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My Life Sucks, and Yours Does Too

realityWell, it doesn’t suck ALL the time. Just sometimes. But I don’t share about the crappy parts online. I only share about the good times – the times that make life seem good, happy, and perfect.

We don’t share about the times our kids having fits and making us want to pull out our hair or send them to boarding school. We don’t post about the times we aren’t getting along with our spouses. And when people DO share those things, often they’re looking to get sympathy or to control public perception. And THAT’S the real issue.

We only  share those things that will  create the public persona we want out there.

We don’t share the things that we think will reflect negatively on us. I’m not the first one to write on this topic. My brother shared an article with me some time ago about the same theme. There’s probably even an official name for the phenomenon – I just don’t know it.

What I do know is that we do this because we gain a sense of self-worth and value through our public image. Yet Jesus wants us to forget the idea of shaping our public image. One time Jesus was teaching:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

We do this kind of thing all the time. We want others to see the best part of us, the most generous part of us, the super-parent us, the philanthropic us, the Ubermensch us. But the great things we do don’t amount to a hill of beans. They don’t affect the way God sees us. He sees us when we do things in private. He loves you not because of how great you look to the world, but because he loves unconditionally.

It’s hard to do good things in secret. There’s a part of us that wants credit for doing things when we do good things or when we excel at something. Jesus says we ought to do good for the sake of doing good even if we never get recognition.

I remember one time I was on tour with my college music group. We got off our bus to have lunch one day in San Francisco. I was hanging out with the drummer, and as we exited the bus, the team went off to the left, but the drummer turned right. I asked him where we were going. He said, “I’m not hungry so I’m going to give my lunch to a homeless person, but I don’t need the rest of the group to see it.”

He felt called to do good but didn’t want recognition from others.

I ate my lunch (in a post about doing things without recognition, I’m not going to let you think I was so high-minded)!

But we can all learn from Jesus’s words. Humility ought to be our norm. We should do good just BECAUSE it is the right thing to do. Don’t worry about shaping public opinion of yourself – do what you should do! So here’s your challenge – this week don’t post anything online that would make you look good. It’s okay to build others up, but practice humility this week and change your social media habits.

Your value comes from God, not what others think of you – so practice intentional humility.

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What do you think? Have you seen yourself posting things that make your life look fabulous?

Evangelicalism’s Golden Calf

There’s a sound of discontent among Christians this week. Oh, come on – we’re ALWAYS discontent about something. So what is it this time? This time it’s because of First Baptist Church in Dallas. They held a “Celebrate Freedom Rally” during 4th of July weekend.

And during this 2-hour glut fest of raw patriotism and nationalism, the choir unveiled a new anthem called “Make America Great Again.” That’s really not what has people so upset – churches do patriotic services ALL THE TIME. I think what really got people’s knickers in a twist was how fast the song was copyrighted and listed on CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International), the organization that “provides information and resources for churches and copyright owners around the world, relating to copyrights of Christian worship songs” (THEIR WORDS, NOT MINE).

Their launch screen is all about worship!

CCLI Home Screen

Worship planning starts here? Really? But “Make America Great Again” is not about God.

Like, not at all. It’s only about the country and restoring its greatness and glory.

MAGA

In a word, it’s idolatry. Any time you elevate something and worship it as equal to or in place of God you’re committing idolatry. Sure, it wasn’t a “worship service.” Well, it was, just not a worship service where God was the object of worship. Evangelicals have a bad habit of conflating patriotism and faith. Loving America does NOT make us better Christians. Loving God does NOT mean we’re going to love America (otherwise, Christians all over the world in foreign countries are in for a WORLD of disappointment when they reach heaven).

America has become our Golden Calf.

And, sadly, this is not new. A quick search for the word “America” on CCLI and I have a results list of 192 songs.

Really? This is supposed to be our worship archive, guys! The Bible is pretty clear that our worship belongs to God and God alone. He got pretty ticked with that whole calf in the wilderness incident. And if this idolatry has become the norm for Evangelicalism, then I am ready to call American Evangelicalism a dead religion. I’m done with it and all of the garbage that comes with it.

Jesus transcends nations. His worship demands WE transcend nations. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be patriotic. I’m saying we’ve lost the ability to see the line between patriotism and idolatry.

