Sitting Down in Jesus

I believe the life story of George Washington. I believe he was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on February 22, 1732. I believe he served as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army that won the Revolutionary War. I believe he was America’s first President. I believe he died on December 12, 1799. None of this, however, equates to me believing in George Washington as my personal Savior.

There are many people who believe the life story of Jesus. They believe He was born in Bethlehem. They believe He was a great teacher. They believe He died on a Roman cross just outside Jerusalem. They might even believe He was God in the flesh, performed miracles, and arose from the dead. None of this, however, equates to them believing in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

Various illustrations can be used to describe the difference between merely believing the facts about Christ’s life and actually believing in (or on, as some verses put it) Christ. One of my favorites involves a stool, the type of stool so high that your feet can’t touch the ground when you are sitting down. It is one thing for you to study that stool and believe it would support you if you sat down in it. It is quite another thing, though, for you to actually sit down in that stool, thus putting all your weight down upon the stool, trusting the stool to support you. Similarly, it is one thing for you to study about Jesus and believe that He died on a cross for your sins. It is quite another thing, though, for you to actually “sit down” in Him, thus putting all your weight down upon Him, trusting that He will save you from eternal damnation.

The New Testament provides us with various descriptions of how an individual can accomplish this “sitting down” in Jesus. Here is a list of those descriptions:

  • To “sit down” in Jesus is to believe in Him. (John 3:16)
  • To “sit down” in Jesus is to come to Him. (John 5:39-40)
  • To “sit down” in Jesus is to receive Him. (John 1:12)
  • To “sit down” in Jesus is to place your faith in Him. (Colossians 1:3-5)
  • To “sit down” in Jesus is to trust in Him. (Ephesians 1:11-14)
  • To “sit down” in Jesus is to call upon Him. (Romans 10:9-13)
  • To “sit down” in Jesus is to open the door to Him. (Revelation 3:20)

Please understand that these descriptions are not separate decisions that must be made in regards to Christ. They aren’t different stages of belief, either, as if an individual has to complete them all in order to reach the end goal: salvation. Instead, each description is simply one more way of illustrating a genuine salvation experience.

The point is, when a person “sits down” in Jesus, that person will automatically be doing each of these descriptions. It’s an all-in-one package deal. Salvation is a singular moment-in-time experience, not the end result of a process. As for why God’s word uses so many different descriptions to describe the experience, surely that has to do with the differences in how people receive information and process it. While one person might understand “come to Jesus” better than “believe in Jesus,” another person might understand “open the door to Jesus” even better.

In the end, whichever description winds your clock, the important thing is that you “sit down” in Jesus as opposed to merely believing that He would hold you up if you did “sit down” in Him. You see, not all belief is saving belief when the subject is Jesus. As evidence of this, John 2:23-25 talks about a group of people to whom Jesus did not commit Himself even though they “believed in His name when they saw the signs (miracles) which He did.” Concerning this group, Warren Wiersbe said, “These people believed in Jesus, but He did not believe in them!” For the purposes of this post, we might say that they liked the looks of the stool that Jesus was, but they never actually sat down in it. And all I can add to that is, make sure the same doesn’t happen to you.

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How One Church Solved its Financial Problems

James E. Carter, in his book on Christian stewardship, tells the story of how a Baptist church in a small town was completely transformed when most of its members began to tithe (pay a tenth of their income) to the church. What on earth compelled those church members to do such a thing? That answer is a big part of the story.

It all began when the church’s longtime treasurer resigned from the position. Since the church was located in a community that was heavily into wheat production, the town’s most important business was the local grain elevator, the facility where the wheat farmers brought their grain to sell. The facility’s manager, who was in charge of determining each load of grain’s weight, quality, and worth, was a highly respected member of the church and seemed like the perfect candidate to become the new treasurer. But when he was asked to take the job he said, “I’ll only do it if two conditions are met.” First, he would only give one treasurer’s report at the end of the year rather than provide one each month. Second, he wouldn’t be asked any questions about the church’s finances until the end of the year.

Since most of the church members did business with the man and could attest to his honesty, the church agreed to his conditions and elected him as their new treasurer. A full year then passed, and it was now finally time for the man to give his annual report. According to the report, the church’s indebtedness of $228,000 had been paid off completely, the pastor’s salary had been increased by 8%, the giving to missionary work had been increased by 200%, there were no outstanding bills, and the church had $11,252 in its bank account.

The congregation was absolutely stunned, and one of them quickly asked the man the obvious question: “Where did all the money come from?” The treasurer knew the question was coming and had his answer at the ready. He said, “Most of you bring your grain to my elevator. Throughout this past year, without telling you, I simply withheld 10% of what I owed you for your grain and gave that money to the church in your name.” Then he really drove home his point by adding, “You didn’t even miss it! Do you see what we could do for the Lord if we were all willing to give at least a tithe to God?”

For most of human history, paying a tithe (a tenth) has been an acceptable form of giving to the Lord. In the days of the book of Genesis, both Abraham (Genesis 14:18-20; Hebrews 7:1-2) and Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22) voluntarily paid one-time tithes to the Lord. (At least we assume that Jacob made good on his vow to do so.) Centuries later, when God gave His law to the people of Israel, that law required the Israelites to pay tithes of their livestock, their harvests, their oil, their wine, and their possessions. These tithes were to be paid twice each year, each tithe being brought to the tabernacle (the temple when it was built to replace the tabernacle). Additionally, at the end of every third year, each Israelite was required to bring a third tithe to a designated place in his hometown. This third-year tithe went to support the widows, orphans, Levites, and strangers in each town.

Moving on into the New Testament age, Jesus fulfilled the entirety of the Old Testament law perfectly and in so doing made Himself an eligible candidate to die for the sins of the world (Matthew 5:17-18). Consequently, in the aftermath of His death and subsequent resurrection, there is now no longer a mandate for anyone to keep the law. This is why Paul consistently taught that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10-14; 4:4-5; Romans 6:14; 10:4; Philippians 3:8-9), and it also explains why Paul didn’t command Christians to tithe. You see, systematically required tithing was a part of the Old Testament law from which Christians have been set free.

