Category: Evangelism

Millennials and the Church

We’ve come a long way since President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address, and its most-oft-quoted phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” This was not merely a clever quip for the day – it reflected the mindset of most Americans of that era, and remains so for most of us over age 65. Unfortunately that’s no longer the case for many of our post-baby-boomer generation citizens, whose attitudes tend toward the center of self. So we find even a majority of so-called Christians negotiating with pastors and priests, “If you want me to become or remain a part of your congregation, show me what’s in it for me?” And the response is more often than not a scrambling around of elder boards to present the most feel-good messages and feel-good programs presented in feel-good ways so as to fill the pews and coffers.

A literary preoccupation with each of the younger generations’ supposed unique needs, desires and expectations is just a symptom of the bigger problem – which extends well beyond any specific generation. Still, each of these blogs, magazine and newspaper articles analyzing millennials, iGens, Gen Z’s and Centennials help to focus the real issue. While many of these authors have an excellent insight into the mindset of each of these young people groups; their understanding of “the Church” is grossly lacking.

Most of these well-meaning writers see “the Church” as nothing more than a social, charitable or service organization created to meet individual and societal needs (be they spiritual or otherwise), much like the Fraternal Order of Elks, the Knights of Columbus, or the Red Cross. They miss the point entirely that “the Church” is a living organism with divinely appointed missions. Its founder (and present Head), Jesus described her as “the Body of Christ.” The Head and the Body are intended to have a love relationship akin to that between a husband (Christ) and a wife (the Church). And “the Church” is delegated to perform all the same things and more that Jesus performed when He walked the earth. Every member of the Body, be they leaders, millennials, or members of any other generation has a significant part in this – with no one of more or less value.

Since Christ’s love and faithfulness to the Church (and each of its individual body parts) will never end, there is no excuse for members of the Body to abandon “the Church.” Now if we’re talking about a member of the Body relocating to a more appropriate “local church family” – well, that’s a different story. For every church family has a unique personality and mission and the Holy Spirit will guide a listening and responsive individual (and his or her family) to the one that will best prepare them to serve and that will make the best use of their gifts. But any abandonment of the Body of Christ by a member, or even a relocation to another local church that is not God-directed is likely made out of an attitude of self-centeredness and rebellion.

Although it’s valuable for local churches and church denominations to periodically evaluate if they are meeting the needs of those in the communities in which they reside, and that they are using the talents of all the members of their congregations as God intended; I think it’s just as important for persons of every generation to perform some personal introspection to make sure they are putting Christ and His Body above their own selfish desires. Politicians and social engineers have a bad habit of trying to segregate people into groups, be they racially, ethnically, financially or generationally oriented – and pitting one group’s needs and interests against another; but “the Church” should do everything it can to avoid being drawn into such conflicts. We are called to be united in our service to God and to each other and in our spiritual destiny.

It’s time that members of every generation begin to recognize that they are “the Church,” the Body of Christ and stop undervaluing themselves, their destiny and their purpose to serve God and His people. Even those individuals and people groups (defined by race, generation, social status or education level) who may sometimes feel marginalized and not served by the ecclesia, need to “gut it out” if necessary – because the mission of reaching an unsaved and broken world is too important, and the time is too short.

Ministering to the Broken

The following is my response to a question raised by a Pastor friend of mine in the midst of a recent energetic back-and-forth on FB.

Challenge: John, will you acknowledge that every sexual relationship outside of marriage is sin in the eyes of God?

Response: I believe that there has to be an order in which a person (especially an unbeliever) is taught and brought into the knowledge of God and of spiritual things, including an understanding of sin and its consequences.

I believe that making a broad declaration of the mind and will of God over social media, which includes a very large audience of non-believers (i.e.: not-Holy Spirit-minded people) is unwise and will accomplish little, and may in fact build impenetrable walls between them and the doctrines and followers of Christianity.  My basis for this is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, where he notes that no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  1 Corinthians 2:11-14

I offer a second spiritual truth for your consideration as well. I think it’s pretty clear from the Bible that people are only accountable for the knowledge they’ve received. That’s why Jesus declared that the people of the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum would be judged harsher than the people of Sodom and Tyre and Sidon. (Luke 10:10-16)  The people of Judah and Galilee had access to the written words of Moses and the Prophets and studied the Holy Scriptures constantly and even heard Jesus preach the good news of His mission on earth, and still they rejected Him as their Messiah. Much more was expected of the Jews than was expected of the heathen nations that surrounded them; and even more is expected of every New Testament believer.

Unbelievers are judged, not for their sexual sins, but for their choosing of things above their desire for God. In fact, it was God Who “gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” Clearly Scripture tells us that the “non-believer” is justly punishable for his or her “exchanging the truth of God for the lie, and worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.” For “the heavens” and “things that are made” have adequately revealed God, “even His eternal power and Godhead” to every man and woman, yet some have “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness,” so they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:18-25)

But back to the original question, in a one-on-one spiritual counseling session with a man, whereby I can assess his relationship with God, if any, and the roots of the problems that are going on in his life, of course I will explain the spiritual devastation that every sexual relationship outside of marriage brings upon them. When Paul stated: “Do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,’ He [God] says, ‘shall become one flesh,’”  (1 Corinthians 6:16-17) he was explaining to the morally bankrupt Corinthians how every sexual relationship is also a merger of spirits.  Two becoming one flesh is as much a spiritual union as it is a physical one, whether in marriage or outside of it. The spirits that each person carries, whether they be spirits of light or spirits of darkness (the latter including unclean spirits, spirits of divination, spirits of alcohol and drug addiction, spirits of fear, anger, etc.) all are brought into and attach to the ones engaged in a sexual relationship – and stay attached long after the relationship ends.

Everyone needs to be taught this, but there has to be an order in which a person is taught and brought into the knowledge of God and of spiritual things, including knowledge of the activities of the spirit realm. And I don’t believe it’s either necessary or wise to focus on an unbeliever’s sinful nature to reach him for the Kingdom of God.

  • First a person must be introduced to the Sovereign God Who created him and loves him unconditionally and the Son of God Who suffered and died that he might have eternal life.
  • Once the person is saved and has the Holy Spirit residing within him, now he is capable of understanding spiritual things, so you can proceed to explain the absolute need to forgive all those who have hurt him in the past. For unforgiveness leaves one mentally, emotionally and behaviorally imprisoned.
  • Then and only then is a person ready to truly understand sin and its power and destructive nature and the need to be set free of the consequences of sin that are destroying his life and his relationships, and the need to modify his behavior to live a morally righteous life.

