Simon Says

“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” [3 John 1:11 ESV]

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” [Eph 4:30-5:1 ESV]

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” [2Ti 4:2 NIV]

NOTE: this blog is a lot like a cross-country trip by car. The subheadings are rest stops. Please don’t speed. [insert smile]

Part I: The Bar

Most of us have played the game Simon Says (at least if you’ve ever been a kid). Most psychologists and educators view this game as helpful to a child’s development physically, mentally, and socially. But I was just pondering what would occur if we had an evil Simon who, instead of suggesting harmless actions like making a happy face or running in place, gave out more diabolical suggestions, like to hit a classmate or spit on the teacher. The thought then occurred to me that in the life of a Christian, we have an enemy very much like this. I am not so much talking about Satan himself, but the prop he uses. He is often the most successful when making subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) suggestions. And the world is adrift in an ocean of suggestions. Satan is the ruler of this world: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” [1Jo 5:19 ESV] He uses the world–what our society accepts as “normal”–and dangles it in front of our eyes to tempt our sinful propensity to consider and imitate what we see others doing.

How many times when we were growing up did we tell our parents that our own disobedience was not so bad because, after all, our sibling did the same thing? Or how about seeking a perk that our friends had, like staying out late on Friday nights? I can hear myself whining, “but Johnny gets to!” My brothers and sisters, I challenge you: have we really outgrown our penchant to excuse our own sin by considering how the world, our friends, or even other believers act or feel? The everbody-else-does-it-too attitude that our parents always corrected is not just youthful folly. It is part of our sinful nature. I have heard Christians in retirement age, even PASTORS, say things like, “I asked my brother how he handles sex outside marriage, and he says he has his fleshly needs.” The conclusion being that fornication is normal and it’s okay if we entertain it, too. We’ve compared notes and feel relieved that the Lord’s standards are just not plausible in real life. Is this not the same as the fourteen-year-old who minimizes and justifies his various forms of rebellion by looking to the standards set by his peers? What standard are we to hold to? Certainly not our own, as we make the bar purposefully low so we can step over it. And certainly not our peers when their bar may be what they’ve seen on TV or their latest Google search, which are both bathed in worldly attitudes and the vain philosophies of man. Our standard should be nothing less than the example of our Lord and the Word of God:

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. [Eph 5:3-6 ESV]

Brothers and sisters, all the sinful behaviors listed here are considered “normal” in our society and even promoted under the guise of “sexual liberation,” “self-expression,” and “the pursuit of happiness.” In other words, self-love. I don’t think it is happenstance that one of the latest coined terms these days is “influencer.” Social media, television, and the movie and music industries all play huge roles in shaping social standards and influence us in ways we may not even be aware of. They are piped into our homes through big screen TVs, stereos, computers, and video consoles. Either consciously or unconsciously we begin to imitate the behavior and human reasoning we choose to expose ourselves to. For example, the constant barrage of commercials on TV and web ads stimulates our appetite for stuff. Crime dramas can desensitize us to the real-life social ills of rape, incest, and murder. Even chick flicks on the Hallmark channel can tend to ingrain an expectation, especially for young people, that our own life dramas always end well. They may feed not just a desire but a demand for comfort and ease, or at least contribute to a feeling of personal injustice or despondence when life doesn’t cooperate–even when we rationally know life is not always a feel-good movie. All these are a bit more subtle forms of influence. The in-your-face influences are getting bolder every year, from the dark and occultic to the lewd and crude in movies and YouTube music videos. Maybe we don’t feel it intensely because we’re a lot like the fabled frog in the pot of slowly heated water that won’t jump out because he gets used to it so gradually. He doesn’t recognize at all the peril of being in a pot on a hot burner at dinner time. Brothers and sisters, our world is that pot and the devil’s hand is on the temperature control.

In the mid-eighties, in my late teens, I distinctly remember watching the old black and white movie Wuthering Heights with my grandma one night. I was engrossed in a scene where the female lead told her romantic interest that she’d let him hold her hand under her fan so that no one would see and think ill of the two. I was smiling at the sweetness of the scene yet highly amused by the antiquated courtship mores depicted in the movie. Then, all of a sudden, the station cut to a commercial of Cher dressed in one of her mostly mesh thong bodysuits paired with a leather jacket while she seductively posed and peddled the latest fitness gimmick. I was completely jarred to the core at the romantic innocence of the first image and the brazen sexualization of a body in the second. The temperature of the water went from cool to boiling in an instant!

Flash forward another thirty years and we now have stars like Madonna, J Lo, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus all on board, flagships of the entertainment industry and its version of the female fantasy. Their stage outfits consist of fabric fig leaves patched to mesh, leather, and fishnet. What once would have been considered brothel attire is now lauded as “iconic.” Is it any wonder we have a Me-Too Movement? Like I’ve said, we can rationally know something isn’t real, like this false representation of the ideal woman and the resulting innuendo of her sexual availability. But many men still hope in the back of their minds that the illusion is reality, that somehow women always feel flattered to be desired by men. And some do when the man happens to have chiseled good-looks and sport six-pack abs. The flattery stops when it’s an aging politician making crude advances like an oh-so-romantic grab of one’s privates. Then real women get mad. Then twerking does not seem so sexy. I do not take sides on this. It is a two-way street involving gobs of money, a false sense of power, insatiable vanity, and a deep thirst for pleasure. It is called sin. Think about this. Nearly two millennia ago Paul said, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” [Eph 5:15-16 ESV] If Paul could say that of his day and time, how much more so should we walk wisely in our day so late into end times fulfillment.

Our propensity to imitate the world in attitude, speech, conduct, dress, thought, goals, focus, and values is reflected in many churches today. For example, I’ve seen women in church who wear revealing ensembles appropriate for a bar. Whether they are a believer or not, it shows at least an attitude of grandstanding one’s body at a location that is supposed to be known, even to an outsider, as a place of worship. If you think I am being too critical, I know a pastor who would agree with you. When a brother complained one time of a woman’s skirt being too short, this pastor’s flip reply was, “Well, how short is too short? Should we measure?” Yet the heart of the matter is not creating a legalistic rule (or ruler!), but rather seeing our vanity and lack of love. All we need to do is ask ourselves if what we are wearing would make a brother (or sister) stumble. Paul said, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” [Rom 14:21 ESV] Out of love for others, believers should refrain from giving a visual impression of immodesty. We are to honor God with our bodies, not showcase them to the world. [1 Cor 6:20]

Now, I want to encourage young believers not to lose heart. I want to reassure older believers as well, those who may see themselves being influenced by these worldly attitudes and behaviors. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and confess and turn away from these sins. Choose to please your Abba, not yourself or the world. The Lord’s intent is always to correct for our good. He loves a humble heart: “For this is what the high and exalted One says–he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” [Isa 57:15 NIV] DO NOT let the devil come along, the original tempter, and berate you as being beyond God’s forgiveness or His ability to conform you to the image of His Son through the power of His grace. The scripture says, “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”” [Heb 12:5-6 NIV] Just like any loving parent would, God disciplines us to protect us from the heartache and harm that come from sin.

Part II: Spoiler Alert! How NOT to Build An Amazing Church Culture

“Every church has a culture. Once you have a healthy church culture, the challenge is how to reproduce it. Here’s the secret sauce.” –Slug line from a church culture how-to web site

Not only are believers tempted to imitate the world, but we are also not immune from imitating other religious folks as well. Apparently, according to the above quoted blurb and subsequent article, Paul and the troubled church at Corinth did not get a copy of The Five Step Guide on How to Create An Amazing Church Culture and this “secret sauce.” The apostle seems to have failed because he did not eliminate enough toxic people. He must have not exuded enough passion, and did not appreciate the qualities of the movers and shakers while blaming the church’s current state of failure on the dead wood (those toxic people again!). Paul missed his “breakthrough” because he did not identify the values that would accomplish his vision for Corinth, values like “make it happen” (kind of sounds like a Nike ad?). Nor did he create short, memorable phrases that could be “exported” (i.e. that would catch on) with a follow-up temptation, I mean, question like, “Am I allowing what is good to to stand in the way of being great?” Huh? I think this speaker and author has hit his secret sauce a little too hard! Really. Secret sauce? The Church is not a Big Mac nor a candidate for these success-driven strategies that hijack its true power, message and mission. This crafty influence Satan is instigating from within Christianity’s walls and from the apostate church, this entire “church culture” idea, effectively supplants the work of the Holy Spirit with a man-centered vision and his own ability to execute it. The fruit is maimed lambs and a marked straying away from the pure spiritual milk of God’s word, so much so that the standards and values of a church are elevated far above sound scriptural doctrine and authority.

