Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How's your blood pressure?

Wanna hear a joke about salt? Na.
“Tomorrow, you promise yourself, will be different; yet, tomorrow is too often a repetition of today.”- James T. Mccay
Even though I started off with a joke...this week I was really challenged by Tyson’s message at C4. I’m not sure how to introduce this topic, but basically it can be summed up in the question: What does the past tell you about yourself as opposed to what God tells you about yourself?

As Lot’s wife was on her way to safety and refuge, she couldn’t help but look back and thereby subject herself to the same fate of her past (in a word… destruction). She was turned into a pillar of salt! As Francis Chan would say, “Well that sucks!” Salt is described as a powdery substance that’s easily dissolved and pulverized, and Lot’s wife was turned into it all because she couldn’t let go of the past. The same holds true for us, more so in a metaphorical sense than physical, but definitely true in a psychological and spiritual sense. If we keep looking back and dwelling on the failures or traumas of our pasts, our faith will dissolve and we will be pulverized.
I know that the moment I start distancing myself from God and the support and accountability of the church...that is the moment my faith starts to dissolve. It could be because it’s so much easier to look to everything besides God, because the culture makes God a bit of a taboo subject, or because I don’t want to come off as na├»ve, but my faith level and dependence on God plummets the second I occupy my thoughts with other things. One thing leads to another and before I know it, I’m a functional atheist.

See, the problem about looking back at the past is that we never get the entire picture and we don’t remember exact circumstances or realities. It’s the nature of the human psyche to produce exaggerated memories about past events. Basically we don’t always think about our pasts as they really were, and if you are anything like me, mixing what we believe about our pasts and what we’re supposed to know about ourselves from God’s point of view is eternally frustrating because they almost never truly fit together.
For example, consider a victims perspective of prolonged sexual abuse. In terms of a textbook case, they might remember their past as something that was their fault, that made them dirty and unlovable, that destroyed their trust and self worth. Now take that mentality and apply the gospel to it. God says that they are not at fault (they were sinned against), they are washed clean and loved and valued so much that God’s Son died for them. See the contradiction in thinking patterns? God’s truth is something incredibly difficult to hold onto when you’re looking at your past and your mindset and emotions are so distorted and negative. Thoughts can destroy you if you let them.

The trick is to make yourself dwell on the truth of God rather than what you feel about your past, because what’s true about you is what God says about you. (And yes, I used the word “make”. Faith is an active thing; you have to work at it.)

The bible says that faith is the “assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”. I think in this context, faith is the assurance of God’s promise to us in Jeremiah 29:11 (which just happens to be my personal favorite bible verse).
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
So often, we are not looking forward. We have a tendency to base our futures on the events of our pasts. We put more stock in circumstance than God because that’s where we put most of our focus. The nerve-wracking thing is that where we’re looking has everything to do with where we’re going.  So, I mean, it comes down to: What is the driving force in your life right now and what do you want it to be?  Will you leave your past in the past or let it be your downfall? Would you rather be a human being or a pillar of salt? Personally I wouldn’t want the high blood pressure that would come from being a stack of salt.

Don't Look Back

Sunday's message at C4 Charlotte was definitely something I needed. Too often I get wrapped up in a moment and drag it with me all over the place. I think most of us have a tendency to do this...to take time out of our lives and look back on our past...relive the good moments and painfully remember the rough times. Tyson's message was such an encouragement to me not to look back anymore. 
Genesis 19:15-17, 23-29 As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.
Sodom and Gomorrah were 2 cities that were extremely distorted and perverted. Sin was so bold in these cities that God searched for faithfulness and it was only because of Abraham's prayer that Lot and his family were saved. These cities were so corrupted that when God sent angels to rescue Lot, the men of the cities wanted to do terrible, sinful things to the angels. Lot had to take his family and get out...but even when the Lord came to rescue them, they still hesitated.
Lot and his family hesitated because they were looking at what was familiar and comfortable to them. They were about to leave what they knew and walk into unknown territory. They had to trust that God would take care of them. The very moment that they began to leave, sulfur and fire began to rain down on the town. As they were leaving, Lot's wife was tempted to look back into her old life on her way to the new life...and she ended up getting caught in the same destiny as her past.
All of us are called and designed to move forward...we are not to stay in the same place...our lives don't end at salvation. How many times have you ever used the phrase: "I'm looking forward to it."?? I know I use it all the time...what it means when you say that is that you are excited and anxiously anticipating what is to come. When you are looking at your past, you can't look forward to the future. We tend to judge our future off of the reality of our past. Your future is greater than your past and you can't allow a negative past or negative thoughts to haunt your future. Stop looking back and believe!
If you are satisfied looking at your past, your future will look the same as your past. Some of you might be thinking that your past isn't bad so looking back isn't a bad thing then. If you do that, you are throwing away God's promises for your life. Lot's wife, even with all the promise of her new future, she couldn't help but look back and because she did that, her future was taken from her. Your future will look like your past if you continue to live there. Have faith that your future will be greater than your past...God responds to your faith!
Too often we complain about our past but we keep living the same way. How can you expect to get anything different if you keep doing the same things? Change things in your life and don't look back anymore! "Well, last time I tried living for God or changing things...it didn't work out...so why should I even try again." Well...quit looking at your past...your attitude is affected by what you are looking at. If you are looking at a failure of your past, then your mindset will be failure for your future too. Your attitude is more powerful than anything...it has everything to do with where you will go from here.
The God we love doesn't judge our future by our past...he makes ALL things new. Not some things new, ALL things. The only one who can stop you from moving forward is you! Don't look at the future through the lenses of your past...God has something much greater for you.
"God can't use me, look at my past." No...Stop. If you come to him, confess your sin, repent and turn from your ways...God will make you new. He knows everything but when you come to him, he chooses to separate our sin as far as the east is from the west. He chooses to wipe your slate and your life clean with the blood of his son. Start living and believing again. Resurrect the dreams you let die because of your past. Stop looking back and allow God to work in you and through you. Remember that faith is the substance of thins hoped for and evidence of things not seen...have faith and God will move.
If you've ever been through driver's ed...I'm sure you've heard the instructor say "Where you are looking is exactly where you are going to go." This is so profound even as simple as it seems. If we focus on God and look at him...we will grow towards him in character and in our lives. Likewise, if we look at our past or other things, we will live our lives for those things and stay in the same place. Stop taking your eyes off of God. If you think about past failures and give up on the dreams that God gave you...you will keep failing and you'll never receive all he has for you. Turn your eyes back on Jesus...
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace."

I can't tell you what this hymn means to me...every time I hear it, it just reminds me how easy it is to take my focus off of Him. It's so true though, when I turn my eyes on Jesus...my past doesn't matter, this blog doesn't matter, nothing matters but him. Every time I truly turn my eyes toward him, everything else just falls away from my mind. In Him is life, truth and power. Our God lives and reigns...this world will pass away but his Word remains forever! Apply it to your life and God will do things he has never done before!

