Category Archives: discipleship

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!”?

 

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!”.

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.

SIGNING THE BLANK CONTRACT

When someone has work done on their house the person doing the work writes up a contract that specifies, in detail, the work to be done and the total cost of the project. If the homeowner agrees to the contract specifications he or she signs the contract, signifying their acceptance of the terms. No sane person would sign a blank contract, allowing the contractor to do whatever work he felt like doing at whatever cost he determined. That would be disastrous to the homeowner. No one signs a blank contract.

However, when we follow Jesus He asks us to sign a blank contract to the rest of our lives, telling us that He will fill in the details as we walk with Him (this “blank contract” is not a literal piece of paper that we sign, but is a symbol of a heart attitude that is totally sold out to Him). He gives us no specifics about what the future holds, no time line regarding our activities, no indication if our lives will be filled with joy or pain, and not even a hint about what we will be doing.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? All of us want to know the details regarding our lives, and signing a blank contract regarding the most valuable thing we have – our very lives – sounds crazy. But that’s the way Jesus is. He wants us to be totally sold out to Him, to follow Him wherever He leads, whenever He calls, doing whatever He asks us to do. Signing the blank contract tells Him that we are totally devoted to Him and that we trust Him wholeheartedly with our lives.

Think about some of the individuals in the Bible who signed the blank contract. God called Abraham to leave his home and to go to a land that He would show him. Abraham had no idea where that was or all the details of how his life would unfold. The only thing he had was the generalities of God’s covenant promise. But he followed Him and because he did, God’s covenant people, the Israelites, were birthed through him, and from his descendants came the Messiah.

Additionally, when Jesus called the men who would become His apostles, He simply said “Follow Me”, not giving them any details of what that entailed. I’m sure if He would have told them of the hardships they would face and of the martyrdom that awaited them, they probably would have turned and ran as fast as they could. But Jesus didn’t give them the details, asking them, in essence, to sign the blank contract and leave the details up to Him. They signed it and He used them to turn the world upside down for the Kingdom of God.

And think about Mary. She was a simple teenage girl from an insignificant town who was engaged to be married when God rocked her world and told her, through the angel Gabriel, that He had chosen her as the one to give birth to the Messiah. He didn’t give her all the details, just generalities. Yet, we see her heart when she responded to Gabriel’s words: “I am the Lord’s servant, May it be done to me as you have said”. Mary signed the blank contract, and her life was never the same as she played a significant role in the most profound story in human history.

The list is extensive – Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Nehemiah – individuals who were called by God for a specific task without knowing all the details. He asked them to sign the blank contract. They signed it, trusted Him, and were used incredibly by God.

How about you? If you are a born again believer in Jesus, He hands you a blank contract, asks you to trust Him and sign it, and then follow Him without any conditions. He asks us to follow Him on His terms, not ours. Sadly, far too many Christians follow Jesus on their terms instead of His. They place their devotion on their own happiness instead of on Jesus. This is not discipleship.

Signing the blank contract necessitates an absolute surrender of everything we are and everything we have to His will. It is holding our very lives with an open hand, allowing Him to do what He wants to do with them. Bottom line, it is dying to “self” and giving all rights to ourselves to Him. Jesus said in Luke 14:33: ” In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple”.  He is telling us that we need to sign the blank contract and let Him fill in the details.

This sounds fatalistic to some, but it is not. Remember we surrender to the One who literally loved us to death and continues to love us with an everlasting love. He knows that there is no greater journey on the planet than following Him unconditionally, and we will find no greater joy and fulfilment in life then being totally devoted to Him in absolute surrender.

Have you signed the blank contract? Have you, by an act of your will, given Him total control of your life? Do you love Jesus so much that you will follow him on His terms – whatever that may involve?

Ruth’s words to Naomi (in Ruth 1:16-17) are some of most profound words of surrender ever uttered: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me”.

I’ve reworded these words of Ruth to pertain to the Christian life. Would you say this with me: “Jesus where you want me to go I will go and I will live where you want me to live. The people you want me to serve I will serve, and what you ask me to do I will do. You are my Lord and I love You with all my heart. I will follow You in complete surrender all the days of my life…no matter what”.

Amen!