Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post Election: A Plea to the American Church

The Presidential Election is over. But the fallout is not. So, allow me to be one of the biblically-reasonable voices in the sea of gloom, uncertainty, and hypocrisy.

I am aware that many Christians voted for Trump, many voted for Hilary, and many did not vote for either. (I, myself, did not vote for either). I am aware that those Christians who voted for Trump and Hilary is disturbing to the Christians on the other side of each other. I am aware that many Christians who did not vote for Trump are deeply concerned about the direction of our nation and the fallout of this election. And I am aware that the same would be said by Christians if Hilary would've won.

So what do we do American Church?

Clearly there is a divide, not merely in our country but in the Church in our country. Sadly, that is one definite thing this election brought to light. Maybe the reasons for the divide are valid. Maybe they aren't as much as you may think they are. Either way, what do we do now American Church?

The Plea
American Church, you need to realize your brethren across the other political aisle is watching how you respond to the outcome of your vote. If you voted for Hilary or simply not for Trump, are you bitter, judgmental, divisive, blinded by your own double-standards, etc. If you voted for Trump or simply not for Hilary, are you justifying amoral behavior and characteristics, are you blind to your own hypocrisy, are you unconcerned about the legitimate fears and anxiety of some of your blood-bought brethren, etc. (And if tables were turned and Hilary won, I would say the same two statements but switch the names around).

American Church, you need to realize that the wall of separation between each other has been removed in Jesus (Eph. 2:11-19, Gal. 3:26-28), which includes the wall of separation from our political views. American Church, do not hide behind this wall! Embrace the uncomfortability. Embrace the tension. Embrace the differences. Let us be like our Savior, Jesus––who clothed Himself in the discomfort of human flesh, lived in the tension of His creation's unbelief and rebellion, and took on the differences that separates us in His body to give us a place where our differences can be accepted in unity in Him. Do not wait for the next Christian to do what is right before you act in obedience. Do not pass the buck in this way! You obey your God because it is right in His sight and because He is worthy of your obedience, regardless if the next Christian does so or not.

American Church, we would do well to recall Church history here as we stand on the shore of the unknown with our newly elected president. The Church has endured through some torturous periods in centuries past. Christians have lived under far worse political climates than those of us here in America, even in light of the newly elected president (and the same would be true if it was Hilary who would've won). Not only have Christians lived under far worse conditions, they pressed more into Jesus in the midst of it, walked in obedience to Jesus even unto martyrdom, and still managed to advance the Gospel amid great political hostility. (Some of those worse conditions for Christians were just 60 years ago in our own country). Presently, we have fellow Christians in other parts of our world living under worse conditions than us in America, and they are spiritually flourishing in their persecution. We, as the Church of Jesus Christ within America, are without excuse. Trump (nor Hilary if she was elected) is not an ancient evil emperor. America is not present-day North Korea or the Roman Empire in the first four centuries of this age. Let us not overreact in these times today toward either extreme. Let us not deify Trump as some anointed one sent from God like the early church did the popes, nor let us demonize Trump as some evil operative like Hilter or Haman. It is nowhere near as bad as in times before.

American Church, let us not forget Apostle Paul in the late 50s AD, while imprisoned and under the reign of Emperor Nero (of whom he and numerous Christians would be killed by some years later), penned Romans 13:1,
“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” (NLT)
And, possibly just a couple years before his death by Nero, Apostle Paul writes that Christians are to pray to God to help our rulers, to intercede on their behalf, and to give thanks for them because it “is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim. 2:1-4). So whether it was Hilary Clinton or as it is now Donald Trump, your obedience to God as a Christian is to submit to our newly elected president (and all of our other elected officials) as unto to God and to cover them in prayer in this manner, so that if they are not born-again they may come to saving faith and knowledge of the truth. This is our responsibility as the Church of God in America.

To my fellow brethren in the American Church who still feel like the sky is falling or much is lost because of this election and it will be difficult for you to obey Romans 13:1, let me call your mind back to Scripture again,
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings...” (Dan. 2:20-21)
“For exaltation comes neither from the east nor the west nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another.” (Psalm 75:6-7)
This truth would be the same if Hilary would have won or any other potential presidential candidate. Our newly elected president was placed in his position according to God's perfect plan. I know for some Christians that still may not be as comforting. Let me encourage you with another Scripture then.
“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?...It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118:5-6, 8-9)

American Church, you need to find your comfort and courage in God's Word! If we as the American Church do this, if we take God at His Word, cry out to Him in our distress, rest in His truth, and do what it says then we will not be swayed by whomever is elected––Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, progressive or moderate, president, congress, etc. If we do this, we will be able to truly look beyond our individual votes and political views and see fellow image-bearers and Christ-followers. If we do this, we will be able to adapt and adjust to the shifting sands of our government (local, state, and federal) and continue on with our Great Commission because we know God is in complete control, He appointed those leaders according to His perfect plan (which means He purposed those to vote the way they did so to elect those particular individuals), He is for us––His Church––and so we have no reason to fear, and our holding firm like a vice-grip to His truths is what sets us free to be able to do so!

