On Sharing the Gospel

people-2564436_1280

When I was a kid and even into my young adult years, evangelism was a pretty big deal in the circles I traveled. In fact, I can remember going door-to-door taking surveys on a summer ministry team with the express purpose that this would give us the opportunity to share the Gospel. This type of witnessing ended up being mostly replaced by “Friendship Evangelism”, which is the idea that we witness to our friends by being a good friend and behaving like a “Christian”, with the assumption that this will then lead them to ask us questions about God. Eventually, this, too, went out of style, and witnessing became extraneous in our church culture.

This is probably for two main reasons. First, our churches changed their formats and methods to appeal to the unsaved, which made it far easier to just invite a lost friend to church and helped us to avoid the hard task of doing the witnessing ourselves. And, second, it is probably because it just became so “politically incorrect” to imply that someone may be wrong in their belief. This, particularly, led most of us to just back away and stop sharing anything that might imply that someone will spend eternity in hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. Saying something like this has become the main offense in a world of relative values and most of us are just not brave enough to share such an unpopular message. And so many of us grew quiet, offering the occasional invitation to church but rarely going further than that.

Don’t get me wrong–I know there are still people sharing the Gospel. And that is so awesome. But, by and large, evangelism is simply not important to the church anymore.

For those of us that are committed to sharing the Gospel we have a grave responsibility to share the whole Gospel and not just a watered down “Jesus will make your life better” kind of Gospel. The Gospel is not about making life better. It is about Jesus Christ dying to save us from our sins. A Gospel that doesn’t mention sin or repentance isn’t the true Gospel. The Gospel reconciles us with our just and holy God. The positive changes that happen in our lives when we become saved are added blessings and never the reason for our salvation.

As always, we need to go to scripture and see what it says about witnessing. There we will see that part of the Christian life is sharing the Gospel with others (Matthew 9:37-38, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8, Romans 10:14-15). And so–if this is the case–what is the scriptural way to go about doing so?

As I was reading in I Thessalonians 2 a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find a clear example set out by Paul for us regarding evangelism. This is something we are all called to do and Paul has, by his example, given us some really helpful guidelines in verses 1-12 of this chapter.

(You will find I Thessalonians 2:1-12 at the end of this post).

1. Be bold to declare the Gospel–even in the midst of much conflict. (v2)

This would seem to imply that we cannot worry about ourselves. We shouldn’t worry about our comfort, our convenience, or our reputation. We are to continue to share the Gospel, even if it causes conflict and personal suffering.

2. We must strive to have our appeals for the Gospel spring from a pure and true heart, without impurities, error, or deception. (v3)

You may say, “Well, of course!” –but remember that many are those who share the Gospel and yet they are doing it for their own gain. And then there are those who would twist it and remove anything offensive so as to make it more favorable in the eyes of men. I am sure you can think of men and women doing that right now. Paul lays out a clear example, showing us that we must avoid any impurity, error, or deception as we share the Gospel.

3. Seek to please God and not man. (v4)

This verse really struck me–

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.

Oh, how we love to please man. It is as natural as breathing to most of us. But our desire to please man must never take priority over pleasing God. You see, the Gospel is offensive and foolish to most people (I Corinthians 1:18) and they are not going to like what you have to say. But if we can remember that it is God who tests our hearts and that it is God whom we want to please, then we can stay the course, even when we grow weary and discouraged.

4. Avoid flattery and greed. (v5)

Paul puts it like this:  For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.

As we share the Gospel, may it be done from a mouth that despises flattery and a heart that is not prone to greed.

5. Do not seek glory from people. (v6)

Oh, this one is such a challenge for us, isn’t it? Oh, how we want the glory. It makes us feel good if people notice us and appreciate us. But Paul says he purposefully did not seek glory from others. Can you say the same? I know I can’t. At least not always.

6. Be gentle. (v7)

This is an interesting one to throw in there, isn’t it? Paul says they were gentle with them–just as a nursing mother is with her children. When you imagine a mother with her children, we get a deeper understanding of what his gentleness looked like. Do we have that same spirit of gentleness with the lost? Or do we grow frustrated when they are quarrelsome or apathetic when they don’t respond like we think they should?

7. Be willing to share your very self. (v8)

Sharing the Gospel is not made up of just one moment. Coming alongside a new believer and helping them, discipling them, studying the Bible with them takes a lot of time. Paul shows us that not only is this what he did but he did it out of his great affection for the people. He loved them dearly and was happy to give himself to them.


8. Don’t be a burden on those you witness to. (v9)

It would seem as if Paul wanted there to be no question regarding his motives in witnessing to the church there. He didn’t want to be a burden on the group and so he took care of his own needs. This is in complete contrast to many of the false teachers of that day (and of the current day) that are caught up in their requests for money.

9. Be holy, righteous, and blameless in your conduct. (v10)

One of the greatest lies being taught today is that God does not care about our behavior. Of course, you don’t have to read very far in scripture to know that He cares a great deal about our behavior. When we are saved, He transforms us from the inside out, changing our desires so that our behavior changes on the outside, as well. Paul shows us that this is something we must consider as we share Christ with others. A holy, righteous, and blameless reputation validates our witness like nothing else can.

10. After someone is saved, continue to exhort and encourage them to walk in a manner that is worthy of God. (v12)

Here again we see that sharing Christ with someone was not a one-time event for Paul. Paul uses the analogy in this verse of a father with his children, growing them to be like Jesus, teaching them to walk worthy of God. This takes work and lots of time but we cannot underestimate the importance of coming alongside baby Christians and teaching them to grow in the faith.

