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TAKE YOUR POSITION IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD

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“See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns from heaven. At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken- that is, things that have been made- in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)

 

God’s words leap off this page of Hebrews: “We are receiving a kingdom!”

We do not have to wait until we die. We do not have to wait for Judgment Day. We can be receiving the Kingdom of God now!

This is not what we hear in most churches, is it? Dr. Myles Munroe offers an excellent explanation: most churches preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel Jesus Christ preached.

Jesus preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) “The Kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28) “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness….” (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus declared, “The gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world….” (Matthew 24:14) During the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the Kingdom, and He then sent them out in power as witnesses to that Kingdom. (Acts 1:3, 8; Revelations 1:7)

The Kingdom of God is the wise, benevolent, grace-full rule of a loving God over those who trust, obey, and depend on Him. Paul also preached this Kingdom. (Acts 28:31) And for Paul as for Jesus, the Kingdom was not just talk but power. (1 Corinthians 4:20) The King of this kingdom has all authority in heaven and earth, and He delegates His authority to those who fully submit to His rule and represent Him in the earth. (Matthew 28:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Matthew 16:15-20) The Kingdom of God is the kingdom of light in the darkness, and darkness cannot stand against it. (Isaiah 60:1-3; Colossians 1:12-13; Acts 5:12-16))

Life in this Kingdom while still in this broken world is far from trouble-free, but it is a life of righteousness, peace, and joy in the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. (John 16:23; Romans 14:17) We are to continually pray for it, live it, and offer it to others. (Matthew 6:10; 1 Peter 2:9)

So, how do we receive this Kingdom? It helps to understand the Greek word our English bibles translate as “we are receiving”. “Paralambano” is an aggressive word, not a passive word. “Lambano” means to take, grasp, seize or acquire. “Para” indicates “alongside” or “in the presence of”.  Put together, “paralambano” means to seize and take to oneself, or to take over an office, assignment, or position.

My friends, if we want to receive the Kingdom of God, we must actively take our position in that Kingdom. We must embrace our identity in Christ and our abilities and responsibilities as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, indwelled by God the Holy Spirit. We are a royal priesthood of disciples called to set self-centered agendas aside and follow our King, humbly loving and serving people while boldly standing against evil.

Hebrews 12 speaks of a divine shaking of both earth and the heavenlies. This shaking started years ago, and it is intensifying. I do not know how long it will last, how much more it will intensify, or whether it is the last one. But I know it will not stop until God has accomplished His purposes through it.

The Church is being shaken early and vigorously because the Lord needs a faithful, righteous Body of Christ to represent His Kingdom in this hour. Those in the Church who are not receiving the Kingdom will be shaken out because only those things which belong to the Kingdom will remain. Cultural Christianity and empty ritual will not survive. (Matthew 16:15-18)

After reading this column, I urge you, both as individuals and congregations, to read these scriptures, pray, search your hearts, and earnestly take your position in the Kingdom of God.

“Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in!” (Psalm 24:7)

God bless you and God bless our community.

WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE TO LIVE BY FAITH

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“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

It brings me great comfort to know my beloved Christie is in heaven having an unimaginably wonderful time, and that I will join her one day.

The pancreatic cancer that ended Christie’s life on earth has an incredibly high mortality rate for one reason. It is usually not discovered until it is too late to do anything about it. In other words, the only thing worse than being told you have cancer is to have cancer and not know.

If it is dangerous to have cancer when you think you are healthy, then imagine how dangerous it is to think you are “saved” when you are not.

The problem, described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the teaching of “cheap grace”, arises from a misunderstanding of the beautiful grace message in Ephesians 2 and its companion verse, Romans 6:23. We have taken the biblical concept of “free gift of God” and turned it into a well-intended but false invitation to salvation through the simple “no strings attached” choice to accept Jesus as Savior.

We must understand every scripture in the context of all scripture; otherwise, we can misunderstand what God is revealing. And nothing can be more damaging than a misunderstanding about what it takes to enter an everlasting life relationship with God.

Sin, rooted in a desire to be lord of our own life, separates everyone from a holy and life-giving God, and we could never bridge that gap. (Genesis 3; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23, 6:23) So God, in His unconditional love, bridged the gap for us by sending His Son Jesus to die for all the sins of all mankind. (1 John 2:2) This is the astounding “free gift of God”!