Rather than promote straight-up 10% tithing, Paul placed each Christian on the honor system by teaching that each of us should give in accordance with the level of prosperity at which God currently has us (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15). This requires each Christian to spend time in prayer, seeking God’s will about not only how much to give to support the Lord’s work but how and where to give it. In this way, figuring out a right amount to give back to the Lord becomes a matter of true discipleship.

It should be understood, though, that Paul encouraged Christians to give not only cheerfully but also abundantly (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). He compared giving to sowing seed and said, “He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, but he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). He also said that Christians who are enjoying a time of plenty should help those who are going through a rough stretch financially (2 Corinthians 8:13-15), and that anyone who preaches the gospel should be supported financially by fellow Christians (1 Corinthians 9:1-14; Philippians 4:15-20). All of this is a far cry from the Old Testament law’s highly ritualized commandments concerning bringing tithes to certain places at prescribed times.

So, am I against the idea of tithing? No, I’m not. To the contrary, I’ve been a pastor long enough to know that faithful tithers are the financial backbone of most churches. Furthermore, I would say to any Christian who doesn’t have a clue about where to start in regards to giving to the Lord’s work, “Paying a tithe out of your take-home pay is a great way to begin.” As my opening illustration shows, if every church member merely paid a tithe each week or each month, every church’s financial problems would be solved.

I do, however, try to explain to Christians that there are deeper waters of giving than tithing. There is giving as God has prospered you and sowing bountifully. These waters require more prayer, more discernment, and in many cases more submission to God, and oftentimes the giving that comes up from them is not so much about how much you have but how much you have left. Again, I’m not against tithing. Giving 10% is certainly a lot better than most professing Christians give. But don’t ever think that tithing is the end-all-be-all form of New Testament giving. The truth is, the ride of giving that God wants to take each Christian on can never be neatly packaged into a box of 10%, and once you get on that ride with Him, you just never know how much He might want you to give or where He might want you to give it.

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Bronze Shields in Place of Gold Shields

The reign of King Solomon’s son Rehoboam was fairly doomed from the start. On the one hand, many in Israel had grown weary not only of Solomon’s system of taxation (1 Kings 4:7) but also the labor force Solomon required to accomplish his building achievements (1 Kings 5:13; 9:15-22; 11:28). On the other hand, Solomon’s open embrace of idolatry had caused God to promise to tear the kingdom away from Solomon’s son, leaving Rehoboam with only one tribe to rule over while the ten northern tribes broke away and started a new kingdom. That one tribe would be Judah, with the exceedingly small tribe of Benjamin basically being absorbed into it.

This is not to say, though, that Rehoboam himself played no role in his own demise. He was 41 years old when he ascended to the throne of the still united kingdom, and he promptly tossed away his one chance at keeping national unity. Rather than acknowledge the peoples’ complaints against his father and take the advice of the elderly counselors who had served his father, Rehoboam favored the advice of his arrogant childhood friends and promised to be an even more demanding king than Solomon had been (1 Kings 12:1-15). That foolish bravado forced the hand of the northern tribes and off they went to institute a new kingdom complete with a new king (Jeroboam).

Rehoboam’s bad decisions didn’t stop there, either, as over the course of his seventeen-year reign he forsook God’s law (2 Chronicles 12:1) and allowed idolatry and cultic worship practices to run rampant in Judah (1 Kings 14:21-24). Five years into that reign God sent him an almost fatal rebuke by way of the army of Shishak, the king of Egypt, coming against Jerusalem with a force of 12,000 chariots, 60,000 soldiers on horses, and a sea of foot soldiers. Rehoboam temporarily repented of his sins long enough for God to let him survive that invasion, but God decreed that Rehoboam and Judah would come under the thumb of Shishak and Egypt (2 Chronicles 12:1-8).

Here is where the story of Solomon’s gold shields comes into play. According to 1 Kings 10:14-17, at the height of Solomon’s success he had ordered that 200 large shields of gold and 300 smaller shields of gold be made and stored in his royal residence. Rehoboam inherited that home when Solomon died and in so doing inherited the shields. However, as a part of Shishak’s plundering of Judah, Shishak’s soldiers confiscated all the gold shields as well as all the treasured items from Jerusalem’s temple (1 Kings 14:25-26).

To replace the shields, Rehoboam ordered that bronze shields be made. Thus, the replacement shields served as an object lesson of how the kingdom of Judah — i.e., Jerusalem, the Jewish temple, the temple priesthood, the royal line of David, etc. — had fallen out of favor with God and had lost His hand of protection and blessing. Summing up the situation, the days of golden splendor had become the days of bronze inferiority.

It would probably hurt our feelings to know how many of our churches, churches that once exhibited God’s “gold” standard, are now relegated to exhibiting His “bronze” standard. After all, it doesn’t take a ton of spiritual discernment to see that many churches that once ran spiritually hot now limp along tepidly. Many churches that once stood doctrinally strong now fall for every wind of doctrine. Many churches that were once filled with congregants are now virtually empty. How does such a thing happen? It’s called losing the blessing of the Lord. That’s the price that sin, whether it be Rehoboam’s idolatry or a church’s worldliness, exacts. The bar is lowered. The status quo is lessened. The subnormal becomes the normal.

Individual lives can fall victim to this problem as well as Christians who once faithfully served Christ can sin their way into backsliding. Because of the eternal security of the believer, these Christians won’t lose their eternal salvation, but what they will lose is heavenly treasure. This treasure will have to be lost because the earthly service that produces it will be lessened. In that sense, these Christians will become somewhat like Rehoboam, who didn’t lose his home but certainly lost some of the treasure inside it.

