Climb Little Bear

I saw a video on Facebook recently where a mama bear and bear cub were trying to scale a steep snow-covered mountain slope.  The mama bear with her big claws seemed to reach the summit just fine, but the baby bear struggled.  Time and time again he would make progress only to slide right back down the mountain and once nearly off the slope face. Amazingly, the little bear became more resolute and energized instead of defeated with each attempt until he reached the top to join his mother. Like the little bear, the ultimate key to success in every area of life is developing guts and grit in the midst of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The video reminded me of the story in the Bible where a man came to his friend in the middle of the night seeking provision for a friend who stopped by on a journey. The man refused saying his children were already in bed and the door was locked.  The Scripture indicates that the man would eventually rise and help, not because of friendship, but because of the man’s “importunity” (Luke 11:5-8, KJV). This word, rarely used in today’s world, actually combines three concepts, including boldness (confidence to do and say what is right), shamelessness (not ashamed to ask and keep asking no matter how it looks to others), and persistence (steadfastness despite difficulty or delay) to show believers how to approach God in prayer.

The highest form of faith is to keep believing when everything tells you it will never happen. This type of perseverance qualifies us for the eventual breakthrough and victory. The Scripture clearly shows a connection between persistence and obtaining what is promised (Hebrews 10:35-36). Those who sow will also reap if they faint not (Galatians 6:7-9). It’s hard to miss the lessons of people like Job and Joseph who simply refused to quit and refused to turn on the Lord. Job received the double for his trouble and Joseph went from the pit via persecution and prison to the palace. There’s no telling where you can go if you will just choose to hang in there. All the really great triumphs in life are going to come through this type of endurance.

So how do you develop importunity or that bold and shameless persistence? First, Keep your eyes on the promise instead of the circumstance, the date on a calendar, the time on the clock, or the amount in your checking account. Second, keep your emotions under control because they will try to control the situation and you. Always remember that your emotions are given by God to experience life, not to run your life. Third, Keep your righteousness mentality remembering that he gave you the gift of righteousness and that consciousness of right standing with God will always make you bold and courageous. Finally, keep plugging away. Keep doing what you are doing. Be faithful, diligent, and consistent, and like the baby bear, you will find yourself standing on top of the summit.  Keep climbing little bear! Keep climbing!

Excuses, Excuses

Jesus told the story of the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24). The invited were told to come, for everything was now ready.  Instead of discerning the importance of the opportunity and showing gratitude for the invitation, one by one the invited guests began to make excuses.

The first one excused himself saying he had just purchased a field. The second said that he had just purchased five yoke of oxen and was on his way to try them out. The third declined to attend saying that he had just got married. The master of the feast then replaced them with the poor, crippled, blind, lame, and those outside the city.

The story reflects the current spiritual climate of the Western Church.  When we ought to be discerning the times and seasons and preparing ourselves for the momentous end time events like the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:6-9), so many believers are completely caught up in this natural life having lost spiritual sensitivity and an appetite for spiritual things.

Just like the person who purchased a field, believers today, after believing God for them, have no problem putting their houses, lands, vehicles, toys, and possessions before the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:17 tells us to remember the Lord for he is the one who gives us power to get wealth.  Instead of remembering him when we prosper and things go well, we tend to withdraw from him, a pattern the people of God have followed for thousands of years.

Just like the person who bought the oxen, believers have no problem today putting their money, jobs, and personal economy before the Lord.  Amazingly, the job we so desperately asked God for becomes the basis for blowing off the things of God like personal devotion, public worship, and Christian service. Having been blessed by him, we should honor his involvement in our financial lives by staying faithful to him, his house, and his priorities, including honoring him with the first thin dime of every dollar from the job we say he gave to us.

Just like the person who just got married, believers have developed the erroneous theology and idol of family first before everything, including God.  The truth is Jesus said if we were to be his disciples, we could not put any human relationship before him (Luke 14:26). It’s not uncommon for a man or woman to pray for a spouse and then after that prayer is answered to withdraw from God’s presence and people. Today we let children tell us if they want to go to church (but we make them go to school), involve them in activities that keep them out of church, and teach them by parental example that spiritual things are not the priority.

