It’s Time For Some Radical, Crazy, End-Times Living

2743877537_2f5a3c7d02_o_Fotor

If you knew the world was about to end, what would you do? I mean, seriously, if you knew that it was all going down in just a few months, how would you live? I’d probably quit my job, sell all my stuff, and try to get really radical for Jesus. You know, maybe some street corner preaching, maybe some 30 days fasts, maybe some crazy mission trips. If I knew Jesus was coming back, I’d want to get down to business.

In recent years, there have been a slew of books published which encourage Christians to be more radical for Jesus. To have crazy love for Jesus, which leads us to do crazy awesome things for Jesus. To be world changers for Jesus. To do hard things. To push the Jesus envelope.

And while I’m all for being radical for Jesus, we need to think carefully about what being radical really means. Fortunately, it’s spelled out pretty clearly in scripture.

In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter tells his readers that the end is coming. He says that, “The end of all things is at hand…” He wants his readers to be ready for the return of Jesus. He doesn’t want them to be caught off-guard. After all, Peter was very familar with Jesus’ promise that he would come like a thief in the night, or like a master returning to his servants late at night. Peter wanted his readers to be living radically, because the end of all things was (and is) at hand. He wanted to awaken the sleepy and provoke the apathetic.

So what does Peter tell his readers to do?

…therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Dang son. That doesn’t sound too exciting. What about forming communes and doing crazy evangelism and fasting for weeks at a time? Where’s all that stuff?

It turns out that radical, passionate, end-times living, looks pretty ordinary. Being radical means being self-controlled and sober-minded. It means earnestly, zealously loving your fellow brothers and sisters. It means showing hospitality with a cheerful attituded. It means using the spiritual gifts God has given you to serve those around you.

The reality is, being radical for Jesus usually takes place in the context of your home, community, and local church. Is there a place for mission trips, long fasts, and hardcore evangelism? Of course. But if you want to be consistently radical, you need to be aware of what is taking place right around you. Who can you serve in your community? Who can you love in your church? How can you use your gifts to serve your fellow Christians?

If the world was going to end in a few months, I would want to throw myself even more zealously into the lives of those around me. And given the fact that, “The end of all things is at hand,” I should be radically involved in my home, community, and church every day.

The end is coming. Are you ready?

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter:


The Kind of Complaint That’s Pleasing To God

COMPLAIN

I recently had the privilege of speaking to a church in Wales on the topic of thankfulness.

My friend Pete, the pastor of the church told me it was good that I preached on being thankful because he said of the UK, “We’re a nation of professional moaners.” A UK citizen asked the following on Yahoo.Answers: “I’m British right, but I’m getting tired of people in this country moaning & complaining all the time. Why is that?” So maybe they do tend to moan and complain a lot.

But I would submit that all of us – not just Brits – have a tendency to grumble and complain. We regularly mutter things like, “It is way too hot today,” “I can’t believe I have to do this miserable job,” “This traffic is ridiculous,” “This is the most boring class in the universe,” …you get the idea. But we are especially tempted to complain and grumble when we go through hard times and suffering.

Yet Scripture tells us it’s a sin to complain. 1 CO 10:9-10 says:

“We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.”

And in Philippians 2:14 God commands:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing.

And Numbers 14 says that when we grumble it is against God:

“How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me.” NU 14:27

Think about it – when we grumble because it’s raining or too hot, we grumble against the one who creates the weather. When we grouse about our circumstances or pain, we do it against the sovereign, wise and infinitely loving One who designs even our hardships and afflictions for our ultimate good. Yet the Bible tells us there is an acceptable kind of “complaint.” Listen to David:

With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him. PS 142:1-2

David wrote this when he was hiding in a cave from Saul, who wanted to kill him. David certainly could have complained to the soldiers who were with him or grumbled to himself. “I can’t believe this madman’s trying to kill me after all I did for him. I can’t believe I have to hide in a cave. I rescued Israel from Goliath and the Philistines and this is the thanks I get.” But instead he turned to God. He cried out and pleaded for mercy. He poured out his “complaint” and told his troubles to God.

It’s ok – no, more than ok – it is good to pour out our struggles before God. We can tell him how hard things are, or how sad we feel. That we don’t understand. We can ask him why this is happening. We can tell him how much we’re hurting, which is what David did in Ps 38:2-8:

For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
My wounds stink and fester
because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

God didn’t say, “Buck up David and quit your bellyaching!” God was happy to hear David’s “complaint,” even though God knew full well that David was hurting. God knows every hair on our heads and every twinge of pain we feel. But God didn’t say “David, why are you telling me all this when I already know it?” He gladly heard David’s complaint, and God wants us to pour out our hearts to him. In 1 Peter 5:6-7 he says:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

When we cast our cares on God, we humble ourselves and honor God, by acknowledging our complete need of him and his power to change our situation. We also honor God by saying that despite our circumstances, we believe he is good and he cares for us.

