church

Face It (Part 2)

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One of the most difficult things about standing up for the truth is figuring out what the truth really is. There are so many different interpretations and opinions and thoughts, that it can get a little crazy. For instance–

–Someone may think that putting red curtains in the church sanctuary is ungodly.

–Someone may think that driving a big SUV is a sin (I actually had someone say something similar to me when I was driving my Yukon XL).

–Perhaps someone thinks that eating certain foods is wrong.

–Someone else may think that all movie-going and TV-watching is sinful.

So, herein lies the question: How do I know if what I believe is actually truth or just my opinion?

There is and will always be only one way. We can only know truth by knowing what God’s Word says.

YES, I get that people have twisted and turned and interpreted and translated the Bible until it has become something that many people don’t trust and even more people don’t bother with (oh and, by the way, yes, it DOES matter what translation of scripture you use. Some have been seriously compromised.)  However, I believe that we can stand firm on the biblical doctrines of old. I say this because of what Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:15–

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

I believe Paul is referring to sound doctrine here, the biblical, true Christianity taught since Jesus Christ came to earth, not meaningless traditions that hold men hostage.

There are many who are trying to redefine Christianity to make it more palatable and acceptable to the masses and so they’ve changed the meanings and interpretation of verses we have understood differently for two thousand years. That’s what we need to be very wary of.  If it changes the way traditional Christian doctrine has been viewed through the ages, it is most likely not from God.

But, that being said, there are many times that we stand self-righteously on things that just do not matter.

My husband and I have run into this on many occasions while raising teenagers. In fact, often has been the time that I have been standing firmly, saying “NO, you may not do that,” when Eric (my husband) will look at me and ask, “Honey, really…why not?” And, I have to swallow my pride and concede when I come to the conclusion that I can give no biblical reason or principle to apply to the situation.

I can also think of several times that Eric, as a business owner and church board member, has chosen to concede on things he felt very strongly about, simply because they were not opinions derived from scripture.

If we are willing to compromise on these non-biblical issues, people will be more likely to listen to us when it is time to stand for biblical doctrine and principles. Humility and kindness and compromise go a long way and is critical for the stupid stuff in life that doesn’t matter if we want to be taken seriously about the stuff that does.

And when it’s hard to know the difference about if it’s right or if it’s wrong from a biblical standpoint, I’ll just be honest and let you know that  I tend to err on the side of standing instead of caving. This is because God’s approval is so much more important to me than man’s.

God grant us the wisdom to know what is Truth worth standing for and what are the situations unworthy of a grand stand.  We will only have respect and a listening audience when we know the difference.

p.s. If  you haven’t read part 1 of this series, you can find it here.

Face It

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I can’t remember where I heard this a few weeks ago, but wherever it was, I can’t stop thinking about it: The reason people refuse to face the truth is because it will cost them.

That is probably one of the most profound things I have heard in a very, very long time.

All of us have heard the excuses. But the bottom line, in most cases, is that facing the truth will cost something we don’t want to pay. And, many times, most of us don’t consider the greater cost at the end of the line.

I thought of this the other day when I watched a movie. It was an unrealistic, poorly cast movie about a couple who had adopted a little girl from an Eastern European country. In a few weeks, the wife came across some clues that this child was probably not an under-privileged child growing up in an orphanage, but instead a child maliciously stolen from her loving mother.  As she dug further, she became sure that this was the case and went to a federal agent. At one point in their conversation the agent looked this brave woman in the eye and told her that the outcome for this would not be good for her. The child would most likely be reunited with her biological mother and she would go back to a life of waiting for a baby to become available.  This was the time that she could choose to look the other way and move on with her new life of motherhood. No one would be the wiser. She could go home, treat this child as her own, and be a happy family.

Fortunately for the child’s real mother, this woman had the character and the courage to do what would cost her the most. She faced the truth.

Oh, she and her husband tried to rationalize keeping the baby for a few moments: The baby would have a better life in America and they could give her so many privileges and opportunities that she would never have in her country.  But when the decision had to be made, they bravely did the right thing.

