Courage

Four Boys and What They Can Teach Us

It is sobering to consider the average 15 year old boy these days. Most are obsessed with sports or video games or some other frivolous pastime. Fast forward ten or more years and you will find the average 25 year old–and even 35 year old–man in the American culture continue to be obsessed with the things that do not matter for eternity. And this isn’t just a problem with men. Young women also find themselves wrapped up in the things of this world.

Of course, this is an easy thing to have happen and it isn’t without intention that any of us avoid this–even us older people. We live in a world that is literally obsessed with entertainment and sports and outward beauty and money and education and politics. This list of temporal distractions is endless. And, while these things can be enjoyed and attended to in a godly way, they often also provide temptation to become fixated on the wrong thing. None of us is immune to being ensnared and preoccupied with the things of this life that are of no lasting value…the things that won’t make a bit of difference in all of eternity.

Most of us can’t even define what a true hero is, much less be one as we remain distracted with the stuff of life that just doesn’t matter.

I can’t help but compare this to Daniel and his friends. In studying chapter 1 of this much beloved book of the Bible, we see defined for us true heroism.

American culture has taught us that heroes have super powers or that they are someone who can catch a ball or put it through a hoop. We are given the poor substitution of someone who can pretend to be someone they are not on a big screen or drives a fast car. The word “hero” has been watered down and redefined until it gives us nothing but shallow or unrealistic men and women to emulate.

But God gives us real heroes in Daniel and his friends. These are real people who existed many thousands of years ago that are worthy of emulation.

It starts off in chapter one, when they are just boys. They are captured as teenagers and taken to Babylon. They are without any adults to remind them of God’s laws or to whisper encouraging words in their ears.

But by the age of 15 (or so), they are men enough to stand strong against peer pressure and possible persecution (or loss of life!) Now think about that for a moment. I am not sure even most grown and mature adults would have been brave enough to do that. As we move through the book of Daniel we see other heroic acts by these four, but this first chapter gives us insight on why they were able to face the hot fire and the den of lions.

If you haven’t read Daniel for awhile (or ever) then let me give a quick overview of chapter one. These teens were taken from their homeland to serve the King of Babylon in his courts. In order to prepare them they were to be given the choicest of food to eat.

Daniel and his friends refused this food. Not because it was wrong to eat meat (as some have surmised) or because it was unhealthy to eat it. They refused it because it was unceremonially unclean. It had been offered to Babylon’s false gods. (This topic could be expanded upon in great detail because it is much more complicated than all that, but for the sake of keeping this from getting too long, this is the reason in simplified explanation.)

God not only gave these four boys favor in the eyes of the officials, giving them an opportunity to not eat the King’s delicacies, but He also made them stronger and finer for not eating it.

So what made these four boys stand firm about something so simple as the food they would eat?

I want to turn to Robert Duncan Culver’s commentary on Daniel for the answer. In this, he gives eight reasons why these boys were able to stand firm instead of caving to peer pressure, as most would (and as many of Daniel’s co-exiles most surely did).

Let’s take a look at these reasons and examine our own lives and choices, as well as examine our parenting (and even our grandparenting) by what we read here.

For the instruction and enlightenment of a hundred generations, this story presents the elements present in true Christian heroism. If we want heroes to emulate, here are some of them. p. 20, The Histories and Prophecies of Daniel by Culver.

So let’s look at the reasons Culver gives. Let me add here that the reasons are from Culver and the commentary about the reasons are mine. I’d like to type all that Culver wrote as it was so profound but it would just be too long, so I am trying to give his points more concisely.

First, these boys were taught to discern. They had been taught the difference between right and wrong. This is something most likely learned from their parents (Deut 6:4-9). There is much to be commended with seeing that your children get a Christian education or taking them to church every Sunday but nothing can replace a godly parent’s influence in the life of a child. This influence is through both example and conversation.

Second, these boys had learned to resist evil. Where did this inner strength come from? Again, we must assume parental influence. They had been taught to live in submission and obedience to God. They had been disciplined from a young age to respect authority but to respect God above all else.

Third, they had the power to say NO. Youth is a season of conformity. Generally, they want to fit in so badly that compromise is the norm for teenagers–even Christian ones. Most are unable to resist the peer pressure in order to stand for what’s right. Even we “mature” adults have trouble with this. And, yet, here are these four boys showing us how to stand up and just say NO in a respectful and kind way.

Fourth, they had physical courage. They knew they could lose a lot–even their very lives–in the face of their refusal. And, yet, for the sake of pleasing God they were willing to risk this. Do we have this same courage? Or are we too obsessed with our own comforts, conveniences, worldly goods, and safety to do what’s right? I think we have learned much about this in our own hearts and in the hearts of others over the course of the last two years. And it’s not been very pretty, has it?

Fifth, they had perseverance. Daniel gently persevered in his conviction. He was not going to give in.

Sixth, they had determination. “Daniel purposed in his heart.” He kept his eyes focused on what matters, rather than to get distracted by the unimportant and transient.

Seventh, they were meek. We see here boys that just did what they were called to do by God. We see no arrogance or boasting or disrespect for authority (by the way, this disrespect is something we are often witnessing by those claiming Christ today). They simply and quietly did what was right.

Eighth, they had wisdom and good sense. Daniel wisely offered the trial of ten days. Instead of simply refusing to eat the food set out before him, he asked to be given a short time to at least try out his idea. He had wisdom beyond his years in dealing with this situation.

While most of this first chapter is focused on Daniel (he is the one making the requests), we know from verses 11-16 that his friends joined him in not eating the unclean food. We also recognize these same heroic traits in these friends later on in the book when they are cast into the fiery furnace. We don’t know where Daniel is at this point but he was not with them. This shows us that they, too, were of strong moral fiber and full of heroism themselves.

I found myself really reflecting on my own heart and mind as I studied Daniel 1 this past week. Do I have these same heroic traits? Am I prepared to face what they faced? These boys–all four of them–offer us a wonderful and quite relevant example for all of us believers as we start living in an unfamiliar world and face the persecution that is looming on our horizon. We may not have been exiled to a foreign land but the land we are living in is not the same land of our childhood. It’s not even the same land of just two short years ago. Everything has changed.

I want to conclude with one final, very profound, quote from Culver (p. 15 of his commentary)–

Our own period, aptly dubbed “the ease era”, does not have the climate which produces many heroes. The average American, including many who are already parents and a few grandparents, has yet to be involved in an unavoidable choice involving the necessary risk of his physical safety or public reputation. We prefer to watch synthetic heroes on television rather than even to read about authentic ones–much less to be real heroes!

Our era needs some heroes, too. We need them in public civic office no less than in the pulpit and mission stations; in newspaper offices as well as on the judges’ bench, and in the professor’s chair.

