The COGIC and Reasonable Doubt

image

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted and wasn’t sure I’d actually post this, but I’d like to make my re-entry back into the blog world by sharing my thoughts on recent events surrounding one of America’s largest Pentecostal denomination’s 107th Holy Convocation. In case you are not familiar or these sort of things don’t come across your newsfeed, allow me to briefly fill you in. This past week, a now viral video surfaced showing a portion of the conclusion of one of the worship services held by the Church of God in Christ as part of their 107th Holy Convocation. In the video, one the denomination’s Bishops was praying over people and allowed one gentleman to share his reason for coming down for prayer. Depending on how you view certain things, this is where things either went downhill or uphill. In a nutshell, the gentleman, in a very charismatic and/or dramatic way exclaimed that he had been delivered from homosexuality, wearing makeup, and carrying purses (I’m assuming that night, but not quite sure) and refused to marry a man among other things and that he only wanted to marry a women (no typo). In true COGIC fashion (pun intended), the place erupted (after some coaxing) and the people got happy, shouted (danced) and the gentleman got paid. End clip.

The link I saw was posted by the Bishop who was handling the service and prayer that night. He posted it (by choice) as an official representative and member of the denomination. As a result, social media went nuts with the majority of commenters poking fun (I’m being generous here) at the video and especially its main subject, the delivert (no typo) man. Due to the attention and backlash stemming from the video, the denomination released an official memo stating (in a nutshell), “People shouldn’t overlook all the good that was done in St. Louis while they were there, the lives that were touched and souls that were saved…also, the denomination does not condone any sort of abuse towards homosexuality and loves homosexuals as Christ demonstrated and commanded His Church to.” The denomination did also include their stance against homosexuality but also reaffirmed it’s commitment to loving everyone.

However, nowhere in the letter did they really address the content of the video and its legitimacy which is strange because well, that’s what the whole fuss is about. For me, I took their lack of addressing the content of the video, the concerns, questions and comments of viewers (inside and out of the organization) as a sign that everyone should give them the benefit of the doubt by believing what took place to be an authentic move of the Holy Spirit. I, however, cannot do that and here are four reasons why:

1. Emotionalism

The COGIC is known for its high-energy, loud, lengthy and heavily charismatic services. Having grown up in a semi-charismatic environment and being exposed to different churches and denominations as a musician/preacher, I’ve been to my fair share of worship services and the one common denominator of all the COGIC services I have attended over the years is that they are emotionally driven. All throughout the services, when someone new gains control of the microphone you can expect their to be an exhortation respond to God in praise (authentic or not) lest the service be held hostage. The “exhorters” will also tend to keep prodding (manipulating) until they begin to strike nerves and receive a response or misquote passages that tend to be self-centered. As a result, what tends to happen is a tipping point (one of many) in the service where people have to choose whether they really love God or not or are grateful for Him and His benefits or not. To choose the latter in each case could potentially isolate a congregant to the point where it would be made to seem that something must be “wrong” with that person. This type of emotionalism has led to professional praisers and actors who know how to play a role in order to fit in and/or appear “spiritual.” For this reason I cannot give the video the benefit of the doubt.

2. Shaky Theology

Another reason why I struggle to take the video and its content seriously is because of the history of the denomination’s shaky theology. On the surface they would appear to hold the fundamentals of the faith: Salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. However, when it comes to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit things get shaky. According to their own belief statement concerning the Baptism of the Holy Spirit they believe, “…the Baptism of the Holy Ghost is an experience subsequent to conversion and sanctification and that tongue-speaking is the consequence of the baptism in the Holy Ghost with the manifestations of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; Acts 10:46, 19:1-6).  We believe that we are not baptized with the Holy Ghost in order to be saved (Acts 19:1-6; John 3:5). When one receives a baptismal Holy Ghost experience, we believe one will speak with a tongue unknown to oneself according to the sovereign will of Christ. To be filled with the Spirit means to be Spirit controlled as expressed by Paul in Ephesians 5:18-19. Since the charismatic demonstrations were necessary to help the early church to be successful in implementing the command of Christ, we therefore, believe that a Holy Ghost experience is mandatory for all men today” (emphasis mine).

This is a whole other can of worms but briefly I will state why there is a problem with this line of thinking. In John 14, Jesus told the Disciples that he was leaving the earth but that He would send the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) who would not only dwell with them, but in them. Most theologians would agree that the promise was not only extended to the Apostles, but to all believers. In John 20, the resurrected Jesus walks into a room with the Apostles and other disciples and breathed on them exclaiming, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 1, right before Jesus ascended into heaven, He commanded the Apostles and disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the fulfillment of His command in John 20. Then, in the infamous Acts 2, which the COGIC stakes a lot of their claims on, we see the 120 become baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit and then speak in languages foreign to them. In subsequent chapters and scenes we see the same thing happen. People hear the gospel, respond to Christ, and are filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. We see this in several cases, but not all. However, the denomination takes the several cases to be the normative experience in the Christian life.

As I come to believe, what Luke does in Acts is brilliantly show the progression of fulfillment of Jesus’ call to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. To prove this point, let’s take a journey through that progression.

In Acts 2 the Apostles and other Disciples are in Jerusalem for the Passover and on the Day of Pentecost, while in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit endows the 120, they began to “tell the mighty works of God” in the languages of the pilgrims in Jerusalem, Peter preaches the gospel and 3000 people according to verse 41, “received his word and were baptized into Christ and the Christian faith.” Nowhere does it say, the 3000 spoke in tongues, but what it does say subsequently happened was Spirit-filled devotion to God and each other.

In Acts 8, we find that as a result of persecution Christ-followers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (coincidence?) and there the Gospel was preached and people believed and were saved in Samaria through the teaching of Phillip, but no mention of tongues

In Acts 10, at Caesarea Peter preaches to Gentiles and here again we see tongues, but a new group is introduced; Gentiles.

Finally in Acts 19, Paul visited Ephesus (outside of the previous regions mentioned) and preached the Gospel to another group of people who received the word and became saved and filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues proclaiming in the word of Christ in that region.

So we have Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and Ephesus (ends of the world) and the fulfillment of the call of Jesus to take the gospel everywhere, to all men. As each new group was introduced, tongues were evident as they proclaimed the mighty works of God in languages people understood.

All in between those passages there are other stories and scenes where the gospel is preached and received, people were filled (including Paul) but no tongues. Why? Because speaking in tongues is not the normative experience during regeneration and conversion.

Lastly on this, if the position of the COGIC were correct, there would be the categories of the haves and have nots. Thus, conflicting with Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that the Disciples and subsequent Church be one as the Godhead is one. As this is the case in the COGIC, you will find people rambling off unintelligible phrases (as the gentleman did in the video) in an effort again to fit in and prove they have the Holy Spirit. For Paul and the other New Testament writers, to not have the Holy Spirit, means to not be saved (Romans 8:9) and certainly not everyone would share the same manifestations of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14). Therefore, their theology is flawed and does not warrant the benefit of the doubt in this case.

