Friday, June 29, 2012

Why Isn't America Marveling At Him? (And What We Must Do About It)

Yesterday's landmark Supreme Court decision has far-reaching ramifications for American Christians. While the nation's pundits and "experts" argue about health care and taxes, the true impact of yesterday's ruling goes largely unnoticed.

Justice John Roberts, in the majority opinion, affirmed that Congress cannot mandate behavior. However, Congress can use its taxing power to regulate behavior in any way it chooses.

Whether you follow politics or not, this should alarm every Christian.

In a society that's growing more hostile to biblical Christianity every day, the Supreme Court has ruled that Congress has the power to force U.S. citizens to do (or not do) certain things.

Why does this matter?

Your Pastor has the right to speak out against abortion, right? We have freedom of speech, and no one can take that away from you. But they can say, "You want to speak out against abortion? Go ahead. But we're going to tax your church 100%." Now what, Christian?

You need to be prepared. Real persecution of Christians in America is right around the corner. We could experience the types of horror going on all over the globe - in your lifetime.

Perhaps even before your next birthday.

Are you ready for that kind of battle?

How We Must Respond

1. Look in the mirror.

Christians must realize that much of our nation's moral decline is our fault. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men."

Our Pastors give Sunday morning pep talks in front of thousands in a football stadium instead of discipling a flock with God's Word. Christians get "slain," bark like dogs, and seek after the next sign at a faith healer's conference instead of taking God at His Word. God wants us to seek Him, be continually filled by His Spirit and be satisfied in Him.

When we do, we'll preserve the morality of our nation like salt preserves meat. We'll make the world around us thirsty for Jesus like salt produces thirst. Why would anyone want what we have? Our divorce rate is higher than nonchristians. We bicker and fight worse than nonchristians. We act more prideful than nonchristians. We are bland in America. But at least we make a lot of noise.

It's time to look in the mirror, get into our bibles, and allow God's Spirit to reveal Jesus Christ to our hearts. Only God can restore the saltiness to America, and it's only going to happen when individuals truly lay their lives aside and decide Jesus is all they need.

A time is coming, very soon, where it's really going to cost something to be a Christian in America. Will the cares of this world choke you out, or will you stand?

2. Preach the Gospel.

When each one of us decides we're tired of playing church, and that Jesus is all we need, we'll want to share what we have. And only the Gospel holds the power to affect any change in America. So it's time to make our choice. How's the music at church? How's the fellowship? Getting goose bumps at the latest conference? Read any good books about how to have your best life now?

Is that what Christianity is about? Singing songs about how much we love Jesus while most of America perishes, forever? Having our best life now instead of being fully satisfied by the bread of life? If we care about the people around us, we'll seek to save them from the oncoming train that's racing toward them, before it's too late. The power of that life-giving message is America's only hope.

3. Pray for your leaders.

Most of all, pray for them to make wise decisions. That we'll live in peace to worship freely and freely tell others about Christ. Soon, you won't even recognize America. Make sure you have your faith in Jesus Christ when every institution America holds dear comes crashing down around us.

4. Respond like Jesus.

How would Jesus respond to an out of control government, seeking to limit liberty while levying unfair taxes?

Thankfully, we don't have to wonder. All we have to do is roll the tape.

"Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, 'Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?'

But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, 'Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.' So they brought it.

And He said to them, 'Whose image and inscription is this?' They said to Him, 'Caesar’s.'

And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'

And they marveled at Him."

(Mark 12:13-17)

Christian, Jesus lives in you. Right? The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead empowers you right now, in this moment. Right? Then why isn't this nation marveling at Him?

When the people of this nation see Jesus, they'll marvel. They'll thirst. And they'll drink from the living water that satisfies. They'll experience the forgiveness that cleanses their soul, and the new birth that replaces a wicked heart with one that reflects the love of Jesus.

They'll be like Him, and the moral character of this nation will be restored. Only then will this nation turn around.

And they'll only see Jesus through you and me.

Or will they?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lord, Where's That "Refreshment" You Promised?

Ever struggle during prayer, not knowing what to say or even what to talk about? The bible promises that when you become a Christian, times of refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord (see Acts 3:19). If that's true, then why is prayer so hard sometimes?

Why does prayer feel so awkward, like I'm talking with a stranger I've never met? It's like I'm at an uncomfortable dinner party, looking for any excuse to leave. "Oh! Would you look at the time? I've got to run."

So my prayer turns into something like this: "Well, Lord, um...well, you know...I ... well....thanks for um, like the cross and stuff, and well, um.... Betty's sick so Lord, please bless her Father, and um, you know the light bill's due. Please help us with the bills Lord. And um, well, I gotta go. Because, well, the boys are fighting and all. Lord, please help them shut up. In Jesus' name Amen."

Whew. Prayer? Check. What's next on my to-do list?

It doesn't have to be that way.

You've probably heard a thousand sermons about how to pray. So have I. How's that great advice working out? For me, not so good. Too often, I struggle to put some "formula" into practice that's going to energize my conversations with the Lord.

But I was wondering: What does God want from our prayers? What does He get out of it?

Does He want us to ask for spiritual blessings? The bible says you and I already have every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3). So why would I ask for something I already have? No wonder it feels awkward when I pray for spiritual blessings.

