The Lukewarm Christian (Casual Christian Part 4)

There is no form of Casual Christianity which we want to have any part of.  Here is what we have looked at so far.

1st – We considered what it means to be a Christian – Acknowledging Jesus; Believing in who he really is; and Committing ourselves completely to Christ by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus.

2nd – the Christian Atheist – Christians who live as if there is no God

3rd – the Cultural Christian – Christians whose faith is guided by what the world thinks

Now we are examining a third form of casual Christianity – the Lukewarm Christian!  Some have called this the Comfortable Christian

@Revelation 3:14-22

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The book of Revelation gives us seven letters to seven churches located in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.  These cities are in the very middle of the first century world which are New Testament times.  The churches in these seven cities were suffering persecution and tribulation from the Roman government, or they would very soon (as history reports they did).  There would be pressure to conform to the times.  To worship just like everyone else.  To set Christianity aside, at least for a moment or two to so they would fit in with the rest of society!

Laodicea is the seventh church that Jesus talks too, the last church he addressed in Revelation.  Just like the other six churches, Jesus knows all about what they are experiencing.  His vision is not blinded to the struggles the church goes through.  He knows how the church is reacting to the pressures they are experiencing.  Jesus is with the churches and gives them solutions to their problems.  And with Laodicea we find the solution to the problem of being lukewarm Christians – Christians without zeal for the Lord.

Jesus who is the Amen and the Faithful and True Witness has nothing at all good or positive to say about them.  His words are words of discipline.  These people are not as they should be and Jesus’ words, his promises, and his judgments will happen for sure.  They are God’s values, they are God’s judgments, and of course that is exactly who Jesus is, he is God.

Jesus is also the “firstborn of creation” or rather the “originator” of it all.  Implying that he rules it, he is the ruler of all.

So we’ve got a church that is lukewarm!  They are not cold like the water in Colossae which comes to them from about 10 miles away, nor are they hot like the springs that come from Hierapolis that comes from about 6 miles the other way.  The water from these two spots were piped into Laodicea because it did not have a water supply of its own.  So once you got the cold water from Colossae to Laodicea, it wasn’t cold, it was lukewarm.   And once you got the water from the hot springs at Hierapolis to town, it was lukewarm.  In fact, the water that came into Laodicea didn’t taste very good.  It was disgusting.

The hot water, when it was hot was good for medicinal purposes and the cold water as long as it was cold was refreshing to drink.  But lukewarm water was blah.

The point of describing lukewarm water is that it is disgusting.  Jesus finds the lukewarm church to be other than what HE, their Lord desires.

The reason for their self-satisfied, uncommitted manner is that they think that since they are rich, that they were wealthy people, that they really didn’t need anything. They thought they were fine, they were set for good.  They were coasting as Christians and here’s why they had this attitude.

Laodicea was a banking center.  Because of the wealth, there were leisure and cultural aspects, such as gladiatorial games (think modern day sports) and theatre (our movies and celebrity worship); comfort (time off, freedom to do whatever we please), diversions of all kinds and all sorts of things to relax with and take your mind off of things.  It was an important city because it also had a major textile industry.  Clothing was made there and they had a very unique product, black wool.  Since it was a rare and exotic fabric, it was expensive, very valuable.  Oh, and, there was a medical school there and the city was famous for its eye salve among other medical breakthroughs.

So their attitude was, “We are doing great!  We don’t need anything.”

Jesus is telling the self-satisfied church, “I want water that will refresh me, but you remind me instead of the water that you are always complaining about.  You’re lack of zeal makes me want to vomit.”

Their wealth was a problem.  It had made them too comfortable and blinded them to what their faith was about.

What are the dangers of material wealth which can lead us to Spiritual poverty?

  • Self-sufficiency, trusting in what you have acquired, it is enough, I don’t need anything else.  So I don’t pray, I don’t rely on other Christians, I don’t pay attention to the preaching and teaching (it really doesn’t matter), I don’t even have to go to church.  I’m alright!
  • Pride, look at what I have done, at how much I have accomplished by myself, for myself.  One church I was with was raising $20,000 extra dollars to add to the building, purchase a van, and accomplish a couple of other things for the church’s ministry.  In less than 3 months time, all the money had been pledged and more than half of it had been received.  One of the elders, while leading songs one Sunday said to the congregation, “Give yourselves a hand for what you’ve done.”  Pride goes before a fall and I can tell you about that another time.
  • Thinking you don’t need or you don’t want any outside help including help from the Lord.  Prosperity causes blindness to reality.

Bible commentator Craig Keene says “I fear that the problems of Laodicean Christians are most like our own.”  We’re just like them in many ways.  American Christians are very self-satisfied and many individuals and some churches have no energy and zeal for doing anything, loving and trusting God and Christ and sit back with the attitude, “We’ve got it made!”

Richard Sterns of World Vision (he was formerly CEO of Lenox Inc. makers of fine China), “If the book of Revelation were written today and there was a letter to the church in America, I think it would decry the fact that our materialism and wealth have deafened our ears and blinded our eyes to the cause of the poor.”