And that’s not okay.

golden-calf

Facepalm Jesus

Some people just don’t get it. They SHOULD get it but, for whatever reason, they simply don’t get it.

The disciples are those kinds of people. Even though these are the guys who follow Jesus around and are his closest companions, the Gospel stories show time and again that they just.don’t.get.it.

I can imagine Jesus dealing with them. They say or do something so ridiculous he can’t sokkahelp but facepalm. We see one of these instances in Mark 8,

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

Here we start the facepalm. The scenario is eerily similar to the earlier story where Jesus fed 5,000 people with loaves and fish. This has led some people to conclude that there were two versions of the story circulating in Mark’s time, and that Mark mistakenly included both. While this might be a viable possibility for some people, it fails to account for two things: 1) the standard Christian understanding of the inspiration of Scripture and 2) the differences between the stories actually set up different points/purposes of each narrative.

As to our understanding of inspiration, our belief that the Bible has Divine origin and spark within it means that there is a godly intentionality that underlies the text. Our concept of inspiration is not something that can be proven or disproven by science – it’s a statement of faith. If you don’t believe it, I can’t convince you otherwise.

As to the different points of each narrative, that is more easily demonstrable. The first story highlighted Jesus as a new Moses. The people sat in groups in the wilderness just as Moses and the Israelite nation split into various groups/camps in the book of Exodus. Jesus providing his crowds echoes God providing for Israel in the desert.

By the time we get to the second story here in Mark 8, the story is set against the first story, almost as a check on learning for the disciples. Picture Jesus saying, “You were with me the first time. What’s gonna happen here and now?”

But the disciples fail the quiz. “Where can we get enough bread?!?”jesus-facepalm

And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

In addition to some of the numerical details being different in the stories (numbers of bread, fish, and people) Jesus is in a different location. While he spoke to Jewish people in the first narrative that had echoes of Moses and the Exodus, here Jesus is working in a Gentile area. Jesus’s ministry and blessing extends beyond the Jews and is for Gentiles as well. That Jesus extends his ministry to non-Jews is brought up previously when the Syrophoenician woman approaches him for help. Just as before, Jesus is able to abundantly bless and provide for those who follow him.

And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

Cue the facepalm. Immediately after performing this incredible things, the religious leaders come and ask for a sign. When Jesus says that no sign will be given, part of me wonders if he’s really saying, “There’s not sign that you will recognize.” Jesus HAS been giving signs, but people are too blind to see what is right in front of their faces.

And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they flatbreadbegan discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

And the disciples continue in their blindness. They have seen Jesus provide in times of need, and they continue to fret about their lack. So Jesus warns them about being like the Pharisees. “I’m giving you stuff, but are you going to stay blind, too?!?” So Mark gives us a miracle story that acts as a living parable, illustrating his whole point.

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

After his initial encounter with Jesus this blind guy sees, but only in part. It’s kind of like the religious leaders and disciples. They should be able to see Jesus clearly, but clearly they can’t! Jesus might as well be a walking tree in front of them. So Jesus touches the guy again and he finally sees clearly. Cut to the disciples:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

FINALLY! Peter’s vision is clearing up and he sees Jesus for who he is.

He.Is.The.Christ.

This is the Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles alike. This Jesus is the one who came to provide abundant life, even when we’re in the wilderness. This Jesus is the one to lead the new exodus, taking these slaves into the spiritual promised land. Don’t miss the signs that are right in front of you. Don’t mistake the people for trees.

Here is our King.

Why God Would Never Use a Woman (or other misfits)

eye rollBut I’m Just A…

God has a crazy way of looking at things – a crazy way of solving problems. You would think that NORMAL people would encounter a problem and then find the best possible solution to overcoming the problem. Not God. God throughout history, rather than choosing the BEST possible solution to carry out the Divine Will, God seems to choose the less-than-desirable solution.

The minority.

The weakling.

The outcast.

The long-shot.

I once hear a song with the line, “He uses improbable people for impossible tasks.” That pretty much sums it up. He used a young shepherd boy to fight a giant and save a nation. He used a murderer with a speech impediment to go lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He used a woman to lead the Israelite army to victory over Sisera. He used a low-born peasant bastard (please excuse the harshness of the word, but imagine the reaction of ancient listeners finding out that Jesus had no earthly father) to be the Salvation of the world.

And those are just a few examples.

