Owned

This is a passage that, if you consider it honestly and seriously, will rock your world and radically change your priorities:

Luke 12:31-34 

But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  HCSB

I’m praying for the courage to take the hard look necessary to be a faithful disciple and change where change is required. 

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 video

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

According to John, Jesus has the authority to both give life to whomever He pleases and to judge the living and the dead.  What does it mean to truly live the life given by Christ?  Is it possible to have eternal life and yet live a life of unrepentant sin?  I fear many people have received a false sense of security by holding onto a moment in which they prayed a prayer asking Jesus into their hearts, but after which have lived a life where there is no indication of transformation.  What does the Scripture say about this?  Can you be a disciple of Jesus if you aren’t actually being discipled by Him?  Can you say that you are a follower of Jesus if you aren’t actually following Him?

This was a difficult message to preach and I’m certain a tough one to hear, but I think it was an important one.  I pray God’s Spirit will be your guide if you decide to watch.  Blessings!

dp.

A Reasonable Response

In the opening of Isaiah, God says something that, to me, is astounding.  He calls the readers to do something that sounds, well, unreasonable.  He says, “Come now, let us reason together.”  Crazy, right?  No, think about it:  The sovereign Lord of all that is, who created by the power of His Word, who controls all that ever was, who speaks and no one can respond, who, with the power of a thought can build up or destroy, whose ways are higher and thoughts deeper than anything that could compare, calls us to reason with Him.

Be Reasonable

Here’s the backstory: The Father has just laid out a grievance against Judah, that they have come to Him with acts of worship, but filthy hands and hearts.  Rhetorically, He has asked them where they got such an idea.  Do you think I like this?  Has anyone told you to do this and act this way towards me?  Do you think I’m stupid?  Did I say that I like for you to make a mockery of worship? (Yeah, a little bit of paraphrasing there). He then tells them what He wants them to do (which we’ll get to in a minute) then calls for them to be reasonable in their response.  Look at how He lays this out (so easily a baby could just about reason through this):

1. Your sins are disgusting   —->  they’ll be cleansed like snow.

2. If you’re willing and obedient  —->  I’ll bless your socks off.

3. If you refuse and rebel  —->  you’ll lose your socks. (look how strongly the Lord states this:  “you shall be eaten by the sword.” Gives the idea of complete consumption/destruction, no?).

4. I said it. That’s it. No other options. (“…the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”)

Simple, right?  So, the reasonable response is……?  Of course, any reasonable person would do what God says.  OK, so…..do we?  Do you? 

What God Said

Isaiah 1: 6-7 tells us what we’re to do that, in doing so, will lead to the blessings of God:

1.  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil. 

2. Learn to do good. (personal experience – it is a process.)

3. Seek justice.

4. Correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

So this is what God said. Now, what did He mean?

In summary, He tells us to separate ourselves from sin (repent) and do works in keeping with repentance. These were the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:8

How does it work?  Simple.  In our context (A.D.), it is coming to terms with the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, who, having made peace with the Father on our behalf (that is, since He was pure and had no need to have His own sins purified, He could, in perfection, stand in and trade His purity for our impurity by dying the death we deserved, bearing the penalty of sin for us, absorbing the wrath of God towards sin so we don’t have to eternally and then rising from the dead so that Death is defeated forever), and repenting. That’s the “Gospel” or Good News in a nutshell.  In my opinion, when you think of what’s at stake and what is gained, “good news” is an understatement!

The repenting part is the application of Christ’s pardon on our lives. If I don’t repent, I don’t get the benefit.  It’s like getting a coupon for a free meal at a restaurant:  Somebody is paying for that meal, though I get it for free. However, I actually need to redeem the coupon in order to receive the meal.  Repentance (that involves not only being sorrowful over sin, but actually turning away from that sin and believing what Christ has done) is that act of faith where I believe “the meal” has been paid for and is mine for the enjoying.

Now the rest is the outflow of what has flowed in.  Christ has given me salvation, called me to Himself, broken me over my sin, applied the ointment of healing through forgiveness as I repent, and sealed my soul for eternity with Him. Now, if that is real, I see the world differently:

  • I see injustice and I want to fix it.
  • I see people hurting and I want to help them.
  • I see people broken and I want to heal them.
  • I see people lonely and I want to comfort them.
  • I see people treated badly and I want to defend them.

