Excellence

respect

I work for a Christian NGO.  My full time job is managing volunteers who come in to help us sort, inventory and package donated product that we ship around the world for community development and disaster response.  We are big enough and offer enough volunteering opportunities that many non-Christian groups will come to volunteer, many having heard of us but unaware that we are in fact Christians.  The most beautiful part about my job is that I get to share the Gospel with these volunteers before we get to work!  I have had a variety of responses – believers are regularly excited and encouraged, I have led a few people to faith, and I have had some bawk at our faith.  The normal responses, all in all.  Last week I had a group of people in, and at the end of the shift a man in his mid to late forties caught me to chat.  He asked if we were always open for volunteers and I told him our schedule.  Then he stated,

“This is good.  Even though you are Christians, you are doing a good thing and I will come back!”

Of course I giggled to myself and quickly told my friends from small group what he said, but then I began contemplating and wondering what could his life experiences have been that this was his first positive exposure to Christians?  How could it be that he expected Christians to be doing not good things?

This reflection is cause for conviction on all levels.  Am I personally impacting my immediate world by serving them for Christ?  Is my Church actively involved in serving the community?  Or do we just host a private party every week?  Am I, are we, impacting the world?  Are we behaving in such a way that people expect us to be wicked, unloving, or confrontational – just like the world?

We have been commanded to glorify God in everything that we do (1 Cor 10.31).  Our primary drive and concern should be to do what pleases Him because we love Him.  When we spend time with Him, our hearts become aligned with his and we enjoy to do the things which He commanded.  We will not function in perfect love all the time, however.  Thus God gives us other incentives to obey.

“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.12-17

Out of love we obey God, and our obedience looks like excellence among non believers.  This is an easy test:  does our behavior look excellent to those around us?  Or is it just normal?  Acceptable?  We should go above and beyond – and part of our motivation will be so that they will glorify God, and part of the motivation will be so that we can “silence the ignorance of foolish men”.  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance, expecting you to react like the world – and you shocked them by responding in love?  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance expecting you to react like the world and you did exactly that – tainting your witness?

We are free.  God has forgiven us of our sins so that there is no longer any condemnation.  But this is not validation to act however we want, it is freedom from the bondage of sin to obey God and glorify Him.  We do not use our freedom as an opportunity for evil, rather we exemplify the love and grace that we have been shown to all around us, and in doing so we silence those who expect us to be wicked like the rest of the world.

Do you honor all people?  Love the Church?  Fear God?  Honor the president/government?  As we continue through this election season, particularly, let us be thoughtful and intentional with our words and actions.  Let us honor all people, love the Church, fear God and honor the president.  There are times that we honor the office and not the actions of the man or woman, but we must keep our behavior excellent among the world so that they will know God and glorify Him!

Seven Churches, Six of them dying.

danger

The book of Revelation is perhaps the most difficult book in the Bible to read and to grasp.  Jesus gave this revelation of the End Times and what is to come to the seven churches in Asia through the Apostle John.  It is the only book in the Bible which promises a blessing upon the reader, and it looks towards things yet to come with great trepidation and hope.  Jesus reveals Himself to John standing amongst seven lampstands which represent the seven Churches who were intended to read and apply this prophecy, and then He takes two chapters (or nearly one tenth) of the book to write specific letters to these Churches regarding their individual and specific situations.

Six of the seven Churches to whom Jesus gives the prophecy of the end times are in dire situations.  Six of the seven churches have missed the proverbial boat when it comes to the faith.  Six of the seven churches are in danger of proving themselves to not even be believers – to have their lampstand removed – to not enter into eternal rest with Jesus.  Their six sins are unique, and yet similar at the core:  unbelief.

