Monthly Archives: November 2014

What will you do?

I call myself a Christian because I want to live my life close to Jesus Christ.  I would love nothing more than to know that this blog helps you to live your life closer to him as well.  But I understand that the name “Jesus Christ” may make you want to scream and run the other direction.  Or you may feel that you would have to “check your brain at the door” before you could call yourself a Christian.  CS Lewis said, “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it.  That is not the point at which Faith comes in.”  I completely agree.

The Apostle Paul didn’t instruct us “to be transformed by the removal of your mind”,* but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. (Rom. 12:2)  I believe that the weight of evidence is for Christianity and that Faith transformed me when God renewed my mind.    I know that God loves you and wants to transform you, but you have to want to be transformed.  I can pray for your transformation, but ultimately, God is the one responsible for drawing you to Him (John 6:44).

And when He does draw you, will you call Jesus your “Lord and Savior”?  Your “Ruler and Redeemer”?  Or is that all “Christianese”?  How about “Leader and Forgiver”?  Maybe that’s better, but it brings up another point.  What do I need to be forgiven of?  I haven’t done anything wrong.  I’m a good person.  That’s where I was almost 21 years ago.

You could say that the world’s largest religion is called “Good-personism”.*  Just make sure that, at the end of your life, your “good” outweighs your “bad”.  Sounds simple enough.  But how do you know when you’ve done enough? How much is enough?  And what if you’ve done something really horrible?  How much good do you have to do to make up for that?  And what if your definition of “really horrible” is vastly different from my definition of “really horrible”?  Maybe there’s a better way.  Maybe that way is called “Christianity”.

Christianity is the only religion where:*

1) Everyone is welcome
2) Everyone gets in the exact same way
3) Everyone can meet the requirement

So, how do you get in?  You turn to Jesus.  That’s it.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, if you’ve never done it, it’s probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do.  Why?  We don’t want anyone telling us what to do.  Especially not in America.  We have our rights, after all.  We should be able to do what we want.  We’ve got to look out for #1.  So, why would we, in our right minds, give control of our lives over to someone else?  We’ve got to be pretty darn sure that whoever we give control over to has our best interests in mind.

I can tell you, from my own personal experience, that Jesus does have our best interests in mind.  But that’s something you need to experience for yourself, if you are open and willing to ask for it.  And consider this.  Most people who reject Christianity still say that Jesus was a good teacher, a good moral leader. But consider what he said about himself.

Here’s a link to the Book of John in BibleGateway.com.  Jesus makes some pretty outlandish statements about himself: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9); “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11); “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:21).  Good teachers and good moral leaders don’t walk around claiming to be God, but Jesus did.

Jesus doesn’t give us the option to say that he’s a good, moral teacher.  Either he’s a liar or a lunatic or he’s the Lord.*  Those are our only options.

Here’s what Bono had to say about Jesus in an interview posted on Glenn Beck’s website on 3-31-15:

“It’s a defining question for Christian.  Who was Christ?  I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying he was a great thinker or great philosopher.  Because, actually, he went around saying he was the Messiah.  That’s why he was crucified.  He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God.  So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God or he was nuts.  Forget rock-and-roll messianic complexes.  I mean Charlie Manson-type delirium.  And I find it hard to accept that all the millions and millions of lives, half the Earth, for 2,000 years have been touched, have felt their lives touched and inspired by some nutter.  I don’t believe it.”

Check out the 3 minute interview by clicking here.

But, really, here’s the bigger question to ask yourself:

If I became a Christian today, what would happen tomorrow?  What would the consequences be?  How would my life have to change if I were to believe this?*

So, we come back to the fact that we have to want to turn to Jesus.  And that’s what is so hard.  Humility is brutal.  Saying “no” to ourselves and “yes” to something better feels excruciating in the moment.  Do you know where the word “excruciating” came from?  That word was created to describe the act of being crucified.  That’s what was done for us. We have turned away from God, but Jesus died to pay for all of our “turning away“.

