Thursday, April 29, 2010

How Our Stuff Gets to Heaven

Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Matthew 19:27-30

One morning on the way to school, my son Sam asked, “Dad, when we go to Heaven, how does our stuff get there?”

I told him, “Well, our stuff doesn’t go to Heaven.”

Sam seemed a little disappointed by that answer. While he was thrilled with the idea of having a body that would work entirely like it was supposed to and having ears that could hear without hearing aids, I think for a moment he was weighing out the benefits of Heaven with the loss of his “stuff.”

So, I told him, “When we get to Heaven, we get better stuff.” He seemed to like that idea.

Peter’s conversation with Jesus came on the heels of Jesus’ challenge to the rich young ruler to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:16-26). Now, while possessions in and of themselves are not good or evil, our attachment to them defines whether they are good for us. Jesus, being God, knew that this rich young ruler had an unhealthy attachment to his stuff. His possessions were in the way of his relationship with God. According to his own terms, the rich young ruler thought he was doing pretty well. Wouldn’t Jesus be proud of him? Jesus, then, carefully pointed out that even though the rich young ruler had his will under control, his affections were directed to the wrong place. His love for his possessions exceeded his love for God.

In what seems to be a prideful comment, Peter looks for Jesus’ approval by proclaiming, “We have left everything to follow you!” Essentially, he is saying, “We don’t have all of that wealth to burden us. See we’re better than that rich young ruler. We don’t have a dime to our name. What will there be for us? I’m sure it’s going to be good.”

Some have gone so far as to say that it’s more spiritual to be poor. If we’re unencumbered by earthly possessions, then certainly we are more closely connected with God. If that is true, then why is it that the poorest countries of the world with the most disease and starvation are often shrouded with the darkest evil and corruption? Poverty doesn’t make us more godly. God makes us more godly.

Jesus assures Peter and the others the “renewal of all things” is coming. One day everything will be made right. And, yes, those who have sacrificed for the cause of Christ will be rewarded. Speaking in their terms, Jesus promises that whatever they have given up will be given back 100 times over. But, even greater than that, they will have eternal life.

How is your relationship with your stuff helping or hindering your relationship with Christ? While we are free to enjoy the things of this world, pleasure does cross a line when it begins to substitute itself for what we can receive from God. Here’s the catch: while things can be enjoyable, they’re never fulfilling. That’s why we always want more. As you lean into God, you will discover that there is more than you will ever need.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Ultimate Great Escape

Since the children have flesh and blood, [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2:14-15

Some look at Heaven as the ultimate great escape. In Heaven there will be no problems, no temptation, no bad weather, and no bad days. If we can just get through this life, then we will live in a perfect circumstance in Heaven.

So, here’s a little secret: many of the benefits we will experience in Heaven are available to us now. We can freely commune with God. He is always with us. Even though our physical bodies are temporary, our spirit is eternal. Eternal life happens now for believers. The power of sin has been broken. While there is still plenty of temptation around, Jesus gives us the power to overcome. The devil has been defeated.

Slaves are freed, provided they don’t volunteer to put themselves back there. Without Christ, what happens after death is quite uncertain. Now, while most people believe they will go to Heaven, the reality is that any plan to get there outside of Christ won’t get them to that destination.

For those who belong to Jesus, we no longer need to fear any enslavement by the devil. The enemy is defeated. We belong to Christ, so nothing can separate us from Christ’s love. Any time that we feel the devil might be getting the best of us, we need only turn to God, and the devil will flee (James 4:7). We cannot defeat Satan on our own, but the enemy is no problem for God.

God gives us all of His resources to live our lives successfully for Him. He gives us the ability to recover from our wounds and overcome anything that enslaves us. Even the things that seem impossible to escape like viewing pornography, chatting up lost loves on Facebook, or taking crystal meth are not beyond God’s ability. While this type of slavery requires the support of other believers to overcome, the enemy is defeated. (If you could break your addiction by yourself, you would have, right?) If you would like some help and support to overcome a hurt, habit or hang up, contact Cindy Woodside in Brookwood's Care and Support Ministry.

The things that are bringing you Hell on earth don’t have to. Living a life connected to God and the flow of His Spirit brings us Heaven on earth.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This Too Shall Pass

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:1-4

Someone said that the most enduring words are “this too shall pass.” That’s exactly what John saw in this revelation. Everything that we have ever known is going to pass away and be replaced completely by a new heaven and a new earth.

The old world and all of its problems will all be gone: no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Our sinfulness will be gone. So, will the sinful acts and attitudes of others. That does sound heavenly.

