truth (9)

This Week’s Question: Since too many have a romanticized view of love, what is love from a Biblical perspective?

Love is one of the three foundational pillars that Christianity is built upon, with faith and hope being the other two pillars. Unfortunately, many claim to be Christians based solely upon their love for God. Nevertheless, from a Biblical perspective these pillars work synchronously and cannot be dichotomized. To be more explicit, true faith is dependent upon love according to I Corinthians 13:2, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” In the same vein, genuine hope must be fueled by love according to Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Similarly, faith cannot be divorced from hope because hope is embedded in it according to Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In the final analysis, those who claim to have faith without also having hope and love are, in actuality, governed by superstition not faith. Similarly hope that is not accompanied by faith and love is only wishful thinking; and love that is disconnected from faith and hope is mere sentimentality.

In our last post we identified the fundamental element implied in James 2:1-9 to be love, and three reasons were discussed to justify its importance: (1) God commands His followers to love; (2) Love is the distinguishing characteristic that separates God’s children from satan’s; and (3) The motive behind a person’s love is more important than that person’s deeds. So what is love? Four types of love are described Biblically and they are: Eros – Sexual or romantic love; Storge – Natural mutual affection or familial love; Philia – Brotherly love that unites true believers; and Agape – The love God has for humankind. Although each has a place in scripture, agape is focused on in this post because it is the love God has for the world, and is the love that His disciples must have for one another for acceptance into His Kingdom. Paul makes this point very clear in Romans 13:8 when he writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

So what essentially is agape love? Paul, beginning in I Corinthians 13:4 describes agape love beautifully: “4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails…” Someone once said, “love is what love does,” which confirms the fact that love is not an emotion. Also, it is not rhetoric. Instead love is the mitigating force that controls one’s speech, thoughts, and works. By examining I Corinthians 13, it is evident that love forces true disciples to be patient, mild, and kind toward others. It also prevents them from being envious of or hating others; and keeps them grounded whereby they neither think too highly of nor feels the need to elevate themselves. Instead, proper behavior is the modus operandi for disciples because they are not easily provoked into behaving inappropriately. True love causes disciples, by their thoughts, to internalize Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.” Meditation, of this nature, prevents true disciples from thinking evil thoughts or gloating when another succumbs to sin. Instead that disciple is happiest when others also stand on God’s truth!

The bottom-line is since love never ends, it is infinite, has no bounds, cannot be measured, transcends time, and, unlike faith and hope, it is the only pillar that extends beyond this realm into eternity. Therefore, since love is infinite, disciples who have it withstand hardship and adversity because love bears all things! Since love is infinite, disciples who have it recite Romans 8:28 as their mantra, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” because love believes all things! Since love is infinite, disciples who have it do not allow their circumstances to dictate their actions because love hopes all things! Finally, since love is infinite, disciples who have it are confident of the power behind Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, since love endures all things! To bring true love to life, love was the force behind the Civil Rights Movement because despite the murders, lynchings, jailings, protests, beatings, discriminatory laws, biased government officials, hosings, dog bites, and sheer humiliation; my forefathers, as a group, knew that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails! They knew it, they lived it, and God delivered to us, as a community, several major victories because of our communal love for everybody!

Next Week’s Question: The Bible has many vivid examples of love, can you think of any? And if “yes” is your answer, can any Biblical principles be gleaned from them?

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Living in the 'Cone of Uncertainty'

As Hurricane Irma prepares to bash the United States, here in Charlotte we’re wondering if it will be coming our way. As we wait for the answer, I’ve been intrigued by weather reports saying our region lies in the “Cone of Uncertainty.”

While modern meteorologists probably feel clever in using this term, it’s really no different than King Solomon wrote about over 2,000 years ago:

Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5 NLT).

Then and now, the path of the wind is highly unpredictable. Even Jesus found it important to weigh in on this great mystery:

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes (John 3:8).

As meteorologists apply the Cone of Uncertainty idea to the difficulty of projecting Irma’s destructive route, I feel prompted to write about another kind of Cone of Uncertainty. While the uncertainty about Irma’s path will be resolved within days, I’ve observed a bigger and more long-term issue that seems quite common today…

Some people seem to live their entire lives in a Cone of Uncertainty!

I’m not trying to be harsh, but you’ve probably met people like this. They’re continually uncertain about their standing with God, their career, their relationships, or what their priorities should be. And if they’re anything like my good friend Ron, they’re stuck in a Cone of Uncertainty in their dating life too.