Every American is rich.  Even those that are considered poor by our standards in America are wealthier than a majority of the rest of the world. Wealthier even than the wealthiest of kings from the past up until the last 500 years or so!  And many Christians cannot see their spiritual need, how poor and blind they are because they have so much.  They are comfortable and settled and trust in what they have and ignore what God says about things and the needs of others.

What is “true religion”?  James tells us.  It is to look after widows and orphans, or to apply it to our times, those who are poor, helpless, and oppressed and to keep yourself unstained by the world, to be pure in heart, to be holy, to be free from sin @James 1:27.

What Richard Sterns was getting at is that we can hear about suffering elsewhere and often we will find theological or even sociological reasons that it won’t happen to us, and we even avoid actually spending our wealth, even in the church on those needs.  Our walk . . . can make us spiritually poor.

There is a church that a friend of mine used to preach for.  He was their minister for many years, but resigned after challenging them and they balked and refused to act.  They had accumulated an excessive amount of savings, in the tens of thousands of dollars and wouldn’t touch it for any reason whatsoever.  There were missions in need and they wouldn’t help.  The camp they supported could have used extra funds and they refused.  There were people struggling with rent and utilities that they could help but they would not touch this money that they had been saving for decades.  It had been ten years since I last heard about this church, but I just learned that they are still the holding the money, they still haven’t touched it.  They are rich in wealth, but where is their spiritual sense of purpose and action.

The lukewarm church and lukewarm Christians are people who possess the name Christian, but do so without the power of God because they think what they have makes them ok.

Jesus has a solution to lukewarmness.  Here’s what he says in the text.

1st – Though you possess what makes you feel comfortable, Jesus advises that you buy true wealth from him.  Trust in him not in your material riches.  Material riches are not for making us comfortable, that is an American doctrine not a Biblical doctrine.  Riches are for you to help spread the good news and provide for the needy.  Besides, your riches will be destroyed sooner or later.

2nd – Though you think you are clothed, you are naked before God, so buy clothes from Jesus that will cover your nakedness.  The true clothing of Christianity is not self-sufficiency but humble trust in Christ.  One of my favorite series of sermons is looking at what the scriptures tell us to wear.

3rd – “Repent and become totally committed to me,” Christ says.  “Let me build a fire of zeal for true faith and true religion in you and free you from what makes you taste horrible to me.  Then you will be like refreshing water.”

4th – Open the door and let Jesus come in and eat with you.  The last meal of the day is the meal of intimate fellowship.  That is where the relationship grows and bonds are enlivened.  Let Jesus come in and let him develop the relationship of faith and hope and trust and joy with you.  He wants to be your life.

John is helping the church see their behavior as Jesus sees it.  Their vision has been cut off due to their complacency.  They have relied upon themselves and not God.  By their own self-sufficiency they have shut Jesus out.

Jesus is calling them on it.  He loves them, so he will discipline them inviting them to repent and become committed again.  He promises them that if they will come alive, they will rule with him.  That does not mean we will be kings like Christ is king, but that as his people, we are the ruler’s people, we belong to him, we are his people, the King’s people.

You trusted in your riches and wealth and thought you were good.  But you are actually wretched and poor, blind and naked.  You are not as you think you are.  You have not examined and evaluated your life.  Because it is distasteful to me, if you remain this way, if you do not change, you do not let me in, then your eternity that you once trusted in is at stake.

Let’s examine the characteristics of the lives of those who are NOT lukewarm Christians (taken from Voice of the Martyr’s book, _________________________ with my comments added).

1. They have an eternal perspective and are energized by what the rest of the world cannot see or even perceive.  They see beyond this world to the eternal realities.  Rather than live for the moment, which is a worldly characteristic, they look to the next knowing this life is not all there is.

In the fall of 1982, the Michigan State Spartans came to Madison, Wisconsin to play the Wisconsin Badgers.  During the game, when the Michigan State would make a play or score, the crowd would cheer.  Though their team was being trounced, the home crowd responded as if they were winning.

As it happened on that very day, eighty miles away the Milwaukee Brewers were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the World Series.  Football fans at Badger stadium were listening on portable radios as the Brewers soundly defeated the Cardinals.  The cheers had nothing to do with the action in the football game the cheers were related to a reality no one could see.

2. They have committed, trusting faith in God which is usually bracketed with prayer and the Bible.  Their faith is out of this world because they have complete dependence on God and when they pray they KNOW God hears and answers their prayer and that His Word, the Bible will guide them into truth, understanding, and wisdom.

When we think about someone whose total dependence is in God, we will think of missionaries who have no one to rely on than God, or martyrs who have lost their lives for their faith.  People like Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (you know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

When they wouldn’t bow to the idol, and were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace, they said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” Daniel 3:17-18

Total dependence on God!

3. They take obedience seriously.  Obedience to God has powerful implications for every aspect of our lives.  God revealed his will for us in his moral law, epitomized in the Ten Commandments, and Jesus summarized the law and highlighted its importance with this statement: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” @Matthew 33:37-40.  Then, just before returning to heaven Jesus left his disciples with this admonition: “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the end of the age” @Matthew 28:18-19.

