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LIVING WATER HAS BEEN DISCOVERED ON EARTH!

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“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?’ …. Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” (John 4:10-14)

Scientists are excitedly calling last week’s discovery of a liquid water lake on Mars a “game-changer” in the search for life on other planets. I read countless science fiction books in my younger years and still love Star Wars movies. So my first reaction to this announcement was, like the scientists, to imagine the discovery of some living spore on Mars and how that could re-stimulate our imagination as to intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

These thoughts about water and possible life on Mars quickly turned, however, to consideration of a much greater discovery made 2,000 years ago on our own planet, Earth: the living water from Jesus that brings eternal life!

The life our scientists seek on Mars is, in the Greek language of the New Testament, called “bios” – the physical, temporary life of all plants, animals and humans. Earth has plenty of water and is saturated with “bios”. Science has been unable to find even the smallest speck of “bios” anywhere else.

On the other hand, the Greek word for “life” used by Jesus in John 4 is “zoe”. This is the life that comes to people in right relationship with God – the life that is abundant and everlasting because it comes through the living water that is God’s Holy Spirit. (John 3:3-15, 7:37-39, 10:10)

The great tragedy of human history is that we have plenty of living water available to us on Earth just like we have plenty of natural water. God has poured out His Holy Spirit “on all flesh”, that is, so as to make this living water and “zoe” life available to every person on the planet. (Acts 2:17; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) But while our world is teeming with “bios” life, “zoe” life continues to be the narrow way found by few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Non-Christians remain trapped in a spiritually dry “bios” life because they do not believe living water and “zoe” life really exist. They don’t believe because when they look at the lives of the Christians around them, they see lives that are about as dry as their own. And we Christians live these dry “bios-like” lives, despite having sincerely believed in Jesus, because we have not yet truly embraced everything Jesus means when He speaks at John 4:10 of “the gift of God.”

According to 2 Peter 1:2-3, God’s gift to us includes everything (I repeat, “everything”) we need for “zoe” living. Let’s make a list of what we Christians have been given:

1. Our eternal, all-good, all-powerful Creator God gives us His perfect, unconditional love. We are each fearfully and wonderfully made in His image and likeness. Although we were born broken into this broken world, He is restoring us to His original design step by step, including the restoration of love, truth, peace, and joy in our lives.

2. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die in full payment for all of our sins. Jesus was then resurrected in glory with all authority in heaven and earth, including authority over the forces of spiritual evil that seek to destroy us.

3. God sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in each of us forever. By this, we are born of God and become His children, invited to live in intimate love with Him forever.

4. God is ready every day to empower, lead and speak to us by His Spirit. To make sure we are not deceived by false spirits, He have also given us the Bible, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, so we can learn the incredible truth about who God is, who we are, and what life can and should be.

5. Finally, God has given us each other so we can all belong to a loving, healthy family on earth, able through His power and the gift of prayer to continue the good works Jesus did, including things beyond our ability to ask or imagine.

My friends, the abiding spiritual awakening our nation and world needs is really just a matter of Christians waking up to who we are and what we have. Living water has been discovered on Earth! Let’s dive in and drink, and begin living the “zoe” life for which we were created!

God bless you, and God bless our community.

UNDERSTAND THE TIMES AND KNOW WHAT TO DO

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God will, on occasion, interject a special scripture message into what would otherwise seem a boring repetitive list.

In the genealogy list of Genesis, God reveals Enoch, who walked with God and never died – God just “took him”. (Genesis 5:21-24)

In the genealogy lists of 1 Chronicles, God reveals Jabez, who, being more honorable than his brothers, had awesome prayers granted – blessings, divine protection and the enlargement of his territory. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)

In the genealogy of Jesus, where tradition would require only fathers be listed, Matthew names five mothers – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary, each of whom adds a unique flavor to the heritage of our Lord. (Matthew 1:1-16)

And in the 1 Chronicles list of Israel’s tribes who gathered to make David their king, God describes a very important ability that was demonstrated by the tribe of Issachar. They had understanding of the times and knew what Israel needed to do.

Israel was in crisis. (2 Samuel 1-5) Their first king, Saul, had initially led them to victories over their enemies. But Saul failed to honor and obey God. The Philistines won a great battle, and Saul died.

