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KNOW WHAT KIND OF SPIRIT YOU HAVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WE ALL NEED OUR OWN EYES EXAMINED

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Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

 

Every American Christian should reflect on the events surrounding the January 6 march on our Capitol from a biblical perspective, but it will be beneficial to first examine them from a constitutional perspective.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is remarkable for both its brevity and its breadth.  In 45 words, this foundational law of our nation sets forth six precious rights: (1) the right to be protected from state-imposed religion; (2) the right to freely exercise your religious faith; (3) freedom of speech; (4) freedom of the press; (5) the right to peaceably assemble; and (6) the right to have our government address our grievances.

Rights #5 and #6 are the two most obviously related to January 6.  Whether we speak of January 6 or the earlier Spring riots triggered by the killing of George Floyd, our constitutional right is to assemble “peaceably”, not with trespass, vandalism, and violence.  Answers to our grievances must be sought only through new laws or judicial resolution based on existing law.

Right #3 is a rose with thorns. It allows anyone to freely express unpopular opinions, or treat their opinions like facts, or speak half-truths as if they are whole truths. In short, free speech creates the risk of deceptive or offensive speech. When we each have access through social media to a potential audience of millions, this can prick lots of people. (James 3:3-10)

Right #4 protects us from having our independent news media replaced by government propaganda: what Oxford Dictionaries calls “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

How is our nation handling these rights today? First, we no longer have a free press. We have a liberal news media controlled by the “money” that supports liberal politicians, and a conservative news media controlled by the “money” that supports conservative politicians. In pursuit of ratings, profits, and their respective agendas, both sides focus on propaganda more than news.

As our latest example, liberal propaganda has called the events of January 6 domestic terrorism, but the Spring riots an understandable expression of justified anger, and even suggested without any credible evidence that the Spring violence was primarily by people from the far right. Conservative propaganda has done the absolute reverse.

Without a free press that reports unbiased, unfiltered news, we have nothing by which we can check the credibility of what politicians, pundits, and others “freely speak” in either broadcast or social media. Ever-growing distrust of the press and/or the government causes many of us to look elsewhere for answers, and unfortunately, our ears itch to hear what we want to hear even when it may not be what we need to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Satan is the father of lies and the serpent who deceives. (2 Corinthians 11:2-3; John 8:44) A serpent has a forked tongue, and both forks are lies.

The evil one first determines which way you are leaning. Then he pushes you, but he never pushes against the way you are leaning.  There would be too much resistance. Instead, he pushes you in the direction you are already leaning, whether it be the left or right, because that is how he most easily makes you lose your balance and stumble or fall.  As he pushes the left to the left and the right to the right, our nation becomes more divided and unstable.  This enemy knows a divided nation cannot stand. (Mark 3:24-25)

The only way Christians can avoid losing their balance is to stand on the Rock – Jesus Christ – with both feet and all ten toes. (Matthew 7:24-27, 16:18; Psalm 18:2) And the only way we can be sure we are standing on the Rock is to stop concentrating on what others are doing and honestly evaluate our own hearts, actions, and words from Jesus’s perspective. (Psalm 139:23-24)

President Trump is, of course, at the center of much of this controversy. For both pro-Trump and anti-Trump Christians who want to understand his election in 2016 and defeat in 2020, I suggest an in-depth study of Jehu and an in-depth study of King Saul.

But the most important need now is for all of us to have our own eyes examined.

If your heart, actions, or words are not unconditionally loving, you have a log in your eye. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8) If they support strife, deceit, divisiveness, fear, covetousness, pride, insults, sexual immorality, or the murder of children, you have a log in your eye. (Romans 1:29-32; Galatians 5:19-21)

We need to remove the logs.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

CHRISTMAS WAS THE FIRST INCARNATION

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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made….  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-3, 14)

 

There are two words foundational to our Christian faith that are not words found in the Bible.

The first word is “Trinity” – a word that seeks to capture the mysterious scriptural truth of one God in three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The reality of the Trinity is revealed, among other ways, by the presence of all three Persons of God at some of the most significant moments of Jesus’ life on earth, including His baptism, His crucifixion and resurrection, and His “Great Commission” to His disciples. (Matthew 3:26-17, 28:18-20; Acts 2:24; Romans 6:4, 8:11) This includes the precious time of Jesus’ birth.

