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Protesting Sin

Recently I have seen several events focused on putting an end to some type of negative issue and it brought to my attention something that is missing. There are Walks to End Alzheimer’s, 5K Races to End Breast Cancer, A Walk to Stop Bullying or a March Against Hunger. On top of all of that there have been heated and controversial protests and gatherings about various social issues. If you listen to some people, everyone is either an Anitfa member or a White Supremacist; when in reality the percentage of either is actually really small. People are protesting in marches and speeches, even kneeling during the National Anthem. The value you place on any of these things depends in large part to your experiences and opinions. For someone who has had a family member fight Breast Cancer that issue holds an extremely important place in their lives.

Standing up and speaking out for what issues you believe in can be noble and positive indeed. However, when was the last time you saw a March Against Sin or a 5K for Godliness? When was the last protest against adultery or lying or stealing? When was the last time groups of people stood together against idolatry and for loving God with all your heart, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself? Aren’t these the things Christians should be passionate about?

Every single human is infected with the disease of sin. It is fatal in all cases; “for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” and “the wages of sin is death”; 10 out of 10 die. Yet there seems to be little concern and effort for addressing this deadly disease. And there is already a cure. Jesus is the cure for this disease. While “the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life.” This gift is in the Son, Jesus Christ and need only be received by all who are infected to be healed.

Why aren’t we marching for Jesus, running for salvation, walking for godliness and righteousness? Why are we not protesting adultery, lying, stealing, covetousness and idolatry? Aren’t these the real issues facing our culture?

Bearing Fruit

In Luke chapter 13 Jesus warns the people they must repent or they will perish. It begins when someone mentions a tragic event, the death of some Galileans at the hands of Pilate. Jesus relates another tragic event when a tower built for safety becomes the means of death instead eighteen people. Jesus uses both of these events to address a mistaken notion that those who suffer greatly must therefore be great sinners. He sums it all up when he says, “but unless you repent, you too will perish.”

He then shares a parable to make the point more clear. This parable presents a challenging point for us when we consider the idea of repentance. In his parable, Jesus shares the story of a vineyard owner who has a fig tree that hasn’t produced any fruit for three years. Having had enough of it he tells his servant to cut it down as there is no reason for it to use up the soil. The servant asks that the tree be given one more year with some extra care and attention. The owner agrees, but only for one more and if it then still produces no fruit it is to be cut down.

So how does a tree not bearing fruit relate to repentance? Jesus told the parable in order to illustrate what he was talking about in regard to repenting, lest you perish. through this parable Jesus makes it clear that we should be bearing fruit and if we are not we need to repent of our barren state. To repent means more than merely saying we are sorry. It is a decision to follow up that sorrow with true change in our lives. Those who bear no fruit are to repent and begin to bear fruit. In Luke 3:8, john the Baptist tells the Israelites to bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance. The lack of fruit shows no repentance. The lack of repentance causes the barren, fruitless condition. the barren fruitless tree will perish. Jesus said in Luke 15:8, “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”  Is there fruit of godliness in your life? Is it easily visible?

A Hard Working Servants Heart

I will just go ahead and state this right now; I absolutely have the best sons a man could ever have. OK,maybe I’m a little biased. The reality is, they give me much reason to be proud. Perhaps most pleasing to me is that in a world where so many feel entitled and approach life with a “what’s in it for me” attitude, they live with a servant’s heart. They are successful in their endeavors and are achievers in many fields, yet giving sacrificially of what they have and who they are.