HOW CAN THIS BE?!? It doesn’t seem right. In fact, many of the people God uses are people we would tell to sit down and stop rocking the boat. That’s not how things are done. You can’t do that. You can’t say that. You’re just a…

And we buy into it. Many of us go through life believing, “I’m just a…” and we fill in the blank with whatever limitation fits our life.

I’m just a child.

I’m just a woman.

I’m just a minority.

I’m just a cripple.

I’m just a felon.

I’m just a….

The problem with “I’m just a” kind of thinking is that it means we’re putting ourselves in the driver’s seat and not allowing God to drive the bus. In the big picture, it isn’t about US. Whether you’re a superstar or a superdud, YOU are not the critical element in God’s plan. God can use whomever or whatever He chooses. This is what Jesus is saying in Mark 4:

26 Here is what the kingdom of God is like: a man who throws seeds onto the earth. 27 Day and night, as he works and as he sleeps, the seeds sprout and climb out into the light, even though he doesn’t understand how it works. 28 It’s as though the soil itself produced the grain somehow—from a sprouted stalk to ripened fruit. 29 But however it happens, when he sees that the grain has grown and ripened, he gets his sickle and begins to cut it because the harvest has come.

30 What else is the kingdom of God like? What earthly thing can we compare it to? 31 The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the tiniest seed you can sow. 32 But after that seed is planted, it grows into the largest plant in the garden, a plant so big that birds can build their nests in the shade of its branches.

33 Jesus spoke many parables like these to the people who followed Him. 34 This was the only way He taught them, although when He was alone with His chosen few, He interpreted all the stories so the disciples truly understood.

God’s work isn’t about the grandness or immensity of the event. God can use something itty-bitty and worthless to bring about something phenomenal. The farmer isn’t doing the work to make the grain grow. God does it. The mustard seed is tiny, but look at what it produces. God’s work doesn’t have to have the best and the brightest to have tremendous results. I’m sure this was a great comfort for Jesus’s disciples, who once or twice probably thought that their rabbi had lost it. While many people try hard to gain followers, Jesus often seems to intentionally repel them. “Go and don’t say anything.” “Go keep quiet about what I did.” “Demons, be silent!” Jesus is the complete opposite of a media hound. So his words can serve as comfort – God can work incredibly even through the small and insignificant.

Let us have ears to hear this message – we are called to follow and be his disciples. No matter how insignificant we might seem to the world (I’m just a…), God can utilize us for great things. We may not even know the extent of our work, but like tossing a stone into a smooth lake, the ripples keep going and going.

So don’t allow the “I’m just a…” label to stick. And believe me – people WILL try to stick it to you! But not God. God will make sure that His will is accomplished, and it’s very often done by the misfits and outcasts.

So if you’re one of the misfits and outcasts, the excluded and minority, the unlikely and improbable, you’re in good company.

Keep an open ear for how God might want to use you.

Jesus Says, “No, America, You Won’t Be Great Again.”

For what it’s worth, I’m not now nor have I ever been anti-American (as even close friends have been accused of behaving). I LOVE my country and and very glad that I live here, serve here (though my opinions do not reflect the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any government agency), and raise my family here. For all our faults (and we can point to quite a few), there are places in the world that are FAR worse off. So I’m not here to bash America. I’m here to talk about Christians who have jumped on the “Make America Great Again” bandwagon.

You see, the expression implies that America WAS great but somehow lost its greatness. It now needs to regain what we once had. So I want to know what it is we’ve lost and what we need to get back. My friend Harry said it very well when he responded:

I believe the more specific definition is “great for who(m)”? In a land of such diversity greatness is defined by any individual group to suit their own needs and desires. It’s a dandy catchphrase but is it also a balance scale. Does “greatness” for some come at a sacrifice to others?

I think that’s a big part of the problem. Going back to greatness for one group doesn’t look so hot for another group. It’s a matter of perspective, depending on which side of history you fall. But my BIGGEST problem comes from Christians who eagerly (sometimes humble-732566_1920overwhelmingly so) desire to be part of the “Make America Great Again” movement. I expect such behavior from non-Christians. But Christians are supposed to approach issues like this from a different perspective. Jesus addressed greatness several times.

He said:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12)

and:

And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35)

I’m not talking about pursuing excellence. If we follow the Apostle’s advice and do everything we do as doing it unto God, we’re going to pursue excellence. But the idea of greatness runs contrary to the idea of humility. Greatness is a comparative quality – it’s being set apart from the norm or average. It’s saying, “I’m more special than ________.”

