THE THREE WORDS THAT CHANGE EVERYTHING

In my last post I wrote about how most Christians never rise above the level of mediocrity in their walk with Jesus because the bar has been set too low. Most Christians just aimlessly float through life with a “oh well, I’m just a sinner” mindset and never experience all that God has planned for them. However, God has blessed us with everything necessary to live a holy, God glorifying life, and to reach the destiny He has planned for us.

You see, as born again believers in Jesus, we have it all. Why, then do so many believers miss this? Why do so many live such a defeated Christian life and settle for mediocrity? Because most never appropriate the profound truth found in Romans 6 that every believer has died with Jesus to their sins. Romans 6:5-7 says: “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,
knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  for he who has died is freed from sin.”,  and Romans 6:11 tells us: “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” . Add to this Colossians 3:3: For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. “ and Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me”.

You see, my friends, the totality of the Christian life can be summed up in three words: DIE TO SELF.

“Self” is that part of me that wants to be God, that part of me that wants to call the shots. Simply put, “self” is the old, sinful me. When we, by faith, repent of our sins and trust in Jesus as Savior, we become new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  What an incredible truth! However, when we become this new creation, it is important to remember that the old self is not eradicated, The old, sinful “me” is still hanging around.

This is where dying to “self” comes in. I must, based on Romans 6, Colossians 3:3, and Galatians 2:20, consider that my old “self” is dead, having been crucified with Jesus. How, you may ask, is this possible? Obviously we weren’t living two thousand years ago, and we certainly were not crucified with Jesus. So what does this mean? Simply put, we must consider it a fact that positionally, (not physically), our old sinful “self” was put to death with Jesus on the cross, meaning that the power of sin has been broken in out lives.

Two phenomenal truths happened at the cross – 1. Jesus died for our sins, which is justification; 2. We died with Jesus to our sins, which is sanctification. All Christians (if they are truly born again) grasp the first truth. But very few grasp the second, which leads to a mediocre life. 

The Biblical truth of dying to “self” impacts every aspect of our lives. When I counsel married couples having problems, or when I talk to an individual struggling with sin, or an individual who is just going through the motions of Christianity, the common cure is very simple – DIE TO SELF. “Self” is the cause of virtually all sin and problems in life. Why? Because “self” is rooted in pride, and pride is the root of all sin.

In talking to couples with marriage problems, I have heard so often the phrase: “he/she is not meeting my needs”.  Well, marriage is not about “you”. It is about being a humble servant of your spouse. Just think, if every married person would die to “self”, would there be as many marriage problems?  No! The “I” and “me” focus would be replaced by the focus on “my spouse”.

If every individual would die to “self”, would there be as much shallow Christianity as we see today? No! Believers would die to the old desires and replace the  attitude of “I’m going to do what I want to do” with “I’m going to do what Jesus wants me to do”. This would impact our entertainment choices, our relationships, our handling of money, our attitude at work, how we use our time, and what comes our of our mouths. Dying to “self” is, in effect, making Jesus Lord of our lives (instead of calling Him Lord but never giving Him the reigns of our lives) and living in obedience to His commands. You see, we mess up our lives when we (“self”) call the shots instead of God.

Practically, dying to “self” means that:

  • I don’t need to get my way
  • I don’t need to be recognized when I do something
  • I don’t need others to validate me
  • I don’t seek retaliation when I am wronged
  • I don’t need to be served or coddled
  • I don’t need to be popular
  • I care more about what God knows about me than what others think about me
  • I am content with whatever God determines for me
  • I care more about my holiness than my happiness
  • I am not impressed with myself, and realize that life is not about me
  • I put others before myself
  • I surrender myself without any condition to God
  • My number one goal in life is to bring glory to God

You see, my friends, this is the only way to deep intimacy with God, to experience the power of His awesome presence, to experience the true meaning and purpose in life, and to be used by God to advance His kingdom. There is no lifestyle on the planet that can compare with a life that has died to “self”.

Why do we find it so hard to die to “self”? Because we are told by our culture that life is all about us – about our happiness, our comfort, our pleasure, our way. We are told that we are the captains of our ships and the masters of our fate, when in reality we are neither. Our life is about God – bringing Him glory, serving Him, and walking in intimacy with Him. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but life is not about you. Never has been and never will be. It is about our awesome God.

Have you died to “self”? It is a daily choice that we must make. You see, since the old “self” is still in existence, there is a continual battle raging between the old “self” and the new “self”. The one you nurture will be the one that you will serve. If you feed your new “self” daily with prayer, studying God’s Word, and communing with Him, you will experience victory in your life. If you neglect these and feed yourself with worldly things, your old “self” will dominate and you will make choices that are destructive to you and dishonoring to God.

It’s our choice. Do you want to rise above the level of mediocrity in your Christian life? Are you tired of being shallow in your knowledge and love for Jesus? Then die to “self” daily. It is the only way to bring glory to God and reach the destiny He has planned for you. Not a life of perfection, as we will never be perfect in this life, but a life where victories far outweigh the failures, and a life that goes deep with Jesus.

