Playing Church

playgroundI will admit I don’t have a very diverse church background.  I’ve only regularly attended five different churches in my short lifetime thus far.  One was a Lutheran church when I was a very young child, one was just a simple Evangelical church when I was an adolescent, two have been “non-denominational, and the one I attend now is borderline “non”, but more closely aligns with the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention).  It’s by far the smallest one I’ve ever been to.

The largest one I’ve attended was living in Branson.  It’s where I grew the most spiritually and I definitely learned a lot of practical life lessons while I was there.  When I moved back to my home town, I went back to the church I had been attending before I moved.  One day I was having lunch with one of the leaders there and he asked me about attending church there in Branson.  I don’t remember much at all about that conversation, but I do remember specifically telling him, “They don’t play church.”

I might as well say this now, I am not against the local Church.  I think it’s a scriptural thing that we meet together locally, with other believers.  We need to fellowship, and hear the word preached.  These are good things.  Playing church is not.

So what do I mean when I say “playing church”?  You should have a pretty good idea what it means.  Children like to play dress up.  Children like to play make believe.  Children like to play hide and go seek.  A lot of Christians like to play church.  Make sense now?

I know that sounds like a harsh rebuke, but it’s the truth nonetheless.  However, I’m not referring to the group of people you think.  Many people go to church simply because it’s “what you do on Sunday” or on major holidays.  Many go to simply soothe their conscience because of how they lived the previous week.  I can get past that type of hypocrisy.  The ones I’m talking about are the real holy rollers.  They, more often than not, play church.  Church for them is generally a social gathering under the disguise of religion.

You see, these people claim to know the word.  They don’t tell you that you have to be there every service, but it’s implied.  They shift their duty of service to missionaries overseas so they don’t have to get their hands dirty locally.  They all walk and talk like each other.  Their “small groups” only contain members of their own church.  It’s all about attendance and retention.  They are more internally minded.  Everything just seems picture perfect.  They are so preoccupied with “doing church” that they neglect BEING the church.

Be honest with yourself as a leader or a general “member” of a local church.  Do the people around your table all walk and talk like you?  Are you all somehow connected relationally or geographically?  Does your leadership table generally answer questions how you want to hear them?  How challenged are you by those closest to you?  Are you easily offended or defensive of someone who shares different views than you?  How often do you share your platform with someone of a different background/church affiliation?  Are the decisions you make conceding change in your church affected at all by trying to make the most people happy?

Those questions should reveal some indication if you’re playing church.  The things I want to touch on from here on out are obviously found in scripture, but are hardly ever discussed or (I doubt very much) put into practice.  Now, I realize that some of those things that the various writers said to the Churches of their time were specific to that particular group of people at that time.  However, there are many things that are applicable to the way we should be doing church today.  I’m going to go through a few things and you tell me if you’ve ever seen these things happen in a Church today.

  • 1 Timothy 5:20 – Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

When was the last time the leader of your church stood behind the pulpit, pointed the finger at someone, and called out their sin before the entire congregation.  Yet ins’t that a pretty clear instruction of what Paul is suggesting to Timothy?  Does this passage mention that should happen in a church?  Not specially, but it doesn’t have to.  Paul had trained up Timothy to be a leader, one who Paul even instructs on how to handle an Elder in need of rebuke.  I believe that it’s applicable to how the Church should operate.  Now, I’m not saying that every week, the leader of the Church should spend an hour rebuking every person in the congregation for every little thing.  There is a balance here.  I believe that there would be occasions for it.  Sometimes people need to be called out on their sin publicly.  It’s too easy to sit behind closed doors in a “counseling” session and act like you’re sorrowful and repentant.  You can pull the wool over one person’s eyes, but it’s little more difficult to do so in front of a room full of your peers.  Some people are only sorry if they get caught.

  • Matthew 18:15-17 – Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Ok, this is pretty heavy too.  Here, Jesus is talking about something that happened between two believers.  I don’t think anyone would do any of this.  What I want to focus on is “tell it to the church”.  It does NOT say “tell it to the pastor behind closed doors”.  Sorry folks, when Jesus says the church, he means in front of all.  That is similar to what Paul told Timothy.  What’s even more powerful, Jesus tells you how that person should be treated if he doesn’t listen!  Tell me the last time a “church” did that.  Hmmm…I’m wiling to bet never.  You realize this statement is coming off the heels of when Jesus told us what to do if our hand or eye offend us.  Cut it off.  Not literally, but we are to deal with sin swiftly and severely.  Which is exactly how He told us how to deal with a stubborn offender.

  • 1 Corinthians 5:1;5;11 – It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wifeTo deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

I know I’ve chopped together some scripture, but go read the entire chapter for yourself and you will see I’m not taking things out of context.  First, Paul says to basically excommunicate the person who was committing fornication with his stepmother (disturbing, I know).  There are things that Paul has no tolerance for.  We should be the same, despite the fact the world wants us to tolerate everything.  What’s more shocking to me is that in verse 11, Paul tells us not to associate those whom are called BROTHERS that are indulging in sin.  If someone is a “brother”, that means they are in Christ.  That’s right.  Those who have believed that Jesus was raised from the dead and have confessed him as Lord.  We are to cut them off from fellowship.  We don’t.  We coddle them.  We hold their hand.  We rub their back and say everything is going to be ok.  Can’t find that in the Bible.  Now this example that Paul gave was very specific to the Church at Corinth, but it’s still a clear guideline of how to deal with certain behavior.

