Is Reincarnation For Real?

Social media, movies, even books can be strong tools of the devil.  Most recently, I was in utter shock at the great number of professing Christians that were excited to jump aboard the “Heaven is For Real” movie bandwagon. My disdain for the movie (and the book) centered around a straying from Biblical truth, and inconsistencies  in the movie that drift towards our cultures craving for a man made authority over what has been given through scripture. If you missed it, you can view my blog on the movie at this link, “Heaven is For Real May Not Be For Real”.

This morning, my heart became troubled once again for fear of my brothers and sisters in Christ falling prey to yet another heretical news story that flies in the face of the teachings of scripture. It seems that an article regarding a young boy and reincarnation has surfaced. In the article, this young boy of three years had claimed to remember being killed in his “former life” and was able to lead police to the site where his bones were buried. The boys therapist, a Dr. Eli Lasch, was reportedly present when the boy told his story to police and led them to the buried corpse. The Dr. is said to have conveniently written a book entitled, “Children Who Have Lived Before: Reincarnation Today”, about other children he has spoke with who’ve had similar stories of their past lives.

This article has gone viral on Facebook and Twitter and so many Christians are once again falling for this rouse, sharing the article with friends and commenting on how amazing it is. This has burdened my heart, and concerned me for those who would claim the name of Christ, yet seemingly begin to buy into, as the Apostle Paul said in Galatians, “A Different Gospel.” So very briefly, I want to take a moment to present some scripture in hopes of strengthening my brothers in sisters in Christ pertaining to false Gospels in hopes of protecting you from the lies of Satan that seek to draw us away from our Lord.

1. Our World (and the people in it) Is Not Reliable….God is.

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” 1 Timothy 4:7.

Paul writing to his protégé Timothy here warns him of the dangers of believing “Godless myths.” Rather, Paul tells him to train himself up in Godliness. Why? So that Timothy would know better. I am convinced one of the main reasons modern day Christians so easily fall into believing things contrary to scripture is because they don’t know the scriptures themselves. In our modern day Christian society, what it means to be a believer in Christ has been so watered down the many believe that Christianity is merely adhering to a set of moralistic rules and coming to church on Sunday’s. Yet there is no seeking, no wrestling with the scriptures in private, and no intimate personal relationship with the Father. Christianity today has been turned into more of a feel good club that invites sinners to come as they are  (which is true) yet requires no internal change from them. We fall prey to these absurd stories because we really don’t know, nor do we care to understand, the doctrine and theology of our faith. We have grown content in simply knowing basic Sunday School stories with no hunger to know the deeper things of our Savior. Yet Paul pleads with young Timothy to be trained in Godliness to avoid these pitfalls.

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21.

2. Don’t Be So Quick To Believe Everything You Hear (Or read).

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1.

Paul warned Timothy to be trained in Godliness for the very reason that John points out in the verse above. We as believers are to filter everything in this world through the scriptures. I am horrified and saddened at how easily professing Christians will buy into these sensationalistic stories and actually grow angered when the Bible speaks against them! Test everything through the scriptures.

3. False Prophets Exist Everywhere In Our World Today.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” 2 Peter 2:1-3.

Notice the verse above mentions, “…in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” Greed and the desire for attention is at the heart of our human condition. In our sin nature, even the best of us at times wants the spotlight. If a Christian falls into this sin of wanting attention on him or herself more than God without ever turning in repentance, apostasy takes place. Apostasy happens when a professing believer begins to turn from the true Gospel and preach or teach a distorted version of it. Judas Iscariot was apostate. He walked with God daily for three years and was as close to him physically as one can get. Yet Judas never understood the true Gospel. And so he fell away. Now let me clarify one thing as a side note. A true believer in Christ CANNOT fall away! You cannot lose your salvation if you are a true believer.

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me” John 6:39.

The question with an apostate is not, “Did they lose their salvation?” The question is, “Were they ever saved to begin with?” Let Judas example be a warning to us. That merely being near Jesus related things, like going to church, listening to Christian music, or attending Bible studies is no different than how Judas was near Christ. Again, Christianity is not a checklist of things you’ve done, its all about your acknowledgement of what HE has done. Its about a personal relationship with Christ. For if a person begins to follow or believe in a different Gospel than the one preached in the scriptures, Paul says in Galatians 1:8, “Let him be accursed.”

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” 1 John 2:19.

4. Is The Bible or Man Your Authority?

I have actually seen professing Christians grow angry in defense of a false teaching such as reincarnation, saying things like, “Who are you to say God couldn’t work this way?” And in response to this question, I would gently say, “Who are you to say that God does work this way?” You see, both of these statements are centered around the same question. That question being, “Who is your authority?” I would never tell someone how God works based on my own opinion of who God is. We as believers are commanded to let the Word of God be our light in this world. So to anyone who would ponder this question of reincarnation, lets allow the Lord to settle this matter once and for all.

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” Hebrews 9:27.

Dissect this anyway you would like, but it is impossible to get around what the writer of Hebrews is saying here. We will die ONCE. If reincarnation were true, then we would be appointed to die more than once, because we would have more than one life. We have one life given by God the Father, and the we will stand in judgement according to who we served in this life. Job says it like this;

“But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep.” Job 14:10-12.

Job states that once man has been laid to rest in death, he will not rise again until the day of the Lord comes.

“He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.” Psalm 78:39.

Psalm reminds us that our lives are like a wind that passes, and do not come again.

And in one of my favorite accounts of scripture, the thief on the cross is hanging beside Jesus and puts his faith in Christ. Jesus doesn’t tell him that he will be given another earthly life to try and do better. Rather Jesus says this;

“And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43.

We are appointed one life, and then judgement. In a world driven by mans desire for attention, many false teachers will arise telling tales that are alluring and tickling to our itching ears. But let us not fall into deception. There is one Gospel and one truth. Do not fall into the myths of this world. Do not let the enemy lead you astray. Train yourself up in Godliness, because Satan prowls around you as a lion, waiting to devour you at any given time. Be clothed in the armor of God that Ephesians 6 points us towards. When it comes to books, blogs, movies or Facebook posts, filter everything through the lens of scripture. As a child would run to his earthly father in search of truth, let the Word of God be your authority so that you may always be dependent on Christ.

“Little children, make sure no one deceives you”  1 John 3:7-11.

The Movie, “Heaven is For Real” May Not Be For Real

Before any people who were excited to see the movie get offended by the title of this blog, ask yourself one question; “What is a more credible source of truth to me? The Word of God, or the testimony of man?” Heaven is for Real is the account of a four year old boy named Colton Burpo who claims to had a near death experience and claims to have actually been to Heaven. Now I am just as curious about Heaven as the next Christian. However, we must not be so willing to believe every account of the afterlife that comes our way without carefully filtering it through the scriptures. I find it very odd that we are skeptical by human nature, and if we are told something regarding the weather, the news, or the personal background of an individual, we check things out to make sure we know the truth. But when it comes to someone saying that they have experienced the afterlife, we rarely compare their account to scripture and at times, even hold what the person says regarding their experience in higher authority than the Bible.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9.

Peter is speaking of the children of God. If you are a true Christian, then you are one of His chosen children. And look at the way God describes His children in the verse above. Peter says that God’s children are a “royal priesthood.” It goes on to say that we may proclaim Him, that is Christ, who saved us for His glory. If you are a Christian, you are one of His priest. Everyone person who has been bought by His blood is considered and called a priest by God. Because we are to herald His name to others that they may be brought from darkness into the light.

Now consider how easily many professing Christians are mislead by books and movies about the things of God. There are people who profess Christ that will angrily defend movies and books like “Heaven is For Real” because it makes them feel good. But they never seek to see what God says about the matter.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me.” Hosea 4:6.

Read that verse again. It may frighten some reading it. Or it might anger some. But consider what the Lord is saying. He says that His people are destroyed for their lack of knowledge. Not speaking of cultural knowledge, but knowledge of God throughout the scriptures. Meaning that when we have little knowledge of the scriptures, then we will be easily deceived into believing lies about God. And when we begin to attribute truths to God that go against scripture, then its not the God of the Bible we are believing in, but one conjured up by an author, or in the case of “Heaven is For Real”, Hollywood.

The most sobering portion of Hosea 4:6 comes at the end of the verse. God says because His people have rejected Godly knowledge in exchange for man centered knowledge, God rejects them from being a priest. What terrifies me is that in 1 Peter, God describes His children as being priest. Yet the Lord says for our Lack of knowledge, we are destroyed and rejected from being His priest!

Does this mean if you have read a book and even fallen into the deception of believing falsities about God that you are not saved? No. But it does mean that if a person lives their whole life believing more Godly knowledge from man centered ideas rather than from His word, then they are lost. I can say this because the scriptures does, and again, it makes sense. Because when we worship or begin to believe in any other God than the one of the Bible, it is not Jesus. And it is our own fault, because we would have neglected to truly seek Him in scriptures and instead, merely rely on what culture says about God.

We destroy ourselves for a lack of Biblical knowledge.

All throughout scripture, numerous passages warn us sternly not to believe whatever we hear.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1.

The people of Galatia were falling prey to believing the words of men over the true Gospel that Paul had preached. For those that would believe anything other than what has been revealed in God’s word, the apostle Paul said this;

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 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.” Galatians 1:6-8.

I believe that God in the same way is truly astonished at some professing believers who are so easily swayed to believe other accounts separate from his Word. Paul said if any person believes anything else other than the true Gospel of Christ, let him be accursed. The Hebrew is much more harsh, basically saying, “Let him be damned.” Again, this does not mean if you have seen or plan on seeing the movie you are not saved. But it does mean if you are quick to believe lies about God over the truth found in scripture, then the God you are believing in is one defined by culture, not scripture.

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” 2 John 1:10-12.

This teaching John is speaking of is the Gospel found in scripture. And John says if anyone says anything that contradicts scripture, don’t even let him into your house. Yet we do this regularly in our culture by buying books and movies with skewed takes on the afterlife into our homes. Again, the words of John are stern in the latter part of the verse, saying that whomever takes a false Gospel into their house is participating in wicked works. These are not my opinions, this is the Word of God.