American Church, let us learn from the past and not ignorantly and arrogantly repeat some of the same mistakes or unfaithfully and foolishly assume God is not in control and this will not somehow work out according to His good purposes. God's track record is flawless. He's done this before. For example, in Egypt with Pharaoh and Moses, in the Northern Kingdom (Israel) with the Assyrians, in the Southern Kingdom (Judah) with the Babylonians, in Babylon with Daniel, in Babylon with the Mede-Persians, in Persia with Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah, in Persia with the Greeks, in Greece with the Romans, in the Greco-Roman world with the coming of Christ and the birth and growth of the Church, in the European Church era with the Protestant Reformation, in America with the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, and so on. God is not absent in history, He is perfectly weaving it all (the good, the bad, the ugly, the unsettling, etc) together as part of His story. Trust God and His plan. God does not know how to fail, it is incompatible with His character.

American Church, you need to realize that the world is watching how we respond to one another and our fellow countrymen in light of this presidential election. This is a worldwide stage we are on right now and we can either respond like our professed Savior and God, Jesus Christ, or we can respond in like manner of our secular humanistic American ideology. The world will see us respond in one or the other.

American Church, you need to act like the Church of Jesus Christ, not the Church of the United States of America, not the Church of Your Political Party or Political Views, not the Church of Your Ethnicity, not the Church of Your Social Class, etc. The Church (ekklesia) are those called out from the world unto God. You cannot hold onto both, either you're part of God's Church or you're part of the world's church. You cannot hold allegiance to both.

American Church, please don't miss this. We have another opportunity to etch in our history our allegiance to and anchor in Jesus Christ and not something nor someone else.

So, will the real American Church of God please rise up and show our country what authentic biblical Christianity looks like, what the biblical Jesus Christ truly looks like through our representation of Him in this post election season! I need you to do so. We need each other to do so. Our country and the next generations needs us to do so.

November 9, 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Encouragement & Wisdom for Leaders #2: Philippians 1:9-11

We all know areas we need to work on as leaders. But don't go into your next week or next season simply knowing an area that needs work. Be intentional now and start putting a game plan together to move from knowing to doing. Great leaders aren't known for what they know, they are known by what they do.

In the Marines I learned many life-impacting lessons. One in particular is the 6Ps: "prior planning prevents piss poor performance". If you want to succeed and exceed as a leader, then develop the habit of prior planning. Otherwise, you will continue to waste good effort on poor results. Start now and begin to think through a game plan to do what you know you need to work on. Below is a good place to start.

"I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God."
-Philippians 1:9-11 (NLT)

This was Apostle Paul's prayer as a shepherd. This is my prayer for you as a leader/shepherd. May this be a prayer you pray for yourself. And may this be a prayer you pray and pursue for those you lead/shepherd.

Set your mind this week, this month, this season to let the love of Christ overflow in you and through you. Set your mind this week, this month, this season to be intentional in growing in knowledge of God and understanding of His Word. Set your mind this week, this month, this season to "approve the things that are excellent" (v10a, NKJV). Set your mind this week, this month, this season to live pure and blameless. Set your mind this week, this month, this season to bear the fruit of a righteous character produced in you by Jesus. Set your mind this week, this month, this season that whatever you do you do so to bring much glory and praise to God. Know that as you are setting your mind to these things this week, this month, this season, you are not doing so alone. The Holy Spirit is working in you "both to will and do for His good pleasure" (2:13, NKJV).


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Encouragement & Wisdom for Leaders #1: Psalm 141:8-10

Once a week, during the end of 2015, I would spend time reflecting on a passage of Scripture and include it in my weekly Leaders Briefing email along with offering wisdom for leadership development to encourage the leaders I'm over at my church. I'll be sharing some of these Scripture encouragements and leadership wisdom here for the next coming weeks to encourage others. Hopefully they do just that.

"But my eyes are fixed on You, Sovereign Lord; in You I take refuge—[leave me not defenseless!]. Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me. Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety."
-Psalm 141:8-10 (NIV)

You have no other shelter but God in this world and in your battle against sin and your enemies, and He will not leave you defenseless! However, it is your responsibility to keep your eyes (mind & heart) fixed on your Sovereign Lord.

In this Psalm, David himself is crying out to God for safety from snares caused by himself and set by other people's sin. As Christian leaders, there are many traps laid out before you to cause you to fall, fail, become disqualified, or abandon what God has called you to do. Some of these traps (snares) are self-imposed, some sin-imposed, and some other-imposed. Pray like David for your daily safety from traps caused by you or set against you, and also be intentional on keeping your eyes (mind & heart) fixed on your Sovereign Lord, who is your only refuge and has not left you defenseless!


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Our Communities need the Church to be the Pillar of Peace

Just as I did with Ferguson, I am doing so now. I waited. I watched. I thought. I prayed. Now I speak.

I am not attempting to address all the ills in our country or even the most recent ones, nor am I attempting to address why we have all these ills in our country. My hope is that as believers grounded with a biblical worldview we already understand that the reason for all the world's problems is sin and until Christ returns problems will persist. That said, I do want to address the Church's response (collectively and individually) to the wrongful events in our country involving discrimination and injustice in our communities.

Seeing Shalom in Our Communities
Last night at our church we studied Micah 5. One of the takeaways from our Micah 5 study was, "Jesus is peace/shalom (wholeness; nothing missing, nothing broken)." (v5a, cf. Isa. 9:6-7, John 14:27, Eph. 2:14)
“And he will be the source of peace.” (Micah 5:5a, NLT)

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” (Isa. 9:6-7, NLT)

“I am leaving you with a gift—–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27, NLT)

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (Eph. 2:14, NIV)

In a world that is rapidly becoming more divisive and hateful, Jesus is truly the only hope of peace in this world. We as ambassadors and children of God are to be the representation of His peace in this divisive, hateful, and hostile world, even if it costs us our lives/reputation/status in the process.

