Are You Frozen or Growin’?

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven… Ecclesiastes 3:1

I am no flower expert, but I recently saw an article about a flower that blooms in the midst of snowy conditions. Chionodoxa or “Glory of the Snow” is native to the mountains of southwestern Turkey where it grows at the snowline above 8,250 feet. This little blue flower with its white star shaped center is literally pops up through snow capped mountains to reveal its glorious beauty to the world.

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This week many of us are experiencing a freeze in life because of snowy weather conditions, but over the past 11 months many of us have been frozen in many ways because of COVID-19. Normal life has frozen. For many church attendance has frozen. Yet, in spite of this, God does not intend for our spiritual lives to be frozen. There is a season for everything as Ecclesiastes 3:1 states, but the “Glory of the Snow” flower proves to us that God still intends that there is to be beautiful, soul-growth in our lives bursting through the frozen conditions.

What is blooming in your life in this frozen season? Is it the beauty of faith and hope and love and confidence in God, or is it a root of bitterness, fear, doubt, and despair?

For the Christ follower, the glory of the snow is proof that God wants us to be aware that He can bring forth beauty even in the most unfavorable of conditions.

What is blooming in your life during this frozen season?

Hope Dealer

Hope is my favorite word. I cannot get away from that word regardless of what comes my way. That is a blessing, to be sure, but it sometimes causes me to wonder. Allow me to explain…

Preachers are an interesting lot because our lives tend to color our messages. When I was in seminary there was a professor who was pastoring a church in the area who had previously been a missionary overseas. The overarching theme in many of his sermons was missions and evangelism. I knew another pastor who in virtually every sermon he preached would say, “Are you in the center of God’s will for your life?” That phrase was a common refrain in his ministry.

As a pastor I largely have committed myself to preach through books of the Bible. I have preached through Isaiah, John, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. I have also spent many a day in the Psalms. Still the one common thread that I seem to find in the majority of my sermons is hope—specifically the persevering hope to be found in Jesus Christ. I cannot get away from this theme.

I have not done a poll among my congregation, but over the eleven years that I have been pastor of Donelson View, I would be willing to bet that the theme of hope would be in the forefront of most peoples’ minds.

A favorite hymn of mine is “The Solid Rock,” and the opening stanza states:

My hope is built on nothing less

than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

That zeroes in on my life and ministry. My hope in life and in death is Jesus’ blood and righteousness. There are choices I have made in my life for which I am greatly ashamed, and when I am reminded of some of those choices I feel a tremendous amount of grief and shame. Driving to work this morning I remembered some of my past choices and instantly felt a deep sense of regret.

Instinctively, I cried out to God and suddenly had the thought: “Bo, that is not who you are anymore. You don’t live that way anymore.” Instantly, I felt a great sense of hope because it is true. That is NOT who I am any longer. God, has delivered me from many grave circumstances.

Hebrews 6:19-20 states (in part): “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.”

Hope is an anchor for the soul. It holds us in one place and can keep us from drifting into despair. That hope has come because of the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross for our sins and through His resurrection from the dead to give us HOPE even in the dark night of the soul.

To my shame, there have been seasons of my life when I was caught in various sins. In those seasons I felt great shame, but at the same time I cried out to God for mercy and deliverance. I prayed and prayed and prayed over these long seasons of spiritual drought, not feeling any relief. I did not hide my sin from God. I was honest with Him about it, and slowly, over time, God would give me brief glimpses through His word like Psalm 37:

23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,

And He delights in his way.

24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down;

For the Lord upholds him with His hand.

Suddenly, HOPE would fill my soul, ever so slightly. I would cling to the word of God with all of my might—even when my experience would speak a different word about hope for my future.

And God was FAITHFUL. He DID bring the deliverance I was hungering and thirsting for over the course of many years.

I think this is the reason why my ministry is so infused with this word—hope. I am nothing special. I am merely a sinful man who has been desperate for God. Through my desperation I have beheld the hope-giving faithfulness of the One who is neither surprised by our sin nor hand-cuffed from helping us get out of it.

What about you? Do you have this hope?

He offers it to anyone willing to believe even in the midst of unbelief.

The Day I Met My Greatest Fear

I am freaked OUT by bone injuries.

I don’t know why this is, but I have always had, what I refer to, as a phobia of gruesome bone injuries. To this day, I have never seen the injury that Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins suffered on Monday Night Football—the result of a tackle made by Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants. This injury was so serious that Taylor got up and immediately began pleading for medical staff to hurry onto the field.

I’ve never had the courage to watch it.

That being said, I have seen these types of injuries in sports and elsewhere, and they always leave me feeling squeamish. What’s more, I have a tendency to play these images over and over in my mind so that if I don’t quickly MAKE my mind think about different things, I’ll relive the trauma again and again to the point of getting the creeps…

Enter Friday, November 23, 2018. We had my wife’s family in for Thanksgiving weekend, and several of the guys were outside playing football. You need to understand that whenever I am around a football I am INSTANTLY 12 years old. Now, I’m 49 in people years, but when the pigskin is being tossed around I am a kid.

