Whatcha Got?

“I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.” Matthew 25:25

He stood trembling, knees knocking, a lump in his throat the size of an egg. He clutched the single gold nugget his master had entrusted to him and waited his turn. He still had it! He’d checked on it every day in its hiding place under the steps, fearful someone might steal it or he might lose it. But here it was and he hoped his master would be pleased. But fear rose in his chest as he listened to his master praise his fellow servants. They’d taken chances, invested their sums, and the master was rewarding them. They each had piles of gold in front of them and suddenly his single nugget looked like the enemy.

In Jesus’ parable, the amount each servant received was irrelevant. Jesus pointed out that the master expected equal dedication, not equal results. “I’m only a mechanic,” one servant might say. “I fix trucks and go home. I can’t do anything for God.” “I’m only a teacher,” another might say. “I’m afraid to talk about Jesus. I might get fired.” “I’m only a mom…a bus driver…a CEO…” When we look at our single gold nugget, we can be tempted to discount it as unworthy of investment. But when we remember that it belongs to the Master, we realize we do not have the option of burying it under the steps. He entrusted it to us and expects us to invest it so that when He returns, He can say to us proudly, “Well done, faithful servant!”

Final Thought:  When Jesus returns, will He be able to say to you, “Well done, faithful servant?”


Who's The Boss?

A nobleman…called ten servants and divided among them ten pounds of silver, saying: “Invest this for me while I am gone.” But his people hated him and said, “We do not want him to be our king.”  Luke 19:12-15

“You’re not the boss of me!” an angry three-year-old shouts when parents give unpleasant instruction. “You’re not the boss of me!” we whisper to God as we dig in our heels and choose sin anyway. Like the people in Jesus’ parable, we do not want Him to be our king—but we do want His blessings. So we invent a new “Jesus” who won’t disagree with us. This “Jesus” doesn’t try to be the boss of us. With this “Jesus” we can enjoy mushy worship songs, repost inspirational tweets, and pep ourselves up with Bible verses carefully selected to support our opinions. This fake “Jesus” does not require us to give an account of our lives; He is merely a cheerleader on the sidelines telling us we’re awesome while we do exactly what we want to do. This idea is not very original, but since it works so well, Satan keeps using it. That’s his voice hissing: “God’s not the boss of you.”

Jesus being the “boss of us” is the whole point. That’s what salvation is all about. When we stand before Him, we will be judged by how well we let Him be the boss. When temptation beat on our door, was He the boss? When prosperity arrived and it was easier to enjoy ourselves than deny ourselves, was He the boss? (Luke 9:23) When inferiority threatened, when laziness beckoned, when suffering increased…was He the boss? We often want what Jesus offers but we don’t want Jesus. We don’t want a king to rule over us. We want to be king. But when we give an account, God will ask: “Who was the boss of you?”

Don't Show Up Empty-handed

She opened her eyes and caught her breath. The dazzling light, music, and laughter surrounded her and was part of her. Tangible joy pulsed through the air like an electrical charge. She glanced down at her white robe and then up again. It was real! Heaven was real and Jesus Himself was coming toward her with arms outstretched, dark nail holes in His hands, and a smile she couldn’t tear her eyes from. “My daughter! You’re here! I’ve been waiting for you. What did you bring me?”

Imagine that moment, but this time it’s YOU. Life on earth suddenly stopped and now you are in heaven. You know you are only here because Jesus paid the price you owed God. You trusted in Christ, gave your life to Him, and God counted that as sufficient, pronouncing you Not Guilty. But now Jesus is eager to hear how you spent your life after He saved you. He knows what He invested in you and expects a good return. What will you say? “Well, Lord, I had a good time…tried to be a good person…bought a nice car…kids’ in sports…vacations…” As you gaze in adoration at the One who gave His life for you, will you be ashamed of how little you did for Him? Will anyone be in heaven because of you? What fruit will you bring Him?

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.  Romans 14:12

Final Thought: Jesus gave it all for you. What are you doing for Him?

Prayer: Lord, this is a little scary. Will I be ashamed of how I spent my life when I stand before you? You’ve saved me by your mercy, but am I living in a way that makes you glad you did? Help me get ready for my accounting. In Jesus’ name, amen.

What Is Going On?

What is this? What’s going on in this current evangelical climate?

