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Let us share with reckless abandon!

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As I sit in Thailand, I am once again amazed and reminded of the power of God’s Spirit to bring change, reform, and restoration. The energy and life of the Thai, Lao, and Myanmar people is incredible. There is absolutely no question that they love God and truly desire to give their lives in service to Him.

Pastor Chad teaching in Thailand

Pastor Chad teaching in Thailand

But there is something that strikes me to the core of my heart. I was talking to Pastor Ed about the mission of humanity to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth and he made one statement: “We have to take the gospel to people every day, because people are dying here every day.” This statement sticks with me, because it seems to easy to forget about the fragility of life. We often think that we have time to wait and waste, but that is not the case. We are engaged in a struggle for life and death – especially in the spiritual realm.

And, if you do not believe that, let me describe our situation last night. Pastor Chad is sharing about the early church in Acts and how the disciples were faithful to the mission to share the message of Jesus to the world. Literally, in a matter of years following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, there are thousands of new disciples all over the ancient world. Disciples have gone into Africa; disciples have gone into India; disciples have gone up into Russia; and, disciples have gone over into Europe. As we sit and hear this message of the disciples’ faithfulness, you can just see the excitement building in the room. By the end of the message, the people are clapping, praising the Lord and exuberant over their chance to continue sharing the good news.

But Pastor Ed stands up after Pastor Chad sits down. And as he looks at everyone, you can see the tears watering his eyes and he begins to speak with a cracking voice. He says, “In Acts, the Holy Spirit kept Paul from going into Asia. But, I think that God is telling us that it is now time to take the gospel of Jesus to all of Asia.” And in a heartbeat, the people started praying for the whole continent of Asia. In that moment, I heard the cry to God on behalf of the Asian people. Almost everyone’s voice was praying aloud for their people, their villages, and the unreached people groups in Asia. And all I could do in that moment was cry. I just stood there and cried. And I am still crying.

People around the world are dying every day and most of them have not heard of Jesus or have heard about him and rejected him. It is time for us to rise up and start taking the message of hope to people who are in desperate need of salvation. People may turn away from you; people may choose to ignore you; and, people may even get angry with you. But that does not diminish the enormity of the task before us.

Your mission, if you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ, is to spread the message of hope that comes through him. You may think to ignore the command, but I must insist that you think carefully about where God is calling you to minister. Let us take the message of Jesus to the nations with reckless abandon!

On behalf of the many who still have yet to hear, I thank you.

 


Seasonal Service

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With Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas on its heels, this is the time of year for family, friends, food, celebrations, and an overwhelming number of great service opportunities. Service opportunities???  Yes!

This time of year there are numerous opportunities to show the love of Christ to others. You can volunteer a few hours to ring a bell for the Salvation Army or to serve meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas days at numerous churches and community organizations. You can buy a few extra groceries and drop them in a basket on your way out the door. You can even collect everything from toys to coats to benefit children locally and around the world.

This time of year there is no shortage of opportunities for you and your family to serve. I hope you will take the opportunity to show the love of Christ to others. If you have children, get them involved. Make service a regular part of family life.

I also encourage you to take it step further. Christmas and Thanksgiving are times when it seems we can go on service overload. This is not a bad thing. The season brings out feelings of gratitude and good will, and I challenge you to allow these attitudes to live in your heart all year long. Consider these facts. Food banks run short of volunteer workers in the summer.  Giving to non-profits falls in the spring and summer months. Blood banks run low in the summer.

Why not make volunteering in our community something we do regularly not just during the Holidays? How about sponsoring a food drive in March or providing a meal in July? Let’s show the love of Jesus all year long.

Don’t avoid serving during November and December, but be more than a seasonal servant. Make service a part of everyday (every month) life.


