culture

Authenticity

Photo credit: lightstock.com Love sincerely. Hate evil. Hold on to what is good. Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other. Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord.

Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable.

Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be arrogant, but be friendly to humble people. Don’t think that you are smarter than you really are. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭9-16‬ (GW)


At present, authenticity is highly valued in our culture. It's become a popular value connected to relationships, experiences, even to sell products.

As with so many things, words take on different meanings as culture changes. Current American culture tends to view things through an individualistic and relativistic lens. In other words, we frame things the way we want to see them.

Paul enumerates several ways Christian believers are to be authentic—real, genuine, reliable, true, and trustworthy. He begins with love for others, moral honesty, and true commitment to whatever we do, regardless of our circumstances.

The last few admonitions describe godly tolerance—tolerance from God's point of view. This includes blessing, not cursing, those who oppose us and humility instead of arrogance. All of these reflect the nature of Jesus.

Paul reminds us to not lose our focus on who we are within a world in rebellion towards God. We are to reflect the very nature of Jesus whom we claim to follow. He is gentle, humble, and full of grace and truth (Matt 11:29; John 1:14). ©Word-Strong_2016

Freedom from Antidiscrimination

Photo credit: unsplash.com_RLopes Anti-discrimination is a big concern nowadays. In a nation that touts “freedom for all” and guarantees equal rights, there should be no discrimination. But there is.

Discrimination has existed as long as humans have lived. It isn’t limited to one nation or people group; in fact, you could say it’s an equal opportunity factor.

In America, we’re most concerned about discrimination in the areas of gender-types, race, religion, and social-economic status. Sadly, the protected rights of one group can infringe on another.

Hearts and minds

Laws can be passed and policies created, but they won’t change people’s hearts and minds. It’s in a person’s thinking and emotions that prejudice and bias reside.

Unless a person is changed internally, any changes on the outside are temporary and often fickle.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:28 (NKJV)

The kingdom of God is so different from the world around us. God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws.

When a person encounters God’s grace and is changed spiritually in his heart and mind, he begins to see people differently than before. At least, that’s God’s intent and purpose for His children.

[bctt tweet="God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws" username="tkbeyond"]

God doesn't discriminate

This verse isn’t saying nationalities, status, or gender no longer exist in a physical sense, but within God’s kingdom, in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are all one.

God doesn’t discriminate. After all, He’s doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

We see this through the life of Jesus displayed in the four gospels. Of course, this openness to people of all backgrounds angered those who created barriers against many people.

In the end, Jewish leaders manipulated people to turn against Jesus. They were definitely discriminatory.

[bctt tweet="God doesn’t discriminate—He doesn't want anyone to perish" username="tkbeyond"]

God's worldview

When God’s grace is worked into our hearts and minds, we can look past whatever causes prejudice and bias. The love of Jesus and His call that we follow Him (Luke 9:23) ought to strip us of such things.

So, why does discrimination of any kind exist within the Church? Why do we as believers react in prejudicial ways toward others?

Simple. The prevailing culture of the world too often exerts more influence on us than the radically different culture of God’s kingdom.

[bctt tweet="God’s kingdom is radically different from the world's culture" username="tkbeyond"]

What can be done about it?

Each of us must choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture. His worldview is summed up in John 3:16—God’s love prompted His death for all of humanity.

It’s not like wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses, but having a gracious heart and a renewed mind.

[bctt tweet="Choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture" username="tkbeyond"]

Some questions and an encouragement—

How do you see prejudice and bias in your own heart and thoughts?

Why do you think any prejudice or bias exists in your life?

Look at who you tend to view in a negative way, how can you pray for them?

Likewise, who do you feel has a negative attitude towards you, and how can you pray for them?

Find ways of building relationships with people who are different from you, and ask the Lord to guide you in doing so.


This was originally posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog, here's the link– Freedom from Antidiscrimination

A Living Sacrifice

Photo credit: lightstock.com Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:1-2‬ (NIV)


The concept of sacrifice is obscure to most people in western cultures, by choice. In a world filled with mystical images and animation, how could it be otherwise?

More and more people have a hard time distinguishing between the imaginary and real. Self image (selfies anyone?), along with physical power and beauty, is idealized and idolized. We want to escape pain, risk, and loss of any kind, not embrace such things.

In a sense, we want to be worshipped, not worship someone else.

It's no wonder that offering our bodies as a living sacrifice doesn't appeal to most people. But this exhortation points us (believers) back to Jesus, to remember His life poured out so we could have and know true life.

How can we ...offer our bodies as a living sacrifice? By swimming upstream against the flow of popular culture, not conform to it.

It's a choice—an act of free will—to choose what is pleasing to God, rather than pleasing ourselves or others. Choosing to be transformed by God's truth and Spirit, rather than conforming to what everyone else and the culture around us chooses. This results in true and proper worship of God.

Want to know God's will for your life? Consider God's great mercy, then surrender your whole life to Him. This is what He chooses for those who follow His Son. ©Word-Strong_2016

On the Right Path

unsplash-paths_forest_JLelie A favorite memory from our life in the Philippines is snorkeling at Apo Island—drifting across the colorful beds of coral reefs and watching a kaleidoscope of tropical fish darting in and out. It’s a tranquil and yet stunning setting.

Apo Island sits out in a shipping channel and has deceptively strong currents. Divers have been lost because of those currents and snorkelers have drifted far from where they started.

It’s easy to get caught in a current when your attention is fixed on the lovely, lively scene below the water’s surface. Life in this world is like that. We get so absorbed in what captures our attention that we don’t realize the drift in our life. It doesn’t take long before we’re trapped in the cultural tide swirling around us.

Resisting the cultural pull

When our relationship with God is spiritually healthy, we can resist the cultural pull around us. But this requires diligence on our part. We must be alert and aware.

[bctt tweet="A spiritually healthy relationship with God helps us resist cultural pull" username="tkbeyond"]

Psalm 1:1 reminds us of the slippery slope of the world’s culture. We can see a word picture in the text—a literal progression from walking to standing to sitting. How does it happen? It’s seductive. It’s subtle, yet strong.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.—Psalm 1:1 (NKJV)

When we look to the advice of others, the still small voice of God can be drowned out. He calls us away from the crowd to Himself. He doesn’t demand our attention, nor does He shout at us.

The path of deception

When we listen to the world’s wisdom, faith may seem illogical. God’s words of truth may appear weak compared to the brash opinions of others. Soon, we may find ourselves on the wrong path.

Not too far down that path, cynicism grips our heart. We find ourselves seated among those who scoff at what we once held dear . . . and what once held us secure.

