Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lone Ranger Christians

By Joanna K. Harris
Joanna Harris is an author and blogger with a tremendous passion for God.  You can contact Joanna here.  For more on Joanna and her ministry, check out her website here.  There you can also find links to her other blogs.

You’ve probably heard people say, “There are no Lone Ranger Christians.” Well, as a huge Lone Ranger fan (I think I've seen every episode at least twice), I beg to differ. Personally, I think we need a whole lot more Lone Ranger-like Christians.

First of all, as any true fan will tell you, the Lone Ranger wasn't alone. He was called the "Lone" Ranger, because he was the only Texas Ranger who survived a brutal attack by outlaws. But he knew better than to ride alone.

He had a faithful partner – Tonto, who served selflessly alongside him.
He had various helpers – his nephew for one.
He had a well-trained, magnificent horse – Silver, who carried him across the frontier and frequently helped him escape from the bad guys.
He had practical support – a friend who ran his silver mine, and a banker who exchanged his silver for cash when he needed it.
He had friends of influence – from sheriffs to governors, Indian chiefs to clergy, who assisted in his crime-fighting efforts.

The Lone Ranger understood and practiced the value of a strong support team.

Second, the Lone Ranger lived for a clearly defined mission. He devoted his life to bringing justice to the lawless and peace to the law-abiding.

Instead of accumulating things or seeking his own comfort, he used his resources to further his mission. He didn’t take the money from his silver mine and settle down somewhere to be “comfortable.” He gave of what he had to help others.

He valued truth and exposed deception wherever he went. (Not all bad guys were outlaw types. Sometimes, they were “respectable” ranchers or bankers.)

The Lone Ranger risked his life time and again for justice. And he never sought praise or accolades from men. As soon as the wrong was righted, he rode off to find another person in need. Fulfilling his mission was more important than temporal rewards.

Finally, the Lone Ranger lost his own life for a bigger purpose. After seeing the burial of his fellow rangers slain in the attack, he also buried his old identity and life. From that day forward, he took on a new name and a new life.

Because of the way he lived, his reputation spread. Everyone knew what kind of man the Lone Ranger was and what he stood for. His new name brought fear to the bad guys and gave hope to the needy. And we still talk about him today! (Well, at least some of us do). =)

Ok, so maybe that's more Lone Ranger trivia than you ever wanted to know, but when I think about this fictional character, I’m inspired to be that kind of Christian.

I want to have a strong support team – like Paul who always took a partner on his journeys, who had support from various churches and fellowship with other godly leaders.

I want to live my life devoted to my calling and mission from God. I don’t want to get distracted by material things or my own comfort. I want to expose deception and see people set free by God’s truth! I want to be like Joseph, Esther, and Nehemiah.

I want to remember that my life is no longer my own. I have lost my life in Christ, and I now live for HIS name and HIS glory! I want my new name of “Christ-follower” to bring fear to the kingdom of darkness and hope to those in need – like Peter and John, who spread the fragrance of Christ all over the known world. 

I want to live in a way that is far beyond what I can do in my own strength. I want people to look at me and see the hero of our eternal story – JESUS! 

What about you? Who do you want to be?

Do you want to become a more Lone Ranger-like Christian? Obviously it’s a lot easier to live like a hero in a half-hour episode of fiction than in real life. =) But I believe that with God ALL thing are possible. We can indeed be like the heroes of the faith who also lived this way. And we have more resources than the Lone Ranger ever had. We have God’s Word and the Holy Spirit living in us!

What do we still need? Willing hearts. A daily prayer – Lord, please keep making me into the person you want me to be…perhaps even a Lone Ranger-like Christian. Amen.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 12:1-2

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

PLJ: Praying Like Jesus

By: Adam McClendon


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I pray.

It has prompted two questions.

First, how did I learn to pray?  I mostly learned how to pray from listening to people that I respected in church, at home, or over a meal at a restaurant.  The reason I have found this question important is because the way I have been taught to pray has impacted the content of my prayers.

That is the second question.  For what do I pray?  Ultimately, I find they revolve around the typical categories of health, family, finances, guidance, and missions.  Nothing is inherently wrong with that list.  It is right that these things are brought before the Lord in prayer.  My concern comes when I am honest about the emphasis in my prayers when praying for these things.

In praying for health, family, finances, guidance, and missions, I tend to pray for that result that will bring me the most comfort.  In its essence, praying for comfort is not wrong, but honestly, it seems to be the core of most, if not all, of my prayers.  This fact is further highlighted when I realized that I pray more frequently and fervently when I am discomforted in one of these areas.

Recently, I had the privilege of teaching on John 17.  Preparing to teach that material proved rather convicting.  I’ve studied and taught many times on Jesus’ teaching us to pray, but it has been a long time since I’ve studied how Jesus actually prayed.  This passage was uniquely convicting to me, because in it, I was personally included in his prayer for all future believers. 

