Brave New World

a man holding an open Bible in a crowd

Acts 4:32-37 (ESV) 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

This passage of Scripture is, perhaps, the most threatening in the whole of the New Testament. Over the years, I have heard innumerable Pastors and Evangelists manipulate or even desecrate God’s message contained in these few verses. And I understand why. They appear to fly in the face of Capitalism and they most certainly cut the legs out from under any leader in God’s kingdom that has set their heart upon constructing a magnificent edifice (building).

I’ve been praying to understand what God is doing in the world today and I think I see three things. I’ll save the best for last.

One

Christians were first, and horribly, targeted for persecution as a group by the emperor Nero in 64 AD. A colossal fire broke out at Rome, and destroyed much of the city. Rumours abounded that Nero himself was responsible. He certainly took advantage of the resulting devastation of the city, building a lavish private palace on part of the site of the fire.

Perhaps to divert attention from the rumours, Nero ordered that Christians should be rounded up and killed. Some were torn apart by dogs, others burnt alive as human torches. Over the next hundred years or so, Christians were sporadically persecuted. It was not until the mid-third century that emperors initiated intensive persecutions.

From a BBC article by Dr Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe titled Christianity and the Roman Empire

Note that the date is 64 AD. This persecution occurred after Acts, chapter four. What God did for the early Church, He has repeatedly done for the Church down through the ages. He gives times of rest and refreshing and then He leads the Church into battles where many die a martyr’s death – the greatest growth is during the battles.

Therefore, my first point is that God gave the Western Church a respite but we turned it into a lifestyle.

Two

No doubt, for the early Church, it was from the wealth of the members selling their possessions that funding for the great dispersement provided. This dispersement was triggered by the stoning of Stephen. We find this in Acts 8:1, And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 

There are no times when we can be cruise-control Christians. If God is building the Church’s wealth then a battle is just around the corner.

Three

Throughout all of the history of Adam, God has used peculiarity (i.e. set-apart) to draw the attention of God’s elect to Himself. God’s people have prepared for a flood when none was visible, prepared for a baby when age cried “Impossible!”, birthed a nation from a baby floating in the Nile, trusted God when surrounded and vastly outnumbered by their enemy. Yes, I have Scripture for this and it’s best seen in the KJV, 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (emphasis added)

God’s people don’t try to be peculiar, it’s just what happens when we follow God. Peculiar doesn’t mean crazy. As I wrote, it means “set-apart” but being set-apart often makes a person seem peculiar. A good example of peculiar was “Mr. Rogers” on PBS. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, he was certainly peculiar within the staff of PBS. Fred Rogers is quoted as saying,

“I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen.” My guess is that we have rarely, if ever, taken a job because we thought we could turn the employer from bad to good.

We, as true believers, are peculiar people. That is God’s way. People living in the world must notice us, and notice that there is something different, a good difference, between the children of God and the children of the world. As true believers, we quickly surrender our possessions, surrender our rights, surrender our lives, to demonstrate the character of Jesus to people who remain under God’s curse.

A missionary once told me that every missionary had to able to do any one of five things at a moment’s notice: 1) preach 2) pray 3) teach 4) sing 5) die. We all should hold our lives as a gift of service to Jesus our Savior.

However, for decades now, while we’ve been living the lifestyle of Christianity, we have continually moved the Church closer and closer to the world. We justified these actions as attempts to remain relevant in a changing world. 

It is Christ Jesus who makes His Church relevant; it’s never within our ability to accomplish this.

God Stopped the Whole World

Never in my lifetime has the whole world stopped. Until now, the closest it came was in 1969 when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon. If you are old enough to remember that then you remember how TV networks cut to locations all across the globe, showing people gathered around TV sets, all gobsmacked. 