The Church is supposed to be the safe place for conversations concerning those who feel discriminated toward or have experienced injustice and the bridge toward reconciliation and peace in our communities when trust and unity has been destroyed or corroded between peoples. Sadly, we are not a safe place or a bridge (for the most part). But why is the Church supposed to be this? Because as you see in those verses above, Jesus is peace. There is no true peace apart from Jesus. The world cannot give each other true peace. But the Church can, because we are the Body of Christ filled with the Spirit of Christ!

The Church should not be getting sucked up into the media-driven (social media included) stew that profits nothing but more division, hate, and hostility. We're supposed to be the voice and sign of Jesus' peace/shalom in the midst of chaos. Why? Because we who profess Christ bear the name and the redeemed image of He who is Peace/Shalom and we know His peace/shalom is the only substantial answer.

Church, be His peace/shalom during these turbulent seasons. Christian, be His peace/shalom during these turbulent seasons. Release Jesus into the situation through being an extension of His peace/shalom.

Please, don't misunderstand His peace/shalom. Jesus' peace is not passive or weak or quiet. His peace/shalom is wholeness. Restoring wholeness in a broken situation involving broken people while still part of this broken world, that is His peace/shalom in action. Be that! Do that! Pursue that! Pray for that! And trust God with the rest.

How Can We Begin Restoring Wholeness in Our Communities, Church?
1. Truly care for your community and your surrounding communities (especially those in turmoil).
    • Become the safe place for victims.
      -Mourn with them. Pray with them and for them. Hug them. Love on them. Speak less, listen more, and think before you speak. Be patient with them––not everyone bounces back as quickly as others.
    • Become the neutral zone for the community.
      -Show the community you don't take sides, you're not trying to be God, or the law, or the government (civil, state, or federal). Therefore, ALL parties of the community (the minorities, the majority, the civil servants, the forgotten, the outcasted, the young, the old, etc) will feel like their voice will be heard. And always, ALWAYS exemplify grace. Grace softens hard hearts. Grace is the entryway to the Gospel.
    • Have purposeful conversations with disunited members of the community.
      -Find out if there are members of the community who feel mistreated or discriminated toward. Hear them out. What are the problems? What are the concerns? With whom and why? What does reconciliation look like? Then gather all the parties and discuss ways to begin working toward reconciliation.
    • Partner with other churches, para-church ministries/organizations, and community organizations in your community.
      -There is strength in numbers and unity. When the churches begin working together with each other and other local ministries/organizations, the community begins working together. When a community begins working together, then progress and improvement is underway.
2. Demonstrate the Gospel
Many churches do a great job of preaching the gospel. But very few churches do a great job of demonstrating the Gospel.
    • Serve your community.
      -Just as Christ came and served us according to our need (Matt. 20:28), we follow His example and serve others according to their needs. Find ways to be in your community, serving them and serving alongside them. Don't assume you know what they need (other than salvation). Ask first, then serve.
    • Accept all within your community.
      -Is your church truly welcoming to all of those in your community? Would any minorities or other ethnicities in your community feel welcomed in your church? Would any homosexuals in your community feel welcomed in your church? Whoever is in your community should feel just as welcomed in your church as God welcomed you into His family when you were His enemy (Rom. 5:6-8). And this goes beyond words. This is shown by your actions and attitudes toward them.
    • Be the example of unity and love to your community.
      -Show the community what true unity and love looks like by how you unite with and love one another in your church, other churches, and the community.
    • Pray for the events and churches in other communities.
      -Don't be indifferent toward the troubles in other communities. Pray for them. This further demonstrates unity and love to your community.
    • Extend a hand across the aisle and support other churches as they are demonstrating the gospel in their communities.
      -We are the Body of Christ. Our unity is a testimony of Jesus to the watching world (John 17:21). So whenever there is an opportunity to stand with each other in righteousness or in gospel demonstration, do so! This further demonstrates unity and love to your community.
3. Don't try to be the Savior, but point them to Him.
Here is the balance to #1 & #2. The Gospel is not for the salvation of communities. The Gospel is for the salvation of people (Rom. 1:16). The Church's aim in being the pillar of peace in our communities is not for the salvation of the community but for the salvation of the people of our communities. Once the people come to Christ in saving faith, communities will change. It is the Church's job to proclaim and demonstrate Jesus. It is the Church's job to be the representation of Jesus' peace/shalom in our communities. It is Jesus' job to do the saving and restoration, not the Church's. So, let us simply do our part and then we wait, watch, and trust Jesus with His part.

Final Word
I am fully aware that what I have discussed may not be applicable outside the US. I am also aware that there may come a point in the future where it will not be applicable in the US. But as of now it is. Thus, Church in the US, for the sake of the Gospel and those whom Christ died for, be the pillar of peace in our communities. They need you. We need you. I need you.

*Earlier this year I taught a sermon entitled "Jesus on Justice & Injustice toward Others". It's a message on Jesus' view of kingdom justice toward others. We would do well if we walked this out as churches/Christians.

July 7, 2016

Saturday, July 2, 2016

11 Reasons Why to Study Theology/Doctrine from Psalm 111

One morning, during my time in the Word with God, I found myself at Psalm 111. I don’t recall what led me there. But clearly the Spirit wanted to minister to me from this Psalm specifically. After a quick read through Psalm 111 something caught my attention. So I went back and spent time going through each verse and I noticed something extraordinary about this Psalm. Psalm 111 gives 11 reasons why every believer is to study biblical theology/doctrine.