 

I found this chapter such an education as I strive to share the Gospel when I have the opportunity. I hope it has encouraged you, too. May we put these ten things into practice as we go out and share the true Gospel with a lost and dying world.

 

 

I Thessalonians 2:1-12

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even[a] after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged[b] every one of you, as a father does his own children, 12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, 16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

Shopping for Furniture

furniture-2439944_1920

She was standing there when we entered the store. She quickly moved towards us, asking if she could help us. We courteously told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to look around. As we browsed the left side of the store, she hovered behind us, throwing in little tidbits of unwanted information. As we moved to the right side of the store she faithfully followed us, until we were seated on a sofa set, discussing a different sofa set from the other side of the store. At this point, she stood {too} close by and inserted some piece of information completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I can only assume that, thinking we looked like serious shoppers, she wanted the commission of the sale.

As we walked around and then finally decided not to purchase anything, she made us feel a bit guilty for not buying something. As we prepared to leave she asked if she could give us her card. My husband said sure and, as she dug around in the little purse she had at her side for it, she asked us to find her again should we return, explaining that she only works on weekends.

When we left the store we felt so relieved. I know that she may have circumstances we know nothing about, but someone should tell her that she is not doing herself any favors trying to sell furniture in that manner. It was positively stifling!

She was driven wholly by her desire for a sale.

We then drove across town to a different furniture store. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a friendly man who filled us in on the sale they were having and then told us to find him if we had any questions. As we wandered through the store, we didn’t see him anywhere, although when we did have some questions, he was close by. Soon, I found my husband with him, setting up our room on a big computer screen, placing and moving pieces around to see if the furniture we wanted would fit. He was kind but not overly kind. He was interested in us personally but not overly interested. He offered suggestions that made sense. The experience was in direct contrast to the lady at the first store.

A little later I found out that they don’t work on commission at this store. He didn’t care if we bought anything.

What a difference!

Now–before I move on–let me say that I have worked with salespeople who work on commission that are not quite so obnoxious and desperate. But commission sales are a tricky business, as it is hard to trust someone that is going to benefit from what they are selling you. And, in this day and age where there is such little regard for truth, it is hard to really know if the salesperson is telling the truth. It was a relief to go into a furniture store that wasn’t working on commission. The difference was like night and day.

My mind was turning about this all weekend long. What spiritual lesson is there to learn from this experience?

I believe it is this–

Many “Christians” follow Christ for the rewards they can get. They want a happy life. They want to have peace. They want personal purpose and fulfilled dreams. And compliant kids. And good health. And financial security. Their entire motivation for following Christ is based on what they will get from Him. Like the saleslady, who was driven by her own selfish agenda with little care for the customer, so they, too, are driven by their “commission” (what they will get from God) with little care for really knowing God.

And when they don’t get what they expected, they become disenamored with God. These people respond one of two ways when this happens. They either walk away from God or, if they are true believers, these times become what God uses to grow them and help them realize that the Bible never promises a perfect life.

Contrast that to the guy who just worked because it was the right thing to do. There was nothing in it for him at all. Oh, I rather suspect that the company may reward their best salesmen at a yearly banquet or evaluation, but his work day-to-day was done because of his work ethic and loyalty to the company that has provided him his livelihood for over a decade.

As believers, we need to be more like this guy. Knowing our rewards come later, we should love and obey Christ because it is the right thing to do. We need to follow Christ through the good times and the bad times, without expecting rewards here on earth. And without expecting that everything will go as we planned.

This can be hard to do in a “Christian” culture where preachers and teachers, using the name of Christ to peddle their false doctrine, are literally telling their followers that you can “speak your destiny” or that you will become rich, healthy, and have your dreams come true if you follow Christ. This is not only something that we never find in scripture, it is also a lie that Satan uses to lead people into a wrong and disillusioned view of God.

In fact, we read quite the opposite in several places–

John 15:18 assures us that the world will hate us. We can deduct from this that life will not always be easy and that we won’t be all that popular if we sincerely follow Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Paul shares his own trials and how he has learned to be content in Philippians 4:11-13. This passage makes it clear that there will be times of great trial and struggles but that Jesus Christ is enough.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And James in James 1:2-4 tells us not only that we should expect trials but that we are supposed to be joyful during them, knowing that they are producing faith and steadfastness in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So I hope our trip to the furniture stores has encouraged at least one of you to reconsider why it is that you follow Jesus. While we do know that we have eternal rewards coming (Matthew 6:19-20) and while Jesus does give us peace (Philippians 4:7), it is not the peace as the world defines it (John 14:27), where life becomes perfect.

And, finally, as an aside, I have noticed that the times when life isn’t so perfect are what lead me into growing as a believer and in removing my affections from here on earth. God accomplishes great things in our lives when our circumstances are less than perfect. Why do we strive so for temporal rewards? (That was rhetorical–as, of course, we all prefer easy, carefree, painless times. And we should be filled with gratitude when we are blessed with them! Don’t forget to say thank you to God during those happy times!)

Life is full of ups and downs for most of us. Let’s be sure that how we follow Jesus is not based on what we are experiencing in this life but is instead based on His Word. Let’s never be fickle followers that turn away when things get rough but instead let’s turn towards God with a heart that is willing and eager to learn what He has to teach us through the hard times. (And, yes, I do know that this is much easier to write than to actually live out!)

 

Coming in the Back Door

door-knob-1924315_1920

We Christians have a knack for attaching our loyalties to “family-friendly” enterprises and then letting our guards down. Specifically today I am referring to TV channels like HGTV and Hallmark.

