Consider It Joy To Be Tested!

-Are We Prepared For Persecution?

It seems it’s time to ask ourselves if we’ve prepared our children and our grandchildren for a time when it might be against the law to be a Christian in this country! It doesn’t seem like the church, in general, has done a very good job of that! We have “Americanized” what it means to be a follower of Jesus! Christianity was birthed in a world that crucified its Founder! Jesus said, “If they crucify Me, they will crucify you!” The 1st-century follower of Jesus was considered a revolutionary! Do you know what the Roman government did with revolutionaries? They killed them!

-We’ve Sanitized The Faith!

All but one of Jesus’ disciples were killed or martyred for their faith! American Christianity knows nothing about that kinds of tests and trials. We’ve sanitized the faith! Somehow, we’ve accepted the lie that all you have to do is ask Jesus to be your Savior and you’ll never have another problem! Many believers have learned to look down on an individual who struggles in life like they’re just not very spiritual! We’ve accepted the lie that we’re entitled to live in a Christian, God-fearing, Bible-honoring America! But, God never made that promise! Quite the opposite!

-Called To Be Jesus To The World!

God calls us to be revolutionaries; He calls us to be Jesus to the world that crucified Him! He calls us to love them as Jesus loved them; even if it means dying to see them saved! God’s revolutionary looks a whole lot different than the world. Our revolutionary warfare is fought by the Spirit; not like Peter attempted in the Garden. Jesus told him to put away his sword. This war is fought on our knees in prayer! Our sword is the Word of God! He intends we take the Gospel to everyone around us! That’s Christ’s commission! The book of James is a dynamic declaration of what real discipleship looks like; how it’s fleshed out even as we go through testing.

-Responding To Trials & Tests!

You need James’ message because all of us are either coming out of a testing, we’re in the middle of a trial or test right now, or we’re heading into one! No one leaves this world unscathed. So, let me point out how James, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us to respond to the trials & the tests & the disappointments of life! “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” James 1:2-4. What? Consider it a joy to be tested by God? That’s what he said!

-Committed To Facing Trials!

We need God’s supernatural help if we’re going to be committed to facing our trials with a joyful heart as James says! We need God’s help because “joy” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). That means that your flesh cannot produce a joyful heart! It’s incapable! Let me add that he’s not talking about “temptations” to sin here. We’re not supposed to be filled with “joy” when we face temptations to sin! We’re supposed to FLEE those kinds of temptations the Apostle Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 2:22-24). James, here, is referring to the trials, tests, and difficulties of life! And, our flesh will never respond with “joy” when those things enter our lives! Because of our sinful flesh, our natural response is never going to please God, is it? Our flesh always wants to please our flesh! A spiritual response is counter-intuitive for us. It’s not natural! It’s God’s work in us! So, what James is calling for here will require that we crucify our flesh!

Just Make Disciples!

-The Church Relevant In The World!

The book of Romans is a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the Church of Rome. It was a church that had no political clout in the Roman empire!  It was a persecuted church; but still, an effective church, because its methods were simple— just make disciples! When the church is busy fulfilling the commission that Jesus gave her, she will become relevant in the world! Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear that I’m NOT against political and government involvement! In fact, quite the opposite. For the believer, there is no “secular.” Everything is sacred!

-God Sovereign Over All!

God owns it all & is Sovereign over all! It is part of our responsibility, as stewards, to be informed. To know the issues & to vote our conscience as we view everything through the grid of Scripture. But, politics and government cannot be where we place our hope! Or, you will be sorely disappointed; as many believers are here in the West! Nowhere, in Scripture, are we called to create a “Christian nation.” Nowhere in Scripture are we given such a mandate. Neither are we called to legislate righteousness! We are called to preach the Gospel & to make disciples. That is our mandate! If we’ll trust God & His plan, rather than the political process, we’ll see our nation & our local communities change 1 disciple at a time.

-The Power Of The Gospel!

That’s what we see in the book of Acts; and, history bears it out—that the power of the Gospel changed entire cultures over time. Rome was no exception. The Church may have endured great persecution at the time that Paul wrote this book; but within 300 years of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Gospel had done such a powerful spiritual work in the Roman Empire, that many historians claim that more than half the population had become followers of Jesus. The 1st chapter of Romans is one of the more significant texts in the Bible. I encourage you to read it often & become familiar with its content.

-Singled Out To Proclaim The Gospel!

