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.

T-Shirt Theology

CrossHillBWI’m often amazed at how easy it is to become so focused on a thought we want to convey that we lose sight of truth, often derailing the very point we set out to make.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

This morning, I heard a guy on the radio make the following statement:

The cross was no cosmological accident; no knee-jerk reaction. It was a calculated plan. The moment the forbidden fruit touched the mouth of Eve, the shadow of the cross appeared on the horizon.

Sounds, beautiful, no? It really does.

“The moment the forbidden fruit touched the mouth of Eve, the shadow of the cross appeared on the horizon”.

That could be printed on a T-shirt and sold for $15 with every major Bible bookstore stacking it on its shelves.

The only problem is that, in spite of claiming that the cross was no knee-jerk reaction, the explanation sounds like a knee-jerk reaction.

Think about it.

According to this statement, the cross was a response to the action of Eve. Sounds logical, right?  Problem arises, solution follows.  Sounds palatable. But is it accurate?

If that’s true, then this is false:

18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. [1 Peter 1:18-21. Emphasis added]

And this:

7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. [Revelation 13:7-8. Emphasis added]

In these two passages, both communicating a pre-determined plan of God prior to the creation of the world,  the first part of the above quote is affirmed: The cross was no cosmological accident or knee-jerk reaction. The second part, however, implies the opposite.

Though it sounds good, it’s not good. The only way for this not to be a knee-jerk or something that God had to react to (an assault on his omniscience) is for it to have been part of his plan from the beginning. That affirms the passages in 1 Peter and Revelation.  If that was what was meant, it’s not what was communicated.

Somehow, God had planned to reveal Christ to the world long before creation in the exact way in which He did. At the right time, God began to put the plan in motion (i.e. when the fruit was tasted and the fall occurred), revealing to us the glorious Christ as it unfolded.

I admit, that makes for a bad t-shirt, but it makes for a wonderful, sovereign, omniscient God.

It is especially important for those of us who are charged with communicating Truth to the masses (but applies to anyone conveying Truth), to be extra careful with our theology so that, in our desire for pithy slogan-making and sentimental ideas, we don’t misrepresent the character of God and miscommunicate the very Truths we are trying to convey.

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.

This is perhaps the most incredible video I have ever seen.  I cannot encourage you enough to watch it.  It’s well-worth the 33:03 you will invest…and watch it to the end!  You are encouraged to share this with as many people as possible.  There are some scenes that are graphic in nature so be advised.

Deception

Do you have a pet peeve? Is there that one thing that just sets you off quicker than anything else? I heard one person whose pet peeve was people who have pet peeves. Hmm.

I think one of my greatest pet peeves is deception. I hate when people try and deceive me…especially when I know they’re doing it. One of my spiritual gifts is discernment, so very often I find people trying to feed me a line and I know it. I may or may not say anything, but I know as well as I know my name I’m being deceived.

It happened last night at church when a lady and her grown son came in needing gas money so she could go see her ailing mother in the hospital and then get back to Sale Creek. It happens all the time and for some reason, it’s always the same hospital and they always need to get back to Sale Creek. Go figure.

I actually thought of this because I was reading in Joshua 9 where the Gibeonites pulled the wool over the Israelites eyes by dressing in stanky clothes, acting like worn out travelers from “a distant country,” rather than coming as the neighboring people that they were. Why? They knew Joshua was cleaning house, defeating all of the peoples in the land God had given them. So they made a covenant that they would not be defeated. It worked, too (at least in the short term…deception never works in the end).

I get that a lot as a pastor, too. People not only coming dressed as beggars so they can get a handout, but well-dressed people come as devoted Christ-followers. They feed a line they think you want to hear and act a certain way (for a time), when all along they are “white-washed tombs”; sometimes actual wolves in sheeps clothing. Since it is almost always revealed sooner or later, why not just be honest from the start? I have so much more grace and compassion (and respect!) for those who come admitting they are broken people like I am, but am disgusted with the games.

I think God is, too. Actually, I think we all play this game with Him. You know that game where we dress ourselves up for Him and act like we’re OK, but all along we’re broken. It’s a sad little game. Today, I’m going to try and stop playing it, though, and get honest with God and the people around me. Because, you know, it is a pet peeve of mine…and besides, He already knows anyway and prefers we just ‘fess up so He can demonstrate the depths of His grace and compassion towards us.