So draw near to God in your affliction. Pour out your complaint before him. Cast your cares on him. Tell the Lord how much you need his help and power. He won’t despise your moans and groans, but will hear with compassion and sympathy and pour out his grace to help in time of need.

God Loves Me, Despite My Terrible Incompleteness

shack_Fotor

I recently read the following quote, which caught me like a sucker punch:

Wow. I needed that. Correction: I need that every day, again and again.

I’m constantly aware that I’m not the person I should be. I should pray more. Some people are prayer warriors. Not me. My prayer life is sporadic and spastic. Some days I’m kicking butt and taking names, praying with a fervency that surely makes the heavens tremble. Other days, I’m so tired all I can come up with is, “Lord, I really need help today.”

There is massive gap between the dad I want to be and the dad I am. I fight and struggle and strive to faithfully teach my kids the Bible. I fight against the impatience that constantly courses through me. But I’m aware of about a hundred ways I could be a better, more loving, more godly dad.

And don’t even get me started on evangelism. If a pastor preaches a message on the need to grow in evangelism, I’m down front, asking for prayer before the sermon even ends. I colossally suck at evangelism.

The gap between who I am and who I should be is large. Gaping. Unmissable. Unmistakable.

I tend to think that if I improve in certain areas, God will love me more. If I improve by 10% in the dad category, God will love me 10% more. If I can bump up my evangelism quota by 3%, God will bump up his love for me by 3%. More work on my part will result in more love on God’s part…or something like that.

Of course, this line of thinking then raises the following question: when will I ever be the person I should be?

When will I ever be the husband I should be? When will I ever sufficiently read God’s word and pray? When will I ever be the evangelist I’m supposed to be?

The answer is: never. Well, technically that’s not true. I will be the person I should be when Jesus returns and fully sanctifies me. When that happens, there will be no gap between the person I am and the person I should be.

But while I yet live, I will always be caught in the gap. Always falling short. Always failing. Striving yet stumbling. Fighting yet falling.

And yet, God loves me as I am, not as I should be. God’s love for me isn’t at 50%. It won’t slowly increase as I become more like the person I should be. Right now, God’s love for me is at 100%. The full, massive, delightful weight of God’s love rests upon me, and it’s not going anywhere.

I cannot make God love me any more. Let me beat that into my head again: I cannot make God love me anymore.

And so I will continue to run hard after Christ. I will continue to fight against my sin. But when Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, I will point to Jesus and say, “He is my righteousness! I’m not the person I should be, but Jesus was the person I should be!”

6 Critical Truths To Understand About Anger

fuse

The Bible has a lot to say about anger.

I don’t mean righteous anger, the kind of anger we can experience toward injustice or evil but sinful anger. Many times we may feel we are “righteous” in our anger, because someone wronged us. Anger often involves our sense of justice.  But it’s very easy to slide into sinful anger, hatred and bitterness. Here are some Biblical truths and principles that God has used to help me make progress in conquering my own sinful anger.

Anger is not caused by other people or our circumstances. It comes out of our own hearts.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. MT 15:19

No one else can make you angry. Circumstances don’t cause your anger. Anger is your own sin. David Powlison says our hearts are like sponges. If I squeeze a sponge and black ink comes out, it might seem that the squeezing caused black ink to come out. Yet I might squeeze another sponge and have clear water come out. So it was not the squeeze that caused the ink to come out, but ink came out because that was what was in the sponge. The squeeze merely revealed what was there in the first place. Other people and circumstances can “squeeze” our hearts and if anger comes out, it is because that’s what was in our heart.

Anger is caused by our own unfulfilled desires.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. JA 4:1-2

James says our own “passions” – cravings and desires – cause all our quarrels and fights. We desire and do not have so we murder, fight and quarrel. In other words, we want something and we don’t get it, so we get angry. Whenever you are angry ask yourself, “What is it that I want right now that I’m not getting?” Once I told my kids to go to bed and heard them wrestling and throwing things upstairs. When I went up I said, “You’re making me mad,” to which one replied, “But you have said no one else can make you mad.” I said, “You’re right. You are disobeying me, which tempts me (squeezes me), and it is my anger, my sin.” When I went downstairs I asked myself, “What do I want that I’m not getting?” My answer: I wanted to relax. I wanted kids who always perfectly and immediately obeyed. I wanted to watch TV not oversee bedtime.