Maybe you’re the Christian who has said or thought, “Why do I need to read/study theology/doctrine? That’s for pastors, teachers, professors, and so on. I’m just a regular believer. I love God. I read my Bible. I go to church. I try to obey what I read in my Bible and am taught at church. I don’t need to know all that other stuff.”

Well, the psalmist of Psalm 111 answers that question. And if you hang with me for a little while, we’re going to walk through each verse and discover these 11 reasons.

“1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, in the {assembly} of the upright, [in the congregation]. 2 {The works of the LORD are great}; they are studied by all who {have pleasure} in them. 3 [Full of splendor and majesty] is His work, and His righteousness endures forever. 4 He has made His [wondrous works] to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate. 5 He has given food to those who revere Him; He will remember His covenant forever. 6 He has made known to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. 7 The works of His hands are [faithful and just]; all His precepts are [trustworthy]. 8 They are [established] forever and ever; they are performed in [faithfulness] and uprightness. 9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; [all those who practice it have a good understanding]; His praise endures forever.” -Psalm 111 (NASB, {NJKV}, [ESV])

What is Theology & Doctrine?
Not everyone knows the meaning of “theology” or “doctrine”. Allow me to give a quick and basic explanation.

  • Theology comes from two Greek words, theos and logo. Theos = God. Logo, in this context, = logic/study. Thus…
“theology” = “the logical investigation of God” or “the study of God”

Hence, why I said “biblical theology” in the beginning, so you know I’m speaking of the God of the Bible and that the logical investigation/study of God is to be from the Bible.

  • Doctrine is of Latin origin and it means “teaching(s)”. Thus…
“biblical doctrine” = “the teachings from the Bible”

Many verses in the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, mention the Hebrew and Greek transliteration of "teaching" as "doctrine" (e.g. Job 11:4, Deut. 32:2, Rom. 16:17, Eph. 4:14, 1Tim. 4:16, Tit. 2:1, 2Jn. 1:9).

To be sure this does not get misunderstood, there are different kinds of theologies and doctrines. Different churches, religions, and many philosophies have theologies and doctrines. So this is a good point of clarity when speaking with others. Find out which theology/doctrine they’re referring to, is it biblical theology/doctrine or some other form of theology/doctrine. Don’t do this to argue, but so you’ll know if you and they are in the same book or not.

11 Reasons Why Every Believer is to Study Biblical Theology/Doctrine
What many believers don’t realize is the moment they read/study their Bible, they’re entering into theology/doctrine. The moment you ask any questions pertaining to God, you have entered into theology. The moment you ask what does the Bible say about this or that, you have entered into doctrine. The moment you seek to answer those questions about God or what the Bible says, you have entered into theology and doctrine. These examples are the occasions that many don’t realize this is exactly what they’re doing.

What we will find in an unlikely place like Psalm 111 is why every believer is to intentionally pursue the study of biblical theology and doctrine. Here are its 11 reasons:

1st Reason: God is worthy of praise and thanks with our whole heart. (v1)

“Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart…”

What have you ever truly put all your heart into? A sport, a project, a relationship, etc? Was it for something you didn’t know or didn’t treasure? Probably not. Same is true here. You cannot praise and thank the God you don’t know. Even more, you cannot praise and thank God with your whole heart if you don’t know why He is worthy of praise and thanks with your whole heart. So, how do you come to know more about God, how do you come to know why God is worthy of praise and thanks with all your heart? Through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

2nd Reason: God’s works are great and enjoyed by all who study them. (v2)

“{The works of the LORD are great}; they are studied by all who {have pleasure} in them.”

If you think a surface reading of the Bible and a surface knowledge of God is enough, you are severely short-changing yourself. What is something that you thoroughly enjoy? What is something you can spend endless time doing? Reading, gaming, crafting, surfing, writing, etc? When you enter into your world of pleasure, do you feel as though it’s too small or do you feel like it’s boundless and you can’t wait to explore it more and more? God’s works are so grand, it’s an infinite ocean of exploration and excitement! To the believer who truly loves God and finds pleasure in Him, studying His works is the greatest enjoyment of all! And this can only happen through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

3rd Reason: God’s works and goodness are eternally breathtaking. (v3)

“[Full of splendor and majesty] is His work, and His righteousness endures forever.”

God is the most magnificent artist! His Creation and all the details therein are a divine masterpiece! Whether it is music, or art, or photography, or entertainment, we’ve all experienced in one of these forms something that has left us speechless. Well, there is no end to the awe that comes from knowing God’s character and works. But experiencing this only comes from studying biblical theology/doctrine.

4th Reason: God’s wondrous works are to be remembered. (v4a)

“He has made His [wondrous works] to be remembered…”

We are to remember God’s works. He has made His works to be unforgettable! What has been an unforgettable song or movie that you’ve heard or seen? For me, it was Inception. I took my wife to the movies to see Inception when it was in the theaters. She fell asleep. I, on the other hand, was in a deep trance and thought it was outstanding. It instantly became one of my all-time favorite movies. I watch that movie whenever it comes on. So much so, I can remember details and use it in examples or explanations when in conversation or teaching. How much more unforgettable are God’s works? We can only come to remember God’s unforgettable works through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

5th Reason: God’s character and acts toward His people. (vv4b-5)

“…the LORD is gracious and compassionate. He has given food to those who revere Him; He will remember His covenant forever.”

