Rise Above!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or an NFL Football Coach–nod to Matt Patricia of the #DetroitLions) to see that there is a LOT of negativity, drama, and genuine conflict in our culture right now.

Unfortunately, this had led to even more mud-slinging, name-calling, and impugning the character of those we disagree with.

As always, negative emotions and conflict spread like wildfire. It is much easier to spread negative headlines, stories and issues then it is to spread something positive.

Here’s the problem: For Christians, we are called to live differently! We do not want to get ‘sucked in to the vortex’ of the negativity–becoming part of the problem. This does not glorify God in any way–personally or publically.

Instead we are called to live differently…

Ephesians 5:1-16:

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving…

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord…

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Believe me, I KNOW…it’s easy to get sucked in. When racism, hatred, violence and greed show themselves, we want to weigh in. These are, after all, important topics and issues to discuss.

However, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have a higher calling–higher than your political affiliation, higher even then your duty as an American. You have a calling by God to represent Him, to point people to Him, and to impact this world for Him–for ETERNITY!

We need to live with that in mind!

That does not mean that we can’t have an opinion, or that we can’t discuss these things. It does, however, mean that we need to do so with Spirit-led self-control, with love, and with grace!

So…next time you want to ‘weigh in’ or opine on the culture, first stop! Pray and ask the Lord to help you do so in a way which shows your eternal priorities, and your loving, Christ-like mindset.

You and I–as Believers–must impact our world. We have to be involved…but we dare not do so ‘in the flesh’, but rather, ‘in the Spirit’.

Then…and only then…will we be able to “Make the most of every opportunity” and make the impact that the Lord wants His children to.

 

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You DO Have What It Takes…If…

Most of us know that our world is a mess.

Politics…violence…poverty…disease…racism…

There are no shortage of ‘issues’ to weigh us down and overwhelm us.

It can leave us thinking that there’s nothing we can do, individually.

On the one hand, that’s correct. After all, one single person choosing to live differently is a ‘drop in the ocean’.

However, if we band together…if a group of us choose to live differently…

How do we do it?

If you’re a Christian then you DO have what it takes to live Biblically–to live on His agenda.

(NOTE: I don’t just mean ‘If you go to a Christian church’, or ‘If you believe in Jesus on some level’…I mean, ‘If you are a born-again Christian–one who’s seen his own sin, repented of it, and placed all your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, and acknowledge Him continually as your Lord’)

However, if you are a Christian, you also know that it can be difficult.

It is far too easy to get ‘sucked in’ to the junk of this world. If we’re not careful and focused, we can become part of the problem, instead of pointing to Jesus as ‘The Solution’.

How do we do it? Is it really possible?

Look at what Peter says:

2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Peter says that God himself–by His power–has given us “everything we need” for a godly (loving, sacrificial, peace-seeking, generous…) life! It is HIS power working within us–and that power is limitless!

What is the key to accessing that power?

Our relationship with Him!

“…through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” 

Our relationship with Him is The Key to a transformed life–one that is consistently God-honoring and dedicated to ‘loving God and loving others’.

So, why do we see so many Christians who don’t live that way consistently?

Because we (Christians) are not prioritizing our relationship with Him!

Here at Kalamazoo Community Church, we talk a lot about “relentlessly pursuing an ever-deepening relationship with God”. It not just for KCC people, of course…that should be the priority and focus of EVERY follower of Jesus Christ, in part because that is KEY to accessing the “divine power” to live this out!

Peter goes on to say, (v. 4) “Through these (that is, His glory and goodness) he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

YOU (and I) may participate in the divine nature!

That’s why there’s such a difference between one who ‘goes to church’ and one who is a born-again Christian. The born again believer is given spiritual life by a work of God–by His grace, through Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. That is where the power comes from–the Holy Spirit lives within us–and He enables us to “participate in the divine nature”, rather than being ‘corrupted by evil worldly desires’. 

Does anyone (myself included) live it perfectly? No!