[bctt tweet="When we listen to the world’s wisdom, faith may seem illogical" username="tkbeyond"]

Be careful what you listen to, it doesn’t take much to get sidetracked. Watch where you’re going. The way may seem right at first, but it could lead you in the wrong direction.

Finally, take time to consider your closest companions. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV).

Digging deeper for a personal application in your life—

  1. Who and what has the most influence in your life? This is easily determined by what grabs and holds your attention.
  2. How much time per day do you spend listening to the opinion of others? Does the Lord get equal or greater time?
  3. Make a commitment to track what most often captures your attention. Then, be willing to make changes as needed.

This was originally posted as a guest post on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog. You can read it here— On the Right Path

How I Got Theology– Part 1

Photo credit: unsplash.com_APokusin The truth of God is not relative. That is, it doesn't change to adapt and conform to changes in the culture and beliefs of people.

Much is made of the idea of relativism and a post-modern mindset. The concept that what's true for you isn't necessarily true for me, isn't truth.

Personal, philosophical beliefs don't become reality just because they're thought out. The natural laws of the earth and universe illustrate and reflect the unchanging nature of God, its creator, and His truth.

Clichés aren't sufficient

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, "Got Theology?" The gist of it is that theology can become highly personalized. And yet, the truth of God remains unchanged. It's based on who He is, not opinions or a belief system.

[bctt tweet="God's truth remains is based on who He is, not personal opinions or beliefs " username="tkbeyond"]

Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe. The trite saying—God said it, I believe it, that settles it—isn't sufficient, it's a cliché.

Arriving at why we believe what we do—our theology—can be understood by seeing how we arrive at that belief. I won't backtrack through what is shared in the previous post, but I do want to look at a challenge I posed in that post.

[bctt tweet="Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe" username="tkbeyond"]

The challenge—3 questions

The challenge involved 3 questions that help determine how our personal theology develops. As an example, I'll answer these questions for my own life. I'll do this over the next three weeks.

Hopefully, this will serve as a guide for you. Here are the 3 questions—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

My learning curve

I'm a visual and kinetic (experiential) learner. I tend to learn best by watching, then doing. I'm also a reader.

My search for truth and faith included the study of various philosophies and eastern religions. I attempted to live these out to a certain extent, as I read about them. Music and hitchhiking were also part of the process.

I also read the Bible each day for at least two years, yet without understanding it. I talk about this in my book, some of it in the first chapter.

My life reflected the times of that search—the mid to late 60's in America. I was immersed in the turbulent counter-culture that marked those years. This carried over to my faith search.

A turning point

I'm a rebel at heart when it comes to learning. I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all. Of course, this doesn't go over well with authoritarian teacher-types. It even got me thrown out of a church when I kept pressing for answers.

[bctt tweet="When learning, I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all" username="tkbeyond"]

In the midst of my search, I came to a turning point in my life. I went up into the mountains, where I lived at the time, and challenged God to reveal Himself to me in some way. I was expecting something like a sign in the sky, a burning bush, or audible voice, but none of that happened. Discouraged, I headed back to my trailer.

Still wanting to hear from God, I opened my Good News for Modern Man version of the Bible to read. It's then I came across Matthew 7:13-14 and realized I was on the wrong path.

Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it. (Matt 7:13-14 GNT)

I took this as a challenge, but I refused to pray the ("sinners") prayer or write down the date, as the notes in my Bible suggested. Like I said, I don't just accept things without question. I did have an assurance in my heart that my faith search was settled. Jesus and the Bible were central to my faith, the foundation of my theology.

[bctt tweet="Jesus and the Bible were central to my faith, the foundation of my theology" username="tkbeyond"]

What about you?

So, what about you? Have you had a turning point in your life, come to a crossroads, or other cathartic experience that settled your faith and brought assurance?

[bctt tweet="Have you had a turning point in your life that brought assurance of faith?" username="tkbeyond"]

This is an important first step in developing a personal theology. It's called a lot of things—coming to faith, conversion, getting saved. Whatever you call it, it needs to happen. It's the starting point of a settled faith, a personal trust relationship with God.

I'd love to hear from you on this—

What stands out as most important in your life as a believer?

Why is this so important to you?


Next week, I plan to continue this series of posts and look at the influential spiritual leaders in my life.

A Man and His Faith

Ayele_teaching_Omo Last week, I took a quick look at theology—our beliefs about God. We've all got theology, but we all don't believe the same things. By "we," I mean humanity.

Why don't we believe the same things? Because we're all different, with different backgrounds, and different life stories.

This week, I want to look at the intriguing life story of a friend of mine.

My Ethiopian friend

I first met Benjamin (pronounced Beny-a-min) at a church service and liked him immediately. He was the first Ethiopian I met, but not the last. His life story intrigued me, yet it stirred some controversy. He has a common name, but his life story is far from common.

He was born in rural Ethiopia into a muslim family. When he came home from school and saw smoke rising from his home, he was happy. He knew his mother was cooking a special meal for his father, who had other wives than his mother.

He came to faith in Jesus through dreams, as I've heard take place for many of Islamic faith. Because of his choice to follow Jesus, he was ostracized by his family, which sent him on a search.

Benjamin set out to find help to learn about his new faith and was directed to missionaries in Kenya. Along the way, he was captured by Communist soldiers who tortured him for his faith in brutal ways. Eventually, he found the guidance he needed, and came to America for education.

A passion for his people

I met Benjamin as he raised support to work with a mission in Kenya. He became a missionary to Ethiopian refugees gathered in neighboring Somalia. These were his people and he wanted them to know the Lord Jesus.

I had him preach at our church a couple of times in the mid-eighties, so I heard much of his story. We also spent time talking about his mission and passion for reaching his people with the gospel.

I found Benjamin to be a man of great faith and integrity. He was childlike in the ways of American culture and social norms, but well-read and intelligent. I trusted him.

An interrupted testimony

He told me of a time when he shared his testimony at another church. The pastor invited him on the recommendation of someone in his congregation. As he told the story of his conversion from Islam to Christ, the pastor interrupted him and had him sit down.

The pastor told him he didn't believe in such things (the supernatural experiences), and discounted his life story. This stunned my friend Benjamin. It saddened me as he told me of it. Needless to say, this pastor was not one of his supporters.

Here was a man of integrity and without deceit who shared his personal encounter with Jesus, but he was not believed. Why? Because the pastor couldn't get past his own theological filters.

I'm glad for my encounter with Benjamin. His life added more depth and fullness to mine. He was one more encouragement for my own missionary experience. Years later I would visit his homeland (see photo above).

When we moved to the Philippines and he moved to Kenya, we lost contact with each other. But I will never forget Benjamin and his faith.

