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Doug Tweed

IT TAKES GREAT FAITH TO MOVE MOUNTAINS

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“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.’” (Matthew 17:19-20 ESV)

Few things frustrate me more than hearing a Christian say, “If you have just a little faith – faith the size of a mustard seed – you can move mountains!” Nothing is further from the truth.
Yet this crippling misunderstanding is pervasive in much of the Church, and has even led to error in some of our otherwise excellent English bible translations. It is time to set the record straight.

First, we must understand three Greek words used in the New Testament with relationship to faith.

The Greek word for faith is “pistis”. By contrast, the Greek word, “apistia”, means unbelief or refusal to trust and believe. Unbelief directed toward God is sin. (John 18:8) Unbelief can create an atmosphere where even Jesus could not do many mighty works. (Matthew 13:58)

The third Greek word, “oligopistos”, means little faith. It is a combination of the word for little, “oligos”, and the word for faith. “Oligopistos” is used five times in the New Testament, and is never directed toward people who have no faith or refuse to believe. Instead, it is used by Jesus to describe those who are following Him, but still worried, anxious or fearful about things. (Matthew 6:30; Luke 12:28; Matthew 14:31; Matthew 16:8) Little faith is immaturity.

Second, we must understand how Jesus uses the mustard seed in His teachings. He said the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed because it begins as the smallest seed but becomes the largest plant in the garden. (Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:31-32; Luke 13:19) The Greek words used for “like” are either “hos” or “homoios”, both of which mean “like” or “of the same nature as”.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not like a mustard seed because it is small. It is like a mustard seed because it started small, with Jesus and a few disciples, but becomes great!
Third, we must understand the context within which Jesus teaches our parable of mustard seed faith and movable mountains.

While Jesus, Peter, James and John are at the mount of transfiguration, the other nine disciples go to town, and a father asks them to deliver his son from a demon. (Matthew 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-29) Even though the disciples had been empowered earlier by Jesus to cast out demons, they were unable to cast this demon out.

After Jesus comes and casts out the demon, the disciples ask Him why they were unable to cast it out. Jesus gives them two answers, with one recorded in Mark and the other in Matthew.
In Mark, Jesus explained this particular kind of demon could only come out by prayer and fasting [some translations simply say prayer]. The disciples had successfully cast out other demons, but this terrible demon was beyond their present pay grade, particularly in the atmosphere of unbelief created by the father and the crowd. (Matthew 17:17) The disciples needed to humble themselves and pray for God to do what they could not yet do in His name.

In our Matthew passage, Jesus explained they could not cast this type of demon out because of their little faith (oligopistos). Note: both the KJV and NKJ translate this as “unbelief” rather than “little faith”. That is error. The word, “apistia”, does not appear in the passage.

Jesus then goes on to encourage them. If their faith is like a mustard seed, then they will someday find themselves able to move mountains. Note: the NIV, NRSV and NLT all translate this as “faith as small as (or the size of) a mustard seed”. That is error. No Greek word for “small” or “size” is present in the passage. The word is “hos”, which as stated before means “like” or “of the same nature as”.

Jesus delighted in the great faith of the Roman centurion and the Canaanite woman. (Matthew 8:10, 15:28) He never delights in little faith, but He tells us in this teaching that our faith doesn’t have to stay little. And He promised that as our faith grows, our pay grade will be upgraded and mountains will begin to move.
How do we grow from little faith to great faith? Faith is a combination of two things. It is trust in the person of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and it is trust in all God says and does.

God is love, always good, all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand God. There is no reason why we cannot have complete trust in Him right now and every day.

As to what God does and says, we grow in faith as we “hear”, trust and “do” more and more of His Word. (Romans 10:17; Matthew 7:24-27; John 14:21; James 1:22-25)

My friends, the Church has been satisfied with little faith for far too long. (Revelation 3:14-22) Let’s develop great faith and move some mountains!

God bless you, and God bless our community.

GOD LOVES THE PEOPLE YOU DON’T LOVE

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Charlottesville is, from inception through tragedy to aftermath, only the latest in a long line of incidents revealing how conflicted and divided our nation has become. Phrases like “we, the people”, “one nation under God” and even “United States” no longer seem to describe us very well.

God’s Word warns us that those who engage in enmity, strife, dissensions and divisions will not experience the blessings of God’s Kingdom. (Galatians 5:19-21) Yet that is the only way the two political parties that control our government want to operate. And that is all we see on our television news shows, all we hear about on talk radio and all we read about on internet blogs, whether they are simply reporting or, more often, promoting and provoking controversy.

Who is responsible for this mess? Who has the ability to turn things around? The answer to both questions is the same: the Body of Christ.