Before you start throwing other scriptures at me in an attempt to discredit or prove me wrong, I’ll go ahead and give you one: 1 Peter 4:8 – And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.  That’s all great and everything until you look up the word “cover” and it’s the same in Matthew 10:26.  Go ahead and see for yourself.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter what scripture you try to use, it doesn’t change the truth of the ones I’ve presented.  Unless you’re comparing New Testament scriptures to Old Testament ones, scriptures don’t necessarily cancel or negate each other.  Besides, these are instructions to the Church as a whole, so these scriptures need to be taken literally.  Am I saying that they need to be carried out every single time Christians meet for fellowship and breaking of bread?  No, but they can’t be ignored either.  I’m not ruling out compassion, sympathy, or charity.  I totally believe there is a balance to  the scriptures.

I realize that this may come off as harsh, but it’s been far too long since the Church has acted like the Church.  Smith Wigglesworth comes to mind quite often when I consider how the Bride of Christ has waned.  I say this because too many local gatherings have become like rock concerts and social gatherings that are hardly distinguishable from their pagan counterparts.  Should we have fun in Church?  At times, yes.  Should we go all out in praising God during Church?  Sure thing.  Yet what has happened is that now if we dare present a challenging message or something that reveals our sin, people walk away.  Too many people want something to make them feel good no matter what and don’t you dare peek into my private life.  Smith knew the value of tough love, but tough love is only love if it’s spoken in sincere truth.

It’s sad for me to think that if we did any of the things that the Bible instructs, people would walk out by the droves, even if you showed them multiple scriptures to back it up.  Why?  People don’t want the Bible to get in the way of how they act or what they believe.  People want to play church.

One of my top 5 favorite scriptures is found in Galatians 4:16:

Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?

I do not think you understand the power that is contained in that question.  In Galatians 3:1, Paul basically called the church in Galatia stupid for how they were thinking and behaving.  Our current dictionary defines foolish as someone lacking good sense or judgement.  First can you imagine how a local church would act if the leader got up and accused the congregation of being foolish?  Telling them they are being stupid?  We can’t because no one would dare do it.  Do you know what that equates to?  The leader don’t love them enough.  That’s right, if you don’t tell someone the truth, you don’t love them enough.  Paul loved the church at Galatia enough to risk losing them.  That’s what’s so powerful about that scripture above.  Love will risk all.

Paul risked everything he was to the Galatians because he loved them.  He risked them alienating him, hating him, because he told them the truth.  You realize the model Paul was using…the same one as Jesus.  Jesus risked all not only for us, but for the Jews when He was on the earth.  He told people the truth no matter what it cost Him.  He lost some of his own followers because of the truth He presented.

What are we willing to risk for the truth?  How strong is our love for others?  Do we love others enough to tell them the truth or do we “love them too much” to tell them the truth?  If your answer is the latter, then you really don’t love them at all.

In these dark times, however no darker than before, we must ask ourselves some questions:  What are we willing to risk to really be the church?  To actually act like the church?  The answer to those questions will either continue to withhold or release the power of God to bring Kingdom changes to this earth and usher in the second coming of our Lord Jesus.

Family can sometimes be the most difficult people to deal with.  As the body of Christ, and members in particular, whether Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Catholics, etc., if Jesus is our Lord, then we are all connected – we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are all part of the same family.  We are all to love one another as Jesus loved us.  He loved people enough to tell them the truth regardless of what it cost Him.  Paul did the same.  Isn’t it time we followed suit?

Bride, it’s time to get off the merry-go-round, hop off the swing, and make it your last trip down the slide.  Tear down the fences.  Grab the dozer and the backhoe.  Dig like you’ve never dug.  Lay the foundation and begin to build the Church the way it was intended.


When Truth Hurts

I remember years ago when Facebook was the big thing.  Not that it still isn’t, but for many younger people, Facebook isn’t their first go-to, it’s Snapchat.  For quite some time though, Facebook was the major player when people wanted to share something with the general public.  In particular, it was “LMS for truth is” or something to that effect.  For you older folks, LMS stands for “like my status”.  The whole point to that was anyone who in fact, liked that particular update, the poster would write on the liker’s wall a piece of truthful information that the original poster thought of the liker.

bee-sting

You may be utterly confused by now.  I’m almost confused now.  Let’s try it again with a realistic scenario.  I post on FB, LMS for truth is.  You like my status.  I now post to your wall with something like, “Truth is…you’re a lot of fun to be around and we should hang out more often.”  Pretty simple.  Pretty shallow if you ask me.  From my limited knowledge, and yet even many would agree, most “truth is” comments were vague and fake.  They were generally some eye rolling puff piece, not the real truth.  Why?  Because sometimes the real truth hurts.

I’m not saying that the poster of LMS should have ripped the liker apart, but every time I saw the scenario, it was always weak.  To be honest, I saw a lot of them because I had a lot of the teenagers from my youth group as friends, so they would do it and their friends would do it and they would like their friends’ statuses.  I actually preached a sermon called “Truth Is” talking about that very thing.

Most of us were taught at a very young age, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Sorry (not sorry) that was a terrible piece of advice.  Now, if you say anything remotely “un-nice” people go ballistic.  They simply cannot handle anything less than stellar spectacular positive feedback no matter how wacko they are acting.  They want you to confirm that anything they do is ok because it makes them happy.  That’s sad, because often times what needs to be said may not seem nice, and that’s ok.