This didn’t happen by accident. Early on they were taught the spirit and principles of serving and hard work. This is not a post to brag on the parenting abilities of mom and dad (ok, maybe just a little), but rather an attempt to encourage those of you who are raising children, or perhaps as grandparents, helping to raise children. We didn’t give our kids everything they wanted; far from it. Actually, they had to “earn” a large amount of anything they had. This even included video game time. We gave them an hour a day to play video games. If they wanted more they had to do certain things to “earn” more time. We didn’t simply give them cars or even cell phones. It use to frustrate me so much when parent’s would give their children a car when they turned sixteen. I have worked with teens as a coach and Pastor for over 30 years. Whenever a young person would come to me and tell me about their new car i would invariably ask them, “how much did you pay for it?” If they told me it was given to them by their parents I would tell them, “oh, so it’s your parents’ car and you are just using it.” They didn’t want to hear that. If our sons wanted to drive they had to pay for their own insurance. When they finally got old enough to have a cell phone (far older than most kids today – young children are not responsible enough to have a cell phone), they had to pay the monthly cost. It was a basic phone too; our sons did not have a smart phone until they were out of college and could earn their own. Why did we do this? Because we wanted them understand, if something is worth having it is worth working for. When you work for something it means much more to you and you genuinely appreciate it.

It wasn’t simply working hard to earn things. It was also learning to be servants. Our two oldest sons were adolescents when our church ran a ministry call Jericho Express. This ministry was essentially a ‘Church on Wheels’. We revamped a school bus with a stage, sound system, AC, generator and more. We took that bus, along with another that carried food goods, to areas where less fortunate people lived and we took the ministry of the church to them. Every Saturday, as many 150 people, mostly children would hear the gospel message and be provided with food to eat. We built relationships, played with kids, got to know the parents and grandparents and they were a part of our church – right where they lived. Our sons worked in this ministry. They carried tables, played with kids, served food, cleaned up, help teach lessons and much more. Why did we have them involved in this? Was it because we needed many hands to do the work? No, we wanted our sons to understand that being a follower of Christ is so much more than what you can get out of it; being a follower of Christ means serving, just like he served.

Our sons participated in many other ministry areas as well. They learned to serve and it shows today. As adults they are still serving, doing some of the most amazing acts of compassion and kindness for people around them. It pains me when I see youth groups so focused on simply having fun. We approach our youth with the fear that if we don’t keep them excited and happy they will stop coming to church. Our youth are looking for and need so much more than fun. They are looking for and need purpose. As followers of Christ we find our purpose in serving, just as he served. We stress over the attitudes so prevalent in society today and wonder how it got this way. A big part of the root cause is that we have tried to make our kids happy by giving them things and never showing them the real joy of serving and working hard. They grow up entitled and when life does not give them what they want they do not know how to handle it.

We have to do more than just tell them these things (sadly, we are doing very little of even that), we must get them actively involved in hard work and serving. We need to roll up our own sleeves and get in their with them. We need to be working hard and serving and we need to make them join us in these endeavors. We do them a great disservice when we neglect so great a gift to them.

Making Disciples – Faith With Works

James really challenges us when he asks, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?” (James 2:14). What good is a faith like that? He even goes on asks, “Can that faith save him?” Wow! Is he suggesting that a faith that is lacking works is not sufficient to salvation? Aren’t we told over and over that all we have to do is believe in Jesus and we will be saved, get our ticket to heaven punched and we are good to go on way? Maybe James is simply teaching us that when we get saved we have to quit doing some ‘bad’ things. But ceasing certain activities and habits is not the same as works. ‘Not doing’ some things is not the same as ‘doing’ things.In the next several verses James continues by giving us examples and much greater clarification of an active discipleship; not simply a ‘believing’. One must question, if they are not doing the works of the Father, the works Jesus did, are they really believing? And if they are not believing the whole premise of their salvation is now wiped out.

The works of Christ were wrought to reach out to us, the broken, and bring us to a place of redemption. His words and his miracles alike were designed to draw us to himself who is the only way to the Father. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus summarizes our calling to carry on his works. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  From this passage of scripture, spoken by Jesus near the end of his time on earth, it is made clear that we are called to make disciples.

So, what exactly is it we are called to do?