Remember, the entirety of the Christian life can be summed up in three words, the three words that change everything – DIE TO SELF.

My friends, die, and live!

THE BAR HAS BEEN SET TOO LOW

For many Christians, their walk with Jesus is just a hum drum, bland reality that can be characterized, at best, as mediocre. We’re told, over and over and over again, that nobody’s perfect so it’s normal to make bad choices and sin. When that happens, you just confess your sin and off you go…into another sin and another confession…into another sin and another confession… This endless, vicious cycle is all that most Christians ever know. This pattern is just like that of the Israelites as recorded in the book of Judges. They lived in such a cycle and were a real mess.

Over the years I’ve had so many Christians come in for counsel who had done some tragic things, and when I talked to them about the life of a follower of Jesus they just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Oh well, I’m not perfect”. Well, yeah, its common knowledge that no human being is perfect, that’s a given. Those who find themselves in messes because of their sin use this excuse (nobody’s perfect) to justify themselves and to try to convince themselves that they are just like every other Christian. After all, they think, at least I’m not like “them” – i.e: non Christians who do even worst things then they do.

This is just wrong-headed, defeatist theology. First of all, our comparison must never be with the world. If we make such a comparison, we’ll always come out smelling like a rose.  No, our comparison must always be with the holiness of God, and the standards He has set for us.  1 Peter 1:14-16 says: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” When we do the right comparison, we will never be content with a mediocre walk with Jesus.

Secondly, God meant our Christian life to be one of victory, not mediocrity. Do you see, my friends, there is much more, so much more, to the Christian life than most of us ever experience – deep intimacy with God, victory over temptation, fruitful service,  peace through trials, joy in the midst of earthly sorrows, marriages that are a testimony to the world, priorities that are Christ centered, and lives that are full and make a difference in the world. Jesus said in John 10:10: “… I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”, and in John 15:11: “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full”.

I would probably be fairly accurate in saying that most Christians never experience this full life of joy. I’m not talking about a trial free or pain free life. Nor am I talking about a life of sinless perfection.  None of us is that naive to believe these. We live in a fallen world where pain, sorrow, heartbreak, and trials abound, and followers of Jesus aren’t immune to these realities of life, And because we still have a sin nature in this life, perfection is impossible. However, even with the limitations of earthly life, we still can experience all that God wants for us, and reach the destiny he has planned for us.

The reason most Christians miss the abundant life that Jesus talked about is because we have set the bar too low. We satisfy with a mediocre, “well I’m just a sinner” mindset. The Bible tells us that God has given us everything necessary to live a triumphant life. Ephesians 1:3 says:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”, and 2 Peter 1:2-4 tells us: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;  seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust”. 

What incredible promises God has made available to us!!

It is human nature to strive for a goal that is set for us. If the goal is set low and is easy to grasp, we will exert just enough effort to reach it and be satisfied with attaining it even though we were capable of a much more. Likewise, if someone sets a lofty goal for us we will strive to give a concerted, determined effort to attain it.  When we do reach our goal we are realize what we are capable of, and will never satisfy with lesser things.

It’s the same with the Christian life. When we fail to understand the power that is at work within us (in the person of the Holy Spirit) and the life that God expects from His children, we will never rise above mediocrity. However, when we do grasp these realities, we enter a depth of relationship with God that most never know.

Yes, God has set the bar high…really high. Just read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Read Luke 9:23, and Luke 14:26-35. These are classic verses that show us what a true follower of Jesus looks like. Will we be able to reach all of these lofty goals? No, not in this life. However, we still strive to reach them. Like Paul in Philippians 3:12-14,  we say : “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. 

Now it is easy to write about this, but quite another thing to put them into practice the, How, then, practically, do we do this? How do we get off the merry-go-round of mediocrity and live a life that glorifies God and realizes the destiny He has planned for us? In my next post (to be published is a few weeks) we’ll take a look at one of the most profound, and most overlooked, truths about discipleship. We’ll look at the three words that change EVERYTHING when they are applied in our lives daily. Stay tuned.

THE CHURCH HAS LOST ITS POWER, AND WE HAVE NO ONE TO BLAME BUT OURSELVES

In a Washington Post article concerning Donald Trump’s meeting with evangelical leaders, the author wrote this: “While it wasn’t the first time Trump has reached out to the Christian right, it provided a vivid illustration of the fact that as an organized and potent force in national politics, the Christian right has faded into nothingness. It now exists for nothing more than to be patted on the head and sent on its way with an encouragement to vote in November”.

