You’ve got more important things to do

I’m listening to 1 John 4 this morning, and it’s grieving me that so many Christians have so many bad things to say about other Christians.

This guy seems to think he’s got everything figured out, and he’s got nothing but disdain for people who don’t see it his way. This faction is convinced that other faction is going to be the death of Christianity in our time, unless everyone comes around to “our true doctrine.” One group has nothing but venom for Christians who tolerate sin; another group doesn’t seem to know anything that still counts as sin. Then there’s “Buy My Book” Guy with the big smile who just wants everyone to be happy and rich — like he is.

Some days you want to de-Friend half the people on Facebook. How do you know who to listen to? How do you decide who to ignore?

John confirms what we already suspect: We can’t believe everyone who claims to speak for God. If all these people speak for God, the Almighty is pretty seriously confused. John says there are many false prophets in the world, and we must test each one to see who comes from God.

John’s test has only two questions: (1) Does the person hold up Jesus as God in the flesh? and (2) Does he love other people?

For some people, that list is too short, but you have John’s permission to reject the teaching of anyone who fails either of those tests. A teacher who does not acknowledge that God’s Word became a human being, that person is not from God. (vv.2-3) Anyone who does not love others, that person does not know God, because God is love. (v.8)

The heart of Truth is that God became flesh and lived among us. Jesus showed us what it looks like to live God’s way, then he suffered, died, and rose from the grave so we can be transformed into that new kind of life. He commissioned us (1) to tell others the good news that God became one of us and (2) to follow his example by loving our neighbors the way he loved us.

Yes, you will want to agree on more points of doctrine if someone is going to help you start churches in San Francisco, Shiva, or Shariah, but you don’t have to put up with “Christian” teachers who don’t hold up the truth about Jesus or live out his self-sacrificing love.

Verse 5 says, “These people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them.”

You, on the other hand, belong to God. “You have already won your fight with these false teachers, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” (v.4)

And you’ve got more important things to do than waste time on their nonsense.

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God is holding off Judgment Day for *you*

sominexGod’s sense of humor: I’m listening to 2 Peter 3 this morning (“the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief …) and on the web page next to the passage is an ad for the new Left Behind movie (starring the world-famous actor Nicolas “Sominex” Cage).

Peter reminds us that “in the last days there will be scoffers who will laugh at the truth and do every evil thing they desire” — and it seems like we have been living in the last days for thousands of days now. However, Peter also says the Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, but is being patient for the sake of believers: “He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.”

We think of repentance as something lost people do, but in this passage Peter is telling the believers (us) that the Lord is being patient for our sake and giving us time to repent too. That’s because ‘repentance’ isn’t just about turning from our old sinful ways and turning to Christ for rescue. The Greek word is metanoeo, and it’s about the complete transformation of who we are — the narrow road journey that builds in us the character of Jesus and teaches us how to continue his mission in the world. It’s a revolutionary renewing of your mind that turns you into an agent of God’s shalom revolution in the world. (Related: What does it mean to ‘repent’?)

Peter’s point (in v.14) is for believers: “While you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to live a pure and blameless life and be at peace with God.” Only after Peter says that does he add that the Lord also is waiting so people have time to be saved.

Peter doubles down on his point about God holding off Judgment Day to give his people time to mature spiritually. He warns us about “ignorant and unstable” people who twist the Scripture and carry away unwary, immature Christians into error. Peter says, “I don’t want you to lose your own secure footing.”

I wouldn’t bother going to see a movie that lulls Christians into complacency with the false promise that they won’t have to endure the tribulation that is coming. I wouldn’t suggest you spend large amounts of time trying to sort out the specific sequence of events that lead to Judgment Day. I would suggest, “dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to live a pure and blameless life and be at peace with God … and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

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Are you starving for God’s justice?

God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for his justice; they will be completely satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)

People who are never starving or dying of thirst will be hard pressed to understand this verse. Those who heard Jesus speak the words, however, understood only too well. They very familiar with what Kenneth Bailey calls “unrelenting hunger and life-threatening thirst.”