So what does the Bible say about this? Lots.

Here are just a few random principles for your consideration:

  1. God wants us to live lives of peace rather than confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). His peace is supposed to transcend our circumstances and guide our decisions, even amid the storms of life (Philippians 4:6-7, Colossians 3:15).
  2. We must be careful not to claim certainty on subjects God hasn’t truly revealed yet. For example, Jesus made it clear that no one would be able to accurately forecast the day of His return—even though people continue to try. On one hand, He said we could observe the signs and know His return is near (Matthew 24:33). But on the other hand, He said we wouldn’t be able to know “the day and hour” (Matthew 24:36, 24:42). On this and many other issues, “we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9).
  3. When God allows us to experience a Cone of Uncertainty for a season, it provides an opportunity for us to trust Him. I love the statement Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego made to the king as they were being thrown into the fiery furnace. Although they were uncertain about the outcome of the trial they faced, they were absolutely certain of God’s love and faithfulness:    

Our God whom 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 3:16-18).

These three men were determined to trust the Lord, regardless of whether He delivered them and changed their difficult circumstances.

4. There are some things we should be certain about. In today’s postmodern world, it’s fashionable to say there are no absolutes. People seem suspicious if you say you know anything for sure. The book of First John was written toward the end of the first century, amid some similar trends of uncertainty affecting the church. A new generation was arising that wasn’t as certain or dogmatic about things as the early apostles had been. No wonder John uses the word “know” 32 times in this book! In fact, he says he wrote the book “that you may KNOW that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

So there’s no need to live in a Cone of Uncertainty about whether you’ve been born again and given eternal life. Nor do you ever need to doubt God’s love or His desire to bless you and meet your needs.

This issue came up recently when I was trying to encourage a friend who was going through a hard time. “Brother, the Bible says in Romans 8:31 that if God is for us, it doesn’t matter who is against us,” I reminded him.

I thought that would settle the matter, but it didn’t.

“How do I really know that God is for me, though?” he replied.

Yikes. I could tell this was going to be a much deeper conversation than I had expected. My friend was living in a Cone of Uncertainty on an issue of supreme importance.

But take a moment to apply this to your own life and ponder my friend’s question. How can we know for sure that God is FOR us?

I suppose I could write an entire book in response to this vital query, but for now this basic explanation will have to suffice:

YOU CAN KNOW FOR SURE THAT GOD IS FOR YOU,

BECAUSE HE SENT HIS SON TO DIE FOR YOU!

Shouldn’t that be enough of an answer?

But what if you’ve been living in sin, knowingly disobedient to the precepts in God’s Word? Is He STILL for you?

Once again, the answer is actually quite simple: Even if you’re living in the deepest sin imaginable, God is still for you—He’s for you to repent so He can release the fullness of His blessings in your life once again!

You see, no matter what your situation may be, your Heavenly Father is FOR you, not against you. If you are living in a pigpen, He’s FOR you to come home so He can throw you a party (Luke 15:11-32). If you’re a stuck-up religious person like the older brother in that story, He’s FOR you to humble yourself and enter into the joyous festivities He’s prepared.

What an incredible revelation! Either way, no matter what, God is FOR you. So why not leave the Cone of Uncertainty and join the party, already in progress?

 

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Leadership Lessons from the Carolina Panthers

I’m always looking for current events that display Biblical principles for successful leadership. The decision by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson last week to fire Dave Gettleman as the team’s general manager provides some excellent fodder for a discussion of good and bad leadership traits. After being fired in 2012, Marty Hurney was appointed as the interim general manager.

Here are just a few observations:

