Tuesday, July 31, 2018

TRUTH, APOSTASY AND THE AMERICAN WAY

     
What happens when experience and strongly held beliefs suddenly conflict?  Is truth fluid and circumstantial or concrete and universal?  By the very definition of truth, it must be concrete and exclusive.  Two conflicting points cannot both be true, one or both must be wrong.  Everyone would agree 1+1=2  always.  This is solid undisputed truth.   The very physics of the universe demands absolute truth, otherwise, chaos would rip the fabric of the universe apart.

       In the Laws of Physics, we can agree there is absolute truth governing the universe. What about when it comes to matters of faith and ideology?  Ideologically, if not careful, we can be tempted to assign pliability based on worldview.  If truth is truth, there can be no pliability.  Suddenly we find ourselves faced with the question Pontius Pilate asked the Nazarene, "What is truth?"

Lately, I have been pondering apostasy.  Either there is a growing epidemic of people leaving Biblical Christianity to pursue a different spiritual path, or I am just now becoming aware of something that does not make sense to me.

     My understanding of scripture is a person, by faith in Christ, becomes born again, is regenerated, and adopted as a child of God.  Upon becoming born again, a person is indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit and, by Christ's own words, cannot be plucked out of God's hand.  This is the doctrine of Eternal Security. I believe this doctrine.

       My confusion sets in when I see the "testimonies" of countless people who once considered themselves Christian and now waver between  Agnosticism and Atheism.  People who once served as ministers, church leaders and Christian musicians.  People who, by their own admission, had zeal for God and seemed to bear fruit.

       According to the Apostle John, those who profess Christ and then walk away never truly believed in the first place: 1 John 2:19 - They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.  

       I get this and accept it as truth.  My confusion is not in Eternal Security, but in trusting the testimony of those who claim to believe.  I have personally known more than one person who claimed faith, testified to a clear born again experience, served with zeal, bore fruit, worshiped, understood scripture, explained truth to others and then, inexplicably, decided God was not good and renounced faith in Christ.  

      I have also read numerous first hand accounts of those to whom all of the above applied and later decided God was not real embracing Atheism.  

       So, what is the lesson in all this?  Take nothing for granted!  If you are a minister, do not take it for granted your leadership is good with God. If you are a parent, do not take it for granted your children are good with God. If you are married, do not take it for granted your spouse is good with God. Do not take it for granted your friends are good with God.

       Judas Iscariot walked with Jesus for 3 years.  Judas lived and interacted with the other 11 apostles for 3 years.  The other 11 took it for granted Judas was committed and on board.  So devastating was Judas' betrayal, his name has become synonymous with betrayal.  In fact, when was the last time you met, or even heard of someone named Judas?  

       Cain asked God, "Am I my brother's keeper?"  All of scripture testifies, "YES!"  We are our brother's and sister's keeper in the sense we should be concerned about one another's spiritual life.  
  
     Oh, we are so polite and careful not to intrude or violate someone's privacy.  We assume everyone is telling the truth when we ask, "how's it going?" and they answer "doing great."  We forgo accountability for the god of privacy.  We suffer alone or allow others to suffer privately until we are blindsided when someone falls into tremendous sin, is exposed as a tremendous sinner or renounces faith.  

        Even top Christian leaders are susceptible to falling into sin or falling away.  What do we make of a Mega-church pastor with an internationally revered ministry, who falls into sin and ends up managing a night club, until he is fired from the night club, due to  rumors about improper behavior toward a minor?  How many in his inner circle knew about his struggles but turned a blind eye? 

         People are not only leaving the traditional church, but traditional faith. For the first time in American history, over 25% claim none when asked to identify faith in a deity.  Accountability, caring enough to notice someone's struggle, not taking anyone's faith for granted and encouraging one another in Christ are key practices every Christian should employ. 

     All of the above practices comes down to one word - love.  Not just feeling affection toward someone, sacrificial love that puts the needs of others before your own.  The kind of love Jesus commanded: John 13:34 - A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  Jesus demonstrated this kind of love when He laid down His life for the lost.