“But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

Some important Biblical lessons I’ll bet you haven’t given much thought to – Truth #1

     Matthew 11-28 Jesus used many different styles to teach the people, but the parable seemed to be His favorite. And yet, when asked by His disciples why he used parables His strange response was: “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Then He quoted a prophesy of Isaiah that says essentially the same thing. In other words, there is knowledge and wisdom hidden in the Scriptures that is hidden to those who have no interest in knowing the truth; and yet to any and everyone who is serious about discovering truth and who seeks it out through study, research, prayer and meditation, it will be opened up to them.

Over the next few weeks my blog is going to touch upon a few such “not so obvious” truths – things that most of you probably haven’t given much thought to. Yet this is knowledge and wisdom that is critical if you are to become the complete person God intended for you and if you are to be used by Him to your full potential.

This week’s hidden truth I entitle:

Don’t be the person God orders “Step aside! You’re interfering with My work.”

Every faithful attendee of a Bible believing church is familiar with the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well. They would be able to recite how Jesus, in passing through Samaria, saw this woman, approached her and used the occasion of asking for a drink of water to introduce her to His concept of eternal life. They’d also be familiar with how He cleverly yet compassionately revealed and convicted her about her immoral lifestyle and led her to recognize Jesus as both a prophet and as her Messiah. And of course they’d know that she was so moved that she began to proselytize others, inviting many from her city to meet this man who told her so much about herself and of God’s love for her.

But I’ll bet few would give much thought to the first thing Jesus did, before He even entered the city or approached the woman. He sent His disciples into the city, under the guise “to buy food.” Jesus knew the hearts of His disciples were still filled with pride, self-righteousness, judge-mentalism and discrimination toward the Samaritan people. The disciples were good men who were intimately involved in Jesus’ ministry; men who Jesus sent out to heal the sick and cast out demons; men who even could be seen baptizing people in Judea just one day earlier. Yet Jesus perceived the above character flaws as detrimental to His ministry of inner healing and deliverance.

This should get your attention. If you’re not willing to cross religious, racial, social, cultural, and gender divides to meet people where they’re at, you’re pretty limited in what God can do with you and your ministry. And since His mission is to reach the world, He’ll have to do a large chunk of it without you.

Do you really want to be left on the outside? It’s an exciting time folks! You’re not going to want to miss a beat.

Abrasive or Persuasive – do you want your words and actions to be effective or not?

Debate  Almost from the date of their authoring over 2 Millennia ago, most of the Old and New Testament books of the Bible have been under attack. Governments have feared their power and influence and individuals have been offended by their intrusion into behavioral choices. Yet in spite of the vicious attacks and wholesale attempts to destroy the divine writings, God preserved them in unique ways through His faithful followers who often suffered persecution and martyrdom for their efforts.

Still, one method that was never chosen by our Christian ancestors to preserve Judeo-Christian tenets was a technique many of our modern church leaders seemed to have opted for: namely rewriting and/or reinterpreting sections that ever-changing cultural and societal norms deem unpopular.  When Jesus proclaimed early on in His ministry that He was the One whom Isaiah prophesied was to be sent “to bind up the brokenhearted and to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners,” He wasn’t inferring that sinners should be made to feel OK about their corrupt nature and that they had no need to repent and change course. Yet that’s what many would have us believe.

On the other side of the coin, many “Word people” think that merely adhering to scriptural truth makes anything they say justifiable. But even quoting scriptural truth can be hurtful and destructive, if not laced with care and compassion.

There are good, well-intentioned people on both sides of this issue, and I have no doubt that most, whether they’re ministering to the hurting and needy or they’re simply giving everyday advice to their friends and acquaintances, have pure motives and a sincere desire that their words and their actions be effective. But to be most effective, there has to be a balance between invoking of scriptural truth and a demonstration of God’s grace and unconditional love.

So how does one mold the presentation of the message to attract persons who are naturally skeptical of Christianity, and still not alter the message itself?

Whenever we have a difficult issue like this to deal with, the obvious course is to ask, “What did Jesus do?” and imitate Him.

No one can ever accuse Jesus of being wishy-washy about dealing with sin. Nor can one accuse Him of wearing rose colored glasses, blind to the fact that many in the crowd rejected His message and ministry. At one point in His ministry, Jesus began to teach almost exclusively using parables and only providing an explanation of their meaning to His disciples. When they asked why, He explained that the hearts of the people had grown dull, their ears hard of hearing, and their eyes kept closed. In other words, those who continually rejected His message were to be left behind in their spiritual deficiencies.

Nevertheless, Jesus showed respect to each person he crossed paths with regardless of their standing in the community, their moral behavior, or their acceptance or non-acceptance of Him personally or His message. People will usually listen to and receive from those who treat them with respect; whereas they will reject those that dishonor them. This is a lesson we all could learn from: to be persuasive, we must not be abrasive.

While Jesus never shied away from controversial discussions of the Law and sin, His harshest words were (a) for those who laid claim to spiritual superiority, (b) for those who led the weak down a crooked path and (c) for those who harmed or took advantage of the innocent. On the other hand Jesus went out of His way to help anyone who acknowledged their weaknesses and shortfalls as lost sheep in need of a shepherd to set them free and bring them the truth. This attitude drew all kinds of people into His circle of love: sinners, those possessed by evil spirits, those whose manner and place of worship were contrary to God’s Law, and even idol worshipers who brought their children to Him for healing and deliverance.

Are we as tolerant of people who are “different” than us?

Most of us have a tendency to rank-order sin based on what we personally regard as disgusting and evil behavior. In contrast, to Jesus, to the leaders of the 1st century Church, and to the Bible in general, all forms of rebelliousness are sin and all manner of sin will separate a man from God’s best.

In His “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus spoke of sins of lust in the heart as being equivalent to adultery and of unjustified anger and unforgiveness as being equivalent to murder. Paul, whose letter to the Romans is often quoted for his warnings regarding the risks homosexuality poses to one’s eternal salvation, in another letter lists thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners as being equally in danger of not inheriting the kingdom of God as those who practice acts of sexual perversion. While Genesis 18 & 19 focus on the sexual immorality prevalent in Sodom just prior to its destruction, Ezekiel 16 explains that “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.” And when King Solomon listed the seven things God considers as an abomination, he included: “a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” Is sexual perversion anywhere to be found in the list? Perhaps, if you read it into the words, “feet that are swift in running to evil.” But that’s a stretch!

Could it be that we’re not on the same page with the Lord

when classifying and dealing with sin and sinners?

Consider for example the situation when a woman caught in the very act of adultery was dragged before Jesus to test His obedience to the Law which commanded that she be stoned to death. How did He handle that situation?

