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Doug Tweed

SOME TEACHINGS ARE RARELY TAUGHT

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“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'” (Luke 17:7-10)

 

“And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

 

Last month’s column was about Luke, the compassionate physician who wrote both a Gospel and the Book of Acts, including the birth story of Jesus and the grace-filled parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 2:1-20, 15:11-32) We hear those sweet scriptures all the time.

Today we address two other teachings in the Gospel of Luke that do not receive similar attention. To the contrary, they are rarely if ever taught.

In our Luke 17 passage, Jesus challenges His disciples on the issue of a servant’s duty to their master. The Greek word translated “servant” is doulos, which means “slave” or “bondservant” – a person who is totally subservient to and dependent upon their master, without wages. This relationship, common in those days, is not at all like the “quid pro quo” of our modern employer-employee relationships, where your work earns you the right to compensation and benefits.

Jesus reminded His disciples that bondservants do not earn special treatment or even a “thank you” for simply doing their duty. Obedience of the master’s commands is both required and expected.

Luke’s inclusion of this teaching is a sharp reminder that the Lord is our Lord, as well as our Creator and Savior. We have not and cannot earn His wonderful blessings of salvation. (Ephesians 2:8-9) God has always been all-sovereign, all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful, and He is entitled to our total trust and obedience without further “quid pro quo”.

Our Luke 12 passage expands upon the Luke 17 teaching, adding a sharp concept of accountability to the lesson on responsibility.

Jesus had just explained why His disciples need to focus on seeking His Kingdom, which effectively means “Your will be done in my life and on earth as it is in heaven”. (vs. 16-31; Matthew 6:10) He then turns to the requirement that they stay focused on His Kingdom, “dressed for action”, “lamps burning”, and “awake”, because they do not know when He will return for them. The “ready” servants are the ones He will bless at His return. (vs. 35-40).

In response to a question from Peter, Jesus then explains that while all are bondservants of the Lord, some servants are also household managers (oikonomos in Greek) who provide leadership to the other servants. (v. 42). Reminiscent of when Jesus would later tell Peter to “feed My sheep”, these managers are to ensure the household is fed. (John 21:17)

Those managers who stay focused on their responsibilities will, like the other “ready” servants, be blessed. (vs. 43-44) But woe to those managers who instead focus on their own pleasures or mistreat those they were to feed. (vs. 45-46) All servants who did not stay Kingdom-focused will receive a beating when the master returns, but the severe beating will be for those who knew more and were entrusted with more. (vs. 47-48)

Christians are saved by grace through faith and not by works, but we are created in Christ for good works as His servants. (Ephesians 2:8-10) As beloved children of God, we are also servants in the family business: the royal priesthood and household of prayer.

Our faithful service does not earn us treasures in heaven, seats at the heavenly banquet, or other blessings any more than we can earn God’s forgiveness and everlasting life. Those blessings are further extensions of God’s lavish grace.

Our unfaithfulness, however, can disqualify us from blessings God wants us to have, and can also subject us to chastening we would like to avoid. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

Each of us faces an accounting with God. (Romans 14:12; Matthew 12:36-37; Ecclesiastes 12:14) Teachers like me will, like others in equipping ministry, be judged more strictly. (James 3:1) We should always be delighted to share the truth of God’s amazing grace and unconditional love. But we also need to teach the scriptural truths rarely taught about Christian duty and accountability.

People do not want to hear them, but we need to hear them so that later we can hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. (Luke 19:17)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO WRITE THINGS DOWN

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“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)

We do not have biographies for most people identified in the New Testament. But it appears clear Luke, the author of that Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, was a Gentile, not a Jew. He had a Greek name, as did his friend Theophilus, and was not among the “men of the circumcision” who were fellow workers with Paul. (Colossians 4:10-14)

Luke was not engaged with Jesus when He walked the earth prior to His ascension. And Luke was not a writer or historian by trade.  He was a physician, well-educated but not, in those days, a person of prominence or rank. (Colossians 4:14) The compassion Luke displays in his Gospel for women, the poor, and the marginalized is a wonderful reflection of his experiences in that healing profession.

