Carried Away…

Image result for open highway     Source: Google Images

Sin fundamentally, is rooted in a lack of faith in the goodness of God. Therefore, every temptation is an invitation to distrust God.

Been a long time since we’ve talked, but there’s no time like the present right?

Have you ever been driving on the freeway for a while and out of nowhere you found yourself in your driveway? I’m talking about the that “I can’t even recall the last 10 miles” type situation. Or is it just me?

I imagine if you’ve had your driver’s license for any extended period of time, it has happened to you.  Somehow, some way, your mind drifted off into outer space or you were so intently focused on some music, a podcast or even your own thoughts, that your subconscious literally carried you home.  It’s a scary feeling because the one time you NEED to be fully engaged and paying attention to what is happening is while driving a vehicle; especially in California. Yet, we’ve all been there and you can’t ever pinpoint exactly when you fell into a vehicular stupor you just know you did.

This is how James, the brother of Jesus, describes the process of sin coming into fruition in a person’s life (believer or unbeliever).  Most of the time when we sin, we tend to focus on the action itself and even more so, we try to find all types of reasons to shirk responsibility, like: 1) Blaming other people; 2) Blaming life’s circumstances; or 3) Blaming God.  James says, “Nah bro/sis!”, it was your own doing.  In fact here’s exactly what he says:

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away (NASB = ‘carried away’) and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15

James intimates (I love this word by the way) that what we really believe about God is revealed in how we respond to temptation/sin.  Ever since the Fall, we humans have become expert blame-shifters, always looking for a way out, but James, pulling no punches, says, “You are to blame!”. Every time we give into temptation it is because we wanted to and have chosen to. Period. And to be clear, when connecting these verses with the previous verses he exonerates God (as if God needed any help) by basically saying, Douglass Moo writes, “God tests, but He never tempts.”  Therefore, the moment we even fix our mouths to blame God, we’ve revealed that our theology (or what we think about God) is deeply flawed.

What helps me in this passage is that James doesn’t just state the obvious end result (which is sin), but he communicates how and why it happens.  In other words, there is a process and that process begins when we allow ourselves to be carried away by our own evil/sinful desires (v.14).  Let the weight of that statement sink in.

Yes, having evil/sinful desires such as lust, greed, pride, are bad and unfortunately a reality we all have to endure until the Day we’re released from the presence of sin when Jesus returns (even so, come Lord Jesus). However, James says, what’s even worse is when we let these desires drag or carry us away so far that it results in the actual commission of sin.

If you notice the order of the passage he doesn’t say we are enticed then carried away, but the other way around. We are carried away and then enticed by our own evil desires.  That means an opportunity to sin presents itself after we’ve allowed our hearts/minds to be carried away.   The imagery is that of hunting/fishing.  You usually catch something after it has drifted off the path or away from the pack. Then you entice it with the bait.   So then, when we take our focus off of following Christ and engaging in healthy fellowship with His Church, our wandering, fickle hearts naturally drift away towards any and everything or to bring it home more closely, “your thing”/”my thing”.  It happens so subtlety and just as it is hard to pinpoint exactly when we drifted off driving, the same applies here.  All we know, according to James, is that it happened and we are the only ones to blame be cause we allowed those desires to simmer until they boiled over into sin. Ouch!

What’s the solution? For James, the answer is simple; trust God. You probably grimaced at that statement. Like how dare me tell you to just simply “trust God” as if it were that easy. I wonder though if our understanding of faith is not all that it should be. We tend to think of faith in terms of passivity, but what if is more of a verb than a noun?  A.W. Tozer defined faith as, “the gaze of the soul upon a saving God” (Ch. 7 – The Pursuit of God). If he is right (and I believe he is), then the way we combat temptation, the way we overcome our innate evil desires and walk in the victory secured by Jesus Christ in His life, death and resurrection, is to constantly fix our eyes on Him, in everything. In our work, in prayer, in the Word, in ministry, in fellowship, in parenting, in marriage, in singleness, in everything! Look to Him (through the Spirit), our all-sufficient, wonderful savior, who reveals to us our good, good Father from whence every good and perfect gift comes; even trials. Trust HIM!

