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Forgiven…Loved…..Transformed!

This isn’t fake news

2 Kings 18:29-30 – This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’

If you have been anywhere in America over the past year, you have heard one phrase thrown about a lot, “fake news.”

The Republican party uses that term to damage the Democrats. The Democrats use that to try and implicate the President in lies. The President uses that term to divert attention away from himself and place it on anyone who opposes him.

But fake news isn’t a new phenomenon.

It has been around for several thousand years.

During the time of Hezekiah’s reign in Judah, Sennacherib from Assyria attacked all the cities of Judah and captured them.

2 Kings 18:31-32 – “Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern,  until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!

Hezekiah was a good king.

He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

Because of this, even though the fake news affected his people and himself, he trusted in the Lord.

They tore their clothes and went to the Lord in prayer. Isaiah responded to them with the word from the Lord. He told them not to worry because the Assyrians were evil and Judah was doing right in the eyes of the Lord and that they would not only be delivered from the Assyrians, but the Assyrians would be destroyed.

2 Kings 18:32-35 – “Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’  Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?  Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand?  Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”

The fake news continued.

But Hezekiah remained faithful to the Lord and convinced his people to do so as well. He showed his example of being faithful to the Lord and Judah followed his example.

And the Lord showed up.

The Assyrian army was destroyed. 185,000 Assyrian were destroyed and Sennacherib, king of Assyria, ran away from his armies and to Ninevah, where his sons decided to kill him.

Today we are surrounded by fake news.

I am not going to claim to know which voice in the media is the right one. I am also not going to claim to know which political voice is correct.

But one voice has remained constant throughout the ages, God’s.

The Bible is timeless.

It holds answers to all of today’s problems. In essence, there is but one answer, Jesus.

If we as a people, a nation, or an individual humble ourselves before God and wait for Him to move on our behalf then He will show up in a mighty way. He will deliver us from our enemies. He will heal our lands. He will heal our bodies. He will heal our relationships.

All we need to do is pray and wait for Him to move.

And He will.

This message is for everyone!

Are you a politician? Seek the Lord first.

Are you clergy? Seek the Lord first.

Are you a husband or wife who is struggling in your relationship? Seek the Lord first.

Are you looking to change your situation at work or home? Seek the Lord first.

We can easily get distracted by reaching out to friends, family, coworkers, and others to get our information. But if we don’t start with the Bible, then there is a good chance we are getting fake news.

We need to go to the truth before we seek the fake.

So as you listen to all the “words of wisdom” out there, before you pick up another newspaper or another commentary or another radio show or another TV broadcast or another politician or another person, reach for the Word of God. Seek the Kingdom of God first and then the truth will be given to you.

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God of First Chances

“Don’t worry, Christian, God is god of second chances.”

I’ve never shied away from phrases and statements that others would see as controversial. I also have not turned away from taking statements that church sees as slam dunk theology and review them harshly.

I do not like “easy theology.”

Just because a pastor or celebrity or politician says something, it doesn’t mean that I need to simply accept it.

The Bible is clear about it, we need to test everything to Scripture.

1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to say to someone who has screwed up, “Don’t worry, we all sin. But God gives us a chance to make it right. Oh, and if you screw up again, He will give you yet another chance. You have unlimited chances, Christian.”

But is this really true?

We love to think of God as all-loving and fair according to OUR standards of those words. We think of the coach of the little kid coach-pitch baseball team. The coach throws the first ball in there and the kid swings and misses.  He throws it in there again. Another miss. A third time, yet another miss. By this time in baseball, the batter would be out and we would move on to the next ball. But the coach has bucket filled with baseballs that he is going to throw at this kid. After the 15th ball crosses the plate, the coach then runs up to the batter’s box and sets up a ball tee and instructs the kid on how to hit it.

We think of God as that coach. We miss the mark and God gives us another chance. Miss again? Don’t worry, here is another ball crossing the plate. And if you happen to go through all the balls crossing the plate, don’t worry, God will make it easier for us to hit the mark by setting up a ball tee.

But is this REALLY what Christ came to die for? Is THAT the Good News of the Bible?

It is easy to see where this kind of thinking comes from. If we take the Bible out of context, we can make the jump from right context to easy-believism. It was God, after all, that gave Adam and Eve another opportunity at life. It was God that gave the Israelites several chances to become His people. It was God that saved Jonah, even though he denied Him. It was God who still turned Peter into a great leader and evangelist even though he denied Him three times.

If I am having a bad day and screwed up, these are definitely stories that console my spirit.

But there are many stories of God only giving people a first chance in the Bible and then making the call to end their life because of the sin they committed.

Look at people like Jeroboam or Ahab. Because of disobeying the Lord, they were taken out. Or what about Ananias and Sapphira? They lied to the disciples, and to God. The Lord did not give them a second chance. They were struck dead immediately.

Just because someone believes that God exists does not shield them from feeling God’s wrath or judgment.

Everyone is going to mess up.

We need to pay the consequences for those actions.

Galatians 6:7 – Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

But what makes it different for some people than for others?

Best as I can tell, it is the condition of the heart. When you look at the kings of both Israel and Judah listed in the Old Testament, the conditions of their hearts defined their punishment.

What about the Israelites in the desert? God destroyed some of them because of the conditions of their hearts.

