Resolution or the Opposite?

Every January first, thousands of us resolve to make some changes. We’re gonna do it RIGHT this year, yes sir. Haven’t up until now, but this year will be different! Armed with steely determination, we throw ourselves wholly into the new project, goal, or dream, certain that this year will be the year.

So how long does your resolve usually last? Have you given up by tax day? Valentine’s Day? January 2?

The problem with resolutions is that we have no fuel for them. We are trying to drive to Alaska on a half tank of gas. Willpower. Determination. Disgust. Shame. Guilt. Whatever fuel we are using, it burns out long before we want it to. With a sigh of defeat, we go back to our comfort zone and hope for next year. I stopped making resolutions years ago when I learned how weak my own resolve can be. 

So then how do we make those important life changes? The answer is opposite of what we think. Our natural approach is to grab hold of that goal and go after it with gusto. We make it our focus, think about it, plan for it, and obsess over it. Until we wear out and shuffle back to the old habits.
That approach is backward.

The more we focus on something, the less likely we are to see the results we want. That goal becomes our new god, in a sense. We think about it, sacrifice for it, plan around it, and serve it. Making something or someone our god never works out well. We must come face to face with our own weakness and limitations. When we stop believing that we have the strength and goodness to fix ourselves we are starting to get closer to it.

As long as we hang on to an issue, it still belongs to us. A past littered with broken resolutions proves our inability to accomplish what we desire. A resolution assumes that we will draw on some inner reserve that may or may not be there. Rather than grab that goal and resolve, we have to let go of it. When we scoop up that desire, goal, dream, or plan and hand it completely over to God, it is no longer ours to control. It is no longer our right to do or not do as we please. It is His now.

If every January first you resolve to lose weight and you have little to show for it, the issue may be that you are trying too hard. You may be thinking about it too much and sabotaging your own success. When you hand control of your entire body to the lordship of Jesus, weight is no longer the focus. Glorifying God and worshiping Him become the focus. When you truly surrender your body as His holy temple, you view it differently. If He really controls it, He gets to decide what goes into it--or what goes on it. 

Rather than obsess over the way you look, you will ask yourself: Is my Master glorified with these 100 extra pounds? With the way I dress? Talk? Entertain myself? Does my life reflect the self-control of the Holy Spirit?

So think about your life for a moment: Does your weight, your habit, or your addiction indicate that something other than God is mastering you?

When we realize we are allowing someone or something besides God to control us, we must surrender it. To refuse to do so is idolatry. Victory does not come from trying harder. It comes from surrendering more.

Success may require many hours on your knees, times of fasting, and increased saturation in His word. But as we allow the power of the Holy Spirit to peel from us all the things have mastered us, we find that we are walking in victory without even trying. Food is not your enemy. That relationship is not your enemy. Satan is your enemy and he will use whatever entices you to try to control you.

Resolutions only entrench us deeper in shame and defeat. We don't have what it takes to walk in victory, but God does. Try fully surrendering those areas you want to change and see what He does this year.


The Real Star

The undisputed star of the Christmas story is the Son of God. From the moment the angel Gabriel announced the news to Mary, God’s plan to redeem sinful man was set in motion. But Jesus did not begin as a baby in Mary’s womb. He existed as God before time began (John 1:1-3, 17:5).  He agreed to humble Himself, to set aside His rights as God to be worshiped and obeyed, and take on the form of frail humanity. As God, He already knew what this would cost Him; yet, He chose to be the final sacrifice so that our sins could be forgiven.

Imagine the humiliation of God becoming a baby, parented by the very people He created! Jesus was raised in a blue-collar home, by imperfect people. He had brothers and sisters, chores, and homework. He had to go to school, learn carpentry, and rediscover truths that He and the Father had spoken into existence before the world began. The One who had commanded angels and placed the planets in the universe would now be limited by space and time. As a human, He stubbed His toe, held His tongue, and suffered rejection, mockery, pain, and sorrow. As great as Mary’s sacrifice was to bring Him into the world, His was greater by agreeing to come. That baby in the manger has reigned forever as the King of Kings. It is only because God became human that we can become the children of God.

Are you tempted to think of Baby Jesus as merely an infant in the nativity? Have you considered that He has always existed or that He is the same God who now reigns from Heaven. The scripture says that Baby Jesus will one day judge those who refuse to accept His sacrifice. Will you meet Him one day as Savior or Judge?

Stars of Christmas--Shepherds

A dozen eyes blinked at the night sky long after it had grown silent. Had they really seen that? Heard that? Angles? They pulled their gaze from the sky to stare at each other. Nothing had changed. They were still dirty, rough, uneducated. They were still just shepherds. 