3. Authority Issues

Another reason I can’t just take their word for it is because their leaders often misuse and abuse their authority. As Pastors and preachers we are commissioned to preach under the Authority of Christ as led by the Holy Spirit but always within the bounds of Scripture. Deviations from this model lead to the abuse of the position and ultimately people. The COGIC has and its leaders are typically great communicators and are very good at persuading and manipulating congregants under the guise of spiritual authority. This came into play during the video when the Bishop made the statement that those who were not celebrating and rejoicing at his command (shouting, whether superficial or not) were considered unbelievers…Unbelievers!!!

Nowhere in Scripture do we find that criteria nor do we see the endowment or exercise of that kind of power. Name driven, celebrity driven, pastor driven denominations like the COGIC tend to create monsters because so much emphasis is placed on the leaders to where their words are presumed infallible and inspired; even above Scripture. We also see in the video the Bishop tell the gentleman to run down the aisle and scream in the camera his new found freedom.

Now I get that in the Bible, there are many examples where prophets and even Jesus asked those being ministered to, to do some odd things. However, those odd things were part of the process of healing, provision, etc. This was not the case in the video. It was more, “do this because I said so. I’m the Bishop!” For this reason I cannot give the COGIC the benefit of the doubt.

4. Money

The last reason I can’t reasonably take this video to be serious is because somehow or some way it always comes down to money. What do I mean? Well if you attend a COGIC service you better be sure to bring cash. You will be asked to give a tithe, a general offering, a seed offering for your blessing of choice as well as an offering to “bless” the speaker of the hour. Or, depending on the type of service, you will see grand displays/gestures of giving money to others in a very dramatic and public way. Sermons tend to always lead to praising God in expectation of a blessing, often times monetary. People are told they’re supposed to be millionaires and the first step to making that million is to sow a seed. Money drives the end of the sermons, money motivates praise, and money more times than not motivates the preacher to keep going. In the video in question, the Bishop gave the gentleman money not because there was a need per se, but because commitment to Christ leads to spiritual and material blessings. So he says. However, all we can tell is that in a grand display of generosity the Bishop conveniently pulls out a $100 bill and sows into the man and we see others follow suit. No explanation is given, but what’s implied is by following Christ you can expect “stuff” and that when you bless others you can expect to receive a greater blessing in return. The fixation on prosperity and the misnomer that God’s people are supposed to have material wealth often leads people to passionately Perdue the resources of life rather than the Source of life, which is Christ. For this reason and for the aforementioned reasons, there is a place to reasonably doubt the authenticity of the video.

Conclusion

I know I am treading on dangerous ground by questioning an event like this. I get that. However, I firmly believe that now more than ever, the Church of Jesus Christ (undivided) would do well to exercise discernment as the Day of the Lord draws near. I’ve tried to be fair in my judgment, but from what I know, it’s hard to believe the content of the video. Not because I don’t believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, I do. Not because I don’t believe in the continuation of Spiritual Gifts/Ministry Assignments, I do. Not because I don’t believe members of the COGIC to be authentic believers, I do and know quite a few brothers and sisters who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of Christ and the furtherance of His Kingdom. I just believe in examining the whole while also viewing the part.

I pray that the gentleman received or receives the deliverance that is promised to those who trust and treasure Christ. It has been happening for 2000 years plus, it has happened to me, and by God’s grace and the effectual, immutable power of the Holy Spirit, it will continue to happen until we see Him (Christ) face to face.

In Christ,

Terry

Advertisements

Social Justice and the Gospel

njnp2

I hesitated for what seemed like years to actually start blogging. Two big things kept me from becoming a practicing blogger: 1) The abundance of other established blogs that we are constantly flooded with all over the internet and specifically social media.  I mean, why would I want to be a part of the noise? 2) Due to the first reason, I didn’t think anyone would even read my feeble attempts to express what I felt God iss saying to and through me.  Yet, alas I am here and along with seemingly everyone else, I have something to say.

In the last few months, dare I say years, it seems as if the world has taken an overwhelming turn for the worst; overwhelming being the operative word.  One cannot turn on the television or radio or Facebook without being exposed to the wickedness, brokenness and suffering that is taking place ALL.OVER.THE.WORLD.  I mean within the last week, I don’t know whether to pray for Ferguson, the drought in California, Chicago,  Iraq, Ukraine, Ebola-infested places, or the people who I get to Pastor.  I don’t know whether to spread awareness about ISIS, ALS, police brutality or sex-trafficking.  It’s overwhelming; literally.  To top it off, I have to deal with all the posts and videos and rants that don’t serve any purpose but to try to make me feel guilty for not being more involved and speaking out or marching or helping to spread the awareness.  Yet, what I really feel convicted by is the fact that as a Pastor who gets paid to lead and preach, I’m NOT doing enough spreading…of the Gospel!

Everyday I am more and more convinced that the answer to ISIS, the answer to Ferguson, the answer to racism, the answer to gossip, the answer to oppression, the answer to hate, the answer to divorce, the answer to sin is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I know that seems ultra-simplistic, but Isn’t that why Jesus came?  Isn’t that what the body of Christ has been “commissioned” to ultimately spread?  Isn’t that heartbeat of the Church? The answer to these rhetorical questions is, YES.

WHY JESUS CAME

As I was considering about blogging these past few weeks, the Holy Spirit kept bringing two passages to mind and one is an almost direct quote of the other.  In Isaiah 61, the prophet says,

The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and freedom to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of our God’s vengeance;
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the Lord
to glorify Him. (Isaiah 61:1-3, HCSB)

And in Luke 4 we find these words:

He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

20 He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 He began by saying to them, Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.” (Luke 4:16-21, HCSB)

What the prophet Isaiah spoke contextually about Himself, he also spoke prophetically of the One who would ultimately fulfill this “mission statement”; Jesus the Christ.  I find it fascinating that on the surface this would seem like the social justice Magna Carta.   It talks about the poor, the disabled (Blind), the oppressed or enslaved, the brokenhearted and the response of the prophet and ultimately Jesus to those things.  In fact, all of these descriptions are but metaphors ultimately saying the same thing: People are in trouble, but one has come under the unction/empowerment and leadership of Jehovah/Yahweh (and the Holy Spirit) to bring about a change through “good news” or in the Greek, “the Gospel”.

In order not to reinvent the wheel I have chosen to use David Guzik’s commentary on this passage as a guide:

a. The Messiah announces that He is here to heal the damage that sin brings. Sin has done great damage, so there needs to be a great work of redemption.

b. Because sin impoverishes, He will preach good tidings to the poor. Because sin breaks hearts, He will heal the brokenhearted. Because sin makes captives, He will proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. Because sin oppresses, He will proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.

c. Because sin is a crime that must be avenged, He will proclaim … the day of vengeance of our God.

d. Because sin brings grief, He will comfort all who mourn.

