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.

Life on Mission

What emotions do you experience when you read the Bible? In Christian circles, its very common to hear people say they feel a peace or a calm when they read the inspired words of God. And I will admit that there are many verses that are given to us to lead us into a peace. But in my own spiritual journey, whenever I pick up the word of God, its not peace that I feel, but conviction. Yes, I do feel conviction that leads me to repent daily of my own shortcomings and failures, but this feeling I get is much deeper than just regular conviction. Its a feeling of uneasiness. A feeling of disconnect, like Ive missed something. And then I look at many of the churches in our culture today….and its a feeling of we’ve all missed something.

When you read the Bible is it peace you feel? For me, especially ever since Ive been walking closely with the Lord, there are times when I go to church and then look at the lives of the disciples, especially in Acts and the epistles, it seems to me like what Im reading in the scriptures isn’t matching up at all with modern day Christianity….almost like they are two different things. I would see the radical commitment that Christ calls us to in the Bible, but then hear Church members talk (myself included) that were more concerned with their own preferences and teachings about Jesus that made them comfortable rather than laboring over scripture in prayer and radically living for Christ!

I became so burdened by this, especially about five years ago. I mean to me, when I read the scriptures, I see a total abandonment of gratifying our flesh in exchange for radically following Jesus. The goal of the disciples was never a bigger house, bigger fishing boats, or making their lives as comfortable as possible. Rather, it was a life of constantly letting go of the things of this world in exchange for following Jesus. In short, Jesus and the proclamation of the gospel was the whole point of their lives. I finally got tired of this lack of peace I was feeling. I was tired of living just a portion of what I read in the Bible. I wanted it all. So in one of the most radical things we’d ever done, we sold our business, sold most of our possessions, and our family of six boarded a plane for Central America with nothing more than five suitcases and a diaper bag to live like the men and women we saw in scripture.

Consider this scene for a moment. Lets just say that you had lived all of your life on a remote island in the South Pacific. No technology and none of the modern comforts of our world. Just you, your family, some grass huts and coconuts. And the only book you had in your possession was the Bible. So because there was nothing else to do except eat coconuts, you would read the Bible for the better part of the day to pass the time. As you reached adulthood, you had actually read and reread the scriptures more times than you could count. In fact, you probably would have major portions of Gods word memorized.

Now imagine that in early adulthood, a passing ship spotted you and your family on the island and came to rescue you. The ship then takes you and your family to the United States to your new home, and one of your first experience is being brought to church. Would the church you had read about over and over in Acts look differently than the church in the modern world? Would you be confused, having read the missionary adventures of Paul and having studied the urgency of reaching the lost the original disciples had for the world? Would you expect to see a group of people in the church who were living for a mission? A people who would come together on Sundays much like soldiers come together to get ready for battle, and then see them disperse intently focused on reaching the lost in their communities until they once again come back together? Or would you expect to see this group of people meet once or twice a week yet live the rest of their lives within their own comfort zones?

If you had lived on this island reading the Bible over and over, would you come to the conclusion that you needed to pray and ask Jesus into your heart? Or would you read the words of Jesus and say to yourself, “I need to repent and turn from my sins and I really need to follow Him, and I know that His spirit will come into me and change me!” Because Ive yet to find that passage of scripture that says repeat a prayer, ask Jesus into your heart, and your saved. And I dont see anywhere in scripture where a person received Christ and he or she wasnt radically changed! Yet today, we see people walk down the aisle and say prayers to “accept” Jesus with literally zero life change.

In Ezekiel 36, the Lord told Israel He was going to do a mighty work that the nations would be astounded by. And that change was taking the rebellious nation of Israel who were known for their idolatry towards God and the Lord said He was going to astound the other nations by giving Israel a new heart. A heart that no longer living in sin but worshiped Christ. And when the other nations saw this change, they marveled, because it was literally like viewing a personality transplant. They had always known Israel to be ungodly, but all of the sudden, they were serving the Lord with all of their hearts.

Thats regeneration in the scriptures. That is what God does! He gives the people personality transplants. So much so that people around them should marvel and be amazed, because they are not the same people in Christ as they were before knowing Him! Its no wonder that our world no longer stands in awe of God, because America Christianity has been sugar coated into a message of reciting a prayer and then living life however you want with no change.

Ive talked to so many parents who’s kids are living in rebellion and have no love for the Lord. Yet when I inquire about their child’s salvation, they are quick to say something like, “Well right now he’s just being a teenager, and I know he doesn’t live for the Lord right now, but I know he is saved because he was baptized when he was ten years old.” Do you see how far off of the original gospel message our culture has strayed? Yes, baptism is required, but it doesnt save. In our world today, we are so quick to try and get a person to be baptized because much like the prayer, we think in some way that once they are dunked, they receive a pass out of Hell and in some way that water saves them. But what we have forgotten is that in the scriptures, baptism came after a person was saved, not before. Baptism is a shadow and a symbol to the world of what Jesus has already done in your heart. Its not a savior, just a testimony.

It has even seeped into our christian lingo. Consider these phrases….

“I have accepted Jesus into my heart.”

“I have decided to follow Jesus.”

And these are just a few among many. We hear all the time people refer to their salvation as “accepting” Jesus. But lets think this through. Is Jesus the one who needs our acceptance? He is already perfect, righteous and Holy. If anything, it is we who need desperately His acceptance!

And as for the phrase, “Ive decided to follow Jesus,” there are tons of theological holes in this statement. First lets look at what Paul said of salvation.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.

Grace simply means receiving a gift that you dont deserve. Have you ever known anyone to buy a gift for themselves? And if you have, its not called a gift, its called a purchase. A gift is unexpected. And Paul goes on to say in this verse that your salvation was not of your own doing, so that we could not boast. Meaning, if I was the one to accept or decide to follow Jesus, then I could take credit for or boast in at least a small way in my own salvation because I made a right decision. But Paul just said your decision had nothing to do with it! If you are still not convinced, lets look at this verse.

“But to all who did receive him,who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”John 1:12-13.

Notice the language used. John speaks of a believer as “receiving” Jesus….much like one would receive a gift. And he goes on to say that Gods children are not born like a normal baby from the womb or born of the will of man. In other translations, the part about the will of man is translated, “...nor born of human decision.”  

Many churches pride themselves on doing good and being good people. But our goal is not goodness. Because Jesus said that no man is good…not one. Isaiah said that even our best good works are like filthy rags before God without Christ. Pastor John Macarthur put it best when he said, “Hell is not just a place for rapist and murderers. Hell is going to be filled with good, moral people who didnt know Jesus.”

I dont know it all, and the more I study the scriptures, the more I see how much more sanctification I need in my own life. But one thing I do know is that the church of Jesus Christ was never meant to be a sanctuary and a place of rest. Because for the true Christian, our rest will come in eternity as we are comforted by the Father. But as long as we have breath, we are to be on mission. Jesus didnt intend for the church to be a country club. He never intended it to be a place where we come to be entertained, and hear messages that dont step on our toes. There are preachers who cater to this false gospel, but they are not biblical ones. Rather, the church of Jesus Christ was designed to be a launching pad.

Voddie Bauchman, who is one of my favorite preachers, has two or three children of his own. The other six kids he and his wife have are adopted. The world looks at Voddie and cannot understand why he would keep bringing children that are not biologically his into his family. But Voddie doesnt operate by the American Christianity Handbook. He filters his life through scripture. And in scripture, Jesus emphatically speaks about caring for widows and orphans. And if you think about it, isnt that exactly the example of what Jesus has done for us? We were not born into the family of God. Yet in Galatians, Paul writes….

“God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5,

Paul says those in Christ were not born into Gods family, but rather, they were orphans trapped in sin who were adopted by God the Father, having done nothing to deserve that honor. Salvation is simply by the grace of God. God alone gets the total glory for mans salvation.

And think of missionaries. Im talking about the radical ones. Francis Chan is one of my favorite authors. Francis has published many books and was the lead pastor at a mega church in California in one of the richest cities in America. He was sitting very pretty in the worlds eyes. But a few years back, Francis became burden by what he saw in scripture and the nature of comfort driven modern day Christianity. So he willingly resigned from his huge mega church, gave all of his book proceeds to Gods work, and moved his family to an inner city slum to live and minister to the people there. To live among the poor, so that he might become less as Jesus becomes more.

Who does that? What kind of person would keep adopting kids when he could just get his own grown and then retire in style? Who gives away worldly fame and fortune in exchange for living in the slums? Who in their right mind would forsake the many comforts of our world and put others before themselves as a lifestyle? Well, we study men and women like this Sunday in and Sunday out. Paul, Peter, Lydia, Barnabus, John, Zaccheaus, Noah, and so many more. All these men and women gave of themselves to the point where the world would call them crazy for giving so much.

They refused to do something that is so very common in our world today…..

They refused to mold God into their own image. They refused to give the gospel a makeover. They refused to ignore the very fabric of the Gospel which is self denial.  They embodied living as Christ as Paul once said.  You see all good Christians will say that they want to be like Jesus. But I ask you today to examine that claim within your own heart. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to live like Jesus?”

Personally, If we believe the gospel to be true, and there are many people dying in their sins, and if I truly believe that Jesus could come at any moment, then I dont have time as a soldier in Christ to focus for one second on myself. Some may say, “Well what about your family?” To me, my family….my beautiful wife and my four precious boys are not about me!! My family is about the kingdom of God!! My most important role as a husband and father is not to make sure my wife has the finest jewelry and that my kids have the most up to date video games. My duty it to saturate my wife and kids daily in the word. My job is to pray over my kids everyday before they go to school, and to gather them all at night before bed to teach them the things of the Lord. In my life on mission for Christ, it is my duty to pray passionately over my children, as I watch them sleep with pacifiers, stuffed animals and their blankies, that God would have mercy on my little boys and ask that he might save them.

What is your life about? Take this week to read Gods word. I mean really read it. Look at the passion, the total abandonment, and the sacrifice of the men and women who followed Jesus. Their ministry was not centered around their own preferences or what was popular in the worlds eyes. They were different. They were radical. In Acts 19, the apostle Paul and twelve guys began a ministry in what is now considered modern day Turkey. They began preaching and teaching the gospel. And the scriptures say that within two years, there was not a person on the continent of Asia who hadnt heard the message they were preaching. Thats so humbling to me. We live in a day and age where we have tons of technology and can travel miles in a matter of minutes, yet we have neighbors living right next door to us that have never heard the true Gospel of Jesus.

