Deep in Our Hearts

Deep in our hearts let us record
The deeper sorrows of our Lord;
Behold the rising billows roll,
To overwhelm his holy soul.

In long complaints he spends his breath,
While hosts of hell, and powers of death,
And all the sons of malice, join
To execute their cursed design.

Yet, gracious God, thy power and love
Has made the curse a blessing prove;
Those dreadful suff’rings of thy Son
Atoned for sins which we had done.

The pangs of our expiring Lord
The honors of thy law restored;
His sorrows made thy justice known,
And paid for follies not his own.

O for his sake our guilt forgive,
And let the mourning sinner live;
The Lord will hear us in his name,
Nor shall our hope be turned to shame.

 – Isaac Watts
When was the last time you examined your heart and remembered that it was to pay the penalty and debt your sin was due that Jesus came to the Earth, died on the cross, spent three days in Hell and rose again?

Is World Vision Discriminatory?

If you have been watching the news or keeping up with the World Vision saga this week, you are probably as sick of hearing about it as me.  But I am particularly intrigued by the recent accusations made against the organization using the term, “discriminatory”.

Is World Vision’s code of conduct discriminatory?

World Vision is a Christian organization.  That is their primary identity.  In 2007 a few employees decided that they no longer believed in the Christian faith and their employment was terminated on that ground.  For four years the former employees sued and fought World Vision pushing their case before the Supreme Court who ultimately refused to hear it.  Why?  Because World Vision is a Christian organization.  All employees sign a statement of faith, affirm their belief in Jesus Christ for salvation and agree to a code of conduct.

They agree to a code of conduct.

Within this code is the submission to Biblical authority, expectation of church involvement, and a lifestyle free from outward, intentional sin.  Yes, all World Vision employees sin.  But if World Vision employees willfully engage in a lifestyle that is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus, they can be and are terminated.  Fired.  And they agree to it up front.  All employees sign off on the code of conduct which states that if they have an affair they will be fired.  If they have sex with their boyfriend/girlfriend they will be fired.  These sins are not normally associated with a career or the workplace unless, of course, you have sex on the conference room table.  Then you might get fired in the non-religious corporate world.  World Vision employees participate in devotions, prayer and Bible study.  In the workplace.

The U. S. District Court, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court all declared that World Vision was legally free and able to hire and fire based on one’s personal belief system because they are a Christian organization.

To be a Christian is a job requirement.

To be a Christian who submits to the authority of Scripture and lives to the best of his ability to abstain from sin is a job requirement. 

Wikipedia defines discrimination as “the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their actual or perceived membership in a certain group or category, ‘in a way that is worse than the way people are usually treated'”.  So.  Is World Vision treating homosexuals with a discriminatory attitude?

The answer is quite simply no.

There are homosexuals who work for World Vision.  They are submitting to the authority of Scripture and are living an abstinent lifestyle, just like the non-marrried heterosexual employees.  And the married employees are practicing marriage as defined by God in Scripture as the union of one man and one woman, and are faithful to their spouse.

World Vision has not said that those who have homosexual tendencies and struggles may not work for them.  They have said that those who do not repent of their sin may not work for them.

Have I mentioned before that getting drunk is grounds for dismissal from the company?

If World Vision could be accused of discrimination, it would be on the grounds of adhering to the Bible and only hiring Christians.  Would a Christian be surprised if they were not hired by a Muslim company?  Or a Hindu by a Buddhist company?  Not all companies are created the same, some unite for other reasons that capital gain.  Some unite for faith.  And World Vision will employ people who struggle with any temptation, as long as they submit to God and His word.  And, of course, are qualified to work the job for which they applied.

Let’s not overly accuse a company for standing on its self-declared purpose and mission statement that has been established since the beginning.

Let’s get real about sin.

dont-judge-me

We’re all sinners.  No one is perfect.  So who am I to judge your sin, and who are you to judge mine!

Right?

Why does our society have this mindset right now?  I am convinced it is because we do not believe that we all truly are sinners.  This is our cop out to not have to take responsibility before anyone for anything.  It sounds humble because we would say that we are not perfect, but if one were to be pressed in exactly how he is not perfect, he would have no answer.  He would probably give you the interview answer, “I’m a perfectionist” which he calls a weakness but makes it out to be a strength for the hiring company.  We are extremely good at manipulation and self deception.

