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June 2020

IT IS TIME TO DENY OURSELVES

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“And He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)

Have you ever heard anyone in the Church give an altar call or invitation to church membership based on Luke 9:23?

“If you want to be forgiven of your sins and have everlasting life, put your trust in Jesus, who died on a cross for you, by denying yourself, taking up your cross daily, and following Him.”
“If you want to become a member of 1st Denominational Church, we would love to have you. Simply deny yourself like we have, take up your cross daily like we do, and join us in following Jesus.”

The answer to both questions is, of course, “No”. In fact, most Christians today have never even heard a sermon on Luke 9:23 because your pastors know it asks more from you than you seem willing to give.

The Bible sets forth the mission of the Church, not a congregational visioning committee, and that mission is to make disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20) We want altar calls and membership drives to be easy. Becoming a disciple of Jesus does not sound easy.

To be a disciple of the One who died on the cross for us, we must bear our own cross and come after Him. (Luke 14:27) If we do not take up our cross and follow Jesus, we are not worthy of Him. (Matthew 10:38) And Luke 9:23 teaches we will not be able to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus until we deny ourselves.

What is a disciple? Jesus said a disciple must be taught to obey all that He has commanded. (Matthew 28:20) This is much more than bible study. A disciple of Jesus must both have and keep His commandments because that is what “followers” do. (John 14:21)

Jesus also said a disciple is not above his or her Master but must be fully trained to become like their Master. (Luke 6:40) This is a reminder we are to serve Him as Lord, not the other way around. It is also exactly what Paul was talking about in Philippians 2 when he said our mindset should be like Jesus, who gave no regard to His status in heaven as the Son of God, but obediently humbled Himself and bore His cross to Golgotha.

So, how do we take up our own cross? We embrace and carry out the daily service to God and others the Lord assigns to us. These are good works our Eternal Father prepared for us as new creations in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10) They are part of the blessed hope and future He has for us, and while our service will at times be sacrificial, the only part of you and me that will have to die is our selfishness. (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 12:1)

How do we follow Jesus? The Greek word Luke uses for “follow” is “akoloutheo”, which means “follow” or “accompany”. “Accompany” is really the better translation because while we seek to follow the teachings of Jesus set forth in scripture, we have far more than just a book. Jesus said He would be with us always. (Matthew 28:20) If we let Him, He will abide in us through the Holy Spirit and lead us through life from within. (John 15:4-7; Romans 8:14) When we are “yoked” to Him in this way, our burden is easy and light because He who is in us is greater than anything we face in this world. (Matthew 11:28-30; 1 John 4:4)

Finally, how do we deny ourselves? The Greek word Luke uses for “deny” is “arneomai”, which means to “deny”, “disregard” or “refuse to follow”. The first essential step in becoming a disciple of Jesus is my decision to stop leading my own life and let Him lead. Let Him decide what is best for me, not me. Let Him, and not me, set both the daily and long-term agendas for my life.

Can we be brutally honest? Christianity in America is dominated by “lovers of self” rather than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:1-4) It is being assured you “got saved”, finding the worship music and fellowship you enjoy and the tech-driven programs your kids like, or hearing an encouraging message about what God has done and can do for you. What service some of us do render is generally only a small portion of our day.

As a result, the Church in America has for generations demonstrated a shallow appearance of godliness but no real power to transform lives or communities. (2 Timothy 3:5)

Jesus wants disciples. America needs disciples. It is time to deny ourselves. How? Simply learn enough about the Lord and about yourself to realize you can trust Him to plan and lead your life much more than you can trust you. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

THE CHURCH IN AMERICA MUST REPENT AND PRAY

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“[I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

The Church in America needs to wake up and smell the coffee! Our nation desperately needs healing, and this healing cannot come from our bitterly divided political institutions, our equally divisive news media, or our science and technology. Only the Lord can heal our land.

A video-recorded act of racially motivated police brutality on May 25 has caused a tragic death and both peaceful protests and destructive rioting in many of our cities, large and small. Do you think this is the last incident of emotionally charged injustice we will see nationally broadcast over social media?

A deadly pestilence called COVID-19 struck us several months ago and is still here. Over 100,000 people have died so far, many of them elderly and in isolation from their families, and we do not yet have a vaccine. Most of us may recover from the severe economic downturn, but many will not, and we have added trillions of dollars to an already excessive national debt. Given the mutability of these viruses and the recklessness of biochemical research in some nations, do we think this is the last deadly pestilence we will see? And when we use all or most of our “water” to put out the first “fire”, where will we find the water to put out the next one?

Our preoccupation with these two terrible problems can cause us to forget all of the other serious issues we were facing when these two arose, including immigration, drugs, pornography, unaffordable healthcare, sexism, pollution, radical political ideologies, radical gender definitions, and the fate of unborn children.

American Christianity has, like the Laodicean church, let the Internet, cell phones, sports, television, computer games, and our tickets to heaven lull most of us into thinking we are “still the greatest nation on earth” when in fact, we are riddled with sin and social sickness. (Revelation 3:14-19) But there is hope!

God can heal our land. If we pray, He can answer our prayers. But 2 Chronicles 7:14, much like the Lord’s Prayer, makes it clear our prayers will not be effective until certain conditions are met.

Condition #1 – The prayers to God must come from “His people”, the people called by His name. God wants to hear from Christians – His children who call Him “Father”. We are His chosen race and holy nation, assigned to witness and minister to this nation as His house of prayer and royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9; Isaiah 56:7) Yet our black churches and white evangelical churches, both bible-believing, are viewed today more as voting blocs than as servants of their King. We must remember who we are!

Condition #2 – We must shed our self-centeredness and humble ourselves before the Lord. We must remember who He is! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not the fear of public opinion. (Proverbs 9:10) He is the Creator and Judge of the universe: all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, all-present, all-loving, all-good and all-faithful. He has said He will heal our land if we do what He asks.

Condition #3 – We must repent of our wicked and compromising ways! Just as one example among many, racism is a deep, dark sin that violates both God’s revelation that all people are created in His image and God’s command that we love everyone He loves. Yet for centuries, the Church was part of the racism problem. Now we must be proactively part of the solution.
Our lack of agape love as the Church is a sin with more examples than I can list here, but I will ask how many times we have bypassed an inner-city area to avoid seeing, let along helping, the people who are hopelessly bound there in abject poverty. (Luke 10:25-37) Those people are many of our rioters today.

Condition #4 – We must seek God’s face, which means more than just seeking His blessing. (Psalm 24, 27) We seek what He wants, not what we want, so we can pray in His name and pray His will. (John 14:13-14; 1 John 5:14-15)

God hates racism. God hates injustice. He commands us to respect and pray for those in authority, including those in law enforcement: a hard and important job. But I believe God holds those who enforce and oversee the law to an even higher standard in obeying the laws they are called to uphold. (James 3:1)

God hates lawlessness, which includes riots and, ironically, sanctuary cities. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

In all we pray and do, we must hate what God hates just as we must love everyone God loves. (Amos 5:15)

Church, it is time to repent and pray!

God bless you, and God bless our community.