Though I may have been blinded to these things before, being absorbed by my selfishness, empty religion, or short-sightedness, now Christ has given my His own eyes. I begin to see the world as He sees it and want to doing something about it. This is a natural process brought about by the indwelling Spirit of God (note: many people do these things who are not followers of Christ…keep reading).  

So, a couple of questions:

1.  What is your attitude towards sin?

2.  What is your relation to Jesus?

3.  What is the condition of your soul?

4.  How do you see the world?

5.  What are you doing about it?

Doing “justice” for the sake of justice may be noble (and many people are doing just that), but if not prompted as a natural result of what Christ has done in your life, it is ultimately meaningless.  You can make a hungry person full for a while but they’ll hunger again.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, however, will change the world (and you) both now and for eternity.

If you’d like to explore this Good News further, shoot me a message.

Idols of the Heart

Rarely do I teach a class or deliver a message that hasn’t already penetrated my soul and taught me first.  I think that the only way a message is really exceptional is if the Holy Spirit has brought the hammer down first in the teacher/preacher’s life so that the passion can come from a place of real, deep conviction.

Last night, however, as I taught on really believing the Gospel (*see below for explanation of “Gospel”), the real weight of that came at that point and later as I reflected on it more and more.

I taught about how we say we believe the Gospel and and we do a lot of things that would be considered right for a disciple to do and yet it seems we tend to battle with the same surface sins over and over.  Why is that?  I say surface sins because those are the ones that we can see.  However, usually the surface sins indicate something much deeper: what Bob Thune and Will Walker, authors of The Gospel-Centered Life, call “Idols of the heart”.

Here’s the example we looked at last night – gossip.  Everybody knows when they gossip, right?…usually.  Anyway, so we realize we’re gossiping and so we feel convicted by it and repent.  Then we run along and gossip somewhere else. Doh! Why can’t we break that?! What’s going on that I keep gossiping when I know it’s wrong and don’t really want to (or do I?)

The question we explored last night was, “Why do we gossip?”  Here are some reasons suggested by the above-mentioned authors listed as “heart idols”:

  • »  The idol of approval (I want the approval of the people I’m talking to)

  • »  The idol of control (Using gossip as a way to manipulate/control others)

  • »  The idol of reputation (I want to feel important, so I cut some-one else down verbally)

  • »  The idol of success (Someone is succeeding—and I’m not—so I gossip about him)

  • »  The idol of security (Talking about others masks my own in- security)

  • »  The idol of pleasure (Someone else is enjoying life—and I’m not—so I attack her)

  • »  The idol of knowledge (Talking about people is a way of show- ing I know more)

  • »  The idol of recognition (Talking about others gets people to notice me)

  • »  The idol of respect (That person disrespected me, so I’m going to disrespect him)

What’s the problem?  I haven’t really believed the Gospel to the point that I don’t need these idols to make me feel successful, validated, accepted, respected, etc.  I haven’t realized that IN CHRIST, I am complete so that my validation, acceptance, respect and on and on are found in and completed in HIM.  I don’t need to serve and/or be held captive by these idols IF I TRULY BELIEVE THE GOSPEL and so I am freed from fear, anxiety, low self-image and all the other deep-seeded problems that are MANIFESTED through actions like gossip, lying, etc.  Make sense? 

So, I’m left with the question of whether or not I truly BELIEVE the Gospel.  If so, it should have an absolutely RADICAL affect on my entire life.  As we said last night, my whole life and everything in it should be leveraged for the sake of the Kingdom of God. That includes my family, my stuff, my money…everything.

Are you content to give lip-service to your “belief” in the Gospel of Christ?  Do you feel the same level of conviction I’ve felt?  If so, it’s time to do some spelunking of the soul and figure out what idols are living why down deep in caves and crevices of your heart.  Ask God to shine the helmet light on them and start breaking them down.  Clear them out! Be free from fear, depression, anxiety, anger and all the other manifestations that come with failing to believe in the deliverance and power of the Gospel. 