  1. Timing is everything. As King Solomon pointed out, “A wise heart knows the proper time and procedure” (Ecclesiastes 8:5). One of the unusual things about Richardson’s decision is that it came just eight days before the start of the Panthers’ training camp. Even Richardson had to admit that the timing was “not ideal.” An organization’s major decisions ordinarily should be planned with enough time to allow for a smooth rollout and careful communications to all the stakeholders. In this case, even Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera was apparently caught off guard by Richardson’s decision.
  2. Instead of evaluating a person’s overall track record and the long-term picture for an organization’s success, leadership often comes down to “what have you done for me lately.” By almost any measure, Gettleman’s tenure with the Panthers was extremely successful—except for last season. But despite an amazing Super Bowl run in 2015, Richardson apparently felt that the trajectory was going in the wrong direction. And, no doubt, trajectory is more important than past successes. I’ve seen numerous situations where pastors face similar scrutiny. Past success is deemed irrelevant if church attendance and finances are on a downward slide.
  3. We must resist the urge to jerk between extremes. From my perspective, Marty Hurney’s decisions as general manager tended to err on the side of GRACE—giving players big contracts and sometimes keeping them past their prime. In contrast, Dave Gettleman was a man of TRUTH—looking at a player’s current productivity and being unwilling to break the bank when a player’s performance didn’t merit a huge contract. In switching back to Hurney, I think Richardson was siding with grace and loyalty. He wanted to take care of players like Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis, who were in negotiations for new contracts.  And it seems he may have been unhappy with how Gettleman parted ways with Panthers stars like Steve Smith and Josh Norman.

I would argue that both Hurney and Gettleman were successful, but partly because the Panthers benefited from the combination of grace and truth that these two general managers provided. Hurney was credited with a harmonious locker room, full of players who felt honored and appreciated. Gettleman was applauded for clearing out players who were past their prime, which greatly improved the salary cap situation.

Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, was full of BOTH grace and truth (John 1:14). He didn’t have to jerk from one extreme to another, for He perfected embodied these two qualities every successful leader must demonstrate.

In Jim Collin’s best-selling book, Good to Great, he notes that organizations thrive when they have “the right people on the bus and have them on the right seats on the bus.” That pretty much describes what a successful general manager must do in the NFL.

When it comes to the future of the Panthers, my hometown team, I hope Marty Hurney will have learned the lessons from the past—both from his own decisions and from those of Dave Gettleman. May he bring back the grace needed to recreate a harmonious team culture, where past performance is honored. But may he also have the guts to make hard decisions when a player is overpaid or should no longer be “on the bus.” 

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The Heresy of Unbalanced Truth

Recently I attended a new church plant and was horrified by the young pastor’s message. His premise was that all Americans are rich in comparison to the rest of the world, and we should feel guilty about that. According to his perspective, our materialism was the biggest hindrance to living the normal Christian life.

Why was I so troubled by this pastor’s earnest sermon? He quoted lots of Bible passages along the way, including the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) and the verse about not serving both God and Money (Matthew 6:24).

Much of my annoyance with this anti-materialistic rant stems from the fact that I used to preach almost exactly the same message. “Live for the kingdom, not for money!” I would passionately said. “And if you happen to have any money beyond your basic necessities, you should give it all away, just like Jesus told the rich young ruler.”

Hmmm… What’s the problem here? Isn’t this a sound Biblical perspective?

As I looked around at the pastor’s small, fledgling congregation, I saw that it was mostly composed of young people. My guess was that many of them were struggling just to pay their rent, utilities, and car payment. I could be wrong, but I didn’t spot a lot of rich young rulers that day. And by the looks of the cars in the parking lot, these weren’t extravagant spenders.

I took away several lessons from this church visit…

First, I concluded that even if a message is Biblically accurate, it may be the wrong message for a certain audience. If I had been preaching to the young congregation that day, I would have given a much different message. Instead of telling them they were too rich, I would endeavor to stir their faith that God wanted to bless them and meet all of their needs (Philippians 4:19).

And that brings me to my second conclusion: Most heresies are not an absence of truth, but they're merely unbalanced truth. The pastor said many things I fully agree with. For example, he told his flock that material things never bring a person true and lasting happiness. Very true.

But the problem is what he failed to say. He shared the truth, but it wasn’t the whole truth. And because of that, I’m convinced it misrepresented the heart of God.  

A few days after this church service, I had lunch with the pastor. He’s a pretty humble guy and received it well when I told him his message was heretical.

I explained that he had missed a key point in the rich young ruler story. How could Jesus demand that this man sell everything he had and give the money to the poor? Take a closer look at what He said: “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21).

You see, Jesus’ goal was not to turn the rich man into a poor man. To the contrary, He wanted the rich man to have true and lasting riches—“treasure in heaven.”

From cover to cover, the Bible is a book about God’s desire to have a covenant relationship with His people. What does that mean? Among other things, it means that EVERYTHING we have belongs to Him, and EVERYTHING He has belongs to us as His beloved children.

This explains why the disciples readily dropped their fishing nets and left their boats in order to follow Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). They had just seen Him supply them with a miraculous catch of fish. They “forsook all and followed Him because they saw they could trust Him to abundantly meet all their needs!