  1.  Ephesus – This church has persevered and toiled hard by performing good deed, but they are doing these good deeds without love for Jesus, they have “left their first love”.  The are morally upstanding but have no passion or love.
  2. Smyrna – This church has been faithful but yet is about about to enter tribulation and some will be thrown into jail.  Jesus warns them to hold fast or else they will perish.
  3. Pergamum – This church was tolerating the false teaching of “cheap grace” – it does not matter what you do because Jesus already forgave it.  In essence they were allowing sin and thus abusing the forgiveness and ransom that Jesus offers.
  4. Thyatira – They have perseverance and good deeds, and are even growing in them, but they have allowed a false prophet to remain and gain a following perpetuating immorality and idolatry.
  5. Sardis – This church has a name that they are alive but they are dead.  They are doing “good deeds” but do not know or honor God.
  6. Laodicea – Their deeds are lukewarm, Jesus says He will spit them out of His mouth.  They do not need God because they are wealthy and self sufficient, they are complacent.

The other Church, the Church at Philadelphia, receives no warning and only praise and encouragement.  Philadelphia knows Jesus, loves Him and is obediently serving and honoring him.  These six temptations and pitfalls are prevalent today.  Many churches in the United States are like Laodicea in that they are so wealthy and comfortable that Church is just an event or “good thing” to do on the weekend, to help us feel more comfortable about the afterlife.  Very few of us rely on Jesus daily and focus on earning eternal rewards because we are so fat and lazy here.  Many church here in the United States and around the world are much like Sardis and Ephesus in that they have good deeds, but their deeds are of their own strength and not centered in the will and power of Jesus.  These churches look really good to the outside world, but they are actually dead.

Many churches also look like Thyatira and Pergamum – not only tolerating but following false teachers.  False teachers do not infiltrate the church by preaching some crazy doctrine.  They start out sounding solid and Biblical and then slowly drift away from the Truth.  They twist the truth just enough to take Jesus out of the equation, and yet still remain convincing.  Most tolerated and followed false prophets teach half truths or promise blessings that Jesus simply does not promise, but yet they enchant the follower with their charisma and hope that people are blinded.  Turning a boat by one degree at first seems like no variation, but when it travels the length of the Atlantic, it ends up no where near its intended course.  So it is with false prophets.  And Jesus says that following such a one will lead to damnation.

Lastly, there are churches in the world today like Smyrna, who have a faith but run the risk of apostasy in the face of persecution and tribulation.  We know that Jesus does forgive those who fail in a moment of weakness like Peter, but the whole teaching of the Scripture is that those who persevere until the end are those who will be saved.  Jesus suffered greatly, and it is promised that all who love and follow Him will also suffer.  We will not all experience the same persecution and tribulation, but perseverance in faith through every trial is that which marks true believers.  There are some churches in the world who reject the idea that our faith will result in suffering, and there are many who would believe Jesus as long as it requires nothing from them, and thus suffering turns them away from their faith – like the seed sown on the rocky ground.

This admonition of Jesus should be a sobering one for us today.  There are churches on every street corner, even in cities that are considered “less churched” in the United States.  But Jesus, who sees all and knows all, and who will be the judge over everyone at the end, has pronounced condemnation over six of the seven churches.  These are not good statistics, folks.

What does that mean for us?  What is our take away?  Firstly, we need to examine closely the sins that Jesus says will lead a church away from Him and from salvation, and we need to check ourselves on all of those fronts.  Do you know and love Jesus?  Do you obey Him and preform good deeds as an overflowing of that love?  Are you persevering through trials and persecutions?  Are you faithful to the Scripture and not entertaining false teachers?  And are you relying on Jesus and storing up for yourself treasures in Heaven instead of here on Earth?  If so, then you are living a life like the Church at Philadelphia.  If you are unsure, or if you see any of these tendencies in your life, examine the commanded repentance in each situation instructed by Jesus.  There is still hope.  So long as you can repent, there is hope.

Let us test the Spirits, let us examine our hearts, and let us be ever diligent over our salvation and our souls, so that we do not find ourselves amongst those who thought they knew Jesus but never did.  It is not risking eternity for a moment of comfort or pleasure here.  Jesus is faithful and will grant salvation to all who call upon His name!

