Wielding Your Confession

I wanted to share this message from Voice of the Martyrs that really impacted me. Here it is:

The early Christians were spiritual revolutionaries. In a society that worshiped idols and called those who refused “atheists,” Christians were a radical force that threatened Rome’s continuity. They went against the majority rule and so became a perceived threat to the Roman authority. They were hated so much that their deaths were not only numerous, but they were carried out with horrendous flair.

Christians were revolutionaries who proclaimed the last judgment and the coming transformation of the world through Christ’s return so that many could be saved. They promoted Jesus Christ as a higher authority than the Roman emperor. Therefore, Roman emperors sent out decrees stating that any professing to be Christians were sentenced to die with no further legal proceedings. No due process was provided for these “rebels” who dared to challenge the emperor’s rule. Roman imperialism sponsored ten extreme periods of persecution, each worse than the one before it. The revolutionaries became known by the term martyr. It was adopted for those witnesses who bore their testimony before judges and emperors with the steadfastness of well-disciplined soldiers. They were termed martyrs, or confessors, even if they did not die under scrutiny. They simply would not change their minds. Martyrdom signifies being a witness of one’s faith in Christ, despite exacting circumstances. Every witness for Christ is a modern-day revolutionary.

The martyrs in history were, as we are today, soldiers in a spiritual war. This battle began when Jesus routed the powers of evil by dying on the cross. In his death, he disarmed hell and its demons. Martyrs carry on his battle, however, fighting not with physical weapons but spiritual ones. Their confession is their weapon of choice. They march into enemy territory like the restricted nations and fearlessly proclaim Christ’s victory over Satan. Their prized possession is not their lives, but their testimony. This is why they are willing to trade their lives in order to maintain their beliefs. Where will you take up the battle? Are you willing to wield the weapon of your confession?

If this story touched and challenged you, check out more like it at persecution.com.

May the power and love of Christ lead you!

Wake Up!

So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus *said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. And Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. But I knew that You always hear Me; nevertheless, because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Out came the man who had died, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:38-44 (NASB)

You’ll notice when reading the verses leading up to this portion in John that Jesus was overcome by emotion. I think we can conclude that Christ also weeps over the dead soul that is yet to be awakened. That Christ weeps over the sinful acts of His children. That Christ feels greatly for those who are in the tomb or return to it. But the question is, do we? Do act as those who looked on to the tomb of Lazarus with such grief over the unsaved soul? So we plead with Christ for those who are dead just as Martha did for her brother? In the book of Ephesians chapter five we see Paul revealing to us how we’re supposed to walk as Christians. We’re told to walk in love, light, and wisdom. Isn’t it safe to say that if we aren’t living that way than Christ is weeping over us? Isn’t it safe to say that this is what Christ died for? In verse 14 of this chapter Paul makes a statement which parallels what Christ has called out to Lazarus.

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:14

Christ weeps for you and me just as He wept for Lazarus. But even so He cries out “watch this!” Jesus says I’m going to show you all something that will astonish you. You will see the Glory of God. When Christ stood outside my spiritual tomb He shouted the same words…”Brook, come forth!” Rise to life because you are mine. Awake from the dead and I will shine on you and others will see the glory of God through your transformed life. Not only did Christ call us out of a spiritual slumber but He also said, “Unbind him/her and let him/her go.” We weren’t saved to remain in our burial clothes. We have been raised to so much more. We’ve been raised to freedom and a new life, and a new hope.

Banners of Faith

Why is it the radical faith and obedience to Jesus is criticized so much in the church? The last I checked, we are supposed to die to ourselves and live to Christ. I’m pretty sure the Bible says that we have been crucified in the life we now live we live by faith in the one who died for us. I believe that the Bible also says to be a living daily sacrifice. Doesn’t the scripture also read that we are supposed to keep our minds and hearts set on the things of heaven and not the things of earth? Didn’t Jesus commission his followers to go to the ends of the earth spreading the good news? Aren’t we to walk as he walked?

It’s an inescapable fact that Jesus didn’t sugarcoat what it means to follow him. We are supposed to be all in. We all have a cross to pick up and carry daily. Perhaps the reason why that is met with so much criticism is that complacency and comfort have exceeded conviction and our commission in the hearts and minds of so many. I feel it weighing me down so often as well. I have to fight the urge to just go about living my life, as crazy and hectic as it is, and not put the mission of Jesus at the forefront.

