The Perfect Child

The second chapter of Luke affords us one of very few scriptural glimpses into the early years of Jesus life.  As was custom, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem for the yearly Feast of the Passover.  When the feasting had ended, the Bible says that the company of people including Mary and Joseph headed home for Nazareth, but the boy Jesus lingered behind.  After a days travel, the couple realized Jesus wasn’t part of the caravan, so they went back to Jerusalem, and after the 3rd day searching, found Him in the temple, listening to the teachers there, and asking questions.

Scripture says that, “when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”” (vs. 48 NKJV) Mary says “Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” We obviously know that Joseph played some role as a functioning father figure in Jesus life.  However, I believe His lingering behind in Jerusalem was an intentional statement He needed to make to both Mary & Joseph.  He responds with the now famous “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (vs. 49)

The next verse proves that the demands of living and parenting, and the hum-drum of daily demands had caused them to actually function day to day apart from an impacting awareness and remembrance that their Son was born through a virgin birth!  Verse 50 says “they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.”

Since righteousness and ethic was so highly demanded from children in the ancient Jewish culture, how difficult it might’ve been for Joseph to allow Jesus to obey and honor His Heavenly Father first!  How difficult for Joseph to be a “second fiddle dad.”

Verse 52 tells us that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”  I believe the previous verse gives us one of the reasons why.  It states, “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.” (vs. 51)

The same Jesus who was wise and brave enough to linger behind in Jerusalem in an attempt to help His parents remember who His real Father was, humbly honored them and subjected Himself to them as a small town boy growing up in Nazareth.  Even as a child with a growing awareness of who He was, He NEVER used it for gain… NEVER.  He was truly a servant from birth.

JesusBoyCarpenterBaja

This occurrence recorded in scripture challenges both the child and the parent.  The parent, to remember that we are only stewards of the gift God gives us when He allows us to raise His sons and daughters in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  The child; to follow the example of Christ.  Who, though He had all power and all wisdom, even exceeding that of His parents, honored them by subjecting Himself to them.  It is important for both to remember that a child must never be expected to subject himself or herself to earthly parents in such a way that it hinders their ability to obey and honor their Heavenly Father.  This carries broad implication and application.  May Holy Spirit breath on this for us all, granting us wisdom to walk this line with cautious intention for God to be glorified through our family relationships.

.

.

.

.

.

Government, Grammys, Gays, & God

It’s been rightly said that the only constant is change.  Any advancement or regression in society is both the result of and the initiation of change. Our great nation was birthed in 1776, when our founding fathers decided it was high time for change regarding the governing of the American colonies, a historical event of epic proportions, but a mere blip on the radar as it relates to any settling, or consistency of human behavior that might result.

At our nations genesis, our best and brightest thinkers spent many months deliberating together to establish what they thought would be the best possible form of national government.  The representative democracy that now functions in our nation recognizes the dangerous mixing of man’s prideful nature with the corrupting influence of power, and includes checks and balances to limit the gain of power by any one man or group of men by placing substantial power in the hands of the people by honoring their collective will as revealed by the voting process.   It’s the greatest governing system the modern world has seen, perhaps best and  most properly described by Winston Churchill as “…the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”  Churchill, likely the most popular British prime minister of all time, spouted this statement from his bathtub after he led Britain as Prime Minister until victory over Nazi Germany had been secured ending World War II, and then lost re-election in the 1945 United Kingdom general election. 

This perspective on our representative democracy is shared by many, but not mentioned nearly enough amidst the constant religious, social, and political debates in modern American culture.  It’s the best we could come up with, and has served us well for several centuries… but we have seen, and are currently experiencing the failure of the founding fathers ideology.  Does it not make good sense to recognize the best features and the botched failures of our continued attempt to govern what is perhaps the world’s most diverse people group?  Would it not almost immediately deflate the winner’s pride and the loser’s despair when a hot button social issue goes to vote?  Does a majority vote always accomplish what is truly best or absolutely right?  Our method of governing and law making simply places the will of the majority into action, whatever that will may be.  At times in our history, the will of the majority has been selfish and mislead (legalizing slavery), at other times, righteous and good, (abolishing slavery).