God’s love is unconditional, but salvation is not. We must still cross the bridge God has provided. We are saved by grace “through faith” and our faith must be more than a verbal assent Jesus is who He says He is. The demons know who Jesus is, but they do not have faith. (Luke 4:41; James 2:19)

Faith is “trust” and “confident belief”.  Faith must be in your heart before you can meaningfully confess it with your mouth. (Acts 2:37; Romans 10:9-10) The following scriptures convince me that if faith is truly in your heart, there will be meaningful evidence of it in your life.

The gospel is consistently presented as “repent and believe”. (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; Luke 5:32; 2 Peter 3:9) The biblical words for “repent” mean change of heart (Hebrew, “naham”), change your mind (Greek, “metanoia”) and change your ways (Hebrew, “shub”).

At the end of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” will enter heaven, but only those who do the will of His Father.

John 15:1-6 says God removes branches on the Vine who do not bear fruit.

Matthew 25:31-46 says the separation of sheep and goats on Judgement Day will be based upon acts of agape love.

Multiple scriptures declare that we must be both hearers and doers of the Word. (Matthew 7:24-27, 28:18-20; James 1:22-25; John 14:21, 23)

James 2:14-26 explains in detail why faith without corresponding works (fruit) is dead and useless.

1 John says those who claim to know Jesus Christ but do not keep His commandments are liars and adds that anyone who makes a practice of sinning is of the devil. (2:4-6, 3:6-10)

Everlasting life is to know God and His Son Jesus Christ. (John 17:3) The Greek word used for “know” is “ginoskosi”, which means to know through interpersonal relationship or experience, not just “know about”. No one has everlasting life until they receive the Holy Spirit and become a new creation born of God. (John 1:12-13, 3:3-6; Romans 8:9)

This knowing should produce a witness in your heart. (Romans 8:16) It produces a change in your worldview and corresponding changes in your behavior. (Hebrews 11:1 – 12:2) Above all else, you will now know God’s love and have at least some measure of unconditional agape love for others. (1 John 4:7-12)

You cannot have Jesus as Savior without Jesus as Lord. (Philippians 2:9-11) We are saved by grace to live by faith, trusting our Lord and seeking to obey Him so we can produce those “good works, which God prepared beforehand”. (Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 2:20) Grace will be there on the many occasions when we stumble. (Romans 8:34-39; 1 John 1:9) But if we truly have faith, we will at least try. And if a person’s life does not show evidence of such efforts, I urge them to reexamine what their true salvation condition is.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

 

ONLY GOOD CAN OVERCOME EVIL

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“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

 

In recent articles, I have proposed from a biblical standpoint that both unconditional agape love and humility are essentials of Christian life. As we continue to live on this side of eternity in a broken world, beset along with our loved ones by so much evil, I also propose this: only good can overcome evil.

Many of you may recall a greeting and response often used a few years ago at Christian gatherings: “God is good – All the time – All the time – God is good.” This reminded us of an important scriptural truth. God is completely good. (Psalm 31:19, 34:8, 86:5, 119:68; Mark 10:18) There is no evil in Him. And what applies to the Father equally applies to His Son Jesus and to the Holy Spirit who lives within us. (John 10:30; Galatians 4:6)

God made and called creation good, including mankind, male and female. (Genesis 1:31) But then, as we all know, the evil one tempted mankind into sin, which is evil, and we have been dealing with rampant evil in this world ever since. (Genesis 3; 1 John 5:19)

God loves good and hates evil, and He calls upon His people to do likewise. (Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 6:16-19; Amos 5:14-15; Romans 12:9) Jesus came to destroy the works of the evil one, and as His disciples, we are to continue His mission with Him. (1 John 3:8; John 14:12-14, 20:21) But there is a problem.

The world has taught us its ways of overcoming evil and enemies. Might makes right. The end justifies the means. Whatever it takes. “We” can defeat “them.” And as children, one of my favorites, “He hit me first.”

The Lord, however, requires us to do things His way, which is the only way that works. So, both Paul and Peter teach us to never repay evil with evil or insult with insult. (Romans 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9) You cannot overcome evil with evil because you would simply be exchanging one type of evil for another.