If you’re struggling with sin right (and we all are), identify who/what it is your soul has been gazing upon and quickly now turn your eyes (the eyes of your heart/mind) to Jesus.  Our safety and our victory lies not in the ever-changing seasons, circumstances, desires of life and our hearts, “…but in God’s immutability” (Thomas Manton). He never changes, He never fails and has promised to reward us with what ever we need so long as we diligently seek Him, keep our gaze fixed on Him, rely ultimately on Him (see Hebrews 11:6) and above all don’t get carried away!  When it gets are, ask Him for help.  He stands willing and waiting to supply exactly what we need the moment we need it.  I’m reminded of that old hymn that goes:

Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin
Each victory will help you or some others to win
Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue
Look ever to Jesus and He’ll carry you through
Just ask the Savior to help you
To comfort, strengthen and keep you
He is willing to aid you
And He will carry you through
(Horatio Palmer, 1868)
What a good word for all us- “HE will carry us through”.  When we allow ourselves to be carried away by our own evil desires, He loves us more than we love ourselves by carrying us through this life and into the next.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Re-adjusting my focus,

T.

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He’s a Keeper…

Today we find ourselves on the heels of one of the most polarizing election cycles ever. As a result, a lot has been said, is being said and will most likely continue to be said as the country tries to makes sense of things. In the midst of it all are Christians (on all sides) who are sadly at odds with one another. On the surface, it appears that the Church in America is as divided as the country itself. This post is an attempt to hopefully alleviate some of the tension.

I believe a huge lie that Christians in America have bought into is this notion that because there are two major political parties, each person must pledge allegiance to one side or the other.  An even bigger lie is this idea that one party holds a monopoly on the Church or “preserves” Christianity and its ideals. This latter lie was clearly demonstrated when a prominent White Gospel Music (you read that correctly) singer found herself in hot water claiming that the results of the election were indicative of Jesus returning back to the White House; figuratively (my paraphrase). This sent shock-waves throughout social media and people (predominately black and Christian) “let her have it”. Realizing she made a poor choice, she issued a rather lackluster apology and stated that she did not mean to offend or hurt anyone but was just doing her best to “protect Christianity”.  This, among other things, was the most cringe-worthy statement in her apology in my opinion.  To really believe that statement means one is operating under a dangerously false premise, namely that Christianity or the Church needs our protection. Nowhere in Sacred Writ is that idea supported, in fact, the biblical authors declare otherwise, namely, that God doesn’t need us to protect Him, defend Him, or protect Christianity; we need Him to do those things for us. Now, I won’t flood you with a ton of passages but just enough (hopefully) to drive home my point: good intentions are often ruined by faulty orthodoxy (doctrine) which generally leads to questionable orthopraxy (behavior). 

A Brief Biblical Survey: Concerning Individuals and the Church (Which are Inseparable)

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore. – Psalm 121:5-8 (the entire Psalm is worth the read)

You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You. – Isaiah 26:2

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:17-18

Jesus answered…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one. – John 10:27-29

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 2 Timothy 1:8-12

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

These are but a few of the numerous texts that convey the wonderful reality that God keeps, preserves, and protects His people. To go further, none of these texts suggest or intimate that God needs us to keep, protect, or preserve Christianity or the Church, but rather we are the ones who need keeping.  We can’t even protect ourselves let alone try to protect God’s Church.  Well maybe you can, but I for sure can’t and I’m a pastor. I’ve tried and failed over and over, but thanks be to God, that He keeps me when I can’t keep myself. (Insert 2-3 tongues and praise break here)  I digress…

The truth of the matter is that God doesn’t need government, politicians, preachers or laypersons to do what only He is able to do which should cause a huge sigh of relief.  The pressure is not on us, but God lays the responsibility on His omnipotent self.  This is by no means a call to abandon politics or the propagation of Christian ideals in the world.God has and God can choose to intervene through government whenever He wants. At the same time it is a call to loosen the grip that the Church has on politics and free ourselves from the arrogance and pride that has consumed us and led us to believe that our survival ultimately depends on our efforts (big or small). Our survival is not contingent on who occupies the the seats of power on earth nor is it contingent on what laws are passed on behalf of the faith. More times than not, the systems of this world are in opposition to the Church and the direction God is taking her. Yet oddly enough, history has proven that the Body of Christ thrives under opposition. So do we look for conflict or seek to create it in order to thrive? Certainly not! We simply (by no means am I suggesting it’s easy, but we do have the Holy Spirit) live out the Gospel and the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor(s) as ourselves.  We take serious God’s command to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. To care for those who are the voiceless and powerless with or without the help of the government.  The rest we leave to the One who “keeps us from falling!” (Jude 24)

Safe in His Arms,

T.

 

 

One Nation, Divided – Part 1…Am I My Brother’s Keeper? (For Pastors and Leaders)

divided-states

DISCLAIMER: I do not speak for all of “Black America” or African-American Pastors.

Tuesday night I decided to go to bed earlier than usual. Mainly because I did not want to stay awake and watch the inevitable happen.  I wanted to escape the reality that Donald Trump, an arguably well-documented racist, misogynist, xenophobe and sexual assaulter was going to be the next President of the United States of America for at least four years.  So I went to sleep and around 2am I was up again and happened to check my phone to see what time it was and staring me in the face were texts from friends who were in total shock.  It turned out that I could not escape it and eventually went back to sleep fully aware that the proverbial poop had hit the fan.