The Father sent the Holy Spirit to “come upon” the virgin Mary so Jesus would be conceived in her womb and known as God’s Son. (Luke 1:30-35) The Holy Spirit revealed the truth about Mary’s pregnancy to Elizabeth and caused the baby John in her womb to leap for joy. (Luke 1:41-44) The Father sent angelic dreams to Joseph, a star to the magi, an angelic invitation to the shepherds, and an angelic choir to celebrate this unique birth in song. (Matthew 1:20-25, 2:1-14; Luke 2:8-14)

Our second word seeks to define this unique birth of Jesus that the angels celebrated. “Incarnation” is an English word with Latin roots that literally means, “embodied in flesh” or “taking on flesh”. God the Son, the firstborn of all Creation, assumed a human body as Jesus Christ – God Incarnate, or as His prophesied name Immanuel reveals, God with us. (Colossians 1:15; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)

John 1 and Philippians 2 are the most well-known revelations of this glorious incarnation, but there are several others. (Isaiah 9:6; Galatians 4:4-5; 1 John 4:2; 1 Timothy 3:16) Hebrews 2:14-15 is particularly important because God plainly reveals in those verses why this incarnation was necessary.  God the Son became flesh, while remaining divinely sinless, so that He would be able to die, and by that death, atone for all of mankind’s sins as the unblemished Lamb. (Exodus 12:5; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:17-19; 1 John 2:2)

As all bible-believing Christians know, Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16) My question for all of us this Christmas, however, is whether His incarnation is the only incarnation?

Those who receive Jesus Christ as Lord become children of God who are born of God: born of the Spirit. (John 1:12-13, 3:3-8) God’s plan through the incarnation of Jesus was that He would be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29) And the way God executes His plan is remarkable.  As the resurrected Jesus explains to His disciples in Acts 1:8, the Holy Spirit “comes upon” us.  This is the same Greek word and English translation used for Mary in Luke 1.

God the Holy Spirit enters us – human beings of flesh and blood – and our spirit and the Holy Spirit become one, bearing witness together that God the Father of Jesus is also our Abba Father and we are His everlasting children! (Romans 8:15-17; 1 Corinthians 6:17) This is truly a form of incarnation.

I am not suggesting here that when God is embodied in us, our incarnations are identical to the incarnation of Christ.  We are sin-forgiven, not sinless, and our thoughts and behaviors often quench and grieve the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19) We become everlasting sons and daughters of God, but Jesus remains the eternal and only begotten Son.

I am, however, urging all of us this Christmas to remember that as Christians, we have far more than a religion and far more than just “a relationship”.  We are called “new creations” because God the Holy Spirit lives within us. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Because the Trinity is still the Trinity, this means Jesus the Son and our heavenly Father can abide in us as well. (John 14:23, 15:4, 16:15) “Immanuel” takes on a new meaning.

He who is “in us” is greater than Satan and all the powers of darkness. (1 John 4:4) God is able, ready, and willing to do far more that we can ask or imagine through His power at work “within us”. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Christmas was the first incarnation. We are the incarnations that followed. (John 12:24) When we begin to live in the reality of that miracle, we will see God’s light shine through us into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. (Isaiah 60:1-3; John 1:5)

God bless you, and God bless our community.  Merry Christmas!

THE LORD SETS FOOD FOR THOUGHT BEFORE US

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“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil….” (Psalm 23:5a)

 

Virtually every Christian knows the 23rd Psalm, and we can identify over the last 4-12 years with walking through a dark valley: politico-social polarization where your enemies, those who disagree with your views, are living all around you.

In this dark valley, our Shepherd prepares a banquet table for us.  He sets on that table “food for thought” because it takes renewed minds to produce transformed lives and truth to set us free. (Romans 12:2; John 8:31-32)

Please note: “food for thought” does not declare your present thinking is totally wrong.  It simply invites you to reexamine your thinking from the Lord’s perspective.

As we move through the 2020 elections, including recounts and lawsuits, and move into the next four years under either presidential candidate, I invite us all to reexamine our thinking about some issues based upon (1) Christian unity and (2) agape love.

Christians are called to unity. (Ephesians 4:1-6) We are to love each other as Christ has loved us. (John 13:34-35) But the American church is deeply divided by politics. (1 Corinthians 1:10-13) Most black churches believe in the authority of scripture just like white evangelicals, but they cannot pray together for the nation because they are politically “them and us”.  Mainline and liturgical churches experience this division within the same congregation, preventing a unity of purpose even at that smaller level.

