Welcome!

#YourLifeMatters

Isn’t that the message of Jesus Christ? You’d think it strange — even heretical — that a message purportedly from God Himself can be boiled down to a single, three-word phrase (and a hashtag, at that!), but why wouldn’t God’s message to us be something that anyone can grasp? No matter what the material world thinks or says about us, Jesus Christ’s life, teaching, death and resurrection are all based on the reality that to God, every one of us matters.

I hope these mini-messages — two minutes (give or take) to check where the Cross is in your life — will encourage you and help you draw closer to the Lord, yourself. Feel free to send in comments and if you’d like to get these via email, you can subscribe (scroll ‘way down to the bottom of this page to do that).

If you click on the “Sermons” tab, you’ll find some of the messages I’ve preached over the past few years. Please visit the “Books, etc.” tab, for some of the writing I’ve done (and links to order it online).

Contact me through this blog if you’d like me to speak at your church or group.

Grace and peace to you,

Drew

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NB: THE FIGHTING FORCES IN OUR LEGAL DEPARTMENT ADVISE that we need to point out that for the most part, Scripture cited in this blog is taken from the New King James Version, ©1982 Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Forget alligators!*

alligatorsIt’s hard, when you are up to your armpits in alligators, to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.

— sanitized ver. att. to Ronald Reagan

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one that betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”

Jesus said to him, “if I will that he wait till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

— John 21:20-22

In my earliest days as a Christian, I believed that it was incumbent on me to show how much disdain I had for certain things that are clearly forbidden in the Bible. I’ll spare you the laundry list, but it took some time for me to realize that that’s not what the walk with Christ is about. Jesus has a very clear and simple assignment for us.

Love one another and spread the Gospel.

That’s it. And being one of His followers is not demonstrated by declaring what you dislike.

In a way, I guess that’s to be expected of a newly-saved person: repudiating his or her past life and in so doing, trashing both their own previous actions and anyone else who thinks or acts that way. But as one matures, one realizes that being a Christian is about demonstrating and proclaiming a way to live — not discrediting the many ways not to live.

And in this world, you know you can find plenty of ways not to live; things that offend God because they’re forbidden in the Bible; things that are based in greed and the love of money or the desire to hate others. It becomes like that slot-machine game called “Whack-a-Gator” (“Whack-a-Mole”, only with alligators, not moles): you put a quarter in the slot and take a mallet; one alligator sticks its nose out of a hole and you whack it; then another appears, and you whack that; then a third comes out, and you belt it; then the first one comes back, and on and on.

Presently, the time runs out, the alligators never did stop appearing, you’re worn out from swinging that mallet and you’re also out a quarter.

So it is, with “sin-focused” Christianity. There is a never-ending stream of sins and other offences appearing; we whack one and another appears, and on and on. Whereas, in reality, our job — our swamp-draining assignment — is to spread the Gospel. We actually can’t afford to be distracted by alligators nipping at our hindquarters. We have to look forward and upward — not downward and behind ourselves at the alligators.

We concentrate on draining the swamp, and Jesus promises He’ll take care of the alligators. And what happens when we drain the swamp? The alligators die of exposure!


*Another in a series of re-runs this month, as I’m taking September off.

Calling on the Lord? Or name-dropping?*

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name and done many wonders in Your name?’

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'”

— Matthew 7:21-23

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t name-dropped at some point? When I did talk radio many years ago, I liked to relate some of the remarks guests made off the air, and I always got a charge out of the feeling that, in talking about meeting an important person, I was now important, too.

But let’s be real: if I ran into any of them today, I’d have to re-introduce myself and remind them how and when we met. If I tried to style myself as an “old buddy”, they’d probably cringe and wonder who this presumptuous twit was.

OK. Take that reaction and times it by several million, and you might get an idea of what Jesus was getting at. “If you’re going to drop My name,” He says, “we’d better know each other.”

There are so many wonderful miracles that we are able to do in Jesus’ Name. As I’ve written earlier this year (the “Applied Christianity” series earlier this month), with the Holy Spirit in us, we can heal the sick and bring positive change to people around us — and all over the world.

But at the root of this is the primary — if not sole — reason for Jesus’ coming to earth in the first place. We have to have a relationship with Jesus and the Father.

