This is a continuation of my last post, addressing the commonly accepted and highly abused concept of the Separation of Church and State. Please read that prior post to best understand this one. So, to continue.
Nowhere in our Constitution or Bill of Rights does it say that our safeguard against a fate similar to what 16th Century England experienced is to prohibit interaction between the Church and the State. Rather, that the control of either must be avoided.
To think that one ought to control the other is a small-minded and narrow train of thought. We know the State should not be controlled by a church or any religious organization. And we know that the Church should not be controlled or dominated by the affairs and regulations of the State. So what, then, is the solution? What was the First Amendment aiming for?
The goal of the First Amendment was to avoid the State controlling the Church and using her as an instrument for the manipulation of the people (as she was in England). This Bill was created to protect the freedoms and rights of the Church. The goal was not separation. The goal was freedom.
William E. Simon, in his book A Time For Truth
, says, “Freedom…isn’t a presence, but it is an absence of governmental restraint” (pg 6).
These laws were to enable the Church and the State to maneuver freely for the well being of the people without the interference of one trying to dominate the other. This philosophy was to avoid control. Not justify it.
According to Webster’s Dictionary
(merriam-webster.com), religion is: (1) a personal set or institutionalized system of religious
attitudes, beliefs, and practices. (2) Scrupulous conformity; conscientiousness
. (3) A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.
Based on these simple definitions we see to separate these from the State is nearly impossible. Religion (the Church) is a way of life. Religion is “A cause, principle, or system of beliefs”. Religions are merely personal convictions and “practices”. It is impossible to exist and not have principles, beliefs, practices or a cause of any sort. This can never be truly separated from the State.
Rather, these convictions, principles and causes should be the framework, the driving force, the infrastructure for all of the States functions. What good is a government with out a cause for which to stand? What good are a people with out a government by which their cause can be sustained and furthered?
In other words: the Church and the State are to work together as a team. The Church should not dominate the affairs of State. But the convictions of citizens (religion) must dominate the affairs of the State. The Church enables the affairs of the State to truly better the people. And likewise, the State enables the functions of the Church to also better the people. They work together, independent while interdependent.
Yet today it seems that an ever-growing state silences an ever-shrinking church. The reason for this is simple: The Church stopped doing what it was supposed to do! So now the State is forced to make up for it! Gary DeMar, in God and Government
(pg 110), says, “If our main political and economic problems today are with the huge, impersonal and ever expanding bureaucratic State, then we must be prepared to take over many of the State’s activities”.
Basically, the Church used to run the orphanages and hospitals. The Church used to take care of the widows, the sick and the poor. The Church used to be Christ’s “hands and feet”. In short: the Church used to be the welfare system!
C.J. Ryle said, “The world before and the world after the introduction of Christianity were as different worlds as light and dark, night and day. It was Christianity that stopped gladiatorial combats, elevated the position of women, raised the whole tone of morality, and improved the condition of children and the poor” (DeMar, pg 210).
But as the “separation of church and state” became a wider and wider gap these benefits of the Church to society began to fall away and the State was forced to pick them up.
Due to misinterpretation of the First Amendment, the State began to enforce unnecessary separation between herself and the Church. This also caused the Church to begin to separate herself from her role in assisting the State in all those many ways. Hence the Church’s system was smothered and the need arose for the welfare system to be run by the State.
Now the Church feels displaced and the State feels overwhelmed. If only they could work together as intended! Not one dictating the rights of the other. If only they would allow each other to play their part in society, culture and the lives of men. Side by side they could do so much for the furtherance of goodness and justice. What a beautiful sound; the sound of two great institutions coming together for one goal.
Yet today in America the song has a different tune. We see politicians removed from office due to the expression of their religions convictions. We see Bibles prohibited in schools and Ten Commandment plaques banned from public squares.
Stalin once said, “Anti-religious ideas are molded by organized action. We must aim to eliminate the social roots of religion” (Skousen, pg 309). He went on to slowly choke out religious expression and conviction. Little by little these regimes laid the foundation they needed to launch the world into the crisis of communism.
These party schemes went on to successfully get the public to criticize religion. Over time, religion became that of the few and far between. And so the path was paved for communism to takes its toll on Earth.
Is America repeating this same scheme? How could we be so careless to run over the rights we’ve so proudly upheld? Rights that we have loved so dear!
Hopefully the fog is growing thin and the danger becoming clear. The First Amendment to the Bill of Rights was developed as a safeguard against America’s churches becoming the suffocating and government-controlled fiend that the Church of England became. It was this very problem that drove so many thousands to pursue sanctuary in the New World. And it is for this cause that our First Amendment issues such strong protection of.