This movement calls itself Christianity and has retained some of the trappings, but it looks less and less like the New Testament and more and more like something our self-worshiping culture has invented. What takes place inside our proudly nondescript-looking buildings is veering sharply away from a cross-carrying message and embracing wholeheartedly the religion of self-esteem. We must FEEL good about God, or we aren’t satisfied. Unless we have a worship “experience,” we don’t think we’ve had church. So we’ve found a way to induce plenty of emotional surges we assume are spiritual. And if they’re not, who cares? We like them better anyway.

The largest church in America is pulling in the crowds with its continuous assurances that God thinks they’re all awesome. God's precious promises to His own are tossed to the masses as though they were written to anyone within the sound of the leader’s voice. Worship bands fill stadiums with people seeking these emotional surges, giving them what they want: shrieking guitars, thundering drum rolls, fog machines, and sensual voices designed to elicit a shiver of delight. Read the lyrics to one of those top “worship songs,” You Say by Lauren Daigle. Ask yourself: Who is being worshiped? “God” is mentioned once, in a whisper, and could just as easily have been omitted. This could be sung to a boyfriend, lover, mentor, or friend. 

How is this anything like the worship the Lord demands it in scripture?

What we are experiencing is not biblical Christianity and it can’t even be called a religion because the requirements for participants are few. Sunday mornings are aimed at pleasing the general public and making sure they come back. Coming back is the goal. As long as they come back, we’ve got a success story.

So what keeps them coming back? That’s the question that dominates staff meetings, drains the budget, and plagues ministry leaders. How do we get them to come back? Above all, we must avoid the mistake Jesus made when He boldly proclaimed: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56). Verse 66 then says, “Many of his disciples turned away and no longer followed Him.” 

Ooops! Did Jesus mess up? Should He have told them something they weren’t ready to hear? Maybe He would have benefited from a study in cultural relevance or a Church Growth conference. And the apostle Paul was downright insensitive. 

We certainly don’t want to make that mistake, so we pad our messages and our music with soft words that no one could object to. What we call “worship music” has now disintegrated into peppy lines with only vague references to a generic God who loves us and that’s it. We don’t want to drag out all His other attributes, because some of them make us uncomfortable. Song-writers are quietly replacing songs about the cross with lyrics that celebrate our feelings about it—and we scarcely notice the shift. As long as it’s got at least one half-reference to something biblical, we decide it is an acceptable song for worship. But the real goal for lyricists is this: Be sure this song makes the Billboard Top 100. And the real goal for worshipers is this: We wanna sing whatever's popular right now.

Songs about the love of God are wildly popular. Even unrepentant reprobates can croon about it with hands in the air, having a moment. Who could object to this theme: “God loves me. God pursues me. God does everything He can to find me so He gets to be with me. God’s love is amazing, universal, and requires nothing of me.” We jump in the river, slide over a waterfall, and sing about oceans, but who are we really worshiping? When Sunday morning devotion does not translate into Monday through Saturday living, we were never really worshiping God at all. We are worshiping a better version of ourselves.

Doctrine is a thing of the past. True study of scripture is too tedious for this smartphone generation, so we satisfy ourselves with inspirational tweets and favorite verses that don’t make us uncomfortable. One leading pastor is discouraging use of the Old Testament, claiming it is just too controversial for this generation. Above all, we must not make anyone uncomfortable. So meetings of the so-called church are ones any active homosexual could enjoy. Dating couples who had sex the night before can enjoy the chance to feel spiritual. Why would pedophiles, porn addicts, alcoholics, or the dishonest need to stay away? There is nothing in our services that would convict them in the slightest. Instead, they are assured that “nobody’s perfect” and “we’re all broken,” so join a life group and be one of us.

This is not the church. This is not Christianity. This is not biblical and this is not right. The freest nation in the world is knowingly shackling itself to the prison guard of public opinion. We are squandering the few days we have left to shout truth from the rooftops, choosing instead to murmur to our visitors that Jesus will make their lives better, so why not sign up. Nothing to lose. By the time we are legally silenced, will much in our services need to change? Who would object to the feel-good, watered-down, self-esteem building rallies we call worship services? I wonder if Jesus would even recognize what we call “church.”

Right with Whom?

The phrase “right with God” has received a lot of airtime in recent years. Unfortunately, it comes with its own new-and-improved definition. We truly are made right with God when we receive Jesus’ death and resurrection as full payment for the debt we owe God. But that receiving does not mean a mental agreement or a prayer of appreciation. It is a transfer of ownership. When we accept God’s offer of salvation, we agree to His terms, which means we are under new management (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, all choices from that moment on are to be in line with His owner’s manual, the Bible.