After His resurrection, Jesus gave us an idea of what a resurrection body would be like. He suddenly appeared to His disciples without necessarily using a door. Yet, He showed the scars on His hands and feet, and He ate (John 20:19-23). Jesus and those who follow Him will have a body that will never perish, spoil or fade (1 Corinthians 15). We won’t age. We won’t have aches and pains. Our hair color will actually come from our roots.

This life on earth is important. This life is our preparation for the next. This life is our chance to point others to Christ through our loving words and kind actions. Oh, but the next life, it will be worth it all.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Answer to Trouble is Trust

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3

Jesus gave these words to His disciples to prepare them just prior to His arrest. He gathered them together and washed their feet (John 13:1-17), then He shared what was coming next. Peter in his brashness swore to “lay down my life for you” (John 13:37). Jesus told Peter, “No, you won’t. You’re going to deny me, then the rooster is going to crow” (John 13:38).

There was an obvious amount of apprehension among the disciples that night. As much as Jesus had tried to prepare them, the reality was slowing sinking in along with a great deal of fear. Then, Jesus speaks these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” The answer to their trouble was trust.

Jesus goes on to explain that He is going to prepare a place for them and that He will return for His disciples (including us). How do we know that? We know because this is what Jesus promised us.

King James inserted the word “mansion” because that’s where he preferred to live in Heaven. The hymn writers liked that image. Ira Stanphill penned “I've got a mansion just over the hilltop.” Should we change it to “I’ve got a room just over the hilltop”? Sort of sounds like an eternal Motel 6.

Whether large or small, posh or sparse, Jesus promised a place for us. He said that we could trust God for that. Outside of God’s promise, the only thing we know for sure is that at the end of this life, our bodies return to the earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust (Genesis 3:19). But, that’s not entirely true.

Most people have a sense of life beyond this life. Solomon said, “God has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). If you asked the man on the street where people go after they die, most would say “Heaven.” How they plan to get there may be another matter.

For believers, we understand from Jesus’ words that there is a better place beyond this one. There is also a better life beyond a mere earthly existence. Eternal life is our possession now.

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust God. He’s got a plan for us.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Temporary Problems Build Eternal Qualities

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18

I can look at someone and not see them. I can hear someone and not listen to them. You are probably thinking that this is because I am a man, but you do the same thing.

The difference between looking and seeing or hearing and listening is that one just happens and the other requires focused attention. We look at things more or less by default. How many times have we “lost” something only to discover that it’s sitting right in front of us? We were looking at the lost object. We just weren’t focused on it.

How do you look at things that are unseen? According to Paul, we “fix our eyes” or “set our sights.” It’s something we do on purpose. It’s not something that comes naturally.

What comes naturally is to look at the world around us and worry. I know this is happening when I receive multiple requests to repeat the End Times class at BrookwoodU. Students don’t like what they’re looking at these days. They would rather focus on what’s yet to come.

Setting our sights on what is unseen is not copping out of reality. It’s actually a way of coping with reality. We can put up with the situation in front of us because we know that God will use our frustrations and failures to build our character. The temporary problem can catalyze an eternal quality. The key lies with our perspective. What have we “fixed” our eyes on the problem or the process?

What do we know of that is eternal? God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit has no beginning or end (Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 28:19; 1 Timothy 1:17). God’s Word will last forever (Psalm 119:89). Humans are spiritual beings with eternal souls (1 John 2:17). Heaven and Hell are eternal places (2 Corinthians 5:1; Matthew 25:46). The Earth is not (Revelation 21:1). Angels were created to last forever. God’s plan and the inheritance He gives are eternal possessions (Hebrews 9:15). And, that’s about it. Everything else is temporary.

One day there will be no more 401k’s or sports cars or mortgages. Fire ants, pollen, diets and workouts will all be distant memories. Congress, terrorists, nuclear arms and traffic will be long forgotten. There will be no marital problems in Heaven, because there will be no marriages and no sin. Our kids will no longer misbehave or need discipline. They will be God’s kids anyway.

This is not an invitation to deny reality and long for Heaven at the neglect of our responsibilities here. This is an invitation to embrace what we face here with the understanding that this life is preparation for the next. Our problems are our teachers to forge our character. Even the days when we’d rather “skip school” are better lived with an eternal perspective.

What we are looking at, the things that are staring us in the face, won’t last forever. We are connected far more deeply to the things beyond this life than anything we might confront in this life. What’s more, the unseen things are far more significant than the obvious things. As our pastor, Perry Duggar says, “The most powerful things in the world can’t be touched, but they can be felt.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today’s Post: Are You Living a Shouldy Life?

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Matthew 25:41-46

Okay, so what if you love Jesus, but you just don’t feel like doing any of this? Let’s say that you don’t really have a mercy gift, but you do have a strong gift of discernment. You can tell the homeless why they got in their situation and give them three steps to get back on their feet. They simply look at you and say, “But, are you going to help me?” You think, “Well, I just did.”