A good example of this is the Bethel megachurch in Redding, California that offers a school in the supernatural to teach its members how to prophecy, heal, and work various miracles to advance the Kingdom of God and bring heaven to earth. After three years of this school and a cool eleven grand, students are then fit to use their gifts for Kingdom service and become the heavy hitters they were called to be. While the entire theology is heretical, my point in this case is: Since when do the gifts of the Holy Spirit need to be taught? For that matter, since when do the gifts of the Holy Spirit need to be bought? Didn’t Peter rebuke Simon the magician harshly for offering to pay for the gift of receiving the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands? “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money. But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” [Act 8:18, 20 ESV]

The Lord has taught me over the years, as I have grown in knowing His word, how to prayerfully dissect false teaching, of which I have been or would be completely unaware without His help. Please let me share them with you so that we can recognize the devil’s errors and always pray for the Lord’s wisdom. One of the ways that the enemy tried to temp Jesus was to offer a proof text from the bible to support an erroneous conclusion. All false teachers do this today. We need to counter such subterfuge with the entirety of God’s word, His heart behind it, the result (fruit) of the attitude or action, and the actual true biblical model practiced.

For example, when considering whether a school of the supernatural is a doctrinally sound idea, we can look to the authentic example recorded for us in the bible. Did Ezekiel go to some special school for his undergrad degree? Did he then go on to offer glowing insights and flattering promises of God’s plan to do great things through Israel’s leaders, those movers and shakers, and the whole nation? No. He didn’t mince words. He wasn’t a flim-flam man. I can’t think of any true prophet in the bible that did not correct error or warn the Lord’s people at some point to repent or face a coming judgement. Apparently, Ezekiel didn’t have the “anointing” that a Bethel education confers. He did not prophecy a glorious coming revival nor promise that the work and effort of man would reestablish God’s Kingdom. We can also ask: did the Apostle John consult a master of visions before writing Revelation? Did he do a second draft with corrections because he forgot to fact check the first draft, or felt it wasn’t convincing enough for the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, or was told to spice it up because his publisher didn’t think it would sell? We can look for the source of the idea, too. Isn’t it rather the magic arts that stress teaching the next gen the tricks of the trade? Wasn’t it a nation steeped in false gods that felt compelled to teach Daniel all their own arts? Yet it was the wisdom that God GAVE him that proved far superior to that of Babylon’s own astrologers. Daniel’s faith caused his pagan peers and kings to stand up and take note, a faith that always pointed to the one true God.

Brothers and sisters, this is a blatant example, but there are more subtle ones. Consider the entire seeker-friendly model of doing church that has permeated the fold. Instead of preaching the gospel, the power of God for salvation to all who believe, of which we are not ashamed (?!), pastors are preaching hip and culturally-relevant sermons so as to not offend anyone by pointing out the sinful nature of man’s heart. In reality, this is not friendly or loving at all. Now, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He laid down his life for the sheep. So should we. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” [1 Jo 3:16 ESV]

So, let’s check some fruit. How many popular preachers today would give up their multi-million dollar ministries and mammoth church buildings and fat bank accounts for the good of the Lord’s sheep? Not only can we see rotten fruit, but we can also see absent fruit, like love. The seeker-friendly mindset cares not one whit for the eternal welfare of the lambs. It misleads even pastors into the corporate model of running a successful organization. They are lured into studying trends, survey results, and strategies that will put them on the religious map, on the up-and-coming list. They turn into hirelings that leave the sheep open to danger because they are focusing on bringing God glory through these man-made efforts and not on God himself. Jesus made it very clear to Peter that if he wanted to show his love for Him, he was to love His sheep: “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” [Jhn 21:15-17 NIV] Can the Lord’s point here not be clear?

The seeker-friendly, corporate model of doing church, however, is very much concerned with packing people into the Kingdom. Ahem. I mean church. More people mean more wallets and bigger budgets so that a new building is justified, so that we can bask in each others’ adulations of how the Lord is abundantly blessing our inferior human methods. The pursuit of numbers is esteemed, speaking truth is too controversial and old, nor is it as lucrative as giving people what they want or offering what is desirable. Having a successful ministry is the in thing, so much so that faithfulness to feed the lambs is given a back seat to feeding one’s ego. Having millions of followers on Facebook is coveted, following Jesus, bearing one’s cross, is spoken of less and less. Let’s use one of the falsehood detectors I’ve mentioned to test these attitudes. Would and did Moses, any of the prophets, or the apostles seek their own or their ministry’s popularity? Would their goal have been to get as many Facebook likes as possible or have their YouTube sermons go viral? Isn’t this people-pleasing disguised as “growing your ministry?”

Part III: A Bitter Pill to Swallow

The truth is that spiritually sick people want to avoid pain. Conviction is a lot like the setting of a broken bone or taking strong-tasting medicine. Sinners do not seek out encounters that humble them to the core. They do not seek to be discomfited by the Holy Spirit for their sin, vanity, and pride. They do not seek to peer in a mirror that accurately reflects the filthy rags and poverty of soul hidden under their respectable attire and “I’m a good person” mantra. It is human nature to avoid physical or emotional pain. We don’t seek God in the natural man. We seek any balm to ease our pain but balk at His offer of genuine healing. It is true of all pain we try to comfort with things like drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or any host of other escape mechanisms. It is true even of religion, especially the diluted gospel of these last days. The phrase, “religion is the opiate of the masses” isn’t so far off the mark nowadays, is it?

This is really just another case where man has the whole notion of “seeker-friendly” upside down and in reverse from the Lord’s vantage point. Isn’t it rather true that Christ seeks us? Isn’t it His initiative? David wrote under inspiration that “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” [Psa 14:1-3 NIV] An unsaved person seeks many things, even seemingly good and healthy things like a sense of belonging and feeling loved. But all of us have an impulse to turn away from the offense of the cross, from the prideful charade of external religious activity and man-made rules, from self-effort, and from self-love. Friendly people, coffee, and donuts emptied of the cross of Christ is just another Tupperware party, folks. [1 Cor 1:17]. Jesus said, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” [Luk 7:23 ESV]

Really, how can using carnal methods draw people to Christ? Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” [Jhn 6:44 ESV] Brothers and sisters, this is a grievous error that we dare to subvert and replace the power of God in His work of salvation. If the intent in all our human manipulations is to reach the unchurched for Christ, isn’t it in reality just trying to make the gospel message more palatable? To make us less offensive? It is kind of like a group of church members I heard were going out on the street to hand out tracts. This is noble in itself. But these same folks were giving out candy with the tract to passersby and saying, “Jesus loves you.” They sadly wonder why they haven’t seen a revival from their efforts! Now, can you imagine Paul or Peter doing this? Milling about in the Jewish synagogues or Gentile gathering places and handing out phylacteries and a first century equivalent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup? Is this the gospel? Is this the gospel which Paul spoke of when he said, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” [Gal 3:1 ESV] Is this the gospel of which Paul said, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” [1Co 1:22-24 NIV]

Now, what fruit do such human methods have? In the above example, the people on the street are assured of Jesus’ love and it is substantiated with their satisfied sweet tooth. What of sin? What of judgement? What of Jesus’ sacrificial love needed to suffer and die for us, not the proffered chocolate covered sweet sentiment? Would the apostles go about asking people (like many tracts do these days) how they can get to heaven? Did they glorify the reward, or the Rewarder? What did Jesus do? None of the apostles, nor Jesus, tried to appeal to the flesh: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” [Jhn 6:26 ESV] Our overweening concern about offending people is proved to be the people-pleasing bent of our flesh. We avoid criticism, a backlash, being disliked, a bad reputation, and more outright forms of persecution. We want to share in the glory of Christ but not His sufferings. [Phil 3:7-11]

Jesus always modeled a heart attuned to pleasing his Father, not man. We need to imitate Him. He did not placate his listeners, like so much of the New Age leaven that teaches humanity is one big happy family. Even Pope Francis has been quoted as saying that we are all the children of God. No. Jesus called the religious leaders of his day a brood of vipers, evil, and children of the devil. John said that becoming a child of God was a right given to those who received and believed in Jesus, not just any god. [John 1:12] Christian faith dares to uphold the specificity of one Mediator, not wishful generalizations in the name of unity, another false god. Did Paul mean unity in the sense that we ignore what is blatantly false for the sake of getting along? How did he view pagan religion? As one path among many to reach God? Then why even preach? This great man of faith suffered for the sake of the gospel and was beheaded for his faith in Christ not because Jesus was one of many gods, as if He has competing peers. Paul died a martyr because he knew “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]

What about other teachers who talk about Jesus quite a bit but throw in an admixture of things that make us pause and say, “Hmm. That’s not quite right?” How did Paul handle these false teachers? He did not sit down and play patty-cake with them. Did he not say, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” [Gal 1:8-10 ESV] Paul stuck to the Lord’s script and did not improvise to suit his own or his audience’s mood. Our Savior did not withhold hard sayings, either, like denouncing popular practices of his day such as divorce, or demanding preeminent love for him, or challenging the status quo. No. He taught things like “you heard it was said….but I say” and “woe to you scribes and Pharisees.” [Matthew 5] He turned crowds away from him with a boldness not of this world. [John 6:60-67] Our Savior was always about his Father’s business, not big business, preaching the good news, not filling the pews. [Luke 2:49]

Part IV: A Worldly Mock-Up

There is a spiritual tide taking the Church out into a very worldly sea, my friends. It is in its essence a slick marketing model. The spiritually healthy things that sinners need, like truth, reproof, doctrinal correction, and exhortation to do the right thing are often left out because they do not make sales conversions. And this marketing model is being replicated and imitated more and more. It is growing in many churches throughout more affluent countries, not because it is blessed, but because man’s sinful propensity is to jump on every bandwagon and march under every banner that seems so successful, so righteous, and so God-honoring that we must do it, too. But these things honor our egos more than Christ. We are told we can and will do great things for God if we [fill in the blank]. This appeals to our flesh. We all want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But few of us want to be servants. Few of us want to suffer. Few of us want to labor in the vineyard while encountering thorns. Few of us want to wait patiently for our heavenly reward. Few of us want to bear our cross and suffer like the examples throughout scripture that we should be imitating.