Earlier that week my wife had asked me to take a heavy plastic container down into the basement. As I was carrying the box down the stairs, I tripped over something and my right ankle instantly folded. I fell down the length of the staircase, cutting my chin and severely spraining my ankle.

So I wasn’t outside playing football, just watching longingly out of my bedroom window.

Suddenly, inspiration struck! I had been wearing an ankle brace since Tuesday and had not experienced any pain for the last day or so. I thought, I could be all-time quarterback! I wouldn’t have to run. I could just deliver the goods into the ol’ breadbasket with my laser-rocket arm, a la Peyton Manning!

I quickly hurried outside and told the guys my plan, and we even headed over to the neighbor’s yard across the street because they had a much bigger and flatter yard than mine.

Everything was going great, and I was delivering the ball to places that only the receiver could catch them. To this point, in my mind I was probably 13-16 passing for 300 yards and 4 TDs. Textbook legendary status.

A freak little thing happened along the way when I did have to scramble to the right just a bit, and as I ran I rolled my ankle again, falling and LITERALLY rolling all the way over landing on my head. It hurt a bit but the adrenaline was flowing, and kept playing. THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN A SIGN THAT I SHOULDN’T RUN.

Yet, the game went on, and I had just thrown a BEAUTIFUL touchdown pass to my brother-in-law. As the following kickoff ensued, one of my sons caught the ball and everyone began giving chase. He started running towards me, and so I began to run towards him. As I approached him, I planted my right foot into a divot in the ground, and again my ankle rolled.

The next step changed my life.

Trying to keep from falling, I stepped with my left leg, and instantly something popped. I actually felt my femur and my tibia clack together, and I had the immediate thought that my life was going to be different for a while.

I crumpled to the ground in searing pain. I could not move my leg at all, and my kneecap was about 3 inches high and over to the right about 2 inches.

I could barely move, but I finally got into a position where my leg was still. After assessing the situation, I realized I needed an ambulance, and most of the guys ran back to my house to tell my wife and to call 911.

My brother-in-law Rich stayed with me. As I lay on the ground, trying to remain motionless, the muscles in my knee began to seize up, and every time that happened, lightning would shoot into that area. I have never known such pain in my life. Fortunately, this wasn’t constant, but it was unpredictable, and wave after wave of insane agony shot through my knee as I waited for the ambulance to arrive.

In spite of all of this, I experienced an intense sense of peace—even in the pain. From the time of the injury, I instinctively began crying out to God for help. Without even trying, I must have prayed “Jesus, please help me!” a hundred times. I knew that I needed him, and yet, it was not as if someone was there coaxing me to call out to Him. It was just my instinct.

And the amazing thing was, I KNEW He was there with me. Though I was in miserable pain, I sensed Jesus holding my hand, comforting me, and giving me a sense of calm through the whole ordeal.

What I came to understand that day was that as intense as the pain was in my injury, so was the presence of God. His presence did not take away the pain, but His presence and comfort were there with me to support me through the pain.

I had come face-to-face with one of the great fears of my life that day. Yet, what I also became intimately aware of was the TRUTH of God’s word in Isaiah 43:2-3 which says:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Paul the apostle in Ephesians 3:19 prays that Christians will “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” There is a kind of knowledge that surpasses knowledge. This knowledge is not intellectual. It is experiential.

In fact, the Greek word “know” that Paul uses means “to know through first hand experience.” It is the kind of intimate knowledge that a husband and wife have for one another sexually. In Luke 1:34 when Mary is told by the angel that she will conceive and give birth to Jesus, Mary who is still a virgin says, “How will this be since I do not know a man?” She had never experienced sexual intimacy.

This is the kind of knowledge that Paul is praying for believers to have in experiencing the love of Jesus—to have an intimate, first hand, experiential knowledge of Jesus that is beyond the intellectual.

God does not want us just to have a bunch of “facts” about Him. God wants us to know Him personally—experientially. God does not merely want us to know theoretically that He can provide our needs. He wants us to experience His power of provision in our lives. And on Friday afternoon, November 23, 2018 I intimately experienced the immediate presence of God in the midst of one of my greatest fears.

I would never ask for that experience. Yet, I have come to discover that in God allowing that painful trial in my life, though I had come face to face with my fear, I was able to overcome that fear by the indwelling, loving presence of my God who has told me time and time again, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I am still in recovery from that injury. I wound up having to have two surgeries to repair the patellar tendon that completely tore apart. (The first surgery failed). I still have about four months of physical therapy ahead of me. Nevertheless, the help that was with me on that dreadful day in November continues to aid me now, and I trust (more intimately than before) will ultimately lead me Home.

What are you afraid of?

You will NEVER regret placing your faith in Jesus who ALWAYS keeps His promises.

