Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Testament Suffering

The ONLY biblical instance where suffering is ever God’s Will...

The only instances we see in scripture where suffering is ever “according to the will of God” is those situations where believers suffer persecution or death for preaching or living for the gospel. Standing up for and declaring the message of Jesus and His Kingdom with a demonstration of power is the only legitimate reason the bible gives for suffering.

    2 Timothy 1:8 - "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God..."

    2 Timothy 2:8-9 - "Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel,9 for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains;"

However, enduring hostility and persecution for this message is rarely experienced by most American Christians, who by and large are still locked into a “safe and hidden-in-the-prayer closet” form of Christianity “waiting on the Lord” to do things they are called to do. This “lifestyle”, unknown to most Christians in the rest of the world, allows believers to redefine things like “suffering” to include things that have nothing to do with being a Christian but instead are due to a lack of character or lack of a complete surrender to follow Jesus Christ.

    1 Peter 4:12-19 - "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now "If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? "Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, (preaching the gospel) as to a faithful Creator."

Over the last generation in an attempt to be relevant the church has so watered down its message it has devalued what a Christian truly is. Consequentially, there is little to no standard we are called to live up to. Being among God’s people over the years I have seen people who call themselves Christians call all kinds of things “persecution for the gospel”.

Some examples I have seen:

    - Being arrested for drunk driving;

    - Getting fired at work because they don’t show up on time or do a good job;

    - Being harassed by bill collectors because their bad financial decisions got them in a lot of debt;

    - Being upset because the friends who they talked into a get-rich-quick scheme are now their enemies;

    - Being arrested for not paying parking tickets;

Being reproached for the name of Christ, being persecuted for the gospel or experiencing hardship because we are authentic Christian believers is the ONLY instance we see in scripture where this is allowed by God for His people. And nearly all the persecution we see in the NT referred to as “suffering” was brought by religious leaders upon those who had the boldness to proclaim this message! These religious leaders were incited by jealousy to attack preachers like Paul who proclaimed and demonstrated this gospel.

In the book of Acts we only see two responses when the gospel of the Kingdom is declared-revival or riot! Let's go start a revival. And if not, a riot will do.

    2 Timothy 3:12 - "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Keep It Simple, Saints!

After Elijah was run out of town in fear of Jezebel, he poured out a lament to the Lord, painting himself as “the only real believer left”. The Lord kindly came to him in a gentle whisper and decided He wouldn’t place any more on him, then delegated his task to others. But in doing so, He wanted Elijah to know there were still thousands “in the game.”

    I King 19:18-"Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
The implication of the Lord is clear-many of God’s best and most devoted weren’t known or in the “limelight”. God had 7000 in Israel.

America’s celebrity-adoring culture tempts us to admire and even pursue a “superstar” type of Christian lifestyle and ministry. Being the “talk of the town”, an exceptional person with fame and all the trappings of celebrity is esteemed and admired. Historically however, Christian leaders who live like this have complicated lives and in most cases, abandon their callings due to moral or ethical failure, aborting and discrediting most of what they accomplished.

Our goal then should be to pursue God and fulfill our calling SIMPLY and with little fanfare. We should keep our lives uncluttered and focused on the basics.

    -Every day we should worship, read & study the Word of God.

    -Every day we should make our marriages and family a priority.

    -Every paycheck we should put God first with our tithes and offerings.

    -Every week we should make time to fulfill our callings.
One of satan’s key temptations is to get us to succumb to delusions of grandeur and shortcuts to promotion. (2 Corinthians 11:3) If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Before we will ever see greatness in our lives, God promises to test us and we must be found faithful in handling three key areas (Luke 16: 10-12):

    1) Little
    2) Money
    3) Another’s
By doing little things well,we will do big things well. If we don’t trust the Lord with our finances, how we can we use spiritual treasure? And if we don’t respect that which is another’s, including other’s ministries, how we can have our own? If we keep our life focused and simple, we build every day on a sure foundation and sooner or later we find we have accomplished some amazing things for the Kingdom.

Keep It Simple Saints!

Marc Lawson

You Had Better Pick A Side....and Quick!

Bob Dylan, one of the foremost songwriter/poets of a generation, penned the words to this song:

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

After Israel had taken possession of the land, at Shechem, Joshua led the nation in rededicating and recommitting itself to the Lord there. This event is recounted in Joshua 24.

    "Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." - Joshua 24:14-15

This similar theme is also seen where Jesus was tempted by Satan in three areas:

    #1 - Submission to the Word of God -"Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" - Matt. 4:3-4
    #2 - Presuming on the Word of God - "Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'" - Matt. 4:5-7
    #3 - Serving self rather than God - "Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'" - Matt. 4:8-10
Each time Satan came, he questioned Jesus' identity and attempted to move Him to forget who He really was and who He was really serving.

    "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…" - 2 Timothy 3:16
American cultural values used to be based on the Word of God, influenced by America's large Christian majority. This helped define American culture. But today, more and more American cultural values are created by a consensus of a majority of people, many who are pagans, atheists and even amoral. This consensus of morality will get further and further away from the truth as more divergent ways of living are introduced into the culture. Eventually, what the majority thinks will end up being neither scriptural or moral!

And then we have believers living their lives reacting to what hurt them in the past attempting to live a "safe" life. Rather than being told by church leaders what to do, many now attempt to stay "below the radar" not wanting to cause trouble. By only trying to be against what is wrong, they have now succumbed to relativism. Instead of boldly running into their destiny based on living biblical absolutes and priorities, many now are in "survival" mode.

Character is who we really are when no one but God is watching. Character and integrity is sorely lacking in our American society today. Unfortunately it must be formed in us. It can't be imparted by prayer and nowhere in scripture is it called a spiritual gift. But it is the summation of our entire life. It is made up of our habits, lifestyle and the sum of the daily choices we make with our money, time, talents, words and especially - our priorities. We can only give it to others by modeling and mentoring and it can only be worked out in day-to-day living. If we make wise choices each day that conform to the Word of God and fulfill our destiny we grow in Christlike character.

It is now almost "normal" and acceptable for Christians to display immense cowardice in actually living by the Word of God. This fear is what helped foster the present state of many churches and promotes ease and comfort for believers rather than true discipleship. Even the prophetic camps can be guilty at times of elevating their personal subjective experience and revelation above the authority of the scripture to accommodate their unbelief, fears and distrust of God. The big question we all have to answer is always the same: "What do I have to give up or lose to follow Jesus as King and truly live according to the Kingdom?"

It's not what "we think we lose", it's "what do we acquire by following Him?"

Living our lives and leading our families with biblical priorities and a Kingdom lifestyle can't merely be taught with words, it must be modeled with action and lifestyle. The American church can no longer comment or talk about things we aren't living anymore. Now more than ever, THIS IS OUR TIME to SHINE! We can choose to come out of our hiding places and shine or slink into pseudo-safety. It is high time to WAKE UP out of our self-induced hibernation!

    "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them, for it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light." See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is." - Ephesians5:8-15
It's time for the body to begin to wake up and get with it. All our excuses are now null and void and we only need agree with heaven and our destiny to bring light into the darkness. It's our time to shine!

Better pick a side....and quick!

Marc Lawson