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Doug Tweed

CHRISTIANS ARE RESPONSIBLE TO GOD, CHURCH & NEIGHBOR

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“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)

My column last month was about love – the most important and most discussed topic in Christianity. This month we address a related topic that, while almost as important, is rarely mentioned. This column is about responsibility.

Like you, I am a huge fan of God’s unconditional love. (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8) We are all included, don’t have to earn it and can’t lose it, praise the Lord!

And like you, I am an eager recipient of God’s gift of salvation by grace and not works. (Ephesians 2:8-9) How could I ever do enough good to offset the many bad things I have done? Even if that was possible, how could I ever earn something as glorious as everlasting life? (Revelation 21)

The tragic truth, however, is that the Church’s imbalanced over-emphasis on what we cannot do has led to both de-emphasis and disinterest in what Christians are supposed to do. Like the children of indulgent parents, we take God’s love and grace for granted, believing we are entitled to reward without responsibility. But that is not what the Bible says!

First, as to the foundational issue of salvation, we are saved not by grace alone, but by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is tied to repentance – a change of mind, heart and life direction. (Matthew 3: 2, 8; Acts 2:37-42) While not saved by good works, we are saved “for” good works. (Ephesians 2:10) And those good works are the evidence you have saving faith and not just an “inactive and ineffective and worthless” mental acknowledgment that God and Jesus exist. (James 2:14-26 AMP; Romans 2:1-8)

Simply put, we cannot have the Lamb without the Lord. If we want to be with the Lord in heaven, we must let Him be Lord of our life here as well. (Matthew 7:21, 25:14-30, 28:18)
This leads to the second and core issue – our responsibilities to this Lord. Jesus has clearly declared that we are responsible to serve God, Church and neighbor. (John 13:1-17; Philippians 2:1-13; Ephesians 5:25-27)

We are responsible to serve God. (Psalm 100:2) Loving God is the Great Commandment, not the great option, and we love God by our trusting obedience. (Mark 12:28-30; John 14:211-24) Jesus often taught through parables about “Master” and “servant”. In today’s self-centered culture, we would all particularly benefit from reading the parable at Luke 17:7-10 on who is supposed to be serving whom.

We are responsible to serve our neighbor. Love of neighbor is the second part of the Great Commandment, and again, not an option. (Mark 12:31) It applies to both friend and foe, and is to be expressed at home, work, and elsewhere with actions, not just lip service. (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:25-37; 1 John 3:18) How well we meet this responsibility will play a significant role in determining whether we are classified as a “sheep” or a “goat”. (Matthew 25:31-46)

We are responsible to serve the Church, or more specifically, serve God and others through the Church.

For centuries, our problem was church attendance without ministry participation, leaving that to the so-called clergy. Now many consider even church connection and attendance entirely optional, with most churches either slowly dying or scrambling to say, sing and offer whatever programs will keep people in their pews. This is not how Christ builds His Church. (Matthew 16:18)

Despite her many past and present dysfunctions, the Church is the one Body of Christ. (Ephesians 2:22-23, 4:1-6) Every Christian is a member of His Body, with diverse spiritual gifts and ministry responsibilities that are to be honored, equipped and expressed, each of us doing our part and all of us doing it together. (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12)
We are to help fix the Church, not desert her. When we all start embracing our responsibilities to the Church, we will finally see what God’s royal priesthood and household of prayer can accomplish. (1 Peter 2:9; Mark 11:17)

Responsibility is about what we can do, not what we cannot do. It is also about accountability. The apostle Paul says we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive what is due for what we have done on this earth, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

I cannot say for sure whether Paul is referring here to entrance into heaven, or treasures in heaven, or a simple (but not easy) time of review, reprimand and praise. (Matthew 6:20; Romans 14:12) I can only tell you what I want to hear when I stand before the throne.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) “Well done.”

God bless you, and God bless our community.

THEY’LL KNOW WE ARE CHRISTIANS BY OUR LOVE

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“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

The apostle Peter dictated his “First Letter” from Rome near the end of his thirty-plus years of ministry, reaching out to fellow Christians of diverse backgrounds and cultures throughout the nations of Asia Minor. His primary purpose was to encourage and instruct them on how to stand together in difficult times.

The First Letter of Peter is, therefore, a perfect letter of encouragement and instruction for Christians of diverse backgrounds and cultures in America today. I urge you to read and reflect on the whole letter. There is only room here to make some key points.