My Tribute to One Remarkable Life

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How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me?
Things so undeserved, yet You gave to prove Your love for me;
The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude
All that I am and ever hope to be—I owe it all to Thee…

To God be the glory
To God be the glory
To God be the glory
For the things He has done

With His blood He has saved me
With His power He has raised me;
To God be the glory
For the things He has done

 

The above words were penned by Andre Crouch, about his tribute to God for what He had done in Crouch’s life.  They come to mind for me because my sister Lori and I used to sing them sitting at the piano when she was probably 16 and I was 6.  Lori was my eldest sister, followed by Julie and then Jenn.

Thinking about singing this song with Lori brings tears to my eyes as I write, not only because Lori passed away on April 20, 2018 after a 12 year battle with ovarian cancer, but also because God made these words an intimate reality in Lori’s life.

You see, Lori at a young age possessed a zeal for God and a love for Jesus Christ.  She and I sang this song for its truth and for the beauty of its melody.  Both of us sang these words with immature, yet sincere hearts—to God be the glory for the things HE has done.

Lori was also a very outspoken Christian, and as a teenager she boldly took a stand against the leadership at our church over a leadership decision she felt was hypocritical.  Consequently, she left the organized church for DECADES after that.  She recently told me before her death that she did not leave her faith in Jesus, but she did leave His church with vehemence.   Overtime, a hardening towards the church led her into a (her words) self-righteous hardening.

Lori was exceptionally gifted in the field of advertising and rose through the ranks of several different advertising firms in Atlanta, Georgia, eventually being named partner in one of the firms.  Lori’s career in many ways became her identity and she sought to find fulfillment through her work. (More on this in a moment).

Our relationship & Lori’s humor

Sis Crazy

(Lori & “Bird”)

Though ten years apart in age, growing up, Lori and I had a very good relationship.  She had a WONDERFUL sense of humor, and she was always quick to laugh at my humor, too.  More than that, Lori had the ability to laugh at herself.  One of the funniest stories I have ever heard in my life, she told on herself.

As a college student, Lori worked at McDonalds, and on Sunday nights, the workers were required to clean out the sundae machine.  On one particular occasion, Lori was diligently cleaning out the machine when it occurred to her that the soft serve swirling into the 5 gallon bucket was just going to be wasted.  As a result, Lori grabbed two spoons and went to work, plunging one into the ice cream and one into the hot fudge sauce—both meeting at her mouth simultaneously!  This went on for who knows how long, when suddenly, the regional manager for McDonalds comes walking around the corner.

In an instant, Lori went from stuffing her face to enthusiastically telling the manager about her major in college (advertising) and how much she enjoyed school and (probably) working at the Golden Arches. After a few moments, the district manager said that he needed to visit with some other people, and Lori returned to work, cleaning out the ice cream machine.

It was at that moment that she happened to catch her reflection off of the galvanized steel of the machine to witness her mouth, chin, and uniform covered in hot fudge sauce!!   The district manager never cracked a smile the whole conversation, as Lori waxed eloquent about her burgeoning college career and future—chocolate dripping off her chin.  That makes the whole thing even funnier to me!  And Lori would repeat that story over and over!

My faith journey & our relationship

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(Alicia, me, Lori, Jenn, Julie, Kevin, photo bomb by Mr. Farmer)

At age 25, I began to experience a longing for more out of life than I was currently experiencing.  I remember sitting in my car in a grocery store parking lot and before getting out of my car I had a random, yet profound, thought—I was not created to live a mediocre life.  That thought, couched amidst a failed relationship and dissatisfaction with life in general, ultimately propelled me back into the faith of my childhood.

Zealous in my renewed faith, I was excited when Lori came to visit me in Nashville.  I took her to church with me, and we went to lunch afterwards.  I asked her what she thought of the service and she said, “Bo, I am glad that you have found some satisfaction and meaning in a relationship with God, but you need to know that not everybody finds hope in that way!”  Normally being the type of person who hates confrontation and arguing, I looked at her and said, “Lori, there is no hope apart from Jesus Christ.”  This must have stunned her somewhat because briefly thereafter the conversation was directed to safer waters.

Still, that conversation initiated a rift between us that would last for many years.  I intentionally tried NOT to share my faith with her or even to mention anything about spirituality when speaking with her.  That really didn’t seem to matter because during one phone conversation Lori blurted out, “Bo, PLEASE do not say ‘Praise the Lord’ after every sentence!”  The fact of the matter was that I had not even said it once in the entire conversation.

At that point in her life, Lori was really hardened towards spiritual things.  She would tell me many years later that she would have still considered herself a Christian, but it was certainly not a focal point in her life.  She lived her life, at this point, finding satisfaction in her career.  Working for various advertising firms in Atlanta, GA, Lori had found a significant degree of success and was even named junior partner in one of the firms.    