I love this summary and the reality that it paints.  God’s mission, the prophets’ mission, Christ’s mission is to bring good news to those, as John Calvin puts it, “who are altogether forsaken and abandoned, but who are also wretched in themselves.”  We see this fully played out in the life of Jesus recorded in Scripture.  Although he reached out to the marginalized, the end goal was not de-marginalization but Spiritual transformation aka the New Birth.  Their being marginalized allowed them to be more receptive to his message, but even after putting their trust in Him, many then and today still have remained marginalized.

I conclude then, that this passage in Isaiah and Jesus’ recitation and interpretation of it in Luke isn’t about social justice.  Also, Christ’s mission did not have a primarily social justice emphasis, but it was a call to sinners to come to God through His finished work on the cross of Calvary made acceptable by his perfectly obedient life.  This is not to say that He did not or does not care about social justice, but I would venture to say that social justice is the byproduct of lives transformed by the gracious work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  In other words social reform is birthed out of redeemed, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting lives and unless the latter precedes the former, what is left is nothing but good intentions and whitewashed tombs.  How do I know this? The answer lies in verse 3b of Isaiah 61, “And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify Him.”  It does not that they will become de-marginalized, though that is important, but righteous, which is not a socio-economic transformation, but the transformation of a radically corrupt heart.

THE GREAT COMMISSION

It didn’t just stop with Christ, though He is the end goal and reward of all those who trust Him and would trust Him, He gave His original Disciples and all that would follow after Him and them (their pattern that is) an assignment  which was and is to,

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you…”(Matthew 28:19-20a, HCSB)

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16, HCSB)

2000 plus years later this should be the Church’s priority. This is our mission.  Our attention to social justice ought to be in response to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives but it should not be the sum total of our lives.  More is at stake than eliminating racism, incurable diseases and terrorist groups.  More is at stake than flooding each other’s timelines in an effort to make folks “aware”.   God has so graciously allowed His people to be part of His mission.  We get to be a “kingdom of priests” who stand on behalf of the Lord to proclaim the wonderful, glorious beauty of Christ and Him crucified.  Therefore, should we not make people aware of the fact that “though their sin be as scarlet, they will be white as snow?” (Isaiah 1:18).  The only true hope for this world is Jesus.  The only true cure to sin is Jesus.  That is the Gospel. Whether it be Muslim extremists, rapists, thugs, cynics, rich, poor, black or white, the answer to this world is found in Christ and Christ alone.

THE HEARTBEAT OF THE CHURCH

So what does this mean for Pastors and laypersons? It means we need to be serious about evangelism, both personally and communally.  We must be bold in our approach yet humble in our speech.  We must, as Pastor Bryan Loritts put it in a sermon last week, “get over the awkwardness of sharing Christ”, because at the end of the day, we share what we delight in.  I must say, I have failed in the area of personal evangelism.  As a Pastor it’s easy to get up and proclaim truth to people who are there to hear me, but to the person in the cubicle next to me it’s a whole other ballgame.  Yet, if I have been truly anointed and endowed with the Spirit of God, I have no cause for fear or anxiety.  He empowers, He brings about His intended results.

What this also means is that (particularly when it comes to matters of race and ethnicity) there must be a greater sense of urgency and desire to plant more multi-ethnic, multi-everything (especially Leadership) churches.  Change starts from the inside out, both spiritually and practically.  We must intentionally surround ourselves and invest ourselves into people who do not vote like us, talk like us, dress like us, look like us so that as we live out the Gospel, we reflect the image of the One who gave His life for us that we might give our lives for Him.  To Him be the glory and power forever. Amen.

Stepping Out,

T.

Real Hope for Real Grief (Part 2)

Lighthouse
I have to admit that when the Holy Ghost (I’m feeling rather charismatic tonight) first put it on my heart to write about death and our response to it, I was very hesitant. Death is such a touchy topic and anyone who is anyone has at some point been affected by its reality. With that being said, I want to start this last post off by conveying that my intentions are not to cause anyone more pain than has already been experienced. I also do not want to minimize or trivialize death by painting this picture that from a Christian perspective, death is “cakewalk”. Instead, I want to paint the picture the Bible paints; a picture that includes suffering and joy, hope and loss, grief and glory.

I really believe that in order to grasp its depth (if that is even at all possible); we must look at both sides of the coin.

The Bad and the Ugly
“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17, N KJV)

These words though recorded by Moses, were spoken by God to Adam, humanity’s representative. Another way to put the latter portion of that verse would go like this, “…for the moment you choose to disobey me, choose yourself over me, choose to commit cosmic treason (as R.C. Sproul puts it), you will be separated/cut off from this world (eventually) and from Me (ultimately).”

Death is a byproduct of sin. It exists because man is sinful and God is holy. Sin demands justice and justice is served by death. God did not intend for death to be a part of His marvelous created order, yet he allowed it. He allowed it because His wrath would only be satisfied by it, but also because He had every intention of using it to “reverse the curse.”

Let this sink in…Our sin is so great and so damaging that it takes the loss of life and separation from God to rectify it. We are all guilty of sin and are affected and corrupted by it. Sin has so radically corrupted everyone and everything, that no one can escape death nor the realities of it. Death stinks! Man and his choices stink!

The Good
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John11:25-26, NKJV)

Talk about a shift in perspective…

This passage in the Gospel According to John is just as real as the passage in Genesis. In John though, we find out that God allowed death to become a reality, but not finality. This passage reminds us that God can take terrible circumstances and use them for the good of His children and ultimately for His Glory. Yes it is true, “ALL things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NKJV)

As my good friend and fellow elder John Comfort always point out, here’s another example of the double-edge nature of life. On the one hand, we have this terrible reality that people are removed from this world, separated from God because of sin (in general). Yet, because of Christ there is another reality operating concurrently that screams, “Death is not the end!”

The bridge then is Christ. He makes joy possible in the face of suffering. He brings hope when we’ve experienced loss. He points us to glory while we grieve. It all happens “in Christ”; and in Christ alone.

Our first representative, Adam, led us to sin and death. Our second Adam, Jesus, leads to righteousness and life through His death AND resurrection. Because He satisfied God’s wrath on behalf of humanity death though very real is swallowed up in the victory of Christ’s resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15).

This leads me to the crux and conclusion of this post. Often times when seemingly “good people” and close loved ones die, a lot of Christians tend to send people to heaven because the thought of the loved one or “good person” makes sense and eases the pain. I have gone to countless funerals and read countless posts where people have presumed that because a person has done so many good things or may have said a prayer at some point in their earthly lives, they’re in. Regardless of the person’s theology and lifestyle, heaven is the only option.

Most people would probably never openly pronounce at a funeral that the deceased person’s eternal destination is hell, but why should that give us license to claim heaven for that person, when there is no real indication that is true. In John 11 and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 (the passage I used in Part 1, the writers mention multiple times that the person who lives/will live in eternity with God in heaven, is the person who lived/died “in Christ”. This is the person whose life was hidden in Christ (cf. Colossians 3:3-4). This is the person whose life was radically transformed by Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15-17). This is the person whose life was characterized by Christ-likeness (cf. John 15:1-11) and the list goes on.