We do not know when or how Luke became a Christian.  His name only appears in scripture three times, always in letters by Paul from a Roman prison near the end of Paul’s ministry. (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 19) But Luke first shows up near the outset of Paul’s second missionary journey to Asia and then Greece. (Acts 16:9-12) 

God’s ways are not our ways. We cannot presume to understand all the reasons He chose Luke to write one of the four Gospels or the Book of Acts. We can, however, observe that:

(1) As a Gentile and a companion to the apostle to the Gentiles, Luke could be divinely inspired to write the Gospel that was from a Gentile Christian perspective. 

(2) Luke was well-educated, like Paul, and it is clear from Luke’s explanation to Theophilus that Luke played close attention to both what was happening around him and what he was being taught by Paul and others. He saw the need for “an orderly account” – a comprehensive written witness that would live beyond the “eyewitnesses”– and he was driven to the research that would empower him to be that author.  

That research included both interviews of eyewitnesses and reading the Gospel of Mark. Most theological experts agree the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel written, and that it was written by John Mark as he accompanied the apostle Peter and heard his teaching. Almost all the Gospel of Mark is contained in the Gospel of Luke.

I also believe that Mary, mother of Jesus, was personally interviewed by Luke.  Where else would he have learned in such detail about the birth of Jesus and the incident in Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old?

All scripture is God-breathed and immensely valuable, but I am confident you will agree with me that the Gospel of Luke and the other three Gospels, which include the actual words of Jesus, are the “cream of the crop”. So, the question is: where is this column really going? As set forth in the title, sometimes you have to write things down.

I identify with Luke. I too am well-educated and spent my early life practicing a secular profession.  I too came to Jesus later in life. And I too have never been personally “prominent” – never the pastor of a big church or a sought-after celebrity preacher. My largest “congregation” by far has been those who read this column over the last fifteen years, and I will be forever grateful to the Kingsport Times-News for the opportunity.

The name, “Theophilus”, means “Friend of God”.  Eleven years ago, my beloved Christie and I founded Friends of the King Ministries.  Six years ago, Christie pressed me to compile my columns in a book: Moon in the Darkness: 100 Reflections on the Kingdom of God. (The columns I have written since then are available on our website.)  And last year, during the time I was caring for Christie before she went to heaven, the Lord stirred me to write a new book: Be With Jesus, Be Like Jesus, Be For Jesus: A Path to Christian Maturity and the Next Great Awakening.

There is no gospel of Doug! But I believe this book, which will not fit in the space for this column, explains where all Christians need to be focused in this hour.  We have been waiting on God when, in fact, He is waiting on us. Stated in a nutshell, God lives in you. What are you going to do about it?

The book, e-book, and audiobook are available from the publisher, WestBow Press. The book and e-book are also available on Amazon and with other online booksellers.

Sometimes you have to write things down.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

AGAPE LOVE IS THE CHRISTIAN “LITMUS TEST”

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“Litmus test” is a phrase used for tests that effectively and decisively determine someone’s true intentions, beliefs, or character. Prayerful study of the Bible has convinced me that the fundamental principle of God’s Kingdom is agape love, and that, therefore, agape love is the best litmus test for determining whether someone is a practicing Christian and disciple of Jesus.

Let me group together for you some scriptures that persuade me:

 

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:7-12)

“And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

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

 

The great challenge of agape love, illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is that it applies to friends, foes, and strangers. (Luke 10:30-37) Our Lord commands us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”. (Luke 6:27-28) We are to love everyone God loves. (Matthew 5:43-48)

The extraordinary importance of agape love is revealed in the Apostle Paul’s dramatic statements at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. We can have all the other characteristics of a wonderful Christian: flawless doctrine, mountain-moving faith, lavish generosity, and sacrificial service. But even then, if we do not have agape love, we are nothing and gain nothing.

