Got a Joint?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. – Romans 1:16

Settling down in the plane on the second leg of my journey, a young lady sits beside me. There is a bit of chitchat, what kind of work do you do…are you on your way home, or is this business, etc. Then I hear, “Do you have a joint?” Surely I didn’t hear what I just thought I heard. “Pardon me?” I ask, then she repeats her question, “Do you have a joint?” At this point I am looking shocked, and I say, “Pardon me?” again. Then she smiles and tells me that she is only joking.

I look her right in the eye and say, “You’re not joking, are you?” Now it’s her turn to look shocked. I don’t wait for her response. Instead, I proceed, “See, I used to be an addict, and when I wanted to test the waters, I would ask a question like you just asked to see what kind of response I got. If it wasn’t shock, then I knew there was a possibility of engaging in my addiction. If the answer was shock, I could simply say…just kidding.” Her eyes are now a bit down cast. I repeat my statement, “You’re not joking, are you?” She confesses that she wasn’t joking, that she wanted to party that night and wanted to get started right away. I asked her if I could tell her a story, she said, “Ok.” What else could she say? We had a 50-minute flight ahead of us.

I begin to share my testimony, my pattern of destructive behavior and the only true way to stop that pattern. I shared the freedom that Christ offers, much of which I have been able to better articulate with the Freedom In Christ material. I ask her where she is in her faith: “What do you believe?” is how I framed it. We begin one of the most intense conversations I have had in a long while, and by her admission, the most intense she has ever had. Five minutes before the flight attendant announces our impending landing, this young lady, who 40 minutes ago wanted to party and was looking for weed, accepted Christ as her savior.

We serve a radically action-oriented Father, who never fails to amaze us and offer freedom to those imbedded in sin. I was on that plane because my original flight was cancelled. I was moved to that seat because I checked my bags at the last moment. There are no coincidences, no “just by chance” moments. Our Abba Father orchestrates times and places for us to glorify Him. The question is, are we prepared for the questions we may be asked, like…got a joint?

OVERPOWERED

For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” – Hebrews 8:12

Hebrews 8:12 and a Merle Haggard song inspired me to share this word picture with you.

On the next clear night, go out and look at the stars. How many of them are there? Can you count them? Of course not. Now imagine that those stars are your sins. Again, how many of them are there? Can you count them? Of course not. It is indeed overwhelming to think of the countless sins we have committed, or even commit in the future (because we all know we will). Some are very dim, and we hardly remember them at all if we even remember them at all. Some shine very brightly and we can recall them immediately, often because it is where we have established the strongest pattern of that particular sin. But at some point, we must face that they are all there.

Before we get too despondent on our inequity, let’s look at another part of this word picture. It’s the next day at high noon. Go out and look at the sky. Do you see the stars? Do you see your sins? No! Are they not there? They must not be there because I don’t see them. Of course, they’re still there, but we no longer see them. Why is that? Because they are overpowered by the sun. The incredible light produced by the sun has overtaken the light produced by the lesser stars.

So, it is with our sin. Yes, we commit sin, we live in a fallen world and the sin pattern that was in us before Christ came into our lives still exists. We have the power of the Holy Spirit in us, which gives sin no more power over us. Yet the incredible truth is this, that our heavenly Father no longer “sees” our sin. Why is that? Because it is overpowered by the Son. The light of Christ Himself and His sacrifice has reconciled us to God and He remembers our sin no more. Think of that next evening, but more importantly, remember that next noonday. Our sin is overpowered by the light of the Son.

Creases and Highlights

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.Proverbs 1:8,9

I wish I would have known then what I know now. Surely, I am not the only person who has said this. I know I am not, because I have heard at least four other people say it this week. We all have said that, or at least felt it from time to time. Looking at past decisions and the foolishness that brought about that decision. We often feel that if we would have had more information or better information, we could have avoided the mistake or disaster that occurred. The truth of the matter is that the information and offering was there. Insight, experience, and compassion were at our disposal and are so today as well.

We have a generation of people that have lived through what we are living at the moment. Survived the seemingly disastrous situation with which we are dealing. We have friends, family, and other believers that have made it through the valley and know where the pitfalls are. We have every bit of that, and yet we don’t seek it often enough. The United States has the distinction of having a larger percentage of our population in elder care facilities than any other country. Now, to be fair, sometimes people need a level of care or even want to have the atmosphere of an elder care facility, but not always. Regardless of why someone is in one of these facilities or even if they are on their own, we don’t engage them often enough. We might even sit down to have a conversation, but do we seek their guidance? I am ashamed to say that I don’t, not often enough anyway.

I am finding, more often than not, that this wisdom and experience are invaluable. These creases of wisdom shown on a seasoned face and silver highlights of experience in a person’s hair are truly waiting there to be used. I know that I want to share so much with my son regarding danger zones and pitfalls that I feel almost burdened with what I haven’t shared. I have dear friends that are in the winter of their lives that, without a doubt, have that same burden for me.

