Monday, March 26, 2018

Jesus Has Left the Building... Or Has He? (with Guest-Writer, Brittany Whitcher)

Our teenage daughter was unusually snappy a couple of weeks ago; distant, reserved, short. Instead of addressing it, I decided to pray, observe, and wait. And guess what? It wasn't her, it was me. I was distracted, giving her little time, little attention, little care. Words were not enough. I would have to prove I loved her by giving up something valuable--just for her--again and again. I did. And she responded. How did I know it would work? I followed a great example: God.

God showed His love for me by sacrificing His greatest treasure--Jesus, the most valuable asset in the universe--to meet my need. I have no way to come to Him; I cannot earn His favor or grace, but because of Jesus, I no longer face condemnation and judgment. Now that I belong to Him, He has given me the ability, by His Spirit, to love others.

Here's a  jump that could put some of you on the defensive. That's not my intent, so please hear me out.

Christians--fundamental, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, conservatives (we know who we are)--when people around us are snappy, maybe it's because we aren't loving them the way God loves us. Yes, the gospel is offensive. But look. Stop, look, and ask, "What am I sacrificing to meet _______'s  needs?" Personally, I don't have this nailed down and I never will. Pride rears its ugly head over and over and I struggle to be like Jesus--but despite personal failures, our family strives to love our community, neighbors, and schools. They are our friends, classmates, fellow parents, and community. We know them, pray for/with them, and give of ourselves because of Jesus.

So here's what's been rolling around in my noggin. How many school shootings, bullying issues, drug overdoses, and suicides could be averted if more authentic, Jesus-filled students attended public school? If you hear yourself saying, "That's not my problem," I think there's something bigger going on.

But if you love your neighbor as yourself, if you want a different, God-honoring neighborhood, community, and society, think about how God could use you to love others. What does it look like when compassionate Christ-filled students sit with lonely, rejected, hurting ones? When praying students walk to and from class silently lifting up teachers, support staff, and students? When thoughtful students meet for Bible study or prayer once a week (yes, they can)? When caring students ask questions, see needs, and look for answers? I'm here to tell you if they don't, someone else will. Confused, hurting, and needy people prey on confused, hurting, and needy...creating a cycle of self-destruction.

What if godly, caring parents were in classrooms, interacting with teachers, diligently praying, serving students, going on field trips, getting involved in school boards, holding after-school Bible clubs? What if someone cared? Someone with real answers? Someone who offered the lifeline of Jesus--only Jesus--because they lived, looked, and acted like Him? What would our society look like if people of hope intersected hopelessness? If joy took on despondency? If freedom encountered slavery? If love, people of love, simply cared?

Society has not taken God out of schools. We have. Christians. Parents. And we still are. But Jesus has not left the building.

Anywhere God's children reside, He is there. Our children do not go to school alone. He is with them. Their family and church are praying with and for them; they know what's going on and offer support. Christian children in public schools grow in their dependence for God, their love of others, and their knowledge of personal sin.

If you are a parent you may ask, "What about our kids?" Listen to the voice of Brittany Whitcher, daughter of David and Melissa, who wrote this paper as a school assignment for her high school English class:

Our Purpose is the People: What I’ve Learned In a Public School by Brittany Whitcher

I spent the first several years of my life as the typical Christian homeschooled kid. My parents were missionaries, and we traveled around the country almost constantly. My mom would teach us in a little room in the corner of our house, and the only kids I ever saw were the children at churches or the ones I passed in the grocery store. 
The real, unsaved world was foreign to me, and an environment I never believed I would really be submerged in. When we moved to Texas and I was enrolled in a public school, I was in for a huge perspective change. 

The Wrong View
As a child, I took to heart the admonishments of my Sunday School teachers: “Be careful who you are friends with!” and “Don’t let the world influence you while you spread the Gospel!” I interpreted this mostly as, “Stay away from the unsaved, unless you are immediately witnessing to them!” 
Without knowing it, I had developed an erroneous but understandable fear of, and even a sort of disgust for those who were not saved. 
I never saw myself as mean. I was kind to everyone, and those who were kind to me in return became my friends. But when I saw someone acting up, doing what I had always been taught was wrong, I watched from the sidelines in horror and steered clear of them. 
There is nothing wrong with avoiding sin and trying to dodge destructive relationships. However, it does become wrong when we begin to despise and fear the people. Even up until recently, I found myself almost hating those who were rude, disrespectful, and obviously unsaved. 

