Monday, November 19, 2012

A One Word Summary of the Bible

If you had to summarize the bible, in a single word, could you do it? What's the one word that encompasses virtually everything the bible has to tell us about who God is, about who we are, and what He expects from us?

From creation until the final, triumphant end, what's the point of all this? What's the one word that makes everything you see in the bible make sense? The one word that will make you love God more, understand truth in a powerful, practical way, and take your Christian walk to the next level?

I believe I've found the perfect summary of the bible, in a single word. The one word that encompasses as many doctrines, characteristics of God's nature, and directives for our lives as possible.

Want to know what that word is?

You'll have to wait to find out.

What do you think that word is? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is Prophecy Your Idol?

Today, the warning sirens of impending attack blare through Tel Aviv for the first time since the Gulf War of the 1990's. The Israeli Defense Force warns:

Right on cue, the prophecy buffs come out to proclaim how every news story fits into the pages of obscure, hard to understand prophetic books. "Is this setting the stage for Ezekiel 38? This is clearly the attack that Amos was talking about..."

I love finding people who have passion for the Word of God. When I'm around folks that study the depths of the bible to find the gems God has provided for His children, I get hungry for more.

But every time war breaks out in the Middle East, I fear prophecy "experts" drag the bible through the mud with their "guesses" about what it all means.

Why did God give us prophecy? Because He wants us to watch the news and play "name that verse?"

Prophecy Authenticates God's Message

Only the God who is outside of time, in control of all things, can write the future with 100% accuracy. God has never made a prediction that hasn't come true.

When you show people the details of the life of Jesus, or the nation of Israel - written sometimes hundreds of years before they actually occurred - you show that God's Word can be trusted.

Then, when you present the Gospel, your message can't be easily dismissed. The scoffer can no longer say - with intellectual honesty, at least - that the book you claim as your authority cannot be trusted.

So, what's wrong with seeking to frame current events into particular verses of the bible?

As present events unfold, prophecy "experts" are making predictions about how it will all play out. When those predictions don't come true exactly as the "experts" predicted, it gives someone a reason to doubt the credibility of God's Word.

Yes, things will occur exactly as God says they will. Does that mean you understand how it all plays out, and how current events fit into that puzzle? What if you're wrong?

How do you use prophecy, then? Evangelist Tony Miano provides a great example in the clip below:

In this clip, Tony asks, "Do you believe the Word of God is true?" After discussing their skepticism, Tony asks them some basic questions about the bible (to show these guys how little they know). He asks questions like:

What's the first book of the bible?
There's a story of a global flood in the bible. A man allegedly built an ark. Who was that?
What are the 2 main divisions (sections) in the bible?
Who's the main character in the 4 Gospels?

The point was not to embarrass these men, but to prepare their hearts by showing them they really didn't know what was in the bible.

Then, Tony opens the bible, and says, "I want you to tell me who this is about."

He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted. 
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. 
Isaiah 53:3-5 (NKJV) 

Who's that? Of course, it's Jesus. Tony goes on to explain why God gave us prophecy:

"We all have fingerprints. Each of us has fingerprints that are unique. The Word of God has a fingerprint that makes it distinct from every other religious text on the Earth, and it's prophecy. 
"What I just read to you, which you both identified as talking about Jesus, was written more than 700 years before He was born. What do you think about that?"

In a matter of less than 2 minutes, prophecy had done its job. These guys thought differently about the credibility of the bible.

Now, Tony could say, "Let me show you some other cool prophecies. Have you seen what's going on in the news about Israel? Well, that's talked about in these verses, which say this is going to happen next."

Imagine what would happen if those guys go home and watch the news unfold differently. Would they take the bible seriously?

Instead, recognizing that prophecy had completed its job, Tony used prophecy rightly - to springboard to preaching the Gospel.

Prophecy is the car that drives you to your destination - the Gospel. If you spend your life admiring the car, learning everything about every piston and engine spec and spark plug, you'll never truly experience the abundant life God has waiting for you.

Is it wrong to spend countless hours studying prophecy? It depends. Does prophecy lead you to the news, to work on fitting every current event into your "prophecy puzzle?" Or does prophecy strengthen your faith in God's Word and drive you at warp speed toward Jesus?

More importantly, biblical prophecy warns that dark days are ahead. Where do you find your comfort - in prophecy, or in the God who holds all things together?

Your turn: what verses or parts of the bible strengthen your faith the most? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

If You're Trying To "Die to Self," You're Doing It Wrong

Feeling worn out, spiritually? The past few days, I've been worn out. The storms of life have beaten at my door, and I've almost crumbled in a heap of ruins. I'm no spiritual expert. I'm just a guy who's got struggles - just like you.

The more I study and meditate on the Gospel, the more I realize how little I understand it. It's no wonder that my life is so hard sometimes.

The Christian life isn't supposed to be "hard." Sure, we have our rough times that make us rely on God more, grow our perseverance, and equip us to minister to others. God is making us more like Jesus, which isn't always a comfortable, smooth ride.

Despite what prosperity preachers in huge stadiums tell us, life isn't always rosy.

But hard? Didn't Jesus say something about His yoke being easy, and His burden being light? He offered the weary what they needed most - rest. But rest from what?


Did you know that the bible never says you should die to yourself?

What happened on the cross? Jesus died for you there, in your place. Right?

Something else happened on that cross. If you miss this, your walk will be a wearisome struggle until the day you leave this world.

What else happened? You died on that cross, too.  All of your sin, religion, pride, and self-effort died on that cross. That's God's perspective, at least.

Is it yours?

Are you constantly trying to "kill the old man," or "die to self," or some other Christian-ese that keeps wearing you out spiritually?