Trying to bypass Jesus to go straight to God, as some people believe they can do, is doomed from the start. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Nor is “In Jesus’ Name” some kind of magic incantation or mantra that serves as a catalyst to “make things happen”.

The words are one thing, but it’s the relationship that is the key. Look what happened in the early days when some guys tried to replicate the miracles the Holy Spirit was working through Paul:

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”

And there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?”

Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

— Acts 19:13-16

Nobody likes a name-dropper.

Do you notice, by the way, that the demon knew Jesus? They do: look at the way they would call Him out as the Son of God before Jesus was ready to be revealed. They also knew Paul, which shows that Paul had a truly intimate relationship with Jesus. But they can also recognize a phony.

“But wait a minute,” I hear you cry. “Isn’t casting out demons or healing the sick part of God’s will? Why would Jesus call that ‘practicing lawlessness’?”

Because (as I read it), if you attempt to cast out demons or lay hands on the sick without having that relationship, you’re trying to do it in your own strength and you’re only promoting yourself as a miracle worker. If you’re invoking the name of Jesus, that just makes it worse, as now, you’re drawing attention to yourself as a Great Person Of God.

That’s Pride — which is lawlessness.

Praise God, He has made it fairly easy to establish that relationship with Jesus: we can draw near to Him — and He wants us to — through His word, and even through the conversation of prayer: not just talking to Him, but taking time to listen.

Through that, we build our relationship. We can say, “Lord, Lord,” and Jesus will say, “Hi – I know you, good and faithful servant!”


*Another “re-run” of my favorites over the past year, while I take September off.

“According to your faith …”*

When Jesus departed from [the house where He had brought Jairus’ daughter back to life], two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”

Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.”

And their eyes were opened.

— Matthew 9:27-30

My copy of the New King James Version breaks Scripture into sections according to themes. For example, the account of Jairus’ daughter I mentioned yesterday (Matt. 9:16-26) is headed “A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed”, and then there’s another break, with the heading “Two Blind Men Healed”.

It’s convenient if you’re looking for a particular account, but there is a problem with that, in that you might think of these sections as separate and disconnected. So sometimes, you need to push past the section dividers or sub-headings and read the Gospels as a single, contiguous work. As Kenneth Copeland says, “The words are anointed but the numbers aren’t.”

That little nugget jumped out at me this morning, and you’re welcome to it. The thing is, if we look at the incident with the blind men in the context of what just happened with Jairus’ daughter, you start to get some insight into how faith works. See, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t have “faith as a mustard-seed”; the problem is with doubt. A mustard seed may be tiny with the potential to grow into an enormous tree, but that growth happens over time: the rooting, the sprouting and the various stages that eventually become that big tree.

In the same way, our faith follows that same metamorphosis. We believe a little; God shows us a little. We believe a little more; God shows us a little more. And so it goes. The blind men were probably mired in the swamp of doubt that can overwhelm and smother those little seeds of faith: “We’re blind! We’ll always be blind! There’s no hope! We’re not even worthy of receiving our sight!”

But then, they hear about Jesus and that little seed starts to find some good ground. They find out where He is and make their way to Jairus’ house. They hear the mourners and learn that the little girl has died but that that lunatic from Galilee is in there, saying she’s “just sleeping”. And then the little girl gets up and walks around — and that news turns that sprouting seed into a tree. They call out to Him. The tree grows bigger. Jesus turns to them. The tree gets bigger still. By the time Jesus asks them if they believe He can heal them, we have a fully-blooming tree.

And notice that Jesus doesn’t command them: He knows their level of faith. All He needs to do is get them to proclaim it themselves.

If you need help turning that mustard seed into a tree, look for the testimonies. The Gospels are full of them. Notice that I don’t refer to these as “stories” but “accounts”. “Stories” suggest that these are (as Peter puts it) “cunningly devised fables”. The accounts of these incidents:

  • healing the centurion’s servant
  • bringing Jairus’ daughter back to life
  • giving sight to the two blind men and the man who had been born blind
  • the woman with the “issue of blood” (essentially, a period that had lasted twelve years)
  • Peter’s mother-in-law
  • feeding thousands with just a few loaves and fish

… and, to show that this was not just Jesus’ work but that of anyone operating in the Holy Spirit, you can add

  • Peter and John calling on the lame man to walk and
  • Paul reviving the young man who had fallen to his death off a balcony when he nodded off during one of his sermons

… all of these are there to help nurture your own seed.

