The Perfect Christmas

It’s that time of year when Christmas lights have gone up. Christmas music and shows are on virtually every radio and television station. The stores have ‘holiday’ sales galore to entice us through their doors and to spend our money. In this day of blended families the stress level goes out the roof as to who will go where and when for Christmas celebrations. Those dealing with physical illness in their families or a loss of a loved one during the past year wonder how they are going to get through, “The most wonderful time of year.”

We all search for that perfect Christmas experience but the reality is, it rarely happens because life continues to happen regardless of the season or day.

Before you label me a Scrooge please read on.

If the perfect Christmas is defined by our or the world’s circumstances, there has never been one. Not even the first one.

An ostracized, nine month pregnant couple named Mary and Joseph traveled over seventy miles on a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem because the government required it of them. They entered the town looking for a place for a woman in labor to stay. The only thing they could find was a dirty stable filled with animals and feed troughs. There is no mention of a midwife to help with the delivery, so a young couple alone and afraid delivered a newborn baby, wrapped him in the best rags they could find and placed him in a feed trough.

These are the circumstances of the first Christmas and yet that same night a star shined brightly over the place of His birth. Angels told shepherds there had been a king born and then all of heaven revealed itself as myriads of angels appeared and glorified the birth of this baby. Soon the stable was surrounded with onlookers filled with absolute amazement.

His name was Jesus, the Son of God. The Savior sent into the world to save us from our sin.

There may never be a ‘perfect’ Christmas for you and I if every circumstance has to fall into place perfectly. My heart goes out to those suffering, mourning, or displaced in this great big world we live in during this season. My family and I have been there and done that at various times in our lives. We are not foolish either. We know those times could and will come again.

If we are to have a perfect Christmas, we must look from heaven’s perspective. One not determined by the present circumstances but rather by the perfect will of God coming to pass. As Christians we celebrate a birth that literally changed the world. But not only that, we have the hope that this same King born that night is returning to once and for all fix all our difficult circumstances. A time when there will be no more death, disease, pain and sorrow.

From this perspective, every Christmas celebration is perfect.

May the true Spirit of the Christ of Christmas fill you with awe, wonder, and comfort this year.

The Christian and Radical Islam

We read a lot of opinions concerning how the Christian should respond to radical Islam whether it is Al-Qaeda, ISIS or any other extreme branch of the Islamic religion.

We know the teaching of Jesus is to love our enemies and pray for them. For some this means there should be no physical defense, retaliation or preventive measures taken against the evil we may face. But is this the proper understanding we should take from Jesus’ teaching?

The Kingdom of God is bigger than the Church. The Kingdom of God is all of the heavenlies and creation. It includes the universe we live in, the earth we reside upon, all the governments and people groups upon the earth. The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains. However, not everything is in submission to the Kingdom, but it is none-the-less under the sovereign rule of God.

To take on any doctrine or belief that says we should ‘accept’ evil without taking action against it is not one the Bible has ever espoused, if we understand the concept of Kingdom and the various entities God uses in it for His divine purposes.

The Church is called of God to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Love is to be our banner. We are to forgive those who commit evil against us. We are to repay evil with good and hopefully heap coals of conviction upon their heads so they will see the life of Christ in us. We are to pray for them so they will turn from their evil ways and come to know the one true God and His Son, the only Savior, Jesus.

The God-ordained governments of the world have a different mandate in the kingdom when it comes to evil. When evil endangers people, the governments have authority to defend and protect good people by any means necessary, including the sword. Speaking of governments, Paul says this…
Romans 13:4 (NASB95) 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

In other words, God never approves of evil running rampant upon the earth and never tells His people that they are not to stand against it and forcefully if necessary. But, it must be done through the ordained entities. The church as an entity in the kingdom is never to take up arms to kill or force our ‘religion’ on anyone. This is evil and the practice of radical Islamist.

However, righteous governments are ordained to do just this if necessary. I believe America was raised up of God to help restrain evil in the natural realm. She is ordained of God to keep evil at bay and we have done so in WWI and WWII. The question is has sin cost us this honor like Israel of old, who became even more wicked than the wicked nations around her?

I do not write this as a political statement. I write it as a plea to pray for this great nation to repent, turn back to God, and fulfill what I believe has been her founding purpose of God.

I am deeply grieved because the Church of Jesus Christ has allowed this country to fall into such a quagmire of liberalism and hypocrisy. Our motto has been “In God We Trust.” One of our most beloved songs says, “God shed His grace on thee.” Yet today every other religion is allowed to not just have place, but authoritative positions in our governments. The Bible, the Ten Commandments, prayer, all forms of Christian symbolism has been removed from our society.