Our agape love must be in truth and deed, not just lip service. (1 John 3:18) We must speak the truth in agape love. (Ephesians 4:15) Our faith only works through agape love. (Galatians 5:6) And our witness to this agape love requires not only that we refrain from sins against agape love, but that we refrain from approving of others when they sin against agape love, including those in politics and media on both sides of the aisle. (Romans 1:32)

Agape love of the Lord is best manifested by learning and keeping His commands. (John 14:21, 23; Matthew 28:18-20) For that reason, agape love of others never rejoices at their wrongdoing or sin. (1 Corinthians 13:6)

At the same time, agape love recognizes that we all fall short and that the lost, in particular, are going to act lost because they are so susceptible to the influence of Satan, the enemy of God and all humankind. (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19; Ephesians 6:12) Jesus reserved His “harsh words” for religious leaders, not the tax collectors and prostitutes. (Luke 11:37-52; Matthew 9:10-13) The lost are the harvest. (Matthew 9:37-38)

Every Christian knows the compelling definition of agape love given by Paul at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

“[Agape] love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

What the Church must understand amidst the rising darkness in our nation and world is that it is not enough to know the definition of agape love. We must live it. (Matthew 7:24-27; James 1:22-25)

The good news is the God of agape love lives in us through His Holy Spirit, giving us the ability to agape love as He has commanded us. (Romans 5:5) My dear friends, let us all abide in His love. (John 15:9)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE ARE NOT THE SAME

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“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b-32)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

 

[As we approach Independence Day 2021, with more and more people believing freedom is the right to do anything you want, I offer this column from seven years ago.]

Americans love to talk about freedom.  Our Declaration of Independence declares freedom (“liberty”) to be our God-given right.  Our Constitution’s stated purpose is to secure the blessing of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.  Our national anthem sings of “the land of the free”.  One of our favorite patriotic declarations is Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death.”

This national focus on freedom has sometimes been used to justify our involvement in wars to support people seeking freedom from tyranny.  Our most recent examples are Iraq and Afghanistan.

How have those efforts worked out?  Saddam Hussein was killed, and the Taliban were dislodged.  Both nations made initial moves, with our help, toward a democratic form of government and the freedoms they hoped democracy would secure.  Both nations are now in chaos while we simply try to find a way to “get out”.

The crucial lesson to be learned: freedom and independence are not the same.

At the political level, the lesson is that democracy is not enough.  In the absence of faith-based moral principles that undergirded our nation in its birth, democracy can simply replace one form of tyranny with another – greed, corruption, the desire of the majority to control minorities, and the desire of the few to manipulate the many.

At the individual level, this lesson has been learned the hard way by many youths who rebelled against parental authority and ran away.  Through independence from their parents, they sought freedom – the right to do what they want to do when they want to do it.  Instead, they too often found bondage to drugs, poverty, or even a life of prostitution or other crime motivated by that poverty.

And at the ultimate level, the level that engages all humanity, this lesson was learned the hard way by our earliest ancestors: Adam and Eve.  They were tempted to independence from God’s authority, so they could decide on their own what is good and evil, and led all of us into the worst tyrannies of all: Satan, sin, and death. (Genesis 3; 1 John 5:19; Romans 6:16-23)

God sent Jesus Christ to set men free. (Luke 4:17-21; Psalm 146:7) So it is essential we understand what freedom really is.

Freedom is both freedom from things and freedom to do things.  But it is not freedom from authority or freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want.  Although created in the image of God, we were never created to be God.  Instead, we were created to live in intimacy with the Lord under His loving, wise and benevolent authority.  We will never know freedom until we begin living as we were designed to live.

Jesus revealed this truth in His teachings and His life.  The Son of God became one of us, emptied of His divinity, but remained in intimate communion with His Father through the Holy Spirit.  He and the Father were “one” while He walked this earth. (John 10:30)

Likewise, Jesus prayed we will become “one” with Him.  (John 17:21-23) The Holy Spirit was sent to live in us even as He lived in Jesus. (John 14:15-20, 16:7-15)

Jesus was also totally submitted to His Father’s authority, even when the Father asked Him to do the most difficult task anyone has ever done.  Because Jesus became “last of all and servant of all”, the Father exalted Him to “first of all”, the name above every name. (Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 9:33-37)

Likewise, as disciples of Jesus, we are to abide in His word, learning and obeying all His teachings as we humbly walk like He walked into “the freedom of the glory of the children of God”. (Matthew 28:20; 1 John 2:3-6; Romans 8:16-21)

The scriptures at the outset of this column summarize this narrow path to true freedom. (Matthew 7:13-14) Learn and obey God’s Word – all of it!  Be filled, led, and empowered by God’s Spirit! (Ephesians 5:18; Romans 8:14; Acts 1:4-8)

We can experience freedom from sin, death, fear and anxiety, anger and bitterness, hopelessness, deceptions, foolish decisions, loneliness, addictions, poverty, and lack of purpose.