GreatI fail to grasp how a commitment to Jesus, one who epitomized service to others, allows us a Christians to say, “We desire to be better than everyone else!”

I recognize that it’s impossible to lump everyone who says, “Make America Great Again” into a single group. But my observation is that the slogan, and many who promote it, embrace an “us vs. them” mentality that is at odds with the Gospel of Jesus.

Real humility doesn’t say, “I desire to be great!” Real humility says, “What can I do for you?”

So be patriotic. Pursue excellence in all you do. There’s nothing wrong with that! But be humble. Embrace serving others. Reject the pursuit of greatness as a goal. Let greatness be the result of a life of serving others and seeking to build others up. Remember Jesus’s words I mentioned earlier:

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”

Inappropriate Parents & Kids

1297856847128_ORIGINALThis last week Victoria Beckham posted a picture on Instagram of her kissing her 5 year old daughter on the lips.

And the digital world EXPLODED.

Many criticized her and called her ugly names. Many defended her, posting picture of them kissing their own kids. C’mon, people, is this really what it’s come to? Do we have nothing better to do than debate the parenting style of people we don’t know and will never meet?

Sigh – it seems that distance criticism is what we do best. So let’s talk about the actual issue here – appropriate vs. inappropriate affection between parent and child.

Our society is quickly taking up a position that all sexuality is okay as long as no one is hurt. Not just okay – but encouraged. Media floods our brains with images of same-sex couples kissing at pride events. Celebrities bounce from partner to partner and nobody bats an eye (plus it gives Taylor Swift more song writing material). And I think this oversexualization of society is the root of the problem. We’ve come to the point where many cannot see a kiss between a parent and child without reading sexual content into it. It’s not the parents who disturb me – it’s the people who read into the behavior who disturb me.

Much of what we consider to be appropriate physical behavior is culturally conditioned. Citizens in some countries greet each other with kisses on the cheek. It’s not romantic. In some cultures you sill see two men, best friends, walking down the street holding hands. It’s not romantic – it’s a sign of solidarity and friendship.

How far can a parent go to show affection and love to his/her child? I’m willing to look foolish for the sake of my kids. It reminds me of the story Jesus tells in Luke 15 we sometimes call “The Prodigal Son.” The basic premise is that the young son bails on his family, takes part of the family fortune, and blows it all in a way that would bring shame and dishonor upon his family. So he decides to go home and ask his father for a position as a servant, since he doesn’t deserve to be part of the family any more (but he still needs a job, you know?!) Jesus picks up the story and says:

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

The father saw his son from a long way off and ran to him. In the Ancient Near East, men didn’t wear blue jeans. They had tunics. Running would have meant pulling up his tunic. It would have meant exposing part of his legs to the public so that he could run freely. But getting to his son was more important than what society thought. So he hitches up his tunic and runs to his son. He hugs his son. He kisses his son.

Jesus is trying to teach us something about how God, our heavenly Father, cares about us. There’s also something to be learned about a love so fierce that we’re willing to demonstrate it in front of the whole world. It also says something to our kids when we’re willing to show the affection we feel.

So last night as I was putting my kids to bed I kissed each one of them – my daughters and my son – on the lips. I told them I loved them. Then I said good night.

And I’ll probably do it again tonight, too.

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My and my baby girl 🙂

Jesus Vs. The Python Spirit

chains-19176_1920Going through the motions leaves one dry and empty with a cold religion. There is no intimacy with God. Authentic faith is about experiencing the power of the presence of God and His Spirit. You see, when we encounter Jesus our lives are changed. When we are changed, we are no longer captive to the things that used to keep us in bondage. Our great unknown today is a slave. But not just any slave, every slave. See, we are all slaves. Did you know that you are a slave? The only question is, “Who is your master?” We do not have only one slave in the story. The story is really all about spiritual power, hardness of hearts, and the ability of the gospel to change lives. This story is set up like a western showdown. It’s a showdown between different sets of slaves to see whose master is more powerful. Luke tells us the story in Acts 16:16-22:

16 And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain girl possessed with a python spirit met us, which gave her masters much business with her fortune telling:

snake-419043_1920The word python was originally used in Greek mythology for the snake that guarded the sacred place at Delphi, where divine prophecies were given. The python was killed by Apollo, the god of prophecy. The word was later used to describe fortune tellers who were thought to be inspired by the serpent called Python. Plutarch calls these people ventriloquists – their utterances are beyond their conscious control (they are only dummies, puppets). So she’s not really a fortune teller, so to speak. She’s a puppet through which a powerful demon speaks, telling people things about themselves that are true!