Yet today we find this principle being ignored and violated everyday in America. How could so great an error be committed even after the erection of so strong a defense! Impossible! Tragic! Yet this is reality today. America is becoming slave to the very monster that she was created, designed and populated to escape! A monster that crushes the rights and freedoms of religion.
Rights have been craved by mankind since the dawn of time. Rights have been dreamed of, fought for, chased after and desired on every level of society, with every depth of emotion, through every era of time.
Time has held a drama of agony over the rights of mankind. Wars scattered throughout the centuries have speckled the globe with histories of bloodshed. Victims wail their plea in the books, movies and photos of our time. The cries of the African Americans, women, Jews, children, churches, parents, and slaves of all kind are heard.
Violated rights have even left their scars in the new and bright pages of American history books. Even in the “land of the free” we see the grim and ongoing struggle of man to keep his “inalienable”, God given rights. Yet America has been a bright beacon of hope in this dark and wretched fight.
But now this beacon of hope dims. Dusk settles on the rights we’ve justly won. And in doing so the night of communism has subtly worked its first notes in to the melody of American history.
This is not a tune of freedom, civil liberties and human rights. It is not a song that echoes the glories of the “land of the free and the home of the brave”. It is a reprise of an old tune, a tune that has swept the masses into its slippery grave. A song whose singers wail from the graveyards of nations past. Yet has crept its way into nations present.
The song: communism. The nation: America. The outcome: unknown. The prediction: tragedy.
I don't often address politics. But lately, I've been a bit fed up. This is an atypical post that addresses a commonly misunderstood, and highly abused concept: The Separation of Church and State.
The Separation of Church and State has a just and noble purpose at its foundation. But it no longer stands on that foundation. Today it lays the groundwork for a cause it was never intended to support. I will show you how it has been distorted to bring about an end it was designed to avoid. Let's start with a discussion on communism.
Communism is bitter, black and bare. The blood, tears, and cries of broken nations have been seen and heard for decades. Communistic regimes have marred entire continents with their brutal ambitions. Proof litters the globe. And traditionally, we Americans could not imagine our own country would sink to such depraved depths. For the typical American, communism has been established in our minds as evil, wicked and wrong. Proof lives in history books and museums. For most of us, the evils of communism go without question.
Questions need to be asked. How is it born? What climate promotes a habitat for communism to germinate? What are the signs and precursors we should be aware of? We know what it looks like in the end. We’ve seen and heard the gruesome stories. The big picture is clear. But do we know what the beginning stages look like? How would we know when we are in the midst of it?
According to Karl Marx, in his Selected Essays
, (Marx, pg 12) the beginning stage of communism is the elimination of God from culture. A leader in the Communist Party, Young Bolshevik, stated, “If a Communist youth believes in God and goes to church, he fails to fulfill his duties. This means that he has yet to rid himself of religious superstitions and has not become a fully conscious person” (Skousen, pg 307).
Bolshevik went on to explain how the foundation to success “is incompatible with religion” (Skousen, pg 306). To be a great nation, God and all religion must go. Success and prosperity cannot be shared with religion.
Lenin himself preached this same doctrine. He said, “We must combat religion, this is the ABC of all materialism” (Skousen, pg 307). Materialism here was simply the joy of possessions, the comfort and satisfaction of owning things.
The ruthless and lethal communist ideology starts with this. It begins with this one move: removing religion.
Many claim the “Freedom of Religion” protects us from ever marching down that road. But merely thinking we are protected is not good enough. This claim is wishful and shaky in these present times. It's true that this right is etched into the fabric of America’s foundation. Our Bill of Rights boldly declares the freedom of religion: one of America’s most enviable civil liberties.
Americans are proud of their rights and freedoms. The dignity of our flag rests on these rights. Our Founding Fathers warred for them, lived for them and died for them.
The Pilgrims of the Fourteenth Century yearned for these rights. Suffocating under state-controlled Church of England, they fled for their future. They endured the hardest of circumstances for the hope of reaching the New World, with the right to religious freedom as one of their deepest aspirations. Oppression and control of the Church by the State had been the ruin of their lives and the death of their dreams.
Those dreams were stirred from deepest sleep at the dawn of American liberties. Religious freedom was indeed granted to the citizens of the new nation. But what does this “right” look like today?
Can God be in America’s public educational systems? Can any State-funded institution endorse prayer? Can the Ten Commandments weigh in the decisions of court? Can a church hire or fire employees based on religious convictions? Can students promote or share their religious stances?