The majority as an expression of the current “most common” viewpoint regarding any given topic, is rarely capable of producing exceptionalism as a result.  Or in other words, there is really always only one way to do something best, or one might say, one way to do something right, and human nature undeniably recognizes “my way” as the best way.  Rarely can even a small group of people agree on what is truly the best way, because everyone is certain that there idea is truly best.  Even common tasks like office management, coaching football, or teaching arithmetic see a variety of concepts put forth as “the best method” to accomplish the end they have in mind.  How much more difficult when what one might call “immaterial truths” are placed up for comparison among a vast crowd of divergent people groups?  Topics like worship, salvation, eternity, and marriage are all producing “conversations of conflict” in a nation that is now as diverse as it once was unified regarding a spiritual belief system, causing our representative democracy to fail us.  In executing it’s processes, we as a people are being divided.

George Washington said “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible”, and John Adams said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”    These founding fathers intelligently recognized that the success of any national government depends wholly on the ability of it’s people to self-govern according to a common, righteous, moral standard.  When this standard crumbles and morality decreases, immorality naturally increases, requiring increased intervention by the government.  It is no coincidence that the incredible moral decline we have seen in recent years in America has been matched by the growth of “big government”.  We now have a government that has increased power to establish law according to the will of the majority of it’s people, which we have already established, is divided on many of the major issues we face as a people.

For example, on any given vote, it is possible that:

35% of voters may vote for A,

32% may vote for B, and

33% may vote for C,

Making A the standard for all the people, of which 65% are not in favor.

The more we are divided as nation, the greater chance that fewer of us will receive what we consider “proper” representation, fueling resentment and antagonism as the system breaks down little by little and we necessarily head toward the socialism we all dread.  As more people deny the authority of God’s Word as the singular moral guide for our actions as individuals and a group, we can see the inadequacy of our government to now manage the people of America.  I think we all see the signs… but our unwillingness to compromise our core beliefs halts any effort required to unify across self-imposed boundaries.

I have painted this picture of America’s failing democracy to drive home two points regarding gay marriage: First, any law passed at any level of government, legally confirming same sex unions as marriage according to state or national rule of law, based on a majority vote does not make recognizing homosexual marriage right or best for our nation.  Second, any law passed at any level of government, legally denying same sex couples the right for their marriage to be legally recognized does not make it right or best to deny them such.  The point is… our government, at its best, allowing the people to vote on topics like this, will always “fail” a certain percentage of the people… the minority.  It may be a 17% minority, or a 49% minority… the larger the percentage, the larger the social fallout and conflict as the man, woman, or law takes effect after the vote.  The homosexual minority in America is seeing a small increase in actual number, but they have literally wrangled a huge increase in support from hollywood, the media, schoolboards, and many politicians, as was made evident at the 2014 Grammy’s Award show.

Proponents of traditional marriage are being worn down by men and women who use their public influence to cry out for equality.  Not of personhood as the Declaration of Independence states “all men are created equal”, but rather equality in standards of morality.  Men and women plead for the right to kill an unborn child.  Men and women plead for homosexuals to be legally recognized as a married couple.  In these struggles, they ignore time tested moral standards to accommodate fleeting physical desires and attempt to establish new societal norms.  Their cry for equality for their “morality” is dividing our nation, but all they can see is that they are gaining ground and approval.  The recent Grammy Wedding debacle set a new precedent for what is acceptable in American culture regarding the effort homosexual activists can make to demonize those who hold a biblical viewpoint of marriage as between one man and one woman.  Macklemore proudly belted the lyrics to his hit “Same Love” which included the following description of any preacher who might not agree that homosexual unions should be recognized as “marriage”:

“If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed
That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned”

The scriptural viewpoint of marriage as a lifelong, covenant uniting one man and one woman has officially been branded hate speech as the crowd went wild.  In front of huge stained glass windows obviously meant to represent a church setting, Queen Latifah performed some 20 second ceremony uniting many straight, gay, and lesbian couples in “matrimony”… and Madonna put the finishing touches on the ceremony by singing “Open Your Heart”.

Later GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis told The Hollywood Reporter:  When such a critically acclaimed and popular rap artist puts marriage equality center stage at one of the biggest events of the year, it is the latest in a long line of signs that our nation not only accepts, but celebrates the love and commitment of gay couples today,”  This statement is one more shining example of greatly exaggerated announcement of the acceptance our “nation” is giving gay couples.  Just because the producers of the Grammy’s saw fit to allow this “mass wedding” doesn’t mean the people of America were thrilled to see it happening.