When you encounter someone like this you know that you’re dealing with one of three options: it’s God, a fraud, or a demon. There is no other way around it. The Bible warns believers to stay away from that kind of hooka-booka nonsense. At any rate, this girl brought in a lot of business with her fortune telling. And for some reason she attaches herself to the preachers. We don’t know exactly why. Perhaps in her possessed state she realized she needed some help. Perhaps the spirit in her was trying to antagonize Paul and Silas.

17 She followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, “These men are servants of the most high God, that are proclaiming to us a way of salvation.”

There is a possibility that the spirit in the girl is trying to create confusion and trouble for Paul and Silas. In Jewish and Christian circles, the expression “most high God” means the one true God, the Almighty. It’s the Greek expression for the Old Testament’s El Elyon. Genesis14:18 reads ~ “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of El Elyon, of God Most High.” But that’s not necessarily how pagans understood the expression. In Philippi the term ‘the Highest God’ could have been misleading. It was a pagan title for Zeus. Could it be that, as people are drawing in to hear about Paul’s God, this python spirit is trying to distract them and prevent people from hearing about Yahweh, about Jesus?

It makes me think of Oprah Winfrey and her spiritual guru, Eckhart Tolle. He tries to claim that the spirituality he promotes is compatible with the Christian faith. It is all under the same big spiritual umbrella. All he is really doing is confusing people from hearing the real truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Eckhart Tolle says there are multiple paths to “God.” The Bible says there is one path.

demon-1294136_1280There is also a power play going on here. In the ancient world, knowing someone’s name and knowing where they come from give you power over that person. Often times people would have a public name but keep their real name private among close friends and family. In standard exorcisms the exorcist has to identify and name the spirit being cast out. The act of naming gives you power over it. In the gospels we see Jesus run into several demons. The funny thing is that they try to exorcise Jesus! They use the standard exorcism language. They identify him by name and where he is from. “I know who you are, Jesus, Son of the most high God!” They knew his name, but they didn’t really know his true power or authority.

I get that same sort of feeling here in Acts 16. Here are Paul and Silas, out and about doing ministry, telling people about God and Jesus, and here comes this spirit who tries to exert authority over them. Remember, this passage is all about mastery and slavery. The spirit wants to show that he is in control. Thus we have a showdown. It’s a showdown between slaves. On one side, the girl, slave to the python spirit. On the other side, Paul and Silas, slaves to the most high God (even the spirit recognized this).

18 And she did this many days. But Paul, wearied, turned and said to the spirit, “I proclaim to you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he went out the same hour.

But this showdown is short-lived. You see, there’s really no contest. The evil spirit even foreshadows his own demise! Look again at the end of verse 17: “they are proclaiming to us a way of salvation.” And then Paul whips around and says, “Hey bub, I proclaim to you, in Jesus name, come out of her!” And the demon leaves. In the Greek the word is literally “goes out.” And gives us a funny little play on words in verse 19:

19 And when her masters saw go out the hope of their business, they caught Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace to the rulers,

Luke makes a humorous play on words: the leaving of the spirit (the python spirit went out) is the same leaving of the masters’ hope for business (hope went out). When Paul exorcised the demon he exorcised their source of income as well. They don’t care about anything else, just their cash flow. Never mind the miraculous exorcism that just took place. Never mind the state and well-being of the young girl. They saw their profits dry up and they became livid! Something similar happens later on when Paul is preaching in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-29). The unbelievers react violently when the gospel threatens their income. What becomes of the girl, we are not informed. You see, the story takes a turn here.

Paul and Silas were in a confrontation with a slave to the python spirit. Now they are in a confrontation with men who are slaves to the world. Sometimes the gospel of Jesus and the people who believe it are going to come into conflict with powers and enemies. Sometimes those powers will be spiritual, demons and darkness. Sometimes those powers will be people in authority or in a position over us. You might not be struggling with an actual demonic presence, but there are other presences, other temptations, you might struggle with serving when you ought to be serving Jesus Christ.