If the truth never hurts, then I can guarantee you that you are constantly getting lied to.  We all need to hear things that don’t give us warm fuzzies.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a difference between being downright mean, and what the Bible calls “speaking the truth in love”.  That latter phrase was taken from Ephesians chapter 15.  In context, Paul was speaking to the Church at Ephesus, but in large, it was a message to all Christians.  It was instructions on how to grow into the Body of Christ as God intended.

Every type of growth is accompanied by pains.  Physical growth spurts that children go through causes pain.  Emotional growth can cause pains.  Why should it be any different when it comes to spiritual growth?  But how do we grow spiritually?  Through correction.

Proverbs 3:12 gives us that guideline and it’s reiterated in Hebrews 12.  Now, I want to be clear that the LORD no longer chastens us by physical means.  If we mess up, He does not cause tragedy or physical harm to us in order to teach us something.  His correction now comes through His word as written in the Bible, it can come through the preaching of the  Word, or through someone close to us who is willing to risk the relationship in order to tell you something you may not want to hear.  Let me give you an example:

When I was living in Branson, MO, I attended Faith Life Church.  Infrequently, Brother Moore’s wife, Phyllis, would preach a message.  For whatever reason, it would seem like I always got a “spiritual spanking” when she did.  Her sermons would quite often correct me to the point I’d almost hunch down in my seat because I knew I was about to hear something I didn’t want to.

There was one night in particular that opened my eyes.  I was sitting near the front of the church, with probably 800-1000 people behind me.  I honestly don’t remember what she said exactly, but it was something like this, “Who in here is dealing/having a problem with _______?”  I put the blank because I really don’t remember what it was, all I know is I raised my hand because I figured half the people in the room would too.  Her next words jolted me into another level.  She said, “Well, I guess only three people here are going to get help.”  You simply cannot appreciate the tone she uses when she preaches unless you’ve heard her.  Anyway, my eyes bugged out of my head.

“Three people, that’s it????  Great, now everyone knows I have been struggling.”  That was my initial thought until it sunk in.  First, I guarantee more than three people needed help that night, but the other 797 weren’t going to get it because they were to proud to admit they needed the help.  Second, it was a turning point for me.  I knew at that moment, I was growing.  I was growing because I had been willing to accept the correction I had been needing.  The LORD was using Sister Phyllis to help me grow spiritually.

I think back to that night quite often and I’ve told that story during many sermons to the youth, because it’s such a powerful moment in my life and it’s a perfect illustration of the Scriptures I mentioned above.  Look at this in Hebrews 12:11 NLT:

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

It stung, almost quite literally, during those sermons I sat through.  Up until that last one, I felt quite beat up sometimes.  It was painful.  It wasn’t enjoyable.  However, it was necessary and it was in love.  I needed to grow, and because He love me, He corrected me.

2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”  Now before I get accused of taking Scripture out of context, I realize that Paul was speaking to the Corinthians about their repentance because of his letter.  However, there’s a principle here that is applicable to our live when it comes to correction.

When someone genuinely speaks the truth in love, I believe it brings a Godly sorrow.  Because when the truth hurts, and it will, it can be upsetting.  I was not the happiest camper in the world during that time.  In fact, to be completely transparent, I could have sat down and cried at any given time for no apparent reason…in fact, there were times that I did just that.  Yet every time I did, I picked myself back up and pressed on.

The sorrow of the word that Paul says works death, is just the opposite of what I experienced.  It’s my belief that the sorrow of the world is condemnation.  Is a killer and it’s not from God.  Read Romans 8 if you don’t believe me.  It is the opposite of what God wants us to experience when we are corrected.

I’d like to give you a little secret when it comes to correction.  You probably didn’t pick up on it in my story, but here it is: Humility.  You must receive correction with a dose of humility.  A proud person cannot and will not accept that they need to change anything.  If I had been too proud to put up my hand at that moment, I believe I would have set back my growth even longer.  I know that I would have had another opportunity, but as the saying goes, why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?

That moment is as fresh in my mind as the day it happened.  I’m glad that I don’t remember what is was that I raised my hand for.  It gives the enemy nothing to condemn me with and I know that I’ve gotten the correction I needed.  I realize that it took a period of time for God to work me to that point, and I’m so thankful He did.

Ever since then, I’ve looked at correction a little differently than maybe most people.  I don’t want to say that I encourage it, but when I feel that little twinge inside, I know precisely what it is and I am thankful for it.  It still stings, but it’s a good sting.  Kind of like when you put peroxide on a cut.  It stings, but you know it’s for your own good.

So, when the truth hurts, let it.

 

 


Taking Sides

LineInSandSooner or later, you will be forced to take a side.  You can try to stay neutral all you want, but the time will come when you will have to decide between two opposing forces.  No one can stay neutral forever.  Besides, not taking a side, is weak.  It the cheap way out.  Deep down, I don’t believe that someone can be truly neutral.  They may say they are in an attempt to not offend someone or hurt some feelings, but I really think at any given juncture, everyone has a preference.

Say you get in the middle of a disagreement with two friends.  They look to you and ask you what you think.  Most people would probably throw up their hands and tell them both that you’re not taking sides, when you know good and well what you think.  You just don’t want to make one of them mad.  Scaredy cat.  Maybe you do speak your opinion, and it’s a third point of view.  Maybe you really do think that, or maybe you say that just so you don’t take a side.

