Sunday, October 30, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 31: “Why Do You Call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ ..."

When Pope Francis came onto the world’s stage in March of 2013, he was immediately heralded by millions of Christians and non-Christians alike as a great man of God. Similar to the way King Saul was originally adored by the Israelites of his day, the media portrayed Francis as a gentle leader of sheep, and the world welcomed him with open arms.

However, as time has progressed, Pope Francis has spoken many disturbing words. And the more he speaks, the more red flags are raised.

Let me give you two examples.

Recently, Francis took part in a Q&A. He was asked by a girl (who lives in an area where 80% of the population is non-Christian) if she should witness to her unbelieving friends and try to convince them to go to church. This was his answer:

Listen, the last thing you must do is to “speak.” You have to live as a Christian, like a Christian: convinced, forgiven, and on a path. It is not licit to convince them of your faith; proselytism is the strongest poison against the ecumenical path.

Along similar lines, in 2014, Pope Francis gave the world his 10 secrets to living a happy life. This was number 9 on the list:

9. Don't proselytize; respect others' beliefs. "We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: 'I am talking with you in order to persuade you,' No."

Is Pope Francis right? And should we obey him?

Is it not lawful to try to convince others to become Christians? Is urging people to give their lives to Jesus poisonous? Is the worst thing of all talking with people in order to persuade them to change their beliefs?

Think about what Francis just did. Did he use words to try to persuade and convince people to change their religious beliefs? Doesn’t he believe that is an evil thing to do? If Francis believes that what he said in his Q&A and 9th step of happiness is right, he just broke his own law while in the midst of declaring it to the world.

But what does the Bible have to say about the matter?

In 2 Corinthians 5:10-11, Paul writes about how we should live in light of eternity and the judgment to come.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.

Knowing the judgment to come, that we all will be repaid for everything we’ve done, said and thought, Paul says he has devoted his life to trying to persuade people to give their lives to Jesus. So, how did he persuade others? By merely living a godly life, and if necessary, after a long period of time, finally using words?

Acts 19 describes Paul’s entrance into Ephesus. How did he initially engage the people there?

And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. – Acts 19:8-10

It’s a good thing for all the people of Asia Minor that Paul wasn’t following the philosophy of Pope Francis. Because of Paul’s aggressive, persuasive speaking, the gospel of the kingdom of God was heard all over that region and countless people became followers of Jesus.

Who are you following?

Paul was following the commands of Jesus when he fearlessly went into the synagogue of Ephesus, boldly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Acts 26:15-18, he testified to King Agrippa of the commission he received from Jesus to proclaim the gospel.

"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. … For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness … rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”

Paul did not prove disobedient to what Jesus commanded. What about Pope Francis? Is he being obedient to the one he calls his Lord? Is he teaching others to obey the Lord Jesus?

Doesn’t Jesus call us to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all of His commands?

If so, perhaps Francis needs to read Luke 6:46 again. “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

Do you call Jesus your Lord? If so, do you do what He says, or, is there a different authority calling the shots in your life? Pope Francis will have to answer for what he’s doing and teaching, and so will we.

He loves Christ Jesus who does His will and keeps His commandments. “For not every one that says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but only he that does the will of My Father.” And, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” – Clement of Alexandria, Volume 2, p. 995 [CD-ROM]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 30: “Whoever Is Ashamed of Me…”

Matt Bevin, the Governor of Kentucky, is unashamed about his Southern Baptist beliefs. Governor Bevin lists Corrie ten Boom and Billy Graham as two of the people that have inspired him the most. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is also unashamed of its love for Governor Bevin. Its most global outpost, The Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization, bears his family’s name.

With such an apparent zeal for the gospel, one would think that Governor Bevin would see himself as first and foremost a missionary for the kingdom of heaven. But is that the case?

Recently, Governor Bevin gave a speech where he challenged the true patriots of America to not let freedoms that the founders of the USA fought for go to waste, should Hillary Clinton become president. Here is an excerpt:

“I would challenge you in each of your respective walks of life, do not be silent sheep being led to the slaughter. You will be led. Don’t allow it to happen. … What it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. … This great privilege we have is the greatness of America. The freedom of America. This was purchased at an extraordinary price. … America is worth fighting for. … The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood of who? The tyrants, to be sure. But who else? The patriots. Whose blood will be shed?”

Let’s take a moment and think about a few things that Governor Bevin, a missions-minded Christian, just said.

