When Evil Prevails

terror

 

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:10-13

 

We all stand in shock at the terrorist attacks in France yesterday. While acts of terrorism are becoming normal in our global culture, it still amazes me that people can go into a theater and start shooting innocent people in the name of their god. I could share my political opinions or even comment on what I think world leaders should do in response to this act of terror, but I prefer to address a deeper issue. We must realize that what we are watching is simply spiritual warfare. The god of this world is wreaking havoc on our world, and we are moving ever closer to the end of time that was prophesied throughout Scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 24 that perilous times would come before His return.

How do we respond to this? Our first obvious response is prayer for those who have been personally impacted by this devastation and for our leaders as they consider a proper response. Secondly, we should not be surprised. God told us in His word that calamity would come and evil would show its ugly head. We must remind ourselves that terrorists are not really our main enemy. Even ISIS is not our ultimate enemy. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood. The god of this world is our enemy. There is a spiritual battle that is being waged, and ISIS is but a pawn in the hands of the master deceiver.  There are certainly things that our national leaders must do to stop evil in its tracks, and it is my prayer that our president and other political leaders will have the substance needed to take bold stands against this global evil. However, we must see the bigger picture.

Real spiritual battle takes place in other ways. For starters, it begins on our knees. This terrorist attack should call believers to a time of great prayer. Ephesians 6:10 commands us to “be strong in the Lord.” I wrote about this passage in my book Immovable: Standing Firm in the Last Days, and I find that it has special relevance today.  Any preparation we take for spiritual conflict is built upon us yielding to the power and presence of Christ in us. Then the Ephesians 6 passage continues by telling us to take some steps in our preparation: put on the full armor of God. I urge you to consider the teaching of this passage in light of the spiritual conflict that is going on in our world. The Church of the Lord Jesus must prepare spiritually for what is going on around us. Do not be surprised by terror and persecution; be equipped. God is on His throne, and He will guide you to find strength and hope in the days to come. If you are strong in the Lord and equipped with His spiritual armor, you will be ready for whatever we will face in the days to come.

I have lowered the cost of the digital version of Immovable in hopes that it will be a guide and an encouragement for you during this time. Take steps toward preparing yourselves for the spiritual conflict that will only increase before the return of Christ. Study Ephesians 6:10-18 and Matthew 24 in light of what is going on in our world today. The Bible is clear that God will ultimately win this conflict, so we do not face these battles with hopelessness. We have great hope in Jesus Christ. Let’s pray as never before, prepare for what is to come, engage our enemy on spiritual grounds, and comfort those who hurt. Trust that our faithful God, our Leader in battle, will prevail in the days to come.

The Heart of Worship

praiseMany of you are participating in the “What On Earth Am I Here For?” journey with the SonRise Baptist Church family. Why are you here? Have you determined that God has made you for a reason? He has at least five purposes for your life as outlined in the Bible. We will never find ultimate joy until we are living out our purposes. Rick Warren began the first chapter of his book, What On Earth Am I Here For? (formerly The Purpose-Driven Life) with these words: “It’s not about you.” Understanding our life’s purpose begins by realizing that God never intended everything to revolve around you. You do not play the lead role in this drama called life. God does. Living out our purposes begins by abdicating the throne of our lives and allowing Jesus Christ to sit there. This means that we are handing the controls over to Jesus and allowing Him to be in charge.

Last week we were reminded that we were made for God’s pleasure. We were created to be loved by God, and God wants us to love Him back. Loving God back is called worship. Worship is our first purpose and greatest priority. To know God is to worship God. One chapter in last week’s reading of What On Earth Am I Here For? focused on the heart of worship (if you began reading a chapter a day on September 27, you’ll be on chapter 17 today). Rick Warren said that the heart of worship is surrender. What do you think of that? The heart of our salvation is surrender. We cannot become a Christian unless we first surrender our lives over to Jesus Christ. We cannot live a victorious Christian life unless we surrender every day to the Holy Spirit’s control. Living a life of worship means that we surrender daily to God’s control and authority. Worship is so much more than just singing a few songs at a designated hour on Sundays. It is living a life of surrender and obedience. If we are not surrender daily to God, then we are not worshipping.

Surrender seems like a negative thing, but it is not. We think of surrender as if someone just lost a war or a concept that expresses weakness. Think of it as a drowning swimmer surrendering to the strength of a life guard. Someone who is drowning must stop fighting and allow a life guard to pull them to safety. Surrendering to God means that we acknowledge that He is God and we are not. It means that we yield to His rule in our lives, His wisdom in our circumstances, His strength in our troubles, and His authority in our decisions. The heart of worship and the heart of life is surrender. That’s a great place to start with the rest of your life.

