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Monday, June 28, 2010

Where O Death Is Your Sting

There recently was a death in the family (the reason why I have been away from blog posts).  Seeing death actually happen right in front of my eyes was a very....(still trying to find the right word).  God, in His great mercy, allowed my family 4 or 5 days with my grandmother before He took her home.  Those last days and moments with her showed me what is important in life and, ultimately, death.  The reality of death, filled with all of its finality and power and authority, was something I have never experienced before.  And because of this, certain passages of Scripture could not resonate with me like they do now.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians,

"Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is in the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."   (1 Cor 15:54-57)

God told Adam and Eve if they disobeyed Him, the penalty was death.  The penalty for our sin is death.  Having now seen the "sting of death", I can truly worship Christ for overcoming it.  To think that death could not contain Christ, that He has defeated death, is indescribable.  We worship a God who was pleased to crush His Son in death to atone for the sins of you and I.  My sin was paid for when Christ was put to death....those are no longer simply words on a page, that is a reality that has skin on it.  It is a tangible image that I can feel the weight of.  And the weight of death is the heaviest of all.  How wonderful it is that the sting of death is not for those who profess and walk in the ways of Christ.

My prayer is that this worship leads to action...that my faith leads to deed.  So many still live in fear of the sting of death.  It should not be.

Friday, June 18, 2010

5 Marks of True Conversion Pt. 1

I'm just wrapping up a book on Jonathan Edwards' view of true Christianity.  It's amazing (and refreshing) to see him come down so hard on nominal christianity.  Nominal christianity seems to be "normal christianity" today.  The problems that Edwards faced in his congregation in the 18th century are the same ones that we face today.  For instance, the members of his church felt it important to arrange the seating according to social status (the wealthier members sat up front while the poor members were relegated to the back pews).  This was a "major" issue that the congregation devoted much energy and attention to...kind of makes me think about congregations today devoting so much energy and attention (and resources!) to which flashy sign they should put in front of their church.  Edwards constantly challenged his flock to examine their salvation.  He reasoned that you can not claim the saving grace of God in your life and not see a marked difference.  He laid out his "marks of true conversion" to serve as examples (and tests) for his congregation.  It would serve us well to examine these against our own lives.  Over the next few days I will list out the five marks of true conversion according to Edwards.

A Love For Christ

The first mark of true conversion is a love for Christ.  Edwards claimed that "when the Spirit moves in a person's heart and awakens them to faith and repentance, their view of Jesus changes.  The Spirit raises their esteem of Jesus and causes them to see that He is the Christ, the Anointed of God to be Lord and Savior."  In contrast, the "nominal believer respects Jesus, but does not reverence or exalt Him."  The true Christian takes delight in Jesus, a delight that is often palpable and contagious.

Isn't it interesting how divisive that name is.  Talk to a random person about God and you will probably have a pleasant conversation.  Inject the name of Jesus into the same conversation and things become different.  The name of Jesus Christ divides and separates.  Jesus says in Luke 12 (starting in verse 49),

"I have come to cast fire upon the earth...for from now on members of one household will be divided...father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother."

How true that is.  I've heard story after story of new believers being ostracized from their family for proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ.  One story told to me in Guinea Bissau is seared into my memory.  A Muslim woman converted to Christianity against the wishes of her Muslim husband.  When she would not renounce the name of Jesus, he killed her.  When he threw her in the shallow grave, he also buried with her their two daughters....alive.  This woman was not a nominal Christian.  She knew the cost of being a follower of Christ.

We don't face that sort of cost here in the West.  We can inwardly claim the saving grace of Jesus, stop into church every once in a while and be told by everyone around us that we are "good christians" bound for heaven.  But are we really?  This is what Edwards asked his congregation.  Nowadays, we can't even look at that question without being uneasy.  Let's be honest, questioning someone's salvation is not the most polite thing to do.  But if we truly love those around us, it's the most loving thing that we could do.  Edwards pressed his flock not because he was pious, but because he loved them so much.  He did not want them to fool themselves into thinking they were something they were not.  He challenged them to search the Scripture and then search their heart.  The question was "do the two line up?" 