For example, I do not see Paul justifying his own private luxury ship to fulfill his busy ministry itinerary. I do not see John living out his earthly life in a twenty-two bedroom mansion. I do not see Peter’s preaching engagements prefaced with a rock-band like production or opening show. No. They were not kings. They were not celebrities. They were not among the who’s who of the upper echelons. Their winsome personalities did not draw the world to Christ. Rather, Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” [Jhn 15:19 NIV] Our Lord speaks truth. He warned His disciples. They were indeed hated, mistreated, and killed by the world. The heroes of faith, those we actually read about in the bible and not in Christian media, were the ones who spoke truth, too, and were held in animosity because of it. [Heb 11:35-38]

Nowadays, we are being marketed spiritual greatness in the Kingdom sans the crown of thorns. And many are listening to this deception because all false teachers “are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. [1Jo 4:5 NIV] Brothers and sisters, it is better to be obedient to the Lord in the few things he gives us, to go unnoticed for them, and to desire only His glory–not our own popularity and success or visions of grandeur. [Matt 25:23] If we are faithful, He may give us more. That is the key. HE gives it. HE chooses the what, the when, and the how. If He impresses on us a clear need to care for an elderly parent but we would rather get out there and “do ministry,” guess what? Caring for one’s family honors God more than any of our grand ministry schemes ever could: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” [1Ti 5:8 NIV] It starts with humble obedience, day by day and task by task, not by entertaining thoughts about what great things God will do through us in the coming years. If we do this we will lose sight of obedience today and get carried away by all of our illusions of tomorrow. We don’t put on our can-do, let’s-make-it-happen attitudes stoked by some religious pep talk and take heaven by storm. The Kingdom does not work that way. It would be like an army’s privates telling their commanding officer that they plan to lead a key offensive against an enemy stronghold because they felt pretty jazzed and wanted to make him proud. The commander would just shake his head at the gall, naivety, and foolishness of assuming his capitulation to and blessing of insubordination and a reversal of the chain of command. Samuel told Saul, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. [1Sa 15:22 NLT]

So, we see most modern “ministry” is merely religious, feel-good marketing because it appeals to the carnal nature of man. Preaching has shifted to using a bait-and-switch method of outreach that appeals to the flesh. You can be okay with God and assured of a heavenly home. These are half truths that lead one to hell. The gift is stressed more than the Giver to the point of muting out preaching on repentance from sin, practicing sacrificial love, warning about false doctrine, or preparing us to face persecution for the sake of Christ. It’s the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too mentality found in almost any worldly ad campaign. We are following the crowd on how to “sell” our faith. We package it as nicely as we can to make it much to be desired. Heaven without hardship. A no-brainer offer. But what did Jesus warn? “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” [Mat 7:13-14 ESV] No wonder so many fall away when we sow on rocky ground. [Matt 13:20-21]

Now, we know who took the original fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and made it so appealing. He first planted doubt in Eve’s mind, a suggestion to question the rightness of God’s command, so that the outright lie, “You will not die!,” could even sound somewhat credible. Disobedience became less weighty once the consequence of sin, death, was swept aside. All the negative aspects of disobedience were removed or not mentioned. That first slick salesman then proceeded to talk up the fruit’s amazing benefits, its key to knowledge and a god-like life. Sound like any of the overrated promises hawked today? How about something like my personal pet peeve, the “sowing a faith seed” gimmick. These TV hucksters promise you’ll get more from God back if you generously give to their ministry. You’ll see spiritual breakthrough. God’s blessings on you will flow! People long for these things. Yet what happens when the return on their investment isn’t seen? Often, bills go unpaid. In extreme cases, people may file for bankruptcy. Children can suffer for the financial need created. These are all interpersonal effects, but what about emotional? People can feel less-than for being tricked. People may become angry at God and abandon their faith when the rotten fruit falls. People can come to the wrong conclusions that God must not love them or their faith is tainted because the false promises held out are empty. See? Same tactic. Don’t mention any of the actual harmful consequences and just focus on the item’s desirability. It’s encroaching on the mainstream evangelical crowd, too. I can envision a billboard flashing the next gospel knockoff, something like: Ten Steps to Eternal Happiness–Now Showing at a Church Near You. Like a red tide, the slick methods of the world are leaching into how religion “does business.”

Most newer churches in America have coffee shops that rival Starbucks (remember when it was the old $40 Nesco coffee urns?). They have game rooms with big screen TVs and pool tables, rock concert-like worship music, holiday fanfare that uses stunts, and the like. It is no wonder that the cost of reaching the lost is snowballing with each added attraction needed to draw the crowd. One church unabashedly admits that these things are the bait to draw people in so they can “hear the gospel.” But is it the gospel these people are hearing? Or those half truths we mentioned? Or another gospel? And if the gospel in all its integrity can be heard, is this what the candy-tempted and gimmick-led crowd was seeking? A warm and fuzzy group of people, an opportunity to make new friends, an exciting modern atmosphere? Probably. And we aim to please. We have to go the extra mile to prove we’re a really cool bunch. It’s like we’re trying to make up for the bad rap Christianity gets, and justifiably so considering the human knack of determining guilt by association. Scandals like the Catholic church’s sexual abuse fiasco and subsequent cover-up, the bilking of the sheep in the name of tithing, or the psychological manipulation and dishonorable treatment of women by male church leaders. Friends, Jesus warned about the tares that would grow up with wheat. And by no means are we perfect, either. We can go the other extreme and we get stuck in the trap of selling a “perfect product” made and marketed by fallible people instead of a perfected people made and led by an infallible God, and we will despair. We should warn believers and unbelievers alike that we will all stand before God and give an account for what we have done. We need to remind the unsaved when they see hypocrisy what God will do with all the disobedient, the “workers of lawlessness.” We should expose them and their error, not bend over backwards to assure people we are not like them to the point of side-stepping straight talk about hard issues. We recuse ourselves from the dilemma by passing such topics off as too controversial, too offensive, or best left up to one’s “Christian freedom.” Lord, help us speak the truth in love.

Conclusion: Are We There Yet? YES!

So, what can we learn from all this? My hope is to reassure those that are reading the bible and asking themselves “What has happened to the Church?” that they are not alone. My prayers are for the misled sheep to gain spiritual sight so that their faith is not shipwrecked when they are stumbled. My purpose is to sift out error through the power of the Word. God’s Word is indeed a two-edged sword: it should be used to fight for and protect the children of God, but at the same time to reveal man’s sinful motives. It may be a wake-up call to some. My desire is for the lost to be truly found and not fall short of the promise. God’s heart and motive behind all He has said in his word is love, the same love that moved our God of glory to leave heaven for a foul manger, a finite body, and a cruel cross in order to restore our dignity and redeem us as His own.

Many may read this and explain it away by saying, “Well, our culture is different now so we need to use new methods, more relevant sermons, more modern means to reach the lost. Some claim the bible is no longer relevant in our modern culture. So, unlike the Bereans who searched the scriptures daily to confirm Paul and Silas’ gospel message, the answer nowadays is to disavow the power of God’s word and relegate it to obscurity instead of teaching its lifesaving truth. Wow. Isn’t this kind of like saying the bible is getting in the way of our ministry? My friends, do not fall for it. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Heb 13:8 ESV] So is His cross. If the gospel message was sufficient for the saving of souls in Paul’s day, if by it the Lord worked in power, if through it the Church was born, then it still retains its life-giving purpose. It remains the Church’s responsibility to preach it, regardless of our society’s criticism of our cherished book of God’s counsel, works, and words. If we feel we need to prop it up, tone it down, or tweak it to suit our own or another’s sensibilities, we are kowtowing to the masses at best. At worst, we are yielding to the spirit of the antichrist. We might even consider, too, that perhaps our ear-tickled world is nearing the point in time that Jesus referred to when He said, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” [Luk 18:8 ESV]

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” [Heb 13:7 ESV]

“I [Jesus] can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” [Jhn 5:30 ESV]

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” [Act 5:41 NIV]

Let us imitate our Lord and His faithful servants throughout the ages. Be encouraged to fight the good fight of the faith. Our power to do this comes from Him. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. [Phil 4:13] Amen.