Written in 1980, much has changed since then. The opportunities to lose our reputation in order to stand up for what is right are now upon us. I believe the opportunities to sacrifice our physical safety are not far behind.

Are we ready to stand??

 

 

 

Self or Truth? (It can’t be both)

I came across this quote yesterday–

He who loses his temper in argument has begun to care more about himself, and less about the truth. (Alfred Plummer)

What an interesting thing to reflect upon in this age of strong opinions and thoughtless, angry words. There is no dearth currently of harsh judgements, often accompanied by flaring tempers.

Even if we Christians struggle with losing our tempers at home on occasion, most of us have learned (or are learning) the importance of not allowing that to happen in public. We understand the damage that does to the cause of Christ.

But the losing of one’s temper isn’t the only thing that shows one cares more about oneself than about the truth, now is it?

I believe there is another very acceptable way that Christians show their priority of self over truth. It’s lauded even. And this is a problem.

You see I think for most believers the temptation isn’t to talk too much but to talk too little. The temptation isn’t to prove the rightness of a point as much as it is to not speak up when it’s important.

And this can be confusing. After all, doesn’t the Bible teach that we are to be slow to speak (James 1:19) and that he who restrains his lips is wise (Proverbs 10:19). It sure does! So then it is important we interpret these in light of other scriptures (Mark 16:15; Philippians 1:13-14; I Thessalonians 2:4; Titus 2:1 and others) that encourage us to speak up.

You see, it isn’t so much in the speaking that we run into problems. What God knows (and what we quickly learn about ourselves) is that the sinful issues arise when we speak without thinking first or we talk before we actually listen to what the other person is saying.

It’s obvious that the Bible can’t mean to never speak up, given it’s many verses (and also the examples of godly people) encouraging us to do that very thing. But so many believers cling to those verses as if that gives them God’s permission to never speak the truth–even at the most opportune moments.

I guess each one of us struggles with this in one way or another. We all struggle with loving ourselves more than loving the truth. Whether it is exhibited by the relentless desire to prove we are right (and smarter than the other person) or it is by staying quiet so as not to draw unwanted antagonism or ridicule, both show the ugly love of self.

Only we can know why we are choosing to speak up or not to speak up. Only we can examine our hearts as to why we are responding as we are in times of opportunity.

James 3 reminds us just how dangerous the tongue is. It is an important reminder! There is so much potential to cause tremendous amounts of damage with it. But when we read the end of that chapter we begin to understand that it isn’t in the speaking but in the motives when we speak that the sin lies.

James 3:14-18 puts it like this–

But if you have bitter envy and [h]self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Bitter envy and self-seeking in our hearts are the proof that we are using earthly, sensual, and even demonic wisdom. When we speak up with these things in our hearts and minds, no good fruit can result.

But when we use the wisdom from above, then all is changed. Speaking up becomes about our dedication to the truth. It’s about being willing to admit we were wrong when necessary, it’s about being willing to yield on issues that are not of biblical import. It is peaceable and gentle.

I like how the ESV puts it: “open to reason”. This means are willing to have a loving, thoughtful discussion. And yet we must always go back to the Word of God as our standard and guide. This is our foundation for any opinion that truly matters.

God gives each of us many opportunities to share the Gospel and to point people to His Word. The question is do we love that other person and truth more than we love self so that we willing to speak up? And, if so, can we remove our love for self and our need to be right from the conversation?

 

Do we love truth more than we love self?

It is a very important question for any sincere follower of Christ.

 

 

The Doomsdayer, The Ostrich, and the Faithful One

In the spring of 2020, right about the time it became obvious that what was going on was about more than a virus and would most certainly last more than a couple of weeks to “flatten the curve”, someone sent me an article. The article predicted such impending doom for that following fall that I lost a whole night’s sleep over it. It is generally best for me not to read those at night. Actually, it’s best not to read them at all.

The following morning, I was able to refocus myself on the Lord and to remember His promises, but I will never forget that long night of panic. Since that time, predictions of doom and gloom have only multiplied exponentially. It is easy to understand why, considering the strange and unprecedented times we are living in. But predictions are just that…predictions. The only predictions that come true 100% of the time are in the Bible. While we can reflect on others and consider them (if that is something you are wont to do), we dare not take them too seriously.

These times are challenging, no question about that. And I’ve noticed that most Christians respond one of three ways. Some people (like myself) have responded all three ways on different occasions. Let’s take a look briefly at two types of responders–

The Doomsdayer-– These are the ones that are all about what is going on in the world. Their conversations and communications are generally along the line of what is happening. Nothing else really exists for them and they are obsessed by the events, the news, and the future of this world. Some of these doomsdayers are working hard to “save” the world. Others are intently focused on how these events all fit into the Bible and what we know is coming.

The Ostrish– These are the ones who don’t want to hear anything. They surround themselves with only the positive and close their ears to anything that threatens their way of life. It’s actually been rather difficult to be an ostrich in this past couple of years with all that’s going on, but we all try to dig our heads in the sand at one time or other through various means of escape and endeavors of industry.

__________________________

Both of the above are incorrect ways to approach anything in this life. Although it may be tempting to handle anything difficult or vexing in one of these ways, as believers we are called to something higher.

This has been such a learning process for me and I’ve not arrived (to say the least) but the Lord has been very patiently teaching me over these past two years that all I need to be as we face these weird times is a faithful one. He may be teaching you the same thing.

In the Bible, we find many examples to follow during any trial–even a situation as strange and unusual and, yes, sometimes frightening as this one. Let’s consider just a few of them–

Noah was given the worst prediction in the world: The whole world would be destroyed and he and his family alone would be saved (Genesis 6:13-14). We don’t read much of Noah but what we do know is that he was faithful and obedient in the midst of the greatest world tragedy in existence up to this point (Hebrews 11:7).  So, too, we must be faithful and obedient in the midst of what appears to be the preparation for the “as in the days of Noah” time (Matthew 24:37).

We are called to obey.

 

Abraham faithfully followed after God, having no idea where he was headed (Hebrews 11:8-9). So, too, must we follow hard after God, even when we can’t see where we are going. Amidst the questions, the what-ifs, and the confusion, we remain faithful.

We are called to be faithful.

 

Joseph faced the unimaginable but God worked all things out in and through these unimaginable circumstances (Genesis 37-50). From being sold into slavery by his own brothers to being falsely accused, Joseph was probably very discouraged many times. And, yet, God was intricately involved in the timelines and minute details of Joseph’s life and used all of it to eventually save the nation of Israel during a dreadful famine. This account reminds us that God has every little detail of our lives under His sovereign control and we can trust His plan.

We are called to trust God.

