Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Gotta Love Popularity Contests

In an interview in 1966, John Lennon of the Beatles said, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first, rock n' roll or Christianity." That set off a huge negative reaction in the U.S., with angry fans burning Beatle records and merchandise.

Lennon's comment was fairly arrogant, but it's nothing compared to a quote from Voltaire, the 18th-century French atheist. He wrote, "In 20 years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took 12 apostles to rear."

Well, of course, they were both wrong. Christianity is still here, 36 years after Lennon's death and over 230 years after Voltaire's. The reason they were wrong is that Christianity is far more than just a "popularity contest." Jesus Christ is more than "popular" with those who believe in Him. They're willing to take up their cross to follow Him. Jesus said, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37-38).

People in the first century knew what Jesus meant by taking up a cross. It meant complete abandonment. The idea is that you embrace Christ with an absolute dedication that will take you through persecution, that will take you even, if need be, unto death. For that, Jesus needs to be more than just "popular" to you.

I remember getting laughed at as a young believer because I had a bible at school. And I felt pretty proud: "I'm suffering persecution!" Then I read Foxe's Book of Martyrs and found the stories of people who were completely abandoned to Christ.

Some people worry about what they would do if somebody threatened their life unless they denied Christ. Well, I wouldn't lose sleep over that one. I think God is able to give you a supernatural strength at that time that you don't know you could have. But it begins by an absolute commitment to Christ.

Jesus promised that "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). That level of commitment is shown in the epitaph on the grave of John Knox: "Here lies a man who feared God so much that he did not fear any man."

I pray that we'll be so completely abandoned to Jesus Christ that those words can be said about each of us.

Love God – Love People

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Here's to your Health

We're kind of obsessed with health and wellness here in the U.S. Here are some news stories I saw just this week. One said that getting too little sleep is not only bad for your health but can lead to early death. Another said that getting your exercise in a green place like a park can be good for your mental health. Still another said you can encourage children to eat fruit by cutting it in a visually interesting way. And one said that the substance that makes chili peppers hot can also relieve pain.

We emphasize health so much that it's even led some to misinterpret scripture. I'm referring specifically to a verse all of us have heard. "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 2).

There's something going around today called the "faith" teaching or the "health and wealth" teaching. Some teachers will take that verse completely out of context and say it's a proof text that Christians should never be sick and walk in perfect health and healing 24 hours a day. They either don't understand Bible interpretation or they willingly neglect the fact that it was just a common greeting. John wasn't saying that we'll always be healthy. He's saying, "My heart's desire is that you are spiritually healthy. And if you can be physically as well off as you are spiritually, I wish that for you, too."

It certainly doesn't mean that if you're in poor health that you're living a "Satan-defeated life" or that you don't have enough faith! To get that out of the text, you've got to force an interpretation on it.

Physical health or financial prosperity is not always an indication of spiritual health and prosperity. That's very easy to figure out. Do you know any unbelievers who have good health, or who have money? Does that mean that they're spiritually prosperous? No, of course not! And I know some great men and women of God who suffer physically, even though they have great faith. You and I can philosophize about it, but they live it.

What if that were prayed about us, that we would be as physically fit as we are spiritually? I wonder...would we be strong and vibrant, or would we be anemic?

Of course we should eat healthy, get some exercise and enough sleep, and all that. But first and foremost, we should make sure our souls prosper. That's where our emphasis should always be.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

To be a Horn Honker

In other countries, car horns don't mean what they mean in the U.S. In some foreign countries, honking your horn might mean "I'm here, look out for me," or maybe just "Good morning!" Here, we honk when we're angry, or when someone does something wrong, like running a light or cutting us off. It usually doesn't do any good. They don't slap their forehead, say "Sorry!" and repent. Usually they just get more angry.

Proverbs 9 has some good advice on giving and receiving a reprimand--because truth must be received as well as shared. First it warns about mockers. "Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return.  Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.  So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you.”

But the second part of verse 8 through verse 9 is beautiful: "But correct the wise, and they will love you.  Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser.  Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.”

Criticism can be a wonderful tool that God uses in our life--if you let it. You can take criticism too personally, or you can reject it, or ignore it. But then you might be what the Bible calls a fool! It all depends on the nature of the criticism, and the way you handle it. Criticism can be one of God's best tools to shape us into the image of Jesus Christ. It can stop us from being self-centered, and make us sensitive to other people's needs.

All of us have blind spots, and therefore we all need some kind of accountability. We can all benefit from criticism, if it's constructive. Destructive criticism is meant to tear down, not to build up, and we shouldn't listen to that. We need to recognize the difference. If you are a wise person, you will consider whether the criticism you receive is constructive, and you'll walk away as a wiser person.

Of course, you have to be careful who you listen to--because if you listen to everybody's criticism you'll be a basket case! I think every Christian should have friends around them who they'll receive criticism from. You'll be wiser if you do. It's part of God's process of refining us.

Sometimes in response we can develop a tough skin, get bitter, or insensitive, or we can refuse to listen. If you do, in a sense you're saying, "I don't need to be molded by God." The other extreme is "peace at any price." This is where anytime somebody tells you something they don't like about you, you just do whatever they ask to avoid confrontation; you pander to them. That's equally wrong.

You should consider the criticism and then say, "Lord, if this is true, please confirm it in some way." Go to someone who cares for you and will give you an honest answer, and say, "Is this true? Do I need to change in this area?" If it is, then make the change, asking God for His help. If it's not, then throw it away. Not all honking horns need to be listened to!

Love God – Love People

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

You Prove It

Have you ever heard people say, "The God of the Old Testament is a God of hatred and vengeance, and the God of the New Testament is a God of love"? When I hear that I want to ask, "Have you ever read it?"

In the final book of the Old Testament, God's last words to His people (prior to sending His Son) are "I love you." Look at Malachi 1:2. "'I have always loved you,' says the LORD, but.  But you retort, “Really, how have You loved us?'"
God is saying, "Don't you know? I love you!" And they're arguing, "Prove it!"

This was the root of all of Israel's problems, the failure to believe in the love of God. Actually, I think that's perhaps the root of all our problems, too.

In the garden, Satan suggested to Eve that she doubt God's love. She said, "We can eat of every tree, but we can't eat of that tree. That's what God said." Satan said, "Really? Did God say that?" Then he said, "Look, God knows that in the day you eat that fruit, your eyes will be opened. You're going to be just like God!" So now a seed is planted in her heart, as if to question God and say, "Hmm... Why would God hide that from me? He must not love me." In questioning the love of God, Adam and Eve fell.

Satan wants you to feel neglected by God. And that is why in your darkest hour he'll come to you and say, "Look at you in your tough situation! You've been praying, and God hasn't answered you! He must not love you as much as He loves those other people, because He's answered their prayers! But not yours!" And the natural reaction is to say, "Yeah, that's right!"

That's why Jude said, "Keep yourselves safe in God’s love" (v. 21). How do you do that? Get the truth about God from the Word of God, not from your feelings. And you can find the love of God in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. It's everywhere. Here's one verse: “Long ago the Lord said to Israel: 'I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love; with unfailing love I have drawn you to myself'" (Jeremiah 31:3). Here's another: "The Lord your God loves you" (Deuteronomy 23:5).

Again and again, God is described as "abounding in love." It's in Exodus, it's in Nehemiah and the Psalms. "But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry, and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness" (Psalm 86:15).

And that's only a smattering. When you look for the love of God, you'll find it everywhere. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. And He's a God of love. He's proved it!                     

Love God - Love People