Keep Pointing!

As I look around at our culture and the challenges that I see, I have to admit that it becomes increasingly difficult to know what to do…how to make a positive impact.
Political turmoil, corruption, and blatant hypocrisy–from all sides; moral degradation to the point that all social mores are crumbling around us; selfishness and greed run amok; violence invades our everyday lives more each day; hatred is increasing…what can a person do to have any impact on that environment?
As a Believer in Jesus Christ, I am guided by the Holy Spirit and brought back to the wisdom of His Word. I realize that this instantly discredits me to many people. So be it. I still believe that God is sovereign and His will–revealed in the person of Jesus and through the writers of the Scriptures–has not changed.
So, the question I have might be irrelevant for some of you. ‘What is a Christian to do in these circumstances’?
…and the answer, first and foremost, is to PRAY!
In prayer, I humble myself before God. I admit and repent of the sin that I’ve allowed in my own heart. I acknowledge the worldliness that I, myself, have bought in to, and I seek ongoing deliverance from that. I ask God to continue working on myself–helping me to be a truthful ‘Ambassador’ of Jesus.
In that mindset, then I seek to WORSHIP Him more fully and consistently. Worship is, first and foremost, acknowledging Him for who He is–through obedience, through praise and thanksgiving.
In that spirit, I then begin to realize how important it is that I continue to meet with others who have a similar belief system and heart. We need fellowship, encouragement, prayer, and accountability! I need to be reminded not to get ‘sucked in’ to the morass of this world’s values…and to remember that our hope is in the Lord!
Simultaneous to this, we need to reach out in loving, faithful service to those who don’t know…those who are blind to the fact that they’ve been duped. They’ve been sold a bill of goods and deceived by the enemy of their souls. They think they’re free…and that reveling in sin is ‘freedom’. It’s not–it’s enslavement. However, they will only see that if we lovingly, patiently demonstrate the consistent, gracious love of God to them.
Any hope they have…any hope our culture has…rests with Jesus. Therefore, any attempt I make to ‘take over’ or to ‘overthrow’ this world’s values simply will not work. Instead, it’s one heart, one life at a time…and it’s by the grace and mercy of God.
Fellow believers, don’t allow yourself to get sucked into ‘political’ or ‘economic’ answers to what are, in essence, ‘spiritual’ questions. What this world needs, now more than ever, are Christ-followers…
who actually ‘follow Christ’–not just in ‘what we don’t do’, but in ‘what we do‘ and ‘how we do it’.
We need to ‘battle’ with prayer, love, firmness, and grace. We need to point people to their need for Jesus. We need to help others see that Jesus isn’t only our Savior, but is also Lord–and deserves our full, utmost worship.
Will that change this world?
Maybe not for the entire globe. Maybe it won’t alter history and His sovereign plan.
However, it might be like the story of the little boy who found thousands of starfish on the beach and started picking them up, one by one, to throw them back. A man came by and saw what he was doing, and scoffed at his efforts. ‘You know you can’t possibly do it all.’ The boy replied, ‘I can–if others help me’. ‘But you can’t make a real difference’, said the man. The boy bent down, picked up another starfish, tossed it into the water and said: “I made a difference for that one!”
It’s no secret, this world is getting darker.
Our culture has not only turned its back on God, but is now increasingly hostile to God, and anyone who believes in Jesus as
“The Way, The Truth, and The Life.” (John 14:6)
God has His sovereign plan, and we want to get in line with it while encouraging others in it too.
Christian, it’s important. It’s not just about ‘winning a debate’ but about rescuing those who are lost and blind and don’t even know it. It’s about being Jesus’ Ambassadors.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20:And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

Saying “Yes” to the Good Stuff

What is the impression ‘Christianity‘ has in your mind?

For many, it’s about ‘Saying ‘No’ to things…lots of things’.

From the outside, it may appear that the Christian faith means ‘Not having any fun’, or ‘Always being serious’.

