C = L

1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 3

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

This passage reminds me a bit of Jesus’ brother, James, who said his faith was demonstrated in his works (James 2: 18). Paul essentially says, “I will show you my Christianity by my love.”

There is one true sign of Christianity. That is love. The world is waiting for a sign from Christians and this is it. When love is shown, God is glorified. Everywhere love is shared, God is shared. This is the true test of our faith.

Someone commented recently about how a mutual acquaintance always seems grumpy and in a bad temper. Yet, I know this individual to be camped at the church. He is very involved in church activities and service yet when he leaves the church, he seems to leave his faith behind. He would never be characterized as a gentle, kind, loving person. One wouldn’t say, “There goes the love of Christ.” He is not alone though. We can all think of folks who profess their Christianity but seem to have no love or kindness for others. They will spout theology all day and try to impress you with their Bible knowledge but to borrow from the book of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1: 2). No one is listening. If they don’t see your love, they will not listen to your speech.

Christianity (C) equals love (L). If not love, then not Christianity. Christianity is the dedication to following Christ. Love required Christ to sacrifice his life. This is how we came to know love (1 John 3: 16). It is, likewise, how the world will come to know Christ and see that we are his followers. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13: 35). You see, love is the evidence that something has happened within you. Without love, there is only philosophy. We can espouse our religious philosophy but without the evidence of Christ-like love, it is all vanity. Though we loudly, and even eloquently, pronounce our theology, I imagine Paul saying, “Show me your theology and I will show you my love,” knowing that his love trumps our philosophical, theological banter.”

If the truth were to be told, you could have weak theology but win thousands of people to Christ if you have love. So many people think they have to learn the Bible in order to witness to others but that is all wrong. We don’t learn scripture for them. We learn it for ourselves. All other people need is love. They will figure out the spiritual part if we show them the path and that trail is paved with love. Grace, mercy and love are the gifts God gives us for others. A kind, caring heart and gentle words are the tools of evangelism. Your words are not your witness; your life is. If we are always grouchy and ill tempered; if we are harsh with others, who is going to want to follow us? Who is going to be attracted to our God? This passage from Paul is some of the most important language he wrote. He wants us to acknowledge that love is the key. If we don’t have love, we are that clanging symbol that no one wants to be around. It doesn’t win anyone to God. In fact, they will probably run in the opposite direction. Our great spiritual deeds and faith do them no good. What’s equally alarming is that Paul says that even though you have mountain moving faith, it will do you no good if you don’t have love.

Our today and our future are bound to love because God is love. Love is the essence of our faith. If you don’t have love, then you don’t have the essential part of Christianity. It really is that simple. We may have scars and injuries that effect the way we relate to others, but we also have Jesus who has born our injuries. We must take those things to Christ and receive his mercy, grace and healing so that we can venture forth in the courage of love. Without demonstrative love, our Christianity fails. Christianity equals love. Without love, there is not Christian faith. Take your heart to the Father, to the master healer, and ask Him to conduct a physical. Receive His love so that you have love to give away. Let His love penetrate the deep places of your heart.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” As followers of Christ we are ordered to love one another. If we profess to be his disciples, then we must live out his directive in word and deed. This is not elective; it is the prime directive. Let love become your theology.

Lighthouse Evangelism

Psalm 40: 3      Passion Translation

A new song for a new day rises up in me
every time I think about how he breaks through for me!
Ecstatic praise pours out of my mouth until
everyone hears how God has set me free.
Many will see his miracles;
they’ll stand in awe of God and fall in love with him!

How sweet are the sentiments of David towards his heavenly father. There are many kinds of relationships we can have with Yahweh but the emotional connection David displays is the most enviable of all. When was the last time ecstatic praise poured out of our mouths? Do you know anyone whose praise to God is as deep and meaningful? David was known for his public praise. In fact, he danced himself out of his robes once. It made his wife mad. She wanted him to be cool, show some decorum. He was the king, after all. David was not the foremost king in his own mind though. In his mind he was a minor king who served THE king.

More than anything, though, he loved (and still loves) our God. Yahweh wasn’t a Godly deity reserved for religious duty or rituals. David loved God and served Him out of that love. It is not too much to say he adored Yahweh. He learned to trust God and from that position of trust, they forged a fabulous bond.

