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Living where Life is

Month: July 2016

A Pastoral Letter about Human Sexuality

imgresAttached is a letter for the body of Christ at Grace Fellowship Church.

The elders are Grace are shepherds first–our desire is that each believer grows in Christ, and is protected from harm.

To that end, I drafted this letter, and the elders & staff & a few friends have made edits & suggestions.

It is filled with hope, truth, guidance and the grace of the gospel. I encourage you to read it, to pray through it, and to ask God to lead us into greater alignment with his will (aka, obedience in our lives!).

Click this link to read or download the pdf.  Human Sexuality

The Captured Thought Life

pastor_flowers_final[This originally appeared in the Kinston Free Press, July 30, 2016]

This past Thursday, I had the privilege of joining with brothers and sisters at Church of Faith and Deliverance’s noontime service. Pastor John Flowers  (pictured with his wife) is a dear brother in Christ, and a strong leader for the gospel in our community.

Again and again, I’m so thankful to serve alongside so many gifted ministers in this town! Men and women who long for Christ to be All in All in our community. Pastors who shepherd—in a dozen different church traditions—but all with a desire that the good news of Jesus’ rescue is available to all!

Pastor Flowers brought us truth and grace from 2 Corinthians 10:5 – “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. And we take captive every thought to make it obedience to Christ.”

He drove home the idea that that so much of the battle in our lives is won or lost in the minds. The battle with hate. The battle with anger. The battle with greed, pride, lust, envy, jealousy, bitterness. The battle with prejudice. We each win or lose it in our minds.

Why? Because thoughts pass in and through our minds so quickly, we have no control over them as they enter in. We do have control over how long they stay there, and how much credence we give to them! I remember someone saying it this way: you can’t stop the birds from flying through the tree, but you can stop them from building a nest.

So he challenged us to focus our minds on the grace of Christ. “Salvation is our weapon.” That God would adopt you or me into his family truly is astounding. That he would invite us, while we are still rebels to him, to receive grace and kindness from him is unbelievable. “This is too good to be true,” as one of my co-workers told me 20 years ago. That he would change hearts and lives from self-centered to Christ-centered and then other-focused is truly a miracle of his grace. (I know how selfish I am! I won’t judge you though…)

And Pastor Flowers urged us with this: when you are facing hopeless situations, intractable people, dire circumstances, “if God was able to change you, why do you think he can’t change someone else?” Amen and amen.

I agree with Pastor Flowers and St Paul in 2 Corinthians 10. The battle over sin is won or lost in the mind. I suppose that’s why the New Testament so often challenges us to “fix your eyes on Jesus” (Heb 12:2), and “have this mind among you that was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5), and “set your minds on things above where Christ is seated.”

I bet more of us fill our minds with banal stuff, set our minds on my agenda, and allow our minds to wander to dead end streets. How are you at taking your thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ?

The Greatest Gospel, the Greatest Medicine

prescription-orderI remember the first time I was challenged to define precisely what the gospel is. It was 20 years ago, and I replied something like this: “It’s admitting you are a sinner, and receiving forgiveness from God because of Jesus’ death.” Definitely Good News!

That day, I was challenged: is this the sum total of the gospel as Scripture lays it out?  In fact, you might term what I wrote above as “the plan of salvation”… which, again, is good news. But is it the WHOLE of the Good Announcement in Scripture?

Over the last two decades, we’ve seen a lot on a deeper and fuller grasp of the Gospel. In the NT, it’s an announcement (Jesus is Lord!), it’s an event in history (the death, resurrection, & ascension of Christ that changes everything), it’s an invitation (the plan of salvation above), it’s everything. John Piper wrote a book a few years back entitled, “God is the Gospel”.  All true.

So, over the years, I’ve tried to conceive of the good news in different ways. I thought of it this way the other day:

The Gospel is this: “In Christ, God did for us what we could never do: he brought us to himself.” 

“In Christ” It all centers on Christ. No Christ, no good news. This is the event part… The Cross is our forgiveness, the resurrection is our power and guarantee, the ascension of Jesus to the Right Hand of God is our hope that he will take care of all things well. The gospel is always, only, fully, greatly Jesus Christ! Amen and Amen.