Look around for others through the centuries who (like me) can tell you about healing and miraculous turnarounds through Christ. You probably have your own miracles to remind yourself about.

That tree will grow and “according to your faith”, you’ll be unstoppable!


*Another favorite from the past year, while I take the month of September off.

“Enough” faith?*

In the movie, “Leap of Faith”, Steve Martin plays a traveling preacher who, I understand, worked a con in small towns he’d visit with his road show, performing healing miracles.

Leap-of-Faith-DI

(As often happens with a movie that stars a comedian, I assumed it would be a comedy, and spent much of the time waiting for the laughs to start. They didn’t. It was a serious movie with a serious subject, and I must watch it again sometime.)

At one point, Debra Winger, who plays one of Steve’s assistants, tells him that her little brother had been told that he wasn’t healed after people prayed over him because he “didn’t have enough faith”. The sense that people in the church were blaming him for being sick turned her off religion.

I know from experience – my own and watching others’ – that one can be healed of sickness; but many people aren’t, and the question is, Why? Do they not have “enough faith”?

Doesn’t Jesus tell us that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed and do not doubt, you can move a mountain. Healing sickness, therefore, would be a piece of cake. So yes: you can have enough faith to be healed – or to overcome addiction, stay true to your spouse, get a handle on your finances, or anything else that requires God’s help (like, everything) – but you still have to guard against doubt.

And behold, one  of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name.  And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies  at the point of death. Come lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed and she may live.” … Some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”

And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James and John, the brother of James.

Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep?> The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. Then He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talisha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you: Arise!”

Immediately, the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement.

— Mark 5:22-23; 35-42

Jesus certainly had “enough faith” and Jairus had enough faith to go to the Master for help. But the fly in the ointment was the people who were mourning the death of the child. The presence of doubt would have subverted any work of the Holy Spirit. So Jesus took His closest associates – Peter, James and John – plus Jairus and his wife, and I have an image of Him frog-marching everybody else out of the house. He could not allow the faith of the people with Him to be polluted by doubt.

It’s a bit like the story of Hezekiah’s army, facing the Rabshakeh sent by the King of Assyria. Faced with his paint-peeling rant, the army obeyed their king’s orders: “Answer him not.” (Isaiah 36:21)

Some years ago, I lost my job at age 47 — a time of life when prospects are limited. The Lord, in His mercy, placed people around me who supported my faith that I would bounce back, and I was able to turn to them at times when others — some of them my nearest and dearest — were doubting. Spoiler alert: I did bounce back. And more.

So can you.

If you’re faced with one of those faith tests, that spiritual gut-check time when you need a miracle to get you through something, don’t let doubt come anywhere near — and show it the door if it shows up. It’s inevitable that people – even well-meaning people – will try to “make you see reason” or “temper” your expectations. That’s doubt. Don’t even bother answering it: just quietly, and respectfully, set yourself apart and don’t abide that kind of talk until the miracle comes through.


*Another of my favorites from the past year, as I’m taking September off.

Vengeance and the severed ear*

When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”

And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.

— Luke 22:49-51

It seemed like a good idea at the time: Jesus is about to be arrested and Peter (the other Gospels mention Peter by name in this one) determines he’ll defend the Master and go down swinging. It’s a natural reaction for us to fight back at someone who attacks us or attacks our faith, and we could have every justification in the world for going on the offensive like that.

peter malchusBut ultimately, it doesn’t work, and Peter’s effort is a great illustration.

For one thing, Peter went after the wrong target. He attacked the servant of the high priest. That poor guy didn’t have anything to do with the decision to arrest: he was just following orders and as a servant to a priest (I may be stretching things here), he probably wouldn’t have been the tough guy who would actually be grabbing Jesus and putting Him in chains.

The other thing is, Peter missed. When he swung the sword, he only got the ear.

So when we attack someone who attacks us, we’re really going after the wrong enemy. Their actions — and more importantly, our interpretation of their actions — are guided by two things: a sincere belief that what they’re doing is the right thing; and a spiritual force beyond their control. That force could be God or it could be Satan — as Bob Dylan says, “You gotta serve somebody” — and because we always look at right and wrong in terms of our own opinion, the work of the one could look like the work of the other.

