A BIBLICALLY BALANCED UNDERSTANDING ON IMMIGRATION

 

Immigration is a very controversial and emotional issue. I haven’t seen too many articles expressing a Biblical world view concerning this topic, so in this post I will endeavor to present a Biblically balanced worldview on this issue that is so dominant in our society. While the Bible doesn’t pointedly address the specific immigration issues we are currently facing in 2018, it does lay down general guidelines on the treatment of foreigners, and the role of government in a society. As uncompromised followers of Jesus, we need to know what these Biblical principles are regarding this issue, understand what they mean, and then apply them to our situation. While I am aware that everyone won’t agree with me, it is hoped that this discussion will encourage Christians to take a deep dive into Scripture in order to look at the issue.

Both the Old and New Testament mention foreigners and the treatment of them. In terms of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, this was usually in context of non-Jews living in their midst.

When the Jews were redeemed out of Egypt by God many foreigners went with them (Exodus 12:37-38, Numbers 11:4, Joshua 8:35). These folks were accepted by the Jews and received special protection (Exodus 22:21, 23:9) and were to be loved by the Israelites (Leviticus 19:34). Additionally, they were granted privileges conditioned on their obedience to certain regulations. For example they were not to blaspheme God’s name (Leviticus 24:16), engage in idolatrous worship (Leviticus 20:2), participate in acts of sexual immorality (Leviticus 18:1-26), work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), eat leavened bread during the Passover remembrance (Exodus 12:19), and eat blood or flesh from animals that had been ripped apart by other animals (Leviticus 17:10, 15). As long as the foreigners followed these laws they were to be protected and were given the same civil rights as Israelite citizens. Additionally, they could even own property (Leviticus 25:47) and offer sacrifices to God (Numbers 15:14, 22-29).

If a foreigner desired to be a citizen of Israel, he had to undergo circumcision, which then bound him to observe the entire law. He was then identified with the nation and included with it (Exodus 12:48), and then would enjoy the privileges of the covenant that God made with Israel.

It must be noted, however, that there were certain people who were excluded from fellowship with the nation of Israel: the seven Canaanites nations that lived in the Promised Land were destined to destruction and thus excluded permanently (Exodus 34:12-17, Deuteronomy 7:1-4), the Edomites and Egyptians were excluded until the third generation (Deuteronomy 23:7-8), and the Ammonites and Moabites were excluded until the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3; the tenth generation could symbolically mean forever).

In the New Testament, Jesus constantly interacted with non-Jews, and came to declare God’s love for all people (John 3:16). In Jesus there were no longer racial or ethnic divisions (Galatians 3:26-29), but all humanity had the privilege of participating in the New Covenant of grace through faith in Jesus. Additionally, followers of Jesus were to treat all people, including foreigners, aliens, and strangers with love and respect (1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2).

Interestingly, believers in Jesus are, in a sense, considered aliens and strangers in this world as our true citizenship is in Heaven (1 Peter 2:11). However, even though “foreigners” here on earth, we still must obey the laws of the land we live in unless these laws contradict God’s moral absolutes as seen in Scripture (an example is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image in Daniel 4) just as the non-Jews were expected to obey the laws of Israel and the Jews of Jesus’ day were expected to obey the laws of the Roman empire (again, obviously, unless they contradicted God’s commands). For example, Jesus said that we need to pay taxes (Luke 20:20-26), which was reiterated by Paul (Romans 13:6-7).

The next topic we need to look at is the Biblical teaching on the role of government in society. Civil governments are established by God to preserve order in society and to protect its citizens. Governments have been empowered by God for this task, and have the mandate to punish those who break the laws of country (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-17). Citizens and, yes, aliens and strangers, must obey the laws of the land. Without this, chaos and anarchy abound. Additionally, the government has the right to exclude certain people from immigrating into the country if they pose the potential of doing harm to the citizens and residents of the country (refer to the exclusion of the Canaanite nations and the Moabites and Ammonites mentioned above).