The takeaway from all this, Christian, is that now would be a good time for you to do a thorough inspection of your own life and service to Christ and see if sin has somehow demoted you from God’s gold standard to His bronze standard. Needless to say, if confession and repentance are in order, do them swiftly. Hopefully, with the confession and repentance, the golden sheen upon your life will be either spared or reclaimed. And do you know why that will be such a big deal? It’s because once you’ve known gold shields, bronze ones will simply never satisfy.

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How D.L. Moody Won a Little Girl to Christ

For many years, R.A. Torrey helped famed evangelist D.L. Moody in Moody’s work. Torrey himself told the following story about one of Moody’s converts. I offer Torrey’s account verbatim:

On one occasion in Chicago, Mr. Moody saw a little girl standing on the street with a pail in her hand. He went up to her and invited her to his Sunday School, telling her what a pleasant place it was. She promised to go the following Sunday but did not do so.

Mr. Moody watched for her for weeks, then one day saw her on the street again at some distance from him. He started toward her, but when she saw him, she started to run away. Mr. Moody followed her. Down she went one street. He went after her. Up she went another street, Mr. Moody after her; through an alley, he was still following; out on another street, Mr. Moody after her.

Then she dashed into a saloon, and he dashed after her. She ran out the back door and up a flight of stairs, Mr. Moody still following. She dashed into a room, with him following; she threw herself under the bed, and he reached under the bed, pulled her out by the foot and led her to Christ.

He found that her mother was a widow who had once seen better circumstances but had gone down until now she was living over this saloon. She had several children. Mr. Moody led the mother and all the family to Christ. Several of the children were prominent members of the Moody Church until they moved away. Afterward they became prominent in churches elsewhere.

This particular child, whom he pulled from underneath the bed, was, when I was pastor of the Moody Church, the wife of one of the most prominent officers in the church. Two or three years ago, as I came out of a ticket office in Memphis, Tennessee, a fine-looking young man followed me. “Are you not Dr. Torrey?” “Yes.” “I am So-and-so.” He was the son of this woman. Now he was a traveling man and an officer in the church where he lived. When Mr. Moody pulled that little child out from under that bed by the foot, he was pulling a whole family into the kingdom of God. Eternity alone will reveal how many succeeding generations he was pulling into the kingdom!

Torrey’s story should inspire us Christians to be more determined in our efforts to win others to Jesus. When it comes to evangelism, we are so easily stopped, aren’t we? That is assuming, of course, that we’ve even started! Surely every empty pew in our churches is the seat of an individual whom we could have won to Christ if we had displayed half of D.L. Moody’s determination in winning that little girl.

Tell me, Christian, have you ever lead anyone to Jesus? “No,” you say? Well, have you ever tried to lead someone to Him? If you haven’t, then feel free to consider this post God’s alarm clock to wake you out of your evangelism slumber. Maybe He has even already laid some lost person on your heart. If He has, then don’t stop until you’ve shared the gospel with that person. And if He hasn’t, then ask Him to do so, and don’t be the least bit surprised when He takes you up on the request.

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The Rattlesnake of Addiction

In his book Quest for Character, Chuck Swindoll tells an incredible story from the life of Tom Rathman, the NFL running back who made a name for himself playing for the San Francisco 49ers. Rathman was hunting deer in the Tehema Wildlife Area near Red Bluff in northern California when he climbed up to a certain ledge in order to peer out over it. What he didn’t know was that there was a rattlesnake lying at the edge of the ledge. Startled by the sudden appearance of Rathman’s face, the snake wildly struck at him and just missed his right ear.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the snake’s fangs got snagged in the neck of the thick turtleneck sweater that Rathman was wearing. Not being able to pull its fangs free, the snake immediately wrapped its entire body around Rathman’s neck. At that point the best that Rathman could do was grab the snake behind its head and try to work its fangs loose. He would later say that he could feel the snake’s warm venom running down the skin of his neck inside the sweater.

Sometime during Rathman’s struggle to extradite the snake from his neck, he lost his balance and fell backward down the steep slope. The fall left him lying wedged between some rocks but still holding the snake behind its head. Unfortunately, the fall also allowed the snake’s fangs to break free from the sweater. This meant that the snake could now crudely strike at him again even though Rathman still had it by the neck.

Eight times the snake struck, and four of those times the fangs found Rathman’s nose. The only thing that saved Rathman’s life was the fact that by now the snake’s venom had all been released. Still, though, each time those fangs sank into his nose it was like being pierced with a needle. Finally, after a lengthy struggle, Rathman was able to choke the snake to death. Afterward, he said that he literally had to pry his fingers from the snake’s neck.

Like that rattlesnake that wrapped itself around Tom Rathman’s neck, addiction wraps itself around the addict’s neck and refuses to let go. According to the website transitionsrecovery.com, the ten most common addictions worldwide are: tobacco (nicotine), alcohol, drugs (prescription and non-prescription), gambling, food (including all types of eating disorders), sex (including addiction to watching pornography), video games, internet (including social media), risky behavior, shopping, and work.

While these are certainly ten of the major addictions, the truth is that almost anything can become an addiction. Under the heading “Ten Strange Addictions,” the internet site health.howstuffworks.com lists the following addictions from #1 to #10: internet and the Blackberry, gaming, eating dirt, tattoos, hair pulling, ice chewing, cosmetic surgery, tanning, exercise, and shopping. Yes, you read that right: eating dirt was #3.

So, how can the addict pull the rattlesnake of addiction off his or her neck and kill the snake? Believe me when I say that the most reliable way is through the power of Jesus Christ. As 2nd Corinthians 5:17 tells us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new. (N.K.J.V.)

Likewise, Philippians 4:13 says:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (N.K.J.V.)

Of course, simply quoting Bible verses to an addiction will never be enough to kill it. The source of the empowering for the slaying is not the words of the verses themselves but the Savior of whom the verses speak. If the addict doesn’t have an eternal relationship with Jesus and a daily fellowship with Him, the words become useless. The individual might as well be spouting words from Shakespeare.