Ananias and Saphira refused to repent, thus lying to God. Their hearts were not completely given to God.

All those people did evil in the sight of the Lord.

I believe that if we constantly think that God will gloss over our sins, then we challenge His authority. And, ultimately, it is that which God is angered about.

But we, especially Christians, do it all the time!

Why, when we know the end result of what happened to Ananias and Saphira, would we challenge God?

Ultimately, it comes to us. We think of ourselves as the beginning, middle and ending of our universes. When we think of ourselves higher than we are, then we believe that our feelings, our views and our lives are greater than others, including God.

Many times we can mask that self-centeredness. We do it well.

2 Timothy 3:1-4 – But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God

“I was only doing this to help someone else.”

We’ve said it many times before. Ananias and Saphira probably had the interests of each other in mind when they decided together to keep the money they had made instead of giving it to God. The kings of Israel and Judah probably had the overall interests of their people at heart when they made decisions that were “evil in the sight of the Lord.” The Israelites were thinking of their families and future families as they worked to convince Moses to turn back around and go to Egypt.

But what we fail to remember is that God will take care of us.

The is the epitome of pride.

When we believe either that we are the ones who command our destinies or that our problems are so big that God cannot handle it we say that God is insufficient.

It is that pride that needs to be broken in us.

It is that pride that leads us to make incorrect choices.

It is that pride that holds with it consequences that require a fully sovereign and loving God to heal the damage that is done.

Contrary to what the world believes, God is not filled with malice and rage. Does He get angry? Of course. But He gets angry because He loves us so deeply.

But the world, and in many cases Christians, believe that God has brought about the problems we face because He is filled with evil tendencies.

That simply isn’t so.

God loves us so deeply that He wants us to have a free choice. He wants us to experience all of His qualities. He made us in His image for that purpose.

Love.

If God didn’t love us so deeply, He would have made us robots that He could control, not children He can pour into.

And if He withheld the consequences to our actions, we would go through this life not knowing the truth about them. His power would be weakened if He chose to turn a blind eye to consequences.

Understand that growth means pain sometimes. We make our choices. We reap the harvest of what we sow.

While it isn’t easy to accept consequences, it is needed in order to grow.

So when we mess up, understand there will be a consequence to that action. God won’t necessarily stop the bad things from happening in your life. He will more than likely allow them to happen.

It refines you.

Accept it.

Allow the consequence.

Relax a little and know that God is sovereign and while He won’t remove the bad stuff from your life, He will be with you through it all so that you are given the opportunity to grow.

Hebrews 12:11 – For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Uriah the Hittite

2 Samuel 11:2 – Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.

If you’ve been around church long enough, you know the story. King David is walking on his roof one day and looks down to see a woman bathing. That woman is Bathsheba. David has his servants go tell her that he wants to see her. She arrives to his quarters and he sleeps with her. The Bible isn’t clear as to whether it is rape or adultery. In the grand scheme of things, that is inconsequential to the story anyway because both are acts of evil and depravity regardless of our emotions about each act.

After he sleeps with her she becomes pregnant. David then proceeds to hatch a plan to kill her husband, Uriah the Hittite, and take her as one of his wives.

I have heard this story over and over again in church settings. It has been used in two different ways. The first is about the dangers of adultery. The second is how sin always takes you farther than you want to go.

But one thing is clear during every re-telling of this story: it is always about David and Bathsheba. There is usually something that is either missing or glossed over, Bathsheba’s husband had a name.

2 Samuel 11:3 – So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”

If we believe the Bible to be inerrant and infallible, then there clearly needs to be a meaning behind why we learn about the name of Uriah the Hittite. In the New Testament, can you tell me who the church leaders were for most of the churches that Paul wrote letters to? Can you tell me the names of the 70 others who followed Jesus? The Bible is filled with many times where names aren’t significant so they aren’t mentioned. But in this case, the person who is sinned against is named.

It is Uriah the Hittite.

So what do we know about him?

First, he was a Hittite. That means he was a gentile convert to Judaism. Many scholars believe that Uriah was one of the original Jebusite inhabitants of Jerusalem and of Hittite origin. Depending on the etymology of the word, if it came from the Hurian name Ariya then it would mean king or ruler. If it is related to the name Araunah then it would show he is a successor in leadership in the Jebusite society, possibly even the successor to the king.

Many translate the name to mean “Light of Jehovah” or “God is my light.”

Under David’s reign, Uriah was one of 30 commanders of the army in how it was divided. Many of David’s officers were foreigners, so having Uriah, a Hittite and foreigner, was not unusual. He was married to Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam. This is perhaps the same Eliam related to Ahithophel. Based on Nathan’s story in 2 Samuel 12, Uriah loved Bathsheba and was devoted to her. He was recalled from the war with Ammon around 1035 BC. David recalled him so that he would hopefully have sex with his wife and hide the pregnancy. What David didn’t expect was Uriah’s strong sense of duty. He refused to go home when his brothers in the war were sleeping alone on the ground so he did the same in Jerusalem. David sends him back into the battle and tells his supreme commander to send him on a suicide mission in which Uriah perished.

The touching part of this story is that Uriah died never knowing his wife slept with David.

The reason I bring up this story, and the reason I believe we actually learn of Uriah’s name, is because it sets up a typical Hebrew parable that teaches through repetition of contrast.  On three separate occasions we learn that Uriah is different from David.