That’s why God says, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense …” (Deuteronomy 32:35).

When we go after vengeance on our own, that usually means we get to have things our way and we punish whoever was stopping us.

But I believe that when God handles the vengeance part of it, everything works out to His satisfaction. Our hurt is healed, and (and this is important) our attacker has an experience that brings him or her closer to God. Look at the rest of that verse from Deuteronomy: “… their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them.”

In other words, don’t worry if you’re attacked: stick with God and He will bring you through and your tormentors will get theirs, sooner or later.

Now, here’s the kicker: look what Jesus did. Let’s assume for a moment that Malchus, the high priest’s servant (John names him), was totally sold-out to the idea that Jesus had to be arrested and crucified. So let’s change the narrative to say that he’s not just the “good servant”, he’s a willing party.

Malchus’ ear is cut off. Jesus rebukes Peter, and then heals the ear.

Do we do that with our enemies? Do we ask Jesus to touch them? Do we try to heal any wound we’ve inflicted in retaliation?

For that matter, do we consider God’s Word, as Jesus did when He said, “Permit even this,” and place that above our worldly concepts of right and wrong?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that in the majority of cases, when someone takes revenge in the name of “justice”, the score is never really “settled”. For one thing, the attacker still believes he or she was in the right, so now feels entitled to get revenge against you.

God’s Word says, basically, “Forgive. Learn. Move on. Leave the rest to Me.” So when we leave vengeance to God, we find that He does a much better job of it than we could ever do.


*Another favorite from the past year, while I take September off.

That Name …*

Today, I went to pray and began, as I pretty much always do, with “Father, I come before you in Jesus’ Name …”

And something inside me caught me and said, “Isn’t that like a ritual, or a mantra?” In other words, is “In Jesus’ Name” a set of magic words like “Abracadabra”, or a meaningless, boilerplate repetition?

It shouldn’t be. But why isn’t it? Because those words remind us of something very important.

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

— John 14:6

The only way we can approach God is through Jesus. Saying “in Jesus’ Name” humbles us by conceding that we, ourselves, do not have a direct line to God. If we are going to approach Him, we have to begin by acknowledging that Jesus is our Savior and the only “line” to God that’s available.

There are those who believe in God but not in Jesus: they figure they don’t need Him to reach God or, presumably, for Salvation, either. They cast themselves as being higher than those who do acknowledge Jesus as Savior. There are others who preach that there are “many ways to the top of the mountain”. Jesus is the only One who actually says, “I (and only I) am The Way, The Truth and The Life”.

Sure, there are some words and phrases people use when praying. When I’m about to preach (or am wrapping up a sermon), I’ll often pray that the “words will go out as seeds and find fertile ground”; another preacher often talks of “the fleshy tablets of our hearts” and another can’t get through a prayer without using the word “afresh”. More often than not, these are ways people have to “get in the groove” and set their minds towards God. Sometimes, such phrases might be classified as the “vain repetitions” that Jesus warns about “for [the heathens] think they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7), but that’s their issue — not ours.

But “in Jesus’ Name” is not a ritual, a mantra or a vain repetition. It’s a reminder that we are all Christ’s: He is in us and we are in Him (John 17:23 & 26); and there’s something else to bear in mind:

“And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

— Mark 16:17-18

sermon-on-the-mountIn Jesus’ Name, we have power and authority over a whole lot of things that would crush us, mentally or physically, in the natural world. We are protected and pro-active to overcome the enemy and serve the Lord by serving others.

That’s part of the Name. So making sure we acknowledge that name when we ask The Big Sir for something? You betcha!


*Another of my favorites from the past year, as I’m taking a little break.

Keep Your Eye on the Guy*

Yesterday, we were talking about Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, and how people who stand on the Word of God sometimes feel like we’re threatened with some kind of fiery furnace if we don’t suppress that faith — if not renounce it altogether.

shadrach-meshach-abednego

The fiery furnace may not be some kind of spectacular martyrdom, but could take the form of:

  • subtle digs by co-workers of the sort that would land one in front of an HR panel if they aimed at anyone else;
  • a lawsuit from an interest group;
  • possible shunning in the job market.