Easy Does It…or Doesn’t It?

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” [Mat 11:28-30 NLT]

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” [Jer 32:27 NKJV]

Remember back, oh, fifteen years ago or so, Staples had an ad campaign featuring “The Easy Button?” I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately, wishing I had one to instantly fix any of my struggles and difficult situations that we all face in life. Can y’all relate? My flesh does not like to be challenged by having to roll up my sleeves, dig in, and exert myself. I LIKE easy.

But you know what? Chasing after easy is the most common cop-out in loving Jesus and other people. Think about it. When things require effort, patience, time, money, or sweat, people gravitate naturally to a microwave-type fix: we want it done in less than a minute. In our culture here in the United States and most affluent countries, we have been conditioned to even expect quick and painless solutions. Hungry? Hit the drive-thru at McDonald’s. Need an answer? Ask Google. Need to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or reduce your cholesterol? Take a pill. When the fix is not as fast as what the golden arches, Alexa, or our doctor promise, we fidget and fuss like, at least in my case, an inconsolable two-year-old! It may look a wee bit more mature, but inside I’m just as demanding that MY need for comfort be met as any toddler.

You want to know a secret? God Himself is our comfort. Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. [2Co 1:3-4 NKJV] Wait. You mean it’s not that triple chocolate cake in the fridge you reach for when you’re stressed? It’s not the shot of Seagram’s at night you slam down to “take the edge off?” It’s not the latest Netflix binge? It’s not that co-worker you fantasize about loving you better than your current spouse? It’s not even sleep (my personal favorite)! No, it is God: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” [Isa 66:13 NKJV]

Not only does God the Father comfort us, but also the Holy Spirit: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.” [Jhn 14:16-17 KJV] The Greek word for “Comforter” here in the King James version is paraklētos, which carries the meaning, “called to one’s side, advocate, one who pleads another’s cause, intercessor, and helper.” That same Greek word is used here: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. [1Jo 2:1 NIV] Dear brothers and sisters, we have the whole Godhead as our defense, help, and comfort! The God we worship–the God who stretched out a universe that science keeps discovering is bigger, badder, and more beautiful than our imaginations can muster; the same God who numbers the hairs on our head and notes when a sparrow falls to the ground; the God who gave us our ultimate well-being by leaving His glory and heaven to bend down and wipe the tears from our eyes–THIS is our Comforter. His power will not fail us, His eye will not miss us, and His love will not forsake us. Isn’t our God grand? Brothers and sisters, put away the cake, the booze, the TV, the fantasy, and the nap. Let’s RUN to our Abba!

Since we have such a wondrous Comforter, what can we do when we’re smack dab in the middle of HARD? Our flesh wants to reach for the easy button, but I suspect the Lord would rather have us “walk in love.” The Greek word “walk” in 2 John 1:6 is peripateō, and means “to live, to regulate one’s life, to conduct one’s self, to progress, and to make due use of opportunities.” All these things require effort, just like physical walking. And most of the time, love requires some effort on our part. Love requires us to trust the Lord when we’re waiting for answers or situations to resolve. Love requires us to be patient when we don’t see the spiritual fruit we want to see in other people’s lives. Love requires us to be bold when defending our children. Love requires us to lay aside time to invest in others. Love often requires us to come out of our comfort zones. Love requires a little coaxing and a dash of daring to venture into unknown experiences. In our human strength, walking in love is scary. It is scary because we don’t know what to expect. We imagine all the things that could go wrong: how we will get hurt, how we will embarrass ourselves, how our efforts will go unnoticed, how we’ll be rejected. Our focus is on all the negative risks that could happen to us. This makes us squirm and want to run and hide!

What if, instead of looking at all the ways we live in self-preservation of our bodies and egos, we look to the One who risked it all. Jesus did not push the easy button when it came to solving the pain of sin and death. He became a proactive participant in humanity for some thirty years. What if we make it our prayer to be more like Him? A proactive participant in the lives of those around us, those people the Lord puts in our life and those He sends us to seek out? What would that look like in your little corner of the world? Going the extra mile, giving the shirt off your back? Jesus says in Matthew 5:40-41, “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” [Mat 5:40-41 NIV] In other words, hanging in there when your marriage isn’t perfect, your child is rebelling, or your boss is unfair. How about offering your adversary something like a coat, something that keeps you warm and comfortable. It doesn’t have to be a physical item. It could be attempting to understand how they see the world and you, offering them forgiveness, or asking for forgiveness. It could be offering friendship to that one person no one can figure out, including yourself. It could be standing up for a person and speaking truth in a group that is gossiping. It could be anything that goes against the status quo of society–even the status quo of your own comfortable life. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” [Luk 9:23-24 ESV]

Our way of living in denial is not God’s way of living in denial. You may be thinking, But Jesus said His yoke is easy to bear! Well, the word for “easy” in our main verse above has the meaning, “kind, good, and benevolent.” Jesus’ thought here was not life sans difficulty or struggles or effort, but rather life lived in His love. His love FREES us and releases the burden of our self-centered focus. He desires us to deny our soul-sick insecurity and be secure in Him. In His power, in His divine providence, and in His provision.

The Lord always provides for His people. He provided a way out of Egypt by parting the Red Sea. He provided a way through the desert by having manna rain down from heaven and water gush from rocks. He provided a way into the Promised Land by parting the Jordan River. He is our way-maker when our situation seems to be at a dead end: “for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” [Isa 52:12 ESV] The Lord is still our provider par excellence: “Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” [Rom 8:32 NLT] Everything He was for the Israelites He is for His Church today.

He is also the One who provided clothing for Adam and Eve when they were naked. So, let’s give away that “coat,” whatever comforts and protects us in s sinful & selfish way, whatever fig leaf we are using to cover our shame and protect our pride. Let Him clothe us with His righteous white robes and a dignity that reflects Him more and more. My prayer is that He grant us a bolder love, the kind He modeled. Let’s stop hitting the easy button. Amen.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. [1Jo 4:16-19 ESV]

And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, behind [him] a ram caught in the thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of Jehovah it shall be provided. [Gen 22:13-14 ASV]

What Audience Are You Playing To?

The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” [Jhn 8:29 NIV]

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” [Mat 6:1-6 NIV]

Back in the seventies there was a song called Playing to An Audience of One. The songwriter was referring to himself, that he would be the only one listening to his performance some day. What if Jesus were the only one in your audience? How would that impact your motives and actions?

Did you know that the Greek word for hypocrite is hypokritēs and means “actor, stage performer, or pretender?” Many people more often, when defining this term, think along the the lines of the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Which is not the root of the problem. The root is whom you are seeking to please. We have three choices: we please ourselves, people, or God.

In our cited scripture above, Jesus said He always did what pleased His Father. When Jesus came across injustice, he stood up for those people looked down on by religious leaders of the day: “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Mat 9:11-13 NIV]. When He encountered falsehood, He spoke truth: ‘”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”‘ [Mat 5:43-45 NIV] When He faced crucifixion on a Roman cross, He surrendered His human will to His Father’s will: ‘Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”‘ [Mat 26:39 NIV] He is our model, our way maker, setting an example for us to follow with the power of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a people-pleaser this post may be a bit uncomfortable for you. But take heart. I have that tendency as well, and not only that, but also to please whatever suits me in a given moment. So I promise to be as gentle on you as I can. I’ll start with my little story.

When I was a baby Christian, I worked in a nursing home as a nursing assistant on the third shift. It was the custom of my coworkers to do our two-hour rounds as quickly as possible so that they could sit at the table and chat. Now there is nothing wrong with socializing, but what was happening was the patients were not being cared for appropriately because of shortcuts that were taken, leading to bed sores and the spreading of infection. The Lord placed before me two options: to go along with the crowd, or to please Him. Since these lovely elderly folks were being neglected, I could not stand by and say or do nothing. I decided to take a stand.

What followed were what seemed like years of backbiting and mistreatment (in reality only about six months). I decided to model love for our patients, which did not go over well. It was interpreted as “knowing better than us” or whatever evil thoughts they had of my motives. I simply told them I wanted to treat the patients like my own mom. I went out of my way to be kind to my coworkers so that they would not feel abused in any way, even if it was not returned. One woman in particular made a point of making life difficult for me. I remember coming home from work one morning wanting to give up and quit, and praying, pounding my fists on my bed in frustration (because I longed to fit in, I wanted acceptance, I wanted easy). And in the midst of all this, the Lord whispered to my heart, “Greater is He that is within you than SHE that is within the world.” How’s that for some confidence-building, well-timed humor? So I continued at that job for another few months until the Lord called me out of the situation.