If your spouse habitually sucked, would you take an interest in them? Probably not. Such is the case in many marriages across the world. If your spouse consistently rocked, would you take an interest in them? Probably so. What’s the difference? The difference is the character and actions of the spouse. It’s harder to exhibit love and desire for another when the other habitually sucks, but it’s not so hard to do so when they don’t. God never sucks! God’s character is intact and His actions toward His people are based on His character, and that benefits us in everyway! But if you don’t know His character then you cannot recognize His constant actions toward you. If you can’t recognize His actions toward you, you will begin to think God is absent or indifferent or untrustworthy. The only way to get to know His character and be able to recognize His constant actions toward you is through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

6th Reason: God reveals how powerful He is to His people. (v6)

“He has made known to His people the power of His works…”

The God of the universe is…your…God. Let that sink in. This vast and detailed universe—an innumerable amount of galaxies, each billions of miles in size—was spoken into existence by God. Spoken! No sweat, no effort, just words. Boom! Mind blown. And this God has chosen to reveal His great power to you. You! In other words, God has given you exclusive, front-row, all-access viewing of His mighty power. Genesis to Revelation is flooded with the declaration of how powerful God is, and studying biblical theology/doctrine is how we explore the declaration of the power of His works.

7th Reason: What God does is true and just, and what He says is true and fixed. (vv7-8)

“The works of His hands are [faithful and just] all His precepts are [trustworthy]. They are [established] forever and ever; they are performed in [faithfulness] and uprightness.”

Have you ever heard someone say, “If God’s so good, why would God do/say this or allow/not say that?” More than likely if you haven’t thought this yourself, you probably have heard this. And why is that? Because people cannot see how if God is “good” can He then allow so many “bad things” to happen, or Himself do things that seem unfair (e.g. wipe out men, women, children, and livestock), or instruct His people to do things that seem discriminatory (e.g. teach there’s only one way to God). These kinds of questions and criticisms stem from a lack of understanding God and the nature of what He does and says. In a world that questions everything the Bible teaches about God, if you don’t know that what God does is faithful and just or that what He said is trustworthy, you will buckle under the pressure of these kinds of attacks and your own doubts. The only way to know so is through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

8th Reason: God orchestrated the redemption of His people. (v9a)

“He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever…”

Many professing Christians do not know the gospel. They think the creedal statement of “Jesus Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead” + John 3:16 = the Gospel. Is that wrong? Nope. Is it complete? Nope. What if I told you Genesis to Revelation is the gospel, how would you respond to that? There is no greater love drama than God’s redemption of the nations which starts in Genesis 3:15, and so many believers are missing out on the breadth and depth of the ultimate truth to mankind—the gospel. How do you come to know that God orchestrated the “immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7) through the redemption of His people? Only through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

9th Reason: God is holy and must be revered. (v9b)

“…holy and awesome is His name.”

When you were young, was there something or someone you greatly feared? Not frightened, but more respected its authority and afraid of its consequences? For me it was my father. He had a commanding presence. I dreaded getting in trouble. Yet, I still managed to get in a lot. The mention of my father's name when I was younger would cause me to act right. If you’re a believer and the thought of God and His holiness does not invoke reverence, then you may not know the God of the Bible. There is no way you can truly know about God and His holiness and it not cause you to stand in awe and respect His authority. The only way to get to know more about God’s holiness and marvel at His name is through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

10th Reason: Revering God leads to wisdom. (10a)

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”

Come on, who doesn’t want wisdom? Do you want to be wiser than what you currently are? I know I do. And apparently with the robust amount of self-help books, blogs, and articles, so does everyone else. More than likely you do too. The Bible says the beginning of wisdom is fearing the LORD—reverencing God. Not gaining more self-help knowledge. Nope. As we discussed above in the 9th reason, how do you come to revere God? Through learning more about His character. The more you learn about who God is the more it spurs your soul to revere Him. The more the reverence of God bubbles within you wisdom is what is produced. And how do you come to learn more about God to bring about this wisdom? Through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

11th Reason: Following God’s wisdom leads to wisdom. (10b)

“…[all those who practice it have a good understanding]…”

Players who don’t know their team’s playbook look foolish when they play. Why? Because they’re doing things (or not doing things) that don’t fit with what the rest of their team is doing. Actors who don’t learn their lines look foolish when they perform. Why? Because everyone else is on cue but them and it messes up the performance. You can’t follow what you don’t know. You may do your surface reading of the Bible, or a devotional here and there, or your sermon splash from the church service, but your obedience will only go as far as your knowledge, and your growth will only go as far as your obedience. You cannot follow God’s wisdom if you don’t know God’s wisdom, and you won’t grow beyond what you know. Studying biblical theology/doctrine is how we grow in what we know, which leads to following more of what we now know more of.

This blog article was not to discuss “how” we study biblical theology/doctrine, but that we do. This blog article was to demonstrate how a simple psalm like Psalm 111 indicates the “why” for all believers. So many believers don’t study biblical theology/doctrine because they believe they don’t need to or have to. But nothing could be more wrong. It’s like God gives us the keys to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory and many Christians are content with hanging out front and never going inside and being blown away. To study biblical theology/doctrine is a privilege we receive from God to learn more about Him through His Word to us. Psalm 111 gave you 11 reasons why you are to study theology/doctrine. Ignore this to your own detriment. Heed it for yours and others benefit.