First, Peter tells us to focus not on our worldly identity but on our new, born-again identity as children of God destined to everlasting life. (1 Peter 1:3-5, 13, 23-25, 4:13, 5:10; Philippians 3:7-11). We are “temporary residents” of this broken world (2:11). Our perspective, which determines what we deem important, must be based on our permanent home. (Matthew 6:19-34)

This eternal perspective helps us endure and redeem temporary times of struggle and suffering. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) It also impresses upon us the everlasting importance of leading others to Christ by the witness of our lives. (Acts 1:8)

Peter’s second instruction is that we live out our new identity by being “holy” in all our conduct. (1:13-16) Our daily behavior matters. (James 1:22-25)

“Holy” is in both Hebrew (qadash) and Greek (hagios) a word of consecration: separation from the world and its evil, and dedication to God and His goodness. Peter calls us to refrain from the easily identified sins of lust, malice, deceit, envy and the like (2:1, 11). He then adds affirmative obligations to be courteous and tenderhearted to everyone, blessing those who hurt or insult us and showing honor to those who disagree with our beliefs. (2:12, 17, 3:8-9; Matthew 5:38-48) Our lives become the witness Christ deserves.

Peter’s third instruction explains what happens when “holy” is applied to us collectively. We become “a holy nation”, “a chosen race”, and “a people for God’s own possession”. (2:9)

In our worldly identities, Christians are not a people. (2:10) We are divided by our races, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, generation gaps and gender, just like the people in Peter’s day – Bithynian or Cappadocian, “Jew or Greek”, “slave or free”, “male and female”. (1:1; Galatians 3:28) Even within the community of faith, we seek to divide ourselves by denomination or doctrine. (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

But Peter explains that we are God’s “living stones” – not bricks that all look alike, but stones wonderfully diverse in size, color and shape. (2:4) And God wants to fit us together, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, so we can be God’s spiritual home on earth. (2:5-7) As one spiritual house, one royal priesthood, and one brother-and-sisterhood, we give the rest of the world an opportunity to clearly see God’s goodness and glory. (2:9, 12, 15, 17)

Peter’s fourth and most important instruction describes the mortar that holds the living stones together. Christians are commanded by God to continually and earnestly love one another. (4:8)
God is love, so that is what His children must do. (1 John 4:7-21). The essence of holy conduct is love. (Matthew 22:35-40)

No one said it better than Jesus: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

We all fall short, both by sinning and being victims of the sins of others. (Romans 3:23) We all have character flaws, daily life struggles, and broken theology. But God’s love for us and our love for each other are more important and powerful than those shortcomings and will “cover” them so unbelievers who look at us can see God’s love, including His love for all of them. (John 17:22-23; Acts 2:42-47)

Please note this, fellow church leaders – Peter directs us to model what he has instructed, and never the opposite. (5:1-4) He also reminds us that our real enemy is the devil who seeks to devour us all, not the Nero of Peter’s time or any political figures of today. (2:13-17, 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:10-20)

A familiar song rose up in my heart as I prayerfully studied this First Letter of Peter. Imagine with me a 2020 parade of African American Christians, white evangelical Christians, Hispanic Catholic Christians, and diverse other bible-believing Christians, marching together arm in arm down Mainstreet USA while singing loudly from their depths of their hearts:

“We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord”. “We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand.” “We will work with each other; we will work side by side.” “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.”

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

God bless you, and God bless our community

I AM LEARNING THE SECRET OF GOD’S PEACE

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“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5b-7)

Since July 2006, I have written over 225 columns for the Kingsport Times-News. Although my efforts are far from perfect, I have always tried to be Spirit-led, biblically grounded, relevant and comprehensive. So, I was surprised when I discovered a few days ago that I had never written an article on the peace of God.

The first question I asked myself was, “Why?” The Lord is identified in scripture as the Prince of Peace, the Lord of peace and the God of peace. (Isaiah 9:6; Romans 15:33; 2 Thessalonians 3:16) God’s peace has never been a small or secondary issue, and it is a particularly important topic for these extraordinarily unpeaceful times in which we now live.

This led to my next questions: self-examination.