To summarize our points so far, all people are to be treated with respect, and thus we are to welcome everyone, even foreigners (aliens and strangers) and treat them with love and respect. However, all people, even aliens and strangers, must be subject to the governing authorities and must obey the laws of the land. If not the government has the mandate to punish those who break the law.

Now that we have our Biblical foundation, how do we apply it to the illegal aliens, DACA individuals, and others who want to immigrate to the United States today?

First off, all people are to be treated with respect and dignity regardless of ethnicity or country of origin, and we welcome all of those into our country who enter legally, who will not be a potential threat to our safety, and who wish to participate in our society. Secondly, we are a nation of laws, and our laws must be obeyed. If not, the government has the responsibility to punish those who break the law because there must be consequences for illegal behavior or chaos will reign. (As an aside, there are some churches today that harbor illegal aliens from the government. I believe that this is wrong because abetting those who are lawbreakers is rebelling against God’s command to obey government. Remember, we obey the governing authorities as long as they don’t cause us to violate God’s commands. Our immigration laws are not in violation of God’s moral laws).

In regards to illegal aliens in our country today, they have broken the immigration laws of the United States and there must be consequences. But what about those who have been in this country for many years, have worked hard, been law abiding citizens, and have assimilated into our society? That’s a tough question, but I believe, using a Biblical world view, that there could be an approach that balances the spirit of the law with human compassion. For example, in cases like this for such illegal aliens a possible solution might be as follows:

  • If an illegal alien has committed a crime or has just used the welfare system they would be deported
  • For the others, allow them 60 days to start the process for a obtaining a one year temporary workers visa
  • For those who obtain such a visa, and when the one year is up, they must appear before an immigration official and prove that during the year they held the temporary workers visa they held a job, did not committed a crime, and learned enough English to be able to converse with the immigration official without an interpreter
  • if they pass these, they would be given a five year provisional visa
  • after the five years, they must show that they have held a job and not committed a crime
  • if they pass they would be given a permanent resident alien card
  • they could never become naturalized citizens because they initially entered the country illegally, and there must be consequences for breaking the law

Obviously this isn’t a perfect plan, but it is just an example of a solution that would keep consequences for breaking the law (by not allowing illegal immigrants to be naturalized citizens) while still showing compassion (by allowing them to stay permanently in the U.S as a legal resident). It would take some concerted effort to go through the process and learn English, but if they really want to stay in America and enjoy the opportunities that exist here, one would think that they would be willing to do whatever it took to see this through.

For DACA individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally  as children by their parents, the same procedure mentioned above (including the time line) could be used, with the exception that they could earn citizenship instead of a permanent resident status. Since they didn’t have a choice on whether to cross the border illegally, citizenship could be obtained..

For those who want to immigrate to the U.S. in the future, a thorough vetting procedure must be set up and only those who don’t appear to be a threat to our country should be let in.

What about a wall on the Mexican border? I see nothing inherently evil in this. There is nothing immoral about a country clearly defining its borders.

I know that my discussion on this issue is far from  the ultimate solution, but I pray that it will help followers of Jesus get a better understanding of the issue and compel them to search Scripture for the questions they have. The Bible is always the final authority on all magters of theology and life. Christians must not be led by emotions, but must build a Biblical worldview on the moral issues of our day. A Biblical world view always brings the best solution.

 

 

OF DOVE AWARDS AND CHRISTIAN BOOK AWARDS

There are so many awards in the the area of the arts – Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, CMA Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Tony Awards, etc, etc, etc. These awards are very coveted and give the winners prestige, plaudits, and fame.  And, sadly, the church has adopted the practice of rewarding its artists.

Dove Awards are given each year to Christian musicians in categories such as Song of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Group of the Year, Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the year, New Artist of the Year, Worship Song of the Year, and Praise & Worship Album of the Year (and many more). Also, these recording artists tape music videos of their popular songs, which are videos of them lip syncing their song with creative camera shots of them in while they “sing”. In the ones I have seen, the focus is always on themselves.