I was struck by the words “faded into nothingness”. Sadly, that is exactly how the secular world views Christianity in our culture – an irrelevant old dinosaur with outdated views that are harmful to the progress of the human race.
How did we get here? Around thirty years ago the church “experts” realized the culture was drastically changing, so they decided that the church needed to change with it. Unfortunately, this change has turned into compromise. In order to reach people in this post modern culture, we had to “do” church differently. First we needed to ditch the word “church”, as this brought angst to too many people. Then we needed to change our worship to be an entertainment extravaganza complete with the latest technological gadgets to tantalize the senses. Next the teaching needed to be “me” focussed, with theology and deep biblical truth dispensed with. Finally, the gospel had to be watered down to a bloodless and crossless event so that it wouldn’t be threatening  to unbelievers, and, along the same lines, Bible studies and prayer meetings became “nonthreatening” in order to make everyone comfortable and feeling good about themselves.
The results to this paradigm shift have been disastrous. The average “Christian” (I use this term loosely) is clueless about what they believe and why thy believe it, and have no idea how a follower of Jesus Christ is supposed to live. The average church attendee is an inch deep and a mile wide, and is anything but a testimony to the saving grace of our awesome Savior. Holiness, surrender, spiritual brokenness, and dying to self have been eliminated from discipleship. This, my friends, is a counterfeit discipleship and is totally foreign to Scripture.
Society sees Christianity as basically no different themselves, and thus irrelevant to their lives.
And what is the church’s response? Do we get back to the basics and return to being Jesus centered? Evidently, and unfortunately, not. We continue to pander to the culture and expend enormous time and energy in keeping up with it by continuing to adopt to their latest modes of dress, talk, music, use of technology, and lifestyle. In so doing, we have become so “cool” that our hearts have become as cold as ice towards Jesus. The culture sees right through our phoniness and, at best, just laughs, and, at worst, tries to eliminate us from society.

What a tragedy. The church, which is the most powerful entity on the planet because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the avenue that Jesus chose to be the transforming agent in the world, has become powerless. This powerlessness has risen because we have become prayerless, and we have become prayerless because we have become passionless for Jesus. We have taken our eyes off the One who is the Head of the church and put them on ourselves. In our pragmatism, we have become useless, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Can this be changed? Yes, but there’s only one way – humble, deep heart repentance for our own sins of lukewarmness and compromise. We need to cry out to God for mercy and to send a mighty wind of revival in the heart of His church. A revived church is in love with, and sold out to, Jesus, and is filled with passion, conviction, and boldness to be used By Him to transform society – not politically but spiritually.

If we don’t do this, then the words of Jesus to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:16 will be directed to us – “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth”.

Church it’s time to come back to Jesus. It could very well be now or never.

DOES GOD REALLY FORGET OUR SINS?

It is very popular for Christians to quote Psalm 103:12 – ” As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us“, with the idea that since east and west never meet, so our past sins (once repented of) will never again be brought up.  Also often quoted is Jeremiah 31:34 – “…for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more“, again, with the idea that our past sins are forever forgotten. While this makes us feel good, are these verses interpreted correctly, or have they been taken out of context? Remember, verses are part of a paragraph, which is part of a chapter, which is part of a book which is part of the Bible. The three most important words in interpreting Scripture are context, context, context.

What is conveniently forgotten when saying that our repented of sins are forgotten forever are passages like 2 Corinthians 5:10 –   For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” and Romans 14:10-2 : For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’  So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God”

You see, the texts that speak of our sins being forgotten forever by God must be interpreted in light of the texts that teach that all of us will give an account of ourselves to God for everything we did in this life “whether good or bad”. The word “judgment seat” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:10 is the Greek word “Bema“, which means an elevated seat or a tribunal in which someone with authority sits and declares judgment. Since every human being will undergo some kind of judgment by our great God, biblical theology teaches that even believers will be judged. This judgment is not to determine our eternal destination in either heaven or hell, as this has been decided by Jesus on the cross, and true believers are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. This Bema seat judgment will be for rewards in heaven (these rewards, while not specifically detailed in Scripture, could pertain to what our service will be in our heavenly home). 

So, then what does Psalm 103:12 and Jeremiah 31:34 mean? They don’t mean that God gets amnesia when we repent and can never remember our sins. What they mean, when taken in context of Scripture, is that God no longer holds our sins against us in our relationship with Himself. Sin is a barrier that blocks our intimacy with God. When we, as born again believers in Jesus, sin, we offend our holy God and our relationship with Him is affected. We don’t lose our salvation, but our relationship with Him is marred. When we confess and repent, we are forgiven (1 John 1:9) and our intimacy is restored, even though the consequences of our sin are still experienced. However, we will have to give an account of our lives at the Bema Seat judgment for every word we uttered, every deed we did, every thought we pondered, and every motive that caused these words, actions, and thoughts. 

Makes us think twice about our lives, doesn’t it?

Do you see, just because born again believers are adopted into God’s family and are now His sons and daughters, it doesn’t mean we have the green light to do whatever we want, confess when we sin, and then go on our merry way. It does matter how we live. God requires His children to walk on the holiness journey, to live a life that is honoring and glorifying to Him, and to live in absolute surrender to Him. Modern Christianity has adopted a “cheap grace” attitude of living which is totally foreign to Scripture. This cheap grace pseudo-theology says “since we are saved by grace, our actions and words don’t really matter; we can do whatever we want, confess the behaviors that are sinful, and then just move on without any repercussion because, after all, God forgets them”. This is just wrong-headed theology. While it is true that we are saved by grace, the Bible also teaches that we must live in holiness and obedience to God’s moral standards (1 Peter 1;15-16). There are consequences to sin in this life, and we will have to give an account of our lives to God when our earthly lives are over.