I can understand that impression–after all, many of us who claim to be Christians do seem to have a sour disposition quite a bit of the time. There are those in the faith who do seem to equate Christianity with Crabbiness.

But the truth is, being a follower of Jesus Christ is much, much more than ‘what we can’t do’. In fact, it is about being free–free to follow the plan and the will of the One who created us, knows us, and loves us! It is about saying ‘Yes’ to Him! It’s about True Freedom! freedom-1

The truth is that there are both ‘Yes’s’ and ‘No’s’ involved.

For example, Titus 2:11-14 says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

We first say ‘Yes’ to the gracious gift of God–forgiveness and Eternal Life through Jesus, and then (as a result), we say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldliness. We say ‘yes’ to living in a self-controlled, upright way. Why do we do this? Because we’re living with an eternal perspective now. We’re looking forward to the return of our Savior!

We say ‘Yes’ to God, and He teaches us to say ‘No’ to our self-centered, here-and-now lifestyle. He works within us to conform our character to His. It is a wonderful, blessed and life-long adventure of growth!

It is, in fact, FREEDOM to live the way we were designed to live!

As Paul wrote to the Romans, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

In view of God’s love and mercy, we offer ourselves to Him–willingly and enthusiastically! He continues to teach us to rise above the superficial thinking of this world, and…in the process…we are able to experience His will for us. His will is good, pleasing and perfect!

Of Course we would say ‘Yes’ to that!

What are You saying ‘Yes’ to?

I am FREE!

Have YOU Ever Been ‘Trey’d’?

Trey Flowers, the defensive end for the Detroit Lions, was called last night for 2 identical penalties that he’s never been called for before.

Never been called, because he doesn’t do that. He uses a legal technique, and always has. (For the record, last night he didn’t do anything illegal, either…calls were egregious errors.) These 2 calls effectively ended up costing the Lions the game–a big swing of fortune.

For most of us, that was a frustrating end to a hard-fought game…and that’s it. We will vent on Twitter or Facebook, then go on.

Obviously, for the players, it’s a much bigger deal. Their jobs depend on an ‘even’ playing field. Their opportunities to compete are limited–only 16 games in the regular season.

These calls contributed to the Lions going from 1st place to 4th place in their division…a tough hole to dig out of!

After the game, Flowers remained composed, and did not ‘go off’ at all. He showed class and composure as he was asked about it. Professional, to be sure.

However, it does point out something very real we all go through.

Virtually every one of us has faced a situation where someone ‘over us’ in authority mis-applies that authority, treats us unfairly, or penalizes us without cause…either inadvertently, or maliciously.

How do we respond when that happens?

In all seriousness, this was a penalty in a game. Ultimately, it has no power to really change the lives of the vast majority of us.

…but there are other times that we do face unfairness, injustice, and a misuse of power and authority.

What do we do then?

Psalm 37: 1-9:

Don’t worry about the wicked
    or envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they soon fade away.
    Like spring flowers, they soon wither.

Trust in the Lord and do good.
    Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.
    Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
    and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

Be still in the presence of the Lord,
    and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
    or fret about their wicked schemes.

Stop being angry!
    Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
    it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed,
    but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.”

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not calling the Refs ‘evil’, I’m simply using this example in the game to deal with what is real in life.

There are people who are evil, unfair, and who misuse their power over us. In those times, it is important that we can ‘trust in the Lord’, that we “commit everything you do to the Lord”, who will come to our aid and help us!

He will make ‘the justice of our cause’ to shine!

True, we can’t do anything about the #NFL Refs, and we can’t change bad calls in that game, but we can, individually, rise above the unfairness and injustice we face–through faith in God!

Trusting that the Lord will work, even in unfair situations, is a key to rising above it. It changes our perspective, and enables us to remain faithful and strong, in the midst of serious emotional and relational challenges.

Don’t give in! Don’t lower yourself to respond ‘in-kind’. Instead, trust Him…He will do His work!

“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!

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!