If you keep complaining and living in the past...yeah, your life could very well suck...but if you refocus, you'll be able to believe that God can and will use you no matter what your situation is. Jesus didn't conform to circumstances...and because he didn't, lives were changed. Jesus didn't have to speak to change lives...when he was around, the dead were raised, the blind saw, the deaf heard, cripples walked, and the convicted found hope. Why? Because he looked to the Father. He affected the world and didn't allow it to consume him. Today is a new day...don't bring it with you...his mercies are new every morning. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in you.

Lets re-visit Genesis 19 verses 17 and 26...
And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.”...But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
She became a pillar of salt...the Hebrew for salt describes a stationary power...something that is easily dissolved and pulverized. If you look back and judge your future with negative thoughts, you will be stagnate and your faith will dissolve. You have the power of life and death in your words...speak life over yourself. When you speak negativity over your future, you will have a future that looks like your past.

You might wonder why you are in the same place now as a few years ago...you're standing in the very place you started looking back. In order to look back you have to stop moving forward. I was reading in Francis Chan's book "Crazy Love" the other day and this passage totally fits in with what Tyson was talking about:
"Imagine going for a run while eating a box of Twinkies. Besides being self-defeating and sideache-inducing, it would also be near impossible - you would have to stop running in order to eat the Twinkies. In the same way, you have to stop loving and pursuing Christ in order to sin. When you are pursing love, running toward Christ, you do not have the opportunity to wonder, Am I doing this right? or Did I serve enough this week? When you are running toward Christ, you are freed up to serve, love, and give thanks without guilt, worry, or fear. As long as you are running, you are safe. But running is exhausting - if, that is, we are running from sin or guilt out of fear. (Or if we haven't run in a while.) However, if we train ourselves to run toward our Refuge, toward Love, we are free - just as we are called to be. As we begin to focus more on Christ, loving Him and others becomes more natural. As long as we are pursuing Him, we are satisfied in Him. It is when we stop actively loving Him that we find ourselves restless and gravitating toward other means of fulfillment."
When you stop to look back, your life will accumulate garbage. Faith comes from Jesus and knowing him...to know him you must read the Word of God. The moment you stop reading, you lose passion and zeal. When you look back, you complain and dread and stop believing that God has greater things for you. When you look back, you allow the devil to steal your faith. He wants you to destroy your own life by tempting you to look back. He wants to remind you of your failure and discourage you from moving forward.
Isaiah 43:18-19 “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
When the devil tries to tempt you, remember this promise! God makes a way even in the wilderness...even in what seems like a hopeless situation. So often we give up when we don't see life getting better...but when we give up, we are forgetting the promise in Isaiah...God does make a way...even though you may not see it now, trust that he makes a way and makes all things new. He directs the paths of our lives, he holds our past, present, and future in his hands. Believe again because God can do anything! Sometimes we have to go through seasons of wilderness in order to find our destiny...look forward because God will do new things...God's plan is much higher than ours.

Tyson told us about the reason he moved here...he came to plant a new ministry (not a college ministry) but his plan was much smaller than God's. Things didn't go as Tyson planned and after 35 days of God doing things that seemed to fit in Tyson's plan, everything came to a halt. It's extremely painful to see your vision come to life and then have to watch it die. It's so easy to give up. 1 year later, Tyson was still looking back on what seemed like failure...then he was given an opportunity to start a college small group. It was the last thing he wanted to do...in that moment, it would have been easier to play the victim and look back. But Tyson had a decision...either look back or believe that God can do anything. 2 years later, Tyson was speaking to 270 college students in a ministry called C4. God's plans for Tyson's life were greater than the plans Tyson had in mind.

Sometimes doors close...only for others to open. When doors fling open for us we have to make a choice. We can either say "it didn't work the last time" or we can look to God and walk through. God is faithful to do what he said he would do.
Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Your pain and your past are weights that you are carrying around with you. Cast them away and look forward. Stop trying to live in Sodom...Sodom is doomed and can never prosper. Begin a new era...let go of your weights and let them die...walk into your future. Look to Jesus - he will give you joy that will help you endure trials and hardship. Not everything will go perfectly but God will do great things if you keep looking at him. Stop looking back, come into a new place...he will wipe your past away and make you new. Lets all together keep our focus on the one who can make us new and say we will not look back. Praise God that he has given us a hope and a future that is greater than our past! Take a step of faith and turn your eyes to him...he will move in your live.

God Wants You Now

This past Sunday, I had the privilege and joy to hear one of my best friends Justin (Kjuice) Jordan speak at his Grandmother's church. I can't tell you all just how encouraging it is to see one of your peers speak to a congregation of all ages. It was so cool to see God using someone my age to do big things in this sweet church. Justin definitely left and impact on those who heard what God spoke through him on Sunday morning.

Justin's brother Cornell introduced Justin and told part of his testimony...Justin grew up in the church and like many 'church kids', he could quote scripture with the best of them on Sundays, but the rest of the week was a different story. I can totally relate to this and I know many of you can too. You might not have gotten into any serious trouble, or you could have done everything...but what you need to take away from it is that no matter what your past looks like...God will still use you.

Justin's message shared with us that you don't have to be grown to be used. No matter who you are or how old you are...God wants you right now.
1 Timothy 4:11-16 Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Paul (the same Saul/Paul that we talked about in the last post) was Timothy's mentor. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to encourage him while Paul was away leading a church. Timothy was in Ephesus and that church was being influenced by false teachings...the elders of the church were not paying attention or giving respect to Timothy because he was young...and to make matters worse, he was shy too.
1 Timothy 4:8-10 For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
We live for the living God who died to save us.

Paul gave Timothy the authority to lead this church...but people don't like change, especially if they don't think the new person is qualified. Verse 12 uses the word 'despise'...Webster defines 'despise' as: to look down on with contempt or aversion; to regard as negligible, worthless, or distasteful; synonyms: abhor, loathe, hate; antonym: love.

Young Timothy was seeing everything he did come up against great opposition. His age kept him from being used. It doesn't have to be that way...you, as a young person, are at a special age where you can have a great impact because all you want to do is learn. Too often, as we get older, we get comfortable and don't always have the mindset to continue to grow and learn. In Paul's absence, the elders stopped listening. I tend to believe that had Paul been there, the things that were going on in that church would not have been happening. But we won't always have someone there to help us or to speak up for us. We have to learn and grow in the qualities not just of leadership but these qualities are basic to Christianity.
  • Speech
    • The way we speak has an enormous effect on our witness. We are called to love others as ourselves. If we don't love in our speech, how will we ever be effective leaders or witnesses?
  • Conduct
    • This is important. We have to live what we teach...we are called to a life of holiness. You would call someone a fake if you found out that they were one way with you and another with someone else. Don't be fake...you cannot be an effective anything if you aren't consistent with your conduct.
  • Love
    • In the midst of all the opposition around you...when you are faced with people who hate you because of your faith...don't hate back. The best thing that you can do for them is to love and pray for them. Jesus loves you and we are called to be like him...we have to love as he loves.
      • Romans 12:14 - Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
    • Once you mess up your witness, you cannot be a leader...no one will follow you. You must love constantly...even when you aren't getting love back.
  • Faith
      • 2 Corinthians 5:7 - For we walk by faith, not by sight.
    • Faith means trusting that God is holding onto you even in the midst of the storms of life.
    • The minute we stop having Faith in God...that's when things start to fail. Think about when Jesus walked on the water...He called Peter to come and join him. The moment that Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink. That's what happens when we lose faith in God.
  • Purity
    • It's not just talking about sexual purity here...it's talking about holiness.
    • We are called to be holy and pure
    • Meaning that our lives should be clean, without spot...we are to flee from sin.
I think one of the problems with reaching both believers and unbelievers is the fact that as a majority, we are inconsistent. Inconsistent in our lives and our mission. We won't be able to reach people if we are only Sunday Christians. We must live by these qualities and strive to be like Jesus.