Here are four things that Jesus prayed for me and for all who believe in him.

1.   Protected from the evil one (17:15-16). 

Jesus’ prayer isn’t that his disciples wouldn’t experience physical harm or have tough times as the enemy attacks them, but that in the midst of this fallen world, their faith would be safe from the enemy.  Jesus in Luke 22:31 prayed for Simon Peter in a similar way.  Satan was going to sift Peter like wheat, but Jesus prayed for his protection.  Jesus didn’t pray for physical safety or the removal of the emotional bombardment that he was about to receive, but he prayed that his “faith may not fail.”  This perspective is most consistent with Matthew 13 where Jesus presented the Parable of the Soils.  The evil one, in this parable, comes and snatches away the word of the kingdom of God before someone could understand it and be changed by it.  In other words, the enemy keeps them from believing, following, and becoming transformed-fruit-bearers for Jesus.  In the same way, Jesus is praying for his disciples that their faith would hold in the face of the enemy and they would be protected from the disillusionment and distraction that he brings.

2.   Sanctified by the truth (17:17-19).

Jesus prayed that his disciples would be set apart from this world while in the world serving him and his purpose.  He prays that they would be holy, abstaining from sin.  What if one of my primary concerns in every situation was my holiness versus my comfort?      

3.    Unified in Jesus Christ (17:20-23).

Jesus prayed that those who believe in him would be unified, and that through this unity of purpose, the world might believe that Jesus was sent from the Father.

4.   Experience Jesus’ eternal glory (17:24-26).

The last thing Jesus prayed is that believers would experience the full glory of Jesus when they are joined with him in the fullness of his kingdom.  This aspect of the prayer provides a future confidence that followers of Christ will one day join him in his kingdom and behold him in all his glory.  That glory will be such that it will make the sufferings of this world dissipate like smoke in the wind (Romans 8:17).

Seeing how Jesus prayed for me challenges me in two specific ways. 

First, Jesus’ prayer challenges how I view my purpose.  God desires that I be protected, sanctified, unified, and ultimately experience Jesus’ eternal glory.  That purpose should provide a context through which all present and future circumstances are experienced. 

Second, this prayer challenges how I pray for myself and others, so that the motive in my prayer might be that God would protect faith, sanctify life, unify his people, and bring all believers through to the end so that they would experience the fullness of his eternal glory!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How Should Christians Respond to the Issue of Homosexuality?

By: Charlie Kelly
Charlie is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Life Connection Group Teacher at Graceland Baptist Church.

The issue of homosexuality looms large in our culture.  We are all affected by this issue, and will be increasingly so.  As Christians, we must accept the challenge of knowing how to respond biblically.

In dealing with the issue of homosexuality there is a “ditch on both sides of the road,” so to speak.  In other words, people have often erred on one side, and then as a knee jerk reaction, a different group has over-compensated and erred on the other side.

One error (ditch) is unbiblical disengagement.  This is most prevalent among my age group (30+) and older, and/or those from a socially conservative background.  While homosexuality is one of the oldest sins in recorded history, in modern western society, it has long been repressed by societal norms (in eastern cultures, it is still repressed).  It is only in recent decades that this sin has begun to be so openly expressed in the West.

The way societal repression of homosexuality looked for many people in my age range or background was that we grew up hearing about how gross and disgusting homosexuals were.  They were referred to by derogatory names; we were told any physical contact with them put us at risk of getting AIDS, etc.

For many of us who grew up in that milieu, we have “cognitive dissonance,” (we hold two things to be true that can’t go together). On the one hand we believe that all people are sinners and need Jesus, and in another category of our mind we still deal with the undercurrent of how we were brought up to think of homosexuals. 

What is the result?  The result is that we Christians have done a shamefully poor job of evangelizing homosexuals.  Look at 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11a:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you

Notice that Paul was talking to a church at Corinth.  If you looked around that church, you would have seen people that used to walk in all sorts of sins, including homosexuality. 

If you were to tour the churches of America, you would find many former adulterers, thieves and drunks, but of whom would you not find many?  Homosexuals.  Until we can look around our churches and say of homosexuality…”and such were some of you,” then we have much work to do in evangelizing the homosexual community.

The second error (the other side of the ditch) is a dismissive view of the true sinfulness and consequences of homosexuality.

There is a tendency in “progressive” Christian circles to claim that homosexuality is not a sin.  They say the apostle Paul was either wrong, speaking only from his limited knowledge of human sexuality, or referring to heterosexuals who were acting unnaturally by performing homosexual acts.  All of these excuses defy the clear biblical message that homosexuality is an “abomination” (Lev. 18:22) and a deviation from God’s original natural order (Rom. 1:26).