From the start, Paul focuses on the Gospel: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news— which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures— concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…” Paul says he was “singled out” to proclaim “…God’s GOOD NEWS…” The word is εὐαγγέλιον (in the original Greek) or “GOSPEL.” So, he’s sharing the Good News of the Gospel, which he says “…CONCERNS God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…” And in v.8 he says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because the news of your faith is being reported in all the world …” Their faith in the Gospel, Paul says, was having an impact on the whole world!

-Turned The World Upside Down!

When Paul & his entourage went to Thessalonica with the Gospel, it created such a stir that Acts 17 says, “…these men have turned the whole world upside down…” The power of the Gospel outperforms the power of the people every time! Be faithful, church! If you truly have a heart for change in our nation; then, first ask God for a bigger heart for Him; and, second, ask Him for a bigger heart for people! Ask Him for a heart big enough to love hard-to-love people, and to share the Gospel with them. Only His Gospel will change the culture & course of our land. Only when the Church returns to the mission Jesus gave her, will she become relevant in the world once again!  Nothing is happening in our nation that a revival couldn’t change! A revival of the Church! “Judgment must first begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We have to love the lost! We need to establish relationships with them! Have them in our homes!

A Relevant Church!

-The Times We Live In!

I find the times we live in, right now, to be incredibly curious times for the church. The numbers are staggering! Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches, in the United States, are closing every year. That means that between 100-200 churches will close this week alone! So, who’s to blame? Many church leaders are trying to convince us that the secular culture & the liberal politics are to blame. But, I don’t believe that! Not for 1 minute do I believe that; and I base that belief on what we see in the book of Acts.

-Outside Forces & Culture!

If outside forces & culture are to blame for the church’s decline, there would be no churches anywhere! The church would have died in the Book of Acts! Yet, the greatest period of church growth began 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection on the Day of Pentecost & it’s recorded, in detail, in the Book of Acts for us! If you read through the Book of Acts, you can’t help but notice how adversarial the culture & the government were toward the church; and, yet, it prospered! Despite persecution that scattered the church; and even the killing of its leaders, the church just blew up with growth!

-New Believers “Multiplied”!

At first, adding new believers to the church by the thousands, but then the number of new followers of Jesus “multiplied” the book of Acts records! Isn’t the contrast interesting? That at a time when the government & culture were antagonistic toward the church, the church just went about her commission to make disciples & grew in unprecedented fashion; but today, many in the evangelical church have become hostile toward politics & the culture, and, we’re shrinking in size and relevance. Just an observation! Not a statement! I’ve mentioned in the past that the only good thing about growing older is the perspective it gives me. I mean no disrespect toward those of you that might be half my age, but I’ve simply had more time to observe how our country & the church have trended!

-The Days Of The “Moral Majority”!

You can read the history, but I lived it! I clearly remember the rise of Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority in the 1970s. I was a card-carrying member; and I firmly believed that we— the church & the Moral Majority— could change the spiritual trajectory of our nation by voting the right people into office & changing legislation. Like many of my fellow believers, I became politically active. More than once, someone asked me if I would consider running for political office; and I almost did. I watched the church impact the political landscape during the 1980s and much of the 1990,; and we rode that wave into the early 2000s. But if you haven’t noticed, the last 20+ years have not been kind. All that momentum from the 1970s is gone & as the dust continues to settle, here’s what we see— a church that has mostly become irrelevant & a nation that’s become increasingly secular!

-We Quit Making Disciples!

The church in America has mostly become irrelevant because it quit doing what Jesus created it to do! Our sole purpose; our only reason for existence, is for the making of disciples. That’s what we were commissioned to do! If Jesus was about political clout, He had every opportunity to act on it! Israel was ready to make Him king IF He would only throw off the restraints of Rome & lead a rebellion against their occupation. But, that was not the way of His Kingdom! He told His disciples to “…render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s & to God the things that were God’s…” So, when the church quit making disciples her mission in the 1970s & made politics her Savior, she began to shrink in size & lost whatever “Moral Majority” she might have had. Simply put, we’re in a bad place! There’s only one thing to do! It’s what we always must do when we’re guilty of disobedience! Repent! Judgment must begin at the house of God!

Put Your Hope In God!

-The Uncertainties Of Life!

We live in a world so full of uncertainty that organizations have developed “uncertainty indices” to measure the uncertainty people feel over economic policies & geopolitical risk & government corruption! Seems like, whatever the uncertainty, someone has an index to measure it! We deal with escalated uncertainties, it seems every day. We all go through periods where we live with uncertainty over our jobs; and, therefore, our money. There’s uncertainty in many of our relationships; and, even our faith. About the time we feel good & certain about things, life just happens & throws a wrench in there to mess it all up.

-A Routine Doctor Visit!