If, however, the addict is willing to submit to a wholehearted reliance upon Jesus for not only eternal salvation but also empowerment for daily living, then the snake can be choked to death and uncoiled from the addict’s neck. Really, what it comes down to is the addict must fall more in love with Jesus than the addiction. No, it’s not easy to break an addiction, even if you are a born-again Christian. It can be done, though, if you want it badly enough, and Jesus promises to help you all the way.

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Selling Your Soul to the Devil

Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38, N.K.J.V.)

The story of Robert Johnson is certified legend among fans of the music known as “the blues.” What makes the story so tantalizing? Oh, it might have something to do with the theory that Johnson literally sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming the greatest blues guitarist in the world.

Johnson was born in Hazleton, Mississippi, in 1911. Many of the details of his early years are sketchy, but it is believed that he received his schooling in Memphis, Tennessee. He married a sixteen-year-old named Virginia Travis in 1929 and fathered a child through her, but both child and mother died during the attempted childbirth. Virginia’s family believed that the deaths were God’s punishment upon Johnson for the fact that he was already beginning to play secular music, blues music, in the “juke joints” that dotted the south.

By all accounts, Johnson started out with little or no talent for the guitar. He frequently tagged along with Son House and Willie Brown, two of the most famous blues players of the time, but it was obvious that Johnson wasn’t in their league musically. In interviews later given by House, he said that absolutely no one wanted to hear the young Johnson play the guitar.

House also admitted, though, that at one point Johnson disappeared for about a year and a half, and when he rejoined House and Brown he was a completely different player. In the span of a little over a year, Johnson had gone from being a terrible guitar player to playing the instrument better than anyone else could. The mystery surrounding Johnson, how he had gotten so good so fast, gave rise to the suspicion that the supernatural must have been involved. From there came the infamous story of how Johnson had gone out to a certain crossroad, had met Satan there, and had sold his soul to Satan in exchange for Satan granting him the talent to become the best guitar player of them all.

Johnson, for his part, seemed to relish all the intrigue surrounding him and did nothing to downplay the story. He spent his life on the road, moving from one city to the next, playing here, there, and everywhere. He never married again, but there were women, lots of them, and he loved to drink and have a good time. In all, he wrote and recorded 29 songs of his own, most of them featuring lyrics that were thematically dark, but he would play and sing anything that people wanted to hear. His habit was to hit town for a few weeks, stay with a local woman, make some money playing the local sites, and then move on. The road was his only true home. He was even known to frequently travel and play under different names.

Johnson died on August 16, 1938, at the young age of 27. That made him one of the earliest members of the so-called “27 Club,” a group which includes all the musicians who died at the age of 27: Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, etc. Eyewitness accounts have long asserted that Johnson died from drinking whiskey that was poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman with whom Johnson had been flirting. That story, like so much of Johnson’s life, is somewhat disputed and impossible to completely verify, but for the most part it is accepted as part of his eerie legacy. Even more than that, the story seems like an appropriate ending for a man who had supposedly sold his soul to the devil.

Despite the fact that Johnson was considered the best guitarist and blues man of his time, his death was not widely reported. That omission played a role in his genius not being recognized nationally until several decades later. It wasn’t until 1961, when Columbia Records compiled sixteen of his recordings into the album King of the Delta Blues Singers, that Johnson began to receive his due as the blues great that he was. Rock stars such as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, and Bob Dylan were influenced by his music, and he has since been consistently ranked by various polls as one of the top ten greatest guitarists of all time. Clapton reworked Johnson’s song Cross Road Blues, which played off the idea of Johnson going down to a crossroad, into his classic song Crossroads. Also, in 1986, Ralph Macchio starred in the move Crossroads, which told the fictional story of how fellow blues man Willie Brown followed Johnson’s example in selling his soul to the devil for musical talent, but then tried to get out of the deal when he came to the end of his life.

Still, all this brings us back to the fundamental question: Can a man actually sell his soul to the devil in exchange for the granting of a request? The closest thing to such a story in the Bible is Satan tempting Jesus by showing Him the kingdoms of the world and saying, “All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” Admittedly, that story does smack of a crossroads type of transaction, doesn’t it? Jesus rejected Satan’s offer, of course, but have there been others throughout history who have accepted the offer to lesser degrees? That certainly makes for a fascinating possibility.

As for me, I doubt that Robert Johnson became a genius guitarist by selling his eternal soul to Satan. I favor the explanation that he learned his craft from another recognized genius, a blues player named Ike Zimmerman, during practice sessions that he and Zimmerman were known to have in (of all places) graveyards. What does seem obvious to me is that Johnson wanted success enough to make practicing, playing, and performing his god, and turning any endeavor into a god to which you devote all your time, energy, and passion can propel you to great heights of success in that field.

In this way, there are all kinds of Robert Johnsons out there right now. I’m talking about people who have in a figurative sense sold their souls to become successful. Whatever success they find must come at the expense of God’s will for their lives, and for all intents and purposes they are little more than rank idolaters who do Satan’s bidding rather than God’s. That bidding might not be playing the guitar, singing the blues, chasing women, and drinking whiskey, but missing God’s will is missing God’s will regardless of what the specific details of the miss happen to be.

Whatever else we might say about Robert Johnson, what isn’t in dispute is that he didn’t live his life for God. He didn’t have to sell his soul to the devil to be lost; he was lost without Jesus Christ anyway. And as for his enduring legacy, well, influencing other musicians to follow you in your non-Christian music and ungodly lifestyle isn’t exactly something that is going to lessen your eternal punishment. If that sounds unnecessarily harsh, I don’t mean it that way. I’m simply trying to keep things in proper perspective here.

At the bottom line, once we get past the stylized, glamorized take on Johnson’s life, we aren’t left with anything that is desirable. He lived hard, spent his nights in unholy establishments entertaining unholy people, and died young. If he did sell his soul to Satan, Satan definitely got the better and longer lasting end of the bargain. Perhaps the best thing we can pull from Johnson’s life is the lesson that worldly success, apart from God and His will, can never be true success. As Jesus said in another passage, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” That’s a question that can be put to anyone who is making an idol out of working fanatically for success in any given field. And no crossroad or pact with the devil is required to erect such an idol.