No cell Phone. No cars. No planes. No Nike shoes. Yet Paul and twelve men proclaimed the Gospel to every person in Asia inside of two years. We have more advantages today in the delivery of the Gospel message with far less effectiveness.  And eventually, there has to come a time where we stop pointing the fingers at each other, and point the finger at ourselves. Satan has lulled many churches to sleep by turning Christianity into a stagnant organization rather than a living and active one. After the disciples saw the risen Christ, it didnt say that they worshiped on the Sabbath, and then the rest of the week they went fishing. They lived life on mission. And they felt the weight of urgency for the lost around them. The proclamation of the gospel wasnt just an element of life. It was life.

In John 10:10, Jesus said he came to bring life and bring it abundantly. I dont want to miss out on that life. CS Lewis once wrote that the problem with people who dont know Jesus is not that they are seeking too hard after that which will satisfy their souls. He said rather, the problem is that they arent seeking hard enough. Dont be satisfied for just being told some things about Jesus. Seek Him! With all that is in you!! And its when you begin to do this that the church will transform from what was once just a weekly calendar event into a life giving adventure!

Just Like Daddy

I love being the father of four boys. They all want to be like their daddy in their own ways.  Andy who is seven years old, and my oldest, watches my every move. Particularly in the areas pertaining to how I take care of myself. I’ve always been a pretty healthy eater. Not because I want to be Mr. Olympia, or because I’ve been ordered by my doctor to follow a certain diet. I eat healthy because I want to take care of the temple God has given me, and because I’m one of those weird dudes that actually likes fruits and vegetables. So while Andy’s younger brothers delight in any and everything chocolate that they can find, Andy will always watch to see what daddy is eating before choosing his snack.  If Im blending up a smoothie, he is my only child that will request that I make him one as well, even if it has spinach in it. Whether he truly enjoys my daily spinach smoothies, Im not sure. But regardless, he always has to have the same things I have for a meal, because he wants to be like his daddy.

Lincoln who is five years old and my middle child wants to be like his daddy in different ways.  I drive a pretty old truck. It whines when its running, it leaks when its raining, and if you turn the steering wheel all the way to the right or turn the air conditioner up above notch number two, it will cut off. But other than this tiny issues, its a great truck. Needless to say, my truck is not as comfortable to ride in as my wife’s cozy mini van complete with a nifty DVD player that they kids can watch while traveling. But anytime our family goes somewhere and has to take both our vehicles, Lincoln always wants to ride with me. He loves my truck. And when we are together in the truck, he brags aloud how he and I are men for riding in the truck instead of the van. I know, and Lincoln knows that riding in mommies van would be more comfortable and entertaining for him. But he is happy to set aside those comforts in order to spend time with me. Because he wants to be like his daddy.

Abel and Luke are my two year old twin baby boys. Abel is my passive child. At night, while the other three boys are busy playing together in their rooms with toys, Abel refuses to join in with his brothers. Instead, Abel will come over to my recliner where I usually will sit, and curl up in my lap to watch an episode of Micky Mouse Clubhouse. He would have so much more fun running around the house with this brothers and playing with all of their toys. But at night, he wants to be where I am. Because he wants to be like his daddy.

Luke is no different. I have a hat. I know you may be thinking, “Everyone has hats.” But I have one of ‘those’ hats. A hat that much like my truck, is old and worn, but never the less its the one hat I love to wear. And whenever Luke sees me with my hat, he runs to his room and gets one of his older brothers baseball hats and proudly wears it on his little head….even if it does keep falling down into his eyes. I know constantly pushing those hats out of his eyes is a pain. It would be so much easier to just take the hat off, at least until his head grew enough to fill them out. But Luke is the happiest when he sees me wearing my hat, and when he is then also wearing his. Because just like all my sons, he wants to be like his daddy.

A son will naturally want to be like his father, regarding that the father is a loving father towards his children. That’s just our nature. We gravitate towards those who show affection towards us, and due to that affection, we admire them and want to be like them. That is why in the case of a loving father, his sons will look at him as their hero. 1 John chapter 3 describes God and our relationship with Him in much the same way. I only want to examine the first three verses of 1 John 3 in light of scripture…..

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”1 John 3:1.

The scriptures describe Christians or followers of Christ as “children of God.” He  is our Heavenly Father, and He is a good, loving Father. In fact, regardless of how good your earthly father may have been to you and how much he may have showered you with love, God the Father’s love is indeed much greater than we could ever imagine. In fact, Matthew says it like this….

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11.

No matter how good we are, at our very core we are sinful creatures. We are evil in our thoughts and actions.  John Calvin described this human commonality as total depravity. We are not sinners because we sin.  Rather, we sin because we are sinners.  Its our inherited nature passed down from our first parents, Adam and Even in their fall into sin described in Genesis. Therefore, even the best of human fathers has a depraved and sinful nature. If this were not true, then we would have no need for a savior, because we would possess the ability to save ourselves with our goodness.  But that’s another blog for another day.

The scripture in Matthew points out that if a man who is good in the worlds eyes has the capacity to give love and good things to his sons, how much greater is the capacity for a Holy and perfect Heavenly Father who knows no evil to give good things to those whom He calls His children? Now look back at 1 John 3:1. “See what kind of love the Father has given?” That in spite of our sinful, rebellious nature, God the Father would choose to adopt us into His family and call us sons!

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Galatians 4:4.

Remember, we were not born into the family of God. As is pointed out in Genesis, we were born into sin. No one is born into God’s family. God in His great love and mercy, chooses to adopt some….

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13.

A child who is adopted into a family doesnt have the liberty of choosing their family. It is the parents who choose the child. One of the greatest mysteries of scripture is how God saves and calls men. It is a wildly popular yet unbiblical belief among many evangelicals that we as humans possess the ability within us to “decide” or “chose” Jesus to be our Father. This belief totally disregards literally hundreds of passages of scriptures  that describe us as broken and unable to do anything but sin without Jesus. As CS Lewis said, we are like dirty children living in the getto, in desperate need of adoption into a good family. And if you are a person that clings to this false doctrine of human decision regarding God, look back at the verse above in John 1:12-13.  It states among other things…..”we are God’s children, not born of human decision, but born of God!”

Even though we didn’t inherit the righteous nature of God, because of his great love toward us, we fight against our flesh and forsake the temptations to live like the world, because we as redeemed children of God have a greater desire to be like our daddy. We want more than anything to mimic and be like our Heavenly Father. And this Father/ son description is carried further as we continue examining 1 John 3…

1 John 3:1-2, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” 

I hear so many slams against people that are truly living for their Heavenly Father. Names like ‘Jesus Freak’, or ‘Bible Thumper’ are used by the world to label believers who are striving to be like their Father in Heaven. And as Christians, being called these names can be hurtful and down right frustrating. We as believers want unbelievers to understand why we are different. We want them to understand the joys of not giving in to the flesh and living in sin. We want to be accepted. But the world will never accept us, because the world never accepted Him. And this is especially true of a Christian who revels so much in the love of his Heavenly Father that they would rather walk in the footsteps of Christ instead of what is deemed popular and the norm in our current post modern culture.

Our goal as believers should never to be try and get the world to understand us. Because the reason the world doesn’t understand us, is because it doesn’t know Him.  If someone makes fun of a Christian for being who they are in Christ, its not necessarily a slam against them to be taken personally. Because lets face it, humanity tends to make fun of things that they don’t understand, and things that deep down convict them.  My goal as a Christian shouldn’t be to get my secular friends to know and understand Charlie. My goal should be to get them to know and understand Jesus. Because only when a person understands Jesus will they then understand Christianity. But look at the next part of the verse….

1 John 3:2, ” Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

What will will be has not yet appeared. The scripture speaks of the believer’s glorified state in eternity. We have no idea what that will be like. As sons of God, we will one day be like Jesus. But He who we will one day be like has not yet appeared to us in His eternal state.  I personally cannot imagine life without sin. Life without conviction and daily need for repentance. The verse goes on to say that on that day we will be like our Heavenly Father….perfect, sinless, and eternal. And the reason for this is because finally then, we will be able to see God’s plan as he sees it. All the things we don’t understand about God will be made known. Just as a father teaches a son the reasoning behind why he does certain things when the boy reaches a certain point in life, so our Heavenly Father will make known many of the mysteries of His ways when we stand before Him in glory.

This verse is so much deeper than a quick first glance. We will one day understand, because we will view our lives on earth as Jesus has viewed them. The scriptures speak of tears being wiped away from our faces in Heaven by our Father. There is no doubt in my mind those will be great tears of regret shed abundantly by each and every child of God. Because for the first time, we will see things not in our worldly perspective, but through the eyes of the loving Father that we at times rebelled against. You’ve heard of children growing up and looking back at how rebellious they were to their parent in their youth, and upon gaining wisdom, apologizing to their parents for the pain they caused them. I believe when we meet Jesus face to face, it will be much the same way.

I know for a fact that when I stand before my Heavenly Father, I will not regret that I didn’t make more money in my earthly life. I will not regret that I didn’t sew more of my wild oats while I was young. My sole regret standing before the Father in eternity will be that I did not live more radically for Him while I had breath. I will greatly regret with tears streaming down my face that I did not pray more, serve more, and sacrifice more worldly comforts in exchange for being like my Heavenly Father. And for the first time, standing before King Jesus….face to face, my heart will be utterly pierced by the reality and the depth of love on Calvary. It is there before my Father that I believe I will just begin to wrap my mind around His sacrifice on the cross. The fact that He died for me, and was punished for my transgressions….because of His great love for His children. To close out, lets look at verse 3…..

 “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:3.