The Godly View
I didn’t realize how much I despised my fellow classmates and how wrong I was until I was reminded of a verse from Matthew. Jesus, in the midst of His ministry and being assaulted with hatred from the Pharisees and religious Jews, looks out upon the people, and has compassion on them. 

‘But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”’   Matthew 9:36-38

Wow. Though Jesus had every reason in the world to despise the Jews for consistently disobeying God, and though he knew that they would all deny Him and cry out for His death, He looked at them and felt compassion for them. He saw the crowds, lost with no purpose in life, no true happiness, and no loving God to guide and care for them, and He pitied them.
Now, Jesus by no means loved their sin. He hates sin. The Bible says that those who sin are at enmity with God. The question is, does He want any man to be His enemy? Certainly not! Do not forget the widespread, moving verse:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him, should not perish, but have eternal life.”    John 3:16

With these verses in mind, I now see my classmates in a very different light. That one boy, with a problem with authority and a foul mouth? How sad and pointless his life must be! That one person, so obviously addicted to drugs? What hopelessness and hunger for more must have led them to seek solace in such a substance! They may not see their own lives in so harsh a light, but it is true. Without God, we are every one deprived and helpless. 
By what leaps and bounds would our ministry grow if we saw every sinner as God sees them! 

The Reason Behind the Sin
Upon coming to the realization that my entire viewpoint on my fellow man was wrong, I began to wonder: why do we let ourselves be so blinded to the truth?
The only answer I could come up with was this:
We are proud of being Christian. We take pride in the fact that we know what is sin and that we avoid the atrocities of the world. We look at our Christian upbringing with pride, and admiringly examine our daily Bible and prayer time. The fact that they would choose to do what is so obviously wrong automatically makes us see them as beneath us. 
To sum it up, we show off the gift that was given to us freely, which we really did not deserve. We take pride in the fact that we simply accepted salvation. We brag about God’s endless work in us, which we could never accomplish ourselves. We look back upon our upbringing which we had no way of controlling and shake our heads at those who were not so fortunate or blessed. 
If God were to take away what He had freely bestowed upon us, and is abundantly willing to bestow upon anyone else, we would be just as bad as them, if not worse. 
So, it is nothing other than pride that causes us to hate the unsaved and look down upon the lost.

Our Purpose
So what do we do now? 
We understand that our previous bitter views stem from irrational pride.
We see that the unsaved are no worse than us, and that if we are truly being Christlike, we will love them and have compassion on them.
What comes next?
Notice the last few sentences of the passage from Matthew. Jesus says that there are not enough laborers to take in the blooming harvest. 
In other words, there are plenty of people out there who need to be saved, and who would be saved, but there are not enough Christians out there labouring in the field of souls, working to lead the hearts of men to the threshing floor of the cross. 
So, what is our purpose when we are thrown out into the world? What should we be doing while we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses? 
The answer is simple. 
The people are our purpose. We should be always receptive to the Holy Spirit, constantly looking for opportunities to share the amazing love of God with the people we come in contact with. We were put on this earth to glorify God, and what better way to do so than by bringing more men and women to an awareness of His glory and wondrous gift? 

Lord, open our eyes so that we see the people as You see them: lost, as sheep without a shepherd. Help us to recognize our purpose and pursue it. Give us a burden for the people, we pray, and enable us to spread the Gospel lovingly and unashamedly, labouring diligently to bring in the harvest of souls.

If you believe God can use you, your children, and your family to love your community through the public school system, pray, do your homework, and get ready for a great adventure!

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  (1 Corinthians 5:9-12)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:15-19)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Overcoming Sin: A Practical Guide

I was starting to notice a lack of self-discipline in a number of areas of my life. Maybe you're familiar with the I-don't-like-myself-when-I-do-that feelings. Pair that with sideways glances from others and, if you're like me, you know it's time to take action. God's Spirit and Word have brought conviction, others have affirmed it, and it's up to me to cooperate with God's process of change.

Sin can be addressed with many different passages of Scripture but the process is the same: stop practicing sinful behavior, renew the mind, and start practicing God-pleasing behavior (Ephesians 4:22-24, Colossians 3:8-10, Romans 12:1-2).

With that in mind, I pulled out a step-by-step guide from 2 Peter and reminded myself of these truths:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4 NIV)

I can enjoy and live a vibrant spiritual life, the life of God Himself, by knowing, clinging to and applying my knowledge of God. How?

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV)

Faith, (Greek pistis: conviction of truth, belief). It all begins with faith. The book of Hebrews says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). That same verse says faith believes 1) God is who He says He is and 2) He will do what He says He will do. What does God say about my current thoughts, attitudes and behavior? Do they reflect faith or unbelief? Do I honestly believe God will allow me to suffer the consequences? I'd better believe it.