The hero David returned from exile and was made king by his tribe of Judah. But the other eleven tribes of Israel were convinced to make Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, their king. For seven years, there had been infighting and a divided nation unable to face the Philistines. Now Ish-bosheth had been killed, and these eleven tribes had a decision to make.

Scripture does not describe in detail the role that Issachar’s understanding and knowledge played in bringing the other ten tribes together to make David king, but we certainly know it was the right decision. United under King David’s godly leadership, Israel quickly defeated the Philistines and every enemy. Jerusalem was conquered and became the City of God. The Ark of the Covenant was brought there and placed in a tent with continuous worship and prayer. King David and his subjects would enter and experience the manifest Presence of God. The size, wealth and power of the kingdom exploded!

My friends, the United States is in crisis. In addition to a long list of existing problems, we face a future where the dark side of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, cyber warfare and human genetic engineering may take this crisis to unimaginable levels.

Our nation needs a “tribe” who understands the times and knows what needs to be done. The “tribe” I wish to address is the Body of Christ in our Upper East Tennessee / Southwest Virginia region.

We all see the problems. What we must understand and fully accept is that there is no political solution. There is no scientific solution. There is no philosophical solution. There is only a God solution, and that solution is called “revival”: the spiritual awakening of the Church.

We also need to understand what the Lord is already doing in our region to bring about this spiritual awakening.

For decades, small groups of people have been crying out to God. About twenty years ago, more community impact ministries began to arise as people stepped out of their sanctuaries.

“Celebrate Recovery”, Coalition for Kids in Johnson City, Of One Accord Ministries in Rogersville and, most recently, Shades of Grace in Kingsport are just four of many wonderful examples.
Now God has accelerated, birthing Adoration 2017 (now, Adoration 2018), the Will Graham Celebration, the Holy Friendship Summit (now, Holy Spirit Collaborative), the multi-week Bristol tent revival, and the still ongoing Greeneville tent revival. In every case, God is moving, the Body of Christ is uniting, the love and Lordship of Jesus is being lifted up, and people are being saved, healed and set free.

At the same time, more and more churches and groups are experiencing God’s presence as they initiate regular gatherings for intercessory prayer.

I know of no other region in the country where God is doing so many things with so many people in so many ways, and there is a reason for this. God wants to ignite an abiding revival in our region that He can use to model and ignite revival in America.

What all of us need to do is, “JOIN GOD IN WHAT HE IS DOING!” (John 5:19-20) If we are not part of the solution, we remain part of the problem. (Matthew 12:30)

Sign up for Adoration 2018. Take your Will Graham, Bristol or Greeneville revival experience and do something new with it. Engage in the Holy Friendship Collaborative or another community outreach. Join a prayer group or start a prayer group. Cry out for revival! And exhort your family and friends to do likewise.

2,000 years ago, Jerusalem missed the time of God’s visitation, and Jesus wept. (Luke 19:41-44). Let’s not repeat their mistake.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WE MUST HAVE BOTH TRUTH AND LOVE

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“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.” (2 John 1:3)

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

I don’t use Facebook but my wife Christie does, and she recently shared a friend’s posting of a YouTube video titled “Reclaiming Jesus”. The text of the declaration made in the video can be read at www.reclaimingjesus.org.
In this declaration, church leaders from various mainline, African-American, and liberal wings of the Church express their deep concern about the state of our nation. Several sound biblical principles are included, but while neither people nor political parties are ever named, the core motivation for the declaration is clearly to oppose the policies and practices of President Trump and, in doing so, stand apart from his evangelical Christian support.

As one who spends most of my time with charismatic and evangelical Christians, my initial instinct was to immediately counter-attack this declaration.

They speak of the need to protect the vulnerable but yoke themselves to the promoters of abortion. They speak of protecting people based on “identity” – a subtle expression of support for homosexual and transgender lifestyles that are clearly contrary to scripture. (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:23-24; Romans 1:26-27) They speak of the need for truth but, in pluralistically calling everyone in the world a child of God, walk away from the biblical truth that it is only by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior that you become God’s child. (John 1:12-13, 3:3-6)

This tendency to counter-attack was, however, offset by the fact that I have both beloved family members and friends who support most if not all of the views expressed in this declaration. They do so in part because they do not completely share my passion for the divine authority of scripture. But they do so primarily because they rightly believe God calls us to love.