First He challenged the religious leaders – “OK. Then let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone.” This statement accomplished two things: (a) it equated adultery with other sins and (b) it let the leaders recognize their own hypocrisy of condemning the woman, while they were sinners themselves. While the leaders were thinking about what Jesus said, He began to write something on the ground. He let the religious leader’s own consciences convict them and drive them from the scene. And once Jesus and the woman were alone, He elected to not use the Law (which said stone her) against the woman. The grace of God took precedence over the Law. “Neither do I condemn you.” Jesus established a compassionate relationship with her (i.e.: He drew her into His circle of love and trust.) So when He commanded her “Go and sin no more,” she was able to receive it.

Our early Church leaders imitated Christ’s attitude toward sin and sinners

The apostle Paul is a perfect demonstration that the early Church leaders “got it.” He paradoxically considered himself “free from all” groups, yet a “slave to all.” In order to win over the peoples whose Roman, Greek, or Persian cultures were much different than the Judaic, Paul used the folkways and customs of each culture. He molded his presentation of Jesus to eliminate any nonessential barriers that would hinder his proclamation of the gospel, but did not adapt the latest public novelty or get caught up in their cultural extravagances. The apostle’s method was uncompromised preaching, whether he was in a synagogue, in a home church or on Mars Hill. And he preached just one message, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Paul once posed the following question to his converts in Corinth: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” He recognized that each human being acts and thinks and responds based on a lot of variables in their life – most of which only they and God understand. Unlike Paul, many of us think we’ve got it all together – especially if we’re “into the Word,” and we think that merits us a special “long black robe” of morality and a seat behind the bench in God’s courtroom. But who amongst us really has it “all together?” We may not have the same bad behaviors that we witness in others (and may even be disgusted by); but each of us is capable of being where they’re at, given a different set of life circumstances and if we let our sin nature dominate us. In truth, each of us once occupied the defendant’s seat ourselves. Therefore, mindful of the grace that changed the course we were on, we should be sitting at the defense table next to them, encouraging them to accept Jesus’ offer to act as their attorney just like He stepped in to advocate for us.

When I was much, much younger, it used to bug me when a senior citizen would corner me with advice. It was as if they regarded the mere fact of years of existence on the planet as giving them some market on wisdom. Oh, I listened politely; but 95% of what I heard ended up on the shelf, and only occasionally got drawn down from. It’s interesting that after accumulating a few decades of my own I often see myself as a sage, volunteering unasked for guidance on any number of issues that my acquaintances face; likely irritating many of them the same way I was once bugged by my elders. I don’t think I’m that much different from a lot of others with a few years and several experiences under their belt.

But what really qualifies any human being to give advice – especially when it comes to another’s personal or relational problems? Certainly maturity, formal training, book knowledge, prior experience, hands-on familiarity with the specific type of situation all contribute something to an advisor’s qualifications.

In truth, the only one who can rightly offer unfettered guidance is the One who can read and judge the heart of a man. The natural man can judge an action, but neither the natural man nor the spiritual man can ever judge any heart but our own. Many use Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 2 regarding the fact that as believers, “we have the mind of Christ” and that “he who is spiritual rightly judges all things,” as rationale for judging and condemning another person’s behavior if it seems to deviate from Biblical norms. But that takes Paul’s words totally out of context. For the Apostle made it abundantly clear that the purpose of spiritual knowledge was “that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” In other words, this knowledge is to uplift others and show them a better way; never to judge and condemn their heart.

After all, of what relevance is my or any “expert’s” opinion of another person’s behavior and their life choices? Very little actually! The only “opinion” of value is God’s. So before I offer to express what I believe is God’s position on a behavior I witness or presume, I’d better be pretty sure I do so in the proper Biblical context and with a godly motive, method and heart.

Melting a hardened heart

 Recently my pastor spoke on the parable of the four soils (or what others may more familiarly recognize as the parable of the sower), found in three Gospels: Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8.  The four types of soil that receive the seed, (1) a trampled down path, (2) stony places, (3) among thorns, and (4) good soil each speak to a pre-condition of the heart of the hearer and its openness to receive and be impacted by God’s Word.  Jesus actually told his disciples this was the most important parable and the one that would unlock their spiritual understanding of all other parables.

 It’s interesting, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the spiritual heart of mankind and such complex conditions spoken of in Scripture as hardness of heart, and offenses of the heart and how these contrast with love and compassion.  We all know that similar experiences impact people differently.  One person will face a difficult circumstance and it will soften them and help them conform to God’s will.  Another will face the same circumstance and it will harden them with bitterness and anger. One becomes either more appreciative of God or more hostile to Him.  One either draws closer to God or becomes more distant.

 In the Book of Exodus, as Moses engaged Pharaoh on several occasions with challenges to let God’s people go, the Word states over and over again that “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” so that He might “lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.”  Likewise, on the way to the Promised Land, when Moses asked Sihon King of Heshbon to let the Israelites pass through his land, we are told “the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day.”  And in the Book of Samuel we read how, when King Saul rebelled from God and disobeyed Him, the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him and David was hand-picked and anointed by God to replace him.  Saul subsequently spent years chasing and trying to kill the young man and was punished for his evil acts.  And we also learn of King Nebuchadnezzar who God chose to chastise the Kingdom of Judah by conquering it.  The King brought Daniel and many other young, bright Jewish men to Babylon to serve him.  His hardened heart led him to threaten and even carry out executions of people who refused to worship an idol of himself.  But when Nebuchadnezzar became so prideful as to claim all credit for the power and wealth God had allowed him to accumulate, God humbled the king with temporary insanity that took his kingdom from him for seven years, while he lived with the beasts of the field, even eating grass like oxen.

 To us it sounds cruel that God might harden a heart or send an evil spirit, then punish the recipient for their subsequent actions.  But even Old Covenant relationships and justice are best understood in the light of New Covenant revelation.   For Jesus spoke much on the subject of the heart of mankind and his tendency to be too easily offended.

 Hardness of heart is a voluntary state of mind. It is a state of choice – a will committed to some form of selfishness.  The term hardness is appropriately used, because when the heart is in this state, it is stubborn, and will not yield to the truth, and prevents the intelligence and sensibility from perceiving, and being duly impressed by the truth.

 John 6 reveals how even many of Christ’s followers were offended by His teachings.  To some, especially the religious leaders, His teachings were too difficult to grasp, too harsh, and too disagreeable with their traditions. These were only following their own belief of who the Messiah should be and what they thought He should do and say.