If you are a conscientious Christian who wants to be careful about what you put before your eyes, there isn’t much left to watch anymore. Channels like these provide blessed relief from all of the sex, violence, and bad language we find on most of the other channels.

But even these channels are not immune from pushing an ungodly agenda.

For example–

The other day I had some mindless work to do and so I turned on a Hallmark movie. I don’t actually watch that many Hallmark movies but sometimes I record the mystery movies they feature on their movie channel. About an hour into the movie, out of the blue, a character started talking about her “crystals”. It was in passing but it was there. Towards the end of the movie, another character–who had received a gift of crystals from the first character–was praising these crystals for improving her life. Huh…

So here you have this seemingly innocent movie. And yet, even here, there is this New Age (occultic) practice not only being introduced, but even being presented as something positive that will improve one’s life.

Wow. Talk about slipping evil in the back door. And this is not an isolated incident. I have seen this type of thing before on this family-friendly channel.

And we find another example from HGTV. I like the show House Hunters and, several times now, I have turned it on to see a gay couple house-hunting together. Unfortunately, this is not rare. Watching things like this condition us to accept this as normal. Personally, I choose not to watch these episodes because it is not normal. It will never be normal.

Now–just to be clear–this post is not about what you should and should not watch. The Christian life is not about rules but about a heart that desires to please the Lord. I am not saying that you should not watch or listen to something just because they insert something evil. (I underline this because inevitably someone will accuse me of being legalistic in posts such as these). You must work out with God, through Bible Study and prayer, what you put before your eyes.

The point of this post is not about what we watch but about something else completely–

These incidents are good reminders that, as believers, we can never let our guards down.

Discernment can never take a break. Whether we are watching something that is labeled “Christian” or “Hallmark” or “HGTV” –or anything else for that matter– we must keep alert. All things must go through the grid of the Word.

We must do this for our favorite authors. For our favorite channels. For our favorite radio stations and magazines and websites. We must do this for our favorite pastors (and, honestly, a godly pastor will want you to do this) and for our counselors and therapists.

We should never be so loyal to any author, network, radio host, pastor, therapist, or musician that their message trumps what the Bible teaches.

We should never grow so lazy that we become numb to the sin around us or, even worse yet, start taking on the world’s values.

I know this takes work. And I know it is exhausting. But I want you to know it is so worth it for the spiritual health of you and your family. Taking the time to recognize evil and to have conversations with our families about it–teaching our kids (and our grandkids) to discern– keeps us from being hardened to sin and protects us. Sure, we will make wrong judgments and we will grow lazy sometimes and let something slip by that we shouldn’t. This is the nature of our humanity. But we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again. We just keep going. Because…

Satan roars about like a lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8) and he comes as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). This means he is after you and your children. It means that he rarely comes with horns and warts but usually looks lovely and beautiful and pure.

So stay watchful! Be vigilant! And, please, talk about these things with your kids and grandkids so that you are teaching the next generation the importance of having the Bible as their authority and how to be godly discerners.

 

 

Grace That Changes

gracethatchanges

Sometimes I wish I could go back and re-live high school. I know so much more now than I knew then. I’d treat people so differently. I’d be so much kinder. Mostly, I have grown a whole lot in the grace I have for others.

I think God started changing me in college with my first roommate. We couldn’t have come from more different family backgrounds. She was a new believer from a broken family and I was a “holier than thou” believer from a good Christian family. Instead of trying to help her, I judged her from my proud heart. I just cringe when I think about how little grace I had towards her. Thankfully, God, in His Sovereignty, drew us back together after that first {terrible} year and, ironically, we became best friends and she is still one of my best friends today. Funny how God works.

As I look back over my life, I can see that this was the starting point of God’s grace affecting how I live. But I still had a long way to go.

A long way.

I think I really started changing when I started to understand God’s grace towards me. As I already mentioned, I had been blessed as a young person to be in a wonderful Christian family. Not only had I not experimented with the typical teen-age temptations (such as sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking) I didn’t even want to try them. Unfortunately, while I don’t regret not doing those things, I do regret the pride and lack of grace that grew out of that. Obviously, I was more focused on the outward than the inward at that point in life. And I wasn’t in the Word like I should have been.

But then I grew up and got married and started a family. I started studying my Bible and actually listening to sermons. And God, in His great kindness and mercy, started opening my eyes. And I began to see myself as who I really was instead of who I thought I was. I saw what I could have been were it not for God and His marvelous grace towards me. I was a wicked sinner just like everyone. I wasn’t anything special at all. And instead of pride, I was filled with gratitude. Instead of judgment, I was filled with sorrow. Where in the world would I be if not for Jesus?

As I have grown in the Lord, I have come to understand that grace for others is something we Christians should be known for. We should extend it freely and kindly, because of the great grace we have been shown.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we never confront sin or speak truth. We are clearly mandated to do both in scripture. But we should do so out of a heart of grace and love, not pride and arrogance.

The world will tell you that if you disagree with them you aren’t showing grace. You are critical. You are unkind. Actually, the church will often tell you the same thing. That if you say something that is negative (even if it is biblical), you are critical and without grace. But this just isn’t true.

God’s grace towards us doesn’t cover up sin. God doesn’t simply say “you are okay now.” Even in salvation, we must face the negative (we are wicked sinners) to grasp the import of salvation. God sent His son to take away our sin through Jesus Christ. We aren’t freed on our own merit. We are freed because of Christ’s merit! God’s grace doesn’t pronounce us sinless, it pronounces us forgiven!