The Bible says that Christ is our life, nothing else. When we see people who actually live like that, we should be motivated to do the same. Paul told people in the first century to follow him as he followed Christ. Was he perfect? Not at all. But he lived sold out for the faith. Jesus was the end all for his purpose in life. That’s what being a Christian should look like. All the times I fall drastically short of this, I draw off of the examples of so many extraordinary men and women of the faith, past and present.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Colossians‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!

Who is God for?

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Have you ever pondered the question of whether or not God was for you? What does that exactly mean? Are we asking if God is in support of what we want or how we would like our lives to turn out? How about during strife with someone else? Do we wonder if God would take our side in the ordeal? Maybe He’s for our career pursuits? In times of war, is He for our nation’s cause or the other?

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  Romans 8:31 NIV

I think its very important to understand the context of this passage in Romans. I hear or read people quote it often and quite a lot it seems to be thrown around pretty loosely to apply to almost anything. Yes, God is for us. But what does that mean? If you read the entirety of chapter 8 (in light of all of the Book of Romans) we are being told that God is for our spiritual transformation and our eternal destination. Those are the two things God wants more than anything for every person in His creation. No matter how much we run away, God wants us back. No matter how much we bring shame to His name or ridicule His holiness with our lives, He wants us back. God is for us in the best possible way. God is always faithful and God is always true. Instead of wondering if God is for us, we should focus on whether or not we are for Him.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

Neither Ignorant nor Fearful

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I have noticed two very contrasting views of the current pandemic. Some speak out in an apathetic tone almost in a way to scoff at the coronavirus. I’ve heard claims from people about COVID19 not being a big deal or that its a media-driven hysteria that’s not really worth worrying about. These are those who refuse to take precautions and who may even make fun of or ridicule those who do. On the other end, there are those who are in a sheer panic. They’ve stocked up and barricaded themselves. They are the ones emptying the shelves of the grocery stores and feeding the worldwide anxiety. Both extremes shield themselves from reality. and for followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t find ourselves in either one of these camps.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  James 3:17 NIV

Ignorance is never a beneficial approach to…well…anything. People who downplay the significance of this pandemic are simply promoting a lack of respect and compassion for those whose lives have been shattered and the wreckage it has left behind in their families. More than likely, their own convenience is driving much of their attitude. No doubt, many have been forced to make huge sacrifices. This is difficult on so many levels. For Christians, our hearts should be turned towards prayer for the hurting and action to do what we can to help those in need. The last thing Christians should ever be doing is complaining and downplaying while so many have been devastated. The coronavirus IS a BIG deal. Let’s promote mercy and be considerate of others. That’s wisdom from above.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

Fear cripples people. It’s so hard to watch somewhat riddled with worry. It consumes their thoughts. They believe that the worst is not only probable but imperative. For a Christian to be paralyzed by fear is contrary to the very Spirit within us. Whether it’s through heavenly wisdom or heavenly power, the believer is driven by compassion and love and the pursuit of peace. Fear prevents people from those things. And so does ignorance. In this time of hardship that’s ravishing the world, let’s not be part of the problem by being ignorant of fearful. Let’s be lovers of peace and truth. Let’s hold fast to the anchor of our faith…Jesus…and share Him with the world. In the darkest of times, the light of Jesus’ followers should shine brightest.

Peace in Christ loved ones

The salvation equation

 

Have you ever tried to “add” to our salvation? What I mean by that is you think you need to accomplish something in order to seal your salvation. There’s a stark contrast between adding to our faith and adding to our salvation. Passages like 2 Peter chapter one and James chapter two can make people think that somehow there’s an equation associated with salvation. Something like Jesus plus…(you fill in the blank) equals me being saved.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

For me, I struggle with a perfectionist mentality. I can’t stand doing something less than extremely well. When I don’t, which is often, I feel a sense of failure. When it comes to my relationship with Jesus, I’ve based my sense of well-being on how well I’m doing as a follower. Some of the factors that affect my perception are things like how often I’m serving those in need, how much prayer time I’m devoting, if I’m keeping up on my Bible plans, if I’ve devoted a lot of time to worship or not, and how well I’ve treated others. No one would argue that those aren’t all great things, right? But nowhere in the Bible does it say that my salvation is based on my relationship with Jesus PLUS how many times I pray or sing worship songs or serve the homeless.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12 NIV

All of us have been guilty of pursuing holiness as a means of being in the presence of Jesus. All that amounts to is self-righteousness which is no righteousness at all. The only true righteousness is that which is imparted by faith in Christ. Everything else is but filthy rags according to scripture. It’s being touched by God that makes us holy and it’s because we’ve been made holy that we start acting accordingly. Isaiah, a devout man of God, (probably far more than any of us here tonight) knew that nothing he had done could possibly warrant Him being in the presence of God’s holiness in the temple. That privilege had to be granted by God alone. The same goes for Moses before the burning bush as he stood on holy ground.