Anger won’t make anyone do the right thing. 

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. JA 1:19-20

Many times we think anger will motivate others to do the “right” thing. Parents think anger will make their kids do the right thing, or act “righteously”. But anger won’t produce the righteousness of God. Anger might make kids outwardly obey, like little Pharisees, but it won’t change their hearts. Anger won’t produce inward righteousness in our spouse or coworkers. Anger does no good.

Anger toward another person is murder of the heart.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brotherc will be liable to judgment; whoever insultsd his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the helle of fire. MT 5:21-22

We tend to downplay the seriousness of anger. “I was just venting” or “letting off steam.” But Jesus said anger is murder of the heart and a violation of one of the 10 commandments. It can make us subject to the very hell of fire.

Anger makes things worse. 

A harsh word stirs up anger. PR 15.1

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife PR 15.18

Not only does anger fail to produce righteousness, it makes things worse. It stirs up anger in others. It stirs up strife. It has the opposite effect to what we are desiring.

Anger opens the door for Satan 

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. EPH 4:26-27

When we “let the sun go down on our anger” or fail to deal with it in a timely fashion, either by asking forgiveness, forgiving others, or working things out with them, it opens the door for Satan to tempt us to bitterness, revenge, slander and a host of other sins. Cain’s anger at Abel led him to kill his brother. Anger is serious. We must deal with it quickly.

These truths have helped me numerous times when I’ve been tempted to anger.  I’m not saying I’ve conquered it and I never sin in anger.  But by God’s grace, understanding these things have helped me make progress.  I hope you too will find God’s Word and Spirit will help you make progress in overcoming anger.

Sauron, Satan, and Evil’s Inability to Understand Good

eye_of_sauron

In his wonderful book, On the Shoulders of Hobbits, Lou Markos has some profound and beautiful things to say about the nature of good and evil. On portion that particularly stands out in my mind is in chapter 15, “Blinded by the Light” in which he exposes the inability of evil to stand before the light of good, or even to understand it. Markos masterfully unwraps the layers of this reality. First he quotes from Tolkien’s Return of the King in which Gandalf explains to Aragorn why Frodo and Sam have a hope of making it through Mordor to destroy the ring of power.

“That we would wish to cast him down and have no ne in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream.” (Hobbits, 168)

Markos goes to write on the profoundest truths of all of Tolkien’s works:13587295

“The reason Sauron has not guessed the true purpose of the Fellowship is not that he is a fool or even that he is prideful, but that he simply cannot conceive that someone would willingly forsake power. He is completely blind to the ways and motivations of goodness; such Light is too bright for his darkened eyes to fathom.” (Hobbits, 168)

Think on that for a moment, on the insight into the limitations of evil and the evil one. Sauron’s inability to recognize a good, noble, humble, and sacrificial motive was his undoing. He could not fathom anyone willingly giving up power or being willing to risk life and limb to do so, yet someone did, actually an entire fellowship did. In the end it was Sauron’s inability to recognize good that led to the undoing of evil in Middle Earth

When I read this all my readings of the gospels stood on their head. For so long I have read of Jesus life, death, and resurrection as one of victory. But I had read of it as a victory in battle, as if at the cross Satan was screaming in his best villain voice “NOOOOOOoooooooo!” as he wilted. I had seen it as mano a mano combat between Jesus and Satan with Jesus ultimately overthrowing him. This wasn’t necessarily a conscious mental depiction, but it was the sense I had. How wrong I was.

What Markos wrote showed me so clearly that the smartest thing Satan could have done to condemn the world to destruction was to keep Jesus alive. But, like Sauron, Satan is incapable of understanding humility, servanthood, and sacrifice. Humanity needed a perfect sacrifice to pay our debt to God, and, rather than keep that sacrifice off the cross, Satan was more than willing to put Him there. Satan’s currency and language are those of power and dominion; that’s why he sought to get Jesus to bow to him in the wilderness. He only understands pursuit of self-fulfillment and the conquest of self-glorification. Satan was so hell bent on destroying good that he didn’t realize that he was playing into God’s hands. By setting out to gain victory over Jesus by killing Him, Satan condemned himself.

God’s victory over Satan was one, not of epic struggle, but of the omniscient One putting a plan of salvation into place into which Satan fit as the perfect stooge because of his own incapacity for good. Satan, with his every effort to further defeat Jesus, ensured his own ruin – all as part of God’s plan. My own wonder at the wisdom of God is increased because of the places Lou Markos took me in these pages (and the rest of the book is equally as good).