When we feel like that’s happening, we need to remember that there is always one more Person in that fire with us. God rewarded Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego by sending Jesus to pull them through that ordeal. We have to focus not on the heat of the fire, the vindictiveness of our enemies or how unjust the world is (especially considering how “minor” we think our “offense” is); our sole focus must be on Jesus.

Indeed, as we go through that fire unscathed, we can’t even look at the reaction of the people watching, either while we’re in the furnace or when we come out. The hotter the fire, the more unjust the circumstances, the more we have to focus on Jesus, knowing that He’s gone through a lot worse for our sake (John 15:18).

It’s another example of focusing on Him rather than the situation.

Now in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I: do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

And He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

— Matthew 14:25-31

peter-walks-on-waterYou’ve probably heard the teaching on that passage: Peter walked on the water — overcame the situation — just fine, until he took his eyes off Jesus and put them back on the situation. (One day, I should sit down and list all the Old Testament incidents that have analogues in the New Testament.)

Remember what Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego said, that got them on the fast-track to the furnace:

” … our God who we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

— Daniel 3:17-18

“But if not …” Selah.

Notice, by the way, that even though they were defiant in their stance regarding the golden idol, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego never allowed themselves to be disrespectful to Nebuchadnezzar. As Paul and Peter call us to do, they respected the king’s worldly authority and position without backing off their faithfulness to God.

So when you feel things getting hotter, remember what Jesus said about the people who draw attention to how religious they are. Remember that Jesus says, “your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.” So don’t react the way the world would expect you to react. Don’t complain about the pain — don’t kvetch that your freedom of speech is being curtailed or that the world is out to get you. Leave that for those poor unfortunates who don’t have Jesus walking beside them.

And know, too, that you’re not the only one in the fiery furnace. People the world over are facing the same thing, just for declaring Jesus as Lord. Pray for them; they’re praying for you.

Talk of “post-Christian” times is actually a good thing: it makes us re-examine our faith — what we believe and why we believe it. I don’t know about you, but every time I do that, my faith walks out of that fire, stronger than before.


*Another of my favorites from the past year.

The Fourth Man In*

flamanfightThis is continuing the “hockey analogy” theme in the title of this blog. In hockey, being the third man in a fight gets you thrown out of the game — it’s not fair (duh) and makes it harder for the linesmen to restore order (double duh). But in our walk, it’s considerably different.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”

They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”

“Look!” he answered. “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire ….”

— Daniel 3:24-25

The three men, of course, are Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, Daniel’s three friends who refused to bow down to the golden idol Nebuchadnezzar had built for himself. As punishment, Neb-etc. has them tied up and cast into a fiery furnace — one that’s heated up to seven times the usual temperature and so hot that the soldiers who got too close were burned up.

There are those who say we’re now living in a “post-Christian” era: that the world has fallen far away from God, and those of us who still cling to Jesus Christ find ourselves on the outside, vilified, ignored or discredited.

I’m not talking about what happens when someone talks about the Bible’s references to sin. Even standing on one’s faith can get you shunned by others in the world. A couple of months ago, when I wrote about the link between atheism and populism, an online troll tried to take a shot at my statement that the premise of that article had come from the Lord. How did I know that I didn’t think of it myself, this person asked? A simple, two-fold response: (1) I’m not that smart and (2) it came during a time of Bible reading and prayer — who else could I have heard it from?

Giving God praise for anything can bring snarky responses. One friend asked me how I was going to tell some people about a difficult decision I had made. When I said, “I’m going to have to give this one to God,” she got positively hostile. “You’re a good person,” she said. I’m not sure what her point was.

When I shared with another friend about how “wisdom from above” played a key role in the success of something, her response was “benignly muted” — which, in fact, was pointedly not “benign”. A friend of mine told me of a time he gave God praise for healing his daughter, and a doctor laid an attack on him that I think surprised them both.

The temptation, in order to conform to the world, is to bury the idea of God helping or communicating with us. This may be convenient for us, but it also buries the message that God is standing by, wanting to help us — calling to us to call on him, in fact.

We are, indeed, cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to renounce our faith. The ruler of this world is trying to crank it up to “MAX x 7”, to get rid of us once and for all — and make an example to anyone else who wants to stand on the Word of God.

