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FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE ARE NOT THE SAME

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you, and God bless our community.

 

“Be With Jesus” Conferences

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Dear friends of the King,

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

GOD WANTS YOU TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

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GOD WANTS YOU TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

 

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

 

God wants you to change your mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need to change our minds.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

 

 

MARY HAD A SPIRITUAL MOTHER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Mother’s Day weekend!

KINGDOM PROBLEMS REQUIRE KINGDOM SOLUTIONS

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you, and God bless our community.

WE NEED TO DO OUR PART

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you, and God bless our community.

 

KNOW WHAT KIND OF SPIRIT YOU HAVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you, and God bless our community.

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.