Category Archives: Holiness

Called To Be Strangers We Are

star wars yodaWho wants to be Yoda?  Small in stature and green to boot.  He’s bald and got hobgoblin ears.  Powerful in the force is he, but English syntax is not his strong suit.  Let’s face it, Yoda is strange and nobody wants to be strange.

We really want to fit it.  As much as we might desire to be different from others and express ourselves, we generally express ourselves in the same manner.   I’ve spent most of my adult life working with teenagers.  Now I have two of my own and I can tell you –  standing out is not high on their priority list.  From the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, even what time they show up at an event is about not standing out.  And what is true of teenagers is true of adults.  Adults, though less concerned about their music, are more concerned with opinions and being thought us as “open-minded” and “intelligent”.  I’ve seen grown men and women deny their faith in order to fit in.  Truth be told, I’ve seen churches, even entire denominations give up their Biblical identity just to be part of the crowd.

I’ve read and heard people talk about America being “post-Christian” for about 10 years, but I didn’t really believe it until this past election.  I believe them now.  After watching several denominations take unbiblical stances on marriage and sexuality, remain silent on issues of right and wrong, give way to political correctness, and concede the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, it is no surprise the culture has moved in the direction of paganism in the name of tolerance.  And, unfortunately, many adult Christians have gone right along with the culture in order to fit in.

The time has come for the church to remember who we are and what we are called to be.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

God has always made His people distinct so that they would be different from the culture around them.  The Bible has a word for being set apart for God.  The word is “holy.”  Fitting in with the world has never been an option.  In fact, a sure sign that you are missing it, is that you go right along with the world.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Jesus said his disciples were in the world, but not of it.  I am afraid we have forgotten who we are.  And by forgetting our set apart nature, Christians have failed to be salt and light in this world.  We have failed to declare the truth about who God is and live by His Holy Spirit.  That is why the culture around us is deteriorating exponentially. 

After Peter writes this resume for  Christians, in the next breath he says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world…”  He just called us Yoda.  People should be looking at Christians like we are from another planet.  They should see in us a holiness that is not from these parts.  Any concept of doing what the world does in order to fit in is at odds with being a Christian.  It’s time for each of us to examine ourselves.    Are we trying to fit in with the culture around us?  Are we, in order to fit in, sacrificing our identity and denying our Lord?  James, 4:4 asks, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God?”  Have we forgotten who God has called us to be?

I believe we are living in a time where the difference between following Christ and and fitting in with the norms of the culture will be stark.  Issues and life choices are going to be light and darkness.  Fitting in for Christians is not an option any longer.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” 

Even in Star Wars, Yoda is strange.  Have you ever noticed another Yoda?  There are plenty of Ewoks, Wookies, humans, droids, but Yodas?  Aliens and strangers called to be we are.

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What Happens In December Stays In December

chrsitmas boxesI asked in my last post why our culture celebrates the birth of Jesus when the rest of the year it is so threatened by His existence?

I believe the answer is simple.  We do this because we live compartmentalized lives.  We have separate boxes for all the areas of our lives.  “This is my box for work, my box for home, friends, hobbies, church, etc.  We can move in and out of our boxes without any thought as to whether they are congruent.  There doesn’t need to be consistency from one sphere of life to another.  In fact, one box doesn’t even have to effect another.  We keep our lives divided up, nice and neat.  Much like the apps on a smart phone.  We’ll just open one when we need it and close it when we don’t.  To go one step further, we’ll take what we like of one compartment, and leave what we don’t like.  

We do that with Jesus.  We take Him out of the box for December, but as soon as January comes around – back in the box He goes.  What happens in December stays in December.

Reminds me of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby when he says, Dear baby Jesus“I like the baby Jesus.  You can pray to the bearded Jesus or the teenage Jesus if you want.  But I prefer the baby Jesus.”  Our culture prefers the baby Jesus.  We bring Him out once a year and place Him in the manger.  The baby Jesus is a good reminder that we need peace on earth and good will toward men.  We light a few candles, sing some familiar hymns, and then we put Jesus back in the box so we can get on with our lives.  We’ve visited our Jesus compartment for the year, now we can put Him away.  Yep, Away In A Manager: the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.  And we like it that way.

The culture likes Jesus that way because the baby Jesus does not require anything from us except a few oohs and awhhs and perhaps 60 minutes in a crowded church service on Christmas Eve.

The prophet Isaiah is one of the first to see who the Messiah is and he doesn’t compartmentalize Him.    In 9:6-7 he writes, For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end,  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

We like to hear that a child is born and a son is given.  And we love the names that He will be called.  They have a nice ring to them.  Especially when Handel sets them to music.  This is the Jesus we celebrate. 