Well, this pandemic is more profound than Neil’s history-making step. Trust me on this, God did this out of His great love. You may ask, “How could God allow this to happen to good people?” The answer is simple and painful; there are no good people. And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

God stopped the world so we all would consider what life is about. For His Church, we face profound changes, not in the Gospel but in our lifestyle. Comfortable Christianity is not God’s intent. Jesus said, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)

Yes, we are told by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.” We are to have this goal but we are also told to “take up our cross” and told by the Apostle Peter that we are a peculiar people. These messages are from the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit. These messages do not conflict. We are not faced with a dichotomy. So, what does God want from us? 

What does Obedience Look Like?

What Jesus said to His disciples is that He wants us to be obedient, and if we are, then our joy will be full. (John 15:9-11) So, obedience is not something we can choose. Our decision is to either be a Christian, or not. Choosing not to obey is choosing not to love Jesus. (John 14:15)

The Point

I’ve written a lot of words to lead us to the following thoughts, and they are: 

  1. God has prospered the members of Western churches for one hundred years. And countless churches own behemoth buildings that, overnight, have been rendered useless. This is not a mistake, rather it is God’s “bank account.”
  2. God’s blessing of an accumulation of wealth has not been for “us” to look like the world. That wealth is not ours.
  3. God’s people do not overcome the world by being a twin of the world. “And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” (Revelation 12:11)

No revival, no world movement by God, can start or continue without the Holy Spirit moving and igniting souls. When we are full to overflowing of the Spirit within us then the oil of God’s anointing splashes into the fire of the Holy Spirit and we burst forth with power, testifying to the world the things of God.

What will the Church look like, now that we’re in a post mega-church building era? Perhaps, in cities, we will be those peculiar people that sold our cars and gave the money to churches in Syria and Egypt.

Perhaps we will now flood mass transit systems – and the world will take notice. Perhaps, in the new world, the Church will unwaveringly speak what we know as true even if our testimony costs us our homes, our liberty, or even our lives. Perhaps, we, as God’s children, will choose Truth over political correctness, and not allow God’s Truth to be bridled by godless people.

Brave New World

I don’t know what this new world holds of us. I don’t know if we have the will to rise to the occasion of becoming peculiar to our family, our friends, our workmates, our employers, our community, our country. Will we be a “Fred Rogers?” Will we carry Jesus into places we hate? I just don’t know. However, I do know that God is watching to see how we respond to this brave new world.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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Remnants

a Tapestry with angels

When Judah was in great distress from an invading country, Judah’s king, Hezekiah, sent a plea to the prophet Isaiah. Here’s a snippet of king Hezekiah’s request: Isaiah, 37:4, “therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.

The world has been fractured since this pandemic hit. In America we have become a collection of remnants. Remnants of churches, of employers, of social services, of humble hearts, of human love.

Almighty God is a defender of remnants. There are so many accounts in the Bible of remnants that it’s apparent that there is a purpose in the heart of God for remnants. Consider this: In the English Standard Version of the Bible, there are 84 references to the word “remnants.” And if we search for remnants in the King James Version, we find 91 references.

God’s Word is Full of Remnants

Here are just a few passages about remnants that I’ve pulled from the ESV:

Genesis 45:7 And God sent me (Joseph) before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.

2 Kings 19:30, And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward.

Isaiah 10:21, A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God

Amos 5:15, Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Acts 15:17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things

Romans 11:5 So too at the present time there is a remnant , chosen by grace.

God Specializes in Remnants

So, you get the idea; God works with remnants. Don’t become downhearted if just a remnant of your local church remains, or a remnant of your ministry remains, or a remnant of your family remains. God will still use and bless these remnants and prosper them.

Through the work of the Apostle Peter, Syria was one of the first regions to receive Christianity. Today, in Syria, only a remnant of Christians remain. As Christians, we need to lift our prayers for our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, for they are in great distress.