Every morning David arose with a new song of praise and gratitude in his heart. Can you even picture what ecstatic praise looks like. David said ecstatic praise poured from his mouth. It wasn’t a trickle. It was a flood. What an image! It must have been a praise gusher, so much praise that David could not contain it. Then again, he didn’t want to. It seems he took great joy in praising our Lord and God.

This is such a beautiful song and verse. One person described it as romantic. It does have that feeling from the romantic period doesn’t it? Such beautiful poetry describing such intense and intimate emotions. I am moved by the end of this stanza. This is evangelism as we have not imagined it.

David said the praise poured out of his mouth so jubilantly that everyone heard about the greatness and the kindness of God. Now that is how we are supposed to evangelize the world. Praise God so freely and excitedly, declaring His great works and tender mercies to us that a hurting world flocks to the Lord of the rescue. David went on to say that miracles will abound and as a result, not only would people be astounded but that they would fall in love with our beloved, Yahweh, God, and His son. Can you picture this? It is beautiful and romantic. The perfect image of the love of our souls saving the entire world. That is, after all, why God sent Jesus to the world, to save our wretched souls.

God is worthy to be praised. Not only has He saved our souls from eternal torment but He is pouring out His blessing upon us right here and right now. He has picked our lives up from the ashes and given us robes of praise. He has bathed us in the glory of His dear son. I don’t know what it takes for us to praise Him as did David, but I would like to find that ecstatic praise not only pouring but gushing out of me. I would like to hear exuberant praise, instead of canned songs. I want God to hear our hearts even more than our voices, hearts that call out to Him with desperate passion. I want to be like David and see people flock to my Lord because I have become great at singing His praises.

Please stop for a moment today and consider this passage. Try to imagine what David must have looked like and what he must have felt. Put yourself in David’s shoes and imagine yourself praising God in that fashion. See miracles flowing out of that praise and thanksgiving so that everywhere we go, everywhere you go, people get healed and saved. You are a lighthouse. None of us will have to say much when people see what God has done. We don’t have to preach. We don’t have to cajole. When they see our joy and God’s love, they will fall in love with Him. What an amazing vision that is.

Witness This

Psalm 39: 1 – 2             NIV

I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.” So I remained utterly silent, not even saying anything good.

If you want to keep yourself from sin, the tongue is an excellent place to start. Most of us do more damage to ourselves and others with our mouth than any other way. In my book, Journey Through the Bible, chapter 64 is titled Loshon Hora. This is a Hebrew expression for derogatory speech. If you study Loshon Hora, you will discover that the Rabbinical teachings advise against derogatory speech, otherwise called evil talk, not only because of the negative impact upon others but also because it is damaging to the speaker. The words which come out of our mouths either edify us or defile us. So, when we speak negatively about someone else, even if it is true, we tear down ourselves. I encourage you to take this to heart as absolute truth.

David knew the truth of this. Sometimes it is more beneficial to remain silent even when you want to speak truth. Fools cast their pearls before swine. Yet we find ourselves with many words. We want to preach people into the Kingdom of God, but God never told us to do that. Preachers are for the saved, to train them and teach them so they can do into the world and save the wicked. Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Corinthians 2: 4). If Paul’s witness was demonstrations of the Spirit and his power, then why do we choose to talk people to death? We are on the wrong path entirely. We should all know by now that people aren’t listening to what we say, they are watching what we do. So, are our lives demonstrations of God’s love? Are we harbingers of His power and grace? People are not interested in what we think. They are interested in God’s presence and we can be those carriers of God’s presence to people, literally, everywhere we go.

Our goal should be to honor Jesus’ commission to us by first obeying Romans 12: 2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” See, our job is to be transformed so that people see that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Not us, but God in us. We aren’t perfect in ourselves, but He is. Our mission is to allow the Lord to transform us. That is accomplished through the renewal of our minds. You see, mine and your first task is not to tell the world how to be. It is to let God show us who we should be. Our effort should be focused on our own renewal and subsequent transformation. When we are renewed and transformed, we won’t have to say much because God in us will be loudly visible. We will demonstrate the love and power of the Almighty as did Paul.

We have had this all upside down for so long and we absolutely must correct this. We are the church, we are the temple of the Almighty. That is where people are looking to see if God is alive. We must become more attractive images of Christianity. Don’t try to change them so they can go to heaven. Change you with the power of the Holy Spirit so they want to go to heaven. We’ve been making heaven look like hell. We’ve got to right this ship and mirror our Lord. We are to be his disciples which means we act like him, we talk like him. David said, “I will watch my ways.” We’ve been busy watching their ways. We’ve been acting like the world and frankly, talking like them too, and then trying to persuade others that we know truth.