The solution is simple: ask and you will receive. Ok, that is not how that Scripture is directly used in the Bible, but the truth remains. If we take the time to really engage in a conversation with someone senior to us, we can ask the life questions that we might hesitate to ask otherwise. Asking makes us vulnerable. Asking shows our inadequacy. Asking is admitting we don’t know everything. Isn’t it funny to think we really have that fear? To admit we don’t know something, when we can so readily see that in others? Imagine asking a question of someone who has not only faced the same situation, but has seen the positive and negative outcomes of their own decisions. We have that opportunity staring us in the face; all we have to do is take hold of it and step out in faith.

Attention to Detail

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. – James 4:7

I work in a field where a good deal of “attention to detail” is needed. I first came across that phrase when I was in the Navy. I am sure many of us are familiar with it in some form. All of us have some aspect of our life, where attention to detail is critical. I think of my wife, when she bakes. The measurements have to be precise or the finished product won’t work out. Sometimes life and death hang in the balance. Think of a doctor prescribing medicine, or the pharmacist filling the prescription. Think of a surgeon working on microscopic blood vessels. All of these facets require an incredible attention to detail. It is no different in our spiritual life.

I have seen many different posts on social media of often misquoted scripture and many times they are misquoted by Christians. A simple omission, unintentional though it may be, can have a huge impact on the Truth we try to share. I think of one particular scripture. I often hear people say “resist the devil and he will flee”. While this phrase is a direct quote from scripture, it is not the whole verse. The entire verse states “submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee”. Three simple words that if omitted can have a huge impact on how we share the Truth.

If we try to resist the devil on our own strength, not only will we fail, we are essentially giving Satan a foothold in our lives. We are facing the devil on his terms and that never works out well. Adam and Eve tried that and see how well it worked for them. No, the three words that are omitted in this quote “submit to God” are critical. We cannot face or deal with Satan on our own terms, it must be through the strength of God’s Holy Spirit. When Jesus was tempted directly with Satan, He didn’t have a debate, He had a truth encounter. By confronting the devil with the Holy Word of God and it’s truth, we are not only successful in resisting him, we are (as the Bible says) more than conquerors.

It is this important “attention to detail” in our use of scripture that can lead to power through God’s Holy Word and the strength of the Holy Spirit or our inadequacy if we fail to understand the whole truth and use what may sound convenient. The way we use the Sword of Truth is by knowing the Word. We know the Word by studying the Word. In this way, we can have an attention to detail that puts Satan in his place which is under the foot of our Savior Christ.

UNITED

How many times a day do we use the word “united”? As for me that is not very often, but perhaps it should be. Usually when I think of the “United States” or the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” are the only times I even think about that word. Today, that should change. Today, that should become a word we use daily. Yes, daily.

What does the word mean? The dictionary defines it as; made into or caused to act as a single entity. Think about that, to act as a single entity. Not different parts, but a singular thing. And that thing has a common cause or purpose. So, the question is why should we think of this word on a daily basis. Scripture gives us the answer to this question. Romans 6:5 states, if we have been untied with Christ in a death like His, we will certainly be also united with Him in a resurrection like His. We are united with Christ. As a believer, this is not a hope or a wish, this is a fact. It is not “someday, I hope to be”, this is a truth that happens at our salvation. At the moment we accepted God’s gift of grace and salvation, we became united with Christ. Think about the definition, we became one entity with Christ. Christ in us, just as we are in Christ. Again, as a believer, we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Daily, we need to focus on this truth, that now and forever more, we are united with Christ. We have the assurance that He will never leave us, that His union with us is eternal. So, just as His union with us is eternal, it is most certainly in the moment. When we are feeling less than Christ-like, His union with us is not diminished. The relationship is not “less than”. We are still united with Him. The United States endured a Civil War. When the states acted no longer a singular entity. It was a horrible period in our history. Sometimes, we approach our relationship with Christ in that manner. That because of our sin we are no longer in union with God. The truth is, we are not in harmony with Him, but our union is not in jeopardy. In fact, at the moments when we are tempted, or most importantly when we find ourselves in the midst of our sin, it is crucial that we remember this union, this bond we have with Christ. Conviction by the Holy Spirit draws us back to the harmony we need. Remember, just as we are united with Him in life, also we were united with Him in His death. We are dead to sin. It no longer has any power over us. We may choose to sin, but it no longer has control over us. It is the fact that we are united with Him in the resurrection of life that gives us authority over that sin. We must exercise that authority and we can only do that in Christ. In fact, it is because we are united with Him, we have power over sin and death.