What On Earth Am I Here For?

bookWhy am I here? Has that thought ever entered your mind? Are you fulfilling the purpose for which you were made? A couple of Sundays ago, I shared a story about my wife and I getting on the wrong road while in route to my grandmother’s house in Florida. Because we missed the turn, we spent an extra two to three hours in route to Ft. Pierce, Florida. What would it be like to take the wrong road in life but not discover your mistake until your life was over? There are a lot of important topics for us to consider, but this one is right up at the top. As I look back over my life, I have made so many mistakes. Some of them were a result of ignorance, others came from obstinance, while still others happened simply because of sin. I can’t go back and change any of my failures from the past. I can, however, change the mistakes in my future that have not yet been made. One of my favorite poems is this: “I can’t go back and start over again, but I can start from here and make a brand new end.” Are you willing to start today to change your destiny? Over the next 40 days, I plan to share several blogs a week to challenge us to think about our real purpose. I encourage you to pick up a copy of Rick Warren’s book “What On Earth Am I Here For?” and read a chapter a day (It was formerly called “The Purpose Driven Life”). Read my blog and share some thoughts as we journey together. I would love to hear from some of you who have already started this journey. You may have read chapter two today (which is the chapter you should be on if you started the journey with the SonRise Baptist Church family on Sunday). What are your thoughts so far? Have you been to small group yet? Is God doing anything special in your life so far? You may have read “The Purpose Driven Life” a while back. How did God use Dr. Warren’s book in your life when you read it the first time? I look forward to hearing from you.

Is Justice Just?

Statue of justiceI would like to share a few thoughts in response to comments I’ve had related to my last post. Before reading this, would you consider this question? Is it possible to disagree with what someone does without hating that person? If you have children, then you have no alternative but to say “yes, it’s possible.” I disagree with homosexuality and same-sex unions, but that does not mean that I hate the homosexual. God disagrees with my sin, but that does not mean that He hates me. I’m grateful for that.

I just watched an interview with Kim Davis, county clerk from Grayson Kentucky. You may remember that Mrs. Davis refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex unions and was put in jail for six days. The problem this clerk faced was that the new law legalizing same-sex unions means that gay couples have to get a marriage license. In Kentucky, the law requires the name of the county clerk to be on the bottom of the document. Even if someone else issues the license, her name would still be on the document. She started asking for her name to be removed from the document this past January, but no one would accommodate her request. It seems that Mrs. Davis had three options. Option #1: She could grant the marriage licenses to same-sex couples with her name on the license thereby disregarding her conviction that the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. Option #2: Refuse to grant a license to same-sex couples. Option #3: Resign her position as county clerk. The option of having someone else give the licenses does not remove her name from the document, therefore, Mrs. Davis feels that she is condoning sin and disregarding the Bible.

I don’t know Kim Davis, and I don’t know every detail about this particular issue. While there are several issues to be considered, one question has to do with what should a Christian do if the U.S. government passes a law that stands contrary to the Bible. Should we obey the law? While the law regarding same-sex unions does not personally affect most people, it does affect Kim Davis. It will also affect many other businesses and ministers who are involved with weddings. Just ask the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. They were sued because they declined the business of a gay couple because the shop owners said it conflicted with their religious beliefs. Masterpiece Cakeshop lost the lawsuit.

I have a problem on at least two levels. I obviously disagree with redefining the word marriage to include same-sex unions. That would be like us passing a law saying that a dog is a horse. Here are two additional things to be considered. First, requiring Christians to act contrary to their religious convictions stands in contrast to the first amendment to our Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Do you think requiring a Christian to disobey the Bible is prohibiting the free exercise of Christianity? Do you think that causing a Christian to have to resign from her job in order to keep from compromising her faith is prohibiting the free exercise of Christianity? If Mrs. Davis had taken her job after the law was passed, then there might be some argument against her position. I would not want my name on a marriage license for same-sex unions either. Would you? This is a Constitutional issue.

The second level is personal. While I am protected by the Constitution, I am not protected by our national laws (which I believe stand in contrast to our Constitution). As the law stands now, my church is required to allow a same-sex union to take place in our building. I could be sued if I do not accommodate the wishes of a same-sex couple who want me to be the officiating minister. Because I am not an employee of the courts, I assume I would not be put in jail for refusing to marry a same-sex couple, but I could be sued. Is this the kind of country our Founding Fathers envisioned? Do you really want our country to force churches and pastors to disobey the Bible or to condone biblical disobedience? What are U.S. citizens supposed to do when a law is passed that conflicts with their biblical convictions and moral consciences? I know the importance of law. What we have in this case is the conflict between two laws: God’s vs. U.S. I do not want to live in a country without laws. The question has to do with what is the basis of law. Because this blog is getting quite long, I will address this issue at another time.