So I agree with the young pastor that we should lay all of our earthly possessions at the feet of Jesus. In fact, that’s a great thing to do on a daily basis.

However, the point of laying things down is to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9). Once we’ve laid our possessions on the altar, He usually tells us to take them into our hands again so we can make an impact on a lost and needy world (Matthew 14:15-21).

Does your Heavenly Father want to bless you? Absolutely! And for two distinct reasons: because He loves you, and because He wants you to be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2).

My visit to the new church plant was a reminder that we must be careful in handling Scripture, making sure we’re “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Even the devil quotes the Bible, after all (Matthew 4:1-11). As a former attorney, I’m keenly aware of how dangerous it is to only present one side of a case, while conveniently ignoring any contrary facts.

Our Savior was full of grace, but also of truth (John 1:14). He opened the pathway to heaven, but also warned people of the dangers of hell. And yes, He cautioned us not to be controlled by a quest for earthly possessions—even as He promised to give us an abundant life (John 10:10).

I’m convinced the truth will set you free today (John 8:32), especially if you embrace the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help us, God.

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Escaping from Your Personal Groundhog Day

Lately I’ve met lots of people who seem to be perpetually stuck in Groundhog Day. You’ve probably seen the classic 1993 movie starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Murray plays a weatherman named Phil who’s assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He finds himself stuck in a time loop, forcing him to reexamine his life and priorities.

Day after day, Phil wakes up to the same Groundhog Day reality, with a chance to make better choices this time. It soon becomes clear that he won’t escape until he gets things right.  

When I first saw the film, I didn’t realize how significant its message was. Just another mindless comedy, it seemed to me. Yet in 2006 the movie was added to the United States National Film Registry, deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Now that I look back, my perspective on the movie has changed. I think it became popular because many of us can relate to the experiences faced by Bill Murray’s character. Even though we may not be caught in a time loop, we find ourselves stuck in some area of our life.

What about you? Do you currently find yourself trapped in some kind of Groundhog Day experience? Perhaps you are…

  • Having the same relationship struggles over and over.
  • Repeatedly making the same financial mistakes.
  • Dealing with recurring health problems that you’re unable to shake.
  • Battling cyclical addictions.
  • Experiencing periodic bouts of negative emotions, such as depression, loneliness, or anger.

Many people in the Bible experienced Groundhog Day of one kind or another. Jacob frequently had a problem with lying. Joseph faced recurring episodes of injustice. The Israelites spent 40 years traveling in circles in the desert. David and many of the prophets had some pretty severe mood swings at times.

Thankfully, though, the Bible provides numerous tips for escaping from Groundhog Day. Someday I’m going to write an entire book on how to get UNSTUCK…but for now I’ll just share a few brief insights. It’s interesting that many of these were eventually discovered by Bill Murray’s character in the movie.

  1. Face the truth about your present condition. Jesus promised that the truth will set us free if we’re willing to fully embrace it (John 8:32). But this means we must drop our excuses and rationalizations. You see, it’s not just a coincidence that we find ourselves dealing with the same problems again and again.
  2. Quit blaming others. We all have a tendency to blame-shift, but that’s a sure way to remain stuck. It’s time to stop saying all your failed relationships are simply because the other people are so dysfunctional. And if you’ve never been able to keep a job for more than a few months, it’s probably not the fault of all your employers.
  3. Get some help. Perhaps this means you should hire a good counselor, but that’s not necessarily what I mean here. It’s often even better to have at least one or two real friends who will love you enough to tell you the truth and hold you accountable for the needed changes.
  4. Don’t give up. When you’re stuck in Groundhog Day, it’s tempting to give up hope. You feel like simply resigning yourself to the belief that things will never change. But take some time to let these words from the apostle Paul change your perspective: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Look at what this is saying…

Now… You must have a sense of urgency if you truly want to change. Don’t procrastinate!

…the God of hope… Unless God is involved, difficult circumstances frequently look hopeless. But when you recognize that He’s with you and is available to help, there’s always hope.

…all joy and peace in believing. Your joy and peace will return as soon as you put your eyes back on the Lord and begin to believe His promises again.

…abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. You may have already tried 1,000 times to escape Groundhog Day in your own strength. But everything changes when you allow yourself to be filled with the power of God’s Spirit. The secret is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), and that’s the only way lasting change will come.  

