Confess Jesus is Lord

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. “

Romans 10:9

When the bud of Christianity began to bloom on the vine, the first century pagan world must have seen it as just another addition to the plethora of gods that inhabited their daily lives. Jews were monotheistic in their beliefs but they were the minority. From the Egyptians to the Romans to the Greeks polytheism populated the minds and hearts of most cultures and people groups. This allowed people to explain the apparent capriciousness of how and why the supernatural interacted with mankind as well as permitted room to assimilate any new gods that may arise within the culture.

Therefore, when Christianity arose the apostles made it clear that if one was to become a Christian and to receive the gift of salvation from Jesus, he must distinguish himself from the polytheistic people around him and declare with his mouth that Jesus, and only Jesus, is Lord. And he must believe in his heart that God raised Him from the dead. Such a prerequisite ensured that this new religion and its central figure would not only be protected from being assimilated into the polytheistic religions of the day but would also establish that this Jesus held exclusive claims on his followers that surpassed any allegiances they might have had, both to the supernatural or in the natural realm.

Today, it may seem commonplace to say, “Jesus is Lord.” But in the first century this declaration was so much more than an offhanded comment. When the Apostle Paul wrote this verse, he used the Greek word “kyrios,” which we translate as “Lord.” To say that Jesus is kyrios was to declare that Jesus was master, the sovereign who held sole rights over the person making the statement, as well as supreme in authority over all else. But beyond the personal realm, “Jesus is kyrios” also rejected the existence and authority of all other gods. In Romans 10:13 Paul hearkened back to Joel 2:32, which says “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD (i.e. Yahweh) shall be saved.” (emphasis mine) So, Paul is equating Jesus with YHWH, the name for God in the Old Testament. In this way the confession that “Jesus is Lord” was exclusivist in nature. It meant that a person  believed that Jesus was more than the supreme god among many other gods, such as Zeus. It meant that he believed that Jesus was the only god. 

The question that we must ask ourselves is do we confess Jesus as Lord in our lives?

Today, Jesus may not compete with the ancient Greek and Roman gods in the religious marketplace, but differing worldviews, such as secular humanism and pantheism, offer naturalistic and spiritual explanations that can seep into and distort a Christian’s faith.

If we are to confess “Jesus is Lord,” we must be clear not only what we are saying but also what we are rejecting. For instance, when we step back and look at our lives objectively, what do we find ourselves clinging to?

What is it in our lives that we pursue or rely on to make us whole? What is it that, if we are honest, is more important to us than God?

What is it that we rely on and fantasize about in the hopes that it will meet all our needs? Is it money? Power? Sex? Identity? Comfort? Is it the escape of sports, social media, or the news? Perhaps it’s approval, the little dopamine bursts we get from our phone, or the desire to feel loved by someone.

Whatever it is, these are the things transform our hearts into a hearse. These are the idols that keeps us from truly following Jesus and giving Him all the glory that He deserves. If we really wanted to make the exclusive claim that Jesus is Lord in our life, we must realize that we cannot “Just say no!” to these idols. We must also continuously say “Yes!” to Jesus.

When we finally say that we find Jesus more appealing and more fulfilling than the images on our screens or the promotion that we’ve been seeking at work; when we finally see Christ as our treasure and not only as our savior, then we can say with confidence that Jesus is not only objectively the only god but can also subjectively claim Him as sovereign in our lives. And this proclamation (both word and deed), combined with the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, will continually challenge us to stand firm as the world assaults us and the Devil schemes against us.

To confess “Jesus is Lord” is not an easy life to choose. But it is a fulfilling one.

It may cost you your money, your identity, your pastimes, your approval, or the love of others. But it will never cost you Christ, neither in Heaven (“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  — Mt. 10:32-33) nor on earth (“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” — Jn. 16:33)

The man or woman who lives for Christ, in Christ, and with Christ, the one who daily proclaims that Jesus is Lord over all of their life may suffer, be persecuted, or even die. But in the end he can know that even though our opponents may regard us as sheep to be slaughtered, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” and that, through the denial of all other gods in our life we will be able to say along with the Apostle Paul “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” (Rom. 8:36; Php. 1:20-21)

Can Prayer Help?

