Faithful Not Fearful

It seems like everyday there’s something in the news or on social-media that Christians are supposed to be afraid of. “By 2017, every American will be forced to have a chip implant…” Oh no, it’s the Mark of the Beast! “The economy is on the verge of collapse.” Start burying your money. “The radical Muslims are going to take over America.” Annie, get your gun! The list goes on, you see it all the time. But I hear the Spirit reminding us of what he told the church in Smyrna so long ago, “Stop being afraid.”

In the midst of everything the church in Smyrna was facing and would later endure, Jesus tells them (commands them) to stop being afraid. They would face prison, they would face death, but he tells them to be faithful- not fearful. Jesus assures the church in Smyrna that their faithfulness would earn them a crown of eternal value.

Although we don’t face trials that could even remotely be compared to what the church in Smyrna faced, it seems like so many Christians in America today are afraid. We look at the direction our country is heading, we see conspiracies under every bush (or Obama), and many are afraid. However, in contrast to the words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna by which he exhorted them to respond to fear with faithfulness, the response to our fear is to buy guns, get lawyers, and stand up for our rights. I wonder just what it is we’re afraid of.

Have we fallen so in love with the American dream that we have forgotten who we are? I know we don’t like to hear it, but sometimes being a good American and being a genuine Christian are not the same thing. We run from trials and suffering, after all, God doesn’t want his children to suffer does he? But is the bottom line simply that we’re afraid someone is going to come along and take all of our stuff? Remember the words of the Lord, “Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart’s going to be. Your life is hidden in Christ. Jesus is your treasure and reward. Could it be that we have more “invested” in the the world than we do in him? Have we become so attached to our way of life that the thought of losing it fills us with fear?  Jesus says to us, “Stop being afraid! You are mine and I am yours. Be faithful.”

The trials and suffering that may be heading our way will not take the Lord by surprise. He may not spare us having to go through tribulation like the church in Smyrna endured, like many of our brothers and sisters around the world are enduring RIGHT NOW! But he assures us that he is in control and that we can be faithful- even to our death. I believe we American Christians need to get a new outlook on suffering, an outlook that has nothing to do with being American, but everything to do with following Jesus. Brothers and sisters, let us not be fearful, but faithful.

 

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

“…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heartLet the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.(Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16)

I think it’s safe to say that music  plays a more integral role in “churches” today than perhaps in any other time in church history. (When I use the term “music” I am referring to “singing” as well.) Everybody knows if you want to have a successful “church” you’ve got to have good music and a cool band. Right? I remember  that I was once told (when I was a “worship pastor”) , “Now, we need to play these kinds of songs if we want to reach our target audience.” The thing is, when I read the above verses, especially within the context of the epistles in which they find themselves, I can’t help but think that we’ve missed something- a big SOMETHING! So, let’s wade through these verses (It’ll probably take a few articles to do it.), and see if we can get a better handle on the subject.

The first observation I’d like to make, though brief and fairly obvious, is that the music mentioned in these verses is a function/result of  spirit-filled lives  joined and growing together in Christ. The Church is the “target audience.” This type of singing is not an attempt to attract “outsiders” and enhance attendance, but is instead a vital part of true spiritual growth. And participation in this “activity” is not confined to “worship leaders” on a platform, but inclusive of all who come together as members of the body of Christ. There are to be no mere observers. Everyone is to be a sincere participant. Each individual in whom the word of Jesus dwells is to participate in a Life-giving chorus.

If you are a lover of Jesus, a member of his body, you were created for more than simply going to a building every week, hearing some really cool music and “getting your praise on.” No! Your song is invaluable to your brothers and sisters. Be continuously filled with the Spirit and sing!

T-Rex Ice Bucket Challenge: It’s All About ME!!