Had the Lord not made me stand, I would have, quite simply, pleased everyone around me, and since that was the easy route, it would have pleased my own self as well. I can’t begin to express how hard it was for me to go through this experience, as I was going through a personal crisis as well, but I knew I wasn’t alone. A good friend in Christ told me when I was at work to envision Jesus at my side. It made a HUGE difference. Looking back, I am so so thankful to the Lord for experiencing this with Him. I still struggle from time to time, but it has given me so much compassion for others who struggle with pleasing people, too.

I did not make the connection at that time, but what I unconsciously did was make Jesus my Audience of One. Fast forward some twenty-odd years (I am also a slow learner) and I consciously prayed that prayer: Dear Father, may you be my only audience to please, a prayer I believe was Holy Spirit breathed. How would our lives look if we had this mindset? I would like to challenge and encourage you to think of an area of your life where you could shift your focus from pleasing yourself or other people to pleasing the only One who, in the end, really matters. Desiring to please God helps us bear the fruit of the Spirit and impact others for their present and eternal good. Think about the times you chose to do the easy thing or not speak truth to a neighbor. Did it bear eternal fruit? It makes no lasting impact for good if I live to please myself, my spouse, my parent, my friends, my coworkers, my boss, my teacher–anyone--more than our Lord. I am not saying pleasing people out of a motive of godly love and kindness is wrong. Only when it contradicts God’s Word, standards, and leading.

I really think it is helpful to have this mindset, because many Christians have model lives to people outside their homes, but show very unloving concern for their own family or live a different lifestyle out of the church. If this is you, you are playing to the crowd, not honoring your Heavenly Father. Like a chameleon, we can change our color (behavior) to suit the environment we find ourselves in. Jesus said when we want to appear righteous to others, when that is our sole motive, our reward is their approval, which benefits no one. If our self-worth is based on mere human feedback, we need to shift our focus to the only One who can give us dignity and honor. Don’t we long to hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” [Matt 25:21] Instead of constantly defending ourselves, we then become confident that the Lord will defend us. So, take heart, He wants you to grow! Ask Him to help you and guide you in everyday situations. He sees our heart’s desire to change and will honor that prayer.

Brothers and sisters, it is very hard to go against the flow of society. Whether it be in areas of sexual morality, or entertainment, or life goals, or attitudes–we have to remember what is “acceptable” to the world is so often not acceptable to our God. Our fallen nature wants to go with the crowd instead of fighting the current. Ask the Lord for His Holy Spirit, for boldness with gentleness. Ask Him to conform you to the image of His Son. He hears us, even when we fail. He will pick us up and gently say, “Try that again.” And like Jesus stated in our opening scripture, our Heavenly Father will reward us for our right motives. So, how can you make His heart glad? Make Him your sole audience. There is so much JOY in pleasing the Lord. Amen.

Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord. [Eph 6:5-8 CSB]

Remember the Gospel Means GOOD News

For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them…I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. [Eze 34:11, 16 NIV]

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn…. [Isa 61:1-2 NIV]

Back in 1983, I was a junior in high school, and my eclectic musical tastes ranged from hard rock to the likes of Anne Murray’s “A Little Good News.” This song really spoke to my heart in so many ways because even at the ripe old age of seventeen, listening to the news of foreign wars, the woes of a bad economy, the uptick of robberies, gun crime, and senseless violence–just the constant barrage of bad reports–left me feeling tense and quite dismal. I longed for good news, like Anne mentions, about things like county fairs, children playing, and people truly caring. I guess most good news is not as sensational, nor as appealing to our fallen nature as a little dirt on other people mixed in with otherwise helpful truth. Fast-forward almost forty years and we now even have the unenviable challenge of trying to figure out what is even true in the news. Now that I am a Christian, I have an eternal hope that comforts me. But what about the lost? Aren’t they aching just as bad for a little good news today?

I think this song struck a chord with many, however, it failed to point to the One who gives hope amid every uncertainty, crisis, or chaos. More than ever it is evident in our society here in the United States that we lack truth. Proverbs says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” [29:18 KJV] In the New Living Translation, it puts it this way: “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” The word “vision” here in the KVJ can mean “divine communication in a vision, oracle, or prophecy.”

The bible is the greatest revelation of God ever given to mankind, and when it is mispreached or misapplied, we perish. It is ironic that in this “Christian” nation, where we have a cornucopia of bibles, books, and Christian teachers, that we find ourselves in “such a time as this,” a time of strife, self-seeking, lies, and its fruit: distrust. It does one no good to simply read or listen to God’s Word. We have to understand and obey, “keepeth,” to be blessed. For example, spiritually, our society can be likened to a well-marked route, complete with street signs and the assistance of GPS. But if we ignore the stop signs or the Siri voice from our smartphones, we will get in a wreck or be lost. If we are distracted by the carnival-like pull of the world, no matter how well the road is lit, we will miss our destination. My prayers have been for the Lord to reveal to His Church just how worldly we have become. And if the Church looks like the world, how can we shine God’s holy light? His word says, “Do not be conformed to this world” but “be conformed to the image of his Son.” [Rom 12:2; 8:29 ESV] I challenge you: whom do you most resemble?

Another way to understand the word “vision” in the above verse is in a prophetic sense. It is interesting that Revelation says that “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” and that our brothers have conquered Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” [Rev 19:10; 12:11 ESV] Did you hear that? Do you see it? We CONQUER the enemy by Jesus’ shed blood at Calvary AND by our testimony of what He did for the world. Jesus prophesied, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” [Mat 24:14 NIV] If the world ever needed good news, it’s today. If the world ever needed truth, its today. Let’s point to the One who is true:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. [Rev 3:14]

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. [Rev 19:11 NIV]

Jesus said, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” [Jhn 18:37 ESV]

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [Jhn 14:6 NIV]

Let’s also point to the One who brings GOOD news. I often see well-meaning Christians try to preach the gospel in a harsh manner, perhaps imitating past fire and brimstone teachers from many centuries ago. But we need to imitate Christ. We need to be balanced. He seemed to pronounce His woes on the religious leaders of the day, not on the common people who struggled with sin or life in general. Rather, he ate with them. In my own hometown, I recently saw a group with signs saying homosexuals are going to hell. My thought was why pick on one group of people, one sin, when all sinners are lost? Why not share a meal with them so that we can introduce them to the Savior? The bible says that the lost are spiritually dead. Can we argue with or condemn a dead person? Little effect there. First, they need to hear about Jesus and believe in Him to be free! Jesus didn’t look at people as spiritual tinder. He looked at them as spiritually sick and needing a physician. He is the Great Physician. His desire is to heal, not destroy. He has a good “bedside manner,” truthful, yes, but full of compassion. Jesus said he came to “bind up the brokenhearted.” It reminds me of setting a bone. Even in antiquity, they knew about reduction, splinting, and binding up a broken bone. When I hear a harsh approach to the gospel being undertaken, it makes me sad because it motivates people using unhealthy fear, when the bible says that the Lord leads with love:

I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. [Hos 11:4 NIV]

In our main verses at the beginning of this blog, the Lord says He himself will search for His sheep and care for them. He wants to “proclaim good news to the poor,” to those who lack physical or spiritual riches. He wants to proclaim freedom and a release from spiritual darkness. He wants to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to comfort all who mourn. Charles Spurgeon points out that the Lord’s favor is for a year, but His vengeance only a day. That day may be coming soon, and there may be a time for a more dire warning, but right now I sense a weary world, a weary nation, that may just want a little truth-filled good news.

Can I challenge you to share your faith? It does not need to be big and bold. It can be any little thing you ask the Lord to bless. I know of someone with an online retail business that sends out with every order little bible cards that point to Jesus. When they started years ago, they asked the Lord to bless it. Ten years later, they are on their 15,000th sale. It’s like the little boy that brings his two SMALL fish and five SMALL barley loaves to Jesus. He just blesses it, and it feeds thousands:

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” … Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. [Jhn 6:5-9, 11-13 NIV]

Let’s be little, and bring our little things to Jesus trusting that He will multiply to provide more than enough. Let’s take our eyes off the crowd’s needs and fix them on Jehovah Jireh, our Provider. Amen.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Mat 9:37-38 NIV]

I Am Not Ashamed

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:9–11 NLT]

Oh, speak to me not

Of a higher being–

Mine has a name,

It is Jesus, my King.

 

An unnamed man did not die on the cross

Or breathe his last at such high cost.

He had a name unlike any other

Force, or being, or “neutral” power.

 

An unnamed man did not rise from the dead

After they mocked, and He suffered and bled

To raise us to Heaven and with Him reign

As sons and daughters of the King again!

 

So, here I am to tell you all

About the Gospel, just like Paul

Who was not ashamed

Of his Savior’s beautiful name.

 

From Eden, that Garden

Where we first learned God’s pardon,

He spoke His victory into eternity

And at His word, it came to be.

 

We little knew

The seed that grew

From a tiny thought

To salvation bought

With God’s own heart

At the very start.