All it takes is one routine doctor visit to uncover something unexpected about our health; and, that creates anxiety & uncertainty about what’s next. The one seemingly casual meeting, with your boss, can take you from feeling good about your job to look for a new one! Some of you have been blindsided by a fight or an event with your spouse that left you feeling very uncertain about where your relationship stood! Sometimes individuals feel so helpless & their uncertainty so unbearable that they feel like the only way out is to take their own lives. Our hearts ought to ache for anyone who feels so helpless that suicide is their response. Life is a precious gift from God to be cherished.

-Great Purpose In Life!

Victor Frankl was an Austrian psychotherapist who survived the ghastly holocaust at the Nazi’s Auschwitz concentration camp. Frankl’s wife, mother & brother were all murdered by the Nazi’s; and, he concluded, after observing those who survived & those who did not, that “…when there is a driving passion or a great purpose in life, the physical body is more likely to survive.”  He detected a strange phenomenon in those physically intolerable & life-suffocating concentration camps—survival did not appear to depend on the physical health of the inmates! Often, the young, the healthy & the strong would die while the old, frail & sickly would survive! He said that those who did survive had a common sense of purpose & hope for the future.

-A Book Of Lamentations!

If you’ve spent some time reading the Old Testament prophets, you’ve probably noticed a very short book, of 5 chapters in length, right smack dab between Jeremiah & Ezekiel called Lamentations. As you read it you get a sense of the hopelessness that Jeremiah & the Jewish people felt over their uncertain situation. They were under God’s judgment because of their sin! The nation of Babylon had attacked them, killed many of their people; and, taken the rest into captivity. They’d leveled the walls around the city of Jerusalem; and, burned the temple of God to the ground.

-God, My Portion!

Tradition says that Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations from a mountain that overlooked the city; where he wept & cried over the desolation. And, I find it significant that amid Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem; and, their punishment & their suffering, that we find a triumphant word of hope in chapter 3, verses 21-24, “Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.” It’s like Jeremiah suddenly reminds himself about God’s character; and, of God’s promise to Israel to return them to the Promised Land one day in the future. Twice he used the word “hope.” Unlike our finger-crossing kind of hope, this hope is a “confident expectation.” Jeremiah remained strong, with confident expectation, despite the suffering he endured!

Pure Religion!

-An Orphan’s Story!

I married the granddaughter of an orphan! When my wife’s grandfather was a young boy, his father died; and, his mother remarried.  Unfortunately, her new husband out NOT to be the kind of man she thought he was.  He held no regard for her children; and, when she died, he considered them disposable; and, had them removed from his home. My wife’s grandfather was a 14-year old boy when the authorities placed him in an orphanage where he was physically abused; until it was discovered and he was removed and placed in a foster-care home where he was loved & cared for. Eventually, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, married my wife’s grandmother & they established a Christian home together. A home that produced a legacy of faith with children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren who’ve grown up loving Jesus. What a great story, right! An “orphan’s story” with a happy ending!

-An Orphan Crisis!

Unfortunately, that’s the exception. There is an orphan crisis in our world! I was shocked to discover that there are more than 153 million orphans worldwide! That’s staggering! If orphans were a country, of their own, their population would rank 9th in the world, ahead of Russia! 100 million of them live or work on the streets. They survive by selling flowers or cigarettes, by watching cars; and, many sell their bodies, for sex, or engage in criminal activity. Many, of these street children, are subjected to abuse, neglect, exploitation; or, in extreme cases, are murdered by “death squads” paid by their governments to “clean up” the image of their cities.

-It’s Easy To Become Hard-Hearted!

So, why am I sharing all this with you? Why should you care? It’s so easy to become hardened to all the images, isn’t it? We’re bombarded with the infomercials! The sad faces. The sad music. The compelling stories. All meant to move us to reach into our wallets ad pay up! And, we can try and rationalize that so many of the agencies out there, who claim to be helping the orphan population, are just siphoning off huge amounts, from the giving, to support elaborate lifestyles for their big-name CEO’s. So, let me tell you why this is important to you! Because we can’t just ignore what God’s Word says about it! God has an opinion & we need to listen!

-Look After Orphans!

It’s a statement inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:27.  What was that? “PURE RELIGION” is looking after orphans & widows? Is James supporting a salvation of good deeds? No, he’s not! The book James authored dovetails quite nicely with Paul’s book to the Romans. James is NOT saying that your good deeds, like caring for orphans & widows, will result in salvation! Rather, that the result of genuine, saving faith, in Jesus—or, “pure religion” he calls it—is to love others! Like orphans, widows & the marginalized of society! God gives us a heart to love & serve them!