Do you see? We Christians are not doing anyone a favor by saying they can just live the way they want to live. We aren’t helping by not speaking the negative. This is not grace. It is cowardice. But grace does mean we speak words of truth from a heart filled with grace and love.

Pride and arrogance destroy but grace and mercy build up.

I am still growing in this area. And I hope you are, too. As our understanding of God’s grace towards us–desperate, wicked sinners–deepens each year, so, too, should our grace for others.

 

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

 

 

Every Three Seconds

telephone-586266_1280

Have you ever clicked on one of those articles or blog posts that has an advertisement after almost every paragraph? I find it so annoying that I usually do not even finish reading the article. I want to just read without having my eyes–and attention–drawn away every three seconds.

I came upon one of these articles the other day and as I clicked off of it–deciding it wasn’t worth the frustration–a dread came over me.

I realized that I sometimes do this with my smartphone. It is the “advertisement” that pulls me away from my life every three seconds. Well, not literally, but you know what I mean.

I just read somewhere that smartphones are ruining our concentration and I believe it. We can’t pray, read, sit through a church service, or have a conversation with someone without looking at our phone every three seconds.

Sometimes I love my smartphone. It puts almost any information at my fingertips. It helps me stay in touch with my kids. It makes me feel safer. It’s great to have apps that help me memorize scripture or to organize my life.

But just as often I hate it. I hate what it has done to me. I hate how smartphones have changed our society.

Life is always about finding a God-honoring balance–even when it comes to our phones. But that balance can be hard to find, can’t it?

Is there anything in scripture that would help guide us in finding this balance? I believe there is. Let’s look–

1. Love the Lord thy God with all of our hearts, souls, strength, and minds (Mark 12:30). Loving the Lord isn’t some heady notion that doesn’t reach our fingertips. Our love for God–which is clearly to encompass all of our being–is shown in even small things like how we use (or don’t use!) our smartphone during Bible reading, prayer, and church. Don’t hear me saying that it is sinful to check your phone during these times. I am not suggesting that. But I do wonder if we shouldn’t consider how we can best please our Holy God during these sacred times.

2. Treat others as we would want to be treated (Mark 12:31). The other thing we can learn from scripture regarding our smartphones is that we are to use it around others in the same way we would want it to be used around us. Pulling it out and staring at it while someone is talking to us is just rude. We wouldn’t like that and we shouldn’t do it to others. (I am speaking as much to myself as I am to you! I have been very convicted about this recently!)

3. Share the Gospel (Mark 16:15). Another curious thing that has occurred with the arrival of smartphones is a remarkable decrease in conversation on the sidelines of games, in store lines, the airport, or at the doctor’s office. Places where we may have chatted with people years ago we now find, instead, most people with their eyes on their smartphones. This includes us. And yet we are to be telling others about Jesus. Again, nothing sinful with looking at our smartphones in the airport. But I do find myself wondering if we are missing opportunities to share the Gospel?

4. Meditate on the Word day and night (Psalm 1:2). I am not sure about you, but I find it a lot easier to pull out my smartphone and scroll through Facebook or Instagram when I have a few minutes than to memorize a verse or to spend time in prayer. The first one takes no brain power and so, if we aren’t careful, we can default to this very easily. Again, recognize that it isn’t a sin to scroll through social media. But–I will speak for myself here–when it becomes my default behavior to the exclusion of God and His Word, I see that I am not honoring Him as I should.

Smartphones are wonderful tools. When you actually stop and consider what they actually can do it is incredible! But, oh, how important it is that we maintain control of our smartphones instead of allowing them to control us. This is truly a modern-day challenge that none of us really expected. But now that it is here, let us strive to honor and please God always with how we use these powerful little devices.

 

Victory Over Sin Isn’t an Event

climbing-to-the-top-2125148_1920

When I was a young married woman, I had a big problem. Without going into details, worry was something I battled on an almost daily basis and it was strangling the life out of me. At least that is how it felt. I was able to function normally so I truly doubt most people knew the battle I faced every day.

But God graciously rescued me and He used two verses to help me–

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)

and

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. (Proverbs 29:25)

He used the first verse to show me that I needed to take every thought captive in obedience to my Savior. This included all of my fretful thoughts that started with “but what if…” and I had a lot of those. And He used the second verse to remind me that my fear was a hopeless trap and that I could instead turn to the Lord, trust in Him, and be safe in His sovereign care.

It wasn’t instant and it took a lot of hard work (Philippians 2:12) but it was so worth it! I begged God to give me victory over this sin and He answered! I walked out of my prison of worry and into the bright light of freedom and trust in my sovereign, heavenly Father.

I very naively thought I had beat that horrible sin in my life. But I was wrong.

Fast forward many years. Life slowed down and, suddenly, I had that very precious commodity of time on my hands. My life that had basically been the same for so many years started changing… and changing… and changing. Questions and quandaries I had never really prepared for abounded. And, quite without warning, this terrible sin reared its ugly head and viciously attacked me. Well, let me rephrase that– as that makes me sound like the victim. In reality, I gave it an opening and it rushed in and almost ate me alive.

I am on my way to victory once again but it has been rough. I have struggled to not let the fear and worry control me but it has been quite a battle. And I have tried to understand why this sin came back without warning and with such a vengeance.

As I have thought about it (I know, I know–I just think wayyyy too much), I wonder if it isn’t for three reasons–

First, I believe I may have been so distracted during my very busy years of raising kids and running the business that I forgot I had this struggle. I had few moments to myself during that time and when a rare solitary half hour came I was too excited about it to spend even a precious second of it on worrying. Now that I have so much time alone– which leaves me with far too much time to think–I have found my mind wondering in the sinful directions of anxiety and worry.