If you don’t want to lose your reservation and seat at the table get rid of the excuses. Get ready by preparing your heart and life for this great day. Get excited about spiritual things and especially things to come. Get active in inviting others into the Kingdom.

What Is Faith?

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things of unseen” (KJV). The NIV renders this verse, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”  Faith is not nothing. It is the invisible substance or heavenly matter from which everything in the universe, seen and unseen is derived. Faith is critical because without it we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Four times in Scripture we are told that the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38) which means that faith is the prescribed way for every believer to live.  It is the law of the kingdom of God (Romans 3:27) and the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4-5).

What passes for faith these days, however, is too often presumption or wishful thinking.  God honors Bible faith, not presumption, so it is critical to understand the difference between presumption and faith, and how faith is developed and used.  F. F. Bosworth famously said, “Faith begins where the will of God is known.” To know the will of God we must know his Word.  Unless our believing God is based on the promises of his word, we will most likely be in presumption, and God is not obligated to honor our presumption because we are only authorized to believe what God has said.

To understand the difference between faith and presumption, suppose someone tells a friend you are going to take their family to Disney World.  What would mark this as faith and separate it from presumption is if you actually told that person you were going to take them to Disney World. They have no right to believe that if you never said that.  It’s the same way with the Word of God.  We can’t believe God for things he didn’t say. We just can make something up he didn’t say and declare we are believing God for that because real Bible faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 1:17).

Faith does begin where the will of God is known, but it does not end there. Faith begins where the will of God is known, but it is established in grace, energized by love, developed on a blueprint of hope, undergirded by patience, released by confession, made alive by action, activated by praise, and identified by joy. The process begins when the Holy Spirit creates a vivid picture on your heart of what can be based on the Word. As Jerry Savelle said, “The heart is the canvas, the Word is the paint, and the Holy Spirit is the artist.” The inner image of your heart affects your decisions, direction, and ultimately your destiny. Change that image and you change your future.  You can be assured that any picture painted on your heart by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God is always faith and never presumption. That’s something you should believe every time.

The Conclusion

Celebrated astrophysicist Stephen Hawking’s posthumous release of his last book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, expressed his conclusion that there is no God, there is no one controlling the universe, and there most certainly is no heaven or afterlife.  In the same text he affirms his belief in alien life forms and cautions attempts to contact or respond to these more evolved and sophisticated species of life before we are more developed technologically ourselves as a species. This declaration is proof that despite his brilliance, Mr. Hawking, lacking spiritual intelligence and education, chose to worship the creation without acknowledging the creator (Romans 1:25).

The contradiction could not be more conspicuous.  He does not believe in a God he cannot see despite the preponderance of physical evidence of His existence scattered throughout the universe and specifically on our planet.  He does not believe in God even though it is illogical to conclude that exquisite order and complexity can come from complete chaos and randomness. He does not believe in God even though the renowned physicist’s belief in the origin of the universe requires such intense heat that no building block protein could possibly survive without instantly denaturing at the onset of its formation. According to the latest theory of Hawking and Thomas Hertog on the origin of the universe, the universe expanded rapidly like bread in an oven a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. That oven cooks at a much higher temperature than the 105.8 degrees needed to destroy any protein. And yet, Mr. Hawking believes with absolutely no empirical evidence, no direct evidence, no indirect evidence, no interaction, no communication, and no creative footprint left behind that alien life exists in the universe.

Mr. Hawking’s  conclusion that there is no God is a classic case of a man’s worldview informing his science rather than science informing his worldview.  It’s a paradox forged in secular man’s drive to resist any notion that there is a higher order being to whom we must be accountable.  So intense is this drive that men are willing to be perceived as fools as they ignore the obvious in the adoption of self-serving attitudes and conclusions.  Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”  The conclusion of such an irreplaceable mind as Hawking’s should have been similar to the conclusion of Solomon:  “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, NIV, 1984).