When we disregard a deceased person’s life and send them to heaven presumptuously, we do no damage to that person (for their eternal destination has already been set), instead, we do damage to those who remain alive. What we communicate is that there is no need to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in this life, because “doing good things” covers you. What we communicate is that Scripture is true inasmuch as it doesn’t affect our ability to cope with the reality of death. What we communicate is false hope.

As Children of the Word we must stand firm on the truth of Christ that He is the only way to God and heaven; the only way. Painfully, this means that every family member will not be there on that Day. This means that countless amounts of people, who did good deeds but rejected Christ, will not make it. This means that we must be serious about this life if we want to be with Christ in the next. This means we have to be all the more diligent and zealous to proclaim the glorious, death-defying, soul-saving, bondage-breaking, new life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ to our family members, co-workers, celebrities; everybody. That whosoever will, “come” to the fountain of everlasting life. We must remind ourselves and tell others that if there is to be any hope in grief, any consolation for our pain, any joy in our sorrow, it must be by, through and in Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry, to final breath;
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

Hoping in Christ,
Terry

Real Hope for Real Grief (Part 1)

Every day we are faced with the reality that people die.  I know that’s probably not a good way to start off a post, but I have to believe that the best way of dealing with reality (bad, good or indifferent) is to face it head on.  So this post is my attempt to go right at it…

The Lie

I have become increasingly disheartened as of late with how people respond to the death of others; whether it be those of a “high-profile” nature or close family members whom the majority of the world never knew existed. I have found that the common coping mechanism used to combat death is false hope.  Here are a few phrases that have become increasingly popular these days:

“I now have a guardian angel (insert deceased person’s name) to watch over me.”

“God must have needed an angel.”

“He/she is in a better place now (regardless of how the person lived).”

“He/she left such a lasting legacy of good words and deeds, surely our lost and heaven’s gain.”

The list goes on…

However comforting or soothing these words sound, they are (for the most part save the third one) built on lies and unfounded in Holy Scripture.  At best, they can only provide false hope.  That’s not the worse part though; the worst part is that as I scroll down my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds, these words emanate from the hands and mouths of professing Christians.  Christians who have the very words of God near them.  Christians who claim to have the Spirit of God in them.  Christians who pledge their allegiance to the One whom declared Himself to be (and rightfully so) the Truth (John 14:6).  Yet, perpetuate lies that may temporarily ease the pain caused by grief and loss.  It is evidenced by statements like these that many ignore sound doctrine or aren’t being exposed to it as they should.  As a Pastor, it pains me.  It pains me that instead of offering and communicating true hope in Christ, we settle for lies; lies that do more damage than good.

So then, it is my responsibility as a Pastor and brother in Christ to point to the truth.  To find this truth, I turn to the one place where the truth remains unchanged; the Bible.

The Truth

In a world where we experience gut-wrenching pain of loss and grief, we find these words in Scripture:

13 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep throughJesus. 15 For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord:We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout,with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourageone another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, HCSB)

It was the Apostle Paul who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit penned these words.  He was writing to a church that had experienced great loss, yet did not know how to cope with the reality that the loved ones who once lived among them were no longer physically with them.  Although they may have believed in the coming of the Lord, they thought those that died before the great Day were hopeless.  It was obvious that this young church was in a vulnerable state and possibly (if not probably) under the influence of false teaching about death and the “afterlife”.  Paul writes this letter not only counter the lies that were being fed and digested, but to provide real, life-giving hope; the hope of Christ.

Friends, I cannot stress this thought enough.  Wherever we find ourselves searching and in need of hope (in life or the reality of death), we must always return to Christ. For He is our hope! He is our life! (Colossians 3:1-4).

This is what Paul did in this letter (and the aim of this post), he pointed his readers back to Christ.  As such, there are four truths that I see in the aforementioned passage:

  1. Death is real
  2. Grief is real
  3. Hope is real
  4. Comfort is available

Death is Real

Paul in this letter wanted the church of Thessalonica to know that death is a reality. A reality that many people have faced and will face. Death is the climax of an earthly life. It should not be something we try to escape or try to cheat because it is a natural part of our earthly existence. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in the projects or penthouse, death is the great equalizer. Job fell down and worshipped in Job 1:21 saying,

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life.

“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of LORD.”

Should Jesus delay His return, all of us at some point will have to come by this way. The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed (by God) for people to die once – after this, judgment…”

Death is a part of God’s plan of redemption, though we may not always understand it, we must be aware that it is a reality and our lives should be governed in such that we would be ready to meet our Creator should death coming knocking at the door.

Grief is Real

Paul not only stated that death is a reality, he also acknowledged that grief is appropriate. He told the church that it is ok to grieve, it is ok to mourn. They are natural responses to the reality of the loss suffered. It is not Un-Christian to feel pain and sadness during the loss of a loved one. However, he said something very crucial in the latter part of verse 13. He said, it is ok to grieve so long as you do not grieve as the world grieves; without hope.   He wanted them to be aware that although grief is natural and is common to every man, what sets the Christian apart is that when we grieve, it is accompanied by hope.

Hope is Real

Hope is one of those words that can often be misunderstood and misused. To Paul’s audience and for us today, the word simply means “the desire of some good with the expectation of obtaining it.”

Paul wanted to the Christians in Thessalonica to know that even in the midst of pain, even in the midst of loss, even in the midst of suffering, even in the midst of tears that there is “some good” that our hearts can yearn for and can “expect” to obtain; that is eternal life in Christ.

You see they thought that at the point a person died, the deceased would miss out on the blessing of Jesus’ return. They thought death was final. They thought death was it. And if that were the case, I could see how they could hope-less. But not so for the Christian.   In fact, death is something God uses to usher us into eternal life. Paul takes it step further and says, that our loved ones who die in the Lord, their bodies are merely “asleep.” Waiting for the cry of command, the voice of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God. Waiting for Jesus himself to come and raise them up and clothe them with bodies that will never grow old, hearts that will never fail, imperishable, perfect bodies.

You may be asking how that is possible?

It is possible because Jesus died, to cleanse us from sin; to take our punishment. But He rose again, so that He might defeat death. He rose again so that death would not be the end. He rose again so that He could give us eternal life. That as Paul put it in 1 Cor. 15:54-55:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?”

The hope we can have in the midst of grief is that even in death, we have victory in Jesus. He is our champion, he holds the key to life and death and has promised that if we trust Him, we will live even if we die. He’s coming back one day and all of us who have trusted Him will meet and greet in Him in the air.  It reminds me of the old Bill Gaither song,

Because He lives, we can face tomorrow,

Because He lives, all fear is gone;

Because we know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living,

Just because he lives!

Comfort is Real

Paul concluded this section by admonishing his readers to comfort one another with these words.  Why would he say this?  Because these words are true.  The promise of Jesus’ return is real.  God is faithful; which means “God will always do what He has said and fulfill what He has promised” (Wayne Grudem).  There is hope; for the Christian.  True strength is not found in fantasy or fairy tales, but in the truth of God and hope of Christ.