How, then, shall we live, knowing that, at the end, we will give an account for every aspect of our lives to God? My friends, the only way to live this life is in humble, total surrender to God. To die to self and give the reigns of our lives to Him.  To cling to Him in brokenness and holy desperation acknowledging that we cannot do this on our own. We need Him, and need Him desperately. Living this way doesn’t mean that we will be perfect, but it will certainly have God’s approval. Yes, we will sin, as even Christians have a fallen nature, but when we do sin and immediately confess and repent, our loving Father picks us up, dusts us off, gives us a hug, and takes our hand to lead us on. Oh, He will allow the consequences of our sins to occur, but these serve us well in the future to remind us to run from temptation. What a merciful, loving God we call our Father!!

So, my friends, rejoice that, when we repent of our sins, God doesn’t hold them against us in our relationship with Him. But remember that we will, someday, give an Him an account for everything word, action, thought, and motive in our earthly journey. And, finally, live in surrender to Him so that you won’t be ashamed when you stand before Him at the Bema Seat judgment. 

THE DEISM OF AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY

While, there are different theological and philosophical ideas in deism, it’s basic belief is that there is a Supreme Being who created the universe, but then stepped back and distanced Himself from it. He established the laws of nature and then let the universe run itself. This idea includes human beings – God is not involved in our lives and is not interested in what we do. Theism, on the other hand,  holds that God created everything and is intimately involved in His creation, including the lives of human beings.  He cares what we do and is active in our daily lives. Evangelical Christianity is anchored in theism because theism is built on biblical truth.

However, by looking at evangelicalism today, it seems that many Christians live a deist type of Christianity. Most Christians today live as though God doesn’t really care how they live their lives. They acknowledge Jesus as their Savior but leave Him there. They become the “god” of their own lives.

How else can we explain the staggering divorce rate, premarital sex, addictions to pornography, unwholesome entertainment choices, self absorbed life styles, lack of honesty and integrity, and materialism that is so prevalent in the church? Over the years I’ve talked to countless believers who made choices that are so contrary to God’s holy standards, and seemed oblivious to the horrible witness they were to the world of what it means to be a child of God. Recently I heard a DJ on a national Christian radio show say that he viewed a certain movie and approved of a caller to the station who said that he saw it too. Not knowing about this movie, I read a review of it on a Christian movie review website and was absolutely horrified at the film’s sexually immoral and profanity laced content that the reviewer summarized. And yet here were two Christians, one who has a national platform, saying that they saw the movie without any real sense of shame.

The current mantra among many believers is “God wants me to be happy”, which then allows them to pursue anything they desire. This is deist thinking. No, my friends, God isn’t concerned with our happiness, He is concerned with our holiness. When we are walking in holiness we have His approval, and when we have His approval we have His presence in our lives, and when we have His presence in our lives we have joy. And joy, which is rooted deep in our hearts, is infinitely better than happiness, which is dependent on outside circumstances.

The worldview of a deist leads to disastrous results. Since all human beings are fallen creatures that are born with a sin nature, it is natural for us, even Christians,  to be selfish, self serving, and egocentric.  And that is the way many Christians act. Without dying to self and grasping the reality of Romans 6 that our old self was crucified with Jesus so that when we surrender to Him and His will sin has no power over us, we act just like the unredeemed.

A very popular saying in Christendom is “Christianity isn’t a set of ‘do’s and don’ts’ but a relationship”. While this sounds good and eases our consciences, it is only half correct. Salvation is not a set of “do’s and don’ts”, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone (not by works, religion, or anything else). However, as followers of Jesus, discipleship is very much a set of “do’s and don’ts”. God has set the parameters of what is acceptable for His children and what is not. He has set the standards of holiness which we are all to strive for. Just read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:33, 1 Peter 1:16-17, and Philippians 4:8 as just a small sample of the definition of how a follower of Jesus should live.

Sadly, deism has dominated the thinking of the church today, leaving biblical holiness by the wayside. My friends, God does care how we live. Since He created us and is active in our lives, He knows what’s best for us, has laid down the definition of how we are to live, and expects us to follow it. When we treat Him in a deist way, we become the gods of our own lives and shame His glorious name and bring misery to our lives. Yes, it does matter what we watch on TV or at the movies. It does matter what we read or look at on the computer. It does matter what we say how we treat others, how we define marriage, and how we define sexuality. God has given us the standards for each of these, and we can’t just ignore them and convince ourselves that “God wants me happy” trumps them all.