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Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:2-6 ESV

The wrapping paper flew off in a rush of anticipation that only childhood can provide and floated to the ground. The colorful box was about the size of my torso and balanced on my tiny lap. Two bright words beckoned me to a world of boyish adventure, implanting visions of secret experiments, startling discoveries, and minor explosions within the bowels of my house. And for weeks these visions fueled my persistent play with the tiny vials in my brand-new chemistry set.

But as the days continued, my enthusiasm waned. Most of the experiments in the manual seemed either too simple or too complicated and none of them taught me how to explode stuff, which, if I am honest, is what my 11-year-old self really wanted.

So, I did what any child would do. I kept the manual for reference but put it to the side and began to gradually mix a combination of the chemicals to see what I could make. Surely it couldn’t be that hard. I had seen science shows on TV and most seemed to easily result in at least some sort of harmless bang. But regardless of what chemicals I combined, I could not even produce a smidge of smoke. All my experiments resulted in either green or yellow solids, stuck stubbornly at the base of a limited supply of test tubes.

“This stuff doesn’t work,” I finally concluded.

Many of my chemicals were gone. No startling discoveries had been made. And all I could produce was ruined test tubes.

In despair I made sure all the vials were in their correctly labeled space, laid the unused manual on top, softly slid the box top over the bottom, and buried my chemistry set on a shelf, never to be touched again.

But failure is a bell that never rings only once. Its echoes hoard disappointment, sadness, and shame. These resounded so often throughout my schooling that a hard, stubborn bias formed at the base of my unguarded soul against science. It was too hard. I was less Louis Pasteur and more Larry, Mo, and Curly. And no matter how hard I tried it was always easier to blame the repeated failures on the science than it was to blame myself (the scientist).

The reality, of course, is that I struggled with science because there was something wrong with my assumptions, methodology, logic, or understanding that prevented me from being successful in this field. It was not the science that was flawed. It was me. To hold any other position would be irrational.

Interestingly, the experience I had with science often parallels the experience others have had with prayer.

The gift that God has given us to boldly “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16) and the promise of “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7) fill our uninitiated souls with visions of victories, blessings, and pain-free lives.

But then we are told, or we experience, that God is not our personal genie. We look at His manual, the Bible, for guidance and instruction in this incredible gift. Some of it seems relatively easy and straightforward. Other parts are hard and complicated. And if we are truly honest, what we want the most is an immediate alleviation or extinction of our pain, not a lesson in theology.

So, we put the manual aside and begin to experiment as best we can with the gift He has given. We include elements of other faiths or worldviews to help us understand how to use prayer effectively. We embrace concepts that are not taught in scripture, but because they sound like truth and are used by millions of people across the world, we mix them in our test tubes of prayers and hope to a harmless bang in our answers. Instead, all we receive is a hardened green or yellow rock as the result of our experiment. Nothing has changed. Anxieties and stressors and suffering seem to come and go of their own accord until one day we survey the landscape of our prayerful experiments and exclaim “This stuff doesn’t work!”

So, when Paul writes in Colossians 4:2 “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” people who believe that prayer does not work dismiss the comment outright.

But is this being fair? Is it truly a problem with God or prayer? Or does the problem reside in the assumptions, methodology, logic, or understanding of the one who is praying?

The only rational position is that prayer works, but it is impeded in several ways. It does not work when we try to fulfill our selfish motives (James 4:3). And it is hindered through our preponderance of doubt (James 1:6-7) and pride (Job 35:12-13). Our unwillingness to obey God’s law (Pr. 28:9), to disenfranchise the poor (Pr. 21:13), to cover our hands with blood (Isa. 1:15), to fill the land with violence and to provoke God repeatedly (Eze. 8:17-18), to refuse to listen to God’s call and to ignore His hand of discipline (Pr. 1:24-25), to turn a stubborn shoulder and stop our ears from hearing; to make our hearts like flint so that we cannot hear His law or His words (Zech. 7:11-13)…these are the things that hinder our prayers.

It is not prayer that is flawed. It is us.

As a man whom Jesus healed from blindness once said:

 “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.”

John 9:31

Therefore, it is only right that our leaders and pastors call for and encourage prayer during a national crisis where stores are being looted and burned due to generations of unchecked racial injustice, and a pandemic has forced us to consider and protect our mortality.

God promises terrible things to His people if they will not obey Him, and we may be witnessing the bud of God’s justice beginning to open.

But God is not a god of judgment only. He is also a god of redemption and peace. A god of healing, not hatred. And ultimately a god of love, salvation and eternal life.