God uses certain terms to describe His children all throughout scripture. He uses words like spotless, blameless, and Holy. The word ‘Holy’ literally means to be different. The Hebrew definition means “to separate.” In the case of a Christian, it means to be separate from the world. So if a person is claiming to be a Christian, yet the willingly live an unholy lifestyle, meaning they continue sinning while knowing its wrong, then the correct conclusion would be that they are not truly Christians. Some would say that is judgmental and that we are not to judge. True. But we can inspect fruit (Matthew 7). And if God says that His children are Holy, it is only logical that a person living an unholy lifestyle doesn’t possess the traits of those that are identified as children of God!

Being Holy doesn’t mean that a Christian is called to be perfect. We are to desire to be like our Heavenly Father more than anything, but in our flesh we will fall short at times. But the difference is that a person who is not a child of God will be able to continue on in their sin. Even if they know its wrong, they will not be broken over it. Their self gratification will be far more important. But to a Christian, living like Jesus will be of First Importance! And when a Christian falls into sin, they will be broken hearted. Just as a toddler desires to walk, at times, the child will stumble. The child is heart broken over his fall and disappointed that he at times falls. But the Father of that child knows that the toddler’s one desire is to walk like daddy. And in love, the Father picks the child up, and encourages him to keep walking.

The scripture calls a Christian to strive to keep him or herself pure. Just as a person invited to a grand ball wouldn’t show up without looking their best, so we as believers have been invited to our Fathers wedding supper of the Lamb. Isaiah describes the supper as one that will have the best meats and wines. Zephaniah says that at this Feast, the Lord will no longer rebuke us, but instead, rejoice in song over His children. That is why in Romans 8, Paul says that there is no condemnation in Christ! In Jesus, we no longer stand condemned, but now justified in Him!

So what do you do when you know what is right in your mind, but your heart just won’t sink up with that?  What do you do when you know there is sin in your life that has not been addressed, and your heart is torn between following Jesus and fulfilling the desires of the flesh? There is a phrase that is used over and over in the scriptures….”Wait on the Lord.”

Waiting on the Lord can be excruciatingly difficult. In fact in one of the most heart wrenching Psalms in the Bible, David is dealing with this issue and actually on the verge of fighting with himself.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God…”Psalm 42:5.

To put it in modern terms, David is saying to himself, “Why are you so downcast my soul? Why do you keep being drawn to these cheap sinful ways that never lead to joy??  Why do you keep falling into the same trap over and over!!!” And David then tells himself, “Put your hope in God!!!”Have you ever been in that place?  Have you ever felt the disconnect between what that mind knows to be right and the wicked ways the heart continues to chase?

So what do you do when you experience these season of disconnect? For the child of God, you wait on the Lord while you press into Christ and His word ever harder, striving with all your might to surround yourself with Him and hunger to walk in obedience. And why would you deny your flesh? Why would you be still and just wait on the Lord? Because you are lost without your Father. And you know that He loves you.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”Isaiah 40:31.

We want to be like our Heavenly Father. And in times of trial, we press further into Him. We wait on the Lord. Because we know that for those that wait and hope in the Lord, He will renew their strength, and mount them up on wings like eagles. And there will come a day when they will not be faint under the pressures of sin, but walk in the footsteps of their daddy.

Are You on The Team?

I loved attending college at the University of Alabama. The beauty of the campus and the great people there made my tenure at the University a joy to attend. But one of the biggest reasons I loved Alabama was for its prestige and tradition, particularly in the area of football. The University of Alabama is legendary when it comes to their domination on the grid iron. To date the school boasts of fifteen National titles, holding the record of championships in college football.  Names like Paul “Bear” Bryant and Gene Stallings among others have led the Tide in many victories and cementing the school and themselves into an almost mythical status among the South Eastern Conference as well as the entire collegiate landscape.

I had played a bit of high school football. And upon moving to Tuscaloosa to go to school at U of A, I toyed with the idea of actually trying out for the football team.  How neat it would have been to claim that I was on the Alabama Crimson Tide’s football team. So much glory and honor was shown towards the men that were on that team. So many privileges were given to those who were on the football team, not to mention the great respect one receive just by saying that they played football for Alabama.  But being on the football team at Alabama was work. Hard work. While most college students enjoyed massive amounts of free time to themselves, the football players were obedient to the will of their coach so that the University would continue its legacy in college football.

Now I could have just said that I was on the football team. I could have told my classmates that I loved the team and that I was a team mate. But in reality, I wasnt on the team. And me simply professing that I was a football player would fool no one. I did not go to practices, I didnt go to the team workouts, and I didnt help the team win any of their National titles. I could have said I was a member of the team, but I had no championship rings to show for it. I reaped none of the good benefits that the real team members did from being true football player.  Because I was not a football player.

Scripture states that, “All things work together for good to those who love God.” But what about those who do not love God? Most everyone says that they love God. But true love for God requires work. Just like those who are truly on a college football team must be obedience to the demands of their coach in order to receive glory, so must a Christian heed the commands of the Lord. In our world today, everyone says that they are a christian. Everyone wants that title, and the peace of mind that they will inherit the glories of God the Father as a result of their confession. But they live life on their terms. In football terminology, they dont attend the practices, they dont study the playbook, and they really have no true love for the coach. In their minds, they have convinced themselves that because they go to church occasionally and claim the title of Christian, that this alone makes them a true believer,  And its a lie from Satan himself that is deceiving so many in our world today.

I heard a noted theologian once ask the question, “Have you ever wondered why we say that there is a stairway to Heaven and a Highway to Hell? Its because Hell has more travelers going that way, and it takes effort to climb the stairway.” Obedience and living a life committed to Jesus is not easy.  Its not just reciting a few words and saying an oath or prayer. Its having a true love for our King Jesus Christ. So much so that you are willing to sacrifice and forsake the enticing ways of our evil world in exchange for the glory that He will receive and the promises of reward that are in the future of every believer.

“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.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.” 1 John 5:2-4.

If we are truly members of the body of Christ, we are obedient to the commands of God. And to be obedient and be victorious in the game, you must love the play book. How many professing “Christians” have a true love for the word of God? So much so that they hunger to know what pleases the heart of God? For many people in our world, the word of God is considered a burden. Sadly even for many professing believers this is true. They claim to love Jesus but consider His word burdensome and look for any excuse not to be in the word daily.

But did you notice what the verse in 1 John said? It said that His commands…His word…is not burdensome to them. Because they understand that His word brings life to that which was once dead! Do you claim to be a Christian? And if so, do you delight in the word of the Lord? Is obedience to the commands of God a burden to you? Or are they, as King David said in the Psalms, like honey on your lips?

I dont write this to condemn but rather prod every person that professes to be a Christian to examine themselves in light of scripture. Is your profession to be a Christian a true one, or are you like a college student who admires the football players, and because he wants the same glory they receive, will claim that he is a football player, but in reality is not even on the team?

This brings us full circle back to my question. Lets read the verse….

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

So, do all things work together for the good of everyone?  The scriptures say only for those who love God. But it goes even deeper than this. Not every person who says they are a Christian will have all things work out for good, because as we’ve seen through the example of a football player, not everyone who says that they are a Christian is actually a Christian according to scripture.

And the good that we so eagerly anticipate as believers is not speaking of a worldly prosperity. In fact, the greatest good that we could ever receive is spending eternity with God the Father! That is why Paul said that we should rejoice in suffering, because our earthly suffering will give way to Heavenly reward.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5.

Are you truly on the team, or is it just a false claim? Do you love His word, and do you seek daily to see how you can press further into obedience to God? Examine your claim. Following Christ is the greatest sacrifice you will ever make. But it leads to the greatest love you will ever know. The coach is blowing the whistle. Its time to step onto the practice field. Are you on the team?

What is the Age of Accountability?

The battle of Little Bighorn occurred in 1876 in eastern Montana, and is commonly referred to as “Custer’s Last Stand”. The battle took place between the U.S. Cavalry and northern tribe Indians, including the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho. It took less than one hour for the Indians to overcome Custer and his army, killing General Custer in the process. The Battle of Little Bighorn has memorized students and has been the topic of great debate amongst historians for decades. The reason for these debates is that many myths seem to have taken the place of reality. Facts of the battle throughout the years have become blurred.

Details such as how many soldiers were actually killed, where Custer was killed, the size of the Indian brigade, and even what side of the river the battle took place. There are even famous paintings of the battle that continue to be heavily criticized and debated as to the accuracy portrayed by the artist within the canvas. Over time, people have embellished and over exaggerated the events or they have taken away depending on who you are talking with. Indian historians tend to paint Custer and his men in a cowardly light, saying that they eventually began to hide behind the bodies of their dead. Caucasian historians create a different picture, claiming that Custer and his men stood strong until the very end.

This is just on tiny part of our human experience. At times we will take hard facts and manipulate them ever so slightly so that the story bends towards our preference. And we can see this perversion of truth being exemplified weekly in many of our nations pulpits. Some pastors are very obvious with their distortion of the Gospel, leaning towards an extreme prosperity that anyone with basic biblical knowledge would be able to see through. But others tend to only bend the truth ever so slightly, as to make their audiences feel better. This is especially evident when pastors begin to try to explain things about God with absolute authority that God himself never fully revealed in scripture.

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

In the verse above, God is plainly telling us that there are some things that are secret. Things that were are not meant to know this side of Heaven. Things that we cannot have absolute answers to. So it is wrong of us to try to explain anything other than what God has given us. The Lord goes on to say that “..the things revealed belong to us.”  Everything that God saw fit to reveal to us is included and bound in the Holy canon of scripture! Everything we need to concern ourselves with is within the pages of the Bible. Still, many teachers and preachers fall into the trap of trying to explain the unexplained to their congregations.

And most teachers dont do this with a mindset to out right pervert the scriptures. Most preachers do this to add an element of relief or ease to the minds of their listeners. You see, human nature doesnt like the unknown. We dont like things unresolved, particularly when its dealing with how God relates to us. We want all the answers and we want them now. In all reality, what we would like is to be able to put God in a tiny box so that we could manage him well, and all of his ways were known to us and everything God did was easy on our minds and worked out the way we deemed appropriate.

But our problem is that we cant put God in a box. CS Lewis described God as an untamable lion. In his epic novel, (and now movies) The Chronicles of Narnia, the Lion Aslan in the story is a mirror image of Christ. When speaking of Aslan (or Jesus), one of the characters asked another, “Is he safe?” To which the other character, Mr. Beaver, replied…“Who said anything about being safe? Course he isnt safe! But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you!”