Lets consider the Word of God for a moment when we line it up against people who profess that they have been to the afterlife and lived to tell about it.

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.

Paul speaks of knowing a man who was actually taken up into Heaven. Some theologians believe that Paul may have been speaking of himself. And this man saw the wonders of paradise. And God showed him and told him things. But look at the last part of the verse….“things that cannot be told and that man MAY NOT UTTER.”

If God would not let Paul speak of the things he had seen in Heaven and told Him that man is not even able to talk about such things, what makes us think God is going to change all of the sudden? We love the old saying, “God is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” We love to quote the verses in scripture regarding Gods unchanging nature. But we are so easily willing to go against the word of God for the sake of satisfying our own curiosities.

In reading the verse above if you go back to the start of the chapter, Paul makes it clear he is referring to a vision. So the man Paul refers to who experienced Heaven didnt actually go there, but rather he had a vision given by God. And again, he was told that he was not allowed to tell of anything he saw.

“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” John 3:13.

Individuals in scripture were given visions of Heaven. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul and John were the only four people in scripture that were allow to see Heaven through a vision. But no one has actually died, gone to Heaven or Hell for that matter, and then come back to tell about it. If you dont agree with this statement, don’t argue with me, take it up with John 3:13. Jesus is the only one who has died and gone to Heaven and the only one who will return.

Two other individuals in scripture, Micaiah and Stephen got glimpses of Heaven, but what they saw is only briefly mentioned, not described. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John were allowed by God to give small descriptions, but everything they mentioned was solely centered around the Glory of God, not themselves. In fact, all of them mentioned their own fear and shame in the presence of such glory. Accounts given today from movies and present day authors center their so called experiences around seeing loved ones, images of the Heavenly landscape, and themselves. A far cry from how the prophets, Paul and John described their visions. They felt a great sense of unworthiness and were terrified by the weight of their own sinful nature in the presence of such Glory!

Jesus Himself spoke of a great divide between the afterlife and our earthly existence;

“And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’” Luke 16:23.

Christ Himself just said that NO ONE can pass back and forth between the afterlife and our present life. The New Testament adds much to our understanding of Heaven and Hell. But we are still not permitted to add our own ideas or experience based conclusions to what God has specifically revealed through His Word. We are forbidden in ALL spiritual matters that go beyond what is written in His Word.

“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” 1 Corinthians 4:6.

Those who profess to know more about Heaven than God tells us are sinning.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29.

It is not wrong to go see the Movie “Heaven is For Real.” But I don’t see how it can be beneficial to believers.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is beneficial.” 1 Corinthians 10:23.

And it can be dangerous if you view it as anything other than a Hollywood movie. It can be dangerous if you begin to attempt to ream truth from it. God has revealed everything He had intended us to know about Himself and through His word. Yet so many of us prefer to get our dose of Gospel second hand rather than taking the time to dig into scripture and develop a true personal relationship. Again there are many falsities and things that are very contradictory to scripture within the book and the film. Neither are safe sources of Biblical truth. If you really want to know what God is like, get your information first hand from what He says about Himself in His Word.

“It’s a little heaven below, to imagine sweet things. But never think that imagination can picture heaven. When it is most sublime, when it is freest from the dust of earth, when it is carried up by the greatest knowledge, and kept steady by the most extreme caution, imagination cannot picture heaven. “It hath not entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Imagination is good, but not to picture to us heaven. Your imaginary heaven you will find by-and-by to be all a mistake; though you may have piled up fine castles, you will find them to be castles in the air, and they will vanish like thin clouds before the gale. For imagination cannot make a heaven. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man to conceive” it.” Charles Spurgeon.

Opinions of Truth

Bill was a big kid, especially to be only in seventh grade. My friends and I would ride the bus home every day after school and we would all sit in the very back. We sat in the back for a very good reason. We sat in the back because Bill sat in the front. No one so much as looked in Bill’s direction for fear of possibly making eye contact. You see because of how big of a boy Bill was, He had a reputation. Depending on who you would ask, stories about the countless kids Bill had beat to a pulp would vary. Some said he lived all alone in an apartment in the bad part of town. Others said he was a street fighter who beat up kids for money. Regardless of what the story was regarding Bill, it was never good. And the legend of Bill the bully grew in our school. Everyone had their opinions on who Bill was. The only problem was that no one ever asked Bill. All that anyone knew about Bill was based on what someone else had said that had been based on their opinion. No one ever let Bill set the record straight.

I began to watch Bill (when I knew he wouldn’t make eye contact with me) on our bus rides home. As I sat in the back of the bus with my friends laughing and joking around, I occasionally looked at Bill. But I began to realize that it wasn’t rage I saw in his eyes, but sadness. Bill sat alone in class, at lunch, and on our bus rides home. And it dawned on me that of all these horror stories I had heard of him beating someone up, I had never seen this for myself. In fact, Id never seen Bill interact with anyone.

I never will forget the day I first spoke to Bill. I was getting on the bus and walking to my usual spot in the back. As I was about to pass by Bill sitting in his usual seat, he accidentally dropped his notebook and papers spilled out all over the aisle. I had a choice to make. I could step over his paper and continue on to my safe place. Or I could take comfort in the fact that Id lived a good life up to now, take a risk, and actually touch Bill’s papers in an attempt to help him. I chose to help. And as I bent down to pick up his papers, our eyes met for the first time….and he smiled a sad, pitiful smile at me.

I ended up sitting beside Bill that day on our ride home. And it was the beginning of a great friendship. It turned out Bill was no bully. In fact he didnt have a mean bone in his oversized body. He had never beaten anyone up much less been in a fight of any kind. We ended up being great friends. He would come over to my house and play sometimes, and I would go to his house. To my utter shock, he actually lived in a normal house with normal parents! I told my friends to stop fabricating who they thought Bill was based on their opinions and to actually talk to him. I told them to get to know him. By the end of that school year, Bill was sitting in the back of the bus with the rest of us.

We stopped letting our opinions speak for who Bill was.

And we began letting Bill speak for himself.

Our thought process was so twisted regarding Bill. We thought because Bill was big, that must mean that he was mean. And this is no different than what many professing Christians do with Jesus. They think because God is love that he must be tolerant of our sin. And so the world has many different opinions of who Jesus is. I love talking about Jesus. I love talking about the character of God. But the most dangerous conversation a person can have about Jesus is one that involves little to no scripture. Its those conversations that sound something like this;

“Well I THINK God is Love and He would NEVER judge.”

“I dont BELIEVE God would operate like that.”

“I KNOW God would never ask someone to change who they are.”

Do you see the problem here? All of these statements are based on opinion. There is no scripture reference listed! In essence, much as was the case with Bill, we are more interested in a God that is built on personal opinion and speculation rather than seeking to know what God actually says about Himself.

Bill was big, but that didnt mean he was a bully.

God is love, but that doesn’t mean that He cannot be wrathful.

Think of it this way. I love babies. And since I love babies, I hate abortion. If God is righteous He must oppose that which is unrighteous.

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” Psalm 5:4-6.

The wicked shall not stand before the Lord. Read the verse again. God can have nothing to do with evil. Our righteous and Holy God cannot have fellowship with anything wicked! One of the most terrifying characteristics of God is that He is righteous and good. Some would say, “Why is a good God terrifying to you?” My answer to them is;

It is a terrifying thing that God is good, because we are not.

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips.Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:10-18.

This is just one of many verses depicting our depraved human state. Paul writes no one is good. He describes us perfectly. He says, “The venom of asps is under their lips.” Speaking of our gossip and slander towards one another. And “…their feet are quick to shed blood”, regarding how quick tempered we are to lash out against someone. This is the given state of humanity. The Psalm says it like this;

“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Psalm 58:3.

Because of the fall and sin entering the world, all are born into sin. Sin is not something that is learned. It is a condition we are born with. It is a condition we need saving from.

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—” Romans 5:12.

I once heard a pastor put it like this describing how we are wicked from birth. He said to imagine that you had a little baby in your arms. The baby reaches for your watch, and you gently move his hand away from the watch. Agitated , the baby reaches again for the watch and you move his hand again. The baby, then frustrated and enraged that you will not let him have the watch, begins to kick and swing his arms at you in a fit of rage. Consider this; if that enraged little baby swinging at you had the strength and size of a twenty year old man he would beat you to a pulp, rip the watch off of your wrist, and step over your body with his new toy as if you were not even there.

Every time someone wants to argue that we were not born evil, I ask them to explain who taught my babies that biting was the solution to getting what they wanted.

Sin is not learn, it is ingrained from birth as a result of the fall. If you begin to compare this aspect of our wickedness to God, you begin to see how very unworthy we are. Again look at this verse.

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” Psalm 5:4.

“The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.” Psalm 11:5-7.

If we believe the Bible to be true, and given we do not attempt to “twist” the scriptures, let the implications of this sink in.

We are the wicked. God doesn’t delight nor can He have fellowship with evil. If this is true, the reality that God is perfect and righteous so much so that He can have no part of the wicked is bad news for humanity.

We cannot save ourselves. We are a hopeless people. We need a savior.

Once you begin to understand our hopeless state and God’s hatred towards sin….its only then can you truly understand the love of God. Its only then that you can merely begin to comprehend the Gospel.

God owed us nothing. But in love, God chose to sacrifice His one and only son. God sent Christ to earth to live the perfect life that we couldnt live. In the old testament people would sacrifice animals to God in order to be the payment for their sins. In living this perfect life, Jesus then died on the cross, becoming the final sacrifice for sin.

“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:11-13.

On the cross, the full cup of God’s wrath towards sinners was poured out onto Jesus.

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4.

This verse always strikes me. That God sent His son “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Meaning when God looked down on Christ upon the cross, He saw not His perfect son, but the likeness of our sins upon Christ. Christ had to die. Why? As Romans says, “..in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled.” You see God’s standards are higher than ours. To have fellowship with God, the scriptures say God demands perfection.

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.

Dont twist the scriptures or mold God into a God you are comfortable with. The text above states that God demands perfection. Something we could never do on our own. So Jesus came to die for us. Why? Again look back to the verse above in Romans 3; “…so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled.” Where was this to be fulfilled?  IN US!