 

He foresaw it all,

The pride and fall…

He knew the end,

His Son to send

 

From Heaven to earth

Through the Virgin birth.

The story is as famous

As my God’s name is.

 

The angel told Mary

God would no longer tarry

But bring forth a Savior

To experience His favor,

To forgive us our sin

And the victory win.

 

Gabriel told her to name

This child that came

Jesus, God With Us,

So that grace wouldn’t miss us.

 

He had a name

And it’s not the same

As your higher power

It’s unique, beloved, unlike any other.

 

It’s not some force

Like a star’s known course,

But rather their Creator!

There is no debater

 

Who can look to astrology

For full apology.

No, only Jesus,

My only thesis.

 

See, even stars know their Maker,

Their Giver, and Taker—

Why worship the low and created?

It’s His name that’s so elevated! 

 

We credit justice and revenge

To karma’s unnamed hinge

That swings a door wide

To a whole host of lies…

 

Likenesses of nothing we crave–

Mere cosmic ideas that can’t save–

That demand and promise the same

To our scorned and eternal shame.

 

We make it up to be free

Of our Heavenly Father’s dignity,

Which He died to reclaim

And raise us to reign!

 

Oh, the glory we forsake,

In such falsehood we partake!

In all reality then,

Even our imaginations are sin.

 

Call on your higher power

In your final hour,

And I will call on the only name

That saves me from my broken blame.

 

You say it’s an intolerant word–

You have, with your heart, just not heard.

I speak to you truth

From the Giver of proof!

 

Paul saw an unknown altar,

But he did not fear or falter.

He used the occasion,

With much persuasion,

 

To tell them to repent.

For it was his intent

To make known the name

Jesus, and why He came.

 

If Paul thought,

As many are taught,

All roads lead to Heaven,

Why did he even

Bother to preach

The gospel and teach?

 

How God sent His Son,

His only One,

To suffer and die…

Why even try?                                                                                                                            

Because Paul knew:

The very thing true

Is that victory is won

Only in Jesus the Son.

 

He was raised to life

After He bore our strife–

With those nail holes in his hands

He reaches out, and faith demands

 

That there’s no other name

Of renowned fame

Given by Heaven

To save us from sin and this modern leaven

 

Of a higher power…

 

As if there are many!

There is One only

So holy and true,

So infinitely few.

 

In this time, at this hour,

Let us boldly proclaim there is only One power;

May His Church speak loud her King’s name

With the honor due Jesus, with proper acclaim!

 

Oh, speak to me not

Of a higher being–

Mine has a name,

It is Jesus, my King.

 

 

 

I Am Not Ashamed © Christan Therez 2021

Let Love Lead

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” –1 John 4:7

Many years ago, I heard a sermon given by a wise pastor who said that when you are deciding whether or not to do something, and you feel pushed and anxious about it, that this is not from the Lord. His prompts are more like a draft horse pulling a plow. His powerful love leads us. After all, the Bible says that, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14) The Greek word for led used here is agō, which means to lead out or guide.

In the context, Paul is talking about our battle against our flesh. When we are led by our flesh, we pursue our own pleasure over and above what God’s Spirit desires. But in another place, he says that if we “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh,” we will overcome. We will allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into ever increasing holiness.  But it can be applied to everyday decisions, too, like job choice, what charities we give to and how much, our choice of close friends–things like that. And that was this pastor’s point: to not be badgered into, guilted into, or in any way, shape, or form coerced by man. So I’d like to talk a bit about motives today. They are SO important and what the Lord looks for when we do anything.

Not too long ago, I saw a quote from a church sign that said, “Forgive your enemies. It messes with their minds.” Now, I think our first reaction to this would be to smile, maybe even laugh…worse yet, to follow that line of thought because it would make our flesh quite satisfied to lay our enemy in the dust. However, Satan is subtle. If he can get us to pick up this kind of spirit of payback, the Lord will not honor our “forgiving.” We are to be imitators of God, not the world. The Lord forgives us because He loves us and wants to restore our relationship with Him. He does NOT want to “mess with our minds.” We are to forgive our enemies with the same motive in mind–to mend the relationship, to somehow draw them to Christ. That is why the directive is: “repay no one evil for evil;” rather, “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17;21)

There seems to be three major motives that cause us to act when serving God: duty, fear, or love. For example, we may go to church every Sunday, tithe, or live a moral life out of a sense of duty, a sense it is expected and has been practiced for as long as one can remember. These same things can also be prompted by fear–that God will not love us if we don’t give ten percent, that God will not forgive confessed and repentant moral failings, that we’ll go to hell if we don’t (fill in the blank here). Then there is love. God is love, and in all things, the Lord is after our hearts to do, say, think, and live motivated by love:

When Jesus was asked by one of the teachers of the Law what the greatest commandment was, he replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

See? Love “pulls” the plow (in my analogy). The Word often refers to Christ’s teaching as a foundation, and that Christ is the chief Cornerstone. He holds up the entire structure being built by God. And Jesus lived love perfectly. Notice Jesus said that the foremost desire of God is to love Him? In what other religion throughout the history of the world does a deity desire love from its followers? Servile worship, fulfillment of rituals, a laundry list of rules in minutiae, a sense of always needing to placate its anger–these are the norm for the world. And sometimes it creeps even into Christian denominations. But the only true God says first and foremost, “Love me.” This is at the top of His list. It is true it is a command, yet our Lord commands and demands it for our good, because He is the source of all things good. If we love Him first, preeminently, all love and goodness will flow from Him, to us, and then to others. If we love Him first, we will in our hearts be seeking His desires and favor, and will not be caught in the snare of pleasing ourselves or others before pleasing Him. And all of the Lord’s commands, wisdom, and counsel should bring us joy, because His motive is always to love, protect, and bless us.

Now, the reason we all love is because God has loved us first. He modeled it to the world in Jesus, and displayed it on the cross in full public view so that we would not misunderstand or be tempted by the enemy when life gets tough that, somehow, God does not love us or always do what is right. The enemy is a liar, the father of lies, and speaks falsehood fluently. Satan’s first temptation of Adam and Eve painted God as someone who would withhold good from His creation. He maligned God Almighty, our perfect Heavenly Father. He has continued this tactic to this day. But the Word says that God’s love is so expansive, that it is as high as the heavens. I once tried to put that in some sort of mathematical illustration, but I think I failed. The best I could come up with is that the known universe is so big that you could travel around the world trillions of times to exponential powers to match its breadth, creating numbers I could not relate to! The LORD himself tells us He loves us this much. So, because God is our Source, our Model, and our Savior, because we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, we love, too. His Word says:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” –1 John 4:7-12

Even the second command in God’s list of priorities is love for one another in the body of Christ and for our unbelieving neighbors. The bible says that this proves our love for God. The Lord wants us to be kind, tenderhearted, and freely forgiving toward others, because it is His heart that we imitate Him, that we be conformed to the image of Jesus. If we do not love others, we cannot love God, because God showed us so clearly that He loves others, even His enemies. This is not a Kool-Aid, New Age, or hip sixties free love kind of thing. It is a strong and deep love rooted in seeking the best interest of the other. God’s love is hard. It is hard because it is different. The world is always trying to remake God’s love, to dress it up, prop it up, and talk it up to suit people, not God. Who is the Creator, and who is the created? Should the child tell his parent what he can and can not do, what is good and what is not?

The 1960s saw a lot of self-seeking lifestyles, and the New Age movement tells us that we need to “accept” each other, meaning if a lifestyle does not agree with God’s Word, we should keep silent and not “judge.” The problem is that such worldly reasoning does not submit to Divine authority. It thinks all our ideas are made up in our own minds and by our own standards. No, God’s love is not negotiable. When He tells us “no,” that is love, too. We are not “judging” our children when they do something wrong, are we? We are teaching them and protecting them from harm. And our love, which is like some base metal, is not superior to God’s love, which is like a precious metal. How can we set down guidelines for our own children, but reject any standard of right and wrong from our own Heavenly Father?

This second command is so important that the Lord tells us not to worship Him at the altar before seeking reconciliation with someone we have sinned against and offended! Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) In modern English, we could say, “Do not give your offering when the plate is passed if you know you’ve sinned against someone. Your Heavenly Father will be most pleased if you go and reconcile with that person first. No amount of tithes and offerings can compare to or make up for the evil that results when you do not seek the good of your neighbor or brother. When you have reconciled, come back to my Father’s house and He will accept your gift and will take delight in you.” So much of God’s paradigm is a complete one-eighty in importance and order from the worldly take on life! And our flesh gravitates to those false ways of doing things because it is just easier. Isn’t it easier to write a check to your local church than to humble yourself, admit your sin, and ask for forgiveness?

The apostle Paul’s eloquent praise of love in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians tells us that, without love, no spiritual gift, no vast sum of knowledge, no great sacrifice benefits us. He point blank states it amounts to zilch. He says such things, even seemingly godly things like supernatural gifts, giving all your worldly goods to the poor, even moving a mountain or two, done for show, selfish-gain, or any fleshly motive, leaves us noisy, of little esteem, and unprofitable. And it impresses God not one iota.