Would we have done the same?

I would like to think so. But sometimes we can’t even face our teenagers. Our spouses. Our friends. Our bosses.

Most of us walk right by truth and try hard to ignore it. Consider these examples–

–Our child wants to do something which we know is not a good idea. We will often cave because the cost (them being mad at us or screaming “I hate you!”) is not a price we are willing to pay.

–We find out our boss or a co-worker is dishonest.  We will often ignore it because the cost (getting embroiled in drama, being harassed, or losing our job) is not worth it.

Many times, we can’t even face ourselves. Because to look at ourselves honestly is to see a sinner. And most of us do not want to see that. Even if we are saved and came to that conclusion a long time ago, we don’t want to be reminded of it over and over again.

And so we just live as if everything is just fine. Except everything is not fine.

There are a few of us who wisely look down the road and see if we don’t face the truth now, it will cost us in the end and so we do face the truth head-on –at least in the things that affect us personally.

But when it comes to a boss (who cares?) or our church (it’s none of my business) or a friend (it’s their life) we are much less apt to be willing to stick our noses in.

We often don’t have enough love for our co-workers and friends and church family to do what will help them the most because of the cost to ourselves.

And, honestly, I’ll grant you this: it takes a lot of tact, careful words, kindness, love, and, most of all, courage, to speak the truth, even when it’s going to hurt our reputations or affect our comfort level.

But perhaps being able to see ourselves and the world honestly and then being willing to act on what we see is one of the most courageous and vital things we can do.  Instead, many–if not most–of us have been molded by our culture to shy away from it. We have also been scared by our culture and what happens to people who stand for truth–especially for God’s Truth.

We don’t have to be a preacher to share God’s Truth, we just have to know it (by knowing His Word) and then share it and stand for it. It’s that simple. But it’s that difficult.

But let’s always remember this: The price we pay for speaking truth may be very, very dear.  And through the journey we may have many questions. But God faithfully and lovingly cares for us when we do the right thing. Always. He comes alongside those who stand for what is right in a way that sometimes seems even miraculous. Yes, it is difficult, but God is faithful and it is worth it.

 

 

 

How Then Shall We Respond?

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I normally shy away from writing about current events, but recently I saw an interview by a popular sports announcer regarding the sexual sin in this country. He was straight forward in expressing what God’s Word says and yet very loving in how he presented it. I admire him very much. It took great courage for him to say what he said.

Why?

Because, as Christians, our views are not only unpopular, but considered downright unloving and repressive in the eyes of the world. It has become an anything goes world and if anyone dares to say that something is actually wrong, they are labeled a bigot and many other choice words.

But this sports announcer hit on a very important topic in his little speech. It is this: I still love you, no matter what you do, but don’t call yourself a Christian while living in perpetual sin. That’s where it gets tough, doesn’t it?

These people want to call themselves believers, even though they go against everything in God’s Word.

So how do we respond?

For me, it is so much easier to extend grace to those who do not claim to be believers. How could they know what is right and wrong if they have not heard? Many in this country today have only a vague notion of who Jesus Christ is. Many have assumed that evolution and abortion and homosexuality are all quite normal views, because Christians have become so marginalized. It is a sad state of affairs, but a good majority of people do not realize that a Christian world view was normal just a short time ago in this country. And so they are doing what they have been taught to do by our public schools, our talk shows, and our magazines–look out for number one: themselves.  And honestly, can you blame them?  They don’t know any better.

The problem comes for me when people who call themselves Christians do the same thing. Scripture assures us that a true believer will not live a lifestyle of perpetual sin (I Corinthians 6:9; Matthew 7:16-20; I John 2:3-6). YES, Christians make mistakes and may get caught up in something for awhile, but the Holy Spirit convicts us and changes us, so that we cannot stay in that state for a lifetime. If we are doing something wrong, the Spirit’s presence creates in us such an unrest that we can’t find peace until we confess our sin. This is the marvelous, amazing work of the Spirit in the life of a true believer.