What shall we do with this then?  I believe their are two appropriate responses:

1) Spread the Gospel and the Gospel alone. For it is the Gospel that points us to our only hope in this world and the world to come; Jesus Christ.

2) Rejoice in knowing that those who have died “in Christ” are not lost, but are merely sleeping. Their hope is our hope; Christ and Christ alone.

20140528-234154-85314393.jpg

Glass Houses, Donald Sterling and Sin

Image

Glass Houses

There’s an old proverb (not in the Bible) that says, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

There are multiple interpretations of what this means, but I think in simple terms it means that we should be aware of our own vulnerability when exposing the vulnerability of others; lest we succumb to the same damage as they.

No doubt, with the explosion of social media (and technology in general), we have access to information like never before; and not just information, but we have access to the lives (public and private) of others.  There’s something beautiful about being able to connect and share moments with brothers I met in Nigeria back in 2009 or family across the country; in real time.  There’s something equally disturbing to know that at any moment, my privacy can be compromised and my life exposed to the world.  THE WORLD!!!

I know that the easy response to that would go something like this, “Well Terry, maybe you should just watch what you say, text, do, post and you will be good!”

I definitely agree with that statement.  I 100% believe that I am the one who is ultimately responsible for what I say, text, do and post.  So yes, if I don’t want the messy, ugly, raggedness of my life and sin to be exposed, I should keep it to myself. However…that can’t be the final answer.  I’ll return to this thought at the end.

Donald Sterling

I started this post this way because once again we have been confronted with the ugliness that social media can reveal; this time the victim is the controversial Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling.  I did not make a mistake in calling him a “victim”.  Let’s be honest, this information came out without his permission and what was thought to be a private conversation was made public without his consent.  In that sense, yes, he is a victim.  Unfortunately for him, that’s where it ends.   What that conversation revealed is what many have believed for years; Mr. Sterling has some issues.  Most notably, issues dealing with how he feels about other races.  Whether he was baited into the conversation or not, he said what he said.  In the heat of the moment, his heart was revealed.

Sinful Hearts

Often times, when we say things we shouldn’t say, we rationalize them by claiming that because of the heat and pressure of the moment, “we say things we don’t really mean.”  I have to disagree with that statement. Not because I want to, but because I have to. I want to be able to negate the filth that comes out of my mouth and relegate it to just “moments of passion”; but I can’t. No one can.  Not if these words are true (and I believe they are):

“A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” – Jesus (Luke 6:45)

If Jesus is correct (and He most definitely is), Mr. Sterling, myself and you are without excuse.  What Donald Sterling said revealed what is really going on his heart.  At our AWANA program, the kids learn that the definition of the heart is, “the real you.”  The tricky thing about the heart though is that it all is over the place and we never really know its condition until things like this come up (see Jeremiah 17:9).

The scary thing about this whole situation is that if the recording never came out, an 80 year old man would be going about his daily life with a heart filled with hatred, bitterness, pride and many other things that we would have never known about (for the most part).  Now that we do know, he has to be held responsible for his words and actions.  As far as what that looks like concerning his ownership of the Clippers and his tenure with the NBA, I trust the best decision will be made.   I also truly believe that this is an opportunity for Donald Sterling to respond to God’s cosmic and personal call to repentance and faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ.  I truly hope that out of all this, God would draw Mr. Sterling to Himself.  That Mr. Sterling would hear the sin-erasing, barrier-breaking, life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ and embrace it and treasure Him as Savior and Lord.   I hope that he would come to know that though his sin is great, God’s grace is greater.  Selah

Back to Glass Houses

I believe that there is also an appropriate response for African-Americans and everyone else in general who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.  I honestly believe that the response should be one of anger and grace.  Anger, because of the ugliness and reality of the sin (notice I didn’t say racism) and grace because apart from Jesus Christ, we are no different than Donald Sterling.  We are racists, we are adulterers, we are idolaters, we are prideful; we are sinners. All of us.

I love the fact at our AWANA program, one the first Bible verses the kids learn is:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Paul (Romans 3:23)

This inescapable truth should lead us to repentance and cause us to show mercy for people like Donald Sterling.

If he loses his team, he might take a hit financially (very unlikely), his pride will be hurt and the NBA would be less one “racist” owner.  Maybe then, sponsors will return and the Clippers will wear their warm-ups correctly.  Maybe then, work conditions will improve and morale across the NBA will improve.  Maybe fans will hop back on the Clipper bandwagon.  Maybe ESPN will have other stories to report.  Maybe others will “get the message” that racism will not be tolerated in the NBA or America.  Just maybe, we will feel good about ourselves because of all things to be, at least we’re not racists. Just maybe.

I sincerely hope that as Christians, when confronted with the sin of others, we would be confronted with our own sin.  I sincerely hope that when confronted with our sin, we would drop the rocks of judgment and bitterness and malice.

Like the woman caught in the act of adultery recorded in John 8, Donald Sterling has been brought to the public square and we are all a part of the crowd.  Some of us with rocks ready to unleash and some of us just watching to see how it will all unfold.  Jesus is here too, writing in the sand and offering the same response as in days of old:

The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” – Jesus (John 8:7)

Notice that Jesus affirms that sin was committed and that it deserves justice, but He qualifies their right to execute said justice.

So the question is, will you be the hands of the Pharisees that bitterly drop their rocks and walk away? Or will you be the compassionate, loving, merciful hands of Jesus that graciously restore broken, sinful people.

Will you be the Pharisee or the Tax Collector?

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people —greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Whatever consequences Donald Sterling has to deal with in the next coming days will not ultimately cure his heart nor answer the problem of racism in America let alone the NBA.  The ultimate cure for racism and all sin is the cross of Jesus Christ.  Will you lead him there?

In Christ,

Terry

P.S. For another post (extremely well-written) about this subject go to http://www.raanetwork.org/3-quick-exhortations-christians-dealing-men-like-donald-sterling/

The Gospel and Fitness

"Do you even lift?"

“Do you even lift?”

I’ve been in an Adult Basketball League the last few months and more than ever before I have been confronted with the reality that…wait for it…

I.AM.OUT.OF.SHAPE.

I’ve known it for a while and have thought about doing something about it; seriously.  Well, semi-seriously.  It’s been tough because I know the journey ahead will be long and hard and I’m not looking forward to it; hence my hesitation.  This is my story and my confession.

During the season, I found myself frustrated with myself (that sounds weird) and my level of play more often than not and I definitely attribute it to my poor conditioning.  Something has to give; now.  I need to either retire from the game of basketball or get my act together and get in shape.  I choose the latter; seriously.