So if we are determined to obey God, we must continually ask, “Do my actions express love for God and my neighbor?” and “What can I do to bring the Good News of Christ to others, to make disciples?”  And then do it!

Why does this work?  How does this inspire zeal and devotion to Christ?  Because once a person has become a Christian, they continue to allow Christ into their lives.

Let me show you from another passage and a different lens eternal perspective about committed Christians.

@Hebrews 11:13-16; 32-40; 12:1-3

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[a] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.  39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

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What It Means to be a Christian (Casual Christian Part 1)

This is the first message in the series, “I Don’t Want to be a Casual Christian.”  Certain pieces of information have been changed for the sake of certain individual’s confidentiality. May the Lord bless your life!

Working with residential facility teens has challenged my Christianity as nothing has (explain).

I wrote this in February. Now I don’t journal.  It’s just not something I am disciplined enough to do.   I just wrote this note: “I am not challenged by believers.  I am continually challenged by unbelievers and seekers.  It is people who are wondering, not who have got it that challenges my thinking and ability, my Christianity and faith.”

  • It’s not that I have to be on top of my game (which of course I do)
  • It’s that my Christianity has to be real and valid.

I DON’T WANT TO BE A CASUAL CHRISTIAN

June 6, 2010, Dana Key died suddenly at age 56.  A blues guitarist from Memphis, Tennessee and one of Christian music’s most formidable artists, Dana was sold out to God. His life and ministry were purely about Jesus Christ. The few last years that D&K toured together, Josh McDowell (Evidence that Demands a Verdict) toured with them and they gave away NIV Teen Bibles. They were worked together to encourage young people to get into the word of God.

Dana wrote a song which they recorded in the early 80’s entitled Casual Christian.  In my estimation, that song epitomizes Dana Key’s life and ministry. He lived it.  He didn’t want to be a Casual Christian.   He wanted to be alive, valid, true, and real.

The chorus of the song goes like this: I don’t wanna be, don’t wanna be a casual Christian.  I don’t wanna live; don’t wanna live a lukewarm life.  Cause I want to light up the night, with an everlasting light.  I don’t wanna live a casual Christian life.

Contemplating Dana Key’s life, his ministry, and his message prompted this series of messages called “I Don’t Want to be a Casual Christian.”  I’d like to share them with you and encourage you through them.  Let me give you just a glimpse.

We will look at the three major forms of casual Christianity…

  • The Christian Atheist
  • The Cultural Christian
  • The Lukewarm Christian
  • And we will conclude with the all-encompassing answer to all of this.

But first, what does it mean to be a casual Christian?  Let me help you with that by giving you examples of how that may look in a Christian’s life.

The casual Christian takes the things of God for granted!

  • The casual Christian takes the Bible for granted and doesn’tspend time in the Bible reading, studying, or meditating on it. So . . . they have not knowledge of God’s word nor do they experience it, and they allow others, usually preachers, pastors, teachers, and the internet to tell them what it says and means, and they choose to believe and follow what they like and want and feel instead of the whole word of God.
  • The casual Christian takes Church fellowship for granted.  They see Church membership and church attendance as optional and so they are usually disconnected from the church and are easy prey for the devil by means of the ways of the world.
  • The casual Christian takes prayer for granted. They rarely pray.  They may say prayers at church, they possibly pray before meals, and they will pray when something horrible is happening in their life, they pray as if it doesn’t mean anything. It is not communication with God, and when they do pray, it is a request form submitted to the catalog operator in the sky. “God I want this, give me that.”
  • The casual Christian takes Christianity for granted.  And they easily compromise their values because their Christianity is not set on a firm foundation.  Their choices are not based on Scripture or by Christian thinking, or even by a simplistic form of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?).  Whatever they think, whatever they want, they do.  So it is easy to be trapped in sinful thinking and activity.
  • They haven’t given themselves completely to Christ.

I hope this is not how you are, because if you are, you are a casual Christian and that’s bad.

Recently, there have been a number of troubling trends in our society among Christians.  The scripture tells us to be aware of what is going on around us.  Understanding the times we live in, is crucial!

The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life took a U.S. knowledge survey which was published September 28, 2010.  Let me quote some pertinent evidence to you of how causal Christians are now.

First paragraph.  “Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest scoring group on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history, and leading figures of major world religions.”

The last line of the second paragraph.  “Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.”

Later in the study they note: “Mormons are the highest-scoring group on questions about the Bible.”

And atheists and agnostics, the group least likely to know much about religion and the Bible, know more than Catholics and Protestant Christians.

How embarrassing.  What is wrong with us?  The poll only asked about 15 questions.  And Christians in Protestant churches, which is the category we (“we” referring here to the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ) would fit in according to the Pew Forum designation, scored very low.  We don’t know our stuff!

The Barna research group found in 2010 and 2011 that most Americans call themselves spiritual people, but there is little spiritual transformation.  It does not happen or it does not last.  The study noted that the barriers to transformation included lack of commitment, unwillingness to repent, confusing activity for growth and failure to engage in genuine accountable community (being a regular, active part of a church).