Her career was her identity, and she was very good at her job.   For some reason, I in my infantile faith knew that Lori’s career was where she found her significance in life.  As a result, in 1996 I began to pray, “Lord, you know that Lori finds her self-worth in her job, but Lord, I pray that you would help her to find her identity in YOU and not in her jobs.  Lord, do what it takes to get her there.”

Prayer warrior Leonard Ravenhill once said, “Hidden prayer is like heat smoldering in the bowels of the earth, far beneath the [surface] of a volcano. Though [there] may be years of inactivity, sooner or later there WILL BE an explosion. So it is with prayer—it never dies.”  I prayed this prayer of Lori finding her satisfaction in Jesus over and above her job many times through the years.  Yet, I saw very little evidence that God was working.  Our relationship remained strained for years, and Lori continued grinding herself to weariness in her work.

Lori’s Health

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(me, Lori, Mom, Julie, Dad, Jenn)

And then 2006 happened. 

The corporate world is often a meat grinder that is straight from the pit of hell, based upon the incessant drive to be THE best.   Consequently, there is much jockeying for position for yourself and your friends in order to reach “the TOP” (whatever that is).  In 2006 Lori was fed through this meat grinder via a new boss.  Though incredibly gifted at her job, Lori became the target of her new boss.  Her newly acquired boss had designs for someone else to fill Lori’s position, and as a result, Lori was terminated.

Shortly after losing her job, Lori was in a traumatic car accident in which the driver behind her hit Lori’s car at about 75 mph while Lori’s car was in a turn lane.  This accident should have killed her, but her life was spared.  Though she did have to endure several surgeries, she was very blessed to still be alive.

Six months later, I would receive a phone call that no one wants to receive.  With shaking voice, my dad informed me that Lori had just been diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer.  I did not know anything about ovarian cancer, but I did know that this was very serious.  My mother considered this to be a death sentence and felt that Lori would die.  Yet, doctors felt that an aggressive chemotherapy might be helpful in fighting the cancer.

And it was.  After many bouts of various medical treatments, Lori’s cancer went into remission to such an extent that after five years he doctor said, “Lori, you are cancer free. You need to go and live your life.”

Sadly, just a few months after the doctor’s pronouncement (and five years!), the cancer returned.  Again, there would be more rounds of chemo and radiation, and Lori had to be put on disability because she was not able to work full time any longer.  Yet, through all of this, God was on the move in Lori’s life.  Slowly but surely, a softening towards the things of God emerged in her life.  Lori began attending a women’s Bible study and started plunging deeply into God’s Word, through the help of many godly people in her community.

My own relationship with Lori started to heal, as well.  I am a pastor in Nashville, TN, and Lori and I started having many discussions about the Bible, about suffering, and about the sovereignty of God in life.  In time, Lori shared with me how she had started “Backpack Buddies” program through her church (Valley Baptist, Valley, AL) for underprivileged children in her community, as well as various other ministries and after school programs—many of which I am unaware to the extent of her impact in her community.

Lori came to see her cancer not as a curse from God but as a blessing from Him.  She did not waste her cancer.  Instead of crawling into a self-absorbed shell, Lori started employing her various gifts and abilities she gained in the advertising world to promote the various ministries and community projects in which she was involved.  In truth, I cannot do this season of Lori’s life justice because I don’t know all of the things to which she contributed.  Yet, one thing is true.  Every single person I have come to meet in West Point, GA (Lori’s home) has said to me, “You have no idea the impact that Lori’s life has had in this community.”  Glory to God!!

In late February 2018, I received a phone call from my mother that Lori had to be rushed to the hospital by my sister Julie because Lori was having difficulty breathing.  As it turns out, a tumor in her abdomen had developed and had to be drained.  I made the decision at that point that I needed to go visit Lori, and I am so glad that I did.  It was during this visit that I was able to spend some time alone with her for the first time in many years.  

Lori’s faith

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It was during this brief visit that the pieces of Lori’s faith (and the depth of her illness) came into sharper focus for me.  She made a humbling confession to me during this visit that simply floored me.  She said, “Bo, for the longest time, I simply did not want to surrender everything to God.  I still wanted to be in control of my life.  Yet, it was through everything that I have experienced in the past twelve years that God has shown me that only He could really be trusted to work out the details of my life.  And I am now 100% surrendered to whatever God wants to do with me.”

I was stunned by this statement because this was the very answer to my prayer that I had been praying in 1996.  My prayer had been that God would give my sisters the joy and faith that I had come to find in Him. AND HE ANSWERED MY PRAYER IN LORI’S LIFE—yet, not in the way that I would have ever seen or asked for.

During my visit, Lori had told me that she did not want to have to go through chemotherapy again, but she was willing to do it for my parents’ sake.  She was surrendered to whatever was going to happen.

Three days later, Lori went to the hospital and had a series of scans that would reveal that the cancer had spread throughout her body.  Chemo would not matter.  The cancer was terminal, but Lori was at peace and even grateful.  I can honestly say that I have never in my life seen a person who was so READY to die—that is until I watched the final eight weeks of Lori’s life.  She was anxious (in the best sense) for Heaven.  There was not a moment of fear about where she was going, just sheer confidence, hope, and joy.