It’s sad, the ability we have to turn good things into an opportunity for self-promotion. And it seems to me like all of these “Ice Bucket Challenge” videos have turned into just that. I think of how the Bible speaks of doing good things, selling all we have, sacrificing ourselves, and still not having true love-it means nothing. It is only through Jesus that we can know (and share) real love.

I got to thinking, who better than a T-Rex (a southern T-Rex at that) to expose the motivations behind some of the millions of ice-bucket videos we have been assaulted by lately. Someone once told me: “Many a true word is spoken in jest.”

Side Roads

“My people have forgotten Me; they give themselves to other things (false gods); they make them stumble in their ways, leaving My road to walk side roads and muddy paths.” (Jeremiah 18: 15. My translation)

Jeremiah was talking about Israel, how they had gone after idols and abandoned God. Today, we like to think of ourselves as civilized. We would never worship an idol. But the reality is that we do the same thing. Christians so often abandon the simplicity of abiding in Jesus, and give themselves to other things: divine destiny, causes & movements, denominational dogma, gifts & callings and so on. These are the idols of the 21st century American Christian, and thesherey cause us to stumble.

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Anything we give ourselves to that does not not proceed from our abiding intimacy with him ( no matter how good or noble) is but a side road, a muddy path that can bear no true fruit. He promises us that if we abide in him we will naturally produce fruit that pleases the Father. Why do we feel the need to seek more than this? Perhaps this road is not flamboyant enough. Perhaps our need to be seen as deep, spiritual and culturally relevant entices us to leave the humble path of abiding in Jesus for a side road that will fulfill our desire for notoriety.

Let us turn from these side roads, these muddy paths that lead to nowhere, and once again seek only to abide in Jesus. This is the true Kings Highway.

“Dig If You Will A Picture”

No, this is not an article about the musical artist Prince. Instead, I want to talk to you about pictures. We’ve all heard the saying, “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” Or perhaps one of my favorites, “I can show you better than I can tell you.” Using an illustration is one of the best ways there is to bring understanding. And God has utilized “pictures” from the dawn of creation. In fact, I believe that all of creation is an elaborate “picture” given to us by God to help us better understand who God is and how God is as well. And perhaps one of the best pictures God has given us is the family.

Now it’s obvious, the world we live in today is a lot different from the world portrayed to us by old episodes of Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best. (How many people even know what I’m talking about?) We’ve even gone way past the family life depicted in Married With Children. But dig if you will a picture:

A man and woman meet. They fall in love, completely and fully giving themselves to each other. Neither person surrenders their individuality, they are not absorbed by each other. But they become one. And this love, this intimacy, this oneness results in creation. Children are born who now participate in the love already enjoyed by their parents. While this family is made up of  several members, they are one. And each one, in their role as family members, loves, enjoys, serves and cares for the other members. While there may be diversity in ‘function,’ it takes each member of the family to express what the family actually is. The family itself is an expression of love.

Admittedly, the “family-picture” cannot fully describe a holy God. All of creation itself can only begin to declare his glory. But can you see why God gave us this picture? And can you see why an enemy would work so hard (with our complete cooperation mind you) to distort it? With this picture we catch a glimpse into the very nature of the Triune God. The family, along with all of creation, speaks of the glory of God. It helps bring to light the truth of who and how God is. It gives us insight into God’s motivation and intention.

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.”

Dig if you will a picture!

 

Pentecost: Turning Babel Upside Down

“Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now”

That sounds pretty good, huh? A call for all men to come together, work for the common good and love each other. That’s what it’s all about, right?

Thousands of years ago, on the plains of Shinar (probably in modern-day Iraq), people wanted the same thing. It was shortly after the Flood, and people migrated from the east, all speaking the same language. It was probably a guy named Nimrod who said, “Look, let’s stay together, build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches into the heavens. We need to make a name for ourselves, establish ourselves so we won’t get spread out over the face of the whole earth.” And they set about to do just that.