Who is the “us” in that verse. Is it everyone including those who chose sin over God? Look back at Romans 3 again; “…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

The atonement is not for those who continue to seek after their fleshly desires, but those who begin to walk in accordance with His spirit. Jesus chose to save His children! And those that are the children of God are distinguished like this;

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3:4-10.

Notice John writes that no one born of God makes a practice of sinning as a regular part of their life. Why? Because they cannot. For God’s seed now abides in them. How can we distinguish the children of God from those who are not? The verse says whomever doesn’t practice a life of righteousness is not of God.

God is love. And God does love the world. But not as many people portray it.

Jesus said, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” John 17:9.

Whom is Jesus talking about when He says, “God so loved the world”? (John 3:16). Read the verse above again. Jesus is speaking of those the Father has given him who are in the world, not the unrighteous and wicked of the world.

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” John 17:11.

Much of the world paints God in their image so that they might continue living in sin. They say that it would be hateful for God to be wrathful against sinners. Therefore to them, for God to be loving He must be accepting of everyone, even those who chose to not walk according to His commands.

The opposite of love is not hate.

The opposite of love is indifference.

I am wrathful against anyone who would try to hurt my children. God has told us through scripture that sin, any kind of sin that we continue to practice without repentance, leads to death (Proverbs 14:12.). God’s wrath against sin displays His amazing grace. In order for God to be love then He must have wrath against sin. Because it was sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. And now those who are covered in the blood of Christ no longer walk in the ways of sin but in righteousness. And God no longer sees the sins of a believer in His son, but instead sees the perfection of Christ imputed to them.

Again, we are not perfect. No one is. But here is the picture of what it means to seek righteousness in Christ. When a baby begins to walk, it stumbles alot. And eventually when it falls it gets upset. Because it so desperately wants to walk. As the child gets older, it stumbles less and less. And when it becomes an adult it stumbles less and less. Adults will occasionally fall down. But when they do, they are embarrassed. And an adult who stumbles will look at the object he stumbled over and remove it from their path so not to fall again.

Thats the picture of sanctification. The more we grow in Christ, the less we want to stumble. Will we sin. Absolutely. But we cannot continue on in it as  1 John said. Christians will begin to take on the nature of their savior and be repulsed by the sins the one loved and begin to love the righteousness they once hated!

Why should we not draw our own conclusions of who God is without seeking scriptures? Because anything that is not ground in scripture regarding the character of God is a lie from man.

“Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written; “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” Romans 3:4.

We as Christians are not to judge. But we are to stand on the word of God. The most unloving thing we as believers could do is to not share the good news of Christ with a person whom is living outside of His grace. Grace is not indifference to sin. Grace is an undeserved gift. And again, due to our depravity none of us are deserving. Thats what makes God’s grace so unbelievable and so wonderful! And mercy is to not receive a punishment that was deserved. We like to talk about mercy, but not really think about what it means. We don’t want to even think of our God as one who holds back much less harbors wrath. But that mere fact that God would extend such an extraordinary gift, which is the undeserved righteousness of His son, and remove the death sentence that we earned due to our rebellion is beyond words.

When we understand the meaning of grace and mercy, the love of God takes on a whole new meaning.

Do you see the gospel? We deserve eternal separation from God. We deserve death. Because of sin, the wrath of God abides on fallen mankind. But God, in His great love, executed the great exchange. In order that we might be saved from ourselves, God took the wrath that was due us, and placed it all on His perfect son. And then God took the righteousness of His one and only son Jesus, and placed it upon those whom He has called for Himself. God gave undeserved grace and mercy. God saved those who could not have saved themselves.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

It was truly the greatest exchange! Praise Christ! And those whom He calls His children will begin to walk in His ways. They will begin to repent of the sins in their lives and seek to be more like their Heavenly Father. And this will not be a burden to them. Why? Because they’ve experienced a supernatural love. His commands become to them as King David said in the Psalms, “…honey on my lips” (Psalm 119:103.). His children don’t run towards sin. The run from it towards their savior. God’s children are marked by their lifestyle of obedience to His commands.

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:2-3.

Our opinions about who we think Jesus is are not important. Because we cannot mold a God into our own image. Never attempt to define God by what you think He would do according to what the world says. If we attempt to describe God by our own opinion with no scripture basis, then we speak not of Jesus, but rather a God made in an image that we are comfortable with. Always look to the scriptures. Who does God say that He is? We exist for the glory of His great name. We exist to make HIS name great, not so that our name might be great! And this is not a burden to the children of God, because we have truly been saved by His grace.  Bill turned out to be much different than I thought when I finally let him tell me who he was. In the same way, you may find that God is a much bigger God than you ever imagined when you begin to let the creator of the universe speak for Himself! Don’t tell God who He is. Let God tell you who He is.

Freedom From the Chains

I recently heard a song by a Christian artist named Jordan Elias called ‘Tickle My Ears Gospel.’ And in the song he made reference to a world that only has the stomach to tolerate a lukewarm gospel. A world that wants a politically correct Jesus. A world where if God is love, then God must be tolerant of our sins or else he would be unfair, harsh, and judgmental. Elias sung about a world that defines a loving God as being one who calls sinners to come, but would never require them to change. This is the world we currently live in. And in this world of over contextualization, we seek to worship a God that is all loving and not wrathful. We seek a God who is accepting of sin and not judgmental towards it. We seek a God who is a buddy and not one who is Lord and King of all creation. There is only one problem with this God our generation has sought out.

It is not the God of the Bible.

Having lived in a third world country on the mission field for a time, I can honestly say that the hardest place to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ is right here in America. Because we don’t want to hear a message of truth, we want a message of prosperity. We want a Heavenly Father who would never discipline His children or be angry at them, but instead, beg them not to sin. And if by chance His children do sin, then we’ve told them that its ok….as long as they come to church and say that they love Jesus, then God will still love them. Because again, he’s not a judgmental God, but loving. America wants a modern, hipster Jesus. We want to bring Him kicking and screaming into our twenty first century. We have this attitude of entitlement. That Jesus owes us a good life because we consider ourselves good and moral. Our generation beats its chest boldly and proclaims that we should not have to change. Rather, Jesus should get with the times and be the one to change. This is the Jesus the majority of our world worships. This Jesus is so easy to follow. He literally requires nothing but morality and a profession of the lips. But there is still one tiny problem with this God.

It is not the God of the Bible.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” 2 Timothy 4:3.

Give me some of that “Tickle my ears” Gospel. Its so easy to drink down. So comfortable to digest. Yeah, that’s what we want. But that is not message of Jesus. I had a conversation with a family member a few years back. This family member was living a homosexual lifestyle. I was able to share the gospel with him. And in a loving way, I pointed out that the lifestyle he was choosing to live was sinning against God. This family member claimed to love God, but saw nothing wrong with his sexual orientation. I love this family member with all of my heart, and I wanted him to know Jesus. But the more I talked to him, the more I realized that he had done just what 2 Timothy 4:3 was describing. He had morphed the Jesus of the Bible into a God that would suit the sinful passions of his flesh.

My family member’s first retort was, “Well we all sin. And God knows Im not perfect.”

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23.

Very true. We all sin. We all fall short. But I began to point out that there is a difference in stumbling into sin, as we all do, and willfully choosing to sin as a way of life.  1 John says it like this;

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” 1 John 3:9.

Think of when you were in high school and you had ball practice. You knew that you would participate in this. You prepared for it. You set your mind to do it daily. A practice is anything you set your mind to do on a regular basis. A practice is a way of life. And the scriptures speak in the most elementary terms, saying that if a person is claiming to be born of God, they may sin, but they cannot make a practice of sin. Why not? Read the verse. Because a true Christian has been born of God and now has God’s spirit living within them. They cannot practice sin because their new nature in Christ will not allow it.

Can a Christian fall into sin? Absolutely.

Can they walk in sin as a way of life? By no means.

I then went to Hebrews 10:26, one of the most clear cut and startling passages of scripture I have personally ever read.

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” Hebrews 10:26.

The key word here is deliberately. Again, a Christian can and will sin. But one who has been truly regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit cannot walk in sin as a way of life. And if a person does indeed continue on in deliberate sin, the verse says something that would be considered scandalous in our world today. The writer of Hebrews says of that a person that would deliberately continue sinning that the sacrifice no longer remains for his sins. What sacrifice? The only sacrifice that can cover our sins, Christ crucified.

This is not a politically correct God. But it is the one of the Bible.

This family member then went on to try to justify that he was born gay. That he couldn’t help  how God made him. And he actually referred to the Bible to attempt to prove his point. Here is the passage he quoted;

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” Matthew 19:12.

Again, he was using this verse to attempt to argue that people can indeed be born gay. The only problem is that he ripped this verse out without reading the whole chapter. If we read all of Matthew 19, it becomes apparent that Jesus is speaking about marriage, not homosexuality.

Consider also that the word “eunuch” is used three times in the verse, which suggests three kinds of men who are given to not marry. The first two usages were already familiar to the disciples. Jesus mentions those who are eunuchs from birth; that is, they were either incapable of marriage (i.e., physical deformity which prohibited having children) or have no desire to marry. The second is speaking of physical castration. Such eunuchs were often used in guarding harems. The third is the new category: those who choose to be single “for the kingdom of God.” In both cases there is not even a suggestion that people are born with homosexual orientation. If anything, the implication is to not be involved in marriage and sexual activity – which would negate homosexuality as an option.

Some view the Bible’s stance on homosexuality as judgmental, saying that Christians should be accepting of the homosexual community and their lifestyle. I believe that we as believers should be loving towards them. I believe that we should invite them to church so that they can hear the gospel message. But we are not called to be accepting of sin. Homosexuality is not a birth defect or a natural born gift from God. It is a sin. It was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 where God was so angered by their perversion of sex that he destroyed the whole city with fire. Paul warned the Corinthians about many damnable sins given one chose to pursue them as a way of life in which homosexuality was mentioned;

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,” 1 Corinthians 6:9.

Also consider Romans 1;

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Romans 1:26-27.