The Body of Christ is responsible for America because our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to disciple this nation. (Matthew 28:18-20) At the very heart of our assignment is the need to show forth the love of God to everyone He loves – and He loves everybody! (Matthew 5:43-45; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 4:8)

Approximately 80% of our nation’s population identify themselves as Christian. Politicians can’t get elected without Christian votes. Most shows can’t sustain the ratings to stay on the air without Christian viewers. Christianity is the largest “people group” in America, larger than “white”, “people of color”, “conservative”, “liberal”, or any other so-called special interest group. If we were doing our job together: if we were loving each other, loving our neighbor, loving the stranger in our path, and loving our enemies by blessing them and praying for them, then everything would marvelously change for the better.

Brothers and sisters, God loves the people you don’t love. For some of you, that means God loves the people you hate. For others, it means God loves the people you don’t care about, one way or the other.

God lives in each of us through the Holy Spirit, and from that vantage point, He has watched while we yoke ourselves to political pundits who revile those who disagree with them. (1 Corinthians 6:10) He has watched while we express distain for either Hillary Clinton or President Trump. (Matthew 5:22; 1 Timothy 2:1-2) He has watched as some of us side with the black man who is shot while others side with the officer who shot him, and grieved over our failure to understand that He loves them all. (Ephesians 4:30 – 5:2)

He has also watched many of us walk by the homeless and the addict without giving a thought to how we might help them. (Luke 10:25-37)

There is no sin greater for the Church than the failure to love. If we don’t have love for others – selfless, serving, unconditional agape love in both word and deed – then we are nothing, have nothing, and gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13; 1 John 3:18) Without love, we walk right along with the rest of the world in darkness. (1 John 2:9-11)

The good news is that we can walk in this love. It is not too late. The Holy Spirit is ready and willing to pour the agape love of God into our hearts. (Romans 5:5) I recommend these four steps.

First, go before the Lord and let the Holy Spirit convict you of sin for the lack of love in your life. Repent!

Second, recognize how much the God who lives in you loves you, and love Him back.

Third, realize that the God inside you loves all these other people around you just as much as He loves you. They are made in His image. Christ paid the price in full for their sins. They are all either His child or someone He wants to become His child.

Fourth, join God in His love for them.

I can join God in loving people who practice Islam, people who practice homosexuality, and people who are on the political “far right” and “far left”. I don’t agree with or encourage their beliefs. Love without God’s truth is not God’s love. But I can truly care about them and value them because God does. Truth without God’s love is not God’s truth.
It starts with you and me. Let’s join together in loving the people God loves, and see what happens!

God bless you, and God bless our community.

JOIN THE LORD IN ADORATION!

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“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)

Christian life is a life of relationship and purpose.

By relationship, I mean that Christian faith is about relationship, not religion. It is about a relationship of love with the God who first loved us and sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God and have everlasting life. (John 3:16; 1 John 6:19)

By purpose, I mean that just as God expressed his incredible love for us through His purposes in sending Jesus and His Holy Spirit, so we are to express back our love for God by fulfilling the purposes the Lord has for us. (John 14:21, 20:21) Jesus joined His Father in all He saw His Father doing, and we are to join our Lord Jesus in what He has done and is doing – loving our neighbor by declaring the Gospel to the poor, powerless and spiritually blind, and by setting free those who are oppressed and in bondage. (John 15:19; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Luke 4:18) The Great Commandment says we are to express this love with all we are – heart, soul, mind and strength. (Mark 12:28-31)

“Adoration” is a good modern English word for this type of love. Both the Free Dictionary and Dictionary.com define “adoration” as: “fervent and devoted love”, “reverent homage”, “the act of worship”, and “the act of paying honor to God”. We are to adore God and to adore those who God adores.

These biblical truths are always important to remember, but today, my friends, they are also a set-up for an extraordinarily important announcement. On October 1, 2017, every Christian and every Christian congregation in our region will have the opportunity to wonderfully express their adoration of the Lord and their neighbor by participating in Adoration 2017.
Adoration 2017 began as a profoundly simple “only God can do this” vision given by the Lord to Thomas Cook, a recent ETSU graduate. Bring 1,000 churches together in unity to worship and pray. By the hand of God, it has blossomed into an awesome movement spearheaded by a terrific team of young faith-filled adults and supported by both university leadership and a strong cast of area spiritual leaders.

Please, please explore the website, Adorationlife.com, so you can become as informed and excited as I am about their insight, dedication and organization. The new ETSU football stadium will be the site for this 6 PM gathering of 1,000 churches. In addition to worship and prayer, and the witness to the lost created by 1,000 churches expressing the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, there will an educational focus on how Christians can unite to respond to the horrific prescription drug abuse epidemic that plagues our Appalachian region. Adoration in relationship and purpose!

There is nothing remotely like Adoration 2017 happening anywhere else in our nation. Everywhere else, secular college campuses are known for their lack of faith and worldliness. National polls report that young adults are leaving the Church in droves. Christian congregations are still primarily “doing their own thing”.