Another award in the Christian arts arena is given by the Evangelical Christian Book Association (ECBA) to Christian authors for books written in categories like Bibles, Bible Reference Works, Bible Study, Ministry Resources, Biography & Memoir, Christian Living, Faith & Culture, Devotion & Gift, Children, Young People’s Literature, and New Author. And, sadly, many books that are written by big name authors are really not written by them at all. They have “ghost writers” who actually write the books (using the authors main ideas), with the author putting his or her name on the cover as the writer of the book. I’m sorry, but this is just dishonest, even if they put the “ghost writer’s” name in much smaller print under their name (which is in very large print).

When these musicians and writers are given their awards on the big night, they thank God and say all praise goes to Him, but then they grab their awards and joyously receive all the adulation that comes with winning. The winners of these awards will tout their achievement, and make sure that everyone knows that they are a “Dove Award” winner or an “ECBA (or “Gold Medallion”) Award” winner when they come out with a new album or book. Additionally, when they appear on a Christian radio talk show or TV show, they are introduced with accolades about how many Dove Awards or ECBA Awards they have won. The more the better.

I don’t want to sound like a killjoy and a stick-in-the-mud, and I know that many don’t agree with me, but I think this is just wrong.

Awards for worship songs? Are we really competing with each other for who writes or sings the best worship music? Do we really compete with each other for who sings the best, or which band or soloist gives the best performance on stage? Are spiritual gifts given so we can compete with each other on whose is better? Is worship a competition?

And book awards for Bibles? Correct me if I’m wrong, but God is the author of the Bible. All the notes at the bottom of the pages are just extras. And regarding the other categories, do we really compete with each other to see who writes the best about God or the Christian life? Is the measure of a book determined by how many copies it sells and how popular it is with people?

All spiritual gifts are given by God and are given for one purpose – to bring Him glory. We should use them with humility, knowing that they are not ours to use for recognition, applause, or self gain. We don’t use them to compete with others who have been given the same spiritual gift for an award and a bigger recording/publishing contract. If anything, the very fact that God would give us certain gifts and use us at all should bring us to our knees before Him in humility and awe. It should compel us to recognize that we need Him in using these gifts, and that these gifts are useless when we exercise them in our own power for our own recognition.

I would love to see the recipient of one of these awards leave the trophy on the podium and never mention it again. And when one of these individuals is a guest on a radio or television show or at a conference, I would love for them to be introduced simply as a bond slave of Jesus, not as someone who has won “x” amount of Dove Awards with “x” amount of gold or platinum albums,  or the winner of “x” amount of Christian Book Awards with “x” amount of best sellers.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need encouragement as we serve our awesome God, and it gives us joy when we know that what we do is making a difference for the kingdom of God. But when we go out of our way to congratulate ourselves, to reward ourselves, and use these awards to promote ourselves, we have let pride take over and have actually robbed God of the glory that is due Him alone. We have put ourselves in the spotlight instead of Him, no matter how “Christianese” the acceptance speech is in saying that all glory goes to God, while the winners clutch their trophy and basks in their victory. Church, we have congratulated ourselves to death.

Serving God by using the spiritual gifts He has given us is both humbling and joyous. Humbling in the fact that none of us is worthy or capable of serving Him in our own strength, and joyous in the fact that serving Him in His power and strength for His glory makes Him smile and pleases Him.

Knowing that He is pleased and glorified is our reward. And no trophy or applause can ever rival that.

WILL THE CHURCH LET JESUS BACK IN?

 

In the second and third chapters of Revelation, John records seven letters that Jesus wrote to the churches in Asia Minor. Many believe that the seven churches represent seven stages of the church throughout its history since its birth at Pentecost, with the last church Jesus wrote to, the Laodicean church, representing the current church as we near the end times.

