Tuesday, December 11, 2007

“So, What’s With the Hair?”

Walter attends a church that values head coverings for women. Never really thinking about it, he figured it was a woman thing. But returning after months away, folk were visibly bothered by his shoulder length hair. “So what is with the long hair, Walter?” He was then shown Bible references, about hair length for men and women. Walter asks, “Do I really need to get a haircut?”

Referring to 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, the usual answer one hears to this is “Oh, that was the culture back then.” Arguments may break out, as if following Paul’s words would lead directly to the oppression of women. But if read in context, there really is no reason to be concerned. Put down those scissors ladies! Thumbs out of your pits, men! Now force a smile and read on:

Paul is not talking godly fashion here. He is talking about worship. In God’s Kingdom, the Father is the head of Christ, who is head of man, who is head of woman. It isn’t about personal importance, but rather about, God’s glory revealed. While men defend their locks and women their equality, Paul is talking about the interacting between God, other heavenly creatures, and earthlings. Paul isn’t “putting women in their place.” It was he who wrote of those in Christ:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28

In 1st Corinthians, Paul is talking about worshiping orderly. This is because creatures unseen are also involved when we pray and worship. Look closely at what Paul says:

For this reason, and for the sake of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.”
1 Corinthians 11:10

Okay, I’m gonna “what if” you here: What if the angels while playing their part in the great spiritual battle, can be hindered by our messing with signs of authority? What if a Buck Private wore Sergeant stripes on their uniform, and Captains wore the hats of Privates? The battle could get confusing.

This authority in order thing is not new. According to Numbers 30, Fathers had authority to free their daughters up from vows, and husbands for their wives, whenever said vows were regretted. Yet men could not be released from regretted vows. In Deuteronomy 22:5 God wanted no confusion, and so insisted that men and women dress gender appropriate. He’s not talking to drag queens. He’s talking to His people. Nowadays, the idea of a woman being under a man’s authority is considered by the world, repugnant. But is it? Did the authority that Paul spoke of, change at some point these last 2,000 years? If so, when?

I promise I won’t touch your hair if you don’t touch mine. But I don’t think Paul was just addressing Corinthian culture here. It isn’t about men vs. women. Beings that are unseen by us are influenced by us in worship. It’s not about who is dependent, or who is more important. Paul next writes:

“In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”
1 Corinthians 11:11,12

Perhaps we don’t understand authority. That would be because of our worldly training. Christians must remember what Jesus expects of those with authority in His Kingdom.

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:25-28

Kingdom authority is not worldly authority! Spiritual authority means service to others. The church is to model this, for both the world and for the angels and other spiritual beings to see. Prayer and worship transcend flesh and bones, reaching through the heavens, touching God Himself. Who are we to come into His presence at all? Yet God has made a way for us through Christ Jesus. And we want to argue about hair and who has what authority? Forget your fashion! Consider the Angels whom God sends to minister to you.

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
Hebrews 1:14

The Bible must be our reference for angels. They aren’t chubby babies or bimbos with wings, as so many artists portray. We are part of a heavenly battle! When God sends out an army, going first into battle go the worshipers. (Psalm 68:25). And while we battle, God sends angels to minister to us. We must understanding that angels are involved.

We in Christ are the church. Angels are not. Angels are not human. They aren’t like us. I once thought angels were sarcastic like me. When the angel at the tomb said to those looking for Jesus’ body, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” I would read, “Why seek ye the living among the dead… Duh!” Or when after Jesus ascended and the disciples kept looking upward, two angels appeared and said to my thinking, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking into the sky,… duh? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven….Oh duh-uh!” (Picturing angel # 2 rolling their eyes).

Then one day, I heard someone read one of the above passages and they read the angel’s question with such sincerity! They saw the angel as really not sure why the disciples were looking around the grave. The angel was not being sarcastic, but coming to help. Duh, Tom! That's what they do!

Angels are not omniscient like God, nor have they fallen like man. Yet they interact with both God and man. (1 Peter 1:12) Okay, more what ifs: What if angels don’t doubt? What if they are just learning about things like grace? Angels serve God. They do what He tells them to do. We don’t see them doubt in scripture, as people can. Humans experience both doubt and God’s grace. Peter writes of grace and the glories that follow Christ’s suffering: “Even angels long to look into these things.” (See 1 Peter 1:10-12).

Angels have at least once, experienced authority issues. Lucifer was an angel. He was the archangel in charge of music. But he became prideful. He wanted to rise above God. One third of the angels in heaven, sided with him! We know that Archangel Michael defeated Lucifer and cast him and his angels, out of heaven. It’s these remaining two-thirds angels who minister to God’s children. Paul knows more about this than he tells. Speaking about himself, he wrote:

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man –whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”
2 Corinthians 12:2

Paul saw things that God did not permit him to tell us. He writes in Ephesians about our role in what is going on in the heavenly realm. God is using us the church, to reveal His glory to others:

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians 3:10,11

All believers in Christ are “the church.” It matters heavenward, how we conduct ourselves here. How we interact with one another and God is being used to reveal to the “authorities and rulers in heavenly places,” God’s glory and mysterious wisdom. We are part of this great battle and adventure. Forget your hair, will ya?

One more "what if:" Jesus said that angels don’t marry. (Matthew 22:30) What if angels can’t easily tell the difference between men and women? Could that be why Paul instructs us to consider the angels by having proper signs of authority clearly visible? If there are things that angels don’t know, what if one of them is human gender? Ever see a critter and not know if it were a male or female at first glance? What if Paul, who has seen parts of heaven, is trying to get the church to keep God's busy angels clear on who they are ministering to, so that the church can better do our part in what is going on in the eternal realm?

Walter, I don’t care how you part your hair. The Bible doesn’t say how long is long or how short, short is for hair. But if the Lord calls you to a ministry where you’ll need transportation. And then if after praying, your Aunt Mavis gets a new car and gives you her old prize Mary Kay Cadillac…perhaps the angels think you’re a girl.

Friday, November 23, 2007

“Why Can’t We Still Ask God to Destroy Our Enemies, Like King David Did?”

Shawn has people in his life that really want to see him fail. They actively talk about him negatively, and literally do what they can to see him lose at life. They even let him know in no uncertain terms, that they hate him! Jesus said that we were to love our enemies, but Shawn also reads in the Psalms, how King David asks God to eliminate his enemies. So what about it? Why can’t we call down some lightening? Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:43

Back when the Israelites were receiving the Levitical law, Moses told folk what to do to those who wrong them:

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Leviticus 19:18

We who believe know that God is Love. But we also know that there is a war going on. There has been this war going on in the heavenly realm since before mankind fell in the Garden of Eden. Heavenly things are not confined to time. And we know the ending of this war already. It is recorded in scripture. We needn’t worry, but we who belong to the Kingdom of Light are still expected to fight. There’s been no truce called by either side. And nice as you are, if you are a child of God, you have an enemy.

Since the fall, man has always had struggles. God has not changed from the time of David to now. He is immutable. And that is a good thing for us:

“I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

Malachi 3:6

God has an enemy. Satan’s enmity with God and His children, was announced when Adam and Eve fell. What has changed is that unlike in King David’s time, followers of God now become born again; transformed into new creatures.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
2 Corinthians 5:17-19

David was not born again, and indwelt by God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit "came upon" David, to lead a kingdom of people who were set apart as God's own people: a nation where the world could see the amazing faithfulness and holiness of God. In those days, worshipers of God came from all over, to worship God in Jerusalem. Our battle plan changed when Christ rose victoriously from the dead.

Now since the resurrection of Christ, believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Instead of people coming to a Temple in Jerusalem to meet God, we who believe become mobilized Temples of God, being sent out by the church, "into all the world.” The war is still on, but the battle plan has changed due to Christ’s decided victory on the cross. Our mission now is to bring His message of reconciliation to those yet lost. It is a message of love. And that is hard to convey if we ourselves are not filled with God’s love.

David was not equipped to fight spiritual battles. He was not a "new creation." In Christ we have been so equipped. David’s foes were people who were against the kingdom of God on earth. Earthly battles were fought, and God was sought for strength and protection and to defeat David’s enemies. The smallest nation around, surrounded by enemies, was promised protection by God. Even today’s maps of the Middle East, show her surrounding nations as sworn enemies of Israel. Yet after thousands of years, she stands while her enemies gnash their teeth and raise fists and burn effigies.