Bailey says: “Each day, prompted by hunger and thirst, all people seek food and water, hoping to be satisfied. But for how long? A few hours later, the cravings return. This beatitude makes clear that the bless-ed are those whose drive for righteousness is as pervasive, all consuming and recurring as the daily yearning to satisfy hunger and thirst.”

Many religious people around the world believe righteousness “is no more than adherence to an ethical norm,” Bailey says. To that I would add that most American Christians have not been taught that “righteousness” and “justice” are the same side of the same coin.

Bailey points out that in the Bible, ‘righteousness’ often refers to God’s mighty acts of salvation. Mighty God acted on behalf of the weak and oppressed Hebrew children to rescue them from slavery. Today, God still does justice for people who cannot rescue themselves from captivity, who cannot ever be righteous in their own right. God gives us a new status — “declared righteous.” Bailey says living justly is our human response of gratitude for the verdict of righteousness God gives us as a free gift.

Bailey also notes that ‘righteousness’ in the Bible has nothing to do with “an absolute ideal ethical norm,” but instead is about relationship, and relationships make claims on our conduct: “The unspeakable gracious gift of acceptance in the presence of God requires the faithful to respond,” Bailey says. “The righteous person is the one who acts justly. Furthermore that justice/righteousness is not simply giving every man his due but includes showing mercy and compassion to the outcast, the oppressed, the weak, the orphan and the widow.”

Just as God helped us when we could not help ourselves, we are to help others in desperate need. The way God helped us experience profound life transformation becomes the model for us as we love our neighbors the way we love ourselves.

Bailey adds: “Jesus does not say, ‘Blessed are those who live righteously and maintain a righteous lifestyle.’ The statement presupposes that righteousness is something the faithful continuously strive after.”

Who among us has a passion for justice “as pervasive, all consuming and recurring as the daily yearning to satisfy hunger and thirst”?

And if we aren’t starving for God’s justice in the lives of our neighbors, should we be worried about our own relationship with the God who brought justice to our lives?

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Do you want God to pull this country back from the abyss?

God drove his people into exile because they had closed their ears to the cries of the poor and oppressed. The people were disgraced, and disaster befell their city. Nehemiah’s heart was broken when he heard the news and he begged God to restore the people:

“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands, even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.'” (Nehemiah 1:8-9 NLT’96)

But before Nehemiah asked “the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love” (v.5) to keep that promise of restoring his people and their city, Nehemiah confessed that the people — and even his own family — “have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, laws, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.” (v.7)

A generation of American Christians has been crying out for revival, for the Spirit of God to move among his people and bring the country to metanoeo. We are distressed that so many churches are in membership decline. We are worried about the chaos enveloping our society. A few of us are desperately praying for the Almighty to move in great power.

God will honor our prayer, as he honored Nehemiah’s, when we come to a point of heartbroken confession that we — even our own families — have sinned terribly, on at least these two counts:

– We are better Americans than we are Christians. We grew churches more concerned about membership than discipleship, and we drank deeply of a culture that values self-fulfillment over self-sacrifice. We have tried to serve two masters and failed to love the one who died to save us.

– We have not obeyed the Lord’s command to care for the poor. Politicians set out to expand their power by making the poor dependent on the government. One segment of Christianity abandoned the gospel of individual new birth for a false gospel of communal rebirth by government program. And because pursuing the American Dream requires our complete devotion, we turned our backs on the poor and oppressed.

The fall’s new TV shows should be enough to break a believer’s heart for this broken, confused nation. Even a glance at the evening news should provide a clue about the rage that simmers among our neglected neighbors.

Are you concerned about the decline of our churches? Do you want to see God move in power to keep this country out of the abyss? Then let us confess we have sinned terribly and return to obedience. Let us learn what it means to do justice and begin to love our neighbors the way we love ourselves.