2 Samuel 11:6 – Then David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David.

In the first scenario, when David recalls Uriah from the war to sleep with his wife. Uriah refused. He said he could not stand to be in comfort and in the arms of his wife while his fellow soldiers were in harm’s way on the battlefield. Yet, during this war, this is where we find David. We see him in comfort and in the arms of women. This places more integrity on Uriah than on David in this circumstance. But it must only be a short lapse in judgment on David’s part, right? Surely he will make everything right.

Nope.

In the second scenario, David gets Uriah drunk in hopes that he will stumble home and have sex with his wife in the comfort of his bed. But he didn’t. He went back to sleep on the ground. Even while drunk it is shown that Uriah’s principles are stronger than David’s. Unfortunately, we find that Uriah’s principles are just the thing that is going to get him killed.

2 Samuel 11:15 – And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die.”

Finally, David hatches a plot to kill Uriah. Not only Uriah, but others will also die. David hands a message for Joab, his commander, that says to send Uriah on the suicide mission. Uriah goes back into battle, not caring for his own safety but for the safety of the king. David send Uriah to die so that David didn’t have to come clean.

The contrasts in those scenarios remind me of Peter denying Jesus.

David’s response to Joab is classic humanity. Basically, David tells Joab, “Don’t be upset, that’s the way life works.”

It is amazing how we can look around and get so cynical and say, “It’s no big deal, that’s just life.”

But how often do we not see the effects of choices we, or others, make? The injustice that David thrust upon Uriah and his family is clear. And David simply says, “That’s life.”

That’s not life. David orchestrated multiple sins to make life happen in this way.

Sadly, we see a theme that those who live a righteous life often realize, these things do happen, but mostly to the righteous.

But there is even more to this story.

Uriah is a Hittite. David is Jewish.

Could this be an even deeper example of God using the lost to witness to the saved?

Could this be a Jesus example in this story?

During the entire story of Uriah, he never once mentions God. Also, since he maintained his identity as a Hittite means that while he might fight in Israel’s army and adopted an Israelite name, he doesn’t necessarily follow Israel’s God.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost, not the found. Those lost would be used in the future to lead people to the risen Christ.

Could this be an example of that?

This story could be used to show a person who doesn’t believe to show those who believe how they should be glorifying their God.

Many times in my life God has used those outside of the community of faith to show me what He needs me to see. But all too often, Christians close their eyes to anything that is outside Christendom.

While we need to be wary of what happens in the world, realize that God can, and will, use whatever He wants to get our attention.

2 Samuel 11:27 – And when her mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.

Eugene Peterson and My View

Romans 2:3 – Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

Recently, Eugene Peterson, a respected person in evangelical circles and the author of The Message translation of the Bible, was interviewed by Jonathon Merritt of the Religion News Service. Peterson said some things that are very controversial and possibly leading to Christian retailers pulling not just his books but The Message as well.

When asked about his view on homosexuality and the church Merritt said, “I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do”

He shared a story about hiring a worship pastor for his church who was gay. He went on to say “I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.” He even said that he would officiate a gay wedding.

Peterson is no stranger to controversial views, although many think he has avoided them. He has come out against megachurches and doesn’t even believe they are churches. He believes they sell church to people and neglect the relationships that church is built to have.

When asked after the interview, Eugene back tracked. He reaffirmed his view of marriage being between one man and one woman. He then went on to say that he would like to retract what he said about officiating a gay wedding. And with regard to the statement about gay people having a spiritual life seemingly as good as other Christians, he said during the follow up interview that the “goodness of a spiritual life is irrelevant” and that we are “only saved by faith through grace irrelevant of our behavior.”

I am going to go out on a limb here.

The relationship is of premier importance to Eugene Peterson, possibly even at the risk of biblical truth. His belief that megachurches aren’t churches because of the lack of relational impact and the decision to leave biblical viewpoints in preference of the bridges built with the gay community shows that his focus is on the relationship.

So, Fred, what do you think?

First, I think this is going to have long-lasting repercussions in the evangelical church. The Message is a pretty popular translation and if churches see Peterson’s views as heretical, it could mean that the Message has a limited life span left in the church.

Romans 1:27 – In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Next, I think there are a couple of pieces that need to be addressed here. Some are pretty simple for me to write about and others will be controversial in their own right.

  • My view of homosexuality.

I have a LOT of friends and acquaintances and business relationships who are LGBTQ. I would never hold back someone from a friendship or a business promotion because of their sexual orientation. But I do believe it is a sin. And, because of that and the clear expectation of the Bible on church leaders living above reproach, someone who is actively LGBTQ cannot lead in a Bible-believing church. It also means that a Bible-believing church cannot marry an LGBTQ couple. To go along with that, if a church decides to change the Bible to fit a different standard, then that church, in my eyes, is not a true church.

Again, I need to make sure you understand, being gay does not preclude you from getting a business promotion or having a friendship with me or living in my neighborhood or even having me make a cake for a gay couple’s government-allowed wedding. But it is impossible for a Bible-believing church to stay true to their Bible and marry a gay couple or ordain a gay pastor. Please note, I did not say that they cannot attend the church. But leading in a Bible-believing church and marrying in it would stand against the Bible.