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

– Phil 2.12-13

You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

deception

There once was a missionary effort in a Muslim country where the nationals adamantly asserted, “To be from here is to be Muslim”.  The work was hard and slow as the small team scoured the region looking for anyone in whom the Spirit was moving, anyone who would believe.  After years, there were a few here and a few there who had believed, but the follow up and discipleship work was poorly executed.  Being secluded with a new faith and not even a Bible to read, these people were left extremely vulnerable.  Shortly thereafter, Jehovah’s Witnesses came in and led these new believers astray.  Years later, a new wave of missionaries came through and were surprised to find random Jehovah’s Witnesses in these remote areas, and only learned this tragic reality from their conversion stories.

Jesus taught a parable of different types of seeds that fall to the Earth.  Some fall on the hard ground and the birds eat the seeds before they can take root.  Some fall on rocky soil and grow up quickly, but are scorched by the sun because they are unable to take deep root amongst the rocks.  Some fall in the midst of thorns and weeds and are choked out.  And some fall on good soil and grow strong – producing fruit.  The hard soil into which the seed does not penetrate it is one who hears the Gospel and denies it – never understands it.  The rocky soil is one who hears the Gospel and receives it but has no depth of root or transformation, and when persecution and trials arise he falls away and abandons the faith.  The weeds represent wealth and/or worries of the world that consume someone and his faith withers away because of his love for and focus on the world.  Lastly, the good soil is one who hears the Gospel, establishes deep roots, and grows fruitfully (Matt 13).

The new believer who is deceived by a false religion like Jehovah’s Witness could be the young plant in the rocky soil or amongst the thorns.  He could be deceived by the promised pleasures of a false religion, or he could be tempted to fear the consequence of not following the false religion (be it persecution or spiritual consequences).  Either way, the lack of growth of the seed proves the seed to not be in the good soil.  If one remains in this state, Jesus says he will not be saved eternally.  We see this terrifyingly severe admonition in the fifth church Jesus addresses in His revelation to John, the Church in Sardis:

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.  So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.  But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 3.1-6

The Church at Sardis had a great reputation.  People from all around took note of the good things that the church was doing, and/or the numbers that they were drawing.  Everyone thought Sardis was alive and thriving because of their outward success, but Jesus terrifyingly pronounces them to be dead.  The Church as a whole was preforming “good deeds” in their own power, and Jesus was not a part of it.  He bids them to wake up and to strengthen that small remnant within them who still had some Spiritual life, but are about to die.  They are about to be choked out by the weeds or scorched by the sun.

Jesus says to the Church, “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God”.  This is not to imply that more good deeds and service will merit salvation, rather it is the truth that works must be the result of salvation and love (James 2.18).  We must have good works, if we do not serve God with our strength, our minds, and our hearts, we prove ourselves to not be saved(Matt 22.37).  He has created us to do good deeds (Eph 2.10).  But our deeds are only completed when they are driven by a love and respect for God through our humble reception of His grace which is our salvation.  This Church had heard the Gospel and twisted it so slightly that they looked extremely religious and holy to the outside world, but had neglected the inward transformation which God requires.  They were white washed tombs (Matt 22.37).

Jesus affirms, however, that they had heard the true Gospel, and he implores them to remember the foundation and to repent.  He warns them that if they do not repent, they will suffer eternity in Hell.  The stakes here are extremely high.  He again points out the fact that there are a few left in their midst who are alive, and Jesus promises to redeem them on the last day and to clothe them in white.  Their sins have been covered and washed clean, and they are clothed in white which represents their purity before God by the saving work of Jesus on the cross.  Jesus will be their advocate at judgment day and they will enter His rest.

This is a terrifying reality, as are all of the warnings Jesus gave to the Churches.  Jesus is addressing and warning the churches – and our churches – about eternity.  He is not speaking about preference, He is not speaking about our level of reward in eternity.  He is speaking about Heaven and Hell.  The stakes are most severe, and the consequences are of utmost importance.  If we deceive ourselves and follow the actions and deeds of the church without having been transformed from the heart, we are damned to Hell.  And Jesus says that churches can thrive in the eyes of the world and other Christians, yet be dead.