We're not all the same

Our experiences and encounters in pursuit of the truth shape and impact our faith and understanding of God. Identical experiences don't produce the same results. A simple reading of the gospels reveals this.

All of the apostles were afraid of Jesus as He walked on the water. Only Peter got out of the boat to walk towards Him (Matt 14:22-33). The Roman centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus realized He was innocent, unlike his fellow soldiers (Luke 23:47). After Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19).

Each of us view things differently. We often draw different conclusions with different perspectives from similar experiences. So, how can we possibly have any unity in the Christian faith? Benjamin and I shared the same faith in Jesus, but our life stories were very different.

The Christian faith is a personal faith because it's centered on the person of Jesus. The closer we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the more unified we become as a group. This can be seen during a worship service, as the Lord intends (1 Cor 12:12-14, 25).

A question and a challenge

Last week, I mentioned two things I hoped to get more response on, so here it goes again.

Would any of you reading this post be interested in learning more about inductive Bible study? If that sounds interesting, let me know.

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important to your spiritual growth and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

I'd love to hear your responses to any of the above. You can post it in the comments for this post, or post it on the Word-Strong Facebook page.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post!

What Fools Believe

Photo credit: lightstock.com

A small percentage of the world's population are true atheists. The majority of the world believes in God, or at least various gods.

Hinduism claims millions of gods, Buddhism thousands, but the earmark of Judaism, Christianity, and even Islam is the belief in one sovereign God.

Even agnostics and atheists believe someone is supreme—themselves and their worldview. But some of those who claim to believe in God live as if they were atheists.

Scripture

For the director of music. Of David.

Fools say to themselves, “There is no God.” Fools are evil and do terrible things; there is no one who does anything good.

The Lord looked down from heaven on all people to see if anyone understood, if anyone was looking to God for help. But all have turned away. Together, everyone has become evil. There is no one who does anything good, not even one. [vss 1-3]

Don’t the wicked understand? They destroy my people as if they were eating bread. They do not ask the Lord for help. But the wicked are filled with terror, because God is with those who do what is right. The wicked upset the plans of the poor, but the Lord will protect them.

I pray that victory will come to Israel from Mount Zion! May the Lord bring them back. Then the people of Jacob will rejoice, and the people of Israel will be glad. [vss 4-7]

(Psalm 14:1-7 NCV) [Context– Psalm 14]

Key phrase— Fools say to themselves, “There is no God.”

[bctt tweet="Fools say to themselves, “There is no God.”"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What do "fools" say to themselves? How are these people described in this psalm?

What does the Lord see when He looks "down from heaven"? Could this be true of today's world?

What assurance is given regarding what is right and for those who are poor?

How do you think the last two statements about Israel relate to the rest of this psalm?

Reflection...

The term "fool" has a broad meaning, but in the psalms it speaks of people without moral soundness. These are people who lack integrity of character and dismiss the normal boundaries of right and wrong.

We've all seen people who think they can get away with something wrong, yet without experiencing any consequences. In some cases, it may be people who have no conscience—no clear sense of right and wrong, while other people may have a conscience, but choose to ignore its warnings. The "fool" characterized in this psalm could be either one.

The key to understanding this psalm is the heavenly perspective—God's view of things. He sees the wrong that is done and cares for the poor and oppressed. He also knows the end result for the foolish.

What can we do as individuals? If we've been foolish, we need to seek forgiveness and restoration from God. When we are pressed and oppressed, we need to seek the Lord as our refuge.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Are there times when you've acted more foolish than wise? If so, have you reconciled with God?

Is your life guided by your conscience or your feelings, wants, and desires?

What guides your life—the culture of the world around you or the truth of God?

How do you keep yourself from being carried along by the current of the culture around you?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Here's the Reason Discipleship Can Be Difficult

Photo credit: unsplash.com_GRakozy We Americans live in a culture focused on self. More and more, the concept of team or community is just that—more of a concept than reality.

Self-identity is an industry, not just a psychological term. More attention is given to individuals than groups. We fawn over star-power, whether it's American Idol, fantasy sports leagues, or CEO's pulling down outrageous salaries and bonuses.

Yet, focus on self isn't just an American cultural phenomenon, it's a human issue. Self-interest has been with us since the first humans on earth.

Just follow Jesus

When most everyone around you is focused on doing what's best for them, following Jesus can feel a lot like swimming against the tide. It can wear you out fast. Unless you learn how to do it from the Master Himself.

Believers and followers of Jesus need help, His help. Jesus is the core of the Gospel, and the core of the Christian faith. By Christian faith, I mean all the theology, doctrine, and practice known as Christianity. Jesus is the core of the Gospel and He calls each believer to follow Him.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the gospel and core of the Christian faith"]

His call is a personal one. It's a call to surrender our free will to Jesus, and put Him first in our lives. Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. But this involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

This is difficult, no, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally, but it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment"]

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus can bring this about. But He chooses to do this through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly and dying to a life fixated on this world.

Are you confused?

Why does the world have so many different ideas and misunderstandings about Jesus and Christianity? Perhaps it comes from the body of believers who profess to be Christians.

What message does the world receive about Jesus, the Gospel, and the Christian Faith through the followers of Christ? What is the church’s living example?

If there is confusion about who Jesus is among Christian believers, it's communicated by speech and example to others, and confuses those who seek to know Him.

[bctt tweet="If we're confused about who Jesus, it's communicated by speech and example to others"]

Jesus, the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, is the core call and purpose of a believer’s life. By core, I don’t mean the center, but the central strength and nature of life in Him.

This could be likened to the nucleus of an atom, defined as “the central point of the atom.” An atom’s particles, protons and neutrons, are bound and held together around the nucleus by a nuclear or residual strong force.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, and core of a believer’s life"]

These properties of a nucleus and atom always remind me of this description of Christ in Colossians—

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17 NIV)

Jesus at the core

Perhaps what Jesus expressed about His own self-denial in going to the cross helps make this clear—

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26 NIV)

Looking at a kernel of wheat, or the seed within a fruit like a peach, the importance of the core is easy to see. The very life of a peach tree is in the core of the fruit itself. The flesh of the fruit surrounding the seed is eaten, and the seed is thrown away.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is not just what we focus our lives on, He is our source of life"]

When the seed is planted it grows into a tree, but the seed has to die before it can germinate into what becomes a tree. This is God’s design. It’s God’s continuing illustration within nature of the importance of the core.

This illustrates the simplicity and necessity of keeping Jesus as the core of the Gospel. He is not just what we focus our lives on, He is the source of our life.

More than a belief

Our daily life example needs to match what we tell others. God’s Story is more than a belief to hold onto, or something to be done—it's a personal relationship with Jesus who transforms our life.