But the current church climate has decided to treat God’s instruction book as a list of suggestions, not commands for obedience. We’ve reinvented Jesus as some sort of buddy, sobriety partner, or coach…anything but Lord and King. As long as His ways coordinate with our desire for happiness, we’re glad to oblige.

But the thousands of martyrs through the years would have a different stance on that. They’ve watched their children sliced in half, their wives and sisters raped, their homes burned, and then faced torture and execution because they refused to compromise the words of God’s book. After reading about the centuries of horrible persecution Christians have suffered, it’s hard to be sympathetic with the west’s version of so-called Christianity that crumbles under any pressure that threatens something it wants.

It’s so much easier to set the Book aside, reinvent a more tolerant Jesus, and declare with joy and conviction that we are “right with God.” The woman who sleeps with her boyfriend every time he’s in town…the man who tosses his wife aside for a younger version...the alcoholic who compartmentalizes his addiction instead of attacking it...the couple seething with bitterness and unforgiveness...the teenager who parties every weekend like she’s Satan’s key apprentice…all declare with boldness that they know they are “right with God.” After all, that one worship song gives them goosebumps and they have Bibles on their nightstands.

The problem with this claim is that when the Holy Spirit moves into a repentant heart, He brings His convictions with Him. When one of His children moves willfully toward disobedience, He comes after us with a heavenly two by four. When we choose to disobey God’s clearly stated commands, Hebrews 12 is clear that our Father disciplines us in a way that jerks us back into line. If we are not being disciplined for willful sin, that passage states very intolerantly that we are not His.

At no time during our disobedience will God confirm to us that we are “right” with Him. That is not God’s voice that we hear whispering, “I understand. I only wants you to be happy.” Sadly, though, if we are not saturating ourselves in His word, then we cannot distinguish His voice from a thousand other deceiving voices. We harden that disobedient part of our hearts, pray to the reinvented Jesus, and bask in the warmth of Satan’s sunlamp.

So how can we know that we are truly “right with God” if we can’t rely on our feelings? We lay a transparency of our lives over His book and see if they match. Of course, there will be slight variations because we sin unintentionally every day. But if there are clear commands we are choosing to violate as an ongoing lifestyle, then we are not “right with God” no matter how warm and cozy we’ve decided we feel. The soulish thrill of sin is a clever substitute for the true peace of being right with God, and the less we study and apply the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), the less likely we are to recognize the deception.

For further study, see Romans 6, the book of 1 John, Matthew 7:13-27, and Luke 14.

Lie's We're Told #5

My life will never get better.  (Ruth 1)

Naomi had reached her breaking point. First, her husband died and then both her sons, leaving behind their destitute young widows. Naomi couldn’t even take care of herself. How in the world was she supposed to care for them too? So she packed up and moved home, back to her people. Back to the familiar. She had left her homeland full of promise, a glowing bride on the arm of her Prince Charming. She was returning a broken and bitter old woman who had given up on life. Everyone who met her heard about it. She had Bitter Brain Disease and left a trail of despair germs everywhere she went.

Have you believed the lie that your life will never get better? 
You’re counting on a future without God.

Lies We're Told #4

 What will people think?  (Luke 1:26-38)

If anyone had the right to worry about what people might think, it was Mary. Her teenage dreams, good reputation, and dreamy fiancĂ© faded into the background when the angel showed up and ruined everything. That’s how Mary could have looked at it. In order to say yes to God, she had to say no to her reputation and her plans for her own life. Nobody would believe her story. She wasn’t sure she believed it herself. Unmarried teenage virgins did not show up pregnant and expect people to understand. Yet, her answer to the angel would define eternity for herself and millions of others. She could worry about what people thought, or she could care only what God thought. Thankfully, Mary’s decision was not affected by what people might think.

We all face that decision in different ways. “I think God wants me to _____, but what will people think?” “I want to lift my hands in worship, but what will people think?” “I need to share Jesus with my coworker, but what will he think?” The fear of people’s opinions has robbed us of more blessing and growth than we probably realize. The truth is that people are not thinking about us at all. They’re too busy worrying what other people think about them. Mary rejected that lie in order to accept God’s assignment. She refused to let “What will people think?” cast a vote in her decision. We can do that too.

How big a role does “What will people think?” play in your decisions? Does it cause you to disobey God?