Herein lays the great divide in the Church today.

On one side of the Church, it is all about love. God is love. (1 John 4:8, 16) God loves everyone and we are to love everyone. (Matthew 5:43-48) We express that love through acts of generosity, kindness and social justice. (Micah 6:8; Luke 10:30-37; Matthew 25:31-46)

On the other side of the Church, it is all about truth. Jesus brought truth and confirmed the divine truth and authority of scripture. (John 1:17, 16:13-14; Matthew 5:17-18; Psalm 119; 2 Timothy 3:16) Jesus is the truth, and no one can be saved or set free except through Him. (John 8:31, 14:6)

Note: the “truth” side of the Church professes both truth and love. But too often, we act and speak or actively support those who act and speak in arrogant, unloving, judgmental, callous or demeaning ways. This violates the very scriptures we seek to uphold. (Matthew 5:21-22, 7:1-5; James 4:6)

Our right to support law and order, constitutional integrity, appropriate immigration control and biblical sexual morality does not absolve us from our responsibility to truly and visibly love the people on the other side of these issues and acknowledge them as people of significance and value.

Likewise, the “love” side of the Church professes both love and truth. But “truth” has become relative instead of absolute. The Bible is culled to see what parts we want to keep and what parts are no longer intellectually appealing, socially acceptable or politically correct.

What we get as a result is faith in the Jesus we want rather than the Jesus who was and is and is to come.

(Revelation 1:4) We dine again at the tree of knowledge of good and evil, deciding for ourselves what should be right and wrong rather than having God reveal sin and righteousness to us. (Genesis 3:5; Deuteronomy 12:8) We take authority over the scriptures that reveal the Lord rather than the other way around. Who then is lord?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if you don’t get anything else out of any column I write, please get this. God calls us to both truth and love. If I have great biblical faith and understanding of the truth, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2) On the other hand, if I discount scriptural authority and affirm people in their sin or unbiblical beliefs, I hurt the people I am trying to love because love never rejoices in wrongdoing and always rejoices in the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6)

Love without truth is not God’s love. Truth without love is not God’s truth. As the Body of Christ, we must have both or we will really have neither.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

THE HOLY SPIRIT MUST CONVICT THE CHURCH IN AMERICA

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“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)

In 1913, Katharine Lee Bates penned the lyrics to the prayerful song, “America, the Beautiful”. A century later, we are challenged by what she saw.

Our crown of brotherhood has slipped into political and cultural polarization. Our alabaster cities are plagued by mass shootings and renewed racial tension. Our welcome to freedom-seeking pilgrims has become an outcry of confusion over how to deal with both illegal and legal immigration.

Our liberty conferred by law and self-control has deteriorated into an “anything goes” morality. Our selfless love of country has become “What’s in it for me?” Even our love of spacious skies and purple mountain majesties has turned into staring at our smartphone, laptop and TV screens, because virtual reality has become more attractive than reality.

Unless something happens to change our nation’s direction, things will only get worse. And our “finger of blame” politics will not provide any solution. Neither a conviction of Hillary Clinton nor a conviction of President Trump will help because our whole nation needs to be convicted. And our nation cannot be convicted until the Church is convicted.

I hear Christians of all types speak about the Holy Spirit – the seal of salvation, the fruit or the gifts. But I rarely hear anyone speak of the Holy Spirit’s mission.

The mission of Jesus on earth was to reveal the Father, die for our sins, and rise from death in victory with all authority in heaven and earth. As He completed His mission, Jesus explained to His disciples how the Father would now send “another Helper” to be with us forever. (John 14:16)

Just as Jesus, the first Helper on earth, was God (God the Son), so this second Helper on earth would be God the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit’s mission would build on the mission of Jesus because they are both part of God’s overall plan to restore the Kingdom of God on earth. (Matthew 6:10)

The mission of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. The Greek word translated as “convict” is “elencho”, which means: to convict, persuade, or expose in order to bring about repentance and change.

God became man to fulfill the mission of Jesus, and now God requires men and women to fulfill the Holy Spirit’s mission, which coexists with the mission of the Church to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19-20) We cannot accomplish our mission without the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4-8; Zechariah 4:6) Likewise, because the Holy Spirit is poured into our clay jars, He cannot accomplish His mission without us. (Acts 2:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:7)

Conviction concerning sin is persuading people that sin is destructive, separating you from God, and that faith in Jesus Christ is the answer to sin. The Holy Spirit can do this through our fervent prayers and loving proclamation of the Gospel.