Maybe you're scared or hesitant. Well, don’t be. Dive in! The Holy Spirit will be your lifeguard. It is His responsibility to lead us into all truth (John 16:13-15). Get your appetite wet and watch how it will grow.

We live in an age that affords us so much access to a plethora of Bible/Christian related resources, which comes with its own dangers and benefits. So yes, be careful whom you listen to and read. Go to my “Recommended Sites” page to get a good selection on some biblically-solid resources. Maybe go and purchase “Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris. He shares through his testimony how he personally came to his study of biblical theology/doctrine, why, and what it produced in him. It’s not long and it’ll get you started on your own journey, if you haven’t started. For those who have started and are looking for some more depth, try R.C. Sproul’s “Everyone’s A Theologian”. This will definitely feed your appetite.

And last, but not last, pray. Pray for the desire to know God more deeply. Pray for understanding when you read His Word. Pray for discernment with whom to listen to and read. Pray for God’s direction to the right resources. Pray.

July 1, 2016

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Gospel that Transforms

I taught this message in 2015 at a church as a guest speaker. I forewarned them that this would be a tough message for many to hear and swallow. I believed then, and still now for those who will read this, that God wants to breakthrough and capture your hearts and minds and turn them right-side up for His glory in your life and your churches.

Below is the transcript with some minor additions and retractions I've made for posting it here.
A Clash of Realities
Many people that sit and attend many churches do not know the gospel. Many people around the globe that hear the term “gospel” or “Jesus” do not know what it truly is and what it truly means. Many either don’t know it at all or they know the media’s versions, or artists and entertainers versions, or the social media versions, or false beliefs versions, or a mixture of these, but not God’s version giving through biblical revelation. Thus, if many who sit and attend church and call themselves Christians don’t really know God’s biblical gospel, then how can they ever experience it’s transforming power in their lives? Maybe the reason some of you continue to go around the mulberry bush in your life, prostituting yourself with deliberate sin and compromise, is because you do not truly know the gospel nor have you been truly saved by it.

The power of the gospel is to transforms lives.
Rom. 1:16-17 (NIV)—“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.””
Therefore, the evidence of the gospel being known and believed by a person is their transformed life. If there is no evidence of a transformed life, then the gospel has not truly been known or believed by the person.

What is the Gospel?
I’ll answer this in brief, not exhaustively. The gospel is a comprehensive subject and this is just one message, so am I not attempting to cover everything, simply a few points about the gospel.

Allow me to start with what the gospel is not.
    • The gospel is not traditionalism—the traditions that you follow.
    • The gospel is not the church you attend nor any denominational affiliation.
    • The gospel is not the books of the Bible nor the stories in those books—though some of them reveal the gospel, they are not the gospel.
    • The gospel is not favor from God for you to obtain things in life.
    • The gospel is not the spiritual gifts you receive.
    • The gospel is not “the anointing”.
    • The gospel is not catchy clichés that church people say.
    • The gospel is not health, wealth, and prosperity.
    • The gospel is not your best life now.
    • The gospel is not social justice and activism—it can be demonstrated in that way, but that doesn’t make it the gospel.
    • The gospel is not being ordained as a minister.
    • The gospel is not your title/role in the church.
    • The gospel is not the Christian songs you sing (some of which we call praise-worship, though if it’s “me-centered” content its not authentic praise & worship; some we even call gospel music, and it’s not about the gospel).
    • The gospel is not your fire insurance—believe "this" so you won’t go to hell.
    • The gospel is not a scripted “repeat after me” prayer.
    • The gospel is not water baptism—get baptized and your saved or be baptized to seal your salvation.
    • The gospel is not universalism—i.e. God is going to save everybody, there is no hell.
    • The gospel is not any other “ism” that removes Jesus as the only Way to the Father, the only absolute Truth, the only Life-giver and sustainer, or adds anything to Jesus as the Way, Truth, and Life.
    • The gospel is not found in political parties, CNN (or any other news station), Oprah Winfrey, nor white or black pictures of Jesus.
    • The gospel is not found in Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Black Hebrew Israelites, Islam, Judaism, New-age beliefs, eastern religious beliefs, or any other view or belief that is not in accordance with the clear revelation of God in the Bible.
On and on the list can go about what the gospel is not. This is but a few things that the gospel is not that many may believe it is or attach to the gospel.

The gospel is the truth of the reality of the encompassing good news of Jesus Christ. Let's break down Ephesians 2:1-10 and see what the gospel is.
Eph. 2:1-10 (ESV)—"1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

1. The gospel is God transferring those who believe in Jesus from death to life. (vv. 1-3, 5)
We are all zombies (the walking dead) on a bus oblivious that it’s heading directly and rightly for the wrath of God. God sends Jesus to pay our bus fair and give us a transfer pass to get off the death bus and come onto the life bus—heading directly for eternal life with God. We can only receive this transfer pass when we place our trust in Him. This is the gospel.

2. The gospel is God’s outpouring of His rich mercy and great love toward those who believe. (v. 4)
Eph. 1:7-8 (NLT)—He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins. He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
Rom. 5:5-9 (NLT)—And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, He will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.
This is the gospel.