Second, I naively (and perhaps proudly) believed that my battle with this particular sin was over. The return of this sin in my life has been a good and hard lesson for me. It has taught me that no sin is ever “conquered”, showing me that I must always be on guard since even “conquered” sins can sneak their way back into our lives if we aren’t careful. Victory over sin is not an event but is carefully maintained through humble examination throughout our lives.

Third, I am quite sure I didn’t (probably still don’t) have a proper view of God’s Sovereignty. This is really the root of almost all anxiety, fear, and worry. Every day we hear of the most horrible things that happen to people. Stories hit the news and we talk about them with our family and friends, reeling at the awfulness of them, knowing that the same thing could happen to us. Something I read by John Newton a month or two ago was instrumental in reminding me of one very important fact: Nothing can happen to me outside of God’s plan. Here is what he wrote–

“When believers die–whatever the accident or the illness may be–they are only the means, but not properly the cause of their death. They die because the time has come when He who loves them best, will have them with Him to behold His glory!

Until then, they are immortal. They recover from sickness, however threatening, and are preserved unhurt–in defiance of the greatest dangers! But when His appointed hour arrives–then they must depart. When He will have them with Him–we cannot detain them; nor ought we to wish it, though the flesh will feel the parting stroke.

None of us can be perfectly happy in this poor fleeting world. It is a state in which sin and sorrow will hunt us and pain us to the last step of life! Therefore, though we wish to keep those whom we love with us as long as we can–it is well both for us and them, that we cannot live here always. We are in the Lord’s hands–and He does all things wisely and well, at the right time and in the right manner.

Death is but a temporary separation. Those who are gone before us, are waiting for us. Oh! It will be a happy meeting before the throne of the Lamb–out of the reach of sin and sorrow, to meet and part no more!”

Oh, this is so true!

And as I have reflected on this sin that I thought had disappeared from my life forever, I realized that it had only lay dormant for many years, while I faced many battles with other sins, and then rushed back just when I least suspected.

And so I am back in the Word, re-memorizing the verses that were so helpful to me many years ago and finding new verses to memorize that will help me. And I am working very hard to take my thoughts captive–determinedly turning my brain from the worrisome, anxious thoughts before they spiral downward and out of control.

This is very personal to share this morning. But I share it here because I hope that this will encourage you, my readers, in several ways–

1. I hope it will remind you that our battles with sin are never over. They ebb and flow but we should never think we have beaten something completely. Knowing this will keep us on our guard against it and help us to maintain victory. Victory over sin is not an event but rather a lifetime of watchful maintenance.

2. If you are fighting against worry or anxiety–or any other sin, for that matter–I hope this encourages you, too, to take your thoughts captive. I hope that you will realize that you can win your battle with sin, through the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer. And I hope that God may use this post to keep you from throwing your hands up in despair and just giving up.

3. I hope this will remind you of the power of God’s Word in our lives as believers.  God’s Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and it is profitable for reproof and for correction (2 Timothy 3:16-17)–which is exactly what we need sometimes! The Bible is our sword (Ephesians 6:17) and without it we are defenseless. May we remember this always but particularly in our fiercest battles.

 

Now go fight your personal battle with the sin that threatens to overtake you, relying on God’s Word and the Holy Spirit for the strength and the wisdom you so desperately need. And stay watchful, because although the sin may disappear for awhile, it remains there waiting to pounce on you just when you least suspect it. We can stay spiritually strong and be prepared to fight by staying in the Word and walking closely with our heavenly Father–which is always our safest place.

 

 

 

 

Engaging the Enemy

Engaging the Enemy

As a young person, I have to confess that I had this “pie in the sky” dream that if I could just talk to someone long enough, I could change their mind. That somehow God would use my wise words or carefully crafted email to help someone see the light. I recognize now that it was my pride and immaturity that drove this dream. I started to understand, many years ago now, that there are few happy endings and that people who don’t want to hear the truth just don’t want to hear the truth. I could talk constantly for a year and, without the working of God in a person’s heart, never move their opinion even an inch in any direction.

I have also learned to be much more discerning on what is even worth confrontation. Many times, haughtily thinking I knew all the answers, I would confront people about inconsequential things. I have since learned that A.) I don’t have all the answers and B.) That so many things should be simply ignored and covered by grace. Only biblical issues are worth defending. Oh, how often I would get caught up in stupid, little arguments that were just about my selfish pride! I still do this on occasion. It is a great weakness of mine!

So, while we do know that much grace should cover non-biblical issues, how exactly do we deal with the really important, biblical issues? Jesus gives us some insight in Luke 20. Here He sets an excellent example for us in engaging our enemies. Let’s take a look at it.

1. Long debates and arguments over issues are a waste of time. Speak the truth in love and then walk away.

If you notice in Luke 20:8, Jesus refused to get in an argument with them over His authority. So, too, should we refuse to argue. If the Holy Spirit isn’t working in the heart of the person we are engaging, we are wasting our time. While some people do enjoy a healthy debate about important biblical issues, we must always be extremely careful not to cast a negative light on God and His Word through our words and actions. We are His ambassadors here on earth and, for some, we are the only contact they will have with true Christianity.

2. Be consistent. It is critically important to live a life that matches our words.

We know that Jesus’s life matched His words perfectly since He was God and could not sin. We, on the other hand, struggle with this. Do our lives match what we are saying? If our kids or grandkids hear us talking about spiritual things, does what we say match how we live? If not, we are better off just not saying anything. On the other hand, we will never be perfect. This is about a humble heart and a consistently examined life and not about waiting for perfection before opening our mouths. If we wait for perfection, we will never say anything!