The Laodicean church was characterized by compromise and apostasy, as can be seen in Jesus’ statement to the church: So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:16-18) 

Then Jesus said this to the church:  Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me”.  This verse is usually used in evangelistic meetings, but, when taken in context, it has nothing to so with evangelism. Jesus is talking to a church, and thus, it is assumed, to believers. What Jesus is saying to this church, and, thus, too us today (if indeed the church of Laodicea represents the current church, which I believe it does) is to make the church about Him once again.

What a horribly tragic statement for Jesus to make. The church belongs to Him (Matthew 16:18), and He is the head of the church which is, spiritually speaking, His body (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 4:15). The church exists to exalt Him, and thus He is the main focus of everything we are about. And yet we have, in a sense, ushered Him out the door. In this verse we see Jesus knocking on the door of His church, waiting for us to open the door to let Him back in.

How have we kicked Jesus out of His church? In our attempt to be relevant and popular with the culture we have become the focus of church instead of Him. Sermons are too often centered around “me”, using pop psychology, and shallow “feel good” messages that tickle our ears. We have become afraid to challenge the congregation with the true meaning of discipleship. How many sermons have you heard that teach absolute surrender of all we are and all we have to His lordship? Or sermons about dying to “self”, or spiritual brokenness, or biblical holiness? Have you been taught theology and doctrine (without good, sound theology we have no foundation on which to grow in our walk with Jesus…theology is absolutely crucial).  In my travels over the last twenty plus years of full time ministry, I have seen way too many shallow, lukewarm, mediocre Christians. And, disturbingly, most are totally comfortable and content to stay that way.

Unfortunately, the church has become only a shadow of what Jesus intended it to be. It is no longer a place of extravagant, heart felt worship, but has become a place of entertainment. I’ve come across numerous church web sites that tell potential visitors to just come as you are, bring your latte into the auditorium, and sit back and enjoy the “show”. They say to come and have fun. Fun? We don’t come to church to have “fun” (fun is what you experience a an amusement park). We go to church to worship our awesome God in reverence and awe. We go to bring a sacrifice of praise and to grow closer to Him, not to be entertained and given a pep talk on how to be successful and happy. To be sure, we do receive joy when we are in His presence worshiping Him, but that is a totally different thing than “fun”. Fun has its roots in our senses and emotions. Joy, on the other hand, has its roots deep within our souls.

Additionally, the church is supposed to be a place of prayer, but we have made it a place of pragmatism. Prayer should be the most important thing we do, and is indeed the very life blood of the church, but it has become just a quick interruption that we feel we need to do (if we do it at all) in the midst of our overbooked church calendars. Instead of prayer we have become self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-empowered. We use Madison Avenue marketing techniques to make the church grow, secular business practices for managing the programs and staff, and statistics to measure our “success”. My friends, the church is not a business!  It is the body of Christ that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, and when we use worldly pragmatism we only get natural results, but when we pray and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we’ll get supernatural results.

What a tragedy! Jesus, the Founder and Head, is no longer leading His church, the body. The body has severed itself from its Head and the results have been devastating. The church is scorned and mocked by the very culture we have been called to impact, and are now considered irrelevant and, shockingly, the biggest threat to the advancement of society.

The Laodicean church indeed!

My friend, Jesus is knocking on the door of our churches. He wants to come in and, once again, take His rightful place as the center focus and Head. Will we open the door and let Him in?

NONTHREATENING CHRISTIANITY IS COMPROMISED CHRISTIANITY

 

One of the popular buzzwords in the church today is “nonthreatening”. I’ve seen many churches tout their “nonthreatening” services, “nonthreatening” Bible studies, and I even saw one church invite people to their “nonthreatening” prayer meeting. When they say “nonthreatening” what they really mean is that they don’t want to offend anyone and want everybody to feel comfortable. It is their desire that everyone enjoy the service, Bible study or prayer meeting without feeling uneasy about what is said.