So how do we respond to these people who claim Christianity, while going against everything God stands for?

Many of us grow disgusted and angry. How dare they sully the name of my Lord with their profane and ungodly lives? Many of us say absolutely nothing. Hey, if they want to do such and such, it’s their lives. Many of us grow confused. Maybe what I was taught all of these years wasn’t really the right thing, after all, if the whole world says it’s wrong?

Thankfully, scripture shows us in many places what our proper response should be–

COLOSSIANS 4:5-6  Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

II CORINTHIANS 6:14  Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

2 THESSALONIANS 3:14-15 if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

I CORINTHIANS 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

 I CORINTHIANS 16:13-14 Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.

Could it be that God knew our human response is to grow angry in the face of opposition? Is that why the words “let all you do be done with love” is added after Paul’s exhortation to stand fast in the faith?

Note that in all of these verses, there is nothing about anger or malice. There is also a strong recommendation to avoid the company of those who claim to be a believer but aren’t living like one. This doesn’t mean we can’t be friends with them–we still need to pray for them and love them and talk with them but I do believe it means that we do not seek their company. They are not our closest confidantes and we should not turn to them for advice or to share our deepest struggles and joys.

This is a crazy, crazy world. I knew it was going the wrong direction even as a teenager, but not even I could have guessed the deplorable condition we would find ourselves in this many years later. As I watch brothers and sisters in Christ suffer persecution across the world, it is with the awareness that an immense thundercloud is just above our heads in this country.  We are kidding ourselves if we think the toleration that is extended to everyone else will be extended to us. God’s Word is clear that we will be hated in this world.

And so it comes down to this: do we stand or do we cave? Do we speak truth or do we back ourselves into a corner and try to remain inconspicuous?

And if we stand and speak, we are commanded to do so with love. Love for a lost world, love for blinded people who think they are going to heaven, love for those we meet each and every day who have no idea that Jesus can truly change their lives.

And we need to remember that the biblical definition of love is quite different than what the world is telling us. True love tells the truth. Worldly love says any opinion is valid.  True love extends grace and mercy. Worldly love is conditional. True love speaks with kindness and gentleness. Worldly love turns hostile and malicious in the face of disagreement.

May we stand strong but may we do so with true and biblical love!

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Saved From What?

1417807_33208070Wow. This is good. It seems like A.W. Pink should have written this yesterday, not many years ago. It shows me that what is going on now in Christianity has been going on for a very long time. This excerpt is from A.W. Pink’s Practical Christianity. I am not finished with it yet, but so far I have found it very interesting and thought-provoking. It makes me shudder to think of the many who believe they have obtained fire insurance from hell, but, unwilling to turn from their sins, will eventually learn the very sad truth that they were never saved in the first place. Here is why (in the words of A.W. Pink)–