3. Ask them a question.

In Luke 20:24, we see that Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. How often do we get put on the defensive and just freeze? Or answer in a way that is angry or irritated? We can slow that process down and give ourselves time to think by asking a question.

4. Recognize that our greatest hostility will often come from those within the church.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. It was these organized church leaders that felt most threatened by Jesus and His claims. We have seen this play out over and over throughout church history. The organized “church” was often responsible for the cruelest campaigns of persecution. And even now–in this post-modern era–the believer who is committed to a literal, inerrant, and sufficient view of scripture will find their greatest enemies are those that use the name of Jesus Christ. We must be prepared for this sad and discouraging fact as we defend true Christianity.

5. It is okay to name or warn against false teachers.

There is this ploy of Satan’s to deceive Christians into thinking we cannot mention specific names of false teachers. This is extremely clever, since–if this would be true–it would keep many undiscerning, immature believers in the dark, continuing to read and listen to those that taint and destroy true biblical faith. But here in Luke 20, the Lord Himself sets an example by warning His disciples (within the hearing of all of the people) of the scribes (v. 46-47). He says, “Beware the scribes.” He names them and says beware! We can and should do no less.

6. Biblically think through the hot button issues of today.

I have to confess that I am not a great debater. My heart starts beating, my mind starts to race, and I start talking without thinking. I am not great when I am in “defense” mode. Jesus, on the other hand, was completely composed. He not only knew the answer to any question they could ask, He knew the reason they were asking the questions. While we don’t have the same advantage that Jesus had, we can and should wisely prepare ourselves to defend a biblical worldview by spending some time studying and researching. We must especially be prepared to defend the Gospel. I Peter 3:15 puts it like this: but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

7. Our first priority should always be to preach the Gospel.

We must remember that the Gospel is the heart of our message. The Gospel is the means by which people are saved. We must keep this first and foremost in our minds as we engage our enemy. This is the heart and soul of our message. We offer nothing but empty hope and useless words without it. While we don’t see this specifically in Luke 20, we know that Jesus’s whole ministry was focused on people understanding who He was and why He was there.

8. You will be viewed as the enemy if you preach an unadulterated Gospel. Plan on it and be prepared.

Jesus was the arch enemy of the Pharisees. He ruined their selfish plans and cast {very valid} doubts on their false religion. We see in other passages of scripture and also in church history that any believer who defends the true Gospel is going to be attacked by Satan, by the world, and even by the organized “church” (which is really just the world in disguise). This is not a very “fun fact” and has caused many to close their mouths and just go about their lives quietly. Not only do we not want to be attacked, we have this great desire for the praise and laud of men. We want to be liked. This may drive some of us even more than the desire to not be attacked. The Bible tells us to expect the hatred of the world (John 15:19; I John 3:13) and that the devil is our enemy (Ephesians 6:11-13; I Peter 5:8). Ephesians 6:10-20 gives great insight into how to prepare ourselves for attack. This is worth some study as we find ourselves thrust more and more often into battles over Christian principles that are ridiculed and rejected.

 

Instead of expecting our dreams to be fulfilled and a life unhindered by problems, let us recognize that true believers must engage themselves for battle! Being a Christian–a real, biblical one–is not fun and games. Instead, we must have courage and boldness. We must spend time in the Word and on our knees, humble and teachable before the Lord. And we are called to turn away and deny our own selfish lusts and pleasures. This is not the Gospel preached today and, like Paul, I find myself wondering how the church has turned so quickly away from the true Gospel (Galatians 1:6) but I guess that is a post for another day! I hope these principles for engaging the enemy have given you some food for thought as you face whatever spiritual battle is before you today.

 

The Little Things

grand-canyon-2110095_1920

American Idol premiered in 2002. That show single-handedly launched the careers of dozens of obscure, wannabe rock stars, country singers, and crooners during its 14-year-run. I think it also helped to shape and solidify the way we Americans think about change. Instead of viewing change as something that is brought about by consistent and diligent hard work (the way it had been viewed forever), we now longed for that magic day when we would win a contest and life would change forever!

You may have no desire for fame, but I do wonder if this show, along with dozens of other shows, magazines, and radio talk shows haven’t left us believing that that magical, happy time of having our dreams fulfilled will come if we will just be patient and hang on long enough. Meanwhile, we kind of sit back and just wait for it.

This is true in the work world, where there is an expectation for promotions and raises to be given without corresponding work and effort. And it is true on the sports fields and on the dance stage, where there is this longing to be the star of the show–the one that stands out and is picked for that college scholarship or that special award that will jumpstart a career. We are just waiting for that magic moment when people will recognize our gifts and talents.

But, for most, that moment never comes.

The statistics will show that few people reach success, fame, or fortune without a lot of hard work and discipline.

As believers, our ultimate goal has little to do with success, fame, or fortune, but is, instead, centered on living holy, godly lives and growing to look more like Jesus. But, even in this area, we can be conditioned to believe that this happens by a special anointing of the Spirit or by receiving a special message from “Jesus”. We are being conditioned to believe that it is some magical experience that will take us to the next level of spiritual growth.

You can see how Christians are so susceptible to this type of thinking since–

Magic moments are IN and consistent hard work is OUT.