But here, in our humble hills of Tennessee and Virginia, we have an opportunity to reverse all of that by supporting the young Christian leadership that our Lord has raised up, and by doing something God has been asking His people to do for a long time. Come together and glorify Him.

In the midst of all this incredibly good news comes the bad news. Despite the hard work of the Adoration 2017 team, and despite front page coverage of this amazing event in the Kingsport Times-News and other area newspapers, there are presently only 91 churches signed up in support, and there are only 60 days to go.
In any other circumstance, getting 91 churches together would be deemed an outstanding feat, particularly since these 91 come from 22 different counties, but God wants 1,000 and He has more than enough congregations in this area to accomplish His goal.

I earnestly ask every Christian who reads this column to do these five things. First, check out http://adorationlife.com/about/supporters-list/ to see if your congregation has signed up in support. (You will be amazed at the church names that are missing)

Second, if your congregation has not signed up, speak to your church leadership and get signed up! The Adoration 2017 team needs your affirmation.
Third, use your Facebook and other social media accounts to get the word out throughout East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, and beyond. Every voice is important in this call to rally together!

Fourth, commit to personally attend on October 1 if you are able. And fifth, commit to ongoing prayer that Adoration 2017 will be all God has envisioned it to be!

God bless you, and God bless our community.

CHRISTIANS MUST REDISCOVER SEXUAL MORALITY

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“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)

In 1 Corinthians 5-6, the apostle Paul tackles an issue that most Christians have been avoiding for a long, long time. He tackles the issue of sexual immorality in terms of both refraining from sin and holding accountable those who do sin.

We live in a hyper-sexualized culture. What used to be considered “soft porn” earns a PG-13 rating and is routinely used to sell everything from perfume to hamburgers. Premarital sex has been the norm, not the exception, for several decades. The social media explosion has led to both a rise in marital infidelity and the practice of “sexting”. The statistics for internet pornography use among men, women, youth, children and pastors are staggering. According to a recent Barna Group study, 90% of our youth and young adults see nothing wrong with it.

Add to all of this the latest internet offering of cyberdildonics – virtual reality sexual encounters – and you quickly realize this is not what a nation under God looks like. This is Babylon!

Finally, include the secular approval of homosexuality and transgenderism, where there are caring Christians, including some people I love very much, on both sides of the debate.
Paul provided three biblical instructions to the Christians in Corinth that we must fully embrace in this hour.

First, don’t judge or disassociate from unbelievers who engage in sexual immorality. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) We live in a broken world. The lost will always act lost and always be vulnerable to the schemes of Satan. (Ephesians 6:11-12) You are here to model and witness God’s unconditional love, goodness and morality to them just like Jesus did when He associated with prostitutes and tax collectors. (Matthew 9:10-13, 11:19)

Second, avoid sexual sin at all cost! (1 Corinthians 6:18; Matthew 5:27-30) It is a work of the flesh opposed to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit within you. (Galatians 5:17, 19; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5) It obstructs your ability as heirs of God to receive Kingdom inheritance – blessings, power and authority – while you are here on earth. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Most important, sexual immorality defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit that you became when you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20) You must understand! The God who loves you lives within you while you commit these acts. Sexual sin destroys your intimacy with God and, through that, your witness to others.

What is sexual sin? It is anything that defies and defiles God’s plan for marital intimacy between a male husband and female wife. (Mark 10:6-9; Hebrews 13:4)

Too many Christians have forgotten that God alone has the right and ability to tell us what is sexually good and bad for us as individuals and as society. He created us. He loves us. He is all-wise, all-knowing, all-good and absolutely trustworthy, so “His house, His rules” is the only right way to go.

The Bible speaks forth God’s will on these issues, not Dr. Phil and not the U.S. Supreme Court. Adultery is sexual sin. For a married person, pornography is adultery in your heart. (Matthew 5:28) Premarital sex, or “fornication”, is sexual sin, and for an unmarried person, pornography and sexting are fornication in your heart. (Colossians 3:5) Homosexual and transgender sexual practices are sexual sin even though the root causes that make people have those desires were often not their fault. (1 Corinthians 6:9; Romans 1:26-28; Leviticus 18:22; Matthew 19:12; Genesis 1:27-28, 2:18-24)

The third instruction from Paul on sexual immorality concerns accountability within the Christian community. Paul tells us we are to judge the actions of each other and be willingly submitted to one another. (1 Corinthians 5:12; Ephesians 5:21) If a fellow Christian is committing sexual sin without repentance, we are to remove them from our midst and not even eat with them. (1 Corinthians 5:2, 11, 13)

Paul gives two reasons why we should take this radical action. First, we must protect the health, harmony and witness of the community. A little bad leaven can contaminate the whole loaf. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Joshua 7; Revelation 2:20-23) Second, our rejection of ungodly behavior and removal of spiritual protection can be a wake-up call that leads the sinner to repentance. (1 Corinthians 5:5)