Today, at the moment we feel alone, the moment we feel the pull of the world, the moment we feel that we are powerless over the temptation that is before us…we must focus on the fact, the truth that we are united with Christ. We are a singular entity with the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the almighty God, the wonderful Counselor. In Him, we have the power to overcome the world.

if we have been untied with Christ in a death like His, we will certainly be also united with Him in a resurrection like His.  – Romans 6:5

Broken Joy

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

A few days ago, I was driving down the road listening to an interview with a Christian artist. She was relating a story about her daughters singing a song in pure joy and abandon. As I listened to the story, I asked myself, when was the last time I sang or praised God with absolute abandon? Had it really been so long that I couldn’t remember? In that moment, I came to a place of brokenness. I began to cry out to God the Father, “Restore in me a heart of joy that surpasses my circumstances.” To be clear, it wasn’t that I was completely without joy, but the joy I had been experiencing was not that joy of being broken and resting in His arms.

Some joy comes from being broken. Knowing that God is the source of absolute joy and without Him, all other joy is fleeting. Tears running down our cheeks can reflect godly sorrow, and they can reflect a joy in His abundant supply of grace. I think of the words Paul spoke in despair when he prayed for the thorn to be removed. In his brokenness, he realized that only God could resolve his situation, and yet the resolution did not seem to be in accordance with Paul’s plan on that resolution. God’s response was that the brokenness that Paul was dealing with could only be reconciled with His grace: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Paul could experience everlasting joy while he felt broken. That same miraculous exchange can happen in our lives. We can have the peace that passes all understanding, the joy beyond our circumstances, if we rest in His abundant grace. We can experience broken joy.

ON A MISSION FROM GOD

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. – Mark 16:15

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. – Proverbs 24:11

My wife and I were invited to a fundraising dinner for an organization that provides Christian based pre-birth counseling to those that are contemplating decisions upon discovering that pregnancy is an issue. The truth of the matter is this organization helps women (and men) understand the issues surrounding decisions they will be making prior to a child’s birth. The dinner was fabulous, the company at our table was perfect. The topic…crucial.

As the keynote speaker stated, abortion is the preeminent social issue of our time. In fact, it isn’t even in our time. This issue has been around for thousands of years in different contexts. From before Christ’s incarnation in pagan cultures and following through to today. The statement was also made, that the issue isn’t new, it’s just our turn. It’s our turn to take a stand to defend the defenseless. It’s our turn to present the Gospel in such a way that it focuses on God’s grace in lieu of condemnation for non planned pregnancy and the ramifications of abortion.

With the world (the flesh centered world) presenting the message of “pro-choice”, the Gospel takes a back seat to the absence of consequences of our actions. The reality is, the Gospel doesn’t take a back seat to anything. The consequences of sin cannot be avoided. But in the face of those consequences, we can help others see the glory of God’s will and how someone can participate in His perfect will.

As disciples of the living Christ, we are all called to be on a mission from God, and without a doubt, abortion is not only an aspect of that mission, it’s got to be the battle cry for all Christians that the unborn must be protected. The challenge is what role each of us will take on in that mission. Perhaps, you are called to be directly active in an organization that provides pro-life counseling, perhaps you are called to use your voice in the political arena for this call. Perhaps you are called to financially support these ministries. Regardless of the call, we must participate.

The keynote speaker shared statistics that showed that not only are Christian pregnancy centers flourishing, the abortion centers are closing. God is answering prayers and is calling us to take part in His miracle.

UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF SIRI

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.  “All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:23-27

It’s 4am in New York City, and I have to get a cab to the airport. I have an early flight and in order to make it, I am strolling the streets way before dawn. It doesn’t take too long to find one and I jump in and tell the driver “La Guardia.” He speeds off, and we are on our way. A few blocks later, he turns his head slightly and says to me, “Do you know how to get to the airport?” Surely I am mistaken. Did my driver just ask me how to get to our destination? I take in my surroundings. I am in a licensed cab in New York City – a city famous for its taxis. The driver’s license was on display letting me know that he was supposed to have the skills of a taxi driver, which to me included knowing how to get to the airport. I asked him to repeat himself and again he asked me how to get to La Guardia. For a moment I thought about getting out of the cab, but it was so early I didn’t think I would have much luck in getting another.

A thought strikes me: use Siri on my phone. She asks if I need LaGuardia or JFK. My conversation with Siri gives me what the driver can’t – hope that I will get to the airport on time. So, here we are. Me, a born and raised Texan on my fifth trip to New York being a backseat driver to a NY taxi driver. I call out turns and merges and true to her word, Siri gets me to the airport. I can count on one hand the number of times I haven’t tipped someone and this was one of those times.

Do we do the same thing in our churches? Do we assume that the men in our pulpits are speaking the Word of God? I mean, they do quote Scripture (or so we assume), and they do sound like they know what they’re talking about. But how do we know for sure? Don’t ask Siri. While she may be great at giving directions or restaurant recommendations, she is not the best source for reconciling God’s Word to what we hear from the pulpit, or from other teachers and those we see as senior in the faith.