Mini Maos

Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976) to centralize his power and influence, and purge capitalist, traditionalist, and nationalist elements from Chinese society. His campaign led to abuse where millions of people were stripped of profession, livelihood, possessions, liberty, and even life, all without due process on the basis of a simple accusation by a member of the Red Guard or other complicit political group. Physicians were forced to clean toilets, builders and engineers were made to harvest crops by hand, business leaders were stripped of the businesses they built and forced into labor camps, university professors were required to attend reeducation sessions (indoctrination), and all of this based on unsubstantiated accusations. Contrary to Mao’s intentions, these actions paralyzed China politically and severely damaged its economy and society. His actions did, however, utterly destroy countless innocent lives in the process.

It’s striking to me to watch an American version of this develop in our freedom-loving nation where our citizens are now guilty until proven innocent and due process is just a dusty and irrelevant concept of a bygone jurisprudence.  What’s more striking is that the source of so much of this incitement is a growing list of politicians who inspire mob rule, encourage violence against colleagues they disagree with, promote harassment in public places including restaurants and retail centers, and slander with the cynical partnership of a media that can’t discern the truth if it bit them on the behind. Eclipsing all of this is the complete destruction of a public servant’s reputation and family with a methodology and fervor that would make Mao proud.  These politicians, most of them lawyers by trade, were taught early in law school about due process, the presumption of innocence, and the meaning of corroborating evidence, but choose to set aside these sacred elements of the American legal system for political reasons (the same motivation as Mao). Flipping our legal system upside down may seem like a good idea when it potentially benefits a person or group, but what happens when that system is then flipped on them?

To say our nation faces a political identity crisis is an understatement. Many Republicans have become Democrats and many Democrats have become Socialists.  One thing we don’t have to be confused about is our foundational and shared values as Americans. It is obvious, and sad, that some of our leaders have slipped into a political abyss by adopting Maoist tactics to advance their standing and power. My hope is that Americans of all political persuasions who value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, who honor our constitution and institutions, who respect the rule and process of law, and who put our country above their own self-interests would rise up, reject, and resist such practices and return to a spirit of civility. Those who are perfectly willing to trade principles for power by employing these tactics must be held accountable.  The best way to do that is during this election cycle. Vote for those who share our American values and not for the mini Maos.

The Church Drop Outs

There’s a lie and heresy that has infiltrated the Church in the United States. It says that commitment to Christ is all that matters. It asserts that we can have a relationship with Jesus without a relationship with his Church.  Current church related statistics in the U.S. reflect this flawed and man-made theology. Although 40% of Christians in America claim to attend church weekly, research shows the actual percentage to be between 14 and 18%.  Each Sunday, the average church is missing 33-40% of its church attenders, a mere 15-20% serve in some volunteer capacity, and giving as a percentage of income is lower than during the depression.

Contrast this, however, with the plain teachings of Scripture and the example of the one we say we are following, Jesus.  The writer of Hebrews noted, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:25).  The implication is that some who were previously faithful have become unfaithful. Luke observed of Jesus, “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16). It’s important to notice that there is no asterisk in the text excluding us from the command and example based on how we feel, what we want to do, or how put out we are with the Church.

Unlike the command of Hebrews and the example of Jesus, American Christians are dropping out when they should be digging in. They are disappearing for a variety of reasons. Some have gotten hurt or offended forgetting it’s hypocrisy to expect the Church to accept their imperfections while demanding perfection from the Church. Others became distracted by the cares of the world and pursuits of the flesh. Some have simply become lazy, apathetic, and without passion losing their priority for the things of God. Others have been deceived and isolated having missed a signal from the Head of the Church. Many, unfortunately, have simply grown stingy and selfish disappearing from the Church because they just don’t want to attend, serve, or give. We may or may not feel we have a valid reason for withdrawing from a church, but we are never right to completely drop out of the Church.