Is morality a viable aspect of our society?  Without getting too philosophical early this morning, if God exists and His Word is true then yes, His moral and His holy law outline how we should live.  The belief in a Godless universe means that there is no purpose in life, we are just highly evolved balls of slime who have developed thinking and reasoning skills, but there is no moral absolute by which we can hold ourselves accountable.

Even if one proclaims to believe that there is no God and evolution and meaninglessness in life are true, he still lives and functions with an innate sense of morality.  If someone breaks into his house and steals his stuff or rapes his wife, he will demand justice.  He will not say, “Well there is no moral absolute, so who am I to judge the thief/rapist”.

Therefore:

We must understand where morality is defined.  We must understand what the author considers sin.  And we must get real with ourselves and examine the depth of our own, personal, ugly sin.

Salvation is through faith, by grace, unto repentance.  When we are born again we have a new life.  The old has passed away.  Sort of.  We will still struggle with temptations, trials and sinful desires.  This is what theologians like to call “The Already, Not Yet”.  We have been saved, but we are not yet free of our sinful flesh.

And in order to repent we have to name our sin.  Confess it.  Hate it.  Fight it.  What are those things that entice you most?  Pornography?  Over eating?  Laziness?  Stealing?  Lying?  The Scripture is extremely clear about what is sin and what is not.  And most of us function with a normal conscience and have an understanding of right and wrong.  When we are unsure, where do we go for the answer?  The Word of God.

This week there has been a scandal over World Vision and their positional change about allowing homosexuality as an unrepentant sin for employees.  The long held tradition that adhered to Scripture calling it sin was reversed for a brief 48 hour time frame, and led to a media storm that has polarized Christians.

Some would seek to deny the Scripture and say that homosexuality is not a sin.  Some would say, “We are all sinners, so who am I to judge?”  And some would say, “That person cannot be saved if he has those desires”.  All of these answers are dangerous and hurtful to Christianity.  Why?  Because homosexuality is indeed a sin and those who struggle with the passions and desires need to fight it.  But it does not disqualify him from salvation.  Just like murder, stealing, lying and adultery do not disqualify another.  But excusing it and not helping the weak to fight it leaves the sinner in his sin and without hope.

False humility will be our demise.  Until we realize our guilt and get on our faces in grief and brokenness over our sin, we will not repent.  We cannot be saved.

Here is an easy way to test yourself.  When someone calls you out on a sin, what is your response?  Do you get defensive and fight for your sin as acceptable or excusable?  Or do you get angry and say the accuser has no right to call you out because he is just as bad – but in his own way?  Do you fall into depression because someone would think that you are not perfect?  Do you admit your sin and mope in your guilt?

Or do you admit, “Yes I did that, and it was wrong.  Will you forgive me and help me to honor God by not doing that any more?”

Do you get on your face before God and say, “God I did _____ today.  I dishonored you by _____.  But I love you and want to honor you with my life, help me obey you and represent you well before my friends, coworkers and neighbors.”

You’re not perfect.  I’m not perfect.  Let’s take some time today to evaluate those specific ways in which we are tempted and/or regularly sin.  And let’s allow God to be the judge, let’s get on our faces before Him, and let’s turn to Him to redeem us.  He will forgive you if you confess your sin and repent.  Leave the sin behind.  Cling to God.

“If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.”

– Charles Spurgeon

World Vision: What’s the Big Deal?

As the events of this week have unfolded publicly resulting in a tsunami of debate, conversation and doubt, it is becoming clear that the foundational issue is not being portrayed clearly.  What is the big deal about World Vision’s decision?

On Monday, World Vision announced that they would no longer hire or fire based on someone’s sexuality, but they would leave that to the authority of the individual’s local church to deem appropriate or not.  This was cloaked in the idea of unity amongst believers.

Why is this a big deal?  Shouldn’t homosexual people be allowed to work?  Surely they can feed the poor and help those who are less fortunate?  Perhaps allowing people of all backgrounds to work for a Christian non-profit will help them learn the Bible and maybe this is the way God is drawing them to Himself?  To repentance?