 Jesus knew that this was a major topic of discussion among His closest followers and He brought their concerns to the forefront. “Does this offend you?” He asked.  He made it clear that it didn’t matter to Him what outsiders were saying about Him. He wanted to know if they were personally offended by the message. Even some of His hometown buddies and members of His own family suggested He tone things down.  But Jesus would not soften His words nor make His message more palatable to His followers, and many walked away.

 Finally Jesus turned to the twelve whom he had selected and asked if they would also leave. Judas Iscariot said nothing – though it later became clear that he was one who rejected His master’s teachings.  But Peter, who represented the other eleven said that there was no one else to follow, because only Jesus had the words of eternal life. Peter grasped at least part of what Jesus was teaching. Two divergent reactions to the same challenge from God.  One reaction was hardness of heart and taking offense to Jesus’ teachings.  The other reaction was of acceptance and submission to the Son of God.

 Is it possible to be predisposed to a hardened heart?

 In a sermon entitled “The Lesson of the Almond Tree,” (April 7, 1881) Charles Spurgeon reminded his congregation that “The same sun which melts wax, hardens clay, and the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance, hardens others in their sins.”  Back to Pharaoh and the kings Sihon, Saul and Nebuchadnezzar – these men were rebellious in their spirit and therefore their reactions to God’s commands reflected a hardened heart.  Each in his own way, for whatever reason, was predisposed toward being offended, or fearful, or prideful or selfish, rather than toward being trusting and compassionate.  The effect was to open the door to evil spirits to guide their thoughts, attitudes and actions.  Did the Lord cause their hearts to be hardened?  Was Saul’s evil spirit actually sent to him by the Lord?  Only in the sense that Rev. Spurgeon speaks of above.  Each man was offended by a word delivered by a servant of God and their predisposition toward a hardened heart led each one to turn their backs on Him.

 But what of the “targets” of these four hard-hearted rulers?  Were the lives of Moses, David and Daniel so free of hardship that they didn’t face the same temptation to form a hardened heart?  Moses’ first forty years were spent in the same court as the Pharaohs and the next forty as a lowly sheep herder.  David was undervalued by his own father who not only failed to recognize that his youngest son would amount to much, relegating him to watching the sheep, but when the Prophet Samuel came along to anoint one of Jesse’s boys to be king of the nation, he didn’t even consider the kid in the field.  A few years later, David’s adopted father (Saul) did everything in his power to keep the young man from becoming the person God created him to be.  Daniel and all the other young men forced into service in Babylon, had everything of their past stolen from them: their families, their traditions, even their Jewish names.  Yet each of these men were predisposed to trust in God and toward love and compassion for the people they came into contact with – even those who treated them harshly.

 A hardened heart – why?

 In the context of feelings and attitudes, the dictionary defines hardened as cold, insensitive, pitiless, unfeeling, unlikely to change, rigid or unyielding.  I believe a “hardened heart” is actually a defense mechanism that a person turns on to shut out unwanted external influences, or turns off to permit these same things to impact their minds, emotions and attitudes.  I believe God gave us this defense mechanism for a purpose. You can and should become “hardened” (maybe “steeled” is a better word) against the influences of the world, the flesh and the devil.  You have the power to determine what your heart accepts or rejects.  There’s even a Messianic scripture from Isaiah 50 that says: “I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. For the Lord God helps Me.  Therefore, I am not disgraced.  Therefore, I have set My face like flint, And I know that I will not be ashamed. He who vindicates Me is near; Who will contend with Me? Let us stand up to each other. Who has a case against Me? Let him draw near to Me.”  But, like every good characteristic (including defense mechanisms) that God instilled in the human frame, the devil has developed an evil counterfeit to this as well.

 So I began noticing several instances in the Gospels where Jesus pointed out the characteristics of a hard heart, even among His disciples, and each involved either the inability to perceive or see or hear as God does, or to understand or to remember what God had already done in the past for them and for others.  For example, in Mark 6, a few hours after Jesus multiplied the loaves to miraculously feed thousands, the apostles found themselves in the midst of a violent storm as they crossed the Sea of Galilee, and they feared for their lives.  It then says that they were “amazed beyond measure” when Jesus walked upon the waters to them, got into the boat and calmed the seas.  The story concludes with the words, “For they considered not the miracle of the loaves, for their heart was hardened.”  They had already forgotten the wonderful miracle which was performed before their eyes just a few hours before.  They should have remembered that Christ would, of course, have power to walk on the water if He possessed sufficient creative power to feed five thousand. Instead of being surprised at the event, they should have looked upon it as a thing to be expected.

 Two chapters later we read about their misunderstanding of Jesus’ warning “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees,” supposing that He alluded to the fact that they had come on the journey without bread.  His real intent was to put them on their guard against the Pharisees’ doctrines which were liable to prejudice their minds against the truth of His teachings.  Jesus inferred that their missing His point by a mile was proof that their hearts were hard.

 Then in Mark 16, after His crucifixion and resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the eleven as they sat eating dinner, He scolded them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, “because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen.”  The minds of the disciples were such that they could even doubt the testimony of those who had actually seen their risen Lord.

 Hardness of heart and spiritual blindness

 It wasn’t sin that caused the disciples’ hearts to be hard – it was their focus on things other than the miracles and signs they’d been witness to and the words Jesus had spoken.  They were occupied with trying to save their lives in the midst of the storm or with thinking only about what was naturally possible, ignoring the possibility of supernatural intervention.  Rather than looking outward toward how God wanted to use them to reach others, they were looking inward.  Every time hard-heartedness surfaces, so does fear, pride, self-preservation and other selfish interests.

 Even the great evangelist-to-the-Gentile’s heart was hard and Paul was under the delusion that he was doing God a service when he hunted the followers of Christ and delivered them over to judgment and death. Likewise persecutors in every age have thought that they were doing God service. Their hearts were so hard that they really believed that they were called and taught of God to do their work of death and blood upon those they regarded as heretics.

 Time and again we see the blinding effect of hardness of heart on the intelligence. Persons whose hearts are hard, will often embrace the grossest errors, and be very zealous in defending them. No scientific or religious error has ever been proclaimed which has not found some zealous and even self-denying advocates.  Such was the state of the hearts of the Jews generally.  No evidence which Christ could give them could convince them Jesus was the Messiah.  They failed to see the providence of God in anything Jesus did; even the miracles didn’t produce much impression on their minds because their hearts were hard. They placed their traditions above compassion for those who were in need of Christ’s healing power.  The man born blind, the man with the deformed arm, none of the evidences of miracles made much of an impression upon them.  These “signs” did not fasten conviction on their unbelieving minds nor break down their stubborn wills.