Liberal and moderate Christians basically say what’s the big deal? We need to continue to be acceptable to everyone. But my question is, “At what cost?” Has our desire to stay relevant with our cultural changes caused us to become totally irrelevant to the purposes of God for us both as the American Church and a nation?

Has our salt lost its saltiness?

You may think that the last part of this blog has nothing to do with the first, but you’d be wrong. The reason we are in the mess we are in today is because both the Church and our nation have lost their militant purpose. The church has lost it in the realm of the spirit to win the lost at any cost. Our nation has lost it in its appointed role among the nations as a force against evil.

God have mercy upon us in the days ahead.

A False Assumption

To assume something is to believe we understand the situation before us and make choices and develop belief systems based upon our assumptions.
• We may assume something is correct based upon what someone has told us.
• We may assume something is right based upon majority acceptance of an idea.
• We may assume something is right because it may just feel right and/or logical to us.
• We may assume something is right because it appears to be working at the moment.

Assumptions are dangerous because they may or may not be based upon facts. In this scenario an assumption is the first step to deception.

The only way to stay clear of assumptions are to check the facts. The reason more people don’t is because we don’t want to offend the person who told us something in the first place. Experience has taught me to always check both sides of the story. When people become offended by my choosing to check facts rather than assume what I was told is the gospel truth…it always throws a red flag up for me.

Assumptions are made in multiple situations. It could be marriage conflict. It could be work conflict. It could be ministry conflict. It could be biblical doctrines. You name it, if you assume something to be true without checking the facts deception is probable and the enemy is sure to slither into the situation.

There is far too much assumption among God’s people that what they are being taught is gospel truth. Just because a popular preacher, teacher, or writer tells us something is right doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.

Some today are telling us the gospel should not be offensive to people and that we should avoid offending them in sharing it. If we genuinely love them we should not offend them by what we say.
…Many assume this to be true and yet nothing could be farther from the truth.

If speaking the truth in love is offensive, so be it.
• Yes, you are a sinner headed for eternal damnation.
• Yes, you must repent of your sin and accept Christ as your personal Savior to be born-again.
• Yes, only genuine born-again people go to heaven.
• Yes, Jesus is the only way to the one true God.
…No, this is not a self-discovery that you are already saved and may live any way you want and go to heaven.

If preaching the gospel is not supposed to be offensive than why did the early church suffer so in being bearers of the good news?
• Were they not kind enough in their presentation?
• Were they simply not educated enough to present the gospel properly?
• Were their messages not filled with enough worldly wisdom (fleshly teaching) of the age?
• Did they not smile enough in their delivery?
• Did they not mix the message with enough funny stories to make it palatable?
• Did they not dress hip enough or sophisticated enough to draw the respect of the listeners?
…Or was the message so radical in the face of false teachings and humanism that it actually spawned hatred in many?

It’s time the people of God became like the people of Berea!
Acts 17:10–11 (NASB95) 10 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Pastors Are Worth It

My desire is for every church member to consider this blog post concerning the pastor of your church. It is that time of year again when many churches are forming new budgets and pay packages for the coming new year. It is one of the most difficult times of the year for many pastors to go through.
• Will board members and church members fight over money, again?
• Will they give the pastor a raise to meet the needs of their family at this stage of their family’s life?
• Can they ask for a raise in salary or benefits without causing a firestorm of bickering between those who like the pastor and those who don’t?

Here is the deal, the overwhelming majority of pastors do not ask their supporters to buy them multi-million dollar jets, and housing allowances to live in east coast and west coast homes, or to be able buy the newest Rolls Royce. I personally have no real issue with men and women of God prospering, but I do believe there are major issues with churches that actually desire to keep their pastors poor and humble. There are more of these than the former.

I’ve been pastoring in the Appalachian region for 30 years now. Only once in all those years did I walk into a board meeting where they actually gave me a nice raise in salary and benefits. The other years I had to walk in and ask for raises and benefits to help with my growing family. Clothes and food never got cheaper in all those years. School expenses never lessened. And college, oh and college tuitions were never magically paid for. Should we get into health care and dental benefits? How about retirement?

God forbid something go wrong in the church after receiving one of these raises. It doesn’t take long for board members and church members to begin to whisper that we are paying him way too much. As a pastor you end up fighting painful battles just to survive or end up on the street because they can get someone cheaper. This is no more than what worldly companies do to increase profits by cutting cost.