All of those arguments are valid.  But they completely miss the point.

World Vision is a Christian organization.  Leadership states that its purpose is to fight all forms of injustice and reach the world for Christ.  Because of its Christian identity, they hold an employee code of conduct.  To be hired, one must affirm faith in Jesus Christ, be an active member of a local church, sign off on belief in the Apostle’s Creed and agree to a lifestyle that fights sin.  It also affirms belief in the Bible as the inerrant (without error) and inspired Word of God, and our authority for life.

What does that mean, what exactly is the lifestyle conduct code?  Most of us, Christian or not, could list the ten commandments.  Most of us know that the Bible has clearly outlined things that are sinful.  Adultery.  If you are married and you have an affair, this is Biblically considered a sin (Ex 20.17).  World Vision will fire an employee and refuse to hire a candidate if it is known that he is having an affair.  Drunkenness.  The Bible is clear that getting drunk is a sin (Eph 5.18).  Jesus drank wine, so alcohol is not prohibited but to be drunk is indeed a sin.  Sex outside of marriage is also Biblically called a sin (1 Cor 6.18).  These are all grounds for dismissal from the organization.

So in World Vision’s employee code of conduct, any normal, fire-able sin like stealing, embezzlement and lying are ground for dismissal.  Above those normally ethically damnable sins are drunkenness, adultery and sex outside of marriage.  While a non-Christian company would not fire you for those personal decisions, World Vision would.  Included in this list before Monday was unrepentant homosexuality.  The Bible defines homosexuality as a sin:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

– 1 Cor 6.9-10

God is extremely concerned about sin.  The only reason Jesus died and rose again is to pay the punishment for our sin.  We need a Savior because we deserve to go to Hell for any sin that we have committed.  Practicing homosexuality is not going to send someone to Hell more than lying, stealing or murder.  But not repenting from it will indeed send you to Hell just like lying, stealing and murder.

World Vision is what is known as a para-church organization.  They are not governed by a specific denomination or statement of faith.  In fact, they are composed of fifty denominations:  everything from Orthodox to Episcopalian.  And there are represented within those denominations what are known as “secondary doctrines” and even tertiary doctrines.  These are those doctrines that churches believe and hold strongly that do not affect the core of Christianity that is salvation.  Included in these doctrines is the debate over birth control, mode of baptism, and women in leadership.  On topics like these, World Vision does not take a stand but allows each individual church to interpret Scripture how they understand it.

So now we finally get to the point.  On Monday, the board at World Vision attempted to take homosexuality out of the sin and nonnegotiable category and place it into the non-essential category of secondary doctrines.  They removed it from the list of sins that Paul says will keep us from Heaven, and said you can decide for yourself.  We will not hold you accountable.  They will still fire employees for having one too many drinks, but not for marrying someone of the same gender.

IF World Vision had made the decision to remove their Christian identity and overall code of conduct and function strictly as an NGO that helped in disaster relief and community development, this would be a non conversation.  Of course all people can work together and unite towards that end.  The problem is that they, for two days, stood under the statement that they were changing Scripture, or choosing to not submit to it as the authority for Christians, namely employees.

Praise God, though, that they listened to the counsel of believers and repented of their decision.  They could have rectified the situation in two ways.  They could have abandoned their Christian identity and then been free to employ people of all world views and could have used the work place as an opportunity to engage people who are not believers, or they could return to the authority of Scripture and maintain their Christian identity.  They chose the latter.

Homosexuality is not the unpardonable sin.  It is actually reported that there are many homosexuals who already work for World Vision.  But they are submitting to the word of God and are fighting their own personal sin, as are the rest of us.  We are all fighting the temptation of our own sin of disposition.  Some lying.  Some stealing.  Some pride.  Some fornication.  All Christians are in the battle for our souls against our flesh, clinging to the power of Christ to free us from sin and its reign.  World Vision has simply returned to the God-honoring position that we do not have to be perfect, but we do have to agree with God about what He calls sin.  We have to fight our sin, and live a life that outwardly honors Him.  And if we choose to give in to our sin, we are disqualified from employment in their company.

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

– 1 Cor 6.11

Praise God we have been washed clean and empowered to live lives that honor Him!

