I Have Decided

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38)

I love music, all kinds of music. I especially love knowing the story behind songs because it gives me a fresh perspective and a greater appreciation for that particular song. In their book Living Among Lions, David and Jason Benham tell the story behind the hymn I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. If the title sounds familiar it might be because there’s a popular Christian song entitled Christ is Enough that borrows a portion of its lyrics from I Have Decided…. We sing this song at church and I listen to it often on iTunes. I’ve always appreciated the lyrics of this song, but until reading the Benham brothers book, I had never heard the story behind them.

The story behind I Have Decided to Follow Jesus began with a family of four who lived in the Indian province of Assam. They had professed faith in Christ and were subsequently baptized by a Welsh missionary in the 1880’s. As one might imagine, their profession brought about intense persecution. The leaders in their village arrested the family, demanding the father renounce Christ. He refused their demand saying, “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.” His two children were then killed right in front of him. He still refused to renounce Jesus saying, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.” Then they killed his wife. Still no renunciation. “Though no one is here to go with me, still I will follow Jesus” was his response. The village leaders then killed him. According to the Welsh missionary, when he returned to the village some time later, revival had broken out and he came to find out that those who had murdered the family had themselves come to faith in Christ. He passed this story along to a prominent Indian evangelist named Sandhu Sundar who then made this man’s dying words into a great hymn.

Scripture leaves no doubt as to where our allegiance as believers must lie−with Jesus. Jesus’ own words make that abundantly clear (Luke 14:25-33, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 16:24-28). At first glance, the level of commitment these verses communicate might seem a bit unrealistic, but not only is it not unrealistic, this level of commitment is what’s expected. Our love and commitment to Christ must be unrivaled. Everything must take its place behind Jesus. And when it does, persecution may, and most likely will come. As disciples, we must be willing to count the cost. It’s not that we wish for the persecution, and it’s not that it will be anyway near as intense as this family underwent. It’s that in whatever form it comes, and however intense it may be, we focus on Christ and His promise to be with us in the midst of it. It was the Holy Spirit alone that enabled this father to not renounce Christ. It will be the Holy Spirit that will see you through whatever persecution results from your commitment to Christ as well.

So, are you willing to count the cost? Have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you resolved to not turn back? If not, grab hold of Jesus. If you have, just hang on. Trust that He is always with you, that His promises are true, that He is enough, and that yes, His grace is always sufficient. “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back. The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back.”

As Christ Loved the Church

IMG_1078 (3)“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) 

Today, Karen and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. I first met Karen in high school. She was a junior and I was a senior. We dated for a few months before going our separate ways. Who would’ve known that 10 years later we would be married? I can say with certainty that at the point in which we were married, both personally and in marriage, I had a different set of priorities than I do now. It’s not that those priorities were necessarily bad. They just weren’t the best because they weren’t centered on a relationship with Christ. In fact, I didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ and for a long time my priorities remained elsewhere. It is impossible for a man to lead his family in the way God would have him when his own life is not centered on Jesus Christ. Thankfully, in God’s perfect timing and only by His grace, our marriage has a different center. My prayer is that it will always remain that way.

There’s no human covenant more important than the covenant of marriage. It is also a covenant in need of an extra measure of God’s grace. Outside of grace that comes in salvation, I don’t know where it’s needed more. This is true for several of reasons: First, marriage is constantly under attack because of what it pictures. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Secondly, marriage is made more difficult due to the closeness of the relationship. Is there anyone more uniquely qualified to point out your faults than your spouse? I doubt it! No matter where any of us may be in our walk with Christ, marriage is tough. It’s not tough because it’s marriage, it’s tough because marriage involves two imperfect people prone to sin. As humans, we often take God’s Word and remind others what they should be doing, all the while ignoring what God may be speaking to us about. I believe this tendency is even greater when it comes to our spouses. Husbands, God’s command is clear. Our wives needs, as He defines them are to be our goal. We are to love her sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church. This command is not conditional on her response.

I know it’s impossible to love Karen, my bride, as Christ loves His. But that doesn’t lessen His expectation that I do so. Therefore, it shouldn’t lessen mine. This means I’m left to rely on God’s strength instead of my own, because in my own I will fail. I have failed. For any marriage to be as God designed it to be requires that our relationship with Him be the one we treasure most. A relationship with Christ has the power to change all others.