We can experience freedom to intimacy with God, trusting obedience, everlasting life, loving and forgiving community, wisdom and understanding, awesome purpose with eternal significance, peace, joy, provision, rest, and unlimited hope in an unlimited God.

And as we walk this glorious path of freedom in our own lives, we will reveal that path to others in our nation, which is presently heading in the wrong direction.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

 

“Be With Jesus” Conferences

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Dear friends of the King,

 

            I am truly excited to announce that we have now scheduled two “Be With Jesus, Be Like Jesus, Be For Jesus” Awakening Conferences in the region, with a third in the works.  This conference, with three sessions, is based on my new book, “Be With Jesus, Be Like Jesus, Be For Jesus: A Path to Christian Maturity and the Next Great Awakening”. Thank you so much for the very encouraging responses we have been getting to the book.  Each conference participant will receive a free copy of the book as part of their engagement.  The book, as many of you already know, is short (100 pages) but contains 577 scripture citations for the topics we will be dealing with in the conference.  So it will be a great follow-up reference.

            The first conference is scheduled for Rogersville early next week: Monday, June 28 through Wednesday, June 30, starting 7PM, at the Marketplace, 1206 W. Main Street.  I am attaching that conference flyer, in large part so you can see what a wonderful job my daughter Jes did in creating it!

            The second conference is with our dear friends, Pastor Andy and Marsha Barnes, at First Baptist Church, Gate City: Sunday, July 18 through Tuesday, July 20, with details to follow.

            Our third conference, in the works, will be at a church in the Kingsport/Blountville area, and I am earnestly interested in scheduling more!  So if any of you are interested, please contact me.   I am also open to sharing the materials through small group retreats.

            With all my heart, I believe the next move of God in our nation and world will be rooted in agape love that is pursued by us through intimacy with the Lord (Be with Jesus), partnership with the Lord in our own sanctification  (Be like Jesus), and a life commitment to Kingdom mission (Be for Jesus). And I passionately desire to see that move of God take place in our East Tennessee/Southwest Virginia region.  Please pray for us!

 

            God bless you all – Doug Tweed, Friends of the King Ministries

GOD WANTS YOU TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

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GOD WANTS YOU TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

 

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

 

God wants you to change your mind.

If you are a “not-yet Christian”, God wants you to change your mind about how you can receive everlasting life through Jesus. (John 1:12-13, 3:16)

If you are a Christian, God wants you to know the change in mind that brought you into everlasting life was only the first change in mind He desires for you. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

I have repeatedly asserted in this column that “agape” love is the fundamental law of God’s kingdom, and it is, but the fundamental battleground for God’s kingdom on earth is the mind, not the heart. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

What we think, consciously and subconsciously, continually dictates how we feel: love, peace, joy, hope, and a sense of purpose, on the one hand, or fear, anxiety, anger, isolation, depression, and aimlessness. Which set of emotions dominates our nation and world today? Which set reflects your own life and the lives of those around you?

Even more important, what we think and how we feel dictate what we choose in every circumstance based upon what we consider important, possible, desirable, frightening, urgent, and good or evil.

We have all learned, often the hard way, that we are never fully in control of our circumstances. Our control is limited to our ability to make personal choices based upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Do we want those choices to be grounded in truth or lies? (Psalm 51:6; Proverbs 23:23)

Satan, the consummate enemy of God and mankind, is called “the father of lies”, and “the deceiver of the whole world”. (John 8:44; Revelation 12:9) We have been learning life lessons from this deceived and broken world since birth.