Commitment to the Church without commitment to Christ is religion, but commitment to Christ without commitment to the Church is rebellion. If we really loved him, we would keep his commandments. People in the Church who would never board and demand to take the controls of the plane or attempt to perform surgery on themselves in the hospital or interrupt their college professor and take over the class, have decided, without call or anointing, to isolate from the Church and pastor themselves. They have the mindset that they do not need anyone but Jesus to teach, guide, or lead them. But consider that the simple action of tapping one’s toe requires that a message come from the head, down the neck, through the torso, down the spine, past the thigh, knee, calve, ankle, and foot to get to the toe.  Sever the signal at any level and the message does not get through. Just like the natural body, believers need Jesus and one another to function.

Perhaps as a culture we are forgetting just how important the Church is in this world. It is the body of Christ of which he is the head, the expression of his nature, will, and power in the earth, the seat and locus of his authority in the earth (Matthew 18), the source of revealed wisdom, mysteries, and manifestations (Ephesians 3:9-10), the benchmark of his standards and expectations, and the moral conscience for society. We must remember that there will be no transformation in isolation because life transformation takes place in community.  There will be no restoration in isolation because even Lazarus needed the Church to take off his grave clothes following his resurrection. There will be no revelation in isolation because even Peter’s great revelation from God that Jesus was the Christ came in fellowship. There will be no impartation in isolation because only those who showed up to the upper room in Acts 2 experienced the outpouring of God’s Spirit. There will be no direction in isolation because God has ordained leaders who are anointed to guide us and seasoned believers who provide the wisdom that can only come from a multitude of counselors. This is why misdirection so often accompanies isolation from the Church and why deception is so prevalent in the body of Christ today.

The confusion caused by the drop outs has many sincere believers wondering what they should do with the Church. Instead of isolating from the Church and dropping out in these days, we need to plug in like never before.  First, we need to love the church, appreciate it, and be positive about it by focusing on the virtues rather than the weaknesses. Warts and all, the Church is still the best thing going in the world. Second, we need to commit to the Church. We need to rededicate our lives to Christ, but we also need to rededicate our lives to the Church. Third, we need to support the Church by faithfully attending, serving, and giving.  After all He has done to purchase our redemption, the least we can do is reciprocate with our time, talent, and treasure. Fourth we should honor the Church by living right and modeling the message of redemption. Fifth, we should grow the church because church growth is every believer’s responsibility, not just the responsibility of the pastoral staff and leadership.  Sixth, we need to defend the Church from those that would attack and malign it internally, externally, culturally, or globally. Finally, we need to be the Church by expressing God’s love, power, and goodness in our community and throughout the world.

From Scars to Stars

Physical, mental, and emotional scars are a reality and byproduct of life.  They mean that you have actually lived, that you survived the cut, that you are in the healing process, and that you now have some valuable experience and expertise to help others along in their journey. Daniel 12:13 tells us those who lead many to righteousness will shine “like the stars forever and ever.” Paul, picking up on this truth, stated, “Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15). The Lord wants to take his people from scars to stars.

Many Christians have bought in to the lie that they are just too scarred and flawed for God to do anything special with their lives. Too many identify with the scar letting that scar define and limit them. Some pet the scar milking it for all the pity and sympathy they can get from other people. Some attempt to deny or hide the scar living in shame over what they did or what was done to them. Still others unwittingly begin to serve the scar doing what it tells them and controlling their direction and viability in life.

Contemporary society is filled with examples of people who overcame scars in life to triumph and make a significant contribution to the world at large.  Stephen Spielberg was rejected by the USC film school, twice. Steve Jobs was fired from the company he co-founded (Apple) and then after selling Pixar to Disney for billions, he returned to Apple to eventually turn it in to a trillion dollar company. Charlize Theron overcame the horror of witnessing her mother kill her father to become an Academy Award winning actress. Walt Disney, surprisingly, was fired from a Missouri newspaper for lacking creativity.  What do all these examples have in common? They all experienced wounds and scars in life but  refused to be defined or stopped by them.