You don’t have to wait for me to complete my book on how to get unstuck. Today can be the day you face the truth about your circumstances and believe God’s promises for better days ahead. Then you can wake up tomorrow morning with fresh appreciation for the One who is able to make ALL things new (Revelation 21:5).

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Keeping Up Apperances

If you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. Yes, it provides a convenient way to keep up with my friends and let them know what I’m up to. And occasionally someone posts an interesting video clip or news item that I find profitable.

However, I’ve concluded that for many people, Facebook is all about “keeping up appearances.” If you spend all your time in the unreality world of Facebook, you’ve probably concluded that every one of your friends is living the perfect life. Awesome spouse. Incredible kids. Fantastic vacations. One fun experience after another.

In the world of Facebook friends, there is seemingly no pain…loneliness…or depression. No one posts anything about marriage struggles or rebellious children or trouble with their boss. In fact, people seem to feel obliged to write a post on their anniversary that says something like, “Thirty years ago I married my soul mate, and we’ve had one glorious year after another ever since.”

The problem is, there’s quite a difference between the digital lives of my Facebook friends and the actual lives of the friends I know in the real world. Maybe I’ve been hanging out with too many losers, but some of my friends have been divorced…have lost jobs…have gone bankrupt…have had bouts with depression…or have gone through agonizing situations with their children.

Of course, I would never have known any of these things about my friends through their Facebook posts. No, I had to spend time with them, face to face, looking them squarely in the eyes. And I had to share my own struggles, so they could trust me enough to share their struggles.

The tendency for people to “keep up appearances” is certainly not a new phenomenon. The Bible is filled with descriptions about the common human tendency to fall into “play acting” or “hypocrisy,” especially for us religious folks.

Amazingly, Jesus was compassionate toward prostitutes and drunkards, yet very severe to people who played religious games for the sake of keeping up their appearance:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:27-28).

If I had nothing better to do, I think I should start a Facebook alternative for people who want to be honest about their lives. Maybe I could call it Heartbook, or something like that. It would be the no-spin zone of social media sites.

The theme verse of my new Heartbook initiative would be 1 Samuel 16:7: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” There would be a strict policy against sharing your selfies unless you also shared the condition of your heart.

You see, 1 John 1:7 says the only way we can have true friendship and fellowship is to “walk in the light.” In other words, transparency and openness are prerequisites for genuine relationships.

That’s why I frankly don’t care how many Facebook friends you have. Heartbook will trump the Facebook any day. (Watch out, Mark Zuckerberg!)

So the real question isn’t your number of Facebook friends, but whether you have any friends you can be real with. You need people who see beyond your appearance to your heart…people who love you unconditionally, no matter how you are doing or what you are going through.

A true friend is worth thousands of people whose goal in life is to keep up their appearance. Don’t settle for anything less.

 

 

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The Four Faces of Jesus

Recently a friend and I were discussing some of the hot-button issues in our country today. We mentioned such things as gay marriage, abortion, healthcare, and income inequality, to name a few.

We all have our opinions on such things, of course. As believers, our opinions hopefully have been shaped by God’s principles and wisdom found in the Scriptures. In a world filled with moral relativism, we desperately need the Word of God as a plumb line to reveals our off-kilter values and behaviors (Amos 7:7-8).

But while discussing these things with my friend, I saw that being right on the issues is only half the battle. If are beliefs are right, but our attitudes are wrong, no one will be impacted in a positive way. Instead of having a platform to transform our society, we will either be ignored or ridiculed—and we’ll have only ourselves to blame.

So, while some people are too timid to address the hot-button issues at all, others undercut their message because of a calloused, unloving attitude toward their audience. They may be “speaking the truth,” but they are failing to do so in love (Ephesians 4:15).

No wonder we’ve lost our audience and become largely irrelevant in the debates over the pressing social issues of our day. How sad.

The Message and the Heart

As I’ve pondered this unfortunate state of affairs, I’ve concluded that two problems must be remedied. First, our message must regain its clarity. The apostle Paul warned, “If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8) Where are the pulpits and publications today that are trumpeting a clear message from God instead of just spiritual mumbo jumbo? Too often, we sound more like politicians than preachers, coming down on each side of every issue. No one will be moved to action by that kind of indistinct trumpet sound.

But as important as it is for our message to regain laser-like clarity, the other problem is perhaps even more urgent: We must speak our message with the heart and “face” of Jesus. This gets back to the attitude and spirit in which our message is delivered. Correct words become hollow and impotent unless spoken with a correct heart (1 Corinthians 13:1).