WV

Whose side are you on?

Sometimes we get caught up in ourselves.  OK, a lot of times.  For some of us, all the time.  We learn as small children that if we throw a fit we can make our moms uncomfortable enough to give us what we want.  When we go to school we hear, “You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up”.  We dream.  We get senior pictures made that make us all look like models because we are, after all, that beautiful.  Restaurants advertise to our individualism and high self esteem, “Have it your way”.

One of our theme verses for life is Romans 8:31:

What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?

We think that by being a Christian, God is on our side.  We are out in the ring fighting and He is in our corner coaching us and cheering us on.  We are the star, He is the support.

But the reality is that God is the winner, He is in control, He is the “team captain” and we are on His side.

Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”  He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.”  And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?”  The captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.”  And Joshua did so.

– Joshua 5.13-15

God is God.  He is the victor.  He is the all-in-all.  Everything exists for His glory.  And He calls us and draws us to be on His team.

Even our fighter verse is established in the foundation that it is God alone who saves us:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

– Rom 8.28-32

God chose and called us to be His children.  On His team.  About His purposes.  We are called according to His purpose: to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

So let us not dream our own dreams and ask God to bless them.  Let’s not set out on our own path and say, “God give me success”.  Let’s not just blindly attack life and assume that God is in our corner.  Let’s be on His team.  Let’s see what He has to say about the meaning of life, the goal of Christians, the definition of sin, purpose and significance.  Let’s join the winning team.

victory

To What Extent Do We Unite?

Much of the Evangelical world is in shock now one day after the announcement from World Vision – the largest NGO around the world working in community development and disaster response – that they will no longer consider same-sex marriage as a determining factor in the hiring process of employees.  They have attempted to take a neutral stance on the divisive topic by deferring the authority to local churches where employees attend, to the end of unity amongst believers to serve the poor.

This is a tragedy.  

If we cannot submit to the authority of Scripture which clearly defines sin, we can offer no eternal hope.  And that is, indeed, the greatest need of all of humanity.  We only pave with gold the road to Hell if we feed the hungry but do not offer him salvation.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.  Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

– 1 Cor 6.9-11

World Vision holds to the Apostle’s Creed, and all who are hired within the continental United States must affirm this statement of faith.  They must be active in a local church, and any other sin of those listed above is grounds for termination.  However, since it is now a topic of debate whether one sin listed here is truly a sin, no stand will be taken.

I believe that the greater tragedy around the world is that even though World Vision is a Christian organization, and under the leadership of those who declare that we have a “hole in our gospel” when we preach Jesus and do not meet physical needs, the stand is also taken that “We do not talk about Jesus in situations where it could put someone in danger”.  If you sponsor a child in a Muslim country or in one where Jesus is not a free topic of conversation, you are not allowed to write about Jesus in your letters to him.  We will feed him, we will educate him, we will help build his community so that he can have a job, a house and stuff, but we will not tell him of the only, eternal hope.  He can die and go to Hell.

World Vision does partner with many organizations that do do the illegal work of evangelism in these settings, but they will not take that stand.

If we understand our end to be physical relief, community development and disaster response, then we can unite.  There are people from every worldview and every religion who are seeking to better the world by fighting hunger, poverty and injustice.  I can work with a Muslim, a Hindu, and a homosexual couple who is legally married in the United States to feed the starving.  But every faith-based organization must determine where their lines of cooperation are drawn when it comes to uniting for the purpose of the Gospel.  And when we claim the identity of Christ, we must determine His Word to be our authority and governing power.

Permitting homosexual marriage is not a debatable and secondary doctrine like mode of baptism.  We do not have the authority to change the Word of God.  God Himself defines it as a sin.  We all have sins of disposition and engaging in them without repentance is damnable.  And while we accept the Bible’s authority of murder, stealing and lying as sins, we must understand God’s heart and will that engaging in a homosexual lifestyle, having sex outside of marriage, adultery, drunkenness and even coveting are also sins – though they do not break the laws of the land.