America is changing… it always has been and always will be, and there may come a time when homosexuals will receive the support of most Americans, but regardless of what “popular for now” performers, or Hollywood actors, decide to celebrate on our television, the majority of Americans still firmly disagree with the idea of a man “marrying” another man, or a woman “marrying” another woman.  Many still believing it is simply ludicrous, and that the legalization of same sex marriage would quickly erode the moral foundation of America.  All recorded human history has revealed that the healthy family is the basic building block of any successful society.  Two men cannot build a family.  Two women cannot build a family.  Any advancements that our society makes toward giving this distorted morality equality with true, scriptural morality will certainly introduce division, confusion, dissension, and the need for increased government involvement to clean up the mess.

___________________________________________________________

I am well aware you may disagree with my thoughts in this post.  Perhaps you live by this new moral code that denies the natural order of things.  Let’s remember, as long as these differing religious worldviews exist among the people of our nation, our government, (as John Adams said), is wholly inadequate to keep the peace.  That is up to us.

If you knew me, you would know that I have several homosexual friends, and you might be shocked to know that we get along quite well.  I share my thoughts here cautiously, because this type of content communicates best in the loving, peaceful tone of a friendly conversation.  If we could sit down together over some coffee, I would hope that we could leave as friends with differing viewpoints on this topic.  Let’s be mature enough to honor each other’s beliefs, support each others freedom to express them, allow the voting process to accomplish the will of the people regarding this topic in the political arena, and be friends in the meantime.

Time will tell if America will gladly receive homosexuals.

Eternity will tell if God will.

.

.

.

If the World Hates You

It’s nice to be popular. Not necessarily on TV, everybody knows your name, reporters and bloggers digging for every skeleton in your closet popular, but just plain old popular. “Liked” by most everyone you know. Certain that there aren’t any discussions going on about you in your relational circle that you’re unaware of, or that you wouldn’t like. We don’t need cameras or news reporters at our funeral, but we would like the line to have more than three people in it.

We want people to like us, and we’re willing to do a little more than we realize to make it happen.

Their child hits our toddler square in the face with a shovel, three times, and we grumble profusely to each other when they leave the house, but say nothing to them.

We swear quietly as we clean up the neighbor’s leaves after she blows them in our yard with her riding mower, and we smile and wave.

It can take upwards of ten to fifteen minutes to finally shut down the conversation with the car salesman you were hoping to get just a few quick details out of.

And when everything in us wants to run away, we stand with feet planted firm when “that aunt” comes to give us a kiss and a hug at the family reunion.
__________________________________________________________

We make daily sacrifices on the altar of our likeability.
__________________________________________________________

We do have limits, though.

For instance… the day “that aunt” gets a sex change and still wants a hug and a kiss… I’m out.

I don’t own a Porsche, so if someone runs into my 1996 Honda Civic, its no big deal… unless it’s gonna cost me $1000 for repairs. At that point, whether or not you like it, or like me, I need to get your insurance information.

Your party animal cousin might get mad at you for not giving him the keys to his car after that wedding reception when he was not fit to drive, and it might damage the relationship for a long time.

And I suppose it’s up to you whether or not your 17 year old daughter can date a 22 year old with a swastika tattoo on his forearm, but when she brings him along to help baby-sit, I might even take a few extra minutes to find a brass menorah to chase him out the door with… like it or not.
______________________________________________________________________________________

Our willingness to endure inconvenience to preserve our likeability finds its end when the perceived value of what we are called to sacrifice outweighs our desire to maintain the esteem our friends may afford us. Some things are important enough to risk losing relationships over. When these lines are crossed, we are willing to sacrifice the friendship if need be… based on the value we place on the thing or person we feel might be compromised by not taking the action we deem appropriate.
______________________________________________________________________________________

In the first chapter of a book called “The Great Evangelical Recession” by John Dickerson, he lists, in detail, four nationally recognized researchers who specialize in national religious statistics. With differing credentials, differing motivations, and different research methods, the researchers agreed on the following statistic:

8% of Americans can be considered Evangelical Christians

That’s 1 in ten if you’re lucky…
or 22 million of America’s 316 million residents.

22 Million! That’s more than enough of us to fill each other’s days with great music, great books, Godly conversation, religiously charged political facebook quotes, theological debate, church services, conferences, outreaches, and prayer groups. As we stuff our days full of all the above, and work hard to raise our families in the fear and admonition of the Lord… we have slowly but certainly lost significant ground in cultural influence. Without realizing it, we have become our own separate sect of society, so self focused as a whole that we haven’t noticed the degree that our impact and relevance has diminished in our nation. Nine out of ten people do not relate to the ideals and beliefs that we hold dear. We’ve had them “shnookered” with fancy rhetoric of our supposed influential power in society, but not until the last few years have they discovered just how much they outnumber us. With this newfound information, those who have differing viewpoints than Christians are bolder than ever exercising their opposition, as Christian doctrine grows more unpopular every week.