God is our Creator, He loves us and has set the standards of behavior by which we are to live (for our own good and for His glory), and is active in our lives. The question is – will we surrender ourselves totally to Him? Will we give Him all rights to ourselves to His will, die to “self’ and live for His glory instead of our happiness? We will all give an account of ourselves to Him when our lives on earth are over and we stand before Him. May we live in such a way that we will not be ashamed of how we conducted our lives, and then hear Him say: ‘I know you weren’t perfect, but I know your heart was sold out to Me and you heart’s desire was to follow Me. Well done!”.

A PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH IN AMERICA FOR 2016

A prayer for the church in America for 2016:

Father,

We enter this new year in a world that seems to be spinning furiously out of control – terrorism,  crime, racism, hatred, sexual immorality, disregard for human life, and relativism abound. Our country champions those things that You hate, and disregards, and even loathes, the things You love. America is creeping closer and closer to the point of no return, and seems to be unconcerned about it. As we look to the future, is judgment on the horizon?

And Father, Your church has joined the culture in the parade towards judgment. Oh, we haven’t purposely rebelled against You or devised a diabolical plan to plunge into doom. But we have become like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot – slowing dying without realizing it.

We’ve gotten away from Biblical truth and turned to pop psychology and the latest fad in our teaching and preaching. In order to be non-offensive and non-threatening to attendees we avoid truths like holiness, absolute surrender, dying to self, and brokenness, and have become wishy-washy on moral issues like gay marriage, the sanctity of life, divorce, and pornography. We’ve turned heartfelt worship into cheap entertainment, and instead of calling on the power of the Holy Spirit in fervent prayer, we’ve relied on marketing techniques, business models, and cutting edge technology.

We’ve done this under the guise of being relevant, but the only thing we have become is irreverent. In a sense, we’ve sold our soul for popularity, and have deeply offended You. Instead of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus and living in deep intimacy with Him, we’ve been conformed into the shallow, self-absorbed, ungodly likeness of the world.

Father, I pray that in 2016 we, Your church, would fall on our faces before You in deep, humble repentance and cry out to You day and night for a life transforming move of the Holy Spirit in revival so that we would fall in love with You all over again and be totally sold out to You. And Lord, I confess my need of personal revival, so may it start in me.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

O LORD, HEAR US FROM HEAVEN

In Solomon’s dedicatory prayer over the Temple in 1 Kings 8:22-53 he asks God to “hear from Heaven” eight times. In each case it is in regards to a person, persons, or the nation confessing their sin, turning from it, and imploring God to have mercy and act on their behalf.

While the whole prayer is incredible, verses 46-51 are especially eye-opening:

“When they [Israelites] sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their conquerors to show them mercy; for they are your people and your inheritance, whom you brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace.

While the United States has not been conquered and taken captive by our enemies as of yet, it’s as if Solomon was praying today for our country. We have indeed acted wickedly towards God in our nation. We have ousted Him from most aspects of our society and thumbed our nose at His moral absolutes – abortion, gay marriage, doctor assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, pornography, sex outside of the marriage covenant, divorce, dishonesty, greed, etc. In our cowardly political correctness, we congratulate and champion wickedness, and condemn those who hold to biblical standards of righteousness. And it seems to be getting worse every day.

And what about the church? The church in America has lost its way. Jesus is no longer the cornerstone, and has been replaced by programs, pragmatism, a lust for popularity, pop entertainment, compromised teaching and preaching, and a counterfeit holiness. The church is no longer the light that shines the truth of Jesus to a dark world. Sadly, many in our culture look at the church as totally irrelevant to life in our society.  How far we have fallen!

What can change this? What can reverse the growing darkness of evil and anti God thought in our land that seems to be progressing at an alarming rate?  Solomon, in the verses quoted above has laid out God’s masterful blueprint for how things can turn around.

“…and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly..”.  First we must confess our sins. Confession literally means to “say the same word”,i.e. to agree with. We must fall on our faces before our holy God and agree with Him that we, each one of us, and our nation, has fallen short of His holy standards. No more sweeping our sin under the rug, rationalizing it away, or blaming others. It’s time, with brutal honesty, to be transparent, to humble ourselves before Him, and to acknowledge our failures before our holy God.

“…and if they have a change of heart…and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul…”   Confession is a great place to start, but it is not enough.  We must also repent. Repentance means to have a change of direction, which means that we must not only confess our sins, but also take whatever action necessary, even if it means radical action, to get to the root of our sin and obliterate it from our lives. It means to hate our sin because it grieves our holy God, and to have no desire for it in the future. Notice Solomon said “with all their heart and soul”.  True repentance originates from deep in the recesses of our souls and is seen in our actions. Half hearted repentance is no repentance.

and pray to you …”  After confession and repentance from the heart, we must then cast ourselves on God’s mercy, humbly asking for His forgiveness and to, once again, bless us with His presence. All great revivals in history were brought about when a remnant of God’s people fell before God in deep, fervent, desperate, urgent prayer. Prayer is the catalyst for revival. As Solomon dedicated the Temple, the main theme was prayer (it is mentioned no less than 25 times in his dedication), which tells us that while the sacrifices and rites were important in the temple, prayer would be the key. So too with the church. Preaching, teaching, worship, and outreach are vital parts of our churches, but prayer is the power that ignites these ministries to be glorifying to God and fruitful in their results .