And to go along with that, if a gay couple or gay person who wants to be ordained were to push the issue in a Bible-believing church, then the person who is pushing the matter would expect others to turn against their beliefs for their own advantage, which, in itself, is a sin which would preclude that person from leadership or being married in the church.

If you are offended by what I just typed, then I am going to ask you to reread it. And if you are still offended, I would be happy to discuss with you over email at coffeeguy777@hotmail.com.

  • Peterson has an issue.

I believe that he is lying to make sure that people don’t turn against him. He already shared that he ordained a gay minister. Then he back tracked and said that he was retracting what he said. If his actions did not counter what he said, then I would believe that he is honest in his retraction. But the fact that he shared examples of his going against Biblical views, then it shows a shallowness to his retraction.

I know those are strong words. But Jesus primarily focused on pointing out the issue with the religious leaders, not with those He was meeting and sharing the Kingdom of God with.

So, Eugene Peterson, I am going to ask you to post more than a retraction. I think your past examples show that you need to ask forgiveness for having an issue of the heart.

Please note that I am not coming out and calling you a heretic. Nor am I calling you unsaved.

I am simply saying that you need to search your heart and determine if you need to go further than a retraction. I believe you do. If you would like to discuss this, Eugene, please email me at coffeeguy777@hotmail.com.

Psalm 101:7 – No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.

  • Relationship versus Jesus

It is no secret that God created us for relationship. But it is possible to idolize the relationship over the one who created the concept of relationships. It is similar to choosing your family over Christ. If the focus of the church is relationship only, then the church cannot be a true church. The focus of church is to simply worship and glorify God. Relationship is an aspect of doing church, but it is not the primary motivator for church.

Based on Peterson’s views, I believe he is idolizing the relationship of people over the relationship of Christ.

So where do we go from here?

I think Peterson needs to reflect on what he truly believes and start living by it. Then, if he chooses to go back to a Biblical viewpoint of homosexuality, he needs to ask forgiveness.

At no point am I saying that he needs to change his relationships with people, he simply needs to choose whether he will follow a Biblical view or not.

In the meantime, because of the fact that he is not truly sure of his beliefs, I would challenge that The Message is not a viable Bible translation.

I’m curious to hear everyone’s thoughts and verses supporting their thoughts. If you are simply going to comment, I will discount that. But if you comment with a strong Biblical argument as to your view, I will take it with strong credence.

Aaaaaaaand go…

Modern Romans

How many gods do you serve?

When we think of the ancient Romans, we think they served a lot of different false gods.

Jonah 2:8 – Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.

You have Jupiter, the master god. Juno, the goddess of women. Mars, the god of war. Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Minerva, goddess of wisdom and learning. Bacchus, god of partying. Mercury, god of travelling. Vesta, goddess of the home.

And then you have the Roman emperor. The “imperial cult” that served the emperor viewed his as “divus,” or divine. While this wasn’t the case immediately, and most were not worshiped until after their death, the cult of personality that Roman emperors created led the general public to see them as godlike and even divine. This was especially true with the first living self-professed deity emperor Domitian.

By today’s standards that guy had issues. Even in Domitian’s time the people questioned his actions.

But, Fred, how does this relate to 21st century America?

While we don’t necessarily have names or personifications for our “little-g” gods, we do still worship many of the same things the ancient Romans worshiped.

I know many people who worship their homes. Even I find myself wanting to make my home a better and better place to live and to have people come to that I start to question if I am truly worshiping it.

And I don’t know about you, but I love to travel! I know a lot of people who spend their lives planning the next trip or outing and do it much more than they worship Christ. Could that be a god?

What about partying? Back when I was in college I loved a good party. Getting drunk was high on my list of things to do and enjoying time with friends would always take precedence. Studying Scripture? Nah, I have a party to get to.

What about education? When I first became a Christian I wanted to learn everything I could about my faith. Nothing wrong with that. But it is very easy for Christians to spend their lives only reading Scripture and commentary instead of putting into practice. If Christianity becomes only a learning exercise to you, then perhaps you worship wisdom and not the God of the universe.

Then there is sex. Our culture is so obsessed with sex that you can’t even watch a kid’s movie without being bombarded with it. It might be small, like a racy joke that only the adults will understand, but it is there. And then don’t even get on the adult movies and TV shows. They are filled with sex and sexual references.

Then there is Facebook or Twitter or our cars or even our families. Anything can easily become a god.

An idol.

We are modern Romans.

Colossians 3:5 – Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

None of what I listed above is bad. But how we deal with it is.

(I am speaking directly to Christians here, non-Christians need not read any further)

If you (I) wake up every morning with a focus on your (my) Facebook or social media and not on your (my) time with God, then you (I) have a screwed up way of thinking. You (I) have an idol.

If sex or alcohol or drugs is the leading thought in your mind, then you have placed it above our Creator. You have an idol.

We idolize so many other things simply because we can see them and they bring us temporary pleasure. We base our success on happiness, not joy.

So, Christian, how can we break down the idols?

  • Make a list. This list is all the things that you don’t know how to live without. Put the list in order of priority

Pretty big list, eh?

If you are like me, you put God in the number 1 spot.

That sounds great. Exodus 20:3 says,

Exodus 20:3 – You shall have no other gods before me.

When we think of the word “before,” we think in order of importance. So putting God at number 1 means we’re good, right?