In this culture, each awkward situation or conversation with someone who holds a differing worldview is a true litmus test that will reveal just how much we value Christ and the gospel. As we’ve settled above, when we place significant value on someone or something, we are willing to forfeit our approval and acceptance among those who disagree for the sake of the person, cause, or ideal that we value.

Are you willing to speak up for truth if it causes you to be unpopular?

If not; if you ignore your conscience when the Spirit urges you to stand for righteousness, I must regrettably inform you that your popularity has become an idol… more important to you than spreading the truth and beauty of our Holy Savior. You are more concerned with others accepting you than you are with them accepting Christ.

In Matthew 15, Jesus tells His disciples “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

In chapter 16, He goes on to say, “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away… the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.”

Jesus is warning us again. As history repeats itself across the ages, across the ocean, and across the cultures, the Holy Spirit is reminding us that the world will despise us, and when “their time” comes, we must remember that Christ was hated by the world, and we will join Him under the burden of that afflicting cross. (If we stand with Him in the truth, that is). As children of the light, the massive darkness permeating our modern American culture will undoubtedly seek us out and attempt to shame us into silence. It’s that embarrassment you feel when you continue to assert that homosexuality is a sin. It’s the cruel, penetrating eyes that despise you for trying to put a woman in “bondage” by not allowing her to choose whether or not she will birth or kill her unborn child. It’s the “unfriending” on facebook for posting your beliefs. It’s the school system that singles out your child to stand in a “tolerance” circle in front of the class and apologize for speaking scriptural principles in the classroom. And it’s the “narrow-minded bigot” label that you anticipate receiving if you speak the words, “Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me.

unpopular

When we place the proper value on Christ and His gospel, there is no price too high to pay for the sake of His cause. There is no worldly treasure so valuable that it could compare to the greatness of knowing Him. This is the realization that the disciples had when they were martyred for preaching the gospel. This is the realization that Daniel had when he flung open his bedroom windows so that every passerby in the street could hear him breaking the law by praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His only concern was that he was popular in heaven… whatever the earthly cost. And at the height of his unpopularity, as he was shunned, ostracized, and sent to his death in a den of lions, God stepped in to not only deliver, but honor and raise up His faithful servant to lead the entire nation in prayer to the same God they had expelled just a few weeks earlier.

In the coming years it will get harder and harder to stand for truth in America. Draw near to God. Study the scriptures. Prepare yourself to be steadfast so that you do not fall away, and great will be your reward.
.
.
.

Trayvon Jesus and George

Image

Commentary regarding the Zimmerman verdict has flooded the internet and conversations nationwide.  Amidst it all, I have observed most people exercising a level of judgment regarding the case that I feel they have no right to make.  We must be honest enough to admit we don’t know all the details of the case, and we definitely don’t know exactly what happened in the moments prior to Trayvon’s death; and unfortunately, he is not here to share his testimony.  You may be angry, pleased, or indifferent with the verdict, but I’d like to approach the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman verdict from a Christian perspective.  When I say from a Christian perspective, I mean a “Christ-like” perspective.  So brace yourself… what I have to share is different than what mainstream christianity is saying; due to the large gap between mainstream christianity and actual “Christ-likeness”.

Here are the major details of the incident offered as briefly as possible for those who haven’t taken the time to research the case “thoroughly”.

Trayvon Martin was staying with his father’s fiancée at the gated community where George Zimmerman lived.  One evening, George was headed for groceries and noticed Trayvon walking between townhouses in the neighborhood, (not on the street or on the sidewalk, but in the grass between two houses) in the rain, with his hood up, “suspiciously.”  (In the months prior, the Twin Lakes gated community residents reported dozens of attempted break-ins, which had created an atmosphere of fear in the neighborhood.) George called a non-emergency 911 number to report the suspicious activity, watched, and followed Trayvon to track his location until the police arrived.