I’ve come to realize that most people don’t spend a lot of time reading about biblical history, ancient religions and stuff. But I do. (I know-get a life!) There’s no way to get into it all right now, but let me just say that there are scholars, theologians and the like who believe that that city was built and centered around religion. A religion that, many contend, is the mother of all paganism. Spreading throughout Canaan, and eventually evolving and morphing into some of the religions we have with us today. (“The Mother of Harlots”?) I could go on (I’m resisting the temptation to do so.), but the gist of the point I’m trying to make is that these people wanted to establish humanity as one “tribe,” unified, and even religious. But they wanted nothing to do with God. The worship of the Creator, the God of the Flood (an event from which they weren’t that far removed) was exchanged far the worship of man and creation.

Most of us know at least part of this story- The Tower of Babel. God came down, confused their language and dispersed them over the face of the earth. Our quest for a one-world, anthropocentric system of governance and religion was thwarted-for the time being. But we weren’t (and still aren’t) done by a long shot. But fortunately, neither was God.

Enter Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus arrived, ushering in the kingdom of God. His life, death and resurrection hailed the summing up of all things in himself. And he promised that, upon his return to the Father, he would send the Spirit of God to fill and empower his disciples. This happened on the day of Pentecost. As on the plains of Shinar, the disciples were all gathered in “one accord.” But this gathering was not centered around man, but on the Son of God who became flesh. As the Spirit was poured out, instead of man’s language being confused, the languages of men were made one. People from every nation under the sun could hear the disciples declaring the mighty works of God in their own tongues. True unity was experienced as men and women from around the globe became one- a new holy race in Jesus.

I believe that today we find ourselves once again on “the plains of Shinar.” And if you listen, you can hear the rumblings of “the beast.” Mankind again longs for one “tribe,” unified, and even religious. But like our ancient ancestors, the people desire a one-world, anthropocentric system of governance and religion. A system that rejects the one true God. But it is only in Jesus that men can experience true unity. For it is in him alone that we are made complete. All of us one, “just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

The Tower of Babel is turned upside down by the power of Pentecost as the Spirit of God continues to fill the hearts of men and women, revealing the reality of Jesus, and our holy oneness in him.

Looking Back

In the fall of 2010, while in my late 40s, I went back to college. It was a brand new world to say the least. Everything had changed. I remember my first day back, having to ask a much younger student how to even turn on my PC. (A friend had given me one of his.) Anyhow, after three years, I completed my studies, and received my BA in biblical studies/theology. But what I value more than the degree are the people I met. There are too many to mention (Dr. G, Vlatko, Dr. A), but one stands out in particular- Michael Andrus.

I first met Mike in Apologetics, a class which was taught by Professor Ted “Hollywood” Wright. Mike was friends with a friend of mine. Well, you know how it is with close friends, sometimes you can’t even remember how you got so close. Such is the case with Mike and me. But needless to say, we became (and are to this day) the closest of friends-brothers. Mike ( a young man from Michigan) and me (an older guy from South Carolina) have been through a lot together. And it was Mike who actually built the first NLI website. He told me one day, “Brother, I want to create a platform for you to share what’s on your heart.” I didn’t even know there was such a thing as blogs, and websites, and so on. He put the wheels in motion, and in July2011, NLI Ministries was launched.

As I look back over the past three years, I am both humbled and grateful. NLI has reached into 70 countries, all around the world, places I know I’ll never be able to go. It has been a trip to see people from Indonesia, Japan, Israel, Portugal, etc… visit the site. Thank you Lord! Looking back, I do have to laugh. Early on, my grammar was even worse than it is now. In my pride, I’ve thought about editing those posts, but decided, “Nah, let ‘em see growth.” Probably though, I’m just too lazy to to do it. But I’ll stick with my, “Let ‘em see growth.” story.