Discipleship and Holiness

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Recently, I was re-reading the Life and Diary of David Brainerd. The personal and intimate diary describes many accounts and stories from the life of the Brainerd, an American missionary to various New England Amerindian tribes in the 18th century. The part that gripped me most was Brainerd’s longings for personal piety and his consecration to holiness. He wrote:

 

Oh for holiness! Oh for more of God in my soul! Oh this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God; the language of it is, ‘Then shall I be satisfied, when I awake in God’s likeness,’ (Ps 17:15) but never, never before: and consequently I am engaged to ‘press towards the mark’ day by day. O that I may feel this continual hunger, … to reach forward in the narrow way, for the full enjoyment and possession of the heavenly inheritance! O that I may never loiter in my heavenly journey!”

 

Here we see a man who demonstrated in private and hidden pages of his journal an enormous appetite for holiness. The truth is that I hear few Christians who today still hunger for that kind of holiness and separation unto the Lord. Yet the Bible tells us in 1 Peter 1:15-16 “…just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘“Be holy, because I am holy.”’ According to this scripture the disciple of Jesus can attain holiness in “all” that they do. It seems reasonable that a disciple should become more like the one they follow – and Jesus is holy! Furthermore, because God is holy, every time we sin we do something that God despises. Consequently, we need to cultivate hearts that share the same hatred of sin that God possesses. When a person claims to be a disciple and remains comfortable with sin, we can be quite certain that they are not walking intimately with the Lord. Peter goes on to say, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Notice, God sees you as “a chosen person” a “Priest”, part of a “holy nation and His special possession.” As such, a follower of Jesus must not take sin lightly!

There is an old saying, “you are what you eat.” The idea is that in order to be healthy you need to take in good food. Contrarily, consuming bad food leads to detrimental effects on your body. Eating Twinkies 24/7 may not kill you directly, but it may contribute to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and many other disorders in your body the will inhibit your from living a long and fruitful life. The same is true if we want to live healthy, holy lives. We need to be conscious about what we allow into our lives. While removing all ungodly influences from your life would require exiting the planet (see 1 Cor. 5:9-10), there are many things that we can purposefully avoid in order to promote a healthier spiritual life. Many spiritual “Twinkies” or even poison come from the influences of friends, what we look at on the internet, how we spend our time, and the entertainment we choose to consume. In order to attain holiness disciples must eradicate some of these influences from their lives, and remain very selective of the types of things they consume spiritually.

 

Do you crave holiness? Does your heart inwardly long to be more like Christ similar to those longings of David Brainerd? If no longings for holiness exist, we need to more deeply contemplate how serious we are in following Jesus because Christ followers naturally long for holiness.


Inspiration and Inerrancy

I had an interesting experience yesterday, one that I had prayed for. As I was reading my Bible in the park, a curious jogger stopped to ask why I was reading the Bible and if I truly believed that it contains the answer to life’s problems.

First of all, I had to recognize that I have some presuppositions about God and the Bible that this jogger might not share with me. So I wanted to be careful in how I shared my beliefs compared with the jogger’s doubts.

I started with how I view the Bible as a whole. I believe that the Bible has authority. According to H. D. McDonald, “[T]he Bible has a real authority in itself as the authentic embodiment of God’s self-disclosure.” I believe that because the Bible is the Word of God, and because God Himself is the ultimate authority, His Word has authority in the same manner as God has authority over me and my life.

That led me to talk about inspiration. The jogger was skeptical about the Bible, saying that it was written by men no different than you and me. I explained to him that he was partially correct about the authorship of the Bible. It was penned by men, but that those men were led by divine inspiration. God Himself guided the men and the words that were written. The Bible says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV). The Bible is not a work of the human mind, but the very words of God.

The jogger then asked a difficult question, “How can the Bible be accurate if it was written by men?” I told the jogger that I believe the Bible is inerrant. To me, inerrancy simply means that God is incapable of anything short of truth and perfection, and therefore, His word contains no errors or false claims. The Bible says, “it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged” (Hebrews 6:18, NIV).