Here's the thing though...you actually have to put these qualities to the test. You can't stay in your house and study the Bible...you'll be close to perfect but what good is it if you aren't going? Get up and go teach the world...don't stay in a holy bubble...open your mouth and say something. You will fade out of people's minds if you don't speak up. Be bold about your calling.

Going back to 1 Timothy 4...check out verses 13 and 14:
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.
Okay, lets start with public reading of Scripture...this doesn't always mean standing up and reading the Bible aloud. Immerse yourself in the word publicly. When you go to lunch, get your Bible out and read it while you are eating. People will notice...it wouldn't surprise me if they came up and began to talk to you about it. Growing in the word publicly will open up opportunities to spread the gospel. You have to ground yourself in the word before you can produce fruit in your life. How do you expect to get to the kingdom if you don't know anything about it? The word is also our 'weapon'.(Ephesians 6:17 - and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God) Like I said earlier, how short would a war be if one side's soldiers didn't have weapons? People will come up against us with arguments...the Bible has the answers. If you don't know the answer, don't make something up...get back to them. Root yourself in scripture...and do it in front of people.

Next thing it talks about is exhortation...basically preaching and teaching. This cannot be done silently. How much would you get out of church if the pastor just stood there or walked around the stage for an hour on Sunday morning? Um...nothing. So open your mouth because people aren't going to learn out of ignorance. Preaching is simple really...you can use songs, dances, skits, spoken word, almost anything to get God's message across...but you have to speak up. One of the biggest things you have to share is your personal testimony. We all have one...and if you don't, then you don't know Him. People might come up against the Bible with arguments, but they cannot tell you that God isn't real in your life. Your testimony might be simple an uneventful or it might show how God rescued you out of major things...but no matter what your testimony sounds like, your story is effective!

We can also minister by praying for people. Prayer is faith saying "I can't, but I know that God can." It shows that we trust God is who he said he is. No one can take away your faith. Hold tight and speak up.

Okay now gifts...I'm not talking gifts of the Holy Spirit here (although we are given those gifts too). What are you good at? Would you say that Shakespeare had the gift of writing or that Johnny Depp has the gift of acting? Well, regardless of what your gift is, it was given to you by God. Use the gift he gave you for his purposes...no matter what it is. If you don't know what your gift is - pray about it...God answers prayer. Don't forget to use your gift...you don't know how it could impact someone.

Also remember that it's not our job to convert...it's our job to get the word out. Remember WHO gave you the gift. This is not like a Christmas present that gets forgotten about a few months later...this is a lasting gift. We are molded in him, remember who you are and whose you are. We can do all things in him. Dive into the word to find out who he is...your faith will motivate you to continue pursuing him and using your gifts even when you face opposition.

Check out verses 15 and 16:
Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The key here is "practice". How do you get better at ____? - You keep doing ____. This applies to all areas in life: if you keep sinning, you'll get better at it; if you keep teaching, you'll get better at it; if you keep riding your bike, you'll get better at it. As long as you are alive, you have room to grow...don't ever become stagnate. Be committed...if you take a day off, the enemy will get stronger and you will become weaker. If you aren't training, you will lose. Use him. God give, but he also takes away. I know from personal experience...when I stopped diving into the word and growing in Him...I couldn't write anymore...the minute I put my faith back in God, he restored me.

Remember what you were taught. Everything you do has an impact. Know the truth because God has a claim on your life. Persevere...don't give up...we're in this for the long haul.
Romans 1:16a For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
If you call yourself a believer, believe it by living it, by practicing it, and by growing in it. Not everyone will like you...they killed Jesus and we sure aren't better than him. Even though we face a tough crowd...be confident...God will use you to grow his kingdom. You are never too young to be used by God. Think about Joseph (Genesis 36)...God gave him a dream and a promise...but his own family didn't like it so they SOLD him!!! But God was faithful and only 5 chapters later, he was 2nd in command! God will use you even when it looks like there is no hope. Flip over to Mark 6...Jesus fed 5000 people with a little boy's snack! God will use whatever you have if you just have faith!

So...how are you used?
Well...open the Bible...believe what it says, and live it. Find someone older to be your mentor...ask them questions. Don't be afraid to seek out someone older...and if you are older, be available to mentor. Step out in faith and share the gospel...don't be afraid of opposition. Get excited about what the Bible says. Why would you want to be the only person in heaven? Think about it! Your friend's and your family's souls will burn in hell for eternity if you don't open your mouth...and these are people you claim you live! Jesus should always be on the tip of your tongue.

For parents and adults:
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Train up your children...set an example. Make them read the word because they need it. If my parents hadn't been faithful when I was a child, there is no way that I would be sitting here right now imploring you to do the same.

For young people especially(everyone really):
Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”
Don't allow the enemy to lie to you! Don't let God take the sidelines in your life! You have an advantage being young. No one has more impact on a young person than another young person. You have the ability to reach more people than you do in your elder years! Take advantage of your youth. God wants you now! No matter who you are or how old you are, he wants to use you. What are you waiting for?

Simple Faith: Deployment

Thursday night, God was definitely in Rowe 130 as Jon spoke what had been on his heart. The third installment of the Simple Faith series was about deployment. Many people hear that word and think of deployment as losing a loved one as they leave to serve our country. This is a different type of deployment. Being deployed in gospel labor is what we are talking about. First, we have simple faith that Jesus saved us...then we have faith to grow and be like him through the Holy Spirit. Now, because of what he did for us...it's our job to continue his work.

There are a ton of college students out there that have so much potential to do great things for God. There are so many stories of people who have made an impact on this world for God and many of those stories begin when they were in college. We have to step out in faith and pursue what God has for us.

Jon talked about his interest in the military and specifically WWII. So many gave their lives for a cause so much greater than themselves. He mentioned "Band of Brothers" and explained what it was about. The story followed those men from draft all through the war. Their lives changed at boot camp...they were marked by what they were apart of and the sacrifices they made. Their time during the war formed them as men. What would have happened if Band of Brothers was a reality show...what if those men never left boot camp? They would be a waste of soldiers, resources, and money...unproductive.