I should probably state at the onset that I was not a supporter in principle or by vote of Mrs. Clinton either and this contrary to many of my brothers and sisters of the same hue.  In fact, I had previously given up on politics for a period but felt this season was the prime opportunity for the nation, for the Church, to do something different.  I felt that with at least one of the candidates, there was no way followers of Jesus Christ would rally around such a person regardless of his political affiliation.  I thought for sure, those who call themselves “evangelicals” would choose people over politics; I was wrong.  Many of us were so wrong.

I woke up the next morning as a Pastor who happens to be black and asked myself what would I tell my multi-ethnic church? What would I tell my friends? How would I encourage people who I knew were just as confused as I was (am).  Beyond that, how would I encourage those who were now suddenly distraught and afraid of what the future might look like for them; for us? Even today there are outbreaks of protests and violent attacks (albeit on both sides) like we’ve never seen after an election.  It is not the typical go back to business as usual week.  Honestly, I knew then and still know the answer is in our great creed: Jesus is Lord. I know that, I believe that and with a high view of the Sovereignty of God (don’t check out on me now), I boldly proclaim that. Yet, in a strange way it (the Creed) felt and feels hollow.

I struggled most of the day with that thought and was trying to figure out what to say. I took to Facebook because, you know, Facebook.  Then it hit me. I understood why the timeless creed felt hollow in this moment.  My Facebook feed was full of men and women of color (not all but the majority and not only just people of color) who seemed like they woke up IN a nightmare.  Conversely,  there was another group (mainly white evangelicals, not all but most) on my feed who in sum, thought that this was one of the greatest victories for America.  I was floored, but then I remembered leaders like Wayne Grudem, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and so many other Pastors and leaders were some of the loudest proponents of Donald Trump’s presidency.  These well-respected men made it okay to overlook blatant flaws in character and a highly questionable track record.  Then, I started reading article after article about the number of white evangelicals (upwards of 80%) who pledged to vote and/or voted for Donald Trump.80%, let that sink in.

At this present moment, the creed feels hollow because I and many other brothers and sisters in Christ who are people of color, feel abandoned and betrayed by our white brothers and sisters who voted for Donald Trump. I know there has always been disparities in both parties when it comes to philosophical and even theological differences and that’s not even the point of this post, but Tuesday’s message from white evangelicals (80% mind you) rang loud and clear: “We choose politics over people.”  There is even a sense of betrayal and abandonment from those who did not vote for Trump due to the lack of shared outrage on behalf of their Christian brothers and sisters.  We may or may not agree on this, but I do hope you hear me when I say that in my mind, indifference towards the results of this election is an exercise in white privilege.  The rhetoric spewed by Donald Trump during his campaign has given minority groups every reason to react the way many have reacted.  The easy thing to do is to dismiss the reactions of people of color and other minority groups due to some of the unhealthy ways people’s emotions are being expressed.  In many ways this dismissive attitude adds to the pain and drives the wedge of separation deeper and wider.  This is not the time for any of us to be spectators, but participants and agents of the Christ’s Kingdom especially among the household of faith.

Hopefully we can all agree that minority groups have been oppressed, marginalized and ignored for years, even at and by the hands of white evangelicals and this Tuesday I thought, many of us thought, the Church would finally get it right and for whatever reason (only the Lord knows – He who ultimately elevates and eliminates kings/kingdoms) Donald Trump is our new President.  I say that resting and trusting that Jesus is still Lord and King of kings.  I also say that fully aware that there is a large contingent of our brothers and sisters who are struggling to reconcile either one or both of those two statements and this Sunday we all have to stand in front of our congregations and declare both of those statements to be true.  Only the Lord knows what the future holds and for the Christian, our hope lies ultimately in a King and a Kingdom to come, but today we must engage the vicissitudes of the present.

Whether or not your church and/or staff is multi-ethnic, chances are someone in your church is related to, knows or is acquainted with someone who is hurting, fearful, disheartened and feeling hopeless at this very moment.  I am encouraging and urging all of you not to stop at the two obvious statements, but to send out a clarion call to mourn with those who are mourning, to minister to those who are hurting, to listen to those who feel they have no voice or feel they are on the verge of the losing their voice. Not in an effort to pacify or “fix” them, but to simply love them in these ways.  Regardless of our stance(s), regardless of our affiliation(s), I am desperately asking all of us to choose people over politics now and every day. Are we are brothers’ keepers? Yes, we are.

Just another Brother in Christ,

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!