So starting some day, I will start using my gym membership instead of donating money every month to the 24 Hour Fitness.  I will put on my big boy shorts, lace up my kicks and get back in shape.  BUT…I won’t let it consume me; at least I pray I don’t…

I’ve noticed over the past few years that there has been a dangerous trend going on with people I know and don’t know and that is the preoccupation and dare I say idolization of FITNESS.  Of course, with the ever-increasing changes and expansion of social media, the problem has been magnified, but it’s still a problem.  I don’t think I can go a day without seeing post after post, picture after picture or advertisement after advertisement about people working out, talking about working out, posting pictures from previous workouts or videos of actual real-time workouts.  Let’s not forget about the plethora of Facebook ads, Groupons, infomercials, DVDs and the like about the subject.  Everywhere I turn I am being flooded with people consumed with working out, consumed with trying to get me to buy a product to go with working out, so much so that it scares me a little to jump back in the game.

Most people might think that I am being dramatic and that I am not serious about my health and/or dedicated to it.  Now don’t get me wrong, as a person who has had high cholesterol the majority of his life, I know the dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle.  I get it.  What I don’t get is the preoccupation with it where it begins to consume the lives of people so much, that it becomes the goal of life:

  • To be healthy and in shape,
  • To feel good and look good,
  • To just lose “a few” more pounds and then satisfaction will kick in,
  • To fit some model or mold that society has crafted as the ideal body type and/or ideal lifestyle.

For a lot of people I know and don’t know, this is their reality.  They are consumed with fitness.  Fitness has become an idol.  Relationships are becoming and/or have become strained because all they want to do is run or hit the weights or talk about running and hitting the weights.   Precious moments with family, friends or co-workers are being squandered because people are choosing to forgo meals and isolate themselves for the sake of “being healthy”.  For many, they have bought into the lie that if you get in shape, you will be satisfied because of the benefits.  For many, they have bought into the lie that being preoccupied with fitness and hanging around others who are like-minded fosters authentic community.  However, the whole idea of fitness is for the most part a self-centered conquest.   For many, this worldly preoccupation with the self and self-preservation has put them in a dangerous position where they have become their own idols consumed with glory for themselves.  Consumed with the idea of being adored by others for their pulchritudinous splendor.  They have become and/or are lovers of self.

What’s crazy is that many people don’t even realize it.  That’s because it happens so subtly.  What starts out as a healthy venture to perhaps enhance one’s quality of life, quickly (if not tempered) becomes the reason for life and the goal of life.  I have seen this happen especially in the Christian community, but this isn’t anything new.   From the beginning of time, humans have taken good things and have made them “god things”.  From the beginning of time, humans have believed the lie that there are things in this world (physical and metaphysical) that can bring ultimate satisfaction.

Friends, let’s not fool ourselves. NOTHING in this world can provide ultimate satisfaction save Jesus Christ! He alone can bring satisfaction to our longing hearts.  He alone can provide a love for us and affection towards us that would make us choose His love over life itself (see Psalm 63:3).  Why?  Because His love for us, God’s love for us, is not based on anything that we do or become.  The love the Father has for us which He demonstrated through the Son is not based on any merit of our own; but on His sovereign choice.  Hallelujah!

Yes, getting in shape and leading a healthy lifestyle can enhance our quality of life, but it can never replace or even measure up to the life that  Jesus came to give us (John 10:10) or the life we have to look forward to (John 17:2).   The world may promise happiness through fitness, but it won’t last.  The world may offer you it’s caricature of what is “sexy” and/or “desirable”, but it will change.

IT.ALWAYS.DOES.

The world may have it’s perks, pleasures and promises, but guaranteed, they will at some point fail.  What will not fail is God’s love for us (Jeremiah 31:3).  What will not fail is God’s Word to us (1 Peter 1:24,25).  What will not fail is the Gospel received by us (1 John 2:24).  Who will not fail is God’s Son with us (Hebrews 13:8).

So let us take these words to heart lest we fall in love with the world and consequently, ourselves:

15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

What is God’s will for us in this life? It’s simple; love God and love people.  May we never allow the pursuit of self-satisfaction and self-gratification hinder us from obeying His commands.  May we never feed into and buy into promises that cannot be kept.  May we look to and rely on the promises of the One in whose mouth was found no deceit; Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:9).

25 And this is the promise that He Himself made to us: eternal life. (1 John 2:25)

Next time you hit the gym or the trail, take the Gospel with you and remember:

“Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.” – Jennie Wilson

Getting back in the game,

Terry

Resolved: A Resolution for the Ages

New Year

Millions of people have already started planning and mapping out how 2014 is going to be different from 2013.  If it hasn’t happened already, people will be making lists and checking them twice to make sure 2014 is their best year yet.  I know you’re probably thinking I’m about to start bashing resolutions; well, I’m not. Go ahead. Make your list. In fact, I will make one myself. There are definitely some areas in my life that I would like to see treated differently  in the coming year.

I do also know that for a lot of people, January 1st is just another day on the calendar and they have nothing to really look forward to, work toward or work at. I honestly think this type of person is in a more dangerous place than those who make resolutions (even if they’re not always kept). I say, this cautiously and with all sincerity, “if you have no one or nothing to live for, you are missing out on life!” You are stuck.

On the contrary, the reality for most of us is that we set resolutions and somewhere in February or March, we get discouraged, fall off the wagon or forget about the resolutions altogether and find ourselves stuck too. I don’t know about you but I’m tired of being stuck; especially when it comes to my relationship with God and the life that I live in Him. I’m ready for change and I want to continue the process God started in me years ago when I first believed; today.

So whether you make yearly resolutions or not, I’m here to invite you and dare I say challenge you (re)prioritize that list or at least have this ONE thing on your list. TO RUN A RACE THAT IS PLEASING TO GOD.

The Call to Endurance

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnare us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (emphasis mine, Hebrews 12:1-2 HCSB)

The Letter to the Hebrews is a masterpiece and one of the most intriguing books of the Bible. Partially, because no one is sure who wrote it. These five words sum up the letter, “Christ is better; trust Him.”  The first 10.5 chapters of this book talk about how:

  • Christ is better than the angels
  • Christ is better than Moses and the Mosaic Law
  • Christ offers and provides sure rest and salvation for the people of God

Then, in Hebrews 10:19-23, the writer says:

Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (emphasis mine, HCSB)

In other words, in response to who Christ is and what He has accomplished on our behalf, our response is to move toward God and to live for him; by FAITH.  It is by faith that we approach God and live lives that are pleasing to Him. The writer even gives us examples (Hebrews 11) of people who have displayed and lived by faith to which God deemed their lives pleasing.

For the sake of this post, we’ll define faith as the ESV study Bible defines it:

  • A settled assurance or confidence that something in the future – something that is not yet seen but has been promised by God – will actually come to pass because God will bring it about.

Then finally, in Chapter 12 we come to our text and the writer tells us that in light of what pleases God (“faith”, see Hebrews 11:6) and the OT examples given in Chapter 11, we should resolve to live our lives the same way; or as he puts it, we should “run the race set before us.”