      Can someone lose salvation? I believe when Jesus says we cannot be plucked out of His hand, He means we are secure.  Can a person renounce true faith?  I must defer back to  1 John 2:19 - They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.  
         Take the time to have the tough spiritual discussions with those you care about.  Be transparent enough to allow accountability in your life.  Love others enough to invade their privacy a little.  Know that most people are not really "doing great" when they tell you they are. Live consistently to your professed faith.  Love as Jesus loved.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

WHERE IS GOD WHEN THE WICKED PROSPER?

     
Does life seem to be a cycle of hardship and blessing?  As the song says, "good times, bad times, you know I had my share..." What happens when the bad times linger longer than the good times or, worse yet, seem to never end?  

       Does it ever appear to you, some have more than their fair share of good times while others seem to live in a perpetual state of bad times?  Does it seem, sometimes, those who do everything wrong manage to receive an inordinate amount of blessings while those who struggle to do the right thing continually struggle through life?

       It hardly seems fair when certain televangelists prosper and enjoy long life while, every week, good, solid, God fearing preachers lose churches due to finances or other hardships life sends along.  

      Crooked politicians continue to prosper with no accountability  while regular hardworking citizens almost never manage to get ahead.  

      Where is God in all this?  Does God not realize the inequities taking place, or does He simply not care? Is God, possibly, not able to set these things right?

        Scripture tells us God is sovereign: Psalm 97:9 - For you, Yehova, are Most High over all the earth, you are exalted far above all gods.  So we know where God is in all this, He is on His throne.  

          So, is He blind to the plight of so many?  Not according to scripture:   Hebrews 4:13 - Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

        So, could it possibly be true God simply does not care? Again, Scripture says otherwise: 1 Peter 5:7 - Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.

       So, God is ultimately in control, He sees our struggles, and He cares for us... yet good people continue to struggle while the wicked prosper - so can we conclude God is not able?  What does the Bible say about this? 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 -  "Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all" 


      So, if we agree God is real and the Bible is His revelation to us about Himself, we must conclude God is sovereign, He sees our struggles, He cares about us and He is able to do anything He chooses.  What's the deal?

       Apparently, the Psalmist Asaph struggled with the same question: Psalm 73:3 - I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  In fact, the first half of Psalm 73 is Asaph sharing his bewilderment of the prosperity and carefree lifestyles of the wicked.  It is only when Asaph begins to look at things from a spiritual perspective that he gets it.

          Psalm 73:16-17 & 27 - When I tried to understand all this it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.  Those who are far from You will perish; You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.

          God never promised us a trouble free or easy life. In fact, scripture makes it clear we are living in a world ruled by Satan.  Who will prosper in Satan's kingdom?  Those who do his will.  God's kingdom is to come.  Christians should expect to face hardship and adversity living in a world ruled by our mortal enemy.

            Ultimately, God wills none should perish, so our disposition toward the wicked should not be gleeful expectation of their impending doom but a desire to share with them the truth of the Gospel of Christ.  

             This brings us to this curious passage: Romans 9:22-23 - What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—

         This passage suddenly becomes clear as we realize God has a purpose in allowing those whom He knows will never repent to prosper in this life. As the wicked become mighty and powerful on the earth, disdaining and even cursing God, there approaches a day when the mighty and the powerful will bow before Christ in judgment and declare their own worthlessness.  Those who prospered at the suffering of others, having rejected Christ, shall be thrown into the lake of fire. 

            We know the end result of the wicked is destruction, but what about the faithful who suffer?  What about those whose lives are cut short because they did the right thing or who suffer loss because the righteous path was chosen over the crooked?  Romans 8:18 - I consider that our present suffering cannot compare to the glory which will be revealed in us.

              Scripture assures us, the life to come will be so glorious, this life, with all it's hardships and injustice will seem like nothing at all.  Thus, we can heed the advice of Jesus to John the Revelator, given at the end of John's great vision of the coming apocalypse: Revelation 22:11 -   Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”   Rest assured, God sees, God cares and God will set all things right, in his time.  

Now, go live as Christ.... and give the devil hell!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

VULGAR VIOLENT ANTI-TRUMP ART AND THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE- WARNING - GRAPHIC LANGUAGE

    
  An Oregon art gallery, which I will refrain from naming, has caused a nationwide disturbance by publicly displaying an image of President Trump having his throat cut with the words F--K Trump emblazoned for all to read. 