First, he cited Edmund Burke who famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I wonder, Governor Bevin, is loving our enemies ‘doing nothing’? Is fasting and praying for the lost ‘doing nothing’? Is making disciples of Jesus ‘doing nothing’? Is the Holy Spirit bringing new birth and regeneration into a man or woman ‘doing nothing’?

Second, Governor Bevin quoted Thomas Jefferson who once wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” But should Christians really be turning to Thomas Jefferson as their guide for making life and death decisions? Thomas Jefferson rejected Jesus as God. As the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson also viewed the millions of Native Americans in the USA as savages who weren’t worthy of having constitutional rights afforded to them. Should a Christian pro-life Governor really be turning to man with such a sketchy moral compass to influence other Christians?

Third, Governor Bevin pled with us to not be like silent sheep being led to the slaughter. Did you catch what he just quoted? It’s the Bible, and the passage is about Jesus… the One he calls his Lord. Christian American patriot Governor Bevin told us to not follow in the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Acts 8, Philip, one of the first deacons of the Church, encountered an Ethiopian on the road to Gaza reading Isaiah 53. The portion he was reading said, “He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth. In humiliation His judgment was taken away; who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.” Starting with that very passage, Philip preached the gospel of Jesus to him and the man was baptized on the spot.

I would imagine that Governor Bevin heard a similar Gospel message day he chose to give his life to Jesus. Yet, it seems that though Jesus is good enough to be the Savior of our souls, Governor Bevin does not view Him as good enough to be our day-to-day role model.

It doesn’t seem like Governor Bevin views Jesus’ command to love our enemies as pragmatic, does it? It doesn’t seem like Governor Bevin believes that Jesus’ command to do good to those who hate us is a sound strategy, does it?

I understand the feeling inside us that wants to tell Jesus that He’s a good teacher and all, but He doesn’t understand the way the real world works. However, Jesus is God, not simply a good teacher. And as God, He demands that we take Him and His words seriously.

Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. … For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:34, 38

Is Governor Bevin ashamed of Jesus’ words? Are you?

It is written, “You cannot serve two masters.” He has served an earthly master in that … he has been more obedient to a human authority than to God. … Christ says in His precepts, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed.” And does he think that he is a Christian, who is either ashamed or afraid to be a Christian? How can he be one with Christ, who either blushes or fears to belong to Christ?” – Cyprian 250CE Volume 5, p. 778-779 [CD-ROM]

Governor Bevin is challenging people to not be afraid to boldly kill for the protection of America. Jesus challenges His disciples to not be afraid to boldly die so that enemies of the gospel can enter the kingdom of God. As an American Christian, one of those statements is probably going to make you shake your head in embarrassment. The country you identify with the most will determine whose words ring true in your heart and whose words you live by.

Are you living as an unashamed missionary for Jesus?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 29: “He Will Give You Another Helper”

When I was 20 years old, I got an M. I. P. (Minor in Possession) at a bar in College Station, TX. My brother and I had just finished playing a 3 hour set with our band, and the bar owner gave us a free pitcher of beer, which we gladly accepted.

Plastic cup in hand, I was walking around like I owned the place when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the police, and I was busted. A few weeks later my mom and I showed up at court. Yes, mom came with me, and thankfully, she hired an attorney for me.

My defense attorney spent about 20 minutes counseling me before we went into court that morning. He knew the judge, and gave me really good advice about how to handle the situation. He instructed me that we should not try to fight the case, but that we should plead no contest. He also said that if the judge asked to speak with me, I should be respectful and remorseful. That was not a problem because I was scared out of my mind.

I think the judge was merciful to me that morning. The sentence I received was paying a $500 fine, doing several hours of community service and attending 6 classes of Alcoholics Anonymous. If I was compliant with the judge’s orders and didn’t receive any other alcohol-related citations for many months, the MIP would be wiped from my record.

Similar to the defense attorney that represented me that day in court, Jesus promised His disciples that one day after He left them, an Advocate would come to help them as well.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” – John 14:15-18

The first word in this passage that I’d like you to focus on is “another”. In the original language, the word “another” means “another of the same kind; another of similar type.” So Jesus was telling His disciples that when He left, God the Father would send another Helper who was of the same kind as Him. Jesus then calls this Helper, who is of the same kind as Himself, the “Spirit of truth.”