 “…then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people…” While revival is a sovereign act of God, when we humble ourselves and cry out to Him, we have confidence that He hears us, and our hope is that He sends a life changing and culture transforming revival in our midst. We first cleanse our hearts and then trust that our prayers are pleasing to Him and that, from His holy throne in Heaven, He hears us (i.e: responds to our cries for forgiveness and to our pleas for revival).

What a phenomenal dedication prayer by King Solomon. Read the whole prayer over very carefully and meditate on it, deeply digging out the poignant applications for us today. My friend, we live in dark times and the darkness is spreading thicker and thicker in our nation. Only a powerful move of God in an authentic revival will save us. Will you be part of the remnant and humble yourself, confess your own sin and the sin of our nation, repent with  all your heart, and cry out to God for mercy? He is our only hope. If the United States continues on its present path, we face the tragic consequences of God’s judgment. If we don’t confess, repent, and cry out to Him for mercy, is our fate going to be like that of ancient Israel, who was conquered by a foreign nation and taken captive? It’s time to cry out with a sense of utgency.

Oh Sovereign Lord, HEAR US FROM HEAVEN!!

THE BRIDE IS NOT READY

There is a popular song currently heard on Christian radio that contains the following lyrics: “Like a bride waiting for her groom we’ll be a church ready for you”.  The bride refers to the church as the bride of Christ (taken from Revelation 19:7, 21:2, 21:9), and the lyrics convey the idea that the church is ready to present herself to her Groom, Jesus, for the great wedding feast at the end times.

My friends, the church is not ready for her groom.

When you attend a wedding, you’ll always see the bride carefully adorned for her husband – impeccably groomed, a carefully coiffed hairstyle, a clean beautiful gown, nice shoes, tasteful makeup, and subtly sweet perfume. As the saying goes, all brides are beautiful on their wedding day.

However, let’s say you are invited to a wedding and, as the wedding march is played and you stand to greet the bride, you are astonished at what you see – her hair is unkempt, her gown is torn, her shoes are dirty, her faced is smudged with dirt, and she smells like she just got through mowing the back forty. This bride was definitely not ready to present herself at her best to her husband.

This, I believe, is how the church, the bride of Christ, currently is in America (author’s note: When I talk about the church in this post, I am talking about the church in general, not every single church, as there are some good Biblically based churches that remain uncompromised. However, the majority of churches have left their First Love).

A bride should present herself to her groom well prepared and chaste. And the church as the bride of Christ is anything but prepared and chaste. We have played the harlot with the world by going after other lovers – popularity, political correctness, compromised theology based on our culture instead of God’s absolute truth, lavish buildings, overflowing calendars, big attendance numbers, a non threatening gospel void of the cross and blood of Jesus, hardly a mention of repentance, an easy, breezy discipleship without calls to holiness, surrender, brokenness, or dying to self, and a biblically and theologically illiterate membership that is satisfied with a shallow, inch deep and mile wide relationship with our awesome Savior.

In a seeker and emergent church culture we’ve watered down the truth in order to be relevant and to keep the people happy and coming back. We’ve turned authentic, heartfelt worship into a Hollywood extravaganza meant to entertain attendees. We’ve turned the church into a “latte bar” style lounge so that everyone feels comfortable and “safe”.  And we’ve taken the focus off of Jesus and placed it directly on ourselves. In a sense, we’ve amused ourselves to death, and we’ve become so culturally relevant that we, in reality, have become spiritually irreverent.

No, the bride is not chaste, prepared, or ready for her Groom.

The lyrics of the song mentioned above might make us feel warm and fuzzy, but it is far from the truth. Church, we need to get ourselves ready to meet our Groom, and it will not be easy. In fact, it will be downright painful. If we fail to prepare ourselves, God’s judgment on America will have to start inside the walls of His church, with His bride. In Ezekiel 9: 5-6, God commissioned His angel to bring judgment on people who did not follow Him, and then told the angel “Begin at My sanctuary”.  These are chilling words, as they show that God’s own people had turned their backs on Him and followed after the world, and His judgment started with them.

You see, God is not shy about bringing judgment on His own. Church in the United States, take note.

The bride of Christ, the church, is supposed to be His tongue, arms, and legs in this world to influence culture with the gospel, and yet, sadly, just the opposite has happened – our evil culture has influenced the church. The influence has been so impactful that the church looks and acts just like the world – divorce, adultery, premarital sex, pornography, lying, cheating, gossip, materialism, self-centeredness, divisions and factions, and in some churches, the acceptance of homosexuality.

The bride has been soiled by the filth of the world and is no longer chaste.