1)       We must recognize and accept that this is not optional, it is commanded – The tenor of this passage is very clearly one of a command. Those who are disciples are commanded to make disciples. It is surprising how many in the church today feel no need to follow or even acknowledge this command. In the parable of the sower we see that some of the seed grows up among the thorns. In the parable this plant lives but it is unfruitful. How will it go for us when we stand before the judge and he asks why we did not obey what is commanded from the very mouth of Jesus himself? The one we call Savior commands us to go and make disciples and we disobey.

2)       If we are obeying there will be fruit – If we obey the command there will be fruit. In this passage Jesus promises he will be with us. He is directly referring to being with us in our efforts. It is an assurance of success. If God be for us who can be against us? Can Jesus be unfruitful? Again, the plant that is more concerned with the cares and benefits of this world is unfruitful. But the plant that lives in the Spirit will produce fruit. There are fruits of the Spirit as our lives operate in him. When we die to ourselves a new plant grows up; “unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit.” This new plant is intended to be fruitful. The harsh reality is that if our testimony and witness is not making disciples then we must seriously question the quality of that witness.

3)       Making disciples is an active pursuit – The first word in this command is to go. It is not to sit. It is not to wait for them to come into church. It is not to “live good lives in front of people” so they will somehow think to ask us about Jesus. It is to go! We have to make up our minds that we will actively seek out the lost and introduce them to Jesus as Andrew did with Peter; “come and see this man”, Andrew said.

4)       Making disciples is not just for people like ourselves; it is cross-cultural. Jesus commands his followers to make disciples of all nations. Some people are called to be missionaries in foreign lands, but in America one does not have to leave their own city to reach people of different cultures, backgrounds, nationalities and more. We have to see all people as broken souls in need of the Gospel.

5)       Making disciples starts with the person accepting Jesus as Savior and becoming part of the body of Christ. “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them…”; this clearly indicates the beginning of becoming a disciple – that choice to accept the Gospel message and become a part of the body of Christ.

6)       Making disciples assimilates people into the body of Christ – To baptize is significant in that it is the action that accompanies the faith decision. This action is about bringing people into the body of Christ. The job is not done once someone makes the decision to accept the Gospel message of salvation. That person must then be assimilated into the body of believers, the eclessia.

7)       Making disciples means training believers – As believers are assimilated into the body of Christ, they are to be trained on what it means to live in this body. They are to trained on how to live in the body of Christ; how to serve and how to make disciples themselves. Jesus states, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”. The command from Jesus does not stop at the person’s initial salvation.

Being the Church – Consistency

Being the church means living our lives as the body of Christ. The body carries out what the mind determines. We are the body, Christ is the head.

When I was growing up I loved baseball and I wanted to be the very best I could be. Everyday the weather permitted I would take my baseball bat and take 500 swings. I did this so that my swing would be consistent. You can’t hit a small ball travelling at a good speed with your bat randomly going all over the place. For some reason we believe we can approach our Christian walk in a random fashion and do fine as Christians.

Following Christ requires a commitment. A commitment always requires consistency. Romans 6:11-13 says “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” We are to offer ourselves to God. Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily. A consistent offering of ourselves to God. We are not called to live this life unto ourselves and our wants and desires. We are told to offer to God. Anyone who knows me knows I am not legalistic. We are not saved by

Practicing Rational Thinking in the Face of Temptation – A Study, Part 1

One of the most challenging ways of practicing rational thinking is dealing with temptation.  To borrow a computer term, you are the administrator of your mind.  The administrator determines who, or in this case, what has access.   God has empowered you to control what goes on in your mind.  I have worked as a network administrator.  We use different tools to manage and monitor who has access to the different areas and components of a network.

Lets examine how that idea can apply to our minds.  What level of control do we have and how do we implement this control?  What can we control and to what degree?

We cannot control what thoughts come into our heads, but we can control what we do with them.  Even Jesus, while on earth did not control what thoughts sought access to his mind, but He certainly controlled what happened to them once there.  In Matthew, chapter 4 we have the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness.  In this story Jesus was tempted in three different ways; self-fulfillment of physical needs, pride, and power.  Temptation comes in the form of thoughts.  The thoughts, or temptations, come to our head uninvited.  This is what Jesus was experiencing.  This was not the only time Jesus experienced temptation.  Hebrews 4:15 states, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”  Jesus was tempted in every way, yet He did not sin.  How was He able to accomplish that?