I am by nature a doer, a problem-solver, and an extroverted optimist. My perspective is that as Christians, we can individually and corporately become much more than we presently are – more intimate with God, more loving with others, more knowledgeable of God’s scriptural revelations, more mature, more prayerful, more fruitful, more like Jesus. “Press on toward the prize” is my motto. (Philippians 3:12-14) An abiding spiritual awakening is my goal. And no one frustrates me more than the Laodicean, “couch potato” Christians who think it is all up to God or that they have already arrived. (Revelation 3:14-18)

As a result, my perspective on the peace of God has been based on two biblical truths.

First, despite being a very flawed man, I have peace with God, forgiveness of sins and the free gift of eternal life through my faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1, 6:23; Colossians 1:20).

Second, I have the peace that comes from knowing all things are possible for God, and for those who believe. (Matthew 19:26; Mark 9:23) “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) Therefore, I have confidence not just that we ultimately win, but that we can win in our “here and now” circumstances if we will just tap into all that He has granted to us. (2 Peter 1:3-4; 1 John 4:4)

This type of peace has been fairly effective over the years in keeping me free from fear, worry and despair. It encourages me to out-persevere the devil both as to my own situations and the needs of others. But unfortunately, it is hardly ever content with the status quo, which means it often feels more restless than restful.

Biblical peace, called “shalom” in Hebrew, includes the concepts of peace, completeness, welfare, safety, health and wholeness. That sounds restful, not restless. Yet Jesus doesn’t just promise us this shalom peace at the end of our journey. He gives it to us now while we walk in this broken world and all its troubles. (John 16:33) He offers us peace on the battlefield and restfulness as we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. (Luke 9:23; Ephesians 6:10-20)

My conclusion: I had not been led to write about the peace of God during these last thirteen years because I didn’t know enough.

For the last three months, I have been disengaged from outside ministry and focused on walking with my beloved Christie and the Lord through the valley of pancreatic cancer. Doug the doer has been limited in what Doug can do. Doug the optimistic problem solver has watched the problems of Christie’s symptoms persist. And I am learning the secret of God’s peace. (Philippians 4:11-13)

I am learning that the peace Jesus Christ gives us is His peace, called the peace “of” Christ and the peace “of” God. (John 14:27; Colossians 3:15). This is a supernaturally imparted peace that truly surpasses my understanding of my circumstances, my understanding of world circumstances, and even my understanding of biblical truth.

This peace is not based on what I know but on what He knows, and on my trust in Him even when I don’t understand at all.

Because I find this peace “in Him”, I can disconnect from it when I forget to set my mind on Christ, His Spirit, His Word, His love and goodness. (John 15:4, 9-11, 16:33; Romans 8:6: Philippians 4:8-9) That still happens from time to time.

But every time I come back to Him, Jesus releases anew His shalom peace in me.

I will never be a Laodicean. I will always seek to take up my cross. I am learning that my cross and His yoke are the same thing, and that the peace of God makes it both easy and light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

APPROACH THIS CHRISTMAS WITH A CHILDLIKE HEART

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“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”(John 1:10-13)

“Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:16b-17)

Today I bring you “good tidings of great joy”. (Luke 2:10) You do not have to approach this Christmas season cynically preoccupied with the stark contrast between the spirit of Christmas and the present spirit of our nation.

You do not have to approach this Christmas with the debilitating stress of “too much to do” and “too much to buy”.

You do not have to approach this Christmas with an attitude jaded by incessant commercialism, the intrusiveness of semi-pagan rituals and myths like Santa Claus, or even the awareness we don’t really know the day of the year when Jesus Christ was born.

You can, if you choose, approach this Christmas with a childlike heart.

Read the scriptures that begin this column. We were given a child from God so we can become children of God, but we won’t truly receive the blessings of the child God gave to us until we begin to think, feel and behave like the children of God we have become. (Say what?)

It is not enough for me to simply say I am a child of God. To think, feel and behave like a child of God requires that I have a childlike attitude about my new and everlasting identity. I become, like every healthy child, someone who delights in my new life, eager to learn and do all the things I was previously unable to learn and do, and trustingly dependent on the ones who watch over me and love me beyond measure: my heavenly Father God; my eldest brother, Jesus Christ, the Savior King; and the Holy Spirit of the Lord, who conceived Jesus within Mary and now lives within me.