Paul is writing of same sex relationships. Men and women consumed with passion for one another. Paul speaks of this in the harshest terms. “Shameless acts” and “error.” So what are natural relations defined by God?

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24.

For society to justify homosexuality or any sin that God has named is folly. To say Christians are judgmental for warning others of the dangers in practicing sin as a lifestyle goes against the very reason Jesus came; that being to call us to repentance. Consider this; If a man were arrested for being a serial killer and in the court room, he said, “I cannot help that I kill people, I was born with an anger problem.” Wouldn’t it be unfair of the judge to jail him? Of course not! We would never say that. So why does our world say that homosexuality is something to be accepted as a character trait and murder is not? God clearly states that both murder and fornication are both sins. So how can we justify one and not the other? Because we don’t see homosexuality as hurting anyone, therefore it must be ok! But again, in doing this and denying the fact that God calls it a sin we are ripping the Bible out of context so that it fits, as 1 Timothy said, with our lifestyles. In essence, we place ourselves on the throne of God and tell him to move over, because we know better.

Here is the thing that our society has not realized as a whole. The only reason a person seeks after sin and passions of the flesh is at the end of the day, for pleasure. Homosexuality, drugs, alcohol, gluttony, materialism, whatever vice it may be, at the very core we want gratification of some sort. And temptations are merely urges for us to chase after that longing to which we want gratified. One of my favorite passages in the Bible as well as book is Ecclesiastes. And in it there is a verse that sums up the problem of the human condition. God tells us how he wired us and what it is that will satisfy every longing within us.

“Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart.” Ecclesiastes 3:11.

God did not put murder into a mans heart. He did not put greed into a mans heart. And God did not put homosexuality into a mans heart. The text says that God wired all of us with an eternal void inside of us. And throughout life we so desperately try to fill the emptiness so that we can be full. And so temptation and Satan would tell us that alcohol will fill that void if we only take a sip. Yet at the bottom of the bottle and after the buzz has passed, there is nothing left but sickness and despair. The world would tell us to fill this void with the material things of the world. But as one celeb once said, “The more I have, the more I want.” Material things cant fill that void. And even our flesh cries out to look to sexual relationship to fill this eternal void. But this cannot fill an eternal void either.

The eternal void within a man’s heart can only be filled by something else that is eternal.

God has placed eternity within our hearts. And in the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, the wisest most wealthy man who ever lived tried to fill that void with everything under the sun. He had hundreds of women at his beck and call, and in the end he said it was meaningless. He had mansions upon mansions and more material possessions than anyone who has ever lived and he called it a foolish pursuit. Solomon had everything a man could want and he called all of his pursuits vanity. Because he could never find lasting satisfaction in anything he chased after. The book of Ecclesiastes is basically a journal of Solomon chasing all of his fleshly desires in an attempt to find satisfaction. And at the end of the book, he concludes his experiment of chasing to gratify his flesh like this;

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13.

Solomon concluded that he was never the center of the universe. And in thinking that life was all about the gratification of his desires only ended up constantly disappointing him. In chasing fleeting happiness, he missed out on eternal joy. The void with us cannot be filled by the things of this world. We were created… wired, to find our deepest joys in a living, breathing, vibrant relationship with the creator of the universe Christ Jesus. And when we justify the sins of other people and call it being loving, we are depriving them of knowing real joy and letting them run after a happiness that is but a mirage in the desert.

The great author and theologian CS Lewis said it like this;

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

In Christ, there is infinite joy abounding! Yet we continue to keep our eyes focused on ourselves and not on Him. We are the biggest enemy to our own joy.

There are those that would say I am being judgmental by labeling homosexuality as a sin. To begin with, I would lovingly point out that I have not labeled anything. The Bible has already done that. Secondly, if my child was running towards a busy intersection and in danger of being hit by a car, yet he said that it was fun to him and what he wanted, would it make me unloving to point out the danger that lie ahead in the path he was choosing to run? In the same way, I am not the judge of human race. But I do know what the judge says.

Some would say its unloving to call homosexuals to repentance. When in all actuality, what would be more unloving is to allow them to pursue sin instead of Christ because we dont want to offend anyone. And I love people….ALL people….regardless of their sexual orientation to much to stand by and watch them running towards their destruction. More than that, I want them to know REAL JOY!! I want them to know that this emptiness they feel within their souls that some blame on birth….I want them to know that the void can be filled! But not with the things God calls sin or worldly pursuits!

That is why Jesus came! To save us from the bondage of slavery to these fleeting, fleshly pursuits called sin that in the end lead to death!

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. ” Romans 6:16-18.

Please read that verse again!! We are slaves to whatever we choose to obey be it sinful actions or trying to be good enough without Christ! But Praise God that Jesus came to set the captives free!!

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,” Luke 4:18.

All sin, including homosexuality oppresses those to whom it enslaves! Jesus came to bring set us free and bring and abundant life that no sexual orientation or sin choice of any kind will bring.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10.

Satan has come to steal the joy Christ desires to bring. And he will do this by tempting us to justify the sins that we struggle with. But no one who is ever chained to a wall struggles to stay in the shackles. They  struggle to get free! In the same way the Bible says were are captives chained to sin. Yet so many dont struggle against their chains, but instead justify as to why they should stay in them. They’ve grown fond of the dark cellar in which they are prisoner. But they’ve been in the prison so long that they have forgotten the beauty and freedom that comes from breaking those chains of sin in their lives.

What are you filling that void with today in your life? I pray that all would see that I do not write this blog in judgment of anyone. But as a former prisoner who has tasted the abundant life Jesus offers I can honestly say Jesus is better than any sin I have ever tasted in my life. And I want you to be set free to experience the infinite joy that is in Christ! Ill close with a quote by Saint Augustine. Augustine struggled with the sin of lust throughout most of his young adult life. He lived with a prostitute for many years because of his addiction to sex. But Augustine met Jesus, and on that day tasted freedom that was better than anything he’d ever tasted. He called his addiction to lust upon meeting Christ, “fruitless joys”. He had once feared to lose those chains he had clung to for so long, but upon encountering Christ, here is what he said;

“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose..! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place…. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”

Jesus is the true, sovereign joy that came to set you free from the chains of sin in your life. The question is, will you struggle to stay in the chains, or struggle to experience abundant life? I dont want to pursue my own happiness, because nothing in this temporary would can satisfy the eternal chasm within my soul.  I want Jesus.

Pastor Without a Tie

My all time favorite television show is The Andy Griffith Show. In the show, mild mannered sheriff Andy Taylor is unlike most typical law men. He is even different than his deputy. You see, while most police officers, and in particular the head sheriff would carry a gun, sheriff Taylor didn’t follow the norm. He was playfully know as the sheriff without a gun. There were episodes that Andy was chastised for his decision to not carry a firearm. It was tradition for the sheriff to have a gun. But Andy Taylor was smart enough to see that sometimes traditions can at times become more important to people than the big picture. Sheriff Taylor didn’t want people to respect him out of fear or because of the gun he carried. Rather, Andy wanted the town of Mayberry to respect him because of the message of law and order that he lived though his actions.

I can relate to sheriff Andy Taylor. Growing up, I was always dressed up on Sunday mornings with a coat and tie. I was adhering to what had always been done. But all of this changed one day when I invited a local man to come and worship with us. I met this man on the side of the road. You could tell that he wasn’t wealthy and didn’t have much. In fact, I believe he was homeless. We began talking and in the conversation I had mentioned that I was a member of the local First Baptist Church. I then invited this man to come and worship with us. With a look of shame and embarrassment, this man looked down and said, “I wouldn’t fit in at your church, because I don’t own a coat or a tie.”

This was a wake up call for me. Since when did entering the house of the Lord hinge upon what a person wore? And it dawned on me that many churches in America are so very uninviting to the unchurched world. I began to see in the scriptures that this was something the pharisees did repeatedly. They would turn their noses down at those who were not as socially elite as themselves yet pat themselves on the back as they praised their self professed righteousness. Here are some examples;

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18-10-14.

Here is another instance;

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,  and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.  Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”  And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”  Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”  And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50.

In each account, the pharisees were judging their right standing as a moral person upon their own preferences. They had set up a system of legalistic rules that over time, began to be held in higher esteem than the word of God. And the crazy thing is, that they set up these traditions all under the guise of spirituality. Jesus came to save all races and social classes of people, not just the elite. And the sad thing is that many churches today, much like the pharisees of old, hold much tighter to tradition than the word of God.

Our tradition becomes an idol. And an idol is anything that we hold more precious and esteem more highly than God.

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

The only traditions we  are to hold to are the ones outlined in scripture. Ive yet to find a dress code in scripture or many other petty things that some churches consume themselves with. There is nothing wrong with a person wearing a tie if they want to or organizing church committees. But these are not the gospel! The mission and business of Christ is not for us to be the fashion police or micro manage committees within the church to run committees. The mission of Christ and business of our Lord is the glorification of Himself through the preaching of the word through God’s people.

 “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” Matthew 15:6.

This verse pretty much says it crystal clear. We void the word of God in exchange for upholding man made traditions. It can be so easy to lose sight of the call to go and make disciples when we begin to create legalistic standards for worship. After my chance meeting with the man on the street, I stopped wearing a tie. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but being a pastor, I want to give the impression that it is ok to come as you are. The only tradition we are to hold to are those set forth in scripture. I believe many churches have lost sight of the true mission of Christ because their vision has become clouded with church politics and stuffy traditions. How can we reach a lost world if we continue to set trivial rules on those who  come thirsty for living water?

Sheriff Taylor was dubbed ‘The sheriff without a gun.’ And if I had a subtitle, it might be ‘The Preacher without a tie.” Sure at times Ill catch a little flack for my lack of tradition. But sometimes forsaking tradition can be the best tool in pointing towards the gospel. When it comes to dressing up in church, there is nothing wrong with that. As long as how you dress is only your personal preference and not your tradition. It is the internal fruits that we need be concerned with, not the external threads.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

The Purpose of Children

It’s a very surreal thing at times to be a pastor. When the Lord first placed this high calling upon my life I thought He had called me to the ministry so that I could convict others with the mighty power of the Gospel message. I pictured myself as being a mega phone that God would use to pour forth his truths to those where God had placed me. And I guess that is true to a point. But in my studies in preparation to preach the word each week, I tend to find that the words I read in scripture are most convicting in my own life. The passages of scripture that I read seem to be speaking volumes to my soul. Ive realized this more within the past few weeks than any other point in my life.