My title for this tribute is entitled “One Remarkable Life” because Lori’s life was certainly that.  She never married.  She achieved much success in her chosen profession, but as she rose through the ranks, I believe she beheld much of the vanity and hollowness of striving after the brass ring.  Conversely, I know that it was through the illness of cancer and the subsequent inability to work a full-time job that Lori began to truly suck the marrow out of life.  The impact that she had on the lives of other people is immeasurable, but it is shot through with resplendent glory of God.

No, Lori did not see her life as remarkable.  She was just trying to do what she could with what she had to the glory of God.  This is why I chose this story to be entitled “My Tribute” because it harkens back to decades ago of my life with Lori singing this beautiful song—a song which would prove to come full circle in her life and become her testimony…   

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me?
Things so undeserved, yet You gave to prove Your love for me;
The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude
All that I am and ever hope to be—I owe it all to Thee

To God be the glory
To God be the glory
To God be the glory
For the things He has done

With His blood He has saved me
With His power He has raised me;
To God be the glory
For the things He has done

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Proverbs 31:30

I love you, Sis, and I know that you are having the most WONDERFUL birthday.

Why Christians Say “Christianity Is a Relationship and Not a Religion”

Saul of Tarsus, by his own admission, was a pretty “holy” guy.  He came from good stock.  He states his pedigree in Philippians 3:5-6: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law–blameless.  

The Apostle Paul, at the end of his life, proclaimed himself to be “the chief of sinners” (1Timothy 1:15).

Saul of Tarsus and Paul are the same man.  Saul later became known as Paul (Acts 13:9).

So how can a man move from boasting about being blameless according to the law of God to referring to himself as “the chief of sinners“?  He met Jesus–the resurrected, reigning King Jesus that, as a righteous Jew, he formerly hated.

Here is Paul’s own testimony of his life before meeting Jesus:  “I punished [Christians] often… and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them…” (Acts 26:11)

This same man later testified in 1Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,but have not love, I gain nothing.

How does such a drastic change occur?  It occurs by moving away from religion and into a close relationship with Jesus, the resurrected Son of God.  Saul of Tarsus (the “successful” Pharisee, member of the Sanhedrin–the Jews’ Supreme Court) knew what God’s law said on paper.  He even claimed to live by it “blamelessly.”  However, his “blameless” living could not stop him from being enraged against Jesus and Christianity.

You see, it is possible to live out the dictates of what the law says but not be changed by the law in your heart.  You can not kill someone in actuality because the law says to not kill, but in your heart you can wish someone was dead because your heart is filled with hatred.

The Old Testament commanded the Jews: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Yet, it also commanded them, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)  In order to “keep”the law of God, Saul “stood” by the coats of the people who stoned Jesus’ disciple Stephen to death (see Acts 7).  He didn’t actually kill a man, but he murdered him in his heart.  Yet, he claimed to be blameless.

The Apostle Paul would later proclaim as a follower of Jesus, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2Corinthians 3:6).

The Spirit gives life… Here is how self-righteous Saul became humble-servant Paul.  Jesus stated before His death and resurrection “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” John 14:16.  There it is!  There is the key!!

Christianity was never meant to be about “pulling yourself up by your boot straps” to gut out some laws so that God will forgive you in the end.  No, Christianity is about having God Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, living in you to help you live the Christian life–to change you from the inside out, to give you a new nature, to convict you of sin, but to help you walk in repentant obedience from the heart.  That is how Paul went from being an anger-filled person into a person who wanted to love others with the love of Jesus (and how at the end of his life he knew he had not fully obtained it because he still referred himself as the chief of sinners).

You see, when a person comes into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, he/she comes into a relationship with the living God who is holy and who promises to help us in our times of need.  No, no one is practically holy in and of themselves but we have a Helper to whom we can call upon to say, “O God, please help me!  I feel very angry toward this person right now, but please help me to put my anger to death!”  When a Christian is honest enough with God about his/her sin but also His promised help, that person will be amazed at how God can mold his/her character over time to be a person of love.

The question is, do you know God in this way or are you just trying to keep his laws in your own strength?

Jesus has made it very simple for us when He said:  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Luke 11:13)

Ask Him!!

 

 

 

His Eye Is On the Sparrow

A sparrow is a small, seemingly insignificant bird. “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?” (Matthew 10:29) Consequently, especially in America, sparrows don’t command our respect.  A couple of weeks ago, my wife & I went to a Titans football game, and before the game a bald eagle was released from the top of the stadium and it came swooping down to land on its trainer’s arm on the field.  Our response was immediate–“THAT is a majestic bird!” we thought.

Imagine the same scene with a tiny sparrow.  Had we experienced that sight, I’m sure we would have been thinking, “Lame!”  Yet, Daniel Henderson, founder of the 6:4 Fellowship, makes the following assessment about the local church:

“We must remember that the eternal evaluation of any ministry will not be a question of the size a church achieved but the sort of ministry it embraced.”