Goodness (NIV), virtue (NKJV), moral excellence (NASB), (Greek arĂȘte: a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action”). Once I examine my faith and understand what God says about my sin, am I willing to obey? Do I agree that God’s idea is a more excellent idea than mine? That my disobedience is wrong? Do I want to do good? When I don’t want to change, I am learning to ask God for help. He wants what is best, which is why He's convicting me. I need to ask Him to help me repent—to turn away from what I want and toward what He wants.

Knowledge (Greek gnosis: understanding, moral wisdom). Once I'm convicted of my sinful behavior and committed to God’s good purpose, I must figure out how to apply it. What needs to change? How? What practical steps can I take to reach my goal of change? Keep a more orderly house? How? Lose weight? How? Say no to addictive substances or relationship? How? What kind of tools are available?Whatever the struggle, no matter what the sin, this is where I need to come up with a nuts-and-bolts plan.

Self-control (Greek egkrateia: to master desires and passions). Now that I have a plan, I must do it, exercise it, work it out. Prayerfully, dependently, I am called to learn and apply what I know to my desire for change, believing God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.

Perseverance (Greek hupomone: steadfastness, constancy, endurance).  I can’t do it once and be done. I have to apply self-control over and over and over. This is yet another opportunity to cry out to God, trust, and obey.  When I fail (and I will), I must go back to the beginning and work my way through each step, looking for weakness. Did I get tripped up because of unbelief? A wrong motive? Weakness in the plan? Or failure to execute the plan?

Godliness (Greek eusebeia: reverence, piety toward God). As I gain ground and taste success, I must stop and check my motives. Who am I doing this for? Myself or God? And who is getting the credit for change? Myself or God? Am I growing in godliness or selfishness?

Mutual affection (NIV), brotherly kindness (NKJV, NASB) (Greek philadelphia: love of brothers or sisters). As I grown in godliness, I need to check my relationship with others. Am I preferring others ahead of myself? Or is my focus on personal growth and change? As God works to put off my sinful nature and put on Christlikeness, I should become more aware others, not less aware.

Love (Greek agape: affection, good will, benevolence). The goal of change is greater love for God and others evidenced in personal sacrifice and service. The sin struggle which once brought death, slavery, and an inability to glorify God will, in Christ, produce life, freedom, liberty, and glory always, only to our great and awesome God.

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:4-11 NIV)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"I Want More"

It's been a while since I've shared notes from my personal Bible reading. This is what God used in my life today. Perhaps it will encourage and strengthen you as it did me. If my chicken-scratchings don't make sense, get out your Bible and read along. Ask God for help. He always reveals Himself as we seek him.

This passage is especially relevant for those of us in ministry.

Numbers 16-17 Korah's Rebellion, Aaron's Budding Rod

16:2 It wasn’t just Korah, there were 250 leaders, “men of renown,” who challenged Moses

16:3 These men said to Moses, “’You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?’”  (How human!)

16:4 Moses didn’t get defensive or fight back. He fell on his face…. Humility. It was all about whom God chooses, not who chooses God (v. 5, 7).

v. 8-11 Moses: God chose you and is using you. Isn’t that enough? Why are you seeking what isn’t yours?

v. 12-15 Moses called out Abiram and Dathan but they stayed in their tents, refusing to confront Moses, complaining behind his back, agreeing with Korah.

v. 16-17 This was their opportunity to say, “No, I was wrong. Forgive me!” Instead, they brazenly acted as Aaron before the LORD.

v. 28 Moses, “…this is not my doing.” God was the one at work, not Moses.

v. 41 Apparently the people didn’t learn b/c they  grumbled against Moses for those who died—and God, in His wrath, sent a plague. At Moses’ command, Aaron stopped it with a censor and incense.

17 God confirmed Aaron with the sign of the budding rod to keep the people from grumbling and dying.

Application: When I don’t like God’s work or doing, I need to humble myself as Moses did—waiting on God to reveal Himself, trusting Him, obeying Him regardless of the outcome. This is not about me; it’s about God. I have GOT to get that in my head and heart! Every day, every moment. That was Moses’ life-view after the burning bush—this is not my parade, this is all about God doing what He will do, with whom He will do it and I have NO idea what that’s going to look like. Moses did not come up with the plan to set the Hebrews free. He did not take it upon himself to challenge Pharaoh. He did not choose to lead Israel, set up the priesthood, or deliver the Law. He did not pursue the lead position of a grumbling, obstinate people. God put him there. God chose Aaron for Aaron’s job; Miriam for Miriam’s job; Korah for Korah’s job. Discontent breeds disobedience.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

emPHAsizing the Wrong syllABle

It's important to pronounce someone's name correctly. One of our Chinese friends asked us to call him, "Lee." My husband pressed him for his personal name (instead of his common family name). Finally he said that when Americans say his Chinese name, it is offensive because we rarely get the correct inflection. At the time we had no idea what he was talking about. Now we know enough to graciously call international friends by their chosen name.