When we can express the simple truths of the gospel and others see Jesus at work in our life, it is an easy and natural thing to share our faith with other people.

[bctt tweet="God’s Story is more than a belief, or something to be done—it's a relationship with Jesus"]

Jesus is the core of the Gospel. He is the Savior of all people and the Son of God. He, God the Son, came into the world, died upon the cross for all humanity, and rose from the grave victorious over death.

He calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing.

Each follower will need to give up his or her own selfish ways, the natural lifestyle of this world, and trust only in Him for all things, in every way, every day.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing"]

Jesus honors this commitment with life beyond anything the world has to offer, and a life beyond this world. He alone is worthy of a person’s unreserved trust.


This is the last in a series of posts taken from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here are links to the previous posts—

Who Is Jesus…Really?

Who Jesus Is

A Culture Conflict

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share these posts!

A Culture Conflict

Photo credit: Unsplash.com_TLefebvre A culture shifts and changes with time. It often changes when there is some conflict with established cultural norms. This was seen in the 1960's.

But many cultural changes are less obvious, they are more like subtle shifts than an abrupt turns in direction. Perhaps the 1990's are the most recent example of that.

Not all changes in culture are the result of external forces or conflicting trends. Cultures can also change when one person's values change and their internal change influences others. 

A basic call to all

The basic call of discipleship is quite opposite from what our culture expects. The same was true for the disciples then. It is true for any people, anywhere, and at any time. All people are born with an innate selfish nature.

In Christian terms, it is the sin nature or the flesh. Whatever term is used, it’s true. A simple observation of toddlers and two-year olds will confirm it. What word is expressed early on? “No!”—the first expression of the selfish, self-centered nature of every human being.

Jesus tells those who want to follow Him three things that are needed—

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)

Another way to express this is to deny our selfish nature, die to our selfishness, and surrender our self-will to Jesus.

But this is easier said than done. Why? Because it goes against all we know and experience in life within this world. Is it even possible?

Surrender is not defeat

Jesus goes on to clarify it—

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:25, 26 NLT)

Here Jesus gives an explanation of His original call of, “Come follow Me.” He’s says, “If you want to continue trusting and following Me, you need to exchange your self-centered way of life for a life centered on Me, then you will be transformed.”

The key is surrendering the self-will to Jesus. This is the difficult part. An honest question would be, “How can this be done?” The answer is more about what not to do. Denial of self—the selfish nature and self-centeredness—is an internal action, not external.

[bctt tweet="Self-denial is an internal action, not an external one"]

Internal not external

Most efforts at self-denial are focused on external changes in behavior, the self-effort of trying to lead a pleasing life for God.

The season leading up to the observance of Good Friday and Easter is called Lent. Many observe this season by denying themselves some pleasure or usual part of life, offering it to the Lord as a form of fasting.

This form of self-denial is not bad, and may bring about some good realizations and insights. A person may find they are too dependent on something in life, or can do without certain things.

Unfortunately, focusing on outward efforts of being good, as a means of denying the selfish nature, leads to a performance-based Christianity—something akin to Buddhism.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines Buddhism this way: “a religion of eastern and central Asia growing out of the teaching of Gautama Buddha that suffering is inherent in life and that one can be liberated from it by mental and moral self-purification.”

When good isn't good enough

Many people live good lives, at least outwardly. One of the best-known examples in the past century is Mahatma Gandhi, who grew up in a Hindu family, but later followed his own mixture of Buddhism and Christianity. He was known for his non-violent example and influence for world peace.

Self-denial goes deeper than what is done outwardly—it must go to the core of who we are. How? By surrendering the self-will to the Lord daily, even moment by moment.

[bctt tweet="Self-denial goes deep to the core of who we are, that's why it's hard"]

Jesus shows us how

Jesus shows the way in the Garden of Gethsemane. Though He knows the Father sent Him to die on the cross, He asks the Father if it can be avoided. A spiritual battle ensues and Jesus asks His closest disciples to come pray with Him.

Three times He lays His request before the Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Each time Jesus returns from prayer, He finds the disciples asleep.

At one point Jesus admonishes them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). Another version says, ”Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!" (NLT).

Why it's not so easy

This speaks to the heart of the matter. What we may intend and want to do is difficult because of our natural weakness—the weakness of self. Our natural disposition is to put self first above all else and everyone else.

Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually.

[bctt tweet="Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually"]

This is why Jesus calls each believer to follow Him with a personal call—to surrender our free will to Him, and put Him first in our lives.

It is a call to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. It involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

Impossible, and yet doable

This is difficult. No, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally.

When we surrender to Jesus it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus does this. But He chooses to do it through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly, and dying to a life fixated on this world.

[bctt tweet="Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts"]

What is your greatest internal challenge to surrendering to Jesus?


This post is an excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here's the link to the previous excerpt before this one— Who Jesus Is

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

The Jewish Advantage

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So, do Jews have anything that others don’t have? Do they get any benefit from being circumcised? Yes, the Jews have many benefits. The most important one is this: God trusted the Jews with his teachings.

It is true that some Jews were not faithful to God. But will that stop God from doing what he promised? No, even if everyone else is a liar, God will always do what he says. As the Scriptures say about him,

“You will be proved right in what you say, and you will win when people accuse you.” [Psalm 51:4]

When we do wrong, that shows more clearly that God is right. So can we say that God does wrong when he punishes us? (That’s the way some people think.) Of course not. If God could not punish us, how could he judge the world?

Someone might say, “When I lie, it really gives God glory, because my lie makes his truth easier to see. So why am I judged a sinner?” It would be the same to say, “We should do evil so that good will come.” Many people criticize us, saying that’s what we teach. They are wrong, and they should be condemned for saying that. (‭Romans‬ ‭3‬:‭1-8‬ ERV)


We (US Americans) live in a culture of much entitlement. Many American Christians believe that God gave us a favored status among nations. I believe this is true up to a point.

If by favor we mean that God has shown us great blessings, yes. But He has not shown us favoritism because we are better than others. It is only because He is gracious by nature.

But, in my opinion, we have squandered this favor. How? In the way we tolerate immoral and unethical behaviors, such as abortion on demand, pornography and sex trafficking, and lack of integrity and accountability in so many ways.

God entrusted the Christian church in America with much favor and great resources. But it seems we have squandered this, as well. How? We are more influenced by the relativistic culture around us than impacting it with the integrity of the truth entrusted to us by God.

We can choose to uphold the truth of God by how we live, or compromise it by our example. But God, and the truth of God, will not be changed nor morphed by our compromise, nor by ever-changing culture.