It's the same with Christians. If we come to know Jesus and are trained in basic discipleship but are never deployed - then we are never going to do anything to further the gospel. In comparison, our conversion is like the draft or boot camp and the Church is our training base. If we never use our training or the gifts we have been given, then we are wasting Christianity and that is NOT God's plan for us.

A Christian is saved from God's wrath to growth and Christ-likeness for the momentum of the mission.

So then a few questions you have to ask yourself are - Are you deployed? Have you ever been used by God for the mission? Is your view of God so small that it only contains him and you?
Acts 9:1-19a But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
The Saul that you are reading about now is the same man as was called Paul after his name was changed by God. 13 of the books of the Bible were written by Paul and I would argue that no man has had more influence in Christian history than Paul.

To get a little background on Saul/Paul's, read Acts 7 and 8 to understand who he was before his conversion. In those books, you'll see Saul was a Roman citizen...he was trained under the smartest teachers (probably the equivalent of a Harvard Graduate) and he hated Jesus with everything he had. He was a major part of Stephen being stoned for sharing the gospel and now he was on his way to Damascus to root out the Christians there. Saul was willing to travel 150 miles in order to rid Damascus of Christianity. Then we see that he was literally breathing threats and murder...he was completely living for himself and doing his own thing.

Then, he has an encounter with God. Jesus stopped him. Think about it...in that moment, it had to be like God's tazer gun...light came down from heaven and Saul hit the ground immediately. Jesus spoke to him and said "why are you persecuting me?" This was a revelation that changed Saul's life. His persecution of Christians also was persecuting his Lord. He was gripped by Jesus' realness...that he really is who he said he was. Paul met Jesus and his whole life did a 180 in only a moment. He couldn't help but do what Jesus told him to do.

We read for a few verses about a man named Ananias. His response to Jesus request was basically unbelief...he was flabbergasted and unsure if they were speaking about the same man. He couldn't believe that God wanted him to go to Saul and restore him after all Saul had done against God.

The thing that is important for us is that Saul was not only saved, he was used. God hand picked Saul/Paul. Everything about his personality, education, childhood, and environment was played out in such a specific way as to prepare him for the mission. After Ananias prayed for him, Paul was healed and filled with the Holy Spirit. The power by which we are deployed comes from the Holy Spirit, not from our own power...we are only instruments. It's like a water bottle...the plastic isn't important, it's the life-giving water inside that is important. Paul was then empowered for ministry.
Acts 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
We see only a few chapters later in Acts what a difference his life is from what it was in Chapters 7 and 8. His life mission was to testify Jesus. He met the ascended King Jesus and knew that before Jesus would return, all nations had to hear of him.

We are here because there are still people on this earth that do not know him. The only reason you are here is to introduce people to Jesus. Too often, we are more concerned with who we will marry, what degree we will achieve, what job we will land after school, and if we will have a family...but the only reason we have to think about those things is because those are the ways through which God means to use you to save those around you.

This is the mission that gripped Paul. His life before, meant nothing. What you do for yourself is not the point of life...it's not valuable. The whole aim in life is to finish what God called you to. To spread the gospel and train others for deployment themselves.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my dad about this blog and how excited I was to share what God's been doing in my life and in the lives of those around me and this was his response and his charge to me:
"There is a group thing called the Church but you are called to be a disciple who shares the Gospel and bring others to the understanding that you have so they can go out and share the Gospel and bring others to the understanding that they have so they can go out and share the Gospel and bring others to the understanding that they have so they....!  You get the idea.  Can the Holy Spirit fall in a place and transform everyone that hears...OH YA!  3,000 hit their knees at Pentecost and joined the Church and became students of the Apostles.  If they had remained in that state we would not have had the opportunity to join in the fun.  They were called to make disciples and went out and it all began from there.  Your Blog can reach thousands all over the world and that is really cool but those thousands must come to a point where they are disciples and go out or it is just pretty words on the Internet that is not directing them to a good Bible believing church where they can be raised up."
My dad makes a great point that goes right along with what we're talking about. If your Christianity only involves reading your Bible and going to Church, then you are not deployed. Just because I write a blog that talks about God does not mean that I'm deployed. I still have to go out in my daily life and share the gospel with every breath I breathe. The reason we are here has not changed since Paul's time on Earth.
Ephesians 2:1-9 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
God wants to use you. Right now. Right where you are. He doesn't want you to be stuck in sin, he wants to raise you up.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This verse can change your life...if you don't believe this, then life will look different than if you do believe it. There will be no forward momentum in your life if you don't believe what this verse tells us. We are his workmanship...we went from death to life...God did that, not us. God allowed everything that happened in your life to happen...it's his sovereignty. God knew every effect life would have on us to make us into the person we are today. We are created in Christ Jesus, we are God's children and we are united with him because Jesus took our place on the cross. The gospel brings death to life.

Some of us have stopped at salvation. We live in a consumer culture where even religion and a relationship with God becomes a selfish thing. In reality, it's easy for 'Jesus people' to be selfish...we fall short of being used and don't go past salvation because we become concerned with ourselves. But the thing is, we were created for good works...and not just helping an elderly lady across the street or picking up your dirty socks...works that God prepared before time began so that we can walk in them. Notice the phrase "walk in them"...that's not stopping at salvation...that implies movement.

If you are a Christian...God has works for you to do even this week that he prepared for you before you were even saved. What happens is we don't try because we don't expect that God wants to or will be able to use us. We say 'I want to do_________ but am I being presumptive that God wants me to do that?' or 'I can't do ___________ on my own so God obviously can't want me to do that.' But the promise is that he has works for us to do that he has prepared for us...we are his workmanship specifically and specially made for his agenda. Our calendars are full of only what he has called us to do. All you need is a willingness to be used and an expectation to go in faith because God will use you. He formed you to be used mightily for him.

There are too many of us on the sidelines...saying that because we're struggling with something, we can't be used. No! Don't count yourself out...he saved you in order to use you! Don't worry about what the person next to you is doing or thinking...just go in faith that God can even use your struggles for his purposes. Do you believe what this verse says? He wants to use you now! You don't have to be a grown up! History is full of Christians who made a difference because they took Ephesians 2:10 seriously...they had faith.

So where do you go from here?
  • Take God at his word.
    • That sounds obvious, but our fundamental problem today is that we don't believe what the Bible says.
  • Go to God full of faith.
  • Have an expectant heart that God can and will use you.
  • Have an openness to hear God speak
  • Use your gifts in the gospel mission
    • You will gain training and wisdom for how and where and when to use them...it's about God, not you.
  • Be filled with the Spirit
    • Be prayed for
    • It's not about the bottle/vessel(you) it's about whats inside it.
    • Don't attempt anything without the Holy Spirit's power.
  • Have an unflinching resolve to do what God puts in front of you.
  • Finally...Work...it's as simple as that
Work...to move forward requires work. Life isn't going to be easy just because you're a Christian now. Suffering happens when you do great things for God. We will face opposition everywhere we turn...and many times, even from ourselves. Things - even good things - distract us and yell at us to live a life of ease and comfort. But we are to count it all as loss...ease and comfort are not what life is about. Like Christine Caine said, "Life isn't about arriving at death safely." Not even Saul was a match for God's power. He resides in us and empowers us to do work. Be encouraged because the Christian life was not meant to be lived alone. You'll get burnt out if you try to do it like that...we are to do work together.