 When Jesus was standing before the judgment seat of Pilate, the murderers of Christ cried out with one accord, “His blood be on us and on our children.”  They were so certain that Christ was an impostor that they were ready to take the responsibility of his murder on their own shoulders and that of their descendants for generations to come. What greater proof is there of their deep self-deception?  They ignored all the evidence and signs of the truths He was speaking, and they pursued their course of wickedness, buried in the darkness of ignorance and self-delusion.

 That’s true of careless sinners everywhere.  Hardness of heart influences a person’s intellect and sensibility; for if his heart was not hard, he would be full of agony over his sorry state, instead of coldness and indifference with respect to spiritual truth.  Persons in a hard-hearted state will justify the most palpable wrong doing; they will have some excuse for their misdeeds; they will rationalize the need to perform the evil deed. Some will even imagine that they are doing God service, when in fact they are committing the most flagrant acts of wickedness. That’s why Pharaoh’s heart could be hardened again and again, even in the face of ten supernatural events that significantly impacted his people.

 Even people within the church often form hard hearts.  Under the influence of selfish motives, controversies develop and fester to the hurt of the Body.  Each person sees the facts in a different light and each thinks the other to be at fault.  Nothing seems to convince either of the parties of his fault or responsibility.

 The Key to avoiding a hardened heart – seeing as God sees

 In the Charles Spurgeon sermon cited above, the great preacher’s lead scripture was Jeremiah 1:11, 12, “Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what do you see? And I said, I see a branch of an almond tree. Then said the Lord unto me, you have seen well: for I am ready to perform My word.”  And he began with these words: “Observe, before Jeremiah becomes a speaker for God, he must be a seer. The name for a Prophet in the olden time, was a ‘seer’—a man who could see—one who could see with his mind’s eye, one who could also see with spiritual insight, so as vividly to realize the Truth of God which he had to deliver in the name of the Lord.  Learn that simple lesson well, O you who try to speak for God! You must be seers before you can be speakers.”

 The Key to avoiding a hardened heart is seeing every person you come in contact with as God sees them.  It’s human nature to regard others from a worldly point of view.  Only with God’s help can we train our hearts to alter that.  Only a softened heart sees others and themselves as God sees them.  Only when earnest, effectual prayer has been offered for brethren and sinners alike, and the Holy Spirit has been allowed to intercede to soften their hearts, is the difficulty between adversaries resolved.  When the heart is melted, each sees the subject in dispute in the same light as the other.  It’s not uncommon for each to admit blame and confess more than he or she has been charged with.

 Only God can melt a hardened heart.  Only God can give spiritual sight to the blind.  It may take a “breaking” – such as when Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest king of ancient Babylon, had to be thrown off his throne for a time and cast out to live among the livestock and wild beasts.  Or when the deeply religious, but murderous Saul of Tarsus was thrown off his donkey to the ground and blinded, so he could hear and receive the message of His Savior.

 When the heart is softened by the love of Christ, everything appears differently.  Our views on every subject are changed greatly. This change extends to almost every duty, relation, and act of life.  When the heart is softened the intellect is placed in an attitude of attention.  A truth which has been heard a hundred times without any conscious effect, all of a sudden infects the whole soul.

 I was listening to a minister the other day who made a profound statement that is worthy of adopting into each and every Christian’s life: “When I face a difficult person, I constantly remind myself, he’s my friend – he just doesn’t know it yet.  I make a special effort through my actions and words to communicate to him that he’s my friend.  I’m giving him permission to become the person I see.”

Come – let us reason together

R. Glover (1869-1943) a classical scholar, historian, university lecturer and orator once asked, “How did the Church, confronted by the power of Greek philosophy, Roman might, and unchecked sensuality change the direction of world history?” He answered his own question by explaining that the early Christians out-lived the pagans, out-died them and out-thought them. Do we need to do anything less to reach unbelievers with the Gospel in our present post-modern secular society?

 I’m always astounded to hear so many Christians proudly proclaim that their faith is blind.  Some say that even looking for evidence undermines faith.  That’s silly.  The greatest evangelist of the first century Church, Paul always used reason and logic to prove to whoever he was engaging in discourse that “this Jesus is the Christ.”  He used logic to show the Jews and even King Agrippa that Jesus was indeed the anointed one on whom they had waited thousands of years and then crucified.  And he used logic and reason to introduce the true God to the Greeks, Asians, Romans and other Gentiles.

 We are called to persuade others like Paul did. In Romans 1 he argued how the physical characteristics of our world prove the Creator’s eternal power and Godhead.  In Romans 2 he proved His moral law by pointing out that the Gentiles practiced many such laws independent of God’s written law.  In Athens he noticed an altar with this inscription, ‘To an “unknown god”’ and used it to introduce these pagans to the “Lord of heaven and earth, Who does not dwell in temples made with hands.”  He explained his approach in his first letter to the Corinthians: “…  I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I become as a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some.”  Like Paul, we are called to reduce the gulf between ourselves and unbelievers, to gain them for the Kingdom of God.  He told the young pastor Timothy that regardless of his efforts, “some will ignore the truth,” but encouraged him to never give up trying.

 And Paul wasn’t the only early evangelist to use reason and logic to persuade their contemporaries that the Gospel is true and reasonable.  Peter, in his first letter says: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  The phrase “give a reason” is the English translation of the Greek word apologia, from which we get the word “apologetics”.  Apologetics is simply the act of giving an answer, a reason, an explanation for why you believe what you believe.  Every Christian should be able to do this to some degree – it’s a command, not an option.  But the prospect of being asked why we believe can often make Christians a little nervous – we’re afraid of looking foolish, of not having an answer, even of letting God down.

 God does not expect us to practice blind faith.  Otherwise He would not have left us so much evidence of the supernatural realm and Himself – evidence that He points to time and again throughout His Word.  David, in his Psalms (19:1; 50:6; 97:6) points us to nature for proof that God created the earth.  God wants us to investigate and have a hope within us based on evidence that can convince others.  Jesus often pointed to natural evidence of a spiritual truth.  (1) “Consider the lilies of the field….”  (2) “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?”   (3) “And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.”  The apostles and we are told to study these things – look for proof of the accuracy of what we are told – think about them – weigh all the evidence.  And Jesus’ message was always relevant.  He taught the truth to people where they lived. He spoke a distinct word to each unique situation.

 I find it interesting that even the Book of Isaiah begins with God telling Israel that they have a head problem and a heart problem: … you still fight against the Lord? Your whole head is sick, and your whole heart is weak. From the bottom of the foot even to the head, there is no good part. There are only sores from beatings and open sores. They are not taken care of or covered or made soft with oil.  In other words, they’re not thinking straight and that’s resulting in bad attitudes and bad actions.  A few verses later is when God invites them: “Come now, and let us reason together.”  In other words, “Let’s talk about it.  Let’s see where all this is headed.  You can do it your way – you’ve seen the consequences of your foolish decisions.  Or you can do it My way – My way is best.”