Here is some application to try with this particular "mark of true Christianity"; use the name of Jesus in your everyday conversations.  Instead of telling your neighbor that "God has provided in these tough times", tell him that Jesus has promised in Matthew chapter 6 (vs 25-34) to provide for His people, "and that same Jesus has surely provided for us this year".  Instead of asking "do you believe in God" and ending the conversation at that, ask if a person believes that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.  If we truly have a "raised esteem and reverence" for Jesus, His name should be the most beautiful sound that comes out of our mouth.

And then thank Him that we live in a place where the sound of His name does not come with the threat of death.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Joseph the Masai Warrior

The video below is a 3 minute clip of John Piper telling the story of a Masai Warrior who accepted Christ.  What happened after his conversion is the amazing part of the story.

Joseph the Masai Warrior - John Piper from I'll Be Honest on Vimeo.

I Sleep Like a Calvinist

I stumbled on this quote from C.H. Spurgeon: 

“The gospel is preached in the ears of all men; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher otherwise MEN would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist of the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.” 

This quote lines up very much with something I also heard recently from a new friend called to plant a church in the area.  We were talking about Calvinism/Arminianism and I asked where he stood on the matter.  The response was, "I preach like an Arminianist but I sleep like a Calvinist."  I love that mindset.  Approach the unbeliever as if their eternal salvation will be determined by your knowledge and presentation of the Gospel.  But, rest on the assurance that we worship a sovereign God who knows those who are called "according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His son...and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Romans 8:28-30)  Nothing we can do or say can move the hand of the almighty God.  His people know His voice.  The power of His voice is what calls us to Him.  The power of the Holy Ghost changes the will of man.

Rest easy, Calvinist, tomorrow you wake to more work of an Arminianist.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Paul Washer Video on Watered Down Teaching

Food for thought from Paul Washer....

The Church Is One. False Prophets Will Pay - Paul Washer from I'll Be Honest on Vimeo.

Don't Worry, I Am With You

The Bible is full of consistent promises.  We know that God is the same "yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), but it is always so awesome to see that consistency play out in between the covers of God's word.  One example is the phrase "I am with you".

    "The Lord appeared to him (Isaac) and said, 'Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.  Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and your descendants I will give all these lands."     Genesis 26:2-3  spoken to Isaac

    "Behold I am with you and will keep you wherever you go"     Genesis 28:15  spoken to Jacob

    "Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that is is I who have sent you"
     Exodus 3:12  spoken to Moses

    "Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you."     Joshua 1:5  spoken to Joshua

    "Surely I will be with you and you shall defeat Midian as one man."  
   Judges 6:16  spoken to Gideon

    "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."
     Isaiah 41:10  spoken to the nation of Israel

    "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you."     Jeremiah 1:8  spoken to Jeremiah

    "lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." 
    Matthew 28:20  spoken to the Church

    "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you, so that we confidently say, 'the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.  What will man do to me?'" 
    Hebrews 13:5-6  spoken to the Church

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I Used to Kill Christians

Once a month the mailman brings me an oversized white envelope.  I still don't know why or how these envelopes end up in my mailbox, but each time they do I am sent into a bit of a daze after reading through their contents.  The envelope is from the Voice of the Martyrs, and it contains a monthly publication with stories of persecution and suffering happening to Christians around the world.  Most of them sound straight out of the New Testament, only these stories are current and happening to our brothers and sisters today.  There is no way to brush these off.  They are as tangible as the evening news...but you will never hear these stories on the evening news.

That's why I wanted to share this story.  It's incredible.

Given away by his family to a local imam at a very young age, Abdulmasi was raised on a steady diet of Islam and hatred for Christianity.  His story is like that of millions of young Islamic boys who are currently being educated in Quranic schools around the world, especially in Nigeria and other West African countries.  Many of those schools are training grounds for Islamic militants.  but as Abdulmasi's story shows, God can use anyone for his plan, and Abdulmasi was no exception.  he ecsaped the darkness of radical Islam to become a witness for Christ to the Muslim world.

In the 1970's, when Muslims wanted to get rid of Christians, they usually called on man - Abdulmasi.  An expert in car bombs, riot planning and infiltrating Christian organizations, Abdulmasi was the James Bond of Islamic terrorism.