Therefore, God has promised that when He sends pestilence on the land or allows it to be devoured that “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14)

We must understand.

This is not a call to prayer only.

This is a call to repentance.

Isaiah 1:16-19 says:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The first step in this repentance is humility. God wants His people to humble themselves. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps. 51:17) We Christians must bow down, weep and intercede before our Lord on behalf of our country. We must boldly admit any implicit or explicit culpability we hold as individuals or as the corporate body of Christ for God’s judgment upon this nation and turn from our wicked ways. It is not enough to be outraged at injustice or depravity. We must be bold witnesses who engage the culture with the transforming power that the Gospel and discipleship in Jesus Christ can bring. Therefore, humble yourself.

Second, we must pray. But how?

  1. Center your prayer not around your will or your wants or your selfish desires. Center your prayer around God’s will both for us and for this nation. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 Jn. 5:14).
  2. Do not trust in your power or man’s ability or any earthly strength. But ask God to exercise His strength and to exhibit His power for the glorification of His name.
    • “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (1 Chron. 16:11)
    • “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Ps. 20:7)
    • “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6)
  3. Pray in the Spirit, not in yourself. And make prayer a continuous practice, regardless of the occasion. You do not have to wait for a crisis to pray. But be alert. God’s people need continuous prayer. We can fall into sin just as easily as anyone else.
    • “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17)
    • “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 Lord’s people.” (Eph. 6:18 NIV)
    • “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17:15)
    • “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt. 26:41)
  4. Renew your mind every day with scripture. Let this be the filter through which you engage the world and discern God’s will, so that God is glorified among the unrighteous. The world looks at life through a competitive lens of “us vs. them,” which invariably leads to increased aggression, pain, and suffering. Do not fall into this trap.
    • “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
    • “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” (Php. 1:27)
    •  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16)
  5. Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart.
    • “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8)
    • “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Third, “seek God’s face.” This is where one’s Christian life becomes less of a intermittent activity and more of a continual pursuit of His presence.

  • “Seek His face continually!” (Ps. 105:4)
  • “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world” (James 4:8 NLT)

The fourth and final step in repentance is to turn from your wicked ways. Godly, humble, contrite, repentant prayer is not only a passive action one does on his knees; it is also an active public expression of faith he takes among his people.

  • In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)
  • Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6)
  • For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
  • Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Pr. 28:13)
  • Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:8-17)

Come, let us not be children, playing with prayer as if it some chemistry set. But may we get ourselves right with God. Then we can work together to lift our nation, our cities, our leaders and our enemies up to the Lord with prayers that conform to His will and cannot be hindered. Then we will see healing come to our land.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16 NIV)

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

The Futility of Fairness

unjust-enrichment“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead…Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”

— Ecclesiastes 9:3,11 ESV

 

In these verses, Solomon is not accusing God of being evil. Rather, he is saying that the fairness we are all subjected to in this life is evil. That it doesn’t matter if one is righteous or unrighteous death, time, and chance “happen to them all.” Instinctively, our conscience screams, “That’s not fair!” and demands a just order to the world. But fairness is an evil consequence of the Fall. God wants us to live in a just world. It was this way in the beginning, and it will be this way again in the end. He will re-establish the correct order of creation one day where justice, not fairness, rules; where the same event does not happen to all. The unrighteous will be punished, and the righteous will be rewarded.

This is why, in His wisdom, God gave us the law: to provide a standard for just living, and to give a foretaste of what life within a just world could be like (if everyone obeyed). But sin takes the opportunity to arise in our hearts once the Law is given (Rom 7:8). To establish a just world, He can not only teach us and leave us to our own free will. He must also redeem us from the madness that is in our hearts by giving His life in place of ours. Therefore, first God establishes the standard of justice, then He exercises through Christ the first perfectly just act by any human being. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21).

Christ’s perfect obedience secures the promise that one day we will escape life in this fair world, where “the same event happens to all,” and enter into life within a just world. Here, the unrighteous will receive their punishment but the man no longer tainted with sin will discover that God will withhold no good thing from him (Ps. 84:11). In this just world, every good thing is an expression of God’s self and results in the righteous man’s exultation in the unblemished, holy character of God. It is a self-reinforcing, self-sustaining relationship dynamic wherein God continuously blesses, and man continuously rejoices. For man’s joy will no longer be in the gifts that he receives but in the goodness, and the justice, of the God who gives.