A house divided cannot stand (Matthew 12:25) A divided house of prayer is double-minded and far less effective than a people of one mind and accord. (Matthew 18:19; 21:13; James 1:7-8; Philippians 2:1-4) If we want our heads anointed with oil, we must remember the anointing and its blessings are for brothers and sisters in unity. (Psalm 133)

Agape love is the fundamental principle of God’s Kingdom. Without it, we are nothing and gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) I am grateful for several achievements of President Trump and his team during his initial term, but he continually violates agape love by insulting and belittling everyone who opposes him. (Matthew 5:21-25, 43-48) His Democratic opponents are no better.

I can understand when a person who is not a practicing Christian behaves this way.  But when practicing Christians cheer him and them on, they are rejoicing in the wrongdoing and both approving of and participating in the sin. (1 Corinthians 13:6; Romans 1:32) This grieves the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30-32)

President Trump has also constantly boasted about himself.  God opposes the proud, gives grace to the humble, and calls upon His people to love, revere, and boast in Him alone. (James 4:6-10; Jeremiah 9:23-24) Again, when Christians cheer the President on, they participate in this sin.  I am concerned some, just as with President Obama, are putting their trust in princes rather than the Lord. (Psalm 118:8-9, 146:3)

Racism is also an agape love issue. We will always have a few people like Officer Chauvin, who killed George Floyd, and they can come in any color. (Ephesians 2:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5 ) What the Church must help this nation address is the bystander problem: the three officers with him who failed to intervene and the superiors who overlooked Chauvin’s past transgressions.

It is not enough to sit in our largely segregated sanctuaries and declare we deplore racism.  We must love in truth and deed through visible interracial relationships, ministries, and prayer gatherings, and an unflinching “shoulder to shoulder” stance against racism of every kind. (1 John 3:18; 1 Peter 2:9-10)

Sexuality is an agape love issue.  The long-standing lack of unconditional love for homosexual people by some Christians may be what has motivated other Christians to show love, however misguided, and approve of their lifestyle. (Isaiah 5:20-21) But we no longer have a homosexuality issue. We have a LGBTQIA issue.  Are we showing agape love to our children and grandchildren, or anyone, when we yoke ourselves to the declaration that “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, (Pansexual), Transgender, Queer, Intesexed, Agender and Asexual” are all godly, healthy choices? (Genesis 1:27; Romans 1:22-32; 2 Corinthians 6:14)

Lawlessness is an agape love issue – a path to destruction as opposed to paths of righteousness, particularly for a nation of laws like America. (Matthew 24:12; Romans 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:14) Free speech and assembly are good, but riots and looting are always lawless.

Illegal immigration is lawless, but in safer times long before the lawlessness of sanctuary cities, we had decades of lawless “look the other way” at our Mexican borders because our employers, particularly in agriculture, wanted good, cheap labor despite a 1965 law capping legal Mexican work permits. To not deal equitably with the millions of illegal Mexican immigrants we enticed here would be both unloving and unjust.

Finally, socialism and “income redistribution” are agape love issues.  They replace freedom with government control, covet what belongs to others, deny people the fruit of their labor, and demotivate people who can work from working. (Exodus 20:17; Psalm 128:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)  Would it not be better to achieve affordable healthcare and higher education through reductions in costs and compassionate aid to those who have done all they can and still need help? (Isaiah 58:6-8; 1 John 3:16-18)

Joshua saw a man from heaven and asked, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13-14) The man said, “No.” He served the Lord, and so should we, on every issue and in all we do. (Colossians 3:17)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WISDOM VALUES TREASURES BOTH OLD AND NEW

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“And He said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’” (Matthew 13:52)

 

Jesus often taught through parables, and no bible chapter contains more parables than Matthew 13: the parables of the sower, the wheat and tares, the mustard seed, the leaven in the loaf, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great value, and the sorting of netted fish.  All these parables revealed truths about the Kingdom of Heaven, and each has been the source of many sermons.

After telling this series of parables, and explaining a few of them, Jesus asked His disciples if they understood what He was saying to them.  And when they indicated that they did understand, Jesus revealed yet another truth that may have been the most important of all.

Those trained for the kingdom of heaven have godly wisdom. They understand that some of what they have already learned and achieved is of great and lasting value. However, other things they have learned need to be better learned, and other things they have achieved need to be discarded in favor of a better way.

No one modelled this godly wisdom better than Jesus Himself. Many of His teachings were drawn directly and without change from His “bible” – what we call the Old Testament.  For example, His teaching of the Great Commandment comes directly from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18.  Likewise, most of the Beatitudes are simply a compiling of Old Testament revelations in Psalms 24, 34, and 37 and Isaiah 55, 61.