But what’s this stuff about the government being on His shoulders?  Isn’t mentioning Jesus and government in the same sentence a violation of the constitution?  What’s the deal about His government increasing without end?  He is going to rule and establish justice and righteousness forever.  That sounds oppressive.  

Isaiah is letting us know there is no compartment box that is left untouched by Jesus.  No part of your life, my life, all of life that Jesus will not order and establish.  His rule and reign will continue to increase and spread.  He is King over the whole world.  Everything will be under His government and peace.  Jesus will order and establish judgment and justice in this world forever, without end.  God is zealous to make it so.

But the world and individuals in it are not so zealous.  We want His peace to increase without end, but not His government.  The problem with that is it’s a CH100000package deal.  The peace is a result of His government.  But the world does not want Jesus in charge.  A baby Jesus, no problem.  It’s very Hallmark. Wrap it up, put a bow on it, we’ll take it.  But a King increasing his reign without end, I’m sorry but that’s not going to work for us.  We like being in charge.

Have you ever had this thought: “I don’t want Jesus to be in charge of all my compartments.  He can have a few, but not all.  This is my kingdom, not His.  If I take Jesus out of the box and allow His government to increase with no end in my life, I will have to live differently.  I will have to surrender control.  He wants to be King over all of me without end?  That’s asking too much.”  And so, back in the box Jesus goes.

However, there are big problems with putting Jesus away with the Christmas decorations.  What do you think some might be?

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Broken Compass

My friend asked upon reading my Facebook intro (Something to do the day after)to my last blog, “What do Christians do now that the president is still the president?!”  I assume she was asking, “What has changed that has so many people bummed out.”  On the surface, nothing.  But the election revealed, in black and white clarity, America’s moral compass is broken.  

Proverbs 13:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  What would our founding fathers say about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and same-sex marriage in some states?  What would they say about mandating people pay for abortions?  What would they say about religion, holiness, and morality as it effects the nation?

Let me introduce you to John Witherspoon.  Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister, President of Princeton College, a New Jersey delegate to the Continential Congress, and signer of the Declaration of Independence.  The following is an excerpt from a sermon called The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men.  Preached in Princeton in 1776, Witherspoon offers some great wisdom for us in connceting our faith and our national character.  There is some real practical advice and truth offered here to anyone who would “turn from our wicked ways and seek God’s face.”  Here’s John…

“Suffer me to recommend to you an attention to the public interest of religion, or in other words, zeal for the glory of God and the good of others. I have already endeavored to exhort sinners to repentance; what I have here in view is to point out to you the concern which every good man ought to take in the national character and manners, and the means which he ought to use for promoting public virtue, and bearing down impiety and vice. This is a matter of the utmost moment, and which ought to be well understood, both in its nature and principles. Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue. On the other hand, when the manners of a nation are pure, when true religion and internal principles maintain their vigour, the attempts of the most powerful enemies to oppress them are commonly baffled and disappointed. This will be found equally certain, whether we consider the great principles of God’s moral government, or the operation and influence of natural causes.

What follows from this? That he is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country. Do not suppose, my brethren, that I mean to recommend a furious and angry zeal for the circumstantials of religion, or the contentions of one sect with another about their peculiar distinctions. I do not wish you to oppose any body’s religion, but every body’s wickedness. Perhaps there are few surer marks of the reality of religion, than when a man feels himself more joined in spirit to a true holy person of a different denomination, than to an irregular liver of his own. It is therefore your duty in this important and critical season to exert yourselves, every one in his proper sphere, to stem the tide of prevailing vice, to promote the knowledge of God, the reverence of his name and worship, and obedience to his laws.

Perhaps you will ask, what it is that you are called to do for this purpose farther than your own personal duty? I answer this itself when taken in its proper extent is not a little. The nature and obligation of visible religion is, I am afraid, little understood and less attended to.

Many from a real or pretended fear of the imputation of hypocrisy, banish from their conversation and carriage every appearance of respect and submission to the living God. What a weakness and meanness of spirit does it discover, for a man to be ashamed in the presence of his fellow sinners, to profess that reverence to almighty God which he inwardly feels: The truth is, he makes himself truly liable to the accusation which he means to avoid. It is as genuine and perhaps a more culpable hypocrisy to appear to have less religion than you really have, than to appear to have more. This false shame is a more extensive evil than is commonly apprehended. We contribute constantly, though insensibly, to form each others character and manners; and therefore, the usefulness of a strictly holy and conscientious deportment is not confined to the possessor, but spreads its happy influence to all that are within its reach. I need scarcely add, that in proportion as men are distinguished by understanding, literature, age, rank, office, wealth, or any other circumstance, their example will be useful on the one hand, or pernicious on the other.