So for you...right now...consider this: How has God empowered you? How can you step up? What gifts do you have that you can use for the gospel mission? What do you need to let go of?

If soldiers were to go to war without armor or guns or weapons...it would be a short war and we would lose. Pray about these things...read your Bible, get an accountability partner, and find a good church. These are the things that will help you to move forward. Don't stop at salvation...make sure that you are deployed and active in the forward momentum of God's mission and all that he has called you to. He will use you!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Distortion: Part 2

The last C4 message Tyson gave was about how distorted the television programs in America have become. This time we took a look at my personal favorite form of entertainment, the music industry. He started off with a startling "coincidence". Ephesians 2 talks about Satan being the Prince of the power of the air. So, it's interesting that radio broadcasts are always said to be "on air". (just something to wonder about as we head into this).

There is a spirit behind every kind of music that we listen to. We don't even really stop to consider it.  Lyrics and melodies give off specific energies depending on their genres. Music makes you feel something. That's what Tyson meant by spirits behind music. I mean, think about the common reason why people listen to or have certain musical tastes. Is it because the music is calming? Is it catchy? Can you relate to the lyrics? Personally, I've always chosen music that fits whatever mood I happen to be in because I can have something to relate to. While that's great and that's what music is designed to do, it's not always going to be what's best for my spiritual health. For example, if I'm angry and I just listen to angry music because it matches my thought process, how is that going to help me be less angry? It's really not. How does what you've been listening to today (or maybe even right now) make you feel?

Music is the original playground for the devil. Now, before you decide that statement is a little too hell-fire and brimstone for you, consider what Lucifer was made to do. When God created Lucifer, he was the most beautiful of all the angels, but he was also created to be the worship leader of Heaven. Worship leader! You know, music, choirs, trumpets, little angels playing harps on a cloud; yeah, Lucifer ran that. So, don't be confused that the venue where he would chose to influence you the most would be music.

In 1962, the number 1 song in the U.S. was "Something About Love", by Ray Charles. Today we have songs like "Have a Baby by Me", "Circus", "So What We Get High". and anything by Lady Gaga. But no, Satan has nothing to do with changing the music industry [insert nervous laughter from the audience].

Going back all the way to last march, Tyson reiterated an important thing about Acts 16:16-18.
 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
Another translation says that she was possessed by a spirit of divination. In the original Greek, it's the spirit of Python. Now think about what a python does. It disguises itself and suffocates it's prey. It's a sinful nature kind of thing that is sly to the point that you don't notice it, but grips you until you don't care about God anymore. Pythons take away the breath of their prey. The spirit of python makes us give up what's inside of us, it takes away everything that we are.

To put it in a musical sense: we listen to certain songs just because it's what everyone's listening to, so we don't really pay attention. We like songs because they're catchy and we say we don't really listen to the lyrics anyway, but the truth is that we do. Songs get stuck in our heads and like Tyson said at the beginning, the music makes your heart feel something whether you admit to it or not.

This is the problem. The music that we allow ourselves to listen to gets into our heads and, eventually, into the core of who we are. That's also where sin starts, in our heads. The world is telling us that it's perfectly normal for people our age to party, sleep around, and get drunk because we're young and that's what we do. It appeals to our desire for freedom. And, as Tyson says, it's a lie from Hell.

This isn't intended to be a legalistic gospel. All I'm saying and all Tyson was saying is to be careful what you let into your life. The lyrics in music are there for a reason.

1 Timothy 4:1-2 talked about a coming generation that would hold nothing sacred.
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
The thing about the devil is that he doesn't necessarily want to destroy you. He would much rather lure you into destroying yourself and plunging yourself into the same fate that he is destined for. Anything that elevates itself over God will be shut down into a lake of fire, my prayer is that we don't go with it.

Distortion: Part 1

I can't believe it's been a year. 1 year ago, I was sitting in my car trying to get up the nerve to step out for the first time and try something new. It was my first visit to C4...I look back on the last year and I cannot express how grateful I am for this ministry. God reminds me week after week how great he is and how much I need him. The work he's been doing in my life is just crazy. God is so good. About 2 weeks ago, Tyson began a series called Distortion. He wanted to raise our awareness of the way the world has changed and is influencing us.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
Pretty intense right? Sound sort of familiar? Maybe you are aware of this happening around you or maybe even in yourself. The enemy - Satan - cannot be anything like God. So in his attempt to disrupt God's plan, he will distort the things that are like God...he will distort the good things in this world. There is a supernatural war raging and its at its peak right now. You may or may not see or hear it but your soul is at war.
Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
We were fashioned after Him...but 2 Timothy 3:5 says that people have the appearance of godliness, but deny its power...meaning that many people today look like Heaven but live like Hell. That might sound blunt...but it's true. Our generation is so self-focused. They are still fashioned in God's image but they don't live the way God designed. Any generation who distorts their morals is a generation who forfeits God's plan and power.

Lets talk about the area of media for a minute. We all have our TV programs that we follow on a weekly basis...I'll be the first to admit it. But take a step back and look at media as a whole.

50 years ago...in 1962 for those of you who are bad at math...the #1 TV Show was The Beverly Hillbillies closely followed by The Dick Van Dyke Show.

In 1962, there was something called a government sensor. In 1962, TV shows were never allowed to show footage of the bedroom...and if they did, there were 2 separate beds. This sensor was in place because we, as a country, wanted to promote purity and clarity. It was designed to protect people and lift up the family unit that God created. Not even a hint.

What a change...today we have shows like the Kardashians, Millionaire Matchmaker, and the Bachelor...the enemy has infiltrated our media and has distorted what was once portrayed on screen as sacred. Now a days every show has some sort of sexual thread and vulgar language is strung through nearly every scene.

Society went from censorship to 'everything goes'. The enemy programs people(by way of society and media) to think that it's normal to have affairs and premarital sex and talk trash. Tyson made the comment that TV should be called 'hellivision' because it streams hell into your house.

Realize where we are headed as a world. Slowly but surely - we are pulling back the walls of morality and becoming a people of pleasure worshippers rather than a God fearing people. Satan programs us to think sin is okay. The distortion is louder than ever before...the devil is being bold. Revelation talks about the enemy coming after the church...and these days, you don't have to go far to hear the gospel of hell being proclaimed. Revelation also mentions that in the last days, Satan will be coming to the end of his term...and much like a candidate in an election, he will come guns blazing with all he has in order to get your vote. Think about it...if this world keeps on track the way it has been...where will we be in 50 years? Can it really get worse? How much farther will it go? We are in the last days...the closer we are, the harder the devil will fight.
Ephesians 2:2-10 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
The world is dying...it'll pass away...but the good news is that the Word remains forever (John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.)