I explained to the jogger that I learned about some arguments that have been made about the Bible being inerrant. The Slippery Slope Argument says that “some see inerrancy as so fundamental that those who give it up will soon surrender other central Christian doctrines.” I believe this to be the weakest argument to convince an unbeliever because the belief is based on a structure that is foreign to an unbeliever, the doctrines of the church. The Epistemological Argument says that the claims of the Bible’s inerrancy can only be certified by proving its claims. While we can verify many of the things the Bible claims, we cannot prove them all, because not all things have come to pass or the evidence of other claims no longer exist. The Biblical Argument uses Scripture itself to show that it is inerrant and infallible. The best example of this is the previously mention verse, 2 Timothy 3:16. The argument that I would consider the strongest is the Historical Argument. This argument says that the inerrancy of the Bible “has been the view of the church throughout history.” At first glance, this argument may seem overly simplistic. But it is a view that carries tradition and a long lineage of believers who were intent on sharing a view of God’s Word as it is, inerrant and authoritative. This view is founded by eyewitnesses to Biblical events. And then it was shared through generations. This argument shows a history of people, sinful humans, who have heard the message and accepted it and built their lives in Christ according to what each person saw in other humans. It is our greatest witness to the lost of our time.

The inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible are complimentary. Elmer Towns states that, “Inerrancy recognizes that what God revealed and inspired is accurate, reliable, authoritative and without error.” Because the Bible is inspired by God, the nature of God is a part of the Bible. The Bible is Truth. It is accurate. It is reliable. It has authority. It’s attributes are synonymous with God’s.

Because I believe that the Bible was inspired by God and therefore, carries the authority of God, is inerrant and infallible, I believe that what the Bible teaches has real meaning for me. I must study the Bible in order to know how I should live a life that is pleasing to the Creator. I must obey the commands of God that are found in the pages of His word in order to receive the blessings He has promised to His people.


Be Transformed

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transformation-human-11

Have you ever found yourself doing something that you know you probably shouldn’t? Ever struggled with a bad attitude? We have all fought with negative behaviors at one time or another. At times, we can be unaware of the problem. Or perhaps, we recognize the issue but are unwilling (or feel unable) to change. So we go on doing the same things over and over again. For those of us who come to the point where we actually want to change or want to improve, it can be a struggle to figure out where to start. Well, the Bible gives us a clear picture of what we need to do in order to change.

In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us that we must be “transformed.” He doesn’t tell us to be transformed by doing the exact same thing we have always done. He doesn’t tell us to be transformed by blaming others for our troubles. Paul says that we are transformed by the renewing of our mind.

Our minds are a battleground. The world wants to have us pondering violence, unrestrained sexual pleasure, self-gratification and enmity towards others. But the Bible calls us to help the weak and downtrodden. That means we may have to change our attitudes toward the less fortunate. The Bible calls us to purity. That means that we have to reject and avoid sexually immoral images and themes.

Romans 12:2 is a key verse for the Christian walk and how we are to avoid being overly influenced by the world. But it goes on to remind us that a transformed mind prepares us to hear God and obey His will. A mind that casts off worldly influences is better able to embrace what is good, acceptable and perfect.

If you are stuck in constant quarrels or arguments, seek a transformed mind. If you are stuck in an endless cycle of bitterness and negativity, seek a transformed mind. If your outlook on life is bleak, seek a transformed mind. Jesus came to bring us life, not misery. Let us embrace Him and be transformed by Him.


A God Who Is Relational

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Have you ever stopped to consider how you think about God? Recently, while reading a book on the names of God, something struck me. It is very easy for people to believe in a distant, all-powerful God, while also keeping Him at a distance. It is another thing entirely to believe that God cares for you and desires to be close to you. One is believing in the “concept” of God and the other is believing that God loves you and wants to have an intimate relationship with you.

When we hear of names like Yahweh and Jehovah in the Bible, it can be difficult for us to visualize what those names were intended to convey. The name of Yahweh (otherwise known as Jehovah), as with many other Hebrew names, was given to Moses for a very specific purpose: to proclaim that God is the “self-existent One.” Nothing His creations could ever do would change who He is as God. He is not dependent upon anything in nature or the cosmos in order to survive, because He is the One who will be whomever or whatever He needs to (or decides to) be.

