Category

Christian Writing

“THANK YOU” IS MORE THAN GOOD MANNERS

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm100:4-5)

Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday. I recognize it is not an official Christian holiday like Christmas and Easter, but we probably behave more like Christians on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year.

It is so easy to get sidetracked on those other holidays. Christmas, the day chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus, finds most of us preoccupied with shopping for gifts, decorating houses, and a guy who comes down chimneys most homes today don’t even have.

Then on Easter weekend, when we are invited to focus on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, far too many of us get distracted with chocolate bunnies, hiding eggs and finding new outfits to wear.

So praise God for Thanksgiving, a day when we manage to stay on track with the reason for the season. We gather as family and friends and give thanks for family and friends. We take time out of our busy lives to gratefully remember our other blessings – all those things we take for granted most of the year.

We “feel good and eat good” on Thanksgiving. A lot of us even take naps we don’t normally take. And it won’t be because turkey contains tryptophan, the so-called “drowsy” drug. In actuality, turkey contains no greater quantity of tryptophan than other meats we consume.

The real reason so many of us feel good and even nap on Thanksgiving is the God-given power of “an attitude of gratitude”. “Thank you” is more than good manners.

You remember how we learned as children to say, “Thank you.” Our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and older sisters constantly reminded us. “What do you say, Doug?” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”

“Thank you” was something I first learned to say simply because I was supposed to say it. I appreciate that lesson in manners and wish more children today were taught it. But I appreciate even more the lessons I have since learned about thanksgiving from scripture verses like Psalm 100, Psalm 136, and Philippians 4:4-7. These scriptures help us see the four-step pattern of gratitude’s power.

First step: We remember good things that have happened in our lives – blessings we received and challenges that were met. This frees us from being completely stuck in our present problems and worries.

Second step: We thank God for those good things that have happened. In remembering all good things come from God, we turn our attention on Him, give Him the credit He deserves and clothe ourselves in an attitude of humility and dependence. Properly dressed, we can now enter His gates.

Third step: We remember God provided those good things because God is always good and He loves us with a perfect, never-ending love. This turns our focus from the good things of the past to the good God of our present and future – a God worthy of our continued praise and trust. We enter His courts.

Fourth step: Strengthened in our hope, we can begin to taste a divine peace and joy that comes in spite of our difficult circumstances. We can boldly and reverently come before God’s throne, presenting our present burdens to Him with thanksgiving because we know we are still the sheep of His pasture. The Good Shepherd of yesterday, when we received past blessings and met past challenges, is the same Good Shepherd today, tomorrow and forever.

Thanksgiving triggers four simple steps that cover a vast amount of territory because they take us from darkness to light. They take us from focusing on our self and our problems to focusing on God. Powerful!

The apostle Paul, who knew a great deal about both blessings and hardships, said this: “Be thankful…. Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:15-17)

What Paul was saying, I believe, is that every day should be a thanksgiving day for all of us. In a way, that will be good for me because it gives me 365 favorite holidays each year. On a deeper and more serious and sacred note, that will be good for all of us and all of those we love because saying “thank you” to God is more than good manners. Much more.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

LET’S STOP SCRATCHING AND START HEALING OUR “ITCHING EARS”

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is his last letter. He had, by his own words, fought the good fight and finished the race. (2 Timothy 4:7) On the eve of his departure to be with Christ, Paul passes the baton to his young protégé in ministry with some final instructions.

Paul warned Timothy (and us) in this letter that in the days to come, two great challenges would arise within the Church.

First, there would be people professing Christianity who are lovers of self, money and pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) And we have experienced examples of that throughout history. Today’s sex and greed scandals in the Protestant church and the still-not-fully-revealed pedophilia/cover-up scandal in the Roman Catholic Church are just the latest examples.

Second, Paul said the time would come when Christians would turn away from the sound teaching of truth to scratch their “itching ears” with teachings that, while false, affirm their own passions, preferences and life styles. My friends, that day has clearly arrived!

It has long been said that people hear what they want to hear. In 2009, the American Psychological Association published research revealing people were twice (and often three times) as likely to select information that supported their own point of view rather than consider information that would support an opposing idea.

The biblical description of this phenomenon was provided long before 2009 by Jesus in speaking about His own Jewish people:
“For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:15)

What was a serious problem for God’s people then is a serious problem for God’s people now, and it applies to both our lives within the Church and our lives in the world.

As to the world, where all Christians are ambassadors for Christ, look at the performance of our politicians and media during the Kavenaugh hearings, and how many Christians zealously flocked to one side or the other based on our own political views. Whether I switched from Fox News to CNN, or switched talking from one neighbor to another, it was as if I was living in two completely different worlds at the same time.

We are turning on the news outlets that cater to our point of view. At the same time, those news outlets, whose owners and reporters also have “itching ears”, are crafting both what they report and how they report it to harmonize with our existing point of view. This secures their viewing base and ratings, which makes them their money.

In the same fashion, the speeches and ads of our politicians are crafted, usually with half-truths, to appeal to the things we presently favor or fear the most. They know that will increase the likelihood we will not even listen to the other side.

To my knowledge, no one is simply reporting “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.