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
-Isaiah 53:6

What will you do with Jesus?

If you’d like to chat more, feel free to email me at jbjbac@gmail.com.

*Special thank you to Abdu Murray, Chris Zarbaugh and CS Lewis for this great content.

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Give us this day…

If you grew up saying “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father”, you know this phrase very well:

“Give us this day our daily bread”

I knew it, and I thought I knew what it meant.  It reminded me of the Israelites gathering manna in the wilderness and being told not to gather more than they needed for one day.  If they did gather more, it would be smelly and full of maggots by morning.  Yuck!  That lead me to believe that this “daily bread” had to do with guilt, not having more than our fair share, not taking more than we need.

What I didn’t realize was that, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray and Jesus gave them “The Lord’s Prayer” and told them about daily bread, he was quoting Psalm 30:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.”
-Psalm 30:7-9

When David wrote that Psalm, he was asking God for two important things:

1) Lord, please don’t give me too much, otherwise I’ll forget You
2) Lord, please don’t give me too little, otherwise I’ll steal and dishonor You

This had nothing to do with guilt and shame over having too much when others have so little.  This had to do with keeping our hearts right before God.  Very simple – don’t forget Me.  Don’t forget that everything you have I freely gave you because I love you.  And don’t forget that I will take care of your needs, even when it feels like I won’t.  My timing is perfect.  You may feel like I’m too slow to answer, but know that I am always working for you.  I am always right on time.  Please be patient.  Please don’t turn away from Me while you wait.  Please keep your focus on Me.  Hold My hand and let’s wait together.  I love you!

Thank you to Steve Norman for pointing out the “daily bread” distinction the weekend that K-Rock performed “Monopoly” at Kensington’s Troy campus.  I’m so glad I got to hear it four times that weekend so that it would sink in.  It’s so easy to forget.  It’s so important that we remember, so much so that I wrote about it here: Decide to Keep Deciding

And John Waller wrote a beautiful song used in the movie “Fireproof” about the importance of waiting, knowing that God is working:

“I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You Lord
And I am hopeful, I’m waiting on You Lord
Though it is painful, but patiently I will wait”
While I’m Waiting by John Waller

In your anger…

So, I have a confession to make.  I have this issue.  I am easily offended.  Over and over again, all day long, I’m offended.  Because, after all, the world revolves around me, right?  Yep, it’s all about me.  And if you don’t give me the attention I think I deserve, or you respond more harshly than I thought necessary, or you didn’t memorize everything I just said, then I’m offended.  And my offense colors the rest of my day.  Kicks me right into a ditch.  And there I sit, paralyzed to do a darn thing.  And all for what?  Because I was offended.

I went to BibleGateway.com and looked up “offense”.  Over and over again, “offenses and sins” are referred to as one and the same.  And we’re told that if we repent and turn away from our offenses, we will surely live.  Could it be that, if “sin” is to miss the mark and turn away from God, “offense” could mean the same thing?  In Isaiah 44:22, God says: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist.  Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”  I love God’s remedy: repentance, turning around.  Simply turn back to Him.  He’s already paid the bill.

In Ephesians 4:26, the Apostle Paul says “In your anger do not sin” and continues in verse 27 with the reason why: “and do not give the devil a foothold.”  In our anger, if we turn away from God, we’re going to give the devil a foothold.  We’re going to do something destructive if we’re selfish and self-serving in our anger.  That’s the devil’s job description: to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).  But that same verse says that Jesus came to give us abundant life.  Only two choices: abundant life or destructive life.  When I chose offense, I was choosing the destructive life, paralyzed in that ditch.

So, why doesn’t Paul just say “don’t get angry”?  Isn’t anger itself a sin?  Nope.  We’re humans and we’re going to get angry.  Jesus got angry and he was perfect.  Anger doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  A lot of good is done because someone, somewhere, got angry.  Anger motivates.  Children are saved from human trafficking because someone got angry.  Slaves are freed because someone got angry.  The hungry are fed because someone got angry.