     The Oregonian art gallery was advertising for a collection called F--K TRUMP.  What a private business chooses to display or sell within it's walls is, well, their business.  However, what a shop chooses to display on a public street is everyone's business.  

      So blinded by rabid hate, the owners of this shop completely disregarded the rights of the general public, and children especially, who would be subjected to this gruesome and vulgar display.  

        This so called art is only one more in a virtual parade of imagery depicting Trump's violent death.  Hollywood personalities, the media and now this art gallery have been irresponsibly displaying images of or joking about the often brutal murder of President Trump.  So much for tolerance...

      Sadly, Trump's defenders have now flooded this business with threats and vulgarity in return.  Now, I know not all conservatives are Christian, but, living in the Bible Belt, my experience is many, if not most, Christians are conservative, thus the term The Religious Right.  In what realm of the universe is it acceptable for Christians to threaten a business owner or his family?  What possible scenario is there for spewing hate from the same mouth from which we worship God?

       Once again, social media has created a platform for people to forget who they are in Christ and to enter into the chaotic fray.  Many of the comments suggested the building should be burned with the owners inside.  I wonder how many of those who left these hate filled comments in the middle of the week started their week in church belting out the lyrics to How Great Thou Art or In Christ Alone...   

       We have to do better as the church.  Jesus was bold and never backed down, but if you notice, His harshest words were reserved for the religious hypocrite, not the average sinner.  

         Can we voice our opinion?  Absolutely.  I am voicing mine right now, notice no name calling or bombastic rhetoric?  We should disagree and we should speak up for truth but we must do it without destroying our message with anger, hate and violence. 

          Yes, the F--k Trump poster is despicable and has no place in the public eye.  Just as despicable, possibly more, is the hateful violent retort from the so called religious right.  Shame on us...

             We can and must do better.  Stand boldly for truth, do it in love and never fight hate with hate.  We cannot use the weapons of our enemy.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

          

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

WHAT'S HOLDING YOU BACK?

       
  The circumstances of our lives are seldom what we expect them to be.  Life throws curves, poor decisions made by ourselves, and others, situations beyond our control and of our own making, or things simply not working out as we planned.  Whatever the reason, many people find themselves in less than favorable positions in life.


     If you are unsatisfied with life, what needs to change?  If you know what you would rather be doing, I ask you: What's holding you back?  

     As many readers know, I am a pastor with a ministry called Metal Mission of Knoxville.  Our main focus is outreach ministry to the homeless of Knoxville.  Week after week, I have the opportunity to speak with people who are not where they would like to be in life.  Week after week, I have the opportunity to ask the same question: "What's the one thing that you know is holding you back from what you want?"  It is not a question people expect.  

      Amazingly, most people do have an answer, immediately. This question opens the door for a meaningful, Christ centered, conversation.   

       You can imagine the answers I get.  Many are quick to blame others and circumstances, however, many people also readily admit bad habits and attitudes are main contributing factors to holding them back from the life they desire.

  A STORY FROM THE STREETS

       One young man I had the opportunity to speak with this week expressed his desire to be a preacher.  To my shame, based on his appearance and persona,  I was totally surprised.  This young guy, only 28 years old, immediately shared with me the one thing holding him back is drug and alcohol abuse.  I asked him what he was willing to do differently to achieve his calling.  Sadly, he had no idea.  

     Are you, reader, where God wants you to be?  If not, what is one thing in your life you know is holding you back?  What are you willing to do differently to attain God's will for your life?

      One trap is to blame the past.  God's word tells us we are more than conquerors in Christ: Romans 8:37  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 

      God is bigger than our past.

      Another trap we fall into is blaming others.  God takes what others meant for evil and will use it for good: Genesis 50:20  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, 

  God is bigger than our circumstances and more powerful than anyone in our lives.  

   If you do not do something different, something different cannot happen

 "But that's how I've always done it" is a sure recipe for stagnation, status quo, and failure.

      Jesus warned those who desired to follow Him about hardships they would face. Jesus never said, "follow me and everything will go good for you!"  What Jesus did say was, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."  What Jesus did say was, "come unto me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest."  