Simply put, “nonthreatening” Christianity is compromised Christianity.

This “nonthreatening” Christianity compromises the gospel message. You see, the gospel, by its very message, is very threatening. It tells me that I am a sinner separated from God, and the result is hell forever. It tells me that I’m not okay, and that I cannot earn, bribe, work for, or persuade my way into heaven. It tells me that Jesus had to go through a horrible physical death on the cross because of my sin, and had to endure the wrath of the Father that I deserve. It tells me that I must repent of my sins and put my trust solely in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

The “nonthreatening” gospel is crossless and bloodless. People are invited to “accept Jesus in their heart”, and they will be on their way. There’s no mention of confession, repentance, conviction of sin, the cross, or the blood of our awesome Savior. Just accept Jesus in your heart. It’s nonthreatening and not offensive, but it is also worthless. Today;’s church is filled with people who think they are saved but have no clue what the true, biblical gospel is, and are on their way to a lost eternity. The “nonthreatening” gospel is cheap grace at its ugly best.

Additionally, “nonthreatening” Christianity compromises discipleship. To be a follower of Jesus, the Bible says that I need to surrender totally to Jesus and follow Him unconditionally. It tells me I need to die to self daily and, in spiritual brokenness, live as a bond slave of Him. It tells me that the cost of following Jesus may indeed be everything, and that I must be willing to forsake all for Him if He should ask me to do so. In a “me” focused culture, this is definitely offensive, and is very threatening to our self absorbed mindset.

“Nonthreatening” discipleship is void of any mention of holiness, sanctification, surrender or dying to self. In the minds of many in today’s church, following Jesus means owning a Bible, coming to church when it doesn’t conflict with other activities, and throwing a twenty in the offering plate once in a while. It is a cheap imitation of what the Bible clearly defines as being a Christian. This Christianity “lite” had weakened the church dramatically in the last couple of decades.

Yes, the truth may be hard to take because it is so convicting, but it is still the truth and the only way to real life. When we compromise the truth to make people feel comfortable and safe, we lead them on the dangerous path of eternal destruction (the “nonthreatening” gospel) and the pathetic road to a mediocre, shallow relationship with Jesus (“nonthreatening” discipleship).

We don’t need to be cute with Biblical truth. Just preach it, teach it, and share it, and let the Holy Spirit do His job in the hearts of people. Yes, the uncompromised proclamation of the gospel will be threatening and offensive to the unsaved, and the uncompromised truth about discipleship will be threatening and offensive to Christians .  But do we dare teach anything less? We were never called to make comfortable people in all nations. We were called to make disciples of all nations.

The truth may hurt, but the truth will set people truly free.

“LORD, BREAK ME” – A BOLD AND DARING PRAYER

 

I have been a Christian for 37 years. About a year after I was born again I read a short book by William MacDonald entitled “Lord, Break Me”. After I read it, I figured that this was crucial to living a life honoring to God, so I prayed that the Lord would break me. A short time after I prayed this I mentioned it to an older fella who had been a Christian for many, many years. When he heard what I prayer he smiled, shook his head, and said “Man, are you in for it now. That’s a prayer that God always answers”.

Well, about 36 years later I can say that God certainly does answer this prayer, and it takes a long time, dare I say a lifetime, to answer.

God answers this prayer because it gets at the very heart of what He wants from us – total devotion and surrender. David said in Psalm 51:16-17: “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

What does it mean to be “broken”? It means to be reduced to the point of humbly realizing and accepting that without Jesus we are nothing. It is to understand we are spiritually bankrupt without Him, and have nothing to offer Him but our total brokenness. Simply put, being broken is to die to self and totally surrender all of yourself to Him. “Self” (the prideful “me” that wants to be in control of my life) must be reckoned as dead, because “self” does nothing to bring Him glory.