But the angel’s words echoed in their hearts: “Unto you is born this day…” “Unto you…” Unto us? Everyone knew the stories about a Messiah coming one day, but wouldn't he come to the palace? Wouldn't Herod and the leaders be the first to know?  Unto us a child is born? Something stirred within the shepherds' hearts. God had come, the angels said. God was here and He had told them first.

How fast they must have run to see if this was true. It was. God was here, in the flesh, in a cow trough with a couple of peasants to guard him. The Messiah had come and it was nothing like they had imagined it would be. It was better. He had come for them, for dirty, rough, uneducated shepherds. They could do nothing but fall to their knees and worship this God-Who-Came-To-Earth. 

And in bowing, they changed. They bowed before Him as unworthy shepherds, but rose from their knees with a new identity. They were no longer “just shepherds;” they were God’s messengers. They had been chosen by Him to spread the good news, and they would never be the same.

Have you heard the angels’ words: “Unto you a child is born?” Have you bowed to worship him? We bow before Him as unworthy—just a mom, just a truck driver, just a lawyer—but we rise to our feet changed. We are given a new identity: God’s messengers. Have you recognized that He came for you? The invitation to come and see still stands. When we bow before Him, we are never the same.


Stars of Christmas--King Herod

Every story has a bad guy. 

In the Christmas story, the bad guy was King Herod. We can easily write him off as total evil—a jealous baby-killer. But we should take a closer look. We all have a little Herod in us. 

Herod heard that his position was about to be threatened. Someone was about to rock his world and he panicked. Fear and self-protection became his only focus. He had no idea the part he was playing in God’s story. He could only think of himself and protecting what was his. In that frame of mind, he could excuse the inexcusable. Aren't we all like that at times?

How many mistakes have you made because you panicked? How many decisions were made from self-interest and self-protection? Only in hindsight did you realize the consequences of those choices. If Herod had consulted God’s word, sought the will of God, and made his decisions based upon wisdom rather than selfish desire, his part in this story would be drastically different. But like us, he didn’t. He chose to act from self-interest and what seemed right to him at the time. The results were tragic.

How well can you identify with Herod? Have you ever made decisions based on self-protection, jealousy, or greed? Have your poor decisions cost others? Wisdom comes when we are honest with ourselves about our own selfish desires. 

God can help us overcome those selfish motives and make decisions that honor Him.


Stars of Christmas--Joseph

We don't know much about the man who was chosen to raise the Son of God. Scripture is silent for a reason, because regardless of their crucial roles, this was not about Mary and Joseph. 

Joseph appears to have understood that. From the start, he gracefully embraced the role God had for him. In a culture where virtue was highly valued, he chose to marry a woman who was pregnant with a child that was not his. He chose to raise a son he did not create, and face gossip, scorn, and criticism from those who knew them. He accepted God’s plan to be the protector and provider for Jesus, even though he would not see the end of the story from this side of heaven. He chose to allow his reputation to be tarnished, his character defamed, and his future altered in order to obey God’s higher call. He had to trust that his reward would come from God. 

Obedience to God is often costly. Faith is obeying God even when we don’t understand our part in His story. Are you willing to take allow your life to be altered in order to obey God? 

What might total obedience cost you?


Stars of Christmas--Mary

Some have called her a liar, others have called her a goddess. 
Some have denied she existed, while others have treated her as a queen. 
So what's the truth about Mary, the mother of Jesus, 
               and what does God want us to learn from her life?

By historical accounts, Mary was very young, 13 or 14 years old, when the angel appeared to her. She already had a solid faith in the Lord God of Israel and expected, along with everyone else, that the Messiah would come soon. Mary was only a fallible human like us. What set her apart was her attitude of submission to God and her willingness to cooperate with whatever God chose for her.

Every young girl in Israel hoped she might be chosen to bear the Messiah, but the way God’s plan unfolded was nothing like anyone had expected. Instead of instant stardom and honor, God’s plan for Mary required sacrifice, pain, and rejection. Mary knew that she would have to let go of her own dreams in order to fulfill God’s purpose for her. Her response to the angel Gabriel models for us the obedience God desires when he speaks to us: "Truly I am the Lord's servant. Let everything you have said happen to me"(Luke 1:38).  God chose Mary not because she was perfect, but because he knew her heart. She was “highly favored” by God because she wanted to please Him no matter what it cost her personally. That attitude of surrender was the reason God could trust her with His most precious gift.

Can God trust you? When He calls your name, what is your response? Do you resist? Make excuses? Or blatantly disobey? We have a choice. We can cling to our own plans, or we can answer as Mary did: “I am Your servant. Let it be as you have said.” When we respond as Mary did, God can then do great things through our lives.


Why do you do what you do?

If you are a Christian, are you invested in eternally significant lifework? Do you serve God regularly, and if so, why? Some Christians  recognize they have a duty to serve God, so they force themselves to perform Christian-type activities. Some ignore service altogether. Some have a genuine passion for people and feel satisfied in helping them. But others carry lifelong  guilt that they should've and didn't.