Conviction concerning righteousness is persuading people that righteous living in trusting, Spirit-empowered obedience to God’s Word is healthy, helpful, hopeful, joyful, love and peace-filled. The Holy Spirit can do this through Christian lives that demonstrate this truth. (Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:9-12)

Conviction concerning judgment is persuading people that good can overcome evil and destroy the works of the devil. (Romans 12:21; 1 John 3:8) The Holy Spirit can do this through Christians who know how to grasp the keys of the Kingdom in Holy Spirit power and the authority of Jesus’ name. (Matthew 16:19; John 14:12-14)

However, the Holy Spirit cannot convict this nation of sin through a Church that embraces sin or just refuses to talk about it. The Holy Spirit cannot convict this nation of righteousness through a Church that is selfish, worldly, unloving, divisive, or fearful. The Holy Spirit cannot convict this nation of judgment through a Church that doesn’t submit to the authority of God’s Word or believe in all the gifts the Holy Spirit came to provide.

The spiritual history of America includes powerful transforming movements of the Holy Spirit at the beginnings of the 18th century (First Great Awakening), 19th century (Second Great Awakening), and 20th century (Pentecostal and Charismatic awakenings). All of them involved conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment, first in the Church and then in the nation. All began because enough Christians saw the darkness around them, cared deeply, and united in persevering prayer.

It is now the beginning of the 21st century. Holy Spirit, convict the Church! Convict me and all who read this column!

Then, America, God can use His Church to “shed His grace on thee”.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

JOIN WITH THE LORD IN EVERYTHING YOU DO

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“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Most of us are familiar with the parable Jesus taught of the vine and the branches, but I suspect few if any of us understand the full implications of it. The importance of having a better understanding is highlighted by the parable’s punchline: “… apart from me you can do nothing”.

“Meno” is the Greek word in this parable we translate into English as “abide”. “Meno” means “abide”, “remain”, “dwell”, “stay” or “be continuously joined with and connected to”. Just as a branch must remain joined to the grapevine to receive essential nutrients, stay alive and produce grapes, so we must stay joined with Christ to have everlasting life and “bear fruit” for His Kingdom on the earth. And just as a grapevine needs branches to produce grapes, so Jesus needs His disciples to bring forth His fruit on earth.

This fruit we are to produce is elsewhere called the “good works” God prepared for us to do after we became new creations in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17) As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us. (John 20:21) We prove ourselves to be His disciples by producing much fruit. (John 15:5, 8)

And this fruit is not limited to “church work” or those other times we feel we are overtly serving the Christian faith. As disciples, our call to good works includes everything we do and say – in our marriage, our parenting, our workplace and elsewhere. (Colossians 3:17-24) Everything is to be in the name of the Lord.

Does this sound difficult? Of course it is! That is why we can only accomplish it by staying joined with Jesus.

Who is the greatest example of this parable? Jesus, whose whole life on earth was a model for what our lives are to be. (1 John 2:6)

Jesus emptied Himself of divine power when He descended from heaven and became like one of us. (Philippians 2:5-8) Then, at His baptism, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven upon Jesus, and “remained”. (John 1:32) “Meno”, the same Greek word from our vine and branches parable, is used here to describe what happened to Jesus.

As a result, Jesus became full of the Holy Spirit and power so He could begin His ministry on earth. (Luke 4:1, 14) Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus became fully rejoined with the Father – “with Him” in power and purpose. (Acts 10:38) Jesus was in the Father and the Father was in Him. (John 14:10) From that time on, Jesus spoke what the Father directed Him to speak, and only did what He saw His Father doing. (John 5:19-20, 12:49-50)

Now the same Holy Spirit that filled Jesus lives in His disciples. This is how we can be in Jesus and He can be in us. In addition, His teachings and commandments can abide in us through faithful study of the Bible. (John 15:7-8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) And His more specific directions for our lives can come through prayer and the leading of His Spirit. (Matthew 4:1; Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18) Just like Jesus with the Father, we become empowered to join the Lord in what we see Him doing.

Do we want to have “much fruit” rather than “nothing” in our marriage, parenting, workplace, friendships, and other endeavors? Then we need to join with Jesus in all of those things, remembering that the Lord is living inside us to direct and empower our efforts.