But I cannot content myself with barely recommending a silent example. There is a dignity in virtue which is entitled to authority, and ought to claim it. In many cases it is the duty of a good man, by open reproof and opposition, to wage war with profaneness. There is a scripture precept delivered in very singular terms, to which I beg your attention; “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart, but shalt in any wise rebuke him, and not suffer sin upon him.” How prone are many to represent reproof as flowing from ill nature and surliness of temper? The spirit of God, on the contrary, considers it as the effect of inward hatred, or want of genuine love, to forbear reproof, when it is necessary or may be useful. I am sensible there may in some cases be a restraint from prudence, agreeably to that caution of our Saviour, “Cast not your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rent you.” Of this every man must judge as well as he can for himself; but certainly, either by open reproof, or expressive silence, or speedy departure from such society, we ought to guard against being partakers of other men’s sins.”

You can find the whole sermon here.  I’d love to hear your reaction to Witherspoon, so please share your thoughts.  I’ll share some of mine in my next post.

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If My People

I try to tell myself that today is no different than any day in the last four years. No wonder I feel terrible. I turned off the tv last night about 10:30 and went to bed. I went to bed, but I didn’t get much sleep.

This morning and throughout the day I have received emails and texts from friends asking some hard questions. “I don’t understand how God would allow this leadership in government. Is this His will?” “How do I get past the anger and anxiety?” “What are Christians suppose to do now?” Reminds me of the Psalmist lament in 11:3, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous to do?” I wish I had an answer for the Psalmist.

One friend told me she could not remember an election so prayed over. I had made that same observation. I can’t recall more materials coming across my desk, more calls for prayer and fasting, and even prayer meetings for an election than this one. “Why didn’t God answer those prayers?” I don’t know that one either.

But I can say this with full confidence: Purity is on the other side of the refiner’s fire. God wants a holy people. And let’s be honest, the church is far from it. Oh, we’ll be decent and kind as long as it doesn’t inconvience us, but even in churches we don’t use the word “holy” anymore. We pretend the word is too offensive to others, but the reality is, it’s too offensive to us.

Our nation is in need of a Great Awakening. The foundations are being destroyed before our eyes and we are helpless to do anything about it. Or are we? I believe the cure begins with each one of us. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Did you notice who God requires to humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways? Is it the entire country? Is it the government? No, it is His people. We must be the ones to pursue holiness in our lives. And when we do, God will heal our land.

The world will continue to act like the world. But judgement comes when God’s people act like the world. Or didn’t we read the Old Testament? How serious are you willing to get with the Lord about your sin and His holiness? Are you willing to turn from you wicked ways? Will you humble yourself before the the Lord? There is no more time for games with God. He is not one to be triffle with.

What we do now as Christians is to humble ourselves before God, confess our sin and turn from it, and seek to honor Him in all our ways. Then God will hear us and heal our land.

Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Tune in tomorrow to hear from Jonathan Witherspoon, a minister and signer of the Declaration of Independence, on his thoughts concerning this.

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Some Questions About What We Have Lost

Are you hungry for revival? Can you sense in your spirit that either God is going to bring revival or He is going to bring His wrath? I don’t think I have to convince many Christians that the times we live in are not good. The church is weak from its quest for cultural relevancy. We have lost our first love: Jesus.

The United Methodist Church is dying. The good news is the leadership of the church has begun to talk about it. But do we turn to Jesus for help?

We turn everywhere except Jesus. How many more books and seminars do we need to try before we turn to Jesus? I have not been to a meeting or conference where we actually sought the Lord in prayer. Prayer is the formal opening and closing activity, that’s it. Prayer must be THE activity. Didn’t the Apostles devote themselves to the Word and to prayer? Do we not believe that Jesus is real? That He is concerned about us, our church, the world and has solutions to offer us? Are we seeking Him?

I went to a roundtable discussion group a few years back and we were talking about what the church should be doing. Someone suggested prayer. One of the participants at the table said, “We need real solutions.” When faith and prayer are no longer real solutions for the church, we have more than forsaken our first love.

Are we ashamed of Jesus? Are we embarrassed by His Word? Are we afraid that if we take Him at His Word we will be labeled? The world has many labels that, in our quest for relevancy, we wish to avoid: close-minded, intolerant, fundamental, or God-forbid – Baptist.