We will never understand all of the ways of God. God fully explaining his ways to us would be like a human trying to explain himself to an ant. Our minds do not possess the capacity to absorb all of the things of eternity. And the unknown, particularly when it pertains to God, can be a scary thing. But regardless of the things that have not been revealed to us, we can always rest in one certainty. That as Mr. Beaver put it, he is not safe and you cant cage Him…but He is good.

We serve a righteous, good God whose depth of love for us we will never be able to comprehend. So in this truth we know that regardless of what we dont know or understand in the ways of God, His ways are always pure and more righteous than our ways and what we think is right within our fallen and depraved human minds.

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9.

Job in his great time of suffering was bold (or dumb) enough to challenge God about why things were working out in ways Job did not agree with. Job was basically telling God that the Lord was wrong because God wasnt doing things like Job thought were right. He was basically calling God unfair. And I love the Lords response in Job chapters 42 and 43, wherein God just beraids Job verbally, asking Job if he were there when God created the universe, or nature, or asking Job if he can control the elements like God. In the same way, we have no right to question Gods ways, or to add or take away from them in order to ease the element of unknown. But we are to rest in knowing that Gods ways are always right.

One of the most twisted workings of God that we tend to add to or take away from fall under the headings of salvation. Especially when it deals with our children. We want to ascribe some sovereignty to ourselves and our kids pertaining to their salvation. Among many perversions of scripture, many churches have created this man made doctrine that we often label as, “the age of accountability.”

In this we say that children cannot be saved until they reach this age of accountability and possess the ability to rationalize the Gospel. The only problem is that the scriptures never say that a child nor an adult for that matter can reach an age where he or she can save themselves with a decision. Let me put it this way. I am a minister. My wife and I pray with our children and surround them with the things of God. My seven year old has more scriptures committed to heart than I did until I was in my late 20’s. But just because I am a minister and my kids go to church doesnt save them.

We cannot push or pressure our kids to make a decision for themselves that has nothing to do with us! My childs salvation is between him and the Lord. So as a parent, the best I can do is to surround my children with the kindling of the things of God and pray that one day, the Holy Spirit ignite that in their hearts. My wife and I dont pressure or prod our kids into walking and aisle and praying a prayer. Instead, every night, we pray over them. I pray for each of my boys and I ask God to open their eyes in His perfect timing….and save them. Because I cant do it. It is God who saves, not me.

As for this “age of accountability”, I think we have misinterpreted the doctrine. Yes, I believe there is an age where a child’s mind matures enough to distinguish between evil and the ways of the Lord. And I believe that an infant that experiences death goes on to be with the Lord.

“And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.” Deuteronomy 1:39.

But I do not in any way think that their salvation hangs in waiting until the blooming of this age of reasoning within a child or in the childs decision. You see, the story has already been written. But dont take my word for it, let us look to what the Lord has revealed.

“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,” Isaiah 46:10.

King Nebuchadnezzar said it this way….

“His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” Daniel 4:-34-35.

Paul writes of God say the same thing to Moses like this…

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15.

And the Psalms put it this way…

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord” Psalm 37:39.

The disciple whom Jesus loved said it like this…..

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13.

To sum it up, salvation is from the Lord and is a doing of the Lord. The verse above plainly states that a humans decision has nothing to do with salvation. It is not a result of a person or child chosing to grasp theological reasoning. God will accomplish His purposes, and He has long worked out our salvation long before we even thought of Him.

The Apostle Paul said it like this. When he wrote his letter to the Galatians, he reminded them of his former life in which he hated Christians and even killed them. Now we all know Pauls story beginning in Acts chapter 9. Paul didnt reach an age where it all made sense to him. And right in line with the verse above from John, Paul didnt all the sudden decide to follow Jesus. He was in the mind set to kill Christs followers. And what happened? Christ simply revealed himself.

When we point to scriptures that allude to Gods sovereign choice, those that oppose this doctrine have been known to say, “Well if salvation is Gods doing alone and not our choice, then are we not as robots controlled by God?” And the answer is no. You see, God doesnt flip a switch in those whom he wants saved and make them love him with some spell. All God has to do to save a lost man is to simply reveal himself. The revelation of Jesus Christ and who He is to man….when man first gazes upon His beauty and majesty and is pierced by what was done for him on Calvary, God is simply irresistable.

But Paul also said this to the Galatians…..

“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles,” Galatians 1:15-16.

Did you catch that? Gods plan for Paul’s salvation wasnt tied to an age of accountability, but rather…..was sealed into Paul within his mother’s womb. What a testimony to the patience and mercy of God, that he would let us run from Him in rebellion, patiently waiting until the moment He would choose to reveal Himself….and call us by His grace. God had a plan for the life of Paul before he was even born! So do you think that Paul, once blinded by Jesus could have continued to deny Christ? No he couldnt. And here are two reasons why.

First of all, as already stated, God revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, and the beauty of the Lord Jesus was irresistible. Secondly, if you continue reading Paul’s salvation account in Acts 9, God calls to a Christian man named Ananias to go and pray over Paul. Ananias feared doing this because he had only know Paul as a killer of Christians, but here is what God said of Paul to ease the mind of Ananias…..

“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Acts 9:15.

The Lord called Paul his “chosen instrument.” Pauls salvation played into the plan of carrying salvation to the Gentiles. And God had this plan worked out from before creation! How sad would it be if God were at the mercy of man’s decision in order for His plans to succeed! God is not at our mercy, he is sovereign, and he is righteous in everything that he does!

The age of accountability did not play into the salvation of John the Baptist. Go read the account. John was actually saved in the womb of his mother Elizabeth!

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 1:41.

Obviously, no matter if you believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation or not, it is pretty clear that John the Baptist had no power to deny the call of God in the womb!

Another example of this is found in Romans when Paul writes about the birth of Issac’s twins sons Jacob and Esau. As the story goes, Jacob grew up to be a man of God while Esau rebelled from God all of his days. Was this due to the boys making a choice at a young age?

“Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:11-13.

Note that Paul writes that even before the twins were born, before they had done anything good or bad, God had deemed salvation to one, Jacob and not the other. It was not the boys who grew up to choose or deny God, but rather the scripture point out that it was the sovereign choice of God that had been determined in the womb!

I once heard a man who didnt believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation say, “If you believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation, then why do you pray for God to save people, because according to you he will save them with or without your prayers!”

But this mans motives for praying for the lost could be challenged as well. If you are a person who doesnt believe in the sovereignty of God and believe that God has given man the freedom to chose or deny him, then in praying for God to save a person, you are actually praying for God to override the free will you defend and take on the sovereign nature in salvation that you say God doesnt possess!

God speaks in the scriptures very much on human responsiblity. We have the freedom of choice in working out our salvation. But not in salvation itself.

“God is calling His people unto Himself.” Micah 3:6-7.

Look at how Jesus describes the salvation process….

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27.

Who are His sheep?

“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37.

The sheep are all of those since the beginning of time until the end that the Father has given to the Son. The verse doesnt say that “…those the Father gives me MIGHT come if they decide to.” It states an absolute….that they WILL come, and they will NEVER be driven away! Once salvation has come, regardless of our occasional stumbles, a Christian will persevere until the end in Christ. Why?

Because Phillipians 1:6 says that He (that is Jesus) who began a good work in you will finish it!! Once the Father has revealed Himself, you will NEVER be cast away. Salvation cannot be lost, it can only be given from through Jesus as a gift from the Father.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” Ephesians 2:8.

Again, there is an age of reason in a child wherein the become able to decifer the things of God from those of the world. But salvation is not in their choice. It is a gift from God the Father that is sealed in His adopted children from within the womb. We dont pray to God to get things from Him. We pray to God to commune with Him. We dont preach the Gospel to others in order that we might save them. We preach the Gospel to participate in the great honour of working side by side with our Father.

Missions is not the mindset of, “We need to go preach to these people or they may never get saved!” Rather, mission is God the Father looking at His redeemed children and saying, “Hey, Im going over to this part of the world, and Im going to bring people to salvation. You wanna come to work with your Father today?” And in God being seen as sovereign over salvation, we can rest in knowing that He will accomplish His plans of salvation, and we can do nothing in our own power without our Father. As a child of God, this reality of the grandeur of God should fill our hearts with a comfort and safety of how big our God is. And although at times we may not understand His ways, we do not add or take away from them, because there is no doubt that His ways are greater and more righteous than ours! Praise Him!

Parents, lead your children. Cover them in the knowledge of the Lord. And pray for them each night. Pray over them no matter how old they may be. And commit them to the Lord, and ask Him reveal His irresistible beauty to them in His perfect timing. Ask God to save them, and to begin a good work in them that He promises to carry to completion.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13.

Prodigal Gospel

One of the smartest decisions I made when I was young was to not throw out any of my toys. I packed them up and kept them, stored in the attic of my parents house. That was until we had kids. Then I once again pulled them out of the cardboard boxes that had been their home for years, and gave them to our boys. When I first brought the boxes down to them it was like Christmas morning. Who would have thought that toys from the 1980’s could still bring such joy to little boys.

Our twins who are two years old love balls. Footballs, basketballs, it really makes no difference to them, just as long as they can throw it and it has some bounce to it. They found a red bouncy ball that I had when I was a child and immediately fell in love with it. They would play with that ball for what seemed like hours. But I noticed that the ball was really flat and didnt have alot of bounce to it. But that didnt seem to bother the twins. In fact they didnt even seem to notice it at all. They had never known that ball to be restored full of air.

The ball was practically broken, but the twins didnt notice its brokenness, because it was all they had ever known.

So I decided to take the ball down to the gas station and restore it pumped full of air. And when I took it from the twins, they had a fit. They didnt want me to take the ball, even though I tried to convey that I was only taking it for a short time to fix it. When I returned from the gas station, the ball was full of air and bounce. And the boys loved it. As much as they liked the ball before I had fixed it, now they were almost giddy at the extreme bounce that it now had.