I challenge you to go through the bible and circle all the times Jesus asks you to try harder. You won't find one. If you do, put it in the comments box below. I'd love to see it.

Anything that requires self-effort is against the grain of the Gospel message. You know the Gospel. Every religion in the world says, "do." Follow these rules, take these steps, and you're all set. The Gospel says "done." On the cross, Jesus put it this way: "It is finished."

That's the good news: God has left only one thing for you to do. Believe in what He has already done for you. That's it. That's the entire Christian life.

You do need to "reckon" or "count" yourself dead. That's not the same as "dying to self." That's recognizing what has already taken place. You died already.

Then, read your bible. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind in the Word. Don't come looking for God's to-do list for your life. Come to know Jesus more. When you see Him, you'll be like Him, and you'll fall more in love with Him.

The Christian life is never a life of self-effort. Jesus is our Sabbath rest. Rest in what Christ has already done for you. When you do, God will work through you. Good fruit will flow from your heart and your life - automatically.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

God's Weapon Against Your Depression

Ever find yourself doubting the things you know to be true?

You should just have more faith. That's what Christians tell you, right? If you're depressed, or anxious, or struggling, you just need to have faith, brother.

Sometimes, reality is far different than the happy face you wear to church on Sundays. When things are going well, it's easy to look at someone who's struggling and say that he should just have faith. I'm guilty of this attitude far more often than I care to admit.

That's spiritual pride at its core: "Hey, if you were as spiritual as I am, you wouldn't be so depressed."

Or well-meaning Christians tell you that you should just pray. How do you pray, when all seems hopeless and you don't have the words? "Just pray, brother." In other words, "If you were as spiritual as I am, you'd pray, and you'd be over it already."

Right. In the real world, life is hard sometimes. If this walk was so easy, we wouldn't need Jesus. We'd just "have faith" and "pray," and nothing could touch us.

So what do you do when you don't know what to do? Sit and wonder if you're really a Christian, because "real" Christians don't get depressed? Strain with all your might to muster up the faith "real" Christians have?

Recognize the "Real" Challenge

Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. 
And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:1-3)

What was the real challenge Satan presented Jesus with here? It's the same challenge you and I face when we battle feelings of depression, anxiety, and discouragement.

Immediately before this challenge, here's what happened:

And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

So God the Father said to Jesus, "You are My beloved Son." Immediately, Satan questioned the truthfulness of God's word: "If that's really the case, prove it." Or, as he told Eve in the Garden of Eden, "Did God really say" that?

Of course, Jesus would never fall for such a thing. But we do, and that's the only trick Satan has left in his bag. He can't posess you. He can't destroy you. He can't do anything to you.

Except make you doubt God's word.

What's the Antidote?

The devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’” (Luke 4:3-4)

Don't try to transform yourself. Sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him. He'll transform you by renewing your mind (Rom 12:2).

Don't try to "have faith." Sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him. Faith comes by hearing His word - not by trying to have more faith (Romans 10:17).

Don't try to be spiritual and strong. Sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him tell you, "O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!”

Like Daniel, you'll be able to say, "When he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me” (Daniel 10:19).

Today, stop trying to be spiritual and strong. Instead, pick up the sword of the Spirit - God's weapon against your depression. Open your bible, and nourish your spirit by feasting on His Word. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Allow times of refreshing to come from the presence of the Lord.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Will Never Pray for That Man!

As I write this, it's 1:32 in the morning. The United States has just re-elected Barack Obama as its President. And I'll be honest - I'm feeling bitter. Frustrated. Despondent. Beside myself.

It hurts to think of an America whose freedoms are eroding, while citizens willingly choose that path. It's hard to watch my country - an idol in many ways - choose a wide road that leads to destruction. I know that the freedom to share the Gospel will disappear soon. The clock is ticking on our freedom to call evil what it is and tell of the ultimate gift of love and sacrifice in the open square.

America isn't the country my parents grew up in, and that's sad. I'm not optimistic about the future of our country, because we're a nation with our hands out instead of one with our heads bowed and our knees to the ground. We made that clear with our voices and our votes.

So what now?

I said this moments ago, on Facebook: "Pray for your President, pray for your nation, and preach the Gospel, while you still have time."

I received a response that probably echoes the feelings of many on a bitter night of defeat: ""I will NEVER Pray For That Man. He is evil."

We're all evil. I am. You are. Barack Obama is. Even Mitt Romney. Jesus said to pray for your enemies. Why? Because when you pray for your enemies, you think differently. You start to see things from their point of view.

No, Barack Obama and I will probably never sit on the porch, hang out, and swap stories like best friends. In fact, I hope he fails at virtually everything he's got planned. But I should pray for him - every day. Because he needs Jesus. Just like me. Just like you. He's no different than me or you. Apart from Jesus, he can do nothing.

By the way, pray for Mitt, too. Unless he repents and places his trust in Jesus, he's as lost as anyone. If you clean the outside of a cup, the inside's still filthy. That's you. That's me. That's Barack Obama. That's Mitt Romney. That's all of us. It's a disease, and the only cure is Jesus.

Jesus told the Pharisees, "He who has been forgiven much, loves much." How much have you been forgiven? When you really understand how much you've been forgiven, you'll find yourself wanting to pray for "evil" men.

Bring yourself to the foot of the cross. Remember who you are and what you deserve. Look up to the cross, and remember the mercy God has shown you. Stay there for a while, and you'll see things in a whole new light.

If you've been through the emotional ringer tonight, because you care deeply about this country, there's one thing you can do that's far more potent than any vote you've ever cast.

Pray for your President.