    Jesus also told us: John 10:10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Don't be satisfied with medicrity

     What is keeping you from experiencing the abundant life Jesus desires for you?  What are you willing to give up, change or start doing in order to live according to God's will?  Are you satisfied with mediocrity?       

     Do not allow business as usual to hold you back from serving God according to your design.  Pray the prayer of the Psalmist: Psalms 139:23-24  Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! 

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!!
      

Thursday, July 12, 2018

WHO CAN WIN THE WAR OF THE WORDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA!


   Have you ever been attacked online for taking a stand for or against something?    Have you been less than gracious towards someone online, with whom you disagreed?

  If you have any kind of social media or online presence, you know the internet can be a pretty brutal playground.  Our nation seems to be divided, just about 50/50, on any given topic, from gun control to abortion, from gay marriage to capital punishment. No matter the position you take on any social issue, you risk invoking the wrath of half the population!  The quickest way to pump up your online presence is to post your opinion on a controversial topic.  You can easily set off a firestorm of comments from those passionate on both sides. 

     While chances are good, the majority of people you are friends with or who follow you on social media agree with you on most issues, you cannot please all of the people all of the time.  Even within your friend group, certain topics can garner controversy.  Currently, anything Donald Trump is sure to spark a furor!

     I enjoy reading a good rant as much as the next guy, and I must confess, when comments go rogue on a friend's post, I do read through the chain of verbal sparring.  Stepping  back, however, I must ask, "what is the fruit in public online debate?"  Does anyone really win?  

     Hiding behind the anonymity of an avatar or screen name engenders a boldness many would lack in a face to face exchange.  Does anonymity permit incivility or does it simply provide cover?   Permit me to share my opinion here - whether you are posting as an online persona or as yourself, you are representing who you truly are by what you post. 

    It is easy to get dragged into an online debate where words get ugly.  One must remember, however, the internet is not a virtual reality world where our words have no consequence or impact. The person you are debating, insulting, or behaving rudely toward is an actual human to whom you would probably behave far more civilly toward if you were face to face.  An actual person for whom Christ died...   

      One of the most tragic exchanges I witness online is when a person who posts Bible verses or statements professing a love for Jesus proceeds to post hate filled rhetoric and vitriol toward a group with which he disagrees.  What happened to the command to love our enemies?  And then, when someone dares to disagree with what is posted... whoo whee, watch the fur fly!  So much for bless those who hate you and turn the other cheek.  

        If you are a believer in Christ, filter what you post and comment on through the same filter you use when you are at church.  If you disagree with something the pastor says, you would not stand up in church and confront or correct him in front of everyone. You would take it up privately.  If you have a problem with someone's post and feel led by the motivation of love to respond, private message or be really innovative and actually speak to them. 

        I am ashamed to admit, I have, a time or two, engaged in less than loving behavior on a message board and even on Facebook.  Lessons learned... hopefully. Last year I posted on the effects of our posts on our testimony  Being careful of how we respond to other's posts is just as important.

         Being passionate about and standing for truth are noble things, lashing out at others with anger and vehemence is the least effective way to present your case.  Once you lose your temper, once you lash out or attack, you lose. It is far greater to be correct than to be right!  If you cannot make your case calmly and peacefully, you probably have no case. 
      
When we engage in a war of words online, the only winner is Satan

         If God's people cannot get along on social media, what kind of message are we sending the lost?  When God's people spew hate and ridicule on social media, God is grossly misrepresented.  Remember what happened to Moses when he misrepresented God.  Do not allow your passions to override your faith and commitment to love one another. Don't be just another bully on the social media playground.  

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

Friday, July 6, 2018

PREPARING YOUR HEART FOR THE UNEXPECTED!

 
 Are you prepared for the unexpected?  The very idea seems almost ludicrous.  How in the world does someone prepare for something unexpected?  Would not prepping for something automatically make it expected?  I, for instance, do not expect any of my children would attempt to murder me in my sleep, so I take no precautions against such an attack.  The day I prepare for a murderous attack from one of my children is the day I expect such an attack.


      The truth is, however, unexpected things happen everyday.  Unexpected things, not prepared for, disrupt our schedules, upset our plans and, sometimes, redirect our lives.  Our response to the unexpected is probably the greatest revelation of our faith.  Do you fall apart when things do not go your way?  Do you demonstrate a steady trust in God's love and goodness when life takes a left turn?