When I approach Christmas with a childlike heart, Christmas becomes my personal celebration of my Savior King’s birthday. I take joy in my salvation! (Psalm 51:12)
When I approach Christmas with a childlike heart, I take joy in the fact Jesus’ birthday is so special it is celebrated by both people who believe in Jesus Christ and people who don’t. I take joy in seeing the preparations for His birthday stretch through and beyond the whole month of December. I take joy in hearing over and over again that God loves the world and that His desire is peace on earth, goodwill toward men.

I take joy in the fact so many families come together for Christmas, despite being scattered the rest of the year, and in seeing how much love can flow as they share traditions, memories and the new things happening in their lives.

I take joy in watching how much happiness can come from the thoughtful giving and receiving of gifts. I take joy in singing and listening to beautiful songs. I take joy in the lights and greenery that brighten up an otherwise cold and barren winter. I particularly take joy in watching children laugh and play because it reminds me how much my heavenly Father desires for me to laugh and play.

When I approach Christmas with a childlike heart, the blinders come off and I no longer tune out or take for granted the things I have “become used to”. I look at the Christ child in the manger, surrounded by the poor and rich and angelic, and I see the billions of children in there with Him. We will follow the Christ child from those most humble surroundings into victory over the challenges of this broken world and a spectacular place of eternal glory.

My dear friends, “set your minds” to approach this Christmas with a childlike heart. (Colossians 3:2) Then you will truly have the “Merry Christmas” that Christie and I wish for you and our community.

GOD IS WITH US IN THE VALLEY

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“The Lord is my shepherd…. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:1, 3b-5)

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

On the heels of the great news in Psalm 23 about green pastures, still waters and restored souls, God reveals that His paths of righteousness will on occasion take us through valleys of darkness and the shadow of death.

The Lord first showed me this truth at the onset of my ministry, but with rare exception, the valleys in which I have walked over the last twenty-five years have been valleys in the lives of others. Through prayer, counseling, prison ministry, volunteer chaplaincy, mediation, and healing & deliverance ministry, God has given me (and often my wife Christie and me as a team) the opportunity to help others in their dark times.

Sometimes God worked wonders in these situations, and sometimes our efforts did not seem to accomplish very much. But it has always been an honor to serve the Lord by trying to serve people so willing to share their vulnerabilities with us. And through it all, Christie and I were also blessed with experiences of God’s manifest Presence, loving family and friends, a beautiful home, adequate finances, and good health.

On October 15, doctors diagnosed my beloved Christie with pancreatic cancer. The tumor had already spread to her small colon and surrounded some blood vessels, making surgery a non-option, as least for now. From a strictly medical standpoint, this is not good news. Christie and I are now walking through our own valley of the shadow of death.

We are only thirty days into this valley, with much yet to discover, but we have already learned a few important things I can share here.

First, we have learned not only that we must walk by faith and not fear, but that we can walk by faith and not fear. (2 Corinthians 5:7; 2 Timothy 1:7)

The Greek word translated as “suffering” in Romans 5:3-4 is most frequently translated as “tribulation”: something Jesus said we would all face in this broken world. (John 16:33) The Greek word translated as “character” literally means “testing” or “proof”. Paul is explaining here something Jesus taught in the parable of the sower. We find out how deep and genuine our faith is – our true character – when it is tested by tribulation. (Matthew 13:21)

The faith Christie and I have in the love, goodness, power and trustworthiness of God is unshaken. We do not rejoice that Christie suffers symptoms from this cancer and the chemotherapy she has started, but we continue to rejoice in the Lord of our salvation. (Habakkuk 3:18) He did not cause the cancer, but He will work it for good because we love the Lord who first loved us, and we are called, chosen and anointed according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28; Colossians 3:12; 1 John 2:20, 4:19)

The second thing Christie and I have learned, not for the first time but with a significantly increased depth of understanding, is the most important thing we must all know when we walk through the valley. We are not walking alone. The Lord is here with us every step of the way!

God proved His love for the world not just by the incredible gift of Jesus but by the equally incredible gift of His Holy Spirit, who lives inside Christie, right there with that trespassing cancer. We strongly believe the Lord is leading us on a path of healing, but whether it is a path of healing or a path to heaven, our hope of glory is the awesome and everlasting reality of “Christ in her”. (Colossians 1:27) This hope will never disappoint us.

The table our Lord prepares for us in this valley is already covered with precious prayers and expressions of love by countless family members, friends, and people we don’t even know. Our two wonderful daughters, Jen and Jes, have been amazing! Because God is with us in the valley, our cup is being filled with fresh wine, and it will overflow.