We live in a war zone.  This world is not the way God intended it.  I think Matthew West says it best in his song, “Do Something“:

So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

Instead of shaking our fists at Heaven, what would happen if we instead did what Jesus did when he got angry?  Jesus never sinned; he never turned away from God.  In his anger, he looked to his Father and said, “Dad, what should we do about this?”  That’s the kind of “sinless anger” that we’re called to.  Look to God and ask, “Dad, what should I do?”

Back to that issue of mine.  I am coming to believe that living in offense is living in sin, turned away from God, having my own pity party, all by myself.  I’m not looking to God saying, “Lord, I’m offended.  What should I do?”  I’m looking away from God, looking for an excuse to have that pity party.  I think that’s why we’re told over and over again to humble ourselves.  Pride is so destructive.  Like a two year old yanking away the broken toy protesting, “I do it myself.”

It takes humility to turn to God.  I don’t want to humble myself, but that’s exactly the right response.  Turn to God.  Get over myself.  Stop harboring that anger and hand my offense over to my Daddy in Heaven.  Realize how much grace I’ve been given and start handing out some of that grace.  I need to love that person the way I want to be loved.

“In your anger, do not sin”.  I believe that means, “You’re going to get angry, but don’t turn away from God.”  If in our anger we “sin” and turn away from God, taking up our own devices, really awful things can happen.  Instead, we can keep looking to God asking, “Lord, what do You want me to do with this anger?  How can we, together, transform this into something beautiful?” 

“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
Proverbs 19:11  

Decide to Keep Deciding

I’ve had a lot of opportunities over the years to make a decision about something in my life.  I bet you have too.  Draw a line in the sand.  This is it.  I’m going to change ______.  And then what happens?  I go home.  I get distracted.  I get tired and worn out.  I forget.  Or I just don’t want to any more.  Kind of like the New Year’s Resolution that we chose to keep to ourselves “just in case” it didn’t work out.  Our intentions may have been good in the moment, but when the rubber meets the road, life is hard and the status quo is a whole lot easier than following through on the decisions we made.

Yep, life is hard.  Jesus never said, “Believe in me and your life will be a piece of cake.”  Nope.  Actually, he said just the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).  Trouble?  That’s not what I signed up for.  But what if the trouble isn’t really our trouble?

In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Now that’s an interesting twist.  In this world we will have trouble, but how do we keep that trouble from invading our hearts?

In the first verse of John 16, Jesus says, “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith.”  What “things” did he tell us?  Just two verses before that, Jesus said, “But I will send you the Advocate — the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.”  (John 15:26)

Ok.  There’s our answer.  Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, so that we won’t abandon our faith.  And he spends most of John 14, 15 and 16 giving us more details about why he is sending the Holy Spirit and what his purpose will be.

John 14:26 summarizes his purpose: “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”  Why is it so important that we be reminded of what Jesus said?  Because “in this world we will have trouble,” but Jesus has given us his peace.  If we forget about his peace, that trouble will invade our hearts and we will live in fear instead of in his peace.  And that decision we made to change _______?  That will go right out the window.  Too much trouble.

I’m often reminded of a quote by Tim Keller based on 2 Peter 1:3-15.  Pastor Keller summed up that passage in that “we are always either remembering or forgetting what God has done.”   He’s absolutely right.  We could nail down every moment of life as either a “forgetting” moment (turning away from God) or a “remembering” moment (turning to Him).  God has sent us His Holy Spirit to remind us of what He has done, is doing and will continue to do.  And He did this so that we would not “abandon our faith” and turn away from Him, even in times of trouble or fear or weakness or struggle.

So, the next time we feel challenged to make a decision, big or small, to make a change in our lives, how about we decide to keep deciding?  We know that life will get hard.  We know we’ll get tired, distracted and irritated and we’ll turn away from God.  We may “abandon our faith” a zillion times each day, but He never abandons us.  He is always faithful.  He never turns away from us.