David knew that it was God doing battle for Him. This hasn’t changed. In the Psalms, David didn’t boast of how he would defeat his enemies. He cried out to God while being pursued and attacked, for God to do as He had promised him.

“Give us aid against the enemy,
for the help of man is worthless.
With God we will gain the victory,
And He will trample down our enemies.”

Psalm 60:11,12

God had promised that He would deal with David’s enemies. David was fine in asking God according to God's promise to him. If you want to see God’s promise of protection, it makes wonderful reading. (See: 2 Samuel 7.)

David fought human enemies, but the battle lines have changed. Jesus came and brought about resurrection power for those to be born anew in Christ. God has not changed. He changes men and women into new creatures! The war is still on. But now followers of God are released to fight heavenly foes. No longer headquartered in Jerusalem’s Temple; only armed with truth, Jesus said that now God wants us to worship in Spirit and in truth. (See: John 4:21-24). As new creatures in Christ, we have been changed into spiritual soldiers.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:12

Paul wrote to Timothy:

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
1 Timothy 6:12

There is a battle that you entered the moment you confessed your faith in Christ. Paul must have sensed that his time on earth was ending when he later wrote to Timothy:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
2 Timothy 4:7

People in Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and so able to fight spiritual battles. Still, we cannot run about boasting as if we are doing anything of our own power. It is still God’s Spirit who enables us to battle. What is there to boast? The victory was decided before we were born!

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38,39

In David’s time, Jerusalem was to be a beacon of God to all nations. Constantly under attack, men like David fought for Jerusalem, crying out to God to take care of their enemies. Since Christ’s victory, the believers’ role and our very nature has been changed. Equipped by His Spirit inside us, we are to “go into all the world.” And in order to show the world His reconciliation, we need to be a forgiving people. God hasn’t changed. God used the nation of Israel to show the world His ways. Jesus came, showing the world God Himself! Now the church is being used by God, to display to all of the beings in the heavenly realms, His amazing wisdom and glory and intentions.

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians 3:10,11

I guess that kind of makes us as instruments of God's object lessons to the heavenly rulers and authorities. We continue to do battle, keeping this faith, while bringing God’s message to the world. We trust God, that as we fight, and deliver His message to those yet lost, that He is using us also in the heavenly realm, to display His wisdom and purposes to these powerful beings we don’t see with our earthly eyes. To enter the battle today, we must forgive the flesh and blood which tries to oppose, going after their darkness with His love and light. We don't ask God to destroy our enemies, because our mission is to help rescue them from the spiritual darkness that enfolds them.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
Ephesians 6: 13-18

Friday, November 2, 2007

“How Can I Shine For Jesus, When I’m Surrounded By Imbeciles?”

Bob lives in a prison, where Christian kindness gets misinterpreted as weakness. How he loves his neighbor can look quite different. This week while Bob tried answering one neighbor’s sincere question about God, 3 or 4 inmates, listening in adjacent cells, would clamp their hands over their ears and start shouting obscenities, specifically to drown Bob out? According to my dictionary, an "imbecile" is “any adult with the mental capacity of a child, who needs constant supervision to perform daily tasks.” So I chose not to edit Bob’s question.

Jesus tells us to let our light shine. Recently I felt like I wasn’t really “shining” for God. I too asked Him, “How can I shine for Jesus here?” Though I can’t say what I would do in Bob’s situation, God opens ways for us to shine His light into the darkness.

Last week three different people asked me to lie for them. One wanted me to lie to my insurance company. Another wanted me to lie to their parole board. And then a young man came to my door, wanting to sell me a newspaper subscription, to a paper that I don’t much appreciate.

When I declined he asked why. I explained that I’d read that paper and didn’t want my children exposed to its obvious agenda. Then he leans closer and says, “Well, how about just ordering the newspaper and then canceling after your first week? That way, I’ll still get credit for the sale.”

He didn’t actually nudge me and wink but the idea was there. I said, “I just wouldn’t do that.” Then as if I didn’t get it, he clarified, “But if you’ll just subscribe, I’ll get points towards my scholarship?” And I said, “I just can’t do that.” He merely shrugged and walked away.

Later, rolling my eyes, I told Ann about these requests for me to be dishonest. Then I felt conviction. For the Christian, conviction means that God is about to do something in us, that we’ve asked Him to do. I didn’t yet know what He was doing, but God was about to show me how to shine for Him, while also correcting a lie that I was perpetrating.

After talking with Ann about my conversation with the newspaper salesman, the verse that invaded my head was:

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
Romans 2:1

Whenever the Lord brings this verse to my attention now, I respond, “Okay Lord, I don’t see how, but I believe You. How am I doing these ‘same things?’ ” I couldn’t see how I was doing what that man at the door was doing. But if I were, God would show me. First I tried thinking about how I might be doing this, but nothing came to mind. I finally stopped trying, and waited for God to speak.

Later, the only examples that He brought up were old ones, which I had long since repented of. I asked why He was only bringing up the old stuff. I wasn’t feeling guilty, but what was the point? Then the very words I had spoken to that young man at my door came back to me. I’d said to him, ”I wouldn’t do that,” and then “I can’t do that.” And that was what God wanted me to see.

Wouldn’t I or couldn’t I lie, or encourage others to do so for me? Obviously from the old examples, I would and could do this. That I don’t do so now is from my not wanting to grieve the Holy Spirit. I know what that’s like, because I’ve done it. And for those of us in Christ, grieving God’s Spirit is painful because He indwells us. Our sinful speech can grieve Him:

“And do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Ephesians 4:29,30

That was my forehead-slap moment. I had not been honest with these men. Truthfully, the only reason I wasn’t helping them lie was because it would grieve the Holy Spirit Who is living in me. It had nothing to do with my being morally superior! Christians don’t stop lying because we are morally higher than others. We stop lying because God in us grieves when we do, and we experience that grief. Saying “I wouldn’t do that,” is misleading (A lie). I should rather have said, “No way. My Lord would not want me doing that.”

Had I said something like that it would have been spiritual seed sown, which God could use. The salesman may still have turned and walked away, disappointed in me. But I wouldn't have left him thinking either: 1. “That guy is better than I am.” Or 2. “That guy must think he is better than I am.” The first statement is certainly not true. The second had better not be true if I’m going to have any kind of a prayer life! And so I repented.

Ann and I once lived in a city where buses were crowded, and pickpockets were many. Bus thieves there could rob you without your ever knowing it! Mashed into these buses, you were pressed on all sides. Usually the only foreigner on the bus, I was presumed to be a rich tourist. Before learning to put my money in my socks, I was getting ripped off left and right!

Bus pickpocketing there was so frequent, that there was a customary response when someone was ripping another off. Sensing the thief upon them, the would-be victim would say quietly, but firmly, “It isn’t necessary to steal.” And that would actually get the thief to stop stealing. It worked amazingly! In time, we foreigners were saying it ourselves.

Then one year someone brought in thousands of gospel tracts that were both beautifully illustrated, and pocket-sized. After having one stolen from me, the light bulb went on, and a new “ministry” was born! We called it, “Victim Evangelism.” We would carry these tracts in our pockets, with notes to the thief, asking them to read this message of love, from God to them, and expressing that we forgave their thieving of us. I’d get on the bus with a tract in every pocket, smile my way through the trip and get off, having been robbed 6 or 7 times; then refill my pockets for the ride home. Glory!!!

Christian literature was illegal to hand out there, but there weren’t any laws about having it stolen from you. Hundreds of tracts went out this way! Bringing Jesus into this once dreaded situation totally changed how we rode buses. Now I was eager to get on the most crowded of buses as we watched the stack of literature deplete. “Rip me off! Make my day!”

When the tracts were all gone we had to go back to the, “It isn’t necessary to steal,” line again. And while that got the thieves out of our pockets, it didn’t satisfy. Where was God in that? So to bring God's presence into light, we started saying to the pickpockets, “God can see you, sir.” That not only got them to stop just as well, but it felt right. If we believe God is omnipresent, then He is here now! Why not point Him out, making the most of every situation?