But before, in this case, doesn’t mean in order of importance but it means “in my presence.” He means to not have any other gods BESIDES God.

But the problem is this, God doesn’t want to be your top god, he wants to be your only God.

Idolatry is making a good thing the ultimate thing. If something that is created is turned into something that makes life worth living then it has become an idol.

  • Identify your idols
  • You need to convince yourself that the idol needs to go

This can be hard if the idol is your family. God would not want us to leave our families just because we have started idolizing them. But removing the idol of family might mean that we need to prioritize our family differently in our lives.

  • Work on the relationship with God

This is “big-G” God. God the Father. If we work on and solidify our relationship with Him then the rest of our priorities will fall into place.

  • Set boundaries
  • Renew your mind

This might mean you need to constantly convince yourself to prioritize your life differently. A muscle doesn’t get strong simply by thinking about working out. It gets strong by working out.

  • Have a friend hold you accountable

The sin of idolatry can be broken. It isn’t easy. But it is possible, through Christ.

1 John 5:21 – Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Innocence and Theology

Mark 10:14 – But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

The other day I was driving my daughter home from her work. She works for a local Christian camp. She was talking about how she was writing Bible studies for the half-day students because the current series was not directed toward the age group she was responsible for. She wanted to do an entire weeklong series on “Finding Jesus.” As she was explaining it to me, she was explaining the plot line of the Disney movie “Finding Dory.” It was pure innocence, using the story of a fish-finding story to explain how we come to know the risen Creator of the universe.

As she spoke to me I found all these ways to poke holes in her theology.

But I kept my mouth shut and listened.

She explained how easy it was to find Jesus. She pulled a few Bible verses here and there, used a lot of Disney references, and showed a lot of passion in her voice as she explained it to me.

If a seminary graduate who has studied hermeneutics, Greek and Hebrew would listen to her speak, he would stop her from teaching this to the younger minds than hers.

But I sat and thought about it for a minute.

First, I thought about what Jesus said about children.

Matthew 18:1-3 – At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now, please understand me that Jesus is not talking about becoming like children in ways of wisdom, but in innocence.

As adults, we tend to overthink situations so much more than children. If a child is angry or happy or sad they show their emotion and then, unless there is a significant outside influence like abuse, divorce, and death, the child will remember the major points of why they feel the way they do, but the details will be foggy. According to one study, “early emotional experience literally become embedded in the architecture of their brains.” (“Children’s Emotional Development is Built into the Architecture of their Brains,” National Scientific Council on the Developing Child)

While children are imprinting their brains, they simply do not have enough history to distort their realities. Adults, on the other hand, color everything we experience with our past.

Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

I think of it this way, what is the main thing at church?

When we look at church today, we focus on a lot that is not Jesus.

We package it up as Jesus, but it isn’t Jesus.

Music is great, but music isn’t Jesus.

Small groups are awesome, but they aren’t Jesus.

Mission journeys are needed, but they aren’t Jesus.

But people tend to make them Jesus.

Just like holidays. I think of holidays that celebrate the military or freedom. During those days in church, when freedom or the flag or the military is announced, the applause gets louder, there is cheering, and the church gets a great feeling.

The amount of excitement around those topics outweigh the excitement for hearing about the Savior of mankind.

But let’s look at the Hebrew church for a moment.

By the time the book of Hebrews was written and delivered, there were up to 100,000 Christians inside of Jerusalem. The majority of those Christians were members of house churches, what we would consider either a small group or an underground church. Most of those house churches had approximately 20-30 adults at it. That means there would be about 4,000 churches in Jerusalem during the distribution of the book of Hebrews.

The book was written to Christians in Jerusalem.

Now, before this letter came to those churches, what did they use? They used other letters.

So when the messenger brought the Letter to the Hebrews to the first church in Jerusalem around 60 AD, there were still 3,999 other churches that had yet to hear this amazing book!

The churches would spend all night studying the Word. They would consume it!

Matthew 4:4 – But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

We don’t consume the Word.

We consume the music. We consume the fellowship. We consume the opportunity to serve those who don’t have as much first world stuff as we do.

But we don’t consume the Word.

The church in Jerusalem consumed the Word.

And they changed the world.

They were able to affect people across several generations.

And they were able to build a foundation for faith throughout further generations.

They consumed the Word with an innocence and excitement similar to how my daughter shared the Word as she understood it with those younger kids.

Christians and Civil Disobedience

Can you imagine the anger?

Acts 5:29-32 – Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles tell the Sanhedrin that they have to obey God rather than man. The Sanhedrin believed they were appointed by God Himself to bring about God’s will on this planet.

Later in the Bible, however, Peter tells us that we are to submit ourselves to every earthly power.

1 Peter 2:13-14 –  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

Where is the balance?

Both statements were made by Peter.

It is very easy for someone to look at Peter and say that he is simply switching his view. I mean, here is the man who told Jesus he would not betray Him ever and then turned around and betrayed Him three times in one night.

But I don’t believe Peter is simply flip flopping here.

Both statements have been cause for great problems along the timeline of history. If taken out of context, Christianity can turn into an extremist religion blowing people up for a cause or it can turn into a Sanhedrin-like party that favors politics over Christ and believes that the two are interchangeable.

Neither translation can be helpful to the cause of Christ.