We live in a selfish, indulgent culture. As believers, we are just as prone as the next guy to chase the newer, faster, shinier, better, softer, tastier things. Advertising works well on the just and the unjust.

I have lived in several places that call themselves the “buckle of the Bible belt” (apparently, there’s a little competition for true “buckle” status). Most people in Buckleville, regard themselves as “good soil” from Jesus’ parable. We are open. We are fertile ground for the Word of God to be planted and to flourish. We just get a little distracted.

Here’s a hard truth: most of us, even in the buckle, are more like thorny ground “who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). We can all say “Ouch” together.

At this point you might be thinking, how did this devotional become so pointed? Why can’t we get back on this week’s topic of Hell? Is Jesus going to send us to Hell if we don’t do good works?

“[Jesus] is not saying that only the social workers get into heaven. Rather, he is saying that the inevitable sign that you know you are a sinner saved by sheer, costly grace is a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor. [The wayward] are too selfish and [the pious] are too self-righteous to care for the poor” (Tim Keller in The Prodigal God, page 112).

Now, go and feel bad for a little while, beat yourself up, and then forget about this devotional. Okay, how about this? Anything that we are not deeply motivated to do can easily become “works” in our lives. If we fill our lives up with things that we should do, we end up living “shouldy” lives.

Instead, our motive to help others should stem from our deep love for God. If you make yourself available to God for His purposes, you will be surprised at what He can accomplish through you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Today’s Post: What Are You Building with Your Life?

Or, to put it another way, you are God's house. Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ. Take particular care in picking out your building materials. Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you'll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won't get by with a thing. If your work passes inspection, fine; if it doesn't, your part of the building will be torn out and started over. But you won't be torn out; you'll survive—but just barely. 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 (The Message)

If you’ve ever constructed anything, you know that a visit from the building inspector is often dreaded and rarely celebrated. No one wants to hear that their hard work must be undone by more hard work to eventually be built correctly. But no one wants to end up under a pile of rubble from shoddy construction either.

The good news is that spiritually, even if believers do shoddy work, they can still make it to Heaven. They “will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:15, NIV). Whew.

Paul writes these words to the Corinthians to challenge their connoisseur attitudes toward their relationship with God. Some said, “We’re followers of Paul Hybels.” While others said, “We follow Apollos Stanley.” While we must admit that different churches and different ministries reach different people, the end goal is the same: that God would be glorified and the Kingdom would be built.

Rick Warren is not going to reach the same crowd as John MacArthur and vice versa. When it’s all said and done there isn’t an expository heaven separate from a felt-need one. There is only one Heaven, and we must be careful before we send a ministry to the other place.

So, what has God called you to build? A Small Group, a class, a relationship with a neighbor? God didn’t call you to sit and soak and sour. He called you to build.

The second question is: How’s it going? Are you building daily or in your spare time? Are you asking what spare time is?

It’s exciting to think that God wants to involve us in what He’s doing. But, that’s exactly how God works. We don’t need to work to get to Heaven, but there is satisfying, life-giving work to be done.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Today’s Post: Getting What You Deserve

And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. When he comes on that day, he will receive glory from his holy people—praise from all who believe. And this includes you, for you believed what we told you about him.
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 (NLT)

Persecution is not something that most believers in the West face very often. Yet, more Christians were persecuted for their faith in the 20th century than all of the previous centuries combined.

In the U.S. we enjoy freedom of religion. These days a lot of folks think those freedoms are becoming more limited. Maybe this is why we keep getting requests for classes on the End Times at BrookwoodU.

The Thessalonians were suffering violent physical persecution for their faith. No one promised them that if they crossed the line of faith that life would be a bed of roses. For them, the flowers were absent, but the thorns were plentiful.

For these believers their conversion was from a life of relative ease to a life of turmoil. They transitioned from a commonplace existence to a spot on Asia Minor’s Most Wanted. The Thessalonians made a dramatic exchange of temporary peace for eternal peace.

Apart from the context of persecution, these verses seem to say, “Since I made the right choice, I deserve Heaven, but since you made the wrong choice, you deserve Hell. Turn or burn.” This is a very simplistic view.

For the Thessalonians, conversion was a dangerous, life-threatening position. To encourage the persecuted, Paul reminds them that on The Day, Christ will set things right. Their persecutors and all evil doers will receive the punishment that they deserve. But, the righteous who hold onto hope will receive their reward. It will be worth it all.