Our church just returned this week from a mission trip to Wisconsin. We were helping a church plant that has been started in the town of Muscoda. One of the things we did was to just walk around the town and talk to people about the new church and invite them to come and attend. We even had some opportunities to present the gospel to people we ran into on the streets. Sadly, most people we encountered had an attitude of indifference towards the gospel. Some even seemed offended because they were already attending another church. But even the people who claimed they already went to church looked more like the world with their language and mannerisms than a true Christian.

I told my wife upon returning that the trip was eye-opening for me. To see that it’s not just the community that I live in but predominately our entire nation that holds to this attitude of indifference towards the Gospel message. Our nation is no doubt that hardest mission field. In a foreign country, the natives are hungry for the message of Christ because they’ve never heard it. Its refreshing and new to them. But in our nation, the Gospel is not received well, because everyone thinks they already know it. Most Americans have bought into a broken Gospel from a young age. They’ve never heard the true one. And this broken gospel message is all they know.

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” Galatians 1:11.

The Apostle Paul addressed this issue with the churches of Galatia. They were believing in a perversion of the true Gospel message. And Paul says in verse 11 that he did not preach to them a man centered Gospel, but the true one. The biggest form of lostness is not atheism, but believing in a broken version of the Gospel. One that is man centered and not Christ centered. We have a tendency to take the scriptures and water them down or add to them so that they fit our preferences.

But the Gospel, plus or minus anything, is no Gospel at all.

The broken Gospel that our world typically is seen buying into today works itself out in two ways, and amazingly, Jesus addressed and warned us of these Gospel perversions over two thousand years ago. And he did it through the telling of what we have always called, “The Parable of The Prodigal Son.” Many books have been written specifically on this parable, the best Ive read being Dr. Timothy Keller’s “Prodigal God.”

Prodigal literally means to squander or to be wayward.

The story is told in Luke 15. And we have heard this parable so much throughout our lives that at times, we can miss Jesus intended meaning due to just taking it in at face value. But if we examine the story and the context in which the parable was told, it is clear that Jesus point was to expose in detail the dangers of believing in a broken Gospel.

Now most of us know the story. There is a father who has two sons. The younger son comes to the father and demands his share of his inheritance. This is unheard of, even by todays standards. You do not receive an inheritance unless the person you are receiving it from dies. Hence, the term inheritance. But this younger son is demanding to receive his share of his fathers possessions before the father dies. He is basically telling his father that he wished he were already dead.

The father upon hearing this had rights. He could have disowned the child, had him beaten, and in some cases it was legally acceptable to have him put to death. But this father lets his younger son go. This would have had the original listeners to this parable gasping, because this was not what one would have expected of the father.

The younger son wants the fathers things, but he doesnt want the father. He wants the wealth, the comfort, and all the benefits, but he doesnt want the father. The Father in the story represents God the Father. And some of us buy into the same broken gospel that the younger son bought into. We want the comforts of knowing we have eternal life, but we dont want God. We dont want to live by his rules, we want to live life on our terms. So to soothe our minds, we convince ourselves that because we go to church or because we’ve been baptised we are free to live life however we want because God is a forgiving God and he must forgive us. But thats not the true Gospel.

“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.

Hebrews couldnt make the point more clearly. Simply put, if you claim to know God but use his forgiving nature as an excuse to keep sinning, then you are not saved. You have bought into a broken gospel and not THE Gospel.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, we must remember that there are two sons in the story. We tend to make the story out to be about a son that goes wayward and comes back into the fold only to be forgiven by his father. But that’s only half the story. Jesus point in telling this parable was for us to compare and contrast the two sons, and to place ourselves into this story. Asking the question…which son are we?

As we know, the younger son takes his inheritance and squanders it on wild living and prostitutes. He ends up with nothing, living and working in a pig sty. The son remembers his father’s hired servants, who are not part of the family but are taken care of by the father. The younger son decides that he will go back to his father and ask only to be allowed as one of his hired men. The younger son has no intention of asking for his place back in the family. He wants to earn his way back.

But as the story goes, the father sees his younger son coming from far off and runs to him. One of the important things we miss when reading this story at face value is the cultural context. When Jesus said that the father ran to his wayward son from far off, the original listeners would have been astonished at hearing this.

A father and a patriarch would never run. That would mean pulling up their skirts and baring their legs. Women would run. Children would run. But not owners of estates. Not fathers. That was something that you just didnt do. But this father cared nothing about social barriers. This father ran to his wayward son. Before the son even got to the father, the father ran to meet him. And in the original Greek version of this story, it translates to say that the father fell on the sons neck.

Have you ever been so happy to see someone who you embraced them and buried you face in their neck? That is the picture being painted here of the father, and again, the father in the story is the representation of our Heavenly father. The wayward son came home, but it was the father who ran to him. And the father would hear nothing of the sons speech about being a hired hand. In fact, if you read the story in Luke 15, you’ll see that the father doesnt even acknowledge what the son said about wanting to work his way back. The father instead, immediately declares sonship on his son, and plans a great feast to celebrate the sons return.

It is the norm for most preachers to rush through the end part of the story, because they tend to focus on this one son, forgetting that Jesus intentionally placed two sons in the story. As the parable goes, the older son gets wind of this great feast being thrown. He asks his servant what is going on and is told that his younger brother has returned.

This infuriated the older son. Full of anger, he refused to go into the party. And again, we see the father leaving his party and comforts and going out to his older son. Pay attention to the subtleties in the story. It was the father who ran to his younger son. And it was the father who went out to his older son. We can never come to God the father, unless he first comes to us.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.

The older brother was angry. He says to the father, “Look….”. Notice that the older son didnt call him father, he first said , “Look.” He went on to basically say to his father, “I have always been obedient to you and done all that you asked of me, and this younger son comes back after wasting your money and you take him in and kill the fatted calf for him?”

The fatted calf was a delicacy in those days. Meat was rare due to its expense, but especially a fine meat like the fatted calf. Yet the father kills the fatted calf for his younger sons celebration. The older brother is furious about this, even saying to his father, “You’ve never even given me and my friends a goat to celebrate with!”

The older son represents another broken form of the gospel that we still buy into. It is that of legalism, or doing good works to get to Heaven. You see, the older brother had the same problem as the younger son. He loved the fathers things, but didnt love the father. He obeyed to get the fathers things, not simply because he loved the father. He boasted of his obedience and not his love.

If God were to ask you why he should let you into his Kingdom, and your first response was to list off all of your good deeds, all of the Sunday School classes you taught, all of the mission trips you went on, or how many times you read through your Bible in your lifetime, and then you claimed that  due to your obedience, God owed it to you to let you into Heaven,  it would be a tale tale sign that you never understood the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus would have been your role model, Jesus would have been your example, Jesus would have been your boss….but he wouldnt have been your savior.

In each son, we see that they are trying to save themselves. They are trying to be their own savior. One is doing it through rebellion and watering down obedience to the father, and the older son is doing this through his works. But Jesus shows us in the parable that both sons are lost. Both sons are believing in a false or broken Gospel. And both sons are separated from the father. But it is the younger son that enters the feast. So what does this feast represent?

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” Isaiah 25:6.

The feast is Heaven. The feast is the wedding supper of the Lamb, where all true believers will sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the presence of King Jesus. The younger son came home. And again, you can almost hear the original listeners gasp. It was the lover of prostitutes that was saved and the morally upright man who was lost? Unheard of! But again, go back to the context.

Jesus was speaking to two different groups of people when he told this parable. He was speaking to the tax collectors, who lived life on their own terms like the younger son, and he was speaking to the pharisees, who were very obedient to the law like the older brother. And this story was really directed at the pharisees. Because  before Jesus told this parable, the pharisees saw Jesus speaking with the tax collectors and they said…

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Matthew 11:19.

Imagine the shock on their faces when Jesus told this parable. They were quite aware of the meaning of his story. And they were irate. Remember Jesus wasnt nailed to the cross for being a meek and mild guy. He was relentless with truth, even when it totally went against what was culturally acceptable. Have you settle for a broken, culturally acceptable form of false gospel, or do you truly know Christ?

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the story is that which is not spoken, but rather referred to. Prior to telling the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus told two more parables. The first was that of a lost sheep, and in the parable the good Shepard went out to find the sheep. The second parable was that of a lost coin, and the lady of the house searched until she found it. But in the parable of the prodigal son, no one goes out looking for the younger son. This didnt fit in line with the mold of the parables Jesus was telling.

And the reason was that Jesus wanted the listeners to ask themselves the question…”Who should have gone out to look for the younger son?”  Back in this time period, it was the older son that would become leader of the family after the father passed. So it was seen that the older son had the responsiblity of holding the family together. He had that responsiblity. Were the older son a good older son, he would have gone looking for his wayward brother to bring him back home. But in the parable, the older brother did not. Why?

Because he was selfish. You see, when the younger son came home, all the older brother could see was his share of the inheritance diminishing. When the younger son once again became part of the family, he was also again privy to everything the father had. The older brother would have to split the fathers things with his wayward brother, and in the parable, the older brother would have nothing to do with his younger brother.

Sadly, the younger brother in the story had a pharisee for an older brother. But we do not. We need more than an elder brother who would go searching for us in the next town, but instead, we are in need of an elder brother who would come from Heaven to earth in search of us. The elder brother in the story despised the thought of having to give up any of his inheritance. But Jesus gave it all up, and the comforts of Heaven, in exchange for a persecuted life and death on a cross, so that you and I could come home back into the family of God. Salvation was pure grace to the younger brother, but the younger brothers salvation was costly to the older brother.

You see, Jesus is the true and greater elder brother. Jesus gave up everything…his inheritance that he had rightly earned with his obedience to the Father, so that we could return home. And because of his great sacrifice, our hearts should be so pierced that we are not rebellious and we do not obey to get things from him. We live an obedient life because we are so moved by what our true elder brother did for us, and that God the father ran to us when we were so far off, and fell on our necks.

That is the true Gospel. Sometimes we grow so used to the broken things in life that we forget that they were ever broken to begin with. Have you forgotten the true Gospel? Read Luke 15 and ask yourself which son are you? Is your idea of the Gospel of Christ works based or are you running from God to hold on to your sins? Both are easy to justify, but they’re not the Gospel. Salvation is found only in one, and that is through the mercy of our elder brother Jesus Christ, and the grace of God our Heavenly father.