Many other teachings of Jesus, however, involved significant change from what the Old Testament had declared.  The OT commandment not to murder became a commandment by Jesus that you must not treat others with distain. (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21-22) The OT commandment against adultery became a commandment by Jesus not to lust with your eyes. (Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-28) The definition of “neighbor” broadened to include your worst enemy. (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:29-37)  Most importantly, the covenant of the law, with its many types of sacrifice, was replaced by the new covenant of grace in Christ, who made Himself the full and final sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. (Luke 22:20; 1 John 2:2; Hebrews 9:26)

The great political and social divide in America today is between the conservatives, often called the Right and Far Right, and the liberals or progressives, often called the Left and Far Left.  This is not a new problem for humanity, even though we seem to be taking it to unusual levels of intensity.  And it is a rift that occurs not just in government and culture but in the Church.

In simple terms, conservatives like things the way they are, or the way they were, while liberals like to replace old ways with new ways.  Archconservatives detest change and archliberals detest tradition.  One treasures the old.  One treasures the new.  Neither is quick to embrace the godly wisdom that can treasure both.

America was founded almost 250 years ago as a nation governed by law rather than royalty or tyranny, with the foundation of all laws being our Constitution. The purpose of this government of laws was set forth in our Declaration of Independence: to secure the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which God endowed to all men when He created them all as equals.  This is treasure!

Unfortunately, our founding fathers had been influenced not just by the bible but by maxims of cultural Christianity that were not scriptural.  For generations, they had been told Europeans had the divine right to rule and conquer, and that women were inferior to men.

The bible says God created man in His image and likeness, both male and female and including every “color”. (Genesis 1:26-29) Likewise, God loves all mankind and wants all to become His everlasting children and heirs. (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Galatians 3:28-29) The literal wording of our founding documents reads in conformity with these scriptures, but the interpretation when they were signed was “white” and “male” only. That was not treasure!  That was racism and sexism. It needed to be changed and we are still in the process of doing so.

If the “good ole days” had truly been godly, our nation would not have fallen into decline. (Matthew 16:18) No true Christian today wants to take the vote away from women or freedom from people of color. Those changes are treasure.

Marxism and lawlessness, on the other hand, are a foolish discarding of both the treasures of scripture and our founding documents.

If you fly with only your left wing or your right wing, you will veer off course. What we need in America, and in the Church, is godly wisdom that values treasures both old and new.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

ARISE, MY LOVE, MY BEAUTIFUL ONE, AND COME AWAY

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“Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away; for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come ….” (Song of Solomon 2:10b-12a)

I will not argue with those who say Song of Solomon is an allegory of the love relationship between Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church. But I hope they will not argue when I say it is also a divine celebration of what God intended when He created the covenant of marriage. (Genesis 2:18-24; Mark 10:6-9) His desire is that their love be “the very flame of the Lord”! (Song of Solomon 8:6) And so it has been for Christie and me.

Raised in a Christian home, I was baptized as an infant in a Presbyterian church and baptized again by the Baptists at the age of nine. But by the age of 17, I had abandoned any focus on Jesus as a source of direction for my life.

I met Christie in the summer of 1972 when I was in law school, she was a stewardess, and we were asked to be an usher and bridesmaid, respectively, in a wedding. We were introduced on the steps of a church. Her first name was “Christ-ie”. Her last name was Moses. Her parents lived on Eden Avenue. I was destined, if not predestined, to return to the Lord.

Unfortunately, it would take 19 years for that portion of our story to come true. But even the interim years, when I did not know the Lord, were blessed by the Lord through her. I “heard bells” at that first wedding, and even caught the wedding garter. One year later, we had our own wedding and headed off together to the U.S. Marine Corps.

Five years and two baby daughters later, Christie and I came out of the Marines to this wonderful Kingsport community, and here we have been delighted to stay. During the first season of our life here, I practiced law while Christie juggled the two things in addition to me she loved the most: (1) being a great mother to Jenny and Jessie, and (2) singing and community theatre.

Then the unexpected happened. Christie somehow drew me into community theatre with her, and for ten years, starting with my Captain Hook to her Peter Pan, we shared that experience at Parks & Recreation, Showboat, Kingsport Theatre Guild, Funfest, First Night, and Showtime. Little did I know then how the Lord was using Christie to mold me into someone who would later write and perform skits and stories for Him.