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Spiritually Minded vs. Carnally Minded

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 8:6, N.K.J.V.)

We don’t have to wonder what the apostle Paul means when he uses the descriptive phrase “spiritually minded.” The man himself explains it. In Romans 8:1 and Romans 8:4, he contrasts walking according to the flesh with walking according to the Spirit. In Romans 8:5, he contrasts living according to the flesh with living according to the Spirit. Also in Romans 8:5, he contrasts setting the mind on the things of the flesh with setting the mind on the things of the Spirit. Therefore, to be spiritually minded is to walk in the Holy Spirit, live in the Holy Spirit, and set your mind on the things of the Holy Spirit.

You’ll notice that Paul’s definition of spiritual mindedness is exceedingly practical. We’re talking “Christianity in shoe leather” here. It’s walking. It’s living. It’s setting your mind. How different this is from some people’s weirdo version of spirituality, which includes: meditation, quests for enlightenment, horoscopes, tarot cards, seances, incense burning, cleansing baths, hallucinogenic drugs, following supposed gurus, etc.

Rather than promote any of that new-agey stuff, Paul says, “Apart from God the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible to be spiritually minded.” This means that the only people on earth who can authentically be spiritually minded are born-again Christians, the people who have God the Holy Spirit dwelling inside them. Everyone else, by default, is relegated to being carnally minded.

And what exactly is it to be carnally minded? The word “carnal” translates the Greek word sarkikos, which can be defined as “having the nature of the flesh.” Okay, so what is the “flesh”? The Bible uses this term in two different ways. First, there are passages in which “flesh” simply refers in a non-judgmental way to the human body. For example, John 1:14 says that Jesus (The Word) became flesh. Second, there are other passages in which “flesh” is used in a judgmental way to refer to the inborn, sinful, God-resisting nature that every human being inherits from Adam, the father of our race. Clearly, Paul is using the latter definition in Romans chapter 8.

What is interesting about the entire chapter is that Paul asserts that the born-again Christian can never again be classified as being “in the flesh.” As he says, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9, N.K.J.V.). This explains how he can also make the statement that anyone who is “in Christ Jesus” will walk according to the Spirit and not the flesh (Romans 8:1). What he’s saying is that even though the born-again Christian will at times manifest some of the deeds of the flesh (the inborn Adamic nature) and in so doing behave carnally (1 Corinthians 3:1), that believer can never again be totally “in the flesh.” Think of it this way: If the Spirit is in you, then you are automatically “in the Spirit.”

Getting back to this business of being carnally minded and acting in the flesh, have you ever heard one person accuse another person of “acting like an animal”? Well, actually, that accusation gets to the heart of how carnal mindedness manifests itself in daily affairs. The carnally minded person is one who moves through life by resorting to the basest of personal instincts just the way an animal does in the wild. An animalistic lifestyle is a self-centered, self-glorifying way of living that relies solely upon the individual’s own desires, abilities, reasoning, and logic. It says, “I’ve got to make my own way in this world and get ahead by any means possible.” It says, “I’ve got to do it to them before they do it to me.” It makes the individual the ruler of his universe, and while the unrestrained freedom and self-expression of that kind of lifestyle might seem appealing, Paul says the end result of it is “death.”

Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary remarks on this passage, writes:

The unsaved person does not have the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9) and lives in the flesh and for the flesh. His mind is centered on the things that satisfy the flesh. But the Christian has the Spirit of God within and lives in an entirely new and different sphere. His mind is fixed on the things of the Spirit. This does not mean that the unsaved person never does anything good, or that the believer never does anything bad. It means that the bent of their lives is different. One lives for the flesh, the other lives for the Spirit….To be ‘”in the flesh” means to be lost, outside Christ. The unsaved person lives to please himself and rarely if ever thinks about pleasing God. The root of sin is selfishness — “I will” and not “Thy will.”

Now let’s talk about how we, as Christians, should apply all of this. While there are many different ways by which we can make application, let’s be sure that we don’t forget about the realm of decision making. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard Christians say in regards to making decisions, “God expects us to use our common sense to make decisions.” Every time I hear that a chill runs down my spine because that whole approach to decision making is so much more carnally minded than spiritually minded. It’s so fleshly. As a matter of fact, it’s the same way a lost person makes a decision.

The Christian, on the other hand, should always let God the Holy Spirit do the deciding. This is accomplished by paying attention to the burdens the Spirit gives and by heeding the warning bells that He sets off. Furthermore, no decision should be finalized until the Spirit has provided a deep-settled inner peace regarding the course of action. In this way, the Holy Spirit can control the Christian from the inside out, and that is precisely what He wants to do. Even if what the Spirit is compelling the Christian to decide cuts against the Christian’s carnal, fleshly, leftover impulses from the Adamic nature, he should trust the Spirit to steer him into God the Father’s will. That, of course, is always the best place to be, and it’s a place that simply can’t be reached by being carnally minded.

Posted in Choices, Decisions, Depravity, God's Will, Salvation, The Holy Spirit | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Have You Forgiven God?

That title is not a misprint. I’m guessing that you’ve heard a lot of preaching about God forgiving you. For that matter, you’ve probably also heard a lot about you forgiving others. But when was the last time you heard anything about you forgiving God? “Never,” you say? Then pull up a chair and let’s talk about it.

Maybe a spouse died. Maybe a child died. Maybe a test result came back bad. Maybe a surgery didn’t produce the desired results. Maybe a marriage never happened. Maybe one ended in divorce. Maybe a job was lost. Maybe a business went bust. Maybe a terrible injustice occurred. Maybe a dream turned into a nightmare. Whatever it was that happened (or didn’t happen) to you, all you know is that you prayed your guts out for God to come through for you but He came up small, very small. At least that’s your assessment of what happened.