A Recipe For Biblical Missions

I loved my grandmothers chocolate pudding growing up. Now you may think that all pudding is alike, but you’ve never tasted my grandmothers recipe. To put it as humble as I know how, its spectacular! She passed away years ago, and with her went her went her pudding recipe. I tried so many times to recreate grandmothers chocolate pudding on my own, but it was never like hers. Then one day I stumbled across her recipe in an old dresser drawer, and I saw that grandmother did things differently than most. Instead of chilling her pudding in the refrigerator, she cooked it in the oven and served it hot. All those years I had tried to make it and failed. But now that I have the recipe, I am able to share grandmothers spectacular pudding with the world.

I think sometimes many churches fall into the trap of doing mission work much like I did my grandmothers pudding. We try to create something spectacular without looking at the recipe. One of the greatest deceptions in the church today is how we go about doing missions. Most churches get their congregation excited with the notion of going to a far off land for a week or two. And our intentions are very good with the trip being centered around feeding the poor or sharing the gospel with natives. But many times, mission trips can be more about us having an experience than actually proclaiming the gospel.

It’s great to get a bunch of people together and go to a foreign country to do missions and minister to the natives of the land. But let me pose a question to you; What do you think happens to those natives when we leave after a week? Imagine that you knew nothing of the Gospel of Christ, and a team of missionaries flew in for a week. You sang songs with them and they taught you a few Bible stories, and then after a week, the missionaries who have been instructing you leave.

When we lived in Panama working as missionaries to the Guaymi people, I remember speaking to one of the local Panamanian Pastors. We would see teams of missionaries from the states come in sometimes to minister to certain Indian villages. I had mentioned to this pastor that I thought it was great that churches from the states came to Panama, to which he replied…

“Yes, but you must understand that Bible believing Christians are not the only missionaries that come to Panama. We have Jehovah’s Witness missionaries, Mormon missionaries, and many other false religions that come to spread their message to the Guaymi. The Guaymi people are more confused than ministered to.”

It was a wake up call as to how I would view missions from that day forward. Churches in America with good intentions do missions much like I did my grandmothers chocolate pudding for so many years…I tried to get results without following the recipe. We cannot expect people that are unfamilar to the Gospel to grasp it in a weeks time. There are many false teachers in the world. Take for example Paul’s letter the the Galatians. He had come and preached the gospel to them, and they had been very receptive. But when Paul left, confusion crept in the Galatian churches. False teachers of Judiasm came forth perverting the Gospel that Paul had preached, confusing and deceving the Galatians. That is why Paul continued to minister to them.

It’s not that we don’t have the recipe for successful missions, we just tend to overlook it. The Apostle Paul wrote the recipe for Christian missions. In fact, most of the New Testament is basically a blue print for how to spread the Gospel, especially the books of Acts and the epistles of Paul. Let me point some things out regarding Paul’s missionary journeys.

-When Paul made his first missionary visit to Corinth in order to preach the Gospel to themhe stays a year and a half (Acts 18:1, 5, 11).

-During Paul’s missionary journey to Ephesus, he stayed for 3 years (Acts 20:31).

-Paul eventually spends 2 years in his own hired house (Acts 28:30) as a prisoner in Rome from 61-63 AD. During this time he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. In about 62 AD, Paul wrote Ephesians before Timothy came to him (Ephesians 1:1) while in prison in Rome (Ephesians 3:1, 4:1, and 6:20). Also in about 62 AD, Paul wrote Philippians from prison (Philippians 1:7) in Rome (4:23) with Timothy (1:1). Paul wrote Colossians from prison (Colossians 4:18) in Rome in about 62 AD with Timothy (1:1) and fellow prisoner, Aristarchus (4:10). Paul, with Timothy, wrote Philemon from prison in 63 AD (Philemon 1:1).

-During Paul’s imprisonments when he could not minister to the churches that he had helped establish, he wrote these letters (the epistles in the Bible mentioned above) to encourage the people he continued to minister too, and he sent people such as Timothy and Titus to go minister in his absence.

These are just a few noted facts about Pauls missionary journeys. But in these few facts, we see a recipe for Biblical missions. Paul didnt travel to a foreign land, minister for a week, and then return home and hope the gospel he preached took root. Paul planned his missionary journeys, traveled to his destination, and didnt put a time limit on when he would leave. Paul continued ministering to the regions he was preaching for as long as it took to raise up leaders within the people of that region, and to establish churches.

And even after the churches were established, Paul never abandoned them. He continued to check on them as a mother would her own children. Paul encouraged the churches as often as he could with his presence, and in his absence, with letters and sending his ministers such as Timothy and Titus, to visit them.

To simplify the mission of missions, according to the recipe of Paul, here it is;

Missions is planting churches, and making disciples, and raising up leaders within the people group who can lead the church. Some people will argue that missions should be about tending to the poor. But honestly, if the focus is on planting churches and discipleship, then tending to the poor will be a natural result of our endeavors!

Since I’ve lived in Panama, lets use Panama as a modern-day example of how this would look if we followed Paul’s recipe.  Panama is full of Guaymi villages scattered all throughout the region called Camarca’s. These people are very poor, and the villages are made up of literal bamboo huts. The need is tremendous. The goal would be to enter an individual village in hopes of planting a church, and begin preaching and teaching the Gospel to the natives.

Now obviously, we could not travel to Panama and spend years training and teaching. We would have to return home to our families. That is why the village we chose to minister to would have to be a long term concentrated effort for however long it took to plant the church and train leaders.

Also, multiple trips to Panama could get costly for a person to take many trips there per year. Thats why I would propose that huge groups dont go all at once. Rather, teams would be split up and sent at differing times throughout the year. Once the church in the camarca has been established and leaders are plugged in from within the village, then you move on to a different Camarca and that one becomes your area of concentration, all the while keeping contact with the recent church plants.

Teams could be split up in this manner; One team could be a construction team focused on assessing the needs of the village, (water well, housing, and church building). One team could be a needs only team focusing on the nutrition of the villagers as well as medical care. And one team could be the teaching team, with the goal of distributing Bibles in their language and teaching the gospel. And eventually, one team would be responsible for the theological and pastoral training of local men who show an interest in leading the church as their regular pastor.
And these are just a few examples of just the tip of the ice berg in organization for an endeavor like this. Missions was never meant to give us the opportunity to experience another culture for a week and then go back home grateful that we dont live in those conditions. Missions is a lifetime committment to a people group that God has laid on your heart. Its much like marriage. We do missions with the intent of developing a love for the people and to share the love of Christ. But most importantly, we do missions with a militant mindset. “Whatever it takes”….should be our mantra. We go out and willingly leave the comforts of home because Christ willingly left His kingdom in Heaven to seek us.
“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21.
The example of Panama can and should be applied by every gospel centered church who yearns for the Gospel to reach all nations. I don’t have all the answers as to how to do missions best, but I believe that Gods word does. And as passionate as Jesus was about His mission and the proclamation of the Gospel, it is apparent that His instructions as to how we are to do missions is exemplified all throughout scripture, particularly in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. No matter what region of the world God lead you to minister, we should always build our strategies around the Word of God.
My prayer is that we would all begin to see missions in light of scripture. My prayer is that we would stop trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to missions. That we would stop trying to concoct our own recipe when we have God’s recipe given through the example of the Apostle Paul. My prayer is that we would love people more than our modern conveniences, and not be afraid, but rather excited about forsaking the comforts of home in order to be obedient to Christ final words to His disciples in
Matthew 28:18-20…..
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Are You a REAL Man?

The best television shows in my opinion are usually the ones that are in black and white. The simplicity of entertainment without having to rely on gutter humor to get a laugh is just appealing to me. My absolute favorite television show is The Andy Griffith Show. When it comes to Andy Griffith trivia, I am a veteran! I would love to just hang around Barney Fife all day long. With his tender heart, he would be a great friend to have. In the show, Barney is great at his job as number two man in the Mayberry county police force. He is great as a follower. But Barney is a terrible leader. In fact, every time Barney has a chance to lead in Andy’s absence on the show, he never fails to mess things up. Barney Fife wants so badly to be respected and to be a man in every sense of the word. But although Deputy Fife is a good guy, the truth is that he is a coward, he is selfish in always wanting things to be done on his terms, and he is weak willed.

Pastor Jon Beck pointed out in a recent sermon that we have alot of Barney Fife’s in our world today. Men that will pound their chests and tout the reasons why they are men with strong words, but their actions betray them. They claim to be strong yet they are weak. They claim to be leaders, yet them trying to lead their families is akin to Deputy Fife trying to be sheriff. Its just chaotic. Our secular world defines manhood by so many trivial things. Sports, hunting, fast cars, are all bragging points for men. For some reason, we as men tend to think that in some way, being good or interested in these things validates us to men and makes us more appealing to women. Men today look more to the world for their example than to our God who set the example, Jesus Christ. And Ive yet to see anywhere in scripture where Jesus manhood or leadership was defined by his hunting skills or through his knowledge of sports statistics. Jesus was no Barney Fife. Jesus was the quintessential man. He is the prototype and the blue print for what it means to be a leader and a man. And I want to touch on just a few ways in which Christ exemplified true manhood.

Real Men Take Responsiblity

Real man take responsiblity for their family, they dont pass the blame. In the garden of Eden, we can see immediately that Adam was a bit of a Barney. As you recall, it was Eve who initially disobeyed Gods command and ate of the fruit that God forbid. Then she brought the fruit to her husband Adam, and he part took in eating as well. It was Eve who first sinned, and then it was Eve who convinced Adam to do the same. Men today will make jokes, saying things like, “If Eve hadn’t eaten that fruit, we wouldnt have the mess of a world we have today.” They are basically saying that the fall of man is the womans fault. Even Adam said this. After Adam and Eve had sinned, God approached him and basically asked what had happened. And Adam said this;

“The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Genesis 3:12.