Why do I write this? Because someone needs to speak up for faithful pastors who serve the kingdom no matter the pay or circumstances. Many pastors face spiritual bullies and tribal leaders of churches who control every aspect of the business of the church. There are also others on these boards that allow these bullies to run the show.

To these I say you need to stand up for your pastor, he or she is worth it. They deserve to have the needs of their families cared by their churches’ even if it’s in a sacrificial way. They are worth the fight you may have to put up to ensure they are blessed.

The apostle Paul said this in relationship to caring for your pastors…
1 Timothy 5:17–18 (NASB95) 17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

The Old Testament pattern is that the oxen working the field was not to be muzzled as it worked in the field. In other words, it was to be allowed to eat what it needed as it worked to keep up its strength. Paul applied this pattern to the New Testament caring for pastors.

When a pastor’s needs are not being well met, it weakens him or her. If he or she is weak and struggling the church will become weak and struggling because of the weakened state of its pastor(s).

If a man or woman is truly called of God they will sacrifice above and beyond to fulfill their ministry. Money is not the incentive to minister, but the laborer is well worth his or her wages.

Money has never been a consideration when it comes to ministry for me. We’ve had to eat government cheese in the early years. I’ve walked away from six figure pay packages to live on 1/5th of that because I would not compromise core belief’s I hold. I have never stopped ministering because of money and most likely your pastor won’t either.

…But it doesn’t change the fact the laborer is worthy of their wages. Do above and beyond for those who serve well.

May more churches be like River Church who go above and beyond to meet the needs of their pastor. God bless them!

Are You Ashamed?

Are the people of God ashamed of whom they are? Have we become ashamed of the very message that we have put our hope of eternity in? Have we allowed ourselves to be backed into a corner by those who are ashamed? I’m not talking about the blatant unbeliever. We should expect those folks to attack, even hate the message we have come to love. Jesus said we would be hated by the world because of His name. No big surprises there.

No, I’m talking about the ‘believer’ who is ashamed of the message that supposedly saved them. These are the folks who loudly proclaim we should not offend people with truth. These are the people who say religion is a private thing and has no place in society or government around us. These are the folks who do not believe it is their responsibility to share the good news.

These also seem to be the folks who want to be accepted by and most like the world around them and still be ‘saved’. Could it be they want to be saved but don’t want the transforming power of that salvation?

Paul was not ashamed of the message or the power of it to transform a person.
Romans 1:16 (NASB95) 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Here Paul points to the transforming power of the gospel to change a life into something different from it was. Those of us of the Pentecostal/Charismatic persuasion tend to apply this to signs, wonders, miracles and the release of spiritual gifts. And yet, this is not the context of Romans 1. The context is in the life changing power of the gospel to change everyone from sinner to saint. The ability imparted by the power of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our sin and sinful past.

This could very well be one of the litmus test of genuine salvation. Yes, I said litmus test. I know that is not popular in our day and time to question someone about their salvation. The immediate response is, “Don’t judge me!” and yet Jesus said we would know people by their fruits. One of those fruits is not being ashamed of the gospel, ever. Paul also said we are to examine ourselves and make sure we are in the faith. Why? Because if the fruit is not there, something may very well be amiss.

Paul warns us that we can take on a ‘form’ of godliness but not really be godly.
2 Timothy 3:5 (NASB95) 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.

Again, and purposely belaboring the point, denying the life changing power of the gospel is a denial of the gospel itself. No one can declare themselves a follower of Christ and continue in blatant, rebellious sin with no regard for holiness of life. At the same time the great love of God is shown in His willingness to accept us and change us when we come to Him in genuine faith and sincerity of heart.

Jesus accepts us as we are, but He will not allow us to stay that way. When this life-changing event begins to take place, no genuine believer can be ashamed of the gospel. We know it is the power of God to salvation. The power that makes us something we never were before.

No, God Didn’t!

God didn’t create us this way. No He didn’t! When God created mankind in the beginning man was innocent of sin and all it’s ugly fruit. There was no pride, no jealousy, no hatred, no lust, no anger, no murder, no disease, and no other evil thing in our heart.

Then deception came into the garden through the snake. The woman was deceived and fell into sin and Adam soon followed her in rebellion. Everything changed because the LORD had warned them that in the day they ate, they would die. And spiritually they did. All that was truly ‘good’ about them died. The image of God in which they were created was disfigured.

Mankind became sinful. He was not created this way.

This is the cardinal doctrine of original sin. Nothing else in the Bible makes sense when we take this critical teaching out of the fundamentals of our Christian faith. If God is holy, and He is, then to say He made us sinful is heretical at the least and near blasphemous at the worst.