Now, before we turn our thoughts toward our enemies and what they might deserve, let’s remember that it’s only by degrees that we would be deserving of the same. Jesus said, “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

God will work the rest of it out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Today’s Post: If your ____ causes you to sin…

And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' Everyone will be salted with fire. Mark 9:42-49

In this passage, Jesus tells His disciples to take extreme measures if necessary to avoid Hell. The idea of being “salted with fire” is a vivid image. The thought of eternal separation from God might motivate these extreme measures. To avoid the sin that separates is nothing compared to communing eternally with God.

Now, please don’t take this wrong. We are saved by grace, not by amputation. But, here in graphic description, Jesus makes it clear that nothing is worth hindering our relationship with God. Whatever it is that we use to meet our own needs is a poor substitute for what God has in mind for us. It would be better to lose our ability to make the substitution rather than lose our connection with God.

If Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees and religious leaders here, we might understand why He was coming on so strong. But, He was talking to His disciples. The ones who laid aside everything to follow Him were the ones being challenged.

Was Jesus having a bad day? Did He get up on the wrong side of the bed? Did He regret that the invention of Starbucks was nearly two millennia away?

According to Jesus, Hell is a very real place. What’s more, every sinful thing that in any measure separates us from God is Hellish in a sense. What is coming between you and God these days? It would be better to ________ that to separate yourself from God – throw your computer out the window; delete your Facebook account; confess your sin to another believer – what goes in your blank?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Today’s Post: Why Would a Good God Send People to Hell?

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Luke 12:4-5

A while back we gathered questions from our members at Brookwood Church. From those questions, our pastor, Perry Duggar, created a message series. (You can watch it here). This week we will look at the question, “Is There Really a Hell?” Aren’t you glad you got out of bed to read this? Be encouraged. Next week we get to talk about “What Heaven is Like.”

Hell is not something that we really like to think about. Hell is unimaginable. Hell is torturous.

Many people question why a good God would create such a place. To some the idea of Hell makes God a little less good. To others Hell just seems impossible. They have relegated Hell to mythology and superstition. But, there’s a problem with writing it off.

Jesus talked about Hell more than any other person in the Bible. Just surf over to or and search the word “Hell.” The word pops up more in the Gospels than in any other place in Scripture. If Hell wasn’t real, then why would Jesus have dedicated so much of His teaching to it?

Honestly, I don’t like to think about Hell. But, here’s the deal, if we are going to believe any of Jesus’ words, we have to believe all of them. It’s easy to hold on to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). Our hope is that others especially would hold on to that one.

Jesus promised the hope of salvation. Jesus offered the pathway to healing and wholeness. Jesus pointed to a heavenly home. Jesus also outlined the consequences of a life lived apart from God: an eternity in Hell.

If there was no consequence, would people do good just to do good or avoid evil just to avoid it? The fear of Hell was never meant to paralyze us, but to move us forward.

If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ and trust Him for your salvation, then you don’t need to worry about Hell. That’s settled. What we do need to consider is how to help others connect with God. As we live our lives in the flow of God’s Spirit, we make ourselves available to God and His work. We don’t need to work hard to coerce anyone into the Kingdom. As Rick Warren says, “If the fruit is ripe, you don’t have to yank it.”

Who has God put in your path that you can influence for Christ? Pray for that person, and then look for opportunities to serve them. Separation from God in Hell will be horrible, but separation from God on earth is not that great either.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Today’s Post: Help, My Testimony is Boring!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17

I grew up in church. My parents tell me that I skipped my first Sunday, but I got my act together by the second week. Whew!

The good thing about growing up in the church and in a Christian home is that the circumstance greatly helps in avoiding things that I might later regret. No arrests. No paternity tests. No broken bones.

The only downside, if you will, is that when I crossed the line of faith nearly 40 years ago, there wasn’t any drastic change. In fact, it felt exactly the same. There were no addictions broken. There weren’t many wrongs righted. There was no great appreciation for the umbrella, because I had never experienced a downpour.

Was I genuinely saved? (People have asked me that -- usually out of anger.) I found myself envying people who had been truly lost and radically saved. Their testimonies made mine seem rather vanilla. Maybe I just needed to head out to Vegas, enjoy sin for a season, then repent and testify! Rick Warren calls a testimony like that a “bragomony.”

While my experience was not dramatic, my salvation was. My sins weren’t obvious because they fit within the boundaries of my church. I didn’t smoke, drink or chew, play cards or roll dice. I was qualified…to be a Pharisee.

When I was 17 years old, I experienced a radical transformation. God called me into vocational ministry. My desires completely changed. I had an insatiable thirst for God’s Word. The Bible I devoured that summer is barely readable today for all of the marks, notes and highlights. If I could go back and relive any portion of my life, the summer of 1982 would be it.

Your transformation might be in degrees like mine or it might be like night and day. Your testimony may be far more entertaining than mine (and I am a bit jealous). Your transformation may be yet to come. You haven’t crossed the line of faith.