Most of the religious beliefs and behaviors and expectations that define a person’s life have been developed AND embraced by age 13.  By the time they are 8, their worldview has been established.  So by the time they are 13 their view about religion is already set in place and rarely does it change.  In fact, less than 1% of people, once they become adults ever change their religious way of thinking, their religious views, or their religious beliefs.

Whoa!  Where are we at as Christians?  WE DON’T WANT TO BE CASUAL CHRISTIANS!  Where the power of God is not alive in our lives and our church!  Where we sit back and do nothing.  Where when judgment day comes, God’s judgment against us is not what we expected.

I can’t count the number of times someone has said this about a family member or friend who didn’t attend church, who didn’t live by faith, who by their actions showed they were not a follower of Jesus Christ; “at least they’ve been baptized.”  Baptism means nothing without faith and repentance and transformation.

I can’t count the number of times I have visited people that have missed church and they give excuse after excuse for not being in church.  They forget I’m not the judge.  God is.  I am God’s servant trying to discern where their faith is so I can encourage them on to faith and good deeds.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHRISTIAN?

That is the question we must begin with.  It is where we start and continue.  We start in the book of Luke.

LUKE 9:18-27; 18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them,“Who do the crowds say I am?”  “19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”  20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”    Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” 21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.    27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the the kingdom of God.”

To help us remember we have A B & C.

A)   ACKNOWLEDGE CHRIST @Luke 9:18-19

“Man, this person Jesus is a hard person to get to know and understand.  Who is he really?”

That’s what was happening in Jesus’ day.  People were trying to wrap their minds about who he really is.  Is he from God?  Is he God’s Messiah?  And if so, what does that mean?

Up to this point so far in Jesus’ life and ministry, the consensus has been that he is one of the prophets, or embodies the spirit and nature of one of the prophets.   Even Herod the tetrarch, hearing about Jesus’ activity thought that John the Baptist, who was regarded as a prophet, that he had beheaded had returned from the dead (Lk. 9:7-9).

So when Jesus asked his disciples, they told him what people were thinking.  He is one of the prophets like Elijah, or John the Baptist.

The question of who Jesus is, is crucial to all things.  We can ask that question now and get a lot of different responses than the even disciples had encountered.

  • He was a great man, a good person, a moral teacher, a devote Jew, a holy man, but, he was just a man.
  • If he was real, he seems to be ok.  A lot of people like his teaching on love and not judging others (though their understanding of Jesus’ teaching is wrong).
  • Some believe he is a myth, but that’s ok if we wish to personify a myth.  Other religions do the same sort of things.
  • Some think he was a prophet, just like the people in Jesus’ day.
  • The Jews still don’t believe he is the Messiah.  Some recognize his prophetic ministry and teaching, but he wasn’t the Messiah
  • There are many more ways that Jesus is perceived.

I have to acknowledge Christ.  I have seen him for who he really is.  So many people believe that all religions have the same validity.  No single one has the only truth. There are many ways to salvation through this or that religion.  Jesus is just one of those ways.

Do you want me to go on?  When I as a Christian follower of Jesus Christ see him as less than he is, than my faith is going to be faulty.  I will slip into some form of casualness in my Christianity and become a lump on a log for Christ and the church.  And that’s not a good thing.  Because lumps are useless and troublesome and often times toxic.

I have to acknowledge Jesus’ true identity.  If I don’t it won’t matter.  No conversion and transformation will ever truly occur in my life.

B)    BELIEVE IN WHO JESUS (REALLY) IS @Luke 9:20

Nearly every time I have baptized someone, their statement of faith was similar to Peter’s response to Jesus. You likely said when you were baptized.  “I believe that Jesus is the Chris the Son of the Living God.”

But let me ask you.  What type of Christ is Jesus?  What were you confessing?

We all know about the Jewish belief in the Messiah.  They believed he would be militant, powerful, political, and bring them riches.

A very worldly view of the Messiah with no basis in OT history or OT prophecy.  A total misunderstanding of the Messiah.  Jesus could heal the injured, so in battle, he could keep the fighting troops in good shape.  He could raise the dead, so he would raise them back to life if they were killed in battle.  It would be an unconquerable situation.  He can control the weather and cause it to benefit whatever we need it to do.  With this type of Messiah, we can’t lose.

What are your conceptions about Jesus?  Where did you get your perception about Jesus Christ?  From a preacher?  From a friend?  Out of a book?  On the internet?  Or from the Bible?

Peter’s confession was accurate.  Jesus is the one God sent.  He is the Messiah.

I recommend that you pay attention to research done by Pew Research, Barna Research Group, and others who poll and study the beliefs and trends in our society today.  To understand what’s happening around us.  To be prepared to deconstruct their argument with facts and truth.

CNN, Fox News, ABC and NBC aren’t going to tell you anything, or not much and it will be tainted by whatever bias they hold.

Watch this video call “Who is Jesus? by Chip Ingram by clicking on the YouTube link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hr9t9NOrg-I

This is the most important understanding in the world.  Jesus is the Christ.