Note: this drastic response does not at all apply to Christians who are struggling with sexual sin but seeking help. Sexual addiction and sexual confusion are powerful bondages and God wants to use us to set those captive brothers and sisters free. (Luke 4:18; James 5:19-20)

On the other hand, woe to those so-called Christian teachers who in the name of “love” encourage others to continue in what God has declared to be sexual sin. They would be better off tied to a millstone and thrown in the sea. (Mark 9:42; James 3:1)

Please read the scriptures I have cited. If we want a sexually moral nation, we must first have a sexually moral Church.
God bless you, and God bless our community.

CHRIST IS RISEN! WE MUST ARISE!

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“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2)

“They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:4)

This is Easter weekend. Churches throughout our region will experience their greatest attendance of the year this Sunday as we remember with celebration how, almost two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ died for our sins and then rose from the dead to become King of Kings, with all authority in heaven and earth. Hallelujah!

My question for us today is whether we will be satisfied this weekend to simply remember and celebrate, or whether we will instead treat Easter 2017 as a call to action.

Will we remember that Jesus came as the light of the world so we would become the light of the world? (John 8:12, 9:5; Matthew 5:14-16) Will we remember that Christ gave us the glory that the Father gave Him, and sends us forth into the world just as the Father sent Him? (John 17:22-23, 20:21)

The New Testament is filled with calls to action, but one of our most powerful calls to action is proclaimed prophetically in the Old Testament at Isaiah 60-62. I urge you to read these three chapters of scripture this weekend, and to understand how relevant they are to the times in which we live.

Spiritual darkness is seeking to cover the earth: chemical weapons used against children in Syria; nuclear weapons brandished in North Korea; Islamic terrorists beheading innocent villagers and using teenagers as suicide bombs; abortions continuing to kill thousands of babies and scar thousands of mothers every day; radical gay lobby groups seeking to destroy every semblance of sexual morality; radical political groups seeking to drive our nation toward either socialism or fascism; and the list goes on.

Spiritual darkness is also right outside your door, if not already inside your home. Addiction to methamphetamine and prescription opioids is at epidemic levels, and our region has some of the highest overdose and drug-related crime statistics in the nation. Our statistics for divorce and domestic violence are also among the highest, and pornography is defiling not only the majority of our men but our grade school and middle school children. Again, the list goes on.

So, what are some ways we can arise and shine, releasing the light and love of God amidst this horribly destructive darkness?

First, in a nation divided both politically and culturally, we must as the Church begin to walk in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

A group of young Christians in our region have been led by the Lord to bring 1,000 churches together for a night of united worship and prayer. This incredible event, called Adoration 2017, will be held at the new ETSU football stadium on October 1, 2017. We all need to be there! Learn more at www.adorationlife.com. Tell your pastor. Make sure your church signs up right away.
The Lord will also bring His people in this region together in the spring of 2018 for a Will Graham Celebration sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Learn more about this terrific opportunity, and how you can be praying for it, at www.tcprayergatherings.org.

And for those in the greater Kingsport area, New Direction Network is sponsoring a second annual “A Night in Unity” worship service on April 29, 2017, at Ross Robinson School. Learn more at www.newdirectionnetwork.com. Be there as well!

Second, as a nation faced with problems too great for our science or politics to solve, we must become the house of prayer God called us to be. (Isaiah 56:7, Mark 11:17)
Thursday, May 4 is the National Day of Prayer, established in 1952 by federal law as the one day of the year when we can officially bind together our love of country and love of God. You would expect a massive turnout of public support, but in past years, that has not occurred.

There will be noon events on the National Day of Prayer in Blountville, Rogersville, Church Hill, Bristol, and Jonesborough. In Kingsport, celebrating its 100th anniversary, there will be a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast at 7:30 AM at Glen Bruce Park focusing on the powerful role faith has played throughout our city’s history. Then, at 7 PM, multiple area ministries are sponsoring Kingsport’s National Day of Prayer Observance at Higher Ground Baptist Church, where we will worship in song and pray for our nation’s seven primary spheres of influence: the Church, family & marriage, education, business, government, media, and arts & entertainment.

In all these communities, if you are a Christian and a patriot, you need to be there! Arise and shine!

Then, recognizing that we are called to pray not just one day but throughout the year, learn about the Tennessee Governmental Prayer Alliance at www.tngpa.com. Learn about the Watchmen Prayer Network of TN/VA at www.watchmenprayernetwork.com. Join one of the weekly or monthly prayer ministries springing up throughout the region. Organize an ongoing prayer team in your congregation.

There is much more we must do, but this is a start. Christ died and rose for us. It is time for us to arise and shine for Him!
God bless you, and God bless our communities.