20 and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.

Romans were forbidden by law to convert to Judaism. Any evangelism would be seen as contrary to that law. Paul and Silas are in a bind. They know that they shouldn’t legally be telling people about Jesus and preaching the people need to change. But they know that people DO need to change, and that people will be incomplete without Jesus in their lives. Paul and Silas, they chose to serve God no matter what the cost. So when these angry merchants bring Paul and Silas before the magistrates they don’t stand alone as men. They stand as servants of the most high God.

22 The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.

You may know how this story ends. Paul and Silas get thrown in prison. But not just the minimum security “D” block. No, they get put into the inner prison, the pit, maximum security. This is a time to get glum. This is a time to be negative. But not these guys. Tertullian was a church leader foundational in helping establish Christian theology. He introduced the word “Trinity” to Christian vocabulary. He once said, “The legs feel nothing in the stocks when the heart is in heaven.” Did they feel like worshiping? Probably not. They were likely tired, aching, and scared. Yet they worshiped anyway.

As they’re praying and singing to God through the night, a massive earthquake comes and the doors fall down and the chains fall off! There is no hint that Paul and Silas are praying for release, though the other prisoners might have felt the earthquake was an answer to prayer! What the slaves to the world tried to do to Paul and Silas God disarms in the blink of an eye.

When the jailer finds the doors and chains destroyed he’s about to kill himself. Better suicide than public humiliation, beating, or possible death at the hands of the Roman authorities. But Paul stops him saying, “Wait, we’re all here.” And the jailer calls for a light (this is the deep dungeon, remember?) and asks Paul and Silas, “What do I have to do to be saved?” What exactly the jailer meant by his question of salvation is difficult to say. He may have heard the possessed girl earlier in the week that these men had come to proclaim the way of salvation….

And Paul and Silas tell him the only thing that matters – salvation comes through Jesus Christ. In the power encounter with the girl, the slaves of God overcome the slave of evil spirits. In the power encounter with the merchants and magistrates, the slaves of God overcome the slaves of the world. And now, in the dark of the prison, the slave to the Roman authorities, the jailer, asks what it takes to switch sides and be a slave of the most high God.

Friends, if there is anything that God would have us understand through this story it’s this: slaves of the most high God are really free. The girl, slave to the python spirit, is finally set free after an encounter with the most high God. Paul and Silas are literally set free from their chains! Even the jailer, bound to the Roman authorities and about to take his own life, finds the freedom offered by being a slave to Jesus Christ. Slaves to evil spirits, the things of the world, or the people of this world are really in bondage. 1 Corinthians 7:22-23 says:

“For the slave who has been called in the Lord is the Lord’s free person. In the same way, the free person who has been called is Christ’s slave. You were bought for a price. [So] stop becoming slaves of people.”

I am sure that we all know people who are bound up, trapped in lives, behaviors, and attitudes that enslave them. Even people in the church are in bondage when we should be experiencing freedom as slaves of the most high God. What would our Master have us do as His slaves? If we walk in the power of the presence of God’s holy spirit, how does that change our everyday lives? When we have a power encounter with Jesus Christ, we will be changed.

You may be a slave to lust and pornography. You may be a slave to gossip and slander. You may be a slave to anger or mastered by your short temper. You may wrestle with the spirit of complacency. Or maybe you are a slave to a critical and judgmental spirit. How would our Master have us act and live? There is a reason why we aren’t experiencing the freedom that comes with being a slave to the most high God? Have you asked Him? Have you hit your knees, acknowledged your slavery, and said, “God, I want to switch sides. I want to be slave to you alone and nothing else”? It’s time to get serious about who you serve.

Make up your mind.

Hey, Moon Jesus, Come Back Soon…

We listen to a lot of Christian music when we’re driving. Yesterday a great one for belting came on the radio: Even So Come.

All of creation, all of the earth
Make straight a highway, a path for the Lord
Jesus is coming soon

Call back the sinner, wake up the saint
Let every nation shout of Your fame
Jesus is coming soon

Like a bride waiting for her groom
We’ll be a Church ready for You
Every heart longing for our King
We sing, “Even so come, Lord Jesus, come.”

The 4 year old piped up in the seat behind me, “Did they say, ‘even so come Lord Jesus?'” The conversation then went like this:

Yes, baby girl, they did.