I see five things in the opening two verses of Hebrews 12 that give insight into what it takes to “run the race”:

  1. Embrace the fact that IT IS POSSIBLE TO PLEASE GOD WITH OUR LIVES.
  • The “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in v. 1 are there to remind us that ordinary people (just like us) with faults, failures, dreams and hopes were all approved by God not so much because what they did was so great, but because of their faith (see Hebrews 11:2).  Their actions flowed out of hearts that trusted God (albeit not perfectly) and since they were able to live lives worthy of God’s approval, we can do it too; by faith.  No matter how sordid yours and my past is, no matter how much we may have blown it in 2013, we have the opportunity to run on by faith in such a way that would be pleasing to God.  We can start today.

2.  Realize that there is a PATH MARKED OUT FOR EACH OF US.

  • Each of us will receive (have received) different assignments from God and experience different trials and obstacles, but the goal is the same; finish the race.  Let me encourage you by reminding you that there is purpose for your life and God wants to do things uniquely through you for your good and His glory. You are not here by accident.  You are not still here by accident.  Maybe you gotten off course and it feels like you’re out of the  race or maybe you’re stuck at the start line and clueless about what is supposed to happen next.  Maybe these few questions will help stir up something inside of you that will cause you to start running (again):
    • What is it that God has been calling you to?
    • What is it that you have given up on because you didn’t trust God?
    • What is it that you are running away (in a negative sense) from?
  • Don’t go into 2014 with a sideline mentality when God is inviting you to draw near to Himself.  God is inviting you and all of us to a deeper and fuller relationship.  God is wanting to make us Disciples that He is pleased with.  GET (BACK) IN THE RACE!

3.  Do away with ANYTHING that keep you from RUNNING WELL.

  • The writer mentions two things that we have to cast off in order to run well, weight and sin.
  • Weight – burdens, baggage and stuff that is not necessarily sinful but can (and often do) keep us from running towards and for God.  What is it that you have been carrying with you for the last ____ years? Who or what has been holding you back from fully pursuing, trusting and serving God?  If you have ever watched a track meet you would have noticed that runners try to limit themselves to wear/carry only what is necessary during a race.   So it should be with us.  Besides, there are enough natural obstacles and trials that we have to face in this life anyways.
  • Sin that so easily ensnare us – that which is done wrong and/or everything that is offensive to God and in violation of His law.  The picture painted in this phrase is that there are sinful thoughts and patterns that we allow to “skillfully encircle and surround” us to the point that we cannot advance in a positive way.  The phrasing also suggests that we know exactly what these things are and the reason they keep us from advancing is because we refuse to renounce and free ourselves of the very sinful thoughts and patterns that Christ has already set us free from.  So again, the question must be asked; what is it that it is time to get rid of?  This is not a call to sinless perfection but an exhortation to take sin seriously and to continually be yielding to the Spirit of God and at the same time, dying to our flesh.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, “So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh,  for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (emphasis mine, Romans 8:12-13).”  The famous phrase by John Owen comes to mind here: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you!”

4.  Stay COMMITTED.

  • The Greek word used in v.1 is often translated in English to mean “steadfastness”, “patience”, “endurance”, “constancy”, “perseverance”.  According to Thayer’s Lexicon however, when used in the NT, it is the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.  Great runners are great because they train and are dedicated to the sport and the goal.  Even in bad weather or through injuries, great runners keep running.  When things are going well, they run.  When things are unfavorable, they keep running.  Friend, whether 2013 was great or not so great, resolve to keep running.

5.   Give Jesus your UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.

  • As much as we can draw from and take encouragement from the great “cloud of witnesses”, the writer makes it very clear that in order to successfully run the race of life, we must focus intently on Jesus.   The word used here literally means to look away from every other object and focus intently on something else.  In this case, that something is not some thing, but someone; Jesus.  He is the foundation and basis of our faith and our prime example of what it looks like to truly trust the Father and live for Him.  The race He ran, He ran to perfection.  He is the standard, but not only that, He is our source of strength and life (John 4:14, 15:5).  He is our hope (1 Peter 1:3).  He is our confidence (Philippians 3:7-11).  He is our help (Psalm 46:1-3).  He is our salvation (Acts 4:11-12, Rev. 19:1-2).  He is our victory (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).  He has made it possible for us to run a race pleasing to God through His life, death, resurrection and empowering presence (through the Spirit).  He has set us free.  Free to worship/serve.  Free to trust.  Free to live.  FREE TO RUN.

So as 2014 begins there’s only three things left to do: Get on your mark. Get setGO!

Off to the races,

Terry

Ps. Check out the sermon from which this post was derived from:
Let Us Run This Race!

The Champ is Here!

20131224-234555.jpg

Back in the day Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali would walk into rooms and make the announcement, “The Champ is Here!”  This would let onlookers know that he was in the building; not just as a person, but as THE Champ.  The one who defeated every opponent.  The one who was seemingly invincible.  The one who could not be touched.  The Champ.  He wanted his presence to be acknowledged and reverenced by all.  However, history would prove in fact that he could be touched;  not only in boxing, but in life. Now, the once flamboyant, boisterous icon has been silenced.

Silence is what Ancient Israel experienced for hundreds of years before that holy night when Heaven invaded earth and the Angel of the Lord proclaimed to a bunch of humble shepherds:

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” (Luke 2:8-12, emphasis mine)

In effect, the Angel of the Lord told a defeated, seemingly hopeless people, “The Champ is here!”

The One whom you have been waiting for.

Your hope.

Your God.

Your Savior.

He has come.  He is here!

That night the words of the prophet Isaiah had been fulfilled:

For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:6, emphasis mine)

The One Israel desperately needed and had been waiting for had come.  Little did they know He would be more than they could ever ask for.

The Apostle John would describe Him as having “Life” and penned these words:

4 Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:4-5, emphasis mine)

No darkness, no obstacle, no Pharisee, no Scribe, no Disciple, no Devil could overcome Him.

Why?  Because he’s strong.  Because he’s mighty; and another meaning for the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 9 (gibbowr) is champion.

Jesus the Christ, born of a virgin, the Word made flesh, is Israel’s (and our) champion.  For this reason, no darkness, no obstacle, no mountain, no valley can measure stand against Him.

He conquers.

He reigns.

He wins.

He is victorious.

This Christmas, I invite you to not just see the baby in the manger as “Sweet Baby Jesus,” but that you would see Him for who He is; our Champion.

His advent secured our victory over:

1. Satan (1 John 3:8b)

2. Sin (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

3. Death (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Let us worship Him. Let us reverence Him. The Champ is here!!!

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Praising my Champ,

Terry

Check out this song from my friend Tavia Grubbs

Embracing Overwhelmed-ness

First off, I’m not sure overwhelmed-ness is a real word but I am rolling with it.

Like most people I go through seasons where everything is going smoothly; work (auditing) isn’t too hectic, ministry is clicking on all cylinders (for lack of a better phrase), relationships aren’t too dysfunctional and I am tiptoeing through the tulips. Then there are times when I wonder why my employers even hired me? Why would God call me to Pastor? Why would these people let me Pastor them? Who decided down is up and up is down and left me out of the loop? Why aren’t there more hours in the day? Why is my metabolism working at a snail’s pace? Why is everyone enjoying relationships except me? Why am I so overwhelmed?