Sometimes it’s a simple one.  Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?  ”  Oh, it doesn’t matter,” you say.  Don’t lie, it does.  You really do want one or the other, but for whatever reason, you’d rather be a pacifist.  When you’re sitting there eating the one you didn’t want, in your head, you’re thinking, “I’d rather be eating the other flavor.”

Maybe you’re not choosing because you want to prefer the other person and not influence their decision.  Say you’re married and your spouse asks you where you want to go eat, Chinese or Mexican.  You really prefer Chinese, but you tell them what ever they choose is fine.  That’s not a bad thing, but in reality, your answer could have went like this, “I prefer Chinese, but if you’d rather have Mexican, I’m good with that too.”  I would bet that most people wouldn’t answer like that.  Typically, we all like something over the other, but we refrain from choosing for a myriad of reasons.

And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.  And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” – Luke 9:49-50 KJV

Just to digress for a moment, here is a guy that was doing mighty works in Jesus name and the disciples got bent out of shape about it because he “wasn’t part of their group“.  They even tried to make him stop.  Jesus didn’t care for that and he told them why.  Unfortunately, in today’s church, many look down upon their fellow Christians because they aren’t part of their group.  So much more could be said about that, but back to the point.

If you’re not for Jesus, you’re against Him.  That’s powerful stuff right there.  That principle came out of Jesus’ mouth more than once.  He said it again in Matthew 12:30 – “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.”  Whatever you’re not for, you are against.  Even if you’re not taking sides between two friends, you are now against them both.  There is no neutral.

Honesty, I’m a black and white kind of guy.  I really don’t like operating in the gray area, so I can get on board with that principle.  I think Jesus was the same way.  He didn’t operate in the gray areas.  He plainly took a side every time.  Even when He spoke in parables, they were meant to be taken a certain way.  He was unwavering no matter the situation.  Even when his disciples got a little concerned that Jesus was rocking the boat too much (read John 6:51-67), He didn’t get wishy washy.  I read Jesus reply in verse 67 as an ultimatum.  It’s as if he told them if they didn’t like what He had to say,  His reply was, “You know where the door is.”

It’s sad to say that many Christians have sided against Jesus and they don’t even realize it.  I don’t mean to say that they’ll end up in hell or anything like that, but they certainly haven’t sided with God where they need to.  Case in point: Acts 5.  Go ahead and read it.  The answer Peter and the other Apostles gave the council was, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”  Oh, if only we were so bold.

We should be teaching in Jesus name everywhere we go, no matter where we are.  Even our children should be doing the same in schools and we should be encouraging it.  You might be thinking, aren’t we supposed to be submitting the earthly ordinances?  Aren’t we supposed to obey the laws of man?  We are to an extent.  If an earthy law directly violates a Biblical principle or command, then we should be disobeying.  We should be obeying God rather than men!

If a man made law tells us we can’t pray in school, then we should pray anyway.  Man cannot and should not dictate when and were we speak to our Heavenly Father.  Will there be repercussions?  Absolutely, and that’s exactly what we’re afraid of.  Christians bend over backward to comply to all sorts of ungodly laws.  In doing so, we have taken a stand against Jesus.  Think again about what He said.

HE THAT IS NOT FOR ME IS AGAINST ME

Think real long and hard about your life and judge for yourself where you have inadvertently taken a stand against Jesus.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as anyone else.  Yet that has no bearing on what the Word of God says.

Here’s another great example.  I won’t post the entire block of scriptures, but the one below is taken from 1 Kings 18:

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. – v.21 KVJ

Or how about this from Joshua 24:

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. – v.15 KJV

Despite those being Old Testament scriptures, I believe the principle remains the same today, since Jesus himself reiterated it.  We are to be serving one God and one God alone.  Yet we have bowed down to many other gods when it comes to our morals and convictions.  We refuse to stand and take a side because we are afraid of the repercussions.

We, as Christians in America, have no idea how good we have it.  I’m sorry, but getting made fun of or kicked out of something because we stand for God should not be counted as persecution.  Read up on Paul’s “light afflictions” or take a real look on what ISIS is doing to Christians.  THAT’S persecution, which Jesus said we will experience.  All that really happens to Christians in America is we get our feeling hurt over the color of a coffee chain’s cup.  Suck it up.

There are more examples in the OT of men that stood up against the mainstream and stuck their neck out despite knowing what would happen to them if they did.  God protected them in miraculous ways.  I believe that can happen to us today if we truly, deeply, believed and stood firm.  That’s not to say that there still won’t be those who will die for their beliefs as there were in the Bible.  There are real threats to those who stand firm in the name of Jesus, but there are far too many more that will never face that situation simply because of their geographical location and social standing.

Despite the lack of real persecution in America today, it does not change the truth of God’s word.  Even though the only type of person it seems acceptable to deride and flat out make fun of are Christians, more times than not – it still doesn’t come close to touching real, authentic persecution.  The day and age in which we live, Jesus needs us to take His side now more than ever.

Even if it’s with shakey knees, sweaty palms, and a weak voice, we must take His side.


When Opportunity Knocks

 

Throughout my years in the workforce, I’ve had quite a few different jobs.  I really do have the utmost respect and admiration of those who hold the same position for decades with the same company/business.  That’s never been me.images

Let me expound for a moment.  I am not a slacker by any means.  In fact, in nearly every job I’ve started, the company has wanted to promote me fairly quickly into a management/lead role.  When you are promoted quicker, and over those who have been at the job longer, you have to come to the realization that you are meant for leadership.  I don’t say that to brag.  I am just confident in what God has placed within me.