A Great Question to Promote Humility and Thankfulness

5926_steve-surveying-the-land-from-kinnoull-hill copy

The Corinthian church had some pride issues. Many were “puffed up” and arrogant, even looking down on Paul who had delivered the gospel to them. Paul gave them a great reminder to help them stay humble. It’s a good one for us. As Paul asked the Corinthians a question, we can ask ourselves the same question. Here’s what he asked:

What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1 CO 4:7

What do you have that you did not receive?

Think about it. All we have – every single thing – is ultimately a gift from God. We didn’t earn it, we didn’t deserve it; God just blessed us with it.

You may say, “I have worked hard for all I have. I worked my way through college, paid for my own tuition, studied hard, and when I got a job I worked harder than anyone else to advance in my company. That’s how I have these things. I earned them.”

Oh yeah? I think you may be forgetting just a few small things. Like the fact that God placed you in this country where a good education is possible. God gave you your intelligence. If you were raised in a stable family it’s because God put you there. Your diligence is a gift from God. God’s blessing makes opportunities for businesses and individuals to make money. Your sound mind, your intelligence, your talents, your health, your education, your job, your income, your house, your car – you name it – if you have it, it is because you have received it.

And what about spiritual things? How is it that you know the gospel? Because somebody else told you. How do you know anything about God? Because you received it from somebody else. Why do you even have a Bible? Because others wrote down God’s word, preserved it, copied it, developed printing presses, published it, and eventually it wound up in your hands – as a gift. All our spiritual knowledge – anything and everything we know about God – all a gift. Our salvation, our adoption as sons, our spiritual gifts, our joy, our confidence, our hope, our experience of God’s love – ALL undeserved gifts and blessings from God.

What do you have that you did not receive? Answer: Nothing. All we have – every spiritual gift and every material blessing – we have received as undeserved blessings from God. This should humble us. This should make us exceedingly thankful. We should breathe thanksgiving to our heavenly Father all day long.

What do you have that you did not receive?

Could I End Up Selling Meth?

walter_white_twitter_Fotor

Unlike most of my friends, I did not rabidly watch every episode of “Breaking Bad” as soon as it aired. Only recently have I started making my way through the series, and I’m currently about halfway through season two (if you want to know, Walt just got his good diagnosis). Now, let me just say up front that this post is neither an endorsement of or condemnation of the show. If you watch the show or abstain from watching, that’s between you and the Lord. There is certainly some objectionable content in the show, given the fact that most of the show centers around meth.

One of the things that makes the show so brilliant, is how perfectly it captures a man’s slow descent into absolute destruction. As the show progresses, Walter White makes a series of small choices which have exponential consequences. One lie leads to another, bigger lie. One act of intimidation leads to another, bigger act of intimidation. A small act of violence leads to a much bigger act of violence. Almost every show contains a perfect, poignant moment, in which Walt is perched on the edge of decision. He can choose good or he can choose evil, and as time goes on he increasingly chooses evil.

As I watch the show, I can’t help but be reminded of Galatians 6:7-8, which says:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

I’ve been in various positions of church leadership for many years, and during those years, I’ve seen a lot of fantastic things. Kids saved. Marriages restored. Sinners rescued. There’s nothing better than seeing the power of God transform a life!

But I’ve also seen a lot of really terrible things. Marriages destroyed. Faith abandoned. Friendships destroyed.

In almost every case of a Christian committing massive sin, it didn’t start big. Big sin never starts big. The guy who cheated on his wife didn’t wake up one day and suddenly decide to commit adultery. It wasn’t like he woke up and said to himself, “Today is a good day for some wickedness.” Rather, it started with small, seemingly “innocent” compromises. Sitting together with the woman while eating lunch. Having extended conversations with the woman. A few semi-flirtatious emails. Beginning to text message the woman outside of work hours. Small acts of sowing to the flesh which, when added together, result in massive corruption.

The woman who ended up rejecting the church and walking away from Jesus, didn’t suddenly decide to go apostate. Rather, her apostasy was the result of a hundred small choices. Slowly abandoning the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. Gradually neglecting to fellowship with other Christians. Experimenting with pornography. Again, small acts of sowing to the flesh which then snowball into massive corruption.

I’m not writing this as some sort of scare tactic, like that show “Scared Straight”. Rather, I’m writing this as a sober reminder to myself and you. By the empowering of the Holy Spirit, who gives me all that I need to overcome temptation, I want to take sin very seriously. I want to flee big sins and little ones. I want to take evil seriously. I want to heed the warning of Hebrews 3:12-13, which says:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.