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Five reasons to be confident about your salvation

If you keep following Jesus’ Way, you will reach your destination — the full, free, and forever life. 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 gives five reasons you can be completely confident of that: (1) the Lord can be trusted to keep his promise, (2) God is the one who makes you strong, (3) God himself protects you from the evil one, (4) God’s love for you is deeper than you understand, (5) the ability to endure is supplied by Christ himself.

But don’t miss the other crucial truth here. Those amazing promises bookend an emphasis on always practicing the commands we have been given. God’s promises are for his people, and his people are the ones who walk in his ways.

The passage is my prayer for you today: “But the Lord is faithful; he will make you strong and guard you from the evil one. And we are confident in the Lord that you are practicing the things we commanded you, and that you always will. May the Lord bring you into an ever deeper understanding of the love of God and the endurance that comes from Christ.”  (NLT’96)

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Too beautiful to be merely an accident

starry_night_skyListening to Psalm 19:1-4 this morning:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (NLT’96)

This past weekend, we stared in amazement at the night sky as we stood in the parking lot of Lakepoint State Park near Eufaula, Alabama. Away from Atlanta’s lights, we were mesmerized by the beauty and vastness of the starry firmament. The words of Psalm 19 cannot help but rise to your lips.

Paul tells us in Romans 1:19-20 that God eternal power and divine nature are plain to everyone, because God has made it plain through his creation. When it comes to giving God the respect he deserves, we are without excuse. Yet many who position themselves as scientists today go to great lengths to deny what is obvious to even the simplest soul: What we see around us is too beautiful to be merely an accident.

Hugh Ross, in The Creator and the Cosmos, lists 26 scientific evidences that the universe is too finely tuned to be an accident, and 33 evidences our solar system was designed specifically to support life. Even the Big Bang Theory (not the TV show, the scientific hypothesis) sounds awfully like the work of a Creator who took a formless void and created an entire universe.

If you’re inclined toward such things and haven’t read the book, it’s essential reading. If not, get out away from the lights on a starry night, and quote Psalm 19:1-4 as you gaze in wonder at the astronomical testimony to our amazing Creator!

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God will protect his treasure

This morning I’m listening to Zechariah 2.

The prophet reminds me that God punished his people for tolerating injustice and oppression. He exiled them to Babylon, until his glory was re-established among them. But now the time of exile was over and God was ready once again to defend his precious people.

“After a period of glory, the LORD Almighty sent me against the nations who oppressed you. For he said, ‘Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession. I will raise my fist to crush them, and their own slaves will plunder them.’ Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me.” (Zechariah 2:8-9 NLT’96)

You can understand this passage in terms of the fall of Babylon. You can hear the promise of Messiah, the one sent by the Almighty to “proclaim justice to the nations.” (Matthew 12:17-21)

But listen also for God’s heart about those who desire harm against the people of his First Covenant — and his New Testament people. Do you hear a warning for those who make themselves enemies of God’s people? Do you sense God’s judgment being meted out against our country today? Any people who tolerate injustice and oppression will find themselves crushed by God’s might.

The prophet delivers a word of warning from the LORD, but he also brings encouragement and hope:

“The LORD says, ‘Shout and rejoice, O Jerusalem, for I am coming to live among you. Many nations will join themselves to the LORD on that day, and they, too, will be my people. I will live among you, and you will know that the LORD Almighty sent me to you. The land of Judah will be the LORD’s inheritance in the holy land, and he will once again choose Jerusalem to be his own city. Be silent before the LORD, all humanity, for he is springing into action from his holy dwelling.'” (Zechariah 2:10-13 NLT’96)

The LORD springs into action to execute judgment, but he also rushes to live among his people and draw the nations to himself. God’s people are precious to him, his own inheritance in the world. If you are among them, you are his treasure.

Be silent before him, and watch in awe as he brings powerful oppressors to their knees. The Day of the Lord is not far away, nor is the coming of his New Jerusalem.

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