And you’ve heard the well-intentioned advice of family, friends, and colleagues. “You need to get over this.” “You have to move on with your life.” “You’ve dwelt on this long enough.” “It’s time to let this go.” For your part, though, such words fall upon deaf ears. Why? Well, may I suggest that you just flat out aren’t ready to move on? And may I further suggest that you and your situation have unfinished business, some of which involves you forgiving the God whom you think failed you?

If you do feel disappointment or anger toward God, the chances are that you’ve expressed it by attempting to get back at Him. Basically, you’ve tried to hurt Him the way you believe He has hurt you. Such attempts at revenge usually take the form of quitting church, failing to pray, letting dust collect on your Bible, purposefully engaging in some sin, or any and all of the above. These things (and some others I didn’t list) are your way of saying to God, “Hey, if You didn’t care about doing what I wanted You to do for me, why should I care about doing what You want me to do for You?”

One of the great problems with the thousands of “Christianity lite”, “health-and-wealth,” “prosperity,” “self help” sermons that pass for preaching these days is that they only convey one side of God’s nature. These sermons tell you over and over that God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that you can ask or think. They tell you that He is an all-powerful God who never met a problem that He couldn’t fix. They tell you that your miracle is on its way. What they don’t tell you is that God being able to do something doesn’t mean that He’ll do it, and Him having the power to fix a problem doesn’t always translate to Him fixing it. And as for your miracle being on its way, well, let’s just say that some miracles evidently get lost in the mail.

I’m talking now to the person, even the Christian, who had faith that God was going to save your day, only to discover that He opted not to do it. Mary and Martha received their miracle when Lazarus was resurrected, but you didn’t get yours. Jesus walked on the water to keep the chosen 12’s boat from sinking, but you rode yours all the way down to the bottom. David felled his Goliath, but your Goliath body slammed you, put his foot in the middle of your chest, raised his sword in victory over you, and has been enjoying the accolades ever since.

I truly believe that God has you reading this right now because He doesn’t want you to abort the work He is doing inside you in the aftermath of your traumatic event. While He’s not asking you to put on a fake smile and act like nothing happened to you, He does want you to stick with Him. Rather than burying your disappointment/anger toward Him and cutting off all communications, He wants you to acknowledge that disappointment/anger and convey your emotions to Him by way of prayer. His offer to you is, “Let’s talk about what you are feeling toward Me, and in so doing begin the process of bringing you out the other end of it.

Of course, it’s along about here that someone might say, “But who are we to second-guess God? He is the Creator and we are mere dust. He doesn’t have to explain Himself to us. And since He cannot sin, He never makes a mistake and therefore never needs to be forgiven.”

My comeback to that is that it’s possible for a person (or God) to disappoint someone or anger someone without actually committing a sin or making a mistake. You see, the disappointment or anger occurs within the mind of the person who considers himself or herself the victim. So, even as God remains authentically innocent of any charges the person might level toward Him, He is gracious enough not to take offense at the charges. Even more than not take offense at them, He’s loving enough to actually come to the person and say, “Let me help you take what you’re feeling and weave into a deeper experience with Me than you’ve ever had.”

Actually, the Bible provides us with numerous examples of people who became disappointed/angry with God. Here are a few names from that list:

  1. After patiently waiting for years for God to give him and his wife Sarah a child, Abraham finally expressed the disappointment/anger he was feeling toward God about the delay. (Genesis 15:1-3)
  2. After Moses had been leading the Israelites for a while, there came a time when he expressed his disappointment/anger toward God because of all the problems that were associated with leading such a group. He even told God, “If you are going to keep treating me like this, please kill me now.” (Numbers 11:10-15)
  3. David got mad at God for striking Uzzah dead when Uzzah touched the Ark of the Covenant as it was being transported to Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 6:1-8)
  4. Jonah got mad at God for sparing the citizens of Nineveh. As a matter of fact, he got so mad that he asked God to kill him. (Jonah 3:10;4:1-4)
  5. Jeremiah once reached an emotional low point in his ministry and expressed his disappointment/anger toward God by asking Him, “Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed? Will You be to me like an unreliable stream, as waters that fail?” (Jeremiah 15:18)
  6. John the Baptist became disappointed that Jesus hadn’t ushered in the glorious Messianic Age for Israel yet and even openly questioned whether or not Jesus truly was the Messiah. (Matthew 11:1-3)
  7. When Jesus first told the chosen 12 that He was going to Jerusalem in order to be put to death there, Peter took Him aside and actually rebuked Him for saying it. (Matthew 16:21-22)

If you think that all of these servants of the Lord didn’t have to work through these complicated feelings they were feeling toward Him, you don’t have the first clue about human nature. It’s not that these men didn’t understand that God is sovereign, holy, and doesn’t make mistakes. The problem each of them had is that their emotions didn’t ask for permission to pop up inside them. This is how we humans are wired. Instinctually, we feel what we feel, and even though self-control can prevent us from expressing those feelings or acting upon them, what self-control cannot do is change the feelings themselves.

This is where the admittedly strange idea of forgiving God comes into play. Staying disappointed in Him or mad at Him is your choice, but that mindset will never get you to a better place spiritually. At some point you’re going to have to enter into some uncommon times of prayer with Him, prayers in which you vent all that toxic stuff that is bubbling inside you. Trust me, God can take it. If He took it from Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Peter, He can take it from you. Then, once you are finished with your venting — and that might require numerous rounds of prayer — you and God can begin to rebuild the fellowship between the two of you. Afterward, once that fellowship has been rebuilt to an adequate extent, the two of you can start to rebuild your “followship” to walk hand in hand with your fellowship.

Am I saying that any of this process is easy? Certainly not. The truth is that it’s so hard that many people never complete it and consequently spend the rest of their lives disappointed/angry with God. Others try to race through the process like it’s some kind of speed course and consequently fail to glean its full benefits. Neither outcome is desirable.

