Category Archives: Accepted

The Living God

My wife and I visited Nashville, Tennessee this summer.  At the end of our week there we visited one of the local attractions.  In Nashville there is a full size replica of the Parthenon – the classical Greek temple of Athena in Athens.  Apparently this replica was built to celebrate a Tennessee centennial celebration in the late 1890’s.  This replica Parthenon was truly imposing and impressive.  It was beautiful.  Inside the Parthenon was a forty foot statue of the goddess Athena arrayed in her armor with sword and shield beside her and the goddess Nike ready to crown her with victory.  Athena’s bright blue eyes stared out into her temple.  As I walked around this temple and gazed at Athena, I asked her some questions.  I asked her if she saw me.  I asked her if she had anything to say to me.  She didn’t say anything.  She didn’t look at me.  She just kept staring outward.  There was no life in her eyes.  She was, after all, just a statue.

This experience in the replica Parthenon was even more striking because of what we had experienced during the prior week.  You see, we were in Nashville for a conference hosted by Global Awakening.  It was a week of inspiring worship, challenging teachings and encouraging prayer times.  But more than that, throughout the week I heard God speak to me.  He spoke intimately, personally and deeply.  He touched wounded places and brought healing.  He affirmed who I was.  He knew me by name and He saw me.  I experienced the LIVING God!

And that is the difference between a beautiful, plaster-cast goddess and The Lord Almighty.  So maybe folks today aren’t worshiping Athena, but many, many people turn to the idols of this world – the shiny things, the causes, the power or fame, the possessions – for comfort, meaning or comfort.  “Does anyone SEE ME?” they cry out.  “Does anyone know ME?”  That is what we want, to count.  And yet just like that lifeless statue of Athena in Nashville, these idols are just as dead, lifeless and impotent.

The living God knows us.  He said to Israel and He says to us today, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isa 43:1).  He also says,” Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you (Jer 1:5).

So instead of pursuing the Athena’s of this world – the unmoving, unresponsive, unseeing idols – remember that there is a real, living God poised to respond to your deepest cry.  One who can speak into the secret places of your life to bring comfort and wholeness.  One who knows you by name.

So as beautiful the replica Parthenon is, I would much rather spend time in the temple of the Living God and have a conversation with Him.

The Other Eleven

Some stories in the Bible are so familiar that it is easy just to skim over them and not really think that there is much else to learn. For me, one of those stories is when Peter walks on water. It is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. (Matthew 14:22-32)

 So picture this scene in your mind. The disciples are in a boat struggling with a storm that came up suddenly. Then, out of the crashing waves and foamy sea, a figure appears, coming towards them. Any reasonable person would do what the disciples did – panic! Clearly this is some sort of supernatural entity, a ghost, in other words. What else could it be? Real people do not just walk on water. So they scream, call Jesus a ghost and cower in fear.

Most sermons that I’ve heard on this passage focus on Peter. Peter gets out of the boat!  Peter walks on water. Peter starts to sink. Jesus rescues Peter. Peter, Peter, Peter, blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that I am NOT Peter. I am still in the boat with the other eleven watching Peter’s adventure. I can imagine the thoughts and feelings running through their minds. “I’m not going out there! Maybe I should have? Is Jesus going to be mad at me, disappointed with me for not stepping out? I should have recognized Him? How could I not have recognized Him? What kind of idiot am I? What kind of disciple am I? I’m a failure. I missed a chance to show Jesus my faith in Him.” On and on it goes believing they’d “missed it.”

And yet we do the same thing. We are so quick to beat ourselves up when we think we don’t have enough faith, or we aren’t “doing enough” for Jesus. We so easily disqualify ourselves and we throw up our hands and give up. Well here’s the rest of the story. After Peter and Jesus get into the boat, those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33). The other eleven worshiped Him. They made Him the focus of their hearts and minds and did not wallow in self-pity. They recognized who He was and responded appropriately.

And let me remind you of one other thing. The other eleven in that boat were still sent out by Jesus to preach the Kingdom. The other eleven saw the resurrected Christ. The other eleven received the power of the Holy Spirit. The other eleven went out from Jerusalem and changed the world. They didn’t miss anything.

So, I want to encourage you today as you read this. If you are thinking that you’ve missed “God’s plan for your life.” (Play dramatic music here). If you think your faith isn’t strong enough or you’re too afraid or you can’t see how God could ever use you, remember that regardless of our weaknesses, our screw-ups, our lack of faith, Jesus is still the Son of God. That never changes. Just worship Him. He still loves you very much and hasn’t given up on you. You and the other eleven are in the same boat.