GOD’S UNCONDITIONAL LOVE HAS CONDITIONS

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“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)

God loves us unconditionally. The Bible tells us so.

When something is unconditional, it is absolute and without exception. It is, or it will happen, regardless of what else happens or what you do or don’t do.

Matthew 5:43-48 reveals God’s love to be perfect, and for both the just and unjust. God showed His perfect love dramatically by sending His Son to die for all of us while we were still sinners in rebellion against His Kingdom. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 2:2) He is “no respecter of persons”, and desires everyone to repent and come into everlasting life. (Acts 10:34; 2 Peter 3:9)

This is unconditional love, summarized by the apostle John in the statement: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16) Love is not all that God is, for He is also sovereign, holy, righteous, wise and just. But because God is love, His love permeates everything else He is and everything He does. He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

Now for the paradox: although God loves us unconditionally, His unconditional love for us has conditions. The Bible tells us this as well.

When something has conditions, one thing depends on another. If “A” happens, then “B” will happen or “B” can happen, but if “A” doesn’t happen, don’t expect “B” to happen.

The Old Testament covenant of the law was all about conditions. If you obey, you will receive wonderful blessings, but if you disobey, you will be cursed. (Deuteronomy 28)

The New Testament covenant in Christ removed the conditions of the law, but did not remove all conditions. The easiest and most important example is the road to salvation. We are saved by grace – an incredible expression of the unconditional love of God – but only when we meet the condition of faith by trusting Jesus as our Savior Lord. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Now look at John 14:21, where Jesus promises that if we love Him by keeping His commandments, then both He and the Father will love us and Jesus will manifest Himself to us. Here the love of Jesus and the Father appear to be conditioned on our obedience of His commandments! And it is a condition Jesus repeats twice in the same discourse.

At John 14:23, Jesus says the Father will love us, and both He and the Father will make their home in us, if we love Him by keeping His word. At John 15:10, Jesus says we can abide in His love if we keep His commandments. Conditions!

To resolve this paradox of unconditional vs. conditional love, we need a better understanding of what love is.

Scripture commands that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. (Mark 12:30) Love relates to all those aspects of who we are.

We love with our mind as an ethical and moral choice, wanting the best for another because that is the right thing for us to want. We love with our heart by feelings of caring or compassion. We love with our soul, or will, by making choices that express the love in our mind and heart. Likewise, we love with our strength by actions that demonstrate our love.

Love is relational. Love with our mind and heart determines our attitude toward another. Love with our soul and strength then completes the relational connection by expressing and demonstrating that love to the one we love. The goal is to love from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith, and to love in both deed and truth. (1Timothy 1:5; 1 John 3:18)
God loves all of us unconditionally with His heart and mind. But the glorious expressions and demonstrations of His love are, for our own good, subject to conditions. He loves us too much to reward continued sin and works of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16-25) Instead, He rewards those who seek Him by doing His will. (Hebrews 11:6; 2 John 1:8-9; Psalm 24:2-5)

Do you want to know the love of God, and not just know of it? Do you want Jesus to manifest Himself in your life? Do you want to have the Father and Son actively dwelling within you? Do you want to live each day breathing in the atmosphere of Christ’s love? Do you want to be filled with all the fullness of God? (Ephesians 3:17-19)

If you want this abundant life, then meet the conditions of God’s unconditional love. Express your love for Jesus by doing your best to learn and keep all His commandments. This isn’t legalism. This is wisdom. This is faith. (Hebrews 11:6)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

TRUTH MUST DISPLACE HUMANISM

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“I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword.” (Zechariah 9:13b)

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)

In the days that immediately followed President Trump’s inauguration, I had some Christian friends who were totally excited, others who were cautiously optimistic and yet others who were deeply concerned. I prayed for God to give me revelation as to what was really happening in our nation, and He gave me Zechariah 9:13.

When I opened my Bible to that scripture, I found that it had already been circled in ink. Written in the margin next to the scripture were the words, “Truth vs. Humanism”.

Zechariah is a prophetic book. I had concluded in an earlier study that the sons of Zion prophetically represented the Judeo-Christian world view – God’s truth revealed in God’s Word – while the sons of Greece represented the pride in human intellect that defined Greek philosophy and eventually led to the world view of humanism.

The Lord was reminding me that personalities come and go, be they Donald Trump, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. For both individuals and nations, the ultimate key is what you believe to be true, what you believe to be important, and what you believe to be right and wrong. Those are the principles that will direct your path for good or for ill.

Otherwise put, the truth will set you free. (John 8:31-32). The father of lies kills, steals and destroys. (John 8:44, 10:10)

Merriam-Webster defines humanism as: “an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.”