Take note in that scripture where it says 'prince of the power of the air' (aka Satan). Think about all the old movie/TV sets you've ever seen or maybe a radio station...what is the phrase they use when they are broadcasting? "On Air" Hmm...I think I just read something about that in the Bible...in all seriousness though, through radio, movies, television and other media are the frequencies that sin is transmitted to the world. The devil controls the temporal airwaves...his influence in media is HUGE! The things on the screen are not from God...the things you see on TV are NOT normal! Sin is NOT okay! Why is society so fascinated with what's on the screen? - Because there is a spirit (the devil) influencing them and sending distorted messages.

The good news...give a sigh of relief...the devils day will come to a close.
Ephesians 6:10-13 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
When you go to battle, you have to wear the armor. You aren't in a physical battle (well, some of you might be...and thank you for serving our country) you are in a spiritual battle. I don't know if you are anything like me but when I read that I get sort of down because I'm not sure how to fight that exactly...there are days I wish I could just fight it out and land a few punches and be done with it...but that's not how it works. The way to fight is to put on the armor of God. The God we worship is more than enough...he is hope, he is light, he is the resurrection, he is the Alpha and Omega, he is everything and more. The way to fight the distorted images the world is believing and sending is to tell the world about the goodness of Jesus. Life in Him is better than living in a distorted, temporal world.
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Remember in 2 Timothy when he said that people would have the appearance of godliness? That means that people have the image but not the likeness...they deny God's power in their lives. You deny God's power by allowing the distortions to take hold in your life, by embracing distortions, and by living life your own way. Stop allowing distortions to wreak havoc in your life! Get the power back! You have to go through the sword and let your old man(flesh) die. Turn from the world's version of normal and realize that power comes from the Holy Spirit...be holy and pure.

You can't change your past or fix the distortion but you can have an impact on your future and your children and grandchildren's future. You have power within you that is greater than the world...His power overcame sin, darkness, hell and the grave! Begin to put down the world...turn off the TV and the computer...you won't die, trust me, just turn it off...you'll find that you were created for so much more than images on a screen.

The real normal is a life of holiness and purity. Live a life surrendered to Christ Jesus and there you will find the spiritual power to overcome the distortion. So many churches deny the power...we worship and then go live like the world. Going to church isn't good enough. God desires revival in this city and in your own life. Embrace his spirit and power.

It's so easy to blame the filth on the devil or people in the media industry...but the truth - if we stop buying it, they'll stop making it. Maybe not right away, but if there is no demand, then there will be no supply. Take your world back...you are called to be holy. Don't allow distortions to win the battle in your life. Put the world down so that God can speak into you and through you.

Simple Faith: Be Like Jesus

Last Thursday night, Jon continued the Simple Faith series with a message called 'Be like Jesus'. I really loved Thursday night because Jon communicated his heart for us as a ministry and as individuals. It was a really powerful moment that really connected with me.
2 Peter 1:3-11 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Kevin DeYoung wrote an article called 'The Hole in our Holiness'. I would highly recommend that you take the time to read it...it's not very long, the rest of this post relies heavily on the words written by DeYoung, and it would be such a benefit to you. Seriously...stop, click the link, and read that article before you continue with this post...
"God’s mission in the world is to save a people and sanctify his people. Christ died “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). We were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14)." - Kevin DeYoung
DeYoung also writes 'be careful how you walk'. Don't just be passionate about what you are saved from but also what you are saved to...Christ-likeness. Don't just play with Jesus and don't just play with the mission because it won't work. What we do, we do together as a ministry and the body of Christ. Individual failures are failures as a community. Are you really a disciple or are you just playing along? You must be like Jesus before you are used by Jesus.

If you have simple faith, trust int he gospel, and consider yourself a Christian - you must make every effort to live like Christ. The call of discipleship is a call to be like Jesus.

The Christian life begins when God calls you as a disciple. Your life is all about putting off old ways and putting on Christ-like ways. Note that Jesus called the disciples...they didn't go looking for it. It's not a decision...it's following. You come to a person that you are called to follow.

Forsake rebellion, respond in faith, accept righteousness. Don't live life on your own terms or love things that put Jesus on the cross. Grow and become more like Christ. Come out of rebellion and under God's rule. Verse 4 talks about coming out of our former life...escaping the corruption of the world. We have a new identity...to serve, obey and to be like him. The call is not just a mindset, it's a call on your life.

So the question then is: Are you a disciple?

If you have examined yourself, then you need to ask what does being a disciple look like in your life? True disciples make every effort to be like Christ. That statement directly contradicts today's cultural Christianity. True Christianity and discipleship takes work. So simply, start doing work...exhaust your resources. Christ-likeness is your #1 goal. The entire reason we love people, live in community, and evangelize isn't because those things are our goal...the reason we do those things is because Jesus did them and we want to be like him.

Now, let me clarify for a moment...we are saved by grace not by works. Nothing we can do will earn salvation. I'm talking about sanctification not justification. Justification is a one time thing that Jesus did on the cross...as my dad used to say 'just as if I never sinned' to help me remember the difference. Sanctification is the process of growing to be more like Christ. Once we are saved (by grace) we must work and strive to follow Jesus.

Now...2 Peter mentions 8 qualities that we should have.
Starting with faith...faith leads to virtue which means that we live a virtuous life, Jesus lived a perfect life and while we know we cannot attain perfection, we are to strive in that direction. Virtue leads to knowledge...we are to be students of the Bible, Jesus knew God personally...he has a relationship with him...we are to gain knowledge of God by studying. Knowledge leads to self control...we are to be constrained by God's will, living our lives only for Him. Self control leads to endurance...we are to run the race for the rest of our lives. Endurance leads to godliness...when we begin to reflect God's character and grab ahold of the fact that we are created in His image and likeness. Godliness leads to brotherly affection, which is love for others around you...and brotherly affection leads to love.

Verse 8 says that if these qualities are yours...and are increasing...then you won't be ineffective as a Christian. Make every effort to put on these qualities.

On the flip-side, if you don't have these qualities...

If you never change after you encounter God, you are blind to the reality of God. You don't know God or the truth of his word. You don't understand what is required of you. Unfortunately, these Christians are everywhere.

Examine yourself...are you so concerned with the world or yourself or the things that happen in your life that you've forgotten God?

You might ask, 'so is that Christian really saved if they don't have those qualities?' Well...stop...what I'm about to say is important. When we ask that question, we are looking for middle ground. It's easy to live that way, shirking our responsibilities...but there are only two options: you either radically follow the Lord or you don't. There is no middle ground.

Examine yourself again for a second...have you obediently listened to God's call and have you done what he commands of you? Have you felt his nearness? Are you more like Jesus now than the first time you met him?

If you answered no to any of these questions then you need to put your faith in him and begin to live the life he calls you to live. If you say 'well, I've just strayed a little'...then you need to come to Jesus in repentance and put your faith in him afresh.