However…Christian…YOU can live differently! YOU can actually make a difference–through your relationship with God, through which you experience His power. YOU can point people to Him–so that they can experience the New Life, through Jesus!

Therefore, it is crucial that you are growing–always–in your relationship with Him!

Make an honest self-evaluation: are you experiencing His power within to live differently? Are you participating in His divine nature? If not, it may be because you’re prioritizing this world–and the junk within–over your relationship with Him!

This world desperately needs Christians who live our faith out, loving God and loving others, pointing to Jesus-not only through our words, but also our actions.

The great news? You don’t have to do it in your own power! In fact, you can’t!

But you can do it, through HIS power!

“Do Something!”

This weekend was a tragic one in the US.

Two mass shootings–in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, have left 29 killed, scores injured, and all of us traumatized on some level.

During a speech in Dayton yesterday by a local politician, she was shouted down by people in the crowd chanting “DO Something”!

It was a very understandable sentiment.

In cases like this, we want–obviously–for someone, somewhere to ‘Make It Stop’!

This is a multi-faceted problem, and no ‘one solution’ is going to change it.

In these cases, there are always calls for gun control legislation, or the outright banning of guns altogether (at least, ‘assault weapons’). Again, this is understandable…and, in my opinion, reasonable. I, personally, agree that there should be regulations on who can get a gun. Background checks should be more coordinated, and I believe ‘red flag laws’ should be passed. However, in a surprising number of these incidents, the shooter obtained their weapons legally, after submitting to background checks. They’d never had ‘major run-ins’ with the law…so something else is wrong.

Some blame politicians…they don’t have the will to stand up to powerful interest groups, or they don’t do enough to ‘bring us together’. In these cases this week, President Trump is being blamed, for being ‘divisive’ and creating an ‘atmosphere of hatred’. Surely, we do need politicians and leaders–in particular, our President, to inspire us to unity. However, it does need to be considered: Do those who blame our current President for these acts also blame President Obama for the (approximately) 20 mass shootings that happened when he was in office? Probably not…and they shouldn’t! Politicians can certainly influence us, as can actors, sports personalities, musicians and anyone else’s opinions we care about (even Pastors!). Yes, we could use more of these people to inspire us to unity, love and sacrifice.

But would that stop these people who are bent on inflicting hate and violence? Probably not. In fact, for most of them, they seem to be fighting an internal battle.

Some blame Mental Health care…and some blame the medications that have been prescribed as part of the Mental Health care!

Honestly, this is a truly vexing problem…and each and every one of these issues already listed deserve some of the ‘blame’ and responsibility.

However, it must be said…the mere availability of a ‘means’ does not predict the ‘ends‘. In other words, an inanimate object–a gun–cannot do anything, by itself. Clearly, something within these people is ‘broken’ and in need of repair…and laws, politicians, and musicians can’t change that.

Tom Brokaw tweeted today: “Ok America-what are we going to do? It’s about more than guns. It’s about poisonous hate in social media; about hate in the political arena, about ‘gotcha’ in mass media. The center has been replaced by hate. So, now what?”

President Trump said last night, “Hate has no place in our country.”

I would love to say ‘I agree’, but clearly that is not the case! Hate has been welcomed in and celebrated–by people on both sides of this issue, and many others!

So…into this discussion, I’d like to add my own contribution:

Evil.

Yup, old-fashioned evil…politically incorrect evil…it is real, it is active, and it is very much involved.

Evil shows itself in the little things–like hateful speech and angry Facebook postings–and it shows in the big things–like hatred, prejudice, violence and murder.

Evil has been around since the dawn of time, and it continues today. In fact, in many ways, it’s gotten worse–because our culture has stopped calling things ‘good’ or ‘evil’. Those phrases, we are told, are old-fashioned and archaic.

However, the Scriptures speak to evil within the hearts of all of us…and no law, no politician, and not one Facebook post will change that!

Each one of us has the potential for evil feelings, motives, and actions…and that, ultimately, is where any hope for change lies.