God entrusted Israel with the Law (teachings), and He likewise entrusted the Christian church with His grace and truth. So, God had higher expectations of the Jews, just as He does of the church.  ©Word-Strong_2015

Back Home for a While

IMG_0566 It was 25 years ago that my family and I moved across the world to the Philippines. It was my second time to travel there and their first. It was a new adventure of faith and we didn't have any grand plan.

God put a vision for serving in the Philippines in the heart of my wife and I. Two distinct visions for ministry. My wife wanted to care for abandoned babies, and I felt called to equip pastors and leaders.

Out of those two visions, God gave us the privilege of establishing two ministries—Rainbow Village Ministries and Calvary Chapel Training Center (with CC Bible College).

Back home at full speed

Last year, we realized it was time to bring Rainbow's ministry to a close after 23 years of fruitful ministry. You can read that story here. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Bible college I established in 1995. Susan and I still marvel at what God entrusted to us for a time.

This past week I taught the second year students. It's a course on applied hermeneutics for studying biblical prophecy, and we studied through the book of Malachi. This week many alumni will come, along with teachers and pastors who've served here over the past twenty years, to celebrate God's faithfulness.

Dumaguete City is still home to us. We lived here for fifteen years, and it's where we've had a church home for 25 years. Filipino culture embraced us and we gained an extended family of dear friends whom we enjoy fellowship with each time we are here.

 

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Still my passion

So, my schedule is busy with teaching and fellowshipping over meals, and I'm enjoying it to the max. It also rekindles my passion for world missions, also known as cross-cultural ministry. I'm reminded of the simple truth Jesus told His first followers in Matthew 9:37-38—

Then he [Jesus] said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

More than ever this is true. There are billions in the world who have not heard the gospel, and billions who do not have anyone to disciple them in the faith. Below are some previous posts regarding this reality. Please read and pray!

And... please share with others what encourages you and touches your heart! Thanks!

Previous posts—

MOTROW

Men of Faith

The World Has Changed

The Wrong Kind of Encouragement

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Because people did those [evil] things, God left them and let them do the shameful things they wanted to do. Women stopped having natural sex with men and started having sex with other women. In the same way, men stopped having natural sex with women and began wanting each other all the time. Men did shameful things with other men, and in their bodies they received the punishment for those wrongs.

People did not think it was important to have a true knowledge of God. So God left them and allowed them to have their own worthless thinking. And so they do what they should not do.

They are filled with every kind of sin, evil, greed, and hatred. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, lying, and thinking the worst things about each other. They gossip and say evil things about each other. They hate God. They are rude, proud, and brag about themselves. They invent ways of doing evil. They don’t obey their parents, they are foolish, they don’t keep their promises, and they show no kindness or mercy to others.

They know God’s law says that anyone who lives like that should die. But they not only continue to do these things themselves, but they also encourage others who do them. (‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭26-32‬ ERV)


The Bible is politically incorrect. It contains the truth, but it doesn't square with popular culture. This poses a dilemma. It poses a dilemma for those who want to believe in God and the truth of His written Word (the Scriptures), but want to embrace the wind of popular cultural values.

A lot of posturing takes place today, when it comes to what the Bible says and what many people want it to mean. The problem with God's truth is that it is inconvenient and politically incorrect. It doesn't change with the shifting tide of popular opinion, culture, or social norms. It doesn't change because it contains the truth revealed by God who is unchanging in His nature. This has been true for millennia, not just the past few decades.

Reading the history within the Bible reveals the unchanging nature of God, and the ever-changing behavior of man. Human nature is also pretty consistent. Consistently bad. Even the Bible's heroes are shown to have some major character flaws, wrong behavior, and questionable judgement. And yet, God consistently provides a way for them to be rescued and restored. How? He rescues us because of His mercy and restores us by His loving kindness.

This portion of the Book of Romans was written nearly 2000 years ago, yet it describes the current behavior and attitude of humanity. Things like—jealousy, murder, lying, gossip, rudeness, pride, bragging about themselves, disobedience to parents, not keeping promises, showing no kindness or mercy—are descriptive of our current world. Sadly, these things are encouraged through public and social media, both out of ignorance and intent.

And yet, God continues to extend His mercy and grace towards anyone who would trust in Him, and His truth prevails. He and the truth will outlast all human culture, all governments, and all challenges in rebellion towards Him. It's up to each person to choose the truth or what seems right for the moment. ©Word-Strong_2015

Trading the Truth for a Lie

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God shows his anger from heaven against all the evil and wrong things that people do. Their evil lives hide the truth they have. This makes God angry because they have been shown what he is like. Yes, God has made it clear to them. There are things about God that people cannot see—his eternal power and all that makes him God. But since the beginning of the world, those things have been easy for people to understand. They are made clear in what God has made. So people have no excuse for the evil they do.

People knew God, but they did not honor him as God, and they did not thank him. Their ideas were all useless. There was not one good thought left in their foolish minds. They said they were wise, but they became fools. Instead of honoring the divine greatness of God, who lives forever, they traded it for the worship of idols—things made to look like humans, who get sick and die, or like birds, animals, and snakes.

People wanted only to do evil. So God left them and let them go their sinful way. And so they became completely immoral and used their bodies in shameful ways with each other. They traded the truth of God for a lie. They bowed down and worshiped the things God made instead of worshiping the God who made those things. He is the one who should be praised forever. Amen. (‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭18-25‬ ERV)


What is your morality based upon? How do you determine right from wrong, or discern good from evil? We all need some standard, some foundational basis for determining morality. Popular opinion and the ever-changing currents of culture are not a solid basis for determining morality. And yet, throughout the centuries, opinions and culture have shaped social norms and morality, and not in a beneficial way.

The Roman Empire was enormous and powerful, and yet it dissolved and crumbled. Why? It wasn't overtaken by another empire or one invading army, it crumbled from the inside. Its culture became more and more corrupted by the power it gained, and the moral breakdown and decay among its people.

The recent decision by the US Supreme Court has stirred up more rhetoric among Christian believers and nonbelievers regarding homosexuality. Same sex marriage is the law of the land now, but making something legal doesn't make it moral. The Civil War and the Civil Rights movement should have taught us that. As has been said many times before, morality can't be legislated.

Morality must have a solid foundation to withstand the currents of culture. God—the One, True, and Living God—is the only One who is unchanging in His goodness and rightness. When we ignore Him, we do so to our peril and it will cost us. ©Word-Strong_2015

Beginning and Ending in Faith

Photo credit: lightstock.com I must serve all people—those who share in Greek culture and those who are less civilized, the educated as well as the ignorant. That is why I want so much to tell the Good News to you there in Rome. I am proud of the Good News, because it is the power God uses to save everyone who believes—to save the Jews first, and now to save those who are not Jews.