The eyes of the Lord  search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are  fully committed to him. [2 Chronicles 16:9a]

Eight-Foot Ceilings

I don’t have the resources.  I don’t have the money.  I don’t have the time.  I don’t have the talent.  I’m scared of what will happen if it fails.  I don’t know how people will react to it.

Man, am I used to hearing these sentences.  Who am I kidding…I’m used to saying these things.  We call them excuses; reasons not to__________ (you fill in the blank).  Reasons not to do what I have the potential to do; to do what needs to be done; to do what I’ve dreamt of doing; to do what God has called me to do.  They are different excuses, but all have the same result: regret.

fearWhat is the motivator?  Fear.  Always fear.  Some might call it reality, or level-headedness, or good management.  I call it fear.  It is that thing that paralyzes us, keeping us from doing what can be done…what ought to be done.  It doesn’t seem to matter that fear is not of God and “if God be for us, who can be against us.”  The reality is that we still become neutralized into mediocrity.  We still get relegated to the sidelines of complacency because we would rather play it safe and deal with the minimal results than risk losing it all…or achieving it all.

I’m working through Mark Batterson’s book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, with our men’s group on Tuesday mornings, and am challenged yet again to stop settling for all that the enemy wants for me.  Did you hear that?  Usually, Christians talk about all that God wants for us, but the reality, we usually settle for all the enemy wants for us.  See, if he can keep me so afraid that I never attempt God-sized goals, I’ll always fall short of what I was created for.  So, exactly what is a God-sized goal?  I guess it depends on how big God is to you.  To quote Batterson, God is the size of your biggest problem.

We’re about to celebrate Easter.  Actually, a more accurate statement would be to say that we’re about to observe Easter (after all, as the President told the Turkish people, “we don’t refer to ourselves as a ‘Christian nation,’ but a nation of citizens…”).  Well, true or not, many of us will be celebrating Easter, the resurrection of Jesus.  The question we must ask ourselves is whether we believe the same power that could give life back to Jesus can breathe life into the impossible in my life.  In your life.  Can God do the impossible?  If we believe that He can, can He do it in you?  How, then, do we get from the point of believing it in our head to acting on it everyday?  If we only believe it in our heads but it is not a reality in our lives, can we really say we believe it?  I mean, really, big deal!

If I believe that, I’m going to prayerfully be expecting the supernatural.  I’m going to begin attempting things that should not be able to happen.  hopeI’m going to begin to expect things that are not according to my limitations, but are based upon His limitless power and provision.  I’m going to begin asking Him to do things that I know are otherwise impossible.  It’s time to get past the platitudes!  I’m sick of hearing…of saying…how much God can do, but “I’m just not there yet.”  That’s a cop-out.  If God can, then God will do much more than I have seen Him do in me for His glory.

It’s long past time to stop expecting less than what we say we believe.  It’s unbecoming for one who says he’s put faith in an omnipotent God.  Maybe that’s the reason Newsweek has declared “The End of Christian America”.  Maybe it’s because we’ve gotten too caught up in an institutional religion and forsaken the real God who changes lives and makes an impact in not only us, but the world around us.  If that’s the case, then I hope that Christian America does die and can be replaced with people who want and expect an America where those who claim to know Jesus will look for Him to move within and through us; that we become the organism, rather than the organization (which is a terrible representation of who He is and what He does in a life anyway).  Now that’s the kind of America I want to live in.

May it start in me!

A New Kind of Test – 1 John 4:1-5

Up to now, the tests in 1 John have been for us.  We have been given tests to demonstrate whether or not Christ really lives in us and if we are really following after Him.  Now, the tables are turned.

Testing the spirits is a vital operation that we must carry out constantly.   In an age of tolerance, we are pressured into accepting everything that comes our way.  Whether through social issues that arise or through spiritual teaching, discerning the Truth can be very difficult.  Subtleties lie around every corner.

John tells us that the bare minimum standard we must require is that the teacher fully affirm the diety and humanity of Christ.  If a teacher sounds good, appeals to the masses and gives glory to “god,” that is not enough.  Where do they stand on the issue of Christ?  If they waffle on any aspect of the person of Christ, they are to be rejected.