Increasing the Faith of Others

sucess1

“But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2 Cor. 10:13-18)

A few weeks ago we looked at this same verse and examined what it meant to be “assigned an area of influence by God.” (v.13) We looked at how each of us has an area of influence, and how our job is to help increase the faith of those we influence.

But what does it mean to “increase someone’s faith?” How do we know what we’re looking for in the lives of those whom we disciple?

Fortunately, Paul answered this question for us in his letter to the Ephesians. In the third chapter of that letter he says that he prays for the following characteristics to manifest themselves in the lives of his disciples (see bold/underlined below, enumerations are mine):

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you 1)to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being 2)rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have 3)strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be 4)filled with all the fullness of God.

But Paul does not leave it at that. He does not just pray for the people he disciples and leave the rest to God. He realizes that there is a responsibility that one has towards those he disciples in order to increase their faith. Therefore, he spends the entire chapter outlining for us how he, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, went about this task. The prayer quoted above is only a piece of what he did. But as you can see in the table below, the discipler increases his disciples’ faith through much, much more than merely bowing before God for the people in his area of influence. He takes an active role in their faith journey, both when he is with them and when he is away.

Here is an outline of chapter 3 to help us understand how to apply these same efforts for the people we influence.

Verse

Responsibility

v.1 – For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles Know that when you invest your life in increasing the faith of others, your sufferings will no longer be about you alone but will also be on behalf of those you are influencing. Therefore, you must remember your disciples, encouraging them and enduring your suffering on their behalf.

 

v. 2-3 – assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. You are to be a faithful/good steward of the grace of God. This means that you must not only correctly handle the word of truth but must also work to not defame God’s grace by your choices or lifestyle. Your example is a powerful, visible reminder to others of not only what you are teaching but also how it practically expresses itself and makes a difference in a person’s life. (2 Tim. 2:15)
v. 4-5 – When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Let others perceive your insight into the mystery of Christ as you teach to them the truth.

 

Rely only on God for revelation into this mystery. Your talent or intellect or abilities are nothing when used in the service of yourself. But when you use them in the service of God, others can see Him and understand the truth as He defines it.

 

v. 7 – Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. Keep this idea foremost in your mind: you are a minister to this person/these people according to the gift of God’s grace and that this was given you by the working of His power. You did not conjure this up on your own. And you do not sustain it on your own. It is all of God, from God, and for God.

 

v. 8a – To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, Be humble — view yourself as the least of the saints.

 

v. 8b-10 – this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in[b] God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Focus your teachings on two overarching emphases: 1) the unsearchable riches of Christ and 2) to bring light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery of the ages. This will allow the church to be the vehicle through which the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Meaning, we are not only witnessing these truths to those whom we can see but also to those whom we cannot see)
v. 11-13 – This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Receive the boldness you have in Christ and access Him with the confidence you have through faith in Him.

Exemplify this boldness in your own sufferings so those you are influencing can see how to not lose heart in trials and can learn from your example of how to stand firm (Eph. 6:10-20)

v. 14-17a – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[c] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith Pray diligently to God that He may strengthen your disciples with power through His Spirit in your inner being according to the riches of his glory SO THAT Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith.

 

v. 17b-19 –  that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Pray that they will be 1) rooted and grounded in love, 2) have strength to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of this love, and 3) to know that the love of Christ surpasses knowledge, i.e. that they may be filled with the fullness of God. Do not pray for only one of these characteristics. Pray for all of these things. For without all of them in your disciples, your disciples lack the fullness of God and will make poor ambassadors for Christ to the world and to those whom they eventually disciple as well.

 

v. 20-21 – Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Pray that God’s incomprehensible purposes will be accomplished according to the power at work within your disciples FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.

 

Pray that these things will occur both in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout ALL generations. Do not pray for these to occur in your disciples only. Have a long-term view in mind. Pray for the generations coming after them as well, for your area(s) of influence do not end at the people you know. They only begin there. There are myriads of people who will follow the example you established in your disciples. And they will pass this example onto other generations as well. Pray as broadly and boldly as you can, exploring the depth and breadth of all you can ask or imagine, but leave the work of accomplishing these prayers to the One who is able and can do far more, according to the power at work in us. May He receive the glory, not us, both in the church and in Christ throughout all generations, so that it may never be said: “They forgot the LORD their God.” (1 Sam. 12:9)

Now, go. Be His witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, making disciples of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [He has] commanded you.” And behold, He will be with you always, even to the end of the age. (Acts 1:8; Mt. 28:18-20)

Quick Thoughts: Randomness from a Morning in the Word

Ever had one of those days when you read the Bible and your meditations on the Word lead to random connections that you never saw before? I have had this occur so many times, I have come to realize that this experience transcends mere free association or brainstorming. It is the Holy Spirit revealing His ideas and truth to me in a way that helps me understand God, my relationship with Him, and His Word better.