Multitudes desire to be saved from hell (the natural instinct of self-preservation) who are quite unwilling to be saved from sin. Yes, there are tens of thousands who have been deluded into thinking that they have “accepted Christ as their Saviour,” whose lives show plainly that they reject Him as their Lord. For a sinner to obtain the pardon of God he must “forsake his way” (Isa. 55:7). No man can turn to God until he turns from idols (1 Thess. 1:9). Thus insisted the Lord Jesus, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). The terrible thing is that so many preachers today, under the pretence of magnifying the grace of God, have represented Christ as the Minister of sin; as One who has, through His atoning sacrifice, procured an indulgence for men to continue gratifying their fleshly and worldly lusts. Provided a man professes to believe in the virgin birth and vicarious death of Christ, and claims to be resting upon Him alone for salvation, he may pass for a real Christian almost anywhere today, even though his daily life may be no different from that of the moral worldling who makes no profession at all. The Devil is chloroforming thousands into hell by this very delusion. The Lord Jesus asks, “Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46); and insists, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). The hardest task before most of us is not to learn, but to unlearn. Many of God’s own children have drunk so deeply of the sweetened poison of Satan that it is by no means easy to get it out of their systems; and while it remains in them it stupefies their understanding. So much is this the case that the first time one of them reads an article like this it is apt to strike him as an open attack upon the sufficiency of Christ’s finished ‘work, as though we were here teaching that the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb needed to be plussed by something from the creature. Not so. Nothing but, the merits of Immanuel can ever give any sinner title to stand before the ineffably holy God. But what we are now contending for is, When does God impute to any sinner the righteousness of Christ? Certainly not while he is opposed to Him. Moreover, we do not honour the work of Christ until we correctly define what that work was designed to effect. The Lord of glory did not come here and die to procure the pardon of our sins, and take us to heaven while our hearts still remain cleaving to the earth. No, He came here to prepare a way to heaven (John 10:4; 14:4; Heb. 10:20-22; 1 Peter 2:21), to call men into that way, that by His precepts and promises, His example and spirit, He might form and fashion their souls to that glorious state, and make them willing to abandon all things for it. He lived and died so that His Spirit should come and quicken the dead sinners into newness of life, make them new creatures in Himself, and cause them to sojourn in this world as those who are not of it, as those whose hearts have already departed from it. Christ did not come here to render a change of heart, repentance, faith, personal holiness, loving God supremely and obeying Him unreservedly, as unnecessary, or salvation as possible without them. How passing strange that any suppose He did! “Many people think that when we preach salvation, we mean salvation from going to hell. We do mean that, but we mean a great deal more: we preach salvation from sin; we say that Christ is able to save a man; and we mean by that that He is able to save him from sin and to make him holy; to make him a new man. No person has any right to say ‘I am saved,’ while he continues in sin as he did before. How can you be saved from sin while you are living in it? A man that is drowning cannot say he is saved from the water while he is sinking in it; a man that is frostbitten cannot say, with any truth, that he is saved from the cold while he is stiffened in the wintry blast. No, man, Christ did not come to save thee in thy sins, but to save thee from thy sins, not to make the disease so that it should not kill thee, but to let it remain in itself mortal, and, nevertheless, to remove it from thee, and thee from it. Christ Jesus came then to heal us from the plague of sin, to touch us with His hand and say ‘I will, be thou clean’”(C. H. Spurgeon, on Matt. 9:12). They who do not yearn after holiness of heart and righteousness of life are only deceiving themselves when they suppose they desire to be saved by Christ. The plain fact is, all that is wanted by so many today is merely a soothing portion of their conscience, which will enable them to go on comfortably in a course of self-pleasing which will permit them to continue their worldly ways without the fear of eternal punishment. Human nature is the same the world over; that wretched instinct which causes multitudes to believe that paying a papist priest a few dollars procures forgiveness of all their past sins, and an “indulgence” for future ones, moves other multitudes to devour greedily the lie that, with an unbroken and impenitent heart, by a mere act of the will, they may “believe in Christ,” and thereby obtain not only God’s pardon for past sins but an “eternal security,” no matter what they do or do not do in the future.

Pink, A.W. (2010-07-26). Practical Christianity. Kindle Edition.

The Real Deal

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We were sitting in Friendly’s waiting for our ice cream.  Normally we don’t get dessert with dinner, but who can skip dessert at Friendly’s?  As we waited, a waitress brought out some luscious-looking sundaes to a booth across the restaurant, one of them being a mint chip sundae with hot fudge. And suddenly, the air was filled with the aroma of mint chocolate! “Wow! Can I smell that from here?” said my husband in disbelief.

Unbeknownst to him, I had pulled out my mint chocolate hand sanitizer to remove the stickiness from my hands at just the same moment the waitress had brought out the yummy looking sundaes. We all started laughing because the timing was so impeccable. Of course, we couldn’t smell the ice cream from across the store. But my hand sanitizer gave us the illusion that we could.

Many churches are becoming a little like this. They smell like the church. They look like the church. But when you walk in the doors, they aren’t really functioning like a biblical church.