Maybe this illustration will give you another motivation to consider:

My dad was a farmer. He was always working in his slow, purposeful way. I can still see his long-legged strides as he went about his constant work with patient enjoyment. As a child, I loved skipping next to him, chattering as I hung on his hand or a belt loop, ready to do whatever he was doing. He would send me on errands--"Run get me that bucket" or "Fill up this feed trough." He taught me to be still and let the cattle come to me. He showed me how to give tender care to the sickest ones and isolate the ones that caused trouble. I had no real love for the cattle or any true understanding of the importance of the work.  I only knew that this was important to my father and he wanted me to help him. I enjoyed it because I wanted to be with him, doing what he was doing. If that relationship had not been healthy, the work would have been drudgery. My motivation was the desire to be with my dad. He would praise me and tell me how much help I was, and I was young enough to believe him.

He's been gone more than 15 years, but my life motivation hasn't changed. My Heavenly Father moves through this world with a steady stride, accomplishing what He has purposed to do. I chatter alongside Him, hanging onto his belt loop with no real understanding of the significance of the work. Sometimes He says, "Run get that one" or "Sit still and let them come to you." He shows me how to give tender care to the sickest ones and what to do about the ones that cause trouble. And because they matter to Him, they matter to me.

It is not the love of the work or even love for people that motivates me to serve God. It's not even that I grasp the significance of what He asks me to do. I just want to be with my Father. If that relationship is not healthy, no amount of work will bring real satisfaction. But when it is, then I want to be where He is, doing what He's doing. I want to see His smile when He tells me He's proud of me. Jesus summed it up at age 12 when he said, " I must be about my father's business." He wasn't happy doing anything else. Neither am I. I hope that's the right motivation, because it's the only one I have.

Endure It Until

How blessed is the man who endures temptation! 
When he has passed the test, 
he will receive the victor's crown of life 
that God has promised 
to those who keep on loving him. James 1:12

What does it look like to "endure temptation?" When we think of temptation, we imagine that we are to run from it and it no longer bothers us. We picture a man glancing at a Playboy magazine on the newsstand and turning away. But this verse seems to imply something else.

In order to endure temptation, there must be a relentless desire to act in a way that does not please God. We don't have to endure something that ends in three minutes. A fleeting temptation to sin does not have to be endured, but rejected. Then it's gone. So what kind of temptations must be endured rather than definitively rejected?

The kinds of temptations described in James 1:12 involve our hearts' desires on the deepest level. You cannot escape your heart. You can close your eyes, you can control your hands, you can decide where your feet go. But you cannot do much about the longings of your heart.

I think this verse was written for people such as those with same-sex attraction. Their heart longs for something which God has forbidden, yet the longings don't go away simply because they want them to. A woman caught in a dead marriage may fall in love with another man, but she is not free to pursue that relationship the way she wants to if she desires to honor God more. She may daily surrender her acts and choices to the lordship of Jesus, but her heart still yearns for connection with a man who meets those needs in a way her husband never did. A man saved from alcoholism may fight the urge to drink for the rest of his earthly life. Every day is a battle with himself as he gives in to God's desire for him rather than the longing of his heart. But it doesn't go away. He must endure it.

Is there a temptation in your heart that you must endure? You see no feasible way to escape it except endurance. You can control your choices and your actions, but your heart may still yearn for something or someone that is forbidden. I think that is the kind of endurance James speaks of. God wants to encourage us that He sees when we endure. He is pleased when we continue to wrestle against our heart's deepest longings without giving in. He promises great reward for all of eternity when we choose to be faithful now.

Stay strong. God does not judge you because of the temptation. He understands and He is cheering for your continued endurance. 


A Thorny Topic

Much has been said and written about Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7). We use the phrase like an idiom to describe every problem that annoys us, from in-laws to athlete's foot. But is that what Paul meant?

To determine whether or not our life issue is truly a thorn in the flesh, we have to look at the verse in context. Paul had just described an amazing time when he was "caught up into the third heaven and heard inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak." Jesus had revealed Himself to Paul, taught him spiritual truths, and given him an experience that would change him and the rest of history.

Then Paul writes, "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-- to keep me from exalting myself!

There are several crucial elements about his thorn in the flesh that don't apply to most of our issues. First of all, it was there for a specific reason. He had just encountered God in a way few had and lived to tell about it. Imagine the temptation to pride! Even if you don't want the pride, it will invade your private moments anyway. So God in His mercy granted Paul a weakness that would continually remind him that he was frail flesh, not the fourth person of the Trinity. It was given to him "because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations" and "to keep me from exalting myself."