Every disciple is also called to serve the Lord in their communities. (Acts 1:8) If we want to see “much fruit” rather than “nothing” in our region, we must be ready to join the Lord in what He is doing around us. And there are three tremendous things the Lord is presently doing where we all need to join Him.

First, on April 27-29, the TriCities Region Will Graham Celebration will be held at Freedom Hall in Johnson City. Every one of us should be inviting our friends and family who are lost, “back-slid” or un-churched to join us in attending this powerful time of worship and evangelism.

Second, on May 18-19, the Holy Friendship Summit will be held at Celebration Church in Blountville, bringing clinical experts and Christian leaders and workers together to stand against the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our land. How important is that?!

Third, Adoration 2018 is working to bring representatives of 1,000 churches together on October 21 at the ETSU Mini Dome to worship and glorify Jesus Christ. This is a spectacular ministry that can impact both our region and college campuses across the nation! Is your church signed up? What about the churches of your family and friends?

Let’s all join with the Lord in everything we do. Together, we will become gloriously fruitful!

God bless you and God bless our community.

COMPASSION AND MERCY ARE KINGDOM ESSENTIALS

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“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:11b)

Anyone with even a limited understanding of biblical truth will agree that God is merciful and that God is compassionate.

There is a tendency, however, to see these two statements as basically meaning the same thing. James 5:11 and Romans 9:15 make it clear that they are different, although equally important, aspects of God’s loving character.

“Compassion” is best understood as sympathy and concern for another person in their affliction or misfortune, accompanied by a motivation to help. In a biblical context, it combines unconditional love for the person, awareness of the affliction, and a desire to help that is acted upon.

“Mercy” is best understood as forgiveness or leniency toward someone who is your enemy, or toward someone who has harmed you or others you care for. In a biblical context, it combines unconditional love for the person, awareness of the wrong inflicted, and forgiveness and leniency concerning that wrong.

In short, compassion is for someone who is hurting. Mercy is for someone who has hurt you.

Psalm 103:3 provides an excellent example of how this works. The Lord “forgives all your iniquity” as an expression of His loving mercy. The Lord “heals all your diseases” as an expression of His loving compassion.

Everyone needs God’s mercy. We have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory. (Romans 3:2) And everyone needs God’s compassion because in this broken world, we all face trouble we can’t solve on our own. (John 16:33)
How then do we best position ourselves to receive God’s compassion and mercy?

First, we need humble spirits and contrite hearts.

Isaiah 57:15 tells us that our high and holy God, who lives in a high and holy place, also lives on this earth with the lowly and contrite, to revive their hearts and spirits.
David embraces this truth in Psalm 51, written in the aftermath of his sins with Bathsheba. David is remorseful and repentant. (vs. 1-6) He calls upon God to do what he cannot do: create in him a clean heart and a right spirit, revived by the presence of the Holy Spirit, so he can live in the joy of his salvation and bring forth fruit for God’s Kingdom. (vs. 7-15)

Likewise, the Beatitudes preached by Jesus promise the blessings of the Kingdom to those who know they are poor and powerless in spirit, and the comfort of God to those who mourn their sins and the sins of the world, and the inheritance of the earth to the meek, and an inpouring of righteousness to those who deeply desire to become righteous. (Matthew 5:2-6)

Summarized, God’s compassion and mercy come for the humble, not the proud, and for the repentant sinner, not the self-righteous, and for the childlike, not the self-sufficient. (Luke 18:9-17)
Second, we must embrace the biblical principle that one reaps what one sows. (Galatians 6:7)

Jesus preached the merciful would receive mercy, and that if you don’t forgive others, God will not forgive you! (Matthew 5:7, 6:11-15) The parable of the merciful master and unmerciful servant should be a wake-up call to us all concerning the conditions of God’s mercy. (Matthew 18:32-35)

It is also clear this principle of reaping and sowing applies to compassion. Christians must cloth themselves in compassion. (Colossians 3:12) When Jesus described the separation of His sheep from the goats at the close of the age, the sheep were those who had acted in compassion for others. (Matthew 25:31-46) What they did for “the least of these”, they did for Him, and they were blessed for it. You don’t want to be a goat!