On Being the Lost Sheep

For some reason the Pharisees liked to hang out with Jesus and criticize everything He did. You would think after a while they would just learn to ignore Him. But they didn’t and Jesus took every opportunity to try to set them straight. This is the situation we read about in Luke 15:1-7. The Pharisees are complaining that Jesus hangs out with folks they considered “sinners.” Certainly these were people no self-respecting rabbi would associate with. So Jesus tells a parable that demonstrates His heart toward those very sinners – the lost sheep. But understand that the “lost” in this parable are still Jews. They are still covenant people. Jesus is not talking about Gentiles or unbelievers. He is talking to us – his people – and He is revealing His heart towards us when we get lost too.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

 First of all, notice that the entire flock has 100 sheep and the lost one belongs to that flock. It is not an outsider. It is one of the hundred! And even though this sheep may stray, it is not kicked out of the flock. It is not rejected. When He calls us to salvation and we respond in faith, we are counted among His flock. This means that we always belong to Christ. To me this is greatly encouraging – I know that I will always be His. It gives me great peace and comfort that once I am His, He will never kick me out of “His flock.” It establishes a relationship with Him that is stable not fearful.

But see also that it is possible, even within that stable relationship, even being part of the 100, to stray, to sin, to lose our way in being the kind of sheep He wants us to be. Being lost, sinning, in whatever form this may take – big or small, once or many times – does not automatically mean we are no longer His sheep. We may feel unworthy or condemned or ashamed, but that is us projecting those feeling unto God. That is not His heart toward us. I know that He does not reject me simply by looking at the shepherd’s response to the lost sheep – He goes looking for it! Jesus initiates the search. The individual was important. He didn’t content himself with just keeping the 99 and forgetting the one. No, Jesus perseveres in the search for the lost sheep. And He doesn’t give up until He finds it. Understand that Jesus will never give up on you! No matter how far you think you’ve strayed. How much you think you’ve disappointed Him. How ashamed or guilt-ridden you are.  He does not give up until He finds you wherever you are.

Not only does He search for us, when He finds us He then carries us back to the flock – back home to be with Him again. The sheep is lost and does not know how to come back. It would be lost forever if not for the shepherd’s action. Jesus carries the sheep back. The sheep is helpless to come back to the fold by its own power. We kid ourselves if we think we have the power within ourselves to “get our act together” or to “clean ourselves up.” We think we can do it ourselves and find our own way back to the fold. The only thing we can do by ourselves is get ourselves lost. We need Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit to show us the way back and carry us there. Again, this is terribly encouraging to me! Not only does He search and find me but He also restores me. It is His work from beginning to end.

But the story gets even better. When Jesus searches for us and finds us and restores us, He is not upset, peeved or annoyed. No, He rejoices. It gives Him great joy to have us with Him again. Why? Because a sinner has repented and been restored. Yes, the sheep needs to repent, but repentance is simply asking Jesus, our shepherd, to carry us back. It is not feeling sorry. It is not vowing never to stray again. It is not pulling ourselves out of whatever situation we’ve gotten ourselves into. Repentance is admitting that we are lost and we are not strong enough to find our way back. And when we do, not only is He happy but heaven breaks out into a party – noise makers and all!

This story, this parable, is simply a way for Jesus to let you know how precious and important you are to Him. You are His and will always be His. And even when you are not perfect – especially when you are not perfect – you can know that He has not and will not reject you.  Ask Him to carry you back. There is a party in heaven waiting to happen.

Scripture Download

I downloaded a Scripture reading app to my smartphone. The goal was to get through the Letters of Paul in 60 days. I’m 58 days behind schedule – sigh! Nevertheless, on day 2, I read the second chapter of Acts – the story of Pentecost. You remember, the fire, the wind – BOOM – empowerment! Then Peter gets up to address the gathered crowd. Here is where I pick up the story.

“But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:” (Acts 2:14-16)

As many times as I have read this before, this time I saw something totally new. Something I found profoundly fascinating – OK, besides the fire, wind and BOOM – and challenging. As Peter stood to preach to the crowd, he recited a long passage from the book of Joel. Later in the same sermon, he quoted from the Psalms. He did this from memory! He didn’t have a bible with him. He didn’t pull out his Galaxy tablet to look up the passages. He knew them. He had spent a lifetime reading, studying, hearing and memorizing the Scriptures and these became a treasure chest which the Holy Spirit could pull from at the right time.