The most aggressive form of humanism is secular humanism, which expresses either denial (atheism) or doubt (agnosticism) about the existence of God. Religious humanism has been around even longer, seeking to blend teachings of faith with rationalism (trust in human reason) and empiricism (trust in what man can prove to be true).

In all of these expressions, the focus is on how mankind will successfully use intellect, education and science to solve all our problems. You can believe in God, but make sure those views don’t get in the way.

The Bible makes it clear that humanism will lead to disaster. Proverbs 3:5-8 tells us not to lean on our own understanding or be wise in our own eyes. God, our Creator, knows what is good and what is evil, so trust what He says.

Yet from the very beginning, we humans have desired to be wise like God and determine for ourselves what is good and evil. (Genesis 3:1-6) Humanism is as old as the Garden of Eden. Ever since then, mankind has repeatedly been taken captive by vain philosophies and traditions that scratch the itching ears of our deceitful hearts and allow us to do whatever we want to do. (Deuteronomy 12:8; Jeremiah 17:9; Colossians 2:8; 2 Timothy 4:3)

Our universities have for many decades been the bastions of humanism. As a result, humanism saturates our public education system, news media, entertainment, and the “think tanks” that provide expert advice to our governments and businesses on how to deal with social, economic and international issues.

Humanism is the foundation for: (1) relativism, which denies absolute truth and absolute morality, including sexual morality; (2) religious pluralism, which declares many religions can be equally valid even if inconsistent with one another; and (3) socialism, which dishonors hard work and promotes coveting the property of others. Karl Marx was a humanist, and so is Senator Bernie Sanders.

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was Humanist of the Year in 1957. Her own writings reveal her desire to use abortion and sterilization to exterminate or greatly reduce America’s black population, among others, for the “greater good”. Abort73.com estimates 17,000,000 unborn black children have been killed since the 1970’s. God, help us!

Our nation was founded by sons of Zion – men and women with a Judeo-Christian worldview and morality. Today’s Democratic Party platform represents the sons of Greece – totally defined by humanism. President Trump and the Republican Party are far from perfect, but they were the only available option to stem the tide.

So, what do we do now? The tragic truth is that we Christians have allowed humanism to steal our mission, and we must take it back! We are called to make disciples of nations, including our own nation. (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8) We are to be the salt and light that preserves and improves our culture. (Matthew 5:13-16) Instead, humanism has taken over that role, and even invaded the Church with liberal theologies that are really humanism “in the name of Jesus”.

Reason, intellect, education and science are all very good things, but they must be submitted to our Creator and His Word or they will fail. Truth, shared in love, must displace humanism in America, starting with the Church. (Ephesians 4:14-16) Then we will be the one nation under God we have pledged ourselves to be!

God bless you, and God bless America.

WE ALL NEED CLEAN HEARTS AND RIGHT SPIRITS

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”Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Psalm 51:10-13)

I write this column knowing it will appear on Inauguration Day 2017. President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence will take their oaths of office this day in the presence of both thousands of vocal supporters and thousands of vocal protesters. A record number of congressional representatives from the opposing party will not attend, and as each media source reports the event in a manner reflecting their particular political bias, our nation’s “peaceful transition of power” will be off to yet another shaky start.

For ten years, my primary focus in this monthly column has been the application of biblical truth to our lives, our relationship with God, and our relationships with each other. My worldview, in a nutshell, is that if I get my relationship with God right, I begin to develop a right attitude toward self and right relationships with others. I am then in a position to have a positive impact on the people around me by my prayers, words and deeds.

The biblical name for this is Kingdom living. As I do it better, and as more and more people around me do it better, the Kingdom of God increases on the earth. (Matthew 6:10, 13:31-33)

Kingdom living is about love, truth, faith, hope, grace, kindness, humility, repentance and righteousness. Our nation’s political process has been unloving, divisive, deceptive, fearful, self-righteous, condemning and unrepentant. And too many Christians in both parties have represented their politics more than the Kingdom.

My last two columns: “Jesus is the Lord of America”, written before the election, and “Ask the Lord to Lead America”, written after the election, have both been about how Kingdom living can change our political climate. This column is about accountability. This column is about you and me.

Most of you are familiar with Psalm 51. King David wrote it to express his repentance after he was convicted of his sins involving Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite. (2 Samuel 11) These were sins against his family, his friend and his nation, but they were first and foremost sins against his Lord. (Psalm 51:4)

David’s cry is for a “clean heart” and a “right spirit” so that he can be restored to the joy of his salvation and the blessing of God’s manifest presence in his life. As Christians who follow Jesus, we know “a clean heart and right spirit” is simply another way of describing Kingdom living. We also know it is Kingdom living that produces peace, joy and the manifest presence of the Lord in our lives. (John 14:21; Romans 14:17)

David’s commitment in this cry of repentance is, upon receiving a clean heart and right spirit, to lead others to God. (Psalm 51:13) David knew he had to get right with the Lord before he could effectively help others be right with the Lord. Likewise, we know as Christians that our witness is only as effective as our walk. (Acts 1:8; 1 John 2:2-6) If we want God to use us to change our family, community or nation, we must first let Him change us.