     Throughout the Bible, we read about average men and women who found themselves in the most unlikely of circumstances.  Shepherds who became kings, princes who became eunuchs in the court of a foreign land, a slave who rose to the level of second in command of the most powerful nation on earth, and a peasant girl who became queen of an  empire.   

      When we read about great people, we must understand they are not inherently great.  The thing which often makes a person great is his or her response to the unexpected.  Opportunities make the man, so to speak.  

     The story of King Saul is a case in point.  Saul was a regular guy, living a regular life when his dad's donkeys wandered off.  Saul was tasked by his father to go find the donkeys.  Unbeknownst to Saul, the nation of Israel decided it wanted to be ruled by a king rather than priests, prophets or judges.  

    While Saul unsuccessfully searched for his father's donkeys, Samuel the prophet was receiving instructions from God concerning the coronation of a king for the nation.  As Saul's search began to seem futile, he unwittingly walked right into Samuel's royal search.  Saul just happened to wander into the town Samuel resided and decided to see if Samuel, as a prophet, could assist him in his donkey quest.  

     Saul had become disheartened in his search for the donkeys and was about to accept failure and return home.  Meanwhile, Samuel received two messages from God, concerning Saul.  First, the donkeys had been found and second, "oh by the way, God has chosen you to be king over all Israel."  This second message was certainly unexpected.  Saul received Samuel's message with humility and grace and became Israel's first king.  As king, Saul freed Israel from the bondage of it's enemies, the Philistines.

    Today, you may be facing circumstances you were not expecting. Is God using these circumstances to change the world around you?  Are you God's chosen vessel for a great undertaking?  None of us is called to mediocrity.  It may be, your unexpected circumstance is designed to draw you to a better path or even out of a rut.  The Bible tells us, "all things are God's servant."  

     Great men and women of the Bible often found themselves in unexpected and less than favorable circumstances.  Remaining faithful to God in the midst of the unexpected, the inconvenient and the horrific time and gain led to amazing opportunities.  Are you prepared for the unexpected?  Probably not, but preparing to remain faithful to God no matter your circumstance can literally make all the difference in the world.  Ask Joseph, Daniel, David and Esther.

    You may not be able to prepare for what you do not expect, but you can certainly be prepared to respond in a God honoring manner no matter the situation you find yourself


Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!
     

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH MY DAD?" TRUE APOLOGETICS

                      Does your life present a case for Christ?

This past weekend, I had the privilege of seeing Lee Strobel speak at the Gridiron Men's conference, in Birmingham Alabama. Those  familiar with Lee Strobel,  know he is arguably the premier apologist of our time.  He is author of the groundbreaking book
The Case for Christ and subject of the movie by the same name.  


     An apologist, for those not familiar with the term, is someone who can present evidence for faith in Jesus Christ and the science of presenting this evidence is called apologetics. 

   Being very familiar with Mr. Strobel's story, having read his book and seen the movie about his transformation from atheist to child of God, much of what he shared was also very familiar to me.  However, one story Mr. Strobel shared truly impacted me and I knew I would be writing about it when I got home.  

     Prior to coming to faith in Christ, Lee Strobel was a man who struggled with alcohol abuse and given to violent episodes. Mr. Strobel recounted one incident where, in a booze fueled rage, while arguing with his wife, he kicked a hole in the wall.  Strobel's violent behavior negatively impacted his young daughter.

    Strobel shared how his toddler aged daughter, happily playing in the living room, would gather her toys, retreat to her bedroom and close the door when daddy arrived home.  Mr. Strobel admitted his violent behavior precipitated this behavior from his daughter.  

     If you are familiar with Lee Strobel and his story, you know he embarked on a two year journey in search of truth and was confronted with a far different set of facts than he expected. Faced with irrefutable evidence concerning the resurrection of Christ, Strobel surrendered his life to the Father, through the Son.  Lee Strobel's life began to change as did his behavior at home.