To a culture that has turned its back on God, on the wisdom of the Scriptures, and on the love of Jesus Christ, I would simply add this:

“All have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God, but are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

“God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not die, but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, could be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

Ultimately, I am firmly convinced that the ‘change’ we’re seeking happens on an individual, heart level. It happens as we repent of and confess our own sin and sinfulness, and turn to Him in faith, letting Him begin the process of changing us each, from within.

It then continues into the daily cooperation with the Holy Spirit’s work within, yielding ourselves to His influence and ‘relentlessly pursuing an ever-deepening relationship with God’.

Galatians 5 describes this process: (Galatians 5:16-23)

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions…

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

I absolutely agree that we should discuss multi-faceted approaches to stopping this kind of violent hatred…but hatred comes from evil in the heart, first and foremost…and we simply can’t hope for any real change if we don’t deal with that first.

We simply must repent, and turn back to God!

Doctrines of Demons?

1 Timothy 4:1 (New American Standard Version): “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…”

Doctrines of Demons?

That’s pretty harsh–pretty ‘out there’, isn’t it?

I mean, sure…some will teach things that you or I may disagree with. Maybe we’ll even do so, strongly.

But ‘doctrines of demons’?

Maybe another, more ‘up to date’ version of the Scriptures would be nicer: Let’s try the New Living Translation:

1 Timothy 4:1 (NLT): “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.”

Teachings that come from demons…that’s not much better or more comforting, is it?

Maybe we need to change our question.

Maybe, instead of trying to find a more ‘friendly’ translation, we should instead ask, ‘What did the Apostle Paul mean by this strong term?’

First, the term “Last Days”…that is the period of time immediately preceding Jesus’ return to earth to rule and reign with those who are His, by faith.

That period actually started immediately when He ascended into heaven, and the Apostles stood looking into the sky:

Acts 1:7-11, NLT: “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Since then, the Church–those who have placed their faith totally in Jesus and are living by the power of the Holy Spirit–have been looking for that day. For centuries–even millennia–we’ve been thinking, ‘Maybe it’s today’.

Yet, other things prophesied in the Scriptures that would happen before the ‘end’ were not in place. Israel was still dispersed throughout the world; the Gospel was not preached in every land; and technological advances had not been made which would enable the entire world to see an event at the same exact moment. Now, all of those things have taken place…

…and even more, today, the philosophy of our world*–or much of it, any way–is such that we have turned our backs on God* and exalted ‘humanity’ and the ‘self’ above all*. Even Israel, the nation, trusts not in the Lord, but in their own strength, or that of their allies*.

…an this, I believe, gets us back into the ‘doctrines of demons’. In Paul’s warning to Timothy, he was talking about some who would get into the Church and begin teaching things contrary to the Word of God. In that day, he was talking about those who prohibited marriage and restricted foods.

However, the Principle–that is, supposed ‘Christian’ teachers who teach things contrary to the stated Word or Created order of God–is still applicable today…maybe even more so.

What are those ‘doctrines’ that are demonic? What ‘doctrines’ are taught within the Church that get us way off-track?

Start with the doctrine the elevation of ‘self’.

Many Christian churches teach that the best reason to follow Jesus is that He wants ‘you’ to succeed at finding yourself and being self-actualized**. Instead of ‘worshiping Christ as Lord’ and emptying ourselves out in surrender to Him, we are taught that He wants you to be ‘happy’, and that’s what we believe Him for.

Once this mindset takes over, anything that stands in the way–including the Word of God–is tossed aside.

The examples are endless…

Sex–when I want it, how I want it, with whomever I want it.

Greed and Arrogance–justifying my selfishness and looking down on you because you aren’t as ‘accomplished at it as I am.

Abortion–on demand, without limitation and apology. No questions asked.

Even our sexuality…it’s gone way past un-Biblical behaviors in heterosexuality. It’s even gone beyond ‘tolerating’ or ‘accepting’…now it’s embracing, celebrating and even promoting almost literally ANY kind of sexual expression and behavior, no matter what!