C)    COMMIT YOURSELF COMPLETELY TO CHRIST @Luke 9:23

Let’s see here.  How many of you have a Jesus fish on the back of their car?  How many wear a cross on a chain around their neck?  How many wear Christians T-shirts and clothing?  How many wear a WWJD bracelet or a “True Love Waits” ring?

If you do, join the club.  And that’s pretty much what it is, a club.  It’s not the church and a lot of people who have these religious things aren’t even Christian or don’t live as Christians.

Look at all the rappers with their big huge crosses around their neck singing about sex as if any form is ok with God.  Or as one person I encountered, wearing a Christian T-shirt and I asked her about her faith and she was not a believer.  She bought the shirt at a thrift store.  It meant nothing more than clothing to her.

A lot of people actually acknowledge who Jesus is.  Fewer people believe in who Jesus is.  And still fewer people commit themselves to Jesus.  Total commitment, complete surrender.

We live in a non-committal society.  For the first time ever, and this statistic comes from a secular source  (if I remember correctly, I found this stat on MSN).  There are more single people than married people in our country.  51% of adults are unmarried.  One of the major reasons for this is that they are co-habiting, shacking up, living together, but not married.

People don’t want to commit too much of anything.  Yet we are called to commit everything to Christ.  And here’s how.

Deny Yourself – Hard to do.  Difficult to accomplish.  The world says fulfill yourself.  Anything goes.  Be your own person.  Take it, have it, enjoy it.  Life is too short to deny yourself what you want and can have.

Denying self means more than sacrificing this or that pleasure.  It means that in everything, in my heart, minds, and soul, in what I think, feel, and do, with what I have and the decisions I make, it is because I belong to Christ.  Not to me.  Remember, you were bought with a price, you are not your own @ 1 Corinthians 7:23.

Just like a slave, you were purchased, not with money, but with Jesus’ blood.  And slaves have no rights.  Nothing they do is for themselves, but for their lords.  Jesus is your Lord.  Give it all up to him and follow him.

Take up your Cross . . . daily.  This isn’t, I was baptized and so, well things will always be like this.  This is every day you submit yourself Christ.  The cross is not some difficulty, it is death.  I am dead to the world and I am dead to self, but I am alive in Christ.  It is not, “My wife’s a nag.  It’s my cross to bear.”  Or, “My boss is a jerk, that’s my cross to bear.”  It is, I have died to everything in the world and I am now alive in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. @Galatians 2:20

The cross was an object of shame, torture, and death.  You will be persecuted for Christ.  You are dead to the world.  Take up your cross like Jesus did and live for him.  You choose to remain dead to sin, dead to self.

Follow Jesus – What Jesus wants, I want.  What Jesus does, I will do.  What Jesus says, I will obey.  What Jesus thinks become my thoughts.

Be like the 144,000 in Revelation 14.   These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. @Revelation 14:4-5

They followed the Lamb.

A few years ago, Franklin Graham was in a cab when he asked the driver about his faith.  The driver said he was a Christian.  Graham asked the driver how he became a Christian.  The driver replied, “I was born a Christian.”

It is impossible to be born a Christian.  Because I was born to a Christian family does not make me a Christian.  Just because my family is Christian, I am not automatically a Christian.

I must be reborn.  Until I believed in Jesus and committed my life to him and was baptized, I was not a Christian and neither are you.

The invitation has two elements today.

First, for those who are not Christian, who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ and been baptized, Jesus is offering you life like no other.  To be free from sin and the guilt of sin and the condemnation of sin.  To be filled with God’s Spirit.  Given new life.  Abundant life now and eternal life when Jesus returns.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ?  Do you believe that Jesus is God’s Son who died to pay the penalty for your sins?  Don’t wait another moment, when we sing our invitation, come and confess Jesus, repenting of your sin and you will be immersed for your salvation.

But for you Christians.  I have a challenge.  You may need to repent of being a casual Christian.  You may need to recommit, to rededicate yourself to the life you received when you were baptized.

Look deep in your life.  Pray for guidance right now.  Ask God for understanding and conviction.

The casual Christian will sluff it off.  I’m ok without thinking a thing about it.  But, are you truly committed to Christ?  What decision are you going to make?

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Silly Road Signs

This article first appeared in the August 21 2002 LaPlata Home Press. for a time, I wrote a devotional article called “Flowing From The Mouth Of The Jordan.”  I’d like to share some of these devotionals with you over the next few posts.

Have you ever noticed how silly some of the road signs are that we see on highways around the country?

For instance: FRESH OIL; LOOSE GRAVEL. The street or highway department sprays oil and tar on the road or shoulder, than they cover it with chat which sticks to the tar like flies on a no-pest strip. When this is done in town* (see explanation below), it seems everyone is upset and grumbles and gripes about it because it messes up our cars. On the highways in particular, in the right circumstances, it can be dangerous and wrecks can happen as cars slide around on the loose chat. The sign is warning us of a possible hazard ahead.