    Lee Strobel's daughter watched the transformation taking place in his life and began to wonder, "what's happening with my dad?"  One day, at the age of five, Strobel's daughter told her daddy, "I want what you have."  This precious child, who hid in fear of her alcohol fueled, raging father, watched the transforming power of Jesus Christ and knew she needed that power in her life.

    Here is what I took away from this story: Remember, Lee Strobel had all the evidence necessary to make the case for Christ.  Strobel had years of research and historical documentation.  None of that was relevant to his five year old little girl.  What mattered to her was the change taking place in her father's life and behavior.  

     Today, Alison Strobel is grown and actively serving Christ. Not because he father presented her irrefutable information about the savior but because her father allowed the savior to manifest Himself in his life.  Lee Strobel's changed life was a far more convincing apologetic to his daughter than the book he would later write.      

      More than your than your words, believer, your actions will tell others what you believe.  If someone watched your life, would they be able to make a case for Christ?  Can those who live with you make a case for Christ based on your behavior?  Would there be enough eyewitness testimony to convict you of being a follower of Christ? 

   Jesus, Himself, told us: Matthew 5:16 - In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

   As much as I hate cliche's, here is a cliche' that holds much truth - no one will care what you know until they know you care. Lee Strobel backed up his faith with action by pursuing holiness in his personal life.  The hard truth is, there are many learned Bible scholars whose lives do not reflect their claim to faith, rendering all their great learning meaningless.  In Jesus' day, these were called Pharisees.  Jesus used strong words of condemnation for Pharisees.

  If you have not read The Case for Christ or seen the movie, I encourage you to do both.  Even more importantly,  I encourage you, pursue truth like Lee Strobel, and, just as necessary, pursue holiness like Lee Strobel so others may encounter your faith in word and deed.  Let your life be the case for Christ.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

CELEBRITY SUICIDES EXPOSE A HIDDEN EPIDEMIC


   In the last few weeks, two more celebrity suicides dominated news headlines,  leaving many average non-celebrities to ponder, "what more could these people want from life?"  From the outside looking in, fame is the golden ticket of life.  With fame comes adoration of friends and strangers alike and enough resources to indulge almost every craving and desire.
In a materialistic culture, what else could anyone possibly want or need?  

      When one realizes suicide is the number 10 leading cause of death in America and many in the celebrity world succumb to or attempt suicide each year, one conclusion screams out: adoration and accumulation of possessions are not a pathway to peace and purpose.     

   In the subsequent days to the tragic and unexpected deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, calls to suicide hotlines increased 25%. This may be a cause for alarm or a sign of hope, depending on what is driving this number.  Alarm if this increased 25% is a result of suicide contagion and hope if the increased 25% is the result of increased awareness and willingness to seek help rather than suffering alone.

     While certain demographics seem more susceptible to suicide, no sector of society remains untouched.  Rich, poor, religious, godless, married, single, young and old - despair and hopelessness is no respecter of persons.  Over 100  hurting souls commit suicide every day. In 2016 over 44,000 Americans took their own lives and the suicide rate continues to climb. Most people do not gives much thought to suicide until someone famous falls victim to the darkness. 

     The list of musicians and actors who succumb to the siren call grows each year, nevertheless, the news is never less shocking.  From Curt Cobain to   Robin Williams, from Wendy O. Williams to Chris Cornell, high profile suicides always leave the public wondering what went wrong.

Suicide is the hidden epidemic:

       Society is more medicated and connected (via social media) than any time in history, while suicide rates continue to climb.  Depression awareness, anti-bullying programs and other tactics meant to stave off the flood of self destruction seem to be making very little progress, in fact, we may just find encouraging people to embrace impulse is counterproductive.  Never before has transgenderism, for example, been more encouraged and accepted, yet the suicide rate among the transgender community continues to rise.  

      What is the answer?  Ultimately, the answer is always God, but to abdicate our responsibility to love one another to God's sovereignty is gross negligence of the highest order.  Despite our best efforts to walk with others through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, people we love may surrender to the despair and end their lives, this, however, does not relieve us of the responsibility to love others as God commands us.  

     Rather than throwing medicine at symptoms, maybe we could do a better job of dealing with the root causes of depression and hopelessness where medicine becomes a temporary bridge to true healing, not a life sentence to chemical dependency.  Pharmaceutical companies have convinced the medical world pills are the answer to everything and have convinced the public to believe if I feel ok, I am ok.  What happens when the medicine stops working or side effects cause other problems?  More medicine?