Secondly, this "thorn" was a messenger from Satan. A messenger carries a message. God allowed Satan to deliver a continuous message to Paul through his own weakness. What message would keep him from exalting himself? His omission of the exact nature of the weakness is intentional. It may have been a physical abnormality, an overwhelming temptation, or inadequacy in a job God had given him. He may have had a speech impediment that made preaching arduous. Or poor eyesight may have made writing difficult. But we do know the message from Satan had to be something like this: "You are so weak. You are one step away from blowing it. No matter what God is doing through you, you know who you are. You are nothing. You struggle just like everybody else. Why would God choose you?"

And as difficult as that message must have been to hear, Paul knew he needed it to stay humble. We all need messages like that when God is doing great things through us. Our flesh longs to exalt itself. But if we truly desire God's best in our lives, we will embrace the "thorn" He gives us.

We are candidates for a "thorn in the flesh" when:
  • We have surrendered everything to God and desire to be used by Him for His plans.
  • We are filled with the Holy Spirit and choose every day to walk in His Spirit
  • God has revealed Himself to us in tangible, earth-shaking ways and we are changed by it
  • God has chosen us for a specific purpose to bring others into His kingdom
  • God has blessed our ministry and others notice it
  • We have a tendency toward pride
When those factors are present, God is merciful to us. He allows similar thorns in our flesh to keep us from exalting ourselves. The same Paul who wrote about his thorn also wrote, "...God chose the foolish things to confound the wise...that no flesh should glory in His presence." (1 Corinthians 1:29) His chief aim was the glory of God, even when struggling under the weight of personal weakness. The comfort God gave him has comforted thousands of others who struggle with thorns: "My grace is sufficient for you."



Homosexual Cowardice

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So, more Christian leaders have grown spines of mush in the face of the out-of-control homosexual agenda. I was so disappointed to read of more mega-church pastors taking a "non-stance" on what God clearly takes a strong stand against.

The repeated excuses all sound something like this: "Jesus didn't say anything about homosexuality, so we won't either. We want to focus on love, love, love..."

Well, isn't that nice. If Jesus had only focused on love, love, love, He would never have been crucified. He never softened His Father's law or His Father's truth, even when it killed Him. So why do His modern followers think they have the right to do less?

Jesus never spoke of necromancy or bestiality either, because His Father had already spoken. In Jewish culture, open homosexuals were to be stoned, so there were no parades flaunting their perversions. There was no question in anyone's mind what God thought about it. No need to ask.

There is still no question in God's mind about it. So why are we asking?

All -around Guy

Have you ever considered that the rich young ruler, spoken of in Mark 10:17-22,  would probably be voted chairman of the deacons in most evangelical churches today? 

His self-defined "relationship with God" would be accepted at face value and applauded by most church leaders. He would be head of the finance committee, a youth sponsor, and considered an all-around pillar of the religious community. He could discuss theology with anyone, and talk about Jesus with warmth and affection. Many would look up to him as the epitome of both worldly and spiritual success...

But he was not born again. And only Jesus had the courage and love to tell him so. Who is telling his protégés today?

Disordered Desires

In our age of information overload, sin in its varied forms is paraded continually before us. It is tempting to latch onto a particular manifestation of evil and make it the logo for things we abhor. However, scripture rarely does this. In fact, the only evil consistently railed against by God Himself is idolatry, a sin of which we are all guilty.

The primary foundation of all sin 
is God-given desire turned upside down

The very first sin in the Garden of Eden was one of disordered desires. God planted desires within the human heart. They are not evil in themselves. However, what God creates, Satan manipulates. Satan hijacked a good desire within Eve---to be like God. The desire was good, but the way she chose to achieve it was not.

At the root of most manifestations of evil are disordered desires. Idolatry starts with the innate longing to worship someone or something greater than ourselves. Rather than look to the Creator who planted that desire within us, we substitute lesser objects in His place. Greed, covetousness, and envy start with healthy desires to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. But that desire turns evil when it becomes disordered by the lack of contentment. Homosexuality, immorality, sensuality, and promiscuity are rooted in the God-given desire for sexual intimacy. But they go awry when sinful man chooses his own ways to fulfill them.

When we see the atrocities of our world, it is easy to become frustrated and even prideful, imagining ourselves beyond such things. But when we recognize our own disordered desires and how they manifest in our lives in ungodly ways, we can respond to this disordered world with more compassion and humility. That person shrieking his or her foul agenda has the same problem I do: desires gone dark. Only a face-to-face encounter with Jesus can bring order to our desires. Only then does He promise to give us the desires of our hearts. (Ps. 37:4)

Is God Disappointed With Me?