 

Esther put her life on the line to do the right thing (Esther 4:16). It was a very different time and place and her audacity in approaching the king could mean her death. Can you imagine how she felt as she waited to see if the king would hold out his sceptre and welcome her? But, even knowing it could mean her life, she did what was right. How often we are unwilling to do or say what is right because of a little ridicule that might come our way. Oh, that we may be more like Esther and be willing to sacrifice whatever necessary in order to do the right thing.

We are called to sacrifice.

 

Job lost everything and still bowed to God and surrendered to God’s will (Job 1:21). As we read Job, we see this man struggle through great trial and finally come to understand that God is immeasurably great and man is called to surrender in the face of God’s greatness. So, too, must we understand that God’s plans and purposes are far higher than ours and only through surrendering our own will to God’s will can we find any peace at all in the midst of trials and tribulation.

We are called to surrender.

 

Stephen faced his death with valor, while calling upon the Lord to forgive those who stoned him (Acts 7:60) He remembered–even as he was dying–what was really important. So, too, must we face the truth of our circumstances with eternal souls in mind. May we never lose sight of what really matters amidst the craziness and chaos of all that’s going on.

We are called to remember what really matters.

 

Paul bravely faced much persecution for speaking the truth (Read the book of Acts to find out more). So, too, must we be willing to speak up with courage and boldness, pointing people to God and His Word. Amidst great unpopularity and ridicule and, yes, even coming persecution, we must speak the truth.

We are called to speak the truth.

 

Can you think of other examples in scripture that we can pull wisdom from for this current world we live in? There are so many others, including Jesus Himself. God has not left us to our own devices in this world but has filled His Word with examples of men and women for us to emulate. He has filled His Word to us with promises, encouragement, commands, and guidance. He has told us how to face anything that we may have to face.

I have been both doomsdayer and ostrich over the past couple of years. But what I want to be is a faithful one, being and doing all that God has shown me to be and to do– no matter what the circumstances.

None of us can know what lies ahead. None of us can know what God’s specific and detailed plan is or the timing of that plan. But we do know what we are called to do. And so we live one hour at a time in obedience to His call.

Rather than to be known as the prophet of bad news or the scaredy-cat unwilling to face bad news, may we be known as the faithful Christian who is willing to face the truth with courage and to live in such a way that always points people to Christ.

 

 

The Veneer is Dissipating

Awhile ago, I was doing laundry and found a penny. I am not sure what adventures that penny had been on but what I learned that day was that pennies aren’t copper all the way through. The copper is only a thin veneer that covers what I imagine must be some cheaper, undesirable metal.

A few days ago, my daughter told me she was in an elevator with her two year old. The masked man in the elevator said to my granddaughter, “you can push the button.” My daughter thought he was being nice. And then he said the words that showed his true heart and removed the thin veneer of courtesy: Let her get the germs.

That awful man cared more about his own health and safety than about the health and safety of a two year old little girl.

But this is not a lone story. Everywhere you turn you are learning things about people you just never wanted to know. We are learning the priorities, the fears, the selfishness, the ugly hearts. We are learning this about strangers; and about neighbors, church family, and co-workers; about extended family, and, sadly, even about our own dear family members.

Status Quo has a way of covering up the truth. When status quo is shaken, the truth –which was always there– starts showing itself.

So that’s kind of depressing, really. I mean it’s been so heartbreaking to see the division, the anger, the unforgiveness, the selfishness, the fear-driven decisions. It’s absolutely disheartening, isn’t it?

But within those depressing, heartbreaking, disheartening circumstances lies an unprecedented opportunity for believers.

Let’s go back to that penny for a moment. We believers still have that undesirable flesh that resides within us causing all kinds of trouble. The only difference is our coating. Instead of a thin veneer of courtesy and morality, we are now covered by Christ’s blood. Our veneer has been replaced by the indestructible gold of Christ’s sacrifice. And that covering will start changing our ugly old flesh into something precious. It takes a while and we all have our own journeys, but we should be battling the flesh less and less as we grow in the faith.

So now comes that opportunity to which I was referring.

In this world gone mad we have the opportunity to look different than the lost around us because we are different. Our responses, our choices, our actions, our lifestyles, our decisions–they should be born out of faith instead of fear. They should be born out of a love for righteousness instead of a love for evil. They should be born out of a heart surrendered rather than out of a spoiled, selfish “I want my own way” heart. Some questions to ask as we reflect on this: Are my responses and choices determined by my thoughtful study of God’s Word? Do I care more about the welfare of others than I do about my own? Do I trust the Lord for the days ahead? These are the changes that are made in the heart of God’s child.

Oh, not instantly. Rarely instantly. But we have the Word as our guide and help. And we pray. We ask the Lord to show us our weak spots. Our ugly sins and flaws. We ask Him to make us more like Christ. And then when we stumble, we readily and humbly admit we have sinned and try again.

And so…it isn’t that we are perfect. It isn’t that we are some icon of calm in the midst of the chaos. It doesn’t mean that we are without an occasional short temper or curt word.

No, the difference is that we humbly admit when we are wrong. The difference is that we desire to be a light in this dark night and we act on that desire. We aim to grow in our faith. We are never satisfied to look like the dying world around us. Instead of hypocrisy, we are characterized by frank honesty. Instead of hiding our heads in the sand, we are are characterized by a willingness to face the hardest truth with courage. None of this is done perfectly. We just bring a willing and wanting heart to do what is right.

The other day someone treated me very rudely at the store. I hadn’t done or said anything to them but simply wasn’t doing what they thought I should do. I reflected on how rude some people are becoming in the midst of all of this uncertainty. And I pondered for a moment how bad it would get if there literally was only some food on the shelves and not enough to feed everyone. What would people be like then? Visions of the toilet paper shortage from early 2020 come flooding back and we know how people would act. It’s kind of scary, isn’t it? But a more important question is what would I be like? If I couldn’t get my basic necessities how would I respond?

Will this happen? I have no idea. But a great time to practice for that is right now. We can and we must be intentional in our responses right now. When we can’t get that item we need because it’s out on a cargo ship somewhere; when the waitress is overworked and struggling in the short-staffed restaurant; when the store clerk is just so incompetent; when the customer service rep on the phone couldn’t care less about you or your problem; when the neighbor ridicules you for your worldview; when a family member makes a choice you 100% disagree with; when that employee calls off yet again; when a fellow believer hurts you deeply; when life just doesn’t go our way.

THESE are opportunities to respond with love and grace and truth and kindness. These are the opportunities–and they are becoming more and more plentiful, aren’t they?–which God can use to grow and prepare us for whatever lies ahead.

We may still be ugly metal on the inside, but we are promised transformation. And little by little that ugly metal is changing into something much more precious. Oh, we will always have some of that flesh within us here on earth but, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can diminish it’s presence and power in our lives.