To counteract this, God sent His Son Jesus: The Truth, the Word made flesh, and the light of the world. (John 1:1-14, 8:12, 14:6) God also gave us His Holy Spirit of truth, who can lead us into all truth. (John 16:13-14) And through the Holy Spirit, God gave us the Bible, the Spirit-breathed scriptures that teach us what we need to know and do. (2 Timothy 3:3-16-17; Psalms 1, 119)

Because the mind is the fundamental battleground, the Gospel invitation to the lost is, “Repent and believe!” (Mark 1:14-15, 6:12; Luke 24:45-47; Acts 2:38-39, 17:30-31) The Greek word used for “repent” is “metanoia”, which literally means “change your mind”. The truth sets you free. (John 8:32)

And because the mind remains the fundamental battleground after you become a Christian, the invitation for disciples of Jesus is to keep changing your mind and your ways by learning to obey everything Jesus commanded. (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:42) As Paul put it in Romans 12:2, stop conforming to this broken world by living in accordance with what the world teaches.  “Renew” your mind so you can “transform” your life to the wonderous ways of Christ.  More truth will set you more free.

The Greek word used in Romans 12:2 for “transformed” is “metamorphoo”. It indicates major change, and so, today, we use the word, “metamorphosis”, to describe how caterpillars become butterflies and tadpoles become frogs. 2 Corinthians 3:18 describes our process of metamorphosis into the image of Christ.

The Greek word used for “renewal” of our mind is “anakainosis”.  It also indicates major change – making something new and improved, or superior to what it was before. It comes about by what Paul calls “testing”: the Greek word “dokimazo”, which means to learn by examination and actual use.

Otherwise put, we must be both hearers and doers of the Word, having and keeping His commandments. (Matthew 7:24-27; John 14:21, 23; James 1:22-25) Because the Spirit who inspired the Bible now lives in us, we have access to the mind of Christ and can, by our testing, understand things of God our natural minds could never comprehend. (1 Corinthians 2:9-16)

My friends, our nation is struggling, and the research of Barna Group and Pew Research Center reveal: (1) the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian is shrinking significantly; (2) church participation is shrinking dramatically; (3) we are losing our young people at a devastating rate; and (4) the majority of American Christians are biblically illiterate. Few have a biblical worldview.

These developments are causally related. When Christians remain conformed to the world rather than transformed into Christ’s image, we are ineffective in our mission to witness and disciple.  To be transformed, we must recognize Bible study and practice are not religious options.  Through them, we reframe our worldview and understanding of reality so “the eyes of our hearts” are enlightened and we know the hope to which we have been called. (Ephesians 1:18-21)

We need to change our minds.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

 

 

MARY HAD A SPIRITUAL MOTHER

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“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (Luke 1:39-43)

Mary of Nazareth was a very young woman, probably fourteen to sixteen when the angel Gabriel informed her that she was to be the mother of God’s son.

She was also a small-town girl.  Nazareth was a village in the Galilean hills far north of the sophisticated city life of Jerusalem.

We do not know much about Mary’s parents – just that her father, Heli, was a descendent of King David. But we do know Mary’s parents raised a good girl.  We know this because an all-wise God picked her to be His Son’s mother.  She would nurture His childhood development.

We also know Mary was good by her response to Gabriel’s announcement.  Once she got past the mystery of a virgin having a baby, her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38) This sounds remarkably like what her son, Jesus, would declare thirty-four years later in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not my will but Thy will be done.”

So, what does a young, small-town, engaged-but-not-yet-married good girl do when she finds out she is pregnant?

Her fiancé Joseph was a gentle man, but it was an arranged marriage. The only thing she knew for sure was he did not expect to marry a pregnant bride.

And while she loved her hometown, she also knew how they would react to her pregnancy.  Glances and gossip behind her back – even hostility.  Remember, Nazareth is the place that later tried to throw their hometown boy, Jesus, off a cliff. (Luke 4:29)

Mary needed counsel.  Mary needed a spiritual mother.  And for that reason, she hurried to visit her relative, Elizabeth.

Why did Mary go to Elizabeth?  I can think of several reasons:

  1. Mary had hometown issues and needed someone outside that environment to help her think things through.
  2. Elizabeth was an older woman with the wisdom life experience can bring.
  3. Elizabeth was a devout and godly woman, “upright in the sight of the Lord”. (Luke 1:6) She knew God and had access to God’s wisdom.
  4. Elizabeth had dealt with the hardship of social stigma herself, having been barren in a culture where a woman’s most valued purpose was to bear children.
  5. Elizabeth had six months earlier experienced her own miracle from God!  God had granted her heart’s desire for a child in her old age.  Elizabeth did not just know God’s word.  She knew God’s power.
  6. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary in bringing about the conception of Jesus.  The decision to go to Elizabeth was probably Spirit-led.