Im realizing that the opportunities that God presents to us in life are more for us than for those we seek to help. The example I shared with our congregation this past week was opportunities with our money. There have been plenty of times when I lived in the city that I would see homeless people on the street. But many times I would justify not giving them money by saying to myself, “I don’t know for sure that they would put my money to good use or use it to indulge in some vice or addictive substance.” But God spoke to my heart a very surprising message.

Its as if God said to me, “Don’t worry about what they do with your money. Thats on them. The opportunity to give to other’s less fortunate is more about YOUR obedience and willingness to part with your possessions for the sake of the Gospel than it is how they will spend it.”

I began to understand that the opportunities placed before us in our lives to help others about exposing our hearts. So many times we think that God has given to us so that we can help others. But maybe God has given to us money, knowledge, and possessions to teach us how to live sacrificially for the Kingdom. We have a saying at our church, “Its all about Jesus”. But within the past few weeks, Im realizing more and more through my time in His word how true that saying is. There is no opportunity or gift given to us from God that is not about shaping us to glorify Him.

As Christians, if we are truly followers of Jesus, then we must begin to see the world through Kingdom focused lenses. We must begin to question the purpose for everything in our lives and why certain opportunities have been afforded us. So many Christians live their lives never seeing the Kingdom of God.  In Luke 17 Jesus describes where we can truly find the Kingdom of God.

Luke 17:20, “Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

The King James translation reads, “…because the kingdom of God is in your HEART.”

Your heart.

The reason so many of us cannot see the kingdom is the same reason you cannot see out of your car window on snowy days. In order to see out of the window, you must first remove the snow. You cannot see though the window because the snow that has accumulated is blocking your view. In much the same way, we will never see the kingdom of God for what it is as long as we have idols and a “me” centered theology of God. Contrary to what many think, God doesn’t give us gifts for our happiness, but instead to be used for His glorification. And its in His glorification that we will find our greatest joys in life. It goes back to all humanity having an eternal shaped void inside of all of us (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

One of the most revealing examples of this is the gift of children. We all want our children to have the greatest joys in life. And because of this, we buy them the best toys, clothes, and try to give them the best opportunities. And there is nothing wrong with any of these. But our children will not find joy in pursuing worldly things. Its simply not what they were made for. This is why a child will be infatuated with a new toy for a time and shortly after, grow bored with it and want something else. The eternal void inside of our children was made to be filled only through glorifying Christ.

I read a quote from the late Jim Elliot. Jim Elliot was an American missionary who left the states to live in South America and preach the gospel. Before leaving, his family was distraught that Jim had chosen to leave the states and live in such a desolate part of the world. Here is an excerpt from a letter Elliot wrote to his parents;

“I do not wonder that you were saddened at the word of my going to South America. This is nothing else than what the Lord Jesus warned us of when He told the disciples that they must become so infatuated with the kingdom and following Him that all other allegiances must become as though they were not. And he never excluded the family tie. In fact, those loves which we regard as closest, He told us must become as hate in comparison with our desires to uphold His cause. Grieve not, then, if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as an heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly–all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.” -Jim Elliot

These words have really opened my eyes to this radical calling of Christianity. We are so infatuated with the things of this world that we cannot imagine putting worldly comforts aside to live as Christ. We shout “amens” in church to the stories of Jesus telling us to deny ourselves and leave behind everything to live as Christ, yet we don’t want this call of self denial to apply to us.

And as it pertains to children I was awestruck at what Elliot had to say about them. He mentioned a verse in Psalm I listed below.

Psalm 127:3-5 “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

The Psalmist says blessed are parents who have many children. To put it as scripture reads, “a quiver full of them”. A quiver is a satchel that one would use to hold arrows for a bow or crossbow.

Elliot says, “And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly–all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.”

Scripture compares children to arrows. And as Elliot says, “What are arrows for?” They are for shooting the enemy. In other words, our children are to be raised up to be on mission for Christ. To be sent out as warrior and proclaimers of the Gospel…even if it means going to the dark parts of the world. This gives a whole new meaning to the call “to be fruitful and multiply” in Genesis. Why does God want us to be fruitful and have children? So that our world would be saturated with people glorifying the Lord and being sent out to proclaim His great name….regardless of the sacrifice.

Children Are Not Merely For Our Joy, But They are Vessels…arrows to be sent out to Glorify HIM. God said for humanity to be fruitful and multiply. So that they would grow up to be on mission for Christ.

In embracing this truth, I could find no greater joy in the lives of my children than to see them live for Christ on mission, no matter if that is in the states close to me…..or if God sends them to serve HIM in a far off land.

They are but arrows given by the Lord to fill my blessed quiver.

The ultimate purpose of a child is not to bring joy to the parent, but to bring glory to God. And in raising their child in the ways of the Lord, it is there that a parent will find true joy. Our children are gifts from God. But they were never meant to be a means for our ultimate joy. Because again, true joy cannot be found in things that are not eternal. Once again, let this sink in….

Our greatest joy is eternally linked to God’s glory.

And if we want our kids to have their greatest joy, we need to teach them to show the glory of God in all things. And to view the world through the eyes of Christ.

Luke 14:26-29 “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “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.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

What if we read scriptures like this and applied it to our lives? What if it wasn’t just a good little story that we all hear in church? What if we loved Jesus so passionately that everything else in our lives; money, possessions and even family, paled in comparison? What if we truly realized what it meant to “count the costs” of following Christ? I truly believe if all Christians honestly counted the costs of denying themselves in exchange for Gods glory, sadly many would cease to follow Christ.

Living for Christ is self denial in every aspect of our lives. Its seeing that all opportunities and relationships are not about you, but about HIM. And in following Christ, you will no doubt lose earthly things. But in the exchange you will gain new sight. In the quest of self denial, you will live life with an open hand, and not tightly clinging to the things and relationships of this world as if they were yours to begin with. Im beginning to see what it is like to see the kingdom of God. But there are still many worldly things that must be removed from my window. The hymn Amazing Grace is not just about sinners, but also a great many professing Christians. In the words of the hymn, I once was blind, and in my case, Im beginning to see.” This life was never about me. My money, my possessions, even my family is not given by God for my joy. These things were given to me as a means to glorify God. And its in that glorification that I am finding my greatest satisfaction in life and greatest joy!

“God is most glorified IN US when we are most SATISFIED in Him.”  – John Piper

Out of Context

Imagine that you and a friend decided to go to a movie. It was 1976, and the first Rocky with Sylvester Stallone had just hit the theaters! Neither one of you had ever seen this movie and had no idea what it was about! You get ready as fast as you can, grab your popcorn money, and rush off to get to the theater. The traffic is horrible as you make your way to the movie. As a result, you and your friend arrive late and totally miss the first part of the movie. So you grab a bag of popcorn in a rush and head towards the theater. As you both enter, you walk into the part of the movie where Rocky is walking in the slums, bouncing a rubble ball and chewing on a tooth pic. And after a few minutes of watching him bounce a rubber ball and mumble to himself, you decide to leave the movie for lack of excitement.

Now keep in mind that you had only seen this one small part of the movie. Now imagine someone were to ask you these questions about the movie Rocky;

They ask, “So what was the movie about?”

Your response, “Its about a bum.”

They ask, “Did it have any boxing in it?”

You respond, “Well no, it just had some bum bouncing a ball.”

Again, they inquire, “Did Rocky fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the world?”

Your response would be, “Of course not! The movie was about a bum with a speech impediment!” 

You were not lying to this person, you were simply misinformed! You were drawing your own conclusions based on the part of the movie you saw! In reality, you didnt see the whole picture, so there was no way you could accurately describe what the movie was about unless someone who had seen it told you about it or you saw the whole thing for yourself! No person in their right mind would draw conclusions about a movie if they had only seen a snippet of it! If you only saw a part of it and were asked what it was about, more than likely you would tell the truth and say you hadn’t seen enough of it to tell. You cannot just walk into the middle of a movie, see a small part, and expect to draw a correct conclusion about the plot line.

Yet we do this daily when it comes to our study of God’s word. With good intentions, we go to the Bible at times and pull out certain Bible verses in hopes of applying them to our lives. We run to God’s word for comfort. And that is perfectly fine to do that. God is our comforter in times of need. But the problems arise when, just like entering a movie halfway through, we pick and choose scripture from books of the Bible without knowing what the complete book is about. The danger in this is that we end up misinterpreting verses, assigning our own meanings to them instead of understanding what they were meant to say, and in essence, totally taking them out of context. Let me give you some common examples.

One of the most misused verses in scripture is the ever popular Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Its a coffee cup verse as I like to call them. A verse that even non Christians have heard of due to the fact that it is marketed so much. We quote this verse to people in times of need. Especially when someone is going through a hard time.

People will say “Well you know, Jeremiah 29:11 says that God has a plan for you and those plans are good.”

The implication is that if you are a faithful follower of Christ, then eventually God owes it to you to make your life good. But there are problems with this way of thinking. First off, lets test this line of thinking against the pattern of scripture. Take John the Baptist for instance. Jesus himself called John “The Greatest man to have been born of woman (Luke 7:28)”. John was the most faithful man to have ever lived; past, present, or future. He had a love for Christ that no one will ever be able to match. He was the most faithful of the faithful. But take a hard look at the life of John the Baptist. He lived his life wandering in the wilderness. People thought of him as a mad man. He lived in such poverty that he literally lived off of eating locust and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). And he was thrown in prison and eventually beheaded by a stripper.

If God’s plan is to give the good life to all of those who are faithful followers of His, how does this fit in with Jesus most faithful follower, John the Baptist? Could it be that John’s reward was not to be seen in his earthly life, but in eternity? This is not to mention the other eleven disciples who followed Christ. All of their lives ended badly. Horrible deaths by crucifixion, stoning, exile, one even boiled alive in oil! And these were among the most faithful of Christ’s followers! Yet we have the audacity to use this verse to somehow justify that God owes us for our faithfulness!