I would love to hear your story. You can either post your story to the comments at or email me at

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Today’s Post: Should God Throw You Back?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

Some days I don’t feel like I’m a very good Christian. I can be self-willed and controlling. As often as I surrender those things to God, they still wake up with me every morning. I am the complete opposite of “laid back.” I guess that would make me “uptight.” (I don’t really care for that label). That means that I’m prone to put the task ahead of the team. I have to be careful not to fire up my steamroller and just make things happen. Obviously, I have been a great offender of Southern sensibilities. I’m learning – the hard way – but I’m learning.

On the days that I feel I have particularly let God and everybody else down, I need to know that I’m “kept” according to this verse. When I feel that God might be willing to throw me back, instead He assures that I am kept. God offers some irrevocable things in this verse: a new birth, a living hope, and an inheritance.

Our hope comes from Christ’s resurrection. When Jesus defeated death, Hell and the grave, He endowed believers with His amazing strength to persevere. As Rick Warren says, we can live weeks without food, days without water, and seconds without oxygen, but we can’t live a moment without hope.

Our inheritance will never perish, spoil or fade. This is the opposite of treasures on earth that can be destroyed or stolen (Matthew 6:19). The inheritance that God promises has great permanence – eternal permanence.

One last thing, God shields us with His power. That doesn’t mean that God protects us from every bad thing. Just like yellow pollen covers both luxury cars and clunkers in South Carolina this time of year, problems are not respecters of persons. While God’s power may not prevent every bad thing from happening to us, His power does preserve us in this life so we can enjoy the next life, problem-free.

My hope is that as I continue to surrender myself to God, He will continue to make me more like Him. On the days that I feel that I’ve blown it, fortunately, I’m not disqualified. God gives me (and you) far more than is deserved.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Today’s Post: Why You Don’t Want God to be Fair

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

We live in a world built on reciprocity. If you invite us to dinner, then next time, we’ll invite you over. If you picked up the check last time, then I’ll pick up the check this time. If I do a favor for you, then I would expect you to return the favor some day. It just seems fair.

This thinking can cross over to our relationship with God. If we faithfully serve God, then God will bless us. If we have a major problem, then surely we must have messed up somewhere along the way. God must be punishing us. Then, life throws us a curveball: “It rains on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Then, what do we think?

When it comes to God, we don’t want fairness. Justice says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), therefore “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Fairness is very simple: we sinned, so now we pay.

We don’t want God’s fairness. We want God’s grace. Grace says “we don’t deserve this, but God loves us so much that He paid the price.” God chose to do something very unfair: He put the punishment of our sins on His Son and gives eternal life to all of us who believe.

Life isn’t fair. Salvation isn’t fair. But, life with God is certainly to our advantage.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Today’s Post: Can We Lose Our Salvation?

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." John 10:27-30

Over the years, I have heard many debates as to whether or not you could lose your salvation. Some of these debates get so heated that both sides might possibly lose their salvation over it.

Some believe that salvation is completely God’s choice. If God chose you, then you have no choice but to be saved. Since there is no choice to be saved, then there is certainly no choice to reverse things.

Others hold that you make a decision to be saved, but once you decide, you can never go back the other way. I refer to this as the “Hotel California” theology: you choose to enter salvation, but you can never “check out.”

Still others hold that it is your decision to be saved, your decision to remain saved, and your decision to give it up should you choose. I call this the “Hokey Pokey” theology: “you put your whole self in, you put your whole self out…you get the idea.

When we read passages like this one from John, we get the idea that the assurance of our salvation is, well, rather assuring. In this passage, John actually uses a sort of double negative in the Greek: “they shall never, no not ever, perish.” It’s not bad grammar, but it is a very strong emphasis on God’s ability to keep us.

The confusion often comes when verses guaranteeing the believer’s security are paired with verses than warn us to “take heed lest we fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Many of us can give examples of folks who faithfully served God, then just went their own way. Did they lose their salvation? Were they ever saved? Are they still saved? Only God can really be the judge of that. We have to be careful not to confuse fitting into a church culture with salvation. I think we’ll be very surprised to see who is and isn’t in Heaven when we get there.

At this point in my life, I believe that our salvation is far more secure than I once did. Can we lose our salvation? I think that question misses the point of what these verses are meant to do.

God understands us. He knows what we need. God knows that there are days when we are down on ourselves and feel insecure. On those days, we need to hear that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38-39). We need a reminder of God’s assurance.

Then, there are other days when we are prideful, controlling, and self-righteous. On those days, we need to be reminded to “take heed” (1 Corinthians 10:12). We need to be motivated to surrender our self-will and depend on Him.