Let us then unite under Scripture.  Let us understand our own, personal sin.  Let us allow God to determine right and wrong, and let us seek to live lifestyles that honor Him – by feeding the poor, establishing physical hope in the third world, and by proclaiming His name boldly.

many wise men have already written on the topic. I have only encourage you to read John Piper, Russell Moore, Franklin Graham, and Albert Mohler.  And pray.  God has revealed his heart to us in His Word, the Bible.  Let’s seek to know Him and honor Him, not change Him.

Are you transformed?

128756_imagno

Martin Luther is one of the greatest forefathers of our faith today.  By the turn of the 16th century, the Catholic Church was preaching that only priests had access to God, that the Bible had to be read and preached in Latin and that Christians who had died were in purgatory, but living Christians could buy access into Heaven for the dead through the purchase of indulgences from the Church.

Martin Luther, through wrestling with his own personal sin, pouring over the Bible, prayer and earning multiple degrees came to understand the teaching of Scripture that salvation is through faith alone by grace alone.  He also realized that Jesus was the only priest needed for our intercession before God and that all believers have direct access to God through Him.  He translated the Bible into German so that everyone could read and understand the Word of God, and He preached the Gospel.

He opposed the heretical teachings of the Pope and was consequently excommunicated by the him and deemed an outlaw by the Roman Emperor.  He spent much time in hiding, but pastored a church, wrote many hymns, translated the Bible and taught as a professor.

Because of his conviction of the truth of salvation being through grace alone by faith alone, he set out to preach the Gospel to his congregation.  When they were not transformed by the good news, he decided that he would preach the gospel until they were transformed!  It is documented that one of his parishioners asked him,

“Pastor, why is it that week after week after week all you ever preach to us is the gospel?” – implying that “we’re ready to move on to something else. Certainly we know this by now.”

Luther’s response was,

“Well, because week after week you forget it, because week after week you walk in here looking like a people who don’t believe the gospel. And until you walk in looking like people who are truly liberated by the truth of the gospel, I’m going to continue to preach it to you.”

Are you over the Gospel?  Are you ready to move on from the fact that you deserve damnation, an eternity separated from God in a fiery pit of judgment, pain and sorrow, but that Jesus Christ took that upon Himself so that you can be forgiven and spend eternity with Him?  Where there is no pain and no sorrow?

If we have this attitude, that we are ready for something else – ready to move on, then we need to hear it again.  Because there is no greater news, there is no greater hope and on this everything else is established.

How often do you preach the Gospel to yourself?  Do you struggle with forgiveness?

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

– C. S. Lewis

When we understand the Gospel, we can forgive lavishly because we have been forgiven even more lavishly.  We can love selflessly because we have been loved selflessly.  The the more deeply we understand the Gospel, the more we are transformed to live and love and look like Jesus Christ in our interactions with others.

He who is forgiven little loves little.

 – Jesus

On Integration and Church Planting

The Church unanimously believes and understands that the purpose of Christians is to fulfill the great commission:  to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  There are a variety of interpretations of what exactly that means, but Jesus clearly stated that

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

– Matt 24.14

“The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.”

– Mark 13.11

We know from the Psalms, Old Testament prophecies and also from Revelation that there will be people from every tribe, tongue and nation present in eternity with Jesus (Rev 7.9).

Recently I have been reflecting on the dichotomous position that we, as American believers, hold when we think about how our churches should look and how we approach missions abroad.  Most missionaries endeavor to reach a specific “People Group” or tribe.  You will often hear people talk about their love for the people of a specific country like Nepal, Argentina or Kenya.  And within those countries there are typically multiple languages, tribes and cultures.  Wikipedia tells us that there are 122 languages spoken in Nepal, 40 in Argentina and 69 in Kenya.  Many missionaries set out with a vision for a country and then pick a specific tribe or two when they arrive at their host country.

When missionaries enter  host culture, they spend time learning the language, traditions and norms from that culture, and preach Jesus in a culturally contextual way.  Missionaries do not try to make the host culture American, they help new believers understand their own culture how Jesus would redeem it.  If a culture has a tradition that is morally neutral, it is redeemable for Christ, but if it has traditions that are of a false religion or sinful, these attributes must be surrendered to follow Christ.

We plant contextual churches, specific to language, culture, habits and geography.  We even help nationals write music that sounds like their traditional music using the Psalms as lyrics or help them put their testimonies to music.