Romans chapter 1 specifically calls out the sin of homosexuality.  In that chapter, Paul makes the argument that through the suppression of the true knowledge of God humanity can go to extremes in their perversions.  The argument is that if fallen humanity is willing to pervert a most obvious and natural heterosexual relationship in order to commit homosexual acts, they are capable of anything.

Some will argue that the sin of homosexuality is on par with any other sin, such as lying and cheating.  This is true in one sense, and false in another.  It is true in the sense that any sin is enough to separate us from God.  The wages of any sin is spiritual death.  However, all sins are not equal in their consequences or in the degree to which they are a perversion of God’s created order.

For the Christian, any sexual sin is a desecration of the temple of God.  1 Corinthians 6:18-19 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.  Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” 

Homosexuality perverts and destroys the family structure and society.  It inverts the gender roles created by God for human flourishing.  God created men and women differently.  Homosexuality prevents the complimentary functioning of the natural relationship.  This natural relationship is modeled for us by the Trinity, where we see Persons who are equal in essence, yet different in function.  Boys and girls need the developmental influence of a father and mother.  In the Christian community, the church is to intervene on behalf of children who do not have this influence by providing it in community.  As more families lose their ability to function as God created them, we see an increase in the breakdown of the society-at-large because the family unit is the primary unit of society.

Homosexuality is a flaunting of the rebellion against God’s created order.  Some homosexuals (and others) may insist they do not recognize God or his law and therefore are not in rebellion.  However, Romans 1 teaches that the truth is made plain to them, but they suppress that truth in order that they may live as they please.

Once we are able to avoid veering off into either ditch when dealing with this issue, we can then look ahead and proceed in a biblical manner in dealing with homosexuality.  So what should we do?

We should share the good news of Jesus with homosexuals while keeping the following things in mind:

1)    Recognize that homosexuals did not arbitrarily choose to have the attractions they do

The reaction of some to homosexuals is, “Well, just quit doing that.”  However, this misunderstands the very real and deep-seeded orientation that comes naturally to those with same-sex attraction.  People who are addicted to drugs would often like to “just quit doing that,” but that is not a realistic way to address these types of issues.

Homosexuality can most often be attributed to a problem occurring during the developmental process of the early childhood years.  It is usually a “nurture” not a “nature” problem.  Some would argue that it is indeed an issue of nature because they believe it is genetic.  However, even if it were genetic in nature, the fact that people have a natural inclination to something does not give moral justification to that action.  According to a biblical worldview, we are all born with a sinful nature and, therefore, an inclination to sin.  It is genetic, because we have inherited our fallen nature from our father Adam.  However, the fact that our sin nature is inherited does not excuse us before God.  He holds us accountable.

2)    Recognize that we are all sexual sinners

Christians should never look down their noses at homosexuals as if they were not sexual sinners themselves.  Homosexuality is one way that sexual sin is manifested, but we have all manifested it in some form.  Jesus took to task those who wrongly thought they had not broken sexual laws.  In Matthew 5:27-28, he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

When we approach a homosexual, we do so as a fellow sexual sinner who is also in need of a great Savior.  The foot of the cross is level ground.  We show them that just as God has forgiven us of our sexual sins, so he can forgive them as well.

3)    Recognize that sanctification is a hard, life-long process, but is accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit

There is no magic pill for sin.  It is a rare occasion that a new believer suddenly loses all their former fleshly urges relating to their vices upon becoming born again.  The former drunk will usually still feel the urge to take the easy way out of problems.  The former porn addict will usually still feel the cravings of the lust of the eyes.  The former thief will usually still feel the itch that he knows can be scratched by his old ways.  In the same way, a former homosexual may have to continue fighting against his sexual urges by taking every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

The difference between we Christians now, and our former selves, is that we no longer have to sin.  We formerly sinned because we freely chose in our sinful nature to do what came natural.  But having been brought to spiritual life and given a new nature, we now have the ability to walk in the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).  Those who truly belong to Christ (including those struggling with same sex attraction) are part of the golden chain of redemption found in Romans 8:29-30:

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

There are no dropouts.  And no one in this group will be able to say they were not a sexual sinner.  While the earthly future for believers may be difficult, it is not a struggle to be something we are not, but a Spirit-empowered march towards being what we already are.  All Christians, by virtue of their new nature and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, are able to resist the sins to which they were once enslaved and offer their body up to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1).

In summary, homosexuals need the gospel.  We all need the gospel.  It is the hope for reconciliation with God and the restoration of all aspects of our humanity, including our sexuality.  We are to take the gospel with wisdom, humility and love.  It is with wisdom that we will not be dissuaded by the political correctness of this age.  It is with humility that we will see our own selves rightly.  And it is with love that we will properly reflect the attitude of a God whom we love, because while we were still sexual sinners, he first loved us.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Great Chase

By: Adam McClendon

The year was 1991.  I was staying with some family friends for a couple of weeks in the summer.  They were a retired couple living in the country.  I arrived.  There was no TV, no video games, no central air, but there was land that had to be worked.  So, in the morning I got up, hoed the garden, worked the reasonably-large chicken coop, and hung out. 