Some days are, admittedly, ho-hum. But today is not one of those days.

Although it is only 8:30 a.m. at the time of this writing here is a journey through my mind this morning. Continue reading

The Unobserved Ministry

“But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2 Cor. 10:13-18)

Every one of us Christians is in ministry. Without exception. We may not all be formally ordained or have a huge following of some kind, but God does not define ministry in this way. First, He gives you Christ. Second, He assigns an area of influence to you, and third, He asks that you use your influence to increase the faith of those in your area so that your area of influence may grow and others’ faith may be increased as well. This is what Jesus meant when he talked about us going to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). We begin in one area of influence and as the faith of the people there increases, our area of influence is greatly enlarged “so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond [them].” (v. 16)

So, look around you. What are the areas of influence that God has assigned to you?

…Wait. You don’t have one?

Are you sure?

Do you have a family?

A job?

A blog?

A church?

A community?

How about a Facebook account?

Or a little league baseball team that you coach?

Maybe you have a business partner, a client list, or employees?

Perhaps your area of influence is a neighbor, a best friend, or the hobo you always see on the street corner.

The list could go on and on.

The point is: we are all in ministry. And the areas of influence that God has assigned to us are plural, not singular, in nature.

We are called to be a gospel people in each of these areas, teaching all that Christ commanded us so that the faith of others grows, our territory expands (1 Chron. 4:10) and we make disciples of all nations.

Such a perspective may be a different way of looking at your life and admittedly there are traps along the way. Therefore it is helpful to use the above passage as a helpful model in praying for your ministry, whatever your area(s) of influence may be.
1) Focus on the area of influence God has assigned to you

2) Ask that God will prevent you from overextending yourself or boasting as though you reached those you have not reached with the Gospel.

3) Ask that God will greatly enlarge the people’s faith so that your area of influence may also expand, so that you may be able to preach the gospel in other lands beyond the original people or group God assigned to you.

4) Pray that as you grow you will be humble, not taking credit for the work others have already done in those lands but boasting in only what the Lord does through you in those new places.

5) Earnestly pray that your only boast will be boasting in the Lord, both for the willing and the doing of the work.

6) Ask that you will not be approved because you commend yourself (i.e., clever marketing or prideful boasting in how you have used your talents) but because God commands you. Let the whole work, the spreading of the Gospel, the preaching, the expansion, and the approval be God-centric. “For it is God who works in you, BOTH to will AND to work for his good pleasure.” (Php. 2:13)

Amen

Remember, God gives you authority in the areas of influence He has assigned to you in order to build up, not tear down, someone’s faith (2 Cor. 13:10). Now go, asking God to answer this one question through you: How can I build up someone’s faith in my areas of influence today?

Quick Thoughts: For the Sake of Christ

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I was recently walking through a Half-Price Books when I saw a title in the religious section that grabbed my eye: “The Power of I Am.”

Hmm. That sounds interesting, I thought, imagining the different theological approaches someone could take by focusing on the name of God. Ignoring the author, I flipped the book over to read the description on the back cover. I quickly discovered that I had not only picked up a Joel Osteen bestseller but I had also stumbled upon a blatant theft of God’s precious name in the service of the prosperity gospel. Since I didn’t buy the book, here is the description according to Amazon.com:

Whatever follows the words “I am” will always come looking for you.
So, when you go through the day saying:
“I am blessed”…blessings pursue you.
“I am talented”…talent follows you.
“I am healthy”…health heads your way.
“I am strong”…strength tracks you down.
Joel Osteen reveals how THE POWER OF I AM can help you discover your unique abilities and advantages to lead a more productive and happier life. His insights and encouragement are illustrated with many amazing stories of people who turned their lives around by focusing on the positive power of this principle. You can choose to rise to a new level and invite God’s goodness by focusing on these two words: I AM!