The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself. God’s way of making people right begins and ends with faith. As the Scriptures say, “The one who is right with God by faith will live forever.” (‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭14-17‬ ERV)


God's gracious good news is for everyone. Demographics are not a limitation or restriction, as far as God is concerned. People make an issue of culture, status, and education, but not God.

God is inclusive and gracious, but He has one nonnegotiable requirement—faith. Those who come to Him, who desire forgiveness and eternal life, must come in faith. Faith is simply trusting God exists and that He honors a person's trust in Him.

It is not faith in faith, nor a vague belief, it is a genuine, continuing trust in God Himself. As with so many things, God makes it simple, and people complicate it. ©Word-Strong_2015

 

Foodies, Fools, and Drunks—Beware!

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It's an understatement to say things have changed over the last century. Air travel not only became a reality, but thousands fly internationally everyday, something only millionaires thought of even 50 years ago.

Communication has gone from wired to wireless. McDonald's only sold burgers and fries in the beginning, but now offer salads and lattes. Cats and dogs can eat gourmet food now, while millions scrounge for the next meal, living at subsistence level poverty.

It seems like things have changed a lot, even over the last decade, but maybe not as much as it might seem. One thing that hasn't changed is human nature.

Scripture

When you sit down to eat with a ruler, pay close attention to what is in front of you, and put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite. Do not crave his delicacies, because this is food that deceives you. Do not wear yourself out getting rich. Be smart enough to stop. Will you catch only a fleeting glimpse of wealth before it is gone? It makes wings for itself like an eagle flying into the sky. [vss 1-5]

Do not eat the food of one who is stingy, and do not crave his delicacies. As he calculates the cost to himself, this is what he does: He tells you, “Eat and drink,” but he doesn’t really mean it. You will vomit the little bit you have eaten and spoil your pleasant conversation. Do not talk directly to a fool, because he will despise the wisdom of your words. Do not move an ancient boundary marker or enter fields that belong to orphans, because the one who is responsible for them is strong. He will plead their case against you. [vss 6-11]

Live a more disciplined life, and listen carefully to words of knowledge. Do not hesitate to discipline a child. If you spank him, he will not die. Spank him yourself, and you will save his soul from hell. My son, if you have a wise heart, my heart will rejoice as well. My heart rejoices when you speak what is right. [vss 12-16]

Do not envy sinners in your heart. Instead, continue to fear the LordThere is indeed a future, and your hope will never be cut off. My son, listen, be wise, and keep your mind going in the right direction. Do not associate with those who drink too much wine, with those who eat too much meat, because both a drunk and a glutton will become poor. Drowsiness will dress a person in rags. [vss 17-21]

(Proverbs 23:1-21  GW) [Context– Proverbs 23]

Key phrase— Do not envy sinners in your heart

[bctt tweet="Do not envy sinners in your heart"]

Digging Deeper...

What are the first five things we are warned not to do?

What is the reason for each warning? How is it expressed through picture language?

What are we exhorted to do in contrast to the other things we're warned about?

Why do you think we want what we don't or can't have, and envy those who do have these things?

Reflection...

Customs, culture, social norms, and fashions change over the years, but not human nature. Greed and envy are still active and strong. Those with power and influence still wield it regardless of its cost to others.

How can a person navigate life facing challenges where we feel powerless? The Serenity Prayer has some helpful wisdom— "God grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change...." Perhaps the most powerful wisdom is contained in verses 17-18—

Do not envy sinners in your heart. Instead, continue to fear the LordThere is indeed a future, and your hope will never be cut off. (Proverbs 23:17-18 GW)

This is not wisdom found in philosophy classes, nor corporate boardrooms. It is wisdom that endures and gives hope, and it helps anyone navigate any challenge in life.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What do you find yourself longing for or wishing you had?

How much time do you spend each day thinking about what you will eat, drink, or wear?

Do you make a point to pursue godly wisdom, even at the cost of popularity?

Do you have healthy, encouraging relationships that help keep you from envying others?

The Art of Yielding

Yield-signs If you drive a vehicle of some kind, you've seen the signposts with the upside-down triangle. Sometimes yellow, sometimes red and white, and sometimes they have specific wording or symbols.

It's a yield sign. It tells drivers to yield, to slow down and allow other drivers to proceed before entering the other road. Many drivers don't seem to understand this. Instead of giving way to other drivers, they seem oblivious to the oncoming traffic, or even think they have the right of way. I've seen honking, frustrated drivers who have to give way to them.

Which driver are you? Are you the one who has to give way to the ones who ignore the yield sign, or the one who ignores it? Or, have you been both at times?

Why is it hard to yield to others?

Why do we have a hard time yielding to others on the road? Is it ignorance of driving laws, or a symptom of our cultural tendencies, a sense of entitlement? What I see on the roads of America, I see in our culture. It also permeates the church culture of America.

I can't speak of this based on research or with polls to back it up, only simple observation. We Americans don't seem to be good at yielding to others. I'm not speaking of driving habits, but daily life. This isn't a condition of one generational age or another, or one denomination or another. It's a human condition.

Perhaps it's easier to see on our roadways, but I've seen it first hand in many ways and in many places. I've also seen it in myself, and I'll bet, if you're honest, you've seen it in yourself, as well.

[bctt tweet="Why do we have a hard time yielding to others"]

What's the problem?

So, what's the reason for this? And don't give me the glib, "because we're sinners." There's a deeper issue here. This goes to the core of who we are when we claim to be Christians—Christ-followers. And Jesus knows this is our problem, all of us. He addressed it many times with the disciples.

What was the final teaching expressed by action that Jesus did before He went to the cross? What was the subject the disciples argued about with each other that prompted some of Jesus' most poignant teaching?

When the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them, Jesus exhorted them about servanthood (Mark 9:33-37). What did He do to them on the final night He was with them? He washed their feet, then exhorted them to do the same (John 13:1-17).

His admonition for all of us who want to be His followers gets to the crux of it all.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me." (Matt 16:24 NLT)

How can we change?

How do we turn from our selfish ways? I trust you've found this is not so easy. Yes, Jesus gives us the supreme example, but any attempt to be like Jesus in our own strength, by our own will and determination, is bound to fail. Paul the apostle spoke to this in Romans—

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (Romans 7:18, 19 NLT)

[bctt tweet="How do we turn from our selfish ways? Why is it so hard?"]

The apostle Paul helps us with this dilemma in his epistle to the Philippians. He connects our difficulty with yielding to others (because of selfishness and self-centeredness) to the example of Jesus.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. (Phil 2:3-6 NLT)

Others

Reading the larger context of Paul's admonition in Philippians 2:1-9, it's clear that we are to think of others in a similar way as Jesus did. He let go of His rights as God (the Son) and became human. He humbled Himself, emptied Himself, and died for our benefit.

