OK not to be liked

We’re living in a day and age where it’s deemed critically important to be liked by everyone. The mega social media platform, Facebook, is built around the whole concept of liking or disliking something or someone, with the intended goal of getting as many page and individual post likes as possible. There are hundreds of articles written on how to get more likes. Want to increase your likes? Easy, get out your credit card and we’ll make it happen.

With that said, who doesn’t like to be liked? No one that I know of. Worse than someone not choosing to like you on social media, is the dreaded unlike. That’s where someone intentionally dislikes you. With one quick click, you’re voted off the island against your will. Devastating!

Unfortunately, this whole “please like me” fad permeating today’s culture, has leaked over into the church. As a result, far too many pastors, church leaders, and Christians in general, are bending over backwards to be liked. But to be universally liked means that you must be constantly on your guard not to offend anyone, ever. And that, my friends, is a big, big problem.

Many people today have a very warped understanding of what the Bible actually says about heaven, hell, sin, marriage, sex, etc. Because when asked, too many Christians – afraid of offending or being unlikable – remove the rough edges of biblical truth.

Jesus never watered down the truth, because to do so compromises God’s Word and does a severe disservice to those who need to hear it. Jesus also new that Christianity was not a popularity contest. In fact, quite the opposite. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” (Matt. 10:16). “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13).

An ancient proverb states that you can judge a man’s character by who his enemies are. That’s also true in the spiritual realm. The world loves its own, but since Christ chose believers out of the world, the world hates them (John 15:19).

Remember, the world hated Jesus so much that it killed Him. We, as His followers, can also expect hostility. “If the world hates you,” Jesus said in John 15:18, “you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”

Peter noted the reason for the world’s hostility to Christians when he wrote, “[Unbelievers] are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.” (1 Peter 4:4).

How we live our lives as Christians should make unbelievers very uncomfortable in their sin, and remind them of coming judgment. But I don’t see much of that happening today. And, it’s not going to change until this generation gets over this silly “please like me” phase.

“without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved-and that by God.”  Philippians 1:28

Duped and disarmed

Though God the Father ordained the cross to deal with sin… Jesus was also nailed to the cross via the actions of secondary agents —rulers and authorities — such as Pilate, the Sanhedrin, and even Satan.

The “rulers and authorities” of Rome and Israel, as well as their father the Devil, disarmed Jesus, stripped Him naked, held Him up to open shame, and celebrated what they thought was their triumph over Him.

But despite these horrific details of the death that Jesus died, its paradoxical: for on the cross, God was disarming the powers, stripping them naked, triumphing over them, and holding them up to public contempt.

What Satan thought to be the end of his hated enemy once and for all, turned out to be the complete opposite. Death did not have the final say, for God raised His Son from the dead, proving that He is sovereign and evil does not get the last word.

In many parts of the world today, and in nearly all cultures, there are a lot of superstitions, which are conjured up to help protect people from the very real threat of what we know to be demons, even if they go by other names elsewhere.

But, thanks be to God, as Christians, we need never fear this dark demonic domain, for when Christ was crucified and raised from death to life, Satan realized he had been duped and disarmed.

John Calvin says that the demons “are disarmed, so that they cannot bring forward anything against us… our guilt being itself destroyed.” Demonic powers cannot rightly accuse those who are in Christ of guilt, nor can they possess Christians or separate us from God’s love.

So, this Easter, revel in the fact that Satan can no longer hold your guilt against you, he’s been disarmed and put to shame. We are the victors in Christ!

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” Colossians 2:15

Against all odds

“I’ll take ‘The most persecuted religious group in the world today’ for 800 Alex.” If that were an actual Jeopardy question, do you know what the correct answer would be? The answer in terms of sheer numbers and sheer horror might surprise you. It’s Christians. Specifically Christians living in Muslim-majority countries. I’m not talking about Christians fighting against Christmas or Easter being marginalized to simply a winter and spring holiday; I’m talking about “know your place or we’re going to kill you” persecution. And, what’s really tragic, is the Western mainstream media barely acknowledges that it’s happening.

And, don’t think for a second that the persecution of Christians and Christianity is limited to the Middle East. North Korea, China, Cuba, and Somalia are just of few of the countries that are constantly monitoring Christian activity, and like the game of Whack a Mole, stand ready with the big club, anxious to beat it back into extinction.