Sadly, in most cases, the answers to these questions are a clear and stable “no”. And, of course, the obvious reason is the “separation of church and state”. The Church has to be removed from the functions of the State if it is going to be effective. Right?
Wait. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Church removed? Religion removed?
First we must consider the original intent of the theory of separation. Of course the founders were not meaning to mimic the basis of communism when they proposed this concept. So what were they after?
This concept is generally traced to the letter written by Thomas Jefferson
in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists
, in which he referred to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution
as creating a "wall of separation" between church and state.
To grasp this further lets take a look at the First Amendment. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution
is part of the United States Bill of Rights
that expressly prohibits the United States Congress
from making laws "respecting an establishment of religion
". To pass any legislation that prohibits the free exercise of religion
, infringe the freedom of speech
, bind the freedom of the press
, limit the right to peaceably assemble
, or constrain the right to petition
the government for a redress of grievances
is clearly prohibited by this Amendment.
In considering this Amendment, and Jefferson’s reference to it, the context is crucial. It’s important to recall where the Danbury Baptist, along with most of the pilgrims, had just come from: England.
The Church of England was closely intertwined with the power and money of the Crown. This church was a far cry from the true nature of religion. Some would even say she was a wicked and perverse institution.
It has been said that the Church of England was more oppressive than any actual form of government in all of England’s legacy. History records the exploitation of the kingdom, money leeched from the poor, truth twisted to further greedy ambitions, and bloody power struggles taken out on the loyal. All this in the name of religion! Examples like the Crusades, Bloody Mary, The Inquisition and many more loom in the dark past of church and state relations.
All of these religious moves were enforced by the police power of the State. The ripped-off public was slave to the superstitions of a manipulative church, backed by the military force of the State. Devastation ravaged the people’s esteem of both church and state.
Clearly there was a need for Jefferson to reassure and reinforce the safety measures that had been taken to protect this nation from similar tragedy. The new republic’s commitment to keeping the influence of these two institutions separate was clear in policy and purpose.
Undoubtedly a state ruled by the Church becomes a wicked, dry and corrupt place. The same is true of a church controlled by the State. We’ve seen it proven through history that such a government offers little hope and progress. However, control is not the only option in the relationship between church and state.
Nowhere in our Constitution or Bill of Rights does it say that our safeguard against such doom is to prohibit interaction between the Church and the State. Rather, that the control of either must be avoided.
I'm out of time and space at the moment. But this post topic will be continued shortly.
Ephesians 5:8 "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the Light."
I was darkness. It's not that I was merely IN darkness, or surrounded by darkness. But my very being was made up OF darkness, composed of darkness. It's not a place that I was in, it was matter I was made of.
But now, I am light! I haven't simply been relocated into a brighter place. I don't just live in light, reflect light, or enjoy light. But I AM light! The very core of who I am has been converted and transformed. Every fiber of my being has not been covered by light, but has been remade into light! This is not something I put on or soak in. It's something I exude, something that radiates from the inside out. It's not something I work to do, it's who I am! It's not a task, or a duty, it's a state of being.
I know many people who claim to be believers, and who put SO much work into trying to let their little light shine. They try so very hard to do and say the right things. They labor and toil to look like light. But it's not meant to be a burdensome or cumbersome task. Being a Christian, truly, is not tiresome. It's not exhausting. It's not an unending output or constant effort. It's an easy yoke, a light burden (pun intended).
Light doesn't combat darkness, or try to fight to fight off shadows. It just is. And the darkness has no choice but to leave. Light does't struggle to travel at a certain speed, or accomplish something. It simple is what it is, and so it travels, and it warms, and it exposes, and it clarifies and beautifies. But all of this is the natural result of it simply being light.
Matthew 5:14 tells us that you and I, us believers, we are the light of the world. We are a city on a hill for all to see, a city whose mere existence is visibly hope-giving and dark-diffusing. It doesn't command us to try and shine, it just reminds us of who we are.
We live in a dark and discouraged world. A world looking for hope, looking for answers, looking for light. Rather than condemning yourself for not shining enough, or beating yourself up for failing in some way. STOP. Receive the light of God's grace. And be changed. Be transformed. It's powerful. It's miraculous. It's real.
Let's be that city on a hill. Let's color the night with the light of Christ's grace, love and hope. Let's simply surrender to Him, and let His light shine through. You and I cannot muster light. We can't create it. But we can BE it. It's a core-level issue, not a surface issue. Stop trying so hard, let the grace and mercy of God touch you on the heart-level, and watch as you begin to radiate the gleam of heaven through your words and countenance. It will not only astound you, it will captivate those around you, those in need of a glimpse of light today.