Christie Tweed “approves this message”. God bless you, and God bless our community.

LET GOD RAISE THE CEILING OF YOUR HOPE

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

[I first wrote of our need to raise the ceiling of our hope in 2006 – the year I first began writing articles for this wonderful newspaper. Thirteen years later, the importance of that message has only increased, so please receive this revised version of that article]

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes the three greatest spiritual gifts: faith, hope and love. Christians talk often of love and faith. God is love. The Great Commandment is love of God, neighbor and self. We are saved by grace through faith, and should walk by faith rather than sight. But where does hope fit in?

We don’t teach often on hope. Maybe we think all Christians are “hope-full” by definition. We look forward to eternal life. We believe our God is all-loving and all-powerful, and that all things are possible with Him. (Matthew 19:26)

But for virtually all the church in America, the symptoms I see reflect not hopefulness but a deep need for more hope. We live in extraordinarily difficult and divisive times. Meeting this need for more hope is crucial because the ceiling of our hope defines the ceiling of our effort. We will not reach or pray beyond what we have at least some hope for.

Even more important, Hebrews 11:1 tells us faith is the “substance of things hoped for”. So the ceiling of our hope defines the ceiling for our faith. Let me explain.

Hope comes from putting together two ingredients: expectation (what we think can happen) and desire (what we want to happen). If either ingredient is absent, there is no hope.

When we “expect the worst”, it is not hope because we don’t desire the “worst”. It is pessimism.

And when we have desires but lose all expectation that we can obtain them, we have hopelessness – shattered dreams.

Hope requires both desire and expectation. And faith develops as our hope and expectation of receiving our desires increases. We move from wishful thinking toward a level of assurance and, ultimately, God’s goal of “faith without doubt” (Matthew 21:21).

But this movement from hope to faith, while increasing our expectation, is still limited to the desires we were hoping for in the first place. Our faith does not reach higher than the hope it springs from, and our hope does not reach higher than the desires we have.

Proverbs 13:12 tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick….” All people experience this at one time or another. We wanted to be a sports star, wealthy, happily married w/ children until death we part, etc., but something else happened. If that something else was still ok, some can redirect their hope, but when everything continues to go wrong, many will despair and give up dreams altogether.

Most of us, however, don’t totally give up. Instead, we experience a heart sickness more subtle and difficult to diagnose – half-hope, the condition where we lower our desires and hope for far less than God wants to provide.

To understand “half-hope”, ask yourself these questions. Do you hope to experience God’s Presence each day in prayer or worship? Do you hope for a marriage that grows closer to God and each other every day? Do you persist with optimism in daily prayers of salvation and healing for lost and hurting loved ones? Do you minister in our community as the royal priesthood of believers with an expectation that things will significantly change, despite all adversity, for the better? (1 Peter 2:9)

For too many Christians, the answer to these questions is, “Not really”, despite the fact God’s Word has promised all those things to His people.

My friends, let God raise the ceiling of your hope! Pray to the God of Hope that by His Spirit, you will overflow with hope. (Romans 15:13) Faithfully study the Bible, individually and with others, so that its truths will help you desire the right things: His plan for your life rather than worldly plans, and treasures of heaven rather than treasures of earth (Jeremiah 29:11; Matthew 6:20).

Most of all, embrace the “Hope of Glory” that is already yours as a child of God – “Christ in you! (Colossians 1:27). Jesus said we would do “greater works than these” (John 14:12) because we can do all things through Him. (Philippians 4:13).

The Lord is able and ready to do far more than we can ask or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20). As the ceiling of our hope rises, so will our faith, our service, our prayers and God’s answers to them.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

RELEASE GOD IN OUR SCHOOLS

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“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

“Train up a child in the way he or she should go; even when they are old they will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

For years, I have heard evangelical friends declare that our nation’s downturn began when the Supreme Court took God and prayer out of our public schools. I am in full agreement that we need God and prayer in our schools, but I do not agree that the Supreme Court took Him or prayer out. Please let me explain.

First, remember that every born-again Christian has God, the Holy Spirit, living inside them. (John 3:1-6, 14:23) Whenever a Christian student, parent, teacher, or other school staff member enters the school, God within them enters as well. The issue is not whether God is in the schools. The issue is whether God is being released by Christians in our schools to do the wonderful things only God can do.