Let us save ourselves. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2: 12). Let derogatory speech have no part with you. Keep your tongue from sin. By this we guard ourselves and minister to others.

Foolishness and Power

1 Corinthians 1: 18

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Let’s talk about evangelism a bit today. When you find something good, don’t you want to share it with others? The news about Jesus is good news and we often want to share it with others so they can experience his goodness as we do. Beyond that, though, there is a certain expectation in the church that we share this gospel of good news. After all Jesus did say, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” (Mark 16: 15). So, we try to do our part to share the gospel to those we know and people we meet. Unfortunately, it is utter foolishness to them. One version says it is nonsense. To the unregenerate mind the things of God cannot be understood. For that reason, people need to see Christ in addition to hearing of him.

Paul said that Jesus sent him to preach the gospel but not in cleverness of speech that the cross of Christ might be made void, or meaningless (1 Corinthians 1: 17). What do you think he meant by that? How can the preaching of the gospel void the testimony of the cross? In the second chapter of First Corinthians Paul wrote, “And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power,” (v. 4). Using the word demonstration, he intimates that people need to see the Spirit of God at work, not just be preached to about it. This is where most of us fail in our evangelistic efforts. We don’t let the Spirit of God be seen.

You see, it really is the Spirit’s job to evangelize. We are, as they say, boots on the ground, but the master architect of salvation is the Spirit of God. Paul reveals in verse 2 of First Corinthians: One, that people are called to salvation. By whom are they called? They are called to Jesus by the Holy Spirit. We are the light which, going into all the world, people see and are subsequently called to Jesus.

You and I can save no one but we can be light bringers. We can have testimonies. We can tell of God’s goodness, but we can never convince anyone because it is all foolishness to them. Secondly, Paul said the gospel, to us, is the power of God. This goes along with verse 4 from chapter two, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power.” The power of God can be demonstrated; it can be seen. That is our part in evangelism. We are to demonstrate the power of God. Think about this for a moment and let it sink in. Does this make sense to you? Is this what Paul is saying? If you agree that this is the point Paul is making then we need to each ask ourselves, “When was the last time the power of God was demonstrated through my life?” I grant you this is a challenging question and I think most of us will have to admit we have been living powerless lives. Powerlessness in not God’s will for our lives. Would you agree with that? If so, then what are we to do? Are we to continue in our drab existence doing nothing to show God’s power and love to the world? Shall we simply continue going to church on Sunday but keeping our heads low all the other days of the week? Or maybe we will continue to convince ourselves that when Jesus told us to go into all the world he meant for us to preach at the unbelievers until they are persuaded. Do we believe we will find the persuasive speech which will evangelize the world?

It is time we, the church, each one of us, began to take this gospel seriously and allow it to rock us out of our comfort zones. It is time we call upon the name of Jesus to be Lord in this world. It is our time; time to lay hands on the sick and heal them, time to mend broken hearts, but not by persuasive speech, rather by the power of God. Jesus, it is not me who heals, mends, and saves, but rather you. We need to get ourselves out of the center of this dynamic so that Jesus can step in and wield his power. We need not be so concerned that we cannot perform but be convinced that he can. What would it take for you to pray for someone? What kind of miracle is required for us all to begin walking in the earth like the early disciples did? Are you a disciple of Christ? Are you filled with God’s Spirit? Let the goodness and the power of God flow from you. Don’t be a hoarder. God is the God of overflow meaning that He wants His power to overflow from you onto others.

Look, evangelism is easy when people get healed. It is not difficult to convince people of God’s love when you raise their child from the dead. Let’s all get busy. Let’s fulfill the commission Jesus gave us. Go into all the world and share the good news of Jesus.

Salvation is for Today

Luke 4: 18 – 19

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Stop for a moment today and consider this passage. This is from the book of Isaiah and it is what Jesus read in the synagogue.  His speaking of this passage marked the beginning of his public ministry. If God sent Jesus only to die on a cross bearing the sin of the world, then why this scripture? If eternal life was the only thing on God’s mind, why did Yahweh anoint Jesus to do all these other things? My point is that we have narrowed our focus as to Jesus’ purpose and in so doing have missed the greater blessing.