"I was called Mr. Insecticide," he says.  "I was the only one who could organize the killing of insects, the killing of Christians.  When you are looking for someone to get rid of insects, then you call me, then I arrange and plan an attack against Christians.  This was my life."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Jesus Is My Homeboy Pt. 3

When you really boil it down, why do we spread this "needy Jesus" philosophy anyway?  I think there are three reasons:

1) It is much easier to share a "soft gospel" with an unbeliever than it is to share a "fire and brimstone Gospel"
2) It is an excuse that we lean on to justify our sin
3) We don't know any better

I know first-hand how tempting it is to water down the Gospel when you are sharing it with an unbeliever (and even more so when it's a confrontational unbeliever).  You want so bad for them to believe the truth of the Gospel.  In the heat of the conversation it almost seems that winning an argument becomes superior to being factually correct.  And it's much easier to do that when Jesus is portrayed as our buddy than when He is, you know, lumped in with all that judgement and wrath and sending "innocent people who have never heard of Him to hell" (as the confrontational unbeliever says).  We run into some serious problems when the goal is to get someone to "pray the prayer" as opposed to repent and turn their life over to Christ.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I just received word that one of our good friends in Guinea Bissau is "very near death". 

Aisatu (pronounced Ice-a-Too) accepted Christ 3 years ago.  To say that God has used her mightily is an understatement.  While we were in the village of Buruntuma in March, Aisatu went with us to help cook.  Like a true servant of Christ, she allowed God to use her for His will while she was in the village of Buruntuma with us.  She spent her days and nights sharing the Gospel with many women and children.  I remember one man in particular who, because of Aisatu's faithfulness in sharing the Gospel, accepted Christ.  I can still see him sitting in his plastic chair with tears in his eyes, and his infant daughter in his lap, telling Aisatu, "I want Jesus in my heart so bad".  One night Aisatu took the portable DVD player that we brought with us and showed a hut full of women the "Jesus Film".  She shared the Gospel with women who had no idea who this Jesus really was.  Because of Aisatu, 6 of those women accepted Christ that night.  This is all in a village that had zero Christians a year ago.

When we left at the end of March, Aisatu got very sick.  Her face and shoulders broke out in painful boils.  For weeks, she was bed-ridden.  In a part of the world where the enemy is so present and so real, it seemed like he was attacking Aisatu.  After some weeks, she seemed to be getting better, but the gains that were made in her health were temporary.  The latest news is that she is bed-ridden again and in a lot of pain.  She spends her days on a mattress on the floor in a village that experiences consistent 120 degree temperatures this time of year.  She has a friend who spends the day fanning Aisatu and helping to roll her over.  When her daughter visited, she could not recognize her.

It appears Satan may be "sifting her like wheat" (Luke 22:31-32).  Please pray that Aisatu's faith would not fail and when she has returned, she may strengthen her brothers and sisters.  Aisatu needs a miraculous healing that only comes through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here is a short video of Aisatu:

Aisatu from Black Daffodil Films on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Jesus Is My Homeboy Pt. 2

One of the dangerous places that the "needy Jesus" theology leads to is ignorance of a very real enemy.  A soft Gospel focuses on the individual and not Christ, the created and not the Creator.  A very real and present spiritual enemy does not have much room in the "needy Jesus" theologian's life.  It just doesn't fit.  From experience, I know.

Let's be clear, our focus and our attention should be on Christ, not on the forces of the enemy.  To focus on the enemy is just an inversion of the "needy Jesus" theology.  Where one focuses on the individual the other focuses on the enemy.  Neither one focuses on the only thing worthy of devotion, Christ. 

But to ignore the spiritual battle that rages around us is so dangerous.  I'm convinced one of the most effective tools of the enemy on the Western world is to convince us that he does not exist. 