I wish I could say I have this down perfectly. But, like always, I am simply writing about what God is teaching me. The other day I had such a frustrating conversation on the phone with a customer service rep and I found myself growing angrier by the minute. While I do think I handled it better than I would have ten years ago, I still have such a long way to go. But I am getting lots of opportunities to practice these days and I am guessing so are you. So, together, and with God’s help, let’s intentionally be different from the rest of the world. And, through that difference, may God use our light to draw the lost to Him and to encourage fellow believers along the way.

 

 

Just Traveling Through

Imagine you are in a small foreign country on a long-term mission trip. The country might be in Asia or Africa or perhaps you are on an island nation in the South Pacific. Wherever it is, while you are there serving the Lord the country goes to war. You are stuck there. There is no way to escape the carnage you see around you. And this isn’t just any war. This is a civil war that has divided the nation in half.

Do you pick a side? I guess it depends how much you have invested there and if you plan on returning permanently. If you are only there for a few months or a year, you probably stay pretty neutral. There is no reason to be involved. This country is not your home. However, you do stand strongly for life and do what you can to help save lives as well as minister to the needs of the hurting around you.

How you respond in a country that is not your own is probably very different than how you would respond in a country that is your own.

I’ve actually never had that happen to me and I doubt you have, either. But maybe it’s happening to us right now. To all of us, probably no matter where we live. Oh, we may not be in an all-out civil war, but we are in a war, nonetheless. It’s a war of philosophies. The competing philosophies are in utter opposition to one another. It’s especially bad here in the states.

I was thinking on this the other day while I was meditating on I Peter 2:11. This is one of my memory verses from a year or two ago that came up for review. (One of the reasons I love memorizing verses is because of the ability to meditate on the memorized verses in the car or when you are in bed at night.) Here is what it says in the NKJV–

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,

We won’t dwell on the end of the verse today (although it, too, has been the cause of much personal meditation). Today I want to focus on what Peter calls us followers of Christ: Sojourners and Pilgrims.

Let’s take a look at the definitions of these two words–

Sojourner–A person who lives somewhere temporarily

Pilgrim–A traveler or wanderer; especially in a foreign place

Now Peter uses these two words to describe believers. Why does he do this? Why does he feel the need to write down both words? Of course we can’t know for sure, but I do find myself wondering if God, moving Peter to write this, knew how easily it would be for us to set down deep deep roots in this world.

I don’t know about you but one of the greatest lessons this past year and half has taught me has been that very thing. I didn’t think I was so invested in this world, but I found out that I was invested far more than I thought. That the roots of love for the things of this world and for the life that I never thought would change ran deep.

As I am pulling up each root one by one, it’s a rather painful process. But this verse has helped me. It has reminded me that I am no longer a citizen of this world but belong to an everlasting Kingdom. This is just my temporary home.

We need to remember this as we face the uncertain days ahead but I also want to consider this fact in light of all that is swirling around us and just take an honest look at what’s going on and why we must not pick sides unless it is clearly biblical in scope.

There are many divides in our nations. Here in the U.S. it is the divide between the V’s and the unV’s. It’s the divide between the socialists and the capitalists. It’s the divide between the pro-death and the pro-life. And so many more. Sadly, this country has been split in what feels like a thousand different ways.

But we have to be so very careful not to get too involved. We are not citizens of this world. I know this message won’t sit well with some of you. You believe that you are here to bring change to this world. You want to make it a better place. You may even believe it is God’s mandate for us to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Or perhaps you believe that we can still stop the madness that is happening. That if enough of us just come together to fight this, we can make a difference.

So let me address these two viewpoints briefly.

First, the Bible never teaches that we are to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. There is a real push in several “Christian” movements to popularize this inaccuracy and it’s just not true. There is no biblical mandate to prepare the earth for God. None whatsoever. This is probably worth a whole post, in and of itself, and has, in fact, been the subject of several books. If you would like to read more on this, I recommend Alva McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom or Andy Wood’s The Coming Kingdom.

Second, not only are we not told to bring God’s Kingdom to earth but we are clearly told that, in the last days, the world will grow more wicked. There are many signs of the last days that we are told to look for in the books of Daniel, the minor prophets, Matthew, I Timothy, I&II Thessalonians, Jude, and Revelation that show us what to expect. (There are other books, too, but these are the main ones that come to mind and are a good place to start for any student of prophecy.)

At the end of the age, we are clearly to expect lawlessness, natural disasters, wars, false christs, certain things in the middle east, and a setting up of the beast system. That’s just a few of the things that we can expect. There are so many more. And, dare I say, every one of these things we are told to expect is beginning to take shape before our eyes in a way never seen on this earth before? A serious student of Bible prophecy recognizes that we must be close to the end. A wise person will never make predictions on dates or time frames, but we are clearly approaching the end of this age.

So what does that mean for us? I think it means that, while we certainly work together to improve situations in our churches, our families, our places of employment, our schools, and any other opportunities we are given, we don’t expect to fix the world. We don’t expect that we can push the snowball back up the hill (so to speak). While we may win small victories and rejoice over them, our expectations should not be shattered when this world continues on its collision course to God’s final years of wrath on this earth called the Great Tribulation.

One final thing that is critically important is the nature of both sides of this current “war” we are in in our nation. Listen closely to how each side talks about God. One side is very clearly going against Him. It’s easy to spot their rebellion against Him and His set laws. But I’d like to submit to you that the other side is doing the same thing, in just a much more subtle way.

Listen closely to the language of the other side. The new age phrases and notions are pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for. Both sides are rotten to the core and the one side may be more dangerous, simply due to its deceptive nature. Be. So. Careful.

If we are sojourners and pilgrims (and we are!) then let’s live like we are these things. May we remember that we are on this earth for just a short time. This world is not our home. Let’s rise up to the opportunities that God gives us to serve and minister in these dark, dreary days but let’s not get too involved in the sides of it. Neither side is “God’s side”.

And there are many opportunities, aren’t there? Practically speaking, what are some ways we can honor God and bless others during this time? A few things come to mind–

1) We can talk to others about our permanent home with enthusiasm and joy (in other words, share the Gospel often and freely!); 2) We can send cards and letters and emails and texts of encouragement; 3) We can face our job losses, our financial setbacks, our health crises, and other trials with a peace the world can’t know but longs for; 4) We can be a light in our churches and work places and schools, pointing others to God and His Word; 5) We can save lives by getting the truth out there; 6) We can join with others in the crucial battles that are taking place in our work places and schools and communities; 7) We can be instruments of God’s peace, joy, and love in this ugly world we find ourselves in.

May we believers step up boldly and courageously to the unique opportunities God gives to each one of us. For such a time as this! But, in the process of stepping up, let’s remember that this world is not our home. We are just traveling through.