Pray for Syria, pray for your remnants, pray for our nation’s remnants, pray in faith, believing in the steadfast love and power of God. Pray in the name of the Father’s beloved Son, Jesus. Together, through prayer and through Holy Spirit-directed action, we will see God use His remnants, sewn together to create a beautiful tapestry which glorifies God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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Direction from the Lord

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Don’t paint yourself into a corner.” Well, I did that when I was young. What a mess! It was my folks garage floor. I couldn’t stay in the corner until the paint dried so I tried to sneak around the edge of the semi-dried paint, which didn’t work. I was so focused on getting the floor finished that I didn’t pay attention to where I was. 🙁

I can honestly say that my cat, Max, has much more awareness of his surroundings than I am of mine. I come in a distant second to a cat! Still, I do try to diligently listen to the Holy Spirit as He directs me in my prayers and in my life, but there are times I hear but I don’t “do;” that always turns out bad.

Following God’s Direction

Just yesterday my wife told me she had heard God’s still small voice a week ago telling her to go to her hairdresser. That “word” came to her several times but she thought it would be fine if she just put it off until the next week – this week. Oops. Things have changed a lot this week so hair appointments are not happening anytime soon.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. – Psalms 32:8

My guess is that we all have heard or felt God’s direction but we put it off, thinking we could get to it later, when it would fit into our schedule. Well, I’m here to testify that delaying God will always paint us into a spiritual corner. God will guide and provide but we must listen and do.

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I can’t hear!

With the myriad troubles that are assailing all of us, it seems wise to revisit this previous blog post.

I may go out of my mind! I am constantly bombarded by commands from things. The more technology I buy, the more commands I have to learn. Coffee makers, microwave ovens, refrigerators, smartphones, Google Home all demand my attention and expect me to do whatever their beeps, dings, and voices mean.

How can I add all these weird commands to my technology lexicon? In rebellion, I’ve developed a kind of filter that blocks them until they become incessant. If the microwave oven beeps to tell me my popcorn is ready, I may purposely choose to ignore it for a while to show it who’s the boss, but if the traffic light turns red, I stop. It’s all a matter of how I prioritize the commands in my life.

So, this begs the question, “Am I kicking the can down the road on some of Christ’s commands? Do I not hear because I’ve learned to filter the voice of my Savior like my wife says I do to her. Yikes!

2 John 1:6 (NIV)  says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 

Prayer: Jesus, I pray that You will help me remember to tune in to Your voice and put You ahead of all others. Teach me how to hear and act on Your commands and to actively love others just as You love me.

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Small Things

Mother holding a baby

Oh, be careful little eyes
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above is looking down in love
So be careful little eyes what you see

It’s The Small Things

Our lives consist of small things, fleeting moments, activities that barely qualify as actions or events. Yet it is in the tapestry woven by all of these that display our character; our commitment to Jesus. When we pause to look at our lives, the big things seldom accurately depict ourselves.

Within our worlds, people know us as teachers, bank tellers, homemakers, auto mechanics, and so forth. And perhaps within our world, we have achieved something exceptional, or we have suffered something horrible. Nevertheless, we still live our lives moment by moment, day by day. It’s still our small decisions that display our virtues.

See Yourself As God Sees You

If we allow a great success, a great defeat, or a great loss to define us, then we have surrendered ourselves to a thing rather than to our Lord Jesus. Don’t allow something from this world to have sway over your thoughts, intentions, or activities in life.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. – Romans 12:3

We aren’t to think badly of ourselves, just realistically, and from God’s perspective. And remember, the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little heart, who you trust.

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Are You A Project Person?

project

My wife is a project person. At any one time, she always has two or three projects that she’s doing, and that doesn’t count the people-projects that God gives her. We’ve been married a long time, and she’s never run out of projects.

Project People

Nehemiah was also a project person. One day he heard about the distress of his fellow Jews in Jerusalem as well as the condition of the city itself. When he heard this news, God called him at risk his own life to tackle the restoration of the people and the city.

