you’re saying because you speak in Christianese or some kind of insider code, well, how do you expect people to feel a sense of belonging before they read your book of code (which by the way, nobody bothered to publish).

I don’t want to have to convert people to my culture. I’d rather see them converted to Jesus.

When you need to convert people to your culture before they convert to Christianity, your mission is at risk.

3. What you think is contemporary, isn’t

Of all the lies we tell, the lies we tell ourselves are the most subtle and deadly. Far too many churches make a lot of changes to how they behave and declare themselves ‘contemporary’, when the truth is they just sound traditional in a slightly different way to outsiders.

If you’re trying to be a contemporary church (and I realize not everyone is), get some outside feedback as to whether people who don’t go to church really connect with your culture and style. The fact that your ‘people’ like it simply creates a self-perpetuating community.

4. You handle conflict poorly and indirectly

Conflicted churches rarely grow. And, unresolved, sustained conflict will kill almost every organization’s mission in the long run.

Ironically, churches should be the best at resolving conflict. Often, we are the worst, despite some incredible biblical instruction on how to do it.

If your church has years (or decades) of continual infighting and never resolves conflict directly, just one question: why would anyone join you?

5. You have a justification for every bit of criticism you receive.

Sometimes people love their not-very-effective culture.

Churches that are great at never changing their defective culture often have a handy justification for every suggestion for improvement that comes their way.

In fact, often that justification comes with a bit of arrogance toward the dummies who ‘just don’t get us’.

Sadly, a closed and mildly arrogant attitude will often shrink a group until it becomes a closed minded ‘us against the world’ kind of attitude. That’s too bad. Because Jesus died for the world too many church leader resist.

Caution Against Bad Advice

~Desire Servant-hood Rather than Significance ~

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In our quest for the marks of mature spirituality and leadership ability, we must not bypass that quality which so completely characterized the life of Jesus Christ, the quality of unselfish servanthood. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) The apostle Paul added to this focus when he wrote, “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well” (Phil. 1:4). But then pointing to the Savior as our great example, he quickly added, “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.” Paul then followed this exhortation with a strong reminder of the humiliation of Christ (Phil. 2:6ff) who, though being God of very God, emptied himself by taking the form of a slave. There is no question that if we as Christians are going to grow and mature into Christ-like character, we must experience progress in giving of ourselves in ministry to and for others. While we can and should find comfort and encouragement in Christ (Phil. 2:1), when properly grasped, that comfort should propel us into servants of the Savior and one another. Servant living stands opposed to the primary concerns we see today where the focus of our culture and society is more on our own personal happiness and comfort.

The preoccupation with self today is readily seen in slogans like, “be all you can be” or “experience your potential” and in the titles and subtitles of books like The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life; The Total Woman; Joy in Sex, More Joy in Sex, and the list goes on and on. While many of these books may contain biblical truth or genuine help in dealing with certain problems people face as human beings, the message, whether explicit or implicit, suggests the prime goal we should be pursuing is our own comfort and the experience of some form of self-expression rather than growth in the character and quality of the life of the Savior. Simply put, our modern day society, and this includes a great number of Christians, is focused on making satisfaction its goal, indeed, its religion. There is much more concern for self-fulfillment than for pleasing God and truly serving Him and others as seen in the life of Jesus. Typical of today is the enormous number of how-to-books not just for the secular world, but for the Christian community. These are aimed at directing us to more successful relationships, becoming more of a person, realizing one’s potential, experiencing more thrills each day, whipping ourselves into shape, improving our diet, managing our money, and on it goes. Again, while many of these things are important and have their place, it does take the focus off what is truly the heart of Christianity—knowing and loving God, and out of that resource and relationship, living as servants in the power of the Spirit according to the example of Christ.

But what exactly is servanthood? Servanthood is the state, condition, or quality of one who lives as a servant. Further, a servant is first of all one who is under submission to another. For Christians, this means submission to God first, and then submission to one another. Then, as one in submission, a servant is one who seeks to meet the real needs of others or of the person he is serving. To put it another way, servanthood is the condition or state of being a servant to others, of ministry to others rather than the service of self. It means willingly giving of oneself to minister for and to others and to do whatever it takes to accomplish what is best for another.

However, when serving others and their needs, if the underlying motive and goal is some form of self love, like the praise of others for the service rendered, then one’s service is in reality hypocritical. This type of service is really aimed at serving selfish ends—usually in the futile pursuit of personal significance through something like praise, power, or status.

Christ’s plan and that which produces maximum blessing to the world and the church is servanthood. A servant is one who, even when in positions of leadership seeks to lead and influence others through lives given in ministry for the blessing of others and their needs. As the following passages will demonstrate, the Lord Jesus came as a servant with a commitment to serve. Just think, if He had come to be served, our redemption could and would never have taken place. Likewise, our failure to live as servants throws up a huge barrier to effective ministry as representatives of the Lord Jesus.

Components of Servanthood from New Testament Passages

Since servant living was epitomized so completely by the Lord Jesus, we would naturally expect a number of passages to explicitly deal with this issue. While space will not allow an indepth exegesis, it is hoped that the following highlights drawn from several New Testament passages will draw our attention to a few vital principles that describe the spiritually mature quality of living as servants.

MATTHEW 20:20-28 (SEE ALSO MARK 10:35-45)

20:20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling down she asked something from him.20:21 He said to her, “What do you want?” She said, “Permit these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”20:22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 20:23 He told them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and left is not mine to give. Rather, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 20:24 When the other ten heard this, they were angry with the two brothers. 20:25 But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high position use their authority over them. 20:26 It must not be this way among you! But whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant. 20:27And whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

A consideration of Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 10:35-45 shows us that there are basically two options open for people. Either we will seek to serve ourselves, a choice that nullifies our capacity to live as disciples, or we will learn to live as servants out of a faith relationship with God through Christ. In Matthew 6, the Lord stated it this way, “No one is able to serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. No one is able to serve God and possessions” (Matt. 6:24). When we serve money, we are really serving ourselves and our own desires for what we think money will purchase like significance, power, pleasure, security, or status. Money is not evil and having it is not evil, but if it becomes our master, it controls our values, priorities, and pursuits rather than God, and that is evil (see 1 Tim. 6:8-10).

Christ shows that His organization or organism, the body of Christ, is to function on the basis of service or servant-like ministry to others. Spiritually mature people who experience His life are those who have first of all developed a servant’s heart like that of the Savior. Thus, a true concept of mature Christian leadership means serving one’s followers and teaching them by example to be servants of others.

A mother approached the Lord, probably at the request of her sons, and sought a position of status for them. Why? Foolishly thinking that such status would give them happiness and significance, they wanted positions of authority, praise, and power. Our Lord’s answer showed that first of all they had been wrongly influenced by the attitudes of the world (vs. 25). Rather than thinking with the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5; 1 Cor. 2:16b) as His disciples should think, they were thinking like an unregenerate world. Thus, if they were to serve as His disciples, their thinking and orientation needed drastic transformation (see Rom. 12:1-8).

Naturally, the model for mature spirituality and leadership and all Christian living is the Lord Jesus. It is instructive to note that in this context of serving, He spoke of Himself as the Son of Man. This was a favorite designation of Himself (one used some 90 times) and a Messianic title based on Daniel 7:13-14. As such, it linked Him to the earth and to His mission, but it also stressed His pre-eminence, dignity, and authority (see Luke 6:5; John 6:62). The contrast between who He was, the Son of Man, and what He did, humble Himself, is stressed by the word “even” as given in Mark 10:45, “for even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve…” This Messianic title draws our attention to His awesome humility as one who, though God of very God and Messiah Himself, came in order to serve and to give his life a ransom. In other words, He came to serve in order to set men free to be the people God had created them to be.

Since in this passage the Lord was correcting the thinking of His disciples, this clearly illustrates how we need to spend time with Him in His Word that we might allow His life and the teaching of Scripture to transform our thinking and thus our sources of trust, aspirations, and actions.

When the other disciples got wind of the request of the two, they became indignant and a certain degree of division occurred among the disciples. This shows how longing and striving for position, power, and praise quickly ruins relationships in the body of Christ and creates disunity and division. Servant living does the opposite.

Principle: the purpose of serving others is to set them free to love and serve God, not to make them our servants or to serve our wants or needs. We are all responsible to serve one another, but never in order to be served or to satisfy our immature cravings.

MATTHEW 23:11-12

23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 23:12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Greatness in God’s kingdom is never to be found in position or power or in the praise and opinions of men, but in servant-like service to others.

We see again that one of the greatest hindrances to service or servant living is the desire for some form of exaltation—position, praise, prestige, and power. Those who take the secular route so typical of the world and who exalt themselves will eventually be humbled. They will not only eventually lose the very status they seek, but if they are believers, they will also lose rewards in the kingdom.

Following the statement of verses 11-12, the Lord began to pronounce woes on the Pharisees who typically longed for status and praise. These woes illustrate some of the consequences when men fail to live as servants.

LUKE 22:24-30

22:24 A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 22:25 So Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 22:26 But it must not be like that with you! Instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. 22:27 For who is greater, the one who is seated at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

22:28 “You are the ones who have remained with me in my trials. 22:29 Thus I grant to you a kingdom, just as my Father granted to me, 22:30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The setting here is that of the Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper, both of which spoke of Christ in His person and work as the suffering servant who would die for our sin. This scene presents a graphic picture of how preoccupation with self-centered interests (position, praise, and acceptance by others) ruins our capacity to even properly worship and relate to the person and work of the Savior. Because they were seeking their happiness and significance by trying to manage their own affairs they were blinded to what He was seeking to teach them and to what His life meant to them.

Servant living will be rewarded in the future. One of the hindrances to servant living is man’s impatience and his desire to be served now! Therefore, one of the keys to effective service is faith and constant orientation with the weight of eternity (2 Cor. 4:15-18). When we seek our reward now through the praise of men as did the Pharisees, we lose the power of God on our lives and ministries and we lose rewards in the future (cf. Matt. 6:1-4). But why do we do that? In unbelief, we turn from resting in God’s wisdom to our own foolishness through which we seek to handle life by our own plans or machinations.

JOHN 13:1-5 AND 12-17

13:1 Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. He had loved his own who were in the world, and now he loved them to the very end. 13:2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. 13:3 Jesus, because he knew that the Father had handed things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 13:4 got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 13:5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. . .

13:12 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13:13You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 13:14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 13:15 For I have given you an example: you should do just as I have done for you. 13:16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 13:17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Perhaps no passage illustrates the source and nature of the heart of a servant more than John 13. Here, in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion the Lord Jesus dramatically drove home the issue and nature of what it means to be a servant. Imagine the scene. All had been prepared for this last meal with the disciples with the exception of one thing. According to the custom of the day a servant, with a basin of water and towel in hand, would wash the feet of the guests who had walked down the dirty, dusty roads of Palestine. But who would take the position of this servant and perform the task? I can just see the disciples looking around expecting someone else to do this, but never for a moment considering it himself. Then out of the blue, as a perfect picture and lesson of servanthood, the Lord Jesus rose to the task, laid aside His outer garment, put a towel around his waist, took water in a basin and began washing the feet of the disciples, all of which was a fitting analogy of yielding His privileges and assuming the role of a slave.

First, we should note that the source of Jesus’ actions lay in His knowledge and security of who He was and where He was going (vss. 1-3). Jesus was completely aware of His sovereign authority, His origin, and coming destiny as He submitted and depended by faith in what the Father was doing (cf. vv. 1, 18). Thus, in that confidence, He voluntarily took the place of a slave and washed the feet of His disciples. His thinking and action contrasts sharply with the self-seeking insecurity of the disciples, none of whom were willing to pick up the towel and take the place of a servant (cf. Matt. 20:20-24; Mark 9:33-34; Luke 22:24-30).

Christ’s security, His love, and His confidence in the Father and future allowed the Lord Jesus to assume the position of a servant, an amazing example of condescension (vss. 4-6). This attitude, faith, and action portrayed His entire ministry on earth (cf. Phil. 2:5-8) and provides us with the perfect example of what He wants to do in our lives. But this also demonstrates how servant living is accomplished in us—through faith and understanding of who we are in Christ and by confidence in the eternal glories of the future. After Jesus finished washing the feet of the disciples, He returned to His place and made this very pointed application:

John 13:12-15 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example: you should do just as I have done for you.

Having pointed to His actions as an example for them, Christ then drove home an inescapable lesson, here defined as a “solemn truth.” If He, their master and the One they worshipped, assumed the role of a servant to minister to others, then certainly they must likewise take the towel of servanthood as a minister to others rather than seek to elevate themselves. Ironically, and contrary to the thinking of the world, true blessing comes in serving others.

16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

PHILIPPIANS 2:1-8

2:1 If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2:2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well. 2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 2:6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped, 2:7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 2:8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!

This classic passage on the humiliation of Christ (verses 5-8) is here set forth as the supreme example for unselfish servant living for Christians. The apostle presents the Lord Jesus as One who, in his supreme superiority, manifests what is the model for all Christians; it points us to the humility needed to live as servants of others. Though existing in the form of God with all the rights and prerogatives of deity, Christ Jesus emptied Himself by taking on the form of a slave, by becoming true humanity. Christ veiled His deity and voluntarily laid aside the right to use and manifest His divine prerogatives in submission to the Father. In doing this, He humbled Himself that He might die even the death of the cross.

But the focus we dare not miss is Paul’s statement in verse 1 and the implications drawn from this. The main verb of the passage is “complete my joy.” Seeing men and women come to Christ in faith gives joy, but as one devoted to seeing believers mature into Christ-like living (see Col. 1:28; Eph. 4:13), nothing could give Paul greater joy (vs. 2) than to see believers live unselfishly serving one another with the mature mind of Christ (vss. 2-5). But before the apostle says “complete my joy,” he begins by getting the Philippians to think through what was theirs in Christ by the work of God. Literally, the text begins with four “if” clauses. He wrote, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort by love, if any fellowship in the Spirit, if any affection and mercy…” In Greek, these are first class conditional clauses, which, for the sake of argument or for a response from the reader, assumes the statement to be true. It is what can be called the response condition. Paul was not questioning the reality of these blessings in Christ. Rather, he used the first class condition as a kind of rhetorical device to get the reader to think through the issue and respond properly. The point is there is encouragement, comfort by love, and fellowship in the ministry and power of the Spirit, and the result—compassion and mercy that all believers should have for others.45 But we must never turn such blessings into merely personal comfort. The goal and result must be servant living, living as expressed especially in verses 3-5:

2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well. 2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.

The fundamental issue in living as servants, as those committed to meeting the needs of others, is a deep down humility that is willing to pick up the servant’s towel regardless of one’s status or station in life. No matter what one’s station or condition in life, whether king or peasant, slave or free, rich or poor, strong or weak, brilliant or slow of mind, nobleman or common, etc., in Christ God calls all Christians to live as servants serving others with the Lord Jesus as the perfect example of One who, though God of very God, took upon Himself “the form of a servant.”

… When Jesus Christ came into the world, it was not to come into a wealthy man’s home where all material things might be His. The home was characterized by poverty. He did not come into a royal home so that He might be respected as heir apparent even though He has the right to rule this earth. He was not born in Caesar’s home so that in due course He might follow His father to the throne. His station in life was that of a servant. A servant is characterized not so much as a person to be despised, but as someone without rights; a servant submits himself to the will of his master. What Paul emphasizes is that, when Jesus Christ came into the world, He came as One who had no rights of His own. The One who had all the rights that belonged to the eternal Son of God gave up the exercise of these rights; He came into the world as a servant who has no rights but is subject to the authority of another.46

The real test of whether we are truly maturing and learning to become a Christ-like servant is how we act when people treat us like one. I see so much suffering in the church and amongest leadership. Let’s read the word and become more intimate with His character as it relates to how He endured to complete the “Finished work” of our Father.

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~Romans 14:22-23- Dogma or Doctrine, Theology Which one Clarifies Sin Concisely?

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Unfortunately, many young believers – and some older ones, too – do not know that there will be times in every person’s life when circumstances don’t add up – when God doesn’t appear to make sense. This aspect of the Christian faith is not well advertised.

James Dobson

Is it Wrong for a Christian to Have a Drink of Alcohol?

Is it a sin for a Christian to have a drink of alcohol?

It is an important question for our time. Millions and millions of Americans have been brutalized and devastated by the abuse of alcohol. I have had to deal as a minister with the shattered lives that occurred through the addiction and abuse of alcohol. This is not just an American issue but I live here so I will talk about what I know.

I am going to make some preliminary remarks and then do my best to back them up with the Scriptures and reason.

1.  Jesus did make wine. 

His first miracle was turning water into wine. I have heard many pastors that I respect go to great lengths to demonstrate that the wine that Jesus made was basically non-alcoholic. They talk about how the distilling of alcohol didn’t really happen until centuries later.

Problem: People got drunk in the Bible. There was such a thing as “strong drink” beginning in ancient times.  Therefore, the argument that the wine that Jesus made was almost non-alcoholic seems farfetched to me and to most Bible scholars.

I don’t think Jesus made wine to have a party or to even enjoy it. I think He did it to demonstrate his divinity.  Nonetheless, I am sure the people enjoyed it.

2.  There has been a HUGE paradigm shift in American Evangelicalism concerning drinking alcohol.

It is hard to believe that most pastors now advocate drinking in moderation compared to how I grew up.  Abstinence was just about THE litmus test for sanctification! The party line was almost “We are godly because we don’t drink!” That idea, although extreme, was a reality.

I think the reasoning behind it is simple: if you don’t drink you won’t ever have to worry about abusing alcohol. That is a decent argument.  However, there has been a grace revolution in our thinking over the last 20 years. I think this paradigm is for the better but it opens up the can of debate that can lead to disunity.  Sometimes debate is worth the possibility of disunity.  Sometimes.

1 Cor 10:23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”

I love what John Piper said in a video I watched a while back.  He intimated that although there is grace and “tee-totaling” is a choice not a law, as pastors we must not be cavalier in the advocacy of drinking alcohol.

I think there are way too many Christians that just blurt out a quick “yes” or “no” without really thinking through the complexities of this question.  I used to be one of them.

I do NOT want to present the advocacy of drinking alcohol in a cavalier way.  We live in a culture of addiction and abuse.  Drunk driving, teenage alcoholism, child abuse stemming from drunk parents are HUGE issues.  Moderate drinking CAN lead to alcoholism.  It is a possibility so we must be extremely careful.

3.  It is a sin to cause another person to stumble into addiction.

Romans 14:20 “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.”

If a mature Christian’s freedom causes a person to fall headlong into sin then it is wrong.  This is not a warning for people who walk in grace to be stifled because they are worried about legalistic Christians criticizing them.  This is a warning to make sure that we never destroy the work of Christ in a believer’s life by abusing our freedom.

The $10,000,000,000 question:  Is it a sin to drink alcohol?

1.  No, it is not a sin to drink alcohol.

I cannot find anywhere in the Scripture a defining verse or passage that says that alcohol is intrinsically evil.  I have read tons of books, articles and sermons on this subject and I have never been satisfied that alcohol is intrinsically evil.  If so, then taking Nyquil is a sin.  So let’s ask a better question than this one.

2.  Is it wise to drink alcohol? 

Not necessarily.  For many, many people it is unwise to drink at all.  A person’s background, disposition and environment must be factored into this discussion.

Proverbs 20:1 “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”

What this passage means is that wine and beer are powerful and one must not be led astray. The fact that one could be led astray by these liquid entities should give every Christian a heart check.

I have heard often people comparing overeating to overdrinking.  Here is the difference: if you go to Cracker Barrel and eat 6000 calories of saturated fact you are not likely to get pulled over by the police because of your fat saturation level.  You are not likely to drive into a mini-van and kill a whole family because of it.

There is the possibility that you may have gastrointestinal issues that cause the people in your vehicle to vomit but you won’t be going to jail for manslaughter.  You are just guilty of air-quality slaughter.

3.  Is it unwise to drink alcohol?

Not necessarily.  A Christian can enjoy a glass of wine or a glass of beer and it not cause havoc in the world. Here are a few verses that my super-fundamentalist pastors never preached on when I was growing up.

Psalm 104:14–15 “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.”

Ecclesiastes 9:7 “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.”

Isaiah 62:8–9 “The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: “I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.”

4.  Is it a sin for a Christian to drink in public?

I think the correct answer to this question is going to be found in the context of each unique situation.

Remember that we are not talking about getting drunk.  We are talking about having a glass (or 2) of wine or beer.

If, by drinking a glass of wine, a Christian selfishly causes a weaker Christian (a former addict or one who may have an over proclivity to become one) then the answer is yes.  Don’t guess and don’t go there would be my strong recommendation.

If a Christian is sitting down to a nice dinner with their spouse or friends and has no fear or guilt about drinking a glass of wine but has faith that God has given them freedom to do so then the answer is yes.

Romans 14:22-23 “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

Summary:

I have not addressed every single issue on this subject but I have tried to give us a “helicopter ride” over this subject. The possibility of fallout is okay with me because I really believe that a pastor must dive into the complex issues of our time with honest questions and thoughtful answers.

~I see better having “Faith”-I am not alone~

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Facing tragedy, or life storms of any kind, can be extremely difficult. But in the midst of heartache and pain, you can find the hope and courage to go on. With God’s help, the help of caring family members and friends, and the encouragement found in the Bible and other resources, you will receive the necessary strength to overcome.

You may be thinking, I don’t know how I could ever get through this. Or you may be battling powerful feelings of despair, suffering, confusion, fear, worry, and even anger. These are all normal responses to tragedy.

But as difficult as this life storm may be, you are not alone. God is with you always. He loves you, and cares about what is going on in your life. He hears your cries and sees your pain. Moreover, He understands.

The Bible says, “And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God … For since He himself has now been through suffering … He knows what it is like when we suffer … and He is wonderfully able to help us” (Hebrews 2:17-18 TLB). Whatever we endure, His care is certain, His love is unfailing, and His promises are secure.

You Are Not Alone

For he himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5c)

On the morning of October 29, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people in portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States faced their worst nightmare … “Superstorm Sandy.” This post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds and its unusual merge with a frontal system affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, leaving death, injuries, and utter destruction in its wake. Families everywhere, especially in hard hit New Jersey and New York, were jolted out of normalcy and the comfort and security of the homes and communities they once knew. They were thrust suddenly and unwillingly into the darkness and despair of loss.

If you and your family have ever been affected by a natural disaster like this, you may feel as if you’ve been abandoned by God. However, if trouble has hit your life in some other disaster or form of tragedy—the death of a loved one, a dreaded medical diagnosis, the loss of home and property, or the loss of your job, you are experiencing your own superstorm. You may feel as if your whole world has been turned upside down and wonder how you can possibly survive the loss. In times like these, you can feel very much alone.

But you are not alone. In the midst of unspeakable sorrow, God is with you. Even if you do not feel Him near, God is there. He promises to never leave you alone. Therefore, wherever you are, God is. He is with you before, during, and after the storm, never losing sight of you, or your suffering. Even as you ponder how you will begin picking up the pieces of your life, God is there … loving you beyond understanding, holding you up, and making a way where it seems there is no way. Reach out for Him today. He is a very present help in times of trouble (see Psalm 46:1).

Taking back your life …

  1. Psalm 139:7-10 says, “I can never be lost to Your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, You are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, Your strength will support me” (TLB). What assurance can you find in these verses of Scripture when you are feeling as if God has forgotten you?
  2. In Psalm 23, David pictures the Lord as the Great Shepherd who provides for and protects His sheep (His children). In verse 4, he says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” A shepherd uses his rod to protect his sheep (by using it to beat off wild beasts), and he uses his staff to guide them. What comfort can you find in knowing that God will protect and guide you during this difficult time?
  3. In addition to needing God’s presence in our lives, we also need each other. Talk with your family or friends about the way you are feeling, so that you can share one another’s burdens, and not feel so alone in your suffering.