A newly pregnant Mary hurried south to Judea.  When she arrived, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out her joy for what God had done in Mary.  “Blessed are you among women!”  What a tremendous affirmation for this young, pregnant single woman to hear!  What a confirmation Mary had come to the right person.

Two women – one pregnant long after her time had passed and one pregnant before her time had come.  One old, one young – both lovers of God who wanted His will for their lives, and both loving and caring for each other.

The Bible does not provide specifics about how Elizabeth and Mary interacted during the three months Mary stayed in Judea.  But I am confident they worshipped the Lord and prayed together every day.  Elizabeth shared with this young woman all the wisdom she had earned in her long life and gave a listening ear to all the questions and ideas that poured forth from Mary.

When Mary returned home, she was three months pregnant and showing, but she was now prepared to deal with the reactions of her fiancée, her family, and her community.  And she knew, no matter how they reacted, she had a trusted friend she could always turn to.

The story speaks for itself.  In this troubled 21st century, our young people desperately need spiritual mothers and fathers.  We must stop separating the generations in the Church and start connecting them.  The blessings that result will be mutual.

My beloved Christie was a terrific mom to our daughters, Jen and Jes, all their lives, and now they are terrific moms to our grandchildren.  During the last three decades of her life, Christie became a wonderful spiritual mother to them all and to many others. This revised and reprised column honors the fruit of her faithfulness.

Happy Mother’s Day weekend!

KINGDOM PROBLEMS REQUIRE KINGDOM SOLUTIONS

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[Post-Easter, and amidst our culture’s continued preoccupation with political and media manipulations, I offer this article from eight years ago.]

 

“To them He presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)

 

The ability to identify and solve problems is vitally important in every field of human endeavor.  We sometimes call it “critical thinking”, and no step is more critical than the first step: fully identifying the problem.

Failure to identify a problem accurately and fully will inevitably lead to a wrong or inadequate solution.

As an example, you have abdominal pain.  The proper definition of the problem is, “Something is wrong within my body and causing pain”.  You seek out the source of the “dis-ease”, find the cancer and initiate plans to cure it.

However, if you simply define the problem as “I have pain”, your solution can be pain medication.  The problem you defined – the pain – will go away, but the cancer will kill you.

My friends, even the “life or death” issue of cancer is less important than the “everlasting life” issue of our relationship with God.  Yet tragically, the Church has often failed in this most critical area to fully identify the real problems.  As a result, we live inadequate lives, witness to an inadequate solution, and have too little influence on the world.

To correctly understand our problems, we must think from a Kingdom of God perspective.  This is, after all, the gospel Jesus proclaimed. (Mark 1:14-15; Acts 1:3)

Simply put, the Kingdom of God is the wise, benevolent rule of a loving God over those who trust, obey, and depend upon Him.  Both heaven and earth were created as expressions of this Kingdom.  God chose to dwell in heaven amidst angels under His authority and chose to have mankind dwell on earth under His authority.  It was all “very good”. (Genesis 1:31)

But then the problem arose – a decision by some to come out from under the Lord’s authority and rule on their own.  This problem is best understood in Kingdom terms as “rebellion”.

Rebellion first arose in heaven as Satan led many angels to defy God. (Revelation 12) Rebellion then arose on earth as mankind was tempted by that prince of rebels to “be like God” and decide on their own what would be good and evil. (Genesis 3)

This root problem of rebellion immediately led to other problems.  Mankind’s rebellion would not really mean “self-rule” but, instead, coming under the rule of the prince of rebels. (1 John 5:19) Our “flesh”, having tasted independence from God, would seek to remain independent – hence, the biblical concept of the “old self”. (Romans 6:6)   And independence from God’s rule separated us from the benefits of His rule: wisdom, protection, authority, and provision, including the provision of life itself.  The consequences of sin include death. (Romans 6:23)

Rebellion in heaven was a problem soon resolved.  The rebellious angels were thrown out and are destined for everlasting punishment at the time all rebellion will be judged. (Luke 10:18; Matthew 25:41)

God’s love for mankind, however, prevents Him from treating our rebellion in the same way.  For us, His solution must restore the Kingdom on earth while allowing the preservation of our lives, which means reconciling us back to Him in the trusting, obedient and dependent relationship we were created to have.  To do this, God’s solution had to address both the rebellion and the offshoot problems created from it.  Jesus Christ is that solution!