But then there are those precious few who slowly, carefully, methodically put in the time and effort to max out the course and in so doing reach an intimate fellowship with God that is deeper and more multilayered than any they ever planned to have with Him. These are the people who understand God about as fully as He can be understood, and they incorporate that understanding into ministry. In particular, they are able to counsel others who find themselves disappointed/angry with God. I won’t close this post by asking you to become such a counselor — that would require you yourself to first become disappointed/angry with God, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody — but I will close it by asking you to become such a counselor if you’ve lived firsthand what I’ve described in the preceding paragraphs. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I myself am in that group, and so what I’ve written here has been my attempt to be that kind of counselor. As for how God uses all this in the lives of others, I guess I’ll just leave that to Him.

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Complaining, Contentment, Disappointment, God's Omniscience, God's Will, Perseverance, Personal, Prayer, Problems, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

What’s Your Excuse?

Excuses are a dime a dozen, right? So, I thought I’d share a few “excuses” stories with you. Here we go.

Story #1: Mrs. Smith gave her class of high school students the assignment of writing a term paper that would be due in a couple of weeks. But as the days clicked off toward the deadline, she noticed that one student, Tom, didn’t seem to be working on his paper. She wasn’t the least bit surprised, then, when she started collecting the papers and found that he didn’t have one. She said, “Tom, didn’t you write your paper?” He answered, “Yes, but my dog ate it.” A disbelieving stare from Mrs. Smith followed, after which Tom explained, “It’s true. I had to force it down him, but he did eat it.”

Story #2: A young man was trying to help his date sneak into her bedroom after the two of them had stayed out way past her curfew. Her father met them at the top of the stairs and said, “Young man, didn’t I hear the clock downstairs strike three when you brought my daughter home?” The young man answered, “Yes sir, you did. It was going to strike eleven, but I grabbed it after a couple of bongs so it wouldn’t wake you.”

Story #3: A farmer asked his neighbor if he could borrow the neighbor’s rope. The neighbor answered, “Sorry, I’m going to use that rope to tie up my milk.” The farmer said, “You can’t tie up milk with a rope.” The neighbor admitted, “I know, but when you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as any other.”

Story #4 (my personal favorite): While a wife got ready for church one Sunday morning, her husband remained in bed. Finally, she asked him, “Aren’t you going to church today?” “No,” he said. “Why not?” she inquired. “I have three good reasons,” he said. “One, the congregation is cold. Two, no one there likes me. Three, I just don’t want to go.” Now the wife was mad. “Get out of that bed,” she boomed, “because I have three good reasons why you are going. One, there are a few warm people in the congregation. Two, some of them do actually like you. And three, YOU ARE THE PASTOR!!!”

Okay, so you’ve got that thing that God has been burdening you to either stop doing or start doing. Instead of yielding to His will, though, you’re making your excuses. Maybe those excuses make sense in your mind, or maybe they sound about as off the wall as these from these stories, but either way the result is the same: you are bucking God. All I can tell you is that you will never progress any further in your spiritual life until you lay aside your excuses and obey God’s command. James 4:17 tells us that it is sin to know to do good but not do it. So, until you do that “good” that God is telling you to do, you are in sin. Call it a sin of omission, call it disobedience, call it rebellion, or call it whatever you like, but don’t ever stop short of calling it sin. And don’t ever think that your excuses are cutting it with God.

Posted in Choices, Church, Church Attendance, Decisions, Disobedience, Doing Good, Dying To Self, God's Will, Lying, Obedience, Pastors, Rebellion, Sin, Submission | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Spiritual Leaders & Preachers’ Kids (post #2 of 2)

People tend to think that being called of God to spiritual leadership somehow causes the called to put on a magic cloak that miraculously changes everything about the person. The cloak corrects wrong thinking, fixes longstanding problems, strengthens weaknesses, and creates immediate repentance of all sin. If such cloaks existed a typical conversation with a candidate for spiritual leadership might go like this:

(the called person): “I have emotional scars from how I was raised. I’ve always had low self esteem. I have a problem with lust. I’ve never been able to manage money well. I have a quick temper. I don’t take criticism well. I’ve never read all the way through the Bible, and quite frankly I’m still a little fuzzy on certain points of doctrine.”

(the reviewing committee): “No problem, here’s your cloak. When can you start?”

The hard, cold fact of the matter is that billions of seriously flawed individuals are walking around out there, and some of them become Christians. From that pool of Christians some are tapped to become Christian spiritual leaders. The takeaway is that Christian spiritual leaders share more flaws in common with the masses than either the masses or the leaders themselves realize.

This problem is made worse when well-meaning Christians willfully overlook the obvious flaws of potential spiritual leaders. I once heard a deacon say of a certain man who was being considered for deaconship, “I know that he has some issues, but I think that if we make him a deacon he might rise to the challenge.” I didn’t like the sound of that statement then, and I like it even less all these years later. Sure, maybe that candidate would have risen to the challenge. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t have. Was it worth taking the risk? No way. As any pastor will tell you, a bad deacon can do more harm to a church than ten good deacons can fix.

Let’s do a little test, Christian. Think back to the fault lines and sinful tendencies that marked you before you became a Christian. Now tell me, did all those go away the moment you got saved? If you are like the rest of us, the indwelling Holy Spirit is still working inside you to fix your shortcomings. So, do you honestly believe that anything different happens within those who even in God’s will become spiritual leaders? I’ve been an ordained minister for 27 years and I still struggle with sin’s temptation every day. And God help me, sometimes I give in to that temptation.

You see, every spiritual leader sins. What’s at issue here is the type of sin. For example, if I get mad at a weed eater that won’t start and throw it twenty feet, there won’t be a public outcry for me to step down as pastor even though a pastor is supposed to be self-controlled and not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7-8). Since troublesome weed eaters usually have it coming, launching one in a momentary flash of rage is considered within the acceptable boundaries of sin in a pastor’s life. On the other hand, if I get caught cheating on my wife or embezzling money from the church, that puts the public outcry into full throat as each of those sins would probably prevent me from having a good reputation with people outside the church (1 Timothy 3:7).