Understand, I am not suggesting that these people are giving false testimony of God’s Word, but how do we know for sure. There are only two ways. One is to know and study the Word for ourselves. Read the Word. Take it with you to church and read along as Scripture is quoted. The second way is to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Again, Siri can provide information that we can rely on in some areas, but God’s Holy Spirit gives guidance in every area of life. When verifying any teaching or sharing of God’s Word, we can rest assured that it is from God if it is in accordance with His written Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is not a challenge to see if your pastor is false. This is an encouragement to be a reader and doer of the Word. This is a prompting to allow the Holy Spirit to live vibrantly in your life. That can only happen if you engage Him on a regular basis. Let the Holy Spirit lead you, and you will never be without the correct guidance.

Bitter Herbs and Splenda

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

The Old Testament describes the feast of the Passover very specifically. Part of that feast is the eating of bitter herbs. Obviously this was not dessert, not the sweet treat that one might associate with a feast. Can you imagine asking for someone to pass the bitter herbs? “Oh, mom, you sure did do a good job on these bitter herbs. They’re the best ever.” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? The eating of the bitter herbs was a treat in a different way. It was a reminder of all that from which God had delivered His people. The time spent in bondage to others was indeed bitter, and God’s delivery from that bondage was truly miraculous. I mean really, that deliverance was literally done through the miraculous works of our Father God.

We have to ask ourselves, is God’s deliverance today any less miraculous? Nothing but God can account for a truly changed life: a changed heart. We can change our behavior often for just a short period of time, but only God can create a new heart (2 Corinthians 5:17). A desire to pursue Him comes from His pursuit of us. We can’t take credit for any part of our deliverance. It is all Him and always will be. So, should we eat bitter herbs as a reminder of His deliverance? Is it a command that God wants us to constantly remind ourselves of what we used to be? The real answer is yes and no.

God has delivered us of our bondage to sin and the lordship of Satan. In fact, the sacrifice of Christ has delivered us from the condemnation of God’s judgment (Romans 8:1). We shouldn’t live in the shame of our past. Through His grace we can truly be free from the shame of the bitterness of our life of sin. So the answer is no.

We are to proclaim the gospel. God’s command to go and spread the gospel and do the discipling work of teaching about His love is very clear (Matthew 28:19). The most effective way we can do this is to tell our story—how God delivered us from not only eternal judgment, but also into His life of absolute freedom. When we tell who we were, how Christ came into our lives, and what He is doing in our lives, we show the reality of Christ. People may argue with the history of the Bible or the existence of God, but they can’t argue our story. Our testimony of Christ shows His love. It might be uncomfortable talking about our past, but the deliverance should always overshadow the life of sin. So the answer is yes.

We can endure the bitterness of sharing our past, because we have the sweetness of His glory. We must continue to focus on Him as the miraculous source of a changed heart and not the shame of our past. If we do this, we don’t even “taste” the bitterness of the herb. We only taste the sweetness of God’s grace through the resurrected Christ.

SINCE WHEN?

Since when did doing something nice turn into a character assault? I was at DFW a few days ago, waiting in the TSA pre-check line (yes one of the few advantages of much too frequent travel), when a man in front of a group of us was standing in front of the TSA agent. The agent informed the man that he had been standing in the wrong line and did not qualify as pre-check. Now, she could have very well told him that he had to go stand in the correct line, but that’s not what she did. She walked him over to the correct TSA agent and they processed him right away. The passenger did not lose his place in line, he was just “transferred”. Two places in line ahead of me, a gentleman said, “well, she’s a lot nicer than I would have been”. Inferring that the woman was “too” nice. Is there really such a thing as too nice? Have we come to the place where niceness is seen as weakness?

Now maybe, I’m projecting too much on this man, but it occurred to me as he made his comment, shouldn’t we all ascribe to be that nice. Wouldn’t it be awesome if instead of his comment, the man would have said “wow, what a model of kindness”? Not only should we be seeking out models of niceness, we should be models ourselves. What if we took it as a challenge to “out nice” people. What if we went out of our way to show kindness to strangers? You know what would happen? We would be fulfilling Jesus commandment, that’s what would happen.

As Jesus said, “as you have done to the least of these, so have you done to me” (paraphrase). Not that we must use the excuse, oh I must act as if this is Jesus. I don’t believe that is what the Christ is saying. I think He is telling us that we are to show the same level of compassion on our fellow man that he did to the worst of sinners. Why do I think that? Because that is exactly what He did with me. The worst of sinners, he showed compassion on me and redeemed me. Let’s make an effort, a conscious choice to go far and above what kindness we think we should give, let’s show Christ’s grace, mercy and compassion on a dying world. Lord knows we need it.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25:40