Instead, we are to abstain from every form of evil, hold fast to good, and repay evil with blessings. (1 Thessalonians 5:22; Romans 12:9; 1 Peter 3:9) We are, among other things, to both hear and put into practice the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:1-7:29)

When insulted, turn the other cheek. (5:39) Love not just your friends but your enemies, and pray for them. (5:43-48) Show mercy and forgiveness so you may receive mercy and forgiveness. (5:7, 6:12-15) Do not belittle or treat others with distain. (5:22) Sow peace, not discord. (5:9) And do not lie or manipulate the truth. (5:33-37; Psalm 12:2-6) Live in accordance with the “Golden Rule”, treating others the way you wish to be treated. (7:12) It is the meek, not the proud and self-centered, who inherit the earth. (5:5)

What happens, we all ask, when there is no clear choice between good and evil, and we perceive our only option is to pick “the lesser of two evils”? Nowhere in scripture are we given the right to choose evil, even when it is the lesser of two evils. Instead, we must prayerfully choose that which provides and leads to the greatest amount of good. And within that choice, we must continue to personally uphold all the standards of good commanded by the Lord, never approving of or rejoicing in wrongdoing. (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

We must always be wary of the temptation to call evil good and good evil, and with our itching ears to seek teaching that suits our own passions. (Isaiah 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:3) This applies not just to sanctity of life and sexual morality, but to how we judge and treat people. Jesus did not shun “sinners and tax collectors”. (Mark 2:15-16)

We must also focus diligently on the work of the Holy Spirit within us as He develops in us, with our cooperation, the fruit of the Spirit that is the character of Jesus Christ – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Philippians 2:12-13; Galatians 5:22-23)

I close this column with a quotation from my book, “Be With Jesus, Be Like Jesus, Be For Jesus”:

“With Jesus Christ as our King and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we have the authority to become ‘more than conquerors’ and overcome evil with good, darkness with light, hate with love, apathy with compassion, loneliness with community, lies and ignorance with truth, self-centeredness with humility, foolishness with wisdom, injustice with justice and mercy, poverty with generosity and opportunity, cruelty with kindness, disease with healing, and oppression with deliverance – all in the name of Jesus and for His glory (Romans 8:37) This is our mission – to be for Jesus. It is the best way to love others and the best way to love God.”

God bless you, and God bless our community.

“GOD WITH US” IS NOW “CHRIST IN US”

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Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:18-23)

 

… I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations … to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)

 

What is the most important thing I can say to a Christian at Christmas or any other time of the year? After 27 years as an equipping minister, I have concluded it is this: God lives in you! What are you going to do about it?

Reflect with me first on the most amazing truth in the amazing story of Christmas. Amidst the humble newlyweds, the angels, the shepherds, the magi, and the guiding star, we have the extraordinary revelation that this newborn baby in the manger is not the son of Joseph and Mary. He is “God with us”!

This newborn baby is the Word who became flesh to dwell among us: the Word who was in the beginning, who was with God, who was God, and through whom all things were created. (John 1:1-3, 14) Wow!

This newborn baby is the One who was in the form of God but did not cling to equality with God, emptying Himself so He could be made in our likeness, walk in our shoes, and die for our sins. (Philippians 2:1-8; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Corinthians 15:3) Wow!

This newborn baby was conceived in a virgin through the Holy Spirit and declared first by the archangel Gabriel and later by God Himself to be God’s Son. (Luke 1:32, 35 and 3:22) His virgin birth was prophesied 700 years earlier with names that could only apply to God: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”, and, as said before, “Immanuel”. (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6) Wow!

The birth of Jesus was not the first time God’s people had experienced the nearness of God and His activity in their midst. We remember that most easily in the time of Moses – the burning bush, the pillars of cloud and fire, the top of Mt. Sinai, the tent of meeting, and the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. (Exodus 25:22)

But in Jesus Christ as He walked on this earth, we experienced “God with us” in a way no one could have anticipated. In Him we see both God the Father and the true design of how we are to live. (John 14:7-9; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 2:4-6) In Him we have God who has no sin and, thus, man without sin who can die for our sins. (1 Peter 1:19)

What truth could ever be as amazing and important as these truths? I can only think of one possibility.