Am I minimizing or over-simplifying deliverance from things like depression, anger, etc? Absolutely not! Many, if not most of these things require some help both in identifying and removing them.  Seek Godly, qualified help and accountability if you are wrapped up in these things, but I encourage you to follow my example on this and start addressing it today. Stop saying you believe the Gospel but living as if you’ve never even heard it.

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* In this post, I am referring to the Gospel (which literally means “Good News”) as the revealed message of the work of Jesus Christ to bear the wrath of a just God towards sin and, thus, serve as a substitute for sinners in order that they can then be at peace with God, having been cleansed and adopted by God Himself. The only proper response to hearing the Gospel is to believe it and repent of the sins that evoked the wrath of God and precipitated the sacrificial death of Christ.  For more information on the Gospel, feel free to email me.

On Mission

The report yesterday on the mission day in Atlanta was awesome.  I’m excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for The Gathering.  So many important doors are being opened and it’s incredible to watch our people excited about walking through them.

On Saturday, we had 7 people join with a great team from Birchwood Baptist Church to go down to a refugee mission in the outskirts of Atlanta.  People from 25 countries are living in this complex and they are so hungry for love and attention.  These are people who have found refuge in this Country not for reasons of convenience, but, as one of our team members pointed out, “they’re here because otherwise, they would probably be dead.”

Man, what a great opportunity!  I want to encourage all of the members of The Gathering to get excited about being on mission!  We have opportunities for everybody: locally to your own neighborhood and workplace, city-wide through HaCoBaCare, regionally through the Atlanta Refugee mission, and internationally in Peru.  The only thing keeping you from being on mission…is you.

A Rant.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of The Gathering and where we’re going and how we will get there.  I am incredibly encouraged by the spirit of the people who currently make up this Body and the excitement that is present about our future.

There is a focus on the Mission here that I have not seen over the past three years, a desire to seek God’s will and plan for us, and a hope to make a positive impact on our immediate community.  There is a unity like never before and, as a result, really much to celebrate about what God is doing.  We have developed some strong, healthy relationships/partnerships with some really great, missional sister churches in the area that I’m so excited about and grateful for.

We are getting somewhat serious about discipleship.  I think we are starting to understand that simply to gather together is not to be a church.  A church is made up of faithful, authentic followers of Christ who are committed to becoming more like Him every day and fulfilling His instructions that He gave us, including taking the Gospel to all nations.

But here’s the problem as I see it:  Though we are getting serious about taking the Gospel around the world, we are not yet serious about taking it around the block.

I am concerned because we are not yet focused on being a witness everywhere we go.  I am concerned that we are not looking for opportunities at every turn to tell people about the great news that there is hope in life, both here and for eternity, or living the kind of lives that make them hungry for something more.  We’re not there yet.

This is my prayer and my hope for us.  I am focused on my own life and my own weakness in this area and praying that God will ignite within me a hunger for taking the Gospel to the world and a repugnance for the complacency that too often defines who I am.

I look around at so many churches with an apparent focus on that which does not make a healthy church and find myself getting disgusted.  If I am honest, though, we’re all pretty disgusting.  We’re all too often focused on things that are more in keeping with kingdom-building (small “k”) rather than the Kingdom of God.  Isn’t it really just time to get over it?  Isn’t it time for us just to embrace what we believe and actually live it consistently? Isn’t it really just that simple?

When does the Truth of the Gospel define us?  I mean that in contrast to the way followers of Christ too often define the Gospel, giving off a false perception of who Christ is and what He really lived and taught while He was here; of what was and is important to Him?  Is it just me or is anybody else just sick to death of the weak, country-club, self-centered, homogenized, pasteurized, ego-centric, Westernized version of “church” that has dominated the landscape for far too long?  Is this really what we’ve become?  Is anyone else sick of the dualism that we, as Christ-followers, live – acting, thinking and speaking one way outside the walls of the church than we do inside, compartmentalizing our faith from the rest of our lives?  Just look at our Facebook posts.  How often are principles found in passages like Ephesians 5: 3-4 taken very seriously there?  Gosh, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that…it’s so “old school,” isn’t it?  So yesterday.  We don’t worry about those kinds of things anymore.  Maybe that’s the problem.  Scripture hasn’t changed…we have.