Although it is challenging, we must remember that our compassion and mercy are not just for the lovable and those who stir our sympathies. God calls on us to unconditionally love our enemies, and see their afflictions just as much as we see their wrongs. (Matthew 5:43-48) The Good Samaritan showed both compassion and mercy for the half-dead Jew because he loved and helped an enemy in his affliction. (Luke 10:29-37)

When faced with issues of compassion or mercy for a non-Christian, I try to recall that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they won’t see the light of the Gospel. (2 Corinthians 4:4) The lost will always act lost. Our true battle is against the affliction of evil that blinds them, and it is good that overcomes evil. (Ephesians 6:10-12; Romans 12:21)

At the same time, godly compassion and mercy must be administered with wisdom. (James 3:13-18) True love is kind and patient, but it does not rejoice at wrongdoing. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) True compassion will sometimes involve restraint and true mercy will sometimes involve discipline. Regardless of what the “politically correct” think, we are not being compassionate or merciful when we enable or approve of continued destructive behavior.

My friends, if we want positive change in our nation, revival in our churches, or simply more of God in our own lives, compassion and mercy are Kingdom essentials. Let’s stop imitating politics and the media, and start imitating Christ. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WE MUST WORSHIP IN BOTH SPIRIT AND TRUTH

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“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

The writings of John: his Gospel, his three Letters and the Revelation, were the last books of the New Testament to be written. Most theologians think they were written at least fifteen to twenty years after the letters of Paul, Acts and the other three gospels.

John’s Gospel also contains more unique stories than any of the other three gospels. In fact, the other three gospels are often called the Synoptic Gospels because so many stories are repeated among them. “Synoptic” in this context means, “taking the same view”.

Matthew is written by a former tax collector, once alienated from his Jewish people, and targets a Jewish audience with the core declaration that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.
Luke is written by a Gentile physician discipled by Paul, and targets a Gentile audience with the core declaration that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world.

Mark, the first gospel written, is Mark’s recording of Peter’s preaching, setting forth the deeds of the Son of God. Almost all of Mark is repeated in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and was clearly read by them before their gospels were written.

I lay this foundation as to New Testament chronology to undergird my belief that John read the other books of the New Testament before he wrote his contributions to scripture. He also had, prior to his writings, the opportunity to live the vast majority of his long adult life as a man filled, led and continually taught by the Holy Spirit.

The other three gospel writers focused on who Jesus was, what He taught about righteous living, and what happened when He died on the Cross and rose from the dead.

John could now, under God’s inspiration, complete the scriptural understanding we need to live the life on earth Jesus purchased for us. John’s core declaration is, in my opinion, this: the true worshippers of God will be His born-again children who worship Him in both Spirit and truth.

Let’s look briefly at four very important words.

The first word is “worship”. Worship is reverent adoration, praise, thanksgiving, humble submission and service. Worship is the Great Commandment: to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

John reveals that the people who truly love Jesus are those who learn and obey His commandments. (John 14:15, 21-23; 1 John 5:3) Love and serve one another not just with talk but in deed and truth like Jesus did. (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:18) You are sent to do the will of Jesus just like He was sent to do His Father’s will. (John 5:30, 20:21)

The second word is “truth”. All of scripture declares that God’s Word is true. John reveals that Jesus is the Word and the Truth. (John 1:1-3, 14, and 14:6) Jesus reveals who the Father really is, and also reveals who we are designed to be and how we are designed to live – walking in the same way He walked and doing the works He did. (John 10:27, 12:26, 14:12; 1 John 2:6)
When we do this, we know the Truth and the Truth sets us free. (John 8:31-32)

The third word is “Spirit”. We become the Father’s children by receiving the Holy Spirit. (John 3:3-8). The Spirit is the living water that can flow in and through us to bring life to us and others. (John 4:10-14, 6:63, 7:38)

Jesus imparts wisdom, truth and power to us through the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13-15) Without the Spirit, we accomplish nothing of lasting value. (John 15:1-8) And the Spirit is how Jesus lives in us and we live in Him. (John 15:1-8) We are invited to the same intimacy with Jesus that He has with the Father. (John 17)

The fourth word is “and”. Just as it is not enough to worship in professed belief or church attendance if you do not worship in obedience and service, so it is not enough to worship in truth if you do not worship in Spirit. And it is not enough to worship in Spirit if you do not worship in truth.