“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

Psalm 139:7,8

Jesus is with us:

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20

We shine for Jesus, by revealing Him among us. Last week I wasn’t shining for Jesus, when I wasn’t saying that my Lord is why I wasn’t about to lie. If I don’t lie, or cheat, or steal, it is because God is holy, and He has chosen to live inside me. And if He’ll live in me, then there is hope for anybody that I meet each day.

Hopefully next time I decide to be of no help, I’ll say something true that the person asking can take away with them. Like me or not, here’s a seed that can really bless them!

“Now, Lord, please help me to get into the habit of revealing your presence in my every situation.”

I can’t imagine how Bob will manage to bring Jesus into his situation. But knowing Bob, by his next letter, God will have shown Him a way. We are all to shine for Jesus, who is our Light; however dark the world around us.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14-16

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Am I Eternally Secure?"

Some folk in Kevin’s fellowship group believe that Christians can lose their salvation if they fall away from God. Others there say that even if a Christian seems to have “backslidden” terribly, that God will still save them because they had believed in Christ before. What is the deal with “eternal security?”

Dear Kevin, what has divided Theologians since Arminius and Calvin in the early 1600s, I shall now set perfectly straight. Ha! Right!

What “eternal security” critics dub “once saved, always saved,” John Calvin called “The Preservation of the Saints.” Arminius taught that it is possible for a Christian to repudiate their faith, and thus be disqualified from the salvation they once had. This Calvin-Arminian difference shouldn’t hinder Christian fellowship. Both Calvinists and Arminians believe that nobody can be saved, without God’s making salvation possible. Both support that faith in Christ is essential for salvation.

Their differences seem more to do with a philosophical definition of man’s “free will.” Calvinists see free will as the freedom to choose according to one’s deepest desires. We choose what we really want most. The Calvinist would say that its absurd (impossible) to choose what one doesn’t want. Arminians see free will as the freedom to choose other than we chose.

Imagine a couple pieces of cake. At first glance, I might want the bigger piece. Choosing the smaller piece indicates a desire that’s deeper than my sweet tooth. Maybe I wanted you to have the bigger piece. So, while the Calvinist might say that my godly heart wanted you to have the bigger piece, the Arminian might say that though I really wanted the cake myself, I chose what I didn’t want, for your sake. If I gobbled down the cake, the Calvinist might then say that my fleshly desires outweighed what I knew was nobler. I chose according to my greatest desire: eating cake. The Arminian would counter that I chose it freely, though it wasn’t what I knew to be best, and now I would have to suffer the consequence of chubby cheeks. But it doesn’t matter what they think. Kevin didn’t ask Calvin or Arminius, he asked me, and Tom would say, “Hey Calvin and Arminius, if neither of you guys are gonna eat that cake…..”

Jacobus Arminius’ and John Calvin’s adherents, have been debating whether or not Christians could lose their salvation, since 1603. We still don’t know which of them is now saying, “toldjyaso!” If you want more on this argument, complete with tons of Bible verses that support and give struggle to both sides of the issue, you might start clicking around here:


or here is a nutshell version: http://www.yutopian.com/religion/theology/Calvinism.html

Kevin’s really saying, “I want to be sure that I’m going to heaven.” That is a very good thing to want to know! Scripture does not encourage us to look to other Christians for the answer to this important question. We are rather instructed to examine ourselves and to listen for God. First we are to look to our hearts:

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”
2 Corinthians 13:5

Examine your beliefs. Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who died for your sins, and that being sinless Himself, He was raised from the dead, and that upon belief and the confession of your faith, that He has sent you the Holy Spirit, as a deposit now, evidence that you are sealed by God for that day when you will leave your earthly body, and be present with Him? Theologians can’t settle this for you. You have to examine yourself honestly. Secondly then, turn to God, and listen.

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
Romans 8:14

“Yet to all who receive Him (Jesus), to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God."
John 1:12,13

Are you a child of God? Ask God to let you know. There is no shame in wanting assurance that you belong to God. We are to hear from Him.

Hymn writer Fanny Crosby wrote such hymns as, “Redeemed,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “I Am Thine O Lord,” and many more. For some time, she ached to have personal assurance from God, wanting to know if she were His.

We are not always going to feel the presence of God in this world. There will be times when thoughts of “Am I really His?” come in, and that can be hard. John Calvin and Jacob Arminius’ debate for sure is mentally stimulating. But the soul wants personal evidence, a testimony from God, that we are His.

At such times it’s good to reflect upon the things God has done to show you that He is your God. Like the Israelites were instructed to do, retelling acts of God’s faithfulness to us over the years helps. These dry times pass, and we find God is still with us.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Psalm 43:5

Miss Crosby was already famous for her poetry, and Christian lyrics. Yet she wanted to know for sure that she was saved. Then one week she attended some revival meetings in New York. Though she’d gone forward to pray the two previous nights, and was still unsure, when the congregation sang, “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed,” God broke through and spoke to her. She now knew that He was hers and she His. Miss Crosby wrote: “My very soul was flooded with celestial light. For the first time I realized that I had been trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in the other.” One of her most famous hymns that she later wrote, was, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine.” She'd known her scriptures, but she'd longed for that “blessed assurance” from God. There’s nothing wrong with that. Quoting the prophet Joel, Peter said:

“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Acts 2:21

We’ve gone from scripture-sighting theologians, to subjective songwriters. It takes more than just knowing verses to back up our personal beliefs. And it’s not about just having a good cry, and feeling better. Our security lies in knowing God, and being known by Him. Eternal security is being in Christ. Jesus said,

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”
John 17:3

Knowing Jesus Christ is eternal life! Do you know Jesus? Does He know you? How do we know? What do we do when we doubt? There is one passage of scripture that used to cause me concern this way. Jesus said,

“Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did not we prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Matthew 7:21-23

These verses scared me! I didn’t always do God’s will. Would I be among these? So I first examined myself to make sure that I was in the faith. I believed what the Bible says about Jesus. Check. And then I cried out to Jesus, expressing strongly how I did not want to be rejected by Him. “I’m Yours aren’t I, Lord?” In time, God’s Spirit spoke to my heart. And I was comforted.

In Matthew 7, Jesus is talking about false prophets; wolves in sheep’s clothing. He wasn’t talking about Christians who mess up. He is talking about people who call themselves His prophets, but who aren’t His. They are religious, and they are in the church. But they are not in Christ. He says, “I never knew you.” Earlier in Matthew, Jesus talks about there being both wheat and weeds (tares) all sown in the same field. (Matthew 13:24-29) Joining a church is good; but it doesn’t save your soul. You need to know, and to be known by God.

When the disciples went out to minister, they came back amazed at what they were able to do in Jesus’ name. While Jesus acknowledged that their work had indeed been powerful, He said:

“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:20

Does God know you? Do you know Him? If so, both Calvin and Arminius are your brothers in Christ. If you are concerned about your standing with God, first ask yourself what you believe. Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. Then talk to God, and wait for His Spirit to speak to your spirit. That will be your blessed assurance. Then please, let us hear the hymns that you write after that!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

“Is My Baptism Still Valid If the Minister Messed Up the Words?”

Vinnie’s fellowship group was visited and a discussion arose about baptism. According to the visitors, if you were not baptized “in the name of Jesus only,” then your baptism was not only invalid, but you aren’t yet saved. He wonders, “Where is this coming from?”

The visitors need a life. With billions of people not yet knowing Jesus as their Savior, some just spend their time going about other churches, casting doubt into the hearts of young believers. Scripture refers to such people as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them."

Matthew 7:15,16

We know them by their fruit. While billions have no church within reach, and hundreds of peoples do not yet have even one book of the Bible translated into their language, and while so many are still without Jesus in our neighborhoods, these religious wolves, consider it their calling to “correct” what others are doing for Jesus,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”
Luke 10:2,3

The wolves are here, ready to pounce on those whose lives you touch with God’s word. Beware! (See the parable of the sower in Luke 8:1-15) Vinnie’s faith is fine because he knows God’s word. It’s because he helps others come to know Jesus that these wolves come around. Wolves show up with “new revelations,” telling young believers new requirements to “really” be saved.