 Together God and His people can discuss logically the matters in His Word.  He wants to engage us in logical conversation and discussion.  It’s a scene similar to a court room where arguments are brought up and evidence is weighed; arguments of reason and logic that measure evidence and help in determining right and wrong.  God expects us to use logic and understanding when we read and study the Bible on our own and when we discuss it with others, including unbelievers.

 It is unwise to dispel critical thinking, scientific study, and the use of apologetics as a tool to reach some of the lost, limiting evangelism to the preaching of the Gospel.  After all, it was God who created the natural laws and principles that govern our universe.   So here are some things we should be willing to do.

1.  Pray for opportunities. Pray that God would bring non-Christians across your path and that he would open up natural opportunities for you to talk about your faith with them. Pray that they would ask you questions, that they would see something about your life that intrigues them. Pray for wisdom. God promises to give us all the resources we need to minister His love and knowledge.

2.  Talk and Listen. Learn to be interested in people and their stories. Learn to really listen – to hear what’s being said, their concerns, interests and passions. God will help you find the opportunities to weave the Gospel naturally into the conversation.

3.  Learn to Ask Good Questions. Evangelism (including the use of apologetics) is not primarily about having the right answers. Questions like “Why do you believe that?” or “Why do you think that?” can be very powerful. If somebody expresses a negative opinion about the Christian faith, gently asking “What’s your reason or evidence for that?” can crack open the conversation. Questions can expose hidden assumptions, shed light on motives, and show whether somebody really believes what they have just said, or if they are just repeating something they heard somewhere else.  Often the key is asking the right question.  For example, the question “Do you believe in God?” may generate a very difference answer from “What do you believe?” or “What do you think is the purpose to life?”

4.  Study the Bible. If we are going to share and defend our faith, we first have to know our faith. Immerse yourself in scripture.  Invest in a study Bible that will help explain complex ideas to you and show you how biblical passages are connected. The Bible is not a science book – but it contains scientific information.  The Bible is not a medical or health book – but it contains medically relevant information.  The Bible is not a behavioral science book – but it contains the best advice possible regarding the benefits of good behavior and the consequences of bad behavior.

5.  Read a book and or find a website that focuses on apologetics. There are incredible books being published every year by very gifted men and women who have spent the time researching some of the toughest questions of faith – people like Greg Kunkl, Lee Strobel, Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias, or William Lane Craig. Dig into some of the classic works of apologetics, those by thinkers like C. S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer. Keep an eye on websites where the subject is discussed. One I particularly recommend is “Stand-To-Reason,” found at str.com.

6.  Take a Course. For example, my local church has a class called “Get whole.” In addition to ministering to the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of people, it also addresses many of the issues of modern culture, as well as scientific and Christian thinking.

7.  Teach Somebody Else. I contend that the best way to understand a subject is to teach it. When you know that you’re expected to explain something to others and to answer their questions – you’re forced to spend the extra effort investigating that subject.

8.  Stay Humble and loving – regardless of the other’s response. Never lose sight of the ultimate purpose of evangelism and apologetics – it’s to win people for Christ. It’s not to win a debate.  A clever argument can’t make somebody a Christian — only God’s Spirit can ultimately do that work in somebody’s heart. What a well-constructed discussion can do is clear away the debris that prevents somebody from seeing Christ clearly.  What people ultimately need is to see the greatness and attractiveness of Jesus. Our task is simply to present Him as clearly as we can, and then get out of the way.

 In Summary

 Without understanding what we believe and why we believe it, our faith becomes brittle and fragile: “Honest questions deserve honest answers.”  Virtually any aspect of human life can be turned into an argument for why Christianity is true and reasonable.  Always be aware that the devil has plenty of servants willing to step in and fill the vacuum of information with his lies, if we don’t make the effort to reveal the truth.

 Christianity provides the most logical and consistent explanation for every issue and dilemma that mankind faces and every question he or she raises.  But it’s going to take some effort on our behalf to prepare to present those truths in an understandable and attractive manner.

The meek shall inherit the earth

As a thirteen year old eighth grader and a member of Boy Scout troop 1405, I studied vigorously for and received the Ad Altare Dei Award for Catholic scouts.  In the process I had to obtain endorsements that I was receiving religious instruction, was faithful to my prayers, frequented the Sacraments and was leading an exemplary life.  I remember it well, sitting in the living room of the home of the founding pastor of St. Germaine’s parish, Fr. LaSalle Link.  He was a short, well-rounded man with a friendly smile, who I generally felt comfortable around.  I came to know him personally because my parents were so involved in parish activities.  Still, as he quizzed me on some of the materials, I stumbled a few times due to my anxiety and intense desire to do well.  It was in studying for this test that I first became acquainted with what the Bible calls the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

 Though the sermon covers all of chapters 5 through 7 in the Gospel of Matthew, the part most people are familiar with, and which I had to commit to memory was Matt 5:3-12: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

 Committing to memory though is not the same as understanding.  And until this past Saturday morning, I can’t say that I understood God’s promise that the meek shall inherit the earth.  It sounded good!  But what did it mean?  But as often happens at Saturday morning men’s prayer, I had one of those “Road to Emmaus” moments when, as the two travelers who shared a meal with their Lord, unaware initially of who they were with, upon discovery exclaimed: “When He talked to us on the road, it felt like a fire burning in us. How exciting it was when He explained to us the true meaning of the Scriptures!”

 Meekness is Attractive

 In my case, the fire burned within me as several men shared about the importance of showing true unadulterated meekness and God’s love when reaching out to other people for any reason, whether it be to share the Good News or just to give an encouraging word or an offer to help.  Only a genuinely meek spirit will be listened to and received.

 The masses are looking for a genuinely meek person to speak into their lives and become a part of it.  They’re tired of hearing about how bad their behavior is.  They already know they have “bad” behavior.  They’re tired of people who preach goodness and love, yet who are offended and complain about every little word spoken against them or every little problem in the world or their own lives.   They’re tired of Christians who pray that God will change the lives of the people around them, so their own selfish lives can be more comfortable.  They’re tired of people who talk down to them in “goody-goody” words or scriptures that they don’t understand.

 As many of my friends at men’s prayer expounded on these matters I sensed the Spirit of God saying to me, the people of the world will be naturally drawn by God to the genuinely meek person – they will “inherit the earth;” and the meek will see many come into the Kingdom through the consistency of their words and actions.  As my pastor so often reminds us, a leader is truly only a leader if he or she has someone following.  Otherwise he’s just taking a walk.  A meek spirit attracts others.  If unbelievers are not attracted to you, then perhaps you have fallen short in this area.