 

 

Responding to Critics and Attackers

When one starts publicly comparing the current Christian world to what the Bible teaches, all kinds of criticisms and attacks accompany it. Whether it’s on a blogging platform, in a church business meeting, on social media, or in a weeknight Bible Study, there is always someone who will be offended if you point out that someone or something is false or compromised when compared to scripture.

Why do Christians have such a hard time seeing these false teachers and the false doctrines they are promoting? I personally believe it is because they are not in the Word, studying to understand it with humility and submission to it. It is truly and LITERALLY our ONLY protection against deception. I believe that most who claim to be Christians are actually not reading and studying the Word. I also believe another reason is PRIDE. The unwillingness to admit we were wrong about something or someone is difficult for all of us.

There are a few types of attackers–

The Condescending One— these are difficult because they are so very judgy and think they know so much more than you do (which they might). They have a very high opinion of their opinions and refuse to even contemplate anything you say. There is no possibility for even a thoughtful discussion because, in their mind, there is nothing to discuss.

The Mean One— these are the ones who call you judgy while calling you names and judging you. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. They are hypocrites at the highest level but, truly, they can’t even see it. They are blinded in their false philosophies and hatred for anyone who doesn’t agree with them. It doesn’t matter how lovingly you state the truth, they hate the truth. And they hate you for speaking it.

The Diverting One -these are generally genuine believers who claim to believe the Bible is true. They can’t respond to the biblical argument you are presenting so they change the subject and try to get you off topic.

The “Holy” One–these are the ones that claim that God showed them that you are the wrong one. They will say they heard His voice or that He led them to a special song or conversation that “proved” you are wrong. Instead of the Word, these people rely on experiences to determine their truth.

The “Attack the Messenger” One–these also tend to be genuine believers and, when they can’t answer the biblical argument, they just start attacking you personally. They call you names and make painful remarks. Sometimes they even gossip about you or slander you.

The Silent One— these are the toughest and contain the largest group of our critics. These are the ones who will never say a word but just disappear because they don’t agree. They won’t even be willing to have the discussion and they hate conflict so they just disappear.

Oftentimes, our critics are a combination of these listed above. If you speak up about the truth with regularity, I’d rather guess that you have experienced all of those mentioned. It can be very painful–especially when coming from fellow believers.

But this will be the price we pay for speaking the truth. We must prepare ourselves, praying for courage and boldness to speak up in a time when speaking the truth is vilified by the world and the church. (There’s a reason for this. This belief that speaking negatively is an unloving and unchristian thing to do didn’t just happen. It was a very intentional thing that started many years ago and has finally reached it’s peak. It’s a stunning and shocking thing to research this belief that we should only “speak the positive” historically. It’s so clearly not of God.)

So for those of you who are brave enough to stand for the truth, in spite of the darts and arrows that come your way, let’s talk a bit today about how we best handle it. No matter the type of attacker or critic, I have been learning some things we should always do if we want to handle this in a way that is honoring to God. (And–just to be clear–I don’t have this down. In fact, I am not even close. I am still working on this and praying to grow in this area of responding to my critics and attackers.)

Here are six things we should each consider when responding–

1. Give time to prayer before responding. I have to confess that I am learning this from a dear friend. She has been experiencing a bit of kickback regarding something and, instead of responding immediately, she took a few days to pray about how best to respond. I do this sometimes but in watching her respond to these attackers, I realized that I need to do this all the time. Before I ever open my mouth or put my finger on a key, I need to pray. Pray for wisdom, pray for the person who is attacking me, pray for help in loving that person instead of being angry at them.

2. Give humble and honest evaluation to what they are saying. Does their comment or thought have any merit at all? Oftentimes, at least in my case, I won’t post something until I am 100% sure regarding the compromise and there is no doubt that this person or doctrine is false. That being said, I did learn a hard lesson years ago when I posted something on social media without knowing the whole story. That was a good lesson for me. I was even more thorough after that mistake. But, even in my carefulness, it is important to take their words seriously and evaluate them rather than getting all worked up and defensive. We must remember that we can easily be rendered ineffective if we get all worked up and refuse to listen to their side of the discussion before responding in a thoughtful, loving manner.

3. Point them to the Bible. Seriously. I can’t say this enough. My opinion doesn’t matter. Your opinion doesn’t matter. Every argument needs to be defended using the Word of God. If it can’t be, then just stop arguing. I realize that this can get confusing because people twist and warp the Word to suit their own lusts and desires. Something that has been super helpful to me regarding this particular thing is 2 Thessalonians 2:15–

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught,

whether by word or our epistle.

 

This reminds me that if the (true) church taught something for 2000 years, it didn’t just change ten or twenty or fifty years ago. If someone is trying to twist scripture to match this current (debased) culture, you can be sure they are not speaking the truth. While there have always been attacks on the Bible, our biblical understanding of doctrine has remained pretty stable within the genuine church for thousands of years. It’s only recently (last 100-200 years) that these attacks started in earnest on the Word and the traditional beliefs regarding the Word and its interpretation.

4. Respond lovingly and firmly and gently and humbly. We cannot be responsible for how people respond to us but we are most definitely responsible for how we respond to them. We must do so in a way that honors our heavenly Father.

5. Know when to walk away. We live in a culture of debate. Everyone wants to tell people their opinion. There is a lot of anger and ugliness when this happens. People no longer are willing to agree to disagree. Even in my own church, there are people who set themselves up as my enemy simply because I don’t agree with them (nothing breaks my heart more than this.) We must stand out as different in this area. We must point people to the Word and then, if they are unwilling to have a thoughtful discussion, we must walk away. Not only must we walk away but we must walk away without grudges, without bitterness, and without anger. We must walk away with love, with prayer, and with forgiveness in our hearts.

6. Recognize that it is the Holy Spirit who changes people’s hearts and minds. It’s such a relief to know that I don’t have to change any minds or hearts. I just speak the truth and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest. We can’t change a mind. And so we speak up and then we pray for that person.

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This is a tall order. We are all naturally defensive, prideful people. Only the Holy Spirit can make these things possible. Only the Holy Spirit can ensure that we do this the right way. If we rely on our own “intelligence” and methods, we will fail every time. (I am personally familiar with failure of this nature!)

Oh, my friends, don’t get discouraged. IF people are persecuting you, know that they persecuted Jesus before you. IF they are upset with you, know that we can and should expect it. IF you are 100% committed to God and His Word, taking the time to meditate and study what He has told us in His Word while humbly desiring to submit and obey everything within its pages, and this is happening to you, then these attacks are simply proof that you are on the straight and narrow road of LIFE.

Keep your heads up! You are not alone! And one of these days, the battle will be done and we will be together in heaven!

