Category

Christian Writing

LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you, and God bless our community.

I HAVE A VISION OF REVIVAL

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WE ARE THE STEWARDS OF GOD’S EARTH

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:28)

Genesis 1:28 speaks of God blessing a couple, male and female, and few if any couples I know have been blessed as much or as often as Christie and me. Our latest blessing has been a trip in May with our dearest friends, Sparky and Gail Dyson, to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Words, smart phone photos and videos are all unable to adequately capture the majestic beauty of what we saw: rich meadows bordered by towering mountain cliffs like El Capitan and Half Dome; giant sequoia trees over 2,000 years old, including the General Sherman Tree – the largest living organism on earth; spectacular waterfalls connected to sparkling river rapids; wildflowers of every color imaginable; and even on the drives to and from the parks, vista after vista after vista.

A very important part of our blessing was the education we received while experiencing all this beauty. In addition to the informative films offered at the parks, we spent our evenings watching the Ken Burns documentary series that Sparky brought along – “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”. We learned about people like Galen Clark and John Muir who helped “discover” these beautiful places and became the pioneers of conservation efforts to protect them from exploitation and destruction, and people in government like Stephen Mather, Horace Albright and President Theodore Roosevelt, who caused those protections to become reality through development of the first national park system in the world. Their combined efforts kept those sequoia trees from being cut down and places like Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park from becoming, in their own words, “another Niagara Falls”.

As I experienced and learned, my heart was deeply moved by a recognition that far too many Christians in our nation today has made the environment, first and foremost, a political issue, when in fact, it is first and foremost a spiritual issue.

God, who is good, created the heavens, the earth, and all things on earth (Psalm 34:8; Genesis 1). The good Creator rightly called His creation both “good” and “very good” (Genesis 1:10, 31; 1 Timothy 4:4).

The earth and all that is in it still belong to God as Creator (Psalm 89:11). In its wonderous, intricate beauty and diversity, His creation reveals to us His power, His glory and His divine nature (Psalm 19:1-2; Romans 1:19-20)

Mankind was part of God’s creation on earth. We were created in God’s image and likeness because God wants children and family (Luke 3:38; John 1:12-13, 3: 3-6; Romans 8:29). And as part of this plan to have family, God assigned mankind from the beginning a family responsibility over what He created. Fill, subdue and rule the earth and all the living things, plant and animal, upon it (Genesis 1:26-30; see also Psalm 8:3-8, 115:16).

Although some might try to argue from this biblical language that God simply deeded the earth over to us to do whatever we wanted, it is abundantly clear that our authority remains under His authority and that we are responsible to God for how we exercise it. The companion revelation of Genesis 2 illustrates this in showing how the Lord gave mankind a kickstart to our assignment – the Garden of Eden. He then commanded us to “abad” (work, cultivate) the land and “shamar” (keep, guard and protect) it (Genesis 2:15). When we moved out from under God’s authority in sin, seeking to “do our own thing”, we lost both our rights to the Garden and our ability to effectively steward the rest of the earth (Genesis 3:17-24).

The one-word mantras of unredeemed mankind are “me”, “mine” and “now”: self-centered and short-sighted attitudes that inevitably lead, among other things, to irresponsibility in how we steward the earth. [In his excellent book, “Culture Shock”, Chip Ingram provides an equally descriptive list: greed, ignorance and carelessness (page 190).] As a result, we cut down sequoia trees, litter highways, slaughter buffalo herds, pollute waterways, lie about Volkswagen exhaust emissions, and build souvenir stands in front of natural wonders.

Such irresponsibility is both a sin against God and a trespass against future generations. Creation itself is “groaning” because it is “subjected to futility” and in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:19-22).

I am not trying to argue here that scripture prohibits all pipelines or all use of carbon-based fuels. The Bible does declare, however, that God made a good creation as a blessing to mankind and a revelation of His glory and character, and that His children should be doing their best to keep it that way.

God bless you, and God bless our communities.

BE WITH JESUS, BE LIKE JESUS, BE FOR JESUS

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith….” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

I love to write, and in the twenty-eight years since I became a disciple of Jesus Christ, I have written many things: sermons, bible lessons, stories, skits, newspaper articles (since 2006) and even one poem and one book.