The breaking process is long, tedious, and painful.  God must bring us to and through many dark times, uncertain days, many tears, gut wrenching revelations about ourselves, and humbling experiences. To break us of our pride, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, selfishness, idolatry, and worldly ways necessitates some drastic measures, and God is a master of these measures. However, spiritual brokenness is the key to His heart.

It is the broken person who God can use powerfully in this world. You see, God must shatter us so that He can rebuild us into a vessel He can use. Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkrgaard once said: “God created everything out of nothing. And everything which God is to use He first reduces to nothing”.

If God is to indeed break us, the process is long and hard, trust me, I know this first hand because It has been over 36 years since I prayed that prayer and I’m still in the process. Along the way He has brought me to my knees in tears many times, and has been relentless in the process. But along the way I have experienced Him in ways that I would have never known without the process. You see, God cannot have the results of the process (deep intimacy with us and anointing to bring Him glory in our lives) without the process (breaking us).

Think of it in terms of a fruit tree. We have lots of them in our yard and every January we prune them pretty severely. We cut off the dead or diseased branches that will harm the tree, and prune the good branches way back to allow for new growth in the spring. Now if the tree could talk it would probably shout “STOP!  This hurts, and you are wrecking me!!”. But we know that, in order to bear good fruit in the summer, the hard pruning is necessary. Do you see the parallel for us? In order to be fruit bearing and useful to God, He must do the same to us.

Just last Sunday in our service as we were singing in worship, God reminded me of this prayer that I prayed so many years ago. I realized that He hasn’t forgotten it, is still in process of answering it, and wants me to remember and reaffirm it. I was overwhelmed in His presence, and knew that the breaking process, though painful and ongoing, has brought me to this point in my life. I’m not sure what He has planned for me around the corner, but whatever it is, I know that the breaking process has prepared me, and is preparing me, for it.

My friends, will you be daring and bold enough to pray, in all seriousness and earnestness, “Lord, break me”? Will you invite Him to crush the worldly part of you that keeps you from a deep intimate relationship with Him and from the power He would bestow on you so as to use you for His glory? It is what He desires to do in your life because He loves you too much to leave you as you are. Being broken is the key to His heart. Isaiah 57:15 says: “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite”.

It’s up to you. It’s an act of your will that results from being sick and tired of mediocrity and shallowness in your walk with Jesus, and from a heart that is hungry and thirsty for Him. Is it painful? YES! Is it necessary? YES! Is it worth it? YES! Is it what God wants from you? YES!

My friends, will you right now bow in humility in His presence and dare to pray: “Lord, break me!”?

 

FOOLS FOR JESUS

Fool. A word that  such a negative definition. The  Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a person lacking in judgment or prudence; a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding”   Indeed, no one wants to be called a fool.

However, there is a “fool” we should all strive to be – a fool for Jesus. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:9-10: ” For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.  We are fools for Christ’s sake,..”.

Being a “fool” for Jesus,  What does this mean? It means climbing uphill in a downward spiraling world, It means swimming upstream against the current of popular opinion.  It means dying to self and surrendering our wills totally to Him.  A fool for Jesus draws a line in the sand and takes a stand for God’s standards of  holiness, not living for pleasure, power, plaudits, or position, but for His glory, A fool for Jesus is on a passionate, relentless, radical pursuit of Him and of holiness.

Jesus said in Luke 9:23: “… If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”.  Denying ourselves means dying to self and handing Him the reigns of our lives. Taking up our cross means to live the life He led, the life that was totally abandoned to the will of the Father. Following Him means to have an uncompromised walk of obedience to Him. A true disciple of Jesus is the true counter culture.

The world looks at such Christians as “fools” and thinks that they are out of their minds because following Jesus, in their eyes, is a mindless journey that leads to failure, shame, and drudgery.”After all”, they say, “why would anyone want to abandon their lives to some religious nutcase that died over two thousand years ago?  After all, we are the captains of our ship and the masters of our fate”.