I’m thankful for God’s grace for my past failures in loving Karen as He would have me love her. I know I’ll need more grace along the way. I thank God for Karen. The years have gone fast. Like all marriages, ours has been far from perfect, but I am so thankful she’s my wife. After 25 years, she’s more beautiful than ever. I can’t imagine life without her and wouldn’t want to try. Happy anniversary sweetie! I love you!

Gracious and Seasoned with Salt

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6) 

It’s no secret as to how Christians are to engage an unbelieving world. Having received grace, grace should always be the manner in which we approach anyone with the good news of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul was a staunch defender of the gospel. As a result, he had plenty of opposition. There were many false teachers who tried to corrupt, even in very subtle ways, the true gospel. Not falling prey to this false teaching was a primary emphasis of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. His desire was for them to “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and to walk in a manner worthy of the call of Christ (Colossians 1:9-10). Ultimately, Paul’s goal was for them to know that to be accepted by God, all they needed was Christ.

Our goal in Christian ministry should always be to have people run to Christ, not from Him. Christians are to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). How we approach and engage an unbelieving world matters. It’s not that we have to deviate from the truth of the gospel or lessen the discussion around the issue of sin. Sin is what separates us from God, and no matter how much our culture might try to redefine it, sin is what God says it is. But as we do engage, we must first and foremost extend to others the grace God extended to us. You and I can’t know what someone else may going through or what may be causing their resistance to the gospel. We are simply called to lovingly share the message of Jesus. We’re to meet people where they are and interact with them in a way that would commend the gospel to them. We’re to be a vessel that God uses to draw people to Himself.

Always remember, those around you are watching. Do they know your story? Do they see Christ in you? You never know where people might be at a particular time. And you never know if your actions in a moment will be what God uses to extend His saving arms to those in need of His grace. That’s why you must make sure to always let your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt.

As Iron Sharpens Iron

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17)

I first met Chuck Solomon about ten years ago. He was this guy that would always greet me during the welcome time at church on Wednesday nights. Like me, when the season was right, he would wear shorts and sandals to this service. We joked about it sometimes. Not too long after I met Chuck, I took a class he taught through the book of Job. One night after class, he asked me about discipleship and our meeting together each week to study. I took him up on it. I’ll admit, Chuck’s commitment and his boldness about his faith and his call to discipleship sometimes made me a little uncomfortable. When we would meet at Panera Bread, I can remember sometimes wanting to talk a little softer and not have it be so obvious we were praying. I did, however, enjoy this time and it clearly was a period of growth for me as a believer. As believers, we are all walking the same path in our lives of faith; it’s just that we’re often at different places on that path as it relates to the outward expression of it. I wasn’t where Chuck was at that time and I’m not sure I am now. We met one on one for time before joining with some other guys he had been leading in discipleship. In these nine years, I’ve taken time away from our Wednesday morning group to do other things, but my contact and communication with Chuck has always been constant.

The primary purpose of the book of Proverbs is to instill wisdom in God’s people that will serve them in their day to day lives. This wisdom is rooted in the “fear of the LORD” (Proverbs 1:1-7). Proverbs 27:17 deals specifically with the issue of influence and the need for, and benefit of, interaction among believers. Just as two iron blades rubbed together become sharper and more efficient at cutting and slicing, constant fellowship among believers has a positive influence on one’s character, sharpening them to live out their faith.

There have been many people who have poured themselves into my life. I am thankful for all of them. I know their investment of time in me is a deep well that I will draw upon forever. I know Chuck Solomon came along in God’s timing, and for the last nine years he has always been there for me. He has taught me, challenged me, encouraged me and prayed for me. In other words, he has loved me. I appreciate his heart and his commitment to doing what God has called him to do. Although our salvation is individual, it is never meant to be lived out in isolation, but in fellowship with others. This is the means in which, by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit builds up the body of Christ. I am personally grateful that Chuck Solomon takes this biblical truth to heart. Thank you brother, I love you!

Renewing Your Mind

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2)

In his letters, Paul always combined theological teaching with application for life. As he concluded what are the first eleven chapters of Romans, he began chapter twelve with a call for those in the church to respond in thankfulness to God’s redeeming work. He said this would be their “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). He then exhorted them to have a mind-set shaped by the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit rather than the world. It was a call to discern the will of God. That call is the same for us today.