Honestly deal with your sin. Examine your life. Too often, we encounter God...we stray...and then we're standing there confused (aka 'what just happened). We are to live lives of continual...note the word continual...repentance and faith. That's how you follow him day to day. The promise is the same...be diligent, if you practice these qualities then you have a place in the kingdom. Come, repent, have faith, go to work...you will see Jesus one day!

Jon shared that sometimes he thinks that maybe when he sees Jesus at the end of time, Jesus will look somewhat familiar to him. Because of the life we are called to, because of the Spirit growing us, after a full life of discipleship, we will partly resemble him. I wonder that if we can see Jesus in each other, if Jesus will be all the more familiar to us now and then.

Live a life that is passionately reflecting Jesus. Actively try to grow...ask yourself where do you need to follow God better. Meditate on 2 Peter 1:3-11. Be passionate for Jesus fame on campus, at work, and in every other aspect of your life. Holiness is not an option, it is our purpose as disciples.

Sanctity of Life

Before I start writing this post, I think it's important, like Joe said Sunday, to make sure that I take this "as seriously and sober-mindedly as possible". I mean, it's a really sensitive topic and one that I've dealt with through people I know and care about and one that I'm sure a lot of you who will read this have dealt with in some way as well.

This month marks the 39th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, legalizing abortion in our nation, stating that a constitutional right to privacy exists, thereby protecting a woman's right to have an abortion. President Reagan sanctioned the third Sunday in January as "Sanctity of Human Life Sunday" so Joe Lechner took the opportunity a week and a half ago to recognize and address that subject directly. I felt that it was definitely worth putting it up here.

There are an estimated 42 million abortions worldwide every year, 13 million abortions occur every year in China (the number obviously intensified, given the state-mandated "one child only" policy. In the U.S. there are an estimated 1.3 million abortions every year. It is, in fact, the most common surgery performed on women in America. At the current rate, at least one-third of all American women have had or will have an abortion by age 45, so when talking to someone, there is a strong likelihood that you are talking to someone who has been touched by this issue.

If the pro-choice people are correct, those numbers simply reflect the freedom of basic civil rights to choose; and if the pro life position is correct, then the roughly 3,750 abortions that occur every single day in this country are human casualties, more than all of the lives lost on September 11th.

Those are staggering numbers and accusations, but what it comes down to is one question. What is abortion?

No, let's to hold off on immediately appealing to the Bible for an answer because, like it or not, if you start there in our culture, you are likely to lose listening ears. So let's start by simply appealing to conscience and common sense.

"It is the hallmark of our relativism and subjectivism. We define our own realities, moralities, and sexualities. We redefined marriage, person-hood, and God Himself. In order to match things up to our own personal liking, we even redefine the truth about abortion itself when the stark reality is that it is child killing"-John Ensor
That is the core issue surrounding abortion, isn't it? The identity of the one aborted? For years, the way advocates for abortion have really prevailed upon popular opinion is by having people truly believe that the unborn are something less than a truly human child. The relativism in our culture still has a serious breakdown over this particular point.

Randy Alcorn writes, "Many of the same people who believe unborns are human and abortion is immoral, nonetheless choose to have abortions and defend abortions as legitimate. This proves they do not believe unborns are human beings in the same sense that they believe 3-year-olds are human beings. They don't believe abortion is immoral in the same way killing a 3-year-old is immoral. No one that considers an unborn child a full-fledged person can rationally defend abortions legality, unless they also defend legalizing the killing of other human beings. After all, every argument for abortion that appeals to a mother's inconvenience, stress and financial hardship can be made just as persuasively about her 12 year old, her husband, her parents. In many cases, older children can be just as expensive and place greater demands on their mother as an unborn child, but people immediately recognize those arguments are invalid when it comes to killing older children."
And that is why the acknowledgement of the unborn as just as much of a human being as a 3-year-old is crucial in this discussion. The problem is that unborn children do not appear to be fully human by those who are used to judging humanity by appearances. Last time I checked, early fetuses don't resemble children very much. However, in a purely objective, scientific stance, an unborn child, whether at one week or ten weeks or 40 weeks, is every bit as human as any other older child or adult. Any medical textbook or journal you can find will say so.

Dr. Alfred Bongioanni, professor of obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania, has stated "I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception. I am no more prepared to say that these early stages represent an incomplete human than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty is not a human being."
Jerome Lejeune, professor of genetics at the faculty of medicine in Paris has stated, "After fertilization has taken place, a new human being has come into being. This is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. "
These aren't pro-life men appealing to Christians with religious convictions. These are professors and scientists that are appealing to the very best evidence that science gives us. By 45 days, all the internal organs that the child will have as an adults are present and working, including the heart that would have been formed and working weeks ago, pumping blood throughout it's body. Appearance does not define person-hood, neither does level of development.

A 6-year-old is stronger and more developed than a 1-year-old, but not any less of a person.

Environment, contrary to popular opinion, also does not determine person-hood. A baby outside the mother's womb is no more of a human being than one that is still inside of the womb. Does living inside a house make you less of a person than living outside a house?

The only things making us difference than the unborn are size, development, environment, and level of dependency. None of these makes a difference in levels of humanity.

You can call it terminating a pregnancy, evacuating a uterus, reproductive management, abortion, . You can call it whatever you want, but no matter how you say it, it is taking human life. It is killing our children and our conscience should really be made to feel it.

In a prominent medical journal, a pro-choice advocate tells a nurse, "Through public conditioning, the importance of language, customs, and laws, the idea of abortion can be separated from the idea of killing"! That is insane! To separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing is to separate fantasy from reality. And, by the grace of God, scientific advances and modern technology have made it increasingly difficult to argue that the unborn are less than fully human. Religion, the Bible, and Christian conviction aside, the argument that it's not really a baby is less and less valid.

That is why the arguments have experienced an evolution, where the appeal is no longer being made to science. It's no longer asking science "is it human" because more and more science is saying "yes". Arguments have now shifted more toward philosophy. The question has now become, "Is it morally meaningful life?" This is a much more dangerous question because who decides who's life is morally meaningful and who's isn't?

If you want scary, look at the quotes from some of the leaders in academia today. Peter Singer, leader of ethics at Princeton says, " the life of the fetus is of no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal, at a similar level of rationality, self consciousness, and awareness." In another place, applying this philosophy not only to the unborn, but to infants, "When the death of a disabled infant saves the life of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the disabled infant as no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total  view, be right to kill him."

Dr. Charles Hartshorne of the University of Texas echoes Peter Singers ethics when he says, "I have very little sympathy with the idea that infanticide is just another form of murder." Persons who are already functionally persons in the full sense have more important rights even than infants."
Does this guy even listen to what he's saying? This is a philosophy that relates meaningful life with it's usefulness to society! So based on this ethic, it becomes morally permissible to kill the unborn based on it's relative functional usefulness and potential happiness in society, or if it's deemed it's potential happiness might be greater if it was dead! Once morality is defined by it's relative functionality or it's potential to produce happiness, there is nothing that cannot qualify.