My friends, the Bible makes it clear. “God with us” is now “Christ in us.” People who put their trust in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ. (Romans 8:9-11) Just as Jesus promised, He is with us always because we have become one spirit with Him. (1 Corinthians 6:17) God is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which clearly means God lives in us now and will never leave us. (John 14:16, 15:1-11; Hebrews 13:5) Wow!

This truth is much more than a seal on our salvation, or access to power, or even the wonderful experience of God’s manifest presence. Our “new creation” is much more than a change of status.

“God with us” came as a newborn baby in a manger so He could become “Christ in us” – the Lord of Lords living in us by His Spirit and ready to sit in power every day on the thrones of our hearts. In this truth of “He who is in you,” we find the hope of glory! (1 John 4:4)

What are we going to do about that?

Have a blessed Christmas season!

HUMILITY IS A KINGDOM ESSENTIAL

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Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5b)

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)

 

I have, for the last few months, focused in this column on the fundamentals of our Christian faith. Agape love of God and everyone He loves is our litmus test of faith and character. Without it, we are nothing, have nothing, and gain nothing. Our daily life mission is, through the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, to show forth this agape love as witnesses to the goodness and will of God so perfectly revealed in His Son Jesus Christ.

Today we continue our focus on fundamentals with this biblical truth: humility is a Kingdom essential.

Humility and respect for humility have become the exception rather than the rule in modern America. Both are notably absent in our politics, media, sports, entertainment, and, most tragically, much of our public Christian witness. I see two primary reasons for this. First, we do not understand what humility really is. Second, we do not appreciate how important humility is to God.

The best way to initially understand humility and its importance to God is by contrasting it to its opposite: arrogance and pride. The Book of Proverbs says God hates pride and arrogance. (8:13) Pride and a haughty spirit lead to disgrace and destruction. (11:2, 16:18) Haughty eyes and a proud heart are the lamp of the wicked and sin. (21:4)

Both Jesus and Peter affirmed these truths about pride, as set forth above. And Paul added the warning that, particularly in the last days, there would be people showing “the appearance of godliness” who would instead be “lovers of self”, “proud, arrogant, abusive”, “slanderous”, and “swollen with conceit”. (2 Timothy 3:2-5) Paul cautioned us to avoid such people.

The phrase “lover of self” is the key to understanding pride. Pride is self-centeredness, self-rule, self-exaltation, self-indulgence, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance. A proud person may do something that is good for someone else, or even something that seems godly, but only so long as it is also good for him or her. The minute there is a difference between what is good for others and what is good for the proud, the proud will choose themselves.

For this reason, Psalm 40:4 says we are not to respect or turn in trust to the proud for leadership. They are destined to disgrace and destruction, and God does not want us to follow them there.

And for this reason, Jesus declared those who follow Him must deny their self, take up their cross daily, and let Him lead them. (Luke 9:23)

This brings us to the ultimate lesson of humility: our Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 2 provides an extraordinary description of how we are to embrace the humility of Jesus, putting the interests of others first, and how His consummate humility and sacrifice led to His glorification. Likewise, Jesus tells us those who are last and servant to all will be first. (Mark 9:35) Those who humble themselves before God like little children will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

Some may be concerned that humility is also timidity and weakness in a time when we need boldness and strength. But Jesus was humble, and never timid or weak. Moses was humbler than anyone on earth when he led the Hebrew people out of Egyptian bondage. (Numbers 12:3) In both cases it was their humility: God-centered, selfless, loving focus on the interests of others, which led to glory and greatness.

Others may be concerned that humility equates to tolerance of the ever-increasing sin we see all around us. But Jesus came for sinners and sends us to do the same. (Matthew 9:10-13; John 20:21) Love and humility, while holding on to integrity, is what draws people to Jesus. (John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 13; 1 John 4)

My friends, our Lord calls us to greatness as the Body of Christ. We are called to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16); to love like God loves (Matthew 5:48, Romans 5:5); to be transformed into Christlikeness with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18); to do the works of Jesus, and even greater works (John 14:12); and to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

But we will never achieve that greatness for the glory of God until we and those we choose to follow clothe ourselves with humility. Humility is a Kingdom essential.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

FOCUS ON THE FUNDAMENTALS

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“… [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

…You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, [God’s] own purchased special people, that you may set forth the wonderful deeds and display the virtues and perfections of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 AMP)

… He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

 

“Focus on the fundamentals” is a tried-and-true maxim in sports, business, music, and virtually every other human endeavor. Until you get the fundamentals down, nothing will work the way it is supposed to work.