For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.  But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. – Psalm 76:6-7 KJV

Opportunities have seemed to present themselves to me when things are going good.  If I didn’t look at it correctly, I’d get quite frustrated thinking I’d made the wrong decision.  It’s easier to leave a job when things are going down the toilet and you are fed up with what you’re doing…but when things are going really well?  That’s a whole different story there.  It makes a decision to leave really difficult when you have no reason to leave.

Maybe I’ve made the right decisions along the way, and maybe I’ve jumped ship too soon.  However I can tell you that I’ve always believed in my heart that I was doing the right thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t taken every opportunity that’s come my way, but with each transition I’ve made, I did so with the mind that I was bettering my situation and knowing it would allow me to grow in different areas that I needed growth.

I consider my self to be very blessed when it comes to the leadership positions I’ve been given.  The current position is one that I’ve been entrusted with much, by people who had no knowledge of me prior.  They sought me out and offered me a job that has given me the freedom to do with the business as I see fit, with little to no interference by the business owners.  I still answer to them if need be, but in the end, I really answer to God.

Many times as a leader, I’ve had a different type of opportunity arise.  One that didn’t cause me to consider leaving, but rather made me examine my integrity.  This type of opportunity always knocked when I did something wrong.  It offered me chance to admit my mistakes, make excuses to justify my screw ups, or cover it up out of fear of consequences.  I’d love to say I’ve always owned up and admitted what I did wrong, but sad to say, I’ve done all three.  I will say that in the years since my encounter with God, I’ve done a much better job of the former, rather than the latter of the three.

Speaking of leaders who make mistakes, the Bible is FULL of them.  One in particular that I’d like to touch on is Saul.  It either eludes minds, or for whatever reason, we skip over the fact that Saul was given a unique opportunity.  He was God’s first choice to rule as King forever.

And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.” – 1 Samuel 13:13

Did you really catch that?  Saul, and his descendants, were meant to rule forever…God’s original plan was not David!   This is some very deep stuff to consider.  God knew what Saul would do, yet David was second choice.  David, as I talked about it in my previous writing, was the only man in scripture to be referred to as being after God’s own heart.  But David was God’s second choice?  I can speculate all I want and scholars can debate it till the end of the age, but we will truly never know why.  In fact, it’s hard to even fathom why.  Some will play the “God works in mysterious ways” card, but not me.  I hate that card, but that’s for another time.  Moving on.

Even though the LORD knew what Saul would do, there are two things God did for Saul that we need to think about.  The first thing: God still gave him the opportunity to lead.

God gave Saul the chance to lead.  He did so knowing that Saul would do wrong.  That should speak volumes for us.  There are many people who think that they’ll never get the opportunity that they seek and desire because they think they’ll screw it up so, “God would never give me the opportunity.”

Think about Moses for a moment.  God called Moses to lead His people and He did so in a miraculous way that was never seen before and has never been seen again.  How did Moses respond?  By killing an Egyptian and fleeing out of fear for his life.  Yet who ended up leading Israel out of Egypt?  Moses.

Think about Jonah.  God called Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh.  How did Jonah respond?  He jumped on a ship in an attempt to hide.  We all know what good that did him.  However, in the end, who walked into the city of Nineveh and gave them a word of prophesy?  Jonah.

God knew what both of those men would do, yet he gave them the opportunity to lead regardless.  How encouraging is that!  Just like Saul, God did not withhold anything from them, despite knowing their future mistakes.  (I will definitely be talking about that in the future.  There’s so much more contained in that truth.)

The second thing we need to consider is: God gave him the opportunity to repent.

God gave Saul the chance to repent.  Let’s read what his response was in 1 Samuel 13:11-12:

“…Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the Lord: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.”–   1 Samuel 13:11-12

Here’s how I can hear Saul saying it in modern terms, “The people were freaking out!  You were no where to be found!  Something had to be done.  You left me with no other choice!”  My, oh my.  Blame shifting, panic, fear…this from a man that was God’s first choice.

If you continue reading in 1 Samuel 15, it appears as if God is willing to give Saul a second chance.  Yet Saul does his own thing once again.  He blatantly lies to Samuel in verse 13:”I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”  

Liar, liar, pants on fire!  He was to “smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”  That sounds pretty harsh, but because Saul did his own thing, Haman (a descendant of Agag the Amelek king) nearly got the opportunity to perform genocide on the entire nation of the Jews.  (Read the book of Esther.)

When given the second opportunity to repent, Saul’s response was, “ I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.  Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord.”  Nothing but more excuses.  No sincerity and no real sorrow.  How do I know?  David would never have been king.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Saul had answered differently from a sincere heart of repentance on either occasion, God would’ve left him on the throne.  His mercies and faithfulness didn’t just start in Lamentations, they were there from the beginning.  Jeremiah knew it and David experienced it.  Saul was extended the same mercy, but rejected it.

One of the most profound things I said to a youth group once (and I had them repeat after me) was, “I suck at being righteous on my own.”  Because I do.  Because you do.  Because Saul did.  Isiah referred to self-righteous acts as “filthy rags”.  Look it up if you want to know what it means.  I can tell you it’s not pretty, but that’s exactly what pride is.  It’s exactly what kept Saul from fulfilling his destiny.  Don’t let it do the same to you.

So how do you know when you’ve gone too far?  I’d say you’re probably safe if you’re even asking that question, but if you really are concerned about it, honestly and truthfully examine what you’re answer would be if you were in Saul’s shoes.  Would your answer be one of real sorrow and from a desire to do the right thing?  Or would you apologize just to get out of trouble, thinking that you were never wrong from the beginning?