Another thing I see, looking back, is how much my theology has changed. Regarding some of my early blogs, I recently told someone, “I don’t even believe a lot of that anymore.” But I think our theology should be “organic.” Our understanding of God should be growing, changing and developing as we ourselves grow in Jesus. Great day, how can our theology not evolve? Unless, of course, you think you know everything. And much to my surprise, I have learned that I indeed do not. So, again, instead of editing or deleting a bunch of stuff, I’ll just stick with my, “Let ‘em see growth.” story.

I have left the “institutional church” in which I once served as pastor and worship leader. I’m not really sure what Jesus is doing with me or where I’m going. The one thing that remains unchanged is my belief that Jesus is God, the way, the truth and the life. I do still have within me a burning desire to share Jesus with the world, build up the Church and make cultural commentary, and for now, NLI is my only “platform.” So, I invite you to come grow with me in Christ. Looking back, I look forward to what God will do in the future.

Control

(WARNING: The following contains a graphic account of  the Holy Spirit speaking to one of his people. If you do not believe that Jesus communicates directly to his disciples today, you may find the following post offensive, and form the opinion that I am completely off my rocker!)

Living in America, we all know that you’re supposed to go to college, get a lucrative career and then provide stability and security for yourself and your family. We are to control our own destiny. Right? Well, I truly believe that we are entering a time when we American Christians will have to learn a new way to live. It should have always been this way for us, it’s nothing new, but it will be new for us in that we have been so fortunate, so used to being in control. I’m talking about truly living by faith, trusting God for the essentials of life, the things we all take for granted, the things we control. Perhaps an example from my own experience will best serve to illustrate what I mean.

Several years ago I moved into a house out in the country, in Mooresville, NC. Ministry was kickin’, work was going great, and I foresaw no problems with my move. But I hadn’t even moved in good before the storm hit. Work just dried up for me. Colleagues of mine were doing just fine, but what I had done for the past 25 years to get jobs for myself was producing no results whatsoever. I tried to be strong, say and pray all the right things and put on a confident air in front of folks. But I eventually found myself sitting at the kitchen table, deeply troubled, and on the verge of tears.

Me: “God, you know I have bills. How am I going to survive?”

Spirit (very tender and loving): “Tell me, what do you need that you don’t have?”

I seriously thought about that for a minute, and then responded.

Me: “Well, honestly, I have a lot of  things I don’t really need. I mean, I don’t need cable TV. I don’t need WI-Fi, etc… I’d have to say I have everything I need and then some.”

Spirit: (still very tender and loving) “Well then, what has you so upset?”

Honestly I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there in silence.

Spirit (so gentle, encouraging): ” I’ll tell you what’s bothering you. I have taken away your control. It’s easy to say you trust me when you know money is coming in at the end of every week, when the fridge is full, when you can see how your needs are going to be met. I’m teaching you how to truly trust me, to let me be in control.”

These lessons have continued to this day, and he has ALWAYS been faithful-even when I wasn’t.

We know so many things in our heads: “Consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, the Father provides for all their needs, and you’re so much more valuable than they are.” But frankly, most of us have never been forced to actually live it out. I think the time is coming, when we will have to trust God for real. God’s means of provision often look very different from what we are used to, how we’ve been told it’s supposed to be. And we need to begin to allow God to teach us his ways, to find our security and stability in him, apart from the American Dream and the world’s system. The problem is, and it’s hard for us to admit, we American Christians are so bound to the American way of living that we resist the Spirit’s efforts to set us free. We love our “stuff,” and our fear of suffering outweighs the faith we say we have in God.

If you find yourself in “uncharted waters,” where you don’t know how things are going to work out, or even if they will- REJOICE! The Lord trains those he loves, and desires to deliver you from a false sense of freedom and show you the true liberty of life in and by his Spirit.

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

Let It Flow

“Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out. At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD’S charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses.”

Reading the above scripture you can’t help but be awestruck by the way Israel was led in their journey e.g., a physical manifestation of God’s presence. We think how easy it would be to know where to go, what to do and when to do it if we experienced something like that. Actually, we’re in a much better position than they were. We are in Jesus and God lives in us. We are actually in the “flow” of the Trinity.