The key word I want us to focus on in Psalm 51 today is the word, “me”. My friends, for each of us, it always starts with God and “me”.

As we move forward with our nation in this hour, you and I need to embrace Psalm 51 as our own individual prayer. Create “in me” a clean heart! Renew a right spirit “within me”! Restore “me”! Uphold “me”!

Jesus taught about the importance of this in a wonderfully blunt parable. He said, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

For many of our politicians and their supporters, including those who profess Christianity, things may not change any time soon. “Unity” may still mean, “Join me in what I want” rather than “Let’s work together”. The goals may still be, “Stay in power” and “Get power back”. The mantra may still be, “We are good and they are not”.

But for you and me, little old Doug Tweed and each of you who reads this column, change can begin now. As we take our stance on the issues, we can do more than profess Christianity. We can embrace Kingdom living. We can love, respect, listen to, pray for and seek to work with those who disagree with us, and become a living model we hope others will follow.
We all need clean hearts and right spirits. It has to start somewhere.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

INCLUDE HEAVENLY FATHER IN YOUR NATIVITY SCENE

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“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ….” (John 3:16)

In the midst of all the secular expressions of Christmas, we are visually blessed with at least one precious reminder of what Christmas really celebrates. It may be a small rendition on a mantle or a life-size rendition on Kingsport’s Church Circle, but we are always inspired when we see a Christmas nativity scene.

The centerpiece of the nativity is the baby Jesus. Thousands of years earlier, the covenant presence of God with His people centered on an ornate golden box called the ark. Now, the bread of life, the only begotten Son of God, lay in a box used to feed farm animals.

The infant in that manger was both newborn and firstborn, the long-awaited Messiah Savior King, the Word of God through whom all things were created, now made flesh. God is with us! He came in a totally unexpected way.

Kneeling next to the Christ child is His mom, Mary. She accepted from an archangel her life’s calling: be impregnated by the Holy Spirit of Jehovah, become an unwed mother in a culture where that brought shame or even death, and raise God’s Son to adulthood.

This mother watching over her infant son would later watch Him die on a cross. Then, in an incredible reversal of roles, she would be born of God herself in an upper room on Pentecost. What an amazing woman!

Standing over mother and child is Joseph bar Jacob, the best step-dad ever! He too was entrusted to raise God’s Son to adulthood, and so we know he was a godly, humble man. What strikes me most is his courageous faith in accepting such a responsibility under the constant scrutiny of the child’s true Father. Joseph’s courage and faith would carry them to the pagan lands of Egypt and back, and would allow him to teach Jesus both the craft of carpentry and the craft of righteous manhood.

Surrounding the holy family that night are the angels and the shepherds – the glorious, powerful multitude of heavenly host, and the lowly minimum wage earners. It is a fitting contrast for the child who would be called both Son of God and Son of Man – the Good Shepherd who would be anointed to bring His Kingdom to the poor.

The angelic messengers brought news of great joy to those shepherds, and they became the first messengers to bring that news of great joy to others. Be thankful, when you see the shepherds in the nativity scene, for the shepherds (pastors), teachers and other servant leaders of Christianity who proclaim the good news today.

The magi are also present at our nativity scene. Although theologians point out from Matthew that they came to a house in Bethlehem and not a stable, it is clear God wanted them to be part of the birth story.

These highly educated and spiritual men were not kings. They were king-makers, the politically elite of the Persian Empire. While not Jews, they had studied and accepted the centuries-old prophecies of a Jew who became one of their own: a man we know as Daniel and they knew as Belteshazzar.

The magi remind us that God came not just for the poor, but for the rich and prominent. “With God all things are possible.” And as these kingmakers entered that house to honor the newborn king of the Jews with gifts, something happened that reveals yet another Person present at the nativity even though He could not be seen.

I believe with all my heart that the Heavenly Father was present for the birth of His Son. I believe it was His manifest Presence that caused the magi to fall down and worship.
Think about it. The Son had emptied Himself when He came down to take on the form of mankind. Jesus would not receive the fullness of Holy Spirit until He was thirty years old. So the manifest presence of God would probably not come from the child.

Many of us have experienced our Father’s manifest presence in prayer or worship. Don’t you think Mary and Joseph would experience His Presence on that holy night?

Would the Father who was present at His Son’s baptism, and who loved and revealed Himself to Jesus throughout His ministry, not also be present at His birth? I was present at the birth of my two beautiful daughters. Is not our Father a more loving and involved father than me? Would He just send His messengers, or would He come to hold His Son in His own arms?