The best thing I ever wrote may have been, of all things, a bumper sticker. To my regret, I never actually had anyone make a batch of those bumper stickers, but I did make it the theme of one of my first articles for the Kingsport Times-News. And thirteen years later, I would like to share those thoughts again because I believe they provide the focus our Christian community needs in these troubled times.

We live in an age of bumper stickers, flash ads and text messaging: one-liners and catchy slogans that compensate for shortening attention spans. They are effective, much as mottos in my past like “Be prepared” (Boy Scouts) and “Semper fidelis” (U.S. Marines). It is helpful to have a phrase that is easy to remember and yet captures the essence of what you wish to communicate.
For that reason, I propose a bumper sticker for Christian discipleship: “Be with Jesus. Be like Jesus. Be for Jesus.”

To “Be with Jesus” recognizes His promise that He is with us always. (Matthew 28:20) Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus abides in us. (John 14:23) We can walk through life with Him just like Enoch walked (Genesis 5:22; Micah 6:8) It is the daily intimate relationship with Jesus that caused Paul to cry out with joy: “Christ lives in me!” (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:25-27)
To “Be like Jesus” is to recognize God’s plan to restore the image of God in us that has been broken by sin. We can’t change ourselves, but the Spirit of God will transform us into the likeness of Jesus one step at a time, “from glory to glory”. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) The fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 are the character of Christ being formed in us – what David called a clean heart and a steadfast spirit. (Psalm 51:10)

To “Be for Jesus” is to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) It is to be sent by Jesus as Jesus was sent by the Father (John 20:21), to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8), make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), “wash feet” as servants to all (John 13:14-15; Matthew 25:31-46), and even do what Jesus called “greater things than these” – the signs and wonders He did on earth. (John 14:12) Through us, His Kingdom on earth spreads like leaven in the loaf and grows from small to great. (Matthew 13:31-33; Ephesians 3:20-21)

It is crucial that we understand how the three prongs of this Christian bumper sticker are interwoven. At the risk of offending, let me suggest that some in the mainline tradition try to be like Jesus, seeing Him as a great teacher and model for servant living, but they struggle with the ideas of being with Him (too supernatural) or for Him (too theologically exclusive and politically incorrect). Some in the evangelical tradition are passionately for Jesus, but they struggle with the ideas of His manifest presence in them (too charismatic) and becoming like Him (too contrary to their identity as “sinners saved by grace”). Some in the charismatic and Pentecostal traditions fervently seek God’s presence and the gifts of His Spirit, but they may neglect developing the Lord’s character (being like Jesus) and His call to focus more on the needs of others than one’s personal experiences (being for Jesus).

There is a lot we can teach each other, with one’s strength bolstering another’s weakness. The more we are with Jesus, the more like Him we become. The more like Him we are, the more effective we are in serving Him. The more effectively we serve Him, the more we find ourselves with Him. And so we grow, and so it goes, until one day as the Lord has promised, our service will be complete because His Kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven. We will see Him as He really is because we will be just like Him, and we will be with Him forever! (1 John 3:1-2)
Break out the bumper stickers! [And here in 2019 I may finally get some made.] Be with Jesus! Be like Jesus! Be for Jesus!

God bless you, and God bless our community.

GOD ALMIGHTY LIVES IN HIS CHILDREN

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you…. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you….

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:15-17, 19-20, 23)

Christians are called to be not just conquerors, but “more than conquerors”. (Romans 8:37). Spiritual forces of evil should not prevail against us because our Lord disarmed them and has all authority over them. (Matthew 16:18-19, 28:18-20; Colossians 2:15) All things are possible for us who believe because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. (Mark 9:23; 1 John 4:4) God is able to do abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine through His power at work within us. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

All of this is the Word of God. But for all or almost all of us, it is not the reality of our day-to-day lives as Christians. My friends, something is wrong. And it is not the Word of God that is wrong. It is our lack of knowledge and faith in the Word.