Can you see how easy it is to want to impress people? Because it pleases our self. The world clamors after fame, recognition, and respect from people for one’s own sense of self-worth and importance. God’s children should be about the desire to bring Him fame (glory), recognition, and honor. Paul was a good example of this. He is known now as a great man of faith. But back then he suffered disrespect, slander, accusations of poor leadership ability, reproach…you name it. But he overcame because his motive was always to please God, not man. The bible says we are but dust. Why do we then try to impress one another?

We need to seek our self-worth and praise from God alone. Only then will we be truly confident and content. Love seeks to please the object of its desire. Praying for the Lord to help us love Him more is, in my opinion, one of the best prayers you can pray. It is the solution to all besetting sin and a foundation that will withstand any temptation or tempest. And it is the Holy Spirit who pours out God’s love in our hearts. (Romans 5:5) Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

If we apply this lifegiving principle to all we do and pray, we will bear so much fruit. I sense such pleasure from our Lord when I ask Him to help me love in difficult situations and even in the day to day stuff we experience. For example, is our giving done because we feel guilted into it, or has the Lord led us to love the church body, both local and worldwide? Are we moved by compassion to help the homeless man, or a down-and-out family member, or folks who do not have access to human service organizations? Or would we rather give only because it is tax deductible? Do we have a set amount in mind, or do we listen to the Lord’s prompting? Would we give more than ten percent if the Lord would direct us? Would we be obedient enough to give less than ten percent if the Lord would direct us to pay back a a bad debt first? Is it loving to file bankruptcy on our creditors because our church is asking for more money?

Another way to apply love is when we judge another. Is our heart to restore and correct, or condemn? So many times a person’s story affects the severity of the rebuke. For example, I had a friend, a believer, who committed adultery many times over. I didn’t know how to pray, I couldn’t understand. But I counseled them against such things, and prayed for the Lord to help them walk in the Spirit. I found out later that they had a mental illness and physical reason for the behavior. The behavior is still wrong, yes, but the correction is meted out with more mercy because their mind was not right.

There is a beautiful example of how God views a person’s motives, what is in their heart, in Mark 14:3-9:

“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

The disciples wanted to reprimand this woman for “wasting” the expensive perfume she poured on Jesus. Can you imagine giving something worth so much to Jesus only to be judged as wasteful and foolish by others? Perhaps they were offended because she didn’t ask them what to do with the perfume? But Jesus said what she did was BEAUTIFUL, and He was so touched by her act of love that He promised her example would be repeated wherever the gospel was preached in perpetual memory of her. He saw the great love in her heart for Him. Some of the other disciples, preoccupied with procuring a more “righteous” purpose for the perfume, missed the preciousness of her act. So in most everything, when we have a holy love for Jesus in mind, it brings His heart joy.

The most obvious application of being led by love is our choices in life. We are called to be holy, and “love does no harm to a neighbor.” (Romans 13:10) God’s moral requirements are meant to protect us and others. We are told not to have sex outside of marriage because it represents a close intimacy that is a lifelong commitment. Sex outside of marriage requires no commitment, no promise of faithfulness, an easy out for our fickleness. We are commanded not to commit adultery because it wrecks our dignity, hurts our spouse and children, and can even lead to jealous fits of anger–things that will scar our life for years and years to come because of some momentary imagined “fix” or fleeting pleasure. We are commanded not to get drunk, because it leads to debauchery when our inhibitions are lowered. Addictions ruin entire families when a job is lost because of it or funds to care for one’s own children are spent on the desired drug. We become unloving when we let our flesh rule our bodies and lives. Our flesh produces rotten fruit. When we walk in the Spirit, we bear His fruit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Good fruit that will last throughout eternity.

On a final note, I’d like to add something. The Lord wants an emotional kind of love from us, the feeling of tender affection. But He looks for proof of it in our actions. He always has. In Ezekiel 33:30-32, The Lord says of His people, “Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” Do we lack preaching in our age, in this country, or has everything become entertainment, too? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15)

In the Apostle John’s first letter he writes:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

I have heard of congregations angrily splitting over politics, ministry approaches, building projects–even carpet colors! Really? Does our opinion matter so much that we stubbornly resist one another to the point of what looks like a broken up teenage romance? Remember little old Clara Peller who is famous for her line in the 1980’s Wendy’s commercial? She’s holding a competitor’s burger, stares at the lack of bun coverage, and with an unimpressed quip asks, “Where’s the beef?” I wish she were still around to ask the Church, especially here in the United States and in more affluent countries, “Where’s the love?”

Oh, how we need to clothe ourselves in love! Love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8) Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8) God never fails. (Isaiah 55:10-11) “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (2 John 1:6) He who walks in love follows Christ. If we suffer illness, poverty, death of a dear one, ridicule, scorn, false accusations, imprisonment, even death–the Holy Spirit will fill us with His love so that we will not ultimately fail. He will lead us to His heavenly victory. “Do everything in love!” (1 Corinthians 16:14)

I write this to challenge and encourage. God’s spiritual children mature over time, just like physical children. Do not let the enemy steal your hope. Hope always in the Lord. He is our ever present help and merciful redeemer. He is patient and kind. He offers His good gifts freely. We need only ask.

Jesus said, “…On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) Amen.

Who is My Enemy?

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

While it is always good to ask ourselves the question, “Who is my neighbor?,” now is the time to ask ourselves, “Who is my enemy?”

With all that is going on in the world today, I can’t help but think this quote is timely. In this country, we are a dynamic group of people with disparate viewpoints. Our weakness can be wanting to fight for those beliefs so strongly for our own particular group, that we forget who the true enemy is. For the world right now, that would be terrorists groups like ISIS. I am chilled to the bone to think they are sitting back and just waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of our current discord. In a 2004 article in Military.com (here), Oliver North made an appeal to our country to put aside the political infighting and focus on being united to fight terrorism. I repeat that same plea.

Every group wants its rights and privileges secured. When they become threatened, we scramble to prevent loss. This in and of itself is not bad if orchestrated in a peaceful manner. What is dangerous is to view the opposing group as completely evil simply because they don’t agree with us. This is what happened in the American Civil War. Our country split over a moral issue, and most everyone took a side. Each side felt they had the moral backing of religious principles to uphold their viewpoint, so much so that it became framed in apocalyptic terms in many psyches.

There is concern that we could be repeating the history of the rise of Nazism, but if that is a huge fear, we could be projecting it on current events and misinterpreting intentions. I am willing to pause briefly enough and assume a “let’s wait and see attitude,” keeping close tabs on events as they unfold. My concern is that things are so polarized with the new shift in power, that we miss who the real enemy is now. If we do, we are staged to repeat the history of our own civil war, and not that of the Holocaust in Germany. If we were plunged into a civil war, where in the world would the safety that we are seeking be? It is not logical to press the cause for safety, yet create a climate of war against each other.

Jesus said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” (Luke 11:17). If we fail to identify our common enemy, they will gain the upper hand. Is that what we want?

For God’s Church, I make the same plea. While we have a real-world physical enemy, we need to recognize humanity’s true enemy in the spiritual realm. We also must recognize the state of our own hearts.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” –1 Peter 5:8-9

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” –Jeremiah 17:9-10

The world is inundated with lies. Why?

  • And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” –Revelation 12:9
  • Jesus tells us that the devil “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
  • What is the devil’s goal? To lead people away from the only way God provided for salvation: “Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

This is an attempt to cut through a lot of so-called wisdom these days, and see how it stacks up against God’s word. Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

Lie #1: God is not real, or “God is dead” (taken out of context and misapplied as it is today).

Truth: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:28)

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 53:1)

Lie #2: Satan is not real.

Truth: The bible records the devil’s first lie, “You will not certainly die.” (Genesis 3:1-4)

God tells us Satan is real: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” (Job 1:6)

Jesus knew he was real: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ (Matthew 4:1-11)

Lie #3: There is nothing after this life, no Heaven or Hell.

Truth: When we die, we must stand before our Creator: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many . . .” (Hebrews 9:27-28)

About the resurrection, Jesus said: “Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:18-27)

Jesus related a parable about the poor man and the rich man showing their conscious state after they die: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire . . ..” (Luke 16: 19-31)

Lie #4: God is “mean” because he has consequences for disobeying him.

Truth: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

He is our Heavenly Father. He does all things out of love, and just like most parents who want the best for their children, he makes rules, not to deprive us, but to protect us from harm: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5)

If government had no consequences to breaking the law, it would not be respected: “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.” (Romans 13:3-4)

If consequences did not hurt, we wouldn’t be deterred from repeating the same mistakes over and over: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)

Lie #5: Look at all the evil in the world. God, if he exists, doesn’t care.

Truth: God cares deeply and knows each of us intimately: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

He proved his love by sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

Lie #6: Salvation is hard. You have to be “good enough” to get to heaven.