Should I ask God for what I need? Well, the bible says He already knows these things (Mat 6:8). No wonder it feels awkward to list all my needs, as if I'm informing Him of stuff He doesn't know. He's already on the case, meeting every need. Even the things I don't know I need. He's got that covered, too.

Before my wife goes grocery shopping, she always asks: "Is there anything you need from the store?" "Yes, honey. I need (fill in whatever junk foods I happen to "need" that day)."

That's what my prayer turns into sometimes. "Lord, I just want to let you know, while you're making plans for tomorrow, that I need you to do these small errands for me. If it's your will, of course. Thanks!"

Does He want us to ask? Sure. But not like someone who's bringing these things to His attention. I tell my wife things that I'm struggling with. I ask her questions. I listen to her perspective (or at least pretend to). That's how our conversations work. And - except for the pretending part - that's how God wants our conversations to work, too.

What does He want? All He wants from our prayer is to walk with Him in the cool of the day. Like Adam and Eve did before their sin and rebellion wrecked it all (Gen 3:8-9). Jesus died on the cross to restore that opportunity. Now, through Jesus, we can once again walk with God in the cool of the day. And that's all prayer is. No more, no less.

So, how can you do that?

First, when you read the Bible, seek above all else to know who God is. Don't go to the Bible to learn what rules to follow. Go to learn who Jesus is. When you see Him, you'll be like Him (1 John 3:2-3).

The stuff you think you "should" be learning how to do will come naturally to you as you fall deeper in love with Him. And you'll only fall deeper in love with Him as He reveals Himself to you in His Word.

Seek to know Him through the pages of His Word. Make that your only goal of Bible study. You'll love Him more, absorb more of what you read, and experience the times of refreshing God promised you.

Second, pause for a few seconds before you pray. Reflect on who God is (see Psalm 46:10). Think about what you're learning about who God is in relation to your situation:
Who do you need? Reflect on His character as it relates to your situation, and breathe life into your conversations with the Lord.

Finally, ask God to help you if it's hard for you. Don't be ashamed. Guess what? He knows it's hard for you. Nothing is hidden from His eyes. Just get it all out on the table. If you ask anything according to His will, its a done deal. (1 John 5:14-15) You can walk away this instant, knowing God will revitalize your prayer life and your relationship with Him. You have His Word on it.

The question is: will I take my own advice?

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Have Some Good News and Some Bad News

Which do you want first?

Every time someone asks me this, I always want the bad news first. The good news takes away the bitter taste of the bad news. Well, I've got some bad news, and it might not be easy to swallow. But the good news will leave a sweet taste in your mouth. So let's get the bad news out of the way first, ok?

The Bad News

You're not the person you think you are.

Reading the bible is fun - especially the exciting adventures of God's heroes. It's exhilarating to imagine ourselves as David, mighty in faith, slaying the big bad Goliath with nothing but a slingshot and a tiny pebble. Or to place ourselves in the lion's den like Daniel, as morning comes and we emerge triumphant over impossible odds. Like Joshua, we look at the giant obstacles before us and proceed with total confidence. God has given us the victory! So what if they're tall and mighty? I believe that we will win! Who's with me? Let's do this!

The sad reality is that you're not that person at all. That's why the bible is hard to understand sometimes. You're not Peter at Pentecost. You're not unwavering Paul.

I hate to break it to you, but you're the one in the story that gets it wrong.

You're an Israelite, cowering in fear at the reports of the giant obstacles ahead. You hear, "Come on! God will give us the victory!" But you look at those giants, and know that defeat is imminent. You wander and make excuses. You clam up and waste years - maybe decades - wandering in a wilderness of defeat.

You're just like Jonah. You have your own plans. You see the world your way. You ask God to bless your plans, instead of seeking His way. When He asks you to do things you don't like, you run in the opposite direction. You're the captain of your own ship. When you finally realize that God will accomplish what He wants, you grudgingly, reluctantly "obey." But your heart continues to taint your perspective and color your world in dark shades. Ominous clouds surround your view. You do what God says, but you don't really "mean it."

You're just like Gideon. Having heard from God, you continually request "proof" because you really don't believe. You're scared to trust God. It's easier to trust "signs." You wait for God to "open a door" or seek "confirmation" of His will, even though you know He's clearly spoken to your heart.

When you read the bible, imagine that you're the goat of the story. You're not the mighty victor; you're the one who gets it wrong. You fail. You fall. You strike the rock when God says to speak to it. You ask for a fleece, and then another, instead of believing God's Word. You're not Joshua; you're the naysayer. You're not David; you're the scared, faithless onlookers.

So What's the Good News?

When you read the bible like this, the bible will come alive in a whole new way for you. Your spiritual pride will melt into humble gratitude. When Peter says something dumb, you'll no longer think, "Boy, that Peter's really an idiot!" Instead, you'll hear the Holy Spirit whispering to you, "See? That's you. Right there."

The result? You'll love Jesus more. You'll appreciate His sacrifice that much more. You'll cut the people in your life some slack, because you'll see yourself in truth instead of a prideful mirage.

Try it today. Pick up your bible, and read one of your favorite stories. But don't imagine being the hero this time. Instead, imagine that you're the bonehead. See if you don't see things in a whole new light.