It shocked me that a pastor would blatantly encourage me to adopt God’s name as my own personal mantra to self-improvement, but then I wondered how many stars reviewers gave this book. Wanna guess? Out of 1,491 reviews, the average rating  (on a 1-5 scale) was…

4.27 stars!

I would assume these ratings are by people who consider themselves Christian and/or spiritual. But one has to wonder how representative are these readers of the Christian community? And do they understand this principle is not even biblical?

To understand why, let’s take a quick look at 2 Cor. 4:5:

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5)

WHAT WE PROCLAIM IS NOT OURSELVES

Paul centers his sights directly on the pride of man. He knows that it is an easy criticism for others to say that he is only doing what he is doing for himself. When a person receives attention, fame, wealth, power, or any other of the myriad of earthly pleasures, no one cares what vehicle they used to acquire these things. They only care about replicating the same success for themselves. They assume that these rewards are the result of Paul creating a successful brand centered around himself. So, Paul counters this argument and insists “what we proclaim is not ourselves.”

Notice, he does not deny that he is proclaiming something. Nor does he deny that it is for someone’s glory and fame. His point is that their proclamation is not for his own benefit but for Christ’s. It is to make Jesus known as Lord.

The tragedy is that so many people, including Christians, get this confused today. They place all their focus on the gifts God has given them and forget all about proclaiming the Giver as Lord. In other words, they make the gifts the object of their worship, and an unbelieving, cynical world looks on, scratching its head and saying, “There’s no difference between you and me. You want the same things I want. You value the same things I value. You just tack ‘God’ on the end of it and I don’t.” Such a proclamation is not winning anyone to Christ and is failing to make Jesus known as Lord.

BUT JESUS CHRIST AS LORD

So, how do you keep from falling into this trap? How do you demonstrate to a lost and unregenerate generation that there is more than just a difference in belief (i.e., theistic vs. atheistic) that separates you from them? You must live in such a way that the undeniable conclusion others come to is that your life proclaims one truth: Jesus is Lord. You cannot serve two masters. You will either love one and hate the other or you will hate the one and love the other. But you cannot be a “both-and” believer. This is an “either-or” choice. Either you pursue money, recognition, approval, ease, and comfort to make much of yourself, or you deny yourself, pursue the approval of God, and exert all your energies into making it known that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Be honest. Who do you seek to exalt? Whom does your heart desire to receive all the glory? You or Christ? You cannot have it both ways, for God is very clear on this point: “My glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isa. 42:8) Therefore, if your attempts at self-exaltation are doomed to fail, if God will not relinquish one ounce of His glory to share with you, if your pride always precedes a fall, then give up this inexorable effort and proclaim not yourself, but Jesus Christ as Lord.

WITH OURSELVES AS YOUR SERVANTS

Paul continues to extrapolate the point that he did not proclaim himself by reminding them that he became their servant. Servants do not lead. They follow. They minister to the needs of those they serve. They make themselves humble. They put themselves in the place of others and are committed to their growth. They do not seek exaltation. They do not desire power. They are meek, longsuffering, good stewards, and practice restraint.

But perhaps the most definitive, yet challenging, quality of a servant is their selflessness.

To refuse to put one’s needs and desires above the person he serves is one of the most difficult things to do. But when a person is the servant of another this characteristic must exist in order to be called a servant. We cannot look to ourselves. We cannot proclaim ourselves. We cannot place ourselves above others. Instead, we must follow the instruction of Philippians 2:3-4, which says “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

So, when Paul says that he was the servant of others, he is reinforcing the idea that he did nothing out of selfish ambition.

FOR JESUS’ SAKE

But then Paul goes one step farther when he says that he was their servant for Jesus’ sake. This is how we all ought to serve. We are servants to others only for the sake of Christ. We are not servants to others for THEIR sake. That would mistake the missional work of the Church for a man-centric work, whereby we focus on the short-term physical needs of people. Nor are we servants for OUR sake. That would mistake the work of the Church for a man-exalting work, whereby we are more about self-promotion than the eternal glory of Christ. We serve, yes. But we serve others FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST. We serve to set forth Christ as supremely valuable, so that all other pursuits may be exposed as transient and insignificant in comparison to Him. It is for this reason that Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

We do not serve to alleviate a human ill, but to elevate a glorious God. Alleviating the need may be a byproduct of our God-glorifying action, but it is not the reason for the action. When the focus of missions is on making the beauty and the perfections of God public and not on the temporary needs of man, the Gospel can be preached effectively, and many can come to a saving faith in Him. Suddenly they will no longer see the Church as another helping institution but will see God working through His people in His power by His instruction and for His glory.