John 3: 16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” I suppose there is no other scripture in the whole of the Bible that is more well known than this one. We make our children memorize it in Bible School, put it on bumper stickers and even billboards. It is a wonderful passage, but it is not the whole story. Jesus didn’t stand up in the synagogue and say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me so that none shall perish but instead have eternal life.” Why? Because that was not his singular purpose nor his anointing. It explains God’s love but not Jesus’ purpose. If you want to know the reason God sent Jesus you must read 1 John 3: 8, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” This scripture discloses Jesus’ purpose. Let us go further, though, to see what Jesus, himself, says about his purpose in the earth. John 10: 10 reads, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Abundant life, free from the works of the devil, is the gift Jesus came to give us. Yes, eternal life is part of that package but that is the end game, not the whole thing. God made the earth for us to live in and enjoy. He gave us this planet to be our home, not heaven. He didn’t create earth as a testing ground but rather as a home. The point is, the time we spend here is not simply a waystation. Life here isn’t just passing time until we get to heaven. We are supposed to have abundant life here and now. Look again at today’s passage. Clearly that has nothing to do with heaven. Those conditions do not exist in heaven. Adam’s job was to make earth look like heaven so that we would have a heavenly home right here. Jesus prayed, “Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven,” (Matthew 6: 10). Earth is to reflect heaven.

Jesus came to restore our original purpose to us and to return the earth to us as our heavenly home, a home made in the image of heaven. Then God will come here and live with us. We’ve got to stop waiting to get to heaven to start fulfilling our purpose. We’ve got to stop waiting until heaven to start living, especially living in the fullness of God’s intent for us.

Redemption? Yes, it’s a big deal, but it is not the end of the story. It is the means by which God put us back on track. We could not have the abundant life Jesus came to give us until we were cleansed of the sin which stained us and our existence. Furthermore, I do not think eternal life is the evangelical message; it is not the salvation message. The word salvation means, rescue or safety, deliver, health, victory, prosperity, help, and welfare, (Strong’s 3444 & 4991). It does not only mean deliverance from sin. The savior came to give deliverance, health, victory, prosperity, help and welfare. In other words, he came to give us an abundant life right here, right now. This is why I think evangelism is important, but it also points out why our evangelistic message is presently off target. We are trying to get people into heaven while Jesus is trying to save them from their current peril and give them a great life now and forever.

Eternity is now. It began a long time ago. God has plans to get us into heaven but the good news that Jesus shared is that our freedom and victory begins now. This is not the good news we have been carrying to the world, however. God wants people to know they can be free now. Jesus came to set the captives free. Amen? The good news of the gospel is that God wants to bless you now, in this life. He wants to free people from torment and hurt. He wants to mend their hurts and restore them to good life. People need God now, not just in heaven. The message of the gospel is that God loves you now. Salvation emphatically is not, buy your ticket to heaven and then suffer until you die. That is not God. If you know God at all, you know that is not His heart.

To be clear, the evangelical message, the message that all the world needs to hear is that God wants to be your savior today. He wants to move into our lives and improve them. He longs to give us perfect peace and joy in this world, right now. Yahweh is a now God. Jesus came to give us abundant life. Abundant life is that life which in intertwined with our beloved, our Father, Yahweh. He who loves us has sent His son to restore us back to health, welfare, liberty, prosperity and joy. This is the good news of the gospel. Tell that to someone. Heaven is here and now for all who live in Christ. Now is the salvation of the gospel. Now is life and love in the Son. Jesus is here now to give you a good life. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope,” (Jeremiah 29: 11). Tell someone the good news. Jesus has come, and he has life and healing in his hands. This is his salvation, and ours. Amen.

Show Me

Matthew 12: 33             Voice Translation

Good trees produce good fruits; bad trees produce bad fruits. You can always tell a tree by its fruits.

This is not a farming tip today, though I guess it is a good thing to know. Actually, Jesus spoke this verse in teaching that our words reveal our character. We can no more hide the health of our hearts than a bad tree can camouflage its bad fruit.

This goes to the heart of our evangelical message because it is hard to convince people about the good fruit of Christianity when they perceive rotten fruit on our trees. However, there is another group we should bear in mind because not all evangelism is to strangers. Let’s think about our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers as well. What are our actions and words saying to these people about Christianity?

In the United States, the state of Missouri is known as the “Show me state.” So, if we were all from Missouri we might say, “Show me your Christianity!” You see, if our words are not in keeping with our fruit they will have no weight. The fruit on our trees speaks much more loudly than our words. Our Christianity can best be measured in how we treat other people. People see how we treat each other and they judge all of Christianity by that simple measure, and perhaps rightfully so.

If Christianity is about anything, it is about loving others. This love, is an action verb. It’s not about having a feeling. It is about demonstrating and expressing kindness, gentleness and all the other character traits of our dear Father. Without the outward expression of selflessness and consideration for others, our Christian message fails.

Think about the children we are raising. They hear a lot of messages out there and we are trying to compete with our message of Christian love but are we modeling it? What does it do to an impressionable heart when you claim you are a Christian but do not produce fruit? I tell you it confuses our young people. Even more, it alienates them from the Christian message. And what is the Christian message if not love. But this is not a message which can be conveyed in words alone. It is in our actions, and, as I’ve said, most notably in the way we treat others. These children are saying very loudly to us, “Don’t tell me about your Christianity. Show me.”

I believe they have a right to expect Christianity to be demonstrated to them. They ought to see Christianity in action. Believe me, they will not follow someone who is not authentic and sincere. It is okay to make mistakes. We all do, but there is so much persuasion in admitting fault to your children, even in apologizing to them when we err.

I hope you will give this some thought and let it sink into your heart. We must produce good fruit if we want our Christian message to have any credence at all. The fruit is most noticeably demonstrated, and weighed, in how we treat others, including our children, friends, and associates. We evangelize every day with our actions. The question is, what message are we sending?

Magnified

1 John 4: 8

God is love.

Every congregation around the world has talked about this passage of scripture. We have heard time and time again that God is love but its deepest truths have yet to permeate our Christian cultures and our individual hearts.

To know God is to love. Every person who says they know God must have come to know Him as love. We must, at the very deepest levels, understand that He loves us, but further, we must grasp what it means for God’s nature to be love. Anyone who does not know love, does not know God. It is that simple.

I am listening to an audiobook, a work of fiction. The fictional world in which the characters live is populated by many different people all, who serve different Gods. The overtones of religious hypocrisy are rampant. It caused me to think of our God and our expression of who He is. The atrocities perpetuated by the characters in the book in the name of their Gods, unfortunately, mirrors the same challenges the church of Christ has endured. For me this has become a simple matter, at least theologically. Evangelism must be based in love and motivated by love. All else is both meaningless, at best, and damaging.

In driving through town one day, I saw a car painted with, what was clearly meant to be, an evangelical message. However, the words did anything but magnetize one towards Christ. In fact, I, a Christian, was repelled by the message, even offended. Presumptively, the person driving the car, the one who painted the message, was attempting to populate heaven. The message was not filled, however, with the essence of God which is love.

Sooner or later the church must decide and subsequently adopt an attitude and philosophy of love. We must first, give ourselves over to God’s love, allowing Him to love us in our deepest thoughts and feelings. As we allow ourselves to receive uncompromising love, we will be competent to tell others about the love of God. Only love draws people to God. Theology does not and hell does not. Even the promise of heaven is too vague for most people to appreciate and fathom. We needed acceptance when we were lost and flailing. We found that in our Father who accepted us as we were, even with all our scars and blemishes. We fail, however, to extend that same grace to others and I believe it is because we have yet to fully immerse ourselves in the love the Father offers us.

To my way of thinking, there is no evangelism outside of love. The world does not need us criticizing and damning them. They are not drawn to condemnation nor do they see us as more holy than they when our dialogue is full of hateful expressions instead of love. Don’t tell me you love God when you spit vitriol at His children. It is a vulgar lie. We can no longer afford the luxury of pious self-promotion while people are dying and going to hell. Others are leaving the church because they see hate and judgment. If the church is to grow and function as it was meant to, then we must make the choice to love. It is not our job to decide who goes to hell. Our job is to make hell a wasteland. Eventually, as a body and as individuals, we must embrace love and allow it to color our lives. If God is love, then our only choice is to exercise love. If we are to march in the name of our God then we cannot kill, steal or destroy in His name. This is the message of our times. The first step of this age is: embrace love. Let it fill you and let it be reflected in you. We can’t be mean-spirited and imitate Jesus. We can no longer afford to cause harm in the name of Jesus. That is not his way nor our commission. The gospel is good news and all people, when they encounter us, should have a brush with unfathomable love. Jesus told people that the Kingdom of God had come near them. People will only see the Kingdom and its power when we accomplish step one, adopt love. There is no step two until we achieve step one. Let love guide you, let it fill you. Let God be magnified by magnifying love.