We have seen this exact same ethic in history. It was the same ethic that condoned slavery, that Nazis used to determine that Jews' lives were not meaningful, and it's the same ethic that adults are using to murder unborn children. Relativity is a slippery slope, because no one is safe. You are not safe. It could be deemed that your usefulness is zero if your functionality is deemed to be zero or the relative amount of happiness that you produce is zero or less than someone else (typically someone in power).

Science and philosophy will eventually reach their limitations because eventually appeals to the unchanging, authoritative truth of God, as revealed in the words of God, must finally and ultimately be made. God alone, not ethics professors,  deems what is morally meaningful, no matter what anybody else says.Human beings are meaningful because we are created in the image of God.

[Psalm 139]

Human beings come into existence every day, created in the image of God, with souls that will live forever. There should be an awesome reverence that we feel for every human life from it's very beginning. And that reality ought to interpret our science, ethics, and morality; and it must be our ultimate appeal. When it's not, and we turn away from God and His word as our final standard, confusion and blindness reign in moral relativism and subjectivism. And we see it everywhere!

Although it is illegal to harm and abuse an unborn child through drug use, it is perfectly legal to kill that same child through abortion. A person who kills a pregnant woman can be charged and convicted of double homicide in some states. Consider the confusion of this double standard.

Randy Alcorn poses a situation when he writes, "When a woman is scheduled to get an abortion, but on her way to the abortion clinic, her baby is killed in utero, the baby's killer would be prosecuted for murder. But if this murder doesn't occur, an hour later, the doctor will be paid to perform a legal procedure, killing exactly the same child in a way that is probably more gruesome.Or consider this bizarre twist. If the same doctor killed the same child, not in the womb, but only an hour after he or she was born, he could be prosecuted for murder."
Moral confusion creates all kinds of moral inconsistencies. Perhaps the greatest example of this is in the attempting to make abortion primarily a woman's right issue. If you research this, you may be surprised to learn that historically the primary activists against abortion were actually women fighting for women's rights. They saw abortion as "the ultimate exploitation of women". It wasn't until much later, when a new breed of feminists emerged, notably Margaret Sanger, founder of planned parenthood, came along that they started to tie in the abortion debate with women's rights, so that abortion could ride on the coattails of legitimate women's rights issues. They link the two so that the abortion debate could progress, not of it's own merit, but purposefully on the merit of women's rights.

It wasn't until the 60's and 70's, mainly during the height of the sexual revolution that women began to embrace the pro-choice side of the abortion debate as a woman's right. Ironically, it does more to exploit women and encourage males sexual irresponsibility. It's no surprise that most of the people on the pro- life side are males between the ages of 20 and 45. I wonder why.

Not only does abortion hurt the unborn, but studies show that abortion leads to increased risk of breast and cervical cancer, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. I'm not sure that it's a coincidence that 56% of females suicides occur in China. It is the leading cause of death among rural women of China. It is the only nation in the world in which more women than men kill themselves.

The more and more this is becoming a philosophical and spiritual issue, the more and more we should become convinced of the satanic nature of this. I don't say it lightly and I mean it in all seriousness. Consider abortion from Satan's perspective for a minute.

Revelation 12:12 tells us: Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."
Satan knows that his time is short. It is only a matter of time, but it is a matter of time specifically linked to scripture, the fulfillment of the great commission. When that is fulfilled, the end will come, but not until. So Satan is a huge fan of abortion, because it takes aim at the great commission by eliminating as many people as possible who might otherwise receive and spread the gospel.

"For as wicked as abortion is itself, for the enemy of our souls, it is primarily a means to a greater end. The delay of the spread of the gospel. Abortion may very well be Satan's chief weapon against world evangelism today. Knowing that Christ won an inevitable victory at the cross, Satan is driven by a single terrifying reality. The culmination of his own fatal bruising approaches. God is sovereign over time, to Him it is a trivial matter, but Satan is bound to time and obsessed with it. All that he does, all his schemes and devices are calculated to buy more of it because he knows his time is short."~John Ensor
Today there are more tools and ways to spread the gospel everywhere on the globe than ever before. But it takes people to make the great commission happen. So from Satan's perspective, every child that comes to birth may grow to be one more Christ's follower. Why would he not using the mass child killing of abortion to delay that process? He used it to target Moses in Egypt and again in Jerusalem to target Jesus.

42 million children are wiped out every year before their first breath. That's a plan rightly called satanic.

Roe V. Wade acknowledged the fetus as a living person while inside the womb. This means that, legally, unborn children fall under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the United States constitution legally protecting them from being murdered. For Roe V. Wade to have passed, courts should have had to create a new amendment and courts were never meant to have that power. The Declaration of Independence says that all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable right that among these is LIFE.

Roe V. Wade, and therefore abortion, is illegal and unconstitutional.

The question is: What can we do?

ONE – Read and be informed. Know the facts and know the issues so that you can speak intelligently to people about this. It’s going to require more than a handful of Bible verses in order to win people over. Suggested resource: Why Pro-Life? by Randy Alcorn

TWO -Support and be involved in the Pro-Life ministries

THIRD – Give to Pro-life ministries. Most pregnancy resource centers are non-profits and are significantly dependent on the charitable giving of others to operate and provide services. Pray and consider making it part of your yearly charitable giving to support places like pregnancy resource centers.

FOURTH – Volunteer at Pregnancy Resource Centers or other Pro-Life ministries. If you don’t know what to do, there’s a great new ministry and website called http://www.cities4life.org/ that provides opportunities and information about how you can actively be involved in helping and serving and volunteering and ministering to women considering abortions.

FIFTH – Consider being on the front lines at abortion clinics appealing to and praying for women to choose life. These places, these women, and their babies are mission fields for the gospel in dire need of courageous and compassionate missionaries. Would you consider joining the mission field on the front lines. Again, http://www.cities4life.org/ is a good place to start to get more information.

[Don't just be on the front lines for the women going into the abortion clinic. Be there for them when they come back out, regardless of their decision. They need someone more coming out than they do going in a lot of the time.]
SIXTH – Be active in the political process. Meet, write, and call your representatives. Draft, circulate, and sign petitions for pro-life ballot measures. Vote.

SEVENTH – Adoption. It’s estimated that for every child that’s adopted in this country, 30 others are aborted.

LASTLY – (though even more could be added to this list) – Pray. Ultimately, our hope is in our Sovereign God for whom nothing is too hard and with whom nothing is impossible. Here are a few categories to help you in praying for this issue:
  • Pray that mothers would choose life and babies would be saved
  • Pray that the men involved would be courageous and responsible
  • Pray for those in the abortion business to be awakened to the evil of abortion
  • Pray for the closing of abortion clinics
  • Pray for the survival and success of ministries and centers seeking to help women choose life.
  • Pray for legislation and public officials that stand for life
  • Pray for the end of legalized abortion in this country and around the world
  • Pray for more Christian missionaries on the front lines of this mission field
  • Pray that the Gospel would triumph in the hearts and lives of these mothers, their babies, their families, and those in the abortion business.