“God did for us…” The gospel is start to finish God’s work. He thought it up, he accomplished it at the cross, he applies it by his Spirit. He woos us and brings us to the point of surrender. We were dead in sins… can’t make ourselves alive. We were rebels in heart… wouldn’t consider terms of peace. We were lost, blind and stubborn… no chance on our own.  So, “God did for us what we could never do…” The gospel is God moving toward us.  Amen and Amen.

“He brought us to himself” This points to the actual and eternal benefits of the gospel: forgiveness of sins (clearing the way to come to him), adoption into his family (giving us an eternal belonging), indwelling of the Spirit (giving us a guide, a power, and a friend), sanctifying us (so we CAN please him in our lives), giving us Spiritual gifts (so we can make a different in this world with him) seating us with Christ in the heavenly places (hope and confidence forever).  Union with Christ is the greatest and most fundamental benefit of God’s action on our behalf, and we rejoice in its many fruits!

Ok.  So, when you think about ‘sharing the gospel’ or ‘sharing your testimony’, anytime you are pointing out Christ’s life, death and resurrection, you are sharing the good news. Anytime you are pointing out how God has met you, healed you, led you, provided for you (because you belong to Christ) you are sharing the good news. Anytime you are pointing out the forgiveness, adoption and all the other benefits of belonging to Christ, you are sharing the good news.

One final thought: who can you share part of God’s story in your life with today or this week? Take the chance and watch God lead through you. And, in that sharing, invite them to surrender to God like you have. At the end of the day, the gospel is news that changes the world… IF someone steps into it. Invite them into it. Powerful medicine on the counter is useless; it’s got to get into the one who is sick. “Why don’t you come to church with me this week?” or “Would you read the story of Jesus’ life?” (and direct them to Mark’s gospel in a bible app.) or “have you ever thought about this? does it make sense? Do you want to think more about it?” Be courageous and ASK the question you want to ask.

Watch God do miracles as you bear witness to him! He’s in the business of using the gospel to change the world. Are you?

 

Cops, Christians and Healed Communities

imgresFriends,

At the Dallas Memorial service today, former President George W. Bush said this, “Too often we judge other groups by their worse examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”  I think he’s right.  Let’s keep humble and thoughtful about OUR role in the coming healing of our nation and communities.

Here are 3 links you can read for help.

First click here for what I read aloud on Sunday morning to shepherd our body – from John Stonestreet on BreakPoint.

Second, super-effective & respected Dallas pastor Tony Evans wrote a brief comment that we need to hear and heed.  One of his paragraph: “Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians. One of the real tragedies today is that the church as a whole has failed to advance God’s kingdom light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.”  (emphasis added; read it again). Click here to read Evans’ whole blog post.

Third, a former police office and detective, Jim Warner Wallace who runs an apologetics ministry called “Cold Case Christianity” offers some good and helpful thoughts about the posture of police officers as they go out into the world.  Click here to read that.

God has a new day coming; healing and peace and meaning and hope.  IF… and it’s a big IF… God’s people step into the hurt.  I read someone who quoted Martin Luther King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

 

How to vote in 2016… My Thoughts

imagesI have written before about this year’s election, and how to discern among the candidates.  You can read that here and here and here.

As it stands right now, American voters are faced with two political parties that have settled on two presidential candidates who, it seems to me, are not the best America can come up with. There are very few Democrats who are enthused about Hillary. And, Republicans are even more uncertain of The Donald.

For many of us in the middle, we are wondering where this is leading and what to do. As we follow Christ in the world, we want to please him, and be salt and light. Perhaps our usual voting pattern won’t be enough for us to rely on.

So what are we to do? Here are some thoughts.