As soon as Nehemiah hears the need, we see Nehemiah fasting and praying “for days” for God’s guidance (Nehemiah 1:4). Next, when Nehemiah understands that God has laid this work upon him, we read, “…And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” Nehemiah 2:5

God gave Nehemiah a project. For Nehemiah, it was a massive project, and one larger than he probably understood, at first. Nehemiah’s assignment is how God works. And if you have placed your faith in Jesus, then God will have projects for you, too. How do you know when God has a project for you? It usually starts in your heart.

A Burden from the Lord

Old-timers call it a burden from the Lord. It’s a heaviness in your heart and a reoccurring thought in your mind. When you become aware of it, you begin to take it to the Lord in prayer, and you find an unusual receptiveness; access to God that may not be typical for you.

When you receive an assignment from God, you should keep at least two things in mind. First, God shares His glory with no one (Isaiah 42:8). All the honor and praise for your work belongs to God, alone. Secondly, where God guides, He provides. This second statement can promptly be confirmed by reading the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, and Esther.

Will you be a Project Person?

As you go about your daily life, keep your spiritual ears open. I do not doubt that our Lord Jesus will speak to you by the Holy Spirit and give you projects to advance the kingdom of God.

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Pride Veiled in Politeness

A few nights ago, as I was dreaming, God showed me a fault in my character, one which I’ve repeated many times. It’s more than a little unsettling when God does this. Very few times in my life has God confronted me with a personal defect that He required me to fix.

First, I’ll give you an example and then confess this sin. I include it here with the hope that you will not fall into the same lie.

An Example

Several years ago, we arrived a bit early before our Sunday Morning church service. The widow of our church’s founding pastor made her way over to chat with my wife and me. Being quite elderly, it took her some time and effort to make her way to us, but she did.

We mutually shared a friendship with another Christian couple that lived out-of-state. She asked about them and then continued our conversation. About that same time, the musicians began to play, signaling that the service was going to start. Still, this stalwart of the Lord continued talking with us.

Next, our pastor, this widow’s son, began the service. Still, this Godly woman continued to talk with us. At this point, we’re the only ones standing, and indeed, the only ones still chatting.

I felt the strongest urge to sit down; to stop the conversation. But God was teaching me something, something I didn’t learn at that time. Oh, I continued to stand and chat but I was disengaged because the service was starting. God was using this founding pastor’s wife. God was saying, “Which is more important? To fix the food or to be in communion with our Lord?” (Luke 10:41-42)

Pride Veiled in Politeness

This choice of whether to be in God’s presence or to follow social etiquette has dogged me my whole life. The fact is that sometimes God overrules politeness. 

While I was dreaming, God showed me several other specific instances in my life where I chose pride, veiled in politeness, in place of being emotionally uncomfortable but being where Jesus asked of me, talking with whom Jesus wanted me to converse.

The person who chooses wisely is found in Luke 7:38 (NLT), “Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

No matter what we are doing, we are to live as servants of God. This is what the Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:16 ESV) “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

[Prayer] Dear Heavenly Father, I come before You today to confess my sin of pride veiled within politeness and to pray for anyone else that is struggling between what’s deemed right by society in place of what is best. Release us, I pray. Keep our weaknesses at the forefront of our minds so that we will choose the best decision next time. Thank you, Father God, for Your steadfast love and devotion toward us. I pray in the Name above all names, Jesus, Your only-begotten. Amen.

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Pray Fervently

a big fish

Remember the account of Jonah running away from God? Look at what Jonah did. “Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish…” (Jonah 2:1 ESV) Even when we run away from a work God has called us to do, and even while running away from God we find ourselves in trouble, even then, God will hear our prayers. In fact, we may be precisely where God wants us to be.

Often, only when we are in the middle of a mess, a mess that we’ve created, only then are we ready to get down to business with God. When all is well, we may be praying, but we expect little. But wow, can we pray when we find ourselves in the belly of a fish.

When we’re in the middle of it, we will be quoting Scriptures to God, claiming the blood of Jesus, claiming promises, and crying for the Holy Spirit’s leading. It’s shocking to hear a true believer pray fervently for help when they find themselves in the GI tract of a fish that shouldn’t even exist!