God declared, in Old Testament times, that His people were being exiled and destroyed for lack of knowledge. (Isaiah 5:13; Hosea 4:6) From the time of the Book of Hebrews to today, most of us under the New Covenant remain “unskilled” and ineffective because we are “dull of hearing” and immature. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

God’s divine power has already granted to us all the things we need for glorious and godly living. (2 Peter 1:3-4) “All the things” means many “things”. However, there is only room in this column for me to list the one “thing” I believe is most important and most ignored. God Almighty lives in His children! (1 Corinthians 3:16)

All Bible-believing Christians know sin separates us from God. (Genesis 3; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 5:12-14) Because God is the only source of everlasting life, the “wages” of separation include death. (Romans 6:23) To be saved from death and restored to everlasting life, we must end separation by being reconciled back to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Reconciliation required that the sin barrier be removed by the blood of Jesus, and it was. (1 John 2:2) It also requires that we choose to return to relationship with God by submitting ourselves in faith to Jesus as Savior and Lord. (Romans 10:8-13)

Here, in God’s radical concept of reconciliation, is where it really gets exciting.

When we come to our senses like the prodigal son and return to God through Jesus, the heavenly Father runs to embrace and kiss us by sending His Holy Spirit to live in us. (Luke 11:13, 15:11-24; Mark 1:8; Acts 2:38) By receiving the Holy Spirit, we are “born again”, “born of the Spirit”, and “born of God”, becoming God’s children. (John 1:12-13, 3:3-8)

Being a child of God is obviously awesome! But we must understand it is also the total opposite of being children or offspring of any earthly creature, including mankind.

For every earthly creature, the offspring begins life connected to the “parent” and then matures over time to become an adult who is separated from and independent of the parent.

But for children of God, our new birth starts by ending separation, and maturity comes not by increasing independence but through ever-increasing intimacy and trusting obedience.

I urge everyone to read John 14-17 and then read it again, and again. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one. Through the Holy Spirit, we are being brought into that oneness, both in identity and purpose.

Our mind, body and soul are works in progress, but our spirit and the Holy Spirit have already become one. (1 Corinthians 6:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:23) This “umbilical cord” will never be cut. And the more we know, trust and obey God’s Word, the more the Father and the Son will also make their home in us and manifest through us. (John 14:21, 23)

The Holy Spirit is not just “the Spirit of our adoption”. (Romans 8:15) He is the “Spirit of the Lord”, the “Spirit of Christ”, the “Spirit of our Father”, and the “Spirit of glory”. (Genesis 1:2; Philippians 1:19; Matthew 10:20; 1 Peter 4:14) Through Him – God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity – God Almighty lives in His children.

As we come to truly know this, the scriptures at the beginning of this column will finally make sense and become reality in our lives.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WE ARE SACRIFICING OUR CHILDREN TO IDOLS!

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

“… [T]here they sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing. What an incredible evil …!” (Jeremiah 32:35 NLT)

Please prayerfully consider these grave inconsistencies.

Over 11 % of all babies in America are born medically premature. This includes James Gill, Amilla Taylor and Lyla Stensrud, all successfully born very prematurely at 21 weeks. Praise God for the resiliency of life and the progress of medical science!

Yet on January 22, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and others celebrated passage of a law authorizing the killing of perfectly healthy unborn children at full term (37 weeks) or beyond.
We are all sickened by assaults on pregnant women that harm or kill their unborn children. 38 states, plus the federal government, have criminal laws addressing “fetal homicide” or “unborn victims of violence”. But when abortion is legal, the killing of that same unborn victim by the mother and her doctor is called “reproductive rights”.

The greatest of many tragedies created by our national opioid addiction crisis is the birth every 15 minutes of a child with “neonatal abstinence syndrome” (NAS): babies addicted in the womb by their mother’s substance abuse during pregnancy. But when abortion is legal, that same mother is fully authorized to kill that same unborn baby.

Every Christian can read in Psalm 139 how God forms each baby in their mother’s womb. This correlates perfectly with the science of eugenics, where we learn how each human “zygote” (fertilized egg) is a marvelously unique and complex combination of the DNA of the mother and father.

Note: This science of eugenics clearly establishes the unborn child is from the very outset a different person than the mother, not an extension of the mother’s body.

Every Christian can also read how the unborn child, John the Baptist, at about 24 weeks, leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when he heard the voice of Mary, the pregnant mother of Jesus. (Luke 1:41-44) Here too, modern science has verified that unborn children feel pain at well less than 24 weeks. Many prenatal care experts recommend soft belly stroking and music at that age or earlier because of the positive response the unborn child can have to such stimuli.

Web.md.com is one of several websites where you can see a slide show of week-by-week fetal development from conception to birth. This is obviously life, and the slides quickly establish, just like the science of eugenics, that this is at all times human life.