Our trouble is that we turn away from the only One who can really help us.  Thankfully, we can decide to turn around.  Decide again.  Decide anew.  We can keep the trouble of this world from invading our hearts by remembering God’s peace, His goodness and His love for us.  “His mercies are new every morning.  Great is His faithfulness.”  (Lamentations 3:23)

But don’t wait til morning.  We can turn around right now.  He’s waiting with open arms.

Don’t believe me?  Check this out: The Face of Grace

 

Jaya Sankar’s Story

I had the honor and privilege of meeting a man named Jaya Sankar in the year 2000, while I was on staff at Kensington Church.  Jaya was visiting the US, raising support for Christ’s Evangelical Mission (CEM), his ministry back home in Andhra Pradesh, India.

“In 2000, Jaya Sankar, an already successful pastor and church planter, started reaching out to the thousands of homeless children in the communities surrounding Rajahmundry – a city of over a million people in Andhra Pradesh, India.  What began as a small initiative to reach forty kids has grown to nearly two hundred in the Grace Children’s Home and expanded into a holistic ministry reaching a broad spectrum of forgotten people, including hundreds of widows and aging poor in Rajahmundry.” –  Impact India 360.org

Part of Jaya’s story was recorded on video back in 2000.  I don’t want you to miss a single word, so I transcribed the video below.  But don’t stop there.  Take another 5 minutes and let Jaya tell you his story, with his rich Indian accent, and watch his face light up as he shares the power of what he experienced.  Click here for Jaya Sankar’s Story.  

“When I become youth, growing, I got so many doubts in these Gods.  Who truly real God is.  Which God is powerful?  Which God is true God?  Because we have so many gods.  33 million gods are there.

So I approach my Hindu priests.  They also did not give a good answer to me.  Finally I approach the Hindu temple High Priest.  He told me and taught me a mantra, a chant, and told me, instructed me, to recite 100,000 times a day.  Like that, I had to continue it for 100 days.

So I went to the river at night time, at midnight, I have to go in the water to the neck (water comes to here).  I am standing in the water, having two rosaries in my hands, reciting this mantra 100,000 times before sunrise.  My temple High Priest told me when I do this ceremony, ritual, reciting 100,000 times every day for 100 days, the God of Light will appear to me and will set me free from the darkness and from the sin.  He will give me salvation.  I was after truth.  I want to see true God, this Light God.  So I made up my mind, whatever it may come to me, my body, I want to see God.  I want to see God.

So I continued, I fulfilled 100 days, but no Light God appeared to me after 100 days.  I was disappointed very, very much.  Then I decided there is no God.  These Hindu priests, temple priests, are simply deceiving people in the name of God.

Then I was in a great hopeless condition, misery, agony.  I was totally deceived.   A lot of struggle going in my heart and mind.  What is the meaning and purpose of the life living on this earth?  A rich man, a poor man has to die one day.  A young man, an old man, a child, has to die one day.  What is the meaning?  I also will die one day, so let me die.  Let me die today.  I don’t want to wait until death comes to me.  I want to die today and see what will be there happening after the death.

Then I went to the railroad track and I wanted to put an end my life under the train.  So I was waiting for the train in the midnight and a great light touched me, focused on me, then I thought the train is coming.  But I did not hear the sound of engines or train.  But instead of the sound of engines, I heard a voice, “I am the God of Light who you are seeking.”  And I’m surprised so much and I was not able to open my eyes because of the great light.  I was just rubbing and closing my eyes and I said, “Who are you?”

Then he told me, “I am Jesus”.  He told me he is the Lord God.  He shed his blood for me.  He paid the debt to the karma on the cross of Calvary and he made me free from my sin.

Jesus Christ promised me to be with me, to help me, to guide me throughout my life.  I never, never forget that day in my life.

Jesus Christ is living today.  He is powerful God.  He’s not only the ancient times, He’s God of Old Testament, the God of New Testament, he is alive today, right now in 21st century.  I am the living witness for him.”