God’s perspective is not our perspective.  God’s definition of success often does not match ours.  We often believe “bigger is better.”  We tend to believe that the signpost for God’s blessing is found in increasing “budgets, bodies, and buildings.”  While larger churches may be indicative of God’s blessing, size is not a guarantee of strength.  See Paul’s counsel to Timothy, his young disciple:

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.  2Timothy 2:20-21

 The eternal evaluation (God’s perspective) of the greatness of any church is determined by the personal holiness of the members, not by their size.  God is looking for people who are passionate about pursuing Him.  The overflow of that pursuit will naturally produce righteousness, faith, love, and peace—the fruit of His Spirit.

The churches in Thessalonica and Smyrna were both most likely small churches numerically, but both churches were praised for being full of faith, love, obedience, and peace.  Laodicea was most likely a large, wealthy church, but Jesus told them in Revelation that if they did not repent He would spit them out of His mouth.

The true sign of God’s blessing is found not in the AMOUNT of ministry that happens through a church but primarily in the QUALITY of ministry through the church. Regardless of the size (big or small), the main questions that need to be asked about a church’s health and effectiveness are:

  1. Is the Word of God being faithfully proclaimed?
  2. Is the Holy Spirit’s presence experienced on a regular basis in worship?
  3. Is the congregation praying, seeking to know and do God’s will for the church?
  4. Are believers warring against their own sin in such a way that they are useful to God?
  5. Are believers humbling themselves before one another, or insisting upon having their own way? (Are church members on “a power trip”?)
  6. Is the church seeking to influence and win people, not to their church, but to JESUS?

There are certainly more questions to be asked, but these six questions help establish guidelines for determining the QUALITY of ministry–irrespective of the “size.”

 

Christopher Hitchens: Unlikely Evangelist

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Rest easy, atheist friends.  I am not seeking to make Mr. Hitchens a Christian. I am, however, promoting the kind of Christianity that Hitch (as he is often referred) encountered in the years leading up to his death.

Larry Taunton is the founder of the Fixed Point Foundation.  According to the website:

Fixed Point Foundation is dedicated to meaningful exploration of the ideas and issues that shape our culture. To that end, Fixed Point has sponsored debates and symposia on topics ranging from atheism and Islam to gay marriage and the relationship between science and religion.

Larry Taunton, a southern evangelical Christian, was also a personal friend of Hitchens.  The two debated Christianity vs. Atheism, and occasionally traveled together, studying the gospel of St. John as they went.  As their relationship grew, Taunton came to the belief that Hitchens carried two sets of books in his life: one set vehemently defended the atheism embraced since his teens; the other set, however, seemed to wrestle with the claims of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The main reason Hitchens wrestled with the Christian faith was because toward the closing years of his life, he developed close, personal relationships with men like Taunton, Oxford mathematician & physicist John Lennox, pastor Douglas Wilson, and geneticist Francis Collins.  In each of these men, Hitchens encountered something he had either never seen or allowed himself to see–Christians who sincerely lived out their faith both intellectually and obediently to the teachings of Christ.

In a public debate with Larry Taunton, an interview asked Hitchens what he thought of Taunton. He stated:  “If everyone in the United States had the same qualities of loyalty and care and concern for others that Larry Taunton had, we’d be living in a much better society than we do.” (p.150)

At a book signing, a fellow atheist asked Hitchens why he would even consider taking a road trip with an evangelical Christian (gasp!) like Taunton, and Hitchens replied: “Because he is my friend, and you, sir, are an idiot.” (p.116) [that one made me laugh]

Clearly, Christopher Hitchens was an unlikely evangelist.  Like Pontius Pilate who sought numerous times to have Jesus acquitted because he saw a sincerity and an innocence in Him, Hitchens, knowingly or not, proclaimed the truth of genuine Christianity because he saw in the lives of his Christian friends sincerity, innocence, as well as intellectual rigor.

The gospels tell us that Pilate was “amazed” by Jesus (Matthew 27:14, Mark 15:5).  The Greek word for “amazed” literally means to be “astonished out of one’s sensesawestruck.”  Pilate couldn’t figure out this Jesus, but he was dumbstruck by His genuine truthfulness.  In the same way, Christopher Hitchens was dumbstruck by his Christian friends.