A few years ago when I was going through a particularly difficult time, the Lord brought back to me a verse I had memorized when I first became a Christian. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-24). During that dark time, I would read and say this verse daily. It became to me a source of hope and encouragement. I knew He still loved me and would take care of me. I even wrote that verse on a piece of paper and kept it in my pocket. Every time I reached into that pocket and felt that paper I was reminded of God’s goodness. My point is that by memorizing that verse so many years ago, the Spirit had a deposit from which to speak directly to my heart. Over the years, He has also used other passages to enable me to help, pray for and encourage others.

You see, I think we need to make every effort to build a reservoir of Scripture in our hearts, a treasure chest for the Holy Spirit’s use. It would be honoring to Him to spend time reading, studying and, yes, even memorizing portions of Scripture for Him to have at the ready. Not that we are going to go around spouting Bible verses at people or use them as a hammer to beat people, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Scripture “pop to mind” as we are talking to a friend and our own words fail? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a little boost in our life when we hit a low spot? It’s not likely that we will spontaneously have to address thousands of people like Peter did, but if it happened wouldn’t it be great to be ready.

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you or create another “must do” rule for your life. I’m simply suggesting that we give the Spirit as many tools as possible to mold us into the image of Christ and make us more effective in our Kingdom calling. And what better way to do that than by depositing in our hearts the very words He wrote.

I Am Not A Worm

My son introduced me to a new term last week – worm theology. I had never heard this term below, so I googled it. I guess it’s been around for a while and it generally means having a very low view of oneself, believing that if we take on this “worm” mentality God will be more compassionate or merciful towards us. According to worm theology, we are to view ourselves as unworthy, undeserving, unfit and justly contemptible. We are nothing and deserve nothing. Worm theology is thought to be the same as humility. And this is how many Christians live – “wormy” – shoulders slumped, head bowed, shuffling through life, just another sinner barely able to lift our wormy head towards our Great and Majestic God.

I don’t think Christians should subscribe to this worm theology concept, but there is a place for it. Let me explain. Before we come to Christ, before we are saved, when we are in our “natural” state, we are, in fact, dead in our sin, enemies of God, slaves of unrighteousness, unworthy, unable to save ourselves, without merit to earn God’s love or grace. It’s a pretty bleak picture. Yes, we are worm-ish. And yet God looked upon sinful Man and chose to send His Son to save us. Even as worms, the Just One died for the unjust, the Sinless One died for the sinner. It can properly be said that we were sinners saved by Grace. If there is a time to apply wormly thinking it would be then – at our pre-Christian state.

But once saved by grace, a miracle happens in the life of this newly-minted Christian. The formerly wormy sinner is re-created as a child of God. A new creature has come into existence, one that reflects the image of God, a residence for the Holy Spirit. This new creature is called a saint – holy and set apart – a partaker in the divine nature. This new creature is promised glory in the future and freedom in the present. This new creature is guided, instructed, corrected and called into a wonderful life of Kingdom work by the King. It seems to me that such a creature is not a worm! And to view ourselves as worms is an affront to the work Christ as wrought in us.

Now let me be clear. It is completely appropriate to look back to our pre-Christ days and stand, or kneel, in awe that God saved wretches like us. His grace is amazing and undeserved. But we shouldn’t stay there. Instead we should stand, or kneel, in awe of what God did with this wretch. Look at the transformation! I am no longer a worm. I am a son! If that isn’t enough to cause us to worship our Father, I don’t know what is. Humility isn’t about constantly beating ourselves down. Humility is simply continually acknowledging that God did it all.

So dear Christian brother and sister, cast off your worm theology. Reject the false humility of worm-ish thinking and put on the “new man” formed by the Holy Spirit and being transformed into the image of Christ. That is how the Father sees you. That is how you can see yourself.

True Freedom

The United States just celebrated 238 years since that fateful day in 1776 when the colonies declared independence from what they considered an unreasonable and tyrannical British monarch. Since that time the principle of freedom – both individual and national – has been deeply ingrained into the American character. It is one of the highest values we hold and are willing to fight for. And yet while I am not making a political statement here, I think we deceive ourselves if we think that our government or any human institution can bestow or guarantee true freedom to individuals. Freedom – true freedom – can only come from a much higher and reliable source. Humans crave a freedom of soul and spirit than can only be granted by our great Savior. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

As I read Scripture there are three main areas in which Christ sets us free and these three freedoms form the basis of a healthy, dynamic and joy-filled life. As Christians we are free from the power of sin, we are free from the power of the Law and we are free from the fear of death. Each one addresses a deeply seated need in our spirits.