While church is a great place to feel loved and to fellowship and perhaps sometimes to even win the lost, there are some other really important functions that get totally ignored or are done rather as an afterthought.

The first and most important job of a church is to teach doctrine. Paul mentions this word in several of his letters. I Timothy 1:3 and Titus 2:1 are two of them. Doctrine has become a bit of a “bad” word in most churches. That is because people aren’t interested in learning biblical doctrine.  The word makes many cringe. But doctrine simply means “something that is taught; teachings collectively” according to dictionary.com. Paul urges ministers to teach their flocks about what the Bible says. That is the most important priority.

I Timothy 4 shows us another important duty of a church:  Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;  for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.  If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.

Church leaders have a responsibility to help their flocks discern.  There are a lot of false teachings floating around out there.  But because the world’s philosophy of  “if you believe it, it’s true for you” has crept into the church, church leaders have become afraid of confrontations. And I can see why, as most times accusations start flying immediately and the leaders are branded narrow-minded and old-fashioned and stuck in tradition and too uptight. But Paul expressly commands ministers to teach discernment. Churches need to be willing to do this.

And, finally, one other important job of a church is to discipline.  One of the passages that talks about this is I Timothy 5:20 where Paul urges elders to rebuke those who are sinning in the presence of all, that the rest may fear. Most churches ignore any passage on church discipline. And, honestly, I can understand why. In this day and age, you are considered judgmental and narrow-minded if you stand against any sin.  But does this excuse the church from doing it?

These are three  important jobs of a biblical church: teach doctrine, protect from false doctrine, and discipline wayward believers.

We have been sold the lie that churches only exist to save the lost but that isn’t biblical. While many have been drawn to a church service and been saved there, that is not its main purpose.  We have been sold the lie that church is about experiencing love and community. While many of us have made wonderful friends and enjoy being part of a community, that is not its main purpose.

I have no idea what type of church you attend.  And finding a good, solid, biblical church is getting harder every day.  But there are still some good ones around. I hope you are in one of them.

 

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: The Servant of God

1340654_38854447Currently, I am studying First Thessalonians in my personal devotions. While studying chapter two, I came across this bit of commentary, which I thought was excellent. It is regarding spiritual leadership and the cost involved. Although most reading this will not be pastors or spiritual leaders in an official sense, there are many of us who function as spiritual leaders for our families, our Sunday School classes, or in some other way. These wise words are thought-provoking for all of us–

The servant of God preaches the true, unmitigated message God has laid out in His Word, not some other message. He does so for the sake of truth, not for personal popularity. And when opposition comes, he trusts in the power of God and stays obedient to his calling. All that was true of Paul and his companions. As with all dedicated preachers of the gospel they counted the cost of faithfully confronting sinners with the truth and rested boldly in the sovereign, supreme power of God.

The apostle Paul knew he could be confident in God’s power because he was committed to God’s truth, not only in his preaching but also in his living. Enemies of the truth often try to destroy ministers of the gospel by persecution. But when that does not work, as it did not with Paul, they try to undermine people’s trust in the spiritual leader’s message or his personal integrity.

And another excerpt…

Even the uniquely gifted apostle Paul asked the question, “And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16) He realized that no man could effectively discharge the immense obligation of spiritual leadership by human wisdom, effort, and strength alone. Only God can provide the power to be an effective leader.

 

Just how big is our God, anyway?

1387263_99982162By now, most of us are aware of Rob Bell’s fall off the deep end of theology in the last six months or so. This was made clear this past week when he promoted gay marriage.  No longer can he be called an evangelical. And, while I find his position on gay marriage alarming, it’s what he said about God and His Word that is most disturbing. Check out a few of these quotes —

“I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”*

“I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn’t work,” he asserted. “I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, evangelical subculture that was told ‘we’re gonna change the thing’ and they haven’t. And they actually have turned away lots of people.”*

Do you see his focus here? It is people and what they want. It is not God.

But wait a minute.