Jesus revealed the incredible love of God, but those who preach “all we need is love” fail to recognize the importance of God’s other scriptural commandments. Rebellion continues.

Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross and rose in victory over death.  But those who simply preach our need to accept God’s forgiveness and receive our “ticket to heaven” fail to honor His desire that we live lives of trusting obedience – lives that, to overcome our “flesh”, must depend on the power of Holy Spirit. (John 14:21, 23; Acts 1:3-8) Otherwise, the “old self” and Satan continue to assert control.

The Lord sent Holy Spirit to baptize, empower and lead those who trust in Him.  But if that power is preoccupied with our own prosperity or personal “experiences” rather than loving, sacrificial service to God and others, we are catering to our “self” and not His Spirit. (Luke 9:23; Galatians 5:13-17) We fail to empower the life God wants. (1 John 2:3-6) We will not see evil dislodged, or the Kingdom restored around us.

Kingdom problems require Kingdom solutions.  Know God’s love.  Receive God’s forgiveness.  Receive God’s Holy Spirit.  But most of all, receive God’s Lordship over all your life.  Then go lovingly help others do the same.

Jesus put it this way: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WE NEED TO DO OUR PART

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2 Peter 1: 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence….

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Many of us in this broken world are praying daily for a spiritual awakening. Those prayers are extremely important, but it is not enough to simply ask God to do more than He has been doing.

2 Peter 1:3 tells us God has already granted to us all things we need for life and godliness.  In Christ, He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, including: (1) Jesus as the Savior who died for all our sins; (2) Jesus as the Lord with all authority in heaven and earth, including authority over the forces of darkness that seek to destroy us; (3) the Holy Spirit, who is God living within us; (4) a heavenly Father who loves us beyond measure and always watches over His children; (5) the God-breathed Bible that reveals God’s truth and God’s will to us; (6) the covenant promises of the ultimate Promise Keeper; (7) the right to talk with God in prayer anytime and anywhere; (8) sisters and brothers in Christ who, together with us, form the family of God and the Body of Christ; (9) angels who minister to God’s family on earth; and (10) keys of His Kingdom that represent our authority on earth when we fully submit to His authority and operate in His name. (Ephesians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 1:14; Matthew 16:19; James 4:7; John 14:12-14)

If God has already provided all of this to us, what more could we possibly need?  We need to do our part.

Peter understood this.  Having declared that God has given us all we need, he goes on to explain that for this very reason, it is vitally important for us to diligently supplement our saving faith in Jesus Christ with the added ingredients that make us fruitful and effective disciples.

We must add “virtue” or “moral excellence” to our faith. The Greek word used here – arete – means excellence in doing what God declares is right vs. wrong.  It is a heartfelt commitment to faithfulness and righteousness.  Because I trust Him, I fully intend to do what He tells me to do. I am a hearer and doer of His Word. (Matthew 7:24-27; James 1:22)

We must add “knowledge” to our virtue.  When I first come to saving faith, I only know a few of the things God wants me to know and do.  I need to know more so I can obey more, sin less, and bear more fruit for His Kingdom. We are called to obey everything the Lord has commanded. (Matthew 28:20) Those who both have and keep His commandments are the ones who love Him. (John 14:21)

We must add “self-control” to our knowledge. Our flesh – our old habits and desires – are always warring with our spirit’s desire to obey Jesus. (Galatians 5:16-25; Colossians 3:1-17) We must be disciplined and “in command” of ourselves, or the world will trip us up.