Still, God hears these prayers from His children, and He desires that we pray this same way for the Christians in Syria and the kidnapped girls in Nigeria and our unsaved neighbors next door. Remember, it was the Church at Laodicea that was repugnant to Jesus because that church was neither hot nor cold (Revelation 3:16).

Be bold. Pray fervently!

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Freedom – I do not think it means what you think it means.

A sign saying freedom

In the movie, “The Princess Bride”, Sicilian boss Vizzini continually describes events as “inconceivable.” When he attempts to cut the rope that the pirate Roberts is climbing, Vizzini yells out that it was inconceivable that the pirate didn’t fall. To this, Montoya replies, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Freedom is the “inconceivable” word in Christianity. Here’s an example that may help us have a common understanding of freedom in Christ.

An Example of Freedom

Take, for example, a homework assignment. Your teacher tells your class on Tuesday that the homework must be turned in on Friday. Within your teacher’s constraints, you’ve just received freedom. You received the freedom to decide when to do your assignment. You received the freedom to choose how much time to invest in the assignment. Lastly, you received the freedom to determine the completeness and quality of what you turn in, if anything, to your teacher on Friday.

Still, within this freedom that your teacher has extended to you, you know that there will be judgment (i.e., your grade) and reward or punishment (i.e., passing or failing). What we see from this simple example is that freedom plus self-control, or lack thereof, results in consequences.

We each have an appointment with God. As the Scriptures state in Romans 14:12, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” This appointment with God is not a bad thing for people that have used their freedom to serve Jesus. It’s like a good student turning in their assignment to their teacher. The teacher rejoices in the student, and the student rejoices in their teacher.

It’s Not Too Late

The amazing thing with God is He will receive you right now, right where you are. It’s not too late to accept Jesus and live your life for God. You can read a great example of this in the parable Jesus told of the workers, which can be found in Matthew 20:1-16.

The Consequences of Freedom can be Good or Bad

Therefore, from the perspective of our freedom, let’s consider this well known Scripture:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Freedom is not the absence of consequences. And the consequences can be good as well as bad. So we see that the “account” we will give to God is within our control. Freedom in Christ is a good thing.

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Semicolon

semicolon

The first printed semicolon was the work of the Italian printer in Venice named Aldus Manutius the Elder in 1494. Manutius established the practice of using the semicolon to separate words of opposed meaning and to allow a rapid change in direction in connecting interdependent statements. 

A famous quote by Lynne Truss, (Eats, Shoots, and Leaves) states, “Just as there are writers who worship the semicolon, there are other high stylists who dismiss it – who label it, if you please, middle-class.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semicolon

Who knew a semicolon had such a life!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your work in life was limited to things like arguing about the value of semicolons? Oh, I knew there was an easier employment path than the one I chose! Well, my negligent and reckless career decision is now a speck in my life’s rearview mirror.

Now, the modern use of semicolons is to join two independent clauses without using a conjunction like and. As an example from Grammarly.com: We can go to the museum to do some research; Mondays are pretty quiet there.

So how does a semicolon provide value to us in our walk with Jesus? “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” – Romans 13:6-7 NIV

Christianity requires our full attention.

There’s no doubt that our walk as Christians requires our full attention. I find myself quickly sucked into Facebook memes that people send me. Some are pure entertainment, while others are funny but run contrary to the will of God.

Paying taxes and revenue are generally not too challenging for us, it’s those last two semicolon commands that trip us up.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mattimattila/

Show respect. Show honor. These two are not limited to when we are in the presence of a person. No, we need to do these two even when no one is around – that’s part of our character. It can be difficult when we read a meme or watch a video or see a caricature that is truly funny but is disrespectful or dishonors a person or people or a country or whatever.

We will be giving an account.

Romans 14:10-12 (ESV):

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
    and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Enjoy your reading and online activities but don’t let your guard down. Jesus is watching (really).

Feature Photo from Wikipedia

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