If that is not enough, consider this.

Isaiah 53:10 says, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

This verse is about as plain as it can get. That men didn’t frustrate God and kill Jesus. God anointed certain men to rise up against His son. It was God who killed Jesus, and it pleased Him to do so….because He knew that Christ’s death would serve to save the world. Not convinced yet?

“for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,” Acts 4:27.

Read that verse carefully. Better yet, go and read the book of Acts up to this verse. It is clear what is being said….that men were gathered together among who were Herod and Pontius Pilate, and it was God who had anointed their actions.

“Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” Isaiah 53:10.

The death of Christ was in the plans long before God hung the first star in the sky. It was the Lord’s plan to redeem the world to himself all along.

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Acts 2:23.

God ordained the murder of Christ, not man. But this predestined death of God’s son brought about good for all who would believe. But think about it….this good was not seen by Christ while he was in human form. The good…the salvation…the fulfillment of God’s promise and the defeat of sin and death, came after death.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

All things do work together for the good of those who love God. But that doesnt always mean that we will see that good on this side of Heaven. And if that is the case, we should rest in the promise of eternal life we have been given. Again, to claim Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise that our faithfulness equals God making all our problems vanish is simply not biblical. If it pleased the Lord to crush His perfect, spotless, son so that we may have eternal life, who do we think we are to shake our fists at the Heavens and claim that we deserve any better!

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of those verses that is ripped right out of the middle of a book and used by Christians worldwide without ever glancing at the rest of the book of Jeremiah! If one were to examine Jeremiah more closely, looking at the verses that come before 29:11, it would be clear that the verse was never intended to be made about us! Jeremiah 29:11 was a promise made to the nation of Israel. It was never a singular promise, but rather a plural one! It was historic in its context. Yet somehow, over the years we have selfishly twisted this verse out of its context in order to make it about us.  Its no different that watching three minutes of the middle of a movie and then claiming to know what it is about.

The “you” in Jeremiah 29:11 is not referring to you and I. God is speaking to Israel.

Here is another example of a commonly misused verse of scripture.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2.

This is a very common verse that we at times quote to people if they are dealing with a death. People attempting to find comfort in mourning will cling to this verse, saying that the cloud of witnesses is a group of people that their loved one is among, looking down from Heaven and watching over them. But once again, in order to correctly interpret the verse, we have to go back to the previous chapter in Hebrews 11.

Chapter 11 of Hebrews speaks of men such as Abel, Moses, Abraham, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. Hebrews 11:39 says of these men….

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

These men listed throughout scripture were witness to the promise given in the messiah to come, but didnt live on earth long enough to see it fulfilled. They were witnesses to the promise given that was fulfilled in Christ! The cloud of witnesses was never meant to be about our loved ones, but rather pointing out the culmination of the promise to reconcile all things that began in Genesis.

I have personally lost loved ones. It would be saddening to me to think that they had nothing better to do in Heaven than to look down on this broken earth and miss their earthly relatives. It is much more comforting to me to know that they are so enamoured with Jesus that they have yet to be able to take their attention off of praising Him! There are no tears in Heaven, and that is because they are no longer looking upon the pain of this world, they are forever awestruck by the beauty and majesty of King Jesus.

One last instance Ill share comes from a true story. There was a youth camp with close to 500 kids arriving for the summer. The camp councilors came up with a Bible verse slogan for their camp.  This was the camp verse that was plastered on all the t shirts for the kids and was their memory verse for the week.

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Habakkuk 1:5.

They councilors were constantly quoting it to all the kids and saying, “God is going to astound us with the great work He is going to do in our day and in your life!” They made it a happy, fuzzy bunny, verse that was all about them. They spent tons of money marketing and branding their camp with this verse. But they only saw a portion of the movie, so to speak. The neglected to read the book of Habakkuk and instead, just ripped a verse out and assigned their own meaning to it.

If you go back and read the historical context of Habakkuk and read the beginning of the book, we see that Habakkuk was a prophet in the land of Judah. The people of the land were turning on God and rebelling into a sinful lifestyle. Debauchery was rampant, and God’s people were eaten up with living sinful lifestyles. Habakkuk asked God in 1:1 why He would allow His people to act in this sinful manner so passively.  Then God answers Habakkuk in verse 5. But look at verse 5 and then lets read on to verse 6.

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.”

God was doing something that would astound and leave them in unbelief alright. But it wasn’t something they would like. God basically said to Habakkuk, “Oh no, Im not passive. Im going to do something amazing that you won’t believe! Im going to raise up the Chaldeans, that evil army of ruthless people and Im going to allow them to destroy Judah as a judgement for their rebellion!” If only those poor youth councilors would have known what the verse actually was saying before ripping it out of context and slapping it on the back of hundreds of t shirts. Instead of wearing a happy verse on their backs, hundreds of kids were walking around sporting a shirt that was not about them, but about God’s wrathful judgement of sin.

Its alright to read the Bible in parts. You dont have to start at the beginning to read the Bible. But it is important that we understand the full context of the book of the Bible in which we find a passage of scripture we are drawn to. You cant interpret a movie if you only see part of the middle. And in the same way, we cannot properly expect to interpret the scriptures unless we understand the context in which they were written. Thats why its important for us to be students of God’s word, not merely use it to improperly fit the mold of our life circumstances. God is a God of love. And God is a God of comfort in our time of need. But we will find greater comfort and greater intimacy with Christ in knowing Him in truth. May this realization not serve to scare us, but to push us deeper into a desire to truly know our Heavenly Father who gave up His only son in Christ so that we may glorify His great name eternally.

A Father’s Delight

I am the proud father of four boys. Four rambunctious, playful, loving, and at times, very stubborn boys.  I delight in my sons. I love them, despite the fact that at times they can be hard-headed and down right rebellious in doing what Ive asked them to do. They are not perfect. In fact, there has not been one day in their lives that any of them have obeyed their mother and I completely and followed all the rules of the Parish household.  More than likely, they’ve never made it through a full hour without doing something they know they shouldnt be doing. Such is the life of a parent raising children under seven years old.

And even though my kids fall short of the rules I set for them constantly, they are never fearful to come to me as their father. Quite the opposite, they run to me! Here is an example of what Im getting at from my own life. I was at the office recently and decided to call my wife Lacy to see how her day was going. “Great!” She said. But there was a frustration in her response that led me to believe otherwise. Who says men cant read minds.

Upon pressing her further, she told me that the boys had been at each other all day, arguing and fussing over toys. At the end of the day, I drove home expecting to walk into Wrestlemania. But as soon as I opened the door, I heard the boys scream, “Daddy!!!”

They all ran to me begging to be picked up, loved on, and played with. They know that they are disobedient at times. So why did they run to me instead of avoiding me, the house rule maker, knowing that they at times break my rules? They could run to me with joy for one simple reason….they know that their father loves them. They know I love them despite the fact that they arent perfect. But it goes deeper than love. They know that not only do I love them, but I delight in them! They know that their father honestly delights in them!

When you mention prayer in most church settings, you get alot of people saying that they believe we should pray, but if you were to examine many a Christian’s personal prayer lives, it would be greatly lacking.  And the reason many of us have a hard time with prayer is because we have a hard time convincing ourselves that God likes us. We have no problem believing he loves us, but our minds are immediately drawn to an area of our lives that we know is not pleasing to God, so we just dont see how God could like us.

More than this, we dont think God delights in us.

Think of it this way. If you have ever disappointed a friend or close family member, the initial reaction is to avoid them. Why? Because you know that you have fallen short of what you promised to do, and therefore you are ashamed. If they are at a certain restaurant, you go to another one. If you spot them in a crowded room, you avoid making eye contact and get out of that room ASAP! Its not that you dont love them, but that you are afraid that they will be disappointed in you, therefore you avoid them.

We do the same thing with God. This is a major underlying reason as to why we don’t pray like we should. We know that God knows where we fall short. And in knowing this, at times we feel we must clean ourselves up before can run to our Heavenly Father. We dont believe that God delights in us, but rather that he is disappointed in us. The only problem with this line of thinking is the Bible.

If we are truly students of God’s word, how can we buy into such a myth! Lets examine some things to debunk this Satanic lie. First of all, He saved you!!!! I believe to fully grasp God’s delight in you, you must understand how salvation works. If you think that you did something to “get” saved, this easily leads you into thinking that God doesnt delight in you!

If you did something to save yourself like saying a prayer or walking down an aisle, then you are claiming that you in part saved yourself and God didnt really rescue you from sin, but you helped save yourself. When the scriptures emphatically teach, if you are truly saved, Christ did that, not you! You and I had absolutely NOTHING to do with our salvation. Ive said many times, if you are truly saved and you walked an aisle or prayed with the preacher, you were saved before you left your seat. Because it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit that got you up out of that seat!

I cringe every time I hear a Christian tell me that they “accepted Jesus” or they “decided to follow Jesus.” We did nothing! Christ gets all the credit for our salvation! The Bible describes our sinful state as being dead.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…” Ephesians 2:1.

Dead things can’t chose life….they’re dead.

Just as Jesus raised Himself from death to life, so is it the same with the regenerating work of Christ in raising a man’s soul from being dead in his sins to new life in Christ.  Just as Christ called Lazarus to raise from the dead, so Jesus calls His elect to new life. I once heard a preacher say that if Jesus hadnt called Lazarus by name before commanding him to “come forth”, then every person who had ever died would have risen from the grave!

Jesus didnt have to save us. If you are saved, He willingly chose to recessitate you from the dead. Because he delights in you. He doesnt delight in some future version of you ten years from now when you have it more together. Jesus delights in you right now.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” Ephesians 1:4.

As a Christian, Jesus had already chosen you before the world was set in motion. He was fully aware of what a mess we all would be. He was fully aware of each and every one of our down falls. Yet in love, He predetermined that He would delight in His adopted children, regardless of our shortcomings.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

What an uncommon invitation this is from our Lord Jesus Christ. Our society tells us that we need to have it all together before we can be accepted. Yet Jesus says for those who are weary and burdened to come! He doesnt say, “Get your life together first and then come! Christ invites not the perfect, but the ones who dont have it together. Its as if Jesus is saying, “Are you a complete mess? Then COME HERE to me!!” 