Even more compelling are the many biblical examples where God took his people from scars to stars. Rahab went from being a prostitute and brothel owner to becoming a key asset in Israel’s defeat of Jericho (and she is listed in the lineage of Jesus). The woman at the well went from multiple failed marriages and illicit living to becoming an evangelist who influenced her village for Jesus. The Egyptian slave went from being oppressed, abused, and abandoned by his Amalekite captor to guiding David and his men in the pursuit, capture, and plundering of the Amalekites who raided Ziklag.

We can learn from the slave at Ziklag that we too can go from scars to stars by letting the Lord nourish and revive us, by coming over to the other side and turning our back on the enemy and the scar he gave us, by dedicating what we have left to the King, and by doing everything he tells us to do.  Don’t let the past scars in life control your future and snuff out your light. Be God’s star.

Spiritual Crack

Addiction specialists tell us that one hit of crack or meth can cause a rewiring of the brain and a lifelong addiction.  One moment the individual is enjoying meaningful relationships and pursuing their goals in life.  The next moment nothing matters but finding that next fix.  Family no longer matters. Friends no longer matter. Dreams no longer matter. Pleasing God no longer matters. Before and after pictures of addicts show the devastation of drugs as users experience accelerated aging, hair loss, sunken cheeks, hollow eyes, and rotted teeth. Addiction is not a pretty picture.

Most Christians will never face the risk of domination that comes with taking that first hit of crack or meth, but they do flirt with a spiritual drug just as dangerous and addictive.  That drug is called strife.  I have witnessed solid Christian people make the decision to take a hit of this spiritual crack to nurse a wound or offense not realizing they will spend perhaps the rest of their lives serving that strife. In many ways, the drug of strife is the worst drug of all because it becomes more potent the longer it is in your system.  As illicit drugs make a person look hideous on the outside over time, the drug of strife makes a person look hideous on the inside.

To be in strife is to be at war with another person in one’s heart characterized by conflict, discord, antagonism, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Paul warned Timothy about the dangers of strife declaring, “The servant of the Lord must not be in strife” (2 Timothy 2:24).  The person in strife is actually taken captive by the devil to do his will. He captivates our lives, our hearts, our time, our thoughts, our energy, our faith, our perception, our relationships, and our destiny. James said, “For where envy and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3:16). Strife, just like crack or meth, opens our lives to a world of destruction and devastation.

It is, however, possible to protect yourself from spiritual crack.  First, count the cost of potential addiction because no one expects to become a strife addict.  Second, guard your heart so that when the opportunity to get in strife comes, you have the power to just say no. Third, reject your pride because pride, not a pipe, is the delivery system that gets strife into our system. Fourth, practice mercy and forgive quickly because slow forgiveness increases the likelihood of strife. Finally, stay away from strife pushers or those who peddle strife like some peddle drugs.  It is hard to believe that any Christian would want to get another believer addicted to spiritual crack, but it happens all the time.  My college roommate kept a bag of various drugs in his closet to sell to students who knocked on our door all hours of the night.  I couldn’t move out and away from the pusher fast enough.  Believers need to do the same with the peddlers of spiritual crack.

 

 

The Sin Killer


To sin is to miss the mark and fail the standard and expectations of God.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 warns us that “The wages of sin is death.”  The good news is God didn’t leave us in our sin, misery, and future destruction, but in his rich mercy, he sent Jesus to be a sacrifice for us all (Ephesians 2:4).

Mercy is not just a simple religious platitude or concept, but a spiritual force that when released impacts and changes us by mitigating the punishment for sin, and by moving to alleviate the distress that sin caused.  Sin is a killer, but sin has a mortal enemy.  Mercy is the sin killer, and that sin killer is available in unlimited supply and renewable daily (Lamentations 3:22-23). God’s mercy provides power to help the believer to do three very important things regarding sin.