Isn’t this the logical conclusion to where the church has been headed for a long time? Several decades ago, we started believing the lie that we need to be more like the world so that we could “relate better.” I mean how can we witness to those around us if we aren’t watching the same movies, going to the bars with them, or hanging out at poker night? And so worldliness entered the church under the guise of “witnessing”.

And then, in a matter of a few short years, this philosophy had entered the church.

And the cry was heard all ’round America! The church is dying! We have to save her! The only way is by making unbelievers more comfortable. Let’s make unbelievers want to come to church.

And so we changed everything.

We changed how long the service is, we changed the style of music, we changed the seats, and we changed the purpose.

And then, a few years after that, we still weren’t convinced that we were drawing enough people, and so we brought poker games, yoga classes, and secular entertainment into the church.

And we forgot.

We forgot that it is God who changes hearts and draws them to himself.  It isn’t us.

John 6:44 makes this clear: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.

So you, see, I am not that surprised at Rob Bell’s departure from adhering to God’s Word. After all, God’s Word is going to sound harsh, unloving, and ridiculous to rebellious sinners. They aren’t going to like it.  If it is preached without apology, they are going to squirm uncomfortably. But his departure is just the natural progression of a church that has made attracting these rebellious sinners their top priority.

No, change isn’t all bad. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with new music or a shorter service. The error comes when these changes are what we think we have to do in order to draw a dying world.

Yes, we need to evangelize. It is one of our top priorities to share the gospel. But how dare we corrupt it by changing it, and skewing it, and tainting it with the world?

The world’s salvation isn’t dependent upon our methods.

God is bigger than our methods. He is bigger than our ideas and our plans.

We are to glorify Him and magnify Him and to share His plan of salvation. This can be –this has to be– done without contaminating ourselves with the ways of the world.

And so, Mr. Bell, I am not surprised with your departure from biblical doctrine. I expect many more will follow after you.

Philippians 1:9-11

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

*http://christiannews.net/2013/03/18/no-hell-bell-comes-out-in-support-of-homosexuality-tells-narrow-christians-to-repent/

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Let the Children Come

IMG_0749How precious are the souls of children!  For some reason, many of us mistakenly believe that working with children is somehow less important than working with adults. But in Matthew 19:13-15, we read the beautiful story of Jesus’s interest in the little children. They were worthy of His time and they should be worthy of ours. This song by Michael Card, written about that passage, touched my heart when I heard it the other day. Oh, how precious are the children! And oh, how right Michael Card is when he wrote the line: The springtime of their life decides the adults they’ll become. 

What a privilege it is to serve children. I thank God for godly teachers and Sunday School teachers and mentors. God has used so many of them to change lives. May God bless them!

LET THE CHILDREN COME

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Jesus looked so weary
from the worries of the day
But the look on his face lightened
when the children come His way
Before He could reach out to them
and join them in their play
His grown-up band of followers
told the kids to go away
 
Let the Children Come
Don’t dare drive them away
And then the kingdom comes
Hear the holy, foolish things they sayIMG_1069
The springtime of their life decides 
the adults they’ll become
So let the children come
Please let the children come
 
The golden gift of childhood 
Lasts a lifetime if you try
The simple trusting faith they hold
Keeps scholars mystified
And so the Lord adopts us
As His daughters and His sons
For the Kingdom is for Children
So please let the children come
 IMG_1349
Let the Children Come
Don’t dare drive them away
And then the kingdom comes
Hear the holy, foolish things they say
The springtime of their life decides 
the adults they’ll become
So let the children come
Please let the children comeIMG_3396IMG_2812 IMG_1079
 
 

Would I be ready for this?

 torture

What do the following people have in common:

Timothy, Symphorosa, Germanicus, Blandina, Ponticus, Felicitas, Perpetua, Cecilia,  Julian, Denisa, Alexander,  Epimachus,  and Agatha?

Any ideas? Are these names ringing a bell, somewhere from the deep recesses of your mind?