“Holiness is not the way to Christ, Christ is the way to holiness.”

Charles Spurgeon

We need a humble heart that knows our need, not a puffed-up spirit built on the backs of all we’ve accomplished. We have to stop thinking that we add to or earn our salvation in any way. And we also can’t be people who seek to push a similar agenda on innocent believers and non-believers alike. The Apostle Paul was appalled by such people. There were those in the first century, and every century since, who were pushing a message of “now that you have Jesus you still need all of these other things in order to be saved.” Paul rebuked these people. Just check out Colossians 2, Galatians 1, and 2 Corinthians 11 if you want to see exactly what I’m referring to.

Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

John 14:6 NASB

It all boils down to this: if we say, in any way, that Jesus plus ___ equals salvation, we are devaluing Jesus. His sacrifice is all-sufficient. His blood cleanses us from sin. His life gives us life. He makes us children, and heirs. It was Him who ransomed you and me from the grave and In the end, it will be Jesus who ransoms this world. That is the message we carry and we need to share with the world, and with ourselves.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB

Jesus plus NOTHING equals salvation. Walk in that freedom brothers and sisters.

Jesus and the Unknown

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I don’t think that Jesus meant for life as His disciples to be safe. His invitations included picking up our cross and following Him, going to the ends of the earth, reaching out to the outcasts of society, loving our enemies, hating sin, crucifying our selfish desires, leaving what we know, and waging a spiritual war that sees people freed from bondage. None of that is safe.

Every single day we are met with choices that either lead us into His presence or distract us from it. Just like Peter, a disciple of Jesus had the choice to walk out on the water to meet Jesus or let security keep him in the confines of the wooden vessel. We either step out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus or we stay in the boat and ignore His call. We can’t do both. But to step out of the boat enters us into the unknown. Will we sink? Even worse, will we drown? Or will He give us the ability to walk on the waters?

The boat is safe. The known is safe. But the call of Jesus brings us to the precipice where we can leap and allow Him to give us wings or turn and walk the safe and spiritually dull life. Our faith is not meant to be kept to ourselves. His love is not something to be selfish with. That faith and love should move us into action. We should be speaking up, standing up, rising up for truth and love. Forget political correctness. The world needs spiritual correctness. The world needs to see people brought to life by the power His love. The world needs us to get out of the boat. The world needs us to forsake our comfort and reach out.

We can walk the day to day grind with our blinders on. Or we can choose to keep our gaze out for others in need, for opportunities to disrupt our routines, and moments to sacrifice on behalf of others.  Perhaps the reason so many of us get weighed down with boredom or worldly concerns is that we’ve lost sight of our Lord’s call…to love Him and to make His love known.

You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26:3-4 ESV

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!

Unknown

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Life is but a series of choices.

Two or three paths that may be wandered at any given moment.

One would have been walked many times before.

Another is new yet the destination is not unknown.

As one gazes into the third the distance is blinded from view.

It is easy to be torn.

Thoughts of venturing the first two paths may dull the senses.

The drudgery of certainty weighs down enthusiasm.

But that same certainty screams of safety.

The more one ponders the more one may be drawn to the unknown.

Your feet could be standing at the precipice.

But you could also be given wings to fly.

 

 

Self-defeated

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*Image from Generationchurch

There exists a conflict that runs the length of the Bible. I’m not talking about the wars to take back the promised land or even to defend it from the Assyrians or Babylonians. Neither am I referring to the struggles to throw off the oppressors in the book of Judges. Nor am I speaking about the war to end all wars in the book of Revelation.  I am talking about the one that began within the very first humans and continued in every human after. The conflict is with ourselves.