At some point, Trayvon was on his cell phone and told his girlfriend that a creepy a** cracker was following him.  Being frustrated with George following him, Trayvon “stared down” George, approached and circled his truck, at which point George rolled up his window to avoid a confrontation.  Trayvon then walked away from the truck and began running to lose George.  George exited his truck and pursued Trayvon until the dispatcher encouraged him not to do so… George agreed and hung up the phone, but not before saying “these a##holes always get away”.  According to testimony from both George and the friend Trayvon was on the phone with… there was a period of time during which Trayvon and George were separated, Trayvon even telling his friend that he “lost” George.  Trayvon now headed home, and George continuing to search for Trayvon’s location to notify the police, they met up again, at which time a verbal confrontation ensued, which led to a physical struggle.  George testified that Trayvon tackled and straddled him, punched him, and began banging the back of his head on the concrete sidewalk.  Several eye witnesses testify that George was indeed on the bottom during the scuffle… the back of his coat was wet, and the back of his head suffered lacerations and was bleeding when police arrived at the scene. During the fight, George reached for his gun, Trayvon saw it and tried to get the gun first. George claims that Trayvon then shouted… “you’re gonna die tonight motherf*#cker” as he reached for the gun, but George grabbed it first.  He pulled the trigger once and Trayvon died in a few minutes.

Forensics scientists who studied the gunshot wound and powder residue stated that Trayvon’s sweatshirt was approx 4-6 inches away from his body at the time of the shooting, impossible if Trayvon was on his back on the ground.  Later that night, George was diagnosed and treated for a closed fracture of his nose, 2 black eyes, lacerations to the back of his head, a minor back injury, and bruising in his upper lip and cheek before being questioned regarding the events that had just happened and passing a lie detector test. Trayvon had only two injuries… a scrape on his left ring finger, and the fatal gunshot wound.

Trayvon had been suspended from school at the time of his death, his third disciplinary suspension of the year. The first suspension was for tardiness and truancy (skipping school). The second for graffiti on school property, at which time police searched Trayvon, his bag and locker for the graffiti tools and found several pieces of women’s jewelry and a screwdriver which they classified as a burglary tool. The third suspension occurred when Trayvon was caught with an empty marijuana bag and a marijuana pipe.  The night of the incident, police discovered two items in a bag Trayvon was carrying that he had purchased from a 7-11 earlier that night, Arizona Iced Tea Co.’s Watermelon Fruit Juice and Skittles, two of the three ingredients necessary for a codeine-based recreational drug called “lean”.  Its main ingredient is prescription-strength cough syrup, containing DXM.  (DXM is an abbreviation for the active ingredient in cough-syrup, which statistics show to be an increasingly common drug abuse substance.)   In the autopsy, Trayvon’s liver showed symptoms consistent with abuse of DXM.

These details may or may not be fully and completely accurate… after all, this is the internet, right?  Do your best research and come to conclusion for yourself.

That being said, let’s approach what we know from a Christian perspective.  The incident occurred in a gated community that was dealing with recurring neighborhood disturbances at the hands of teenage thieves.  I have experienced theft by the hands of teenagers on my property.  Maybe you have too.  At one point, some drug dealing teens and twenties moved in our neighborhood, two houses up the street from us.  As homeowner’s goods began disappearing from cars and garages, you can imagine the state of mind and conversations that resulted among neighbors in our community.  In a certain sense, I have had a “Trayvon Martin” walking the streets of my neighborhood, and likely, so have you.

__________________Enter Christ__________________________

Due to my Christian worldview, based on the work of the Holy Spirit within me revealing truths regarding God’s Word and His will toward all mankind, I never once imagined harming these thieves in any way.  The power of Christ and the indwelling love of God for those young men and women far outweighed my love for any material possession of mine they might steal.  Do I work hard for my paycheck? Yes. Do I have a family to take care of? Yes.  Do they have a right to steal from me? No.  Does it anger me when they do? Yes.  Do I still love them with Christian love? Yes.  I do not know if George Zimmerman considers himself a Christian, but the question George Zimmerman did not ask… and the question many Christians might not think to ask if they saw Trayvon sneaking around their community late one evening is this: “What does Christian love for this young man look like now?”

Here is where the answer may shock you.