Can we lose our salvation? Well, let me put it this way: everyone who dies as a believer (Romans 10:9) goes to Heaven.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Today’s Post: God Rewards Those Who Don’t Work

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. Romans 4:5

Most of us, raised in the West, grew up with a very strong work ethic. We were taught to work hard and to provide for our families with the sweat of our brows. The thought of ever taking a handout was humiliating. Even the Bible teaches that if you don’t work, you don’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and that if you don’t provide for your family, you’re worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8). But, when it comes to faith and righteousness, God rewards those who don’t work.

Trusting God for our salvation frees us from many things. We are free from our debt of sin. We are free from condemnation. We are free from guilt and shame. We are free from having to control our own lives. But, could trusting God make things a little too free?

Look at it this way: if we were stopped for a traffic violation, the officer would give us a ticket. We would pay the fine. The offense would be “atoned” for, and everything would be settled. The officer wouldn’t demand anything else from us. It’s a done deal. But, if salvation doesn’t require anything more than trusting in God, then what else might God ask us to do? It’s completely out of our control.

Some of us would rather continue to obey a list of rules and feel safe within a religion that we (or a church) has created for us. As long as we obey the club rules, then we can remain safely in the club. If we violate the club rules, then our fellow members are obligated to come down hard on us. The rules are safe. If we work for the church and avoid falling into sin, then we are safe and secure. We are free to breathe a sigh of relief. We are free to judge the rule breakers. We are free to live the rest of our lives however we’d like to. After all, we’re keeping the rules.

Rulekeepers are sort of like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The older brother stayed home. The older brother kept the rules. The older brother complained, “'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends” (Luke 15:29).

According to Tim Keller in his book, The Prodigal God, the elder brother didn’t need the father’s mercy, because he kept all of the rules. If you think your life is perfect, then you don’t need grace. You don’t need to trust God, because you trust yourself to keep the rules. The problem is that without trust in God and without His grace, you cannot be saved. You can work hard to fit into a church culture and to fit into society. You could even be a charter member or the citizen of the year, but you wouldn’t be saved.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Can you let Jesus take the wheel even when the driving seems easy?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Today’s Post: My Only Complaint with Social Media

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:16-20

With just a couple of sentences, Jesus passed the baton to His disciples. Ready or not, Jesus’ mission on earth now belonged to them and us. Before you start feeling guilty about not witnessing to your neighbor or coworker, let’s look at two promises that Jesus gave with the Great Commission.

First, Jesus says, “All authority (or power) in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” We know from theology that God is omnipotent or all-powerful. The disciples aren’t to run their mission by their wits, but with Jesus’ authority. They (and we) really have nothing to fear. Authority over everything and everyone belongs to the One who sends us.

Next, Jesus says, “And surely I am with you always.” Jesus didn’t just send His disciples, He promised to be them. In the going and disciple-making and baptizing and teaching, Jesus was (and is) with His disciples.

The mission is to make disciples. What is disciple? A disciple is simply a follower. If you are on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (is anyone on there anymore?), LinkedIn or any other social network, you have followers. Essentially, you have disciples. You have influence.

My only complaint with social media is that I encounter every person I’ve ever known on a daily basis: childhood friends in Kansas, college friends from Missouri, church friends from California, ministry colleagues from across the US, and friends in South Carolina. In the words of George Costanza, “Worlds are colliding.”

So, here’s the question: where are you leading your followers?

In 1994, I signed up for CompuServe. I was known as back then. I spent a good deal of time in a Christian forum (chat room) because it was Christian and had a low flat rate. I met a number of people online who became friends, including a guy named Greg, who wasn’t Christian, but did enjoy the low flat rate.

Greg was sort of like a teetotaler who wondered into a bar and didn’t know what to drink. We had some great conversations about life and faith and ridiculous things. One day, Greg posted a message, “Jesus died for my sins.” Most of us wondered what the punch line was going to be. But, there in community with believers, Greg crossed the line of faith.

Not too long after that our group of virtual friends came together face to face. I had the privilege of baptizing Greg in his Jacuzzi. (It was California, after all).

Rather than chatting up old flames and deceiving ourselves into thinking that that relationship would somehow be more fulfilling than the relationship that we’re in, why not pray about how your followers might one day become Jesus’ followers too? I’m not encouraging you to be obnoxious. The world has enough annoying Christians. But, with Jesus’ power and presence, your influence is significant. How can you help your followers become Jesus’ followers too?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Today’s Post: What God Sees in Us.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
John 21:15-19

God’s heart toward us is always leans to reconciliation. If Peter had pledged his allegiance to us, then denied us three times, we might feel that Peter could never be trusted again. If Peter couldn’t be there for us in our time of need, how could we ever count on him for anything else? Out of all of the disciples, the only one who acted worse than Peter was Judas. Maybe it was time to write Peter off. But, this wasn’t Jesus’ response to Peter.