As I reflected on my belief in prayer last week, God’s spirit rose up in me. I will never look at a nativity scene again without being aware that Heavenly Father is a glorious and majestic part of what I see and sense. Most holy is His name!

I also know that the Father who was present for the birth of His firstborn Son is the Father who chooses to be present at the birth of all of His children: every one of us who receives His Son as Savior and Lord. And He watches over us every moment thereafter, just as He watched over Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

ASK THE LORD TO GUIDE AMERICA

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“Where there is no vision, the people perish….” “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint….” “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.” (Proverbs 29:18 KJV, NKJ, NLT)

My last column, published about two weeks before our national elections, declared that “Jesus is the Lord of America”. This column, published about two weeks after those elections, urges Christians to take advantage of that truth. Ask the Lord of America to guide America.

Donald Trump, a celebrity billionaire real estate developer, will be our next President. He will begin his term with a cooperative Republican Congress. Opinions vary widely on how this happened.

Many political pundits say it was, as always, about the economy, coupled with an attitude of rebellion toward “business as usual”. Some Democratic leaders blamed it on the FBI director’s handling of the private e-mail server controversy. Others suggested the Russians tipped the scales by releasing hacked Democratic staff emails through WikiLeaks.

I believe our November 8 election results were God’s answer to a united Christian prayer effort led, in part, by Franklin Graham’s “Decision America Tour”.

Please understand. The prayer tour did not propose any individual candidate, and overall, this united prayer movement included both Christians who supported Donald Trump and those (including me) who were deeply concerned about his character, temperament and history.

The prayer movement was about party platforms, not candidates, and in opposition to a Democratic agenda that would: (1) increase the number of abortions in our nation; (2) eliminate the biological distinction between “male” and “female” that has existed since God created mankind, male and female, in His image; and (3) appoint “progressive” justices to the Supreme Court who would rewrite, rather than honor, our U.S. Constitution.

I have dear Christian friends, black and white, who supported Democratic candidates, and I respect some of the reasons they did so. But the Democratic “transgender” agenda would allow adults who are biologically male to use the same restroom as my granddaughter. It would allow boys who are biologically male to join her gym class and compete on her girl’s track team. That is cultural insanity.

Our Constitution is our nation’s foundational document. To protect the stability of this foundation, a constitutional amendment requires legislative ratification by 75% of our fifty states. Wonderful constitutional amendments since 1789 have been done the right way, including the abolishment of slavery (13th), the right to vote regardless of race (15th) and the right of women to vote (19th).

Regardless of your personal stance on gay marriage, the Supreme Court ruling that made it “the law of the land” in 2015 involved five unelected political appointees who effectively amended our Constitution on their own. If they can do it on one issue, they will do it on other issues – a violation of our government’s separation of powers that equates to constitutional insanity.
As a result of God’s answer to concerted prayer, we will now have justices appointed to our Supreme Court who understand their role. We will also see a revocation of President Obama’s invasive executive orders on transgender rights. But while this is a step in the right direction, it is only a step.
President-elect Trump is, in my opinion, a “wild card”. He has no governmental background, nationally or internationally. He is neither strongly conservative nor liberal. Yes, he loves the limelight, but he also loves to achieve. How well or poorly he leads our nation will, in a nutshell, depend on whose advice and counsel he hears and what guidance he accepts.
Proverbs 29:18 says that without divine revelation and guidance, the people will “perish”, “cast off restraint” or “run wild”. In other words, without divine guidance, we run helter-skelter down the broad path of destruction. (Matthew 7:13-14)

This is why the Lord commands us, “first and foremost”, to pray for those in authority over us. (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Our prayers can be used by the Lord to provide President-elect Trump and our other national, state and local leaders with the divine guidance they so desperately need. They can receive discernment as to whether the advice from all those people around them is good or bad. They can receive the wisdom to make good decisions that provide fair and effective solutions to our problems. (James 1:5)
November 8 demonstrates that concerted, united prayer works, but if we stop praying, it stops working. We have been woefully unfaithful in praying for past Presidents. We cannot afford to make that mistake again.

Finally, as emphasized last month, the biblically grounded, Jesus-loving, people-loving Christians of America must come together in this hour – black, brown and white – not just for prayer, but for listening, fellowship and godly, united purpose. For far too long, we have been politically divided as believers and politically yoked to unbelievers, including some anti-Christian groups on the far left and some lingering racist groups on the far right. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Donald Trump has demonstrated high respect for the Christian leadership of our nation, both black and white. Post-election, he has expressed an interest in repairing both our national security and our inner cities, and in addressing the interests of all Americans. He has selected a devout Christian to be his Vice-President and the leader of his transition team. If we work together, we can have the President’s ear as well as the all-important ear of the Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what I propose is something we have sung together for almost one hundred years. “God bless America, land that [we] love. Stand beside her and guide her though the night with a light from above.”

Let’s begin singing it every day.