~His Purpose and Plan for our life as Children~

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“What is God’s 
plan for my life?”

in this culture, your children have three basic hungers: truth, identity, and meaning.

TRUTH

               — Students are looking for truth, something that they can latch on to. The fact that sometimes truth is difficult to find at church shouldn’t surprise us. The Barna Group discovered that only half of today’s pastors express confidence in the truth of basic Christian doctrines. Untethered from these doctrines, Christianity stands mute in answer to life’s ultimate questions. In fact, less than 10 percent of born-again Christians possess a Christian worldview (also according to Barna).

While we’d never recommend using this logic to prove scripture’s accuracy or inspiration, we should acknowledge that Jesus declared the Word of God to be truth. The most stable foundation for any discussion about truth includes a healthy dose of scripture. But as a parent, you may likely hear questions like, “Does truth exist?”

IDENTITY

                              — Most people define their identity in terms of success: income, possessions, and reputation. However, at a deeper level, as bearers of the Imago Dei, we find ourselves tempted by two idols that poison our sense of direction.

1. The first idol is persona. Today’s online world makes it possible  — easy, really — to transcend our circumstances and project an image of our perfect selves. Is this projection an illusion or reality? Do we even know, and would we admit if we did?

2. Second, we are tempted by the idol of tribe. Wrapping our identities around hobbies, musical taste, athletic ability, or some other cultural preference we share with those we approve of or whose approval we hope to win. Ironically, we root ourselves in that which cannot last while uprooting that which can.

Through persona and tribe we come to believe that we are what we appear to be. But this train has only one destination: purposelessness, and it’s most acute among the young. Helping a young person find purpose is a process of cultivating rather than revealing. The best methodology we’ve discovered is asking questions.

 Deep questions aren’t necessarily the best. The best questions open 
up a process of discovery:<br /><br />
Have you had experiences that thoroughly captured your imagination? What do you think was happening then? What are some experiences where you’ve accomplished something that gave you a tremendous sense of satisfaction and returned energy to you?<br /><br />
What kinds of things do you like to work with (ideas, tools, people, etc.) and in what situations?<br /><br />
Be on the lookout for what they like to work with and in what situations. There’s no 
right or wrong answer here. Understanding and awareness are your aim.

MEANING

               — Layered over with strips of paper-mache optimism and the water glue of self-confidence, our outer forms become a way to hide the emptiness we feel inside. Sometimes our quest for meaning is one of the things preventing us from finding it. There is a reality we have to confront: The hunger for meaning will be met, either by truth and beauty or by their counterfeits, self-obsessions incapable of giving to others or receiving from God.

Our experience at Second Chance Alliance continues to prove out that meaning is defined through relationships. The only way to show rising generations that the Church is something you are, not something to go to, is to make it personal.

Truth, identity, and meaning aren’t fluffy subjects. When you speak from the position of biblical authority, you can speak to the heart of a young person who is seeking after truth.

“What is God’s 
plan for my life?”Resources to guide the conversation with your child about identity in Christ.

“Why does 
 God allow 
 bad things to happen?”

As a matter of logic, the problem of pain is not a good rebuttal to theism in general nor to Christianity in particular. If somebody wants to say, “How can you believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world?” one possible answer for a theist is simply to say that your God is not all-loving nor all-powerful. After all, there are plenty  of religions in the world that have their gods at war with each other, throwing, fighting, plotting, and scheming — not exactly portraits of all-loving gods. But for a Christian in particular, we simply have to acknowledge the rest of His attributes.

If we are going to say that the Christian God is all-loving and all-powerful, then we must also note that he is all-knowing. The omniscience of God dovetails with his omnibenevolence and omnipotence and says that not only does God love perfectly and work perfectly, he sees perfectly. That being the case, it is simply not reasonable to look at an all-knowing God and object to how he is running things. Rather, it is reasonable to say, “If I were as good as God is, if I were as powerful as God is, and if I knew as much as God knows, I would be doing exactly what he is doing.”

But the reality is quite different. The complication with the problem of pain is that it’s not about what’s reasonable; it’s about what’s painful. In other words, the question is not, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” but rather, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to me? Or to people I care about? Or to people I see on the news?” Anyone who has spent any time with humans knows the depth of their sorrow and bondage of their pain. While it is important to know the apologetics and theology, it is important that we obey the command of Romans 12:15, “weep with those who weep,” while we wait to be “set free from [creation’s] slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God”(Romans 8:21).

Answering this question is not easy. Often the most theologically accurate answer feels least satisfying. This video will answer some of those tough questions.

~Is Christianity Real In My Home?~

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“Christians know what they believe, but they don’t know why they believe.”

It’s become such a truism, Paul Little titled his books after it — almost fifty years ago. But “How do I know this is true?” is one of the best and most important questions students can ask about their faith.

For those students who have been steeped in Christian culture, it is far too easy to know what you’ve “caught” rather than what’s been “taught.” But both the caught and taught should be subject to serious examination by those wanting to take their faith seriously.

All of these are significant questions that have reasonable, scholarly, and detailed answers.

As adults, we can help our children and their friends wrestle through these important questions by wrestling through them ourselves.

Our experience with thousands of young people each year reveals that they are either eager for answers or they’ve made up their mind. Often, they’ve made up their mind — not because of reason or logic — because they want to live a lifestyle that is counter to what Christianity teaches is best for them. Discerning why a student is struggling with the truth of Christ establishes an important baseline.

There’s no magic bullet for a young person who is struggling with whether Christianity is true. However, for a teen seeking truth, there are many fantastic resources available. Whether they have already made up their minds or are honestly searching for answers, we’re certain that all the evidence leads to Christianity!

Let this be an encouragement to you and a challenge as a parent: Create a culture in your home of asking questions about the authenticity of Christianity. Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know,” but don’t leave it there! Follow that statement with “…but let’s seek out the answer, together.”

Remember, you aren’t walking alone, and you won’t find yourself without resources in this journey. We can’t answer all the questions your kids are asking in this short post, but we can give you a few easy-to-use resources if you desire to plunge into this topic. Start the conversation with us by contacting us on any of our social media sites.

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~Our Duty Is Service~

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Someone shared with me her observation about two bosses. One is loved but not feared by his subordinates. Because they love their boss but don’t respect his authority, they don’t follow his guidelines. The other boss is both feared and loved by those who serve under him, and their good behavior shows it.

The Lord desires that His people both fear and love Him too. Today’s Bible passage, Deuteronomy 10, says that keeping God’s guidelines involves both. In verse 12, we are told “to fear the Lord your God” and “to love Him.”

To “fear” the Lord God is to give Him the highest respect. For the believer, it is not a matter of feeling intimidated by Him or His character. But out of respect for His person and authority, we walk in all His ways and keep His commandments. Out of “love,” we serve Him with all our heart and with all our soul—rather than merely out of duty (v.12).

Love flows out of our deep gratitude for His love for us, rather than out of our likes and dislikes. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our fear and love for God enable us to walk willingly in obedience to God’s law.

Lord, You are holy and Your thoughts are much higher than mine. I bow before You. Thank You for salvation in Jesus. I love You and want to obey You with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.
If we fear and love God, we will obey Him.
And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, Deuteronomy 10:12-17

We are here most plainly directed in our duty to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves.

1. We are here taught our duty to God, both in the dispositions and affections of our souls and in the actions of our lives, our principles and our practices. (1.) We must fear the Lord our God, v. 12, and again v. 20. We must adore his majesty, acknowledge his authority, stand in awe of his power, and dread his wrath. This is gospel duty, Rev. 14:6, 7. (2.) We must love him, be well pleased that he is, desire that he may be ours, and delight in the contemplation of him and in communion with him. Fear him as a great God, and our Lord, love him as a good God, and our Father and benefactor. (3.) We must walk in his ways, that is, the ways which he has appointed us to walk in. The whole course of our conversation must be conformable to his holy will. (4.) We must serve him (v. 20), serve him with all our heart and soul (v. 12), devote ourselves to his honour, put ourselves under his government, and lay out ourselves to advance all the interests of his kingdom among men. And we must be hearty and zealous in his service, engage and employ our inward man in his work, and what we do for him we must do cheerfully and with a good will. (5.) We must keep his commandments and his statutes, v. 13. Having given up ourselves to his service, we must make his revealed will our rule in every thing, perform all he prescribes, forbear all the forbids, firmly believing that all the statutes he commands us are for our good. Besides the reward of obedience, which will be our unspeakable gain, there are true honour and pleasure in obedience. It is really for our present good to be meek and humble, chaste and sober, just and charitable, patient and contented; these make us easy, and safe, and pleasant, and truly great. (6.) We must give honour to God, in swearing by his name (v. 20); so give him the honour of his omniscience, his sovereignty, his justice, as well as of his necessary existence. Swear by his name, and not by the name of any creature, or false god, whenever an oath for confirmation is called for. (7.) To him we must cleave, v. 20. Having chosen him for our God, we must faithfully and constantly abide with him and never forsake him. Cleave to him as one we love and delight in, trust and confide in, and from whom we have great expectations.

2. We are here taught our duty to our neighbour (v. 19): Love the stranger; and, if the stranger, much more our brethren, as ourselves. If the Israelites that were such a peculiar people, so particularly distinguished from all people, must be kind to strangers, much more must we, that are not enclosed in such a pale; we must have a tender concern for all that share with us in the human nature, and as we have opportunity; (that is, according to their necessities and our abilities) we must do good to all men. Two arguments are here urged to enforce this duty:—(1.) God’s common providence, which extends itself to all nations of men, they being all made of one blood. God loveth the stranger (v. 18), that is, he gives to all life, and breath, and all things, even to those that are Gentiles, and strangers to the commonwealth of Israel and to Israel’s God. He knows those perfectly whom we know nothing of. He gives food and raiment even to those to whom he has not shown his word and statutes. God’s common gifts to mankind oblige us to honour all men. Or the expression denotes the particular care which Providence takes of strangers in distress, which we ought to praise him for (Ps. 146:9, The Lord preserveth the strangers), and to imitate him, to serve him, and concur with him therein, being forward to make ourselves instruments in his hand of kindness to strangers. (2.) The afflicted condition which the Israelites themselves had been in, when they were strangers in Egypt. Those that have themselves been in distress, and have found mercy with God, should sympathize most feelingly with those that are in the like distress and be ready to show kindness to them. The people of the Jews, notwithstanding these repeated commands given them to be kind to strangers, conceived a rooted antipathy to the Gentiles, whom they looked upon with the utmost disdain, which made them envy the grace of God and the gospel of Christ, and this brought a final ruin upon themselves.

3. We are here taught our duty to ourselves (v. 16): Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts. that is, “Cast away from you all corrupt affections and inclinations, which hinder you from fearing and loving God. Mortify the flesh with the lusts of it. Away with all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, which obstruct the free course of the word of God to your hearts. Rest not in the circumcision of the body, which was only the sign, but be circumcised in heart, which is the thing signified.” See Rom. 2:29. The command of Christ goes further than this, and obliges us not only to cut off the foreskin of the heart, which may easily be spared, but to cut off the right hand and to pluck out the right eye that is an offence to us; the more spiritual the dispensation is the more spiritual we are obliged to be, and to go the closer in mortifying sin. And be no more stiff-necked, as they had been hitherto, ch. 9:24. “Be not any longer obstinate against divine commands and corrections, but ready to comply with the will of God in both.” The circumcision of the heart makes it ready to yield to God, and draw in his yoke.

II. We are here most pathetically persuaded to our duty. Let but reason rule us, and religion will.

1. Consider the greatness and glory of God, and therefore fear him, and from that principle serve and obey him. What is it that is thought to make a man great, but great honour, power, and possessions? Think then how great the Lord our God is, and greatly to be feared. (1.) He has great honour, a name above every name. He is God of gods, and Lord of lords, v. 17. Angels are called gods, so are magistrates, and the Gentiles had gods many, and lords many, the creatures of their own fancy; but God is infinitely above all these nominal deities. What an absurdity would it be for them to worship other gods when the God to whom they had sworn allegiance was the God of gods! (2.) He has great power. He is a mighty God and terrible (v. 17), who regardeth not persons. He has the power of a conqueror, and so he is terrible to those that resist him and rebel against him. He has the power of a judge, and so he is just to all those that appeal to him or appear before him. And it is as much the greatness and honour of a judge to be impartial in his justice, without respect to persons or bribes, as it is to a general to be terrible to the enemy. Our God is both. (3.) He has great possessions. Heaven and earth are his (v. 14), and all the hosts and stars of both. Therefore he is able to bear us out in his service, and to make up the losses we sustain in discharging our duty to him. And yet therefore he has no need of us, nor any thing we have or can do; we are undone without him, but he is happy without us, which makes the condescensions of his grace, in accepting us and our services, truly admirable. Heaven and earth are his possession, and yet the Lord’s portion is his people.

2. Consider the goodness and grace of God, and therefore love him, and from that principle serve and obey him. His goodness is his glory as much as his greatness. (1.) He is good to all. Whomsoever he finds miserable, to them he will be found merciful: He executes the judgment of the fatherless and widow, v. 18. It is his honour to help the helpless, and to succour those that most need relief and that men are apt to do injury to, or at least to put a light upon. See Ps. 68:4, 5; 146:7, 9. (2.) But truly God is good to Israel in a special obligations to him: “He is they praise, and he is thy God, v. 21. Therefore love him and serve him, because of the relation wherein he stands to thee. He is thy God, a God in covenant with thee, and as such he is thy praise,” that is [1.] “He puts honour upon thee; he is the God in whom, all the day long, thou mayest boast that thou knowest him, and art known of him. If he is thy God, he is thy glory.” [2.] “He expects honour from thee. He is thy praise,” that is “he is the God whom thou art bound to praise; if he has not praise from thee, whence may he expect it?” He inhabits the praises of Israel. Consider, First, The gracious choice he made of Israel, v. 15. “He had a delight in thy fathers, and therefore chose their seed.” Not that there was any thing in them to merit his favour, or to recommend them to it, but so it seemed good in his eyes. He would be kind to them, though he had no need of them. Secondly, The great things he had done for Israel, v. 21, 22. He reminds them not only of what they had heard with their ears, and which their fathers had told them of, but of what they had seen with their eyes, and which they must tell their children of, particularly that within a few generations seventy souls (for they were no more when Jacob went down into Egypt) increased to a great nation, as the stars of heaven for multitude. And the more they were in number the more praise and service God expected from them; yet it proved, as in the old world, that when they began to multiply they corrupted themselves.

 

~Falling away~

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My motivation for writing this blog is twofold:  First, there is a slow apostasy that is creeping in to many so-called Christian denominations.  Many groups that claim the name of Christ are advocating anti-Christian principles.  Second, it seems that the majority of Christians are not adequately trained nor sufficiently motivated to carry out the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . “(Matt. 28:19-20).  To carry out this commission, Christians need to be disciples and disciple-makers. It means knowing basic Christian doctrine, knowing the Bible, and being able to defend the Christian faith.

I’m not saying that every Christian has to be seminary trained, memorize the New Testament, and stand on street corners shouting about Jesus.  I am talking about the basic knowledge of God’s word as well as the basics of evangelism and doctrine that helps to lead us to do what Jesus charged us to do:  make disciples.

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Apostasy means to fall away from the truth.  To the degree that Christians adopt the ideas of the world above scripture they are committing apostasy.  The world wants us to let things be, to adopt a policy of tolerance about other religions and ideas in contradiction to Scripture, and let the culture simply continue on its way towards increasing immorality and irreverence.  Jesus has given us a commission to make disciples and to do this means we have to be prepared and Bible-focused in a world that is hostile to Christianity.  Carrying out the Great Commission means that we have to be praying, studying, tithing, learning, being trained, being active, supporting the church, supporting missionaries, etc.  Some churches do this.  Others do not.  But, all should be evangelistic–not for church membership or church growth but for making people followers of Jesus.

The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is the charge of Jesus to believers, to every believer, to be disciple makers.  It is not aimed at just the pastor and the missionary.  It is aimed at everyone in the church.  But, perhaps you feel that you are not called to be a pastor, a missionary, or an evangelist–that just isn’t your calling.  That’s okay.  But, are you praying for those who are pastors, missionaries, and evangelists?  Are you supporting them in your tithes?  Are you using whatever gifts that you have in support of the church so that the Great Commission can be carried out by those God anoints to minister in whatever capacity it is?

The Great Commission is a commission of love given to us by the God of love.  It is what Jesus asked us to do.  People are going to hell.  Jesus wants us to help as many as possible find salvation in Him.  He wants us to beHis disciples and then make others into disciples as well.  This is what He wants.  Is this happening in your life and church?  Are you contributing in some way to the building of the body of Christ, or do you only go to church and take in.  If this is all you are doing, then you need to make some changes.

In America, too many Christians are comfortable with their lives, their DVR’s, their remote control TV’s, their air conditioned cars, retirement funds, and their polished preachers.  Our comfort is important to us.  But, it can lure us into a casual relationship with God because all our earthly needs are met.  Such casualness destroys the urgency–the intimacy of dependence upon God that excites and motivates the believer into action when God miraculously and continuously provides our needs.   I also believe that many pastors are failing to do what the Bible says to do: equip the saints (Eph. 4:12). I suspect far too many pastors are more concerned about not offending their own congregations with the whole gospel than spreading its truth lest people go find another church to be comfortable in.  Growing in Christ means to become mature and daily pick up your cross to follow Jesus.  The pastor is not there to baby-sit Christians.  He is not there to simply comfort them and to make them feel warm and cozy, nor is he there to reflect the current social trends and morays of the secular environment.  He is there to equip the saints, to call them to repentance and holiness, to present God’s word, to train them up to be more like Jesus (Eph. 4:12), and to help them mature in Christ so that they can become a people of action as well as a people of love.

The gospel is not only about being born again but is also about picking up your cross and following Jesus (Luke 9:23), about prayer, about supporting Christians who teach, about bearing one another’s burdens, about defending the faith, about standing up for righteousness, and much more.  For too many Christians, picking up the cross and following Jesus is too much to ask.  But it is, however, easy to drop a check in the offering plate and think that they’ve done their part as a Christian.  This is nothing more than buying a way out of their responsibilities.

Is this too harsh?

If you think I am being too harsh, let me say that I know that there are many Christians who take their faith seriously, are learning and applying God’s word, and doing what they can to expand God’s kingdom whether it be by praying, tithing, witnesses, teaching, church work, or living godly lives.  Likewise, I know that there are many pastors who labor to equip their congregations and who lovingly work to shepherd them with all sincerity and obedience to Christ.  For you all, I praise God for His miraculous work in you.

Pastors have a huge job before them.  They are to preach God’s word, teach the congregation, counsel, model godliness, and equip the saints.  This is difficult to do, especially when secularism is slowly making inroads into the hearts and minds of Christians.  Regarding moral issues, Christians, statistically, are in bad shape.  According to Barna Research online, of those claiming to be born again, only 23% believe abortion should be illegal; 34% believe homosexuality is alright; 36% believe that a man and a woman living together is okay; 37% says profanity is acceptable; only 20% believe it is wrong to get drunk, etc.  This is truly sad and dangerous.  Oh sure, you may say they are not ‘real’ Christians.  I hope you’re right.  But, the statistics are real, and those who are truly born again should be out there fighting against abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc., as well as praying for and seeking revival in Christian churches.

People are going to hell.  The enemy is making converts to false gospels in the cults, false world religions, humanistic principles in schools, and moral relativism in society.  Christians are not supposed to be keepers of the aquarium.  They are supposed to be fishers of men.  Christians are supposed to confront the world in a wise and loving fashion.  This is what the Bible says to do; and to accomplish this, the Christians need a truly Christian Worldview with the desire to spread the gospel everywhere.

The Christian Church needs to wake Up!

Christianity is under an ever increasing attack.  Here in America, laws are being passed to reduce and remove our religious freedoms.  Prayer has been removed from schools, the 10 Commandments removed from courtrooms.  Movies and TV routinely portray Christians as ignorant bigots.  Universities constantly attack the absolutes of Christianity and some even promote Eastern Mysticism, witchcraft, relativism, and a homosexual agenda by having representatives of these lies come in and teach!  Secular society as a whole is imposing its moral agenda upon all people, the church included, and it is working!  Christians are starting to listen to the false teaching of a fallen world and recanting on biblical doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, of Jesus being theonly way, of moral absolutes, and of their being a Day of Judgment with the unsaved going to hell.  This is the sign of apostasy within the church!

Again, let me add that not all Christians are apathetic and worldly.  There are many churches with godly pastors who are teaching all of God’s word.  There are many churches out there with members who are learning God’s word, who are making converts, and who are standing up for righteousness.  It is because of people like them that the gospel is spreading throughout the world.  There are more Christians alive now than ever before. But, there are also more Muslims now than ever before–more Mormons, more Jehovah’s Witnesses, more atheists, etc., than ever before.  Let’s not give up nor become discouraged.  Let’s support one another in prayer.  Let’s study to show ourselves approved to God.  Let’s tithe properly.  Let’s witness.  Let’s take risks for Jesus.  Let’s do what He asks of us.

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NASB).

 

~One Gospel Is Required~

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Two Questions, Three Positions

Three positions abound today on the question of whether Christ is the only way to salvation. All three can be detected by how each answers these two fundamental questions: First, Is Jesus the only Savior? More fully: Is the sinless life of Christ and his atoning death and resurrection the only means by which the penalty of sin is paid and the power of sin defeated? Second, Is faith in Christ necessary to be saved? More fully: Is conscious knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection for sin and explicit faith in Christ necessary for anyone to become a recipient of the benefits of Christ’s atoning work and so be saved?

Pluralism answers both questions, ‘No.’ The pluralist (e.g., John Hick) believes that there are many paths to God, Jesus being only one of them. Since salvation can come through other religions and religious leaders, it surely follows that people do not have to believe in Christ to be saved.

Inclusivism answers the first question, ‘Yes,’ and the second question, ‘No.’ To the inclusivist (e.g., Clark Pinnock), although Jesus has accomplished the work necessary to bring us back to God, nonetheless, people can be saved by responding positively to God’s revelation in creation and perhaps in aspects of their own religions. So, even though Christ is the only Savior, people do not have to know about or believe in Christ to be saved.

Exclusivism answers both questions, ‘Yes.’ The exclusivist (e.g., Ron Nash, John Piper, Bruce Ware) believes that Scripture affirms both truths, first, that Jesus alone has accomplished the atoning work necessary to save sinners, and second, that knowledge of and faith in Christ is necessary for anyone to be saved. The remainder of this article offers a brief summary of some of the main support for these two claims.

Only One Way? The Exclusivity of Jesus Christ and the Gospel

Jesus is the Only Savior

Why think that Jesus is the only Savior? Of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world. Consider the following ways in which Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior.

1. Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. Why does this matter? Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus’ conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully man. Christ must be both God and man to atone for sin (see below), but for this to occur, he must be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin. No one else in the history of the world is conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

2. Christ alone is God incarnate (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:1; Philippians 2:5; 1 Timothy 2:5), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Anselm argued in the 11th century, our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of men and die in their stead, and he must be fully God in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands of our infinitely holy God. Man he must be, but a mere man simply could not make this infinite payment for sin. But no one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

3. Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 2:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 9:13; 1 Peter 2:21), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Leviticus makes clear, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish. This prefigured the sacrifice of Christ who, as sinless, was able to die for the sins of others and not for himself. But no one else in the history of the world has lived a totally sinless life. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

4. Christ alone died a penal, substitutionary death (Isaiah 53:4; Romans 3:21; 2 Corinthians 2:21; Galatians 3:10), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And because Christ lived a sinless life, he did not deserve to die. Rather, the cause of his death was owing to the fact that the Father imputed to him our sin. The death that he died was in our place. No one else in the history of the world has died because he bore the sin of others and not as the judgment for his own sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

5. Christ alone rose from the dead triumphant over sin (Acts 2:22; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:16), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The Bible indicates that a few people, other than Christ, have been raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17; John 11:38), but only Christ has been raised from the dead never to die again, having triumphed over sin. The wages of sin is death, and the greatest power of sin is death. So, Christ’s resurrection from the dead demonstrates that his atoning death for sin accomplished both the full payment of sin’s penalty and full victory over sin’s greatest power. No one else in the history of the world has been raised from the dead triumphant over sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

Conclusion: Christ alone qualifies as Savior, and Christ alone is Savior. Jesus’ own words could not be clearer: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And the Apostle Peter confirms, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These claims are true of no one else in the history of the world. Indeed, Jesus alone is Savior.

Faith in Christ is Necessary to be Saved

Why think that faith in Christ is necessary to be saved? The teaching of the apostles is clear, that the content of the gospel now (since the coming of Christ) focuses directly upon the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, and that by faith in Christ one is forgiven of his sin and granted eternal life. Consider the following passages that support the conviction that people are saved only as they know and trust in Christ as their Savior.

1. Jesus’ own teaching shows that the nations need to hear and repent to be saved (Luke 24:44). Jesus commands that “repentance and forgiveness of sin should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The people Jesus here describes are currently both unrepentant and unforgiven. To be forgiven they must repent.  But to repent they must hear the proclamation of Christ’s work in his name. And this is true for all the nations, including Jews who haven’t trusted Christ. Jesus does not envision the “nations” as already having saving revelation available to them. Rather, believers must proclaim the message of Christ to all the nations for people in those nations to be saved.

2. Paul teaches that even pious Jews, and everyone else, must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Romans 10:1).  Paul’s heart’s desire and prayer is for the salvation of his fellow Jews. Even though they have a zeal for God, they do not know that God’s righteousness comes only through faith in Christ. So these Jews, even though pious, are not saved. Whoever will call upon the name of Christ (see Romans 10:9along with Romans 10:13) will be saved. But this requires that someone tell them. And this requires that those are sent. Missions, then, is necessary, since people must hear the gospel of Christ to be saved.

3. Cornelius’s story demonstrates that even pious Gentiles must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Acts 10:1, Acts 10:38; Acts 11:13; Acts 15:7). Far from being saved before Peter came to him, as some think, Cornelius was a pious (Acts 10:2) Gentile who needed to hear of Christ, and believe in Christ, to be saved. When Peter reports about the conversion of the Gentiles, he declares that only when he preached did Cornelius hear the message he needed to hear by which he would “be saved” (Acts 11:14; cf. Acts 15:8). Despite his piety, Cornelius needed to hear the proclamation of the gospel of Christ to be saved.

Conclusion: Jesus is the only Savior, and people must know and believe in Christ to be saved. May we honor Christ and the gospel, and manifest our faithfulness to God’s word, by upholding these twin truths and living in a manner that demonstrates our commitment to them.

~How Do We Prepare Our Millennial’s For Ministry?~

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In March of 2014, I began my visitation to three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:

These kids know almost nothing about their faith.

It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.

Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”

Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”

Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).

You’ve seen the statistics. If you’re in ministry, you’ve probably witnessed the problem firsthand. The Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are leaving the church in droves, and staying away. Approximately 70 percent of those raised in the church disengage from it in their 20s. One-third of Americans under 30 now claim “no religion.”

There are 80 million Millennials in the U.S.—and approximately the same number of suggestions for how to bring them back to church. But most of the proposals I’ve heard fall into two camps.

The first goes something like this:  The church needs to be more hip and relevant. Drop stodgy traditions. Play louder music. Hire pastors with tattoos and fauxhawks. Few come right out and advocate for this approach. But from pastoral search committees to denominational gatherings to popular conferences, a quest for relevance drives the agenda.

Others demand more fundamental change. They insist the church soften its positions on key doctrines and social issues. Our culture is secularizing. Let’s get with the times in order to attract the younger generation, they say. We must abandon supernatural beliefs and restrictive moral teachings. Christianity must “change or die.”

I think both approaches are flawed.

Chasing coolness won’t work. In my experience, churches that try to be cool end up with a pathetic facsimile of what was cool about 10 years ago. And if you’ve got a congregation of businessmen and soccer moms, donning a hip veneer will only make you laughable to the younger generation.

The second tack is worse. Not only will we end up compromising core beliefs, we will shrink our churches as well. The advocates of this approach seem to have missed what happened to mainline liberal churches over the last few decades. Adopting liberal theologies and culturally acceptable beliefs has drastically reduced their numbers while more theologically conservative churches grew.

There is no one silver bullet for bringing Millennials back to church. But here are a few actions to help us reach the next generation more effectively.

Adopt a Different Tone

As the culture has grown more secular, many Christians have struggled to adjust. The church once had pride of place in North American society. Now it seems we’re increasingly getting pushed to the margins. Christian morality is no longer assumed and our beliefs are suddenly considered strange.

This loss of cultural capital has caused many to shout louder in hopes of regaining influence. But adopting a shrill, combative tone only exacerbates the problem. It’s the surest way to alienate outsiders, especially Millennials. Author and historian John Dickson urges Christians to move from a posture of “admonition to mission.” Dickson lives in Australia, a decidedly post-Christian country. In our increasingly secular culture, it’s a lesson we need to take to heart. Let’s stop being shocked when our unbelieving neighbors fail to act like Christians and take a more winsome tone when we communicate the gospel.

Foster Intergenerational Relationships

I’ve read virtually all of the books on Millennials and the church, and I’ve adopted my own thoughts about Generation Ex (Read Generation Ex -Christians by Drew Dyck). If there’s one lesson to take away from this corpus of literature, it’s this: inter-generational relationships are crucial. The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.

We’re surprised when even our most ardent young people walk away, but we shouldn’t be. If they didn’t have relationships with older Christians in the congregation, in all likelihood, they’re gone. When they age out of youth group, they age out of the church. Churches must find ways to pair older Christians with teens and to engage Millennials outside the church (many of whom are starving for mentors). This is a touchy subject for me because I’ve seen my own kids abandon their faith and cultural teaching to the point of going to prison for life and living contrary life styles. My going to prison and losing their respect I feel contributed to their posture now, but I am going to worship and believe God for their return.

The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.

Present a Bigger God

Many evangelical churches present a one-sided vision of God. We love talking about God’s love, but not his holiness. We stress his immanence, but not his transcendence. How does this affect Millennials? I like the way Millennial blogger Stephen Altrogge puts it in Untamable God.

Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God?

Millennials have a dim view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well.

I’ll be talking more on this topic at http://www.yelp.com/biz/world-conquerors-church-oakland on Febuary 20th-22. Pray for our travel and a deeper dive into how churches can convey a compelling vision of God for Millennials, as well as the whole congregation.

 

~What Fashions “Your” Beliefs and Thinking?

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In an attempt to improve ourselves and our calling to perform ministry May & I have embarked upon volunteering three days a week at a local church/substance abuse center. We are also performing phase 2 of peer-counseling to enhance our adapting skills to the mission we have been called to perform in our community. Association with many groups has opened our eyes to Social Psychology and how it is used to fashion and shape peoples behavior.

We have ceased to think theologically about the ministry. Instead, we characterize it almost exclusively in functional or institutional terms. There are at least two reasons for this shift in emphasis. On the one hand there are the new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures, and on the other the requests of parishioners, the denominational programs, and the culture of the local community.

 

How is it that so many people started saying “Awesome!”, or started wearing Uggs?

These are examples of how individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable. Researchers are investigating how human behavioral norms are established in groups and how they evolve over time, in hopes of learning how to exert more influence when it comes to promoting health, marketing products or reducing prejudice.

Psychologists are studying how social norms, the often-unspoken rules of a group, shape not just our behavior but also our attitudes. Social norms influence even those preferences considered private, such as what music we like or what policies we support or even what beliefs we entertain as it relates to denominational choices of churchs. Interventions that take advantage of already-existing group pressures, the thinking goes, should be able to shift attitudes and change behaviors at less cost in effort and resources.

Norms serve a basic human social function, helping us distinguish who is in the group and who is an outsider. Behaving in ways the group considers appropriate is a way of demonstrating to others, and to oneself, that one belongs to the group.

But surprisingly little is known about how attitudinal norms are established in groups. Why do some people in a group become trendsetters when it comes to ideas and objects?

“The questions are among the most challenging” in the field, said H. Peyton Young, a professor at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Dr. Young studies how norms influence economic behavior. “It’s definitely a big open research area where there’s a certain amount of dispute.”

One question is whether there is always a leader that sets or changes the norm, or whether norm change occurs organically over time, even in the absence of a strong leader.

What is Christian Counseling?

What is Christian Counseling?

Christian counseling focuses on intertwining the disciplines of faith and psychology to provide an approach to mental and emotional health that pulls from biblical teachings. Practitioners of this style of counseling incorporate religious scripture and teachings to guide you through challenging life issues. When facing turbulent life events, incorporating and strengthening your faith may be the missing piece in finding proper treatment.

Origins of Christian Counseling

Rooted deep within biblical accounts, this form of therapy places an emphasis on fundamental values and beliefs that comprise the framework of modern Christianity. Ministers, Reverends, and other religious figures must seek licensed training and accreditation to provide this service to you, much like a secular clinician. In 1968, Christian counselors officially formed the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation to provide a model for current and future counselors. These counselors are bound not only to religious code, but secular standards of ethical practice as well.

Social psychology is “the study of the ways in which the imagined, implied or actual presence of others affects our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As an African American growing up in Washington D.C. (at the time one of most diverse cities in America), My first brush with social psychology was on my neighborhood streets. “On my block alone, there were nine different nationalities represented. “I was used to growing up with all sorts of different kids, dealing with cultural conflicts, celebrating everyone’s different holidays and special occasions—that was the norm for me.”

When I was in third grade, My mom took us to a  multiethnic church comprising four equally proportioned groups: African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and whites. There, I listened to songs and prayers in languages far beyond English. We also had racial slurs hurled at us in a local church’s Vacation Bible School. These and other experiences piqued my interest early on about fundamental questions of social psychology, such as, “Why don’t groups get along?” and “Why do they perceive each other inaccurately?”

Much has been written about various aspects of pastoral theology, but there is a remarkable scarcity of literature that explores the theological issues that lie behind it. The doyen of modern pastoral methods, Seward Hiltner, has said:

Most American ministers—scholars though they may be—are functionalists at heart… . We think and feel or work our way into even the most recondite of theoretical matters only by first exploring them in relation to our functions of ministry.

Much of modern pastoral psychology is an abandonment to this American pragmatism. It is an aping of American scholarship as it demonstrates its pragmatic motivation. There seems to be a disdain for a careful study of the biblical view of the ministry.

Such is the minister’s dilemma. He is faced on the one hand with the traditional biblical definitions (though often poorly developed and frequently caricatured) and on the other with the set of functional expectations by which his service is judged. In addition he is strongly influenced by the attractiveness of new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures. Therefore he faces basic ambiguities in performing his task.

The minister serving in today’s secular culture is also confronted with an eroded image of the pastor. He is no longer the most educated man in the community or the one who elicits the mental image of a paragon of virtue. One is more likely to think about Elmer Gantry(Elmer Gantry is a novel written by Sinclair Lewis in 1926 that satirically represents aspects of the religious activity of America within fundamentalist and evangelistic circles and the attitudes of the 1920s public toward it) or to recognize that a recent Gallup poll showed that only eight percent of the population recommended the role of the clergyman as the preferred profession, far behind the doctor, engineer-builder.

Today , May and I are diligently looking for the reconciling benefits of social psychology, working with groups to raise our awareness of their social mis-perceptions and bringing conflicting groups together to find ways to collaborate. We are reading( Disunity in Christ) Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist, is helping churches and faith-based groups transcend deep-seated divisions. it explores how social psychology reveals fragmentation in the body of Christ. Filled with many personal stories, the book highlights, among other things, how differences become divisions, and how the prevailing marketing culture feeds unhealthy competition between groups.

“The cognitive processes that drive categorization are most powerful when they are hidden from sight we have found this to be true within various church communities we frequent. “Once individuals become consciously aware of these processes . . . the processes begin to lose their power.” May and I had the opportunity to witness another facet of cognitive processes helping groups to recognize those assumptions. It was practiced  while working with a Young Life group in a, low-income, mostly African American neighborhood in Riverside Ca., after noticing the divisive ways that the group (8 to 10 African American girls) talked about Somali girls at their school. The facilitator began asking the girls questions that helped them see their assumptions. “When you give people the opportunity to see how others misperceive them, “it makes them more interested in seeing how they misperceive others.”

More Than ‘Unity Events’

As May and I launched our campaign to perform outreach we scheduled several meetings to obtain buy in from various denominations. The joint venture began well, we had gained support to utilize one pastors 501c3 to obtain the needed resources and another pastor support to allow us the use of his church to process the recipients.  “The joint venture began well but soon ended quite poorly, leaving behind a trail of distrust, negative emotions, and bruised egos.”

We shifted our focus of  work with the pastors to explore what happened:

After hearing each pastor’s side of the story, it became clear to me that . . . each pastor had very different ideals about what a leader does and does not do, and each pastor projected his ideals onto the other pastor and negatively evaluated him based on criteria that pertained to those ideals. Essentially, each pastor gave the other a failing grade on leadership because they had very different criteria for evaluating leadership.

By working with us, the pastors uncovered their differing concepts of leadership and how that had led to misunderstanding and failed collaboration.

reconciliation books to read 2014

These are the ten books we plan to read along with an intense daily devotional for 2015.

Cleveland’s work awakens us to the language we use, particularly the ways in which we draw boundaries between us and them. “We must take active steps to expand our category of us, “so that they are now included in us. We’ve learned that the mere act of categorizing Christian groups into smaller, homogeneous groups leads us to devalue, misperceive, and distance ourselves from them.”

Once a divide goes up between groups,  they tend to exaggerate each other’s differences—and cause further division in the body of Christ. Churches, “tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. . . . Christianity has been turned into a marketplace in which you can make money off your brand.” Pastors and churches are pressured to distinguish themselves from others, as we compete for the loyalty of members and seemingly scarce resources. We need a theology, deeply rooted in our essential unity in Christ that acts and speaks accordingly, seeking commonality and emphasizing shared characteristics between groups.

Instead of deepening the chasms between groups, we need sustained conversation. I would like to go one  one step further, noting that one-time cross-cultural unity events are “not the way to go.” Although well-intentioned,  such events tend to squeeze minority groups into the majority culture. Rather, healing and witness to unity in Christ comes from the long, messy work of naming issues of power and privilege. What we need are “long-term, ongoing partnerships that are proximal and mutually engaging.”

Alongside sustained conversations, we need ministries on which our groups can collaborate. I recall how many churches in Washington D.C. ran VBS programs with the exact same curriculum at different times. “It’s our empire approach to doing church,”  that fuels such redundant behavior. I also maintain that it’s better for a church to pick a single church of a differing social group (race, ethnicity, or even political inclination) and to deeply partner with that church rather than to host sporadic events with many churches. My experience has shown that churches who immerse themselves in this kind of cross-cultural partnerships never regret it. “Yes, it’s hard,”  “but it’s so much richer.”

The call to follow Jesus, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us, is a costly one. The way of Christ is undoubtedly difficult as we lose ourselves, but as we follow in it, we find the abundant shared riches of God’s kingdom. Cleveland’s work rouses us from the patterns of speech and action that we mindlessly fall into within the confines of a homogenous social group. It points us toward healing: the healing of the church, the healing of our neighborhoods, and ultimately the healing of our own fragmented souls. May we have the courage to follow her lead.

~I want to be “Just Like “You”~

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I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words— love God, love your neighbor. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth, and it is—God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
So if that is true, I am proposing the following: first to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness; secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this; thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions. And it all relates to becoming like Chris

So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living: Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and 1 John 3:2. Let’s look at these three briefly.
Romans 8:29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much—though not all—of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.
My second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory—it is a magnificent vision. In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, forever.

Here are three perspectives—past, present, and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatological purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical, and the eschatological, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.
I want to move on to illustrate this truth with a number of New Testament examples. First, I think it is important for us to make a general statement, as the apostle John does in 1 John 2:6: “he who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way as he walked.” In other words, if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike. Here is the first New Testament example: we are to be like Christ in his Incarnation.
Some of you may immediately recoil in horror from such an idea. Surely, you will say to me, the Incarnation was an altogether unique event and cannot possibly be imitated in any way? My answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, it was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, once and for all and forever, never to be repeated. That is true. But there is another sense in which the Incarnation was not unique: the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. The Incarnation, in that sense, was not unique but universal. We are all called to follow the example of His great humility in coming down from heaven to earth. So Paul could write in Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped for his own selfish enjoyment, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.
Secondly, we are to be like Christ in His service. We move on now from his Incarnation to His life of service; from His birth to His life, from the beginning to the end. Let me invite you to come with me to the upper room where Jesus spent his last evening with His disciples, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 13: “He took off his outer garments, he tied a towel round him, he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he resumed his place and said, ‘If then I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example”—notice the word— “that you should do as I have done to you.”
Some Christians take Jesus’ command literally and have a foot-washing ceremony in their Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday—and they may be right to do it. But I think most of us transpose Jesus’ command culturally: that is, just as Jesus performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.
Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in His love. I think particularly now of Ephesians 5:2—“walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Notice that the text is in two parts. The first part is walk in love, an injunction that all our behavior should be characterized by love, but the second part of the verse says that He gave Himself for us, which is not a continuous thing but an aorist, a past tense, a clear reference to the cross. Paul is urging us to be like Christ in his death, to love with self-giving Calvary love. Notice what is developing: Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing, and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in His patient endurance. In this next example we consider not the teaching of Paul but of Peter. Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ, for the background to the letter is the beginnings of persecution. In chapter 2 of 1 Peter in particular, Peter urges Christian slaves, if punished unjustly, to bear it and not to repay evil for evil. For, Peter goes on, you and we have been called to this because Christ also suffered, leaving us an example—there is that word again—so that we may follow in His steps. This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
My fifth and last example from the New Testament is that we are to be like Christ in His mission. Having looked at the teaching of Paul and Peter, we come now to the teaching of Jesus recorded by John. In John 20:21, in prayer, Jesus said, “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world”—that is us. And in His commissioning in John 17 He says, “As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you.” These words are immensely significant. This is not just the Johannine version of the Great Commission but also an instruction that their mission in the world was to resemble Christ’s mission. In what respect? The key words in these texts are “sent into the world.” As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds. It was eloquently explained by Archbishop Michael Ramsey some years ago: “We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners, and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.”

This entering into other people’s worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are to be like Christ in His mission. These are the five main ways in which we are to be Christlike: in His Incarnation, in His service, in His love, in His endurance, and in His mission.
Very briefly, I want to give you three practical consequences of Christlikeness.
Firstly, Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering. Suffering is a huge subject in itself and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. One way stands out: that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of His people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Secondly, Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism. Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given and I do not want to over-simplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we are proclaiming. John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled, A Today Sort of Evangelism, wrote this:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
That is Christlikeness. Let me give you another example. There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” I think India would be at their feet today if we Christians lived like Christ. From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians—that is, Christlike—there would be no more Islam today.”
That brings me to my third point—Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit. I have spoken much tonight about Christlikeness, but is it attainable? In our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
So I conclude, as a brief summary of what we have tried to say to one another: God’s purpose is to make us like Christ. God’s way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a Trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

~Giving Life~

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One of the goals of our outreach this year is to introduce us to the four key traits of keeping young adults in church for in a group of people that are pursuing Jesus (healthy) and pursing Jesus’ priorities (missional). December 31 st May and I were given an awesome opportunity to perform ministry with six different churches and I must say they were all tailored to the youth and young adults of those various communities. Having that experience has shifted our focus to a more vast attempt to provide a culture for the young adults and youths of our communities. We are adding a Internet Cafe and Evangelistic preparation environment to our business scope and ministry aspirations. We have prayerfully entreated our God for a name and it will be called “Club Jesus”. We will plan around Second Chance Alliance to incorporate this part of our vision within the re-entry program/ministry.

We believe that when these four elements, combined with the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, mark our corporate life here at Second chance Alliance, renewal and revival will break out.
Individual renewal is indissolubly connected to the renewal of the whole church.  We cannot attain the fullness of the Spirit without being turned inside out so that our focus is no longer our growth, but the glory of God and the growth of Christ’s kingdom.
Faith is the main root of spiritual growth. Spiritual disciplines strengthen faith by leading us to prayer and by regularly exposing us to truth, as a solar battery is charged through exposure to light … [individual renewal] … needs to be balanced by the awareness we are spiritually renewed as we are refreshed by the gifts of other believers in community and as the Holy Spirit is poured out in answer to corporate prayer. Spiritual growth is not produced by the transfer of information but by responses of faith.
People leave the church. The dropout issue is well known and discussed widely. Perhaps less known is the high rate of young adult dropouts. Our research reveals that over two-thirds of 18-22 year-olds leave the church. In the short, four-year transitional window of teen to adult, the church loses the majority of its students.

Most of the dropouts do not leave their families during this time. Most of the dropouts do not leave their social networks during this time. Most of the dropouts do not leave the educational system during this time. But most of them leave the church.

The excuse that the secular society has more to offer than the church simply does not pass muster. Let’s look at four keys that our research shows are critical to keeping young adults.

1. Keep them with biblical depth

Young adults are more likely to stay in church if they are taught the truths of God’s Word. Biblical depth has a sticky quality. Christians who hear sound sermons each week, who are involved in small group Bible study, and who study the Bible on their own rarely drop out. Biblical depth also has an attractional quality. Spiritual seekers are most drawn to churches that maintain this culture of solid preaching and encouragement to study the Word of God. Go deep. Get excited about diving into the Word. And watch God work in not only the younger generation, but with all ages.

2. Keep them with high expectations

Too much of recent American church history has been one of low-expectations. Because the local church is comprised mostly of volunteers, leadership has been reticent to create an environment and attitude of high expectations. As a consequence, membership expectations have been communicated with extreme caution, if at all, lest the members become offended and leave.

This low-expectation environment has been normative for many of the churches in which young adults have attended. Most of them have heard very little, if any, of what is expected of them as a church member. As a consequence they have seen church as a low priority or even optional.

Creating a culture of high expectations is, in many ways, an intangible process. There are many ways to do it. But churches that have this environment of high expectations attract people who are on board with the purpose and mission of the church. Additionally, these churches are more likely to retain those who know upfront that much is expected.

3. Keep them with multiplication

Regardless of perspectives, two realities are clear. First, evangelism is not an option for Christians or for churches. The Great Commission is a mandate. Second, every church we have studied that is effectively reaching and retaining young adults is highly intentional about evangelism. They have a passion for multiplication. They get the action right. No exceptions. Period.

Churches with an outward focus are successful at retaining and reclaiming church dropouts for two main reasons. First, church dropouts are more likely to return to churches that are reaching out to them. Additionally, active churchgoing young adults have an understanding of what God requires of His people. Both groups have a desire to go to a church that is doing what God commands.

4. Keep them with simplicity

Our research has shown that many young people leave the church because they were never truly discipled. They may have been involved in a plethora of activities, but they weren’t growing spiritually to be more like Christ. A church cannot be essential to people unless there is a clear structure guiding them along the discipleship process.