What do they mean “come Lord Jesus?”

God tells us in the Bible that Jesus is going to come back for everyone who believe in him.

(9 year old in the far back of the van): I BELIEVE IN HIM!

(6 year old in the middle): I BELIEVE!

(back to 4 year old): Daddy, is Jesus in the moon?

At this point I’m going to take a break to say that I have NO idea where this question came from. We try to keep the kids away from the weirder heresies and cults… 😉

No, Baby, He’s not in the moon.

No, where is he for REAL?

From there we entered into a brief conversation on the omnipresence of God (funny enough, we had just turned off Obi Wan Kenobi teaching Luke Skywalker all about the Force) and the return of Christ – well, as much as we could on a 4 year old level.

The point of telling this story is not to talk about the imminent return of Christ or about the attributes of God. I really wanted to share this story to highlight the fact that those of us who believe ought to be taking advantage of such opportunities to talk with our kids about God.

Of course, I hear people argue that Christians merely brainwash and indoctrinate our kids into faith when we ought to be letting them figure out their own way.

Hogwash.

We are all conditioned by our worldview. Some of us hold to a Christian worldview. Others, not so much.  Just a few moments ago I saw a friend post this:

Mike Dunger

And it’s true! The point is that we ALL approach life with a worldview, and we pass that worldview down to others. If we’re not passing our Christian worldview down to our kids, the outside world will pass down something else.

Think about faith this way. If I believe something to be true, I would actually be harming people by not telling them what I believed to be true. Is God real? Did Christ die a propitiatory death for humanity? Will we all stand before God again one day?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Why would I withhold that from my kids? Don’t let opportunities slip by. I’m not saying you need to force it. Don’t bash people over the head with your Bible shoutin’, “YOU NEED JESUS!” But as the opportunities arise, make the most of them. Let your friends and family know the truth you know. Not everyone will accept it, but if you REALLY believe it, why WOULDN’T you share it?

Unless you don’t REALLY believe…

Holding On To Politics But Letting Go of God

presidential-election-1336480_1280Let’s be honest – it’s easy for Americans to get caught up in the political furor of the presidential race. I don’t know the exact number but I think I remember hearing somewhere that more Americans than ever are turning out for primaries and rallies. People are HEAVILY invested in this race. And this is true on both sides of the aisle.

But Christians are too invested.

Yes, I said it. Christians care SO much about this presidential election that they are letting go of God. Of course they don’t admit it.

Heck, they don’t even recognize it.

They will claim that they believe the way they do BECAUSE of their faith. Funny enough, people on all sides of any issue make the exact same claim. But I don’t think that faith is driving the Christian fervor. Not really. It’s not about spirituality. It’s not about the Gospel. It’s about a superficial cultural religion – not real Christianity. Look at the words of the Apostle Paul:

bible-1031288_1920If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-17)

Let’s break it down:

  • Our priority is to FORCE God’s kingdom onto the nation. Where we are instructed to set our minds above, we choose to set our minds to November and re-creating a theocracy (which we never were, by the way – this was never God’s nation, and we were never God’s people “called by His name).
  • We revel in those things we are told to put away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk. Our candidates intentionally stir up these passions to rally us to their cause. This is not the Christian way. It’s political, sure, but not Christian.
  • Rather than seeing the unity of humanity in Christ, we highlight the differences between us. Now more than ever we hear language of separation – language that creates an “us Vs. them” mentality. This is not right.
  • We refuse to put on the attributes to which we are called: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness.

If these are the things that Christians are supposed to focus on, to cut out of our lives, and to put into our lives, why are we completely ignoring God’s word?

My guess? It’s because we’re not really Christian. We’re social Christians. We believe in a God-like being who kind of cosmically started things, but we’re not ACTUAL Christians where we’d allow God to tell us that our behavior is atrocious and that it’s time to change.

This is not me advocating for not voting. As citizens we have a responsibility to vote. Even the Apostle Paul knew how to use his Roman citizenship to accomplish his purposes. But Paul’s focus was not on being Roman. His focus was Jesus.

We’ve lost our focus on Jesus. We’re social Christians but not actual Christians. When God wants to change us we say, “Forget that!” We’d rather change the world around us. It’s time to walk away from setting our sights (and our hopes) on the government.

It’s time to refocus on Jesus.

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