I’m grateful that in the midst of all of this, God loves us regardless of which side we fall on. I am grateful that Jesus died for all of sin and offers everyone an opportunity for forgiveness and eternal life. To say that God hates homosexuals would be to ignore the Bible: “For God so loved the world…” If Christians hate homosexuals, this hatred is sin and does not honor God. At the same time, Christians are not to condone sin either. We obviously stand at a precarious crossroad.

God or Country

GodorCountryIn Grayson, Kentucky this week, the recent legalization of same-sex unions was challenged by county clerk Kim Davis. Because Mrs. Davis refused to sign a marriage license of a same-sex couple, she was forced to spend six days in jail. She was released today, but the story is far from over. Mrs. Davis became a Christian four and a half years ago, and Christ changed her life. Because of her commitment to Jesus, she could not agree to have her name on a document legalizing immorality. I am sad to say, but this is simply the beginning of very dark days in our country. I say that because for the first time in the history of our nation, our high court has enforced a new law that stands in stark contrast to the truth of the Bible. This is putting Bible-believing Christians in a difficult spot: obey God or obey the law. I suppose it should not be considered difficult at all for Christians. I would hope that there is never a doubt as to whom we will obey. We have known for some time that Christianity has been under attack in our nation, but today, this attack has become more apparent. We should not be surprised at this infringement upon Mrs. Davis’ constitutional rights nor should we be surprised by future persecution Christians will encounter.

Jesus said in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” Those are strong words from our Savior. Have you ever considered being hated by the world? While I do not think my unbelieving neighbor hates me, I do believe proponents of our world system have a seething, burning antagonism toward Christianity. The god of this world is working to stir up world opinion against Christianity, which will ultimately lead to great persecution of the Church. Will you stand for what you believe regardless of the consequences? What if you were Mrs. Davis? Would you sign the marriage license? When I was a child, the theme was always God and country. I am sad to see that it is now God or country.

French Train Attack Provides a Model

AmericansInFranceIf you have been watching the news the last few days, you are aware that three Americans, along with a gentlemen from Great Britain, stopped what certainly would have been another terrorist attack in France. When a would-be killer entered a train with multiple weapons, the four heroes dove on the man creating a very different ending to a story that would have been horrendous. The men were knighted by the French president and were given the highest honor in France. One of the Americans, Anthony Sadler, commented on the event and challenged the rest of the world with these words:

Do something. Hiding, or sitting back, is not going to accomplish anything. And the gunman would’ve been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up. So I just want that lesson to be learned going forward, in times of…terror like that, please do something. Don’t just stand by and watch.

I believe Sadler’s words ring true for the Church today as well. We live in times of great spiritual conflict, and the persecution of Christians has become commonplace – even in the United States. We must “do something” because “hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything.” God has called Christians to engage and has even offered us the armor necessary for our defense and offense (Ephesians 6:10-18).

You may have also read where a Mississippi high school was banned from a half-time show because they were going to play an arrangement of “How Great Thou Art.” My hat goes off to the Jackson, Mississippi fans who stood and sang “How Great Thou Art” during the half-time show when the band was not allowed to play. When someone attacks Christianity, we need to be reminded that our battle is “not against flesh and blood.” We are in a spiritual conflict, and it is time for Christians to stop hiding behind their fear. We must pray as never before, witness to others as if the rapture will take place tomorrow, urge our political leaders to take a stand for righteousness, and vote for candidates that best reflect the teaching of the Bible. Same-sex unions have been legalized because the majority of Supreme Court justices are liberal men and women who do not submit to the authority of God’s Word. If all of the Bible-believing Christians in our country would have voted according to their beliefs a few years ago, this law would have never been passed. Because Christians either do not vote or do not believe we should put men and women in office who submit to the authority of God’s Word, we now have laws that stand in stark contrast to the clear teaching of the Bible. Sadly, we can expect things to only get worse in our nation.

We are in a spiritual battle, and it is time for the Church to do something about it. I urge you to engage the enemy. Don’t let Satan take any more territory without a fight. Let your light shine before the world so that the world will know the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you have not yet registered to vote, do so now. Get informed. Get involved. Pray for our nation as never before. Don’t just stand by and watch. Engage.

Amazing Churches

Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God, Pokrovskaia Tserkov, 1764. Church of Transfiguration, Preobrajenskaia Tserkov, 1714. Tower clock, 1874. Kizhi Island. Onega lake, Karelia. Russia.