What then are the fundamentals of Christian life? What is the fundamental moral requirement? What is our fundamental mission? What are the fundamental truths we must embrace?

The fundamental moral requirement of Christian life is agape love: selfless, serving, unconditional love for God, family, friend, stranger, and foe. I addressed this more fully in my July 30 column, “Agape Love is the Christian ‘Litmus Test’”. The key word here is requirement. If we do not have agape love, flawless doctrine and tireless service and correct political stances mean nothing and gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

We must also remember that we do not love the Lord by simply saying or singing that we love Him. (1 John 3:18) Jesus says those who have and keep His commandments are the ones who love Him. (John 14:21, 23)

The fundamental mission of the Christian life is to show forth in this broken world the love, goodness, and will of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 5:14-16) We are the Lord’s witnesses and the expression of His Kingdom on earth, called to make disciples of all people groups regardless of where they live or what they look like. (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20; Revelation 1:6)

Please note how this fundamental moral requirement, often called “the Great Commandment”, and this fundamental mission, often called “the Great Commission”, go hand in hand.

If you love someone, friend or foe, the most important thing you can want for them is to know Jesus and receive everlasting life. If they already know Jesus, you want them to know Jesus more so they can follow and serve Him better.

And if you attempt to disciple or witness Jesus to people without having and showing love for them, you will fail every time.

The challenge of listing fundamental truths has been dividing the Church for almost 2,000 years. All I can offer are the biblically confirmed truths I have found essential in my faith walk and witness to others:

(1) There is one eternal God who relates to us in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God created and sustains all creation. His knowledge and power are greater than we can comprehend.

(2) God is a revealing God because otherwise we could not know Him. He reveals His majesty and power in creation. He reveals His character, will, and purposes in the Bible, in His faithful intercessions on earth, and most completely in Jesus. If we claim to understand God without honoring biblical authority, we are “making it up” and creating a god or gods in our own image.

(3) God is perfectly good. Evil is everything that opposes or seeks independence from God and His goodness. Evil separates us from God, who is the Source of life and blessing, and therefore leads to death and destruction.

(4) God’s goodness cannot ignore evil, but the heartbeat of His goodness: perfect agape love, cannot ignore our condition of separation and death. He sent His sinless Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of all humanity, and then resurrected Jesus in victory over sin and death, making Him King of Kings with all authority in heaven and earth. This opened the way for all human beings to have a restored and everlasting relationship with God, but only if they choose restored relationship by renouncing independence from God, repenting of their sins, and trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord.

(5) God restores His relationship with us through the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes within us to join with our human spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:17) Since the Holy Spirit is God, God now lives within you, and you have become His “born of the Spirit” child forever.

(6) Jesus intends to reconcile all things in heaven and earth to Himself. (Colossians 1:15-20) We are each called to join Him in that glorious mission.

My friends, do your lives focus on the fundamentals, or are other things getting in the way?

God bless you, and God bless our community.

SOME TEACHINGS ARE RARELY TAUGHT

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“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'” (Luke 17:7-10)

 

“And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

 

Last month’s column was about Luke, the compassionate physician who wrote both a Gospel and the Book of Acts, including the birth story of Jesus and the grace-filled parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 2:1-20, 15:11-32) We hear those sweet scriptures all the time.

Today we address two other teachings in the Gospel of Luke that do not receive similar attention. To the contrary, they are rarely if ever taught.

In our Luke 17 passage, Jesus challenges His disciples on the issue of a servant’s duty to their master. The Greek word translated “servant” is doulos, which means “slave” or “bondservant” – a person who is totally subservient to and dependent upon their master, without wages. This relationship, common in those days, is not at all like the “quid pro quo” of our modern employer-employee relationships, where your work earns you the right to compensation and benefits.