Perhaps you’ve never given it much thought, but this is a crucial issue. If the body of Christ is supposed to express Jesus’ “face” to today’s world, what expression should that be? Anger? Accommodation? Confrontation? Fear? Smugness? Disinterest?

I’ve concluded that there are actually four “faces of Jesus” presented in Scripture, and these provide us with a helpful glimpse of what our posture should be as we interact with our society. We see these four faces reflected in the description of the “four living creatures” in Ezekiel 1:10 (and mentioned again in Revelation 4:7):

As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle

If you grew up in a church with stained-glass windows, you probably have seen these four faces depicted. And as Bible commentators have frequently pointed out, the four Gospels each emphasize one of these four characteristics of Jesus’ personality and ministry:

LION: Matthew quotes the most Old Testament prophesies about Jesus, presenting Him as the King and the “lion of the tribe Judah.” (regaining our “roar” and seeing a mandate to “reign in life”)

OX: Mark focuses on Jesus as the suffering Servant, coming to obey the Father’s will and serve humanity by laying down His life.

MAN: Luke, as a medical doctor, emphasizes Jesus’ humanity and His concern for those who were hurting.

EAGLE: John presented an “eagle’s eye view” of Jesus’ life and ministry, revealing Him as the living Word of God who existed from eternity.

As Christians living in the 21st century, we are called upon to approach our world with each of these four aspects of Jesus’ nature:

 

  • As LIONS, we need to regain our “roar.” While we’re called to be kings of the jungle—ruling and reigning with Christ (Romans 5:17)—we’ve allowed ourselves to become tame and housebroken. Instead of being conquerors and victors, striking terror in evildoers, we’ve become more like kittens, a threat to no one.

 

  • As OXEN, we must approach our society with the heart of servants. Rather than being known for our angry denunciation of our nation’s shortcomings, we need to offer our love, prayers, and service to make things better.

 

  • As MEN and WOMEN, we must model the humanity and compassion of Jesus for those in need. This means weeping over our city and our nation, even as we call them to repentance (Luke 13:34-35).

 

  • As EAGLES, we must strive to see the big picture and view our world from God’s heavenly perspective. The Lord is calling us to come to a higher place of revelation and wisdom than we’ve had before: “Come up here, and I will show you things…” He is saying again today (Revelation 4:1-2). And in order to have the maximum impact, the church needs “sons of Issachar”—people with prophetic insight, who understand the times and know what God’s people should do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

Jesus said that anyone who saw Him would know what the Father looked like (John 14:9). In the same way, a watching world should be able to know what Jesus looks like by observing the lives of His followers.

The world desperately needs to see Jesus again. But that will only happen if we once again model the face of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. It’s time to roar, serve, weep…and SOAR!

 

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Terrorism, Truth, and Trust

“Though this world with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.” (Martin Luther)

 

This morning, before President Obama departed for a meeting at the United Nations, he spoke concerning the initial attacks on ISIS in Syria. A coalition of five Arab nations joined the United States in this attack. Airstrikes against fixed targets were made by warplanes dropping bombs, remotely piloted aircraft, and ships firing cruise missiles.

 

This was only the initial phase of the war against this terrorist group. Training and equipping the moderate Syrian rebels opposed to Assad will take a long time. Degrading and defeating ISIS will not happen overnight. Persuading them to abandon the fight will not be easy.

 

Sunni-majority countries joining the U.S. in fighting this radical Sunni militant group indicates they understand that ISIS is not really Islamic. ISIS recruits soldiers to join their ranks, claiming they are “the truthful.” In fact, their propaganda is a lie.

 

We may have become so comfortable with our prosperous lifestyles that we are unmoved by news of more than 200,000 Syrians killed by a brutal regime. We may feel so secure that we find it impossible to identify with millions of heartbroken homeless people seeking refuge in other countries.

 

We may have been so preoccupied with our personal agendas, that we missed hearing the President report that an Al Qaeda splinter group, the Khorasan Group, was also attacked because of intelligence indicating an imminent threat against the U.S. homeland. To say the least, the possibility of IEDs wreaking havoc on our familiar streets is upsetting. The thought of terrorism on American soil makes us tremble. Are we scared yet?  

 

To be sure, Christians should pray. We should ask God’s blessings on our president as he seeks heaven’s wisdom in this fight against evil forces intent on our destruction. We should also pray for military personnel serving in our armed forces, and for those serving from Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Emirates.  