God’s grace overcame Peter’s inability. When Jesus dubbed Peter, “the rock,” (Matthew 16:18)Jesus wasn’t looking at a rock. Jesus was looking at a flake. Peter was the first to jump out of the boat. Peter was the first to declare his allegiance. Peter was the first to draw a sword. Peter was the first crumble under pressure. He was no rock.

Jesus saw something in Peter that Peter didn’t even see in himself. Jesus called Peter. Jesus trained Peter. Jesus restored Peter. Then, Jesus empowered him to serve.

In restoring Peter, Jesus was saying, “You don’t need to lead the charge, Peter. You don’t need to draw a lot of attention. You don’t need to raise your voice or raise a sword. Just feed my sheep.”

When we’re young, it seems that what matters most are the things that draw the most attention. A big result somehow validates our significance. We feel that we are worth something if we have a big win. We don’t really feel more significant. We just become proud.

But, our significance is in Christ. Jesus can accomplish far more through us than we could ever do on our own. Jesus sees potential in us that is beyond our grasp. Jesus also sees that in and of ourselves, we’ll fall flat on our faces. For that He gives us grace.

Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Peter went along with the first two, but became irritated at the third question. He didn’t feel badgered as much as he probably felt guilty. The three affirmations began to feel like the three denials. Was a rooster about to crow?

Jesus wasn’t shaming Peter. Jesus was gently restoring him. There was no scolding. There was no ridicule. Jesus was putting Peter back into a right relationship. He knew what Peter could be. Jesus hadn’t given up.

Jesus hasn’t given up on you either. Whatever you thought your life was going to be may have taken a detour toward disappointment. But, your expectations don’t necessarily reflect what God has planned for you. No matter what you’ve done. No matter your success or failure. Jesus sees things in you that you don’t see in yourself. Lean into Him, and He will make it happen.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Today’s Post: Jesus the Friendly Ghost?

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
Luke 24:36-44

The disciples had been talking about a “Jesus sighting,” when suddenly they were in one. Jesus just appeared out of nowhere. He said, “Peace,” but He might as well have said, “Boo!” They were frightened anyway.

Jesus asked about their doubts. He didn’t ridicule them or chastise them for their doubts. Jesus recognized what the disciples needed, then He gave them proof.

What happened next is significant on many levels. First, Jesus offered proof that He wasn’t a ghost. He showed the disciples the wounds in His body from crucifixion. These were real hands and feet with real scars. Rather than having them stand there pinching themselves, He invited them to touch Him and see that He was real. Then, Jesus ate something. Ghosts certainly didn’t eat.

This wasn’t an illusion. It wasn’t a hoax. This wasn’t paranormal activity. This was supernatural activity. Jesus who was dead was raised to life again. He wasn’t a disembodied spirit. Jesus had a spiritual body. This is a significant proof of His resurrection. It’s also a significant sign of what our resurrected bodies will be like one day (1 Corinthians 15:42-57).

God gives us all that we need to successfully live our lives for Him. When we need more understanding, God gives us His Word. When we need to trust more deeply, He lets things get out of control. Well, at least out of our control. When we need to grow, He challenges us with obedience. When we need to become more loving, God gives us a difficult person.

What do you need from God today? Maybe the circumstance you’re in and the people you’re dealing with are part of God’s solution.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Today’s Post: Was the Resurrection a Hoax?

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. Matthew 28:11-15

While Jesus’ followers were scrambling to find Him, His enemies were scrambling to cover it up. The religious leaders really didn’t know what to do. Who broke the seal on the tomb? Who rolled away the stone? Who got passed all of those soldiers? It really didn’t matter to them. They just needed the Sanhedrin’s publicist to get to work.

A lot of hush money was doled out that day. Soldiers had witnessed such a powerful force that they had fainted (Matthew 28:2-4). Now they accepted the payment and willing lied to protect the establishment and to save their own necks.

The religious leaders didn’t experience some glimmer of hope that maybe Jesus was the Messiah after all. This Messiah was inconvenient. This Messiah irritated them. This Messiah didn’t fit into their expectations of what and who a Messiah should be. While they didn’t know for sure what had happened, they were certain that this wasn’t a resurrection. Their minds couldn’t even allow the thought.

They paid off the guards simply because they didn’t want any more trouble. The guards didn’t want trouble either.

Sometimes people think, “Oh, if I had just lived back then, it would be easier to believe. If I could have witnessed these things for myself, then I would have the proof I need.” The guards and the leaders had proof, but they lacked faith. If you’re spiritually blind, you’re spiritually blind. Proof doesn’t give spiritual sight. Faith does.