Christie’s love, loyalty and prayers all played a significant role in my return to Jesus in 1991. When I heard the Lord call me into fulltime ministry in 1994, it was Christie – married to a very successful young lawyer in a very successful law firm – who said, “Doug, if God is calling you into ministry, let’s do it.” She would take that same “shoulder to shoulder” stance three years later when we left the safe road of the Methodist itineracy to pastor a small Black congregation at St. Mark on Maple Street, and she did it yet again when, at the age of 60, we bought an old building and started Friends of the King Ministries.

Those of you who were blessed to meet Christie know she was a bright, talented, beautiful, joyful woman who could light up a room with a laugh and light up your heart with her singing. A much smaller number know how much she loved the inmates at the men’s prison in Mountain City, where we ministered together for twenty years, and how much they loved her.

Likewise, a smaller number know how she walked the streets of downtown Kingsport, both with me and alone, and the length of Long Island, and the top of Cement Hill, and twice on the heights of Bays Mountain, as she prayed for this city and region to experience spiritual awakening. And how often she prayed with others for healing and saw healing come, and how in some very dark places, she used her spiritual gift of discernment of spirits to pray with me for people to be delivered from demonic oppression.

Jesus came for Christie on September 5 while she was surrounded by loving family. He could have healed her physically. He loved both Christie and me enough to do that. But her work on earth was done – very well done. (Philippians 1:21-24; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Matthew 25:21, 23) Her winter is past, and her rain is over. Her time of singing has come!

My work on earth is not quite over. The woman I love is in heaven and so, for the first time, I am in a long-distance relationship. But I will see her again, and when I do, we will see and love each other even better than before.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WOMEN ARE KEY TO THE NEXT GREAT AWAKENING

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“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

God created mankind in His image, both male and female, to have lordship under His lordship on the earth. The woman He called man’s “helper”, a term of honor God often used for Himself. (Genesis 2:18; Exodus 18:4; Psalms 54:4) The two were clothed in glory.

Then sin came. The serpent tempted woman, the “rookie” in Paradise, who then tempted the man who loved her. (Genesis 3) Now they would be clothed in animal skins rather than glory.
Now, exiled into a harsh world, woman would have to carry children in her womb longer so they could survive after birth. And woman would find herself married not to godly man but to fallen man: men who seek not just dominion over the earth but over her. Since they carried weapons while the women carried babies, men would succeed in lording over women even while they fought to lord over each other. (Genesis 3:16, 4:8)

And so it has been ever since. The Taliban attitude toward women is as old as sin itself.

Once God entered covenant with the Hebrew people, He began to reveal how wrong it was to treat woman like man now treated her. Honor your mother, He commanded! (Exodus 20:12) Honor marriage! (Exodus 20:14) Treasure and praise a godly wife! (Proverbs 31:10-31)

God chose women like Miriam and Huldah to prophesy His word. He chose Esther, “for such a time as this”, to be a savior of His people. And He chose Deborah to judge all of Israel. If it was not within God’s will for a woman to preach, teach or lead, these things could never have occurred.

Then Jesus came. God chose both a special woman and man to rear His Son, and both a male and female prophet to declare this baby the Christ. (Luke 4:25-38) From the outset of His ministry, Jesus was followed by both men and women, with the women proving more faithful in the end. (Mark 14:50, 15:40)

Jesus personally revealed His divine identity to both a prestigious man and a marginalized woman. (John 3, 4) He invited women to do what no other rabbi had ever permitted: sit at His feet and learn. (Luke 10:39) And when He rose from the dead, Jesus told those faithful women first, and had them tell the men! (Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:1-18)

Perhaps nothing demonstrates man’s sinful tendency to lord it over women more than this. The men did not believe the women Jesus sent. (Mark 16:11) Jesus rebuked them for that. (v. 14)
Jesus told all His disciples they would be His witnesses in the world, and to wait for power from on high. (Acts 1:3-8) As prophesied by Joel, the Holy Spirit was poured down at Pentecost on 120 men and women, and they were all filled with God! Sons and daughters! Male servants and maidservants of the Lord! (Acts 2:17-18)

In the years that followed Pentecost, despite continued male domination in the general culture, Chloe and Lydia would head households that hosted home churches. The four daughters of Philip would prophesy. Phoebe would be recognized as a deacon. Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, would be Paul’s beloved co-workers in the Gospel and together teach a powerful preacher, Apollos, the fullness of that Gospel. (Acts 18:26) Another married couple, Andronicus and Junia, would be called “outstanding among the apostles”. (Romans 16:7)

If women cannot preach, teach, or lead in the Church, those things could not occur. So what happened? How did so much of the Church come to later believe women were still second-class citizens? Where did we lose the great truth: “There is no longer male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus … heirs according to promise”? (Galatians 3:28-29)