 Meekness Weeps for Others

 We human beings are an unusual lot.  We weep for any number of different reasons.  Crying is almost always an outward expression of what’s going on in our hearts – and that can be either good or not so good.  Sometimes we weep when we’re very happy and other times we weep when we’re grieving or in physical or emotional pain.  Sometimes we weep when others offend us and other times we weep on behalf of others who are themselves hurting.

 When Jesus informed his disciples that His friend Lazarus had died, He made what probably some interpreted as a very harsh statement: “Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”  Jesus was not upset by Lazarus’ death, because He knew exactly what He intended to do, namely raise Him from the dead.  By the time they reached Lazarus’ grave, the man had already been dead for four days.  Jesus hinted to Lazarus’ sister Martha what He intended to do, but she misunderstood him too: “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”  She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  She clearly believed Jesus with regard to eternity, but not that He could raise her brother from the dead.  Still, she went to get her sister Mary to talk to Jesus.  And …when Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled…. Jesus wept.

 Why did Jesus weep?  The people thought He was weeping for Lazarus.  In reality, He wept for all the unbelief that surrounded Him that day.  Most of us, if we had the ability to accomplish something remarkable, but no one believed us, we would be offended.  We’d likely run to our bedroom and cry about it.  That’s selfish weeping.  But Jesus wept for the people’s ignorance and hardness of heart.  On another occasion Jesus wept for the city of Jerusalem, or rather the citizens of the city that was the center of Israel’s worship of God.  “… because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

 In like manner, the Apostle Paul wept over the Jew’s blindness and rejection of the truth.  He cried out that God would not hold it against these people who had pursued him and tried many times to kill him – who on more than one occasion beat him and stoned him and left him for dead.  2 Corinthians 12:10 explains how truly meek Paul was: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

 Unbelievers as well as believers sought out Jesus for help.  Likewise many Gentiles saw that same nature in Paul, and came to him for prayer and guidance.  Both lived the Sermon on the Mount command and accompanying promise: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  These days it’s rare that people of the world “seek out” Christians for anything.  This should be a clue that we are coming up short in this area.

 Meekness and Love go hand-in-hand

 I believe you could easily and accurately substitute the word meekness nearly every time you use the word love.  Just try it – and apply it to your own life.

  • Love (and meekness) does not fear anyone
  • Love (and meekness) forgives all
  • Love (and meekness)  is not condescending
  • Love (and meekness) does not stamp its foot and demand its way
  • Love (and meekness) cries in private – for the one who misunderstands your intentions
  • Love (and meekness) refuses to be offended by anyone who attacks you personally or harms you
  • Love (and meekness) does not pray that God change another’s heart or feelings toward you – but that God not hold their words and actions against them.

What do you mean “My body is not my own!”

 Between 55 and 57 A.D. Paul of Tarsus’s wrote two letters to the congregation of the church he founded in Corinth.  These were former hedonists he was writing to, and many of his messages were probably as controversial then as they are today.  Consider this one in particular: Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price,…  (1 Cor 6:20)  “Of course my body is my own!” most of mankind responds.  “And I’ll do with it whatever I want!” This is the attitude of cultures around our modern world.

 When I was young and impressionable, Paul Anka wrote and Frank Sinatra recorded the song “My Way.”  Adopted from the French song “Comme d’habitude,” Anka says he modified the lyrics specifically to sound like the “mob-speak” he heard the Rat Pack frequently use as they joked around in private.  Like most worldly people, I adopted the words of this song as my personal anthem.  It’s remained popular over the years because people, regardless of their state in life, find it easy to step into Sinatra’s shoes and say, “That’s exactly how I feel.  I’m tired of being stepped on.  I’m gonna do it my way!”  The fact of the matter is, the “my-way-generation” has dominated every society since a garden was first planted eastward in Eden and a man and woman were told to tend and keep it.

 The problem: mankind fails to perceive the benefit of not being their own

 Of course Paul’s quote above was not directed to the population in general – but to people God chose for a purpose – whenever and wherever they reside on this earth.  It’s interesting that in ancient times in particular, the people that God chose for a purpose were not always godly people.  Yet He still expected them to recognize and acknowledge that He was the source of all their power, status, wealth and blessings – for they were not their own either.  The pagan Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar is just one of many such examples I could have selected to demonstrate this point.  King Neby was hand-picked to perform a task on behalf of God: to chastise the rebellious Kingdom of Judah.  Yet when Neby walked around the royal palace and egotistically claimed credit for all that he had been allowed to accomplish, he was humbled by God for seven years – ‘til he got his thinking straight.

 Unfortunately, many Christians haven’t grasped this truth much better than the ungodly – and they too inherit the often-disastrous consequences.  For the Christian, the basis that “you are not your own” is that “you were bought at a price,” namely the blood of your Savior Jesus, and now “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.”  To understand how God views the body (the temple) of a follower of His Son, it’s imperative to study what happened when God’s Spirit rested upon the tabernacle in the wilderness on the day of its dedication, and in the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem.

 Moses wrote in Exodus: Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

 2 Chronicles chapters 5 through 7 report that when Solomon had finished building the Temple and had the ark of the covenant of the Lord brought up from the City of David, all the priest were sanctified.  As hundreds of priests began to blow trumpets and play other instruments, and as the singers joined in unison … with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, … and when they praised the Lord saying, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.  This was followed by a dedication ceremony and prayer led by Solomon.  When Solomon completed his prayer of dedication, something profound happened.  God manifested Himself in power! Fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house. The priests could not enter into the house of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house.

 Like the people who gathered in the Temple courtyard some 3000 years ago, our sanctification, our verbal expressions, our harmony, unison, dedication, prayer, and our magnifying of God, are all essential ingredients in the “recipe” to see God’s Glory.  The Hebrew word for the dwelling or presence of God is “Shekinah.”  In the Jewish mind it always spoke of the fact that He dwelt in or rested upon those who merited His favor, whether an individual, a community, or the entire people of God.

 There is obviously a difference between the temple of God which was a man-made structure, and the temple of God which was and is the Spirit of God’s human dwelling place.  In the 2nd chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus referred to Himself as the temple of God.  And then the Apostle that Jesus called “my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel,” boldly proclaimed many times that believers are themselves the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Like the priests of old that “sanctified” the temple, the instruments used in the temple and their very own bodies and souls before they dared to enter into God’s presence, so must we be holy and pure – for we are not our own.