So we have to remember: there’s one more Person in the furnace with us.

shadrach-meshach-abednego

And just as it is with the principle behind the “third man in” penalty in hockey, it gives an unfair advantage — as Graham Cooke says, “one person, plus God, is always the majority”. Because

Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire … on whose bodies the fire had no power: the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected and the smell of fire was not on them.

Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him …!”

— Daniel 3:26-28

So let’s take courage as we go into this fire, knowing that, not only do we have God in there with us, making sure we don’t get touched by the heat and flames, but that others will see our faith and will bless God, as the great Nebuchadnezzar did.


*Another favorite of mine from the past year.

Applied Christianity-6: Principles in Life*

I admit it: there are some books in the Bible that make me furrow my brow from time to time. Like, 66 of them.

One that has made me wonder what it’s doing in there is Paul’s epistle to Philemon.

You can read it here, and you’ll see that it’s not so much an epistle as a post card, and here is the Drew’s Notes version:

  • Paul, writing from prison in Rome, greets Philemon, a leader in the Colossian Church
  • Paul talks about Onesimus, a former slave of Philemon’s who, for reasons unknown, parted company with Philemon, but was then led to Paul
  • Paul explains that Onesimus, whose name means “useful” but who had been anything but with Philemon, has become very “onesimus” to him (Paul)
  • Therefore, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, giving his personal guarantee of his new character and pledging to make good, personally, for any damage O. might do if he’s wrong about the character
  • Greetings from all the gang in Rome; love to all, etc. etc.

OK. But what the heck is it doing in the Bible alongside Genesis, Romans, Hebrews, the Prophets and the Gospels (not to mention Revelation)?

Thanks to the Internet and a really skookum study Bible, I found some backstory, and I suddenly realized that this letter is an example of Applied Christianity in everyday life.

See, it turns out that Onesimus is the one who went to the different churches after Paul was martyred and collected his epistles. He was grateful and in awe over his own conversion to Christ and the way that it turned his life around, and he wanted to make sure Paul’s letters were preserved. So to an extent, he included this one to Philemon as his own testimony: “Christ turned this useless servant around and made him useful — He can do it for you!”

But we’re about to see the difference between the world’s point of view and Applied Christianity, because Paul would have been totally justified in keeping Onesimus as his own servant. After all, Onesimus came to him, he cleaned him up and ministered Christ to him. The epistle could have read,

“Phil,

“Just wanted to bring you up to speed on Onesimus. I talked to him. He gets it now. He said the sinner’s prayer, and he’s going to be a big help to me. Thought you’d like to know.

“Love to all,

“P.”

But that’s not how Applied Christianity works. God is a God of order, and Paul himself tells us we have to obey authority, regardless of whether we personally agree with it. He even writes to the Colossians:

Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.

— Col. 3:22

The fact was, whether he had been fired or had escaped, Onesimus was still Philemon’s bondservant, and going against that “order” would have violated Paul’s own directive. What’s more, Onesimus would still have had an albatross around his neck, that even though he was now a good servant to Paul, he had failed in his service to Philemon. “Newness in Christ” means you get to get rid of the albatross. Taking Onesimus back gave Philemon the opportunity to show that he could display grace and maybe address his own shortcomings as a boss.

Now, if you listen to local Christian radio, you’ll likely hear commercials from some businessperson that includes the phrase, “and Denise brings her Christian principles to her business.” (If she’s a mortgage lender, does that mean she doesn’t charge interest if you bring a Bible, have a chrome-plated fish on your car or wear a Cross around your neck?) But Philemon gives us an idea of what Christian principles truly are and how to apply them to even the most mundane situation that we face.

And consider this: Paul’s endorsement of Onesimus led Onesimus to gather Paul’s epistles, which continue to guide us in our Christian walk, 2,000 years on. Without those letters, where would we be now?


*Another of my favorites from the past year, since I’ll be away for much of September.

Applied Christianity-5: The Light that Shines the Furthest …*

God stands in the congregation of the mighty;

He judges among the gods.

— Psalm 82:1

You can read the verb, “stands”, in two ways: one is that He is already standing, the other describes the action of Him rising to His feet. I prefer the latter in this case, largely because I always envision God as sitting on a throne, and if He gets up, we really have to take note.