It's a simple miracle of grace. Stop trying. Start being. The world is waiting. Let's light it up!
Have you ever tried to do the splits? For some it is possible; for others it is impossible. Our skeletal structure decides what we can and cannot do. It dictates how we sit, walk, stand, run, and lie down. The backbone directs how flexible a person will be; the joints determine how far one will bend. We simply hit a limit and are physically incapable of twisting or stretching any further.
We may stretch certain muscle groups, and that may help. But we cannot change the limit that our skeletal structure has internally determined for us. We can do very little to alter it. It is simply who we are, it’s the core of our being.
So it is with ethics. Ethics set the internal limits of our conduct. They set the boundaries to our bending. They are the dictator of our decisions. And they decide just how far we can go.
Ethics are the set of moral principles by which one lives. The dictionary defines ethics as “the study and philosophy of human conduct, with emphasis on the determinations of right or wrong.” What do you think is right? What do you think is wrong? What are your convictions in dealing with people, money, confidences, and other key components of life? Ethics decide exactly how far one will and will not bend. They shape one's reputation, become one's testimony and determine one's success and influence.
In Scripture we read of a man named Zacchaeus whose backbone was very, very flexible. His system of ethics composed of loosely connected and fragmented principles, his double-jointed character, allowed him to bend whichever way he wanted with out the pain or inconvenience of restriction.
We read in Luke 19 of his flimsy values in dealing with the people of Jericho. He lied, cheated, stole and mistreated heaven knows how many of his poor, fellow countrymen. Yet with out a twinge of pain he thrived in this mode of flexibility, uninhibited by the regulations of stricter morals. He swayed in the wind, which ever way seemed to promise him more profit. Free from the bounds of tighter, inelastic convictions, he could do just about whatever he pleased.
But one day he found Jesus. Jesus transforms humanity. He changes us, and makes all things new. He creates again, fresh and healthy. He restores. Even down to the very structure of our being, the core, the bones that make up the interior foundation of our actions.
Zacchaeus was not reorganized, remodeled or reshaped. He was not rearranged or redone or revived. He was redeemed, reborn, and revolutionized. He was rebuilt from the ground up. He was renewed from the inside out. He was recreated, down to the very core of his being. Life and health and togetherness overtook his morals and principles and code of ethics. His way of life, values and all his dealings were totally restructured.
Immediately, Zacchaeus’ ethics were completely transfigured. Soon his ways were totally launched into effectiveness and efficiency. He began to operate in a whole new realm of productivity. He moved in a God-ordained way. He soon found himself incapable of bending in inhumane measures for the sake of gain. Where once flexible morals permitted the contortion of principles, now strong convictions propelled him into a realm of nobility and trustworthiness that opened more doors than he could walk through.
Zacchaeus had new bones. New joints. New ethics. The words of Jesus changed the foundation of his being, his existence. The book of Hebrews tells us that the Word of God discerns and pierces through the joints and marrow of our soul. It deciphers and distinguishes the unhealthy lack of restraint and instills vital and appropriate parameters for more effective movement. Those parameters are ethics.
As in the story of Zacchaeus, we see that those ethics, those bones, must be (more wonderfully: CAN BE!) transformed by the power of Jesus. Our entire system of ethics can be reconstructed into the code and limits prescribed by God. Every believer must be willing to let the old ethics die, and become new in all things, even new bones.
This post is decidedly short. Enjoy.
Sometimes Christians put such pressure on themselves. We have a tendency to burden ourselves with the impossible task of recreating ourselves. We try to suppress our "old nature" and encourage the development of our "new nature". And although this concept is good, it tends to get thwarted by our limited perspective.
I know that I have dug down into my soul to try to burry the bad and bring out the good. We try to reinvent ourselves. We give time and money into creating a new image, a new personality, a whole new person! Well... as I'm sure you've discovered, this is nearly impossible.
The "new man" I am supposed to be does not come from my efforts of self-transformation. It is not the result of regimented discipline or the completion of religious check lists. It doesn't come from a new wardrobe, a good book and some new eating habits. These things are not bad. But they are not going to change us into new people. Not at all. If you are like me, you've tried these things, and we ended up the same old us, just with a new sense of failure.
Ephesians 4:24 says, "Put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness".
The new man is not engineered by me. It's not prescribed by a culture or a religious institution. It's not according to any one's interpretation of society or social norms. It's not according to my view of who I would like to be. The new man is not of my making. It is not my efforts towards holiness, not my fabrication or good deeds. The new man that I put on is created entirely by God, according to God.