  1. We must be purposeful about election day. You must vote or consciously choose not to. But, please do not be part of the 93 million eligible voters who just didn’t show up in the 2012 presidential election![1] If you are not registered, google “board of elections” for your county and register right now. (Otherwise you have to call people in dictatorships around the world and tell them why you didn’t care enough about your country to vote!!).
  1. There are 5 options for voting for the president: The candidates of either party, a third party, a write-in candidate or abstaining. Do your homework, both on the positions of each, and on the likelihood of what a 3rd party vote will mean for who actually gets elected. (You might guarantee the election of your least desired candidate by voting 3rd party or abstaining.)
  1. Tactical Voting is not wrong. If you can’t wholeheartedly support any candidate, be tactical. Let’s say you find both major candidates distasteful and aren’t sure what to do. I think it’s appropriate to ask: which candidate, in my best estimate, will do more damage to the country if they get elected? Perhaps a tactical vote for the other candidate would save more grief in the long term. If you don’t have the luxury of “believing in a candidate,” that doesn’t mean your vote and voice is futile.
  1. Remember down-ticket races too. Who is running for Congress and the US Senate, State races, judges, governor, local level public servants, etc. Even if you are having trouble figuring out the presidential race, make sure you give studied voice to the many other important races that will determine much policy over the next 4 years. And get out and vote (see #1).
  1. There is lots of time before the election. You do not have to come out for or against a given candidate today. Consider what they stand for, what they believe in, how they fare over the next 4 months. You can make up your mind at the ballot box. Be praying about it, and considering it now.
  1. God is in this. This means two things: Ask him for leading. He will lead you. You will have a clean conscience on election day, as you seek his leading for you. Secondly, it means he’s in control over all things. Romans 13:1 says that God appoints governing authorities. Dan 2:44 says he sets up kings and takes them down. You do your homework and trust God to accomplish his purposes.

 

[1] According to http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/2012-voter-turnout/ , accessed 7.5.16

3 Requirements of Freedom

Os-Guinness-Free-Peoples-Suicide[NOTE: I sent this today to the “Prayer Committee of 100” in Lenoir County – a group of people who pray for this county. If you would like to receive weekly emails with 3 requests (most of them focused on Lenoir Country), please leave me a comment, and we’ll add you to the list.

Happy July 4th week!  A thought and then a prayer request arising from that thought:

Thought

In his book A Free People’s Suicide, Os Guinness writes that there are 3 necessary components for liberty/freedom: winning it, ordering it, and sustaining it. We are celebrating this week the “winning” of freedom – the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War.

The “ordering” of freedom refers to the formal structures of our country – the constitution, the separation of powers and checks-and-balances, the federal-state dual sovereignty. All of these things (and more) help to structure things to minimize the ability of a tyrant to rise up. And, for 240 years this structure has worked well.

The “sustaining” of freedom relies on the people of the country. Guinness notes that “freedom requires virtue, and virtue requires faith”… in order for there to be a broad freedom from laws and external restraints, the people in general have to be able to govern themselves and their appetites.  In other words, they are required to be virtuous (a word that is not given much credit at all in our culture!). An inner ability to stop when the opportunity to continue presents itself seems to me a perfect definition of freedom. 

And, virtue comes from… where? Guinness says from faith: from an acknowledgment of God’s power above our own, and a recognition that our role is to live before him in the ways he calls us to. In other words, live virtuously.  “Do unto others”, “Love is patient & kind…” “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” “hate what is evil, cling to what is good”, “prefer one another above yourself.” All of these New Testament phrases are virtue lived out in daily life. Who lives this way? The faith-filled one – the one who clings to the Lord. Faith leads to virtue, which enables freedom. 

Here’s where the gospel intersects this conversation: Jesus was the only truly free person – no one lived a more free and fulfilled life in all of history. Why? Because he did “the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38). In other words, he always pleased his Father. That is, he was virtuous to the highest degree… perfect.  Why? Because he had a vibrant relationship with his Father in Heaven.  Where we have all failed to live perfectly before God, he succeeded, and is our bridge back to the Father!

Freedom comes from virtue which comes from faith in the Lord. 

Prayer Request for this week

  • Will you then pray for a new faith in Christ to be embraced by countless millions in our country? Ask God to pour out his Spirit on hearts & homes, and grant many to come to Christ. (Habakkuk 2:14)
  • Will you pray for a renewed virtue to grow out of that faith? Ask God to reform our character as individuals, to make us (from the inside out) to look and act and think and speak like Jesus.  (Gal 2:20)
  • And, in this way you are praying for the continuing freedom that we have enjoyed in this country. Ask God to deepen our liberty by granting faith and virtue with sustain the liberty that was won and ordered so many years ago. (Gal 5:13)

Blessings,

Jason

for the Prayer C-100

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