“She made me do it! It was the womans fault not mine!” That was Adam’s defense. But again, notice in the Genesis account that God confronted Adam regarding the sin, not Eve. You see, when Eve ate of the fruit initially, Adam was no where around her. He had lost sight of his wife, and was not guarding her. As the leader, Eve was given to Adam as his responsiblity. He was to lead her, and to not let her wander into deception. There is no doubt that Eve would be held accountable for her sin. But it was Adam that would be held in higher account for Eve.

The call to manhood is a privilege but also a great responsiblity. How many marriages today have fallen apart because the man neglected to lead his wife spiritually and allowed her to drift off into the deceptions of the world. The secular man is quick to defend himself and cast blame.

“She just doesnt make ME happy.” 

“Our bad relationship is HER fault.”

“She first ate the forbidden fruit, not me.”

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:25-27.

The first element in being a REAL man is the word. The Bible tells us that God is love. Therefore, if we as men are not plugged directly into the only source of true love, then we can’t know real love, much less give it. Without Christ, we can only know the worlds version of love, which in all reality is no love at all. Rather, the worlds version of love is just a tolerance stating as long as I am happy, Ill love you.

Look at the examples of how we use the word love by our worlds standards.

We LOVE food…as long as it satisfies our hunger.

We LOVE our pets…until they pee on the carpet.

We LOVE our sports teams…until they have a losing record.

We LOVE our spouse…unless we become unhappy or something new comes along.

Our world has absolutely no idea what real love is. Worldly love is conditional. It is selfishly based on our needs, wants, and desires being met. Worldly love is all about us. But lets examine this.

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

If we truly believe the Bible, then we know that the true definition of love is only found in God. Unlike worldly love, Gods love is unconditional. Gods love doesnt look to self, but to others, literally dying to self. Gods love doesnt count costs and pass blame, but takes responsiblity for things, even when the fault is not your own. How easy would it have been for God to look down on humanity and say, “Those humans have lived as adluterers, chasing after other loves and breaking my commandments. They were the ones in the wrong, so Ill have nothing to do with them. I will have no more relationship with them.”

But God did the opposite. Even though the fault was ours for our rebellion against God in our sins, it was Christ who took the responsiblity to bear our sins. He took the blame and punishment to the point of dying for us. Could Jesus have thrown his hands up and claimed that we didnt make him happy, therefore he wouldnt love us anymore? Absolutely he could have! Remember in the garden of Gethsemane when soldiers came to arrest Christ? Peter attacked one of the soldier to defend Jesus, and Jesus said this to Peter;

 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:52-54.

 Jesus basically said to Peter that he could call on legions of angels to come and take him away from all of the persecution he was enduring. Jesus could have said, “That was the last straw, I am NOT taking the punishment for the sins of humanity!” And Jesus could have turned his back, choosing not to save depraved man, and been carried back to Heaven leaving us to suffer the punishment for our own sins. But he didnt. Jesus goes on to say that he was fulfilling the scriptures that pointed towards a Messiah, a leader, a REAL man, coming into human history to save a wicked people from their sins.
Love wasnt a feeling to Jesus, love was a matter of choice. Love is choosing to love someone more than yourself, despite all of their flaws and shortcomings. It is to be willing to give your life and suffer for another, never giving up. Love is not about you. Love is not about happiness. Love is about sacrifice and self denial. Love is leadership. Godly love is manhood at its very core.

“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.However, each one of you also must love his wife  as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:28-33.

God doesnt call men to love their spouses and families like the world. We men of God are called to a higher responsiblity. We are called to love our wives, and to love our children like Jesus loves us. We are called to sacrifice for our wives and children like Jesus sacrificed for us. We are to be the peace makers in our families, EVEN WHEN WE ARE NOT TO BLAME….because Jesus made peace with us while we were still sinners…while we were still hurting Him with our rebellion.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

Paul goes on to say in the Ephesians verse above to state that this kind of love is a profound mystery to the world, but Paul says this mysterious kind of love can be described by seeing it in view of Christ and His church. That is the picture of real love. The example of REAL manhood is not Barney Fife, but Jesus Christ.

So I ask any man who may be reading this; are you a Barney Fife? Do you pride yourself on being a man but fail to lead your family? Are you more concerned with your kids being involved in twenty different sports and with their athletic achievements, or is their spiritual condition of the utmost importance? Do you spend time daily leading them in family worship and teach them the Word daily, or do you rely on the church to do this? The job of leading your kids spiritually is not the pastor nor the youth ministers job. The church is their for support. It is the head of the house, the man, that God has charged with instilling Godly knowledge into children.

As it pertains to your wife, do you look for flaws in her? Do you complain of her short comings and mock her falling into deception? Do you chastise her for her lack of Godliness? As the man just as it was with Adam, it will be you that is held accountable before God for the spiritual condition of your wife. Are you washing her daily with the water of Gods Word? The word ‘Christian’ literally is translated to mean, ‘little Jesus.’ Are you a Barney or an imitation of your Heavenly father? Our world has far to many Barney’s. And though Barney speaks a big game, in the end he all talk. Manhood is meant for men. Real men. The world is full of little boys with facial hair. But puberty doesnt make the man, Jesus Christ does.

If you have been a Barney, let this be a new day in the life of your family. Begin to set a time each night to huddle up your family and read from Gods word. Teach the scriptures to your children weekly, and explain to them the Gospel. If you yourself dont understand the Gospel, make it a priority to seek out your pastor and express to him your desire to be a real man and to lead your family. Submerse yourself in the scriptures. And bathe your wife in the word of God. Lead her, pray with her, and love her with a love that is virtually unknown to our fallen world. Its time to MAN-UP! Its time to take responsiblity and lead our families as men in light of eternity! What an awesome privilege we have in Christ!!

The Church; Dearest Place on Earth

When you think of church, what is it that immediately comes to mind? Do you begin to think of a Sunday morning duty that must be checked off, watching the clock and counting down the seconds until the preacher finishes? Is it just something you do so that you can in some way justify calling yourself a Christian? Maybe thats not your idea of church at all. Maybe to you, church is the place of a majority of your weekly activity. Maybe you are involved in a multitude of ministries and functions within the body life of the church. Although intentions are good, church is more or less a place to submerge yourself in activities in hopes that your works in some way justify your claim to being a follower of Christ.

To some, church is a place of refuge. A place to have their personal needs met and to find escape from the painful circumstances of their lives. To others, the church is the reason they do not follow Christ, having been hurt at some point in their past by an harshly judgemental congregationalist or led astray with a false gospel by a preacher who was more of a wolf in sheep’s clothing than a true Shepard. It goes without saying that the church is not viewed by everyone in the same way. Through the years, the church has taken on many different identities. But Biblically, the true church of Jesus Christ only has one identity. Jesus gives us some character traits of what the church should look like in the book of Matthew.

 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16.

So much wisdom and direction is given here by Jesus as a blueprint to how his people…his church, are to be viewed. Jesus begins by stating that we as followers of Christ are to be the salt of the earth, and then asks the questions if salt loses its flavor how can that flavor be restored. True salt cannot lose its flavor. Salt is always salt, hence the salty flavor it carries.

I remember when I was a kid my parents sprinkling salt on their food. I was extremely picky and didnt branch out and try new things when it came to eating. I recall seeing my mom sprinkle salt on some vegetables while preparing my plate before dinner and I thought that by doing this, she had ruined a completely good meal! The green beans that I loved were now contaminated, or so I thought. Hesitantly I took a bite of the salt sprinkled green beans expecting to gag, and to my surprise I noticed that the salt had added so much more flavor to my meal!

To many ‘churches’ live bland spiritual lives, forgetting that they have been called to be salt, adding flavor to the world! We are to be different from the world. The church should be intriguing to the lost world. As they look at the church, maybe thinking that following Christ would ruin their meal of being fulfilled and happy, but once they try Jesus, realizing how very bland their life had been without him, and how great a joy knowing him brings to the soul!

Jesus further expounds on his exposition of what His church is to look like, saying that we are to be the light of the world, like a town built on a hill. That is to be a city that is set apart, that all the other pagan cities would look to as a light. Far to many churches today fall into the trap of feeling like they must relocate from being the town on the hill and move in with the pagan villages in the valley. They think that in order to contextualize the gospel and make it relevant, they must become less like Christ and more like the world. But if we begin to set the example that you can continue to look and act like the world while following Christ, we in turn water down the life blood of the gospel message making it no gospel at all. We are to be an uncompromising city on a hill. A beacon of light that cannot be put out by persecution or pressure to be more palatable and relevant to culture.

In these few verses in Matthew, Jesus just gave a description of what a healthy church should look like. But what does an unhealthy church look like? An unhealthy church is one marked by sermons the are very cliche. The preaching of the word in an unhealthy church is very moralistic and me-centered and are often described as ‘spiritual self help seminars.’ They preach on “what can Jesus do for me” instead of preaching “what Jesus has already done for me and because of that, what I now can do for Him.” The gospel is to be Christocentric in nature, not a man centered pep talk. It is to realize that Christ was and is the light of the world, and to be pierced to the heart by the price Jesus paid at Calvery so that we could have fellowship with Him! A healthy church is one where the gospel of Jesus Christ is radically proclaimed. There is no need to water down the word, because it is through the preaching of God’s word that God supernaturally invades hearts and begins to change them.

“Salvation comes from the Lord.” Jonah 2:9.

To often preachers think that they have to get people saved. But that is a task that a mere man is no more qualified to do than Ezekiel was to put together the dry bones in the desert all by himself. It was Ezekiels speaking the words of God to the bones that God ressurected those bones and brought life to them. Preachers are to preach boldly the word of God with a fire and passion faithfully, and God will bring what was once dead to life. Churches forget that the power of Christ doesnt lie in having a thousand different activities, but the power lies in preaching the word.

Another mark of a healthy church is a by product of expositioal preaching. It is personal evangelism. Unlike spiritual gifts, the chore of evanglisim was not given to certian individuals in the church, but to every person who is a true follower of Christ. Evangelism is simply speaking words. It is to proclaim the gospel in our communities, and to the people that God has providentally placed in our everyday lives. It is to share the news of Jesus Christ and his death, burial and ressurection to the masses. In the Exodus account, Moses argued with God when the Lord ordered him to go into Egypt and confront Pharoah, saying basically that he wasnt good at talking! But God didnt let Moses off the hook! He didnt excuse him from speaking the words of the Lord to the pagan Pharoah. In fact, God made Moses into arguably one of the greatest leaders in history, in spite of Moses fears and shortcomings.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that we are to persuade others, even pleading with them in our everyday lives in all things pertaining to the Gospel of Christ, because we know the importance of knowing Him.