Again, let us not forget that in living out our Christian worldview, we are called, above all, to be Christ-like.  It is possible to formulate a doctrine or worldview all our own; which is contrary to the synergy of scripture, by fitting together certain passages from God’s Word to create a set of rules and principles to operate by that make the most sense to us.  But Jesus is recorded, by Luke, as saying if someone steals your coat, offer your shirt also.  Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. (Luke 6:29,30)

What was the Christian response to Trayvon’s “suspicious activity”? What did Christian love look like for Trayvon that night?  Perhaps ask him if he needed a ride… or maybe George should’ve told him that if he was looking to steal some jewelry, he had a nice watch and a few bucks that he could give him instead.  The Christian response was to pray for the young man with a sincere heart, and if not at that moment, watch for a time to approach the young man with crazy grace and radical love.  The Bible tells us in Romans that God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  We celebrate this verse when we receive it for ourselves, but we do not consider that God might call us to show His great love for others by making selfless sacrifices for them, while they are yet sinners.  Like giving gifts to them, even while they may be stealing from us or our neighbors.  I wonder how Trayvon’s night would’ve ended if he came home with a few gifts from George, along with the message that God loves Him and Jesus died that he could be not only be saved, but set free from the emotional pain of his parents divorce, peer pressure, and drug addiction to live a life of joy and victory serving others?  We will never know.

Can a Christian Still Love America?

Of course we can.

However, as I’ve mulled over and over in my mind where to go from here after President Obama’s re-election… I, along with many other true believers face the increasingly complex quandary of just how to express my love for this nation.  We’ve definitely arrived at a place where we must learn to show tough love; the side of love that is always difficult to express.  I am not eager to share my thoughts at this point, but rather, motivated by a sense of responsibility.

The unscriptural, childish concept of love that many Christians have settled into is a weak, compromising, self-preserving attempt to win the hearts of a stiff-necked, sinful, American culture.  This “come as you are” type of love sounds Christ-like, but careful observance recognizes that many “go as they are” after engaging the church.  Jesus forgave the women at the well, but after saving her life, you’d better believe it made a huge impact on her when He said “Go and sin no more”.  These five words are lamentably absent from the current “gospel” message dispensed from most of America’s pulpits.

God has placed the gift of the gospel on the tongue of His sons and daughters, and we must understand that the proper articulation of the gospel is perhaps our highest calling. 1 Corinthians 1:21 says: “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  A famous quote states “preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words.”  Such an idea is not only impractical, but anti-scriptural.  In the Greek New Testament, gospel is the translation of the Greek noun euangelion– “good news,” and the verb euangelizo meaning “to announce good news.”  You can live a spotless life and do a thousand good works, but unless the good news is on your tongue while you do it… what does it accomplish for God’s Kingdom?  It would be like suggesting that our local television newscaster could “share the news at all times, and when necessary use words.”

The gospel must be communicated through words, and we must articulate it correctly or we have lost everything!

Never before has the abuse of language cost the church and our nation so much as when we lost the word love to the muddy, hazey decade of the 60s.  “Free love man!” was the cry of the day, and the church made it’s most vital mistake in decades when we attempted to “hippify” Jesus and ensure the culture that the best “free love” is found in the gospel.  As a result, the baby boomers who hung in there with God, at least enough to drag their kids to church most Sundays since then, have for the most part, lost the sense of responsibility that should come with receiving Christ as Savior.  He is Savior for many but Lord for few.  As a result, we now face a post-Christian culture in America.  More disturbing, is the nationwide trend of thought that assumes we’re just as “Christian” as we ever were, and that the increased social acceptance of certain ungodly practices actually indicates an advancement of love and understanding among “believers.”

A rarely quoted statement from Jesus reads “I did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword.”   Of course, the sword He speaks of is a metaphor for ideological conflict and He is not advocating physical violence.  Let’s look at the statement in context:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”

Yes, Jesus did say that there are those who are not worthy to follow Him.  How politically incorrect is that!  Friends, make no mistake, we’ve arrived in a day and time that the very words of our Lord Jesus, God in the flesh, are considered by many to be politically incorrect, divisive, arrogant, closed-minded, intolerant bigotry.  That leaves you and I with an important decision.  Will we be faithful to share the gospel as it is presented in scripture, in it’s entirety, at the cost of our own “reputation” with the culture?  Will we be faithful when it costs us friends?  When it may set even our own family members against us?

___________________________________________________________

The task ahead of us as a church is daunting.  We must be loving… by presenting truths that our culture considers hate speech.  We must be loving…  in ways that people perceive to be arrogant and manipulative.   We must share a gospel that becomes more and more offensive to the ears of both the unsaved, and “religious” Americans, each passing day.  Can we still love America as she continues to lose the morality that once adorned her?  We can and we must.  But loving America looks very different these days then it did even a decade ago.  It’s looking more and more like the love expressed by our Savior Lamb, when he humbly and firmly retained His true identity and firm convictions through the sufferings of His crucifixion.