So, my rant’s over…but my frustration isn’t.  I don’t want to sound too harsh or for it to be misunderstood that this is focused simply on others.  It’s focused on the collective us.  The Gathering has to decide to be different from the status quo.  We have to determine that we are going to be authentic and honest, focused on Jesus…period.  That’s why our slogan has simply become, “A church. Following Jesus.”  That simple. We just have to remember that “to follow” is “to become like”.  We can’t forget that.

Piper on the Prosperity “gospel”

The so-called “Prosperity Gospel” sells millions of books a year for it’s proponents, but it is a counterfeit gospel.  John Piper pulls no punches in telling it like it is in this compelling video. (ht: Shane Waldrop, @fuelshane)

Fear, Itself. – 1 John 4:18-21

I’ve really had to chew on this passage and, to some degree, am continuing to chew as I write to see if what I’m thinking makes sense.  John says in 1 John 4:18 that, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  Honestly, I think that verse is often used divorced from the rest of the section and without context.  I often hear that used in reference to taking risks to love other people.  In the narrow context, I think that misses the point, though in the broader context, it is still applicable.  However, if we don’t look at the context, we can miss the central meaning.

This verse (and the entire section that we’re looking at today) must be taken together with the verses that we read yesterday.  John talked in 13-17 about the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives, giving us internal assurance of our place within the family of God.  In essence, he says that because of the love God has shown them (the apostles) through Christ, they have come to believe in the love of God which leads us (by extension through their testimony) to a confidence that we will not face judgment.  That is the verse leading into the section for today, so the context is that we need not fear judgment because of the love of God.  That is the central idea: Because of the perfect love of Christ, if we are abiding in Him (finding our hope, contentment, purpose, etc.), we will have no fear of the future because perfect(ed) love casts it out.

So, really, John is giving us yet another test of how we can be certain of our standing with God through the absence of fear for the future, knowing in our souls (because of that indwelling testimony of the Holy Spirit) that we have been made right with God.  It doesn’t stop there, though.  John goes back to the idea of loving others as being partnered with this indwelling testimony.  There must be an outward expression of the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit.  Namely, loving others.

Sure, it’s great to feel the confidence of our eternal security by a lack of fear of death.  Yet, if that is not coupled with unconditional love for others (which is commanded–see verse 21), we are still dealing with emotionalism or religiosity (which can often mimic a real relationship with Christ).  THAT is the marker of a life having been transformed into the likeness of Christ, not that we simply love those who love us or who are easily lovable, but especially those whom we find it difficult to love: the least of these, the poor, the outcast, the obnoxious!  With these tests, we can certainly get a pretty accurate read on our standing with Christ.  This is John’s continued goal and mission from his Gospel:  “…these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

The President to Attend Worship Service in Chinese Church

I have really found myself burdened for the Chinese people lately.  With the Olympics getting ready to start, you can’t turn on the TV without seeing some kind of show about China and her people.  I know that the Olympics bring a rare opportunity for that country to be open to the Gospel like perhaps no other time for the very simply reason that so many Believers, like Joe Smith who is a part of the Olympic team, have actually been invited into the Country by the Chinese officials.  It’s as if the great spiritual wall of China is beginning to form some pretty big cracks.  So I ask you to join me in praying that the wall will be completely torn down.

What I see as a pretty amazing opportunity is the news that President Bush will be attending a Chinese church while attending the Olympics.  I can’t imagine a better way to spotlight the necessity of human and religious rights for the Chinese people than for the American president to actually attend one of their services.

According to a report on Breitbart.com citing of the President’s top aides, George W. Bush plans to attend church while in China for the opening of the Olympic Games next month, and will speak about freedom of religion. “When he goes to church on Sunday (August 10) he will make a statement afterwards in which he discusses his view on religious freedom in China,” said national security council director of Asian Affairs Dennis Wilder. “You can deliver the message of freedom without politicizing the events of the game,” Wilder said. “The president will have diplomatic meetings with the Chinese leadership that are separate from the games. And in those meetings with the Chinese leaders he will of course bring up these issues.”

Please join me in praying for the President as he carries out these meetings.  Also pray for the opening up of China for the Gospel to spread across that Country and for revival to break out among a people who are blinded to the Truth that salvation comes through no other means than the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

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