There is an amazing passage in Luke where Jesus gives us a glimpse into this spiritual battle:

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."     (Luke 22:31-32)

Jesus Is My Homeboy Pt. 1

I want you to meet my good buddy J.C. (I call him the Jizzle Sizzle sometimes when we get crazy).  My boy J.C. rocks!  He loves me big time all the time, and I love that about him.  I talk to him just like he is one of my homeboys.  My J.C. doesn't come down on me when I mess up, he totally understands.  He misses me like crazy when I don't call for a while, and when I finally get back to him, he picks up on the first ring (it's like he has nothing else to do except wait on me!).  I love my boy J.C. because he has done so much for me.  That dude would give me the shirt off his back.  One time I asked him to walk a mile, and that crazy cat walked 2!  He is always giving me stuff and encouraging me to chase after the "desires of my heart".  It's like I just think of some desire and he's all like, "yeah man, you can do it...I'll even help you!"  What's not to love about the guy?  He's just like me!

Do you recognize this J.C. character?  It seems he is being touted all over the place these days.  This "needy Jesus" has got to be one of the most destructive concepts being taught IN CHURCH today.  When people create their own "needy Jesus" in their image, the holy and righteous God of Heaven is hacked up into pieces so that we can cram Him into our wallet like a credit card with no limit.  God becomes our little play-thing that we pull out whenever we feel like it or, more importantly, whenever we need something.  This "needy Jesus" exists exclusively for us.  When we worship this "needy Jesus" we look at sin as something that is harmful to us, not harmful to a holy and righteous God.  Thus, sin becomes something that just prevents us from "realizing our full potential".

Friday, June 4, 2010

God Saves or The Sinner’s Prayer Saves?

This is an interesting testimony that I found on the "I'll Be Honest" site (Paul Washer and Tim Conway's group). If you have 15 minutes, this video might make you think a little bit.

God Saves - The Sinner's Prayer Only Hurts People from I'll Be Honest on Vimeo.

Fill the Earth and Subdue It

Stewardship.  That word usually makes us think about finances, giving and using what we have been blessed with to help those in need.  But what about stewardship of God's creation?  In all honesty, this is something I haven't given much thought to in my life.  Sure, I went through a hippie phase in high school where it was cool to be all about the environment.  But other than a killer pair of Birkenstocks, not much else came from that stint into the purple haze of hippie-dom.  I didn't connect the dots of being a good steward of our rich blessings and taking care of God's creation.  That's all changing the more I read about what is going on in the Gulf.

This one in particular struck a nerve:

"It's been five weeks since an oil rig exploded and sank, rupturing a pipeline 5,000 feet beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.  Some clues about what so much oil - perhaps 22 million gallons of it - will do to the environment (let me insert "God's creation" here) have become obvious:

Dolphins have washed up dead.  Endangered sea turtles have been found with oil stuck on their corneas.  Lifeless brown pelicans, classified as endangered until recently, have been carried away in plastic bags.  Beaches in Grand Isle, Louisiana, are spattered with gobs of sticky crude.  And when the moon rises over the coast there, the oil-soaked ocean sparkles like cellophane under a spotlight."
     -Excerpt from an article on CNN's webpage

What Do I Need God For?

I had an interesting conversation with my rock star wife this morning.  We were comparing how Jesus asks us to be dependent on Him for everything compared with how the world says we should be dependent on ourselves.  I had a conversation a while ago with someone who had pulled himself out of very tough family circumstances as a kid, put himself through college and grad school, started his own business and is now super successful.  This guy flat out told me, "What do I need God for?"  Hmmm.  Good question.

To this person, God must look like a vending machine.  Why would anyone want to put their money into the machine when they already have everything that they think the machine offers?  Life is to consume and enjoy....right?.  If Person "A" is already doing that to the fullest, what do they need God for?  It's as if the goal in life is to insulate ourselves to the point where whatever harm may come our way, WE can take care of it.  The economy tanks, no problem, that's why I've worked so hard on my bank account.  I get sick, no problem, that's why I have the best medical insurance money can buy.  My wife doesn't make me happy anymore, no problem, that's why I've surrounded myself with some close girlfriends.  My kids are annoying, no problem, I've got millions of ways to keep them occupied.  Oh, and if I start feeling a little guilty about all of this, no problem, there are more social programs I can donate to than there are stars in the sky (plus, its a nice right-off).  And on and on.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Lion, the Witch and the Missionary

I want to share an incredible story with you.  I know it's hard for us in the West to believe stories like this to be true, but determine for yourself if the God you worship is still capable of such things....