3. The gospel is God transferring those who believe from eternal separation from Him (Hell) to eternal placement with Him (Heaven). (vv. 6-7)
Do you know what makes “Hell” hell? Being separated from God’s grace and presence for eternity. Unconstrained sin running rampant with no end, no break, no ease, nothing. That is hell. And without the gospel, this is what everyone is justly doomed for. Do you know what makes “Heaven” heaven? Spending eternity in the personal presence of God, seeing and experiencing God in all His splendor, majesty, and glory with no end, no break, and no fear. That is heaven. This is the gospel, that God made a way for those who believe, we who deserve hell, to spend eternity with Him.

4. The gospel is God’s gift given to us. (vv. 8-9)
Grace, salvation, and faith are one packaged gift from God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. We play no part whatsoever in this packaged gift from God. We don’t and can’t earn this packaged gift from God. This packaged gift from God is freely given so that those who believe can believe. This is the gospel.

5. The gospel is God recreating those who believe (new creation) in Christ for His foreordained good works. (v. 10)
Tit. 2:14 (NLT)—He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.
Tit. 3:3-8 (NLT)—Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—
When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of His grace He made us right in His sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.
This is the gospel.
   God’s foreordained good works for those who believe is our life—everything in it from smallest to greatest, from internal to external—being lived and carried out in a manner that pleases Him, honors Him, and glorifies Him in accordance with His Word (cf. Tit. 2:12, 14). And here in Titus and Eph. 2 we see a clear and extreme contrast in comparison to our dead in sin life (zombie life). This is why we’re coined as new creations, because after the power of the gospel gets ahold of our life we’re completely different from the old creation, further displaying the transformation of a sinner through the gospel.

The Power of the Gospel
God through His gospel transforms our spiritual state (spiritually dead to spiritually alive), our eternal state (eternal separation to eternal placement), and our present state (people of disobedience to God’s workmanship/new creation). The gospel transforms the whole person. Nothing is off limits from the power of God in the gospel.
   The gospel is an eternal, life changing reality. The gospel is God’s loving, merciful, and grace-filled action toward us. Therefore, someone who truly understands and believes this gospel will not want to continue as they did before they knew it. Think about it, from the gripping reality of this truth and all God has done to redeem us, to the fact that the power of the gospel is to transform us into new creatures walking in God’s foreordained good works for us, where is there room to consciously live again like you’re still dead in sin, men and women of disobedience, willingly and happily pursuing things that God hates? If someone can say they truly understand and believe the biblical gospel and continue to live like they have not been rescued, like they have not been transformed into a new creation, then either the gospel is powerless and the Holy Spirit lied or that person does not truly understand and believe the gospel and thus is unsaved and still dead in their sin. I stake my life on the latter.

A Final Word
To those who’s life is marked by the transforming power of the gospel, hold your head high as one who is exuberant because you were once dead but now alive and in relationship with the Almighty Creator and King. Continue to fight through the struggles of sin and walk worthy of the glorious gospel that saved you. But also keep your heart humble as one who is grateful because your salvation is not of your own doing or your own initiation but by God’s rich mercy and great love toward you.
   To those who realize your life does not reflect this transformation you’ve read and heard about today, I appeal to you to respond to God right now. Some of you need to respond to God in repentance and some need to cry out to God for true salvation. You’re not here by accident. God wanted you to hear this particular message. As I said in the beginning of my message, I believe God wants to breakthrough and capture your hearts and minds and turn them right-side up for His glory in your life and your churches. If this is you, then pray and talk to God like you’re on your deathbed (as if this is your final words), tell Him what’s on your heart, repent if needed, or trust and believe if needed. Your eternity and soul are on the line.

March 2015

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Lean Not On Your Understanding - Prov. 3:5-8

What do you do when you have questions, problems, need guidance or advice? I’m not talking about things like how do you cook this, what color paint you should use, and other non-life affecting or unspiritual things. I’m talking about where do you go when you need advice about relationships, or choosing schools, careers, or making major financial moves? What about “following your heart”, what do you do for guidance in that area? What about with conviction, where do you go for counsel and accountability? Who do you turn to when you’re in emotional pain, or mental distress? Who is in your ear? Who are you taking guidance and advice from? What do you do?

More than likely our answer to these questions depends on the situation, right? I go to this person, I go to that person, I go over here, go over there. Or, we may turn to ourselves and our own reasoning and judgment to find the answers to some of these.

In whatever it is we do or wherever it is we may go to deal with these situations, the Bible says our bottom line pursuit for guidance, advice, and counsel is to be from God—–i.e. His will, His ways, and His standards laid out before us in His Word. And that even goes for those “little matters” of life, glorifying God should still influence those decisions and whom we seek for help even in those “little matters”. Now let’s see why the Bible tells us this in Proverbs 3:5-8.

Dissecting Proverbs 3:5-8
–3:5-6 (NASB):
5 Trust (Heb–have a bold confidence/assurance)...
in the LORD with all your heart (Heb–everything within you)...
and do not lean (Heb–support one’s self) [do not depend (NLT)]...
on your own understanding (Heb–knowledge, meaning, wisdom, discernment).
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him [Seek His will in all you do (NLT)]...
and (here’s the promise) He will make your paths straight [He will show you which path to take (NLT)].
Here's Matthew Henry's commentary on the promise in verse 6,
“Those that put themselves under a divine guidance shall always have the benefit of it. God will give them that wisdom which is profitable to direct, so that they shall not turn aside into the by-paths of sin, and then [He] will himself so wisely order the event that it shall be…for their good.”

–3:7-8 (NASB):
7 Do not be wise (Heb–intelligent, skilled)...
in your own eyes [don’t be impressed with your own wisdom (NLT)]...
fear the LORD (Heb–revere/greatly respect God bcuz of who He is and what He can do)...
and turn away from evil.
8 (here’s the promise) It will be healing to your body (Heb–navel)...
and refreshment to your bones.