“Are you burdened with sin in your life…..COME!”

“Are you weary from guilt over your shortcomings…..COME!”

“Are you ashamed because you dont pray like you should…..COME!”

There is a parable Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke about a widow who was persistent. And Jesus told this parable for a specific reason.

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8.

Notice the reasons at the start of the parable that Christ told this parable. He told this parable so that His disciples would know to always pray, and never give up. It’s important to note that a widow in this time had practically no rights. Once the husband was dead, she had no one to take care of her, and women were not hired looked upon to hold positions. If she had no family members to look after her, there was a good chance that the widow would die.

As she persistently kept asking this evil judge for justice regarding her situation, he finally gave her the justice she wanted. He didnt have to give her anything. More than likely because he was an evil man, he didnt care if she lived or died. The evil judge simply wanted to stop her requests to him so that she would leave him alone! I love verse seven…..

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” Luke 18:7.

Simply put, if an evil man will give justice to those who cry out to him, do you not think that our righteous God who loves and delights in us will do the same?

Consider this verse in Isaiah…..

“I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” Isaiah 62:6-7.

These watchmen mentioned in the verse were men of God. Prayer warriors. And God commanded them to not be silent, giving the Lord no rest until He answered their request to make Jerusalem a praise upon the earth.

Now this is an invitation given by our Heavenly Father that no earthly father would dare give. When my kids keep asking me for something over and over, I eventually tell them to stop asking or it might be an early bed time!

But God says the opposite to His children.

“BOTHER ME!!!”

“PESTER ME!!!”

“GIVE ME NO REST!!!!”

“DON’T STOP ASKING ME UNTIL I ANSWER YOU!!!!” This is what Christ is asking us to do!

But what about those times when we pray for good things, such as the healing of a family member or the salvation of an individual and our prayers go unanswered? The hard truth is that we are but mere human beings and far to ignorant to understand the righteous will of God. Is the Lord completely sovereign, meaning that He is in total control of everything? Absolutely! But His ways are not our ways, and His plans are not ours. A child wars against his parent when he is not allowed to eat junk food like he wants. In his ignorance, the child doesnt see the harm in it, and sees his parents refusal to let him enjoy junk food as them being mean. He doesnt see the will of his parents, that he not get cavities or spoil his supper.

In the same way, we do not understand our Heavenly Fathers will. The scriptures say that we are but a vapor, here for a second, in the span of eternity. How could we possibly understand God. So when prayers are not answered, its not that God doesnt hear or even that He is not answering them. But God may be answering that prayer in a way contrary to how we thought it would work out.

When it comes to our prayer life, it should be a joy to run to God, just as my children run to me. They know and understand that I knew that they were going to be messy at times, even before they were born. But we chose to have them anyway, because even before my kids were born, Lacy and I delighted in them. Your Heavenly Father delights in you today. Regardless of how close you are to him or how far you have strayed from him. He saved you, and chose you to be His before the foundation of the world. He revels in you. And in knowing this, it should be our delight to run to Him!

Misdirected Worship

There are many life lessons that stick with you forever. Usually, these lessons that stick out are the ones that had to be learned the hard way. I have a head full of such lessons. One in particular I experienced while relocating my family from Panama to Avon Park Florida. God had just moved our family back to the States by way of providing a blessing of a job as Associate Pastor in Florida. So upon arriving back in the states, we rented a big Uhaul truck, loaded it full, and began the nine hour drive from Destin Florida to Avon Park. I followed Lacy and the boys as they drove our van ahead of me.

About six hours into our long drive, the Uhaul began to lose power. I would press down on the gas pedal, and the speedometer would barely move. Pretty soon regardless of how hard I pressed the gas, the Uhaul actually refused to speed up and began decreasing in speed. I checked the gas gauge only to see that I had well over half a tank of gas. I was extremely perplexed as to what in the world was happening. So I called Lacy on the cell phone and told her to pull over at the next rest stop.  Luckily, we made it to the exit just in time for the Uhaul to completely die on me. Again, I checked the gas to find it was far from empty. I even checked the oil and found it to be just fine. With those checks being the extent of my mechanical knowledge, I then called AAA road service and told them I needed immediate assistance.

Within about thirty minutes two guys pulled up in a AAA work truck. The first question the mechanic asked me was, “Did you check the gas?” To which I told him that the tank was half full! He then said back to me, “No, I mean did you check before you left the Uhaul company to see what kind of gas it would take?” Before leaving on the trip, I had filled up at the gas station as I always did with regular unleaded gasoline. For you grease monkeys that may be reading this blog, you have just now identified what my problem was. A big Uhaul truck wasnt made to just run on any kind of gas. It was made to run off of diesel fuel. I had put the wrong kind of gas in the tank. Even though it ran smooth for six hours, the regular gasoline finally corrupted the engine and brought it to a complete halt.  Lesson learned. Before operating anything, make sure you know what it runs on.

Now I already looked foolish to these mechanics who wondering how a person could be so ignorant as to not know that a big truck runs on diesel fuel. But imagine for a moment that after the mechanics had told me to only put diesel fuel in the truck, I had defiantly responded to them by saying, “No, I really like regular fuel, and I know that this will never happen, so Im just going to keep putting regular fuel in it.” You would say that I was insane! I cannot tell a mechanic, a person who puts together cars for a living, how a car operates best!  I dont know a transmission from a transistor! So for me to try and tell a car guy that I know better as to how to operate a vehicle is of the highest stupidity on my part on completely arrogant! Rather it is in my best interest to listen to the mechanic, because when it comes to automobiles, he knows how they run best and how they are wired. Because cars are what he does!

“He has set eternity into the human heart.” Ecclesiastes 3:11.

The ‘HE’ in that verse is God. And the verse is telling us something extremely important that we should key in on. Essentially, God is telling us in this verse the kind of gasoline we are designed to run on! God has placed a void within the human heart, a gap inside all of us. And we try to fill this void within our hearts in many different way. We run to sex and relationships in hopes of finding a person that can satisfy this eternal longing within us. We run to alcohol in hopes of filling this gap that resides inside of us. We attempt to fill this void with material things like striving for a bigger house, nicer cars, newest I Phone, or whatever is desired. And all of these things will actually satisfy our hearts, but only for a short time. Just as was the case with the Uhaul truck, eventually your soul will begin to corrupt because you have actually been neglecting to fuel your heart with the fuel which it was designed for.

God has placed an eternal void into the heart of man. And that void can only be filled by that which is eternal! In other words, God created you to run off of Him!! If you talk to people, the struggles that they have in life come from expecting their cars to run off of regular fuel when all along it was made for diesel! Our hearts were made with an eternal sized hole and we get depressed with trinkets and toys dont fill the gap! And in the case of relationships, if you are counting on your spouse to be the end all to satisfy the deep longings of your soul, you are as Jeremiah points out, “Digging in a well that holds no water.” Your spouse cannot fill an eternal void, because they themselves are not eternal.

This is seen in all areas of life, even worship! When I mention worship, I usually lose over half of the men in my audience. I look around the church on many Sundays to see men who are either not singing to the Lord or are just standing up and mouthing the words they read off the screen with a lifeless expression on their face. Its a funny thing to confront these guys. The conversation usually goes something like this…..

“Hey man, why dont you sing in church?”

“Well, I just am not an expressive kind of guy! I love the Lord i just dont get into singing hymns!”

I love it when people, especially men, try to use the excuse of they are just not expressive people as to why they dont worship the Lord in praise!! But they worship in every other aspect of their lives!! Think about it. When their football team wins the game and they are with their buddies, what do they do? They jump for joy! They get emotional!! They worship!  When women get a new recipe off of food network (Im speaking from experiences in our household) what do they do? They call their friends raving about the recipe! They worship! You see, worship is just an outward expression of praise for the things we love in our lives.  But when it comes to God, we make excuses as to why we dont worship that when put into context make no sense what so ever! You worship that which you love. You were created to worship!! Have you ever thought about that? Let me say that again……

You were created to worship!

Thats why when you go to that concert and you get that euphoric feeling in your soul when the band plays, and you sing along, thats worship!! When your ball team wins the championship and you get that emotional high, thats worship!! But as in all thihgs, our worship of earthly things can never eternally satisfy us. Eventually that concert will end. Eventually, your ball team will lose. And you end up crashing and looking for the next emotional pick me up in material things, relationships and new trinkets and toys. But when the newness eventually wears off, your back right where you started. You soul craves worship, thats why we jump from vice to vice in our lives. Whatever we set our hearts on while on this earth, we will be left disappointed.

But in Christ, there is no ceiling to our worship! Because we were made with a void that only HE is big enough to fill! And its when we finally begin to tap into this truth that our lives take on a greater meaning and a greater joy!

The great writer CS Lewis had a great insight about how God designed us. He said that when he originally read the Bible, specifically the Psalms, he was appalled at how many commands there were from God for us to worship Him. Lewis said that at first glance, God seemed to him like a little old lady begging for complements. But Lewis went on to say that as he began to dig deeper, he realized that he was so very wrong.

God is not begging us to worship Him. God doesnt need our worship. In fact God doesnt even need us! But he loves us. And in his love for us, much like the mechanic, God knows how we are designed to work best and how we will receive the ultimate joy in our lives. He knows this because he designed us!!  So when God sets boundaries in marriage, he is not trying to hinder our enjoyment, but instead prolong it! In essence, God is saying, “Look I designed the thing, I get it!” We were wired and designed with eternity placed in our hearts. We were designed with a desire to worship! And we have turned into a society that would rather seek fleeting happiness when all the while, a fountain of unending joy has been offered.

God doesn’t say, “Worship me, because I need praise.”

Rather, God says, “Worship me, because in doing so you will be lead into ultimate Joy!”

You were created as a being that needs to worship. The problem is found in what you are worshiping? The Uhaul truck ran for a short time off of regular gasoline. But it would have run alot longer and been in better shape had I used the diesel fuel that it was designed for. What are you worshiping today? Because no matter who you are, we all worship something.