Jesus reminded His disciples that bondservants do not earn special treatment or even a “thank you” for simply doing their duty. Obedience of the master’s commands is both required and expected.

Luke’s inclusion of this teaching is a sharp reminder that the Lord is our Lord, as well as our Creator and Savior. We have not and cannot earn His wonderful blessings of salvation. (Ephesians 2:8-9) God has always been all-sovereign, all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful, and He is entitled to our total trust and obedience without further “quid pro quo”.

Our Luke 12 passage expands upon the Luke 17 teaching, adding a sharp concept of accountability to the lesson on responsibility.

Jesus had just explained why His disciples need to focus on seeking His Kingdom, which effectively means “Your will be done in my life and on earth as it is in heaven”. (vs. 16-31; Matthew 6:10) He then turns to the requirement that they stay focused on His Kingdom, “dressed for action”, “lamps burning”, and “awake”, because they do not know when He will return for them. The “ready” servants are the ones He will bless at His return. (vs. 35-40).

In response to a question from Peter, Jesus then explains that while all are bondservants of the Lord, some servants are also household managers (oikonomos in Greek) who provide leadership to the other servants. (v. 42). Reminiscent of when Jesus would later tell Peter to “feed My sheep”, these managers are to ensure the household is fed. (John 21:17)

Those managers who stay focused on their responsibilities will, like the other “ready” servants, be blessed. (vs. 43-44) But woe to those managers who instead focus on their own pleasures or mistreat those they were to feed. (vs. 45-46) All servants who did not stay Kingdom-focused will receive a beating when the master returns, but the severe beating will be for those who knew more and were entrusted with more. (vs. 47-48)

Christians are saved by grace through faith and not by works, but we are created in Christ for good works as His servants. (Ephesians 2:8-10) As beloved children of God, we are also servants in the family business: the royal priesthood and household of prayer.

Our faithful service does not earn us treasures in heaven, seats at the heavenly banquet, or other blessings any more than we can earn God’s forgiveness and everlasting life. Those blessings are further extensions of God’s lavish grace.

Our unfaithfulness, however, can disqualify us from blessings God wants us to have, and can also subject us to chastening we would like to avoid. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

Each of us faces an accounting with God. (Romans 14:12; Matthew 12:36-37; Ecclesiastes 12:14) Teachers like me will, like others in equipping ministry, be judged more strictly. (James 3:1) We should always be delighted to share the truth of God’s amazing grace and unconditional love. But we also need to teach the scriptural truths rarely taught about Christian duty and accountability.

People do not want to hear them, but we need to hear them so that later we can hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. (Luke 19:17)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO WRITE THINGS DOWN

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“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)

We do not have biographies for most people identified in the New Testament. But it appears clear Luke, the author of that Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, was a Gentile, not a Jew. He had a Greek name, as did his friend Theophilus, and was not among the “men of the circumcision” who were fellow workers with Paul. (Colossians 4:10-14)

Luke was not engaged with Jesus when He walked the earth prior to His ascension. And Luke was not a writer or historian by trade.  He was a physician, well-educated but not, in those days, a person of prominence or rank. (Colossians 4:14) The compassion Luke displays in his Gospel for women, the poor, and the marginalized is a wonderful reflection of his experiences in that healing profession.

We do not know when or how Luke became a Christian.  His name only appears in scripture three times, always in letters by Paul from a Roman prison near the end of Paul’s ministry. (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 19) But Luke first shows up near the outset of Paul’s second missionary journey to Asia and then Greece. (Acts 16:9-12) 

God’s ways are not our ways. We cannot presume to understand all the reasons He chose Luke to write one of the four Gospels or the Book of Acts. We can, however, observe that:

(1) As a Gentile and a companion to the apostle to the Gentiles, Luke could be divinely inspired to write the Gospel that was from a Gentile Christian perspective. 

(2) Luke was well-educated, like Paul, and it is clear from Luke’s explanation to Theophilus that Luke played close attention to both what was happening around him and what he was being taught by Paul and others. He saw the need for “an orderly account” – a comprehensive written witness that would live beyond the “eyewitnesses”– and he was driven to the research that would empower him to be that author.  