But, He also reveals Himself to Moses as the intimate One. Yahweh desired to dwell among the people of Israel. He wanted to be with His creation in order to develop a relationship with His people. He did not intend to be distant and un-related. And, that same concept bears out in the New Testament when we see the introduction of the name of Jesus. This new name, “Yahweh Saves,” reminds the people that Yahweh is ever-present with His people and exists in the person of Jesus. How amazing is that?! God truly desires to be with His people, and yet, many of us are only thinking about God when we need something from Him.

This week, try to connect with God without needing something from Him. Talk to Him, engage with Him, and listen to Him as you intend to deepen your relationship with Him. In the same way that we cannot develop a deeper relationship with other people without conversation, we also cannot get to know God without conversation. See what happens when you converse with Him!


Try not to contort your face

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I was recently in a Bible study group that was talking about one of the gospels. As we were discussing the character of Jesus, I asked, “How would we respond if a prostitute walked into our church on a Sunday morning?” I was curious to hear the responses, because we don’t often acknowledge the tension that exists between what we “think” we would do and what we “actually” do. In response, one of the students said, “We would probably be disgusted.” And, I think that’s a fair assessment.
The prostitute walking through the doors of our church would look out of place. She wouldn’t be dressed “appropriately” and she probably wouldn’t know anyone. When people would see her I’m not sure why would be able to keep their faces from contorting into a disgusted look. I’m fairly certain that it would catch me off-guard. How would you respond?
I’m reminded of John 8, in which the woman caught in adultery is forgiven by Jesus. It amazes me that Jesus doesn’t spend time beating her down over her sin. In fact, He quickly acknowledges her sin and then offers her a new direction for life. That’s it.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I wonder to what extent we encourage people to leave their life of sin and move on in Jesus. I think our face probably says it all. We act surprised when people bring their sin to church, as if we’ve never done anything wrong. The look on our face probably says, “What on earth are you doing here?” But…isn’t “here” (at the church) the best place to point them toward Jesus?
I think we should consider the faces that we give to people. I’m not asking or suggesting that you be dishonest with your face. Instead, I’m asking you to think about the face that you give to people when they do something that displeases, disappoints or disgusts you. When you give that face, is it your prerogative to give it? How else can you use your face for others? Can you encourage them with it? Can you set them at ease with it? Can you mirror Jesus’ love and convictions with it?
People are going to walk through our doors. Some will agree with us and some with disappoint us. Try not to contort your face.

Low Battery

I was sitting at a conference just a few weeks ago, enjoying the fellowship and the message, when this feeling hit me. After weeks, even months, of planning for the conference, after months of traveling up and down the state, after years of living life, raising a family, serving in church, working a job, and all that comes with life in general, I realized that I was worn out. It was more mental than physical, but it was there nonetheless. I was beginning to experience a spiritual valley, a low battery.

Many times in life, we get beat up, tossed around, hurt, confused, depressed, worn out and just plain tired. We may think that we have no right to feel this way. We may try to hide our hurts and feelings. We may feel guilty for being tired and worn out. But the reality is that we are imperfect creatures. We have good days and bad. We have energy then we have none. We are able to face the biggest obstacles on one day and on others the smallest bump unravels our entire being.

I have to say that it’s okay to be worn out. It’s okay to get tired. It’s okay to struggle. After all, we are only human. But we don’t have to stay there. We have a heavenly Father who seeks to lift us up. Our God wants us to turn to Him in our tough times, in our broken times, in our worn out times. Consider the words of the prophet in Isaiah 40:

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Although I sat at that conference realizing I was worn out, I knew that The Lord was there. I knew that He is faithful to His children. I knew that in His time, He would renew my strength and send me on to do His will. As I considered my spiritual fatigue, I was encouraged to know that God delights in my weaknesses because He would be glorified by His work in me. I praise God for my time in the spiritual valley. He is good. He is faithful. He is still, and evermore, God.