There has got to be a middle ground that maintains the identity of Christian, providing an uncomfortableness to the world around us without blatantly disobeying every authority that comes our way while not turning Christ into the next GOP candidate.

There are 2 very simple litmus tests to determine if your civil disobedience is Christ-honoring.

  • Is it Scripturally-based?

How many times have you “felt” like you were being oppressed? An African-American man is shot by a police officer or a homosexual is told they have to use the bathroom of their birth-gender or a Christian is told they must provide a wedding cake to a gay couple getting married. In all those cases, we find people who are standing up against the status quo in order to make their cases known. You feel angry, upset, sad, or hatred.

Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

But if we look deeper, could there be more to the feeling?

What does Scripture say about it? We know what the laws and the constitution of the United States says about everything a person does or does not do in America. But what would Jesus have to say about it? What situations can you pull from Scripture to defend your feeling?

If you are simply angry because another Christian seemed to get the raw end of a deal because they wouldn’t make a wedding cake and you saw the entire story on Facebook, then you are missing the point of having Scripture.

Scripture is given to us, in this case, to determine if our feelings are justified.

The apostles were not following their feelings. They were following direct orders from Christ Himself.

  • Can you carry out your civil disobedience with humility?

If you are acting out in civil disobedience and expect the government to turn a blind eye to it, then you are following a spirit of entitlement, not the Holy Spirit. The apostles disobeyed many of the leaders of their day but fully expected to be punished for it. Many were jailed, beaten and even killed for their disobedience.

Romans 12:3 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Are you prepared to do the same?

Or do you simply want to be heard and have repercussions?

Whenever you see someone in Scripture disobeying the government for the higher power of Christ, you always see them do it without anger or violence or bitterness. They do so in humility to the One who is owed all glory.

So how about you?

What are you fighting against in this day and age?

Could it be liberals? How about Republicans? The church? The anti-church? TV, movies, video games, fashion, attitudes, laws, rules, authority?

Test yourself before you start trying to enrage others with you to determine if it really is Christ-honoring.

Thankful Heart

I was listening to Petra on the way to work today and their song “Thankful Heart” came on. Now keep in mind, as I am driving, I am dreading going to work. I’m not feeling too thankful to be heading into work.

Let me just tell you, conviction is painful.

Acts 8:23 – For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.

A few months ago I sold my company and went to work for the people who purchased it. I went to work for them under the auspices of helping them get off the ground. As an award-winning recruiter and business development manager, I thought it would be great to help.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening. I was told flat out that I didn’t know what I was doing. The new owner brought on a new partner to help him propel forward because he believed I hadn’t been doing well (even though I have already booked more than my targets). The amount of lies and four-letter language and downright verbal abuse from the partners has been difficult to stomach, especially on the rest of the team, some of which came from my former business.

It has led to cynicism breeding in my heart.

As the older and wiser one of the group of recruiters, I find myself doing what I can to be an example, but then I find it easy to slip into cynicism and speak poorly of the partners.

Thankful is not what I am for this opportunity.

So as I was driving to work today, this song comes on and I find myself singing it.

After it finished, I felt like such a hypocrite.

I wasn’t thankful. I didn’t have a thankful heart.

I was vindictive and had a bitter heart.

Ephesians 4:31 – Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

And then it gets even more convicting.

I speak to a person today who’s restaurant had closed down and he was out of work. He is young and his wife is about to have a baby in 3 weeks. He was laid off a few weeks ago.

In desperation, he calls me back and gives me his story.

Almost to the point of tears, he explains that he can’t afford to have a child right now. They have very little income and no one seems to want to hire him.

I started to think about my situation.

Yes, this employment is not ideal, but it is employment.

Then, as he is talking, the conviction digs deeper.

I learn he is a bivocational youth pastor.

And then he says those words that cut deep to my core, “I know that this is just a season, and I am thankful for the experiences I have had in the past so I just trust that God has led me to you to help me find that next opportunity.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Ouch.

That hurt.

Here I am making a decent living and, yes, the people are flat out evil, but I am able to pay the bills and even save some money. All this while others out there are starting a family and have been laid off with no other opportunities for work or money to come in.

So now I sit in my more than comfortable home after eating a very filling meal. I am watching too many channels on the television while I write this post on a newer model laptop. I am laying in a comfortable bed which I am able to change the sheets on regularly, under a ceiling fan while the air conditioner runs. I have a lot of fun things planned for the weekend and am able to spend a great deal of time with my family.

I am cynical and bitter.

Meanwhile the person who called me said he wouldn’t be doing anything this weekend, hoping to even have enough to buy food for his family.

Yet he is thankful.

I pray to God that I will view my circumstance for what it is, a blessing.

Is it easy?

No.

Are the people decent and able to get along with others?

No.

But I am blessed.

And thankful.

And realize my hypocrisy and evil tendencies in myself.

Next week is another week. And it is for you too.

Are you bitter and cynical? Are you feeling like you are trapped in a dead end with no way out, yet are able to make ends meet? Are you allowing your first world problems to take control of your life?

Then listen to the wisdom I have learned and be thankful.

Look for the blessings in your life, not the negatives.

Celebrate those.

Meditate on them.

Allow God to do what He does best, convict those who are doing wrong, and you simply do what God wants us to do, be thankful for the grace we are given.