This is why Paul teaches us to continually be aware of the thoughts and motives of our hearts, and to be continually conscious of our salvation:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

– 2 Cor 13.5

While this may seem depressing and weighty, the consequence for not being diligent over our souls is eternal.  Compared to eternity, our lives on Earth is a vapor, like a breath that disappears on a winter’s morning.  We experience it slowly now, but in eternity we will be grieved that we did not slow down and examine our hearts.

Let us not find ourselves on judgment day to be dead.  Let us nurture that baby plant, removing the weeds and digging up the rocks that might thwart our growth.  Let us help our brothers and sisters in our church do the same, so that our churches will not only look good from the outside, but will be a thriving body which is recognized and honored by God.

Do you shine?

concert

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

– Matt. 5:1

Who do you want people to see when you do your good works?  I like approval and affirmation as much as the next guy…do you?

When I was in the 8th grade, my youth group had an intern who had a vision for putting together a team of students to lead the music for our weekly meetings.  He recruited me to play keys with a bunch of other students.  We were ahead of the praise-band craze that is sweeping through our churches, helping young adults build their egos by playing in front of their adoring peers, but we fit the mold well.   Being one of the only youth praise bands in the state we were asked to play for a variety of events and even traveled out of state after playing together for a few years.  We were big stuff, let me tell you.

As a group of immature high school students, we wrestled with how to answer the praise that we received.  Should we have an answer that directly pointed the glory to God?

Compliment:  “Hey, you guys are awesome!”

Answer:  “All to the glory of God, bro.”

We ultimately concluded that people do not want to get into a big theological discussion about our purpose.  We were, after all, a praise band.  We came in to lead people in worship.  We decided saying “Thanks” was appropriate.  They should know our hearts, right?

Wrong.

Our good deeds must always lead people to praise and give glory to God.  If they do not, they are in vain and by the recognition earned, we “have received our reward in full” (Matt 6.2, 5, 15).  God will not honor it further.

Do you give to charity so that your peers will see and think more highly of you?  Do you give to charity to help the poor and needy?  Or do you give to charity to glorify God by caring for those for whom He has commanded us to care?

Do you give your tithes and offerings so that the treasurer and pastor at your church will know that you are a good Christian?  Do you give because you believe in the ministries of your church?  Or do you give in secret, out of obedience and love for God?

Let us test ourselves.  If our motivation is not the glory of God, it is worthless.  Even if our good deeds are morally upstanding.  And we must hold accountable those around us, and our leadership.  We must choose carefully a pastor, music team, elders and leaders who seek only the glory of God.

“Don’t shine so others can see you.  Shine so that, through you, others can see Him.”

– C.S.Lewis

Be Busy About Prayer

“If you want to be busy about something, be busy about prayer.”

– Kay Dewitt

I am a doer.  I like to feel purposeful.  I like to set goals, work hard and see results.  I moved to Denver about 9 months ago and have found a church and am itching to get involved.  The church had a new pastor start just around the time I started attending and we are in the praying phase of seeking the Lord’s direction for the Church.

That is essential, vital, foundational.

I, however, am ready to serve.  To do.  To feel purposeful.

Last week I was meeting with my mentor and we were talking about purposefulness, being useful to the Kingdom and the fact that I want to be more active.  And she made this profound statement, “If you want to be busy about something, be busy about prayer”.

God wants our hearts before He wants our actions.

“For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,
And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

– Hosea 6.6

He does indeed want our service.  In fact, he has prepared good deeds for us to perform since before the foundation of the world!

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

– Eph 2.10

But He only wants us to perform good works through a heart that is fully devoted and committed to Him.  And that through prayer.

“Pray without ceasing.” 