 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be

compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18

 

 

Preparing the Lemmings

Since the beginning of time, man has assumed that the world came into being through a Creator. This is across all cultures and lands, where you will find variations on biblical accounts (such as creation, the fall of man, and Noah and the flood).

While man has always had a rebellious heart and worked hard to remove the accountability of man to that Creator (through religions such as Deism), it wasn’t until the late 1700s that someone came up with the idea to just remove a Creator altogether. From that point on, various men put forth this idea, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the theory of evolution caught on through a man named Charles Darwin.

Now we find ourselves in a place where if we don’t believe in this ridiculous theory, we are viewed as unintellectual and even stupid.

Never mind that it goes against all natural laws and is absolutely impossible. Never mind that it takes more faith to believe that than to believe in a Creator. Never mind all those things. Just believe what we tell you. Or we will shame you and and ruin your reputation.

Sound familiar?

Fast forward over a hundred and fifty years. This has happened over and over again with so many different things, hasn’t it? Both within the church and without. They have convinced us that therapy and medication is our only hope for inner peace. That the new age practices of yoga and mindfulness will help us. We are told that it is normal for women to work outside the home and to lead in our churches. “They” have been prying our fingers from the Word of God and its literal interpretation for many years now.

Scientists, psychologists, specialists, professors, doctors, authors, preachers, and celebrities all wield a particular kind of power that is actually kind of strange and more than a little scary. We have been fully prepared to listen to any specialist or scientist rather than God. To believe what they tell us over what God’s Word tells us. And when they are all saying the same thing, it can become overwhelming in its wrongness.

And now many of these “professionals” are telling us that certain things work and certain things don’t. To follow certain paths and avoid others. Even though it is clear from the statistics and data that they are LYING.

And so here’s a reminder:

Truth is not determined by how many people believe it.

Read that again.

A million “professionals” can declare, publish, and affirm a lie while a handful hold to the verified truth. Who is right and who is wrong in this scenario?

More than a few years ago now, I read the story of John G Paton and his missionary adventures in the New Hebrides Islands (what is now known as Vanuatu). In it, he told the story of how he sat in his house with his family one night with native warriors all around. For some reason, they never attacked them. He was puzzled until, some years later, one of those warriors explained. When they came to kill the family, they had seen large men in white standing guard. Angels had protected that family.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I had remembered this story (it’s a memorable and comforting story!) but just couldn’t remember where I had read it. So I decided to do an internet search to see if I could find it. One of the articles that came up was a Snopes article “fact-checking” this event from the 1800s and declaring it false.

Dear readers, fact-checkers are not always right. And, I dare say, are often wrong. These are being used as a tool to sway and move the lemmings in a certain direction. There is a method to the madness of all that is going on right now.

And, once again, may I remind you that this is from both sides. Beware of both sides. Don’t align with either. Both are evil. The great reset side and the great awakening side are full of deception and lies.

The world is calling its lemmings to pick a side. Do you know what a lemming is? It’s a small rodent that has a long-standing myth that surrounds it: They will jump off a cliff en masse and commit suicide. How about that??

But we aren’t lemmings. We are people. And we have a Good Shepherd (John 10). Instead of looking to the “professionals” for our beliefs, we look to what the Word says. Instead of basing our lives (and the many decisions we are called to make) on internet posts and books and podcasts, we base them on the Bible. Instead of picking a side, we firmly plant our feet on God’s side.

We are the people of God and we are but pilgrims passing through. The waves of darkness and apostasy that are overtaking the world should not ruffle us as much as they do. (But, if we are honest, many of us are quite ruffled. We are nervous and upset and worried when we stop long enough to think about the future. Particularly, if we aren’t getting strength every day from the Word.)

So there are a few things we can do to keep ourselves from joining the lemmings. To set ourselves apart from the crowd. But we need to ask ourselves: Am I willing to do this? It’s not an easy route to take, to be sure. It’s a difficult and rocky path. But it is worth it and it is what we are called to do.

1. Read and study your Bible. I know I say this so often, but the reading and study of the Word by a humble and obedient soul cannot be over-emphasized. You see, as you read, many of the lies we have been fed about this world fall away as we recognize the Truth and the consistency of that Truth throughout the entire Book. It’s an amazing and incredible Book.

I heard a statistic the other day: 97% of people who call themselves a Christian have never read the entire Bible through. Are you one of those people? If you are, may I encourage you to make a change today? (Personally, I waited far, far too long to make this change and it is one of my biggest regrets in life.) We are powerless and vulnerable without God’s Word. It is what He has given us to live a victorious Christian life.

2. Value and search for the truth, no matter the cost. Ask God to show you the truth about what is going on in this world, no matter the consequences. One of the reasons so many people shy away from the truth is because it costs too much. It hurts too much. It’s often so much more pleasant to believe a lie. But we can’t expect to know the truth if we aren’t willing to pay the cost.

Humanity has always loved lies. From the Garden of Eden to this present day, we are so much more prone to listen to a pleasant lie than an unpleasant truth. And God even tells us in His Word about this, where He explains that the ungodly exchange the Truth of God for the lie (Romans 1:25).

But, as believers, this should not be so! We should be earnestly searching for the truth in all situations. We should be facing the world with open eyes and ears, willing to hear even the hardest of truths. Christians can face these hard truths because they have a secure future in Christ. No matter what happens in this world, we are safe from eternal harm.

3. Stop caring about popularity. Oh, how powerful peer pressure is. You can see the lemmings lining up to do as they are told because they want people to like them. They don’t want to stand out as different. They don’t want to make a scene. They don’t want others to think they are uncaring or mean-spirited. They want to be accepted and loved. As we are told that there are certain actions we must take in order to receive acceptance, love, and to look like we are a “nice person”, many cave to the pressure. But it’s important that we fully evaluate any decision before we bow to that pressure. Is this what is best or is this simply what is going to keep us from standing out as odd?

4. Expect to be ridiculed. As you make choices that go in direct contrast with the world, expect to be hated. The world has never liked the guy swimming upstream in a downstream world. They have never liked the guy who chooses the narrow, difficult path, instead of joining the throng on the easy, wide road. As you make choices that go against the crowd, these things will come.

Sometimes they come from a very sad and disheartening direction and family relationships are strained and friends are lost. Sometimes even Christian ones. These may be the price to pay if we search out the truth and follow it whole-heartedly.

 

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As we strive to live in this crazy insane world, may we choose to remember our identity: We are the people of God. We are not the lemmings of the world that can be swayed and moved any which way. As we see the lemmings prepared for the antichrist system, may we believers keep ourselves separate and apart, just as we are told to do in God’s Word (Romans 12:2).

 

 

(A Lot of) Lessons I Learned This Past Month (Part 2)

Earlier this week, I wrote PART 1 of this series. The purpose of this is to share how my month-long focus on missionary stories over on the Growing4Life Facebook page changed me. There were lots of lessons to be learned from these courageous men and women and I wanted to not only share what I’ve learned but to encourage you to do your own study of these men and women, as well.