But against all odds, the Christian church is thriving. Underground, or above ground, new disciples of Jesus Christ are made every day, as the gospel continues to advance in the world.

Jesus explained to His disciples that this is the way the gospel always advances – side by side with every cause for pessimism is evidence for joy and everlasting hope. Maybe the best illustration of it is His comparing the kingdom of heaven, in Matthew 13:24, to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.

In his summary of the meaning of the parable, Jesus essentially says that as history moves along, evil will mature and become ever more evil, while godliness will also mature and become ever more godly, and ever more distinctive.

But, here’s the good news; though at times it seems like evil is winning the day, when God say’s “Game over!”, there will be a harvest. At that time, “the weeds will be gathered and burned, and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Evil may win many battles, but the good news is that God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ, will win the war! Thanks be to God.

March 21, 2017 – Muslim converts breathe new life into Europe’s struggling Christian churches

“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:43

Only one solution

I grew up in church. We lived in the country, not the city. Our social life as a family totally revolved around church. I never missed a Sunday service, not even on vacation. I knew all the Bible stories inside and out.

There were times when I wasn’t really paying that much attention in Sunday school, because I felt like I’d heard the lesson many times before. My friends and I used to joke that if we were ever put on the spot, meaning you were suddenly asked a question that you were not sure of the correct answer, just say, “Jesus”. That way you’d never be wrong because Jesus is the answer to everything.

As silly as that might seem, the longer I live on this earth, the more inclined I am to believe it’s true. Now, with that said, let me state the obvious. The correct answer to “What is 2 + 2?” is not Jesus. But more often than not, when it comes to big life issues – the world’s problems, society’s problems, one’s persona problems – the answer really is Jesus.

No one understood that better than the committed and persistent friends of the paralyzed man of the story told in Mark chapter two.

Hearing that Jesus was coming to Capernaum, people gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door. This presented a real problem for the paralyzed man and his friends. Because they realized this was their one big opportunity, and maybe the only shot they had.

His friends knew that the only solution to his paralysis, was Jesus! What I love about this story is their persistent faith. Their unyielding commitment to their friend’s deliverance. They simply would not give up, not for a minute. There had to be a way in and they were going to find it, even if it meant – and it did – digging through the roof, and lowering him by rope on top of the crowd.

And make no mistake about it – Everyone was amazed, and Jesus was impressed!

What happens next is epic! The paralytic and his persistent friends came for one solution, and got two. Jesus began his two-part miracle by saving his soul, after all that effects his life forever, even if he would have remained paralyzed for the rest of his life here on earth, he still wins big-time. Because eventually he gets a new body. But because of his faith, because he really believed that Jesus was the only solution to his problem, he got both spiritual and physical healing.

So that leaves just one question. Do you believe that Jesus is the only answer to life’s big problems? Do you believe it enough to be the unyielding and persistent friend who helps someone going to hell, find eternal life?

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Mark 2:5

Truth is Like a Lion

When it comes to sharing your faith in Jesus Christ, do you play offence or defense? Do you simply and enthusiastically tell others about Jesus, and what He accomplished on the cross, or do you find yourself holding back from that conversation with others, because you feel like you have to defend it?

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Truth is like a lion. Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself.”

There’s a prevailing attitude among many Christians today that we must defend the truth of God’s Word. And while it’s certainly true that the truth about Christ in our society is being ridiculed and ignored, I don’t think God has called me to defend His Word, as much as He’s called me to simply share it.

When you share you faith, you’re marching down the field, on offense, toward the goal of watching GOD do a miracle in the heart of the one you love enough to share the truth with. Too many Christians today think that witnessing is about playing defense – with fists out, they bravely hold their ground by beating back the arguments of the unbelievers.

The Apostle Paul spoke of finishing the race and completing the task that the Lord Jesus had given him. And what was that task? The task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

The truth needs no defense, it only needs a voice. The problem of our time, said best by G.K. Chesterton, is that “the truth hasn’t been tried and found wanting, it’s been unheard and left untried.”

This week, consider this question; when was the last time that you simply told someone, the reason for the hope that you have Jesus Christ?