Or, DON’T DRIVE INTO SMOKE. January 1978 was my first experience on the Will Rogers Turnpike as I drove into Oklahoma. As I was heading toward Vinita, Oklahoma, I see these signs with a peculiar warning, “Don’t Drive Into Smoke.”  I’m think, “What? What a stupid sign. This is a highway. Where would smoke be coming from on a highway?” My limited intelligence, experience, and imagination could not figure a good reason for the warning. When it was explained to me by an Okie, I finally understood. Sometimes, people burn off their fields near the highway and the highway department burns off the shoulders of the road and the smoke may roll onto the highway obscuring your vision. It could hide the danger of a slower or stopped truck or car. The sign is warning us of a possible hazard ahead.

Or my favorite, BRIDGE MAY ICE WHEN COLD. I’ve seen these signs mostly in Arkansas and Louisiana. The first time I saw one of these signs I began to imagine the bridge with a mind of its own and the highway department is warning drivers to beware. I could see someone driving across a bridge in the winter when the bridge decides to ice over and cars begin spinning.

In Louisiana, I saw a couple of bridges with the signs on the exit side of the bridge, as if some demented highway employee is playing a joke on drivers. The bridge ices and you start spinning. As you spin past the bridge and see the sign, you yell out, “O yeah. . .thanks. . .for the. . .warning!!!!!” But, ice on bridges when the road is clear is a very real danger. The sign is warning of a possible hazard ahead.

The Apostle Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes  Ephesians 6:11. The devil is a liar and a deceiver. He plots and schemes ways in which to trap you in sin. The Bible warns us about the devil and his tricks. Beware, the devil has a trap ahead, around most every turn in life, just over the rise each day may be one of his tricks.

  • He may trip us up, and cause us to stumble: FRESH OIL; LOOSE GRAVEL.
  • He may hide behind a smoke screen of grumbling of some sort: DON’T DRIVE INTO SMOKE.
  • He may change the conditions quickly to cause you to slip up: BRIDGE MAY ICE WHEN COLD.
By knowing God’s word and way, we can, with the help of God’s own Spirit, see the road signs and dangers and YIELD AND STOP, keeping us out of danger. Beware, the devil is a roaring lion looking for whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). He may be around every corner trying to snatch you away from God.
* Many small towns such as in northern Missouri pave their roads (and on some two-lane highway shoulders), tar and oil is spayed on the road surface and chat spread to cover and adhere to the tar and oil and it makes a sort of pavement type surface and until it settles in, cures or whatever the correct term is, the dust and the tar mess up your car.
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Final Grace Rests Easily Where Sin Once Sat from Romans, Part 14

Let me conclude this series on grace with an illustration of the truth we have just examined and how this is grace at work in us.

Mitsuo Fuchida grew up loving his native Japan and hating the United States, which treated Asian immigrants harshly in the first half of the twentieth century. Fuchida attended a military academy, joined Japan’s Naval Air Force, and by 1941, with 10,000 flying hours behind him, had established himself as the nation’s top pilot. When Japanese military leaders needed someone to command a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, they chose Fuchida.

Fuchida’s was the voice that sent his aircraft carrier the message “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) indicating the success of the surprise mission. Later, he too was surprised when he learned that, of the 70 officers who participated in the raid, he was the only one who returned alive. He had another close call when he was shot down during the battle of Midway in 1942, but despite serious injuries, he survived again.


By 1945 he had attained the position of the Imperial Navy’s Air Operations Officer. On August 6 he was eating breakfast in Nara, Japan,
where a new military headquarters was under construction, when he heard about a bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He flew to investigate, then sent a grim report to the Imperial Command.

On the same day, an American POW named Jacob DeShazer felt moved by the Holy Spirit to pray for peace. DeShazer had been in captivity since 1942, when, as a member of Doolittle’s Raiders, he had dropped bombs near Tokyo and then was forced to parachute into China. While imprisoned, first in Nanjing and later in Beijing, DeShazer had become a Christian. He found his heart softened toward his Japanese captors. After being liberated, DeShazer wrote a widely distributed essay, “I Was a Prisoner of the Japanese,” detailing his experiences of capture, conversion, and forgiveness.

Fuchida and DeShazer met in 1950. DeShazer had returned to Japan in 1948 as a missionary. Fuchida had read DeShazer’s testimony, bought a Bible, and converted from Buddhism to Christianity. DeShazer had recently finished a 40-day fast for revival in Japan when Fuchida came to his home and introduced himself. DeShazer welcomed the new convert and encouraged him to be baptized. While DeShazer continued to plant churches throughout Japan, Fuchida became an evangelist, spreading a message of peace and forgiveness in his native country and throughout Asian-American communities.

Fuchida died on May 30, 1976. Like dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, who wished his legacy to be one of peace rather than destruction, Fuchida wanted the message of his changed heart to supersede the memory of his infamous attack. He wrote, “That morning [December 7] . . . I lifted the curtain of warfare by dispatching that cursed order, and I put my whole effort into the war that followed. . . . [But] after buying and reading the Bible, my mind was strongly impressed and captivated. I think I can say today without hesitation that God’s grace has been set upon me.”  [Elesha Coffman, “Beyond Pearl Harbor,” Christian History Online Newsletter (6-01-01); submitted by Kevin Miller; Wheaton, Illinois]

How does faith come to and grow in a person.  By God’s Word!  Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard by the word of Christ.”