I plan to put a PDF together with a list of the missionaries and the corresponding links and other resources I used during Missionary Month. If you’d like a copy just reply to this email (or if you are seeing this on social media, simply message me your email address.)

The first part of this series focused on some pretty foundational Christian principles. Things most of us already know but perhaps needed to be reminded of. This second part is going to be a little different as these things are applicable for all of us right now–calling for change in specific areas of our lives. At least this is the case for me. You can be your own judge… haha

So here we go. Prepare to have your toes stepped on (maybe)–

7. They had an eternal perspective. These missionaries were, without exception, focused on eternity. They cared little for their own lives as they boldly traversed jungles to reach hostile, savage tribes or subjected themselves and their families to filthy conditions and diseases that had been eradicated years before in their home countries. I thought I was doing a “pretty good job” overall at keeping an eternal perspective, but these missionaries challenged me. Their eternal perspective wasn’t only about keeping fear at bay or feeling peace and joy in their hearts. It was not self-centered. Their eternal perspective was God-centered (This is probably worth a whole post.) They wanted to bring Him glory and tell others about His plan of salvation, no matter the cost. They denied self, they sacrificed, they endured unthinkable conditions. All because they remembered what really matters. Oh, how important that our eternal perspective is God-centered and not self-centered.

8. Prayer matters– a lot! So many of these missionaries spoke about prayer in a living way that is unfamiliar to most of us. This was a vital part of their ministry and they challenged me to think more deeply about this issue of prayer. You see, I think we all say that we know prayer is important but few of us actually live like we believe this. But these missionaries knew prayer was important. And that they needed the prayer support of those across the seas as they endeavored to take the Gospel to foreign people groups who were soundly in the hands of Satan through demon worship and other pagan practices. Oh, to take prayer more seriously!

9. Music matters. Several of these missionaries mentioned the importance of Bible memory and hymns as they faced solitary confinement or other situations where they had no access to scripture. I don’t know what kind of music most of you listen to, but may I encourage you to pay attention to the lyrics? Would those lyrics strengthen and encourage you during a time of need and desperation? The music we listen to matters. A lot. It will either encourage us in our walk with God or it will move us away from Him and from sound doctrine. (Keep in mind that just because a song mentions God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit does NOT mean it is of sound doctrine. In fact, much of Christian contemporary and worship music is NOT doctrinally sound. Pay attention and be aware.) Protect and prepare yourself by listening to music that is God-honoring and faith-strengtheningOh, to listen to great songs of the faith that will be a balm to our souls during troubled times. 

10. Redeem the time. Oh, how much time we waste. I really had to reflect on this. Particularly when I considered the many Bible verses that came to the minds of these great Christians just when they needed them. How well do I know my Bible? How much have I memorized? God can’t use His Word in our lives if we don’t know it. And we can’t know it, unless we intentionally give our efforts to know it. Oh, how important to make Bible Study a priority!

I was also reminded that it is incredibly important to consider what kind of things we are putting into our minds. Not only music as mentioned earlier, but all entertainment. What do we want to remember if we are ever without TV, books, and music? What do we want filling our minds and hearts when we face difficult situations and unthinkable circumstances? Whatever our answer, THIS is what we should be listening to, memorizing, watching. THIS is what we should we spend the majority of our time on. Oh, to be more intentional with how I spend my time.

11. Stop Complaining. Oh, how condemned I felt after reading and listening to these testimonies. They are without necessities, facing the deaths of spouses and children, dealing with the indifference and hatred of those they want to help and they are doing it willingly for the cause of Christ. And then there’s me. Getting a little worked up because the customer service representative of the credit card company I called was so inept. Oh, how much I complain. Over stupid stuff. It’s honestly ridiculous. Oh, to stop being such a complainer!

 

SO WHO IS REALLY A HERO?

I get so very weary with those who are deemed “heroes” in America (not sure how it is in your country). Movie stars and sports figures, few who have done anything of value, are raised on a pedestal while those who are true heroes go completely unsung. A movie star acts and a sports figure plays. Neither of these things are worthy of honor. A true hero sacrifices. They sacrifice their own well-being, their own comfort and convenience, their own lives for a greater cause. And they inspire others to do the same!

Christian heroes do this for the cause of Christ. In my opinion, there are no greater heroes than these men and women who gave their lives for Christ. I can’t even imagine the crowns they will receive in heaven!

Oh, that we, too, may be Christian heroes wherever God has placed us!

 

 

 

The Fragrance of Christ

As I sit outside writing this morning, the incredible fragrance of honeysuckle wafts up to the porch on a light breeze every once in awhile. We have a bit of woods behind our house and the last few weeks of May and the beginning of June always bring the blossoming of, first, the wild roses and, shortly after, the honeysuckle– both filling the air with their wonderful scents.

But to some people, farmers and others, these plants are viewed as noxious weeds to be destroyed. Many don’t appreciate their amazing– albeit brief– time of glory each year and seek avidly to rid their landscape of these pests.

One person views them in a positive light and one person views them in a negative light.

As I was enjoying the scent of the honeysuckle the other evening, I examined my own life and wondered if I am the fragrance of Christ to those around me. I long to be, although that sinful nature does trip me up all too frequently!

What is the fragrance of Christ? What does it look like? It’s love and peace and joy. It’s selflessness and self-control. It’s honesty and patience and kindness.

But is that all there is to it? And if it is, then why are we viewed as noxious weeds to so many? Why does the world hate Christians so? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 helps us understand, showing us that, while we are the fragrance of life to a few, to many we are the fragrance of death(!)–

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us [d]diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?

None of the things listed above would ever make an enemy. Who doesn’t like someone who is kind and patient and loving? What is the fragrance of Christ that turns people off and makes them want to attack and destroy Christians?

Let’s turn to scripture to gain some insight. For it is there that we find some of these offensive principles that make people turn away from, reject, avoid, and rebel against God. It is here we find out why the world at large hates us Christians.

Being the fragrance of Christ to the world also means that–

–We are committed to the truth of the Gospel. We proclaim that Jesus is the only way. There are no good works we can do or supernatural, mystical happening we can experience to make us right with God. (John 14:6)

–We understand that we–and everyone else in this world– are not good people. We are all born sinners and are in desperate need of a Savior. (Romans 3:23)

–We intentionally surrender our own desires to live for God. We give up our dreams in order to obey God. We take up our cross and deny ourselves. (Matthew 16:24)

–We separate ourselves from the world. From its passion for success. From its definition of love. From its goals and values. From its entertainment. (James 4:4) (please note that I didn’t say we separate ourselves from the people of the world–for we are clearly told to reach the lost. But, according to scripture, we must separate from the world’s system. Contrary to today’s popular opinion, you don’t need to participate in the world and its entertainment to reach someone for Christ.)