Here is a quick look at this particular “Jesus Only” thing. It doesn’t really deserve a separate category, but simply to be included in the many ugly dances with wolves. Jimmy Swaggart wrote a very gracious and interesting article explaining “Jesus Only”ism on believersweb.org. To read it, you can click here.

Basically, back around 1914 some people left the Pentecostal church, claiming to have received new revelation concerning baptism. Apparently, Christians since Christ’s ascension have been doing it all wrong. (Aren’t wolves special?) The church baptizes as Jesus commissioned us to do:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19,20

This 1914 schism of church folk decided that there was no Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) but that the Godhead was only Jesus. They got this new revelation from reading something Peter announced in Acts 2:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2:38

Known as "Oneness Pentecostalism," (if I'm understanding this correctly) it is believed that Peter must have received a revelation that this was now how to baptize. But what at first just seems to be nitpicking, is really a denial of the Orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity; saying that Jesus was God entirely, and that there was no longer a Father or a Holy Spirit by name. They say God is “Jesus only.”

Though the Bible doesn’t tell us how to baptize people, church writings which date as early as 153 AD, do show that believers have since the start, baptized according to Matthew 28:19,20. In Acts 2, Peter was preaching Christ to people who had just witnessed a powerful move of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He wasn’t giving instruction on baptism. If Peter had some new revelation on how to baptize, he sure didn’t expound on it in his other writings!

Wolves aren’t big picture people. They come only with isolated verses and extra-biblical teaching. They come to devour, wherever God is bringing people to Himself.

In 1982 I took some friends to a Billy Graham Crusade in Boston. Volunteering there, I'd found the BGEA staffs’ love and concern for people to know Jesus and to have their lives transformed by His Spirit and His word, wonderful! They worked beautifully, linking new believers up with local churches. A dear friend of mine went forward (with thousands of others) to express her faith in Christ, and I saw at a distance, an old classmate from high school going forward as well. I was thrilled! God was moving hearts in Boston that summer. Elated we left the stadium!

Then about 20 yards just outside the gates, a rather tense person “God blessed” me, and slapped a pamphlet in my hand. It was a pamphlet denouncing Billy Graham as a false teacher, because he wasn’t using the King James translation of the Bible. You know, the same English translation that Paul and Timothy used? Honestly!

I was stunned! Didn’t this person experience what just happened? Did they miss all those people coming to Christ, the worship music, and the prayer? You could see on their face, no peace, no love, no joy; nothing that anyone would want. What they had was a lot of zeal and a huge pile of denunciation tracts. And they were going right for those who had just received God’s word!

Driving home, I slid the pamphlet into my pocket, glad that my friend hadn’t received one. I saw it as God’s protection upon her. She probably would have just rolled her eyes at the pamphlet’s illogic, but I think God wanted her joy to just continue.

Where people come to Jesus, wolves close in. Unable to minister themselves, their message lacking any “good news,” wolves prey on new believers who others have led to Christ. They’re trained to sniff out believers who have newfound freedom in Christ.

Overseas, some so-called “missionaries” came into our fellowship, never mentioning their particular disagreements with our beliefs. Nice to our faces, they befriended those we'd helped to find Christ. Then they started pulling some new believers aside, and began privately teaching them their “deeper truths.”

Soon, we weren’t even seeing our local brothers and sisters. When we did, they were distant. They criticized us for eating meat and for worshiping on Fridays and Sundays, insisting that the Sabbath was only Saturday. They no longer considered us Christians at all! And then true to cult form, even when shown scripture concerning the freedom we have in Christ (see Romans 14:1-6), they held to their “deeper truths,” quoting extra-biblical writers. The wolves had got them; their joy devoured!

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
Romans 14:1-6

Jesus commissioned the church to go out and make disciples of all nations. Wolves ignore that commission, and go after disciples already made, trying to exchange their Christ-given freedom for religious bondage. Those wolves tricked us, and led our friends into a religious wall, that has taken some years to bounce back from.

I got to sit in on a baptism class once, where the Pastor was asked by a rather young believer, with a shaky voice: “Last night a friend told me that if someone sins after baptism, that they can’t be forgiven for that sin, and so we had better make sure we’re done sinning before we get baptized. Is that true?” And the pastor, having heard this wolf drivel before, and with a completely sincere face, looked at the young man and said, “If I thought that were true, I’d just hold you all under until the bubbles stopped.”

Thank God for this wise and funny pastor! But see the pattern there? You have a new believer. He wants to obey God and be baptized. So in come the wolves.

Vinnie understands that what happens during baptism happens between God and the person being baptized. He knows our thoughts. He sees our faith. And God baptizes us into Himself, and into the church. God baptizes! The minister gets you wet, and hopefully praises God over you while declaring to onlookers what is happening. But if he didn’t say things just the way everyone likes, don’t let the wolves rob you of the joy of your baptism. God was right there with you. And He still is.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Is It Okay for Christians to Eat Pork?"

Kay was talking with a friend and a question came up regarding pork. Some say that Christians should abstain from it as the Old Testament commands. What should Kay say to religious friends who tell her that eating pork is wrong?

Before getting started, I ask my Jewish friends who follow Christ and my friends who grew up under Islam but who now follow Christ, to please just go with your conscience on this one. That will please God.

Paul wrote:

“. . . food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”
1 Corinthians 8:8

Here Paul is discussing meat that has been offered to idols. Some believers felt that the gods behind these idols had powers. Paul believed that there being only one true God, that if a person had faith in the Lord Jesus, then they needn't fret. Yet Paul gives room for those who cannot confidently eat such meat, and reminds mature believers to consider other believers’ consciences. People need to be confident in their actions; that they are pleasing to God.

If a brother wasn’t sure and, seeing me eating “forbidden” meat (according to his understanding) himself ate anyway, maybe to avoid a scene, his conscience would suffer,

“…because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
Romans 14:23

Paul advises we simply not discuss or publicly eat such meats that are questionable for the sake of your brother or sister who has the “weaker conscience.”

Ever notice how “Christians” who try to impose dietary restrictions, present it as if they have some deeper or fuller revelation of God? Yet the scriptures say that those who are not free to eat are the ones who are actually “weaker” in their faith.

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
Romans 14:1-6

People who nay-say Porky and friends, usually site Leviticus 11. Here Moses lists foods that are either "clean" or "unclean." Only “clean” animals could be sacrificed to God. People worshiping Israel’s God, had to abstain from eating the meat of unclean animals. What animals were edible?

"You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud."
verse 5

The pig has the split hoof, but with only one stomach, it doesn't chew the cud. It was an unclean animal. (I'm guessing incumbents don't have split hooves?) Leviticus 11 goes on to list what birds, sea animals, and insects are clean or unclean. Eating anything unclean disqualified one from participation in worship until certain ceremonial cleansing took place.

God says,

"I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground."
verse 44

God's not talking about diet and health issues. He created mankind to worship Him as God. His people were coming to a land filled with pagan practices that they were not to imitate. These Israelites were to be a people obviously peculiar, and set apart for their God (holy). Their entire identity was about worshiping the one true God. They were to be a beacon to the world. If foreigners wanted to leave their false gods to worship the one true God, they had to come to Jerusalem.

Jesus came to complete the law. (Including dietary laws.) With Christ’s suffering, Leviticus became the Old Covenant. In Christ, the New Covenant between God and man was not law, but grace. The blood of the Old was sheep and bulls and etc.; specific sacrifices for specific uncleanness. The blood for the New Testament sacrifice was to be the blood of Jesus, which cleanses completely, once and for all. Even before Jesus went to the cross, He declared "all foods clean."

Once after explaining what is "clean" or "unclean," Jesus’ disciples pulled Him aside, asking Him to clarify. Jesus explained:

"Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean?' For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")
Mark 7:19

This was radical! Jesus turned "clean" and "unclean" from matters of ritual and religion, into matters of the heart! Serving God was no longer a matter of rules to follow, but of a cleansed conscience (no longer defiled). Conscience became the deciding factor with diet.