Oh, how wrong they are.  The greatest journey on the planet is found on the road of absolute surrender to Jesus and living for His glory. There is no peace, no hope, no purpose in life, and no meaning of life apart from Him. A fool for Jesus will be made fun of and laughed at. They might lose friends, be shunned by family members, and passed over for promotions at work. But a fool for Jesus, one who is deep in intimacy with Him, does not turn back because they know the Truth (Jesus), and the Truth has set them free.  As Jonathan Edwards is quoted as saying in his resolutions: “Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will”. Fools for Jesus don’t care what others think about them. They only care about what Jesus knows about them.

Are you a “fool” for Jesus? Are you sold out to Him and on the journey of surrender, giving all rights to yourself to Him? Are you on a passionate, relentless journey of holiness? As Jim Elliot said: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.

IS IT TOO LATE FOR THE UNITED STATES?

2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35 record King Josiah’s reign in Judah. His grandfather, Manasseh, who was the longest reigning and the most wicked king in the history of Israel, had led Judah into the depths of depravity that are indeed shocking. Although he repented and attempted to do good in the last six years of his reign, it was too late. In the previous 49 years his sin was so horrendously evil that he had crossed the line and assured Israel of God’s righteous judgment. Manasseh’s son, Amon, even though his reign was only two years, continued the evil ways of his father.

It is into this context that Amon’s son (and Manasseh’s grandson) son, Josiah took the throne when he was only eight years old. At the age of sixteen he began to seek after God, and when he was twenty he initiated incredible reforms in Judah.

During this time the Book of the Law was found in the Temple. When it was read to Josiah, he immediately realized the horrible state of apostasy of the nation and fell into deep repentance over their sin. He sought God’s direction on what to do and, through the prophetess Huldah, God told him that it was too late for Judah. His grandfather, Manasseh, had crossed the line of wickedness and the sins of the nation were so grievous that His righteous judgment was coming (by way of Babylonian take over, destruction of Jerusalem, and exile of the people). However, God said that, since Josiah humbled himself before Him and repented from his heart, he would not experience this judgment, but would have peace in his days. Josiah then led one of the most powerful revivals the world has ever seen.

This story brings my thoughts to the current condition of America. We have moved far from God, and are steeped in gross sin. Many evangelical leaders are crying out for God to have mercy on our nation, but, I wonder, have we crossed the line? Like Judah, is it too late for the United States to avoid God’s righteous judgment?

The sins of our nation are great. Consider:

  • Over 58 million babies have been slaughtered in their mother’s womb since the Roe v Wade decision in 1973.
  • Recently, hundreds of thousands of women marched around the country to retain the “right” to kill their own babies.
  • Assisted suicide is now legal in six states.
  • Recreational use of marijuana (which is a gateway to harder drugs) is legal in seven states and Washington D.C.
  • The Supreme Court has made gay marriage legal in the country
  • Eighteen states have “bathroom bills” (males can use female bathrooms and locker rooms if they feel female, and females can use male facilities if they feel male), and many more states have pending legislation regarding this matter.
  • Gay pride parades are celebrated by society.
  • The “hook up” generation, which sees sex as just another type of recreation to be engaged in whenever one feels the desire and with whoever is available at the time, is now the norm
  • Pornography literally floods the internet.
  • God’s moral absolute truth is scoffed at and has been replaced by relativism and political correctness.
  • Biblical Christianity is considered by some to be a threat to the progress of humanity and has been equated to terrorism.
  • Organizations like the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation spend vast amounts of money and energy attempting to oust God from society.

And this is just some of the evil that abounds today. I’m definitely not a prophet, but it sure seems like we have crossed the line and reached the point of no return. As it was during the reign of Manasseh, our wicked culture has thumbed its nose at God and defiantly, arrogantly, and brazenly trampled on His majesty, holiness, righteousness, and sovereignty.  And the consequences will be terrifying. Just look at what happened to Israel.