Taunton tells of one such occasion when he says:

“Christopher found this kind of Christianity, the sort that took the Bible’s mandate to care for others, deeply seductive. He had no problem dismissing out-of-hand pretenders, “hucksters” whose sole objective was the acquisition of political power or the maintenance of that power. And it is here that Sasha (his adopted daughter from the Ukraine) enters the story. Just before meeting her for the first time, Christopher, recalling our conversation at the Ritz two years before, asked about the state of her health. “She had to have dental surgery for a root canal and the pulling of seven rotten teeth. But she has recovered nicely, and her HIV is under control.” He froze mid-step, his eyes staring blankly into the middle distance. “She is HIV-positive?” “Yes. I thought I told you that.” “No, you certainly did not. I should have remembered it if you did.” He still did not move. “Oh. Well, yes, she is.” It was not my purpose to shock him, but shock him I did. The effect this additional bit of information had on him was profound. So profound that I knew that something in his thinking had changed in that instant. There was not a hint of criticism in his remarks. It was something closer to astonishment that I had not said this before and that we had adopted an HIV-positive child.” (p.109)

Simply, Christopher Hitchens was stunned in the face of genuine, lived-out Christianity.

To this I say, professing Christian, does your life stun anyone?  We can talk about all of the political and moral mess that our country is in until we are blue in the face, but where the rubber meets the road is this–does your Christian life “astonish” unbelievers?  Are you in close relationship w/ any unbelievers so that they might see the reality of Jesus being lived out in your life?  Does your life STUN anyone as it is marked by faith & love? Jesus, to the end, was stunning people by His life—Pilate, the thief on the cross, the Roman soldier after his death…  This same Jesus commands you:

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

No, I am not seeking to make Mr. Hitchens out to be a Christian.  There is no evidence to his conversion before his death.  However, it is clear to see that genuine Christianity had a major impact upon his life–even to the point of his death.

Professing believer, if you were taken to court and were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

 

 

 

 

The Wars We Will Never Win

God’s ways of deliverance are often unconventional.  God often does not use the world’s methods to accomplish His purposes.  Consider the words from Hosea 1:7:

“…I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword

or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

Clearly, the world employs the arm of strength to win its battles.  The words, “bow, sword, war, horses, and horsemen” all apply to how mankind solves their problems.  Yet, God in this passage states, “I will save them by the Lord their God.”

We typically do not want that kind of deliverance because we don’t understand it.  Uses of our power are completely common to us, and that is why we continue to believe that they will work. The truth is, we can accomplish some things by working hard, but God often reserves some things in our lives that only HE can solve.  As He states in Isaiah 55:8—“…My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the LORD.”

God’s Word is true.  He proves Himself over and over, and He does this to prove to us that He is trustworthy.  There are certain problems in life that God will not allow us to solve in our own strength because HE wants to prove to us just how strong He is.

What problem(s) have you been fighting in your life that you are not winning?  What issue is God trying to teach you is beyond your ability to solve?  You will never solve them in your strength.  Some of life’s knots can only be untangled by placing them FULLY into God’s capable hands.

What do you need to surrender to Him?

What Is the Bible All About????

“Jesus is the HERO of the Bible.  You and I are not!  We’re the problem!  There’s only ONE hero, and we (should) go to the Bible to find out about our Hero who SAVES us!” (Ray Ortlund, Jr.)

That is not how most of us read the Bible.  We read it looking for ourselves or we read it looking for a “word” about what we are supposed to do that day. In reality, however, the Bible has a main point, and a main point Person.  Just like other books are written about a single topic or theme, the Bible is written about JESUS the Messiah, and it should be read through the lens of the work of God throughout history to save us–sinful humanity.

Dr. Timothy Keller does a masterful job of taking the “characters” of the Bible and explains how their lives and stories point ultimately to the One who would be the fulfillment of all they, in part, accomplished.  The Bible refers to them as the “shadows”; Christ is the “Substance” that they were pointing toward.  Keller puts it this way:

 

  • Jesus is the truer & better Adam who passed the test in the Garden (His garden, a much tougher garden) and whose obedience is imputed to us.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Abel who though innocently slain has blood that cries out not for our condemnation but for our acquittal.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go into the world, into the void, not knowing where He went.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Isaac who is not just offered up by His Father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us all. While God said to Abraham, “Now I know that you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from me;” Now we at the foot of the Cross can say to God, “now we know that you love me because You did not withhold Your Son, Your only Son, whom You love, for me.”
  • Jesus is the truer & better Jacob who wrestled & took the blow of justice we deserve so that we like Jacob only receive the wounds of grace that wake us up & discipline us.
  • Jesus is the truer and better Joseph who is at the right hand of the King and forgives those who betrayed & sold Him, and He uses His power to save them.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Moses who stands in the gap between the people & the Lord and mediates the New Covenant.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Job, the TRULY innocent Sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.
  • Jesus is the truer & better David whose victory becomes His peoples’ victory though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Esther who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate heavenly one, who didn’t just risk His life but GAVE His life-who didn’t just say “if I perish, I perish” but “WHEN I perish I’ll perish for them to save My people.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that the storm of God’s wrath could be calmed for us.
  • He’s the real Passover Lamb. He’s the true Temple; the true Prophet, the true Priest; the True King; the true Sacrifice; the true Light; the true Bread.

Keller’s quote came from a sermon I listened to yesterday.  If interested, you can watch it here.