The other day, I had a knock on my door. When I opened it I saw a man standing there that I didn’t recognize. He reached his hand out kindly to me and told me his name. Here he was an employee of ours from over 20 years ago! What a fun time to chat with him and to see how he had grown and changed. I called my in-laws down (they live next door to us), for they had known him, as well, and we all stood in the front lawn for several minutes talking and reminiscing. At one point, the man looked at my father-in-law and said that he had given him a book about being a godly man that had really impacted him. He still had it and planned to have his sons read it.

As I listened to that exchange, I was again reminded that this is how change and growth usually occur. It is the gift of a book. Or a seemingly insignificant phone conversation. Or a heartfelt text. It’s in the conversations in the break rooms and the church hallways. Or the words of a hymn or song. But, most importantly, it is through the Word of God. Like the Grand Canyon carved by a stream of water, so we, too, are changed by the little things.

Perhaps we need to relinquish this insatiable desire for sensational, supernatural experiences in our lives. While this can and does happen to some of us (as we read in Larry’s Changed Life testimony) it does not happen to most of us. But if we keep consistently growing and changing through lots of prayer, through the Word of God, and through a humble and teachable spirit. If we realize this and put it into practice then, whether or not that “magical moment” of change we are longing for ever transpires, we will confidently know we are going the right direction instead of sitting around waiting for a miracle to propel us to change.

I would also like to add one more important note here. It is regarding this obsession that is currently sweeping through Christendom for personal messages from God and encouraging whispers from Jesus. I won’t go too deeply into it here today, but the need for sensational experiences in order to grow spiritually not only isn’t scriptural, it leads to arrogance and pride and to chaotic confusion. It has created a Christian culture that is basing its maturity on experiences rather than on the Word of God. If you would like to know more about this, I suggest you read the book Is That You, Lord? by Gary Gilley. This gives an extremely helpful, biblical perspective on this new phenomenon of “hearing from the Lord”. I know it will be immensely beneficial to any of you who are wondering about this. (Notice I am using adverbs like “extremely” and “immensely” because I am trying to get across the idea of just how much this book has helped me!!)

Real life change happens through prayer and through the Word of God–where we not only find encouragement for our thirsty souls, but we find the commands and principles for living that bring true peace and joy when we choose to submit and obey. The Bible is the power for the Christian life. And true change generally happens by reading, studying, and putting it into practice–tiresome day after tiresome day. True and lasting change takes consistent work.

But it IS possible! Sometimes we will be tempted to think that no one ever changes. And yet, we know that through the power of God and His Word, true change is not only possible but should be expected. Hopefully, your own life is a testimony to how God can change a life.

So don’t give up! It is most often the little things that bring about the changes we want to see in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The Only Time It Is Okay to Be a Hypocrite

feelings

Hypocrisy is such an ugly word, isn’t it? It is defined as: Behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. (from Merriam-Webster.com)

All of us, at one time or another, have probably played the part of a hypocrite. We have claimed to believe one thing when we are with one group of friends but our actions contradict our claims when we are with another group of friends. Some are worse at this than others.

And the basic consensus of all human beings since the beginning of time is that hypocrisy is bad. And it is! It is never good to pretend you are something you are not. Or to say you believe something with your mouth but then deny that belief with your actions.

But there is one time that being a hypocrite is not only good but also very helpful.

Curious, yet?

I have struggled my whole life with being a slave to my feelings. If I didn’t feel like reading the Bible, I didn’t. If I felt like eating a sugary snack, I ate it. Thankfully, I have grown and continue to grow in this area, but it continues to be a struggle, particularly when change happens in my life. This is always the time that my feelings rise up and scream to be heard–and when I am most tempted to listen.

But the other day, I heard someone say this: Be a hypocrite to your feelings.

Yes!

A million times yes!!

So often we hear people say things like this–

I can’t act like I love my husband if I don’t feel like I love him. That would be hypocritical.

I don’t want to read the Bible if I don’t feel like reading the Bible. That would seem hypocritical.

But feelings are the one thing we can and should play the hypocrite to. In fact, we must act differently than our feelings on most occasions. While feelings can help us process and determine certain things about ourselves, they should most certainly never dictate our behavior.

As I have watched our world go from objective, absolute truth to subjective, you-decide-what’s-true-for-you truth, I have seen the dictatorship of feelings take over the souls of many people–even Christians. It is often the reason for sporadic church attendance. It is the reason for family quarrels and fights. It is the reason for the dearth of Christians who pray and study their Bibles. Feelings are dictating behavior.

The interesting and wonderful thing about feelings is that they are very…convertible. Strange word to use, I know, but I couldn’t think of a better one. When we do the right thing– in spite of our feelings– our feelings pretty quickly get with the program and usually convert into the proper ones we should be having.

For example, when I feel irritated with my husband but I choose to treat him in a kind and loving way, I will start feeling like I love him again.

Or when I feel lazy and I don’t want to read my Bible and pray but I do it, anyway, I will often feel motivated afterwards.

Of course, this is not some magic solution and sometimes our feelings are sluggish to follow. And perhaps for some they never change. It doesn’t matter. We do what is right because it is right. We should never let feelings be our guide.

And this leads us to one other thing closely related to this: The frequent statements Christians often make regarding God’s input in their feelings. How often have you heard someone say something like this–“I feel like God…” or “God impressed upon me…”? I even catch myself sometimes saying things like “Well, I feel like God is wanting me to do this or that”. But if our feelings are so unreliable, how could we know if it is God or just some whim of our own? Oh, how much better off we are with a rational faith based solely on the Word of God than on our own ambiguous and fluctuating feelings!