Second, recognize there is nowhere God cannot go in response to the prayers of His people. (Psalm 139:7-12; 2 Chronicles 7:14) Even if there is not a single Christian inside a school, Christians outside that school can pray Him in.

Third, understand that the Supreme Court continues to affirm the rights of public school students to have individual and group prayer, and religious discussion, so long as it is not disruptive or done during school instruction and activities. This is guaranteed by the Free Expression Clause of our First Amendment to the Constitution.

This same Free Expression Clause empowers teachers and school staff, or parents, to pray privately on public school grounds. School staff simply can’t pray publicly at school because it would be interpreted as a government employee endorsing religion while “on the clock”.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….” Under this Establishment Clause, a series of Supreme Court cases beginning in 1948 have prohibited public schools from giving religious instruction, endorsing a particular faith, or leading prayer. Looking back at our nation’s first 150 years when there was no such prohibition, many Christians have cried, “Foul!” But I urge us to look deeper.

When the First Amendment was adopted in 1791, eight of the thirteen original colonies had state-sponsored churches. Those churches received favored treatment over other Christian denominations, and on occasion people in other denominations (often evangelical) were penalized or oppressed.

The drafters of the First Amendment wanted all people to practice their faith as they chose, without adverse consequences. While they probably did not anticipate this would someday include non-Christian faith, they chose to protect all “religion”.

These wise drafters also wanted to ensure we never had a government-sponsored religion. They were primarily looking to avoid an American equivalent of the Church of England, but I would quickly add our need to avoid what happened in the 4th century when Roman Emperor Constantine “adopted” Christianity, and what happened five centuries later when Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne took matters even further, forcibly converting the peoples his armies conquered.

The inevitable result of government-endorsed or government-enforced faith is religion rather than relationship – the opposite of what Christian faith is supposed to be. It produces, as best, a cultural Christianity: a “form of godliness” that honors God with our lips while keeping our hearts far from Him. (Isaiah 29:13; 2 Timothy 3:5) With the exception of our founding, two Great Awakenings, and times of war, I believe much of our nation’s history has been defined by cultural Christianity. As a result, we have lost ground instead of gaining ground like God’s Word promises. (Matthew 13:31-32, 16:18, 28:19-20)

A close look at 1 Timothy 2:1-2 reveals that government is not supposed to establish faith, but faith can, particularly through prayer, establish good government. This includes good and safe public schools.

Churches and parents – train and encourage our Christian students of every age to pray at school and share their faith. Help start more faith-based student groups that meet before or after school They can invite their not-yet-Christian friends to come. Organize congregational prayer for our school boards, teachers, school staff and students that will make sure everyone is “covered”.

Teachers and staff – pray “as you go”. Pray for your students by name. (Praise God, I know many of you do) Pray for each other and form faith-based support groups among yourselves. You have hard but very important jobs.

Let’s all join ministries like Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Bible Study Two and See You at The Pole in releasing more and more God in our schools, and see all the wonderful things the Lord will do!

God bless you, and God bless our community.

RAISE YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT GOD AND YOU CAN DO!

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“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe ….” (Ephesians 1:15-19)

“[And]that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Read Paul’s prayers for you, me and the Church in Ephesians 1 and 3. When you are finished, pray, and read them again.

Then join me in a heart-felt confession of how dismally low our 21st century American expectations of God and His people have been. God invites us to be filled with all the fullness of God, but far too many of us concentrate instead on using good music, entertaining sermons and easy invitations to keep people in our pews. We truly deserve to be the ones Jesus addresses as “O, ye of little faith”. (Matthew 6:30, 8:6;16:8)

Ephesians is, of all Paul’s letters, the one most focused on the Church: her identity, her purpose, and her Spirit-empowered abilities. It was written when Christian men and women were a very small minority in the powerful, pagan Roman empire. In the face of constant political, religious, and demonic persecution, those Christians changed the world.

Contrast this with today. As one example, according to Pew Research Center, 56% of Americans believe in the God described in the Bible – a disturbing historical decrease, but still much greater than the 4.5% of Americans who identify as LGBTQ. Yet, during the last decade, which group has brought about the greatest changes in our culture.

The gay lobby has experienced incredible “success” because they are committed, prioritized, united and proactive in embracing their “identity” and purpose. As Bible-believing Christians, we know God loves them, but we also know God is not on their side when it comes to sexuality and marriage. God is on our side, but we are nevertheless losing the culture war because we are not committed, prioritized, united and proactive in embracing our identity in Christ and our Kingdom mission.