I  talk with a number of people who fear that God is disappointed with them. 
"I let God down," they say and the mountain of shame threatens to crush them. These are people who know they have trusted Christ for salvation, they have been made new by the power of God, but they messed up way back there. Or they fear they messed up. Or they struggle with a vague uneasiness that somehow they aren't all God had in mind when He saved them. They have shied away from looking him full in the face because they cannot imagine that He's smiling.
This whole outlook is based on a false premise. To be disappointed means that we believed one thing was going to happen and instead got something less. That only works for humans. In order for the Lord God Almighty to be disappointed, He would have had to have an expectation that did not come true. He thought we were going to do A, but we shocked Him by doing B.

However, this scenario is not possible just as it is not possible for red to be green or up to be down. God is omniscient, which means He already knows everything. We can't surprise Him or catch Him off guard. He is grieved at our sin, sorrowful over our suffering, and will discipline us when we need it. But He's never disappointed. He already knew we were going to mess up before we did it. That's why He sent Jesus. It is the righteousness of Jesus that makes us right with God. That's why He can be so eager to forgive. He has already planned it out so we can be right with Him again. He is more eager to restore the relationship than we are.

The idea that we've disappointed God is a fabrication of our enemy to keep us from racing back to our Father when we mess up. Satan knows the transforming power of God's full pardon and does what he can to keep us from knowing it too. When we turn from our sin and accept the cleansing of Jesus, it's as if it never happened. Jesus bought for us us the smile of God. The only one we've disappointed is Satan.


Paul's To-Do List

Second Thessalonians 5 has another list from Paul. This one I call "Paul's To-Do List."

Starting with verse 12, Paul leaps into active voice with a string of action verbs. I don't think his words are limited to the church as Thessalonica. Notice how many commands come in quick succession. We would do well to apply them all.

Paul's To-Do List:
1. Appreciate your ministers
2. Encourage each other
3. Build each other up
4. Esteem your leaders
5. Live in peace
6. Admonish the undisciplined
7. Encourage the fainthearted
8. Help the weak
9. Be patient with everyone
10. Seek whatever is good
11. Pray all the time
12. Rejoice all the time
13. Give thanks
14. Examine everything carefully
15. Hold tight to what is good
16. Stay away from every form of evil

Two don'ts:
1. Don't quench the Holy Spirit
2. Don't despise prophecies

Just imagine what our lives and our churches would be like if we all took this to-do list seriously!

Paul's Recipe for Successful Ministry

Sometimes patterns in the Bible leap off the page. 1 Thessalonians 2 did that this week. In it, Paul lays out an infallible pattern for ministry: pitfalls to avoid and patterns to follow. If you are involved in or aspire to any type of spiritual ministry, here is a simple list of patterns and pitfalls straight from the apostle Paul.

Pitfalls to avoid:
1. Men pleasing
2. Flattery
3. Greed
4. Glory seeking
5. Opportunities to abuse spiritual authority

Patterns to copy: 
A minister must be...
1. Gentle
2. Full of fond affection
3. Devout
4. Upright
5. Blameless
6. An exhorter
7. An encourager
8. ...Imploring those entrusted to him as a father would his children.

The result of such ministry is found in verse 12: "So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory."

We can also use this model as a test for those under whose spiritual nurture we place ourselves or our children. Can your spiritual leaders pass this test?

Can We Make a Deal?

One question we hear a lot today is, "Can I be Christian and ________?" Can I be Christian and gay? Can I be Christian and party? Can I be Christian and sleep with whoever I want? The questions go on, filled with most of the items on Paul's "NO" list found in Galatians 5:19-21. 

Unfortunately, many well-meaning Christians don't know how to answer. We try to tip the scales in favor  of Grace and forget that there's another side called Truth--a combination Jesus always held in perfect balance. He already gave us the answer to these questions when He included the account of the rich young ruler in three of the four Gospels.

An all-around decent guy came to Jesus with the same question: "Can I be Christian and keep my old identity?"  This guy was a believer. He had no doubt that Jesus was who He said He was, and he wanted in on it. But He wanted to make a deal. He wanted what Jesus offered without giving up His old life. Jesus said no. And He let the guy walk away. Then He added the chilling clencher, "How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!" 

I don't think Jesus has changed His answer, and we don't have the authority to change it either.

One Vote Away From...

As the news of the Hobby Lobby decision spreads, I am increasingly disturbed at the reactions of those--especially the young--who are hysterically barking at a mirage. It is clear many have been completely duped by the leftist portrayal of the issues at stake. The idea that this is a "blow to women" or a "women's rights" issue is a smokescreen, and it concerns me that so many cannot see it for what it is.