As I study eschatology (end times) from Scripture, I never see a reference to any nation from the west. Evidently, the western world, including the United States, deteriorates into oblivion. Nations crumble from within, and it appears that America is well on its way.  If He brought His righteous judgment on Israel, His covenant nation, we dare not smugly think that He won’t bring His righteous judgment on the United States. I believe that the terrorist attacks of 9-11 were a wake up call from God to our country. However, we failed to respond to His call. Is God’s judgment on our blasphemous nation looming on the horizon? Have we reached the point of no return?

If so, church, what do we do? Just ignore the signs? Just sit back and wait for Jesus to come back and take us home? Definitely not! We need to be like Josiah, who, even though he knew God’s judgment was coming, continued to work towards bringing a final revival in the hearts of the people of Judah. Likewise, we need to keep praying, keep preaching, keep witnessing, and keep serving for His glory. Who knows, perhaps He will send an end times revival, a Third Great Awakening, before the hammer of His judgment falls.

Church, its time for us, God’s people to follow Josiah’s example and fall on our faces in deep humility and repentance before our holy God. We need to repent of our own sins and the sins of our nation. The order here is absolutely crucial – we must first repent of our own sins. You see, my friends, the church of Jesus, the bride of Christ, has played the harlot with the world. We have gone after other “lovers” – popularity, glitz and glamour, fancy buildings, “coolness”, and pragmatism. We have watered down the gospel into a bloodless and crossless “accept Jesus in your heart” transaction, and have made discipleship an easy, breezy journey that is centered on personal happiness and worldly success. We have replaced the Holy Spirit with programs and marketing gimmicks,  holiness with happiness, and the focus on Jesus with the focus on “self”. Bottom line – the church has lost its power because its lost its first Love.

In Ezekiel 9:5-6, God, after having an angel put a mark on those in Israel who faithfully followed Him, is dispatching His angels to bring judgment on those without the mark, and He says these chilling words:  But to the others He said in my hearing, ‘Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity, and do not spare. Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary‘. So they started with the elders who were before the temple”.

The judgment was going to begin in the Temple, where His holiness and majesty should have been reverenced. I wonder, is God going to begin His judgment on the United States with His church? Will His righteous judgment come because of our lukewarmness, worldliness, and worship of “self”?  Oh, my friends, we need to repent! Just think, if every true believer in Jesus would humble themselves and cry out to God in repentance for their sins and the sins of our nation, God could do incredible things in these last days through a humble, surrendered, sold out church? This is our only hope.

Is it too late? Maybe. Maybe not. But regardless of what He has planned, what are you doing to bring one last revival?

 

A CHRISTMAS POEM

It’s time now for Christmas, two thousand sixteen
And we say “peace on earth”, but this peace is so lean

Whites are against blacks and blacks are against whites
And Hispanics, too, are in the midst of the fight

Terrorists abound, wickedly spreading their fear
Killing at will, more and more every year

Babies are slaughtered before they are born
And drugs are made legal, so lives can be torn

Marriage has been cheapened into anything we want
And those who oppose this are met with a taunt

Boys will be girls and girls will be boys
Using bathrooms depending on their own private joys

What was once called evil is now thought as good
And morality is formed as each thinks it should

Peace on earth? I laugh at this thought
For this land is in chaos and goodness is not

But through this deep darkness a hope does shine clear
For two thousand years ago a Savior came near

He was born in cave where farm animals were fed
And laid in a manger with hay as His bed

But this child who was born in such humble estate
Was God in the flesh, who is mighty and great

Jesus was the name the parents gave to their son
And raised Him in Nazareth, a town all did shun

More than thirty years later on a cross He would die
To reconcile sinners to God the most high

And He rose from the dead, the Savior does live!
And to those who repent, salvation He’ll give

So in a world wrought with strife and where evil abounds
True peace can be yours, yes, it can really be found

But only through Jesus, the child who was born
Two thousand years ago on that first Christmas morn

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.