Societies don’t survive like this…especially when these things coincide with a rejection of God and His Word.

For us–the Church in the United States–it’s clear that our culture has chosen the road that it’s on. God’s hand of blessing will be removed. Next, His hand of protection will be withdrawn. Then, pay attention to the economic, natural, spiritual and relational disasters that come upon us (I believe we’re already well in to this.)

However, within the Church of Jesus Christ in this culture, there will be even more. There will be discipline, there will be judgment. It is coming.

It’s one thing if those who are ignorant act ignorantly. If the spiritually blind stumble, who’s to blame them?

However, if those who claim to worship the Lord–who claim to have a ‘relationship’ with Him and to ‘surrender’ to Him–If they reject Him, then He–as the loving, perfect Father He is–will send discipline. His goal is repentance and restoration, but He will bring judgment if necessary.

One thing is certainly true…we all need His Grace! We need to repent of our own sin, even if we’ve adopted the ‘doctrines of demons’ within our culture, and ask His forgiveness! We need to seek Him so that He will ‘wake us up’ and break us out of the ‘spell’ that we’ve allowed ourselves to be under.

If you, Christian, find yourself in a good, Bible teaching, humble and ever-seeking church, consider yourself blessed. Don’t take it for granted. Instead, seek Him all the more! Pray for your leaders! Encourage this kind of ‘all-in worship’ in your conversations and LifeGroups!

It is time for “judgment to begin with the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). 

God is Holy. He is Righteous. He is Wise, and He is Good.

He deserves our worship, love, and obedience.

No matter what our culture…or our church…does!

 

*I do not mean to imply that there aren’t exceptions–of course, there are people of faith everywhere. As a general rule, however, I believe this is valid.

**There is a subtle, but important, distinction between teaching that ‘Jesus is your ticket to a great life’ and ‘Following Jesus fully actually leads–as a side benefit–to the best life you can hope for–now, and for eternity.’ The former is simply spiritual selfishness; the latter is worship and surrender which leads our hearts to resonate with our Creator.

Creativity for the Creator

Notre Dame–that beautiful, ornate cathedral that was severely burned this week–was a beautiful testament to a bygone era. Notre Dame cathedralConstruction on that amazing building was started in 1163 and took almost 200 years to complete!

For perspective, that means that Notre Dame Cathedral has been standing for about 400 more years that the United States of America has been a country!

Granted, it’s gone through updates and additions, but Notre Dame–along with many of the cathedrals in Europe–were built in an era when art was considered sacred. It was an act of worship to make something beautiful that was given back to the Creator.

‘Then God said, let us make {humans} in our image and likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)

One aspect of our creation…”in His image” is that, when we were created by God, we were endowed with characteristics that reflected Him. One of those characteristics is creativity and the love of beauty! 

Add to that the dedication, skill and labor necessary, and you can see that buildings like Notre Dame were, in some respects, acts of worship. 

Look at some of the pictures of this magnificent building:

At some point over the years, however, we lost that. These became increasingly empty relics–testament to a bygone era, before the ‘enlightenment’ and the ‘age of reason’. Now, we look at them as artifacts to be treasured, not so much as places to be inspired to worship.

I am amazed at the number of people who have given and will give in order to restore this cathedral to its splendor.

I am even more amazed at how passionate we can get for a church building–that most of us have never been to–yet many of us don’t have anywhere near the same passion for the God it was dedicated to–a God who is very much ALIVE!

The very thing that inspired at least some of the original artisans, craftsman and laborers to working in a spirit of worship, and therefore giving their very best has now become simply an homage to history, worthy of writing a check, but nothing more.

Even more importantly, the God who was the subject of their worship, and their reason for ‘creating’ this beautiful place is absent from the lives of many who were in tears this week over its burning.

“These people praise me with their words, but they never really think about me.”–Isaiah 29:13, CEV

My hope and prayer is that this fire at Notre Dame will be a cataylst for revival among those who say it ‘matters’. For those who are only into historical relics, I doubt this will have any lasting impact.