If you enjoyed Jaya’s story, grab a copy of Jeff Petherick’s book “Wavelength: Tuning In To God’s Voice In A World Of Static”.  Jeff tells more of Jaya’s story in his book, published in 2007.  Here’s the synopsis of Jeff’s book from Amazon:

“Did God Stop Speaking?  Or Did We Stop Listening?  Hearing the voice of God is like listening to the radio if you re not dialed in to exactly the right frequency, you’ll get nothing but static.  Wavelength reveals what happens when a nonreligious businessman learns to tune in God s voice… then dares to obey it.  His unorthodox adventures in following Jesus will challenge your thinking, kick over a few sacred cows, and reveal how you can have your own two–way conversations with God.”

Jaya Sankar and one of his many children.  Photo courtesy of J Chris Cook Photography.com.
Jaya Sankar and one of the many children who call him Daddy.  James 1:27, living and breathing.  Photo courtesy of J Chris Cook Photography.com.

Turn Around

It’s been 7 weeks since my miracle occurred.  Now that all of those accusing voices of guilt and shame are finally gone, they’ve made room for a new voice that says, “You’re a heretic.  It can’t possibly be that simple.”

I feel a little like Bart Millard from MercyMe in his song “Wishful Thinking“:

But now my eyes are open wide
If this is wrong
I don’t wanna be right

But I do want to be right.  I know you can be sincere, but still be sincerely wrong.  I get that.  But I want to be accurate.  I want to be Biblically accurate.

My post called “Moment by Moment” was about how I had turned away from God.  I was so convinced that He was angry with me, and trying harder wasn’t getting me anywhere, that I had turned away and stopped asking for forgiveness.  At the beginning of the post, I said that nothing in my life had changed, but yet EVERYTHING had changed, leading me to ask “what changed?”  I concluded the post with a Henry Ford quote and the answer to my question:  my mind was changed.

It didn’t strike me until after I had posted the blog, but that’s exactly what God told me about sin and repentance.  My “sin” was that I had “turned away” from God.  And “repentance” means “to turn around” and “to change one’s mind.”  That’s exactly what happened.  My mind was changed and I turned around to embrace the God who loves me and is not mad at me.  And all of those condemning voices were silenced.

I heard it explained this way before.  If I am walking against a strong wind, I may feel that “the wind is against me.”  And if I turn around, I may feel that “the wind is now with me.”  But the wind didn’t change.  I was the one who changed direction in relation to the wind.  God doesn’t change either (Psalm 55:19).  But we have the ability to change our direction in relation to Him.

The problem comes when we’ve turned away and we think He’s angry with us and that He’ll punish us if we turn back to Him.  Or that we have to somehow “make it up to Him” and “do better” before He’ll take us back.  Our pastor, Chris Zarbaugh, explained it this way.  Chris said that no matter how far we have traveled from God, how far we have gone in the opposite direction, even if we’ve walked 10,000 steps away (or 10,000 miles away), it only takes one step to turn around.  Even though we walked away, God didn’t go anywhere.  He’s always been right there, longing for us to turn around.

God is always pursuing us, but He’s too much of a gentleman to tackle us.  He wants real love, not robotic love.  So He’s patient with us.  The Apostle Peter said that is why God hasn’t sent Jesus back yet: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT)

He wants us to repent – to change our minds about Him and to turn around.  He’s waiting for us.  He loves us.  He’s not angry with us.  Maybe we had an earthly father who was  angry with us, so we figure our Heavenly Father must feel the same way.  But He doesn’t.  If you haven’t read “The Face of Grace“, check it out, especially the picture that Jordan Rose drew last year.  Every time I sing “Christ is Enough“, I think of that picture:

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back
The cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back

And if you’re concerned about the “He does not want anyone to be destroyed” part (what kind of a Good God would destroy people?), I was too.  Check out Reconciling Wrath.

And what about that voice yelling “heresy!”?  Jesus redeemed that.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
 the Holy One of Israel, says:
 “Only in returning to me
 and resting in me will you be saved.” Isaiah 30:15 (NLT)