As could be expected, the new-found freedoms of women in Christ led to some “rookie” mistakes, particularly as to marriage. Christian marriage is the core of Christian family which is the core of Christian community, and the Lord does not want divisive marriage any more than He wants a divided Church. So God clarified through Paul that in areas where they could not reach agreement, the wife should respect and submit to the husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33)

Note: the wife was called to submit, not to obey as a child obeys a parent or a servant his master. And a husband is to cherish his wife like Aquila and Andronicus did, drawing out her splendor rather than quenching it. A husband’s lordship of his wife is not that of sinful man, who lords over people, but of godly man like Christ, who sacrifices and serves. (Matthew 20:25-28)

Paul also addressed situations in church meetings where some wives were speaking out in ways that seemed disrespectful to their husbands. He told them to address those matters at home. (1 Corinthians 14:33-36; 1 Timothy 2:11-15)

Note: the Greek word for “wife” can also mean “woman”, but Paul consistently used different Greek words for “man” and “husband”. He also used different words for “male” and “female”. It is clear from the Greek words Paul chose that he was asking “wives” (not “women” or “females”) to be silent rather than unilaterally teach or assert authority over their husbands. Paul had already specifically honored the right of women to pray and prophesy in church meetings. (1 Corinthians 11:5)

Unfortunately, the Church did not prove over time to be immune from Greek culture or the Roman Empire, both of which were still ruled by sinful men. Within a few centuries, the Church regressed back to an Old Testament model of priests and people, rather than a royal priesthood of believers. Only men were appointed. Then when the New Testament was translated into Latin, Paul’s words were changed. Women, not wives, were told to be silent.

I could share some very woman-demeaning quotations from respected theologians like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. I could discuss the grave error of thinking the only way to give women equality is to declare these misunderstood scriptures are no longer authoritative, thus “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”.

Instead I will simply point out how John Wesley and Charles Finney empowered women to preach and pray in the First and Second Great Awakenings, how women helped lead the Azusa Street Revival, and how glorious are the gifts and callings of Anne Graham Lotz, Mother Teresa, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, Kay Arthur, Heidi Baker and countless other modern sisters in Christ.

Satan broke up the male-female team in the Garden. Jesus fixed it. If we want another Great Awakening, we must embrace what Jesus did.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WE MUST CAST OFF CULTURAL CHRISTIANITY

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“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8 NKJ)

Following her birth on Pentecost, the Church remained vibrant for about 275 years, despite both Jewish and Roman persecution. Then, in about 313 AD, Emperor Constantine initiated a commingling of the Church and the Roman Empire by ending persecution of Christians and offering them favored treatment.

Christianity soon became, in effect, a state religion. People seeking political favor chose to profess faith. Conquered people were forced to “convert”. In the following centuries, this commingling of church and state led to: (1) a church hierarchy constantly seeking political and financial power; (2) a system of royal families throughout Europe claiming “divine right” from Christ to rule and conquer; (3) a tremendous increase in the number of people claiming Christian faith; and (4) a tremendous decrease in the percentage of those people who lived the lives Christ intended.

It was the advent of cultural Christianity in the western world.

My definition of “culture” is: The prevailing attitudes, values, and beliefs of a community as reflected in their customs, laws, traditions, social norms, and art. The abbreviated version of this is: What people believe and how they live.

My short definition of “Christianity” is: Receiving the Holy Spirit through biblical faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. (Matthew 28:18-20; John 3:3-8, 16)

My definition of “Christian culture” is: A culture where Christianity has a major or dominant impact on what people believe and how they live.

My definition of “cultural Christianity” is: Professed Christian faith where the human traditions and worldly principles of your culture, rather than scripture, have a major or dominant impact on what you believe and how you live.

Please reflect with me on how our forefathers’ cultural Christianity continues to impact us today. (Exodus 34:5-7)

In Christ, there is no ethnic or economic distinction, and no distinction between male or female, because we are all made in the image and likeness of God, all given dominion over the earth, all beloved children of God and heirs of His Kingdom. (Genesis 1:26-28; Galatians 3:28-29) Many women held positions of great responsibility in the early Church, including Priscilla, Chloe, Lydia, Phoebe, and Junia. Many wonderful Christian leaders were financially poor, and many were from Asia or Africa. (Acts 8:27, 13:1)

On the other hand, the culture of Rome was very patriarchal, and the cultures of the many European empires that replaced the Roman Empire all called for the preeminence of not just men but “White” men.