 

Each year on September 21st, the World Council of Churches sponsors the International Day of Prayer for Peace. This date is also the United Nations sponsored Day of Peace.Until “the war to end all wars” is fought, we should humbly entreat the Prince of Peace to bless our nation and world with the peace He alone can bring.   

 

Jesus provides the antidote to any tinge of terror we may ever feel— “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God.” (Matthew 10:31 NLT)

 

Johnny R. Almond

Christian preacher and writer

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

http://GentleWhispersFromEternity-ScripturePersonalized.com/

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Keeping It Real in a Politically Correct World

Why all the fascination with “Duck Dynasty” these days? Is it just another example of mindless cultural fluff, or is a profound spiritual message somehow involved? My purpose in this blog post is not to wade into the recent controversy about Phil Robertson's comments on homosexuality, but rather the larger cultural context: How can a believer "keep it real" and walk in God's truth in a politically correct world? 

       The A&E Network’s unlikely hit series is the second most watched original series on a cable channel. As you probably know by now, the show chronicles the Robertson clan, the rags-to-riches family that has turned making duck calls into a lucrative company called Duck Commander.

 

      On a recent media blitz in New York City, the bearded stars were asked by Matt Lauer on “The Today Show” whether “Duck Dynasty” episodes were “real” or scripted. Family patriarch Phil Robertson replied, “Most of the time we ad-lib. Think about it: Some TV producer out of L.A. is fixin’ to put words into our mouth? Gimme a break.”

 

      Jase, one of the Robertson sons, described the culture shock between the TV producers and the fiercely independent Louisianans: “They come up with ideas, and we just get to be ourselves in the situation.”

 

      Is that the secret to the amazing success of the Robertsons, after all—the fact that they “just get to be themselves”?

 

      In various other interviews, the Robertsons have discussed how crucial it is for them to “keep it real,” even in the face of constant pressure to compromise their faith and values. Success has its own temptations, but it would be deadly to the show’s success if the family tried to fit into some mold set by TV gurus.

 

      But I’ve admitted to some friends lately that I don’t always like “reality.” Yes, the truth will set us free (John 8:32), but first it often brings pain and dismay. I can see why some people prefer to live their whole life in a fantasy world.

 

      And have you ever wondered what people would see if YOUR life was a TV reality show? Would it be the most boring program ever, because you never do anything heroic or adventurous? Would you be embarrassed if hidden cameras caught a behind-the-scenes look at what’s really going on in your family or career?

 

      Perhaps the reality show cameras would reveal that your public persona is far different from who you truly are. As Jesus described the Pharisees, maybe you’re a hypocrite…a play actor…wearing a religious mask or “happy face” to hide your inner reality.

 

      Jesus once told a Samaritan woman who had bounced from one immoral relationship to another, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). There’s an important message here about whether we’re living lives that are authentic or phony.

 

      The Greek word translated “truth” is alētheia. In addition to meaning “truth” in terms of what is right and wrong (e.g., the truth of Scripture), alētheia has a much broader meaning. It can be translated as “reality,” and one Bible dictionary defines it as “candor of mind which is free from pretense, simulation, falsehood, or deceit.”

 

      Many people today are yearning for reality. Perhaps they’ve never classified themselves as a “seeker of truth,” but they’re tired of the phony, the fabricated, and the hyped.

 

      Yet, sadly, not everyone is ready to face the truth. Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men” may have been right when he famously said, “You can’t HANDLE the truth!”

 

      Let’s be honest: At the same time as we applaud the “reality” of a program like “Duck Dynasty,” millions are also watching the un-reality of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

 

      Do we even have a clue as to what is “real” anymore? Do we even care?

 

      As you’ve probably guessed, my concern isn’t whether the Robertsons or the Kardashians are living in reality or phoniness. My concern is for you and me.

 

      I pray you have some true friends who are helping you “keep it real”—people who refuse to allow you to drift into unreality and self-deception. Even though it’s unlikely you’ll ever be offered your own TV program, may the reality of Christ be evident in your life. Although people will be impacted little by what you PROFESS, they can be impacted greatly by the reality of what you POSSESS.

 

      While the Robertson clan has made a mark on the world through manufacturing duck calls, you probably won’t be attracting any ducks through your sincere walk with Jesus. But I predict you surely will succeed as a fisher of men (Matthew 4:19).

    

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