There are some steps being taken in the right direction. Last Saturday’s Unashamed Prayer Rally and March brought between 1,000-2,000 Christians together downtown for earnest prayer. This has never happened before in the history of Kingsport!

Recent tent revivals have led over 1,000 people to Christ in Bristol, Greeneville, Chuckey and, now, Rogersville. Adoration 2019 will bring hundreds of churches together for worship at the ETSU Mini-Dome on September 28. The Will Graham Celebration in 2018 also brought churches together and hundreds of souls to Jesus.

However, these are just initial steps toward where the Lord is directing us. We are called to spread His Kingdom by making disciples of all nations. Yet 60% of millennials raised in our own churches have dropped out, and the statistics for Generation Z will be even worse. Our existing wineskins are not working! We must change our ways!

Christians are more than just sinners saved by grace or humans trying to be better humans. We are God’s chosen race and holy nation; His royal priesthood and house of prayer; His blood-bought, born again, newly created children, both indwelt and divinely empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are the Body of Christ, with the ever-victorious King Jesus as our Head and the keys of His Kingdom in our possession. God loves us beyond measure and is for us, so who can stand against us? Nothing is impossible for those who truly believe.

It is time to get committed, prioritized, united and proactive. Pastors and other spiritual leaders: equip and exhort the saints for ministry. Let’s start living out who we really are and what we are really called to do! (2 Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 60:1-3; Matthew 16:15-19)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL

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“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ….” (Philippians 1:27a)

Over the last 27 years, it has been my calling and privilege to participate in many prayer efforts in our region. I am particularly excited about a group of young adult Christians in Johnson City who have since January been gathering downtown at 7 PM for prayer six nights per week (Monday-Saturday).

The divine vision for this prayer ministry was given to one young man, but he shares the leadership of the gatherings with other young men and women. Each time I attend, I am richly blessed by their reverent love for the Lord, their unashamed faith in His Word, and their strong desire to draw near to Him and serve Him.

On my last occasion there, one young man fervently prayed this phrase: “I want to live a life worthy of the gospel.”

I was riveted, humbled, even awestruck, to hear someone that new to adulthood crying out for such a spiritually mature and selfless life purpose. And I knew the intensity of the moment came in part because I could not recall any other time when I heard that phrase prayed or preached … including by me.

As someone who trusts in and seeks to diligently study the Bible, I was very familiar with the call to and cost of Christian discipleship. Some would even describe me as an exhorter of obedience, service, and sacrifice. “Worthy” was, however, a word I would normally only apply to God, not to my own life.

It was only after I returned home that evening that I identified Philippians 1:27 as the scriptural source of my young brother’s prayer and recognized this call to a gospel-worthy life as a repeated theme of the apostle Paul. (Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12)

What does it mean to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ, or as those other scriptures might add, worthy of our God, our Lord and our calling as His disciples?

The first thing we must understand is that we are not called to a life “worthy” of our salvation, because we are not remotely capable of earning atonement of our sins and the incredible gift of everlasting life. (Ephesians 2:1-8)

Instead, we are called to a life worthy of our Savior and His sacrifice for us, worthy of our Father’s love that sent His Son to die for us, worthy of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, and worthy of our incredible calling to witness this Good News to others by all we say and do. (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 4:1-16).

I believe a life worthy of the gospel of Christ begins with daily gratitude for all God has done and is doing for us. (Psalm 100:4; Colossians 3:15; Philippians 4:6-7). How many of us spend much of our life taking God and His blessings for granted?

The second key to a life worthy of the gospel is childlike humility: recognizing who God really is, who we are in comparison, and how dependent upon Him we are. (Matthew 18:1-4) Pride and self-centeredness are the bane of the Church in America. (James 4:6-10; Luke 9:23-24)

Our gratitude and humility can give birth to the third essential of a gospel-worthy life: trusting obedience. Real faith in Jesus as Lord is revealed by actions, not just talk. (Matthew 7:21; John 14:21; James 2:14-26)

Trusting obedience requires us to serve the Lord by a life of serving others. (Mark 9:35; John 13:3-17) Yet how many of us can presently say we expect to enter heaven and hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? (Matthew 25:14-30) How many of us risk hearing, “What you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for Me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Finally, a gospel-worthy life is a life of agape love: the unconditional, selfless, forgiving, sacrificial love revealed in Christ that we are to have for God, all others, and even ourselves. (Mark 12:28-34; John 13:34-35; Ephesians 4:30-5:2) Without agape love, we accomplish nothing. (1 Corinthians 13). And this love must, like trusting obedience, be in truth and deed. (1 John 3:18)