The Old Testament spells out both sinful behavior and the absolute holiness of God. The law was given us to both define and expose sinful behavior in us and to reveal to us the original intent of man to be holy before Him. The penalty for this sin was again death, just as in the garden. Jesus then came and revealed even greater revelation in His teaching on an eternal afterlife that had either hell to pay or heaven to gain.

Only when a person repents of their sin and chooses to accept Jesus’ death burial and resurrection do they become born-again. At that moment they become new creations in Christ in their spirit man. The motivation to sin dies as it is crucified in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6) Temptation is still present. A wrestling with the remnants of our old flesh may still be there at times and we will have to deal with it. (Romans 7) However, obeying Jesus becomes priority and grace is always available to us if we are willing to confess sin and continually choose to put it away.

God did not make us prideful, arrogant, or rebellious people to His lordship over our lives. God did not make us power-hungry or money loving beasts. God did not make us lustful and perverted heterosexual, homosexual, or lesbian oriented people. Original sin did this to us. Only becoming truly born-again has the power to change us.

Yes, you and I were born with original sin dogging us. It may work its way out in our lives in different ways. After years of being in the ministry I have come to realize everyone has some type of slant to a particular sin that we must overcome through grace.

Just don’t blame the sinful leaning on God with the statement, “God made me this way.”

He didn’t.

From Compromise to Decadence

Few believers (or preachers) would go straight from solid biblical values to total decadent beliefs and behavior in a day. No, it takes a slow process of compromise that brings us to a place of believing or committing the unthinkable from a biblical standpoint.

Falling way is not an event, but rather a process of opening to compromise. It is best likened to a marriage where one partner or the other begins to be seduced by a slick tongued, buttery lipped, beauty (male or female) that promises life outside the covenant will be far better. The longer you listen, the longer you are willing to follow the deception, the closer to the precipice you go…until it’s too late.

Such is the slide we find in much of the American Church today.

There is a reason Jesus stated He would spew the lukewarm from his mouth. Lukewarm opens us up beyond the simple compromises of practice that we excuse as liberties to actually committing and agreeing with the unthinkable decadence of our day as being justified.

Let me be clear, the abominations of polytheism, abortion, and homosexuality have lured many once apparent solid believers and ministries into bed with them.
• Polytheism is more than just the worship of many gods, it is the belief that all roads lead to the one true God and no matter your belief you will be saved.
• Abortion is the sacrificial murder of the unborn at the altar of convenience.
• Homosexuality in all its forms is an act totally against the laws of nature itself that God has set up.

The secular arguments are seductive. What does it matter who we worship as long as we are acknowledging a god? It’s not really a baby until it draws its first breath and it is my body and I’ll do what I want with that blob of organs until then. It doesn’t matter what the Bible says about sex, I’ll do whatever makes me feel good with whoever makes me feel good.

However, no genuine Bible believing follower of Christ can honestly agree with any of these statements…but some are trying.

I’ve listened to and read many of the well-known Church leaders over the past three decades. At first, I too was seduced for a season by the seeker sensitive movement and yet early on I began to see the quality of disciples it was producing and quickly backed away. I saw it was producing a group of people who declared they were saved by grace and went to church for a pep talk on Sunday, but acted like and voted like the rest of the world the other six days a week.

Today, we see the results of that type of preaching in the leaders it has produced. With a deeply grieved spirit I have read and listened to national church leaders say they are ‘evolving’ in these areas of sin already mentioned. Don’t be deceived by these men and women! ‘Evolving’ is just a buzzword that says I’m already considering or accepted these sins are either acceptable or really aren’t sin any longer.

Why have many apparently once solid teachers and preachers gone the way of Balaam?
• They have become so ‘big’ they have become an authority unto themselves and believe they no longer answer to anyone or anything, including the authority of the scriptures.
• They have become drunk on success and have an unhealthy need to be loved and accepted by all, no matter what the ‘all’ want to hear.
• They have become a servant of the almighty dollar instead of the Almighty God. Jesus said you cannot serve two masters.
…They may have actually been false from the very start.

The warning is clear in scripture…
Isaiah 5:20 (NASB95) 20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

The step from compromise to decadence is shorter than you may think and the fall is much steeper than anticipated.

Paul said the wrath of God is stored up for two groups of people in these last days:
• Those who actually do such abominations.
Romans 1:18 (NASB95) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
• Those who agree with the abominations.
Romans 1:32 (NASB95) 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Those who have followed compromise into decadence need to immediately repent. Those who have followed and supported such men, women and ministries need to immediately stop idolizing and supporting them as well.