Saul allowed something to dictate his actions.  He allowed something to rule his life.  Saul let one thing take precedence over a lifelong opportunity.  That one thing was pride.

Pride has the ability to do irreparable damage.  Pride is associated with the devil.  Pride is probably the only thing that will keep you from fulfilling God’s call for your life.  Pride will deafen you to the sound of opportunity knocking.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 – ESV

I’ll say it again: If you have a sincere desire to please God, regardless of where you are in life and despite the mistakes you’ve made or are currently making, you are not too far gone.  The humble will never cease to hear opportunity when it knocks.


After God’s Own Heart

ritmo-sinusal-imgI was reading through a few Psalms one day and after going over one of my favorites, Psalm 37,  I got to thinking about David (no surprise). The only time in the Bible that we have recorded as mentioning that someone was after God’s own heart, was referencing David. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul had disobeyed God’s instructions and as a result, the position of King was going to be taken from him. In verse 13-14, the prophet Samuel said to Saul, “Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.” (Emphasis mine.)

Think about that for a minute.  The LORD considered David to be a man after his own heart.  What did he mean by that?  How are you one after someone else’s heart?  To me, I consider that to mean David would seek the things that are important to God; that David would find importance in the things that carried eternal value, not just what brought immediate gratification.  Even in terms speaking of one man to another, you would simply place value on the same things that another person does.  Paul said something similar to Timothy in Philippians 2:19-20 – “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.  For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.”  You could say that Timothy was a man after Paul’s heart.  There was no one else that Paul would consider sending on something important.  He knew that Timothy would care for the church at Philippi just as he would as if Paul were there himself.  I think that the LORD saw David in the same light: that David would represent the Kingdom of Heaven well….but did he?

Granted David did many things that pleased God, however, there were a few things that did not go over so well with the LORD (in no particular order).

The most well known incident in David’s life is his affair with Bathsheba.  You can read about it in detail in 2 Samuel chapters 11-12.  To sum it up, a man named Uriah was a soldier in David’s army and while Uriah was out fighting a battle to which David should have been at, David had an affair with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba and she got pregnant.  When David found out, he commanded that Uriah be brought to him.  When Uriah came to David, he basically told Uriah to take a break and go home to his wife.  David did so hoping that Uriah would go have relations with Bathsheba and it would hopefully cover up his incident.  Well that didn’t work out because Uriah spent the night on the steps of the palace because he couldn’t dream of relaxing while his fellow soldiers were out fighting.  What a stand up guy!  When that didn’t work, David got him drunk and tried again.  No go on that angle either.  So David got a “bright idea” and told the captain to place Uriah at the most dangerous place in the battle and have the rest of the men fall back so that Uriah would be killed.  He told the captain by means of a letter that he handed to Uriah to give to the captain!  Uriah was carrying his own death warrant and never even knew it!  David believed Uriah to be such a stand up guy that he knew Uriah wouldn’t open the letter!  Well, needless to say Uriah was killed and David ended up marrying Bathsheba, but the baby died as a result of what David had done.  This from a guy who was after God’s own heart.

Another incident in David’s life was recorded in 1 Chronicles 21.  David ordered Joab to perform a census in Isreal.  Even Joab knew that was not right, but David insisted and God was not pleased.  As a result, 70,000 people were killed.

So here we have adultery, murder, lying, to top it off, genocide.  Yet David was a man after God’s own heart?  Didn’t God know that David would screw up like he did?  I believe so, but I still think God saw David as a man after His own heart.  Certainly adultery, murder, lying, and genocide are not things that God places value on.  Those are not things that pleases God.  However, reading past those mistakes David made, reveal why I believe David was a man after God’s heart.

In both instances, when David came to his senses, he owned up to what he had done and relied on the mercy of God.  So what’s the big deal about that?  David understood the value of judgement, mercy, and forgiveness.

David knew what he had done was wrong and knew that his actions would bring judgement upon him and upon Israel.  When the judgement came, David never accused God of being unjust in the punishment.  In other words, he took it like a man.  He didn’t whine about it or even attempt to negotiate with God.  In fact, when David saw Israelites being killed as a result of his census, David offered himself up to be slain in their stead.  He fully admitted that he was the one that deserved the punishment for what was done.

On the flip side of things, consider Saul.  It either eludes minds or for whatever reason, we skip over the fact that Saul was God’s first choice to rule as King forever.  I quoted it in the first paragraph, but here it is again: “And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.” – 1 Samuel 13:13

Reading through the remainder of Saul’s life and his relationship with David, reminds me of Hebrews 12:15 (NLT) – “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

Saul was most definitely poisoned by bitterness.  He relentlessly and passionately pursued David at all costs.  How many lives were lost, how many resources were wasted, etc., all because Saul refused to own up to his mistake when confronted?

And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. – 2 Samuel 12:13 KJV

I love this.  David’s response was so simple.  Obviously, he didn’t just own up to his grave error to get out of trouble.  I believe in that moment, his eyes were finally opened to the life he had been living.  He didn’t like what he had become.  He truly felt remorse for what he had done.  Was he forgiven?  Yes.  Did God show him mercy?  Yes.  Was there still punishment to be dealt?  Yes.  Unfortunately, that was how it worked under the first covenant.  Thanks be to God that we won’t suffer judgement due to our actions.  Will there still be consequences?  Possibly, but it won’t be God that’s punishing us.