In many settings around the world, the church model is a house church.  A small group with a maximum of fifteen to twenty people who love Jesus, study the word and often times meet illegally because it is against the law to follow Jesus in their countries, or meet in non-governmentally sanctioned groups.

But here in America we try to force everyone to come together, regardless of language, culture or habits.  We are extremely concerned that our churches represent every ethnicity and culture in our cities or communities.  We want our Sunday morning gathering to look like eternity.

Which way is right?  Should we help everyone try to honor Jesus in their cultural traditions and lifestyles?  Or should we try to unite everyone under one roof and build a community of diversity?

I do not have the answer. 

In fact, I am not sure that there is an answer.  But I do wonder why we have polar opposite vantage points when it comes to church in the west and church in the rest of the world.

The United States is a unique bird in the sense that we mostly speak the same language.  So one might argue, “We all speak the same language, we are all Americans and we all have the same culture (apart from recent immigrants and refugees)”.  But anyone who has moved more than a few hours from their hometown will quickly affirm that there are distinct and different cultures regionally and even throughout the variety of demographics within cities and smaller communities.  Having always lived North of the Mason Dixon Line, when I started grad school in Kentucky, I was told that people thought I was rude and arrogant because I did not practice the art of small talk.  Apparently in the South it is expected that you speak with everyone.  You greet everyone that you pass on the street, you make small talk with cashiers, you joke with strangers in line at the store.  And I, since I would go to the grocery, pick up what I needed and check myself out at the self-check out lane, was rude.

Not only that, but there were occasions when I would speak with someone and not understand the words coming out of his or her mouth.  Yes, we were both speaking English, but this Philadelphia-born girl had not yet mastered the art of hearing and understanding the Kentucky draw.

This of course is news to no one.  We have all enjoyed listening to and trying to imitate accents from all around the world.

So how does Jesus redeem these differences within the church?

The key is making disciples.  Gathering together on Sunday morning does not make a church.  A church is a group of people who are seeking to know God, pushing one another on to love, know and obey Him, and reaching the lost.  Attendance on a Sunday morning does not guarantee that one is a believer or disciple.  This is why most churches that are bigger than a house church have small groups where people are supposed to actually act out the disciple-making process.  Yes, we learn when we sit under solid teaching.  But we need the small groups to help us apply and hold accountable the teachings that we learn academically under the preacher.  And in these small groups, we must be able to relate to one another culturally.  We may be close-cultured (having cultures that are very similar to one another: like Philadelphia and back-woods Kentucky) or far-cultured (having extremely different cultures, like England and Saudi Arabia), but either way we must redeem our personal habits and norms for Christ, and others to do the same.

“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.”  And “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

 – Matt 22.37, 39

Loving your neighbor as yourself means understanding their culture, valuing them, and helping them to serve and honor God well.  It means helping to meet their needs, encouraging them and building community with them.

We cannot build this deep community with everyone, however.  We each have a limited amount of time, energy and ability.  Therefore, we should each ask the Lord with whom we should connect on all levels.  We must have those close relationships that hold us accountable and push us on to know and love God more.  Ask Him if it is the neighbor next door, if it is a person of close or far culture, of the same color and background or vastly different.  And dig in.  Then, in our broader circles, we must be intentional with our outreach.  We must help people understand their own cultures and how they can honor God in their lifestyles:  removing the sin and glorifying God in the ways He has created them.  Let’s not try to force everyone to look, sound and smell the same for the vain sake of diversity.  Let us unite as we are able, and let us rejoice in the establishing churches of different cultures celebrating, loving and honoring God in their own ways.

 

diversity-2

Should we share our testimonies?

rice

A young farmer was newly married with a young wife and brand new baby.  He had saved up for years to pay her dowry and was now blessed to have a level of security that he would be cared for when he grew old with a son to carry on the family name and work the farm.  One day he was out in the field.  He grew rice, which can be harvested three times per year, and that season had come once again.  Walking barefoot through the now dry paddy, he was bent over most of the day swinging his sickle to cut down fist fulls of rice stalks and tossing them onto the tarp where he would later beat free the grains of rice.