For the sake of discussion, consider temptations, or tempting thoughts, as ‘negative’ thoughts.  Lets look back at the fourth chapter of Matthew.   Each time a temptation, a tempting thought came to Jesus, He actively responded with a ‘positive’ thought.   Jesus’ source of positive thoughts was the scripture, the Word of God.  He responded to the thoughts of temptation with thoughts of the scripture.

First the tempter said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”   Well, Jesus was the Son of God.  That is a true statement, a true thought.  Jesus certainly could have turned the stones into bread.  He had turned water into wine.  Why not stones into bread?   In order for something to be tempting it must be a viable option.  Or at least it must appear to be a viable option.

This thought had entered Jesus mind and was a viable option.  Now what does He do with it?  He answered with, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’.”  Jesus had quoted Deuteronomy 8:3.

The other option for Jesus, and the option we too often choose, would have been to dwell on the tempting thoughts.  When Satan said to Jesus, via a tempting thought, saying “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”, he knew Jesus was hungry.  After all, He had been fasting for 40 days and nights.  Jesus could have responded to that thought by rationalizing, “Wow, I am hungry.  And you know, I am the Son of God and I’m sure my Father wouldn’t want me to go hungry.”  I need to keep my strength up to do ministry.  I have the power to turn these stones into bread for myself.  Why not do it?”  The longer He dwelt on the thought, entertained the thought, the more opportunity He would have given it to take root in His mind, or his soul. Jesus didn’t give it that opportunity. He fought back in His mind, in His soul.

This is the model, the process that Jesus used as he was tempted in every way and yet did not sin.  This is how He overcame.  Can we do this?  Absolutely!  The same tools are available to us.  In addition we have the example and the indwelling presence of THE LIVING WORD, Jesus to help us succeed.

With what was Jesus being tempted?  Eating is not sinful.  Performing miraculous acts is not sinful.  Why not perform the miracle and turn the stones into bread?  How did Jesus identify the author of the thoughts as Satan?  Remember, the thoughts came to Jesus mind as other thoughts do. He was not simply being tempted to eat or perform a miracle. He was being tempted to be self-serving and reject the very nature of a servant of the Father that he had assumed. This likewise is at the root of our temptations. The answer to all of these is his reliance on, his trust in and his knowledge of the scripture and the Holy Spirit. His determination was rooted in his supreme dedication to the will of his father.

We cannot control what thoughts come in to our head.  We will have negative thoughts.  We will have tempting thoughts.  We can, however, control what we do with these thoughts when they come.  Will we respond to them with positive thoughts, with thoughts from the scripture?  Or will we dwell on them, allowing them to take root in our mind and creating a quagmire that we wallow in?  God, and His Word, can and will deliver us and provide victory.

Its What I Am

A Preacher – it’s not what I do, its who I am.

Being a preacher is God’s specific calling on my life in service to him. Being a preacher is not what I do, but it is how serving God lives out in my life. It has become how I identify. Don’t misread or misunderstand – I realize and understand that first and foremost my identity is found in Christ and his grace making me a child of God.  I am nothing without him and that is at the very core of my identity. But being a preacher has become a part of that identity. It has become the natural expression of that identity.

Every Christian is called to follow and serve. That calling is to become integrated into who we are in Christ. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” How awesome it is to be the workmanship of God. We are made by him and in him. We have become a new creation with the old put away and putting on the new. This workmanship, carefully and wonderfully crafted by the master, is made for the purpose of serving. We are created in Christ for good works. Serving is not simply something that we add to our lives and try to do as we find time. It is our purpose, what we are built for.

For me, I am called to be a preacher. What are you called to be? God calls all Christians to BE servants. As his workmanship what are you made to be in Christ?