General William Booth wanted to send a telegram of encouragement to his leaders, but could only afford one word. What word did he choose? Others. This was the focus he wanted his Salvation Army leaders to have.

[bctt tweet="The key to yielding is considering others and their interests above our own"]

This is the key to the art of yielding. When we consider others and put their interests above our own, we express the nature of Jesus. As Jesus said in another dialog with His disciples—

"But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45 NLT)

Yielding to others

So, whether you're driving, or at a supermarket, waiting in line somewhere, or in a discussion with others—think about them. Consider them. Put yourself in their place. Give way to them, even when you think you're right or have the right of way.

[bctt tweet="Think about others, consider them and put yourself in their place"]

If we all did this just once a day, it would change our lives, and probably begin changing the lives of others around us. It may not be a lot, but it's a start. It's a start in the right direction—away from just thinking of ourselves.

Here are some questions to consider and act on—

When was the last time you yielded—gave way—to someone else in some way?

When was the last time you didn't insist on being right in an argument?

When did you last do something to bless someone else without any expectations?

Stinginess

WS-devo_PMSStinginess is an ugly thing. It's not an act of stewardship, nor is it a matter of frugality. At its core, stinginess is a heart issue. It's a sign of hardness in the heart, and a lack of trust in God. We have a great abundance in America. And yet, a large percentage of our population is discontent in the midst of all we have. The problem lies within us. Read more...


 

Here's another guest devotional posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's blog— Just click on the link– Stinginess

A Dilemma

  ©word-strong.com

 

A growing number of people in North America and Europe have no background or understanding of Christianity.

One reason could be the great influx of immigrants from many nations. But an increasing segment of Western society has grown unengaged and uninterested in Christianity, which is the result of a shift in culture.

America’s culture is becoming both post-modern and post-Christian. Europe and Canada have preceded the US in this cultural shift, but America is not far behind.

The church cannot stop this cultural shift, nor can they ignore it. Some will argue this point, but denying or resisting this shift only brings insulation and isolation from people the church wants to reach.[i]

Adjustment needed

Christian believers need to understand this cultural change, and make necessary adjustments to address it. More and more new believers, responding to the gospel and God’s invitation into His Kingdom, come into churches with a limited understanding of Christianity—its beliefs, practices, terminology, and expected lifestyle.

How can Christian believers communicate to people so they hear the truth and respond to Jesus? This is an important question to answer.

Christians need to have a much more global view of the world around them and of God's kingdom. Billions of people in the world—yes, billions![ii]have never heard the gospel or even the name of Jesus once in their lives, or in their own language.

A rapidly growing Muslim population throughout the world appears closed to the gospel, even though the Koran speaks of Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as a prophet.[iii] Again I ask, how can believers convey the gospel so they can hear it?

The problem of Christianese

Many people lack a frame of reference for understanding the words, terms, and biblical references used by Christian believers. Collectively, these words become foreign language to nonbelievers and new believers. It’s called Christianese—a specialized dialect of English.[iv]

Special words and terms are common in most fields of study. They're called field-dependent terms—words and phrases with specific meanings within a certain field, or a subculture.

Various branches of the sciences, academics and education, politics, and even subcultures like street gangs, have their own lingo—a language specific to their field of reference. Christianity, with its field of study called theology, is no different.

A language of its own

Christians often use specific words and terms with meanings understood within the church—or so they think. My experience as a pastor and cross-cultural missionary tells me differently.

Many Christian believers can't explain these specialized words and terms in plain English so a nonbeliever could understand. This helps make the gospel a mystery to people.

Christian clichés and what I call Bible talk,[v] used outside their field of reference (the church), are unfamiliar and difficult to understand.

Subtitle interpretation needed

I've traveled to many places in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. I know the feeling of hearing a foreign language and not understanding what’s being said. It’s similar to being in a movie with subtitles, but you can’t see and read the subtitles because you’re one of the characters in the movie!

In some conversations and settings, I'm expected to respond. Though I want to, I can’t. This is the predicament Christians put nonbelievers in, and even new believers uninitiated to Christianese. To be fair, most believers don’t realize they do this.

Two issues are at work here. One is the lack of understanding on the part of the nonbeliever or new believer, who doesn’t understand this language.

The second issue is with the believer who uses Christianese, yet doesn’t understand the terms themselves. This is revealed when a person attempts to explain what they say in non-Christian words but can’t.

Experience—the great teacher

Over the years I stumbled upon a simple test of someone’s understanding of Christian terms and theology. If a person can put Christian and Biblical words in his or her own words, then they understand them. If not, they don't.

There's a simple way of communicating Christianese to unbelievers and new believers alike. I use the acronym IYOW—In Your Own Words—to describe the process. It seems simple, but it's not as easy as it sounds.

I didn’t discover this through extensive research, but in much humbler ways.

Learning curve

As a pastor, I’m responsible to feed the sheep, that is, teach the Bible—its doctrine and practice—to help God’s people grow spiritually. I founded a church in Southern California’s high desert in 1978, with my wife and three children, ages newborn to five years. Our fourth child came a few years after the church started.

My older children would hear things in Sunday school and church services, which prompted questions. They often asked dad (me) these questions at inopportune times. It seemed much easier to teach adults than children, or so I thought.

With adults I could use all the Christian theological terms without explaining them. But when my children asked me to explain these same things, I found myself unable to explain them in simple, clear words. More than a few times my oldest daughter would ask simple, heartfelt questions on our way to a church service. “Dad, how can God be one and still be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”

As a pastor, my mind was filled with things to do before the service began, as well as on my message. I was not prepared to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to my sweet, elementary-aged daughter in a simple, clear manner.

The reality is, it challenged me, and this changed my whole approach to teaching.

On the job training

My experience in the Philippines, as a teacher of pastors, leaders, and Bible School students, confirmed the importance of this, while teaching in an environment where English was a second language, but Christianity was familiar.

The Philippines is often proclaimed as the only Christian nation in Asia, so students used Christian terms frequently. But, I realized many of the students didn’t have a full understanding of these words and phrases. I got a partial clue early on, while settling into Filipino culture.

Slow to learn

We were part of a little barrio church with many small children, where some of the worship songs were sung in English. One Sunday morning, during greeting time, I started speaking to one of the children. My wife said, “They don’t understand what you’re saying.” I replied, “But they’re singing the songs in English, aren’t they?”

Because I was a bit slow on the uptake, my wife explained that they sang in English because that's how they learned the songs. The children didn’t know what the words meant. Similarly, I could speak a little of their dialect, but didn’t understand the language beyond a few familiar words and phrases.