I used to think that real, spiritual Christians probably got up in the morning, and found an index card on their kitchen table mysteriously written by the Holy Spirit, providing instructions for their lives. Maybe the Über-Christians discerned the will of God through signs, specific prophetic utterances, or some other super spiritual means. Well, God can indeed lead in all of those ways (even the index card), but I’ve come to understand that more often than not, living in the will of God is simply a direct result of abiding in Jesus.

Remember the call to Abraham? The Lord said, “Get up and go to the land that I will show you.” Abraham didn’t receive a lot of information, only the command to leave and the promise of guidance. Over and over in the Old Testament we read of God’s promises to lead His people. We read stories about the ways God led certain individuals, and think, “Oh, if God would would only speak to me like that…” But we’ve got it even better! In the New Testament, we find Jesus assuring us that the Holy Spirit would actually indwell us, reveal Jesus to us, give us the “mind of Christ,” and guide us into all truth. Jesus spoke of us actually being in him, abiding in him like branches in a vine. ThLiving Water by Cassie Searse thing about branches is they don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out what their supposed to be doing. It flows naturally as they are connected to the vine.

Following the will of God is not so much a matter of knowing stuff as it is being in Someone. As we remain in Jesus, drawing our life from him, being continuously filled with his Spirit (like the “sap” flowing through the vine), the will of God will be a natural process. Branches that abide in the vine simply bear fruit for that is the will of the “Husbandman.”

Someone told me something once, and I didn’t understand it at the time. But I get it now. It went something like this: “Come to Jesus, abide in him, and then do what you want.” You want to stay in the will of God? Abide in Jesus, and let it flow.

What’s In A Name?

What’s in a name? “That which we call a rose would by any other name smell as sweet.” Really? What we call something, its name, reveals to us something of its “essence.” Therefore, if I am talking to someone about a rose, I would not call it a daisy. The name rose contains within itself the “essence” of the flower of which I am speaking. When people speak of you, when they mention your name to those who know you, the word “Bob” does not stand alone. It carries with it your character, things you’ve done and said, your values, your personality- the “essence” of who “Bob” is. What’s in a name? Everything.

I think a lot of Christians fail to realize what “in the name of Jesus” means. For many, it’s really nothing more than a moniker attached to prayers and endeavors in order to assure success. The louder we say it, the frequency with which we use it, somehow, magically, validates our words or course of action. Sadly, in many cases, “in Jesus’ name” is merely the Christian version of “abracadabra.” And perhaps the reason so many of us experience unanswered prayers, and fruitless “ministry” is because we have attached the “Jesus Moniker” to things in which his name, quite frankly, has no part.

If you read the book of John, especially chapter 17, you find Jesus speaking a lot about the name. And reading these passages, you understand that his name is more than just a formula for successful prayer and ministry. It is in this name that we are kept. The revelation of the name continues among his followers “that the love with which you have loved me [Jesus] may be in them, and I in them.” The very heart of God, his “essence,” is contained within the name. All that God is, all that he is doing, his character, his values, his personality, his intentions and desires are contained within the name. So when we pray in his name, when we minister in his name, as we simply live in his name, it is to bring a revelation of who he is and what he desires.

So, what does this look like? How does this all play out in us? Well, the first thing we need to understand is that there is no “in the name of Jesus” without relationship. And the cool thing is that as lovers of Jesus we are right smack-dab in the middle of the relationship God has enjoyed within himself for all eternity. We are “in the name.” In Jesus, we have been made partakers of the life, love and fellowship that the Father and Son have always known. We have been made partakers of the divine nature, and as we abide in him, we come to know who he is and what he desires. And as a result, we live and pray and minister.

What’s in a name? If you are in Jesus, you are!

(Please understand that in this post I am not using the term essence in a strict theological fashion.)