How do we change this? How do we make ourselves beautifully adorned and chaste for our soon coming Groom? The only way is through a genuine revival.  And while revival is a sovereign work of God, all revivals in history have come when God’s people fell on their faces in humility and repented of their own sins and the sins of their nation. People were cut to the very core of their souls with their sin and wept in deep anguish over it, not because they got caught or because of the consequences they might face, but because it, in essence, slaps Jesus in the face and offends our Holy God.

When was the last time you, or your church, wept over sin? When was the last time you or people in your church fervently and passionately cried out to God for mercy and, with a sense of urgency called out to Him to bring a revival – first in yourself and then in His church? The results of revival are incredible, but the process is painful. Each of us must come to grips with our own sin – pride, self centeredness, self-righteousness, lust, unforgiving spirits, gossip, jealousy, critical spirits, materialism, idolatry, sexual sin, lying, unwholesome entertainment choices, and lukewarmness. We must come to the point where we honestly and humbly acknowledge these before God and hate our rebellion against a Him, and cry out in repentance. Then we must confess the sins of our nation and cry out to God for mercy. Nothing short of this amongst God’s people will bring a revival.

We desperately need revival, God has done it before and He can do it again. The spiritual condition of our country was pretty deplorable before both the First Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakenings, but God responded to the cries of His people and brought powerful revivals. A Third Great Awakening is our only hope.

A revived church would fall in love with Jesus all over again. A revived church would be characterized by a hunger and thirst for deep intimacy with Jesus, a passion for holiness, an unquenchable desire for the Word, lavish worship, sold out devotion to Him, and a continual attitude of fervent prayer. A revived church would have an incredible impact on its society, and evangelism would come so naturally that scores of people would be saved, and, as a result, marriages would be healed, fractured relationships mended, evil vices stopped, and goodness sought.

But revival must start in the church before its effects are seen in our communities. Church, have we had enough of lazy, compromised, worldly Christianity?  Do we want to present ourselves to our Groom chaste and adorned, ready for His return? If so, then our only hope is revival.

We must look at our culture with a sense of urgency. We could be dangerously close to experiencing God’s righteous judgment. Will you pray, with that sense of urgency, for God to send revival our way, And, more importantly, will you pray that He starts this Third Great Awakening with YOU?

THE QUESTION OF EVIL

The existence of evil has perplexed people for centuries. Philosophers have pondered its meaning, sociologists have studied its impact, psychologists have analyzed its behaviors, theologians have questioned its origins, atheists have embraced it in their argument against the existence of God, and all people try to survive in a world filled with it. Everyone must wrestle with the question of evil, regardless of one’s belief.

As mentioned above, atheists say that the existence of evil proves that the “good and loving” God of the Christians doesn’t exist because how could a “good and loving” God allow such horrible things to occur in His creation. As renowned British atheist Bertrand Russell famously said: “No one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God”.

And if we are to be totally honest, most Christians struggle with this also. When we hear about rape, murder, sex trafficking, child abuse, torture, Ponzi schemes, children with fatal diseases, innocent people dying in at the hands of drunk drivers, birth deformities, etc. we wonder: “How could God, who created and controls everything in the universe, allow such wickedness?”. And many also wonder: “Since God created all things, did He, then, create evil too? How can this be if the God we believe in is perfectly righteous and holy?”

And this can leave our faith shaken to the core.

In order to have a deep, unwavering faith and a proper understanding of God we must wrestle with the existence of evil. How, then, do we as believers in the one true God answer the problem of evil?

First we acknowledge that, indeed, God is the creator of all things as the Bible says. The first two chapters of Genesis make this clear.  Additionally, when talking about Jesus, the Bible says in  John 1:3: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” and in Colossians 1:16: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” As Christians, we believe this without any reservation. Well, some say, does this mean that He also created evil?

The verses cited above tell us that God created “all things“, but we must be careful about how we understand this. In interpreting this statement, we must also understand the nature and character of God. The Bible tells us that God is perfectly holy and righteous, and cannot think of doing evil, cannot actually do evil, and can’t force us to do evil. Thus, when we read that God created all things, we must understand this to mean that He created all things in perfect agreement with His nature,  and therefore cannot create anything that is evil. Simply put, God cannot create anything that is inconsistent with who He is. Indeed, five times in the creation narrative in Genesis, Scripture says that God saw that what He had created was good. And, after His creative work was completed on the sixth day, He saw that everything was very good.

Well, then, where does evil come from?

To answer this question we must first answer another question – what is exactly is evil? Evil is not a “thing” in the sense of something tangible. You can’t hold it or touch it like a rock, a rose, or a cat. Evil is what we see played out in our world when human beings choose to rebel against God’s holy standards.

God created humans with a moral will and therefore with the ability to make moral choices. When we choose to obey His moral standards the result is goodness. However, when we choose the opposite, when we choose to disregard God’s commands, goodness is absent, and therefore something else must naturally occur to take the place of goodness. That something is evil. The evil we see played out in our world is the result of people making “anti-God” choices.