     The truth of the matter is, lives are transformed, healed, and set free by the power of Jesus Christ.  If you are struggling, if you feel hopeless, if you feel as if you have passed a point of no return, these are lies told to you by the hater of your soul, Satan.  

     Suicide is a senseless tragedy that seems the only logical choice committed by those who feel helpless and without any other path.  Those left behind, in turn feel helpless and begin the self blame game, what could I have done better?  

     Because high profile suicides get us thinking about an issue we would rather ignore, I would like to encourage you to take stock of those around you.  Be aware of those who are hurting, those whose mouths say "I'm fine," while their eyes tell a far different tale.  Maybe, just finding someone who cares would be enough in some cases.  

    If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone and you are not without hope, though it may feel that way.  Reach out for help, ask God to direct you to the right person.  If nothing else, contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.  You may be amazed at how many others have been on the path you are on currently and have overcome the darkness.

     Awareness is key.  Be aware of those who are hurting around you, take the time to really listen, maybe turn off the TV and reach out to someone who needs a friend.  Get out of your comfort zone be involved in someone's life. We cannot expect to do the same things over and over and expect a different outcome .  If the problem is increasing, our strategy must change.

     Love others toward the cross.  You cannot make someone change and you may not, ultimately, prevent them from harming themselves, but you can point them in the one direction with the most hope and possibility.  Jesus Christ offers hope and the power of the Spirit cannot be denied.  

    I Corinthians 1:18 - The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God

   Faith based programs have proven to be far more effective than non-faith based or government programs because the power of God's Spirit to transform lives. 

    If you are struggling with thoughts of self harm, if you are in a dark place and feel there is no escape, if you feel isolated and alone, please reach out, please do not suffer alone and please know nothing you are experiencing is unique to you. 

    Believer in Christ, be aware of the suffering and hurting people around you.  You may be the only lifeline to God they have.  Offer the hope you have in Christ, be the bridge to someone's soul, care enough to make an effort.  Love as you have been commanded.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!      

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

SAINT, SINNER OR A LITTLE OF BOTH?

   
    Are you a saint?  Are you a sinner? Are you possibly both?

     When you refer to someone as a saint, there is a presumption of a higher level of goodness or holiness.  Sainthood infers a greater depth of godliness or piety.      

  How does one become a saint?  According to some, you must live an exemplary life, die in good standing with God, have a couple of miracles attributed to you after you die, and oh yeah, your dead body has to, some how, not rot.  Pretty simple, right?

       To confuse matters even more, the opening line to the Epistle to the Ephesians states: Ephesians 1:1 - Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus...  Is Paul writing a letter to a bunch of dead people?  Not likely, so, who are saints, really?  

     I am a saint.  If you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, you also are a saint.  Nowhere does scripture give any formula for sainthood.  Faith in Christ, and nothing else, makes one a saint.

     You may be thinking, "I ain't no saint, I'm a sinner."  Well, I am a sinner too, but... I am also a saint.  Nope, you can't have it both ways, you may be thinking.  Mick Jagger told us "Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints..." and, just like the Father of Lies he was singing about, go it twisted. Every sinner is not a saint, but, indeed, every saint is a sinner!

       When you place your faith in the Messiah, God declares you holy, set apart and sanctified, transferring the righteousness of Jesus to you. So, is a person sanctified and made holy, at the point of salvation, or is sanctification a lifetime process of growing in Christ?  The answer is YES!

I Corinthians 6:11 - and that is what some of you were.  But you have been washed, you have been sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Philippians 2:12-13 - Therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed... continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good practice

  Positionally, you are a saint if you are a believer.  Behaviorally, you may have a lot of work to do.  At Salvation, you are declared holy and heaven ready, but it takes submission to the influence of God's Holy Spirit for your behavior to match your status.

       Just as Jesus was both man and God, we are both saint and sinner.  Jesus is inherently God and became a man, we are inherently sinners and become saints.  This is why scripture tells us we must lose our life in order to find it. Jesus retained His inherent nature and was governed by it, so, even as a man, He remained sinless.  We retain our inherent nature and are governed by it and so as saints, we continue to sin - albeit, less and less, hopefully.