Biblical depth is more important than the discipleship structure of the church. But churches that do not have a structure in place cannot move people toward an understanding of this depth. A culture of high expectations is more important than the structure of a church. Without this structure, however, a church has difficulty communicating these expectations. A multiplying church is more important than the structure. But without structure, people do not know how to multiply. The right structure is not the most important facet of a church, but most churches cannot carry out their most important purposes because they do not have the right structure.

Churches that keep young adults get the content right-biblical depth. They get the attitude right-high expectations. They get the action right-multiplication. And these churches get the structure right-simplicity.

~Reflections For The New Year To Build The Leader In “You”~

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I ON YOUR PATH, O God
You, O God, on my way.
Celtic walking prayer

IT IS NOT ONLY PRAYER that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God glory if being in his grace you do it …

FOR THE GLORY of God is the human person fully alive, and life consists in beholding God. For if the vision of God which is made by means of the creation, gives life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies

MAY I KNOW me! May I know thee!
Augustine, Soliloquies

ABIDE IN THE VINE. Let the life from him flow through all your spiritual veins.
Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life

GOD CANNOT be understood by logical reasoning but only by submission.
Leo Tolstoy, Wise Thoughts for Every Day

AS WE UNITE with God, we are invited into bonding rather than bondage.

Flora Slosson Wuellner, in Weavings

I BRING my void here for filling;it is my poverty God needs. With my want the Lord builds palaces.
Kilian McDonnell, from “A Place to Hide: Light On,” in Weavings

GOD CAN’T CLEAN the house of you when you’re still in it.
Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually)

RECEIVING FORGIVENESS requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing.
Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

IF A MAN HUMBLES himself, God cannot withhold his own goodness but must come down and flow into the humble man, and to him who is least of all he gives himself the most of all, and he gives himself to him completely. What God gives is his being, and his being is his goodness, and his goodness is his love.
Meister Eckhart

I HAVE DISCOVERED that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.
Blaise Pascal, Pensées

IT IS NO EASY TASK to walk this earth and find peace. Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, and aching. We are so overcharged with desire that it is hard to come to simple rest. Desire is always stronger than satisfaction.
Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing

ONE OF the uncomfortable facts about ourselves is that we all must live in a way that meets our own approval.
Paul Holmer, Making Christian Sense

DOES DISCOVERING who you are awaken a kind of inner unrest? … If you started accusing yourself of all that is in you, would your nights and days be long enough?
Brother Roger of Taizé, Essential Writings

A MAN’S AT ODDS to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he don’t want to. Best not to look in there.
Cormac Mccarthy, Blood Meridian

ONE OF the strangest things that people say is, “I’m a good person.” I am always amazed when people claim to know that about themselves. … History demonstrates, repeatedly, that if enough people begin to define themselves as “good” in contrast to others who are “bad,” those others come to be seen as less than human.
Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace

THE POWER of temptation is not in its appeal to our baser instincts; if that were the case, it would be natural to be repulsed by it. The power of temptation is in its appeal to our idealism.
Helmut Thielicke, Our Heavenly Father

THE EVIL WROUGHT by those who intend evil is negligible. The greater evil is wrought by those who intend good, and …

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

Neil Gaiman

~Finding The Samaritans Outside Of The Church~

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Testing the boundaries of outreach evangelism.

Yes, to Heal the Abused

In our quest to find the broken hearted and ostracized of life we called upon other ministries that function primarily outside the walls of the church to present the gospel hope of Jesus Christ. We found astonishing evidence that a loving presences of evangelistic workers makes a difference in getting the gospel outside to a dyeing world. I had an interesting event happen in my life in a “Crack House In Perris Ca., I went to deliver some packages and was overcome with remorse and a strong unction to pray for those in that trailer and it reshaped my life and introduced me to the Help Mate I now have in my life.

An out-of-the-way topless bar and club off the highway was a regular Thursday evening destination for Anne Polencheck and her outreach partner. Every two weeks the women faithfully toted gift bags of handmade cards, homemade cookies, earrings, and lotion to the bar and club. With a word of kindness, a prayer, or a hug, they hoped to share Christ’s compassion with women who worked there.

Polencheck, a former software engineer, leads New Name, a ministry to strip clubs, bars, massage parlors, and so-called spas in the western suburbs of Chicago. Volunteers pray together and regularly visit venues. It’s a slow-going ministry that emulates Jesus leaving the safety of the fold to seek the one lost sheep. Often the workers are busy with customers or simply aren’t interested in chatting.

One week, Polencheck met Debbie, a 20-something who recognized the “church ladies” from their previous visits. “I’m seven months pregnant. I need a new job,” she said. After their visit, Debbie stepped outside and prayed: “God, if you’re real, can you help me?”

When Polencheck and her ministry partner returned one week later, they handed Debbie a flier for Refuge for Women, a Kentucky residential program for those choosing to leave sexual exploitation. It usually had a wait list, but it had one opening.

Debbie’s plea came after years of despair. Her childhood was marked by sexual abuse that started when she was 5. At age 9, Debbie was placed in foster care after she showed up at school black and blue from violent beatings. Twenty times, she was shuffled in and out of foster homes in part due to her anger-driven rebellion.

The wounded girl grew to become a broken woman who numbed her pain with alcohol and drugs. Her husband, an abusive drug addict, introduced her to strip clubs. She began exotic dancing and using more drugs. Debbie’s horrific background is not unusual for women working in strip clubs. About 90 percent of women who have received care at Refuge were sexually abused as children.

“Jesus would want us to look at these women as our sisters,” says Ked Frank, director and cofounder of Refuge. “They’re living out of pain and trauma, and our hearts should be broken for them.” At the residential facility, Debbie found family in seven other women with similar experiences as well as a church community and mentors who listened, prayed, and encouraged her.

Before graduating the yearlong program, Debbie gave birth to a healthy baby girl, accepted Christ, and was baptized. She now leads worship at her church and mentors teenagers in the youth group. Debbie holds a job as she raises her 2-year-old daughter and volunteers at Refuge, hoping to help other women who bear the invisible chains of abuse and exploitation.

“God is at work, and his presence is found in the clubs,” Frank says.

So, would Jesus hang out with people in a strip club? I believe he’s been doing just that.

Jesus unconditionally loves us all, including club owners, dancers, and customers. He is still calling us to leave the safety of our church walls and extend a hand of hope to a broken man or woman.

 

Three Views: Would Jesus Hang Out in a Strip Club?

No, He Wouldn’t

Joe Carter

In 1896, Charles Sheldon, a Congregational minister in Kansas, wrote In His Steps, a novel that became an all-time bestseller and spawned the ubiquitous phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Back then it was an open question—as Sheldon makes clear—whether Jesus would condone hanging out at a boxing match. Today, we’re wondering if we can give reasons why Jesus wouldn’t hang out at a strip club. Times have changed.

Initially, I assumed this must be a trick question. Are there Christians who ponder, “What Would Jesus Do?” and think, “Jesus would probably be hanging out at a bar where people go to watch women undress”?

It’s hard for me to believe there are Christians who think Jesus would hang out in a strip club. Are we talking about the Jesus who had a high opinion of women and a low view of lust? Hanging out at a strip club doesn’t sound like something he would do.

But since the question is being asked, I assume there are people who think he would. I have to assume they think that since Jesus ate with sinners, he’d have no problem eating at a buffet next to a stripper pole.

Jesus did sit and eat with sinners (Mark 2:16–17). In Luke 15, we again find the oft-quoted claim made by the Pharisees: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” What is often left out is the lengthy reply Jesus gave. After hearing their charges, Jesus tells three parables—about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a prodigal son. Each of these stories has the same theme: rejoicing over the repentance of sinners. It’s possible, even likely, that some who ate with Jesus—such as during the feeding of the 5,000, or at Simon the Pharisee’s house—left unrepentant. But there is no evidence that Jesus ever ate with sinners or even spent significant time “hanging out” with them without calling them to turn from their sin.

There is no place in Scripture where Jesus was uncritically present when sin was occurring or when an action that mocked God was taking place. In fact, in the most famous example of Jesus witnessing an act where sin was taking place and God was being mocked—a scene recorded in all four Gospels—he made a whip of cords and drove sinners from the temple. Do we think this Jesus would unreservedly hang out in a place where men and women were mocking the dignity of the human body?

I wonder if what many people want to know is not whether Jesus would hang out at a strip club, but whether he’d have an issue if they hung out there. For those people, I’d recommend meditating on the words of Matthew 5:28–29.

Yes, to Shine in the Dark

Strip club? Crack house? Porn convention? Casino? Fill in the blank, and every response of mine is an absolute yes—Jesus would hang out in these places. Here’s why: There is no context, environment, or event that Jesus would choose not to be in.

Our limitations on where he might go are based on not fully understanding the desperate need for Christ in these godforsaken places. There are an estimated 400,000 strippers working in nearly 4,000 clubs in the United States. As followers of Christ, we should hang out in these places too.

In January 2002, Craig Gross and Mike Foster launched a ministry at a Las Vegas porn convention. The organization, XXXchurch.com, is devoted to being the presence of Christ at these events. There, volunteers have handed out thousands of Bibles with the words “Jesus loves porn stars” on the cover. I was taught about the deep and lavish grace of God not by a seminary professor but by the sex industry. In our moments of pride, we say that “those sinful people” have nothing to offer us, that we are there to save them. But a great desire of God is to ruin our spiritual pride. (If you don’t believe this, go to an AA meeting.)

Fear is the core reason why many of us would say “no” to Jesus hanging out in a strip club. Fill in the blank of what you might be afraid of happening: it might look bad; it wouldn’t be very productive to do ministry in that environment; people would be dragged down into a life of sin; someone would have to explain our actions to religious people.

I am sympathetic to these fears and their power. But such comments expose the smallness of our religion. A Christian leader once said to me, “Don’t blame the dark for being dark. Blame the light for not shining in the dark.”

God is the God of “yes” and the God of “go.” We have made our faith too heavy and our walk burdensome and scary. We are so great at making the gospel complex that we forget about the simplicity of Jesus. He is not held down by manmade restraints, restrictions, or rules. He easily strolls into the space of need and the lives that are desperate for healing.

Here is my purely marketing move: If I were acting as brand consultant for Jesus, I would tell him to go to the strip club. No place is off-limits to the gospel. In Luke 5:32 Jesus proclaims, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Everyone is looking for attention and trying to get their message out. Do you want to stand out? Then do what other teachers, religious leaders, and followers refuse to do. In my opinion, light shines the brightest in the darkest places—places like the neighborhood strip club.

~God has a Remedy For Our Suffering Within His Word~

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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path.

Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it. You feel numb. Perhaps the worst part is that you remember when you actually felt something and the contrast between then and now makes the pain worse.

So many things about your life are difficult right now. Things you used to take for granted—a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future—now seem beyond your reach. Your relationships are also affected. The people who love you are looking for some emotional response from you, but you do not have one to give.

Does it help to know that you are not alone? These days depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what Christians do know is that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV):

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 

 

Come to God with your suffering

You can start to experience the inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when you come to God with your suffering. God seems far away when we suffer. You believe that He exists, but it seems as if He is too busy with everything else, or He just doesn’t care. After all, God is powerful enough to end your suffering, but He hasn’t.

If you start there, you’ll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn’t promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by his heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!

Here we see that love and suffering can co-exist. And when you start reading the Bible and encounter people like Job, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul, you get a sense that suffering is actually the well-worn path for God’s favorites. This doesn’t answer the question, Why are you doing this to me? But it cushions the blow when you know that God understands. You aren’t alone. If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

God speaks to you in the Bible

Keep your heart open to the fact that the Bible has much to say to you when you are depressed. Here are a few suggestions of Bible passages you can read. Read one each day and let it fill your mind as you go about your life.

    • Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
    • Use the Psalms to help you find words to talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 your personal prayers to God.
    • Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
    • Don’t think your case is unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you and they will tell you that God did not fail them.
    • Remember your purpose for living. (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20,  2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
    • Learn about persevering and enduring. (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4)

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Try one step at a time

Granted, it seems impossible. How can someone live without feelings? Without them you have no drive, no motivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible.

Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical, but it could be done.

People have learned to walk in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.

As you walk, you will find that it is necessary to remember to use every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: 1) take one minute at a time, 2) read one short Bible passage, 3) try to care about someone else, 4) ask someone how they are doing, and so on.

You will need to do this with your relationships, too. When you have no feelings, how to love must be redefined. Love, for you, must become an active commitment to patience and kindness.

Consider what accompanies your depression

As you put one foot in front of the other, don’t forget that depression doesn’t exempt you from the other problems that plague human beings. Some depressed people have a hard time seeing the other things that creep in—things like anger, fear, and an unforgiving spirit. Look carefully to see if your depression is associated with things like these:

Do you have negative, critical, or complaining thoughts? These can point to anger. Are you holding something against another person?

Do you want to stay in bed all day? Are there parts of your life you want to avoid?

Do you find that things you once did easily now strike terror in your heart? What is at the root of your fear?

Do you feel like you have committed a sin that is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness? Remember that the apostle Paul was a murderer. And remember: God is not like other people—He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder when we ask for forgiveness.

Do you struggle with shame? Shame is different from guilt. When you are guilty you feel dirty because of what you did; but with shame you feel dirty because of what somebody did to you. Forgiveness for your sins is not the answer here because you are not the one who was wrong. But the cross of Christ is still the answer. Jesus’ blood not only washes us clean from the guilt of our own sins, but also washes away the shame we experience when others sin against us.

Do you experience low self-worth? Low self-worth points in many directions. Instead of trying to raise your view of yourself, come at it from a completely different angle. Start with Christ and His love for you. Let that define you and then share that love with others.

Will it ever be over?

Will you always struggle with depression? That is like asking, “Will suffering ever be over?” Although we will have hardships in this world, depression rarely keeps a permanent grip on anyone. When we add to that the hope, purpose, power, and comfort we find in Christ, depressed people can usually anticipate a ray of hope or a lifting of their spirits.

 

FREQUENTLY-ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it okay to get medication?

The severe pain of depression makes you welcome anything that can bring relief. For some people, medication brings relief from some symptoms. Most family physicians are qualified to prescribe appropriate medications. If you prefer a specialist, get a recommendation for a psychiatrist, and ask these questions of your doctor and pharmacist:

    • How long will it take before it is effective?
    • What are some of the common side effects?
    • Will it be difficult to determine which medication is effective (if your physician is prescribing two medications)?

From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, What is best and wise?

Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits. It can change physical symptoms, but not spiritual ones. It might give sleep, offer physical energy, allow you to see in color, and alleviate the physical feeling of depression. But it won’t answer your spiritual doubts, fears, frustrations, or failures.

If you choose to take medication, please consider letting wise and trusted people from your church come alongside of you. They can remind you that God is good, that you can find power to know God’s love and love others, and that joy is possible even during depression.

What do I do with thoughts about suicide?

Before you were depressed, you could not imagine thinking of suicide. But when depression descends, you may notice a passing thought about death, then another, and another, until death acts like a stalker.

Know this about depression: It doesn’t tell the whole truth. It says that you are all alone, that no one loves you, that God doesn’t care, that you will never feel any different, and you cannot go on another day. Even your spouse and children don’t seem like a reason to stay alive when depression is at its worst. Your mind tells you, Everyone will be better off without me. But this is a lie—they will not be better off without you.

Because you aren’t working with all the facts, keep it simple. Death is not your call to make. God is the giver and taker of life. As long as He gives you life, He has purposes for you.

One purpose that is always right in front of you is to love another person. Begin with that purpose and then get help from a friend or a pastor.

Depression says that you are alone and that you should act that way. But that is not true. God is with you, and He calls you to reach out to someone who will listen, care, and pray for you.

 

 

 

~We Are Precious In “His” Sight~

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I felt compelled to share this gift with the world. I received this word for the soul purpose of interviewing for a assistant pastor position that I was fortunate to present to their board and a few of their young adults. I used this video along with some of my testimony to illustrate what it would look like on a Sunday or Thursday night with me as a instrument of God chosen to present the word. It went well, but none of my prerequisites were considered and so I still shine and move in my God to pursue our vision while He harbors us in His nailed scared hands until He exalts us into full operation.

If there is a God, as I believe there is, and if he rules the world in his sovereignty, as the Bible says he does, and if he will bring human history to a close according to his plan and appoint to every person his eternal destiny, as Jesus taught that he will, then two of the most important questions for any human being to answer are these:

1) What is God’s goal in creating and governing the world?

2) How can I bring my life into alignment with that goal?

For if we don’t know his goal and our lives are not in alignment with it, then we will find ourselves at cross purposes with God and excluded from his kingdom in the age to come. It is a fearful thing to be at cross purposes with your maker! But on the other hand, nothing inspires courage and endurance and pluck for daily living like knowing the purpose of God and feeling yourself wholeheartedly in harmony with it. Nothing has nourished the strength of my Christian faith like knowing God’s ultimate goal for creation and discovering how to bring my heart and my behavior into alignment with that goal.

God’s Goal in Creating Israel

So this Thursday sermon and next Sunday I want to talk about these two questions. First, What is God’s goal in creating and governing the world, especially in creating and overruling humanity? Then next Sunday, How do we bring our lives into harmony with that goal?

The text I have chosen to focus on is Isaiah 43:1–7. Let’s read it in context:

But now, thus says the Lord, your creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed even whom I have made.” (NASB)

The main point of the passage is to encourage God’s people not to fear what man or nature can do to them. This is the command repeated in verse 1 and verse 5. After each of these commands not to fear God gives his reasons why his people should not fear. In verses 1–4 God argues like this: You should not fear because what I did for you in the past proves my love to you and my care for you. “I redeemed you (from Egyptian bondage), I called you by name, you are mine!” (v. 1). So you can count on me to help you when deep waters and raging fire threaten to destroy you (v. 2). “I am the Lord your God, your Savior, you are precious to me.” Look, have I not subjugated other peoples in order to save you (vv. 3, 4)? So don’t be afraid of the trouble coming upon you.

That is the first argument why God’s people should not fear. Then verse 5 repeats the command, “Don’t fear,” and gives a new argument in verses 5–7. “I am with you! The judgment of being dispersed into captivity away from your land—this is not my final word. I will gather you again. For you are called by my name, I created you for my glory.”

What is it that at rock bottom moves God to help his people? Verse 4 says, “You are precious in my eyes . . . I love you.” Is that the answer? In a sense, yes. When John said, “God is love,” he no doubt meant that no matter how deep we probe into the motives of God, we will never arrive at a layer which is not love.

But this text lures me down, down, down into the heart of God. It raises a question. In order for Israel (God’s chosen people of that era) to be precious in God’s sight, they had to exist. I have three sons and they are precious to me and I love them. But they were not precious to me and I did not love them in 1970; they did not yet exist, they had not been planned nor conceived. So the deeper question is, Why was Israel even conceived or created? Why did God bring into existence a people whom he could regard as precious? What was his motive before there was even a people to love?

Verse 7 gives the answer: God created Israel for his glory. The existence of Israel was planned and conceived and achieved because God wanted to get glory for his name through her. Before we ask just what it is for God to seek his own glory in this way, let’s see if this goal of God has motivated more than just the election of the nation Israel.

God’s Goal from the Beginning

In one sense we can speak of the exodus out of Egypt as the birth of Israel as a nation. At this point God gave her the law to regulate her life as a nation, and this law and covenant have been the backbone of the nation ever since. But if the exodus was the birth of Israel, then the election and call of Abraham back in Genesis 12 must have been the conception of the nation of Israel, and the period of the patriarchs and slavery in Egypt would then have been the gestation period. So when it says God created Israel for his glory, I take it to mean that the purpose of God to be glorified in Israel was the purpose which motivated God at every step: conception, gestation, and birth.

If this is true then we are put onto an interesting link between the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and the call of Abram in Genesis 12, which will, I think, show us that God’s goal of glorifying himself did not originate at the creation of Israel but that this is what he was up to from the beginning.

Look at Genesis 11. The key phrase to show what caused God to become angry with these tower builders and disperse them comes in verse 4. “They said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.'” Ever since Adam and Eve had chosen to eat of the forbidden tree in order to be like God, independent of him and wise in their own right, the human race has been enslaved to a rebellious heart that hates to rely on God but loves to make a name for itself. The tower of Babel was a manifestation of that rebellion. They wanted to make a name for themselves and reach even to heaven, but God frustrated their designs.

But instead of abandoning the human race God starts a new thing in chapter 12 of Genesis. He chooses one man, Abram, and makes him a promise in Genesis 12:1–3. Listen to what God says and contrast it with what the tower builders said:

Now the Lord said to Abram: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great.”

The people working on the tower of Babel said, “Let us make a name for ourselves!”. God chooses the father of the Jewish nation and says, “I will make your name great.”

Now, what does this show about the goal of God in the world? I think Moses is telling us, as he writes this primal history, that when ancient man refused to align himself with the goal of God, God set about a very different way of achieving that same goal. Man was made to rely on God and give him glory. Instead man chose to rely on himself and seek his own glory—to make a name for himself. So God elected one small person and promised to achieve his purpose through that man and his descendants. He would make Abram’s name great, so that he, and not man, would get the glory.

In other words, the goal of God in creating Israel, namely, for his glory, is not a goal that took effect only at that point in history. It is the goal that guided his creation and governance of man from the start. Man was created from the beginning in God’s image that he might image forth God’s glory. He was to multiply and fill the earth so that the knowledge of the glory of God would cover the sea. And ever since the fall of man into sin, people have refused to align themselves with this divine goal. But all God’s acts have been aimed at seeing it through.

So it is not just Israel but we whom God created for his glory. This is why the New Testament again and again calls us to do all to the glory of God. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). “Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). This is not an admonition to do God a favor. It is a command to align our lives with his eternal goal. He created us for hisglory. God’s great aim in creating and governing the world is that he be glorified. “I created you for my glory. I formed you, I made you.”

What It Means to Be Created for God’s Glory

Now, what then does it mean to say that God created us for his glory? Glory is a very hard thing to define. It is like the word “Beauty.” We all can use it and communicate with it but to try to reduce it to words is very frustrating. It is easier to point to examples. A sunset seen from the top of the I.D.S.—that’s glory. Or the I.D.S. itself almost invisible, like crystal against a grey-blue sky—that’s glory. A perfect performance on the balance beam by Nadia Comaneci—that’s glory. A perfectly executed 30-foot jump shot with one second to go—that’s glory, too.

The glory of God is the beauty and excellence of his manifold perfections. It is an attempt to put into words what God is like in his magnificence and purity. It refers to his infinite and overflowing fullness of all that is good. The term might focus on his different attributes from time to time—like his power and wisdom and mercy and justice—because each one is indeed awesome and beautiful in its magnitude and quality. But in general God’s glory is the perfect harmony of all his attributes into one infinitely beautiful and personal being.

Now when God says that he created us for his glory, it cannot mean that he created us so that he would become more glorious, that his beauty and perfection would be somehow increased by us. It is unthinkable that God should become more perfectly God by making something that is not God. It is a staggering but necessary thought that God has always existed, that he never came into being, and that everything which exists which is not God is from his fullness and can never add anything to him which did not come from him. That is what it means to be God; and it should humble us, O, how it should humble us, when we ponder his reality!

But this means that when God says he made us for his glory, he does not mean he made us so that he could become more glorious in himself. Instead whatIsaiah 43:7 means is that he created us to display his glory, that is, that his glory might be known and praised. This is the goal of God with which we must be aligned in our hearts and actions if we hope to escape his wrath at the judgment.