Truth: Salvation is simple and easy: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

Salvation is a pure gift. All we need to do is receive it, like a child depending on and trusting in their parent: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

Doing good works and being moral do not merit us heaven. If that were true, Christ would not have had to die. When we focus on our good deeds, we give glory to ourselves. God does not want us to draw attention to ourselves in that way. He wants and deserves all the glory because he alone is good, righteous, and holy: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

Lie #7: Discipleship is easy.

Truth: Following Jesus is hard and costly: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple . . . In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:26-33)

Persecution is a promise: “ In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12)

Lie #8: Hypocrisy seen in others justifies my lack of faith.

Truth: We are all guilty of hypocrisy at one time or another in our lives. This is especially true of our speech: “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)

Our speech will reveal what is in our heart: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

Just what is a hypocrite? “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see . . ..” (Matthew 23:1-33)

God is concerned with our motives. It is easy for people to be judgmental because we can’t know someone’s intentions or motives. But God sees the heart. If our sole motive is to look good in other people’s eyes, that is a wrong motive, and we will only do what is right when someone is looking. That is what religion does. God wants our motive to be to act and speak righteously to please him. That’s what faith does. He wants us to fear what God thinks of us, not what people think of us. If pleasing God is our motive, then we will act and speak in right ways whether we are in public or private: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

Hypocrisy is also seen in judging others: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:41-42)

So, a hypocrite is someone who either judges another without mercy, without recognizing their own faults, or someone who is trying to please people without any regard for God’s heart. It is interesting that Jesus used this strong language toward the religious leaders of the day, not so much ordinary folks: “[Jesus] replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:6-8)

Lie #9: Life starts after birth.

Truth: God knows us and ordains our life before we are born: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Lie #10: I should not offend anyone by speaking the truth.

Truth: It is our duty as Christians to speak God’s truth, found in the bible, even if that means offending someone who has a differing viewpoint, as Jesus did: “Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matthew 15:12)

We speak God’s truth in order to warn and save those who do not fear God: “When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. (Ezekiel 3:18)

Our goal in speaking truth should be love: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)

If you have found this message challenging, I have, too. The Lord has shown me my sin, and although it is painful, I know he means all discipline for our good: “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

I hope reading this helps you as much as it has helped me writing it. God is so good: “do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

Take Courage & Don’t Be Afraid

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:25-32)

 


 

Peter walked on water. If it had been me in Peter’s sandals–a fisherman on a wave-tossed sea, trying to bend my mind around the idea that my master teacher is somehow standing on the water and this really is not an apparition–I think I would have stayed in the boat with the other fellas. I’ve heard several sermons on this passage in the bible, all pointing out that Peter’s faith was pretty amazing, even if he began to sink. After all, there are few other accounts throughout history of anyone walking on water. A cursory Google search reveals a young dude named Maurus who was a monk under St. Benedict, and a Photoshopped image of Drew Brees strolling on a New Orleans river. Well, he is a Saint.

Since others have already said quite a bit about it, I’d like to approach this passage from a little different angle, focusing on Peter’s lack of faith. Why I am picking on the poor guy and focusing on his failure will be beneficial, so bear with me. Even Jesus did not praise Peter here, but asked, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

As a matter of fact, the phrase “you of little faith” was one of Jesus’s favorite ways to address his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. There are five passages in Matthew that use this exact phrase or very close to it, and one in the Gospel of Luke. In each case, the disciples were worried about their lives in some way. In Matthew 8:26 in particular, Jesus added, “why are you so afraid?”

Current world political tensions coupled with our own election drama at home is creating an uneasy feeling about an uncertain future. There is a palpable sense of fear on both fronts. To make matters worse, some media outlets report either absolute falsehood or focus on the absolute worst of the opposing candidate. Still, after you sift fact from fiction, scary things are being said. But Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

Am I saying we shouldn’t feel apprehension? No. That would be inhuman. God knows we get afraid. The phrase “do not be afraid” appears 81 times throughout the bible. It’s not a command. It’s a reassurance! The key is to not let fear overwhelm us to inaction and to not act out of fear. In our passage, Peter became afraid. Why? He was looking at the wind heaving the waves about. He probably thought, “Oh, man, what if I’ve been tricked by a ghost and I’m standing in the middle of the sea? This was a really BAD idea.” The moment he took his eyes off Jesus, Peter began to sink. At this point, Peter is completely helpless. So he cries out, “Lord, save me!”

This reminds me of my own spiritual helplessness when it comes to saving myself. I will never be good enough to go to heaven in my own strength or merit. I have done and said stupid things all my life, even after I became a Christian, because like any child of God I need to learn and grow spiritually. I will continue to make mistakes, too (hopefully not on purpose). That’s why Jesus stressed the importance of forgiveness, both giving and asking for it. It’s called grace. God’s grace is his gift to us received in faith. All we need is a modicum of faith. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Well, that’s just ludicrous,  you say. Not even Jesus rearranged Israel’s landscape. You’re right. Jesus used hyperbole here to make a point. If faith the size of a tiny mustard seed can move something as big as Mount Everest, how little we truly need for life’s problems. It’s not the size of my faith that moves the mountain, but the immeasurable goodness of God. To the extent that I trust he will act in my best interest and everyone’s best interest, even if the situation is bad or looks bleak, I will have peace. I need to trust him that he is somehow, beyond my current understanding, working good for me or someone else. That’s part of spiritual dependence on God, of keeping our eyes on Jesus.

I think about Aleppo. I don’t claim to understand why innocent infants and children are dying by the hundreds, or are left traumatized, or are orphaned. I don’t claim to know why the horror of Hitler happened. I don’t claim to know the whys of many things. But I can recognize faith when I see it. I read a recent article about how the missionaries in the city of Aleppo are going out and evangelizing even amid the bombs and bullets. Not only do they face this danger, but the missionaries who stay to help with humanitarian aid and to share the gospel also risk torture, rape, and execution at the hands of the jihadists. Talk about faith under fire. Talk about things looking bleak. Talk about focus on Jesus.

Notice when Peter cried out to be saved that Jesus’ response was immediate. Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. They climbed back in the boat, the wind died down, and all the disciples worshiped Jesus: “Truly, you are the Son of God.” It’s faith in Jesus that allays fear, gives us assurance that there’s more than this life only, and moves the proverbial mountain.

If you disagree, consider this. Peter was a man of little faith in this instance, and also when Jesus was arrested. He said he would follow Jesus to death if he had to, but when his faith was tested, he denied knowing Jesus three times, one time even vehemently calling down curses. This same man became the leader of the church, a “pillar” in the faith. The other disciples had abandoned Jesus at his arrest, but all of them were later martyred for their faith with the exception of the Apostle John. Since that time, their work for the gospel has spread down through the ages and around the world to untold billions of people.

So, why did they all fail the first time? Well, a few things occurred to me. If they hadn’t, the early church would have been without first-hand accounts of Jesus, two gospels, end times prophecy, authoritative teaching, and all the myriads of influences the apostles had on individual lives. God, who always works good, had a better plan. That is why, no matter what happens on the world stage, in this election, or in my own life, I will trust God to answer my prayers only if they align with his perfect will.  After all, just before his crucifixion, even Jesus prayed “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (John 14:36). We can be thankful, for the sake of all believers, that this is the one prayer his Father did not answer according to the desired request.

More Precious to God

Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. –Matthew 8:24-25

I have often heard this passage spiritualized in some way, using the word “storm” figuratively, as in “the storms of life,” or any stressful event we go through. This is all well and good, but keep in mind that the disciples were afraid to the point they believed they were all going to die. Have you ever been that afraid? I have, and at that point in my faith walk I can’t report that I handled it much better than Jesus’ disciples here.

But listen to what Jesus tells these twelve men when he sends them out to preach and teach and perform miracles in his name: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7) It’s comforting to believe God’s love for us is so deep and faithful that he knows even the smallest detail about us, especially when we face life’s hardships, and especially when those hardships are because we follow Jesus.

Anxiety, fear, and worry are the common denominators for a lack of trust. A small child trusts her loving parents. Our heavenly Father wants us to trust him the same way. He knows even each sparrow, of which there must be many millions, of which God does not consider too insignificant for his tender care. For me, when I face a crisis and feel all alone, the temptation is to feel like no one cares, and therefore God does not care. Not true! We have God’s word on it.

When I consider Jesus’ final days on this earth–the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, the arrest, the disciple’s desertion, the flogging, the mocking, the crucifixion–none of these things caused Jesus to lose his focus. It wasn’t until his last few breaths, his last dozen heartbeats, that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

The next time you are tempted to feel that God doesn’t care, remember that Jesus can relate to our struggles: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

PRAYER: Dear heavenly Father, help us know you, love you, and trust you more each day. May your Holy Spirit calm and strengthen us when we worry to excess or fear to the extreme, and remind us of your ever-present care. In Jesus precious name, Amen.