The churches in Pergamum and Thyatira accepted false teachings and tolerated sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:12-29) Christians today must embrace biblical truth and depart from the lies of humanism, pluralism, relativism, materialism and sexual hedonism.

The churches in Ephesus and Sardis lost the love and life provided by intimacy with Christ through the Holy Spirit. (Revelation 2:1-7, 3:1-6) Christians today must depart from cessationism and modernism. Seek the manifest presence and power of God.

Perhaps most tragically, the lukewarm church in Laodicea thought they were fine just the way they were. (Revelation 3:14-19) But their compromise and contentment did not come close to the true worship being sought by the Lord.

My friends, it is a dark hour, and Jesus is standing at our doors knocking. It is time to truly worship Him in both Spirit and Truth.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

LIVE IN THE JOY OF JESUS!

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“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8-11)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”(Philippians 4:4)

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” We have been singing this Christmas carol for three hundred years because of what the angel said to the shepherds on that first Christmas day. The shepherds rejoiced. The magi also rejoiced with great joy as the star led them to the long-awaited King of the Jews foretold by Daniel. (Matthew 2:10; Daniel 7:13-14) Seventy-two disciples would later rejoice as Jesus empowered them to minister healing and deliverance to people. (Luke 10:17) The women who followed Jesus reacted with great joy to the angelic news of His resurrection. (Matthew 28:10)

The apostles were filled with great joy at the ascension of Jesus and their commission to be His Holy Spirit-empowered witnesses in the world. (Luke 24:45-53) Great joy later broke out as that witness of Jewish Christians began bringing Gentiles into God’s Kingdom. (Acts 13:38, 15:3)

Forms of the words, “joy” and “rejoice”, appear over 440 times in the Bible. Long before Jesus arrived, God’s people were being told to be glad in the Lord, rejoice, and shout for joy. (Psalm 32:10-11) The apostle Paul says followers of Jesus are to “rejoice always”. Yet for far too many Christians in our nation today, joy, and most particularly abiding joy, is elusive. Why?
The most obvious answer to explain our lack of joy is the condition of the world around us. On the international front, we have radical Islamic terrorism, the nuclear saber-rattling of North Korea, and Russian cyberwarfare. On the national front, we have political and media-driven divisiveness, the brokenness of a hyper-sexualized culture, and a surge in public acts of violence that look markedly like violent computer games made real. Locally, almost every family has been wounded by addiction, abuse, pornography and/or divorce. There is no joy in any of that.
However, as is often the case, the most obvious answer is not the correct answer. Scripture makes it abundantly clear Christians are to have joy even in times of persecution and tribulation. (Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:23; 2 Corinthians 7:4, 8:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:6) Scripture also tells us how to achieve this joy.

First, we must understand what joy is. Dictionary.com defines “joy” as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying”. Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”.

Do Christians have the prospect of possessing something exceptionally desirable? We have salvation – the forgiveness of our sins and the divine promise of everlasting life! All of us should live every day in the joy of our salvation. (Psalm 20:5, 51:12; 1 Peter 1:8) Our names are recorded in heaven! (Luke 10:20)

Likewise, Christians have the right to feel they are achieving well-being and success. The Lord desires our salvation on earth, not just in heaven. (Jeremiah 29:11) He uses even our trials and suffering to produce the fruit of good character. (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2) We can rejoice that all things work for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Just beyond the joy of our salvation is our joy in the God of our salvation: joy in the Lord. (Habakkuk 3:17-18; Philippians 3:1, 4:4) Our all-good, all-powerful triune God has drawn us into an eternal intimate relationship of love. (1 John 4:7-19; John 17:20-23) And this loving God now lives inside us! (John 15:3-11; Colossians 1:27) What an incredible reason for rejoicing!
Finally, just beyond our joy in the Lord is the greatest joy of all – the joy of the Lord. Jesus promises that if we love Him by obeying His commandments, He will manifest Himself to us and pour His divine joy into us. (John 14:21, 15:11) The Lord wants to give us His love, His peace and His joy. (Romans 5:5; John 14:27; Galatians 5:22-23) Wow!