This becomes clearer as we page through Isaiah. Isaiah 43:20–21 says, “I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” Isaiah 44:23says, “Sing, O heavens for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob and will be glorified in Israel.” In response to her redemption Israel will join the skies and valleys and mountains and forests in singing praise to the Lord. The Lord’s glory will be known and praised and displayed to the nations.

But Isaiah 48:9–11 makes even clearer what it means for God to seek his own glory in creating and redeeming his people:

For My name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of My praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you but not like silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For My own sake, for My own sake I do it,
for how should My name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.

What an amazing text this is! How wonderfully un-modern and anti-21st-century this text is! How ugly and repulsive it must appear to the god of this age, the prince of the power of the air. But how sweet, how clean and high and bright and full of allurement to those who really love God above all else.

Even though this text deals with God’s Old Testament people Israel, we have seen that his motives do not change from era to era and so we can apply at least that aspect of this text to the people of God in our day—those who follow Christ as Savior and Lord. Two things cry out to be stressed in our day. First, our salvation is for God’s sake. “For My name’s sake I withhold my anger. For the sake of My praise I restrain it for you.” To be sure, God will save his people, he will bless us infinitely! But it is for his name’s sake, for his praise, for his glory that he does it. “For My own sake, for My own sake I do it, for how should My name be profaned.” Where this perspective is lost, and the magnifying of God’s glory is no longer seen as the great aim of redemption, pitiful substitutes arise—man centered philosophies that exalt human value in a way that distorts the work of redemption and belittles the primacy of God. And surely I don’t have to tell you in detail that this perspective of God-centeredness has been lost in our day, even in the churches. Man is the star in our contemporary drama and his comfort, his prosperity, and his health are the great goals. Of course God is there on the stage, but only as a kind of co-star or supporting actor to round out the picture for religious and cultural expectations.

What a world apart is Isaiah 48:9–11, and even more so Ezekiel 36:21–32. Parts of this text are very familiar promises of the New Covenant, but O, how we need to read what comes before and after these promises, lest we lose the biblical perspective of our salvation.

But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. Therefore, say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness, and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, that you may not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. I am not doing this for your sake,” declares the Lord God, “Let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!” (NASB)

That’s the first thing that needs to be stressed from Isaiah 48:9–11: our salvation is for God’s sake. He created us for his glory!

The second thing that needs to be stressed is this: God will not allow his name to be profaned indefinitely. Though he is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, he will not tolerate forever those who do not give him glory, but instead regard something else as more glorious, more worthy of allegiance. “My glory I will not give to another.” That’s why I said at the beginning, it is a fearful thing to be at cross purposes with your maker. There is a judgment day and the issue for every one of us will be: Have we been with God in his great goal to glorify himself or has his glory been a matter of indifference to us or even animosity?

We are left with two great questions, which I am to answer next Sunday, if God wills. One is: How do we bring our lives into alignment with God’s goal to glorify himself? What sorts of things must we think and feel and do for God to get glory from us? Is it another weight to make us sigh or is it wings to let us fly? And the second question is: Why is it right for God to seek his own glory when he tells us in his Word we should not seek our own glory? How can it be loving and not selfish for God to create us for his glory?

But even before next week when I try to answer these two questions all of us here need to align ourselves more fully with God’s goal. And my assumption is that some are here who up until this very point in your life have lived it at cross purposes with God. I urge you, do not wait until next Sunday to be reconciled to God. Repent and give your life to God for his purposes now. Any help that I can be in that decision, let me know.

~Do “YOU” Have an Outward Expression of God’s Inward Working?~

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The word establish (sterizo) means to fix firmly or strengthen. Our heart is to be so wedded to the Lord that it cannot be moved despite the pressures brought against it. Becoming settled in the truth (2 Pet. 1:12), withstanding temptation, and enduring trials and suffering for our faith (Acts 14:22) all contribute to this work. Spiritual growth is a process that is not always easy but that bearsprecious fruit. Believers, redeemed by the precious [timios] blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19, NKJV), are of infinite value to the heavenlyFarmer. The word timiosis also used to describe the precious stones that symbolize believers who arebuilt on Christ, the foundation stone of God’s spiritual temple, the church(1 Cor. 3:11-12). Paul likens unstable believers, on the other hand, to wood, hay and straw that will not last and will ultimately be consumed by fire when Christ comes (1 Cor. 3:12-15). It is important, therefore, to ask ourselves on a regular basis whether our energies are really directed toward what we value most, toward what and who is most precious to us!

Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is (1 Cor. 3:13, NKJV). Look at your life. What sort of work is it?

 

Peter. One of Jesus’ “top” disciples. Walked on water, healed the sick, and even raised the dead. Pretty impressive credentials.

And yet Peter was just a “regular guy,” just like you and me. He wasn’t perfect. He knew what it meant to mess up. And he messed up a lot.

But despite his flaws, Peter knew what a Christian should look like. He even gave us a checklist; you can find it in 2 Peter 1:3-11.

Here some ways you can live your faith:

  • Know God. Peter says God “has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him” (2 Peter 1:3). So, to look like a Christian, we need to know God. And we do this through prayer, reading our Bibles, and hanging out with other believers
  • Flee temptation. Peter tells us to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1:4). Ask God often to protect you from sin, to give you the wisdom and courage to make good choices.
  • Show your stuff. Peter shows us what a Christian looks like when he tells us to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love” (1:5-7). Memorize that list of qualities, then “make every effort” to live them out daily.
  • Rate yourself. Peter says we should “possess these qualities in increasing measure” (1:8). Rate yourself on each of the qualities, using a scale of 1-10. (No 10s allowed, because 10s don’t leave any room for improvement!) Ask a trusted friend to rate you on each as well.
  • Form a plan. First, thank God for those 8s and 9s; he’s working in your life! Now ask yourself: “How can I improve in these other areas?” Pray about it. Read Bible passages about those qualities. Think of ways to put these things into action. You might pursue “knowledge” through an in-depth Bible study, or practice “brotherly kindness” by doing volunteer work on Saturday mornings.
  • Get a friend’s help. Ask someone to hold you accountable, someone who will ask you the hard questions about how you’re doing. Let’s say you struggle with self-control, especially in the area of gossip. You need a friend who’s willing to tell you when to pipe down. (Lovingly, of course!)
  • Listen to God. Be sensitive to the “nudging” of the Holy Spirit. God will remind you when you’ve messed up, and he’ll let you know when you get it right.
  • Don’t lose hope. Sure, you’ll make mistakes—just like Peter did. But as you seek to live a godly life, you can cling to this promise from Peter himself:

    “For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:11).

~A Moment In Time That We Prayed To Come To Pass In 2013~

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Breaking Good News, Sunday November 23rd,2014, Live syndication AM and streaming live radio and TV broadcasting5 pm to 7 pm worldwide. Listen from 6 pm to 7pm, X Navy Seal Officer Aaron Pratt. In the Inland Empire listen on car or house radio 1570AM KPRO, listen worldwide streaming on cellphones. PC, tablets http://ionliveradio940fm.net/stationand watch streaming TV, http://ionlivekingdomnetwork.com, on tablets or PC

Moment of clarity; Sometimes your struggle is for someone else’s encouragement. We have been assigned and appointed to love one another.

We are all agents for one cause under one prime directive to service and make true the phrase. “Romans 8:28 And we know that ALL things work together for GOOD to them that love God, to them who are the “CALLED” according to his PURPOSE.”

My struggle/your struggle is the assignment that other agents are called to assist. This is the mystery of how God works not in the invisible untangle work of the Holy Spirit rather the inward dwelling and outward showing of the anointing under the Holy Spirit in the actions of agents that equate to Love!

~I’ve Seen Him Work In My Life~

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While serving my country in a hostile land I saw God answer my prayers. Held against my will after being in pursuit of the ”mad dog of the Middle East” in 1987, Muammar el-Qaddafi and his family I prayed for a blessing to make it home. I saw God work while serving several prison terms on level four yards and being the focus of antagonism due to the color of my skin, I’ve seen God work in my life when death was not just a scene, but a smell, I’ve seen God heal and work when I lost my kids and I wanted to give up on Him.

 

As I have reflected over the events of the past few days and months and years of my life I was drawn to the first chapter of James. In the first 13 verses we are given some understanding of the purpose of trials that come our way.

No one has suffered more than our Father in heaven. No one has paid more dearly for the allowance of sin into the world. No one has so continuously grieved over the pain of a race gone bad. No one has suffered like the One who paid for our sin in the crucified body of His own Son. No one has suffered more than the One who, when He stretched out His arms and died, showed us how much He loved us. It is this God who, in drawing us to Himself, asks us to trust Him when we are suffering and when our own loved ones cry out in our presence ( 1 Peter 2:21;  3:18;  4:1 ).

The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away an unidentified source of suffering. But the Lord declined saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong”  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul learned that he would rather be with Christ in suffering than without Christ in good health and pleasant circumstances.

Natural disasters. Terrorist acts. Injustice. Incurable disease. All these experiences point to suffering, and can cause people to question the love and goodness of a God who would let such things occur. In this publication, we seek to consider who God is, and why we can trust Him even when life hurts—and we don’t know why.

Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human, and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. Worse yet would be a world populated by people who could make wrong choices without feeling any pain. No one is more dangerous than the liar, thief, or killer who doesn’t feel the harm he is doing to himself and to others (Genesis 2:15-17).

We hate pain, especially in those we love. Yet without discomfort, the sick wouldn’t go to a doctor. Worn-out bodies would get no rest. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Children would laugh at correction. Without pangs of conscience, the daily dissatisfaction of boredom, or the empty longing for significance, people who are made to find satisfaction in an eternal Father would settle for far less. The example of Solomon, lured by pleasure and taught by his pain, shows us that even the wisest among us tend to drift from good and from God until arrested by the resulting pain of their own shortsighted choices (Ecclesiastes 1-12Psalms 78:34-35Romans 3:10-18).

Suffering often occurs at the hand of others. But it has a way of revealing what is in our own hearts. Capacities for love, mercy, anger, envy, and pride can lie dormant until awakened by circumstances. Strength and weakness of heart is found not when everything is going our way but when flames of suffering and temptation test the mettle of our character. As gold and silver are refined by fire, and as coal needs time and pressure to become a diamond, the human heart is revealed and developed by enduring the pressure and heat of time and circumstance. Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering (Job 42:1-17Romans 5:3-5James 1:2-51 Peter 1:6-8).

If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn’t fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief, and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-12; Romans 8:18-19).

~What Do You Do When Ministry Is Frustrating?~

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Let me ask all of you—have you ever been disappointed when things did not go well? Have you been discouraged to the point of losing hope? Have you ever felt that you should simply quit trying?

A person eager to serve the Lord will often find himself hindered from going into full time service. How should he respond to these situations?

This kind of frustration is not uncommon in the scriptures or real life! I know some people who are scared about being called into the ministry. They are not waiting! They are trying to avoid full time service. Perhaps they have seen what it costs. 

Another group of people are eager to get into ministry. They can’t wait for the opportunity. They have worked through the other issues. Now they are ready, but they can’t go. It seems God isn’t now ready! Fortunately, we have scriptures and His spirit to rely upon.

 

 

David on the Run  1 Samuel 16

Several years ago, I watched some people who never quit trying, who never gave up when they faced disappointment—a group that was down but not out. My wife May and I were in Chicago, and we attended the Northwestern-Michigan State football game. Although we had no allegiance to either team, we were excited about enjoying a cool, crisp fall day at the stadium. For the first half of the game Northwestern dominated, and the second half began the same way. There were 9 minutes and 54 seconds left in the third quarter when they went up on Michigan State by a score of 38-3.

May and I were a bit bored with the game so one-sided. May was getting cold since the wind had picked up and the clouds had rolled in. I wondered if we could leave early without hurting our friend’s feelings. But at that point the game changed. Down by 35 points, Michigan State began to look like a different team, seemingly able to score at will. Their players were convinced that although they were down in the score, they were not out of the game. Their fans, who had been quiet for most of the game, cheered more and more loudly with each scoring drive. With 13 seconds left on the clock, Michigan State kicked a field goal to win by a final score of 41-38.

It was the greatest comeback in NCAA Division One history!

Although they were down, and it looked hopeless for them from where I sat, they never saw it that way. They refused to let the discouragement of being 35 points down take them out of the game. They were down but never out.

As you move into ministry, expect to be down, but don’t let it take you out. Don’t let disappointment and discouragement lead you to defeat. This is my personal battle tonight to abstain from letting frustration and disappointment take me off my God calling.

The apostle Paul’s ministry brought difficulties, disappointments, and even discouragement, but he never quit; he never let it take him out of the work that God had called him to do. At the end of his life he was able to write these words in 2 Tim. 4:6-7: “For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!”

Knowing that he would soon be executed by Nero, Paul wrote this final epistle to prepare his protégée Timothy to fulfill and complete his own ministry after the passing of his mentor. Through this letter to his young friend, Paul helps prepare us to meet the difficulties, disappointments, and discouragements of ministry as well.

In this letter Paul advised Timothy to expect disappointing and even discouraging situations in the future.

So how is that encouraging? Why would Paul refer to the difficulties of ministry when Timothy needed encouragement? I suggest that unrealistic expectations are often the cause of later discouragement and even defeat. In order to be truly prepared for ministry in the real world—whether on a church staff, as a layperson, or perhaps as a missionary—we must expect ministry to be often difficult and sometimes discouraging.

Rob Bell describes the problem: “To be this kind of person—the kind who selflessly serves—takes everything a person has. It is difficult. It is demanding. And we often find ourselves going against the flow of those around us.”Perhaps that is why Warren Wiersbe observed: “Depression and discouragement are occupational hazards of the ministry.”

When our expectations are unrealistic, we risk losing hope and giving up! So I ask you: Is wanting to perform a ministry for the population called Ex-offenders unrealistic? I have never seen so many ministries afraid to gain leverage in this populous of individuals until I put hand to plow to perform this task. Maybe I should lay out before God for a longer period of time to get a clear and concise direction as to whom and how I should align myself to obtain victory in this calling. My signals must be twisted or I am just getting a lot of opposition from our enemy.

We expect to plant a church that reaches the twenty-some-things and to be loved by those we serve. Or we read the latest book on the “whatever church” and expect the same results. Then, when these things never happen, or at least not as quickly as we would like, our disappointment becomes discouragement, and we determine that we have failed and should quit. Or we just quit trying.

Craig Brian Larson says: “Unrealistic expectations curtail the joy and often the longevity of ministry. They can cause me to give up either in deed or in heart. I don’t have to resign to quit. I can simply decide this job is impossible and it is foolish to try.”iiIf the Michigan State football team had decided that winning were impossible, it would have taken them out of the game although they would have continued playing.

Instead of telling Timothy to be encouraged because his ministry would be a great success, Paul did just the opposite. In 2 Timothy 1:8 he called Timothy to embrace the same kinds of experiences that he was having: “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel.”

What kinds of suffering was Paul calling Timothy to accept and share?

If we had time to study the entire book, we would see that Paul was not only dealing with the difficulty of persecution, but he also faced disappointment with believers who let him down. 1:15 says that everybody in Asia turned away from him. 4:10 mentions that Demas deserted him because he loved the present age, and 4:16 says that all deserted him when he went to court. How discouraging it must have been to look around and see that his co-laborers were no longer there, that his friends were missing in action when the situation became risky!

There were other difficulties as well. Paul warned Timothy about people such as Alexander, Hymaneus, and Philetus who opposed him or strayed from the truth. Ministry was hard; there were people who disappointed him and others who obstructed the work. At the beginning of both chapters 3 and 4 Paul alerted Timothy that things would get even worse in the future.

Hardships confronted Timothy from every side —persecution from outside the church, disappointment with believers—even co-workers, and opposition from within the church. Paul called him to expect them and to be ready to face them.

What about today? What happens in ministry to discourage those of us ministering to others in any capacity? What should you expect in your future ministry?

I asked some co-workers and other friends in ministry this question so that I could help prepare you. In my very unscientific poll, I asked for the 3 most discouraging things in ministry. The #1 answer was disappointment with other Christians. Their lack of commitment, misplaced priorities, self-centered attitudes, and refusal to serve within the church community were very discouraging to those who answered my questions. The conflict and criticism that comes from other believers appears widespread, if those in my survey are representative.

Ranking behind the disappointment with other Christians was the lack of visible fruit in ministry. The people in my friends’ congregations, Bible studies, or small groups act like the rest of the world. It can be hard to believe that God is doing anything when all we can see of the person’s life looks no different year after year.

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~ I Dye So He Can Live In Me~

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The truths gleaned from Romans 6-8 are critical for establishing a strong Christian life. Why is this? What truths are powerfully presented here in Romans?

The Pattern

Paul applies the pattern of Christ’s life to our Christian lives. Paul enables us to get a grasp of this through the picture of baptism – the down and up. Baptism doesn’t mean to sprinkle but to immerse. A Christian does not merely acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, he also follows Christ. He acknowledges both the value of what Christ has done on the cross and the importance on how Jesus redeemed us.

We often focus on what Christ has accomplished through His death. Paul speaks clearly of this in chapters 3 and 4 of Romans. Chapter 5, however, develops the basis of our union with Christ. We are united with Christ by our faith. Starting in chapter 6, we see how this identification with Christ affects our life.

The picture of baptism includes three aspects: the going down, being under and the rising. We might think of rinsing a cloth. We take it from the air, submerge it under water and then bring it out to be used. Humility speaks of the first two steps. Many would like to avoid the implications of these first two important steps. They want to claim to have eternal life with no sense of repentance – no dying. They have not died to themselves. There has been no funeral. This concept is key to living a fulfilled Christian life.

The Problem

Paul seems to have discovered a group of people that claim Christ’s death but deny any real identification with Christ in the death process. Christ merely paid for their sins as some historical fact (which it was of course). They want to forget about their close identification with Christ in this process.

Humility

If we consider Christ’s death to be all so important (and it is), then we need to realize its effect on our lives. When Jesus died, He not only bore our sins, but He also was, in a final way, saying “no” to sin. After death, sin had no part of His life. He had no earthly flesh that begged to be given special preference.(1) So we, as His disciples, must identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. We must say “no” to our former allegiance to sin through our faith and “yes” to our allegiance to Christ. We now have a new focus on life. Because of this new allegiance, we are not to sin but to live for God.

For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, (Romans 6:10-12).

Pride: Hate it!

We will never be able to die to ourselves unless we are convinced that serving the flesh (our old nature) is totally unprofitable. We have to see that it has absolutely no worth. We need to come to detest its very presence. On the other hand, we must come to love the Spirit’s ways. We are to see the glorious work of the Spirit in contrast to the flesh. By seeing their contrasting ways, we hate one and love the other. We refuse to serve our own self’s preferences and become wholly loyal to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

Pride

We cannot rid ourselves of the flesh on this earth. This is what Jesus referred to in 6:10 when he says, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin.” It is still there. If we are not careful, we will serve it. But we don’t have to. By voiding our allegiance to our flesh, we can, by Christ’s grace, be set free to serve Christ. How do we void our former allegiance to our flesh? Paul says death is the only means and explains it carefully in Romans 7:1-6.

The point is that unless we are absolutely convinced the flesh is a destroyer, we will continue to listen and follow it. We will, in essence, continue to serve it. As Christians we are technically free from its ruling over us, but we still could serve the old self. The follow up question is whether we really hate the flesh. Are we really convinced? Paul convincingly set forth this case in the last part of chapter 7 and the early part of 8. Whenever he would go by the old nature, he would serve his own self and bear evil results. But he wanted to serve Christ (Romans 7) which bring forth the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5). The flesh always brings about death because it is hostile to God (Romans 8). We ought not live for our bodies. We do not need to live for ourselves.

We need to humble ourselves by stating that serving ourselves is not good. In a sense this is what ‘dying to self’ essentially means. We recognize serving self is no good and so we choose to serve the Spirit. These chapters provide a lot of help in convincing us of the horrible nature of the flesh and the glory of the Spirit.

Commitment to saying “no” to the old nature comes only as much as:

   1) we are sure of the old nature’s total rebellion against God and

    2) we desire to serve the Spirit.

Our growth comes as we recognize the complete rebellious nature of the flesh and power of the new life through the life of Christ.

Dying to self means simply a mental check on our determination not to live for oneself and to live for Christ. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:31 say, “I die daily.” This is a regular battle. A daily battle. Paul, as a veteran apostle, witnessing many miracles, seeing a revelation of Christ, still had to personally die to himself. We do too. We cannot afford not to.

Here is a possible prayer for your early morning meditation.

“Dear Lord, my allegiance to You will be tested today. Right now, I am stating my faithfulness to you. You are the One I love forever. At the same time, I will clearly state that I want nothing to do with serving my self. I have had enough to do with that selfish ego of mine that tries to get all the attention it can. Your principles of love and giving are what I want. Radiate in my life through acts and words of kindness. Forgive me of my sin and cleanse me. I make myself totally empty of self so that You can fill me with your precious Holy Spirit. Lead me forth. I will follow in your humble paths of love.”

The Christian needs to acknowledge the flesh, declare its lousy nature, reject its promptings, acknowledge the Lord’s presence, the beautiful nature of the Spirit and affirm one’s total heart and will to the Spirit’s leading.

Christian life is based on humble living. When we are willing to humble ourselves by looking at the facts of what self-service does, then we are willing to walk in that path.

~The Indomitable Joy In Jesus~

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Not Playing Games in Corporate Worship

I have tried these three-a-half years to lead my family and all that worship with me in the experience of sorrowful yet always rejoicing. I turn with dismay from church services that are treated like radio talk shows where everything sounds like chipper, frisky, high-spirited chatter designed to make people feel lighthearted and playful and bouncy. I look at those services and say to myself: Don’t you know that people are sitting out there who are dying of cancer, whose marriage is a living hell, whose children have broken their hearts, who are barely making it financially, who have just lost their job, who are lonely and frightened and misunderstood and depressed? And you are going to try to create an atmosphere of bouncy, chipper, frisky, light-hearted, playful worship?

And, of course, there will be those who hear me say that and say: O, so you think what those people need is a morose, gloomy, sullen, dark, heavy atmosphere of solemnity?

No. What they need is to see and feel indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” They need to taste that these church people are not playing games here. They are not using religion as a platform for the same-old, hyped-up self-help that the world offers every day. They need the greatness and the grandeur of God over their heads like galaxies of hope. They need the unfathomable crucified and risen Christ embracing them in love with blood all over his face and hands. And they need the thousand-mile-deep rock of God’s word under their feet.

The Thousand-Mile-Deep Rock of God’s Word

They need to hear us sing with all our heart and soul,

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

They need to hear the indomitable joy in sorrow as we sing:

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

If you ask me, Doesn’t the world need to see Christians as happy in order to know the truth of our faith and be drawn to the great Savior? My answer is yes, yes, yes. And they need to see that our happiness is the indomitable work of Christ in the midst of our sorrow — a sorrow probably deeper than they have ever known that we live with every day. They need to see “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

So let’s put some of that rock under out feet now — the rock of God’s word. What John Piper and Jason Meyer think counts for nothing compared to what God thinks. So let’s go to the Bible and see if these things are so.

Why Emphasize “What the World Needs”

We will focus on 2 Corinthians 6:3–10. Why have I put the emphasis on what the world needs? Why have I framed the main point of this sermon as: What the world needs from the church is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow? The answer is in verses 3 and 4. Paul says, “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.”

In other words, Paul is saying: What I am about do in this chapter is remove obstacles and commend our ministry — our life and message. He wants the church in Corinth, and the world, not to write him off, not to walk away, not to misunderstand who he is and what he teaches and whom he represents. He wants to win them. If you want to use the language of seeker-friendly, watch how he does it.