 

The Whitener That Would Make Billy Mays Jealous

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The Bible is a BLOODY Book. From cover to cover blood is a common theme. When Adam & Eve sinned in the garden, God KILLED an animal to cover them with clothing—the FIRST picture in the Bible of a sacrifice for sin. Cain & Abel each made an offering to God. God rejected Cain’s sacrifice of vegetables, but He accepted Abel’s sacrifice of a sheep that had been sacrificed. Cain then became angry & killed his brother Abel out of jealousy, and God said to Cain, “the blood of your brother Abel is crying to me from the ground.” The penalty of Cain’s sinful sacrifice brought a curse upon him…

Many years later, after the Israelites had escaped Egypt and were wandering in the desert, God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle (a worship place) which could be broken down & carried with them wherever they went until reaching the promised land.

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The Tabernacle contained several different pieces of furniture. The first piece that anyone would see when they walked through the gate into the court of the Tabernacle was the Brazen Altar (or literally “Slaughter Place”). It showed the people of God that in order to enter into God’s presence you had to pass by the blood stained altar or not at all. Here animals were slaughtered & then burned on the altar to cover the sins of the people and to serve as a reminder that a holy, perfect God requires blood sacrifice to enter into His presence.

Even at the altar of fragrant incense in the tent of meeting blood is found.  God’s instruction for Moses in Leviticus 4:7 is as follows:

And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD that is in the tent of meeting, and all the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

This picture that the Israelites would see FIRST when they came into the tabernacle was a bloody altar. But why?

“Blood is the life-giving and life-maintaining fluid that circulates through the body’s heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries. Because blood leaves an indelible stain, Native Americans used it for paint. One pint of blood can save three lives. Here is an undeniable and important fact: Blood gives and maintains lives.” (Bloodwork, Anthony Carter) When blood is spilled, literally the LIFE is poured out. God’s perfection DEMANDS blood sacrifice for sins to be covered. Still, all of these blood sacrifices could not CLEANSE people from their sins. Hebrews 10:1-4 tells us:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

God, who is pristine in His holiness, requires blood sacrifice for sinful humanity to come into His presence.  It is a sacrifice to come before Him.  Yet, these animal sacrifices could not make people clean. They could not TAKE AWAY sins. These sacrifices had to be made over & over for sin but there was also the constant reminder that internally you are unclean.

What Difference Does It Make?

If sins are covered, what difference does it make if we are CLEAN on the inside or not? The difference is that God never intended to just make us aware of sin, or to cover sins. In the Old Testament, God promises  that He is going to cleanse us from our sins. (see Jeremiah 33:8 & Isaiah 1:18, for example).

There are various “types of Christ” throughout the Old Testament that give partial pictures of what the Messiah would be like and what He would accomplish.  The sacrificial system is one of these “types” that prefigures what Jesus would actually accomplish.  Yet, Hebrews says that these things (including the OT sacrificial system) are shadows of what was to come; Jesus is the substance. In fact, when Joseph first hears that Mary will give birth to the Messiah, the angel tells him, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

When John the Baptist sees Jesus walking alongside the Jordan River, John exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sins of the World” (John 1:29). (He doesn’t just cover sins…).

The reason we are focusing so much on blood is because the “blood of Jesus” is mentioned in the writings of the New Testament nearly three times as often as ‘the cross’ of Christ and five times as frequently as the ‘death’ of Christ.  The following verses explaining what the blood of Jesus accomplished for believers:

Acts 20:28 Jesus purchased the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Revelation 1:5 from Jesus Christ the faithful witness… loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…

Romans 5:9 Since, we have now been justified (acquitted) by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath…

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption (deliverance) through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…

Ephesians 2:13 in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Colossians 1:20 Jesus has made peace with us making peace by the blood of his cross.

Hebrews 9:14 the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, will purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Hebrews 13:12 Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

1 Peter 1:18-19 you were ransomed (released/liberated/set free) from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Hebrews 10:19 we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.

Hebrews 12:22-24 you have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, & to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground “revenge, revenge, revenge!”  However, Jesus’ blood cried out from the ground “redemption, redemption, redemption!”

Anthony Carter in his book Bloodwork: “There are times in our lives when we do not feel the ongoing, progressive nature of our sanctification. We may even get the sense that rather than progressing, we are regressing due to our perpetual struggle with indwelling sin. It is during such times that the gospel reminds us that our sanctification does not happen because we are willing to shed our blood but because Christ was willing to shed His. It is not our blood and sacrifice that has pleased the Father; it is the blood of His beloved Son.”

Lastly, Revelation 7:14 gives us a wonderful example of the identity of saints in the future when it states:

They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

If Native Americans use blood as paint because it leaves an indelible stain, how much sense does it make to wash garments in blood in hopes that they will become white? It makes absolutely no sense–unless it is the blood of Jesus because it washes everything it touches to immaculate spotlessness.

And that would make Billy Mays green with envy.

There is POWER in the BLOOD!