The cure to spiritual blindness is not proof. The cure is belief in God -- to just take that first step and pray to “the God that I have yet to believe in.”

The religious leaders were threatened by Jesus. He didn’t neatly fit into their system. They trusted in their heritage and their institutions for salvation. They really had no room for a Savior. Their pride prevented them from accepting Jesus.

The guards were frightened and confused. They were Romans. They didn’t know anything about a coming Messiah, except for all of the trouble they had to deal with. They needed job security. They needed an explanation. Their ignorance prevented them from witnessing the power of the resurrection.

On that day, the religious leaders and the guards invented a hoax. They chose to nurture their hurt and their hate rather than opt for health. People are still doing that today. They relegate Jesus to the category of “Good Teacher,” but Jesus proclaimed some pretty outrageous things. If He wasn’t the Messiah, He went well beyond what a “Good Teacher” would teach. Jesus claimed to be God. Jesus can really only be one of three things: A Liar, A Lunatic, or the Lord. Which one is He to you?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Today’s Post: He is Risen: Shhhh

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
Matthew 28:1-10

Jesus' arrival on earth came with great fanfare. Angels announced His birth to shepherds abiding in the field watching over their flocks by night. Magi from the East came bearing odd baby gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. (I will note with Perry, that the Magi arrived much later, so please remove them from your Nativity scene. Put them in another room, even.) Herod engaged in not really a “manhunt,” actually more of a “toddler hunt” to find this newborn king. Jesus’ birth brought much pageantry.

Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb. The women came to care for His body. Their greatest obstacle was how exactly to remove the stone to attend the body.

When they arrived, the stone was moved. It was their lucky day. There was an angel sitting there. No choir. No harps. No song. Just these simple words: “He is not here. He has risen.”

The women encountered Jesus en route to the disciples. Jesus simply said, “Hey,” well, “Greetings” and gave them instructions to gather the disciples. No fanfare. His resurrection lacked any sensationalism whatsoever. Jesus didn’t flaunt His victory over sin. He didn’t publically proclaim, “I’m baaaaack!” He didn’t ridicule the religious leaders with “Who’s your daddy? I mean, Deity.” Jesus stayed out of the public eye.

This was a new phase of Jesus’ mission on earth. He proclaimed the Kingdom. He had died for the sins of the world. Jesus rose from the dead and declared victory over sin, death and the grave. Now, He had 40 days to give His disciples the proofs and assurances they needed to spread the Gospel throughout the world.

This was the culmination of three years of training His disciples and showing them what a connection with God meant. While we don’t have a great deal of detail about those 40 days, in the Book of Acts, we see many of the results of this time. The disciples proclaimed the gospel and thousands at a time were saved. The lame were healed. The possessed were delivered. They no longer cowered in courts, but boldly proclaimed the Name.

In those 40 days following Jesus’ resurrection, they had all the assurance they needed to live their lives for Him and eventually to give their lives for Him. When Jesus departed, people could no longer look at Him for teaching or healing or a free lunch. But, they could see Jesus in the lives of His disciples.

As Jesus’ disciple, how do people see Jesus in you? I’m not saying be extra careful today not to speak a harsh word. I’m not saying try harder to pretend to be like Christ. People see Jesus in us when we fully surrender ourselves to Him and allow Jesus to live His life through us. Take a moment right now to surrender this day to Him.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Join Us for Easter at Brookwood Church

Easter services are scheduled for:

Saturday, April 3 - 4 & 5:30 pm
Sunday, April 4 - 9, 10:30 & 11:59 am

Children's programs are available for each service.
For more information, go to:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

“Father, Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit”

Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

I have long held that no one killed Jesus. Yes, Jesus died on the cross, but He wasn’t killed per se.

When the soldiers came to break the legs of the condemned in order to speed up suffocation, they discovered that Jesus had already died. The two criminals were both still alive after six hours of crucifixion. Their legs were broken. Jesus’ legs were not, which actually fulfilled a prophecy (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20). While Jesus’ injuries prior to the cross were much worse than the criminals’, the expectation was that Jesus would still have been alive.

They pierced His side with the sword causing blood and water to flow out. Some have proposed that Jesus actually died of a broken heart, since the blood and water would indicate a cardiac condition (John 19:31-37). A heart attack wasn’t the usual result of crucifixion. A crucified person typically died by suffocation. The soldiers didn’t pierce the other two, but Jesus was pierced as prophesied in Zechariah 12:10.

In His last words on the cross, Jesus expresses trust in the Father. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. When he said this, he breathed his last.”

No one could take Jesus’ life from Him. He gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Jesus willingly gave His life. Whether or not He was killed is really just a matter of semantics.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).