A Seeker-Friendly Apostle

It’s amazing what he does here. Many savvy, church-growth communicators today would have no categories for this way of removing obstacles and commending Christianity. In fact, some might say: Paul, you are not removing obstacles, you are creating obstacles. So let’s watch Paul remove obstacles and commend his ministry. This, he says in effect, is what the world needs.

He does this in three steps: he describes the sufferings he endures; he describes the character he tries to show; and he describes the paradoxes of the Christian life.

The Sufferings He Endures

First, he describes the sufferings he endures for Christ (2 Corinthians 6:3–5):

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.

So be asking yourself: How is this removing obstacles? How is this commending his ministry? Why is this not putting people off rather than drawing them in?

The Character He Shows

Second, he describes the character he tries to show (2 Corinthians 6:6–7):

. . . by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left [probably the sword of the Spirit in the right hand and the shield of faith in the left, Ephesians 6:16–17].

So instead of being embittered and frustrated and angry and resentful by all the afflictions and hardships and calamities and labors and sleepless nights, by God’s grace Paul has shown patience and kindness and love. His spirit has not been broken by the pain of his ministry. In the Holy Spirit, he has found resources to give and not to grumble. To be patient in God’s timing, rather than pity himself. To be kind to people, rather than take it out on others.

The Paradoxes of the Christian Life

And third, Paul describes the paradoxes of the Christian life (2 Corinthians 6:8–10):

. . . through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

When you walk in the light and minister in the power of Holy Spirit, and speak the truth in “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, and love,” some people will honor you and some will dishonor you (verse 8a); some will slander you, and some will praise you (verse 8b). And that dishonor and slander may come in the form of calling you and imposter (verse 8c). You’re not real. You’re just a religious hypocrite.

Remember Jesus said, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Which means that in Paul’s mind a mixed reception (some honoring and praising, some dishonoring and slandering) was part of his commendation. It removed the obstacle: You can’t be a true prophet, all speak well of you.

Outside Perceptions with Some Truth in Them

Then come six more paradoxes. If you aren’t careful, you might take these to mean that Paul is correcting false perceptions of Christians, but it’s not quite like that. Every perception here of the outsider has truth in it. But Paul says, What you see is true, but it’s not the whole truth or the main truth.

Verse 9a: You see us “as unknown, and yet [we are] well known.” Yes, we are nobodies in the Roman empire. A tiny movement following a crucified and risen king. But O we are known by God, and that is what counts (1 Corinthians 8:3;Galatians 4:9).

Verse 9b: You see us “as dying, and behold, we live.” Yes, we die every day. We are crucified with Christ. Some of us are imprisoned and killed. But O we live because Christ is our life now, and he will raise us from the dead.

Verse 9c: You see us “as punished, and yet [we are] not killed.” Yes, we endure many human punishments and many divine chastenings, but over and over God has spared us from death. And he will spare us till our work is done.

Verse 10a: You see us “as sorrowful, yet [we are] always rejoicing.” Yes, we are sorrowful. There are countless reasons for our hearts to break. But in them all we do not cease to rejoice, one of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian life!

Verse 10b: You see us “as poor, yet [we are] making many rich.” Yes, we are poor in this world’s wealth. But we don’t live to get rich on things, we live to make people rich on Jesus.

Verse 10c: You see us “as having nothing, yet [we are] possessing everything.” In one sense, we have counted everything as loss or the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8). But, in fact, we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). To every Christian, Paul says, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23).

Exactly Opposite of the Prosperity Gospel

Now step back and remember what Paul said in verse 3: “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” He has been removing obstacles to faith and commending the truth and value of his ministry — his life, his message, his Lord. And he has done it in exactly the opposite way that “the prosperity gospel” does it.

What obstacle has he removed? He has removed the obstacle that someone might think Paul is in the ministry for money, or for earthly comfort and ease. He has given every evidence he could to show that he is not a Christian, and he is not in the ministry, for the worldly benefits it can bring. But there are many pastors today who think just the opposite about this. They think that having a lavish house and a lavish car and lavish clothes commend their ministry. That’s simply not the way Paul thought. He thought that such things were obstacles.

Enticing to Christ for the Wrong Reason

Why? Because if they would entice anyone to Christ, it would be for the wrong reason. It would be because they think Jesus makes people rich and makes life comfortable and easy. No one should come to Christ for that reason. Enticing people to Christ with prosperous lifestyles and with chipper, bouncy, light-hearted, playful, superficial banter, posing as joy in Christ, will attract certain people, but not because Christ is seen in his glory and the Christian life is presented as the Calvary Road. Many false conversions happen this way.

So how is Paul commending his ministry — his life, his message, his Lord? Verse 4: “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” How? By showing that knowing Christ, being known by Christ, having eternal life with Christ is better than all earthly wealth and prosperity and comfort. We commend our life and ministry by afflictions. We commend our life and ministry by calamities. We commend our life and ministry by sleepless nights. What does that mean? It means Christ is real to us, and Christ is infinitely precious, more to be desired than any wealth or comfort in this world. This is our commendation: When all around our soul gives way he then is all our hope and stay.

Sorrowful — Yet Always Rejoicing

What does it mean (verse 10) that part of Paul’s commendation to the world is that he was sorrowful yet always rejoicing? It means that what the world needs from the church is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow.

Let me move toward a close with two pictures of this sorrowful yet always rejoicing. One from Jesus and one from Paul.

A Picture from Jesus

When Jesus said in Matthew 5:11–12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,” do you think it is random that the next thing he said was, “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world”? I don’t think it was random. I think the tang of the salt that the world needs to taste, and the brightness of the light that the world needs to see is precisely this indomitable joy in the midst sorrow.

Joy in the midst of health? Joy in the midst of wealth and ease? And when everyone speaks well of you? Why would that mean anything to the world? They have that already. But indomitable joy in the midst of sorrow — that they don’t have. That is what Jesus came to give in this fallen, pain-filled, sin-wracked world.

A Picture from Paul

Or consider Paul’s experience of agony over the lost-ness of his Jewish kinsmen in Romans 9:2–3. Remember Paul is the one who said in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” But in Romans 9:2–3, he writes, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Don’t miss the terrible burden of the word “unceasing” in verse 2. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” because my kinsmen are perishing in unbelief cut off from the Messiah. Is Paul disobeying his own command to rejoice always? No. Because he said in 2 Corinthians 6:10, We are sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

What the World Needs from Us

Is this not what the world needs from us? Picture yourself sitting across the table at your favorite restaurant from someone you care about very much and is not a believer. You have shared the gospel before, and they have been unresponsive. God gives you the grace this time to plead with them. And he gives you the grace of tears. And you say: “I want so bad for you to believe and be a follower of Jesus with me. I want you to have eternal life. I want us to be with Christ forever together. I want you to share the joy of knowing your sins are forgiven and that Jesus is your friend. And I can hardly bear the thought of losing you. It feels like a heavy stone in my chest.”

Isn’t that what the world needs from us? Not just an invitation to joy. Not just a painful expression of concern. But the pain and the joy coming together in such a way that they have never seen anything like this. They have never been loved like this. They have never seen indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of sorrow. And by God’s grace, it may taste like the salt of the earth and look like the light of the world.

So I say one last time: What the world needs from the church — from us — is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow.

Indomitable Joy in Suffering and Sorrow

This was Paul’s commendation of his ministry. May it be our commendation of Christ at His earthly church. It is no accident that Paul concluded the greatest chapter in the Bible — Romans 8 — with words that are designed pointedly to sustain your joy and my joy in the face of suffering and loss.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in [not instead of, but in!] all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–39)

So, “Church”, let the world taste your indomitable joy in suffering and sorrow.

~Does Your Leadership Banner Incorporate Accountability?~

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As believers, we recognize the value of imitating Jesus and His leadership style. But if we really think about it, it’s strange that we try to emulate a leader who never developed an organization, regularly encouraged people to stop following Him, and ultimately saw His death as the pinnacle of His accomplishments.

What kind of perspective must a leader have to place high value on these kinds of strategies? Jesus was not a manager. His primary role was to function as a spiritual leader.

Not all leaders in religious organizations are spiritual leaders. This is not a criticism as much as a distinction. Distinguishing spiritual leadership from other forms of leadership can free people from unrealistic expectations of some leaders.

At the same time, making this distinction can help identify who the spiritual leaders in your organization are. Here are six characteristics that identify most spiritual leaders:

  1. They lead others into their own encounters with God. One of the most effective things about Jesus’ lifestyle was that He didn’t switch into another mode to introduce His disciples to the reality of God.Whether standing in the synagogue or picking wheat along the path, interacting with the Father was so natural that others around Him could not help but do the same. Whether a spiritual leader is training a new employee or working through a difficult conflict resolution, his followers will discover their own connection to God more deeply in the process.
  2. They lead others to discover their own purpose and identity. Spiritual leadership is characterized by great generosity. A spiritual leader genuinely wants others to fully discover who they were made to be.Workplace issues and strategic development become tools to help followers discover their own identity and overcome obstacles standing in their way. People functioning in an area of their created identity and strength will always be more productive than those who are simply trying to fill a position or role.
  3. They lead others into transformation—not just production. When the goal is spiritual growth and health, production will always be a natural outcome. People function at their peak when they function out of identity.Helping your followers discover that their own transformation can happen on the job will engender loyalty and a high level of morale. Spiritual leadership fosters passion in those who follow. Passion is the ingredient that moves people and organizations from production to transformational impact.

  1. They impact their atmosphere. While we may not stop a tempest with our words, spiritual leaders recognize that they can change the “temperature” of a room, interaction, or relationship.Changing the atmosphere is like casting vision, only it is immediate. When there is tension, fear, or apathy, a spiritual leader can transform the immediate power of these storms and restore vision, vitality and hope. A spiritual leader can fill a room with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness, even while speaking hard things.
  2. They help people see old things in new ways. Many people are stuck not in their circumstances, but in their perspectives and paradigms. The word “repent” means “to think differently, or to think in a different way.” Jesus called people to look again at old realities through new eyes. Changing ways of thinking always precedes meaningful change.
  3. They gain a following because of who they are—not because of a position they hold. Spiritual leaders can be found in secular organizations, in the same way managers and organizational leaders can be found in religious ones.Spiritual leaders influence more than they direct, and they inspire more than they instruct. They intuitively recognize that they are serving something—and Someone—larger than themselves and their own objectives.

We’re all familiar with liberal do-gooder arrogance — the kind that stems from having the luxury of choosing from a salad bar of causes because none are immediately constraining their lives, or assuming that because you studied an issue in a university, you’re an expert. Avoid being that person: cultivate humility and take direction and leadership from those most affected by an issue.

Because people on the receiving end of great injustices have to live with the consequences of campaigns that seek to address those injustices, they have the most to gain from victory — and the most to lose if something goes wrong. They’re also the best equipped to know, and to articulate, workable solutions to their problems. A campaign that ignores or minimizes their knowledge and voices could easily do more harm than good.

Accepting guidance from another isn’t always easy for people who themselves identify as leaders. Self-identified “leaders” sometimes rush in too quickly, confident they’ve got the answer while their preconceptions and prejudices blind them to the organic answers all around them. We can mitigate these blindspots by being intentional about respecting the process and cultivatingaccountability.

Accountability can be a scary concept for activists, but it’s best to think of it as a proactive process that we walk together, rather than a standard that is either achieved or not.

The booklet Organizing Cools the Planet outlines four basic principles for cultivating accountability:

Transparency means being clear about your politics, organizational structure, goals, desires and weaknesses. The point here is to be as open as possible about your perspectives and motivations.

Participation is about actively and equitably engaging with folks about the decisions that affect them.

Reflection and deliberation means that we actively open up conversation to re-evaluate where we’re headed. It happens after participation, but once it’s begun, it is a continuous thread that is woven throughout the experience.

Response is the ability to make amendments and adjustments to issues raised by Reflection and deliberation.

However, accountability is not our goal; collaboration is our goal. Accountability is the pathway we walk. The cycle above moves us toward increasingly successful collaborations. Don’t be discouraged if collaboration is difficult at first. Trust takes time. Be forgiving of yourself and others; we all make mistakes.

~The Hospital -Church: Needs Help With Anxiety and Depression~

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Anxiety can cause people to give up on many of their beliefs. It can cause people to feel like nothing is holding them up, and nothing is going right for them. It can cause them to question religion, give up on spiritual practices, and more.

So can spiritual growth improve anxiety? We take a look at this idea from a more objective, non-religious perspective, to see whether spiritual growth can provide the necessary relief.

But if we’re looking directly at spirituality and spiritual growth, the answer is yes – but with some caveats.

How Spiritual Growth Can Help

One of the things to understand when we’re talking about spirituality is that most spirituality involves a contentment with yourself. It’s hard to pray to God, or feel spiritual when that belief isn’t there, and unfortunately anxiety is the type of issue that can make people feel as though there is nothing and no one looking out for them. It can make it harder to take control of one’s life.

So in that respect, obtaining spiritual growth can be difficult, and even if you want to put all of your faith in God you still do need to learn to love yourself. Even in the Bible it states that God has lent your body to you, and while you’re meant to put all of your faith in God, you are doing a disservice to God by disliking yourself.

But if you can adapt your mindset to one that is more spiritual and gets in touch with your beliefs better, then there are absolutely several benefits to spiritual growth. These include:

  • Faith in the Future – Perhaps the greatest problem for those with anxiety is the lack of seeing the future as a positive. Unfortunately this is caused by anxiety – much like being sick, it changes your thought patterns to make you feel like anxiety is still to come. But spirituality is about having faith in the world around you, and that faith can reduce some of the negativity you may feel for your future.
  • Healthy Living – Spirituality also tends to be a form of healthier living. Those that are more spiritual often find that they are more prone to taking care of themselves, maintaining healthier habits, spending time with other people, and so on. Healthy living is very important for controlling anxiety, and something that those with anxiety often struggle to do.
  • Healthy Distraction – The activities you do for spiritual growth also provide a very healthy distraction for overcoming anxiety. Actively attacking your stress isn’t always the most successful strategy. Sometimes the brain heals better when you simply don’t have time to pay attention to anxiety. Spiritual activities tend to be fairly consuming, which means that your mind is distracted from your worries and focused on something positive.

Spiritual growth also tends to involve strategies that slow your life down, the ability to talk to others and spend time with others, and the rebuilding of trust. It may even give you someone or something to pray to or for that you can believe that better things are coming. Not having a healthy environment in God’s House is very toxic and can cause severe anxiety with lay people and leadership:

Problems With Spiritual Growth

There is no downside to growing spiritually. It’s something that can benefit men and women of all ages. However, there are a few notes of caution:

  • Don’t ignore yourself. Remember, you’re still here. Whether you believe strongly in God or you believe that the universe makes things happen, every religion and every belief agrees that you need to take care of yourself, take action, and make changes. If all you change is your spirituality than you are neither doing God’s will nor improving your life for yourself.
  • Don’t wait for things to come. Even as you become more spiritual, there is no deity that simply answers prayers without work. You do need to make sure that you’re focused on improving yourself and your own life, because only by actively making changes can you expect to see results.
  • Don’t give up when you find relief thinking you’re done. God may answer your prayers and respond to your beliefs, but much like religion you cannot simply believe when it’s convenient. Even if you find your anxiety has gone away, don’t forget to keep making the necessary changes to keep anxiety away.

As long as you keep these in mind, getting better in touch with your spirituality can only be a good thing for your mental health. There is little downside as long as you don’t assume that all you need to do is pray and wait. Not even God approves of that type of lifestyle.

~Spiritual Dysfunction: You Don’t See Anything Wrong With That?~

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Often some of our deepest personal problems are rooted in something we can’t control—dysfunctional family behavioral patterns that came before us. But we can control our choices, and each of us can choose life and good things!

In 1974 American singer and songwriter Harry Chapin recorded a song titled “Cat’s in the Cradle.” The song is about a father who is too busy to spend time with his son, instead offering vague promises to spend time with him in the future.

In time, the boy grows up to become a man very much like his father, focused on career and other personal pursuits at the expense of family relations. As the father grows old and finally has time to look back on his life, he deeply desires to get to know his adult son and have a meaningful relationship with him.

Sadly, the father comes to realize that his son is absorbed with the same materialistic priorities he had, and so a close relationship will never happen. The last verse concludes with this sad line: “ And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me—my boy was just like me.”

Family influence passed down

This song reminds us of the universal influence one generation has on another. Family traits are often passed down from parents to children, and this cycle has been repeated for thousands of years.

Some of these traits may be positive and beneficial—like nurturing skills, valuing hard work or education. However, negative and destructive behavior is also passed down within families.

When God calls us and opens our minds to follow His way of life, we may not be fully aware of how our new relationship with Him will not only change us individually, but can also have a wonderful influence on our descendants, impacting future generations.

Many people selfishly live only for today. They don’t understand or appreciate how one member of a family can impact other members. The Scriptures often remind us that it’s important to think generationally.

Consider God’s instruction in the Ten Commandments that “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus:20:5-6).

It’s easy to believe from this scripture that God simply punishes those who disrespect Him and blesses those who love Him. But God is not a vengeful and angry Father who intentionally punishes great-grandchildren for the sins committed generations earlier by others.

A better way to understand this scripture is to realize that family dysfunctions and their consequences are passed down from parents to children and from generation to generation. Curses are the result of breaking God’s law, and many sins are perpetuated in the next generation by the poor example of the previous generation.

Repeating patterns of mistakes

Each human family has its own culture, including unique strengths and weaknesses. Some of these may be the result of genetic inheritance. For example, some families have a history of significant musical or athletic accomplishments passed down from parents to children, to grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Even though it takes great skill development to be an excellent musician or athlete, a certain natural endowment is inherited from birth. Modern science has also discovered that our genetics may even predispose us to certain diseases.

Other strengths and weaknesses within an individual family culture are the result of itsenvironment or choices. This includes values, priorities and decision-making skills. When negative choices and a bad home environment become deeply entrenched within a family culture, individual members can become self-destructive and unknowingly pass on these traits.

Some of us come from family backgrounds of defeatism, divorce, pessimism, selfishness, greed, anger, addictions and laziness. Unless we break this curse, these traits may be passed on to our children. One’s dysfunctional personal behavior becomes a model or example to the next generation, and the cycle can be repeated over and over again.

Often this continues until someone realizes that he or she can be the one to break the cycle and make a difference. By developing a meaningful relationship with God we will not only become more enriched and fulfilled, but we will also benefit many others, including our own descendants.

Abraham’s amazing example

A number of biblical passages show us why we should all think generationally. Perhaps the most striking is the example of Abraham.

Abraham was an obedient “friend of God” (James:2:23). He rejected the pagan sinful culture of his family line and chose to live a new and positive way of life. At God’s request Abraham left that environment and even his own family to follow the course God set for him. In doing so he would become known as “the father of the faithful.”

Because of Abraham’s willingness to abandon the sinful habits and practices of generations, God made specific promises to him about the future of his descendants. God told him, “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered” (Genesis:13:16).

Some of Abraham’s descendants formed the core of what are now known as the major English-speaking nations and many other nations. (To learn more about this fascinating topic, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy .)

God further told Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis:12:3).

Almost 2,000 years later Jesus Christ, a direct descendant of Abraham, would be born to atone for all sin and offer eternal life to all mankind. The entire world came to be blessed through Abraham because of his willingness to break with the patterns of past generations and embark on a new way of life revealed by God.

David, a man after God’s own heart

Another example of how powerful and important a personal relationship with God is can be seen in God’s expression of love for King David. Paul is recorded as quoting God in a powerful sermon by proclaiming, “‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus” (Acts:13:22-23).

Jesus Christ was a descendant of King David, and both of them were physical descendants of Abraham. But did David’s personal relationship have a positive effect on any of his other direct descendants? Did this personal relationship between God and David have benefits for David’s great-grandchildren and beyond?

Let’s move forward in history to about 50 years after David’s death to a significant time in Judah’s survival as a nation.

Abijah (also spelled Abijam) was the great-grandson of King David, but wasn’t faithful to God’s law. Scripture records that he “did all the same sins his father before him had done. Abijah was not faithful to the Lord his God as David, his great-grandfather, had been” (1 Kings:15:3, New Century Version).

At first glance we might expect Abijah to be severely punished for his sins, and perhaps others along with him. Yet the very next verse tells us something quite different: “Because the Lord loved David, the Lord gave him a kingdom in Jerusalem and allowed him to have a son to be king after him. The Lord also kept Jerusalem safe” (verse 4, NCV).

More than 50 years after David died, God showed one of his descendants mercy because of the faithfulness of his great-grandfather! God said in effect, “I am not doing this for you, Abijah, but because of the relationship I had with your great-grandfather David, I will show mercy to you.”

Did David’s relationship with God benefit any of his other descendants?

Many generations later King Hezekiah lay dying while the nation was being threatened by powerful Assyrian armies. The king fervently prayed to God for deliverance and the prophet Isaiah was sent to him with this message:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father [ancestor]: ‘I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David'” (2 Kings:20:5-6).

More than 250 years after David died, God here showed mercy to his descendant because of David’s personal relationship with God. Notice that God even identifies Himself as the “God of David” and proclaims that He will both heal Hezekiah and protect the nation for “the sake of My servant David.”

Again, God says in effect, “Hezekiah, I am not doing this just for your sake! I am doing it because of My relationship with your ancestor David.” Do you see what a powerful influence just one individual can have, impacting his or her descendants for generations? Do you realize that you can be the Abraham or David in your family, setting a pattern that may bless your descendants generations from now?

A shocking example from history

How powerful can the generational influence of parents be on their own family and descendants? In 1874 a member of the New York State Prison Board noticed that six members of the same family were incarcerated at the same time. The board did some research, looking back a few generations to try to find the original couple who initiated this tragic family legacy.

They traced the family line back to an ancestor born in 1720, a man considered lazy and godless with a reputation as the town troublemaker. He was also an alcoholic and viewed as having low moral character. To make matters worse, he married a woman who was much like himself, and together they had six daughters and two sons.

Here is what the report revealed about the approximately 1,200 descendants of this couple who were alive by 1874:

• 310 were homeless.

• 160 were prostitutes.

• 180 suffered from drug or alcohol abuse.

• 150 were criminals who spent time in prison, including seven for murder.

The report also found that the State of New York had spent $1.5 million—a shockingly high number at the time—to care for this line of descendants, and not one had made a significant contribution to society.

Sadly, we can see by this example how the harmful dysfunctions of parents can be passed down from generation to generation.

A refreshing contrast

In contrast, another family heritage was studied involving a couple who lived about the same time. This second family study began with the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards, who was born in 1703. A deeply religious man, he lived a life of strong moral values and became a minister and a dedicated family man.

He married a deeply religious woman named Sarah who shared his values, and together they had 11 children. Eventually, Jonathan Edwards became the president of Princeton University. Here is what researchers discovered about the approximately 1,400 descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards by 1874:

• 13 were college presidents.

• 65 were college professors.

• 100 were attorneys.

• 32 were state judges.

• 85 were authors of classic books.

• 66 were physicians.

• 80 held political offices, including three state governors.

• 3 were state senators.

• 1 became vice president of the United States.

What a difference it makes in the kind of example and values that are passed down to the next generation! Strong moral values can indeed bring blessings and opportunities for generations yet to be born!

Rooting out weakness and sin

Many scriptures confirm that family cultures can be destructive. You and I are also a product of our own family’s heritage going back for many, many years! Some of the weaknesses we have are a result of them being passed down directly to us by our parents’ or grandparents’ personal examples. In some cases a family sin may go so far back that no one now knows where it began!