It goes further than this, though, because there are some who will claim the deity of Christ and get everything John is requiring here and still be misleading teachers.  For instance, there are some Christian leaders, denominations, etc., that will align very clearly with the Bible’s description of Christ, yet change other parts of the Gospel:  “Yes, Jesus is fully God and fully man.  Yes, He came to die in our place, was physically born, killed, resurrected and ascended…but, He’s not the only way to salvation.”  Bam! There it is, and they were sounding so good.

Some preach a health and wealth gospel which is not in line with Jesus’ teachings.  Some prove their own social agenda by denying that parts of Scripture are relevant today.  Others will deny the authenticity and even the inspiration of some writers (Paul is a popular target) because he doesn’t support their claim.  Watch out for these people.  Test the spirit!

The Great Misconception of Christianity

One of the most painful things as a minister and, more simply, a follower of Christ, is to see people who have fallen in behind Christ, pledged their lives to Him, and yet turn aside when the relational bliss fades and life gets tough. How is it that someone who has been delivered from a death of hopelessness to a life of abundance ever “gives up” on their faith? I think the answer lies in the popular misconception that now that I am a follower of Christ, all is well in the world…bring on the green pastures for me to lie down in.

Unfortunately, too many miss that other part in Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow death…” Difficulties do come and for many, it is a blind-sided attack they never see coming. I am convinced that many so-called “discipled” Christians who have been Christians for many years can come under the same attack and end up in disillusionment and, eventually, abandonment of the beliefs they once held dear.

In Spurgeon’s reading this morning, he addresses the core problem of this idea in explaining that sometimes the light of God is eclipsed, leaving us walking in darkness. Some determine, as Spurgeon explains, that “Surely, if I were a child of God, this would not happen.” I know I have personally gone through such doubts and confess that even now those thoughts sometimes cross my mind. Surely, THIS would not come my way as a child of God. What is the “THIS”? It doesn’t really matter because the reality is, anything can come our way, Christ-follower or not. I should never be surprised when attacked from any number of directions. Christians are never immune from anything the rest of the world is attacked with. What I must ask is, “what am I going to do with it?” How am I going to process this?

Religious people will either turn away or adopt some strange method of denial, simply holding tighter to their religious “blanky” without ever questioning the irrationality of their position. The former expect a one, two, three step answer to their problems (which must, of course, be minor at best) and if they do not get them…if they’ve been following a religion made up of a system that is behaviorally focused, they will walk away, realizing that this religion-thing doesn’t work. Man, how right they are. The latter will struggle through the challenges of their lives and attend church on Sundays to get some shallow sentimental fix.

True Christ-followers, though, face up to and embrace the challenges, realizing that in the struggle comes the growth. There is no denial and there is no abandonment. They realize that walking through the challenges shape us into looking more like Christ. It’s called sanctification. Spurgeon said it this way:

The best of God’s saints must drink the wormwood; the dearest of his children must bear the cross. No Christian has enjoyed perpetual prosperity; no believer can always keep his harp from the willows. Perhaps the Lord allotted you at first a smooth and unclouded path, because you were weak and timid. He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God’s full-grown children. We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to tear off the rotten bough of self-dependence, and to root us more firmly in Christ. The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope.

So, what is the great misconception of Christianity? Well, it may be as I stated above: the belief that Christianity erases the problems in life. I think, though, there is more to it than that. It may be that it is something that even those (or even especially those) who have been Christians for many years are prone to. The great misconception of Christianity may just be the view of Christianity as a great world religion to be followed and devoted to. The sad thing is that even many of us who have repeated the cliche over and over that “It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship” still don’t get it. We say the words, yet remain cloistered in our system of behavioral modifications, falling apart when the system doesn’t seem to be working.

If Christianity truly is about relationship…real relationship with Christ based on faith, then there must be troubles that push us into Him; there must be times of trial so that we know that we can trust Him and know that our faith is real. Unless we break the cycle of religion based on litmus tests and rules of conduct and get back to Scripture that reveals the Truth about real life with real problems, we’ll simply end up with more guilt-laden religious people, carrying the burden of their sins and reflecting none of the glory of Christ’s righteousness which leaves them complete in God’s eyes and finding that Christ is enough for their lives. Then, and only then, will we find that we’re able to deal with the ambiguities and trials that come our way. Then will we know that, in spite of the dark times, we are held and upheld in the arms of a loving God who works all things for good because, we who are His, love Him and are called according to His purpose.

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