1 Corinthians 10:21 says that no matter what you do, be it eating or drinking or whatever, do all things for the glory of God. Here is what is meant by that. When you eat a robust, delightful meal, you worship. You brag on the chief, and you tell your friends about how great Rachel Ray is for bringing that recipe to your knowledge. You see what has happened? You’ve worshiped and praised that meal, but its been misdirected. Instead of praising Rachel Ray, why not give credit to where credit is really due? Why not marvel in the fact that God created all of those flavors and spices and He did it all for your enjoyment?

The same can be said of sports teams. Instead of bragging on the athlete for his abilities, why not re route your worship. Why not bask in the amazement of how God blessed certain individuals with the abilities to do such things on the field? When you drink a good cup of coffee, don’t praise the machine for grinding it up, but rather praise God that he made such a thing as the coffee bean so that you would look to Him as the giver of all things! No matter if you eat, or drink, in all things….do it to the glory of God! Do you see just a glimpse of the mind of God? He doesnt command your worship just to flex his sovereign muscles at you! He commands you to worship Him because He knows that is how you will be brought into greater joy!!

“God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him!! -John Piper

What fuel are you running on today? The commands of God are not meant to beat you into submission and make you do things you hate! Rather they are put in place by God almighty to bring His creation into greater joy! But the sad thing is most of us have never taken God up on this offer. We’ve never as the scripture says, tasted and seen that the Lord is indeed good! You were wired with an eternal void in your heart. Other people cant fill it. Money cant fill it. Things cant fill it. Its eternal, meaning only God can fill it. And you were built with a desire to worship. But maybe the reason you are constantly disappointed is due to your worship being misdirected.  God is first and foremost, after the glorification and worship of His Holy name. Meaning that contrary to human belief, you and I are not the point, He is. But we would want it no other other way, because in God being uppermost in His own affections, we are brought into a greater, deeper Joy….because again, thats how we were designed!  I learned quickly that regular gas wont fill a diesel truck. And the Lord has told us that temporal things will not fill that which was made for eternity! We are far to easily pleased by the fleeting desires of this world, when all along, God offers infinite joy.

 “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” -CS Lewis

The Struggle

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…every step towards the goal requires sacrifice and dedication.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Everything in life worth having requires a struggle. We even have mantra’s we adhere to that affirm our belief in the necessity of the struggle. Phrases like, “No pain, No gain!” or “blood, sweat and tears.” The very fabric of our country was built on the backs of hard working men and women who sacrificed of themselves for the betterment of our society. It goes without saying that if we want something bad enough in life, we are willing to do whatever it takes to get it…including go through the struggle.

The CEO of a major company didn’t begin his career at the top. He started out at the bottom rung. Maybe an errand boy around the office. But he was willing to struggle to reach his goal of career advancement. Late nights working overtime, picking up slack, volunteering for extra work that he was not required to undertake. To advance in business, sacrifices must be made in order to climb the ladder of success.  But the business man willingly endures the struggles, because he has a steadfast goal in mind, and he realizes that the struggles only bring him into a deeper knowledge of how to run a company.

A pro football player didn’t just wake up one morning and walk onto the starting position of an NFL lineup.  There were years of the struggle that led him to his ultimate goal of playing pro ball. Countless hours in the weight room, getting up to go run in early morning hours that normal human beings were still fast asleep, and the endurance of long practices that were designed to make most men quit. But this athlete gladly met the struggle head on. He presses forward, despite the hard struggles, because he has a goal in mind. And he’ll not let anything hinder him. The athlete, much like the CEO, knows that the struggle doesn’t harm him, but actually betters him in abilities and knowledge so that he can reach his goal.

Even nature can testify to how struggle in life gives way to reward. Take a beautiful butterfly for instance. It wasn’t always beautiful. It was at one time an ugly caterpillar. The caterpillar eventually climbs a tree and begins to wrap itself in a thick membrane of a cocoon. And then the struggle begins. It must fight and squirm for days in order to get our of that cocoon. Its been said that if you were to cut open a cocoon and take the struggle away from the caterpillar, now a butterfly, which was inside, that it would not be able to fly. Because the struggle is needed in order to make the creature strong.

This analogy of the good of the struggle within the human experience is found in literally every aspect of life. The most obvious struggle to me is that of a woman who wants a child. She knows before getting pregnant what lies in her future. Morning sickness. Hot sweats. Mood swings. And Im sure so much more that I am leaving out. And then the worst of it comes. The struggle of labor.  The pain that a woman endures in childbirth is one that I very much doubt even the strongest man could endure. But then the baby is born. And despite the pain of the experience, the mother smiles with tears of joy. When Lacy gave birth to our middle child Lincoln, it was the worst and most painful labor she had experienced. But once Lincoln was born and in her arms, she said she was ready to do it again!

We don’t count the cost of the struggle when its something we desperately want. We meet the struggle head on with joy, knowing what it will produce in the end.  All of life is a struggle to be met that births great rewards to those who are willing to endure.  The Apostle Paul said this about our growing in sanctification with the Lord…..

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14. 

Paul immediately states the fact that he has not yet attained his goal, but affirms that he continues to press on towards his goal in Christ. Look at this verse and pay attention to the language Paul uses. He speaks of pressing on towards his goal. He uses the word ‘straining’ to describe his journey towards the goal of Christ. When I think of straining, I think about an athlete lifting a heavy weight or running a marathon. Its a struggle and it hurts. There are more easy and comfortable things to do with your time. But a person with a goal chooses to strain, to sweat, to work, and to struggle. Because the goal to which they are seeking is that important to them.

In Colossians, Paul writes to the church telling them of one of the brothers in Christ named Epaphras who is praying for them. Look at what Paul says of Epaphras….

 “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” Colossians 4:12.

Did you see how Paul described Epaphras’s prayer life? He said it was marked by “always struggling.”  And look again at how Paul describes his own prayer life…..

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.” Romans 15:30.

Did you catch our word? Paul describes his prayer life as a struggle, and then invites us to join him in that struggle! Do you see the implication here? That our Christian walk with the Lord is to be a struggle! Even the great Apostle Paul himself admits that it is a struggle to follow Jesus! It is a struggle to press into him! It is a struggle to seek him!! All throughout life, we see the struggle as a means of reaching a greater goal, and in this we gladly endure it. Because we desire the prize that much. Yet when it comes to our walks with Christ, especially today in the post modern culture we live in, we dont want struggle.

And in seeing this, lies the epidemic that is American Christianity. That we have boiled the goal of Christ down to a person saying a neat little prayer and then deeming them saved. And there is no wrestle in their lives. Their is no struggle in prayer. No struggle in late nights, staying up after the kids are in bed, to agonize over scripture. We dont wrestle with Gods word anymore. We dont pray through the text. Men, who are called to be the spiritual leaders of their family, dont open the Bible intimately with their wives behind closed doors with the intention of laboring, crying, and struggling over the word of God with the goal of knowing Him more deeply.

Rather, the picture we see today is one of nominal Christianity. Its church on Sunday, Wednesday night suppers, and getting what they know about God primarily from the preacher on the Sabbath.  And Ill say this…if the biggest portion of your struggle in Gods word is for thirty minutes in a pew on Sunday morning, then the goal of Christ is not important to you. Sunday morning worship is to rally the troops, but the struggle in seeking Christ should be a daily thing that we look forward to in our lives.

Prayer is difficult for me, Ill admit it. But it was also difficult for the Apostle Paul, so Id say that Im in good company. Reading the Bible at times is difficult. Its easy to come up with a thousand excuses not to be in the word. And hear me when I say, ‘In the word’, I dont mean just putting God on a stop watch, giving him ten minutes of your day, and reading the scriptures like you do the newspaper. To be in the word is to labor over it. Ill give you an example from my own recent studies.

Last week I had planned to preach on 1 John 3. I planned to go through the whole chapter. And so I began to study 1 John 3. But I didnt just read the text, I saturated myself in them. I dissected them one by one. I prayed over them. I sought through commentaries to understand every word I was reading. And after two hours of study, I realized that I had only gotten through three verses. And it hit me, that I had gleaned six pages of notes from struggling over three verses. Am I saying every quiet time with the Lord needs to be two hours? Not at all. But sometimes the truth God shows you when you labor over scripture outweighs the struggle. Ive heard many people question why they are not closer with God. On paper, they do all the right things. They pray, they read the Bible daily, and go to church. But if you were to press them, these things they are doing are more just daily checklists than an actually seeking. Sometimes, its not what you are doing or not doing that is keeping you from knowing God, but rather, its a lack of struggle.

We live in a fast food oriented world. We want everything easy and instant gratification at our fingertips. We can have a meal in just minutes through the drive thru window. We can make a purchase without leaving our homes with the push of a few buttons. We can even make friends without leaving our homes through social media. And this mindset of instant gratification has leaked into modern day Christianity. The problem with many churches today is that they want to make it like a fast food restaurant. Salvation that is available in thirty minutes or less. But that has never been true throughout Christian history. For the prize of knowing Christ, history teaches us that men and women endured tremendous struggles, to the point of persecution and death, all for the sake of attaining their goal of knowing Christ.

What is your goal today? Is it to have a bigger house or nicer car? If so you are willing to struggle in the office. Is your goal to reach a certain level of physical fitness? Maybe lose weight or gain muscle? If so then you are willing to struggle in the gym. Are you married and in a season of life where maybe you are trying to start a family? If so then you are willing to struggle through the pain and discomfort that the next nine months will hold. Why? Because your goal, whatever that may be, is worth the struggle.

Is Christ the goal in your life today?

If you say yes, yet there is no struggle towards deepening your knowledge of him, no laboring over the scriptures, no passion in your prayers,  then I would say that Christ is not your goal, he’s your checklist.

Prayer is tough, but is it important enough to you to struggle for? Interpreting scripture can be difficult, but is it worth the struggle in seeing Jesus as the prize? No goal is attainable without the struggle. And it is the struggle of progressive sanctification in our lives that leads us to our ultimate prize, and the fountain of unending joy in Christ.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8.