Paul is not the only one who emphasized the need to be cautious of the world’s influence. James wrote that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). The apostle John warns us not to love the world or the things in the world, and that if we do the love of the Father is not in us (1 John 2:15). As Christians, we must have a proper perspective when it comes to our relationship with the world.

It’s no surprise that in large part, the world in which we live operates in opposition to God. Our culture desires to shape our thinking, and it will unless we allow God’s Word to. Spiritual nourishment, feeding on God’s Word daily cannot be an option if we are to stand strong against the world’s influence. However, its value to us is much greater than that. Consistent fellowship with our Lord helps us to live out the joy God intends for us, the joy that a relationship with Christ brings. As much as we were saved from an eternal hell, we were also saved to an abundant life in Christ. God desires intimate fellowship with us. Paul knew that to be true in his day. And it’s just as true today. Don’t let the anxiety of the world and its influence rob you of what God has promised. Seek God and His truth each day, be transformed by the renewal of your mind so you may live out that truth in a world that largely stands in opposition to His will. After all, this world is not really your home.

Anchor Deep

“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. ” (Ephesians 4:14)

We should never think the work of ministry is only for those who do it vocationally. That’s not found in Scripture. We are all “ministers” with a role and responsibility to spread the gospel. The reason Paul says God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers was that they would equip the saints (all Christians) for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

There is a purpose for equipping of believers. Ultimately, that purpose is that we would bring God glory. This happens as we live out His will in our lives. God’s glory should always be our primary goal. But growing in maturity also helps us navigate through a challenging world. We need a filter through which to see the world, an anchor to keep us from being tossed about by false teaching.

Our world promotes many non-biblical ideas. Some may even sound good on the surface, but in the end just get us off course. Paul explains in Ephesians 4:14 that spiritual maturity is important because it keeps us from being like a ship without an anchor as wave’s crash in and the wind blows around us. It helps us to better be able to choose right instead of wrong and less likely to follow where we shouldn’t. So, make sure to anchor deep that you may more fully discern the will of God. Search His will in His Word. Doing so will benefit you as you navigate in a crazy and confused world. Most importantly, it will bring God the glory He deserves.

Why Understanding the Doctrine of Sanctification Matters

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Regeneration is an act by which God renews the human heart. We often hear it expressed as being “born again”, “made alive” or “made new”. Regeneration’s natural progression is to faith and repentance on the part of man. Justification is to be declared not guilty, to have a right legal standing before God because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us. Author and theologian, John Murray says “regeneration is an act of God in us, whereas justification is a judgment of God with respect to us.” Regeneration, justification and our adoption into God’s family is a work of God’s grace alone. Though not the primary subject here, these doctrines are important to our understanding the doctrine of sanctification and why understanding it matters.

So What is Sanctification?

In his book, Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines sanctification as a work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives. Sanctification is viewed in two ways: First, having been “set apart” for God’s holy purpose, it is viewed as a past event. This is referred to as positional sanctification. Secondly, sanctification is viewed as a continual transformation over time. This has been termed progressive sanctification. It is important for us to understand the difference. As a Christian, our position before God is perfect. When He looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Christ that has been placed on us. However, God also knows we are a work in progress. He knows that  in this life we will never be perfect, but that by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we are being transformed more and more into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). This transformation will not end until glory.

How Understanding Sanctification Helps Us in Our Christian Walk

So, why does understanding the doctrine of sanctification matter? There are several reasons: First, it helps to keep us from being defeated by our sin. On the cross, Jesus dealt with sin for all time—past, present and future. Understanding that there is a progressive aspect to our spiritual maturity helps to keep us from being overwhelmed by guilt that results from sin. We are never perfect in this life. It’s not that we don’t want to be, and shouldn’t want to be. And it’s not to make light of sin. It’s just how it is. Satan would love for us to be consumed with guilt because it has the potential of rendering us ineffective in gospel ministry. Remember, Jesus took the sin and all that goes with it.

Secondly, understanding the doctrine of sanctification makes us more effective as we minister in that it helps us to be more patient with others. People are always at different places in their walk with Christ and understanding that there is an ongoing spiritual progression in each of us allows us to meet people where they are, to better understand them and encourage them as they grow in grace.

Lastly, understanding the doctrine of sanctification brings glory to God. Doctrines aren’t taught to bring confusion, but to lessen it. They are taught because they matter. They help us take away from God’s revelation what He intended, thereby, enabling us to rest in the grace we find only in Him. This pleases the heart of God and brings Him the glory He is due!