Have we forgotten that we will stand before Jesus and give an account of our life? That if we are ashamed of Him and His words in this adulterous and sinful generation, that He will be ashamed of us before the Father? (Mark 8:38) I wonder, as a church, how much of His Word we really believe.

I do know this: When I stand before Jesus He is not going to tell me “Mike, you believed my Word a little too much.” It will be the exact opposite. “Mike, why didn’t you believe my words?”

Not only have we lost our first love, we have lost our heritage. The mission of the early Methodists was to spread scriptural holiness through the land. Can you imagine the reaction that would get today?

John Wesley would ride into town and preach, “Flee the wrath to come!” He preached to save lost souls and everyone who responded he put into a small group called a class to grow in holiness.

When was the last time we heard ministers preach about sin? Or even use the word, “sin”? How about preach repentance? Or scriptural holiness – much less try to spread it across the land? Or how about telling the people that they cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born-again? That would that imply judgment and we can’t have that. It is hard to convert people when we don’t believe they are in danger.

When ministers and the church are satisfied with no conversions we are beyond losing our first love, we are dead.

Revelation 2 records Jesus telling the church in Ephesus, “4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

The church needs to recover our first love! We need to turn to Jesus! We must abide in Him and have His Word abide in us! We need revival!

But how do we program revival? We can’t. Revival only comes when men and women despair at the condition of Christianity and the church and get on their knees and faces before God and pray for it!

And that is what is beginning to happen in northeast Florida. I’ll tell you more in my next post.

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Filed under Bible, Church, Holiness, Methodism, Prayer, Revival

Dale Tedder’s Journal

Dale Tedder is a good friend of mine and minister at Southside UMC.  I encourage you to check out his blog.  He has a ton of great stuff and resources available, especially when it comes to discipleship, men’s ministry, and family ministry.  You can click on his link in the right hand column under Blog Roll.  His most recent article, It’s the Doctrine, Stupid, is great to get a foundational grasp on why what we believe matters so much.  Enjoy.

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Words Are Necessary

Years ago as a youth director I inherited a poster as I moved into my new office that had a famous quote from St. Francis, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.” It expresses a great truth. Every sphere of our lives, the totality of our existence, is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. All our thoughts, actions, reactions, and our words are to preach Jesus. However, after a few months I began to notice that the quote from Francis was being used to justify not preaching the gospel.

A mindset had developed among the youth that as long as we did good things, then we did not have to talk about the sin that was corrupting our lives, repenting from it, turning to Jesus to forgive, cleanse, and save us from it, and receiving new life from Him. And we certainly did not have to share that good news with those around us. “A picture is worth a thousand words. Actions speak louder than words.” It had been decided that words were not necessary.

I see the same thing in many churches today. The emphasis is on our “social witness.” As Methodists we love to say “both/and” not “either/or.” We are to preach with words and deeds. However it appears that our “both/and” has made the Word ride in the back of the bus.

What are we preaching? I hear plenty of ideology and works, but not the gospel. I hear calls for racial reconciliation, gender inclusion, even churches that call themselves “reconciling congregations”. But I do not hear calls for reconciliation with God. Where are the cries for repentance from sin and the good news of new life found in Christ?

Perhaps the reason we are more willing to preach with works more than words is because the message is foolishness. The world has rejected the idea of sin and to hear the gospel is to hear that apart from Christ we are already dead in sin with no hope. Hearing a message that says, “We are wrong and must turn to Jesus and be forgiven or be destroyed in our sin” is not going to win favor among the intellectuals in our society. We will be looked down upon by the cultured and sophisticated. To preach Jesus as the only way to the Father will cause us to lose the moniker, “open-minded.” Is that label more important to us than helping sinners “flee the wrath to come?”

I heard a well-known Christian speaker celebrating the success of a mission trip to Mexico with some college students. He told them how great it was that they were able to minister to the needs of the people and share the love of God with them without even having to mention the name of Jesus. Really?

Jesus began his ministry in his home synagogue and read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19.

And again in 4:43 He says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I came.” Jesus definitely did both. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, associated with the outcasts, found the lost and much more. But it was for His message, not the healings and good works, that Jesus was crucified.

Demonstrating the kingdom of God by our actions is integral. I am not trying to diminish that at all. I am hoping that our church will once again put words to our actions. “For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:13-14.

To do good works without preaching the good news makes us the United Way not the United Methodist Church. We must preach the Gospel. Words are necessary.

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