“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” 2 Corinthians 5:11.

The great preacher of the mid 1800’s Charles Spurgeon said this of the church;

“Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us… All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people. How else is there to be a Church on the earth? If it is right for anyone to refrain from membership in the Church, it is right for everyone, and then the testimony for God would be lost to the world!

As I have already said, the Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers. The Church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.”  -C.H. Spurgeon

Did you catch how Spurgeon began this quote? He started out by acknowledging that the church had flaws! He acknowledged that the church wasnt perfect! How often do we complain about others in the church and get chips on our shoulders because things are not going ‘our way?’ To many seekers will come to church expecting it to accomidate and cater to their every need. Their musical preference, their worship style, their accomidations. But all along, the gospel call is for the children of God to die to themselves and put others before themselves, even at the risk of suffering, a trait that was exemplified in the life of Paul. But despite the church being imperfect, Spurgeon calls the church, “…the dearest place on earth.”

So again I ask, what is the church to you? Is the church the dearest place on earth to you? Not because of what it gives you, but because of what Christ has already given. Is it a place you come to serve or a place you expect to be served. Is the church a place where you come with a list of mental demands that need to be met? If so, then I would venture to say that you have a history of church hopping. As Spurgeon said, “…the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers.”  The church was never intended to be a country club. The church of Jesus Christ a launching pad to the mission of Christ. Dont ask what can God do for me through church. Ask within the church, how can you be that city of a hill? How can I make his name glorified? Church is not about us. Its about Him! As John the Baptist said, “He must become more as I become less.”

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19.

A Proper View of Prayer

The Christian life is one of constant repentance. Constant, meaning everyday. The day we stop repenting is the day we stop growing in Christ. In fact, praying for God to reveal areas in our lives that are in need of change should be a daily prayer. Can I just share with you a truth that was revealed to me in my time with the Lord this morning? Brace yourself….here it is; We serve a very big God.

Sounds anticlimactic I know. The reality that God is a big God seems to be such an elementary statement. Yet so many professing believers are completely stunted in their spiritual growth because they seem to think that they, in all of their years in church, have God completely figured out, therefore repentance in their lives is void. The nominal Christian can fall prey to wanting to have all the answers for fear of looking foolish when asked a question about our big God. But sometimes, its ok to not have all the answers. Because it is in not knowing something about God that pushes us deeper in to pursing Godly wisdom. And once the wisdom that was once lacking in our lives is attained through seeking the Lord, it is not to be used a bragging right of Biblical knowledge, but to humble us into further repentance.

This has been true in my own life. Specifically in the area of prayer. I have come to see that there is a direct correlation between seeing the hand of God and the prayer life of  a believer. I am burdened by the reality of how watered down prayer has become, specifically in our modern-day culture. Today we tend to view prayer in one of two ways. The first view of prayer is that of a daily check list. This way is generally used by a person who has good intentions to grow in God. But due to the hustle and bustle of life in our 21st century world, God like everything else must be penciled into our daily planner. Some will prayer in the morning while others at night. And there is nothing wrong with having a set time to pray. Any prayer is wonderful. But in viewing prayer in this way, we attempt to put our big God in a little manageable box. Although done with great intentions, this view of prayer limits us from experiencing the blessings of prayer at a much greater level.

The second view of prayer is much more common today and its the view that we mainly come to God in prayer when we are in need. It is to see God as a means to get what we want out of life. And just as the former view of prayer mentioned above, this can also be done with the best of intentions. In fact many churches today fall into this pattern of prayer, except in within the church, we  corporately pray as a body for the needs of others more than our own needs. Prayer meetings in the church consist mostly of praying for illness and healing. And again, there is nothing wrong with this. We should pray for the well being of others. The problem comes when this view of prayer is the predominate one.  The problem comes when we are praying more for ailing church members rather than the lost world. As one pastor put it, at times the church prays harder to keep the saints out of Heaven than to pull the lost out of Hell.

When it comes to prayer, it boils down to the fact that our eyes are so focused on getting what we want out of prayer. And what happens when these selfish prayers are not answered, particularly in the case of praying for someone who is not healed from an illness, maybe even resulting in death? We cannot fathom at times why God would not hear the prayers of the saints and not want to answer their prayers of deliverance. And so discouragement sets in, and faith is shaken. We begin to doubt the power of prayer. We begin to wonder if God really hears us. I used to think of prayer in this way. And in doing so, I only proved that I knew nothing about the purpose of prayer.

I thought I had a great prayer life, until I began examining the lives of greater men that have come before me. Prayer warriors in the fullest sense of the word. And when measured against them, my prayer life was almost pagan in form. Think of these two modern views of prayer I mentioned above, and then begin to read about the men of God throughout history. Charles Spurgeon was known for his great prayer life. One friend of his told the story once of he and Spurgeon taking a stroll in the woods and laughing about different things together. Spurgeon stopped along the path and told his friend, “Let us kneel in prayer right now and thank God for laughter.” And  upon reading this, I immediately was shamed. How often do we pray to God in this way? To just stop and acknowledge Him as giver of all things! And to not always come before God with an agenda, but simply to praise him for the water that runs from our kitchen sink, and for the food that he (not the grocery store) himself has supplied so that we may be nourished.

In the mid 1800’s in Bristol, England, George Muller set out to raise up and fund a series of orphanages. He took in hundreds of needy children to support. Muller was also a pastor. And his prayer life was amazing. In pastoring his church, Muller never asked for a paycheck. He had a box put in the back of the church for the members to put offerings for his support. He never urged them to contribute, because he wanted his sole income to be provided by Gods hand. God never let him down. He operated the orphanages in the same manner. Never asking for donations or funding, he and his staff prayed to God to supply their needs. One month the orphanage was out of food. The children were hungry and it was time for their morning breakfast of bread and milk. Muller prayed for God to supply the needs of the morning. No sooner than he had finished praying, a man with a bread wagon entered the orphanage and said that the Lord had led him to give a donation of bread to the church. A few minutes later, a man driving a milk wagon had busted his wagon wheel right in front of the orphanage. His wagon was full of milk. Knowing that he would never be able to get the milk to his destination without it now spoiling, the milk man told Muller to make good use of all that he had in the wagon.

One of my favorite preachers today Paul Washer has told the story of the beginnings of his ministry, Heartcry.  He said there were times when in trying to get the organization going, he and his staff couldn’t take a paycheck. But always through prayer, God provided for them. Because in all their prayers, they never prayed for their will, but always Gods.

You see, prayer is about communing with God. Prayer is about relationship with God. But prayer is not about getting what we want. Prayer is not an avenue in which we can boast of how faithful we have been and therefore, begin thinking that God owes it to us to answer our prayers. Prayer is not about our wants and desires, its about the will of God. It is so much more freeing when we learn this. Because we realize that chasing after our own wants never works out. But if we are in the center of Gods will for our lives, then no affliction can prevail in our lives. I am still growing in my prayer life and in constant need of repentance. But I have learned how to prayer. Rather, I should say Ive learned how I am most comfortable praying. It is in the bulk of my prayers, that I utter these words….

“Father, not my will but yours be done….” Its to begin to pray for things in this manner of example;

I prayer for healing, but if God be more glorified in some way in the sickness; Not my will but yours be done.

I pray for a new car, but if God be more glorified in my travels by foot, then let me walk all the days of my life with no car.

I pray for prosperity, but if God be more glorified in my poverty, then I will rejoice in what little I have.

And in all this, let me do this with a heart full of thanksgiving that even though I may not be fulfilling the desires of my flesh, I walk in the utmost safety, because I have put myself in the center of His will, not my own. Using the example of health, we should never pray for health so that we may live longer for ourselves, but we pray for health so that we may be a sharper tool to be used by the Master for bringing others to know his glory! If we are praying for a car, it should never be so that we can keep up the with Jones next door, but so that in his will, it can be used to aid us in bringing Him glory! In everything we do, in every prayer we pray, at the core should be a concern for the glory of God!

When we begin to seek the Lord, our wants start align with His will. If a person in truly walking with the Lord, that person will begin to carry the same burdens as his Heavenly Father. And the temporal wants of this dying world will begin to be viewed as trivial and fleeting. The disciples were in constant prayer. And they saw God do many great things. But there were also times that they were not delivered. They lived a poor life. And they died horrible deaths. John was boiled  alive in a vat of oil and then shipped off to live a portion of his later years on a remote island. Peter was crucified upside down. Paul was beheaded. Spurgeon struggled with depression his whole life and then died. A person with a low view of prayer could say that God didn’t answer their prayers of deliverance. But they would only show their ignorance in the matter. Because the treasure and reward of the toils of these men was not placed in earthly comforts, but in a pearl of great price. They held tight to a hidden treasure in a field. Their treasure was found in Christ, and their reward was not on this earth but in Heaven.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”Matthew 13:44-46.

Regardless of the outcome of your prayers, it should always be a greater desire in your heart that God’s will triumph personal requests, because even though we may not get what we want, there is joy to know that the desire of our hearts seeks more for Gods will. Because we know that when we are tied to our Father, no danger can overtake us. Its sort of like those parents who put leashes around their young children s hands when going out in public. The kids may kick and scream when they cant go their way, but their way is not always the best. And as long as they are tied to their parents and walk in their footsteps, the child will not be lost. How is your prayer life today? Is God penciled into a box, giving him just a small portion of time? Or do you enter daily into an ongoing dialogue with him in which you pray constantly with out ceasing? (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Maybe its time like me, you repented of your prayer life. And if so that is nothing to be ashamed of, but something to rejoice in that God in his mercy, brings us into a greater knowledge of himself, thus placing our lives at the center of His will. For if he cares for the sparrows in the trees, then how much more will he care for his children who call upon his name, and walk in his ways?

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”Matthew 10:29-31.