–We trust God instead of self. We turn to the Bible for answers instead of to man’s wisdom. (Psalm 118:8)

–We expect persecution and trials as we live our Christian life. We don’t want them, but we understand that we are swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream. (2 Timothy 3:12)

There are so many more things the Bible teaches that we must stand upon. And these are things HATED by the world. We teach that women are the keepers of the home and are to submit to their husbands (Titus 2:4-5). That homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27). That we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Can you think of others?

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These things are not very popular to teach and preach and write about, are they? And they garner the antagonism and ridicule of the world and even much of the church. Only someone who is already a true believer or seeking after God will be drawn to these principles for life. Only this small group of people will recognize the benefit and blessing of a life lived in obedience to the principles laid out in the Word. Only these few will find these words life-giving, and comforting.

But the rest of the world (and much of the church) will view us as noxious weeds. People to be destroyed. An invasive plant to be gotten rid of.

And we are seeing this, aren’t we? My daughter-in-law sent a photo of a response someone sent to a Christian on Instagram. It was the very essence of what we are talking about. In a nutshell, this woman declared that Christians are a bane on society and should be destroyed. If Christianity is only about kindness and love, why would she declare this? It is because Christianity is about more than love. It’s about TRUTH.

There are a few things for us to reflect upon as we consider this idea of fragrance.

First, we should examine our own lives. Are we giving off the aroma of Christ in all ways? Or just the easy, appealing ways that will gain the acclaim of the world? This is tough and it’s getting tougher. We are all so susceptible to peer pressure. It is only through the strength of the Holy Spirit that we can speak the entire counsel of God and defend the Bible. It is only through His power that we can be the light of truth in this dark, dark world.

Second, I have to confess that one of the biggest puzzles to this for me is how Christians who love truth are often strongly disliked–and even hated–by other Christians. These are good people who are living for Christ. And, yet, when you declare someone to be a false teacher based on their own words and actions, they get mad at you. When you give clear documentation of a false doctrine or some other unpopular truth from God’s Word, they declare you to be negative or legalistic and ridicule you. What is going on here? If they are saved, why don’t they love the truth? Why don’t they want to see the Church and its members protected? I don’t have any answers but it is a puzzling and discouraging truth. If you are a watchmen on the wall, trying to protect the church, the arrows will come from both sides of the wall. And the arrows from inside the church hurt far, far worse than the ones coming from the world!

The perfect Christian life is to live like Christ. We will never attain that on this side of heaven, but this should be our desire. This will consist of those wonderful things that everyone loves but it will also consist of those things that aren’t so loved. To be a true representative for Christ, we must embrace all of who He is. Not just the parts that are pleasant.

And then we must expect, just like the wild rose and honeysuckle plants, to be delightful and pleasant to a few and to be viewed as a pernicious and virulent weed to most. This is the life of the true believer.

 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

John 15:18-20

 

 

 

Our Response to Christ’s Sacrifice

It is Good Friday. When I was younger, this was an official holiday. Banks and stores were closed and the mail wasn’t delivered as the population at large stopped and contemplated what Christ had done on the cross. At least that was the idea. I think that the actual contemplating had stopped long before I was born but tradition remained for a long time. Until one day, the holiday was just no longer.

But this is still the day, in fact the entire weekend, that we Christians focus on all that Christ has done for us. And, oh, what He has done! I believe I realize more and more each year the wickedness of my own heart and the significance of the gift that was given to me when Christ died on the cross.

As we continue to live in “limbo land” and wait for all the changes that will result from the upheaval to our “normal” lives in 2020, this gift has become even more precious, hasn’t it? And I think any of us who are genuinely born again has thought about this in a different light, as we wonder what it will cost us to continue to follow Jesus in the coming days.

But Christianity has never been costless. Or at least not for the majority of people in the world. We are simply moving into what has been the normal experience for Christians throughout history.

It is difficult for many of us to pay even the price of a scowl or an unkind word when we speak up for Jesus and so we remain silent. This is because we have been deceived by the wave of self-centered Christianity that has taken the world by storm. A Christianity where it’s all about God’s love and His “genie powers” to make our lives on this earth amazing.

But, while God’s love is certainly an integral part of the Gospel, we must continue to read God’s Word to find out what salvation means. What all it entails. You see, we aren’t saved so that God can fulfill our dreams and give us a great life on this earth. His Word makes this abundantly clear. And, while it is true that we experience peace and joy that the unsaved cannot experience, it is supernaturally experienced through the trials–not in the lack of them.

So what does God expect from us after we are saved? What does He have for us to do?

Let’s look to the Word for this answer–

Philippians 3:8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Matthew 6:20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Colossians 3:1-3 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

These verses clearly show us that after we are saved, our love for the world should start waning. Oh, for most of us this isn’t instant but, gradually, as we mature in Christ, the gleam of the world shows itself for what it is: Fool’s gold that has no value. The fame, the glory, the riches, the popularity of the world dim as we grow closer to Christ.

James doesn’t mince words as he also echoes this change in affections–

James 4:4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Not only are our affections changed, they MUST be changed if we are truly born again. For them not to be changed gives evidence that we aren’t saved at all since it is impossible to be friends with God and with the world at the same time.

As we stand for the truth of God’s Word in a world that hates Him, we will face difficulties and persecution. This is made clear throughout scripture–

Matthew 5:11-12  Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I Peter 4:12-14 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are [e]reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. [f]On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.

Christ died on the cross to give us life. What an awesome, incredible gift! But that life is to be lived for Him, doing the good works He has set out for us–

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

In response to God’s amazing gift of grace and mercy, we are to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Christ–

Luke 9:23-26 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross [b]daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.

We are to deny ourselves. Lose our lives (all earthly advance and glory) to live for Christ. If we are ashamed of Christ, He will be ashamed of us. In a Christian culture that promotes the complete opposite of these verses, these are sobering thoughts, are they not?

Biblical Christianity isn’t popular these days and it’s growing less popular by the minute. People think we are strange and odd and even dangerous (which makes no sense at all until you read John 8:44 and I Peter 5:8 and recognize Satan’s pure hatred for believers).

As we contemplate Christ’s sacrifice this weekend, may we also prepare ourselves to pay the price to follow Him to the end. No matter the cost.

And let’s remember that we aren’t relying on our own strength as we face the days ahead. (I can’t think of a more comforting thought than that, as my heart can tend to quiver at the road that lies ahead.) We know the ending to this old earth’s history. We know the King who will be victorious and we are on His side. He will give us the fortitude and courage to stand strong. May we proclaim Him to the end, no matter the cost!

 

 

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