When God created man with free will, He allowed for the possibility of evil to exist. This is very important to grasp so allow me to repeat it – God did not create evil but in creating human beings with free will He allowed for the possibility of evil to exist if these human beings He created chose to violate His laws. And in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did exactly that – they chose, out of their free will, to violate God’s command concerning the eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when they did eat of the tree evil entered God’s “good creation”.

The question that naturally follows, and that is asked quite often, is: “Well, then, why doesn’t God do something about the evil that exists in our world? Why doesn’t He rid the world of evil? After all, He is all-powerful, right?” The answer is simple – He definitely could rid the earth of all evil. But if he did get rid of all evil in our world five minutes from now, where would you and I be in five minutes and one second? The earth would be absent of human beings (you and I included) because we all have violated, and continue to violate, God’s moral laws in some fashion. We may not be murderers or rapists, but we are selfish, proud, gossips, liars, and envious at times, and all of these are violations of God’s moral standards. You see, if God would rid the earth of evil He would essentially have to unmake the present earth and start again. So instead of complaining about evil, we all should be thankful that God is patient with us and extends his mercy and grace to sinners like us.

However, when people ask why God doesn’t do something about evil, we do have a powerful answer to give them: “Yes, God indeed did do something about evil. Something profound. He came to earth as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for all the evil that all humans do by dying on a cross. Now, for those who trust in Him as Savior, there is forgiveness and eternal life”. Profound indeed!

Going back to Bertrand Russell’s statement mentioned above, we can reverse his question and ask: “What does an atheist say at the bedside of a dying child? ‘Oh well, that’s the way it goes.Only the strong survive and I guess that you’re not one of them. Tough luck.'” Not very comforting words are they. However, what does a Christian say at the bedside of a dying child: “There is a God who created you and who loves you and has paid the price for your salvation. If you trust in Him as Savior, you will live with Him in perfect peace and joy forever”.

That’s quite a difference.

Yes, evil does abound in the world, and will until Jesus comes back in all His glory, but don’t let that shake your faith. God is still on the throne and is sovereign over all. In the end He will make all things right. When we get to heaven evil will not exist and there will only be utter perfection, beautiful goodness, and absolute holiness. And that’s something to truly look forward to!

MORE OF GOD…OR LESS OF ME?

I’ve heard many Christians over the years say that they want more of God in their lives. Indeed, there have been numerous songs sung and books written about wanting more of God. But is this a correct statement to make? I think we might have it backwards.

You see, when someone trusts in Jesus as Savior, immediately, at that very moment, the Holy Spirit  regenerates, indwells, baptizes, and seals the individual. Regeneration means that the person is “born again” and is a new creation in Christ. Indwelling means that the Holy Spirit’s presence takes residence in the new believer, and guides, teaches, convicts, and empowers the him/her in their Christian walk. Baptism means that the new believer is initiated into the family of God and is now identified as a child of God. The sealing aspect of the Holy Spirit is a mark of ownership and protection, which means that we now belong to God and He protects that which is His.

All this happens at the very second of salvation. Pretty special isn’t it.

According to this spiritual truth, every believer has all of God they will ever get. Ephesians 1:3 states: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”  , and 1 Peter 1:2-3 says: “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”  (emphasis mine in both verses).

Do you see that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. When the Holy Spirit indwelt us upon salvation, we didn’t get half of Him, or three-quarters, or ninety nine percent. We got all of Him.  Thus, we cannot get “more of God” than we already possess through our faith in Jesus.

Well, then, why don’t most of us experience more of God in our lives? The answer is simple, and gives us the direction of what our prayer should really be. You see, my friends, in order for us to experience more of God, we have to give Him more of us. In fact, we need to give Him more of us, and more of us, and more of us, until we give Him ALL of us! Our prayer must be: “Lord, show me areas in my life that I still control, the areas that I don’t want You to have and want to keep for myself, and then give me the courage to surrender them totally to You. All of them”.

Our desire must not be “I want more of God”, but must be “God, I give You all of me”. We need to be like John the Baptist who said in John 3:30 “He must become greater; I must become less. “

Too many Christians want God’s presence without surrender. They want the power of God in their lives while “self” is still in control.  It just doesn’t work that way. You see, God is not going to force us to surrender. Surrender is an act of our will that intentionally gives the reigns of our lives to Him. It is dying to self and unconditionally giving Him every facet of our lives.

However, we often fight surrender because it goes against our natural inclinations. After all, we want to be masters of our own fate and captains of our own ship. We want to call the shots. Yet, we know deep down that in order to experience God’s incredible presence we need to do just the opposite . That is why surrender is a life long journey, a journey that continually, daily, dies to self and yields more and more to Him.

Have you said, or are you saying now “I want more of God”? The solution is simple. Just give Him more of you. Remember, if you are truly born again you have all of God you will get. Now, to experience His glorious presence, you need to surrender to Him and give Him more of you and more of you until you give Him all of you. This is the only way to go deep into intimacy with Him.

WIll you join me in saying this –  In my life:  Less of me until there is none of me. More of Him until there is none but Him.