In the end of it all, no matter what you do wrong or why you did it, it’s highly unlikely you’re too far gone to be forgiven.  In fact, the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf is so powerful, He has already forgiven you for it.  At the same time, the LORD always gives us a choice.  Just as Saul and David chose the end of their story, albeit two separate ways, you get to choose the end of yours.  Will bitterness and pride direct your path?  Or will you allow the Godly type sorrow to lead you to repentance?

There is much truth to the saying, “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”  David played a stupid game.  One that cost him a child.  The games we play, may very well end up costing us dearly.  Will every consequence be negated if we simply admit our wrong doing?  Probably not, but nevertheless, it’s the right thing to do before the sight of our merciful, gracious Heavenly Father.  Whether or not you do it, all depends on the condition of your heart, which God is well aware of…even better than you are.

I think one of the most important lesson of both incidents that were mentioned above, is the David was more than willing to accept punishment for his actions, no matter the cost.      Reminds me of someone else in scripture, except that He was more than willing to accept the punishment of not just someone else’s actions, everyone else’s.


Don’t Ask Jesus Into Your Heart

No, I’m not the anti-Christ, but I can already hear the backlash simply from the post title alone.  However, I’m serious.  Don’t do it.  Don’t ask Jesus into your heart.  Maybe I should explain…wrong-way-go-back

I’ve heard it said many times, by many different preachers, “If you’ve never asked Jesus into your heart…”  That’s what Christians refer to as an “alter call”.  It’s the time at the end of the service that is usually reserved to see if someone needs to be saved – to “ask Jesus into your heart and be the Lord of your life.”  You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with that?  Aren’t we supposed to see people saved?”  Absolutely.  Salvation is number one, yet the way that the vast majority of preachers go about it is all wrong un-Biblical.  That’s right: asking Jesus into your heart is un-Biblical.

Case in point: Romans 10:9-10

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

That is how someone is saved.  I cannot find anywhere in the Bible that says to ask Jesus into your heart or any other concoction of words to give us warm fuzzies.  Paul out of his own mouth to the Corinthians in 1:2 that he was determined to deal with one subject only: Jesus Christ and him crucified.  In fact, Acts 3:5; 4:10; 13:30; 13:34; 17:31, Romans 4:24; 6:4;6:9; 7:4; 8:11; 10:9, Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thes 1:10; 2 Timothy 2:8; 1 Peter 1:21 – just to name a few, all deal with Jesus being raised from the dead!  I’d say that the resurrection was a pretty big deal.  It has to be.

That’s the true Gospel.  The true good news is that Jesus was crucified – in that he took on all of our sins while on the cross, was buried and three days later rose again and is sitting at the right hand of the Father.  He is NOT residing in your heart.  If, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17, Jesus was never raised from the dead, then we are all still in our sins.  If we are still in our sins then we are in an “un-saved” state, still separated from God.

If, in fact, the way to salvation is through believing that Jesus rose from the dead and confessing with your mouth that he is Lord, then what about the millions who have only “asked him into their heart?”  I don’t know.

That’s right.  I don’t know.  And I’m not afraid to say that.  I don’t know their hearts and I don’t know what was revealed to them at that moment.  Maybe they did get the revelation of what Jesus did at that moment regardless of how the preacher called it.  I don’t know, nevertheless, that doesn’t make the scriptures any less true.  We were told the way of salvation and we shouldn’t make up our own way.  An inconvenient truth doesn’t make it any less the truth.

So why do people do it the other way?  Why is it presented as asking Jesus into your heart?  Because it’s more warm and fuzzy that way.  It sounds so cuddly, who wouldn’t want to respond to that?  Slap some butter or frosting on it and who could resist?  <–Sarcasm.

Well, I know my answer is going to cause a ruckus, but we can thank the devil for that.

Think about it.  The devil has crept into the “church” and convinced people to do things a certain way because well, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Ahhh…tradition.  It’s a killer.  Jesus told the most religious people of his day that tradition nullifies the word of God.  The devil doesn’t want us to change what we are doing, and if he can’t get us to be stagnate, then he’ll convince us of small changes in the way we do things so they no longer line with the Word of God.  If you think the devil doesn’t know scripture, you’re wrong.  He was around when it was being written.  If he could convince us to do something that would render the power of God of none effect, don’t you think he’d try it?

Am I splitting hairs?  Being too picky?  Or whatever else?  Yes.   Yes, I am.  This involves THE most important thing a person will ever choose.

Look, even if it’s not the devil that’s caused this different way of salvation, it’s still a different way no matter what. It’s not the way it’s presented in the Bible.  Shouldn’t that be enough …shouldn’t that be enough for us as Christians to re-examine how we do things?


Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up? – Pt. 2

Although I diverted a few times since I introduced this topic, I decided it was time to revisit it.  I introduced a subject I’ve been wanting to talk about is who Jesus really was.  Not who we “think” he was or who people make Him out to be, but who the Jesus of the Bible was and what He actually did and said.  I personally use this approach for everything I believe and teach.  If there’s something I believe and it doesn’t line up with the Bible, then I must be wrong.  You shouldn’t lower the Bible to match what you believe or have experienced, nor base what you believe on what someone else has experience..  We must believe God to raise our experiences to match the Bible.