Jesus said “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.

Our love for America, expressed through holiness and faithfulness to the true gospel, will be the very reason we receive hatred from many, in return.  But we can rejoice, knowing that such persecution is proof that we are in the very path which Jesus Himself has trod.

We must love America by preaching the truth, no matter the cost… lest the cost to love America, and preach the truth, increases.

.

.

The Undercurrent of Pride

Each spring, warm weather causes our family to look forward to summer vacation with great anticipation.  At some point each summer, we can be found somewhere on a beach along America’s East Coast.  Most of my oceanic experiences have been quite pleasurable, with the exception of one. Windy shores produced large, crashing waves that looked fun for a rookie boogie-boarder like myself.  After an attempt to catch a wave proved unsuccessful, I found myself in an undertow.  Unable to reach the shore and unable to touch bottom, panic set in quickly.  A few gulps of salty ocean water later I remembered a tip that lifeguards gave to crowds earlier that day, and swam parallel with the shore until I was able to get my feet on solid ground again.  Making my way to shore, standing ankle deep in the water, I turned and studied the merciless waters that I just frantically doggy-paddled my way out of.  The lifeguard was right… you can’t see the undercurrent.

Many Christians underestimate the force of depravity flowing as an undercurrent in their soul.  Pride is one of the most basic sinful tendencies that flow deepest in the human soul, requiring careful diligence and regular attention to overcome.  The undercurrent of pride undoubtedly flows in the lives of many believers, affecting our attitude and seasoning our words just enough to hinder the flow of God’s love in our life without necessarily bringing any measure of conviction of sin.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin with intentions of increasing our humility and repentance, which paves the way for His grace to flow into our lives.  Upon experiencing His love and grace, we are then able to pour out a similar grace and love to those around us.  This is not a one-time occurrence for the believer, it is a continuing recognition of our lack of holiness and need for a savior.  So conviction does not produce love… conviction produce repentance, which paves the way for grace, which produces love.   In grasping this concept, we can understand that the Holy Spirit doesn’t convict us for a lack of love unless it leads to a sinful action that hinders our intimacy with God.  Holy Spirit will not tug on you to love people the same way that He tugs on you when you’re sinning.  In the same way that our love toward God must be something that we choose, He expects us to choose to love other people.

The undercurrent of pride in the lives of many believers may not produce the fruit of a proud look, pompous behavior, or arrogant speech… but it skews our view of reality, causing us to exercise less passion then we should in loving the lost around us.  It subtly causes us to think that by rejecting Christ, the lost are somehow deemed unworthy to receive His love.  Thoughts like this rattle around in our subconscious…“When they are humble enough to come to Him, then they can be partakers of His great love.”  This is not something we would say in conversation, but this is the point… it exists subconsciously in a prideful, unseen undercurrent, affecting our choices and behavior.

 In reality, it is true… a sinner must respond to God to receive the fullness of His love.  Jesus knew that sinners had to come to God in order to receive His love, but I am glad He did not sit back and observe whether I would do it or not, He came chasing me and made the way.  We are not called to sit in church and observe whether or not Americans decide to choose God.  We are called to chase them down.  This is the gospel message.  Jesus said “go ye”.  Jesus said “follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men”.  We must understand that the salvation Christ offers us includes a call to total submission to His Lordship.  We are called to be “good and faithful servants”, doing His will at all times with immediate obedience.  And this might burst your bubble, but I think Jesus thinks about the lost more than He thinks about His church.  He’s given us principles to live by in the church. He’s encouraged us to care for and love one another, meeting each others needs; and He gave us the parable of the one lost sheep to let us know we’ll be just fine together as He focuses on rescuing the lost.

If Christ is in us today, as His Word declares, He’s probably going stir crazy wanting to get out of a lot of people.  He didn’t take up residence within us so that we could obey a list of rules and sit back feeling good about ourselves.  He’s inside us because He needs a body to work with in the Earth.  Carefully search your heart today, for pride.  Don’t look on the surface for things like haughty eyes, conceited prejudice, or pride in your speech, but rather gauge the deeds and actions of your life over the past year.  Have you done anything to serve our Lord and allow Him to reach those He is most concerned about?  Or has the undercurrent of pride secretly caused you to sit back and wait for sinners to “come to church” for help?