The second word I’d like for you to think about is “Helper”. Some translations use “Comforter”, some use “Counselor” and many use “Advocate”. The Greek word is Parakletos. Parakaletos basically carries the idea of a truthful and helpful defense attorney.

A good defense attorney will often engage in several different helpful activities when interacting with a guilty client.

My MIP defense attorney beseeched me to never engage in underage drinking again. He noticed I was freaking out, so he comforted me with a pat on the back and told me it was going to be okay. He exhorted me to apply his strategies when I went into the courtroom. He admonished me to banish all pride from my attitude from this point furthur. And finally, he encouraged me by saying that he would help me get through this situation and back on track again.

Are you in over your head today? Do you have a huge decision to make? Have you recently made a huge mistake that has brought significant unease to your future outlook? Is a former close relationship now on the rocks due to sinful behaviors? Do you just need guidance and empowerment to be who God has called you to be in the midst of the daily stressors of life?

The Holy Spirit is like a perfect defense attorney. A perfect Advocate. An ever-present Helper in times of need. And just like the early Christians found Him to be gracing them with everything they needed for life and godliness, the Spirit of Jesus offers the same help to us today.

He said, “I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, that He may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth.” … And because the Lord was about to depart to the heavens, He gave the Paraclete out of necessity to the disciples. … This is He who strengthened their hearts and minds. … For the sake of the Lord’s name they neither feared dungeons nor chains. … This is He who restrains insatiable desires, controls immoderate lusts, quenches unlawful fires, conquers reckless impulses, repels drunkenness, checks materialism, drives away luxurious carousing, links love, binds together affections, keeps down sects, orders the rule of truth, overcomes heretics, turns out the wicked, guards the Gospel. – Novation 257CE, Volume 5, p. 1123-1124

Friday, October 14, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 28: "No One Can Serve Two Masters"

During this election cycle, I have had several conversations with folks revolving around what it means to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Though I addressed those simple words of Christ in a previous blog, I feel like God has recently revealed to me a critical aspect of the issue I was overlooking in the past.

When trying to determine what limits of authority and control Caesar should have on a Christian’s life, Christians usually start by attempting to determine what it means to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Or, they look at how Christian’s interacted with various governing bodies in Scripture.

Though beginning with Caesar may seem like a natural starting point, I submit to you that doing so is getting the cart before the horse. 

Jesus doesn’t merely tell us to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. He also commands us to render to God what is God’s. Since God, not Caesar, is Lord of heaven and earth, shouldn’t we therefore begin by ascertaining what it means to render to God what is God’s before attempting to please Caesar?

After all, doesn’t God call us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind? Haven’t we been set apart especially for Him? Doesn’t God work in us to achieve His good purpose? Doesn’t the kind of worship He desires require us to be living sacrifices for Him and to not be conformed to the world? Doesn’t God call us to not get entangled in the affairs of this world, but rather to seek to please Him, our true Commander in Chief?

Unfortunately, those truths are usually given little attention in today’s culture where Christians are masterfully manipulated day and night with propaganda from the enemy to put our hopes in worldly philosophies instead of the kingdom of God.

And how does the evil one manipulate us? Through our loves and our fears, just like he’s been doing for thousands of years.

Watch this dynamic unfold in this scene from the Gospel of Luke:

“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. – Luke 16:13-14

Why did the Pharisees mock and deride Jesus? Because their hope was in the worldly philosophy that, practically speaking, greed is good. Because He then called out their security. Because He called out their mistress. Because He called out their real god.

If Jesus told you that you are more devoted to your cash and country than you are to His kingdom, would you listen to Him or laugh in His face?

Once in a discussion with a Christian about this topic, I asked which had more positive impact on the world: voting in an election or making a new disciple of Jesus. To my absolute shock, without hesitation the man said that voting absolutely has a more positive impact because it can keep the worst people out of office.

A worldview like this will definitely lead a person to be a passionate voter, but how will it affect one’s adherence to the simple words of Christ?

I don’t know much, but I do know this: What we believe is evidenced by our behavior. If you asked one of the Pharisees in Luke 16 if they loved God, they would’ve quickly and strongly affirmed that they did. Yet, when God Himself challenged them to choose Him over their money, they mocked Him like He was a complete idiot.