In fact, when you look closely, abortion advocates don’t really justify their position by arguing this isn’t human life. They simply argue there are things more important than that life.
In Old Testament times, ungodly people did “incredible evil” by sacrificing their children to the idol Molech. Likewise today, we sacrifice our children to three all-too-familiar modern idols we deem more important than those children.

The first idol is “Personal Convenience”. We didn’t want this child. It’s not the right time for me. I can’t afford a child right now. It will interfere with my plans, my education or career.

But you cannot simply “return” an unborn child “to sender”.

The second idol is “Sexual License”. We want to have sex whenever we want in any way we want, without consequences.

But you cannot throw an unborn child’s life away in the same manner you dispose of a used condom.

The third idol is “Feminism”. There have been several valid issues addressed by the feminist movement. Women are made in the image and likeness of God, and are invited along with men to be joint heirs with Christ. (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28-29) All women should, among other things, be free from sexual harassment or abuse, and have equal opportunity in the voting booth and workplace.

But the so-called “right to choose” to kill your unborn child is not freedom. It is a degradation of the maternal instinct that no man has and that makes all women special.
Men share in the responsibility. The mother’s health is important. There is grace for those who have been involved in abortion but repent. There are occasional extraordinary cases that require special consideration.

But overall, the only godly answer to an unwanted pregnancy is for the mother to carry the child to birth, with help from the father, their families, the Church and/or the government, and then place the child with one of the many loving couples out there who want to adopt. We must choose a gift of life rather than a sacrifice of children.

God bless you all, God bless our community, and God bless the children.

GOD’S WORD ADDRESSES THE ISSUES OF HOMOSEXUALITY

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
“…God is love….” (1 John 4:8, 16)

The moral values of a person are shaped from childhood on by the culture in which they live. The moral values of a Christian, however, are to be shaped by the Bible: the Spirit-inspired written Word of the one true God who created us, loves us, and sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from our sins. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Psalms 1 and 119; John 3:16) Christian parents are supposed to raise our children accordingly. (Proverbs 22:6; Matthew 19:13-15)

The morality of homosexuality has, for millennia, been addressed by different cultures in different ways, with some cultures openly embracing its practice and others harshly condemning it. We have, in present times, diversified our descriptions: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). Embracing these practices has, in the United States, become the cultural and political norm. So, what does God say?

God’s first and most important revelation is that He loves both the people who struggle with but are drawn to homosexuality and those who enthusiastically practice it. They are made in God’s image and likeness, but have brokenness, just like the rest of us. They have many diverse abilities, talents and gifts. God values them very much, and Christ died for all their sins just as He died for mine. (1 John 2:2)

God’s second most important revelation is that Christians are to love all the people He loves, including people who practice homosexuality. (Matthew 5:48) Without love, we are nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2) And He requires this love be in truth and deed, not just talk. (1 John 3:18)

Historically, the Church’s treatment of people who struggle with or practice homosexuality has been unloving. Rejection, oppression, and degradation will drive people away from Jesus, not to Him. Eventually, like African-Americans and other persecuted minorities, they discover there is power in unity and become the “us” that stands against “them”. It is very possible the Church’s historic failure to love is now reaping what we sowed. (Galatians 6:7)

God’s third revelation is that most of the sexual sin in our nation has nothing to do with homosexuality. Adultery, pornography and promiscuity are rampant in America and in the Church, and have produced a hyper-sexualized culture where chastity is the sexual orientation deemed most abnormal. (Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:28; Hebrews 13:4) Woe to us as hypocrites when we point the finger of judgment at people committing a sexual sin that does not tempt us while making no true effort to remove these “logs in our own eyes”. (Matthew 7:5, 23:13-30)

God’s fourth revelation is that the desire or temptation to practice homosexuality is not, in and of itself, sin. (James 1:13-15) There are many reasons why such desires might develop: sexual, physical or emotional abuse, particularly as a child; dysfunctional parenting; peer abuse because you didn’t fit the cultural expectation of “masculine” or “feminine”; or the simple urges of amoral lust. And while we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, we are also all imperfect when we come into this broken world. (Psalms 51:5, 139:14) Scripture recognizes that some people are “born as eunuchs”: without the typical heterosexual drive and, thereby, for a life of chastity. (Matthew 19:12)