Such behavior will transform “receiving Christ” from holding one’s self as supremely valuable and using God and His grace as the means of honoring or protecting that value. Rather, it will hold Christ as supremely valuable, over and above ourselves and anything else in this world.  For, any prize that I cling to above Christ does not reflect a new nature but only the same old carnal, man-exalting nature I have always had. But when I proclaim not myself, but Jesus as Lord, when I become your servant for the sake of Christ, I demonstrate more than a difference in belief. I demonstrate a change has occurred. I have not taken an old thing, clothed it in new garments, and sprinkled it with glitter. My nature and everything I live for has been changed from the inside out.

Quick Thoughts: Loving as Christ Loves the Church

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Photo by Caio Resende on Pexels.com

EPH. 5:25-33:  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

From this passage, we see two important things: Christ loved the church AND gave himself up for her. These are two separate ideas. He 1) loved her AND 2) gave himself up for her.

The word for “love” here is “agapao.” According to Thayer’s Dictionary and Strong’s Concordance, this word means “to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly” and “to love in a social or moral sense.” This is broader than friendship love because “it includes the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty, and propriety”. Agapao is an active volition and purpose, not a passive acquiescence in objective considerations. It is an active choosing or preferring, a delighting in, as opposed to a more passive desire or willingness. It is a passion of the heart, not the head, which means it is a picture of the inward feelings, not the outward emotions.

Agapao is derived, as you would expect, from agape, which literally can mean “a love feast.”

Think about it like this.

childrens-feast

Variety. Delicacy. Succulence. And sweets!

Is this the best representation of your love for your wife? Do you present her with a feast of love?

Or do you provide her with a feast of something else, such as selfishness, control, ill-will, no affection, and commands?

Christ agapes His church. He provides a full understanding for her of what love is, for He is the author and source of love.

Love is expressed to the undeserving to unexplainable depths (Rom. 5:8)

Love commits to the remain, regardless of the situation (Rom. 8:35-39)

Love demonstrates what is genuine by abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good. (Rom. 12:9)

Love strives together with the beloved on the beloved’s behalf (Rom. 15:30).

Love directs our actions/choices (2 Cor. 5:14).

Love comforts (Php. 2:1).

Love labors (1 Thess. 1:3)

Love is steadfast (2 Thess. 3:5).

Love follows the sound words of Scripture (2 Tim. 1:13).

Love waits for the mercy that leads to eternal life (Jude 1:21).

Love frees us from our sins (Rev. 1:5).

Christ is Himself love…Do you show this type of love to your wife? The type of love that comes from Christ? That allows her to feast on your love for her?

Secondly, Christ gave Himself up for his bride, the Church. How do you give yourself up for your wife? Remember, Christ Himself said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28)

Do you serve your wife?

Do you serve her in such a selfless, holy way that she becomes a better person than she was at the beginning of the relationship?

Do you love her without condemnation but with sacrifice (temporarily giving things up for her), serving (refusing to lord your authority over her but instead bowing to wash her feet so that she sees you do not value power, sex, or money more than her?), severing (what have you permanently given up for her?), and sheltering (how do you protect her, especially from yourself, just as Christ’s love protects us from His wrath through His sacrifice on the cross)?

Giving up one’s self requires initiative. No one MADE Christ do this. He took the initiative upon Himself to become what He was not (sin) so that His bride might become what they could not be (righteous), see 2 Cor. 5:21. We husbands must willingly take the initiative to become what we are not (servants) so that our wives can become what they could not be without our action (spotless). For instance, although we are the head of the household, we must become a servant so that she can be washed pure.

Our wife’s happiness is NOT the goal. Rather, it is her holiness (happiness is just a byproduct of this goal). Notice that the scripture says that Christ loved his bride and gave Himself up for her “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” This is the purpose of Christ for his bride: that she might be holy and without blemish.

Although God is ultimately responsible for making her sanctified (or perfect), we emulate Him in this process by nourishing and cherishing our wife as we would our own selves. Let us be clear: no man is able to make any woman perfect. To believe that is our role can lead to pride, scorekeeping, controlling, domineering, and a “holier than thou” attitude.  God does not allow us men the authority or the ability to sanctify our wives, for all of us (both men and women), are redeemed sinners, members of Christ’s church, whom He is sanctifying. Men cannot sanctify their wives because they have not completed sanctification themselves.