Psalm 106:1 – Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Award-Winning Nobody

It is amazing how pride works.

Humans love to have their ego stoked.

Why do you think Facebook is so popular? People love to have the spotlight on themselves, even if they say they don’t.

But, as the saying goes, being popular on Facebook is like being rich with Monopoly money.

The same can be said for being popular in real life or even at the top of your game.

It can all go away in an instant with a single choice or action.

Just look at all of the celebrities who have fallen from the limelight. Brett Butler, Ed McMahon, Burt Reynolds, and many others going from riches to rags. How about politicians? Political leaders such as Anthony Weiner, Gary Hart, Jack Abramoff, the “Keating Five,” or Jim Traficant, to name a few, were all removed from their positions.

Pastors and people in the ministry have to be immune, right?

Nope.

The first big American religious scandal to bring about a downfall happened to Aimee Semple McPherson. Others included Mark Driscoll, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker, Henry Lyons, Peter Popoff, Thomas Wesley Weeks Jr., Ted Haggard, and Bob Coy.

A single decision can destroy a person’s credibility.

The same can happen to any of us.

I remember when I worked for Whole Foods Market and received an award. I was on top of my game. My team had shown significant increases in sales and profits. Unfortunately, through a simple, yet subtle, shift in becoming prideful, my numbers went down the following year.

Pride causes a lot of problems.

Anyone anywhere can be at the top and lose it when their pride takes over.

But pride is so easy to fall victim to.

So how do we biblically fight the sin of pride?

  • Get a right view of God.

Job 25:4-6 – How then can man be in the right before God? How can he who is born of woman be pure? Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in his eyes; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!”

God is both superior to us and has supreme authority over us. When our view of God is incorrect, we don’t give Him the reverence He is due. Pride comes from putting ourselves above God. Start by focusing on just how great God is. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you more and more.

Isaiah 29:16 – You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

  • Change your beliefs

1 Corinthians 4:7 – For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

God wants us to be an example of His love to others. When we are prideful, we find that our pride gets in the way of showing love. Think of some of the following questions:

  1. Do you believe you are better than everyone else?
  2. Do you think the world cannot be as good without you?
  3. Do you think that what you do or your role entitle you to special favors?

Romans 12:3 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

If you believe any of those questions pertain to you then you are self-serving. Having an identity in Christ is to be filled with self-denial, not self-appreciation. Scripture needs to be our guide to show us our views of ourselves.

Proverbs 25:27 – It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.

  • Repent

Pride is one of the hardest sins to repent of. Our pride will not allow us to see the need to do it. If you are ready to repent of it, then determine the type of pride you have (self-exaltation, self-proclamation, self-justification, etc…). Once you have determined the type of pride it is, pray specifically for forgiveness.

  • Defend against the enemy

After repenting, it is very easy to fall back into pride. It is even possible to become proud of your humility. This world will do everything it can to drag you back into the pit of pride. The world believes that pride is a good thing. Ask God to transform your thoughts so that you take a right view on humility.

As a human, our flesh craves the feelings we get when we seek attention from others. We need to constantly be reminded that our sinful nature is dead. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to provide us a view on God that would be aligned with what God deserves.

Put on the whole armor of God. The only way to be prepared for pitfalls of pride is to be ready for them. Ephesians 6:14 tells us to put on the belt of truth. This belt should remind us that God is the only on deserving of honor, not us.

Spiritual warfare will never end so be prepared. God is more powerful than any spiritual attacks we will ever go through. So ask the Holy Spirit to provide you the power to rebuff the attacks and place your armor on every day.

  • Flee temptation

It is going to be impossible for all the temptation to go away completely but it is possible to significantly reduce them. It is going to take specific steps:

  1. Focus on your relationship with God. Strengthen your devotional life. Prayer and meditation is extremely important. Focus on giving God glory and humble yourself before Him.
  2. Claim God’s promises. Go through Scripture and look for pride and humility and the truth that the Word has about them. Memorize the verses. When temptation come, repeat these verses to yourself. Here are a couple to start:

Matthew 18:4 – Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

1 Peter 5:6 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you

  1. Establish safeguards

Make changes in your life that will reduce the temptation. For example, if you look down on those who have a lower social class than yours, serve in a homeless shelter. If it is your looks that cause you pride, then get rid of the clothes and makeup that make you beautiful. If it is your car, trade in that car for something more modest.

Ask a friend to hold you accountable.

  1. Expect to beat the sin of pride

Don’t focus on the failures of the past but focus on God’s power over sin. Give God the praise He is due.

Egypt, the desert and the Promised Land

The past few months I have been praying a lot.

A LOT.

There are days that I have been sitting at work, feeling as if I life could be so much better, feeling as if my gifts and talents are not being utilized and feeling persecuted. I have to dig deep just to maintain my Christian face during the day. It feels as if I am an Israelite in Egypt.

Then there have been days that I have felt so incredibly low, especially since my mom died. I do everything I can to put on the bravest face I can for my family, but there are times that it just isn’t enough. I’ll get in my car to go someplace and just sit in driver’s seat and give it all up to God. It feels as if I am the Israelites walking in the desert.

Then there are other days that I am sitting on a date with my beautiful wife, enjoying a meal and the love of a wonderful woman.  I feel a sense of amazement that God would bless me with such a person as her. It is as if I had crossed into the Promised Land and am enjoying the cities that I’ve been given.