I just read an article entitled “Ten of the World’s Most Stunning Religious Buildings.” The article presented a list of ten architectural masterpieces that really are amazing edifices. For example, one of the structures (see the picture) was made entirely with wood, but the builders did not use a single nail. Here’s what troubles me about this article. Most of them were not used for Christian purposes, and only one of the buildings that was used for Christian services is still used for anything other than a museum. The one building that is still in use is a Greek monastery called Metéora, which means “middle of the sky.” This monastery was built on top of a sandstone pillar about 1200 feet off the ground. When originally built in the 1500’s, no stairs were included. Monks had to be pulled up into the structure by rope, and the old ropes were not replaced until God showed the monks they needed to be replaced. How did that happen? You guessed it. A rope would break. I would hate to be the monk on the lift that convinced the250px-Holy_Monastery_of_Rousanou guy in charge that they needed a new rope.

I have at least two problems with this whole concept. First, nine out of ten of these buildings are not being used for the purpose of making Christ known to the world. Even the ones originally built for this purpose (though most of them were constructed to honor a particular monarch) are now simply museums. The one remaining structure still in use is for the purpose of getting away from the world instead of being used to reach the world. The second problem I have with them is that a church is actually a living organism (not a building) that exists for the purpose of carrying out Christ’s mission in the world: making disciples. This involves evangelism and spiritual mentoring as new believers become more like Christ. Disciple making requires us to be busy and in the world (but not of it). I would enjoy visiting these buildings because I am fascinated with architecture – especially of old buildings. While these ten buildings are stunning indeed, they are also heart breaking. Maybe we should be stunned that something so beautiful is so ineffective. The real question is are we the church God wants us to be? Regardless of the place of our church membership, if we are Christians, then we are called to embrace the world (people), love the world (of course I’m speaking of loving the people of the world regardless of their background, beliefs, or life-styles), and lead the world to faith in Christ. If people looked at you or at the building you go to for church services, would they see something or someone who is passionately in love with Jesus Christ and working tirelessly for His cause or would they see a dusty museum? Just a thought.

Finishing Strong

“I don’t think I can hike another quarter of a mile.” I think I have this thought every time I complete a hike on the Appalachian Trail, and this time was no different. My two youngest daughters and I just completed a 3-day, 47 mile hike through the beautiful Virginia mountains, and it thrilled me to watch my girls drink in the beauty of God’s creation. I wasn’t as thrilled with how bad they made me look as they were constantly having to stop to wait on me to catch up. It was interesting for me to think about how badly my feet hurt after three days of hiking. I thought back to my last seven-day hike through the mountains and remember having the similar pains and blisters at the end of that one. The difference is that one was three days and the other was seven days. How did I manage to go for four more days last time when I was ready to collapse after three days this week? Somehow, I always have just what I need to make the hike – no more and no less. I think that life is that way. While God gives us a surplus of grace, He usually only gives us just what we need in many other departments. Think back to your own experiences. Do you find that you have just enough energy to go through a 3-day family crisis and a 3-month personal trauma? God always meets us where we are and takes us to where we need to be. The scriptural truth is found in Philippians 4:19 “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Whether it’s another day on the Appalachian Trail or the strength to go through another month barely making ends meet, God will be there to give you enough to finish strong. Do you trust Him?

 

Happy Emoji Day!!

emojiHappy world emoji day!! Hard to believe, but today (July 17), we are actually celebrating the little icons people use in texting to communicate feelings. While a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m not real sure what the emojis are worth. I can’t tell what feelings many of them represent. It does kind of remind me of a tutorial on feelings I read for men once. Because men do not always connect with their feelings, this particular book offered suggestions (and even little drawings) to help the Neanderthal guy figure out exactly how he feels. The jury is still out as to whether or not that book is actually that helpful either. I have learned to be careful in texting because words do not always adequately communicate feelings. Now we are supposed to somehow express ourselves through little pictures – some of which are wide open for interpretations. Maybe World Emoji Day can be a day we recommit ourselves to really communicating, and not just with little drawings. What steps can you take to communicate better with the ones you love?

 

Got A Second?

Last_Days_Clock“I just don’t have enough time in a day.” How many times have you repeated that mantra? Sadly that phrase seems to be the theme song for many of our lives. Well…you’re in luck. You got an extra second today, but the day is almost over. We had a rare event today in that we were given an extra second. Experts refer to this as being a “leap second.” The National Institute of Standards and Technology define a leap second as “a second added to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to keep it synchronized with astronomical time,” What in the world will you do with a second? Probably nothing. It does make me think, however, about what it would be like if we were suddenly given an extra hour or an extra day. What if I could hold up a rod (like Moses) and gain an extra few hours? Here’s a thought. Why did we need an extra hour today when there’s a good chance we wasted several of the ones we had? I think it would be a good idea for us to make note of something we would do tomorrow if we had an extra hour and go ahead and do it with one of the hours we already have.  If we work harder at managing our time, we might feel as if we’ve been given an extra hour a day, and with that extra time, we could change the world.