 This decision has nothing to do with women's rights, and those who craftily packaged it as such know that.  Women have the "right" to do anything they wish, including destroying their unborn children, often with government funding and blessing. It has little to do with healthcare, either. At stake is freedom of religion, a guaranteed First Amendment right for every American. The real question, of which Hobby Lobby was only a poster child, was this: Does the U.S. government have the right to force the owners of a privately-owned company to participate in an act that they have consistently demonstrated they believe to be morally wrong? Whether a Catholic school, Muslim deli, or Christian-owned Mardel's, people's devoutly-held religious convictions don't cease simply because they create a profitable business and hire people to help run it.
American's used to know that. We used to defend that. The "greatest generation" championed and died for this freedom along with free press and the right to vote. But not any more. Thankfully, there were more Supreme Court justices who still believe that than those who don't. Thankfully, they voted on the real issue rather than the smokescreen. This time.
But what of future votes. As this deeply-deceived generation of new voters rises to take its place as leaders, we must recognize the foundation from which they are forming decisions. This is the entitlement generation, nurtured on the illusion that "everybody is a winner." They learned that to be offended is the greatest moral evil and someone must pay. Self-esteem was their favorite subject in school and their bookcases are littered with "trophies" for participation. A low grade or police record was a reason to blame someone: the teacher, principal, bus route, parent, inadequate free lunch, or lack of popularity. Blatant disobedience was attributed to ADHD and little league teams were sued for not allowing Janie to bat as often as Johnny. They demanded cell phones at 8, dating at 12, and a car at 16. And many parents scrambled to obey. They saw friends having sex at 13, abortions at 14, or a baby at 15 because it came with a welfare check. And they decided that's how the world works. 

And now when they are told that some Big Bad Christian Company has said "No" to government demands that it pay for someone else's immoral choice, they are indignant. Unaware of the carefully re-packaged deception they are buying, this new generation--and many of its parents-- are proudly redefining what it means to be the "land of the free and the home of the brave." America is becoming "land of the politically correct and home of the entitled masses." And those who are ushering it in couldn't be happier about it. They will shake their fists and champion what they call "equal rights" right up until the moment the iron bars of socialism slam shut behind them. Only then will they understand. And it will be too late. 


What Does the New Testament say about Homosexuality?

The Bible is consistent through both Old and New Testaments in confirming that homosexuality is sin (Genesis 19:1-13; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Jude 1:7). The New Testament reinforces what the Old Testament had declared since the law was given to Moses (Leviticus 20:13). The difference between the Old and New Testaments is that the New Testament offers hope and restoration to those caught in the sin of homosexuality through the redeeming power of Jesus. It is the same hope that is offered to anyone who chooses to accept it (John 1:12, 3:16-18).

Some people have a misunderstanding about the two sections we know as the Bible. Many mistakenly believe that the New Testament was written to cancel the law God gave in the Old. They state erroneously that since Jesus came, we are not "under the law" and therefore the Old Testament prohibitions no longer apply. However, Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17). God's standards of holiness did not change with the coming of Jesus, because God does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). What God made known about Himself has not changed, nor have His moral boundaries. Jesus did not condemn those who were careful to observe God's law. His harsh words were for those who twisted God's law to their own advantage. They were focused on outward obedience while neglecting heart devotion (Matthew 23:2-4; Luke 11:39). The law is good (Psalm 19:7; Romans 7:16; 1 Timothy 1:8). It was given to show us what holiness looks like and that none of us can attain it perfectly on our own.
The New Testament is merely a continuing revelation of God's interaction with humanity. God hated idolatry in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 5:8), and He still hates it in the New (1 John 5:21). Homosexuality is not the cause of a society's decline; it is the result of people making themselves the final authorities. Romans chapter 1 gives the natural digression of a society that has chosen idolatry and sinful pleasure instead of obedience to God. The downward spiral begins with denying that God has absolute authority over His creation (v. 21-23).

The result is that God gives "them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (vv. 24-25). Verses 26 and 27 say, "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." The phrase "God gave them up" means that when we insist on shaking our fists at God, He finally lets us have the perversion we demand. Homosexual behavior is the result of ignoring God and trying to create our own truth. When we defy God's clear instruction, we reap the "due penalty" of our disobedience (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Revelation 21:8).
The good news is that homosexuality is not the unpardonable sin. It is forgivable just like greed, theft, and murder are forgivable when we repent and turn to Jesus (Acts 2:38). He provides us with new identities (1 Peter 1:14; Colossians 2:13). Second Corinthians 5:17 says that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; all things have become new." Those old things include former sins that once held us captive. Whereas we were once defined by our sin, being born again (John 3:3) means we are now defined by Jesus and His righteousness (Colossians 3:3). A thief no longer has to define himself as a thief. He is cleansed from his former ways and made new in Christ. A murderer--such as Saul before he became the apostle Paul--is forgiven and conformed to the image of Christ (Galatians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Romans 8:29). And someone trapped in homosexuality can be set free to walk in purity when he or she agrees with God about sin and trusts His power to forgive and restore. 
First Corinthians 6:9-10 includes homosexuality in a list of sinful identities that will not have a part in God's kingdom. But verse 11 goes on to say, "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." God's kingdom is populated by sinners. No one comes to God on personal merit. We all come the same way: through repentance, renouncing the sin for which Jesus died, and accepting the righteousness of Christ in its place (2 Corinthians 5:21). So the New Testament offers good news for everyone struggling with sexual identity. Jesus wants to replace our sinful lifestyles with His own righteousness so that we become more like Him.