So, what is the scripture commanding us husbands to do?

To nourish and cherish our wife as we would our own selves. For this is exactly how Christ treats His church. In each case, both with Christ and with couples, the wife is to be treated as if she is a member of the husband’s own body. That is why the apostle quotes Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Just as Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Php. 2:6-7), so husbands leave their family of origin and join themselves to their wife and become one flesh with them.

The point here is that because she has become one flesh with you and is now a member of your own body, you should treat her as such.

Nourish her.

Cherish her.

Love her as your love yourself.

And though it may sound obvious, do not show her hate. The Greek word for “hate” is “miseo,” which means “to detest (especially to persecute); by extension to love less: — detestable, hate.” Miseo also means “to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another.” (From https://biblehub.com/greek/3404.htm )

Therefore, we husbands are not to love our wives less than we love ourselves. Or, to put it another way, we cannot choose ourselves over and above our wives. To do such a thing is to hate our wives, for we have at that moment prioritized ourselves as more important than her.

If we refuse to do something she has asked us to do so that we can do something we want to do instead (watch a ballgame, get some rest, participate in a hobby, seek out time with our friends…), then we are renouncing her in favor of ourselves.

What we fail to realize is that we are not above her, nor is she above us. We are both members of the same body. And as equal members of the same body, we are to love, cherish, and nourish that body AS IF THERE IS NO SEPARATION between us. We have been made one flesh. Therefore, do not treat your wife as if she is separate from yourself. She is just as important as you are and needs to be valued and treated as such.

Love her in such a way that she can feast on your love.

Make no distinction between how you cherish and nourish yourself and how you cherish and nourish her.

In other words, love her as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.

Google vs. God

The subject in my Sunday School class today was: “Is God relevant for the culture?”

This topic spurred a lot of discussions as the teacher covered the doctrinal nature of God, continually poked and prodded us with challenging questions and encouraged us to consider how the culture views God.

But one comment from a fellow student stood out to me among the others.  She noted that when people have a question today, they do not seek guidance, wisdom, or knowledge from God or His Word. Instead, they Google it.

Sadly, I had to agree with her.

Gotta tickle in your throat?

Google it!

Want to know when the movie starts?

Google it!

Want to know the meaning of life?

Google it? Yes, Google it!

You may not get very far, but hey “about 1,080,000,000” results pop up, including everything from Wikipedia to varying religious beliefs to the number 42, so you should at least be busy for a while.

When you think about it, Google has become the culture’s main source for information on almost everything, and unlike the common perception of God, it (allegedly) does not impose a preconceived value system on the user. Rather, it allows the user to gather the information on his own, decide what is relevant or irrelevant to his life/life-choices, and then use this information in the best way the user sees fit. In short, it promotes and values a person’s autonomy to discern what is best for their life.

God, on the other hand, does not offer us humans freedom through autonomy. He offers us freedom through truth. This has been the arrangement ever since Adam and Eve’s original attempt to gain freedom from God through the exercise of their autonomy when God, in His wisdom and love, prevented them from eating of the tree of life (which would have condemned them to a permanent, sinful state) and used the power of His Word (the same power that spoke creation into existence) to proclaim the truth that Christ would one day provide man with freedom from the evil one (Gen. 3:15).  This principle of “freedom through truth” was continually emphasized throughout scripture as the Torah provided man the principles he needed to maintain a holy life, free from sin. It is no surprise, then, that when Christ came to reveal God to us in the flesh, this powerful and effective truth took center stage as He reminded everyone, “I am…the truth” (Jn. 14:6) and “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn. 8:32)

But regardless of whether one prefers to go to God or to Google for the answer to one’s most existential questions, one fact remains patently clear: man’s desperate need for answers recognizes the need for a transcendent authority to provide guidance, wisdom, and knowledge to his life. There seems to be an innate understanding and a silent agreement amongst us all that we cannot do life on our own. To figure out how to proceed well, we must submit and order our lives around something bigger and better than ourselves. Some will submit to the wisdom of man on the internet. Others will submit to the holiness of God. Either way, each one is seeking freedom from what is broken within him.

The question, of course, is who will you allow to direct the course of your life? Google or God?