God’s fifth revelation is that the practice of homosexuality is sin, and therefore, not God’s plan for anyone’s life. (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:24, 19:4-13; Matthew 19:4-5; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:21-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Several church denominations have now declared the practice of homosexuality to be morally acceptable. But Christians don’t get to make the rules. We just do our best to learn and follow them. (Romans 14:21) God’s Word reveals the practice of homosexuality to be wrong-doing, and true love does not rejoice at or give approval to wrong-doing. (1 Corinthians 13:6; Romans 1:32)
The individual tragedy in all this is how homosexuality can hold a person in bondage, particularly in our hyper-sexualized culture. But Jesus came to set the captives free. (Luke 4:18)
The cultural tragedy is how the promotion of homosexuality and the removal of God’s plan for marriage are scriptural signs a culture is moving deeply into darkness and toward destruction. (Genesis 19:1-25; Romans 1:18-32)

My brothers and sisters, what does that mean for a Christian community that joins in what the culture is doing?

The upcoming Tri-Pride Festival in Kingsport and the present turmoil in the United Methodist denomination are just the latest evidence that our Christian community has come to the Valley of Decision. (Joel 3:14) I have never in my life tried so hard to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15) Will you prayerfully and lovingly follow God’s Word, or follow the world? (1 John 2:15-17)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

THE CHURCH NEEDS TO GROW UP!

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“And [Jesus] answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (Mark 9:19; see also Matthew 17:17 and Luke 9:41)

Jesus is loving, kind and patient. We need, therefore, to really pay attention when He expresses His exasperation with His disciples, particularly when it is reported in three of the Gospels.

Jesus sent His twelve disciples out with the authority to both proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God. (Luke 9:1-2; Mark 6:7-13) But after initial success, they came to a time of failure. The people to whom they were witnessing had no belief in the Kingdom they proclaimed because there was no demonstration of Kingdom power – no difference between what the crowd saw in the disciples and what they saw in themselves.

This is not the only time Jesus expressed exasperation with His disciples. (Matthew 16:8-12; John 14:9) It is, however, a time when Jesus explains two reasons for His exasperation. They had little faith, and they forgot to pray. (Matthew 17:20; Mark 9:29)

My friends, if Jesus was exasperated with His disciples then, just imagine how exasperated He must be with us.

There were twelve of them, plus some very faithful women, and then 120 of them at Pentecost. (Acts 1:15) They changed the world. We have over 200 million professing Christians in the United States and, for the most part, the world is changing us.

Just to give a few examples, national studies by Pew Research Center and Barna Group indicate most of our young people are leaving the Church. Only a small percentage of younger people and less than a third of all Christians believe in absolute moral truth. And pornography use is epidemic in the Church at all ages, with both genders, and among pastors and priests.

The Church needs to grow up! We need to finish our milk (mostly formula) and begin feasting on solid food. (Hebrews 5:11-6:3) Here are some basic steps we can take [and please read the scriptures]:

First, we must learn to love unconditionally. (1 John 4:7-21) If we don’t have love, we are nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2) We must love God, love each other, love our “Good Samaritan” neighbor and love our enemies. And it must be love in truth and deed, not just talk. (1 John 3:18)

Second, we must have faith not just in God, but in the Bible as God’s written word. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Matthew 5:17-19, 28:20) Faith means becoming hearers, studiers and doers of God’s word. (Psalm 1 and 119; James 1:22-25). Remember – if the Bible doesn’t have authority over your life, Jesus doesn’t have authority over your life. (Matthew 7:21-27; John 14:21) Christians who abandon scriptural authority at the behest of humanism and political correctness are taking another bite from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 3:1-19)

In pursing this second principle, never neglect the first principle. Faith works through love. (Galatians 5:6) The truth must be spoken in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

Third, we must imitate our King, who washed His disciples’ feet, and emphasize humble service, not self. (Matthew 16:24; John 13:3-17) All Christians are called, gifted and sent out to bear fruit for His Kingdom. (John 15:5-8, 20:21; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-16) If you want to be first, be last and servant to all. (Mark 9:35)

Fourth, stop putting your trust in “chariots and horses”, that is, in politics or wealth. (Psalm 20:7-8; Luke 12:15-21) Instead, seek the Kingdom and treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-33) Only God can heal our land, and He will do so if we who are called by His name humble ourselves, turn from “OUR” wicked ways, and pray. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

I believe if we prayed together, God could even lead us – white, black, Hispanic and Asian – to vote together and bring sanity to our government. (Mark 9:23, 10:27)

This leads to the fifth principle. The average Christian prays (talks with God) about five minutes per day, less than 1% of the time we spend looking at phone, computer and television screens. If, as God’s house of prayer, we begin to faithfully and unceasingly pray God’s will, we will see incredible results. (Mark 11:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; John 14:12-14; 1 John 5:14-15)

Finally, we all must be filled with and led by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4-8; Romans 8:14; Ephesians 5:18) Read the Book of Acts. Read the four Bible chapters most of the Church is ignoring: John 14-17. When you are finished, read them again, and again, and believe.