Another thing I’ve learned in my 12 years of being in ministry, is that it’s difficult to counsel people who are madly in love. You can point out warning signs to them, and to your face they may act like they’re hearing every word. However, much of the time they’re not going to pay any mind to the red flags you try to bring to their attention. Or, they may possibly get belligerent with you when you do. And the reason for these reactions is they’ve already made up their minds that this person is the answer to their prayers. 

If we give ourselves first to significant others, over time there’s going to be less and less given to God. If we give ourselves first to Caesar, over time we will grow to be devoted to him while despising the way of Jesus… and the insidious thing is, most of us won’t even realize it. We don’t see it, but God does.

“You cannot serve two masters.” He has served an earthly master in that … he has been more obedient to human authority than to God. … He will not be able to escape and avoid God his judge. … He sees the heart and mind of every person; and He will judge not alone of our deeds, but even of our words and thoughts. He looks into the minds, and the wills, and conceptions of all men, in the very lurking-places of the heart that is still closed up. – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 5, p. 778 [CD-ROM]

So, during this election cycle, who do you hate? Who do you love? Who do you despise? Who are you devoted to? Who have you rendered yourself to first? Who do you serve?  What aspects of politics cause you to scoff at the words and way of Jesus? Whose side are you on?

May we remember that Jesus said those who are on the side of truth listen to Him.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” – John 18:36-37 (NRSV)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 27: “This Poor Widow Put in More Than All the Rest…”

My sister-in-law used to be an Emergency Room nurse here in Houston, TX. Roughly 10 years ago, she decided to leave that life behind and take her talents to the cushy surroundings of the Mozambican delta. You know, the land where crocodiles, hippos, rock monitor lizards and malaria-infested mosquitos roam.

Over the last few years she has started a primary health care school for the villagers. She also does frequent helicopter medical outreaches to remote places along the Zambezi River where people are rarely able to visit areas where they can receive medical treatment. 

Needless to say, Leanna Ward is kind of an inspiration. Why would an intelligent girl with a good-paying job in the prime of her life leave it all behind to put down her roots in one of the poorest countries in the world?

When I was a kid, I thought we were poor because I was comparing my family to the more wealthy families at my schools, and especially to celebrities on television. So, going to Swaziland, Africa, in 2004 and seeing real poverty was quite eye opening for me. At that time, Swaziland had the highest percentage of citizens living with AIDS in the world. Yet I encountered so many people who possessed grateful hearts. Their unshakable attitude of thanksgiving constantly rebuked my perception of the hand I had been dealt.

My three subsequent mission trips to Mozambique have produced similar effects within my heart and worldview. However, what is usually the most difficult to deal with, and at the same time most refreshing to my soul, is witnessing the overjoyed acts of hospitality carried out by the people there.

When one of the locals kills a chicken out of their own pen, then brings course after course to the table and closes the meal with a homemade cake, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. That kind of generosity almost seems otherworldly. Actually, every time it’s happened, the Holy Spirit has directed my mind back to a famous scene in the Gospel of Mark.

And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:41-44

Though that poor widow certainly went unnoticed by the crowds, she made quite an impression on the Lord. Jesus sees so much more than we do. He knows so much more than we do. And though the rich are often praised by the world for their trumpeted acts of supposed generosity, Jesus is often far more impressed by the faith of the poor.

Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage in the mid-third century, highlights this truth well in a commentary on the Marcan passage:

Consider in the Gospel the widow that … even amidst the difficulties and straits of poverty, casting two mites, which were all that she had into the treasury. … When the Lord observed and saw … considering not how much, but from how much she had given, He answered and said, “Truly I tell you that this widow has cast in more than all the contributors into the offerings of God. For they all put in out of their abundance … but she of her poverty has cast in all that she had to live on.” … Let the rich be ashamed of their poverty and unbelief. The widow, the widow needy in means, is found rich in works. – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 5, p. 838 [CD-ROM]

The poor widow put in two cents, and yet she put in more than all the rest. At the same time that she lost every earthly thing, she was one of the richest people in eternity. Though many with a worldly point of view may have thought her to be a fool, God acknowledged her as one of the wisest on earth.

Earlier I asked why my sister-in-law would leave behind a great career to be a full-time missionary in such a poor and dangerous place like the Mozambique delta. Maybe it’s to be in the midst of real wisdom. Maybe it’s to see true riches up close. Maybe it’s to live amongst a people who are full of faith in the King whose kingdom is not of this world.

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? – James 2:5

Click here to find out more about YWAM Marromeu in Mozambique.