A responsibility we all have is to root out these weaknesses and set a better example for our own children and grandchildren. This commitment to overcome our weaknesses and change our lives can also richly benefit our siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and other extended family members.

Studies show that families tend to reproduce their own culture and dysfunctions for generations. For example, selfish parents produce selfish children. An alcoholic parent is likely to produce alcoholic children. Spousal abusers often produce children who grow up and abuse their spouses or are abused by their spouses.

Parents with negative lifestyles and attitudes tend to produce offspring who are unproductive and discouraged. Research has demonstrated that approximately 90 percent of people incarcerated in the United States have had either a parent or close family member in jail before.

Habitual problems may go back for generations in your family, but you can be the Abraham or David in your lineage! You can be the one to make better choices and break the curse of generational dysfunctions in your family!

We need to recognize what is happening and make a conscious decision to, with God’s help, create a new, positive family heritage.

God told the people of ancient Israel that He loved them and wanted them to be a betterpeople by obeying His commandments. He wanted both them and their descendants to be happy and blessed. Through Moses He pleaded with them to make the right choices and proclaimed, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy:30:19).

You can put a stop to it

If you have a family legacy of negativity, addictions, poverty, divorce, greed or selfishness, you can be the one to put a stop to it. All of us are dealing with issues from our family histories. Sometimes we must confront problems that go back many generations.

The good news is that we don’t have to do this alone. God offers us the help of His Spirit so we can put a stop to these destructive habits and make life even more productive for our descendants. God’s Spirit within us can literally change our lives as we move away from sinful habits toward a new, spirit-led nature (Galatians:5:19-25).

Some personal problems are so entrenched that we need to be humble enough to ask for help. Don’t be hesitant to contact a minister or health-care professional if you continue to struggle with a problem and realize you need additional support. There is no shame in asking for help and encouragement from others!

When we are faithful and have a deep relationship centered on obedience to God, He will not deal with our descendants like someone who doesn’t have a godly heritage. You may look at your family tree and not like what you see. However, beginning with you a new family tree can be planted that blesses everyone around it with the fruit of God’s Spirit, including joy, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians:5:22-23).

Think generationally in your life. How you live today and the kind of relationship you have with God can affect your descendants for generations to come and make their lives better! Why not become the Abraham in your family?

Your choices aren’t yours alone

The choices and decisions we make don’t just affect ourselves, but also our children, grandchildren and future generations yet unborn.

Have you considered that you never really make a choice alone? It’s been said that you are always taking your parents and your children with you throughout your life. In other words, most decisions you make are affected by the deep personal influence of your parents. On the other hand, your lifestyle choices and major decisions will also affect future generations of your family.

Even if you lack the personal desire to overcome serious problems for your own sake, do it for your family. Think generationally about how your behavior will benefit or harm your descendants.

God’s Word has shown us that He may have mercy on others because of the life we live. If you’re struggling with a serious problem, why not decide to stand in the gap and be the Abraham in your family! Make the choices now that will let others years from now see the changes you made personally and say, “Here is where it all turned around!”

We read earlier in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 30 that we literally have the ability to choose blessings or curses. Dysfunctions and sins that are allowed to continue may be passed down for generations. Yet we have also seen that God will bless the descendants of those who love Him.

~Is God Sovereign~

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What does the Assemblies of God believe concerning the free will of mankind in everyday choices and its relation to God’s sovereignty and providential care? Can we through our choices or prayers alter what God has ordained? If God has a master plan that will be accomplished, is it not futile to think we can change what will happen?

There is some disagreement in the evangelical world concerning the interrelationship of God’s sovereignty, His providence, and mankind’s free will. To some theologians, the three seem to be contradictory. But the Assemblies of God, having diligently searched the Scriptures for the best correlation of the three indisputable principles, believes that all three can exist in full theological certitude without doing any injustice to the other two.

The term sovereignty of God is not found in the Bible, yet the truth of God’s sovereignty is evident throughout Scripture. God has absolute authority and power over His creation. God is omnipotent; He can do anything He desires to do. But this indisputable fact has caused considerable theological debate about the relationship of mankind to God’s sovereignty. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, is He responsible for all the evil in the world. Is our eternal destiny determined by God’s sovereignty, making meaningless our assumption that we have some choice in the matters that concern our existence?

Human reasoning and logic would say that if God is truly sovereign over all His creation, the human creatures He created have no opportunity to make individual choices. And if they have a free will that can make personal choices, then God cannot be sovereign, because anything He does not control negates His being sovereign. But Scripture emphasizes both the sovereignty of God and the free will of humankind. So instead of judging by human reason that both facts cannot coexist, we must honor the integrity of God’s Word, accept, and explain to the best of our limited human reasoning how both truths can be valid.

First we recognize the biblical statements of God’s sovereignty. Just to mention a few of many: “I know [Job speaking] that you [God] can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2, NIV). “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalms 135:6, NIV). “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ ” (Daniel 4:35, NIV). “Who [God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11, NIV).

Over against these statements of God’s sovereignty, we have the Genesis account of God’s earliest interaction with human beings. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, God did not excuse them by saying it was His fault they had disobeyed. Instead, He laid the full penalty of the sin of disobedience on them, although at the same time He gave them a promise of salvation and escape from the penalty of their disobedience. In addition to this example of humankind’s responsibility, we also have a direct statement of Scripture: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4,20, NKJV). Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites is a challenge for today: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15, NIV). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God does not force individuals to sin. Yet He has ordained a penalty for voluntary sin that must be paid. Every call to repentance in Scripture is an indication that God has given to humankind a free will which can choose right or wrong.

How do we bring together these two seemingly exclusive truths: God’s sovereignty and mankind’s free will? In God’s great design for His creation, He desired freely given allegiance rather than robotic response to His will. Voluntary love and obedience are much better than automatic, predetermined responses. God created humankind with the option of loving and obeying Him, even though it meant that some would choose not to give allegiance to His rule. Freely given love is more valued than forced or parroted expressions. Since God has chosen to give humankind a free will, His sovereignty is not destroyed.

A related issue that raises a similar question is the providence of God. By definition, God’s providence is His faithful and loving provision for the needs of all His creation, for His own children as well as for those who reject His offer of salvation. To believers, the promise is given, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians. 4:19, NASB). But the Bible also affirms kindness even to those who deny His Lordship: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). If God is good as His providential care for His creation suggests, one might wonder why people, especially God’s children, suffer and experience serious setbacks.

The same explanation serves to answer this question. Desiring voluntary love and obedience from His creation, God provides a free-will choice for all humans. Sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Man is appointed to die because sin reigns in our fallen physical world. Becoming a Christian does not cancel the physical judgment that rests on all humankind. If it did, everyone would become a Christian just to avoid pain and suffering. But one can choose to acknowledge God’s authority even though pain and suffering are still part of our earthly existence. When we accept Christ our free will chooses allegiance to God, believing that He has ultimately overcome Satan, sin, suffering, and death, and believing that the heavenly reward that awaits us makes all the suffering and pain of this life worthwhile. Mature Christians understand that God’s providential care for His creation is not destroyed just because physical laws of sin and death are still part of our temporary earthly existence.

~Kingdom Building Will Get “You” In The Fight To Change Injustice~

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I owe a significant debt to four men and three churches who, over the years, became my spiritual fathers and families. These wonderful people walked alongside me through troubling and joyful times. They prayed with me, mentored me, and laughed with me. They celebrated my victories and wept with me when my riches of the world left and I started to serve more time behind bars than performing my ministry. They counseled me when I began to explore pastoral ministry and spoke the Word to me when I became discouraged. They reminded me not to take myself too seriously, and they lovingly pointed out sin in my life. God only knows where I’d be and who I’d be without his grace working through them.

Today I am a pastor and long for my church to grow in this kind of intentional disciple-making. Discipleship at its core is the process of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. That sounds simple. But what does it actually look like? And how do pastors lead their churches in discipleship? A good place to begin is Jesus’ last words to his disciples: “go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . and teaching them” (Matt 28:19

-20). Three contours of discipleship culture emerge from this passage.

Clarifying the Contours of Discipleship

1. Disciple-making is an intentional process of evangelizing non-believers, establishing believers in the faith, and equipping leaders. 

“Make disciples” implies intentionality and process. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen because a church exists and people show up. It is a deliberate process. Considering the modifying participles of “going . . . baptizing . . . teaching” help us recognize this process. It must include evangelizing (going to new people and new places), establishing (baptizing new believers and teaching obedience), and equipping (teaching believers to also make disciples). How does your church evangelize, establish, and equip?    

2. Disciple-making happens in the context of a local church. 

It’s a community project, not just a personal pursuit. And that community must be the local church, because Jesus has given her unique authority to preach the gospel, baptize believers into faith and church membership, and teach obedience to Jesus. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen in coffee shops and living rooms. It also happens in the sanctuary where the Word is sung, prayed, read, preached, and displayed through communion and baptism. Jesus didn’t have in mind maverick disciple-makers; he had in mind a community of believers who, together and under the authority of the local church, seek to transfer the faith to the next generation. Does your church view disciple-making within the context of the church, or only as a solo endeavor?

3. Disciple-making is Word-centered, people-to-people ministry. 

When Jesus said “make disciples” we cannot help but remember how he made disciples: three years of teaching twelve men on the dusty road. Disciple-making, then, is the Word of God shaping men and women within life-on-life relationships. It’s demonstrated in Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonian church: “being so affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8). This is gospel-driven, Word-saturated, intentional one-anothering. It is men and women regularly teaching one another to obey what Jesus commanded. And it goes well beyond watching football and having inside jokes with Christian friends. How would you evaluate your church’s Word-centered people-to-people ministry?

Creating a Culture of Discipleship

If these three contours are essential ingredients for a discipleship culture, how do pastors lead their churches in growing that culture? Here are seven ways:

1. Preach disciple-making sermons. 

Pastors are not called to preach convert-making sermons or scholar-making sermons. They are called to preach disciple-making sermons. This means that they must craft sermons that will evangelize, establish, and equip. This means that they are teachers, pleaders, and coaches from behind the pulpit. Sermons also disciple through modeling careful exegesis, keen application, and prayerful responses to the passage. After we preach, congregants should understand and feel the text at such a level that they long to be more obedient disciples.

2. Shape disciple-making worship services.

Every church has a liturgy, whether you call it that or not, and every liturgy leads the people somewhere or disciples the people toward something. The question is where. The non-sermon elements of a worship service—songs, prayers, scripture reading, testimonies, and tone—contribute to the formative discipling of your congregation. Does your worship service lead people in thanksgiving for God’s gifts and goodness? Does it disciple people in confession and repentance? Is there an element in your worship service that offers assurance of salvation? Does your service lead people in celebrating our future hope? Thinking through these components with your worship director will strengthen your disciple-making services.

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3. Invest in a few disciple-makers.

We’ve heard it before, but let me say it again: Jesus and Paul ask their disciples to invest in a few who will in turn invest in others (Matt. 28:18-19; 2 Tim 2:2). Pastors, choose a few men you can pour your life into and intentionally disciple for a period of time. Create a simple but effective format to accomplish this task. For example, meet with a few men twice a month to discuss sections of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, confess sin, and pray for one another. Keep it relational. At the end of your time together, ask each man to choose a few men with whom he can do the same. The benefits are manifold. You are obeying Jesus’ disciple-making command, you are cultivating a disciple-making culture through strategic multiplication, and you are investing in those who may become your future elders.     

4. Make small group Bible studies central to your disciple-making strategy. 

Many churches offer small groups like a side item at the buffet, but few offer it as a main course. While Sunday school  or Sabbath school and other teaching venues certainly disciple people, small group Bible studies are unique in that they achieve multiple discipleship goals. After your corporate worship gathering, consider making small groups ministry your next priority. This means identifying and training mature leaders to shepherd and disciple their members. It also means providing a clear vision for your small groups ministry. For example, our Second Chance Alliance model Ministry asks our groups to commit to three disciple-making values: Bible, community, and mission.

5. Raise the bar of church membership. 

Unfortunately many Christians don’t realize that joining a church is a vital step of discipleship. When you join a church, you are not joining a social club; you are publicly declaring your faith in Jesus and joining yourself to a group of Christians in life and mission. In view of this, pastors should view membership as discipleship and accordingly bolster their membership process and expectations. Instead of making it easy to join your church, make the process more involved. Get your elders teaching multiple sessions on the gospel, central doctrines, the importance of church membership, and your church’s operating convictions (baptism, for example). Broach tough subjects such as divorce and past church history during membership interviews. Finally, ensure membership actually means something for members. What unique privileges, roles, and responsibilities do members have in your church? Are your members actually joined together in Word-centered people-to-people ministry, as they promised when they became members?          

6. Confront sin and practice church discipline. 

Like church membership, discipline is neglected by some churches. Much like encouragement and affirmation are key components of disciple-making, so too are exhortation, confrontation, and if necessary more elevated measures of corrective discipline. God uses all of the above to make disciples and protect disciples within local churches.

7. Read disciple-making books with your leadership. 

Let me recommend four books for your disciple-making arsenal. The Trellis and the Vine by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall outlines a practical vision for disciple-making. One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm will equip you with the motivation and tools to read the Bible regularly with others. Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman is the best lay-level book on the subject I’ve read and will help you understand how membership rightly practiced is discipleship. And The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer calls elders to lead the way in disciple-making.  

Growing a disciple-making culture at your church might sound daunting. It’s hard enough to make disciples within a small group Bible study, but a church with all its complexities, systems, and baggage? Yikes. Here’s a piece of advice: start small, keep it simple, and focus on areas where a little investment will go a long way. For example, you may want to invest in a few who will do the same with others. Start with your elders. Or perhaps you want to focus on ramping up your small groups ministry. Start by training your current and new leaders around key biblical values that encapsulate discipleship.

Whatever you decide to do, may you find tremendous energy and courage to make disciples from the bookends of the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That’s “WHY’ I press toward the mark Jesus has seeded me with and that’s to build this model “Second Chance Alliance”. I will only submit to the spirit’s leading when it comes to a church to align myself and family with and I suggest “You” do the same. Find out how to seek God’s leading for your ministry/life, find a work and let God be the driver……..

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Fellowship, small groups, is building the strength of our ranks… Go!!!Go!!!

~Who Do You Serve God Or Mammon?~

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Briefly review setting and main theme. We come now to Jesus’ teaching on the relationship between God’s kingdom and material wealth (6:19-34). And the key verse is 6:24 (read)–who will you serve, God or Mammon? “Mammon” refers to material wealth.

The idea that you can serve each in their own context is an illusion. One will be your true master, setting the tone and shaping the course of your life.

Furthermore, unless you consciously choose to serve God you will by default serve Mammon (especially in this culture).

But why should we choose to serve God instead of Mammon? Is it just some abstract theological/ethical argument? Or are there good personal reasons for doing this? In 6:19-23, Jesus provides us with two such reasons by contrasting two treasures and two eyes . . .

2 Treasures

Read 6:19,20. Notice that Jesus is not against laying up treasures for yourself per se. The key issue is what kind of treasures you are laying up. Be sure you lay up the right kind, because the stakes are high.

Serving Mammon is “laying up for yourself treasures on earth.” Before we learn why Jesus warns us not to do this, we need to be clear on what it is and isn’t.

From 1 Tim. 6:17, we learn that it is not making more than subsistence income or enjoying material possessions. Nor is it exercising prudent financial preparation for future needs (Prov. 6:6). (Not that many of us are in danger of rejecting any of these!)

It is seeking increasing material wealth by hoarding large amounts of money and/or by amassing lots of material possessions. It is continuing to amass money and/or possessions way beyond what you really need (pleonexia, the Greek word translated “greed,” means “the desire for more”). According to Jesus, this is serving Mammon, this is idolatry.

In other words, it is the American Dream, as advanced by Walter Williams (professor of economics at George Mason University): “What’s the noblest of human motivations? Some might be tempted to answer: charity, love of one’s neighbor, or, in modern, politically correct language, giving something back or feeling another’s pain. In my book, these are indeed noble motivations, but they pale in comparison to a much more potent motivation for human action. For me the noblest of human motivations is greed. I don’t mean theft, fraud, tricks, or misrepresentation. By greed I mean being only or mostly concerned about getting the most one can for oneself and not necessarily concerned about the welfare of others. Social consternation might cause one to cringe at the suggestion that greed might possibly be seen as a noble motivation. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ might be a preferable term. But I prefer greed since it far more descriptive and less likely to be confused with other human motives.”

Why does Jesus tell us not to do this? Because material wealth is ultimately impermanent.

You may lose it in this life in a variety of ways. Jesus cites corrosion and theft. To this we can add inflation, stock market crashes, bank scandals, war, ill health, government changes, etc. We can mitigate these risks to a certain extent by wise investment, insurance, etc.–but the truth remains that any one of us can be wiped out at any time. It happens all the time.

Even if you avoid the above, you will lose every bit of it when you leave this life. Read Lk. 12:13-21. Let this warning sink into your soul! You cannot take it with you. You came into this world without a penny, and you will go out without a penny. There are no trailer-hitches on hearses. “How much did he leave?” “Why, all of it, of course!”

Would you invest all of your money in stock in a company that you knew was shaky and going to fold? Why would you invest your life in the pursuit of material wealth, which is never secure and will definitely be taken away from you?

 

 

What’s the alternative? To “lay up for yourself treasure in heaven” (re-read 6:20). This is what Jesus in Lk. 12:21 called becoming “rich toward God.”

How can we do this? To answer this question, we must turn to other passages.

First and foremost, by establishing a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:16). The moment you do this, you are guaranteed eternal life with God. Have you done this?

By developing intimacy with God and godly character (1 Tim. 4:7b,8) through consistent investment in the means of growth.

By serving other people as representatives of God’s kingdom (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Being “rich in good works” involves evangelism, discipleship, etc. And it involves being generous and ready to share your financial resources to alleviate human need and advance God’s kingdom in the world.

This is a totally secure investment.

No one and nothing can take this from you in this life.

It will be waiting for you (with interest) in the next life.

And you can accumulate as much as you want regardless of your financial resources!

2 Eyes

Read 6:22-23. In this little parable, Jesus gives us another reason why we should serve God and not Mammon.

The eye, even though it is a small organ, is key to the operation of the rest of your outward body (TRY FIXING A MEAL WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED). Just as the condition of your eye powerfully affects the well-being of the rest of your body, the treasure you seek will powerfully affect the well-being of the rest of your life.

The point, then, is this: The treasure you pursue will determine not only your ultimate wealth in the next life, it will also determine the quality of your life in this life.

If you have a “bad eye” (seek material wealth), it will give you the illusion of being enlightened (6:23b), but it will lead you into greater and greater darkness (misery and damage). Paul says the same thing in 1 Tim. 6:9,10 (read).

You don’t even have to believe in the Bible to realize that materialism delivers just the opposite result!

Recommend PBS “Affluenza,” an excellent analysis of the extent of Mammonism in America:

THE RESULT: “We’re filling our lives with things–and telling others that we’re empty inside.”

THE CONSEQUENCES: swollen expectations; shopping fever; chronic stress; fractured families; skyrocketing bankruptcies; social scars; global infection

Or consider these conclusions by David Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (Yale University, 1999), who studies the correlation between material wealth and happiness.

From 1960-1993, real income in America doubled–but during that same time the divorce rate doubled, teen suicide tripled, juvenile violence quadrupled, and unwed births quintupled. Although the average American has more money today, there is “less happiness, more depression, more fragile relationships, less communal commitment, less vocational security, more crime and more demoralized children.”

Some of you could add your own eloquent (and anguished) testimony . . .

On the other hand, you can develop a “good eye” by serving God and pursuing spiritual wealth. If you do this, you will not avoid suffering–but your life will become progressively more integrated and healed and satisfying in the areas that really matter: SATISFACTION OF KNOWING YOU ARE ACCOMPLISHING GOD’S WILL; CLEAR CONSCIENCE; FULFILLING RELATIONSHIPS; CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S CARE; HOPE FOR THE FUTURE.

Conclusion

Repeat 6:24 thesis. At the end of the day, the choice you make about this is huge!

On one level, it’s neither simple nor all-at-once to serve God instead of Mammon. But God will show you how to do it at each step if you ask him to do this.

Self-Assessment Questions

Which treasure are you seeking? Which master are you serving? Which God do you love? Here are some additional questions that may help you answer this question.

What comprises your dreams & aspirations? Are they dominated by material things, or by spiritual growth & service?

Whom do you admire and want to be like?

Who are your closest friends?

What excites you most?

How regularly & how generously do you give of your money to God’s service? Which direction are you moving in this area?

Are you able to be content with what you have materially, or do you always itch to have more because you are bored without more things? One indicator here is how much DEBT you are in from non-necessary acquisitions.

What do you do with your spare time? Do you invest in FAMILY, MINISTRY, SPIRITUAL GROWTH–or is it mostly all spent on MORE WORK, TV WATCHING, SHOPPING, HOBBIES, etc.?

How do you view retirement? As a time to focus on material enjoyment which you have deserved, or as a time of greater freedom to serve God?

Is your excitement about God & your outrage over materialism increasing? Or is your excitement about God dulled, & your critique of materialism vague and filled with qualifications?

 

~Desire To Live Sober In Christ~

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Psalm 119:9-16New International Version (NIV)

ב Beth

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
    and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
    I will not neglect your word.

During a business trip to Philadelphia, I walked down Broad Street toward City Hall each morning to catch the subway. Each day I passed a long line of people waiting for something. They were a cross-section of humanity in age, ethnic origin, and appearance. After wondering about it for 3 days, I asked a man on the sidewalk why all those people were standing in line. He told me that they were on probation or parole after breaking the law and had to take a daily drug test to show that they were staying clean.

This struck me as a vivid illustration of my need to stay spiritually clean before God. When the psalmist pondered how he could live a pure life, he concluded that the key was to consider and obey God’s teaching. “Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes. . . . I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your Word” (Ps. 119:11-12,16).

In the light of God’s Word, we see our sin, but we also see God’s love in Christ. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

By His grace . . . staying clean.

Lord, grant that we may hear You speak As truth within Your Word we seek; And may it show us all our sin And make us clean without, within. —D. De Haan
Read the Bible to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy.

~Let Your Works Represent Your Faith~

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For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26, NKJV).

He was a successful doctor and an elder in a high-profile church of several hundred members. He was a major giver to the church’s big projects, and his generosity encouraged others to be more sacrificial. The doctor was also a great preacher. When the pastor was gone he spoke, and everyone looked forward to his messages, which were theologically deep, heartfelt, and spiritual.

Then one day the truth came out. The doctor’s absence at church the previous Sabbath had not been because he was on vacation, as many had thought. No, he was found dead in his beachfront condo from an overdose of recreational narcotics.

Worse was the shocking revelation that in his bedroom were dozens of pornographic videos and magazines. The church was devastated, especially the young people, who had looked up to him as a role model. Though we must leave all judgment in God’s hands, the doctor’s actions certainly call into question the reality of his faith.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (James 2:14, NKJV). How do we understand this verse in the context of salvation by faith alone? Read James 2:15-17; compare Rom. 3:27-28;Eph. 2:8-9.

 

The point? Though we are saved by faith, we cannot separate faith and works in the life of a Christian, a crucial but often misunderstood truth expounded upon in the book of James.

Faith without works. James gives a vivid illustration of this kind of phony faith (James 2:15-16). As we have already seen, obedience in the book of James is relational. So, how do we relate to a brother or sister in the church who is in need? Words are not enough. We cannot simply say, Go in peace. God will provide, when God has provided us the means to help that brother or sister.