My description of a life worthy of the gospel may make it seem completely out of reach, but remember, the God who calls us to this life lives within our “clay jars” to empower it, even beyond our ability to ask or imagine! (Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 4:7; Ephesians 3:20-21) He is ready to talk with us all the time. (1 Thessalonians 5:17) He can fill our hearts with agape love. (Romans 5:5) He can lead us into all truth. (John 16:13) If God is for us …? (Romans 8:31)

Are you living a life worthy of the gospel? If not, there is no better time to begin.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

I HAVE A VISION OF REVIVAL

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“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17)

Christie and I just returned from a three-day gathering in Nashville of Christians who are zealously praying and fasting for revival in our state and nation. We were there to represent some faithful Christians in the Tri-Cities who are also praying for an abiding spiritual awakening. Only God can bring the community healing and transformation we so desperately need. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Please understand. I love where I live, and I love our nation. I share your gratitude for all the blessings we have here.

But there is darkness everywhere. Our lives have all been touched by divorce, addiction, abuse, rejection, depression, anxiety, confusion, “and the list goes on.” We have many people in bondage to poverty, racism or both, and many others in bondage to pornography or other sexual brokenness. Political divisiveness is the worst it has been since the Civil War. And we have millions of people who do not know Jesus.

God can deliver us from these things. God can deliver our loved ones and our neighbors. We need revival!

Seventeen years ago, I asked God to show me what revival would look like. He gave me a series of six short “visions” in rapid succession. I shared them in an article in 2007 and wish to share them again today.

Vision #1 was a picture of the Cloud of God over a reverently praying congregation. The Cloud represents God’s Presence. We need to become a house of prayer. (Isaiah 56:7)

Vision #2 showed three women praying for another at a prayer rail. There was a spirit of community among all four, and as the prayer concluded, there were hugs of appreciation and a sense that God had answered.

The Church is not about “clergy” who minister while “lay people” observe and receive. All Christians are part of a royal priesthood and we can all minister with each other in great faith and with great effectiveness. (1 Peter 2:9; 1 Corinthians 12:1-27)

Vision #3 was a person standing tall and straight in a “heavenly place”, a limitless and timeless place that I knew to be before the throne of God. The person was connected and aware of where he was and Who he was with.

Revival includes personal revival – the tremendous intimacy each man and woman is invited to have with God. (Ephesians 2:6; Hebrews 10:19-23)

Vision #4 was a picture of four faces together like petals on a flower. All the faces looked the same, except one was slightly bigger, as if I was seeing two children, a mom and dad. They were all laughing.

Revival will bring restoration of families – the building blocks of community. God will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. (Malachi 4:6) There will be joy!

Vision #5 showed a person, with other people behind him, standing in the light before an immense intimidating darkness. The people began to grow, and as they grew, the light grew. The darkness receded, faded, and withdrew.

A friend of mine saw this as a picture of Isaiah 60:1-5. A spiritually awakened Church will prevail against the forces of darkness. (Matthew 16:18; John 1:5-9)

Vision #6 was a street scene of downtown Kingsport, with people whistling on their way to work and stopping to laugh and pray with each other.
Revival is not a religious thing. It is a Life thing. (Acts 2:42-47)

These six short visions may speak to your heart in ways they did not speak to mine. You may have your own visions. The key is that God has a vision. God wants to bring abiding revival to His people so they can be a light shining with His glory. (Matthew 5:14)

And He wants to bring revival so we, His children, can have life abundant: Kingdom life filled every day with His Holy Spirit, righteousness, peace and joy. (Romans 14:17)

What is God waiting for? I believe, primarily, God is waiting for us to want what He wants. (Psalm 37:4) God is waiting on us to return to our first love – loving Him with all our being. (Revelation 2:4; Mark 12:30) God is waiting for us to see our childlike need for Him in every aspect of life and community. (Mark 10:14-15; Revelation 3:17)

And God is waiting for enough of us to earnestly ask for revival. “If my people pray….”

Will you join those who are praying for revival? Will you join those who know how desperately we need Him now

God bless you, and God bless our community.