So, what prevailed? Women were totally displaced from positions of responsibility in the Church. The Holy Roman, Spanish, French, English, Dutch, and Portuguese empires all claimed divine Christian right to conquer, plunder, and enslave or control the other-than-White people of Africa, the America’s, and much of Asia.

This patriarchal, racist cultural Christianity crossed the Atlantic with many of the Europeans who settled North America. The Protestant Reformation did many good things but had not fixed this. Our nation’s founding documents did many good things and recognized the divinely endowed equality of “men”, but they did not fix this.

If we had more fully embraced a biblical Christian culture rather than the cultural Christianity passed on to us, we could have avoided the trauma of the Civil War, the alienations of the feminist movements, and so much more. Instead, we learned and continue to learn the Hard Way.

The bible warns us repeatedly about cultural Christianity – divisive traditions and doctrines of man, empty philosophies, teachings that suit our own passions and have a form of godliness, but no power. (Mark 7:6-8; Ephesians 4:14; Romans 16:17-18; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; 2 Timothy 4:3-4) The only way to cast it off is to prayerfully and honestly examine every belief in the light of the totality of scripture. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 16:13)

To steal the “redneck” style of Jeff Foxworthy:

If, as a Christian, you believe human reason, science or personal experience disprove the supernatural events and teachings of the bible, you are probably a cultural Christian.

If you believe you can pick and choose what portions of the bible you will accept, you are probably a cultural Christian.

If you believe Christianity is one valid religion among many, you are probably a cultural Christian.

If you believe the LBGQT definitions of gender, sexuality and marriage should displace the biblical definitions, you are probably a cultural Christian.

If your political affiliation is more important to you than your full adherence to Christian values, you are probably a cultural Christian.

If your ethnic identity is more important to you than your Christian identity, you are probably a cultural Christian.

If you believe you are only required by God to love and value people who look like you or believe like you, you are definitely a cultural Christian.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

IT IS TIME TO DENY OURSELVES

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“And He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)

Have you ever heard anyone in the Church give an altar call or invitation to church membership based on Luke 9:23?

“If you want to be forgiven of your sins and have everlasting life, put your trust in Jesus, who died on a cross for you, by denying yourself, taking up your cross daily, and following Him.”
“If you want to become a member of 1st Denominational Church, we would love to have you. Simply deny yourself like we have, take up your cross daily like we do, and join us in following Jesus.”

The answer to both questions is, of course, “No”. In fact, most Christians today have never even heard a sermon on Luke 9:23 because your pastors know it asks more from you than you seem willing to give.

The Bible sets forth the mission of the Church, not a congregational visioning committee, and that mission is to make disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20) We want altar calls and membership drives to be easy. Becoming a disciple of Jesus does not sound easy.

To be a disciple of the One who died on the cross for us, we must bear our own cross and come after Him. (Luke 14:27) If we do not take up our cross and follow Jesus, we are not worthy of Him. (Matthew 10:38) And Luke 9:23 teaches we will not be able to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus until we deny ourselves.

What is a disciple? Jesus said a disciple must be taught to obey all that He has commanded. (Matthew 28:20) This is much more than bible study. A disciple of Jesus must both have and keep His commandments because that is what “followers” do. (John 14:21)

Jesus also said a disciple is not above his or her Master but must be fully trained to become like their Master. (Luke 6:40) This is a reminder we are to serve Him as Lord, not the other way around. It is also exactly what Paul was talking about in Philippians 2 when he said our mindset should be like Jesus, who gave no regard to His status in heaven as the Son of God, but obediently humbled Himself and bore His cross to Golgotha.

So, how do we take up our own cross? We embrace and carry out the daily service to God and others the Lord assigns to us. These are good works our Eternal Father prepared for us as new creations in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10) They are part of the blessed hope and future He has for us, and while our service will at times be sacrificial, the only part of you and me that will have to die is our selfishness. (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 12:1)

How do we follow Jesus? The Greek word Luke uses for “follow” is “akoloutheo”, which means “follow” or “accompany”. “Accompany” is really the better translation because while we seek to follow the teachings of Jesus set forth in scripture, we have far more than just a book. Jesus said He would be with us always. (Matthew 28:20) If we let Him, He will abide in us through the Holy Spirit and lead us through life from within. (John 15:4-7; Romans 8:14) When we are “yoked” to Him in this way, our burden is easy and light because He who is in us is greater than anything we face in this world. (Matthew 11:28-30; 1 John 4:4)

Finally, how do we deny ourselves? The Greek word Luke uses for “deny” is “arneomai”, which means to “deny”, “disregard” or “refuse to follow”. The first essential step in becoming a disciple of Jesus is my decision to stop leading my own life and let Him lead. Let Him decide what is best for me, not me. Let Him, and not me, set both the daily and long-term agendas for my life.