– 1 Thess 5.17

Major movements of God in a city or in our hearts will be predicated by prayer.  He will be glorified in the things that He does.  And He uses His people who are clinging to Him and seeking His plan.  And we can only know His plan by aligning our hearts with His, and we hear His heart through prayer and the study and application of His word.

Therefore we should not be quick to act.  We should be quick to listen.  And slow to speak (James 1.19).  And when we hear, we should be quick to obey!  To act without the instruction or leadership of the Spirit is to try to fill the need to be purposeful on our own.  It becomes all about me, instead of all about God and His plan and His glory.

Therefore, let us be busy about prayer.  Let us turn always, regularly, and earnestly to God to hear His instructions for our lives.  Then, and only then, let us be busy to work.  Don’t just act.  Follow His clear leading.  He will lead us and guide us every. single. day.  And He wants to use us, as we are willing and available!

Break their ankles or stab them in the heart?

“When driving the forklift, keep your forks low so that you only break someone’s ankles.  If you leave them high you’ll stab him through the heart.”

– Kevin Ryan

This extremely practical advice was given to me second hand, but I highly respect the man who gave it!  What does that have to do with anything?  Last week I read an article.  It was reflecting on a very controversial subject within Christianity today.  The topic, though I have a strong opinion, will remain unidentified as it is not the debate to which I desire to speak.  It is the argument used.

“[The topic] in and of itself is not sinful”.

How many times have we justified our actions or our inaction with this statement?  Or how many times have we just coasted through life with the mundane as we consider our actions inherently neutral?  Contemporary western Christian culture facilitates nominal believers who ask the wrong question.  The question aught not be, “is this wrong?” but rather, “does this most glorify God?”  “How far is too far?” should be replaced with “How can I honor God in this dating relationship?”

The Bible says that “whatever is not done from faith is sin” (Rom 14.23).  Do you grasp the depths of that statement?  To coast, to perform any action without faith is sin.

This leads us to an obvious moral dilemma:  Can a nonbeliever perform good deeds?  That obviously depends on our definition of good.  Morally, socially, economically…Yes.  According to the standards of the world, a nonbeliever can do a “good deed”.  Humanitarian efforts, feeding the hungry, helping an elderly woman cross the street and caring for the environment are daily and regularly carried out by people without faith.  But if our definition of a “good deed” is one that honors God, one that has eternal results, then the answer is a resounding no.  Because a nonbeliever does not act in faith and to the glory of God.

Therefore we are implored as believers to daily die to ourselves (Luke 9.23).  We are exhorted to put aside all aspects of our flesh (Rom 8.13).

The Corinthians had the same problem that we have.  They wanted to know if it was inherently sinful to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Paul spends substantial energy to explain through apologetics the fact that everything in the world is God’s and whatever He has created is good and there are no other true gods, therefore to eat something that has been sacrificed to an idol is not inherently sinful.  But he does not conclude the argument there.  He then states that our perspective must be bigger.  If you, by eating meat sacrificed to an idol, put off a bad witness or cause a brother (or nonbeliever) to stumble in doing so, it is sinful.  You are hurting another’s conscience and not being aware of his spiritual well being.   “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable…not all things edify” (1 Cor 10.23).  Read 1 Corinthians 10.  Paul states that he eats for the benefit of many, so that many can be saved.  Therefore the very basic act of nourishing one’s body can be purposefully used to the glory of God:

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

– 1 Cor 10.31

I lived for four years on the equator.  In the tropical rain forest.  At sea level.  And I wore a long sleeved shirt every day, because I lived in a Muslim context.  Are short sleeve shirts sinful?  Absolutely not.  I love T-shirts and wear them regularly here in the US.  That is an extreme example, but applicational to the conversation at hand.  It is necessarily bad to drive with the forks of your fork lift four feet off the ground?  Nope.  But is it best practices?  If the options are to break someone’s ankles or stab them through the heart, let’s take the first.  Let’s not stab anyone in heart for the sake of our “Christian liberties”.

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…”

Col 3.17