A life filled with joy does not eliminate our compassion or our calling. We will continue to stand against evil and weep with those wounded by evil even as we pray for and encourage them. (Ephesians 6:10-20; Romans 12:15) In doing so, the joy of the Lord will provide strength for both us and the ones we care for. (Nehemiah 8:10)

The joy of salvation, joy in the Lord and joy of the Lord – this is the abiding joy of Jesus where we are invited to live. When we start living there, we will become the agents of joy to the world.

Have a blessed and merry Christmas!

ONLY GOD CAN UNITE WHAT GOD DIVIDED

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And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth…. (Genesis 11:6-9)

According to a recent Gallop poll, almost 80% of today’s Americans see the United States as more divided than united. Every day we are inundated with media reports of political, racial, socio-economic, religious, sexual and environmental strife. Every person is pressed to decide on all these issues whether they will be “us” or “them”.

Divisiveness is also the norm beyond our nation’s boundaries. The European Union is unraveling. Rival Muslim sects war more against each other than they do people of other faiths. Each year brings another people group seeking to secede from its nation and form its own nation.

In the midst of all this dissension, there are voices that cry out for working together, but nothing seems to change. One reason for this may be that these cries for unity often really mean, “Come unite with what I believe and I want”. But there is another more fundamental reason.

Only God can unite what God divided.

We forget sometimes how effectively the Bible, including the Book of Genesis, reveals the truth about mankind.

In Genesis 1, mankind (both male and female) received our assignment from God to fill the earth and have dominion over it (but not each other). In Genesis 3-4, we sought independence from God, fell into sin, and entered the time when man would seek dominion over, first, woman, and then our brother. In Genesis 6, sin had matured into such total wickedness that God had to “reboot” mankind with the flood.

In Genesis 9, God gave Noah and his family the same assignment to fill the earth that had been given earlier to Adam and Eve. But in Genesis 10, Nimrod was born and became the first “mighty warrior”. He established dominion over other men with a kingdom in the land of Shinar. And in Genesis 11, with all people sharing one language and culture, Nimrod’s kingdom decided they should build a great tower to heaven, make “a name for ourselves”, and not be dispersed over the earth as God had commanded.

God knew a united mankind could accomplish anything on earth they purposed to do. He also knew that as long as mankind remained disobedient and independent from Him, their united achievements would be a disaster for all of creation. (Jeremiah 17:5-9; Romans 8:18-23) So God divided mankind through the confusion of their language, causing them to disperse across the earth into what became different tribes, nations, races and cultures.

Scripture does not explicitly say so, but the God who divided mankind also clearly knew that in their continued state of sin, these different cultures would still seek dominion over each other. But empires of a divided humanity would always be short-lived. (Matthew 12:25) And God had a plan of restoration that would begin in Genesis 12.
God covenanted to bless all of the nations of the earth through Abraham. (Genesis 12:3, 22:15-18) This covenant pointed forward through Isaac, Jacob and the Hebrew people to Jesus Christ. (Daniel 7:13-14; Galatians 3:8-9) It is only through Jesus that God could solve mankind’s two great problems.

First, as Lamb of God, Jesus enables mankind to be reconciled to God as new creations, no longer independent of God and bound in sin, and no longer living for themselves. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Second, as Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus reunites mankind with each other in the one Kingdom that will stand forever – the Kingdom of God that is being restored on the earth. (Matthew 6:10; Revelation 1:6)

All disciples of Jesus are called to be one Body, with one Lord, one Father and one faith. (Ephesians 4:1-6) We are the chosen race and holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. (1 Peter 2:9) We are united by the one Holy Spirit, who dwells in each of us and speaks all of the languages of earth and heaven. (Acts 2:4-11)

As a people called to be united in Christ, it is imperative we do two things we are not presently doing well.

First, never let any other form of identity divide us, be it political affiliation, race, or nationality, because all of those things are rubbish compared to our united relationship in Christ. (Philippians 3:4-16) And if we look, the Bible contains a “platform” that can effectively address all our nation’s problems.

Second, remember that our attitude toward non-Christians is never to be a condemning “them” and “us”. We are to love and value them like God does, praying for and blessing them, and witnessing the truth and love of Jesus so that they too may be reunited with God and with us. (Matthew 5:44-48; Romans 12:14-21; Matthew 28:18-20)

It bears repeating. Only God can unite what God divided. He needs our cooperation.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

IT TAKES GREAT FAITH TO MOVE MOUNTAINS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you, and God bless our community.