Can we be brutally honest? Christianity in America is dominated by “lovers of self” rather than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:1-4) It is being assured you “got saved”, finding the worship music and fellowship you enjoy and the tech-driven programs your kids like, or hearing an encouraging message about what God has done and can do for you. What service some of us do render is generally only a small portion of our day.

As a result, the Church in America has for generations demonstrated a shallow appearance of godliness but no real power to transform lives or communities. (2 Timothy 3:5)

Jesus wants disciples. America needs disciples. It is time to deny ourselves. How? Simply learn enough about the Lord and about yourself to realize you can trust Him to plan and lead your life much more than you can trust you. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

THE CHURCH IN AMERICA MUST REPENT AND PRAY

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“[I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

The Church in America needs to wake up and smell the coffee! Our nation desperately needs healing, and this healing cannot come from our bitterly divided political institutions, our equally divisive news media, or our science and technology. Only the Lord can heal our land.

A video-recorded act of racially motivated police brutality on May 25 has caused a tragic death and both peaceful protests and destructive rioting in many of our cities, large and small. Do you think this is the last incident of emotionally charged injustice we will see nationally broadcast over social media?

A deadly pestilence called COVID-19 struck us several months ago and is still here. Over 100,000 people have died so far, many of them elderly and in isolation from their families, and we do not yet have a vaccine. Most of us may recover from the severe economic downturn, but many will not, and we have added trillions of dollars to an already excessive national debt. Given the mutability of these viruses and the recklessness of biochemical research in some nations, do we think this is the last deadly pestilence we will see? And when we use all or most of our “water” to put out the first “fire”, where will we find the water to put out the next one?

Our preoccupation with these two terrible problems can cause us to forget all of the other serious issues we were facing when these two arose, including immigration, drugs, pornography, unaffordable healthcare, sexism, pollution, radical political ideologies, radical gender definitions, and the fate of unborn children.

American Christianity has, like the Laodicean church, let the Internet, cell phones, sports, television, computer games, and our tickets to heaven lull most of us into thinking we are “still the greatest nation on earth” when in fact, we are riddled with sin and social sickness. (Revelation 3:14-19) But there is hope!

God can heal our land. If we pray, He can answer our prayers. But 2 Chronicles 7:14, much like the Lord’s Prayer, makes it clear our prayers will not be effective until certain conditions are met.

Condition #1 – The prayers to God must come from “His people”, the people called by His name. God wants to hear from Christians – His children who call Him “Father”. We are His chosen race and holy nation, assigned to witness and minister to this nation as His house of prayer and royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9; Isaiah 56:7) Yet our black churches and white evangelical churches, both bible-believing, are viewed today more as voting blocs than as servants of their King. We must remember who we are!

Condition #2 – We must shed our self-centeredness and humble ourselves before the Lord. We must remember who He is! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not the fear of public opinion. (Proverbs 9:10) He is the Creator and Judge of the universe: all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, all-present, all-loving, all-good and all-faithful. He has said He will heal our land if we do what He asks.

Condition #3 – We must repent of our wicked and compromising ways! Just as one example among many, racism is a deep, dark sin that violates both God’s revelation that all people are created in His image and God’s command that we love everyone He loves. Yet for centuries, the Church was part of the racism problem. Now we must be proactively part of the solution.
Our lack of agape love as the Church is a sin with more examples than I can list here, but I will ask how many times we have bypassed an inner-city area to avoid seeing, let along helping, the people who are hopelessly bound there in abject poverty. (Luke 10:25-37) Those people are many of our rioters today.

Condition #4 – We must seek God’s face, which means more than just seeking His blessing. (Psalm 24, 27) We seek what He wants, not what we want, so we can pray in His name and pray His will. (John 14:13-14; 1 John 5:14-15)

God hates racism. God hates injustice. He commands us to respect and pray for those in authority, including those in law enforcement: a hard and important job. But I believe God holds those who enforce and oversee the law to an even higher standard in obeying the laws they are called to uphold. (James 3:1)

God hates lawlessness, which includes riots and, ironically, sanctuary cities. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

In all we pray and do, we must hate what God hates just as we must love everyone God loves. (Amos 5:15)

Church, it is time to repent and pray!

God bless you, and God bless our community.