First, the mercy of God gives us the power to admit our sin. Like the thief on the cross, or the woman at the well, or Zacchaeus the tax collector, the mercy of God empowers the individual to admit sin and repent. The desire to admit the failure and repent is a privilege and indeed the mercy of God because it is the pathway back to the Father and because there is no healing in denial. Like the Psalmist, we should be completely honest and transparent: “I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” (Psalm 32:5).

Second, the mercy of God gives us the power to quit our sin.  Jesus granted mercy to the woman taken in adultery saying he would not condemn her. Unfortunately, many people today stop too soon in the story forgetting that the same Jesus that refused to condemn her also made a demand on her to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).  When Jesus grants us mercy from sin’s punishment or consequences, that very same mercy provides the power to quit the sin. That’s why Paul told Titus to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:12), and why Paul urged the Romans, in view of God’s mercy, to offer up their bodies as living sacrifices, holy land pleasing God (12:1).

Finally, the mercy of God gives us the power to forget our sin. The Scripture says Paul was extremely zealous in persecuting the church until his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). His reign of terror against believers included arrest, incarceration, and even murder.  As a result, Paul was plagued with regrets stirred up repeatedly by a messenger of Satan.  But the accuser of the brethren is no match for the mercy of God that gave Paul the ability to forget what was behind and press forward in his life and calling without a sense of condemnation, guilt, or shame (Philippians 3:1-14). Mercy alleviates the distress caused by sin, and part of that work is the Lord scrubbing our consciousness of our sins and failures so that we can walk in righteousness mentality instead of sin consciousness and condemnation.

Hi, Peter

The Bible says, “And Simon he surnamed Peter” (Mark 3:16, KJV).  The name Simon means a piece of grass, a reed, weak, and easily pushed or manipulated. Peter, in contrast, means a rock, stable, fixed, established, and strong.  It seems like such a minor piece of Scripture, but in reality it is an explosive revelation about the heart of God.  Just like Jacob called his son Benjamin (son of the strength of my right hand) refusing to allow his dying wife Rachel to call him Benoni (son of my sorrow), Jesus named Peter not for what he was, but for what he would become.

Despite his new name, Peter often reverted back to Simon moments throughout Scripture, including proposing the building of three shrines in honor of the transfiguration, sinking in the water after taking his eyes off Jesus, being rebuked by Jesus for saying he would not die, refusing initially to allow Jesus to wash his feet, boasting he would never deny the Lord, cutting off the ear of Malchus in the garden, and then ultimately denying the Lord three times.

The truth is we all, despite the new birth in Christ, stumble and have our own Simon moments.  But Simon moments do not change the Lord’s mind about our potential and destiny.  Jesus has mercy when we act more like a Simon than a Peter. After Jesus’ resurrection, the angel of the Lord told those at the tomb to tell the disciples AND PETER to meet Jesus in Galilee. This simple statement made it clear that Jesus had not given up on Peter.

But Simon had to do a few simple things to get the Peter back.  First, he had to show up.  Too often condemnation and shame keep us away from God’s love and mercy.  We don’t need to give up, we simply need to show up (John 21:1-14).  We don’t know what Jesus said to him that day, but I can imagine (as Leslie Hale suggested) Jesus walking up to him and saying these simple but powerful words, “Hi, Peter.”  Believers may fall seven times, but they get back up (Proverbs 14:26).  As Micah 7:8 says, “when I fall, I shall arise.” Our victory comes in just getting up and showing up even when we don’t feel like it.  Showing up means we receive the mercy that is available to us.

Second, he had to grow up.  Our Simon moments are really just a developmental and maturity issue. Jesus challenged Peter to focus on loving, caring for, and feeding his people (John 21:15-22).  The Simon moments in our lives become scarce when we mature and begin to focus on the needs of others. We all have Simon moments, but God help us if we are not merciful to others when they have them too. Growing up means we share the mercy we have enjoyed with others. Peter would eventually say that growing up would keep believers from being unproductive and ineffective, and would keep them from falling (2 Peter 1:8-11).