Allow me to give some historical background so to understand what the promise of verse 8 meant in context to the original audience. It’s known that by the umbilical cord the fetus receives its nourishment while it’s in the mother’s womb. All the nourishment is received and the circulation of the blood is kept up by way of the umbilical cord (which was connected to our belly button/navel). Thus, when the wise man says, that it shall be health to your body (i.e. navel), what he’s saying is that this principle—–trust in God and not in ourselves, seeking His will and not our own wisdom, and fearing God so to turn from evil—–is as vital to our life in God and to our “continual growth in grace, as the umbilical cord is to the life and growth of the fetus in the womb”. So the promise is by following this principle, it will be nourishment/sustenance (that which is sustaining) to our life just as all the nourishment is received and the circulation of the blood is kept up by way of the umbilical cord (the navel). What a promise this is once we have some background and understand what it originally meant in its historical context.

Now to finish what the rest of the promise means, the “refreshment to your bones”. In Clarke's Commentary he notes for verse 8,
“What the marrow [i.e. the soft tissue in the bones] is to the support and strength of the bones, and the bones to the support and strength of the body;” this principle, “is to the support, strength, energy, and salvation of [our lives].”

From now dissecting this passage do we now see why our bottom line pursuit for guidance, advice, and counsel is to be from what God has laid out before us in His Word? Because it is for our holistic benefit if we seek God with all our heart and in all our ways, but it is to our detriment if we go about pursuing guidance, advice, and counsel on our own understanding.

Some Examples
Let’s discuss some ways we, in our own understanding, go about dealing with questions, problems, needing guidance or advice in life-affecting situations, spiritual situations, and even in what we consider irrelevant small matters.

Some of us go about dealing with these situations by seeking guidance or counsel from Astrology and horoscopes, maybe even psychics—–tarot cards, fortune tellers, palm readings, and séances. And some of you might be thinking, what’s wrong with this? First, they are all condemned and prohibited in the Bible as a form of divination (Lev. 20:22-24, 26-27, Deut. 18:9-14, 1Sam. 15:23; 28:3ff). The Bible is very clear, this is not of God. If you look up Astrology, it “is the “interpretation” of an assumed influence the stars (and planets) exert on human destiny.” All of the other practices are, and I’m going to quote Ron Rhodes because he says it perfectly, they are all “based on the concept that there are gods, spirits, or deceased loved ones that can give advice and guidance”. This is not of God. None of these are godly by any means because they require us to place our faith in something other than God. To participate in these things violates Scripture. Don’t lean on your own understanding in this, because you’re setting yourself up in disobedience and whatever consequences that follow.

Some of us go about dealing with these situations by seeking guidance or counsel from immature/carnal/unsound believers, or worldly philosophy (e.g. talk shows, radio shows, news, social media, magazines, word-of-mouth, websites, etc), or ungodly people, and so forth. In 2Chron. 18:4-22, this passage records the story about King Jehoshaphat (the king of Judah) and King Ahab (the king of Israel). Jehoshaphat is looking for counsel before going to war, so he hits up Ahab. Ahab seeks his own prophets for counsel and guidance rather than the prophet of God. His own prophets tell him what he wants to hear, but not the word of God. But when Jehoshaphat asked if there was another prophet, a prophet of God, Ahab said the prophet of God always speaks the opposite of what he wants to hear. In the end, Jehoshaphat follows God’s counsel by way of the prophet of God and is saved from the battle. Ahab leaned on his own understanding and followed the counsel of his prophets and died in battle just as the prophet of God foretold. What does this mean for us? Don’t seek guidance and counsel from people you know or think aren’t biblically grounded and mature, because that’s the equivalent of seeking your own prophets and not the prophet of God–—i.e. the mature, biblically grounded believers who’s going to speak forth only what’s in accordance with God’s Word.

Final Word
As I wrap this up, let me clear something that may be misunderstood. What I’m not saying is abandon “careful thinking or belittle our God-given ability to reason” (NASB), and in that I’m not saying that we should trust our own ideas to the point where we exclude the Word of God or other godly counsel. What I am saying is when it boils down, we are to (1)make our decisions based on the guidance, advice, and counsel from what God has laid out before us in His Word—–i.e. is this thing/decision going to be pleasing to God or not according to His word—–and (2)not make our decisions based solely on our own understanding or solely on the understanding of others (especially those who aren’t fruit-bearing, biblically solid and mature accountable believers). (And that’s not that God can’t speak through anyone, He spoke through a donkey to get the attention of a prophet, but we shouldn’t seek just anyone out. If God wants to speak to us through an unlikely source, let Him do it, not us pursue it).

Proverbs are guides for daily life. Therefore let this proverb guide your daily life by simply following it as opportunities present themselves (our days are filled with opportunities to apply this proverb). Let the truth of this proverb guide your thinking and reasoning in how you go about dealing with questions, problems, needing guidance or advice in life-affecting situations, spiritual situations, and even in what we consider irrelevant small matters. If you want God’s best for your life—–the nourishment of life and growth like the umbilical cord does for the fetus in the womb; the support, strength, and energy like the marrow is to the bones; the wisdom to direct where to go/which paths to take—–then trust God with all your heart and seek His will in all your ways so that this conditional promise can be manifested, and lean not on your own understanding.