We were never meant to go through this life, with all of its bumps and bruises, apart from the Creator. We tend to panic when our cell phone batteries get low. We know that we must plug into a power source to sustain it. Well, we must remember that The Lord is our strength when our own has failed. Let us remember to plug into Him and wait on Him in our time of need.


The Dunning-Kruger Effect

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James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

In sociological studies the Dunning–Kruger effect represents “a cognitive bias wherein relatively unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate.” In more basic terms, there are people who clearly are not the most intelligent people but think they are brilliant. Other people might not be the most attractive, but they believe they are eye candy. There are individuals who believe they are the best on the team when everyone else knows that they’ve got no game at all. All of these people live in a false reality. The Dunning-Kruger effect is the blatant disregard of knowing yourself and the reality in which you live.

As I examine the lives of Christians across the nation, I think many suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect. They think they are more spiritual, more Godly, more religious than they think they are, but they are not living in the reality of what Scripture calls for Christians to embrace. Consequently, they deceive themselves about where they stand spiritually.

James tells us that this self-deception is not something new but something that he was dealing with in the church 2000 years ago. One thing that James wants his hearers to fully understand is that they must not be deceived into believing something about themselves that is not rooted in reality. In the first chapter he uses the term “deceived” three times (16, 22, 26).

James recognizes that Christians often don’t see their faith in the right lens. They believe everything is OK spiritually when they are really falling short. They think they are quite perfect when they are not. They think they live quite adequately, when, in fact their lives come nowhere close to the Biblical mandate for Christian living. Such was the self-deception that was unfolding in the Church of Laodicea in Rev 3:16-17.

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

The Laodicean Church thought everything was good and that they were quite hearty spiritually, but in reality they were on the verge of being spit out. Consequently, they were only deceiving themselves and needed a reality check.

Are you deceiving yourself about your faith, thinking it is something that it is not? You can end your self-deception by measuring your life to the standards in Scripture and making adjustments to model the kind of life that God requires for his followers. Stop deceiving yourself and start obeying.


Theology on the Run

I often think back to the New Testament church with thoughts of care, wonder, and amazement. What must it have been like in those first few decades with Jesus gone? How long was it before they even called themselves “the church” and what did daily life look like? I try and answer these questions as I read through the New Testament, but the reality is that we only know what we can read in the text. So, as I was pondering questions like these and wondering what else I would have liked to have seen in the text, I heard someone make a statement about the theology of the New Testament. He said, “The theology of the New Testament can be called a ‘Theology on the Run’. They were figuring things out as they went, helping people as they learned what they were doing.”
And honestly, has that concept changed? For anyone who has tried to lead or participate in ministry, you know that it’s messy and that you are trying to figure things out along the way. You go into things with plans, but those often get tossed out the window as you are presented with a new problem and a new solution to find. Half of ministry is trying to figure out what to do while you are already doing the other half of ministry – loving on people.
But, somewhere along the way, the church started to think that it had “arrived”. We started caring less about people who don’t know Jesus and caring more about our parking spot at church. We started giving less attention to the missions work, because we recently shared a missionary’s blog post. At some point, our focus became inward, we stopped running, and started sitting in comfortable chairs. Beloved, we may have lost sight of the true vision of the church: to be “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) With that vision comes the great responsibility to dive right into the middle of sharing the Gospel message of the risen Savior, Jesus.
That may be scary and that may be uncomfortable, but if we have that mindset, then we probably forgot the first half of the verse I just mentioned. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” We have been EMPOWERED to spread the church to the ends of the earth – yes even in your neighborhood. I’m not at all disputing whether you have been empowered, but I am saying that you haven’t yet turned on the light switch. PG&E has been turned on, but we are content with using candles in the dark.
Instead of hunkering down in fear, let us boldly reach beyond our comfort zone and reconnect with the vision of the church. You may have to figure things out on the run. You may also receive scorn and persecution, but I guarantee that you will be empowered by the strongest power that man has ever known. This week, I encourage you to think about someone to whom you can share the message of Jesus. And then, after you have thought and prayed about it, I encourage you to actually share the message of Jesus with them. Take a risk to see how God will help you to figure things out on the run.