Too many Christians are just waiting for God when, in reality, God is waiting for us to grow up and become what these many scriptures call us to be. (2 Peter 3:12) Hasn’t He waited long enough?

God bless you, and God bless our community.

CHRISTMAS: THE BIRTHDAY OF THE FIRSTBORN

By | Christian Writing | No Comments

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers [and sisters].” (Romans 8:29)

Over the years, I have unfolded and heard other people unfold the Christmas story in many ways. The stable and manger, the angels and shepherds, the Persian magi and the working-class Jewish couple, the many prophecies fulfilled: for us as for Mary, there is so much to treasure and ponder in our hearts. (Luke 2:19)

However, I have never before now felt so led to focus on the awesome scriptural revelation that Jesus was the “firstborn”.

Luke reminds us that Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son. This is an important reinforcement of the essential truth that Mary was still a virgin. (Luke 1:26-38; Isaiah 7:14) She had not yet had other children and she had not yet known a man sexually. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Liberal Christian theologians discount this biblical revelation because it is supernatural, contrary to science, and in their opinion, unnecessary to the story. As to the supernatural element, I will for the sake of space urge all of you to read the terrific new book by Lee Strobel, “The Case for Miracles”. As to the issue of necessity, I urge you to remember that the Lamb of God, like the Old Testament lamb of Passover, had to be unblemished. (Exodus 12:5; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:17-19)

Biblical theologians call it the doctrine of atonement. If you don’t believe it, you don’t really understand Jesus. It is best summarized in scripture at Romans 5 and Hebrews 9. All mankind since Adam and Eve have sinned. Sin separates us from God, the source of life, and therefore leads to death. God loves us and wants to save us, but just as sin could not be ignored or allowed to remain in the Garden of Eden, sin cannot be ignored or allowed into heaven. (Genesis 3:22-24; Revelation 21:4, 8) Sin must be dealt with and paid for by someone without sin, and no man born of man qualified. But “God so loved the world ….”

John 3:16 leads us to the equally important revelation that Jesus was not just His mother’s firstborn. He was also His Father’s firstborn. The collaborating testimonies of Colossians 1:15-20 and John 1:1-18 reveal that in the beginning, long before the baby Jesus laid in the manger, He was with God, and He was God, and the firstborn of creation through whom all things were created.

There is great mystery here. Is the Son of God “begotten” when God speaks the Word that brings creation into existence? Do we say God is love because the Father, Son and Spirit have loved each other even before the beginning of creation? For now, we know many things only in part. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

But we do know from these scriptures that all things were created through the Father’s firstborn, and that when creation was broken, the Father’s firstborn was sent into creation to reconcile all things back to God and “make all things new”. (Revelation 21:5; Philippians 2:5-11)

This leads us to our third important revelation. After the birth of Jesus as her firstborn, Mary bore several other children, both sons and daughters. (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3) And the reason the heavenly Father sent Christ to earth as His firstborn was so the Father could have more children to be brothers and sisters of Jesus for all eternity! (John 1:12, 3:3-8; Romans 8:29)

Please pause in amazement with me to see how the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb correlates to the way in which followers of Jesus are born of God. Gabriel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. (Luke 1:35) Jesus later told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:8)
Just as Jesus arrived on Christmas as both God and man, something totally new to creation, so we also truly become “new creations”. (2 Corinthians 5:17) We are still works in progress but already born again as God’s children because God now lives in us! (John 14:23, 17:22-23) This is not religion. This is reality.

When you look in the manger this year, I invite you to first see the baby Jesus: the firstborn. But then look deeper and see yourself. See your loved ones. See all of those who are not yet in the manger, and then go lovingly share the truth of Christmas with them.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

“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.