So what would motivate God to rise to His feet? Read on.

How long will you judge unjustly,

And show partiality to the wicked?

Selah.

— v.2

Are you talkin’ to me?

Defend the poor and fatherless;

Do justice to the afflicted and needy.

Deliver the poor and needy;

Free them from the hand of the wicked.

— vv. 3-4

But …

I said, “You are gods [mighty ones],

and all of you are children of the Most High.”

— v. 6

“Gods”? “Mighty ones”?

This is the root of “Applied Christianity”. The Holy Spirit that Jesus sent after He had risen to Heaven makes us “mighty ones”. He (the Holy Spirit is a Person, and is identified as “He” throughout Scripture) gives us not only authority over the natural realm* but also the motivation to step forward in the first place and the strength to see whatever assignment we are given right through to the end.

The assignment can be something spectacular, like healing; but we have to remember that our overall purpose is to effect positive change in the world and in the people around us. That starts in our own backyard, and I believe that the situation that causes God to rise to His feet and say, “Now hear this!”, is that we tend to ignore our own backyard.

You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria and to the end of the earth.

— Acts 1:8

Those are Jesus’ last spoken words to us on earth, before He ascended to Heaven, so as a “parting shot”, they carry particular weight. He gives us the assignment to be His witnesses, and since there are no “accidents” or “throwaway lines” in the Word of God, let’s take note at the “order of operations”:

  1. Jerusalem (the home church)
  2. Judea (the immediate area)
  3. Samaria
  4. Rest of the earth

And here’s the rub: “Samaria” is our own backyard. It was a land of outcasts, with people of mixed ethnicity, worshipping strange gods and generally regarded as “unclean”. Yet Jesus went out of His way to visit Samaria and many people came to know Him as a result.

Today’s “Samaria” is Skid Row: Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, New York’s Bowery, East LA and Watts, King’s Cross in Sydney, and anywhere the “good folk” tend to steer clear of because the people are sketchy and the whole vibe makes you want to take a shower.

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Vancouver’s Downtown East Side

Places like these need witnesses to Christ. Yes, there are organizations that provide services, but the assignment we get from God is to get in there ourselves, whether part of an organization or separately. Hope in Christ is the main thing that the urban poor need as they struggle against drugs, homelessness, poverty, chronic illness and, indeed, the “judgment” of the “good people” living just a few blocks away.Let the Holy Spirit lead and strengthen you, because you may be exactly the person someone needs to meet.

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New York has The Bowery — served since 1879 by the Bowery Mission

You don’t have to be a professional, like a social worker or a doctor. Just pray for strength and motivation on those days when you don’t feel like going (I served on the Downtown East Side for a decade, and you better believe there were days when I would rather have stayed home with a beer and a ballgame and the cat on my lap) and be prepared to exercise the power and authority you now have. You’ll be surprised at the positive response you get — and as I’ve said before, you never know: that word from you, that gesture, that time of just sitting with someone and Being There, could be just the thing someone needs to see a light in their own darkness and start back on the road to newness.

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You’ll even find the poor, homeless — and occasionally remarkably resourceful — not far away from the tourist resorts on Maui.

Consider this: does your church do outreach in your own local Samaria, or is there a lot of focus on overseas ministries and missions? While we can easily be moved by images of human misery in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Jesus’ directive to us is that we need to tend to our own backyard before turning our attention there. It’s not “someone else’s job”: our Samarias need Christ and that is our job.

This isn’t to dismiss overseas missions, but if the primary focus becomes our own backyard, I believe our work “to the end of the earth” will be even more effective.

To bring us back to Psalm 82: are we, who are now made into mighty persons by the Holy Spirit, exercising that Authority to defend the poor and fatherless, do justice to the afflicted and needy, deliver the poor and needy and free them from the hand of the wicked? Or are we “showing partiality” to others?

Remember the words of the Canadian evangelist, Oswald Smith:

The light that shines the furthest burns brightest at home.

 


*Another of my favorite entries over the past year, since I’m away for much of September.
**I’m not making the claim that the Holy Spirit has made us “mini-Gods” on earth: consider what He says in Verse 7: “you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes”. All of our Holy Spirit authority is still subject to God’s will; however, His word makes it very clear what His will is — and what it is not.