I can fabricate false righteousness and holiness. But I know it's false. God knows its false. And the vast majority of those around me know its false to. God isn't about masking or hiding or covering up. He is about CREATING. He comes to CREATE in me a clean heart (Psalms 51). He comes to CREATE in me a new man. And this is not false. It is real. It is true.
It is HIS righteousness. HIS holiness. It is of HIS making, not mine. Today I make the choice to step into a divine nature, an out-of-this-world version of me, created with supernatural material, designed by a perfect God, transformed by forces that are higher than mine. I put on a man, a new man, that was created and formed and fashioned by a perfect and loving God. This is the same God that created my body type, my personality, my sense of humor. And He has designed the perfect man for me to be. My works, my efforts, my imagination... these are helpful, but they don't cut it.
Make a decision with me to stop beating ourselves up, falling short of our own expectations and insulting the grace of God. Instead, let's accept and receive the new nature that God has designed for us. Be transformed by His grace, not our works. Receive a new nature designed according to Him, not according to us. And enjoy the knowledge of being righteous and holy, in a real and true way.
The word "performance" is sometimes viewed in negative light. It's often associated with being fake, plastic, or hypocritical. While I'm sure all those things are true from time to time, I also believe that the desire to perform is more-often-than-not a natural, healthy motivation.
A mother gets up extra early to prepare breakfast for her family. Is the desire to rise early and make food before dawn natural? Maybe. Maybe not. But the desire to please and care for the family is sufficient motivation to put on a smile and do what needs done. A man works long hours at a hard job. Is it because he enjoys work? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Most likely it's because he enjoys getting paid, and loves to provide for his family; so he performs at a job he may not like. A student neglects what he'd really like to do on a Friday night, and instead pours over his studies in preparation for a test. Are his actions backed by genuine feelings? Probably not. Rather, they are backed by principle, by goals, by a bigger and long-term picture. So he performs.
I think most self-discipline and self-control is performance based. It's governing ourselves beyond our natural desires. Most times we are pleased with the results of our performance. Friendships are strengthened, good habits are formed while bad habits are broken, goals are reached and prizes are received. Our efforts to adhere to certain ethics or objectives, feelings aside, are usually rewarding.
In the same way, I "perform" in my faith. I choose to believe the best. I choose to pray. I choose to worship. I choose to get up early and read the Bible. I choose to be kind, to show love, to forgive. I choose to attend church functions. I choose to give. Sometimes, those actions are not supported by natural desires to do so. Yes. I put on a happy face and perform.
The beautiful thing is, before long, my heart will follow. Soon, the man loves his job. The mother loves to make her family breakfast. Soon, the student receives his degree. Soon, the sacrifice is not as painful. Before long, I look forward to rising early to read the Scripture, or attend a church function, or donate time or funds. I set my will, regardless of how fake I feel, and before you know it, my feelings align!
I think much of life is a performance. We rein in our emotions and harness our will. We discipline our minds and body, and it's not always an easy, natural task. Many times I have to choose joy over what I feel. I choose forgiveness over what I think is natural. I choose to wake up and connect with God. I ignore the fact that my heart may not be entirely involved in these various routines.
And little by little, the routines become alive. Our performance begins to pay off. Little by little, people begin to thank us. Parents are proud of us. Friends are inspired by us. Families are blessed by us.
Even though not every move I made was genuinely heart felt all the time, over time, I am so grateful to have stuck with what I knew was right. I am so glad I delivered the best performance I could muster. The joy of knowing I've done well, and hearing from a boss or teacher or a friend that my labor and work was worth it... it's incredible!
Few things in this world compare to the satisfaction of being genuinely affirmed by a superior. To receive a sincere compliment from someone who's professional and valid evaluation carries significant weight, it adds more value to our work and sacrifice than just about anything. A deep sense of worth comes over us when we realize we've made our parents, teachers, employers or coaches truly proud. I believe there is a drive within all of us to please and perform with such excellence and integrity that those we admire stand back and say, "Well done!" And I further believe that this drive was instilled in each of us by God, and is meant to be satisfied in full one day.
There is one superior whose affirmation I crave more than anything else on the planet. Christ. Flesh and bone, body and blood. The person of Jesus. A man. I am continually enraptured by the mystery of this man. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I am consumed by desire to encounter Him, to hear His review of my life. He is what I live for, His reward is what I reach for, His call is what I press towards, His face is what I long for and His voice, telling me, "Well done," I will die for.
I will pull together all my will to muscle through every fake feeling, every tired moment, every frustrating situation. I will power through every emotional and natural hesitation, and will deliver the best performance I can humanly muster.