 

 

The Miracle of Love

“Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” All God requires of us under the new covenant is to love.  That’s all He asks.  Really, that’s all He’s ever wanted.  

Various interpretations of just what it means to love our neighbor have surfaced through the ages. As fallible humans, we often see things, not as they are, but as we are. The “lens of our fallen nature” distorts our understanding of God’s commands. Many times, selfishness is at the root of this distortion as we subconsciously alter God’s Words to provide a more comfortable and pleasurable life experience for ourselves. Careful study of the human mind has shown that most of our behavior is driven by our subconscious. It is a sobering thought to imagine that many Christians have subconsciously altered God’s Word to fit their preconceived notions of Him. Even more sobering, is the fact that, (to some degree), it is the case with each one of us. Only pride would cause us to think that we are above the possibility of making this universal mistake. I’m convinced that hardwired in the subconscious of most Americans today, Christian and unbeliever alike, is an improper definition of love. The following definitions, straight from Merriam Webster’s dictionary sum up what most know of love:

  • tender, passionate affection
  • warm personal attachment arising out of kinship or personal ties
  • attraction based on sexual desire
  • affection based on admiration, or common interests

Ask anyone what it means to love and you’ll get some mixture of the phrases making up these definitions. I believe this is precisely why much of the church is not properly honoring the “greatest commandments” as confirmed by Jesus in the New Testament. We read and hear preaching about loving God and loving our neighbor, but Godly love rarely surfaces in our behavior, because the cultural definition of love saturates our subconscious.

Think of this, how often do we hear men, even in the church, saying “I love you, brother.” Rarely. It is also somewhat common for wives to go long periods of time without hearing these words from their husbands. Why? Because the cultural understanding of love (as above) has saturated the subconscious mind of men, and he thinks of words like tender, passionate affection, or warm personal attachment. These descriptive terms do not line up with his desire to be her protector, provider, and covering. He shows love through service, hard work, and, yes, you guessed it. We, as men must learn to be tender, passionate, and affectionate to our wives, and not neglect her obvious need for these warm emotions and soft touches. But when limited to these expressions, we soon feel demoralized and weakened. When men arrive at this point, saying “I Love You” is an expression of that weakness, and therefore, is rarely uttered. Husbands and wives alike must recognize that love from a husband is most often expressed through his strength, protection, and provision. When this understanding saturates a marriage relationship and the wife stimulates the husband by recognizing his hard work and provision in conversation to him and others, he can soon say the words “I love you” with greater ease, because he knows that she knows what that means.

This must take place with the bride of Christ as well. As believers living for the name of Jesus, we must re-program our thinking regarding what it means to love. Many times, in God’s Word, our call to love is actually a call to charity. Charity is: benevolent goodwill toward humanity, or generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy. It is neediness that most often moves us to perform actions of goodwill, generosity, and helpfulness. We act because it is the right thing to do. We may not feel warm, tender affection toward the object of our charity, but we recognize the value of their soul and their God-given right to have their needs met.

When Jesus calls us to “love one another as He loved us”. He was not speaking of the warm, tender affection He had for us. (Though he did) He was speaking of the price He paid for our salvation. He did what was necessary to provide what we needed. As one minister puts it so well, the message of the cross is “give up what you want so others can get what they need.” That is the love we are called to many times in scripture.

The trouble is, when God’s Word calls us to love our neighbor, the cultural definition of love that has saturated America’s thinking since the 60’s skews our understanding, and we can rest easy by feeling sorry for, or feeling affection for, needy people all around us without taking any action to meet their needs. Self-deceived believers proclaim their love for those around them without ever expressing such love in word or action. This is the state of many in the church today, but not all.

For those who have taken the step to show the Jesus-kind of self-sacrificial love for the good of another, especially a stranger or an enemy, we have experienced something special. It is when we act out on God’s command to love regardless of feeling that we become partakers of Heavens Glory in a new and incredible way. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you love someone you will presently come to love him.”

With much talk of the supernatural in the church these days, love is rarely mentioned. But I will say that when the God-kind of love flows through humanity and we love the unlovable, there is nothing natural about it. If we do not recognize love as a supernatural occurrence, then we haven’t experienced it to the degree which is possible.

This miracle of love is not limited by the faith of either the giver or receiver. It can occur on demand, when we see a need, and choose to perform self-sacrificial acts of goodwill when we “act as if we love our neighbor” whether we feel like it or not.

.

.

.