Putting the emphasis on the right syllable makes a difference. Most American names emphasize the first syllable: Jordan, Caleb, Jessica, Anderson, Kreuger.... But many Spanish names emphasize the second syllable: Ramon, Sofia, Rodriguez, Dominguez....

The same can be true of our relationship with God. When we put the em'phasis on the wrong syllab'le (as my mom used to say), it makes a difference. As a child, my impression of God and His expectations was all about doing the right thing. As a first-born people-pleaser, I know how to make that happen most of the time. Once I understand the expectations and parameters, let me at 'em. I will do my best to exceed the standard.

The problem with applying that to the Christian life is that it's all wrong. That was the point of the whole Old Testament--no matter how good, important, or earnest an individual or nation was, they couldn't "get it right." No one could keep God's law. No one meets the expectation. So why has that become a goal in our lives and churches? In my way of thinking, it's the right place to start, especially with children, but there has to be more.

Just as we get to know individuals and pronounce their names correctly, as we get to know God, we learn that His emphasis is on love, not doing, or performance. It takes a while for us to come to the end of our pride and efforts, throwing ourselves on His grace. It takes repeated failure before we humble ourselves and acknowledge our limitations, cry "uncle," and rest on Jesus' complete payment for all sin.

We cannot, we will not, love others without kickback. If there's nothing in it for me, I have no time or interest in someone else's needs (see Romans 3:10-12, John 15:4-5). Loving others at my expense is a supernatural, God-empowered response to His love for me. Until I am aware of, embracing, and basking in God's love for me, I will never love others. That is why love is the true test of Christ (John 13:35). If you wonder how you're doing, ask the people you live with. No love. No Jesus. Know love. Know Jesus. It's that simple--and that impossible.

To emphasize holiness and right living at the expense of love is to miss out on God Himself.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:7-16)

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

Friday, March 2, 2018

On the Road Again

This may be a negative post--or a realistic one. I'm not sure.

As I lingered in the "fast" lane behind someone who couldn't get traction and move ahead of three semi-trucks on the interstate this week, I found myself chanting, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." It wasn't particularly productive. Getting frustrated wasn't helpful. All I could do was wait and pray.

And as I followed, 10 cars behind, I began to wonder if maybe the person in front was an optimist and I was a pessimist. The longer it continued, the more I realized it's an American problem called "delusions of grandeur," maybe greed, maybe pride. We all struggle with it to one degree or another--and it stands in stark opposition to Jesus Christ.

In the good old days, perseverance led to progress. The goal wasn't self-directed or self-realized; it was achievement for the everyone's benefit. The little blue engine was delivering good things to the boys and girls on the other side of the mountain. He wasn't in it to say he made it to the top; it was a service for others.

In a feel-good, self-esteem-led society, individuals have taken the mantle of "I can be whatever I want" or "I can do whatever I want," at the expense of others. And, guess what? We can't--not without consequences, regret, and destruction.

On the interstate, a car can only go so fast. Each driver has experiences, capabilities, fears, and inhibitions that affect his or her driving. Each driver's choices affect others and an inability to gauge reality puts others at risk. When a person puts him or herself at the center; his or her desires ahead of others, the result is chaos, confusion, and every form of evil (James 3:16)--i.e. school shootings, suicide, self-harm, murder, the opioid crisis, domestic violence, the list could go on.

Reality, to the contrary, recognizes limits, abilities, resources, and opportunities. We are who we are--physician, mechanic, teacher, musician, farmer, secretary--where we are, doing what we do. No one has more or less value. Jesus, (God), considered each of one of us ahead of Himself and that's a very different kind of reality--one that only God can accomplish.

To be like Christ is to value those around me at the cost of His life--and mine. The call is to be who I am for the glory of God; to serve those around me, loving them, for the glory of God; to live in a way that values and benefits others to the glory of God.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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

Do all things without complaining and disputing... (Philippians 2:3-14 NKJV)

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)