Every single one of these listed above (and thousands and thousands more) were martyred under the Roman government at one time or another. Here’s a quick rundown of how they entered heaven:

Timothy – reproved the idolatry of the people and was beaten with clubs so badly that he died from the bruises within 2 days.

Symphorosa – refused to sacrifice to heathen deities, along with her seven sons. She was scourged and then hung up by the hair of her head; after a time a large stone was thrown around her neck and she was thrown in the river.  All seven sons were fastened to seven posts with pullies and torn asunder, all their limbs dislocated; they were all eventually stabbed, except for the youngest who was sawed in half.

Germanicus – a young man, delivered to the wild beasts; he handled his death with such astonishing courage, several pagans were converted.

Blandina – Attached to a pole on the ground and exposed to the wild beasts for food; during this time her earnest prayers encouraged others; The wild beasts wouldn’t touch her. She was sent back to prison and forced to endure all kinds of torture, and then was eventually slain.

Ponticus – A 15 year old boy, who was in prison with Blandina and partook of the same sufferings and torture, eventually dying by the sword, as well.

Felicitas – A very pregnant young woman who, along with another lady named Perpetua, were forced to run between hunters of wild beasts and they were severely lashed; they were then stripped and thrown to a wild bull, where they were gored dreadfully, and then finally perished by the sword.

Cecilia – a young lady of good family, who converted her husband and brother, who were beheaded, and also the officer who led them to their execution, who was also beheaded; she was forced naked into a scalding bath for a considerable time; eventually she was beheaded with a sword.

Julian – He was put into a bag with serpents and scorpions and thrown into the sea.

Denisa – a 16 year old girl who was beheaded for her faith.

Alexander & Epimachus – beat with staves (plural of staffs), torn with hooks, and, at length, burned with fire.

Agatha – a godly and very beautiful Sicilian woman who caught the eye of the Sicilian governor. When put into a position to compromise her faith, she refused, and therefore she was “scourged, burnt with red hot irons, and torn with sharp hooks. Having borne these torments with admirable fortitude, she was next laid naked upon live coals, intermingled with glass, and then being carried back to prison, she there expired on the 5th of Feb, 251.”

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Perhaps I should have not written so many of these stories. I couldn’t decide which ones to use and which ones not to. There are dozens more and I am only a few pages in the book Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Here’s the thing — these were all REAL people. So, yes, they lived a long time ago but that doesn’t make them any less real. A 15 year old boy, a 16 year old girl, a pregnant woman, wealthy people, poor slaves, bishops, and beautiful women. All perished at the hands of evil men and women, whom Satan used in his efforts to douse the light of Christianity.

But it didn’t work! Here’s what it says regarding one of the persecutions: “but though the persecuting malice raged, yet the gospel shone with resplendent brightness; and, firm as an impregnable rock, withstood the attacks of its boisterous enemies with success.”

Fast forward 2000 years. Most of us have no clue what it means to suffer for Christ. Many of us wonder if we would choose to do so, if it really came to that.

I can’t help wondering if it will. Soon. Each year brings more and more persecution to those who stand firm on biblical Christianity. The persecution is nothing like those our persecuted brothers and sisters faced all those years ago, or even what many of our Christian brothers and sisters face in foreign lands. But if it comes, will we be ready?

I think it comes down to this: If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, Christianity isn’t a religion, it is your whole life. There is no part that remains untouched by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  We know that we are condemned to hell without Jesus’s death and resurrection and we won’t trade anything — not worldly reputation, material wealth, nor our very life– for it.

As I write this, I feel very weak as I read the sufferings of those mentioned above. I imagine my body being torn by hooks or burnt by scalding water or hot coals and I shudder and cringe. Lord, am I strong enough to withstand that?

But it’s not my strength that will see me through that day, should it come. It’s HIS.

The men and women who have died and continue to die for their faith in Jesus Christ do not do so on their own strength. They can’t sing and pray while being tortured on their human strength. Only God can supernaturally supply that strength. We are so far from needing that kind of strength in our own lives that it is a completely foreign thought to us.