It is crazy how life can change from one day to the next.

Every day I ask God what he wants me to learn.

Each of the three areas (Egypt, the desert, and the Promised Land) were used to teach Israel something they needed to know. And that can be a timeless truth that the Bible teaches us as well. During several stages of our lives, we might feel “stuck” somewhere, but God is preparing us for the next area of our life, an area that takes us to a better place, even if it isn’t the best place.

Egypt

Exodus 1:11 –  So the Egyptians put slave drivers over the people of Israel. The slave drivers treated them badly and made them work hard. The Israelites built the cities of Pithom and Rameses so Pharaoh could store things there.

The Israelites needed to learn the importance of being in Egypt. God chose this to be a major place to show His glory to those who were not Israelites while at the same time, preserving the Israelites from dangers such as famine.

So what do we know?

First, we see Joseph preserving the Israelites through a severe famine. This could not have been done if it weren’t for Joseph’s placement in Egypt’s leadership. We all know the story of Joseph and the “technicolor dreamcoat.” Joseph’s brothers didn’t like him, they tried to kill him but ended up selling him into slavery. He ended up in Egypt where he was jailed at one point and eventually read the dreams of several people, including Egypt’s leadership.  Because of this, he is given a high position in Potipher’s house. Later, the same brothers who sold him into slavery came at their dad’s command to ask for help. If it weren’t for Joseph being in such a high position, the Israelites may never have been able to survive.

To go along with that, Moses was able to rise into leadership as well.

God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

If the Israelites had not had that time in Egypt, they may never have seen a leader rise up that could lead them to the Promised Land.

The Desert

Hebrews 3:8 – don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness.

Next, the Israelites needed to learn the importance of being in the desert. Not only is God using this time to show His glory even more, but He is taking this time to refine the Israelites.

So what do we know?

The desert took them at least 40 years. Sometime between 1444 and 1288 BC, the Israelites left Egypt. They left the place they were being hurt, the place they were enslaved. But once on the road, they missed the comforts they had to their enslavement. It started with the spies. When the spies returned from scouting out the Promised Land, the majority of them gave negative reports. Because of their fear, the Israelites spent the next 40 years walking the desert.

When Moses took the Israelites to the desert, they were looking for instant gratification.

They want what we expect today as well.

If we leave a job or relationship or situation we expect the new job, relationship or situation to be immediately better than the one we just left. Most often, that is not the case. We need to learn to persevere when we follow God’s call.

This piece of information has been hitting me like a ton of bricks lately.

I know God has called me to vocational ministry. I am following the call. As I look to why I am not in vocational ministry right now, I can almost perfectly line up what the Israelites went through and what I have been going through.

It is the refining process.

It started with fear. I scouted out what vocational ministry would look like for my family and I. I did not receive a good report. It would be tough. I wouldn’t make enough money. The time that I work would be double what I was working at the time.

Fear set in.

“There is no way I can cross over into the Promised Land (vocational ministry), the people are giants and they have significant weapons!”

That was fear.

Along the way, like the Israelites, I would tell God I needed something else to help me. I need food or water or meat. I would try to take the lead in the relationship between God and I. Each time, my refining process would take a step back.

Then, along the way, I would question the leadership God has placed in my life. Just like in Numbers 16, a portion of me had to be destroyed to move forward. In the case of the Israelites, they had to lose the insurgent leaders by God showing them His power. The ground opened up and swallowed them.

The same is true with myself.

I left my position of power for a lower position. It is a position that reminds me of Egypt.

The Israelites felt that the desert was worse than what they had left in Egypt. Yes, the work was hard and they were persecuted, but they had stability. They would wake up each day and know exactly what they were going to do. In the desert, that stability was gone.

This meant they had to fully rely on God.

And they weren’t ready for the Promised Land until they did.

It took them 40 years to get ready.

Many times we can feel like we are in the desert for 40 years.

Are you fighting addiction? You were enslaved to your drug or alcohol. When you left, you had many days of feeling like your past life was better. You didn’t know how you would make it through. You didn’t know if the Promised Land was truly real.

But you persevere.

When you persevere you show up in the Promised Land.

The Promised Land

Exodus 6:8 – I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’”

Eventually, the Israelites were allowed access to the Promised Land. That access, however, came with a requirement: the Israelites had to rely solely on God and obey Him. Not only that, but while the Promised Land was given to Israel upon entrance, it took them 7 years to conquer and 7 years to settle the land.

And even when they have received the Promised Land, God gave them a mandate to totally destroy the Canaanite people or else they would be corrupted by the remnant.

Think of it this way.

You have lived a life of partying, doing drugs, and alcohol. You’ve grown addictions to at least one, or possibly several, poor life choices. You are a slave to the addictions. You are in Egypt.

But then you begin to take back your life from the addiction. You start the long journey to completely separate the addiction from yourself. During this journey you are on there are many times you want to go back to the addiction. You are going through life, learning how to live without the comfort of the addiction. It is a long journey, but eventually you overcome it. This is the desert. You finally made it. The Promised Land. A land free of the slavery of addiction. You know you need to separate yourself completely from the past, but you don’t want to. This remnant stays and keeps us constantly needing God.

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