After all, who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and let it defend itself!

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” 2 Corinthians 3:12

A Mighty Fortress

It was a hot summer day – the off season of pro football – and I was stuck, along with everyone else, in a long line of cars, waiting for a train, temporarily stopped on the tracks ahead of us. Those of us who lived there knew exactly what was going on. It was the Railroad Company’s way of getting the voter’s attention, concerning an effort to get an overpass built.

So, to enlighten everyone on why an overpass was needed, a train would frequently and mysteriously stop on the section of road blocking the main exit out of town, right in the middle of rush hour.

We all knew the drill. We’d be stuck there about fifteen minutes before the train would slowly move on. We all took it in stride, annoyed, but relaxed. That was not the case, however, with those new to the situation.

And, on this occasion, clearly, I had a newbie in front of me. How did I know? Well, assuming that the train would be moving on quickly, he wanted to keep his car running and creep forward a few feet at a time. But the car in front of him, like most of the rest of us, had turned his car off.

What happened next took me by surprise! The “let me keep inching forward guy” got out of his car and was storming up to the car in front of him. He actually opened the door and pulled the “shut his car off” guy out onto the road. He was screaming in his face fist clenched, ready to hit him.

Enough of this, I said to myself. I quickly unfolded out of my small sports car, all 6 foot 7 and 280 pounds of me, and moved quickly toward the showdown. I will never forget the look in the eyes of the terrified stranger, about to be pummeled by the road-raged maniac. In an instant, he went from great fear, to great relief. For he knew that he was about to be rescued!

That feeling of panic-to-relief is exactly what we as Christians experience every time Satan comes after us with his fists clinched. But in the words of Martin Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” we say with confidence; “The Prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.”

So the next time Satan tries to bully you, remember this, Satan may be the prince of this world, but Jesus is the King.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

His own sheep listen

All throughout the Bible we see images of God as our Shepherd. Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” The New Testament describes Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and tells us that He lays down His life for His sheep. Jesus says, that the sheep hear His voice.

I don’t have sheep, but I have two dogs – Darlene and Tobi. When I speak to them, they know my voice. If I were a stranger they wouldn’t listen. Now, understand what I’m saying. They don’t come immediately every time I call them but they absolutely know who’s calling them – they know MY voice.

Since both Darlene and Tobi are, shall we say “reluctantly obedient”, they have a tendency to ignore me at times when they would rather not “come as they’re called”. Especially if they’re distracted by their nose, having picked up the scent of squirrel or chipmunk they might want to chase (sorry Rachel).

In the house, however, when they’re not as distracted, when I call they come running. They know that on the other end is their loving owner who wants to rub their head, give them a treat, play with them, or the best of all (Oh please, please, please) take them for a ride in the car.

It works exactly the same way with the Lord, our Shepherd! What a beautiful thought that our Good Shepherd speaks to us. Here are just a few of the things He says in His Word: “Look to Me . . . I provide all of your needs. Cast your cares on me . . . for I care deeply for you. Rest in me . . . for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. I will do the work for you. I will strengthen you, I will help you. I will guide you . . . follow me. I am always with you, I will never leave you. I will comfort you. My grace is sufficient. Don’t be afraid, I will protect you. I go before you and I will bless you. You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you. . . .”

So the question is, when the Good Shepherd calls you, considering all those great promises, are you reluctantly obedient, or do you immediately come running?

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:3

Hide and seek

Hide and seek

I loved playing hide and seek as a child. I was always on the lookout for great hiding places that hopefully no one else had thought off, so that the next time we played the game, I’d win, because it would take longer to find me.

The game of hide and seek also takes place in the Bible. Game one was played in the Garden of Eden. As soon as sin entered the world, the first thing Adam and Eve did was foolishly attempt to hide from God. That didn’t work out so well. It’s never a good idea to play hide and seek with the creator of the universe. Besides, God doesn’t even play the game right. He never starts by saying, “Ready or not, here I come.”

The Bible reveals that another game of hide and seek, a very frightful one, will take place in the last days. In Revelation 6:15-16, we’re told that “the kings of the earth… the rich and the powerful… and everyone, slave and free, will be calling out to the rocks and hills to fall on them, to hide them from the face of him who is seated on the throne. But in that Day of Judgment, there will be no place to hide.