Sweating under the beating, tropical, midday sun, he swung his sickle for the hundredth time that day.  When he drew it back and stood up to throw the stalks, he saw that his sickle was covered in blood.  Startled and scared, he looked and in one swing he had beheaded two cobras.  Immediately his body began to contort and freeze such that he could not walk.  He was left mangled and paralyzed, lying in the rice paddy.

Other workers in the paddy saw him motionless on the ground and they ran over to see what had happened.  They saw the bloody sickle and the dead cobras and they knew immediately what had happened.  The spirits of the cobras were possessing and killing this young farmer.  They picked him up and carried him back to his house.  The next day, two calls were made: to the witch-doctor and the Imam.  The witch-doctor, an older man with a turban wrapped upon his head that stood three fight high entered the house and cast a spell of health over the farmer and infused his power ring with “good powers”.  Later the imam, the priest of the mosque, entered.  He, by the power of Allah, cast the demons of the snakes out of the man.  Immediately the man was healed and able to walk, talk and eat again.

I heard this testimony firsthand.  

From the moment I hit the 8th grade, I went to a Southern Baptist church that taught, encouraged and extolled evangelism.  Making disciples is, after all, the Great Commission!  Evangelism is simply telling the good news of Jesus Christ, offering salvation through faith and repentance.  Making disciples is telling non believers that story and when they come to faith, helping them to know and love God.

While learning to share the good news, I was often told, “Your testimony is your most powerful weapon.  No one can refute your testimony.”

This is very true.  No one can refute your testimony.  If Jesus Christ has come into your life, radically changed who you are and redeemed you from death to life, from sin to righteousness, this is a powerful story.  No one can tell you, “No, that did not really happen”.  It is your experience and your story.

But what would you say to this young farmer who accidentally killed two cobras, was possessed by the demons or spirits that accompanied these snakes, and was then set free by the Imam and who received power to survive from the witch doctor?

Our stories of redemption only have power because of the truth and power of Jesus Christ.  The enemy is alive and well, and he is preforming false signs all around the world to entrap people.  He mimics the power and acts of God in false religions.  There is a reason people believe false religions, and it is at least in part because the enemy causes it to look real!

In western culture, we elevate ourselves and our personal experiences to a level of authority.  We live for ourselves, we think mostly about ourselves and we expect our logic and reason to be the highest weight.  But the reality is that God is the highest authority.  His ways are not our ways (Is 55.8-9), He has revealed many things for us to know, but there are many hidden things that He has kept for Himself:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.

– Deut 29.29

And He has revealed to us everything that we need for life and godliness in the Scripture:  the Bible (2 Peter 1.3).

Our stories have power.  

But they have no authority.  

Everything that we say and do must be tested against Scripture.  Let us be like the Bereans who were praised because they:

“…were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

– Acts 17.11

Please.  Tell your story.  Examine your life and know your walk with the Lord so intimately that you can and do regularly account the things that He is doing in your life.  This is part of your dynamic and saving relationship with Him.  It will encourage other believers in their walks and it will make personal the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

But let us examine our lives and make sure that the things we believe and the things we are experiencing truly are of God.  The enemy’s greatest weapon is false Christianity.  If he can convince us that we are saved when we truly are not, he has neutralized a threat and secured for himself another victory in eternity.  And let us always proclaim scripture as the key and core of evangelism.  Let us weave verses in and out of our testimonies.  Let us make clear the Scriptures while we account how these Scriptures have dynamically changed our lives.  Let us elevate and glorify God and His word, not ourselves and our word.

Oh Heart Bereaved and Lonely

O heart bereaved and lonely,
Whose brightest dreams have fled
Whose hopes like summer roses,
Are withered crushed and dead
Though link by link be broken,
And tears unseen may fall
Look up amid thy sorrow,
To Him who knows it all

O cling to thy Redeemer,
Thy Savior, Brother, Friend
Believe and trust His promise,
To keep you till the end
O watch and wait with patience,
And question all you will
His arms of love and mercy,
Are round about thee still

Look up, the clouds are breaking,
The storm will soon be o’er
And thou shall reach the haven,
Where sorrows are no more
Look up, be not discouraged;
Trust on, whate’er befall
Remember, O remember,
Thy Savior knows it all