Is it coming? I don’t know. I tend to think it is. We’d like to think that man could never become so evil again, but if we read recent history –of Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot– or we follow current events–Sudan, Eritrea, and Iran, for example–we can see that men are still coming up with horrible ways to torture their fellow man.

Will I be strong enough to stand if that day comes to America? Only if I rest in God and draw on the strength that He will supply only to those who are truly His.

 

Find Foxe’s Book of Martyrs here.

 

 

The lemon that never grew up

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I have this Meyer lemon tree that is actually still living and it’s been almost a year. I am not known for my indoor green thumb (it only works outdoors) and so no one is more surprised than me that the tree is still alive.

But here is the strange part: do you see that lemon hanging off the tree that looks a lot like a lime? That thing has been hanging there since last fall. The plant blossomed profusely but only one baby lemon started growing. It kept growing and growing and then one day it just stopped. And it has looked like this –like a lime–for the last six months at least.

I know I have to cut it off. I am sure it is taking valuable nutrients from the plant. But I just hate to do it.

I wonder if there are a bunch of us Christians walking around half-ripe? We never mature. We just hang on to the vine, taking valuable nutrients and energy from the other lemons.

Of course, not growing up is a popular thing to do in this country.  Just watch any sitcom on TV where you will find men portrayed as video-game-playing, crude, joke-cracking boys stuck in their teens. They need their wives to guide and direct them to be responsible. What a bunch of nonsense!

Women, on the other hand, are the focus of the commercials where we are conditioned to believe that growing up — growing mature — is bad. Looking young is the ultimate goal.  Products line the shelves that help keep the wrinkles at bay and the gray hair covered.

And, maybe unknowingly, this has transferred to the Church, where so many of us have no interest in growing up.

Paul compares immature Christians to babies who are still on milk (Hebrews 5:12-14). These Christians should be eating meat, but they are still drinking only milk.  Instead of being the teacher, they still need to be taught.

If we choose to remain half-ripe or immature, a few consequences take place that are worth some consideration:

1) We are never able to glorify God in the way that we should.

2) We set a terrible example for our children.

3) We rob the Church of precious energy that should be poured into new babes in Christ.

So how do we grow up? I really only know of one way: Read and study the Word of God. While this is a simple thing to do, there are some principles to follow in our study.

1) Read it in context, not pulling verses out from everywhere to fit our own personal situation.

2) Find a good, traditional commentary or Bible Study guide to help (I highly recommend the resources at Grace to You).

3) Listen to solid, biblical preachers, not only in church, but also on podcast or mp3.  (Both Grace to You and Truth for Life are filled with mp3s available to listeners at no charge. They are invaluable resources for helping me understand difficult passages. )

4) We need to have the proper heart attitude. We need to approach our study with humility and a willingness to change. If we approach God’s Word with pride and arrogance, we will not grow.  If we approach God’s Word with a selfish heart, we will not grow.

5) We can’t expect to fill our hearts and minds with everything God hates for 12 hours a day (music, books, tv, movies, talk radio) and then expect to grow because we read the Bible for 30 minutes. Discernment is critical.

I wish I could shout to the whole Christian world the importance of studying God’s Word. So many of us don’t do it. Some of us know we should but we just don’t make time. Some of us don’t even try–after all, we have our fire insurance. And some of us languish in the world of half-page devotionals with one verse, never venturing into the true study of God’s Word. Don’t get me wrong–there is nothing wrong with devotionals. They just should never replace actual study of God’s Word.

And, so, the choice to grow past the half-ripe stage is up to us. Are we going to hang onto the branch, never ripening, like that lemon of mine or are we going to take ownership of our spiritual health and grow up?

A.W. Tozer puts it better than I ever could: “Why do some persons “find” God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience? Of course, the will of God is the same for all. He has no favorites within His household. All He has ever done for any of His children He will do for all of His children. The difference lies not with God but with us.”

 

 

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