Hipster Jesus

There has been a recent trend to redefine Jesus as a cool dude who fit in to common culture. Even well-meaning Christians can get swept away in the "Jesus was one of us" tidal wave and if not careful, may come perilously close to preaching "another Jesus," as Paul warned us about. I've even heard it stated enthusiastically that if Jesus had come to earth now, into 21st century American culture, He would have sported a couple of earrings and a big tattoo. He would have been the coolest of the cool, ripped jeans and all.

That may be fun to speculate, but it is far from the truth. If we're not careful, we can start imagining a Jesus that never existed. And if that's the one we worship, that is idolatry. Our casualness can even become irreverence as we pretend the Lord is delighted with our "Yo, God!" attitude. We can be guilty of bringing God down to our level rather than rising to His.

The truth is that the real Jesus never stooped to compromise on any level. The fact that the Lord God Almighty took on human flesh and allowed Himself to be born as a baby is common enough. But He never stopped being exactly who He was in order to connect with those unlike Him. In fact, that was what made his consorting with sinners so shocking.

The gospel writers include significant details about him that indicate the exact opposite of the "hipster-Jesus" some want to imagine. Contrary to the ripped, low-rise jeans some have proposed, Jesus wore a distinctive white robe, seamless and expensive. His clothing indicated that He was an exalted rabbi, a highly-educated teacher. Today we would probably address him as Dr. Jesus Ben Joseph, PhD. He would have been expected to wine and dine with the elite of society, and He did at times. But He was just as interested in hanging out with those who were nothing like Him.

As to the piercings and tattoos, the Son of God was obedient to His Father's law, which forbade marring the body in any way. The only men allowed a pierced ear were slaves. Jesus would never have violated the holiness of God in order to fit in. He never changed who He was in order to reach those unlike Him. That's why the crowds flocked to him. No one of His echelon had ever acted that way. His entire earthly ministry was a demonstration of a holy God reaching down to embrace unholy humans, while never losing any of his holiness.

He also modeled for us that we don't have to become like the world in order to love the ones enslaved by it. Rather than act like us, He taught us how we could become like Him. Whether the first century or the twenty-first, Jesus never changes.

The Real Loser

What happens when you lose something? 

I lost my daughter once, when she was three. At the water park. She was there and then she wasn't. Terrified, we looked everywhere until we found her. Losing things we cherish is always accidental. We don't lose things we value on purpose. When we do lose something important to us, it's scary.

In Matthew 16:25, Jesus says something scary like that. "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." What does that mean? Martyrs lose their lives rather than deny Christ, but what about the rest of us? Do we have to die for Christ in order to fulfill this promise? What does it mean to lose your life for Christ's sake? And it sounds as though we are to do it intentionally.

The word "lose" might be better understood with an extra "o". Read the verse with the word "loose" instead. When we "loose" our lives, we don't hold on to them so tightly.  Jesus was saying that in order to follow Him fully, we cannot cling possessively to the things this world offers. Even the good things. Relationships. Family. Career. Home. Even  health, finances, and happiness.

When we choose to follow Jesus, we have to loosen our grip on anything that diverts our attention from Him. Even our own lives. If I am driving down the highway, I'd better keep my eyes on the highway or I will no longer be driving down the highway. If my attention is captivated by the color scheme on the building I'm passing or the little kids on a playground, I will soon be off the road. 

The same thing happens in our spiritual lives. Unless our attention is fixed on our goal, we are easily distracted and quickly lose our way. When our loyalty is divided between following Christ and pleasing ourselves, our flesh wins every time. We're good at justifying, explaining, and ignoring, but Jesus was clear that to do so results in losing everything that matters.

A. W. Tozer calls this "the blessedness of possessing nothing." Possessions and passions are gifts from God, but they can quickly become masters when we place too much importance on them. Jesus warned us that if we make those gifts our god, we will end up losing everything. 

But when we choose Him, we must loosen our grasp on everything else. When we willingly let go of everything we think we cherish to follow Jesus, He often entrusts us with those very gifts because they won't get in our way. We can be trusted to have them without possessing them.

In place of earthly passions, God grants us purpose that the world cannot offer. He turns our faces toward eternity and our hearts toward His. Only then do we discover real life the way God created it to be lived. When we "loose our lives for Christ's sake," we will find them.

Why, You Flatterer!

  Is there anything wrong with flattery?