God’s word, given to the unbeliever that does not resist the Word, works in their heart and mind and they come to believe in Jesus and convert to Christ, but that’s not all, the word continues to develop faith as the Word continues in their life.

God’s grace saves, but his grace does so much more than save, it transforms, protects, and develops and grows faith and hope, and life.

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Getting Into This Grace, Part 12

      A family from a remote area was making their first visit to a big city. They checked in to a grand hotel and stood in amazement at the impressive sight. Leaving the reception desk they came to the elevator entrance. They’d never seen an elevator before, and just stared at it, unable to figure out what it was for.

An old lady hobbled towards the elevator and went inside. The door closed. About a minute later, the door opened and out came a stunningly good-looking young woman.

The Dad couldn’t stop staring. Without turning his head he patted his son’s arm and said, “Go get your mother, son.”

It’s just a joke, but transformation is what we’re dealing with today. Not just change, but more than change, transformation, metamorphosis; the conversion of our hearts and minds and souls.

That’s where Paul takes us in Romans. After receiving God’s grace there is still the struggle of living in a holy manner. In Romans 7, Paul discussed the difficulty of receiving grace and not living by grace. “I do the things I don’t want to do and I don’t do the things I know I should do.” As long as we continue to live in the flesh, we will have that struggle. What’s the solution?

Let’s start with God and the beginning of all things by going back to creation. God made everything and this is God’s estimation of it:

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” Genesis 1:31. (NIV)

“It may seem obvious at first, but this statement is actually quite radical. By claiming that creation is good, the Bible places itself in contrast to a number of religions and philosophies that hold that this earth upon which we live is, at best, irrelevant, or, at worst, evil.

Biblical faith however, declares that the world God has made is good. Creation is very good, not evil.  It is the environment in which God created us to prosper and thrive” (Mark Sayers, The Vertical Self); this is the home that God created for us to live in with him and the whole of creation. Yet, sin removed us from the good and moved us into the bad and as Romans 9:19-22 tells us, the creation is suffering because of human sin as well.

Things were good until sin entered the world and corrupted everything. As we said before, you weren’t born with sin. Sin is not your natural way it’s not in your spiritual or physical DNA. You didn’t inherit it from Adam and Eve, but like Adam and Eve, you had a choice and you chose wrong. You sinned by choice and that is how sin entered the world and how sin became a part of your life, by each and every individual’s choice.

In Christ, through his death and resurrection and by means of your faith, you are freed from sin, and set apart able to live a holy and righteous life pleasing to God. But until we get to heaven, we still struggle with temptation and sin and don’t always accomplish the will of God in holiness.

Paul gives us the solution beginning with chapter 12 through the rest of the book. It’s here that he gets really practical.

CLIMB UP AND BECOME A SACRIFICE – Romans 12:1 “

We are to be “living sacrifices.” That’s kind of a contradictory term. The sacrifice is usually killed and prepared before it is sacrificed. The life of the sacrifice was the sacrifice. Its death was the substitution for the person’s sins it was sacrificed for. But we are to be living sacrifice. What’s that mean?

Begin with this thought: Reconciliation rarely occurs without sacrifice. By giving his one and only Son, God took the initiative in healing our broken relationship with him. He made the supreme sacrifice for us that we might be reconciled to him. Jesus’ death was the sacrifice for your sins, yet he lives. His death makes it possible for you to be saved, to be reconciled to God, to fix the broken tie that sin caused between you and God.

Remember, you were dead in your sins, but in Christ you have life. You were dead and buried in baptism and coming out of the water came out alive, reconciled to God. You are now his child, you have been saved by God’s grace. You gave your life to God; you are a living sacrifice, pure and holy – holy and pleasing to God (as the verse tells us).

That is a decision, an attitude, and a determination.

You can’t be a living sacrifice unless you choose to be. It is your decision. You have to choose to be holy to God. As we will see, he will enact the transformation with your decision and your effort and you will become this living sacrifice and will show God’s holiness.

Unless you are holy, you cannot be a sacrifice to God . . . at all. We see this in the story of Israel. God called his people for a special purpose.  Israel was to be a holy people whose embodiment of God’s values would speak to the nations of the world. He called Israel to be a living example of the way he wanted the world to be.

Christians, the church is spiritual Israel and we have the same purpose in this world, to embody God’s holiness as a witness to the world. Yet, we have to decide to become what God has wanted to do in us all along.

At the same time you have to want to be that way. You can decide something all day long, but if you don’t want to do it or be that way, you either won’t or your heart won’t be in it. And if you do it, you are just going through the motions. It has little or no meaning to you.  You’re just “doing it,” not “being it.”

Your attitude, your motivation matters. It is so much more than doing the right thing, it is having right attitude, the correct motivation just like the Sermon on the Mount teaches us. See if these words capture the right attitude?