I will be right up in the front of the line with those arguing in support of spiritual warfare. It’s all over the pages of the Bible and all through the years of everyone’s story. However, where I tend to veer off is when I hear people passing along what I consider too much blame.  Let’s be clear, the devil doesn’t make us do anything. The buck stops with us. We make the choices that steer our lives, for good or for ill. We choose whether or not to sin. We choose to believe lies or seek the truth. We choose whether or not to get educated on why we believe the things we do. We choose to hate or to love. We choose to forgive or to hold on to offenses. We choose how to let the things that happen to us mold us. There are rare occasions where people can be possessed. Jesus set several people free from demons during His time among us. But that does not translate to the vast majority of our stories.

The good news is, all of us can have victory over ourselves. What I  mean by that is, our natures can change. How we view our existence can all be commonly viewed through the same lens. Our experiences do not dictate our place in this world nor our value. Our origins (being made in God’s image), our purpose (to be with and love God forever), and one extreme act of love (Jesus giving His life for us) can change everything for you and me.

When Jesus was addressing the churches in the book of Revelation he made a statement to each one about how to have victory. Not all of the churches were following Him as they should. Just like not all of us are following Him as we should. But He left that beacon of hope for every single one of us.

Jesus said, “To him who conquers…

  1. I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Rev 2:7 (ESV)
  2. will not be hurt by the second death. Rev 2:11 (ESV)
  3. I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Rev 2:17 (ESV)
  4. I will give authority over the nations. Rev 2:26 (ESV)
  5. will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Rev 3:5 (ESV)
  6. I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Rev 3:12 (ESV)
  7. I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Rev 3:21 (ESV)

What are we conquering exactly? We’re conquering the enemy (the satan) by not listening to his lies or modeling his character. We’re conquering life’s circumstances by not letting them dictate our own view of ourselves. We’re conquering the world by choosing a higher path and not conforming to the patterns of godlessness celebrated in the world. We’re conquering persecution and trials by enduring till the end. And we’re conquering sin by not choosing it and repenting in the times we fail. This sounds like a heavy load and tremendous responsibility. But it comes with an incredible series of promises to all those who give their lives over to Christ. The even greater news is, we’re not alone in this endeavor. As Paul tells us in Romans, our life circumstances cannot separate us from the Love of Christ. The times we fail to glorify Him don’t even separate us. When we choose Him, we are His. We can rejoice in that security and the strength that Christ gives us to be conquerors in His name.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.   Romans 8:35-37 (ESV)

On our own, we will be self-defeated. But through Him, we are more than conquerors! rejoice, believer, and go and live in that freedom.

His no matter what

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,”. Ephesians‬ ‭6:19‬ ‭NIV‬‬

There have only been a few moments in my life when I’ve had to make the choice to stand for Jesus rather than stand with the crowd, and it actually cost me something big. And I use the word “big” loosely. I’ve lost friends and family members because of my faith. I’ve lost financial opportunities as well. I’ve faced my fair share of criticism. But I’ve never had to make a choice that would put my life at risk.

I read a story recently about a man named Sebastian. He was a follower of Jesus in the early days of the church. But his station in life made his faith something of a problem. Sebastian worked directly for the Emperor of Rome in a time Emperor wanted to be worshipped as a god and had no patience for a rival. Here’s a bit of the story.

Sebastian walked through the halls of the palace daily. He had worked hard to get to this position in the royal guard, but once he had gotten to Rome, he restrained himself from the idolatrous lifestyle of imperial Rome. He only wanted to serve Christ wholeheartedly. 

When Emperor Diocletian heard of his restraint, he had little interest in his service record. He confronted him and found out about his faith. At this, he ordered Sebastian taken outside the city and shot to death with arrows. The soldiers did their job and left his body to rot. Soon a group of Christians came to give his body a proper burial. As they lifted him, one of them exclaimed, “He moves!” “Shhh!” cautioned another. “Let us take him somewhere safe.” Sebastian was taken to one of their homes where he was treated and recovered from his injuries. As soon as he was well enough, he placed himself before the emperor again. Once he had tasted the hope of heaven, the pleasures of this world had even less appeal for him. The emperor was of course shocked to see Sebastian seemingly back from the dead. He ordered Sebastian seized and beaten to death and his body thrown into the sewer. His body was recovered again by Christians and buried in the catacombs. 

A time may come when we are all asked to choose between our allegiance to Christ and our allegiance to our physical life. Even if that day does not come, we are all asked to stand with Him no matter what. No matter the words spoken about us. No matter the judgement cast our way. If you are His, be His, no matter what. Pray for me that I will have the strength to answer that call.

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” Acts‬ ‭4:29‬ ‭NIV‬‬