No more coded language

When people use certain words and terms, and quote Scripture texts, it does not mean they have a clear grasp of what they are saying. Although it may seem clear to the speaker, unless the person can explain these same things in simple words, what’s spoken sounds like a secret code language to the uninitiated.

As Christian believers, we need to speak in simple, clear, non-Christianese words.

What's your experience with using or not understanding Christianese?


This post follows an earlier one called— The Search to Know God

It is another excerpt from my book, which is available in paperback and as an e-book (see sidebar).


[i] There are many books and articles written on post-modern, post-Christian trends, here are some ones I’ve read and recommend— The End of the World as We Know It, C Smith Jr. (2001 WaterBrook Press); Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, by DA Carson (2005 Zondervan). Online articles— http://goo.gl/emWyu | http://goo.gl/yVFBo

[ii] With the world population hitting seven (7) billion at the end of 2011, statistics fluctuate for numbering the billions of unreached and least reached peoples in the world. However, there are organizations dedicated to researching this (see the following links). Joshua Project— http://www.joshuaproject.net/index.php| Operation World— http://www.operationworld.org/| US Center for World Mission— http://www.uscwm.org/

[iii] Isa al Masih is the anglicized term for the Arab name/title of Jesus the Messiah or Jesus (the) Christ. The Koran (the anglicized spelling for Quran or Qur’an) is Islam’s book of sacred writings. Muslims are followers of Islam and the prophet, Mohammed.

[iv] Here are some websites devoted to Christianese— http://dictionaryofchristianese.com/ | http://goo.gl/nssqu| http://goo.gl/aKFDV| http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jargon.php| http://goo.gl/2Y1Bp (also see “Christianese_glossary” in the Glossary)

[v] Christianese comes in many forms—common clichés, Bible references or words from familiar Bible texts, and theological terms (more academic). I call these Bible talk because they are based on words and phrases in the Bible, or in reference to texts in the Bible.

 

Honor and Shame—Good and Evil

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Most cultures throughout the world are concerned more with honor and shame than right and wrong. Western cultures tend to focus on right and wrong.

This different view of what's more important often causes a culture clash. It's like comparing apples and oranges. These values appear similar, but are different.

Both of these cultural views are found in the Book of Proverbs, and for good reason.

Scripture

To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction. The Lord approves of those who are good, but he condemns those who plan wickedness. 

Wickedness never brings stability, but the godly have deep roots. A worthy wife is a crown for her husband, but a disgraceful woman is like cancer in his bones.  [vss 1-4]

The plans of the godly are just; the advice of the wicked is treacherous. The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush, but the words of the godly save lives.

The wicked die and disappear, but the family of the godly stands firm. A sensible person wins admiration, but a warped mind is despised. [vss 5-8]

(Proverbs 12:1-8 NLT) [Context– Proverbs 12]

Key phrase

the godly have deep roots

Digging Deeper...

  1. What are we told is necessary for learning? What else seems to be a part of the learning process to gain knowledge?
  2. Who are those who have God's approval and those who don't? What seems to be the strength of those who are godly?
  3. What are other contrasting characteristics of the godly and wicked? What is a common trait of the godly?
  4. Where do you see the values of honor and shame compared? Are these linked with good and evil in any way?

Reflection...

Honor and shame are generally attached to a person's character and identity. Whereas, right and wrong have more to do with behavior. Culture clashes come when we value one over the other, or worse, when no distinction is made between them.

In general, good character results in good behavior. What is the basis or foundation of your character? Do your roots go deep into God's truth and wisdom? If so, you will be blessed and secure.

Make it personal...

How do you handle being corrected or disciplined in your life?

How have you built and developed discipline into your daily life?

Do you see the values of honor and shame, along with right and wrong, at work in your life?

What are the foundations of your faith and character?

The Curse of Comparisons and Greener Grass

Photo credit: lightstock.com A classic, typical question at pastor conferences is, "So, how big is your church?" It's one of the things I didn't enjoy about those conferences.

The usual speakers pastored larger congregations, or experienced exponential growth, or some cutting edge feature of ministry. These were the "big guys" of the faith, the successful pastors. They and their churches had big names.

Most of the pastors had churches that ran from 25-200. Often, there was a disconnect of experiences, expectations, and focus of ministry.

Another question of comparison

Another question I remembered as a young pastor came at community gatherings. "So, where did you go to school?"

I didn't get to finish Bible college, though I enjoyed my time while it lasted. I stopped to get a job to support my young family of three. Then, I was drafted into ministry service, so school got put off even further.

The ironic thing, our church became the popular church in town. It still is, nearly 25 years after I turned it over to another pastor to go to the mission field. We had a name in our community.

The other side of comparison

I use to feel bad for fellow pastors of smaller churches in my town. I liked them. I cared about them and saw them as partners in God's kingdom.

But I hated the questions of comparisons and legitimacy. I still do. It's so unnecessary.

I remember the day our church grew to a point where I didn't know everyone's child, occupation, and where they lived. It bothered me.

How could I shepherd the church if I didn't know all the "sheep" by name? My model Shepherd did (John 10:3-4, 14, 27). When the church was smaller, I knew everyone by name, and they knew me.

[bctt tweet="I hate questions of comparisons and legitimacy, they're so unnecessary."]

A culture of comparisons

We live in a culture of comparisons. We compare everything—houses, jobs, incomes, bodies, accomplishments, possessions, appearance, religions, ethnicities, and the list goes on.

Why do we care so much about all these comparisons? It's futile and demoralizing.

The curse of comparisons. It almost makes me physically sick at times. I hate it.

[bctt tweet="We live in a culture of comparisons. Why do we care so much about all these demoralizing comparisons?"]

Alternative to comparisons—contentment

In my early days of ministry service I was a jack-of-all-trades.

I led praise and worship for children and adults. My wife and I oversaw the nursery and pre-school child care. I was a youth ministry leader, and I drew a salary as a janitor.

It was good preparation for pastoral work.

One day, one of the pastoral staff had a frustrating day. He asked me, in his typical sarcastic humor, "What's your purpose for being here?"

My devotional that morning was in Philippians 4:11-12. I was learning to be content in what God had for me to do.

We both laughed about it. He had asked in a joking manner, and I answered with naive sincerity. It resonated for both of us. I wanted to be a pastor like him, and he wanted the contentment I had.

Greener grass or contentment?

The grass is always greener somewhere else. Lot chose the better portion of land, but it was an unwise choice (Gen 13:11-13).

It's always our choice—comparison or contentment.

Q– Where do you struggle with comparisons?

Q– What brings you contentment?

[bctt tweet="Where do you struggle with comparisons? What brings you contentment?"]