We must add “steadfastness” – perseverance – to our self-control. In this world, we will have trouble and wrestle against forces of darkness. (John 16:33; Ephesians 6:10-20) Christian discipleship is a marathon, not a sprint, and we must both run and finish the race. (Hebrews 12:1-2; 2 Timothy 4:7-8)

We must add “godliness” to our steadfastness. The Greek word used here – eusebeia – means the devout practice of your religion and relates to how you worship and show reverence toward God.  In short, “godliness” is doing everything you can to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. (Luke 10:27)

We must add “brotherly affection” to our godliness. The Greek word used here – philadelphia – is always used in the New Testament for the love Christian brothers and sisters must have for one another. (John 15:9-12) The world will know we are Christians by our love for one another! (John 13:35)

Finally, we must add agape love to our brotherly love. Agape love is what binds it all together: the unconditional, selfless, serving love for everyone that God can pour into our hearts. (Romans 5:5; Colossians 3:14) Without agape, we are nothing and gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) Faith works through love. (Galatians 5:6)

My friends, God is always doing His part.  We need to do our part … and watch what happens then.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

 

KNOW WHAT KIND OF SPIRIT YOU HAVE

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Luke 9: And it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him. And they went, and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make arrangements for Him. And they did not receive Him, because He was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51-56 NAS)

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were top-notch disciples of Jesus Christ. When Jesus chose twelve of His disciples to be His inner circle of apostles, James and John were among them. (Luke 6:12-16) When Jesus selected three from among the twelve for even greater focused attention at the home of Jairus, the Mount of Transfiguration, and Gethsemane, James and John joined Peter in that special group. (Luke 8:51; Mark 9:2-10, 14:32-34)

James was the first apostle to be martyred. (Acts 12:1-2) John was the only one of the twelve, other than the traitor Judas, who was not martyred.  This allowed him to write the fourth and final gospel, along with four other books of the biblical canon.

The two brothers appear to have been so bold in their faith and witness that Jesus gave them the nickname, “Sons of Thunder”. (Mark 3:17) But like their close friend and former fishing partner, Peter, their boldness did not always propel them in the right direction. (Luke 5:10; Matthew 16:21-23, 26:31-35; John 18:10-11)

The occasion most of us remember best is when the brothers used their mom to lobby Jesus for seats of honor in His kingdom. (Matthew 20:20-28) This led to a gentle rebuke from the Lord and not-so-gentle resentment from the other ten apostles.

The other occasion is the trip through Samaria described in Luke 9.

Jesus knew this particular trip through Samaria to Jerusalem would be a one-way trip, culminating in His crucifixion for the sins of all mankind. (1 John 2:2) He also knew Jews and Samaritans did not like each other or see eye-to-eye on many issues.  I am sure He was not surprised when, after learning He was just passing through, the Samaritans were inhospitable.

However, Jesus also knew He had been consistently teaching and modeling unconditional agape love to His apostles for almost three years. Now, despite all that teaching, the Sons of Thunder wanted to respond to this village’s rejection of Jesus by calling “righteous” judgment and destruction down upon them? His rebuke of James and John was not gentle. They did not know what kind of spirit they had, and they needed to know.

It has been a great blessing in my life to know many top-notch people from diverse ethnic, educational, economic, and church backgrounds. While none of them are perfect, any more than I am perfect, they are all people of integrity and sincere Christian faith.

Because of their diversity, these people do not always see eye-to-eye on some of the political and social issues that polarize our nation.  And many of them can be passionate and bold in their beliefs.  As a result, I have heard and read comments, and even prayers, on both sides of several issues that made me want to ask, “Do you know what kind of spirit you have when you say that?”

I have no right to throw stones at anyone when it comes to sin, but Jesus has the absolute right to challenge all of us at any time with His Word.  The lesson of Luke 9:51-56 is this: When you seek to defend righteousness without agape love in your heart, you are defending self-righteousness, not Christ-righteousness. (Luke 18:9-14; Matthew 9:12-13)

We are to rejoice in the truth, and never in wrongdoing, but we are always to speak the truth in love. (1 Corinthians 13:6; Ephesians 4:15) Without love, our faith does not work, and that love must be for friend, stranger, and foe. (1 Corinthians 13:2; Galatians 5:6; Luke 6:27-36) The Lord’s desire is to see Samaritans, sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes all come into His kingdom – the alienated, the lost, the politically corrupt, and the sexually immoral of His day. (Mark 2:14-17; Matthew 21:31-32)

            We each need to know at every moment of every day what kind of spirit we have.  Is it the spirit of the world that dominates our politics and media, or is it a spirit like Jesus Christ? (Ephesians 2:1-3; Galatians 5:15-25)

God bless you, and God bless our community.