  • Thankfulness and Gratefulness
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Harmony
  • Hope
  • Mission and ministry
  • Calling
  • Who you are in Christ

And with the elements of choice, attitude, and determination to become who God wants you to be and calls you to be, while he works in you – you also work through his strength, his gifts, his Spirit, and as we shall see from verse 2, his word.

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God’s Taking Care of Me (Romans Pt. 11)

I like to win. I am very competitive and I really like victory. When it really matters, I will do whatever I need to do (within the rules) to win, to overcome my opponent, to conquer them.

I don’t know if it is that I’m a guy and guys have that tendency, or if it is cultural conditioning and participating in sports, or if it’s just me, but I like to win.

I won when God saved me. I became victorious over sin, over temptation, over death, over everything that puts me in the state of being lost. In Christ, I am a conqueror. The only thing I really did was believe in Christ, repent my sins, confess that he is God’s Son and give my life to him. He saved me. I recognized that the war was going to be won by the forces of heaven with Jesus the victor and I went over to the other side, to Jesus’ side.

I have been given and I have received God’s grace.

In the 4/4/11 post  https://blogthechurch.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/figuring-out-what-romans-828-means/ , we discussed how Romans 8:28 is misused. Essentially, people take the verse and believe it claims that they will overcome in every circumstance and situation because they are in Christ, yet, it is not about living a victorious life and all about overcoming what sin had done to us in the first place. Sin had separated us from the love of God and now that we have taken Christ as our Savior, we have become conquerors.

And so God has done some important and incredible stuff, both before creation and now.

1st – Before creation he determined that when we accept Christ, that we will become like Christ is being judged sinless and that we will be (as Romans 12:1-2 says) transformed by the renewing of our mind. He already renewed our soul, now the ongoing transformation of making us Christ-like continues in this life – Rom. 8:29-30

2nd – When Paul tells us that God is for us, we are not talking about God cheering us on from the sidelines, or even as a coach. He is for us in that he gave us life. He provided life through Jesus’ death and resurrection and puts eternal life into us when we accept Christ and are baptized. So he makes our souls right (Paul uses the word justified) – Rom. 8:31-32

3rd – Because we are judged innocent of sin with Jesus’ blood covering us for the sake of forgiveness, then no can bring a charge of guilt against us because God has forgiven us. We are even told that God erases our sins from the book that records what we’ve done in this life. They are no longer recognized because when God looks at us he sees Jesus’ blood covering us – Rom. 8:33-34

So, who shall separate us from the love of Christ. Sin can’t because it has been removed and forgotten. Satan can’t because God doesn’t recognized that we are sinners any more. Nothing outside of ourselves can separate the faithful Christian from God’s love (which implies God wanting to and giving us salvation).

In Christ, you are in good shape.

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What’s This Fruit About?

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:19-23

The fruit of Spirit is about what takes place in a person’s life as God does his thing in you.

Paul notes the contrast between the ways of the world. The world is sinful. The ways of the world destroy souls, relationships, hope, even life. But the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, etc (see passage above or pic on the left) is the way of life (eternal life).

It’s about God enabling you to be separate from the world’s terrible way. Think of ancient Israel. God intended for Israel to be different. God told them when they entered the promised land to remain separate from the idolatrous people who lived there.

They were to run them out; they were destroy their sacred places, including the idols; they were his people representing God’s holy way. The 10 commandments and their explanation in Deuteronomy (starting about chapter 5) show their relationship with God and how his character is holy and those of  idolatrous people are unholy and do not accomplish the righteousness that God is and of those who are in a relationship with him.

I shared about the second commandment with some teens yesterday, do not have or worship idols (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10). Some of them are Christian, there is a Jewish kid, a Mormon, and a handful of agnostics and an atheist or two, and some that aren’t anything. We talked about the principle of idolatry since we don’t see people worshiping idols like Israel witnesses with the Egyptians and those they would encounter worshiping the Baals and Ashtoreth and Moloch and the like in ancient Israel when they entered the land of Canaan. What are the modern idols that we might worship in America today?

  • Money
  • Celebrity
  • Relationships
  • Objects (cars, electronic devices, etc)

They mentioned several other items. Even the teens that aren’t Christian. They understood the difference. But being godly, living the life of the Spirit and producing the fruit of the Spirit may be another thing for people.

When a person who is an immersed believer in Jesus Christ, they have God’s Spirit in them (Acts 2:38). If the Spirit is not there, there is no salvation. The Spirit however, as he works with our spirit, enables us to be godly, to produce the fruit of godliness. Being in this-worldly world, and yet living without the power of worldly influence controlling our lives.

If we were to try to picture this, it might be like the pic just to the left. God reaching down out of heaven and holding us up against the powerful influence of the world. It is because he loves us and chooses to save us from the hellish penalty of sinfulness (John 3:16).

Another way to envision this is to realize the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12) and the complete teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Read it and apply it and live it.

If the fruit of the Spirit is what your life is like than you are living the Sermon on the Mount.

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