Within the Church, the most blatant example of “itching ears” is the liberal theology that no longer embraces the sovereign right of God, rather than man, to reveal through scripture what is good and what is evil. (2 Timothy 3:16; Genesis 3) I have written several articles on this.

But even in the Bible-believing Church, the “itching ears” problem is rampant.

We all want to hear about grace, unconditional love and everlasting life. We eagerly embrace theological positions that are in harmony with our social and political positions just like we embrace worship styles that offer our kind of music. And we choose our churches and preachers accordingly.

How many churches out there are emphasizing, “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Jesus?” (Luke 9:23) How many are emphasizing “Love your enemies in truth and deed by treating them the way you want to be treated”? (1 John 3:18; Matthew 7:12) How many are in love holding people accountable when they fail to do these things? (Galatians 6:1-2; Hebrews 10:24-27)
The answer is “not many” because that doesn’t scratch “itching ears” and keep people in the pews.

My friends, let’s stop scratching our itching ears and let God heal them. Jesus is the Truth, and we need to zealously pursue truth. It is the truth, and not what we “want” to hear, that will set us free. (John 8:32)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

O, COME LET US ADORE HIM

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“O, come let us adore Him, O, come let us adore Him, O, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” [“O, Come All Ye Faithful”, English translation by Frederick Oakley (1841)]

We normally refrain from singing “O, come let us adore Him” until we get close to our annual Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus. But God has birthed something in our greater Tri-Cities region that deserves celebration now. God has birthed Adoration 2018.

In my 24 years of full-time Christian ministry, I have never seen a ministry more exciting or important than Adoration. It started with Adoration 2017, and many of you will remember that story.

The Lord gave a profoundly simple “only God can do this” vision to Thomas Cook, a recent ETSU graduate. Bring 1,000 churches together in unity on the ETSU campus to worship and pray.
By the hand of God, that vision blossomed into a campus grassroots movement spearheaded by a terrific team of young faith-filled adults and supported by both university leadership and several area spiritual leaders. Jesus Christ was glorified in an extraordinary worship service on October 1, 2017 in the ETSU MiniDome, with 265 churches represented and over 2,000 people praying and worshiping together.

As Paul Harvey would say, however, that is not the end of the story. Now we need to hear “the rest of the story”.

On October 2, 2017, Thomas Cook and these other young Christians could easily have said, “Great result!” “More churches coming together than other ministries have achieved, on or off campus”. “It’s time to pat ourselves on the back and get on with our lives.” But they didn’t say that.

Instead, these remarkable young Christians looked at each other and said, “God asked for 1,000 churches, not just 265.” And so Adoration 2018 began.

The purpose of this article is to urge each and all of you to support Adoration 2018 with your prayers and both your personal and congregational participation. Please let me tell you why.
As practicing Christians, we have yearned to see the Lord honored again on our college and university campuses. God is doing that with Adoration, and we need to join God in what He is doing. (John 5:19) With our active support, Adoration could become the catalyst for movements of God at other campuses across the nation.

We have yearned to see a new generation of Christian leaders rise up in America. God is doing that with Adoration. Their leadership team is almost entirely made up of college students and very recent college graduates. More young leaders are being recruited and trained every month. But this new generation of leaders will be hard-pressed to sustain their efforts if our generations do not step up and come alongside them. (Malachi 4:6)

We have yearned to see our region’s churches unify around common goals and show the world how we can stand and bear fruit together. God is doing that through Adoration by seeking to bring 1,000 churches together for worship and by networking church efforts for Adoration’s outreach ministry, Restore Appalachia.

We have yearned to see our area churches reach out beyond sanctuary walls to minister to the needs of our communities. God is doing that through Restore Appalachia: an effort to educate, exhort and enable churches to effectively address the horrible opioid epidemic in our land.

We have yearned in these increasingly post-modern times to see the Jesus of scripture lifted up. God is doing that through Adoration with a foremost focus on glorifying Christ and a faith statement that is biblically sound. When a voice like that rises up in America, we must lift up our voices in “Amen!”

Please go to the Adoration website: adorationlife.com, for more information. This year’s unity worship service is scheduled at the ETSU MiniDome for 6 PM, Sunday, October 21. Check on the website to see if your congregation has signed up to have a representative there. If that has not yet happened, do all you can to make it happen.

In addition to a representative of your church, plan personally to come and worship on October 21. Bring family and friends. We want to at least double our attendance and gather 4,000 to glorify the Lord.

Please use your Facebook and other social media to help us get the word out. Despite newspaper stories, radio coverage and thousands of phone calls, there are still many churches and people that do not know about Adoration, and everyone needs to know!

Consider making a financial contribution to Adoration 2018 on their website. These young people are all generously volunteering their time, but they don’t have the personal finances to fund the costs.

Finally, please keep Adoration and their team in continuing prayer. They are doing things that can truly advance the Kingdom of God, so they are under relentless attack from the enemy. Our prayers can bring God’s protection and blessings to them.

In the end, the song says it best. O come, all ye faithful! Come let us adore Him!

God bless you, and God bless our community.

LIVING WATER HAS BEEN DISCOVERED ON EARTH!

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“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

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

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

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“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

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“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

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“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

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“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

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“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.