      Does this excuse our sin?  By no means!  Understanding who we inherently are and what we have been declared to be should make us more aware of the need to live according to our new status as saints.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us, we have the power to overcome sin and live victoriously.  

I Corinthians 10:3 - no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Inherently, we are prone to sin, in Christ, we are not doomed to remain in sin.  

    Within sainthood, we are being sanctified and made holy, being set aside for the purpose to which God has called us.  Through sanctification, God grants us the ability to overcome sin and choose the better and less traveled path.  Will you be the saint God declares you to be or continue to make excuses for sin that Jesus paid for with His blood?  Choose this day whom you will serve, saint. Are you a saint, a sinner or both?  

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!      

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

ARE YOU ROTTING AWAY IN THE COMFORT ZONE

               
    You are traveling in a mundane dimension.  A dimension of familiar sights, sounds and like minds.  A journey into a colorless land whose boundaries require no imagination. Your next stop, The Comfort Zone. 

     The Comfort Zone may be one of most unsatisfying places in the world.  What happens in The Comfort Zone?  NOTHING!
  No adventure, no excitement, no anticipation... no meaning. Just routine.  

     Not much spiritual growth takes place in The Comfort Zone, in fact, spiritual growth is stunted and hindered.  The Comfort Zone is a premature destination that ruins a wondrous journey God has mapped out for you.

      Actively serving God is an adventure.  Everyone loves Indiana Jones.  Had Indiana Jones remained in the classroom merely talking about searching for hidden treasure, no one would even know who he was.  Indiana Jones left the confines of safety and comfort to pursue his passion and literally saved the world from Nazis.  Yes, I know Indiana Jones is not a real guy, but the concept is true for all of us, we can sit in the pew and learn about what it means to serve God or we can get out and actually serve.  

     What good is learning if the learning is never applied?  What credibility as a teacher of the Word do I have if I only instruct others how to serve God and never actually get off my hind end and do it? 


     A few years ago, I was dragged, kicking and screaming from my comfort zone. I had carved a nice little den for myself where I felt insulated and secure.  I served God within the confines of established Christianity and just told myself, over and over, "my ministry is to equip the saints for works of service."

    Easy, just give me a classroom or a living room and a couple of people wanting to learn the Bible and I was good to go!  I was rotting away, marking time, waiting for... I don't even know.  I never realized why I never progressed past a certain level of spiritual growth. 

     I stopped growing because I stopped allowing God to stretch me.  I insulated myself inside my little Christian bubble.  

    If you are feeling frustrated with your Christian growth, you are probably rotting away in your comfort zone, also known as the serving free zone.

     Not everyone is called to be an evangelist in the strictest sense of the word. Not everyone is equipped to strike up meaningful, life changing conversations in a grocery line or a doctor's waiting room.  The ability to do that is a special gift from God.  Everyone is, however, called to outreach to the lost in some form or fashion.  

    If no aspect of your life, even indirectly, supports outreach to the lost, you are missing out on a major component of the Christian faith.  Chances are, you will never reach your full potential as a servant of Christ.  

     Just as every army has front line soldiers, every army has a vast support staff which is vital to the mission.  I am blessed to be part of a ministry actively serving the homeless.  Within this ministry, in addition to those who come out to the streets, we have a vast support of prayer warriors, those called to provide supplies and financial support, and those who spread the word about what we are doing.  Each component is essential to the execution of the mission.

    If you are dissatisfied, it is because you are rotting away in your comfort zone and not fulfilling your God ordained destiny.  The command to "go and make disciples" did not end with the last martyred Apostle. 

     If you are not actively serving God according to your designed purpose, you are trapped in The Comfort Zone, missing out on true satisfaction, joy and peace.  

     God has blessed you with a unique personality and abilities that are essential components to the Great Commission.  By rotting away in The Comfort Zone, you are not only robbing yourself of blessings, you are robbing those whom you were designed to serve and serve with.

    James 1:22 - Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
     
    We are designed by God to serve, to do , to function as a unit. This cannot happen in The Comfort Zone. Get up and go!

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!!