Centered between Genesis and Revelation stands the cross of Christ. There, the full wrath of God came down upon Him, and at that moment of judgment, there was nowhere for Jesus to hide. No mercy, no grace, no compassion. Jesus, for our sake, was fully exposed to the cruelty of sin and the wrath of God upon it.

The good news is that because of the cross, Jesus became our hiding place. For hidden in Him, we escape the judgment we deserve for our sins. Outside of Christ, there is no safe place to hide.

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3

“Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.”

Logic or Imagination

Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

The Apostle John begins his gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people… The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5, 14).

The “Word” John speaks of here is Jesus Christ. The Greek word for that word “Word”, is Logos. It’s the same word from which we get the word logic. John is telling us that Jesus is God! Jesus created this universe and sustains its existence. Therefore, Jesus is all that makes logical sense about this world and our life in it. When it comes to making sense out of this life, you have a choice, logic or imagination.

To deny that God exists, or to live your life without acknowledging His existence or His authority over your life, is to commit Spiritual suicide. When your life ends on this earth, it’s not that God then sends you to hell; you had already chosen hell over heaven. In fact, if God were to put you in heaven—in spite of your choice—He would cease to be loving or just. Why? Because you, acting on the free will God gave you, chose to build your entire life around yourself and others like you. You put yourself in charge and voted God off the island. Think about it. You would be absolutely miserable in heaven. It’s full of all those weak minded simpletons who had to constantly lean on their “God-crutch” because they couldn’t make it on their own.

Some time ago, billionaire media mogul Ted Turner made a well-publicized comment about Christianity, calling it a “religion for losers.” Though meant to be offensive to Christians, his statement actually contains a profound truth. True Christians are those who know they need help, big-time. What I appreciate about Ted Turner (and I’m serious), is that he’s at least being intellectually and emotionally honest concerning his opinion of Christianity, and what he imagines to be true about this life and the next.

No Fool

Friday of last week, January 8th, marks the 60th anniversary of the tragic death of Jim Elliot in Ecuador. Five Auca Indians killed Jim and his four missionary companions as they were trying to bring the gospel to the Auca tribe of sixty people.

Six days earlier the 29-year-old Jim Elliot jumped out of bed, dressed as quickly as he could, and got ready for the short flight over the thick Ecuador jungle. This was a day he had been waiting for most of his life. Almost three years of jungle ministry and many hours of planning and praying had led to this day. Within hours, he and the four other missionaries would be setting up camp in the territory of a dangerous and uncivilized Indian tribe known then as the Aucas (Ow-cuz), known now as the Waodani (Wah-o-dah-nee). The Aucas had killed all outsiders ever caught in their area. Even though it was dangerous, Jim Elliot had no doubt God wanted him to tell the Aucas about Jesus. In fact, he believed that the only way to stop the Aucas from killing was to tell them about Jesus.

Months earlier, Nate Saint, a missionary supply pilot, came up with a way to lower a bucket filled with supplies to people on the ground while flying above them. He thought this would be a perfect way to win the trust of the Aucas without putting anyone in danger. They began dropping gifts to the Aucas. They also used an amplifier to speak out friendly Auca phrases. Eventually, the Aucas even sent a gift back up in the bucket to the plane. Jim and the other missionaries felt the time had come to meet the Aucas face-to-face.

But on that fateful day the Aucas did not bring gifts. Their expected greating turned out to be a group of Auca warriors with their spears raised, ready to throw. Jim Elliot reached for the gun in his pocket. He had to decide instantly if he should use it. But he knew he couldn’t. Each of the missionaries had promised they would not kill an Auca who did not know Jesus to save himself from being killed. Within seconds, the Auca warriors threw their spears, killing all the missionaries.

His journal entry seven years earlier expressed his belief that work dedicated to Jesus was more important than his life. Also written in that entry was Jims now famous quote,

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

In less than two years after Jim’s death, his wife Elisabeth, along with her daughter Valerie, and Rachel Saint (Nate’s sister) were able to move to the Auca village. Many Aucas became Christians. They are now a friendly tribe. Missionaries, including Nate Saint’s son and his family, still live among the Aucas today.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Luke 9:24