My prayer for those who are Believers in Jesus is that this will cause them to take stock–to consider their own lives, and how their ‘worship’ of God can, and should, effect every area of life…and that the most beautiful, creative ‘work of art’ is a life that is surrendered in worship to Almighty God!

Romans 12:1(NLT): “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Today, may we ‘worship’ Him creatively, thoughtfully, and fully!

The Church On Fire

Yesterday in Paris the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral burned…

People from all over the world watched as the spire with ‘the bells of Notre Dame’ fell. Some mourned, some cried, some prayed and some sang.

There were those who mourned for the building–an 800-year-old structure that seemed to be one of the most recognizable and revered churches in the world. To anyone who appreciates architecture, history, and even stained glass, it was a beautiful structure.

But, of course, it was more than that.

This was a building which was a church…a place where millions have visited, and many thousands have worshiped.

For some, the symbol of Notre Dame represents more than a specific Roman Catholic cathedral in a specific city…it represents the Church, in general. The fact that it burned…is symbolic of what’s going on in ‘The Church’ all over the world.

Whether you are Roman Catholic, or Protestant, these are tumultuous times in the life of the Church…and I believe that, what the Lord would ask us who believe is this: ‘What are you worshipping?’

It is possible, after all, to ‘worship’ THE BUILDING…and all it represents–without really ‘worshiping’ the Lord who is the Reason for the building.

It is possible to ‘worship’ RELIGION, and all it represents…and to miss the One that our religion was founded upon.

I believe one message from God for those of us who are believers today is that He is not confined to a building!  

God, after all, is Lord of the Universe–He cannot be contained in a building!

Therefore, He is worthy of our worship, praise, surrender and obedience no matter what happens to our buildings.

This week, Christians around the world will celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

He is the Lord of Creation, the One who gave His life to pay for our sins, and the One who gives us LIFE–Full Life and and Eternal Life–through faith in Him. He is the One who deserves our focus, our prayers, our full-on-worship.

Colossians 1:15-20:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Those are the truths that we are called to fix our minds on today…and That is the reality that enables us to worship Him fully–not just during ‘Holy Week’, but at all times!

No building can contain Him, and He is worthy of our praise and worship everywhere we go.

The burning of a beautiful, historical cathedral during holy week can do one good thing: It can remind us that our hope is not in our church buildings, and our hope is not even in our religion. Our hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the grace of God, took our sins upon Himself and paid for them with His life. He conquered sin, death and the grave…and HE–and He ALONE–deserves our all-out-worship!

May we focus on  Him today!

 

 

 

Take the Faith Step…

Have you ever noticed in your life of faith, that God will call you to ‘step out in faith’ before He comes through?

That really is be design.

After all, as Hebrews 1:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for anyone who comes to Him must first believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.” 

The belief and the seeking must come first…then the blessing of the ‘reward’–in this case, a close relationship with Him–comes later.

Proverbs 3:9-10 says: “Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the first-fruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

Giving to the Lord first–before anything else–is the kind of worshipful faith that God will then bless.

 

In Elijah’s day, he was sent to a widow. The drought that Elijah had pronounced, because of the evil of king Ahab and the worship of false gods in Israel was already severe, and this widow was gathering some sticks to make a fire so that she could make a small loaf of bread with the little she had left, and she and her child could eat it as their last meal and die.

Pretty bleak times, indeed!

Yet, what did Elijah say?

1 Kings 17: 13-14:

“Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”.

He told her to step out in faith…to give him (the Prophet) bread first, and that the Lord would supply her needs!

What did she do?

vv. 15-16: “She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.”

God wants us to live, by faith! He often demands that we demonstrate faith–in His love, His Word, His character and His promises–before He comes through.

Live by faith today–first and foremost, faith in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross…but more than that, live by faith, trusting in God to come through, according to His promises.

It’s the most ‘excellent adventure’ that there is!