Flattery can be defined as “the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject.” The difference between flattery and a compliment is the benefactor. Flattery has a selfish motivation. The flatterer hopes to gain approval or advantage over the one being flattered. Compliments, however, are sincere acknowledgments of admiration spoken to praise someone else. A compliment is intended to benefit the recipient, whereas flattery benefits the flatterer.

The Bible has a lot to say about flattery. The book of Proverbs warns of the “flattering lips of an adulteress” (Proverbs 6:24; 7:5, 21). Flattery is often the first step to an adulterous affair. A wise person learns to recognize it and separate flattery from sincere compliments. Flattery is often coupled with lying, as a flatterer is not concerned with whether or not he or she is being truthful (Psalm 5:9; Romans 16:18).

Unfortunately, flattery can also be used within Christian circles under the guise of encouragement. Since biblical times, some false teachers have used flattery to lead people astray and to benefit themselves. In 1 Thessalonians 5:2, Paul reminds the church that the apostles had never resorted to flattery in spreading the gospel: “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed.” Scripture warns of false teachers who use flattery to introduce heresies intended to deceive Christ’s followers and line their own pockets (2 Peter 2:3; Romans 16:18; Daniel 11:32).

Some teachers use flattery as a means to increase personal followings. Leaders desiring to attract a crowd sometimes water down their message until the gospel is reduced to little more than a God-tainted self-improvement program. They pepper their talks with cheerful verses and illustrations designed to make their hearers feel better about themselves (and about the teachers). There is much talk about discovering one’s potential and developing personal greatness. This is nothing more than flattery intended to create popularity for the speaker and his or her message. It sells books and media time, but it often bears little resemblance to the message Jesus proclaimed.

Jesus’ message did nothing to inflate the self-importance of His hearers. Rather, He stressed the need to die to ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). He said that those who desire to keep their lives now will lose them (Luke 17:33) and that, if we love anyone more than Him, we are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37–39). These teachings are the opposite of flattery. Jesus never shied away from stating what someone needed to hear (Mark 10:21–22; Luke 9:61–62) because His motivation was always to do His Father’s will (John 8:29). Jesus spoke the truth whether it was popular or not. He refused to compromise the Word, even when great multitudes left Him (John 6:66). He spoke in love, but He never resorted to flattery for personal gain. As His followers, we should be careful to do likewise.

Graduation Day

Today, my youngest child graduates from high school. This brings an end to 24 years of homeschooling as a lifestyle, a calling. This is my prayer as this era comes to a close:

"Father, we did it. Homeschooling is officially over and I've come to thank you. Thank you for calling me to it. From those first nervous attempts to teach my kindergartener to read to the agonizing struggles with Algebra and beyond (Okay, it's really hard to thank you for that), this was your plan for us. Thank you for calling me to it, entrusting me with it, enabling me to do it, and sustaining me through it. My last baby is well on his way to being a mighty man of valor, and I stand amazed at what you've done in spite of me.
Because, as you well know, I wanted to quit. A thousand times a day. But you wouldn't let me. And now I am understanding something. It wasn't all about the kids, was it? I didn't see it at the time. Sometimes it felt cruel. Wasted effort. Pointless work. (Can't I just send them to school like everybody else?) But you were teaching me that when you direct me, I must continue to obey until you lead me away from it. Endurance is big with you, isn't it?
I didn't do very well, I'm admitting to you. My failures shriek at me from their dusty shelves. All those times I lost it, messed up, and took out my frustrations on my kids--the memories make me shudder. The knowledge of my inadequacies squelches any thought of pride. I don't know how you or my kids put up with me. Like the balky Israelites, I grumbled and lacked faith more often than not. Yet, all the time you were in control, leading, guiding, and sustaining me whenever I had the sense to look up.
What I didn't know then but now see, was that while I thought I was teaching them, you were teaching me. You taught me that my best efforts only reap Lea Ann-sized results. If I want God-sized results, I have to rely totally on you. You taught me that what you ask me to do, you provide for. You taught me that my obedience to your voice is the main thing and that I am not responsible for the results of that obedience. 
You taught me how to improvise, create lessons out of nothing, inspire the uninspired, and make do with little. You taught me that there is no subject matter or area of life that does not revolve around you. I found that I really can do everything you ask me to do when I let you do it through me. 
You taught me that wisdom is a precious gem that is only obtained through a long painful process, but it's worth every tear. I learned that you place a high premium on faithfulness and overlook a lot of imperfection when the motivation is right. And I also learned that no matter how noble the calling or how invested I may be in it, if I make it a god, it will fail me. You are the only God worthy of the title.
So today is my graduation too. I pray my kids have learned their lessons well, and I pray I have learned mine. Thank you for the education I received from you that has prepared me for the second half of my life. I now understand that I could not be trusted with your future plan if I had not been faithful with the past. I think I'm getting it now. It took me awhile. I'm not the best student, but You're a wonderful teacher. 
So thank you for homeschooling me."