"Over the years, Manjula had earned the reputation of a holy woman in her village.  Many villagers became her followers and came to her for counsel.  They would bring gifts and sacrifices to her because she was known for her spiritual powers.  She had the reputation for doing many miracles, even causing sickness and death.

When Simon arrived in that area, people told him about Manjula and the powerful woman she was, with all her magical powers and her gods on her side.  But then Simon heard that three years before, Manjula had become ill and now was totally paralyzed from the neck down.  This young brother realized that this situation was God's appointed opportunity for him to preach the Gospel to her.

Sir, What's That Stuffed In Your Trunk?

A few months ago, I was faced with a significant decision that would determine the course of my life and the life of my family for years to come.  I desperately wanted to be in God's will in this decision.  I remember almost feeling paralyzed.  What if I made the wrong decision?  If I had gone left and God wanted me to go right, I had this picture of God standing over there saying, "Oh boy, you're in trouble now.  Best of luck to you."  Some of the best advice I received was from a man who lived over one hundred years ago....George Muller.

Muller was an incredible man of faith.  He was a pastor who started an orphanage in England.  The reason he started the orphanage was not so much to care for children as it was to live out a biblical life of faith completely dependent on God for supply.  Muller never asked for contributions.  The extent of his "fundraising" efforts was a small box placed at the back of his congregation.  Yet, throughout his life and ministry, God provided right on time every time.  Muller truly relied on God in such a way that if God, and his promises, were not real then Muller and the children in his care would have failed miserably.  This is exactly what God wants from all of us.

To Feed Them or To Teach Them

I've been thinking a lot lately about our "social" responsibilities as Christians.  Obviously, we are called to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).  In particular, I've been wrestling with this notion that "a hungry stomach can't hear anything"....meaning someone in need of the most basic necessities of life must be cared for first (ie; fed, clothed, etc.) before they are ready to hear/receive the Gospel.  Something about this just doesn't seem to line up with Scripture.  It lines up great with how we have done things for decades.  But does it line up with Scripture?

Disclaimer: I am reading a book right now that is influencing my thoughts on this topic.  Its called "Revolution in World Missions" by K.P. Yahannan.  I would very much recommend that you go to his organization's website (www.gfa.org) and ask to receive a copy for free.  They are giving them away.  Yahannan was born and raised in India.  The man has first-hand experience of what it means to truly be hungry, poor, and hopeless.  He didn't even know what shoes were until he was 17.  God called him into the ministry and has done amazing things in his life.  But its Yahannan's take on "social" responsibilities versus "Gospel" responsibilities that has me thinking a lot right now. 

When I Was Younger, So Much Younger Than Today

I was asked the other week to be prepared on Sunday to read a passage of scripture to the congregation in our noon service. It was followed up with something like this; "you can also share some things about the passage, too". Hmm, that sounds like preaching to me. They went and made me a preacher! Just kidding, I know exactly what was meant, and I was honored. I also understood for the first time the heavy responsibility of standing in front of God's people and opening your mouth. Truth better come out. I had these flashbacks of the Old Testament practice of taking false prophets out in the street and stoning them if they led God's people astray. But thats another topic for another time.

A True Disciple?

Certainty and proof.  How to know something for certain and to be able to prove it is of absolute importance when you are talking about salvation.  Right?  So why is it that if you ask a roomful of Christians how they know that they are true followers of Christ you get answers across the spectrum?  You know the standards; “When I was 4 I prayed this prayer....”, “I was raised in a Christian home....”, “I’m really a good person....”.  I’m guilty of those same statements in my life (well, 2 out of the 3).  This is why John 13:34-35 is so profound (and convicting) to me.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Dangerous Christian

I can still see the look on his face.  ”Why would you go all the way to Africa to bring them something they don’t want or need?  Are you on some sort of crusade or something?”  I heard in his voice and saw on his face….contempt.

I had been talking to a non-Christian about my upcoming trip to Guinea Bissau. I was not going to Western Africa to dig a well or bring shoes to children. I was going to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a village that had never heard it.