Well, one day, I had to catch a chicken.  I can’t remember if I just wanted to catch this one ornery chicken or if she was to be dinner, but I remember this sense that I had to catch this chicken.  Have you ever tried to catch a chicken?  It’s not too easy.  As I chased her, feathers flew, and chickens screamed.  In the chaos, I tripped and fell in the pin.  I stood up with a scraped knee and, as you can imagine, had junk all over me.  It was ridiculous.

Over the years, I’ve found that I’ve chased after so many things in this world that brought misery and left me feeling defeated and dirty just like in that chicken pin.  Whether I was chasing after the approval of others and a status of “cool” that led me to try drugs and party, which left me feeling more dirty and alone, or I was chasing after money, coming home feeling empty working a job I hated, I was chasing after the status and stuff of this world.

The truth is that I’m a chaser and you are a chaser.

The problem is that we chase after the wrong things.

What are you chasing?

As kids it looks different.  We chase each other in tag, so we can have fun and win.  We chase after trophies and the approval of our parents.  We chase after friends and status with designer cloths and gadgets.

The root is the same, but as we get older, it becomes more sophisticated.  We chase the American dream.  We chase people seeking approval, attention, love, and affection.  We chase money. 

When we chase these things as a means to an end, we end up empty.  These things cannot serve as a substitute for God.

Are you chasing anything as a substitute for God?  Are you chasing anything thinking that object will satisfy and fulfill you when the reality is that only God can do that?

Well, may I encourage you that Jesus came into this world to chase after you?  He pursued you before you even knew you were lost and in need of something more.

As Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So, stop chasing status and stuff and surrender to his pursuit believing that he will satisfy completely.

Psalm 16:11: You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Isaiah 58:11: The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mythbusting Santa-God

By: Adam McClendon

We love Santa Claus don’t we?  Sure, we do, and what’s not to love?  He’s a nice, jolly, older, fluffy gentleman whose primary purpose is to try and make me happy by giving me what I want, whether or not it’s what I need.

Unfortunately, this is how some of us view God. 

I remember the first time that I heard this “Santa Claus” view of God by a well-intentioned pastor advocating these types of unqualified statements: “God is a God of grace and mercy and loves you without exception,” “God just wants to bless you regardless of who you are or how you live,” “God cares more about you than anything and wants you to be happy.”

The truth is we are not the center of God’s universe.  God’s preeminent concern is the glory of his name, not the comfort of our lives.  He desires that people worship him rightly and experience the salvation that he extends.  He calls us to a higher purpose in life beyond ourselves and rejects our narcissistic tendencies to self-worship.

This point is pressed home in dramatic fashion in Joshua 7 with the stoning of Achan.  In this story, Achan stole some items that were God’s.  As a result, judgment came upon the people in their losing the battle against the city of Ai.  Achan, his family, and his flocks are stoned to death.

We see from all this:

1.    Our Sin will be Exposed

Our sins will be exposed.  Even if we are able to hide our sin from others in this life, God knows our sin and will make us give an account (2 Corinthians 5:10).

2.    Our Sin has Consequences

We make this mistake of thinking that if there are not immediate consequences, there will be no consequences.  As a result we tend to deny that our actions are sinful.  We may justify them, downplay them, or simply believe that we got away with that one.

Sin has a payment that comes with it.  Sin has consequences and the ultimate consequence of sin is that it is an attack against the glory of God.  Our sin proclaims that what we want matters more than what God wants.  Our sin proclaims that we know better than God.

Other consequences also may exist.  Sin can bring emotional pain.  Sin can bring physical pain.  Sin can even bring death (Acts 5; 1 John 5:16-17).

3.    Our Sin Affects Others

Our sins create shockwaves and impacts those around us whether they are guilty or innocent.  No man is an island and the wake of sin is astounding.

Rocks being thrown with blunt force meeting flesh and crushing bone, pilling up as blood trickles out between the cracks cries out that God is deadly serious about sin.

God is serious about seeing our hearts postured  in reverential obedience to him.

As a result, we need to repent of sin and cling to the cross of Christ.  We need to trust in the Lord and live in submission to his name by his power.  1 Peter 2:24 states, “He [Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”  God bore the consequences for sin for all who will believe so that, through Jesus, we might walk in his righteousness.

God is not a divine Santa Claus.  Yes, God is gracious, kind, and loving, but he is also just.  And…God is deadly serious about sin.  Just ask Achan.