I plan to stick with with what I know, not what I feel. I couldn't care less whether or not I feel genuinely desirous of all my efforts of sacrifice and faith. Truly. Call me fake. But I am believing that one day, "well done" will be the words that crown this performance. And on that day, I will be so glad I performed.
The Church today offers a buffet of options, opinions and opportunities for the modern world to enjoy. Some ministries trumpet a message of addiction recovery, marriage restoration, or wholesome family principles. Others preach a message of work ethics, careers, marketplace ministries and city involvement. Other ministries have a message of discipleship, mentoring and training. From international missions, to urban soup kitchens; from Bible colleges to worship and arts departments. The message and mission of the 21st century Church is rapidly expanding, increasingly diverse and conveniently multifaceted to meet the demands of the day in which we live. Projects and programs, classes and causes of every shape and size imaginable, all of them meeting a need and serving a purpose. Each of these in their own way are an extension of Christ to the communities we live in.
Most all of them find their beginnings in a place of prayer and compassion, starting in close proximity the heartbeat of God. Men and woman hear the voice of God to take action in addressing various needs and issues in their cities, and are moved to launch an effort to be salt in light in various arenas. And thus, groups are formed, initiatives take shape and opportunity is seized! It's beautiful to see the Body of Christ rise to the occasion and truly be His hands and feet!
But as time passes, programs grow and churches enlarge their scope and reach; it is easy to loose touch with their Christ-centered beginnings. Many good-willed programs simmer down to be exclusively that: a program or organization with good intentions. But little-to-no connection to heart of God, or the person of Christ.
I see many believers consumed with good causes, humanitarian efforts and over-all noble objectives, but an ever-growing distance between them and Christ. If we are not careful, I believe we will deceive ourselves into thinking we are close to God, because we are busy doing good work.
It reminds me of the New Testament story of Mary and Martha. Martha was busy, working and doing good things, while Mary had decidedly placed herself close to Jesus. While Martha could think she was the one with the more ethical and principled behavior, it was Mary who Christ profiled as the wiser of the two.
Bottom line is this: a crew apart from its captain is chaos. A mission apart from its commander is a fail. And a believer apart from Christ is a pharisee.
Christ must be the engine of my life. He must remain the driving force behind the Church, and all of its programs and efforts. He must be the main attraction from the Sunday school classroom to the home group in the living room! He is all we really have to offer!
He is the epicenter of our life-mission. The axis of our emotions, the heartbeat of our soul. He is our home base and our destination. He is our anchor and our motor. He is our message.
Colossians 1:28 says, "Him we preach..."
The church is bursting at the seams with preaching, teaching and warning. Books and books, series and sermons, courses and classes. But is it Christ? Do I preach Christ? Or is it religion? Is it philosophy? Do I preach Christ, or do I preach principles? Character? Perspective?
Christ is the one who changes the human heart. Christ is the one who reverses statistics and heals a broken nation. All the teaching, preaching and warning in the world will fail for lack of Christ. Programs will loose their steam, causes will wane, small groups will dwindle and churches will turn plastic without Christ as the all-consuming focus.
If our groups, our relationships, our churches are to succeed and accomplish their purpose, we must live and breath and revolve around CHRIST.
Programs produce complainers, charities produce takers, small groups produce fakers without Christ.
Philippians 3:14 "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Our prize, our call is IN Christ Jesus. Apart from Him, we have no call, no destiny. He is our aim. Whether we are called to the marketplace, to politics, to ministry or to missions. Our call is high, it is great, and it is only found in the person of Jesus.
Acts 17:28 "in Him we live and move and have our being..." In Him we succeed. In Him our groups, churches and ministries become effective. His cause triumphs. His objectives are accomplished. His message prevails.
Don't search for your destiny in ministry or in politics, in writing or in pastoring. Search for it in Christ. All facets and programs and departments of the church, all vocations and careers and chapters of life, all callings and congregations and efforts of faith will bear lasting fruit, when their message is Christ.
What is your life proclaiming? What is your message?
The world is ripe. The work is ready. The game is on. It is high time for the workman to arise! I find it interesting how often soul-saving and harvest-reaping dominate Christian prayer topics, but how infrequent we pray that CHRISTIANS would decide to DO the saving and the reaping!
Luke 10:2 says "Then He said to them, 'The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.'" NKJV
I can give a hearty "amen!" Everywhere I turn I see need for men and woman of God to wake up to their call and seize the day! I cannot go a single day without seeing the demand of heaven upon humanity to shake off the comfort of our Christianity and commit to be true laborers in this great day in which we live!
As a youth pastor, I am always on the lookout for more laborers to join me in the work of the ministry. The Kingdom of God is always in need of more workmen, faithful workman.