As we read Romans chapter 6, we hear Paul tell us that we have been freed from the power of Sin. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. “ (Romans 6:6).   Sin is no longer our master. In Christ we are no longer beholden to Sin; we are no longer compelled to carry out those desires and practices of our natural self that are so destructive and demoralizing. We have been unchained from Sin’s power to dictate our life course. Now, to me, that doesn’t mean I can’t sin. It means we have the ability to say no to sin. This freedom allows us as Christians to choose to obey God, to live godly, righteous lives, to pursue purity. Without this freedom from the power of Sin a relationship with the Father would be impossible and loving Him would be unattainable. Freedom from the power of Sin addresses our deepest need to know and be known by God.

Second, Christ’s life, death and resurrection freed us from the power of the Law. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). By that I mean our attempt to earn God’s acceptance by the adherence to a list of rules and regulations. Living under the power of the Law means we have to be “perfect” or we need to try harder to be perfect. We can’t step out of line or we risk God’s displeasure and rejection. We have to try to make ourselves good enough to be loveable. It is both exhausting and impossible to keep up this kind of life. Fortunately we don’t have to. Read all of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We are not made acceptable to God by our self-effort, but by placing our trust fully in Christ. Being freed from the power of the Law means we can rest in the completeness of his sacrifice, it means we can get off the treadmill of performance and breathe a sigh of relief.

Finally, Christ has set us free from the fear of death. “…through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14,15). Why does this matter? Because being free from the fear of death addresses our need to know that there is something “more” than just this life. Death is not the end for us who believe in the power of the resurrection. We do not cease to exist. We do not face an eternity of emptiness. We look forward to that day when we see him face-to-face and feel his embrace. This assurance enables us to face the difficulties of this life and the possibility of persecutions with another-worldly joy knowing that death has no grip on us.

When I consider all that Christ has won for me – freedom from the power of Sin, the power of the Law and the fear of Death – I can’t help but stand in awe, grateful and joyful. I am free to be all that God has made me to be. I am free to live! Now that is freedom worth celebrating with some fireworks.

The Successful Christian Life

How do we define “success” when it comes to Christian ministry? For some it might be by the size of the church congregation or by being an internationally known conference speaker or by the number of music albums recorded. Perhaps we should count the number of healings attributed to our ministry or responses to our altar call. But these measures only apply to the professional ministry, what about the vast majority of ordinary, everyday Christians? How do we define a successful Christian ministry for the stay-at-home mom or the single dad who only sees his kids every other weekend or the college student trying to resist the pull of the world around them? What does success mean to them? What does “ministry’ even mean to them? We look up from our corner and think, “if I was a really good Christian, then I should be doing more.” And the full-time pastor looks at the bigger church down the street and thinks, “If I were more spiritual, I could have a bigger church.” We’ve based our value and idea of success on some vague concept of accomplishment that has more to do with the world’s values than Christ’s values.

Jesus dealt head on with this concept of “successful ministry” and totally flipped it on its head. The story is found in the Gospel of Luke. After sending seventy-two of his followers on a “ministry trip” they return ecstatic, flushed with success. Here’s what happens next.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  (Luke 10:17-20)

They had been out traveling throughout the area preaching the good news of the Kingdom, healing and casting out demons. Even the demons had to do what they said. If that isn’t successful ministry I don’t know what is. But Jesus stops them short, “do NOT rejoice that the spirits are subject to you…” What? What could be better, more exciting than that? “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” He goes on to say. For Jesus, it wasn’t about all our “doings” or even how well we did them. For Him, the most important thing is our “being.” Having our names written in heaven means that we are known, intimately, individually, personally, deeply; it means being included and accepted. Now THAT is a successful Christian life. And the most beautiful part is that the great book has the names of the little child who simply understands that “Jesus loves me this I know” and the mega-church pastor, both their names are written in the same column on page 127,284 in the same size font, not because they did something special but because they are equally loved. All the names are there because of His incomprehensible love for us, not because of any impressive deeds we think we have done.

So let me ask you a question. Is it enough? Is it enough for you simply to know that your name is in that book or do you still strive to “do something great for God?”   Are you delighting in being known or are you chasing some other measure of success? I honestly don’t know what the successful Christian life looks like, it will be different for each of us, but I do know that right now He is reading my name in His book and smiling. It doesn’t get better than that. This is me – rejoicing.