That research included both interviews of eyewitnesses and reading the Gospel of Mark. Most theological experts agree the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel written, and that it was written by John Mark as he accompanied the apostle Peter and heard his teaching. Almost all the Gospel of Mark is contained in the Gospel of Luke.

I also believe that Mary, mother of Jesus, was personally interviewed by Luke.  Where else would he have learned in such detail about the birth of Jesus and the incident in Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old?

All scripture is God-breathed and immensely valuable, but I am confident you will agree with me that the Gospel of Luke and the other three Gospels, which include the actual words of Jesus, are the “cream of the crop”. So, the question is: where is this column really going? As set forth in the title, sometimes you have to write things down.

I identify with Luke. I too am well-educated and spent my early life practicing a secular profession.  I too came to Jesus later in life. And I too have never been personally “prominent” – never the pastor of a big church or a sought-after celebrity preacher. My largest “congregation” by far has been those who read this column over the last fifteen years, and I will be forever grateful to the Kingsport Times-News for the opportunity.

The name, “Theophilus”, means “Friend of God”.  Eleven years ago, my beloved Christie and I founded Friends of the King Ministries.  Six years ago, Christie pressed me to compile my columns in a book: Moon in the Darkness: 100 Reflections on the Kingdom of God. (The columns I have written since then are available on our website.)  And last year, during the time I was caring for Christie before she went to heaven, the Lord stirred me to write a new book: Be With Jesus, Be Like Jesus, Be For Jesus: A Path to Christian Maturity and the Next Great Awakening.

There is no gospel of Doug! But I believe this book, which will not fit in the space for this column, explains where all Christians need to be focused in this hour.  We have been waiting on God when, in fact, He is waiting on us. Stated in a nutshell, God lives in you. What are you going to do about it?

The book, e-book, and audiobook are available from the publisher, WestBow Press. The book and e-book are also available on Amazon and with other online booksellers.

Sometimes you have to write things down.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

AGAPE LOVE IS THE CHRISTIAN “LITMUS TEST”

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“Litmus test” is a phrase used for tests that effectively and decisively determine someone’s true intentions, beliefs, or character. Prayerful study of the Bible has convinced me that the fundamental principle of God’s Kingdom is agape love, and that, therefore, agape love is the best litmus test for determining whether someone is a practicing Christian and disciple of Jesus.

Let me group together for you some scriptures that persuade me:

 

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:7-12)

“And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

 

The great challenge of agape love, illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is that it applies to friends, foes, and strangers. (Luke 10:30-37) Our Lord commands us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”. (Luke 6:27-28) We are to love everyone God loves. (Matthew 5:43-48)

The extraordinary importance of agape love is revealed in the Apostle Paul’s dramatic statements at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. We can have all the other characteristics of a wonderful Christian: flawless doctrine, mountain-moving faith, lavish generosity, and sacrificial service. But even then, if we do not have agape love, we are nothing and gain nothing.

Our agape love must be in truth and deed, not just lip service. (1 John 3:18) We must speak the truth in agape love. (Ephesians 4:15) Our faith only works through agape love. (Galatians 5:6) And our witness to this agape love requires not only that we refrain from sins against agape love, but that we refrain from approving of others when they sin against agape love, including those in politics and media on both sides of the aisle. (Romans 1:32)

Agape love of the Lord is best manifested by learning and keeping His commands. (John 14:21, 23; Matthew 28:18-20) For that reason, agape love of others never rejoices at their wrongdoing or sin. (1 Corinthians 13:6)

At the same time, agape love recognizes that we all fall short and that the lost, in particular, are going to act lost because they are so susceptible to the influence of Satan, the enemy of God and all humankind. (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19; Ephesians 6:12) Jesus reserved His “harsh words” for religious leaders, not the tax collectors and prostitutes. (Luke 11:37-52; Matthew 9:10-13) The lost are the harvest. (Matthew 9:37-38)

Every Christian knows the compelling definition of agape love given by Paul at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

“[Agape] love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

What the Church must understand amidst the rising darkness in our nation and world is that it is not enough to know the definition of agape love. We must live it. (Matthew 7:24-27; James 1:22-25)

The good news is the God of agape love lives in us through His Holy Spirit, giving us the ability to agape love as He has commanded us. (Romans 5:5) My dear friends, let us all abide in His love. (John 15:9)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

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.