Maybe this should be a separate topic, but I think there’s something that needs to be established before we really hit this hard.  The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, also known as the Gospels, were all written after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven.  However, those books were recording accounts BEFORE Jesus died, rose and ascended.  What I mean is that we often read the words and works of Jesus as if they were New Testament things.  They weren’t!  Jesus lived under the Old Testament law, spoke in regards to Old Testament promises, yet at the same time revealed things that were going to change as a result of his pending death and resurrection.  With those thoughts in mind, we really need to be careful of how we interpret what Jesus spoke.  Not all of what Jesus said is applicable to Christians today.  Yes, I just said not everything Jesus said should be applied to us today.

Now, before you call me the anit-Christ, you really need to re-read what I just got done explaining.  Jesus spoke as one under the “law”, the old covenant, that was based on performance.  We are under a different covenant that is based upon grace – the finished work of Jesus.  Once Jesus had died, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, the new covenant was then in effect, negating the old covenant or the “law” as many call it.  That being stated, if we are no longer under that covenant, then things spoke up under that convent are not necessarily applicable to us who are under a DIFFERENT covenant.  Can we glean truth, instruction, correction and guidance from things spoke under the Old Convenant?  Of course, and we should.  We just have to be careful not to apply certain things to our lives since we are not living under the same laws.  Clear as mud?  I’ll probably elaborate on that in the near future, but I really need to get back to the topic at hand.

One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to a world view of Jesus, is that people will try to say that Jesus preached “love and acceptance”.  OK, let me rant here for just a minute.  We really need to watch out for and correct those who claim to know what Jesus taught, yet they never step foot in a church or have read a Bible consistently.  How could you possible know who Jesus was or what he talked about if you’ve never met him?  Simple…you can’t.  So suffice it to say, Jesus never preached love and acceptance.

Matthew 4:17          •Matthew 4:23          •Matthew 9:35          •Mark 1:14-15          •Luke 5:31-32          •Luke 24:46-47

So after reading those scriptures, would you say Jesus preached love and acceptance?  No, and those were just a few examples.  In fact, out of 154 times the word Kingdom is used in the New Testament, 121 of those times it appears in the Gospels.  The vast majority of those times Jesus is referring to the Kingdom of Heaven typically in a parable.  Why were these issues so prevalent in his teachings?  Glad you asked…

The first time that Jesus is recorded using the word “repent” is in Matthew 4:17.  In the Greek, it simply means to “change one’s mind”.  In other words, Jesus said, “Change your way of thinking because the Kingdom of Heaven has come to join you.”  For thousands of years, Israel had thought a certain way.  They had been trained to think about the Kingdom in a particular manner, in a literal sense.  That the Messiah was going come and establish the Kingdom literally and overthrow the Roman government.  Jesus came to tell them they were wrong.  How they had interpreted things were wrong.  That wasn’t very popular at the time.  In fact, it’s not popular now…to tell people how they have been thinking is wrong will not win you any friends in this day and age; especially if we talked to them how Jesus talked to some of the most “religious” leader of his day.  He branded those leaders as “hypocrites” and he said the were like white-washed graves that appeared nice on the outside, but inside were full of decay and deceit.  He said they were the blind leading blind and they both would fall into a pit.  Needless to say, Jesus was not pleased how the “leaders” of his day were representing the Kingdom.  All the more important for Jesus to introduce a new way to think about Kingdom.  (I cannot do it justice here or can I do as it as thorough as necessary, so I would encourage you to look into the book series that Miles Munroe has written that called Kingdom Principles and others titled similar to it.)

People will also use the incident with the woman caught in the act of adultery as an example of Jesus accepting people and probably to justify themselves in what they are doing wrong.  I wouldn’t say that he accepted her for who she was, but rather didn’t condemn her for who she was or what she had done.  Even when Jesus sent her away, he specifically said to her, “Go and sin no more.”  He in no way shape or form approved or accepted her lifestyle.  In fact the opposite was true: he told here to stop doing it.  Those who are living a sinful lifestyle today will do so under the guise that Jesus is OK with how they choose to live and who they choose to love.  He is most certainly not.  In fact, he would do today as he did back then…tell them to stop.  Would he condemn them?  No.  Should we?  No.  However at the same time, we don’t have to accept what they do as right and if we are branded as bigots or anything else they choose to brand us, then we are in good company because if they call us a bigot then they are calling Jesus a bigot.

How about the this incident in John 5:1-14?  Did he seriously just say what I think he said?  Oh, no he didn’t!  Oh, yes he did!  He basically told that man, his infirmity was a result of his sinning and if he continued to do so, he would suffer something worse.  Can you imagine the backlash if we told someone with some type of debilitating disease that it was their sin that caused it?  I really think they might legalize stoning for that!  Yet, I’m supposed to believe Jesus preached love and acceptance?  I NEVER read Jesus telling anyone to “do what makes them happy” or any type coddling response to peoples sin.

Jesus did not accept sinful lifestyles.  Did he love those who sinned?  Absolutely.  Was he OK with their lifestyles?  No.  Should we love those who sin?  Absolutely.  Should we be OK with those lifestyles?  No, nor do we have to accept other people’s or “society’s” standard of what is right and wrong.  We have an absolute standard from the Word of God and that’s the one I’ll accept even if it’s inconvenient.  At the same time, it does not absolve us of our duties to love others as Jesus did.  Jesus never shoved his finger in someone’s face and spewed “SINNER!” all over them.  He did, however, correct those that were in need of correction and said what needed to be said regardless of who it would offend.

Don’t accept anyone version of Jesus if it does not line up with only true one.

 

 

 


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