Maybe you’ve heard the expression “God doesn’t rate sins.” That expression promotes the idea that one sin is every bit as bad as another. In other words, a man who looks at a woman lustfully but doesn’t have sex with her is every bit as much a sinner as a man who commits adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). Likewise, a woman who has anger in her heart toward an enemy but doesn’t kill that enemy is every bit as much a sinner as a woman who murders an enemy (Matthew 5:21-22).

Admittedly, the expression “God doesn’t rate sins” does align with what Jesus taught. However, what must be understood is that even though God classifies not only actual adultery but also lustful looks as sin, and even though He classifies not only actual murder but also hatred in the heart as sin, the earthly consequences for the two types of sins simply aren’t the same. We see this on full display in that body of law that God once gave to Israel. According to that law, some specific sins were worthy of the death penalty but others weren’t. This means that while the rating of sin doesn’t apply to whether or not an act gets classified as sin in the eyes of God, it does apply to what God deems should happen in the aftermath of any given sin.

Bringing this truth into the realm of spiritual leadership, even as all spiritual leaders are sinners who commit sins, some commit sins that God’s word says should disqualify them from spiritual leadership. You might ask, “But can’t these leaders receive forgiveness for these sins?” Yes, they can. Remember that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for every sin that any spiritual leader would ever commit. Additionally, 1 John 1:9 promises that there is forgiveness and cleansing to be found for any Christian who confesses his or her sins. Obviously, then, the problem is not a lack of forgiveness and cleansing on God’s part. The problem is that some sins carry lifelong earthly consequences. No spiritual leader ever learned this lesson more than David. Even though kings in that day weren’t forced to step down after scandals, God made sure that David paid a heavy earthly price for the sins he committed as part of the Bathsheba/Uriah situation (2 Samuel 12:7-12).

Sadly, David wasn’t the last spiritual leader to fall morally. History’s highway of spiritual leadership is littered with men who committed sins great enough to disqualify them from their roles. If you lived through the 1980s you will never forget the names Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart, right? In more recent times, megachurch pastors Ted Haggard, Eddie Long, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald have watched their big-time ministries go down in flames because of sins ranging from homosexuality to bullying to misuse of church funds. This is to say nothing of the entire Catholic Church scandal involving pedophile priests and their fellow priests who covered for them rather than expose them. Cardinal Bernard Law, who lost his prestigious position as the Archbishop of Boston, embodies that far-reaching scandal.

All this brings us back to Jerry Falwell Jr., who now seems to have made his way onto this infamous list. No, he isn’t an ordained minister per se, but since 2007 he has been the face of a university that prides itself as being unashamedly Christian. As I said in my previous post, I’m not trying to bash the man. I just want you the reader to understand that Falwell Jr’s sins and mistakes are not necessarily evidence that it was never God’s will for him to serve as the President of Liberty University. Instead, what they are evidence of is the fact that having money and power gave him plenty of opportunity to express the nature of sin with which he was born. As for those ways in which he expressed that nature, they were surely in keeping with his personalized sinful bents.

Of course, what makes Falwell Jr’s sins so much worse in the eyes of many is him being a preacher’s kid (a “p.k.” to use the official term). Here again, though, being the child of a preacher, even one as famous and as influential as Jerry Falwell Sr., doesn’t give a person a special invincibility regarding sin. To the contrary, preachers’ kids face unique problems that other children don’t have to face, and unfortunately these problems can make those kids more prone to stray from Christlike behavior. The old joke is, “Preachers’ kids turn out so bad because they are always hanging around deacons’ kids.” In actuality, however, the reasons why preachers’ kids so many times go astray look and sound more like these:

  • Preachers’ kids grow up under a lot of pressure to be perfect little Christians.
  • Preachers’ kids see how church members oftentimes treat their fathers badly.
  • Preachers’ kids hear their parents discussing the ugly problems of church.
  • Preachers’ kids whose fathers act ungodly at home grow bitter about the hypocrisy.
  • Preachers’ kids often resent the churches for dominating their fathers’ time.
  • Preachers’ kids typically have to relocate multiple times during childhood.
  • Preachers’ kids often have to forego “fun” events because they have to go to church.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if Jerry Falwell Jr. being the son of a preacher helped him morally stay on track longer than he naturally would have or if it actually hastened his fall. Perhaps in some strange way it was a little of both. Irregardless of the answer, what’s for certain is that his case is neither new or uncommon. Spiritual leaders have been sowing the seeds of their own moral demise for centuries, and preachers’ kids have been turning out bad since the days of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3), Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas (1 Samuel 2:12-17), and Samuel’s sons Joel and Abijah (1 Samuel 8:1-3).

Falwell Jr.’s story hits home with me personally for two reasons. First, I am a pastor, a spiritual leader who brought a ton of sinful baggage into the ministry and still carries some of that baggage around. Second, I am the father of two p.k.s, and I don’t want to ever hear that either one of them has made an immoral fool of himself on Instagram. That, by the way, has a ton more to do with my concern over their spiritual well-being than it does my concern over my reputation as a pastor. Of course, in an ideal world I won’t fall as a spiritual leader and they won’t stray from what Tonya and I have taught them about how to live for God in the midst of a sin-cursed culture. I have to admit, though, that there are no guarantees. After all, I’m sure that Jerry Falwell Jr. didn’t set out to fail as either a spiritual leader or a preacher’s kid. But it happened, didn’t it? And that, I guess, is the scariest part of all.

Posted in Adultery, Anger, Backsliding, Character, Church, Church Attendance, Current Events, Deacons, Depravity, Family, Forgiveness, God's Work, Hypocrisy, Leadership, Lust, Ministry, Pastors, Personal Holiness, Preaching, Sanctification, Service, Sin, Temptation, The Death Penalty, The Old Testament Law | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment