Photoshopped Christianity

“We must never look at any sin in our past life in any way except that which leads us to praise God and to magnify His grace in Christ Jesus.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

One of our favorite date activities is to attend the theatre. Plays are fascinating to watch: the intricate story, the complicated characters, and the journey the actors take the audience on. What especially intrigues us is when we see a play featuring someone we know. They come on stage different than who they are. They may even look differently. Costumes, wigs, and makeup really do its job.

In our world today, we understand that makeup, wigs, and costumes can change a person’s appearance. Online, we see this through photoshop. An individual takes a picture and then begins to crop, edit, and filter the image to get a final look. We’ve all seen the youtube videos of how photoshop on fashion models work (example here).

When we log onto Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, we are marvel over how some people look so good in their pictures and their lives are just “picture-perfect.” Yet, we know that on our phones we can edit images in order to create a look and a perception to stun people with.

Even in our Christian lives and in our churches, we fall into the cultural trend to photoshop our lives.

Photoshopping our Past

It is interesting to hear testimonies in the church. “Before I was saved…” usually introduces the story. Throughout the beginning we may hear, “Remember, I was not saved then.” We all like to say similar remarks in regards to our past actions, sins, and other things that occurred before salvation. We see our story as a book, and we want our readers to jump the beginning chapters until they get to the salvation chapter.

However, in Acts 26:9:-11 and I Timothy 1:12-14 (and other places), Paul readily admits to his past. He does not hide it. Paul freely talks about his desire to persecute and to kill Christians. The purpose is to demonstrate God’s work in his life. He never excuses what he did, instead Paul testifies to the journey from hostile unbeliever to ministering believer. The story begins with his past.

Our stories begins with our past. My wife has shared her testimony many times. She does not cover up the rape she endured, and the anorexia she struggled with. Lately, I have learned that not photoshopping our pasts brings healing. I was sexually taken advantage of at a Christian school. This is a part of my past.

God gives us a past we might not see as glamorous. We crop our lives to reflect who are now. But, who we are now is because we had a past God gave us, and God used it to bring us to where we are now. Joseph had an awful past before he became second-in-command of Egypt. Yet, what does he say about it (Genesis 50:15-21)?

Our past is nothing to be ashamed of. Christ, through his death and resurrection, has forgiven us of everything and will use everything for his glory and our good. Do you believe that? I used to snicker at that. But, God uses us to spread the Gospel and bring light to a dark world. And, he uses our past.

Photoshopping our Struggles

“Yes, I have an unspoken request.” “Me too.” “And me.” Before we know it, several across the congregation raise their hands signifying they have an unspoken prayer request. “Pray for me as I do some spiritual battling.” Similar to the unspoken request, the general spiritual battling request is a popular one. Or, we hear the constant request as one wrestles with sin. However, it is not spoken of.

Struggles in the church are seen as “things which shall not be named.” We may not even mention struggling. We see struggling believers as weak believers. We may see mature believers and ones who do not struggle, and we want to be like them. So, we edit our image in order to hide our struggles. We compartmentalize our lives. Our public image usually does not match the inner thoughts we have. Aspiring to be a pastor or a leader in a church can be a temptation to photoshop our struggles. But what does that do to us?
We may not keep up with the Kardashians, but we do keep up with an image in our churches.

Romans 7:15-25 would hardly be spoken in a church today. Yet, Paul reveals he struggles with sin constantly and desires he has to give in to it. In II Corinthians 12:6-9, Paul opens the veil of his life revealing the thorn in the flesh and how he wrestled with God to removed it.

In my own life, I struggle with having a disability. It can be very discouraging to walk through life with a limp and people stare. It is discouraging when others think you have a mental disability just because I walk differently. It can be very disheartening being 28 years old, and having issues most men my age do not face.

Yet, for myself and Paul, we need to constantly learn the lesson that not cropping out our struggles allows the grace of God to work in our lives. Even our spiritual struggles when cropped out will always remain, and the silence will give Satan a victory. However, when we bring our physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles to the light of Christ, we find acceptance, forgiveness, healing, and the grace to continue walking. Our struggles may be a shame to us, but they are beautiful in God’s eyes as he uses them to shine the light of the Gospel brighter.

Photoshopping our Christian Life

It is easy in our world to want an image. It is easy in our churches to want an image. It is even easy to want an image while pursuing ministry. But, attaining a public perception perverts the image of Christ being formed in us.

When we photoshop and crop our lives we miss the ways God can use what we see as evil. Yes, God knows your sin past, and he knows your current struggles. Yet, he did not leave us in our shame or in defeat. There is no shame when Jesus enters the picture. There is no condemnation for your past or your present struggle, because we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). God uses all things for our good in order to transform us into the image of God (Romans 8:28-29). Why are we afraid of God’s will when we look at the past He allowed to happen or our current struggles which he is bringing us through?

God does not want an Instagram perfect Christian (Mark 2:17). He does not want us to pretend we are perfect. The Christian life is not a career in acting. It is a daily journey giving our lives over to our Creator and seeing Him work all things for His glory and our good as the name of Jesus is preached to the ends of the earth through our lives.

When we stop with the editing, and cropping, and photoshopping, we will see God’s grace working through each other. We see the transformation of the Gospel in our lives as a community of believers.

Are we ashamed of the past God gave us? Do we believe He was not in control then? Then, why do we crop that part of our story out? Are we ashamed of our current struggles because of what others will think? Do we not believe that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ? Then why do we continue running after the perfect Facebook or Instagram image of the Christian life?

 “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.”
– John Newton

A Year Dedicated to Speaking

“If he have faith, the believer cannot be restrained. He betrays himself. He breaks out. He confesses and teaches this gospel to the people at the risk of life itself.”
– Martin Luther

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” – Ronald Reagan
“I have a dream!” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!” – Winston Churchill

These words are from some of the most famous speeches in history. These men used words to accomplish much. It is even said that Churchill got the English language to go to war. The great turn of events in history and in the lives of individuals happened because someone spoke. Someone opened their voice and used it for a purpose.

Moses, Isaiah, Esther, and Daniel are some of heroes of the Bible who raised their voices. The whole creation started because God spoke. Each event in the Bible is sparked by a voice.

A new year is about to begin. I am sure we all have our lists of resolutions. Usually these lists are kept silent and only the individual knows. However, what would happen in our new year if we got rid of our lists, and, instead, used our voices?

The voice is quite powerful. Yet, do we understand all that we can do with our voice?

Speaking God’s Word

How many of us have picked out our Bible reading plan for the year? Whatever it may be, it usually starts as a plan to read through the Bible in a year. It is a daily check sheet of making our way through the 66 books. Bible reading is of vital importance for Christians. Yet, have you ever thought of going further? Have you thought that it might not be that important to read through the entire Bible in a year?

What good is studying the Bible if you do not share it with others? When we keep our Bible study to ourselves, it is just like Scrooge hoarding his money. He kept getting and getting and accumulating. But, what happened when he gave what he had?

Colossians 3:16 states to let the Word of God dwell richly among you. The Greek used for “among you” is plural. It is referring to the sphere in which God’s Word should dwell: the church. Individually we study God’s Word deeply in order to know God and His will for our lives. Yet, the Word remains in our individual spheres. We check our list as we progress through the year, and not bother with the sphere of the church.

Instead, let this new year be the year we throw out a check list of Bible reading. Instead, plan to study God’s Word deeper. Use a Study Bible; even try your hand at learning New Testament Greek. It is ok to not read through the entire Bible in a year. Study the Bible in order to speak God’s Word. Speak it into our marriages, speak it into our families, speak it into our churches. The pastor should not be the only one speaking God’s Word into our hearts, our homes, and in our churches.

Our voice this year can speak God’s Word and what we are learning in our study.

Speaking Our Struggles

One of the most popular items on a New Year’s resolution is conquering a sin or a “vice” in our lives. For many Christians it is that struggle we think about when we cannot sleep. It is that burden we hide under stylish clothing at church and hide under a mask of contentment.

I John 1:8 clearly articulates everyone struggles with sin. When we claim to others that we have no struggle, then we are deceiving ourselves. Sin will no longer be a struggle only when we are face to face with Jesus. Until then, we all struggle with temptations, lusts, sinful desires, and sinful actions. Some are more visible than others. But, we all sin and struggle with our fight against sin (Romans 7:15-25).

However, we honestly believe we can fight sin on our own. We feel the pressure to keep an image in our churches. So, we remain silent, and in our silence we suffocate. Many churches, on paper, claim to promote transparency and openness. Yet, why is it when someone opens up, they are shamed by being removed from their work in the church, being talked about behind their backs, or being shunned? A closed voice is one Satan can keep trapped.

Galatians 6:1-2 instructs the church to bear each other’s burdens. When we know someone is struggling, we do not let them fight alone. Hebrew 10:24-25 urges us to provoke and encourage each other towards good works. How are we to encourage each other unless we know what is going on? We cannot remain silent in our struggles. We as believers and as a church need to be willing to hear people’s struggles (no matter how dark) and fight for them (Philippians 2:4). A church is never about its appearance in perfection A church admits to its many imperfections and relies on the perfection of Jesus.

So let this year be the year we use our voices to speak our struggles. We no longer remain in silence and emotionally and spiritual hang ourselves.
Romans 8:1 promises that those who are in Christ receive no condemnation. This needs to be the attitude and environment of the church. We condemn sin, and we fight against sin. But, we should never throw someone to the curb because of their struggle. Proverbs 29:25. When we fear man in our church regarding our struggles, it brings a snare. Yet, when we trust God there is safety.

This new year speak up about our struggles. Do not remain silent. Even if you are in a church where silence is golden, fight that fear off and find a place where Christ’s forgiveness is celebrated when we speak. What would happen in our churches if this year we spoke about our struggles, and let the world see the testimony of God’s grace transforming a struggling church into the image of Christ, our perfection?

Speaking into our Culture

Finally, many of us would like this new year to be a year we see change in the world around us. Abortion, racism, mass shootings, political corruption, and many other things plague our world because we live in a fallen world. Yet, many of us only voice a political opinion. We forget to voice a Biblical opinion.

The Gospel is our main concern, and in Matthew 28:19-20 Christ commands us to make disciples of all nations. Our citizenship is first found with and in Christ. The next time we see a political debate, or a church shooting let the Gospel be the first answer to the problem; not another policy. Romans 1:16 says we should never be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God to transform lives. Sinful hearts do not need a policy. Sinful hearts need a forgiving and life-giving Savior.

But, we also need to stand for truth in our culture. It is more than witty comments on social media. Injustice happens all around us. We see babies being aborted, racism oppressing people, and shooters extinguishing innocent lives. Isaiah 1:17 shows that God values work against injustice, and in Micah 6:8 God says this is to be a value for us as well. However, true justice will not happen until Christ returns. Yet, this is why the Gospel has to come first. The Gospel transforms the heart, the heart transforms the worldview, the worldview transforms the actions. Then, we live out our Gospel-transformed lives with God’s values. This means we fight against injustice. Advocating the pro-life movement is great, but what are we doing to help those who cannot have children? Are we advocating for them? Are we educating ourselves in how racism is played out today? Are we striving for a church that represents the scene in Heaven (Revelation 7:9-10)? There are many instances where we as Christians can speak out against injustice in our culture and act on God’s values. It is not about promoting one political party or another. God’s Kingdom is our citizenship. His rule and His values are more important. Vote in light of God’s values. But, witty comments on social media don’t do anything except blow steam.

This year, let’s speak up for God’s values in how they apply to all areas of life in our culture. Let’s show the love of Christ while speaking His truth.

The Power of Your Voice in God’s Hands

New year’s resolutions are great. However, speaking leads to change. From creation to the new earth, each event in the Bible is sparked by a voice. God uses our human voices to spark change, to kindle fire in the church, and ablaze the world with His Gospel.

But, what if…? Speaking can be scary (believe me, I teach public speaking). Yet, God does not allow our insecurity and fears to be an excuse. Watch this clip.

God used Moses. God used Daniel. God used Paul. God used Esther. They were used for such a time as God ordained. And you? God has ordained you for such a time as this. You were not born with a list of new year’s resolutions. You were born with a voice. When your voice is given over God and His way, think about what can be done! Think of Isaiah when he surrendered his voice and what God did through Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-8).

The new year is upon us. It can be a year of keeping a list. However, what difference would this year make if we stopped with our lists of our own making, and used our voices speaking God’s Word, speaking our struggles, and speaking into our culture?

Do you know the power of your voice? God does, and God gave you that voice. Let’s start the new year by dedicating to speaking and using our voices for God.

Dirty Feet and a Crown

“Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” – C.S. Lewis

I walked into my first ministerial class where every freshman to seminary student pursuing the ministry gathered. My nerves got to my throat and I swallowed. My seat was easy to find. Due to my last name, I was in the middle of a row. “What are you doing here, Stephen? You know there is no theatre class now.” I looked up to see a confused face. “I am here for this class. I am a ministry student now.”

My simple comment started a new path for me. It was a path I had no experience in. It was a path that felt odd, crooked, and unknown. The people who walked this path seemed to know exactly what they were doing, how to act, how to speak, and how to get from one part of the journey to another. Not so in my case. I am the son of a physician and a nurse. Being direct and straight to the point is the communication skill of the medical field. Being an ex-theatre major voicing opinions (even unpopular ones) were not welcomed on this new path. Many times I found myself sticking my foot, fist, and maybe a brick or two into my mouth. While others ran with leaps and bounds… scrapped knees, bruises, and stumbles marked my journey in ministry (and still does).

Quickly, I found myself on a path where the race was off, and I clearly was not welcomed. So I ran. But, I ran for the nearest exit.

Coming Back to God’s Calling

Psalm 139 has always been a special Psalm in my life (especially verses 13-16). Viewing yourself as being fearfully and wonderfully made with a purpose by God can be challenging for a normal person; let alone a person born with a disability. Believing God did not make a mistake by giving me Spina Bifida has been one of the hardest challenges to overcome. Growing up in a Christian school I was bullied, mocked, and even taken advantage of in physical ways. Seasons of depression marked my calendar like Fall and Winter. Yet, when the Holy Spirit breathed life into my dead soul, Jesus became more than a man in a story. He was the incarnate God who formed me and then became a man himself to die in my place to give me a new heart and a new purpose of living (John 1:14; II Corinthians 5:17).

A new and surprising purpose landed in my lap. Praying for a clear path of what to do with, Romans 10:14-15 hit me like a 2×4 to the head. “How beautiful are the feet of them that bring good news.” My feet are not beautiful to look at. They are crippled surrounded by plastic and metal leg braces. Yet, it was in this passage God spoke to be his beautiful feet.

And I found myself in the ministerial class. God sent a message, and I responded.

Dirty Feet

Yet, as the days, months, and years passed in formal ministerial training, I looked down and saw how dirty my feet were. My sin clung to them like heavy mud. It cracked my feet and sometimes infections oozed their way to the surface of my feet. My thought life and my speech did not belong. They created a dust cloud around me.

Others pointed out my dirty feet, and “encouraged” me to clean my feet up like their clean feet. Scrubbing and scrubbing I could get the dirt off, but the scars of the past criss-crossed my feet. When I tried to hide the past, it just kept coming to the surface. Others had no scars or had gotten the scars to go away. Mine lay bare like an embarrassing tattoo.

Therefore, I always walked around with tension of being in the ministry and pursuing that or running away; never wanting to be apart of it. I did not belong in this group. Being different with a physical disability was enough difference for me. I did not need my past and my struggles to be another witness to how different I am. People’s criticism and words showed me the exit.

I did not have beautiful feet. I had dirty feet. I did not belong there. After many years of feeling tension, it was not until Fall semester 0f 2019 that I was the closest to leaving formal ministry training and no longer pursuing it.

Dirty feet have no business in God’s ministry.

Yet, how wrong I was…

A Lineage of Dirty Feet

It is Christmas season and the majority of us read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. We read the story of the incarnate birth of Christ. Before gifts are unwrapped, we read the stories and thank God for the greatest gift of all: Jesus.

But, back up. We usually start the story at Matthew 1:18. Before we talk about Mary and Joseph, go read Matthew 1:1-17. Most genealogies are skipped over due to not knowing names. But, we know plenty of names in this list.

This is the royal line of Christ. This is the line that God used through the seed of the woman to bring the death of the serpent as prophesied in Genesis 3:15. But, don’t set up masterpieces of art when you see these names. Don’t set up your flannel graph. It is a royal lineage of dirty feet ending with the one who washed their feet in his own blood.

Abraham lied. Jacob had deceiver on his resume. Judah fathered children by his own daughter-in-law when he thought she was a prostitute. Rahab was not even an Israelite. She did not belong in this group. Ruth was a Moabite. She also did not fit into the group. David had Solomon through an adulterous relationship with another man’s wife (Bathsheba). Rehoboam split the kingdom. Manasseh is considered one of the worst kings in the Old Testament.

There is dirt on all these people. Christ did not come from a line of mosaic saints with halos. Scars and dirt covered his ancestors. Yet, God used them to be in the line of the Messiah: the perfect, sinless Son of God.

No Reason to Run

It is easy to look at our own failures, sins, struggles, pasts and then at God’s calling on our lives. The two are the complete opposite from each other. There is no way we could fulfill what God is calling us to do. So, we run. We may pretend everything is alright, but we suppress the tension of staying or running.

Is there a reason to run? Only when we look at everyone else. When our eyes are not fixed on God’s Word and God’s calling we stumble in comparing ourselves to others. There is no reason to run when we see God using anyone to accomplish his will. We let the image of others choke out our voice and stumble our feet while we become a fulfillment of Proverbs 29:25.

Yet, when we trust in the Lord we will be safe. It is not just trusting God in the bad times or when things are not going our way. It is trusting God is leading us down the right path, even when people laugh at us or tell us to quit. We trust when we do not belong. We continue walking by faith and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). Scrapped knees and stumbles will happen because of sin. Yet, it is the merciful hand of God pulling us back onto our feet that prove he is not done with us yet.

There is no reason to run when we feel we do not belong or because our feet are scarred. God does not call the qualified. He will qualified his called.

Dirty Feet and a Crown

In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis ends the story with the crowning of the four Pevensie children. Yet, it is a curious sight to see Edmund crown king and then called “Edmund the Just.” He was the one who betrayed the others to the White Witch. He was the one for whom Aslan laid down his life. Edmund was a traitor. Yet, he is crowned king by Aslan. Edmund had dirty feet. However, Aslan knew who he was crowning. He gave Edmund a new life and purpose to live. This new life and purpose as a king in Narnia may have felt undeserved and overwhelming, but it was Aslan who crowned him.

And it is God who calls you. He calls you to pick up your crown of being an ambassador for Christ and to wear it with humble pride. It is a heavy weight to bear. But, it is God who gives you this title and this purpose. You cannot run away from who God made you or from what God has called you to do. Running only leads to heartache and stress.

My struggles may make me stick out as not fitting the “mold” some have created. But, can’t God still use me? Can’t I still follow this path? Being called into ministry does not mean I do not struggle. Instead, I admit I struggle. To some this would be considered a “position-kill,” but it is not in our perfections we glorify in. Instead, we glorify in our imperfections, because our perfection come from Christ.

So it is time to stop running. Accept the fact that God has called you. He knows your past, your struggles, and your faults. He still called you. Now, pick up your crown, and live like the king or queen God through Christ sealed by the Holy Spirit has called you to be.

“Christ has taken our nature into heaven
  to represent us, and has left us on earth
  with his nature to represent him.”

– John Newton

This Is My Father’s World

There is a signature of wisdom and power impressed on the works of God, which evidently distinguishes them from the feeble imitations of men – not only the splendor of the sun, but the glimmering light of the glowworm, proclaims his glory.
– John Newton

Some weeks ago, my wife and I were getting ready for church. My wife came into the bedroom exclaiming, “The cats are going nuts at the slider door.” We do not live on the first floor, so I thought it might be a bird. But there were loud meows and so we decided to investigate. We opened the blinds and saw a kitten sitting on the railing of the deck. She was quite small and dirty. Rebeca went out to investigate. The kitten hopped down and came right to her purring. It was going to rain that day so we brought her inside. She wasn’t small in size, but her weight told us she hadn’t eaten in days (possibly weeks). Our examination of her began. Dirt and bugs covered her fur. After an hour long bath and brushing, we got the bugs off and once brown fur revealed to be white along with her brown tiger stripes. Matted fur was untangled and soft again.

As we put her in a box with a blanket, the little kitten curled up after some food and went to sleep. After sharing with vets and other people this story, we were able to piece together this kitten’s story. This little one was most likely abandoned at 6 months old. She had probably been on her own for 2-4 weeks. Shelters were full. We were told that she most likely would be put down if a home was not found in a short time. Then Rebeca looked at me and said, “Why are we going to let that happen to this kitten, when she did nothing wrong? Why punish her for someone else’s lack of responsibility?”

We tend to use phrases like that when it comes to the issue of abortion. But, I had never connected it with an animal’s life. Yes, a human life is more valuable than an animal’s life, but can that phrase connect to animal life? These thoughts led me to search out what is the Christian’s life in relation to animals. Not only that, but what is the Christian and environment have to do with each other. Animal rights and the environment are hot button political and social issues in our culture today.

But the question must be for Christians, “What does the Bible say about animal life and the environment?”

A Quick Reaction is Not a Biblical Response

When most of us think about animals and the environment, some images come to mind. We might think of tree huggers stopping a company from cutting down trees. We might think of “Save the Whales” signs and cleaning up trash from the ocean. We might think of the ban of drinking straws or emotional UN speeches or marches for solutions to climate change.

We might even think of one political party or another. We might think of hidden agendas. We may look at the ban of drinking straws to help save the sea turtles, laugh, and then go by 100 straws just to prove a point. Or, we may shut down the issue as a liberal hidden agenda. A person may begin speaking about the environment or animals and we close our ears or throw out their ads or laugh at their commercials. These are not responses. These are reactions.

It may be possible that people are using the issue of climate change and animal right to hide an agenda, but we can’t think about that unless we have proof. That is a reaction. As Christians, we need to a biblically-based response.

Proverbs 12:18 says that a rash or reactionary word can hurt, but the word of a wise response can bring healing. Colossians 4:6 tells us to have our answers to anything be seasoned with salt and be gracious. This would include answering the issue of animals and the environment. Harsh reactionary statements turn away people. Thought out responses allow people to listen, and our responses can open the door to give the Gospel.

So what does the Bible say about the Christian’s relation with animals and the environment?

In the Beginning…

Genesis 1 has to be our place to start. Before we talk about the environment and animals, we need to start with verse 1. God is our creator. He created the environment all around us. He created the seas, the sunsets, the canyons, the fall colors, the cold snow, the high mountains. He created your dog or cat. He created the spiders, the fish, the birds, the lions, and tigers, and bears. Oh my, there is much more to creation than us. We tend to see the awesome creation of our favorite place or animal, but God did create those mosquitos too.

The animals around us, and the environment we live in and enjoy came from God. He is our Creator, and he is their Creator too.

Our Place to Work

When we finally get to Genesis 1:26-28, we see how we are made in God’s image and how we are to be fruitful and multiply. However, have we skipped over something? We are given the job to rule over God’s creation. We are to be his ambassadors on earth.

In fact, in Genesis 2:15 God puts Adam (specifically places him) in the Garden to look after it and work in it. The first job humans had were to take care of God’s creation. That is the first command in Scripture to humans. We are to look after God’s creation. We are not meant for another world as some people would say. We were never created for heaven. Heaven is temporary. We were created for the New Earth (Revelation 21). Our God given place and purpose are on this earth and will one day be redeemed and found on the New Earth.

The Idolatry of Mother Earth

However, you might be thinking, “I know where this is going. We are going to become tree huggers and animal right activists.” Again, that is a reaction, and not a thought out biblical response.

Many people who fight for the climate and the animals refer to the earth as Mother Earth and having this one planet for humans. While it is true that we just have what God has given us for this life, we must address the issue of Mother Earth. When people forget God is the Creator of all animals and the environment, they tend to worship at the feet of Mother Earth. When anything replaces God as Creator and Lord, that is an idol. When we get too focused on animals and the planet and forget our other God given responsibilities and forget Him, we are committing idolatry. So, taking care of our earth and animals is biblical; however, if we are not careful (like with anything) we can find ourselves worshipping at the feet of Mother Earth -just like we can find ourselves worshipping the sermons of Pastor Pillow or worshipping the Town-Crier TV.

Consider a Biblical Response

Matthew 6:26 and 28-30 calls us to consider various things in creation. We are told we are more valuable than these, yet God takes care of them. God takes care of creation, yet he has given it to us to be his ambassadors and stewards on earth. This goes back to Genesis. Just as who God is, we are to follow and steward what is important to him. According to Matthew 6, creation and the smallest parts of creation are important to God. Therefore, they should be important to us.

So, it is good for Christians to take care of the animals around us and be good stewards of our planet (Proverbs 12:10). This is our earth given to us by our Creator to showcase his glory. Is it glorifying God to let litter kill his creation? Is it glorifying to God to abandon our animals because we don’t feel like taking care of them anymore? Is it glorifying to God to let our yards over grow and not look well kept? Giving glory to God is found in every aspect of our lives, and not just in our relationships with believers and unbelievers around us.

However, we cannot get carried away. We must take care of our families and the people around us. But, it is not an excuse to neglect God’s creation. We must have a balance.

Romans 1:20 states that all creation points to God. Why would we want creation to be destroyed when it all points to our creator?

Now I am not saying let’s go protest and give speeches. But, we can take care of our environment and animals. We can help the abandoned animal. We can help shelters. We can lessen our garbage. We can be good stewards of the earth and all that is in it. This is not a government issue. It is an individual issue. When we see who our Creator is, we will want to take care of his creation that he has entrusted us with.

When we stop reacting to the political and social issues and political parties, we can see what Scripture says about these issues and align our actions with God’s Word.

Psalm 24:1 says the earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord. His glory is seen, not just in us as humans, but also in the creation and animals around us. He is their creator too. We marvel at God’s creation. Why destroy it with our reaction to political issues? Let’s go back to Genesis. Our first job is to take care of God’s creation as his stewards. God’s attributes and glory is seen from his creation. Let’s do our best that creation and our stewardship of creation can be a testimony to a dying world.

This is my father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres

This is my father’s world
The birds their carols raise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their maker’s praise

This is my father’s world
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas
His hand the wonders wrought

This is my father’s world
Oh, let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet

– “This is My Father’s World” by Franklin L. Sheppard

Communion: In Remembrance of What?

“We ought carefully and with the utmost seriousness and consideration attend the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: this was appointed for this end, to draw forth longings of our souls toward Jesus Christ.”
– Jonathan Edwards

Preparing for a wedding can be a wonderful, yet a chaotic time. There are many details that go into creating a wedding. However when families find out a wedding is coming, it seems like everyone comes out of the woodwork. Everyone has an opinion about how a wedding should be done. The dress, the music, the vows, the rehearsal dinner, the reception, the invitations, etc. Each element has an opinion.

My wife and I have only been married a year-and-a-half. We remember putting together our wedding. We had ideas. Each family member had ideas. Each friend had ideas. Pinterest had ideas. Yet, one thing kept us going: our wedding was about celebrating us. Our wedding was not ignoring family, but it wasn’t about everyone. The wedding was about us and vowing to be loyal to each other and love each other as Christ has loved us, and be an example of a godly marriage to the world around us.

We did things some felt were “unconventional.” Yet, again, we wanted the wedding to celebrate the main thing: our marriage.

“Keep the main thing the main thing” is a popular phrase thrown around today. It is true that we need to keep a main priority on things that are important; however, sometimes good things tend to rise above and overshadow the main thing.

Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) is a sacrament or ordinance in churches that is celebrated many times throughout the year. Recently, my wife and I took part in our church’s observance of communion. As we were reflecting as the elements were being passed, a thought hit my mind and I began thinking.

“In remembrance of what?”

The Story of Communion

The night of the Passover had arrived. The disciples found an upper room to observe the celebration of the Exodus with Jesus. They gathered together. Reclining at the table, the disciples’ eyes were fixed on Jesus. He talked about suffering and not eating the meal until it was fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus took the bread. He gave thanks and broke it. Yet, His words spoke something unusual, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19).” After they had consumed the bread, Jesus grasped a cup. He gave thanks. Again, His words were unexpected, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:20).”

“My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

The disciples did not realize that these words were not symbolic. These words became a reality not even twenty-four hours later.

Jesus the Son of Man, the Miracle Worker, the Great Teacher, the Messiah was arrested. He was tried, beaten, and flogged. A leather whip with ends of bone and other sharp objects ripped through his flesh like a lion tearing at prey. His beard was ripped out of his face. A crown of thorns was wedged on his head causing blood to stream down his face. He was unrecognizable. Yet, he did not protest. He freely gave over his body.

The bloodied Christ, burdened with a cross, was led out of the city to be crucified. His muscles were so weak and torn, that another man had to carry Jesus’ cross.

The soldiers arrived with Jesus at a place called “The Place of the Skull.” He was stripped and became vulnerable for all to see. His arms were pulled to each end of the beam while spikes were hammered through his wrists into the wood. His feet suffered the same.

Jesus, the one who healed a woman with the issue of blood, the one who cast out demons and put a man in his right mind, the one who saved a woman about to be stoned, the one who fed hungry souls was lifted on a cross for all to see. The soldiers then dropped the cross into a hole tearing his ligaments and dislocating his shoulders.

In agony, Jesus had to gasp for breath. In pain, he stretched his bloodied form to fill his lungs. After a while, he looked to heaven and said, “It is finished.” No more air entered his lungs. His kind eyes grew dim. Jesus was dead.

“My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

His lifeless body was taken down and buried. Yet, three days later. Jesus rose from the dead. He was not a spirit. He had a physical body and ate in front of his disciples. He lives. His disciples were changed and began to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world.

One thought permeates their message to the world, “My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

In Remembrance of… our Purity

The story of communion is sobering. We come to communion based on this story. However, what is it in remembrance of?

I have sat through many communion services and observed one thing that really sticks out – “Take time to pray and get your heart right before God. Christian, if you are living in sin, you cannot partake until you are restored with God.”

I Corinthians 11:27-32 is the basis for comments like this. Paul commanded the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were partaking in the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. Why? 11:17-22 gives us the answer. The Corinthians were abusing the Lord’s Supper. They were partying and stuffing themselves like a pagan celebration. There were factions among the rich and poor. The Lord’s Supper looked no different than what happened at the pagan temple. The Corinthians had lost sight of the purpose of communion.

Similarly, the pendulum can swing the other way. Have we forgotten the main purpose of communion? In our churches, we tend to belabor the point of repentance and being right before God that we make communion in remembrance of our purity before God. When we pass the bread and the grape juice (or wine depending on the church’s beliefs), we tend to figure out who took the bread and who has not. Our minds quickly race, “What is going on in his life?” “What is she hiding?” We tend to make communion a memorial of our purity before God.

Sure, we are not celebrating and abusing it like the Corinthians. But, we are making it about us. Communion is not about our purity before God. That is not the main point. When we belabor and focus on our purity and confession before God during the Lord’s Supper, we have missed the purpose of communion.

In Remembrance of Me

In the book of Luke (Luke 22:14-23) and in I Corinthians 11 (I Corinthians 11:17-26), a phrase is repeated: “In Remembrance of Me.” Twice in I Corinthians 11 it is repeated.

The main purpose of the Lord’s Supper is remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is remembering the incarnation, remembering his life, remembering how he redeemed us and signed a new covenant in his blood, and sealed it with his resurrection. The Lord’s Supper is in remembrance of Jesus as we look forward to his coming and restoring everything as he brings about the New Earth where he reigns and we are living like we were originally created to (Revelation 21).

We break the bread with our teeth, we drink the juice and we are to remember Jesus. Our righteous standing has nothing do with our efforts or the number of prayers given. It has all to do with Jesus. As we partake the Lord’s Supper, we are proclaiming the new covenant God initiated in Christ. The temple curtain is torn. His blood is there for us to paint our doorposts with. It is all about him. We eat and drink communion in remembrance of him.

In Remembrance of Him… We Pray

Are we just supposed to throw out making sure our hearts are right before God? No. The Christian life is a lifestyle of repentance. The fruit of salvation is repentance. Too often we come to communion with fear of the judgement that comes if we eat in an unworthy manner (I Corinthians 11:27-34). Have we forgotten that in Christ there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1-2)?

We are not condemned. We are free from sin. This is why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Yes, we need to examine our live. But, we do not have to fear because we are adopted as heirs and sons of God (Romans 8:15-17).

When we remember Christ, we praise God for his salvation and we bow in humility as we know we do not deserve it. Communion is a reminder of our great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we come to that realization we cannot help but repent of our lukewarm hearts. It is not out of fear, but out of longing for the satisfaction that Jesus gives. It is a longing to be with Jesus when he comes again. It is a longing to finally see our Savior face to face and touch the body he took on and kept.

So, shake off the spirit of fear. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial celebration of thanksgiving to our God. We repent because we marvel and remember the great work Christ did for us on the cross and in his resurrection.

“My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!
– Martin Luther

Saved unto a List or Saved unto a New Life

“Though there is not always grace where there is the fear of hell, yet, to be sure, there is no grace where there is no fear of God.”
– John Bunyan

This week I handed out the requirements for my students’ next project. As the students got the list, they quickly began looking at the details and what would happen if they did not fulfill those requirements. As I went over this simple sheet of paper, each one was frantically underlining, highlighting, and starring each point in order to not miss a single one.

A hand popped up with a concerned face connected at the end. “Mr. Field, what is the penalty of missing one of these requirements?” My response sent shivers down some of their spines, “I will return your outline back to you, and you will receive a late penalty when you turn it in corrected.” The seriousness of following the requirements set in, and since then I have had many students come to me asking to check their outlines to see if they are on track.

I pondered on this simple academic situation. It is not unusual for this type of experience to happen at the college level. Yet, there is an important spiritual truth to be seen.

The Great Gift of Salvation

It is no denying that the greatest gift God has given to man is salvation. We were dead in our sins, and we were on our way to eternal condemnation. But God, who is rich in mercy, saved us by His grace to a new life (Ephesians 2:1-10).

When we come face to face with the holiness of God, we see the wretchedness of our sin and the glorious forgiveness of Christ. It is only through the death and resurrection of Christ we can be fully set free from the burden and slavery of sin, and be made alive to God.

Do you remember the day you were saved? Do you remember the Spirit pushing the weight of sin on your mind? Do you remember not being able to do anything else but cry out to God for salvation? The moment of being justified and reconciled with our Creator is the sweetest thing in life.

Salvation. It seems so simple, and we praise God for it. But, have we missed the great gift of Salvation and unwrapped a false salvation?

Saved from Fear to… Fear?

Romans 6:16-18 states we are set free from the slavery of sin, and are now servants of God. Romans 8:15 claims we are set free from the slavery of sin and set free from a spirit of fear. Instead, we are given the spirit of adoption where we are now called the children of God and heirs with Christ.

Yet, have we listened to a “salvation” that frees us from a spirit of fear and, in return, given us a different spirit of fear?

I am talking about the list. Many in churches today see salvation as praying a prayer, and then following a list of do’s and don’ts their church culture made from application of Scripture. We will not admit to it, but we say a prayer, write the date down, and then we carefully follow the check list:
– Attend church services every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and
Wednesday evening
– Give to the church
– Read your Bible and pray
– Serve in the church
– Look the part for church
– Hand out tracts
– Give of your best to the master

The list can go on and on. Yet, when we doubt our salvation we turn to the date in our Bible and look at our checklist. We fear hellfire because we do not believe enough in a date or our fulfilling a checklist of chores.

This is not the spirit of adoption. This is not being saved to a new life in Christ. This false salvation is a belief in a date written in your Bible and your faithfulness to a list. This is superstition. It becomes about your work and your ability.

Following this mentality leads to being saved from fear of hellfire to being saved to the fear of your ability to believe and do enough. Biblically speaking, it is no different than the issue of the Galatians of trying to justify themselves through the works of the law (Galatians 2:15-16).

We no longer become servants of God. Instead, we are like puppets fearing what would happen if we mess up on our list and not hold fast to the date in our Bible. There is no grace in this attitude. We become more fearful of hellfire and the people in our churches, rather than being fearful of God and falling on our faces before Him to rescue us.

We have traded the burden of sin and death for the burden and fear of the church and a list of requirements. This is not salvation.

Saved to a New Life

So, what are we saved to? We already know that we are saved from the penalty of sin (Romans 6:23). We know this.

But, are we not saved to a new life to live a new way? Yes we are. The classic passage is Romans 12:1-2. Because of all that God has done for us, we are to be living sacrifices to Him. Because of Romans 1-11, we see the mercy and grace of our great God and Savior as He reached down and saved our souls when we could not help but die in our sins. However, we tend to get this passage mixed up. Our minds quickly breeze through verse 1 and go straight to “do not be conformed to this world” found in verse two. We look for what we need to do first. But, we need to take the passage exactly as what God gave us in His Word. We are to glory in the mercies of God and be. We are to be His living sacrifice ready for His will. There is no doing yet. We bask in his mercy and grace of no longer being condemned, but being adopted, and having a new life for God. This makes drives us to be a living sacrifice, and then begin doing. Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 2:20.

We no longer have to fear condemnation from anyone. We live, and have our being, and have our purpose in life because of the grace and mercy of God. Fearing God is not fearing hellfire. Fearing God is seeing who we are before Him, rejoicing in His work and gift of salvation, and living our lives for Him because of who He is. It is an awe in the God who is our Creator, Savior, Father, Justifier, and King of kings.

The Fruit of Salvation Lived

Oswald Chambers says, “The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” When we fear, we use a list as the “fruit of our salvation.” Then, when someone is not following the list, we quickly state, “You will know them by their fruit.”

The fruit of salvation is not a list. The fruit of salvation is repentance. Matthew 3:8 shows us that it is not about being from a family, or following laws, or completing a list. The true fruit of salvation is repentance. It is not just and one and done deal. Repentance is a lifestyle of constantly turning from our pride and sin to be our our God, and running to the cross to find forgiveness as we learn to live our new life in Christ. From this lifestyle, the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) blossoms from a once dead tree made alive through the blood of Christ.

A.W. Tozer says, “Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” We no longer have requirements. Instead, we live by faith because we see who God is and we want Him more than a list and more than anything in this world.

We are saved from sin, slavery and fear. We are saved to God, purposed in a new life, serving God in Christ, because of Christ. This is salvation. This is living our new life poured out from the grace of God.

All I was I lay aside now dead to sin
To God alive! Born again into a new identity!
Once asleep to God in sin, now wakened by the blood and cleansed!
Born again to be who He called me to be!
All I have I lay aside, run the race to gain the prize
For the sake of knowing Jesus Christ in me!
I cannot yet fully see all I’m truly called to be,
Knowing Christ reveals my hope and destiny!

He calls me child! He calls me to his side eternally!
He calls what once was lost now found, once bound to sin – now free!
He calls me holy! Calls me righteous! By the blood redeemed!
He calls me overcomer, crowned with victory!
This is my destiny!

What once bound me is no more! What was stolen is restored
By the resurrection power of my King!
What was old has been made new; lies and doubts replaced by truth!
What was silent now resounds, “I am redeemed!”

He calls me servant, calls me warrior; calls me royalty!
He calls me resurrected one! He calls me His redeemed!
He calls me higher, calls me for beyond my wildest dream!
He calls my heart to come and be all he can see!
He calls me chosen! New creation! Trophy of his His grace!
He gives me strength to fight the fight and run to win the race!
He tells me he delights in me while singing over me,
Accepting me as His beloved bride-to-be! This is my destiny!

– “This is My Destiny” by Dennis Jernigan

The Christian, The Government, and Living

“Most Christians salute the sovereignty of God but believe in the sovereignty of man.”
– R.C. Sproul

Have you read the comments on various news articles on Facebook? Doing this can reveal a lot about our attitudes toward government and where our government is going.

We see the 2020 election as a pivotal point in our American society. We hear words like “socialism” or “gun control,” and we take to our keyboards writing our opinions.

The pathway our government is going has become a headlining issue. We all have an opinion on this. You will hear one person decry socialism. Yet, another will try to show the benefits of it. There are debates, protests, and online fights over different government systems.

Our reactions expose a theme in our lives: the system of American government is important. However, is this a biblical priority for Christians? How should we biblically respond to governing systems in our country and around the world?

Christian and Government: The Biblical Data

What does the Bible directly say about government?

Thinking about the Christian and government, Romans 13:1-7 is the first passage that should come to mind. We see here there is an imperative in the Greek. We are to submit to the governing authority.

I Timothy 2:1-4 is another location where Paul writes about the Christian interaction with government. We are to pray for those in authority in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life.

Peter, also, mentions the government. I Peter 2:13-14 states that we need to submit to the governing authorities over us.

From these classic passages, we are instructed to submit to and to pray for governing authorities in our lives. In American culture our authorities would be the president, senators, governors, representatives, mayors, judges, police, teachers, employers, etc. Every day we live our lives under multiple layers of governing authorities. According to Scripture, we are to submit and pray.

Christians and Government: The Source

Even though we know the command to submit, we forget there is a divine source and divine sovereignty to all government.

Romans 13:1 reveals God bringing to authority those who he wishes. All governments and their leaders are instituted by God. This God is our Creator (Genesis 1). This God loves each of us so much that our sin needed a Savior (John 3:16). This God cares about individual sparrows and cares for us. We do not have to worry (Luke 12:22-34).

God is sovereign. God knows what is happening. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He knows what is best for us, and He will never leave or forsake us.

Do you think God does not know what He is doing when it comes to our government?

Christians and Government: A Lesson from the Past

Christians do worry about and voice their concerns of who is going to be in office. We cast our votes, we put signs on our yards, and we promote others to vote a certain way in order to keep one group (we deem evil) out of office.

In the early church, there was not much control of who was in office. The early Christians did not have a voice like we have today. Many of the emperors of Rome persecuted Christians. Religious freedom was not a denied right. Religious freedom for Christians did not exist until Constantine.

Christians were persecuted. Even in the book of Acts, Christians were hunted down as the most dangerous game. They were beaten, thrown in prison, crucified, beheaded, and ripped apart by wild animals.

While in prison for preaching the Gospel, Paul writes, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself (Philippians 4:11-12).” Paul used the circumstances he found as opportunities to give the Gospel and make disciples around him (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Democracy and religious freedom did not exist in Paul’s society. Yet, Paul was content. His goal was to bring Christ to others no matter who was the governing authority. The government was not the hope and foundation of his faith.

Christians and Government: A Lesson from the Present

I had the opportunity to listen to a pastor from a culture where it is illegal to speak about the Gospel openly. In his culture, Christians must meet in secret. Christians have concern for their safety. Christian families may be split apart and the father put in prison. There are consequences from the government like not being able to do banking or other business just for having a home church.

He was asked how he could have such a strong faith amidst such an oppressive government. His answer was quite thought provoking. The hope of his faith did not rest in the government. His hope was in his heavenly citizenship secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus sealed by the Holy Spirit. The citizenship in his culture came second to his citizenship in heaven.

This pastor is able to live out his faith with boldness, courage, and an open hand because his citizenship is sealed by the Holy Spirit. His government has regulations. Does the tightening down on these regulations concern him? No. His goal is to live for Christ. His faith does not rise and fall with whatever system of government is in power.

Christians and Government: The Challenge

Timothy Keller writes, “If the Christian faith gets too identified with a party, it reduces Christianity to a political position.”

2020 is coming. Republicans and democrats seem to be going at each other every time the news is broadcasted. We hear the words “socialism” and “impeachment,” and our emotions get going. We hear about people wanting to change the constitution and take away our rights. Our emotions start to bubble and our reactions come out. It seems like our faith is strengthened or weakened by what is happening in government.

Can we live as content Christians with the republicans in office? Can we live as content Christians with the democrats in office? Can we live for Christ whether the governing system is democracy or socialism?

We are commanded to submit, pray, and live. Can we be like Paul and this pastor living in a hostile culture and be content? Can we find opportunities to make disciples while living under a government system that is not our preference?

We tend to forget that God is sovereign when the ways of government do not go our way.

What is the hope of your faith? Putting faith in a political party makes a bad religion

We say God is sovereign, but we tend to live as if man is in charge.

“It is a most blessed thing to be subject to the sovereignty of God.”
– John Calvin