As of today, I’m not sure if I am going into the latter season or coming out of it, but I sense something. I may even be right in the middle of that season; in fact, I know I am. I am overwhelmed. Yes, I just full on processed my feelings in the middle of writing this.

So yesterday I drove from San Diego to La Mirada and back to San Diego in a matter of six hours for two of my jobs. I know that sounds crazy, but this is my life. I’ve done it plenty of times, but yesterday the thought of it made me feel anxious, slightly depressed and angry. I wasn’t so much upset at the fact that I have multiple jobs, but simply because it was just bad timing. There is so much going on – on one hand, and not so much on the other hand, but I’m still required to do both.   Yesterday, however, it really got to me and in my massive amounts of alone time in the car, I was reminded of one of my favorite passages:

“Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.

For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name. Thou wilt prolong the king’s life: and his years as many generations. He shall abide before God for ever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him. So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows.” (Psalms 61:1-8 KJV)

For the sake of this post and for the rest of this post I want to draw attention to the first four verses which end at “Selah”.

This is a Psalm of David that focuses on having and finding security in God (as noted by the heading in the HCSB translation). My aim is not to fully exegete this text, but to share how it ministered to me yesterday. As I read it multiple times and read multiple translations I kept being drawn to the word “when” in verse two. I’m not so sure that David’s heart was overwhelmed or weary or faint (words used in the different translations) at the time he wrote this. I honestly believe that he was stating a fact that there were times in his life when that was his reality and when it was, he wanted to be pointed or led to or directed to the One that he could lean on. Yes, David knew and understood that sometimes life can happen in such a way that it causes one’s heart to become weary, faint, overwhelmed or just plain weak.

It happens. It is natural. This is mankind’s plight.

In a fallen, broken world, everything is not going to go smoothly all the time. Everything is not going to go as planned all the time. There are going to be times when we are rendered powerless and confronted with our finite-ness, and that is ok.

I realized yesterday that I was beating myself up because I allowed myself to become overwhelmed as if being overwhelmed is a bad thing, or, as if I have total control over my life. Pride is so deceitful. Often times when I am overwhelmed by either throw on my superman cape and try to do everything on my own, or I become paralyzed and do nothing until the storm blows over. Both of which are terrible responses because in each case I end up handling things my way, in my strength, using my logic. Instead of being proactive like David, often times I finally turn to God when I am burned out and/or the poop has hit the fan. That’s not a good way to live and that is not the life God wants for me.

So today, I am embracing the possibility and the reality of being overwhelmed. Instead of waiting until the last-minute I am praying that in this moment and in those moments, God would continue to draw me to Himself and that He would give me the courage to rely on Him, the One, the Rock who is higher than I.

I can do this because I know from past experience, as did David, that He always delivers. He always shelters. In Him there is security. He never fails.

Selah.

Leaning on Him,

Terry

Lead Me to the Rock

Ps.  I absolutely believe we can be overwhelmed by things that are foolish and unhealthy.  This post does not speak to those things although I do firmly believe that even in those situations God invites us to Himself.

In Everything Give Thanks?

I would consider myself to be a somewhat gifted communicator.  Sometimes I can get going and stay going for an hour without pausing; especially when I know what I’m talking about.  Often times, when I get in the zone, I drop truth bombs and wisdom grenades that even catch me off guard.  Then, smack dab in the middle of talking I say something that is either in direct contradiction to everything that preceded the statement, a lie or something that sounds great but holds no value.

Sometimes when I read certain passages of Scripture I can’t help but wonder, did the authors suffer from the same condition that I do? Here’s an example of what I’m talking about…

In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Church at Thessalonica, he penned these words:

12 Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.

16 Rejoice always! 17 Pray constantly. 18 Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t stifle the Spirit. 20 Don’t despise prophecies, 21 but test all things. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil. (1 Th. 5:-22, HCSB)

Did you catch it?  Read it again; slowly.

Two statements in this passage recently stood out to me.  I mean, I’ve read the words before, but the other day as I was reflecting on this season of “Thanksgiving”, the phrases:

16) Rejoice always!

and

18) Give thanks in everything…

stood out to me like sore thumbs as if the verses had been misplaced.    Immediately questions began to formulate in my mind concerning the two verses.   Rejoice, ALWAYS? Give thanks, in EVERYTHING?

Did Paul really mean to write those words? Or was he just in the zone? Is it even possible to respond the way he exhorts his readers to?

I’m sure if you’re reading this, you and I could both create a long list of things and situations that  would not naturally cause one to rejoice and/or give thanks.  So was Paul being serious?  Should this be our response to life (not just Thanksgiving season)?

Yes; the answer is yes!!!

How do I know this?  Well, if you pluck these verses out from the larger context of the chapter they would definitely seem unreasonable, but if you read the verses in light of entire chapter (dare I say the entire letter and Scripture in general) it makes perfect sense.

Here’s why…

Paul exhorts his readers (and us) to rejoice always and give thanks in everything for two reasons;

1) Christ is coming (5:2) – Yes, the King of Glory is sure to return and in light of this truth we can rejoice because for those of us who are in Christ, we know that in Him we are eternally secure.    There’s hope in the fact that there is life beyond this life and are life is in Him.  He is our life, He is our hope.   There is life beyond our present circumstances, beyond our failures, beyond our crushed dreams, beyond our pain, beyond our persecution.

“And this is the promise that He himself made to us: eternal life.” (1 John 2:25, HCSB)

This life is not the end. Cancer is not the end.  Divorce is not the end.  Homelessness is not the end.  Why?  Because Christ promises us life; eternal.  Therefore, even in unfavorable, uncomfortable, inconvenient situations and circumstances we can choose to rejoice.  We can pursue joy.  Always.

Another definition for the Greek word used here “to rejoice” means, to be well and/or thrive.   Friends, we can be well and thrive in any situation because we know  to Whom we belong and we know that He is in control.  He is active.  He is with us.  He is coming.  The King is coming.

2) God is working (5:23-24) – Paul concludes the letter with a prayerful declaration that looks toward God’s completed work in our lives.  He prays and declares that the work started at the moment of regeneration would be brought to completion by the Faithful One who began it.  If you are a Christian, you can rest assured that God is working, transforming, purifying, making you fit for service to Him and for Him.   He is doing the work.  He is using our circumstances as tools to shape us and mold us and conform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).  Every trial and every test, every victory and every failure, every hurt and every moment of delight can be used by God for our good and for His glory.  Why? Because He is good. He is faithful.  He is in control.  He is God.

Let us therefore this season and every day of our lives,

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
Acknowledge that Yahweh is God.
He made us, and we are His[a]
His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For Yahweh is good, and His love is eternal;
His faithfulness endures through all generations. (Psalm 100, HCSB)

Thankfully rejoicing,

Terry