People talk about bad or good consciences. We read more in scripture about “clear” or “weak," or “defiled” or “cleansed” consciences. The Holy Spirit is better heard with a clean conscience. Hebrews says of the Old Covenant:

“…the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.”
Hebrews 9:9

And of the New:

"The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"
Hebrews 9:13,14

Jesus brought eternal connection with God. Christ became the ultimate sacrifice. The old regulations were no longer the requirements to serve God. Christ’s blood applied to the believer is what's required.

"They (Old Testament dietary laws) are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings-external regulations applying until the time of the new order."
Hebrews 9:10

Before Christ people had to go to Jerusalem to worship God in His Temple. Now the Holy Spirit indwells believers, and we are sent out “into all the world.” People today meet God through Jesus, and perhaps study Leviticus later.

In Acts chapter 10, Peter has a vision. God was extending his Kingdom to the world. Peter envisioned a sheet lowered with all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds inside the sheet. God said in the vision, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." Peter objected, protesting that he never ate anything unclean. But God insisted, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Peter needed that to go to a gentile home. Cornelius, the gentile, and his household were subsequently baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God was extending beyond Jerusalem. Would Jews in Christ, who observed Leviticus, make room for these people? This was no small shift in thinking!

Later in chapter 15, the Jewish believers had to decide if they were going to accept as brothers and sisters in Christ, followers of Jesus who were not compelled to adopt Judaism, along with their new faith in God. Change doesn't come easily to any of us. How much harder must this have been to see non-Jews worshiping God; yet obviously not ritually clean according to Leviticus!

Thankfully, the Jerusalem believers recognized what God was doing, and understood that through faith in Christ, God was also imparting to non-Jewish believers, His Holy Spirit. After much discussion the Jewish believers wrote a welcoming letter to the new gentile believers, recognizing them as family in Christ. They only had this to say about food:

"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."
Acts 15:28,29

God loves His people. Leviticus was never meant to exclude, but to set up a city on a hill. Israel would help others find the one true God, amidst all the false gods of the world. Christ came fulfilling all the law. Thereby whosoever would enter God’s Gate (Jesus) can now do so. We now can worship God as we were created to do. It isn’t about the diet. It is about being right in our hearts with God. Then we can be free in our hearts to connect with Him always.

So Kay, as long as you aren’t chasing Arnold or Wilbur (or whatever your pig’s name is), around with a knotted rope, I think you are good to go. Maybe just don’t invite that particular friend to dinner today, (or my cardiologist).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Saints or Sinners? How Does God See Us Now That We are Christians? "

To address this question, I appeal to Romans 4:17 where it says:

“– the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

One will say, “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” Another will react with, “No, you are a saint who sometimes sins.” Which is true of us? Relax you two! You are both a sinner and a saint!

One fears the other won’t confess their sins. But how can one be perfect this side of heaven? For those claiming sainthood, they are concerned that those calling themselves “sinners” are missing all God has for them, and may be sending an “it’s okay to sin message.” But my friends, who call themselves saints, freely admit that they sometimes fail. And friends, who say they are sinners, are fully aware that they are utterly forgiven in Christ. Why this tension concerning who we really are in Christ?

The problem of course is that we don’t see as God sees. This has more to do with the size of our brains, than it has with the quality of our faith. The two sides of this coin won’t stop flipping till we arrive in Heaven.

Scripture tells us we are to believe we are saints, while confessing our sins freely. This is no contradiction though, because God is the one most involved, and most invested with changing us from sinners to saints. He is able to do and see what we are not.

Scripture tells us to admit that we have sinned.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”
1 John 1:8-10

But God has set things in motion, whereby we must totally trust Him for our salvation and righteousness. We are not to say that we are without sin. Yet we are also to recognize that in Christ, we have been forgiven and cleansed of all our sins and so are declared righteous by God. We confess our sins while God declares us righteous. And for this, we praise and thank Him!

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
Titus 3:4-7

So does God see us as saints or sinners? He sees people born of His Holy Spirit, justified by His grace. He sees believers as saints but we need to be careful how we express it to others. When I look at my life in comparison with what I’m created and now recreated to be in Christ, I see that I fall short of what God wants of me. (Romans 3:23). Yet even when I blow it, there is this undying hope within me, because of what God has done through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit points me to Christ’s completed work on the cross. I’m forgiven of all my sins, and declared by God to be righteous. So while I confess my sin, God declares me a saint. I won’t declare myself a saint without telling folk about what God has done to make me into one.

A saint is “one who has been set apart for God.” That’s what sanctification is. Saints are sanctified people. Being sanctified means “to be made holy.” When people think of “holiness,” they often mistakenly equate it with “the absence of sin.” Holiness is not just the absence of sin. It is an attribute of God which He has offered to man, if we would let Him sanctify us. Sanctification began when we received the Holy Spirit, upon declaring our faith in Christ. God sees His sanctification work already complete because He is faithful. That is, He does what He promises. When Jesus shouted on the cross, “It is finished!” My sanctification was signed and sealed in Heaven. Yours was too, if you are in Christ.

Unlike God, we live in time; not yet seeing His finished work in us. Still, even when we falter, our spirits perceive and have hope of this completion. (1 Corinthians 2:9) So we have our sainthood for sure, but at present we have it by faith rather than sight.

Rejoice in the promise that God will complete His work; making us into saints! The first part of sanctification is cleansing us from unrighteousness. But it continues with the renewing of our minds and conforming us into the image of His Son Jesus:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:6

On that day of Christ Jesus, we’ll see this work complete. Even then we will never say that it was by our own righteousness that we were made fit for heaven. It was God’s doing on our behalf.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul lists examples of sins. (See the list yourself.) He says that those who are sinners will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Then he says of these believers:

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”
1 Corinthians 6:11

Were those who came to Christ suddenly temptation free? I doubt that after they came to Christ that none of them ever stumbled in their walk with God. But something truly did happen to them; something that we share. While once such sinners, as mentioned in the list, now they were in Christ, and they were changed. These sinners became saints.

When I was born again, something really amazing happened. I stopped wanting to sin. I wasn’t very good at being obedient, for sure. But oh how I now wanted to be! God’s Spirit changed my heart! I probably didn’t yet look much different on the outside. But I had faith now. And God sees that! Whenever I've sinned since then, I've hated my sin. I run right into God’s presence, and bear my soul to Him.

At such times, The Father has never lightened-up His standard for me. I am expected to be changed by Him! Since my rebirth, if I sin, I have Christ. Jesus didn’t die for nothing. He is on our side; our advocate when we’ve failed God:

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”
1 John 2:1

If you sin, run to Jesus. He is your advocate with Holy God. God sees forgiven people. Jesus was the one who was the sacrifice for our sins. The very next verse here states:

“He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
1 John 2:2

In Jesus we have “atonement” with God! Atonement was not even in the English language before the Bible was translated. For what Jesus had done for us, there was no English word. So the word “At-One-Ment” was formed. Though once separated from God, thanks to what Jesus chose to suffer on that cross, our separated-from-God lives can now be at one with Him again. Atonement.

In talking about how Jesus found him, Paul writes:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
1 Timothy 1:15

Apparently we are sinners who have been made saints, thanks to the blood of Jesus, shed for us? Still uncomfortable with that? I again appeal to Romans 4:17:

“As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He (Abraham) is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

This verse is declaring that like Abraham, we follow God by faith. Like Abraham, God declares us righteous by our faith in the finished work of Christ. We may not feel “righteous” yet. But God alone can “call things that are not, as though they were.” I think we’ll be pretty safe in our testifying, whether we say, “I’m a sinner saved by grace,” or if we say, “I’m a saint, thanks to Jesus.” So long as we make clear how this righteousness has come to us: Crediting Jesus!

Monday, September 17, 2007

"What is Midlife Crisis?"

Joe was asking about midlife crisis, and what that means for Christians. “What’s the deal with Mid-life crisis?” Do Christians go through it? Is it mentioned in the Bible?

“Midlife Crisis” isn’t just a middle-aged man wearing a toupee, elevator shoes, and driving a Gremlin. And it isn’t just for men anymore. America isn’t visited in the Bible. I hesitate to throw our cultural baggage onto ancient saints, as if they went through Midlife Crisis. They were of a different culture, with their own difficulties.

Midlife Crisis comes in our mid to late 30s, (though health crisis or loss of a parent may bring it on earlier). American false gods are different than in other places. “Midlife Crisis” comes to Americans because our false gods have started to show their true ineptitude, and their promises’ emptiness, around the time our bodies pass what we have defined as “our prime.” To the extent we Christians have bought into this culture, we will suffer a Midlife Crisis. And sadly, many at this time in their life, make wrong choices, causing themselves and their loved ones pain.

Tell the folk you see going through it, that like puberty, Midlife Crisis is only a phase. It will pass. Maybe this second “puberty” happens because we take in so many lies, during our first puberty: Lies about who we are, what defines our worth, and what constitutes success.

Midlife Crisis is like a great shifting of earth. If you’re going through it, please hang in there! And please don’t make any life-changing decisions at this time! Wait for God’s peace again and then you’ll see clearly if and how to make life adjustments.

Jesus promised that storms would come to all, and that it’s important to have our lives built upon Him. He is to be our foundation. But to the extent that our lives are built on our shifting earthly cultures, we will feel it. Jesus said:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:24-27

Young people, to avoid having a Midlife Crisis, be doers and not just hearers of God’s word! One false American god is “Youth.” Hollywood tells us “youth” alone is beautiful. Why is being over 30 and “not looking your age,” considered a compliment? That is a cultural thing. Most cultures of the world, honor age; they look to elders for wisdom, and guidance, and value them. Each age has its beauty. These places don’t have our Midlife Crisis. But here, when “youth” leaves our faces, we panic as if God has abandoned us. He hasn’t. “Youth” has. Crisis!

China was great for my midlife crisis! Suddenly, I was seen as rather grotesque with my pointy nose and pale skin. On days I actually felt dapper, I could count on someone to say, “You are less evolved than we. Just look at the hair on your arms!” Sometimes people were afraid to sit next to me. This was great to get Midlife Crisis over with quickly.

One day our friend Abdulwali came over with a favor. His mother had a shop in the bazaar and had received a shipment of facial cream from America, to sell. The instructions were in English, and they needed translating. As I started translating, I must have looked very serious. I wasn’t used to using Uighur words for, “sex appeal,” “unsightly wrinkles,” or “baby’s bottom.” The shaking of the sofa woke me from my concentration. Abdulwali and his brother were holding their stomachs from laughter. “Tom, you are so funny!”

I explained that I wasn’t joking, pointing seriously to the jar, and that just got them knee slapping. I had to laugh too. This jar was insane. Later, holding a jar of this weird stuff, they asked, “Why would my grandmother want to look like she was 16?” (More laughter). “Why would a married woman with grown kids and a husband, want to run around with “more sex appeal?” (Frowns, at the implications). “Are not wrinkles like white hair; proof that one has lived long and well?” “Youth” was a foreign god there; not understood.

“Career Success” is another of our false gods. Around midlife, younger folk may start passing you up the proverbial ladder. You may not even want to do another job. But there is that felt need, to be promoted. The prodigy you once were is now being passed over. It feels like failure. Why? I left grad school and went to China where I was functionally illiterate and spoke like a 7 year old. My sense of self worth suffered. Why?

Though a believer since age 22, I have had lots of input from American culture, with its many false gods. Thankfully, our God silences lies. Midlife Crisis, for the Christian, means that liberation is near!

If you are in pain over your lost “youthfulness,” questionable “sex-appeal,” or, if your aging ankle is stuck in a rung of the corporate ladder; and if it hurts, I offer you Jesus. He is Truth. God has so infinitely better for us! Midlife Crisis offers us freedom from false gods who we’ve visited when we should have known that America is not really our home. They’ve called out their lies to us for years. Now is the time to be done with them!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Galatians 5:1

These are not our gods. God wants His children free. Is He not the great “Refiner’s Fire?” God promised to send Jesus to us. He would save us! And He would change us!

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,”
Malachi 3:1-3

What a promise! We in Christ are the priests (Levites) of God! God’s Holy Spirit, through Jesus’ blood, cleanses us completely, so that we can better serve God. We need to be shaken, refined, and set free. Consider those in Hebrews chapter 11, so commended for their faith: They were not citizens of any earthly kingdom; but had given themselves wholly to citizenship in Heaven; adopting Heaven’s culture. These were willing to be different. We are expected, as citizens of Heaven, to join them now. We are to cast off every false god, and serve only the Lord.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”
Hebrews 11:13-16

God considers those who are born anew, to be citizens of Zion, His land. I encourage you to get to Psalm 87, and sit with God, and let it sink in. You aren’t from here.

There is a great picture of an event that awaits believers when we get to Heaven. Let’s always consider what we are building upon:

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
1 Corinthians 3:11-15

Thank God for midlife crisis! Our work will pass through the flames on “that Day.” When my turn comes, to see my works tested, I don’t want the Angels to have to hand out asbestos and dark glasses, announcing, “Stand back for this one, saints! Wayyyyy back!!!”

Not just midlife, but we in Christ should always be welcoming the shaking off of anything not built on Christ. Thank God for this time of shaking! Let us see whatever is not built on Jesus fall off, so that we can recommence building. But now building only upon the Solid Rock. Amen!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

"What If I Don’t Like My Spiritual Gift?

Bill thinks God has given him the gift of prophecy. And just as he was about to ask God for confirmation, a sister in his fellowship group asked him to pray for her, adding, “I could really use a word from the Lord right now.” Pressure!!! Bill asks, “Is there any way I can ask God to give me another gift? This is really a bit much for me!”

Poor Bill! No, you cannot take it back or exchange it for another. It isn’t like that maroon sweater vest Aunt Mavis sent you. You know, the one that makes you look so dumpy? When God gives gifts, they are for keeps.

“For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.”
Romans 11:29

While the above verse is talking about mercy extended to mankind, it is interesting that the Apostle Paul includes “gifts” in there with “His call.” We are given spiritual gifts, the moment that we receive Christ. And we can’t just trade our gift, “for what’s inside the box that Carol Merrill is now showing to us.” We may however, choose to either embrace the gift that God has given, or struggle under the weight of it. The sooner we embrace the gifts we’ve been given, the sooner we will enter that adventure which God has intended for us to enjoy with Him.

When Jesus rose again, he began sending the Holy Spirit to believers. With the receiving of the Holy Spirit, we also receive spiritual gifts. Paul writes, quoting Psalm 68:18:

“This is why it says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captives in His train
And gave gifts to men.”

Ephesians 4:8

Our lives change when we embrace these gifts. The spiritual gifts God gives indicate how we will live out His calling for us. It helps to think of our gifts, not as gifts to ourselves, but as gifts that God is giving to the church worldwide. These gifts are to the body of believers. We just receive and get to use them. They are His gifts, entrusted to each of us, for all. They are:

“…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:12,13

Our Father expects us to use these gifts to bless all His children. And once we embrace the gifts, they no longer are a burden to us, but a wonderful tool that we begin learning to use, to build up the body of Christ. We start by learning what our gifts are.

Here are where you can find the gifts mentioned: Romans 12, verses 6 to 8, include: prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and showing mercy. Gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, verses 7 to 11, include: the message of wisdom, the message of knowledge, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment between spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. And from Ephesians 4, verses 11 to 13, we find these gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers.

I’ll use Bill’s example of prophecy, because it is often misunderstood. But that said, to the carnal mind, all the gifts are misunderstood. God's ways are not man's ways. Let God’s Spirit and His word, guide you to understand how to use your gifts. Once embraced, God brings people and materials and ministries and experiences into our lives, which help explain our gifts. I don't know anyone who started out, really understanding their gifts.

Your spiritual gift may not apparently suit your personality. Unlike Aunt Mavis’ sweater vest, if the gift God gives you doesn’t fit, that means He is going to get you into the shape you need to be in to fit your gift. You don't take it back to get a dumpier one to fit you. He begins fitting you for service, when you embrace the gift. Like you do with Aunt Mavis, just smile and say, "I love it!" And embrace it. It's yours! Try it on! God wants to see it on you!

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like to confront people. When I first thought God would use me prophetically, I kind of panicked. I imagined God might have me stand up in the middle of a church service, tear my robes (hey, it’s MY imagination!), with one hand gripping my hair, and the other pointing my shaking finger at the pulpit, yell "Blasssssphemmmy!!!" (Thankfully, God has never led me to do that.) I was picturing in my mind, the Prophet Elijah and the 400 false prophets of Baal. Lovingly, God started showing me other scripture that helped a lot. Verses like:

“But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”
1 Corinthians 14:3

Prophecy is to “strengthen, encourage and comfort” those in the church. I didn’t have to blast God’s children. They aren’t prophets of Baal leading the church astray. They are dearly loved children of God. I had a lot to learn!

So many benefits came in with this gift as well! Once I embraced the gift, God gently led me through issues I didn’t even realize I had; for instance the fear of man's opinion of me, and getting rid of unhealthy people pleasing ways. I can now testify that I haven’t pleased anyone in years! (Praise the Lord! Glory! Yessssss!!!)

He brought creativity into my life too. Learning to speak what I know God is saying requires creativity I don’t naturally have. And I received through embracing this gift, much more love for God’s children. What father doesn’t want his children encouraged and built up in truth? Prophecy today really is to strengthen, to build up, and to comfort God’s children. And God had to get my heart in line on this, before I could use this gift.

A prophetic word (like any gift) can come out in frustrated tones, if the person speaking them (or using them) has not embraced their gift. God not only wants His words spoken (performed) clearly, but with His tone of voice. He doesn’t get frustrated. He’s God after all. How much Bill might miss out on, if he does not embraced God’s gift! But he will.

It’s wonderful to see God move powerfully, despite our weakness! Evangelists who couldn’t sell water in a desert: mercy people who are themselves suffering affliction, givers who themselves live sacrificially, etc. Each gift needs to be learned. When we are weak, He is strong. When we use our gifts, the less naturally gifted we feel, the more glory God will get when we’ve obeyed. That is when you get to see God do His thing. His gift doesn’t seem to fit? It will. He’ll make you fit it. Can’t take it back for one that fits how you are now. That is how the world works, not God. He loves us too much not to reshape us to fit His plans for us.

I have a friend David, who has been a faithful Christian for years. Recently, he has discovered his spiritual gift of leadership. God will expect him to lead "diligently." (Romans 12:8) David is probably the opposite of anything bossy. His personality is gentle. Furthermore he saw no money for gaining the education or training for church leadership. But he prayed and obeyed. He asked the Lord to confirm to him, whether this was indeed the Spirit's guiding. Though he wasn’t eager to lead, David said "yes Lord," in his heart, to whatever God was going to say his gifts were.

God did confirm that David’s gift was leadership! And then God started opening doors! A church started offering courses through a seminary. One degree was in "church leadership." The church invited David to take the course for free through a scholarship! Studying God's word David found examples of unlikely leaders, made leaders by God. If God wants David for leadership, God will make him a leader. So now he is excited about where God is going to take him with this gift and calling. David has embraced a gift that he was at first tentative to receive.

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

Bill may not feel prophetic. But he trusts God to know what's best; and that God loves him. He’ll embrace the gift. Then the fears, the hesitations, the insecurities, will all turn around as God works through him in his weakness. And when that happens, Bill will marvel. He’ll soon, like Paul, boast in his own weakness. We all come to that concerning our true spiritual gifts. Because that’s when we see God’s strength working even through us.

If the gift doesn't fit, wear it!

Here are good verses to meditate on:

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-31

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"What Do Believers Experience at the Time of Death?"

Ross had this amazing experience! His blood pressure dropped drastically due to internal bleeding, he turned pale, and dropped to the floor. Paramedics said that when they first saw him, that he was as dead. But Ross also experienced something spiritual. He writes: “I was like Jello when I came to, and felt hands on me, but all I could see was a light, like through a tunnel. I felt peace. It was like God said to me that it wasn’t time yet and put my soul back in me. I’m wondering, what is your view on that?”

What can a believer expect to experience at the time of their death? What do the scriptures say about near death experiences?

Okay, near death experiences in the Bible: We can’t really count Elijah’s, because, he didn’t die, but was “taken up.” (2 Kings 2) Hezekiah almost died. But he cried out to God, who gave him 15 extra years. But Hezekiah didn’t see any lights. (2 Kings 20) The apostle Paul saw a light, but he wasn’t physically dying. (Acts 9) Some attribute Paul’s vision of heaven as from a near death experience, (2 Corinthians 12:2-5) but Paul is rather unsure himself how far to take that, and so we can’t presume either. Even Paul wouldn’t expound upon his experience. Lazarus died and came back, but the scriptures don’t describe his spiritual experience. Anyway, Lazarus died prior to Christ’s resurrection, and so his experience would have been more like that which Jesus describes in Luke 16: 19-31.

But look what God did for Stephen! Wow! While Stephen was still on trial, God prepared him for his earthly exit. Stephen looked up:

“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Acts 7:56

Then Stephen was dragged out by the religious mob, and brutally murdered. During the stoning, he never stopped talking to God. He cries out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” And then, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” God appeared to Stephen, just when he needed it. Despite surrounding chaos, Stephen was talking with God.

We’ve got to hang out with older Christians. Christians who have had opportunity to be with loved ones when they have passed on, or who have visited the deathbeds of believers, having the privilege of seeing them off to heaven, have witnessed some amazing things! Don’t be shy to ask them about it. It’s testimony!

It is good to consider death. Death is an ongoing part of the Christian’s life. In 1660, Sir Thomas Brooks wrote of the glory of growing older:

“An old disciple, an old Christian, is prepared for death; he hath been long a-dying to sin, to the world, to friends, to self, to relations, to all, and no man so prepared to die as he that thus daily dies.”

The more you’ve practiced dying on earth, the more you anticipate the final kick. When we realize how dead to this world we are, we find real life living in us. That life is Christ Himself.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 2:20

People in Christ pass onto Heaven; we just don’t take our bodies with us when we go. My friend Rashad writes: “… flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, because our true being is not cellular, molecular, atomic, subatomic, etc. but rather beyond this manifest form.” Paul writes:

“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
1 Corinthians 15:20

I lost an uncle and a cousin while they were young, due to heart disease. Then in 1985, when I was in Bible College, I had a heart attack. Bible school is a great place to have one too! Everyone started praying right away, and it became a spiritual event.

The pain was awful, but God was so close! I felt I could ask Him anything. But those helping me were also competing for my attention. "Tom, what is it?!?" (I wasn’t moving.) You can imagine my dismay when one school chum suggested, "It’s probably intestinal gas!"

They just didn’t think “heart attack,” for someone my age. “Intestinal gas?!?” Right! “Someone quick! Pull his finger?!?”

As friends whisked me to health services, I talked with God. He was right there! I know He’s right here now. It is just that my flesh hinders our communion. But as it lay there dying that day, God and I were conversing. It was awesome!

For example, a few days prior in class, a few of us students were comparing (okay, arguing about) Isaiah 57:1:

“The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.”

Some interpreted that hard times were coming, and God wanted to spare His people from suffering overly. Other translations seemed like God was taking certain ones before they themselves turned to evil. I can't remember what side I’d been on, but here, assuming I was dying, I asked, "Oh Lord! Does this mean that had I lived longer, that I would have become apostate?!?" And God said to me, "My son, if that were so, wouldn't you want to come now?"

Suddenly, I saw that none of my ambition to impact the world for God amounted. That I am His is what mattered to God. I was finally going home where I belonged! And I think for the first time that was all that mattered to me. My name was written in the "Lamb's book of Life." He didn't really answer my question. He just changed my heart. I felt like I could actually enter Heaven now, rejoicing rightly:

“However do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:20

The pain increased, and my classmates got me to the clinic. The nurse couldn’t find my pulse. Yet the more my body faded, the less of a barrier there seemed between God and I. I then knew that we in Christ don’t die. Our bodies stop, but as they do, we just continue on into His glorious presence. I fully expected to see Him shortly.

Only one thing troubled me. If the pain got much worse before I went, I might cuss. I had never been in such pain before and it was getting worse. Before knowing Jesus, swearing was a big part of my emotional vocabulary. If the pain got so bad, would my final words dishonor Him and shame me? I did not want to go out like that! God had been so awesome during this time, so close! I loved Him now more than ever. So I asked God to help me not to curse. Again without hesitation, He so clearly reminded me of 1 Corinthians 10:13:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

He was going to make a way for me! All was well. I knew that it was just a matter of my body giving its last struggles before I could see God. I was going home. This was going to be great!