I returned from Peru a couple days ago with a team of young students who have made an obvious decision to devote their lives to the call of God, to the work of the Gospel. I cannot tell you what joy and encouragement it brings to my heart to see young people make that decision; to no longer remain a status-quo believer, but rather to press in wholeheartedly into their daily destiny as faithful men and woman of God.
2 Timothy 2:2 says "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."
The success and furtherance of the Kingdom of God rests on this process, that as each heart captures and embraces the miracle of the Gospel, they will in turn pass it on to all who will hear. That's what every believer should be about.
1. Catch it in our own hearts and lives.
2. Become skilled. Develop ourselves. Learn how to pass it on.
3. Do it. Pass it on. Reap, teach, mentor.
I think every believer is somewhere in this process. Perhaps you have not caught the message of the Cross yet in your own life. If that's you, embrace it today! Sell out for the Cross of Christ! Give yourself to understanding the incredible power of salvation that Jesus offers.
Perhaps you do understand, you have caught and embraced the message of the Cross. But you don't know what to do with it. If that's you, develop your communication skills, get comfortable talking to others about it. Read books on evangelism and sharing the gospel. Get good at teaching and sharing, build your confidence and make yourself ready.
Perhaps you have the first two down. You are saved and you know it. You are a confident communicator and you know it. Well then it's about time you get to work! Start reaping! Start teaching, start mentoring! Paul said to Timothy that it's the FAITHFUL that are used of God, not just the able. Wake up and present yourself!
I am praying that a new generation will arise with a passion to be faithful! Faithful to the Lord and His people in taking it upon themselves to step up and spread the glorious mission of Christianity. Faithful to a world in dire need of saving. Faithful to shine bright and be an active minister of the Gospel. Faithful people who will by natural process, by way of lifestyle and personal passions, will mentor and impact, disciple and reach those around them.
Join me in the work of the ministry. Join me in laboring in the fields of humanity! Join me in praying that our ranks will grow! Let's cry out to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up a new breed of men and women, those who would not only be counted able, but would be counted faithful. Let's respond to the beckoning of the Harvest, let's apply ourselves, there are more than enough openings! Help is wanted. You are wanted.
A final farewell, a parting word before passing away, a long hug before a sending off... whatever the case may be, the last exchange we have with someone we love has a tendency to push its way into our most treasured memories.
These tender moments are often captured by photos, journal entries and tearful retellings around family dinners for years to follow. They become almost hallowed, and sacred, forever etched in our memory.
Jesus' final words to His disciples were cherished in this way. He parted with a simple encouragement to those He loved most. Those simple words burned into the soul of all who heard them, likely accompanied by tears as they watched Him disappear into the clouds above. Those last, choice words were told and retold, written and distributed, celebrated and circulated until the whole globe hailed those final statements as The Great Commission.
Matt 28:19 NKJV "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..." The Old King James Version puts it like this, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..."
I looked up that action word, "teach." It's Strong's Greek number 3100, mathetueo. Defined as follows:
1. To be a disciple of one, to follow in his precepts and instructions.
2. To make a disciple, to teach and instruct.
This explains why it was later translated in the NKJV as "make disciples"... but the phrase, "make disciples" doesn't really capture the full meaning of mathetueo. That is only half the picture. This word doesn't carry one meaning or the other. The combination of points 1 and 2 equal the full meaning of the word. It could be translated, "go and be a disciple, who will also make disciples in all nations."
Mathetueo, in its truest sense, is a word that embodies a continuous process, an ongoing cycle. It is not an event, or an accomplishment, or an action that has a start and an end. It's easy to box the Great Commission into a small check list, and be proud when we can cross it off. I have gone to nations. I have made disciples. Done.
But that's not it. The Great Commission was to "go and mathetueo." Go and be apart of this process of being trained and training others, be a disciple and disciple others. It's much like the word "flow."
If a creek is to flow, water is always rushing from upstream, and always running downstream. It is the combination of the coming and going that brings current, that IS flow. If either the input from upstream, or the output downstream stops, then there ceases to be a flow. Mathetueo is the same concept, in choosing His final words to man before ascending to Heaven, Christ chose a word that embodies a constant receive and give process. It's a lifestyle of learning and teaching, of being instructed as well as giving instruction.
This is the Great Commission. Not just to make a disciple, but to plug into a lifestyle of always learning and growing, and being mentored by someone older and wiser. Accompanied by continual giving, teaching, mentoring and pouring out into others! It is this flow that sustains the Church from generation to generation, it is this process that upholds the hope of the Gospel from era to era. It is this lifestyle that maintains and passes the torch of faith through the ages.
If you think about it, God engineered human biology to operate the same way. For our race to continue, we must be parented, and we must parent. We must be conceived, born and raised, and do the same! And that is how mankind continues! All of us fit into that process. And so it is with the Kingdom of God. We all are to "mathetueo," to flow, to live a lifestyle that is always receiving and always giving.
This ongoing way of living was so important to Christ, He chose this concept to be His final words. Jesus, as God, was not short on words, or unsure of the best thing to say. He was fully aware of every possible word in every language of man to say exactly what needed to be said. And out of all the options in the world, He chose those simple words to leave a lasting impression upon mankind. Millions of believers, over thousands of years, in hundreds of nations, tribes and tongues, have collectively agreed that these last words were the deliberate and decided selection of language by an all-knowing God to relay to man His highest priority and greatest commission.
I am going to adjust my lifestyle, to be a true, Great Commission lifestyle. I acknowledge that I have not arrived, or apprehended, but will humbly be a learner all the days of my life. And in doing so, I will impact and influence many men and women of God around me. Sounds great to me! Won't you join me? Let's let our lives truly realize and exemplify Christ's exhortation to humanity. They were, after all, His final words.
We tend to categorize the various aspects of life, from highly vital, to seemingly inessential. Water, food and sleep are high up there on most people's list of crucial things to include in the daily routine. While entertainment, sweets, and pleasure tend to fall lower on the list of priorities, as life could continue with out them.
It seems like we Christians do the same with our faith. Things like church attendance or abstinence from various vices are of great importance to our spiritual life. While other things, like fasting or daily scripture reading, tend to fall to the wayside as being inconsequential.
Probably the most notable example of this, that I've noticed, is the habit of prayer. Most Christians say prayer is important, and probably send up a couple requests or thanks each day. But that's not what I'm talking about. I mean the habit of devotion, true dialogue and communication with God.
The routine of pouring out one's heart before the Lord, or a habit of dwelling and communing with Christ, that has become shockingly uncommon among professing Christians. Somehow the practice of continual intercession and devotion to the Lord has slipped it's way onto the inconsequential list! As if our faith can survive without it!
How deceived we are! Prayer is so necessary. To even think that a life saturated in prayer is remotely comparable to a life that only dabbles in it, it's so far from the truth! It's black and white, night and day. The result of prayerlessness is weighty and obvious, while the reward of a life spent in prayer is equally as obvious and significant. Both have great impact on the life of a believer, neither should be disregarded as trivial.
The power of prayer and of prayerlessness are equally great, and greatly underestimated. Both of these opposing habits have an enormous and substantial influence on the life and outcome of believers today. Neither habit is without great consequence.
Consider this: Scripture commands us to pray (I Thessalonians 5:17; Philippians 4:6-7).
If prayer is a command, then prayerlessness is breaking the command. If prayer is obedience, then prayerlessness is disobedience; making prayer right and prayerlessness wrong. Prayer would then be aligning myself with the will of God, while prayerlessness would be rebelling against it. If prayer is the will of God for me, then wouldn't that make prayerlessness is the will of Satan for me?
It makes sense to me! Just like water, being God's will for you, brings life. So being parched, Satan's desire for me, eventually brings death. Think of it!
Prayer acknowledges need. Prayerlessness ignores need.
Prayer is humble, asking for help. Prayerlessness is proud, refusing help.
Prayer looks to God. Prayerlessness looks away from God.
Prayer is dependence on God. Prayerlessness is dependence on self.
Prayer is energizing. Prayerlessness is draining.
Prayer is empowering and life-giving. Prayerlessness is powerless and deadening.
Prayer brings momentum. Prayerlessness brings us to a halt.
Prayer is action. Prayerlessness is passivity.
Prayer makes us aggressive and strong. Prayerlessness makes us timid and weak.
Prayer propels us forward. Prayerlessness pushes us backward.
It's mind-blowing to think that I ever thought the choice to pray or not to pray was irrelevant or nonessential! When it, in all reality, makes all the difference in the world!
Just like a week without water would be detrimental, so it is of prayer. It is the difference between life and death; between success and failure, triumph and defeat! It cannot be glossed over or shrugged off! Don't make the mistake to disregard it as a minor or petty element of everyday life.
Prayer is as trivial as water! The presence of water is life. The absence of water is death. And it doesn't take long for either choice to makes it's impact.
Prayer belongs on your highest priority list, your "Most Vital & Absolutely Essential for Survival" list! It's presence will be your salvation. It's lack will be your ruin.
Psalm 42:1 "As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God."
Let's draw near and drink deep today!