Of course, needs can be endless, and we cannot meet them all. But there is a principle called the power of one. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, and we can help others one person at a time. In fact, that is how Jesus usually worked. In Mark 5:22-34 a man whose daughter was dying appealed to Him for help. On the way, a woman approached from behind and touched Jesus’ garment. After the healing, Jesus could have gone on and the woman would have left rejoicing. But Jesus knew that she needed more than physical healing. So, He stopped and took the time so that she could learn to be a witness for Jesus, to share as well as to receive. Then He said the same words we have in James 2:16, NIV: Go in peace (Mark 5:34, NIV). But, unlike the words in James, in this case they actually meant something!

When we recognize a need but do nothing about it, we have missed an opportunity of exercising faith. By doing so, our faith gets a little weaker and a little deader. This is because faith without works dies. James describes it even more starkly: faith is dead already. If it were alive the works would be there. If they are not, what good is it? At the end of verse 14, James asks a question about this kind of workless and worthless faith. It comes across far more strongly in Greek than it does in most translations: That faith cannot save him, can it? The answer James expects us to give is clearly No.

How can we learn to better express our faith through our works while protecting ourselves from the deception that our works save us?

~The Righteousness Of God-Pt-2

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The Righteousness of

God in the New Testament

If righteousness and justice are the heart of the Old Testament Law, they are also at the heart of the dispute between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees.33 At the very outset of His earthly ministry, Jesus set out to contrast His interpretation of the Old Testament teaching on righteousness with that of the scribes and Pharisees. In reality, Jesus did not offer a “new” interpretation of righteousness or of the Law; rather He sought to reestablish the proper understanding of righteousness as taught in the Law and the Prophets. Thus, Jesus repeatedly used the formula, “You have heard it said. . .” (“This is what the scribes and Pharisees teach.…”), “But I say to you.…” (“But the Old Testament was meant to be understood this way.…”).

The scribes and Pharisees thought of themselves as setting the standard for righteousness. They felt that they, of all men, were righteous. Jesus shocked all when He said,

20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

It was clear that if the scribes and Pharisees could not produce enough righteousness on their own, no one could. The standard of righteousness the Law held forth was even higher than that of the scribes and Pharisees. No one was righteous enough to get into heaven. What a shock to the self-righteous who thought they had box office seats in the kingdom.

If Jesus shocked His audience when He said those who appeared to be the most righteous would not make it into the kingdom on their kind of righteousness, He also shocked them as to who would be “blessed” by entrance into the kingdom: those the scribes and Pharisees thought unworthy of the kingdom. Those blessed were not the scribes and Pharisees, but the “poor in spirit,” those who “mourn,” the “gentle,” those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” the “merciful,” the “pure in heart,” the “peacemakers,” and those who are “persecuted” on account of their relationship with Jesus (Matthew 5:3-12).

Jesus taught that true righteousness is not that which men regard as righteous based upon external appearances, but that so judged by God based upon His assessment of the heart:

15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

The Scribes and Pharisees, who thought themselves so righteous because of their rigorous attention to external matters, proved to be just the opposite when judged by our Lord:

28 “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? 34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:28-35).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against externalism and ceremonialism.

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

According to Jesus, true righteousness is vastly different from the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. False righteousness is measured by men on the basis of externalism. True righteousness is judged such by God, in accordance with His Word. Because of this, men need to beware of attempting to judge the righteousness of others (see Matthew 7:1). Those whose deeds seemed to indicate they were righteous were those whom God denied ever having known as His children (Matthew 7: 15-23). Those who appeared to be righteous were not, and those who appeared unrighteous by the Judaism of that day may well have been righteous.

It is no wonder then that Jesus was not regarded as righteous by many of the Jews but was considered a sinner:

16 Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.… 24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He therefore answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:16, 24-25).

The great division which arose among the Jews was over the issue of whether Jesus was a righteous man or a sinner (see John 10:19-21).

The Old and New Testament leave no doubt in our minds whether the Lord Jesus was righteous. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah as the “Righteous One” who would “justify the many” (Isaiah 53:11). Jeremiah spoke of Him as the “righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5). When Jesus was baptized, it was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Both Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19) and the soldier at the foot of the cross (Luke 23:47) acknowledged His righteousness at the very moment when men were condemning Him.

The apostles likewise bear witness to the righteousness of Christ:

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).

29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him (1 John 2:29).

The righteousness of God is particularly important in relation to salvation. In Romans 3, Paul points out God not only justifies sinners (that is, He declares them righteous), but He is also shown to be just (righteous) in the process:

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:21-28).

Men have failed to live up to the standard of righteousness laid down by the Law (Romans 3:9-20). God is just in condemning all men to death, for all men without exception have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All men are worthy of death because the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God is just in condemning the unrighteous.

But God is also just in saving sinners. As Paul puts it, He is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). How can this be? God is just because His righteous anger has been satisfied. Justice was done on the cross of Calvary. God did not reduce the charges against men; He did not change the standard of righteousness. God poured out the full measure of His righteous wrath upon His Son on the cross of Calvary. In Him, justice was meted out. All of those who trust in Him by faith are justified. Their sins are forgiven because Jesus paid the full price; He suffered the full measure of God’s wrath in their place. And for those who reject the goodness and mercy of God at Calvary, they must pay the penalty for their sins because they would not accept the payment Jesus made in their place.

The cross of Calvary accomplished a just salvation, for all who will receive it. But we also know that only those whom God has chosen—the “elect”—will repent and trust in the death of Christ on their behalf. This raises another question related to divine justice. After clearly teaching the doctrine of divine election, Paul asks how election squares with the justice of God, and then gives us the answer:

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:6-24).

The question assumes that divine election has been taught by Paul as a biblical fact. If it were not so—as it clearly is—the question would not have been raised by Paul. And if there is no such thing as election, Paul could have simply brushed the question aside as illogical and unreasonable. But Paul assumes the truth of election and the possibility that some might object on the grounds that election would make God unjust. Paul first rebukes the one who dares to judge God and pronounce on His righteousness. How presumptuous can a man be? Should God stand before the bar of human judgment? Of course not!

As seen in chapter 3, God is righteous in that He has condemned all, and in Christ, those who are justified have been punished and then raised to newness of life. God is also righteous for judging all those who refuse to accept His offer of salvation in Christ. God would be unjust only if He set aside justice rather than fulfilling it in Christ, whether by His sacrificial death at His first coming or by His judging the unbelieving world at His second coming.

Divine grace, the grace by which God reaches out to save men from their sins, is meted out not on the basis of men’s merits but in spite of men’s sin. Grace, as we shall later emphasize in another message, is sovereignly bestowed. God would be unjust only if He withheld blessings from men which they deserved. Since God is free to bestow unmerited blessings on any sinner He may choose, God is not unrighteous in saving some of the worst sinners, while choosing not to save other sinners. God does not owe salvation to anyone, and thus He is not unjust in saving some and choosing not to save others.

The good news of the gospel is that salvation by grace is offered to all men, and by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, men may be forgiven of their sins and made righteous:

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Conclusion

If sin is the manifestation of our unrighteousness and we can be saved only through a righteousness not our own—the righteousness of Christ—then the ultimate sin is self-righteousness. Jesus did not reject sinners who came to Him for mercy and salvation; He rejected those who were too righteous (in their own eyes) to need grace. Jesus came to save sinners and not to save those righteous in their own eyes. No one is too lost to save; there are only those too good to save. In the Gospels, those who thought themselves most righteous were the ones condemned by our Lord as wicked and unrighteous.

If we are among those who have acknowledged our sin and trusted in the righteousness of Christ for our salvation, the righteousness of God is one of the great and comforting truths we should embrace. The justice of God means that when He establishes His kingdom on earth, it will be a kingdom characterized by justice. He will judge men in righteousness, and He will reign in righteousness.

We need not fret over the wicked of our day who seem to be getting away with sin. If we love righteousness, we most certainly dare not envy the wicked, whose day of judgment awaits them (see Psalm 37; 73). Their day of judgment is rapidly coming upon them, and justice will prevail.

If we realize that true righteousness is not to be judged according to external, legalistic standards and that judgment belongs to God, we dare not occupy ourselves in judging others (Matthew 7:1). We should also realize that judgment begins at the house of God, and thus we should be quick to judge ourselves and to avoid those sins which are an offense to the righteousness of God (see 1 Peter 4:17; 1 Corinthians 11:31).

The doctrine of the righteousness of God means that we, as the children of God (if you are a Christian), should seek to imitate our heavenly Father (5:48). We should not seek to find revenge against those who sin against us, but leave vengeance to God (Romans 12:17-21). Rather than seeking to get even, let us suffer the injustice of men, even as our Lord Jesus, that God might even bring our enemies to repentance and salvation (Matthew 5:43-44; 1 Peter 2:18-25). And let us pray, as our Lord instructed us, that the day when righteousness reigns may come:

10 “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

~AB109 Initiative- New Life Program~

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Understand Addiction In Order to Help Addict

New Life Program

The Public Safety Realignment Act (AB109) makes fundamental changes to California’s correctional system, shifting from the state to counties certain custodial and supervision responsibilities for individuals convicted of low-level non-violent offenses. As of October 1, 2011 those individuals released from prison whose convictions were for non-serious, non-violent felonies and who are not deemed high risk sex offenders will be placed under supervision by Riverside County Probation. Additionally, within Riverside County most individuals sentenced for non-serious, non-violent and non-sex-register-able felony offenses will remain under the jurisdiction of the County – in jail or under supervision -rather than being sent to state prison. In conjunction with Mental Health services, the Substance Use New Life Program offers outpatient groups (16 weeks), MOM’s treatment and residential services.May and I are blessed to have silent partners that have been instrumental in our recovery and realignment within society. New Life and it’s staff are compassionate and well rounded with knowledge about re-entry and substance abuse.

 

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In my deepest, darkest moments, what really got me through was a prayer. Sometimes my prayer was ‘Help me.’ Sometimes a prayer was ‘Thank you.’ What I’ve discovered is that intimate connection and communication with my creator will always get me through because I know my support, my help, is just a prayer away.

Iyanla Vanzant

This is a logical and very necessary first step. Before you can learn how best to help a struggling addict or alcoholic, you need to understand the nature of addiction. There are several models of addiction that attempt to describe what it is and why it affects people, but none of those models are entirely accurate. Many people have heard of the disease model, which does a fairly decent job of describing what we see in the real world. For example, even addicts or alcoholics who have stayed clean for several decades can relapse and be right back to their old level of consumption within a matter of days.

Also note that addiction can affect potentially anyone, including those who:

  • Have no apparent genetic predisposition for addiction or alcoholism
  • Have very little environmental risk
  • Have no moral shortcomings or laziness about them

Even if you do not believe in the disease model, learning more about how it works is a necessary foundation in learning about how you can potentially help a struggling addict or alcoholic. If you want to know how to help alcoholics then you need to learn about the condition.

Get Help Yourself In Order To Help The Addict

We cannot control a drug addict or an alcoholic, but we can control our own behavior, including how we behave in relationship to a sick and suffering (and possibly manipulative) addict or alcoholic. Therefore, the best thing that you can do if you want to help someone in your life is to get yourself to an Al-Anon meeting. The people there can listen to your situation and give you the best specific advice on how to go about handling things. Educating yourself on how to set limits and boundaries is one of the most important things that you can do in this case.

Establish Boundaries And Set Limits With The Addict

One example of setting a boundary is telling a close friend that you prefer they not be around you if they are drunk or high. Notice that it is specific, and you have to sit down and communicate this type of request explicitly with someone. Setting a boundary like this is difficult because there is this tendency to hurt other’s feelings. But that is part of what is keeping you sick, caring more about this person’s feelings than your own personal well being. Setting boundaries is about putting your own personal well being first, and letting that be a guiding example of how to live. You know you are setting effective boundaries when you are taking back control of your own life and starting to regain your own sanity, instead of being all wrapped up in the problems of a struggling drug addict or alcoholic. This is a crucial distance you must learn to keep when learning how to help a recovering drug addict.

The Apostle Paul Struggles with Sin: If anyone could overcome sin, surely it was the great apostle Paul.  He wrote more books in the New Testament and founded more churches than any other apostle.  Even though this great man of faith was a spiritual giant, he struggled with sin too.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you will not struggle with overcoming sin in this life after you are saved.

Romans 7:15-24:

15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  And all of God’s people said, “Amen!”  What Christian has not battled with the flesh?  We end up doing just what we don’t want to do…but we do it anyway.  You are not alone.  You are in good company – with Paul.

16 “And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.”  Paul is saying that I agree with the Law of God…that it is good.  The Ten Commandments say we should not bear false witness, but Christians are still not fully sanctified…..it is a lifelong work of sanctification and we are still prone to lie.

17 “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” What Paul is saying is that it’s not really him anymore, but the old man or woman rearing its ugly head.  Even though we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), we are still not without sin (1 John 1:8).

18  “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”  It’s like Paul said that he knows better, yet he falls into sin.  The only thing is that he doesn’t stay there. He acknowledges it and gets back up.  He has the desire to do the right thing but guess what:  He still can not carry it out…in his own strength that is.  This takes the very power of God:  God the Holy Spirit (Rom 12:2).

19 “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” That is me in a nutshell.  A train wreck, a sinner, a wretch but the good news is that Paul realizes that the good he wants to do is what he is not doing…and he keeps on doing it!  The good news here is the fact that he understands that it’s wrong.  This is strong evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in him, convicting him of his sin.  A person who is not born-again has no true desire to do what is right nor are they convicted when they do evil things.

20 “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”  Paul is cutting himself some slack. He understands that he is battling the old nature.  The pre-conversion person.  The Saul is still in there but Paul is not settling for it now, neither is he allowing to let is slide.

21 “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”  This “although I want to do good” is because God has given him His Spirit to show him his sin and even though evil is there with him…he recognizes that he wants “to do good.”  That is hopeful because he understands that the law is at work.  The Law is a mirror, showing us our sins and he recognizes the evil being there with him (James 1:23). He wants to do good and that is a sentence full of hope, not despair.

22-23 “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” There is a battle for the mind…the battle is ultimately through Jesus Christ but it is a war nonetheless.  We might lose battles but the war has truly been won already.  The law was made clear to Paul by his conscience (Rom 2:15).

24 “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Paul finally admits defeat in his own frail, feeble, human strength.  He needs rescuing.  He is subject to eternal death without a rescuer.  What can this wretched man do?!  What can we do!?

25 “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Paul falls on his face, being a wretched man and admits defeat (Rom 7:24) and gives thanks to God Almighty, our Mighty Savior, Who delivered him and Who will also deliver us.

How To Overcome Addiction

Victory in Defeat

You can not overcome sin on your own…you can not conquer your marijuana addiction on your own…you can’t overcome the addiction to pornography by your own strength…you can’t defeat the enemy of alcohol, gambling, overeating, depression…just name it:  You just can’t do it…..but God can!  He wants to help you overcome the powerful sins of your life and your strong addictions, the mighty fortress where we have no chance at all.  God desires to help us and He is more than able and He is absolutely willing to.  Imagine the God of the universe.  He created the entire universe, all the stars, the galaxies, the sun…everything!  He knows the 100 trillion times 100 trillion number of stars all by name.  Now is anything really to hard for God?!  No!  We have no power in ourselves but the Holy Spirit is God and the very power of God working in you.   The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge to God that you can not overcome this by your own power.  That is exactly what He has been waiting to hear.   Victory will only come in defeat.  You are in over your head but God is over all things.  When we tell God “I just can’t beat this thing God”, He must say, “Finally…now, maybe I can send my power to help them.“  He will be your strong tower.

Pray day and night for the help you need.  God can deliver you…He did me!  But it took time. Don’t lose heart. You will slip and fall but get back up, pray for forgiveness and ask God to cut off all the sources of your drug addiction, if you are addicted to pornography, get rid of the Internet.  Jesus said, speaking in hyperbole, “If your hand offends you, cut it off“(Matt 5:30).   What He is saying is to cut off the source of your addiction or sin.  If you can’t get rid of the Internet, then have a friend put a password protected filter on it.  If you are addicted to drugs, turn in the illegal drug dealers.  Drastic yes, but this is what it must take.  God can do all things…He created the universe and He can help deliver you and He desires to help you overcome this addiction but you may have to make some painful decisions.  We can do nothing on our own…but we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us”(Phil 4:13).  The converse of that is that we can do nothing in our own strength.

Victory in Christ

Please don’t lose heart if you are battling an addiction or some deeply entrenched sin.  Sometimes these demons are mighty strongholds of the mind. The very fact that you are grieved over your addiction or sin is evidence that the Holy Spirit is not only in you but working in you, for the Spirit convicts us of sin and sanctification is a lifelong process.  The very fact that you searched for this over the Internet is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in you.  Can’t you see that!?  This is no coincidence. God brought you to this article today for a very specific purpose, a reason, to be a path for your feet – a light for your life.  It starts with God and ends with God.  I am a pastor today but let me tell you that I was in prison, hooked on drugs, stole, and was headed down the broad path of hell. It took me years and years to finally get over this, yet God never, ever gives up on me and He will not give up on you.  Like the Prodigal Father, He kept looking down the road for me to come to Him.  He is looking down that road today, waiting, watching, for you.

What I finally did to break the addiction was to pray that all the sources or suppliers of my drugs were removed from me or that they would move…whatever it took.  I prayed hard, “Lord, please help me, I am weak.”  You know what?  It worked.  God heard my prayer and answered it.  It took me a very long time and today I am clean and sober but I am still a train wreck, a sinner and I will never overcome all sin in this life.   Jesus’ blood covers past, present, and future sins of ours….so the very fact that you have a sin or addiction weighing heavy on you should not, I pray, make you lose heart.  The fact that you are grieved over your sin is a great sign that the Holy Spirit is trying to show you your sin.   Once a believer repents, this does not mean that they will not fall back into sin.  No, we will sin again and again…but turning from our sin we will begin to loathe it all the more.  Yes, we need to repent, but we sin every day and every day we can begin and end the day by falling on our face, hands, and knees before God to ask for forgiveness.  You too can declare as Paul did, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:25)!


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~ I Need Thee~

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True grace delights in solitude

American Christians in particular are prone to understanding many of the New Testament teachings relating to the local church as passages addressed to individual believers. In doing so we “individualize” many texts intended for an entire local church.

But it is nonetheless true that the gospel first addresses us as individuals. While each Christian becomes part of the body of Christ – a body that collectively is the bride of Christ – God knows us by name and relates to us one by one.

So while believers are members of God’s family and the New Testament prioritizes the congregational aspects of faith in Christ, biblical Christianity also normalizes meeting with God alone. As Jonathan Edwards put it, “True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places for holy meditation and prayer . . . True grace delights in secret converse with God.” Bombarded with thoughts of having to be successful and financial responsibility I have felt no growth or increase spiritually and need to run to Jesus and my Father to get revived. If you are reading this please pray for May & Aaron to find God’s ultimate peace and direction.

 

He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when evening was come, he was there alone (Matthew 14:23).

The man Christ Jesus felt the need of perfect solitude–Himself alone, entirely by Himself, alone with Himself. We know how much intercourse with men draws us away from ourselves and exhausts our powers. The man Christ Jesus knew this, too, and felt the need of being by Himself again, of gathering all His powers, of realizing fully His high destiny, His human weakness, His entire dependence on the Father.

How much more does the child of God need this–himself alone with spiritual realities, himself alone with God the Father. If ever there were one who could dispense with special seasons for solitude and fellowship, it was our Lord. But He could not do His work or maintain His fellowship in full power, without His quiet time. Would God that every servant of His understood and practiced this blessed art, and that the Church knew how to train its children into some sense of this high and holy privilege, that every believer may and must have his time when he is indeed himself alone with God.

Oh, the thought to have God all alone to myself, and to know that God has me all alone to Himself!

Lamertine speaks in one of his books of a secluded walk in his garden where his mother always spent a certain hour of the day, upon which nobody ever dreamed for a moment of intruding. It was the holy garden of the Lord to her.

Poor souls that have no such Beulah land! Seek thy private chamber, Jesus says. It is in the solitude that we catch the mystic notes that issue from the soul of things.

A MEDITATION

My soul, practice being alone with Christ! It is written that when they were alone He expounded all things to His disciples. Do not wonder at the saying; it is true to thine experience. If thou wouldst understand thyself send the multitude away. Let them go out one by one till thou art left alone with Jesus… Has thou ever pictured thyself the one remaining creature in the earth, the one remaining creature in all the starry worlds?

In such a universe thine every thought would be “God and I! God and I!” And yet He is as near to thee as that – as near as if in the boundless spaces there throbbed no heart but His and thine.

Practice that solitude, O my soul! Practice the expulsion of the crowd! Practice the stillness of thine own heart! Practice the solemn refrain “God and I! God and I!” Let none interpose between thee and thy wrestling angel! Thou shalt be both condemned and pardoned when thou shalt meet Jesus alone!
–George Matheson

~We Are Blessed~

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“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).

 

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Last  year my wife and I fought a case that would determine our future. Not knowing that after we were separated and put into different sections in the same jail that God was working behind the seen just as the enemy was. God situated us near one another in the jail, one floor between us. I hadn’t missed a night in the bed with this woman for 3 years, not a night in the streets or practicing evil, but we were finally separated physically for six days, but we communicated through the toilets in the jail. We prayed still and meditated scriptures and shared our reflections daily still. We came home to a 13 month house arrest in a home we didn’t own. “BUT GOD”!!! He always has a plan to prosper and protect ;

They were living to themselves; self with its hopes, and promises and dreams, still had hold of them; but the Lord began to fulfill their prayers. They had asked for contrition, and had surrendered for it to be given them at any cost, and He sent them sorrow; they had asked for purity, and He sent them thrilling anguish; they had asked to be meek, and He had broken their hearts; they had asked to be dead to the world, and He slew all their living hopes; they had asked to be made like unto Him, and He placed them in the furnace, sitting by “as a refiner and purifier of silver,” until they should reflect His image; they had asked to lay hold of His cross, and when He had reached it to them it lacerated their hands.

They had asked they knew not what, nor how, but He had taken them at their word, and granted them all their petitions. They were hardly willing to follow Him so far, or to draw so nigh to Him. They had upon them an awe and fear, as Jacob at Bethel, or Eliphaz in the night visions, or as the apostles when they thought that they had seen a spirit, and knew not that it was Jesus. They could almost pray Him to depart from them, or to hide His awfulness. They found it easier to obey than to suffer, to do than to give up, to bear the cross than to hang upon it. But they cannot go back, for they have come too near the unseen cross, and its virtues have pierced too deeply within them. He is fulfilling to them His promise, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

But now at last their turn has come. Before, they had only heard of the mystery, but now they feel it. He has fastened on them His look of love, as He did on Mary and Peter, and they can but choose to follow.

Little by little, from time to time, by flitting gleams, the mystery of His cross shines out upon them. They behold Him lifted up, they gaze on the glory which rays from the wounds of His holy passion; and as they gaze they advance, and are changed into His likeness, and His name shines out through them, for He dwells in them. They live alone with Him above, in unspeakable fellowship; willing to lack what others own (and what they might have had), and to be unlike all, so that they are only like Him.

Such, are they in all ages, “who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”

Had they chosen for themselves, or their friends chosen for them, they would have chosen otherwise. They would have been brighter here, but less glorious in His Kingdom. They would have had Lot’s portion, not Abraham’s. If they had halted anywhere–if God had taken off His hand and let them stray back — what would they not have lost? What forfeits in the resurrection? But He stayed them up, even against themselves. Many a time their foot had well nigh slipped; but He in mercy held them up. Now, even in this life, they know that all He did was done well. It was good to suffer here, that they might reign hereafter; to bear the cross below, for they shall wear the crown above; and that not their will but His was done on them and in them.

 

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