The school nurse sent me to the ER. The ambulance came, and a campus officer went with it. Once in ER someone rolled out the defibrillators. I wanted to yell, "Helloooo! I'm not unconscious yet!!!" I prayed, “God, can I come before they use those?”

The ER doctor placed a pill under my tongue, felt my pulse, and then gave me another pill. And then the pain started to go away. And I heard her saying, "You are going to be all right sir!" At once God’s voice was fading from my ears. I knew He was there. But hearing became less and less. The ER came into view. Imagine! Moments ago I was about to enter the great banquet feast, finally home in Heaven. Two nitroglycerine pills later, and I’m back in Chicago, on a no cholesterol diet! Tom wept.

God comforted me in the days that followed, my earthly future so uncertain. God now talked to me, not like during the heart attack, but as before. He hadn’t left me. Heaven is coming! Remember how God gave me 1 Corinthians 10:13? Well, the campus policeman who had brought me to ER in the ambulance visited me in the hospital. He said that the ambulance workers could hear me singing praises to God. Isn't God awesome? Christ had been leading me in song as I was dying! No cussing!

So what can a believer expect at the time of their death? You can expect God to be there for you. He will be with you. Lazarus and Paul and scripture don't tell us any more. And I think that is cause it is too great to be uniform for all of us, this side of Heaven. We can talk about it when we get there. Okay?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"How Do You Find People To Witness To?"

Sam writes, “I have shared the gospel with all my relatives. People at work, know that I’m a Christian. How can I find people who are open to hearing about Jesus?”

Instead of running around looking for people to witness to, I think we are rather to diligently let people out there, come to us. I know, that sounds like a contradiction. How can one “diligently” let others “come” to them? "Diligently" implies that we’re trying. “Letting others come to us,” sounds like we are being passive about evangelism. God’s idea of evangelism may not be ours. When we ask God “why,” we get:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways, “ declares the Lord.”

Isaiah 55:8

But we in Christ know, that all of His ways are ultimately better than ours. So we give in to Him and let Him change our thinking:

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9

Logic tells us to go out there and get things done just right. But when it comes to His family, God has a higher plan. While we may try to convince people to follow Jesus, Jesus says to us,

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:44

I’m not at all advocating complacency. When it comes to evangelism, we are to be diligent. When it comes to the lost souls of this world, we are to be passionate until all have heard the gospel message. But it isn’t about you and I being effective. It is about being available and eager for God’s opportunities, in response to our prayers, expectations and obedience. It was Jesus who said:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28:16

But it was also Jesus who said:

“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
John 12:32

While Jesus was saying this to indicate His crucifixion, He was also saying how people would come to Him. For us to “lift Jesus up” is to boast on Him with those we meet. Is Christ so important in your life that His dealings with you are more exciting for you to discuss than the weather, this week’s game, or your vacation plans? It takes getting into the habit; but once you start “lifting Jesus up,” you’ll meet those being drawn to Him. God will be able to trust sending these dear souls to you; knowing you'll tell them about Him. Hudson Taylor wrote:

“If we want to be soulwinners and build up the church, which is His temple, let us note this: not by discussion or by argument, but by lifting up Christ will we draw men to Him.”

Ann and I were in Xinjiang for months, and hadn’t made anything like a friend. We’d met lots of wonderful people. Everyone seemed to be either friendly, or interested in the “foreign guests.” People were so nice to us, and I was reading friendship into every gesture. People there were warmer and less reserved than I’d grown up around. Also, hospitality is very important there. A friendly countenance and gesture there is simply a way to be neighborly. So it was going to take discernment if I were to ever sort out who wanted friendship, and who was only being friendly.

God also had to change my conception of evangelism. I believed that to share Christ, I first had to earn the right by first becoming friends with people we wanted to reach. I must have misunderstood some book that talked about, “friendship evangelism.” It sounds loving doesn’t it? It sounds like I’m respecting them by wanting to win their friendship before I told them they needed Jesus. That's proper. That's the polite thing.

Forget the logical obvious. Would I want someone to treat me that way? Would I like someone to befriend me simply for the purpose of gaining my trust, so they can lower the spiritual boom on me? I would think that this person was being sneaky. If someone didn’t really want my friendship, it would be pretty lousy of them to seem like my friend just so that they can tell me something they assume I’m too stiff-necked to listen to otherwise. How judgmental that would seem! I was cut to the heart when I saw myself doing this very thing. Okay, I repent! But now what?

One day, I was trying to visit a particular man at school, who I had hoped to befriend. Friends yes, and then of course I hoped that he would believe and be saved. My motive here was sincere. But how exhausting! I hunted for this guy’s dorm room. Men in each “wrong” room whose door I knocked on, invited me in for tea, but I passed each invitation up in the search of this one potential friend. "Friend" was still step one in my evangelism plan. I just had to be sincere about the friendship.

When I finally got to the right room, he wasn’t home. Disappointed, I had passed up at least five friendly invitations by people I didn’t know, in pursuit of this one “potential friend.” Muslim students and teachers knew I was studying their language, and were inviting me into their dorm rooms. Aghast at my own blindness, I went out to sit on a long bench by the river that ran through campus. I began to vent out prayers of frustration to God.

“God,” I said. “I’ve been fishing all day and nothing! I can’t understand these people! What I call a friend they don’t even seem to have a word for! But this guy seems different and I think we could become friends. But when I try to reach out, You don’t bless my effort! God, I came here for You, to make friends and introduce them to Jesus. Help me out here, will You please?!?”

Having vented, I sat by the river, waiting. It was a nice river. I opened my Bible and started reading. As lunch hour was ending, students were walking about, and soon several were sitting on the bench with me, asking what I was reading. I said that God loved them, and that this book I was reading, was about that. I said that the book talked about how to be forgiven of all our sins and how to receive God’s love. Even as I was talking, I felt forgiven afresh, having blamed God instead of trusting Him. I still didn’t see what He was doing. But my smile was back on.

As I began to close the book so as to converse, one man asked me to read some to them. "Would I!?!" I read the account of Jesus telling the fishermen to let down their nets. I read slowly, translating as best I could while they corrected and coached, till we got the meaning of the story. Then God suddenly put a picture in my mind. I saw myself fishing. How frustrated I looked! That, and I was not fishing the way that Jesus’ disciples fished! I held a spear. I was spear fishing!

Chasing down that one or two was tiring me out something awful! (Not to mention I was a lousy shot!) I’d been left wondering where God was, and why I was there at all! As we said “see you later” and rose to leave for the next class, I realized that these folk had just heard more eternal truth about Jesus, than they had ever heard before. By sitting on that bench and holding out my Bible for anyone to see, I’d perhaps just let down my net for the first time in a long time. Filled with joy; God had responded even to my frustrated prayers!

I sat again marveling at God's ways; now watching the quiet flow of the river. Then He said to me, “My boy, I didn’t bring you to China to make friends. I brought you here to meet My friends.” Though actually a rebuke, what love there was in His voice! I knew God was starting something new in both my heart and so, in our lives there.

Later that week we were singing, ”majesty, Kingdom authority; flows from His thrown, unto His own, His anthem raise.” Jesus said all authority had been given to Him. He then authorized us to go out and proclaim Him. If for any reason I didn’t obey Him, then I was shirking my Jesus given authority.

It’s God’s love we share! No government or social custom, whether overseas or here, that says it is “wrong” to present Christ, can take away our Jesus given authority. Of course we don’t want to offend. But there is a point when we can be so careful not to offend, that we do in fact, stop extending God’s love to those in great need.

So let’s be available and eager for people to know Jesus. Where are the fish? Let your net down! Permit God to bring any fish into your net that He’d draw in. Don’t go bass fishing. Don’t go salmon fishing. Just fish. The only bait is Jesus in you. Lift Him up! Talk Him up! I like how Paul describes the active and happy Christian: that we…

“may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which we shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life..”
Philippians 2:15