So be a hypocrite to your feelings! Tell yourself that no matter what you feel, you are going to ignore it and do what is right anyway. And be thankful for the times your feelings do match your actions. They are marvelous times of blessing that motivate us to continue on the path of godliness.

 

 

For So We Once Walked

walking

We once walked as the world walks. We were foolish, slaves to our passions and pleasures, and living an ungodly, worldly lifestyle. We were unrighteous, sexually immoral, and idolators. We passed our days in malice and envy and hate. This is how Paul describes those who are not in Christ (see passages below).

But then we were saved through God’s great mercy and loving-kindness! And everything changed! Everything!

You may say “Wait a minute. My neighbor isn’t saved but he is a really nice guy. He doesn’t sound anything like what Paul describes.” But we must remember that even our thought lives and secret sins are known to God. He knows why we do what we do. He knows where our thoughts turn when we are tempted. He knows if our kindness or peace-making are motivated by selfishness.

We are all wicked. There is no exception. No, not one. (Romans 3:11 & 23)

One of the things I have noticed as I have started to study scripture in a more in-depth way is its miraculous cohesiveness and consistency. How often I will read something in one book and then see the same thing reiterated in another. Sometimes by the same human author, but not always. Over and over, we see the same principles repeated.

These past few weeks as I have studied Titus 3, the phrase “But such were some of you” kept coming to mind but I just couldn’t remember where it was from. When I finally did some research, I found it in I Corinthians 6, where Paul lists those who will not inherit eternal life but then goes on to add “But such were some of you.Titus 3 says something similar where Paul puts it like this–“For we ourselves were once…” And then yesterday in church, our pastor read Ephesians 2 and, lo and behold, here was another passage emphasizing what we were and what we are now. Here we read, “…in which you once walked” .

Each of these passages has a similar theme. Paul first describes unbelievers and then goes on to say how we–you and me (and all who are saved)–once walked the same way. But now we no longer walk in this way. We are changed. We are transformed.

How has it happened?

I Corinthians 6 says it this way– “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Titus 3 puts it this way–“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

And Paul writes it in Ephesians 2 like this–“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Each of these start with the word “but”. We were once lost in sin, but God! God reached out and saved us. It had nothing to do with our own righteousness or good works, but is solely because of God’s rich mercy, great love, grace, loving-kindness, and goodness.

These passages, as we study them together, hold four important lessons for us–

1. First, these passages teach us to truly appreciate our salvation. We so easily forget just how wicked we were before salvation. We start to think we were pretty good and it makes salvation seem like no big deal–particularly if we were saved as children or always lived a fairly moral lifestyle externally. But these passages remind us of what we really were in our core–wicked; selfish; dead in our sins. And this realization then fills our hearts with gratitude and joy that God loved us so much that He provided a way of salvation and eternal life. Oh, how much more we appreciate salvation when we remember the chains of sin that held us so tightly in hopeless despair!

2. Second, these passages teach and emphasize the significant differences between the lives of the unsaved and the saved. These three passages (and many others) consistently remind us that a life saved by Christ is a life lived in direct contrast to a life not saved by Christ. It is incredibly clear that salvation changes us. I understand that reflecting on this can be frightening when we think of some we know who claim to be a Christian while living in sin without conviction or repentance. But this is what the Bible teaches. Life before Christ looks nothing like life after Christ. While it is not our job to judge any individual’s salvation, it is certainly our job to teach this principle of a changed life when we talk to people about the Gospel. Clearly, throughout scripture, we find that true belief yields true change.

3. As we consider the first two lessons, we also learn (or perhaps are reminded) that the lost are not our enemies! As I read these passages, I was filled with real sorrow and tremendous grace for their terrible state. Dead in their sin, slaves to their flesh, and hopeless that anything will change. This was us! We were there. Can you remember that hopelessness? That feeling of being enslaved? Even though I was a child when I was saved, I have started to comprehend as an adult who I was without Christ–who I would be now without Him. This should fill us with such loving-kindness towards the lost. I am so saddened when I see people who call themselves Christians treat the unsaved with arrogance and judgment. This is never the proper response of any believer– in fact, it is exactly opposite of what Christ would do. We must follow God’s example of kindness, grace, and mercy as we share the Gospel and the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps this is one of our highest callings.

4. And, finally, these passages remind us that a saved soul is one prepared to do good works. We do not do good works to be saved, but instead do them because we are saved. This is what we are called to as believers (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8) So exactly what are good works? We have gotten a little confused in this world of politically correct “social justice”. Feeding the poor and digging wells are worthy causes (as long as the Gospel is being shared) but so, too, is visiting your elderly neighbor or babysitting for your friend who is a single parent. Cooking a meal for a hurting family or regular visits with a lonely widow are good works. We can do good works for God by being a godly example to those younger than us, by training and nurturing our children, teaching children about Jesus in Sunday School, praying for a missionary, or by writing notes of gratitude and encouragement. How important it is that we don’t narrow our definition of good works down to what is politically correct in the church in this particular era.

I am sure there are many more lessons we can learn from these passages. These are just four that really struck me as I studied. Studying the Word of God starts to open our eyes to the reality that much of what is being preached in the name of Christ today is really not true Christianity. It is heart-breaking to even write that sentence, but, nonetheless, it is true. When we compare scripture to what is popular today, we can easily see that somewhere–sometime–biblical Christianity and popular evangelical Christianity started to part company. Let us not forget what the Bible teaches us about the saved and the unsaved. This is the only reliable resource for answers. No book, no article, no preacher, no author overrides the Bible. Ever.

 

Here are the full passages. Notice their similarities and differences–

Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 2:1-10  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.