 The benefit to the believer: the Shekinah Glory of God reflected in our lives

 The scene in Luke 2 where an angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night, describes that the glory of the Lord shone around them.  It’s this same Shekinah Glory that is housed and available for illumination through each Christian into the world of darkness that we are sent to share the Good News we’ve been blessed to hear and receive ourselves.

 When one of God’s seraphim angels once declared to Isaiah: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” I have to believe he was speaking of a time in the future when Christians are universally obedient in carrying the light of God inside of us to every nation.  “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.

 The Old Covenant display of God’s Shekinah Glory was not lasting.  But the Holy Spirit is promised to be with the Church until the end of this age. The Old Law was only a shadow of what we are to have in reality.  Peter, James and John got a taste of this on a mountaintop as they witnessed our Lord’s face being illuminated during the transfiguration.  We are both challenged and commanded to “let our light shine” into a dark world.  It’s time to fully yield to the knowledge that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and it is not our own.

Let your light shine before men (and women)

I was recently asked to teach a small segment of a class for new believers at our church.  The lesson had to do with telling others about what God had done for them as a result of their making a commitment of their lives to Jesus.  As I was preparing for the lesson it occurred to me that there are probably lots of new Christians out in the blogosphere who long to do what’s pleasing to God, including sharing their experience of salvation, but just have no idea how to go about it.  Or maybe they just don’t think they’re equal to the task.  So I decided to dedicate this week’s blog to this subject.

 Being simultaneously bold and meek

 I think it’s important to talk about attitude, before I even get into mechanics.   On the surface, the character traits of boldness and meekness appear to be incompatible.  And yet they are both important to any Christian who is going to have a real influence with their circle of friends.

 It seems like one of the first things a new Christian is told after they’ve made a commitment to Jesus is that they need to tell someone about their experience – that they need to be bold.  And the Bible is filled with such admonitions as that in Proverbs 28:1.  “The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.”  Yet there is very little teaching on boldness.  So new believers are often left to their own devices, and the world’s erroneous and confusing interpretation of what it means to be bold.

What Christian boldness is not

Boldness is not being obnoxious, pushy or aggressive.  The world teaches people to stand up and be heard, to talk loudly until someone listens, and to never take no for an answer.  However, the Bible says that no man comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him.  In other words, it’s not going to do anyone any good if you persist in pressing on when a person no longer wants to hear what God has done for you and what He wants to do for them.  If they’re not ready or interested, just change the subject and talk about something that interests both of you, like sports, your flower garden or the evening news.  If you show them kindness and respect, perhaps you’ll have another opportunity later to talk to them about the Lord – when they’re ready.

 Neither is Boldness condescending – talking down to the unbelievers.  Constantly quoting scriptures to unsaved relatives, friends and coworkers, or presenting evidence that the Last Days are imminent, will rarely change a person’s heart.  A person is going to be influenced more by the life they see you live every day.

 What Christian boldness is

Boldness is being warm, confident and courageous.  This is the way we should approach the Throne of God – because we are His adopted children, whom He has promised to meet every need and to fulfill every promise.  And it’s from this position of kinship to our God that we must also set out to share His Gospel with others.   To the unsaved we must be warm.  While we speak openly and freely of God’s grace, we must do so in plain and everyday language and with respect for every person, regardless of their social or spiritual status.  Before everyone, saved and unsaved alike, we must demonstrate confidence – in the Lord’s ability, not ours, and in His Word, not our personal opinions.  And before all, we must be courageous – knowing God has our back whenever we step out in the name of Jesus and give God all the glory for our accomplishments.

 Surprisingly, Meekness and Boldness go hand-in-hand

  If you question the importance of meekness, open your Bible and read what Jesus had to say about it in His “Sermon on the Mount”, chapters 5 through 7 of Matthews Gospel.  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”   Still, even some long-time Christians often erroneously equate “meek” with “weak,” inferring a character flaw.  Although that’s an erroneous conclusion, even the word “weak” as the Apostle Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 12:10, [Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong] does not have a negative connotation.  It refers to his (and our) total dependence on God – and the recognition that “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)  Areas in my life which are weak (deficient) He will fill – Him and Him alone

 But the word “meek” actually implies a gentle soothing disposition.  A definition I prefer, and one which I believe Jesus would agree with is “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”  Meekness is a gift from God that enables a person to battle and defeat his or her own human nature that wants to dominate a situation or another person.  A meek person does not harbor resentment when another takes credit that is due themselves.  They realize God knows who deserves the credit and He is the issuer of eternal rewards.

 A bold person (warm, confident and courageous) needs to be meek if he or she is going to make an impact for Christ in their society in such a time as this.

 Let your light shine

 But how do you even get to that point of telling others about the impact God has had in your life?  There’s an old Christian adage:  “Preach the Gospel always – and if necessary use words.”  It’s often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi; but, in truth, no one knows for sure.  In any case, it’s very consistent with Jesus’ declaration, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  In another place He says you don’t turn a lamp on, then hide it under a basket.  You put it on a lamp stand, and let it light up an otherwise dark room.

 What does “Let your light shine” even mean?  It means, you’re different now that you’ve ask Jesus into your heartAnd people, once they find out that you’re a Christian will start to watch you – to see if what you have is real and lasting.  And that’s good – because once they’re sure it’s real, they’ll start to ask questions.  The hard work of starting a spiritual conversation with them, often will be done by them.

 But how do people know you’re a Christian if they don’t ask?  Obviously, you can tell them with words – or you can tell them with the change in the person they see every day.  And both have to be consistent.  Words are meaningless if your character doesn’t match what you say happened to you inside.

 Now that may discourage some of you – especially if you’re a brand new Christian, and you’re still struggling with some of the same behavioral issues that you had before you committed your life to Jesus.  But don’t be discouraged.  None of us is perfect – even long-time followers.  Remember – it’s a process.  Although you’re forgiven and washed clean the instant you sincerely commit your life – it’s rare that your entire nature will change overnight.  Expect daily improvement, not perfection.

 If somebody at work next week says, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a Christian,” that’s OK!  On the other hand, if, two years from now they say the same thing, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a Christian,” – there’s a problem.

Expect to act differently and don’t be afraid to act differently

Pray that God will help you lose all interest in those bad behaviors and addictions that once and maybe still dominate your day.  He’ll do that for you, if you sincerely want to change.

Fill the gaps: You can’t just stop doing what’s displeasing to God.  You have to start doing what is pleasing to Him also.  That’s when reading the Bible and “hanging” with other believers is not only nice, but necessary – you’ve got to find replacement good behaviors and thoughts.

People you’ll have to deal with:  There are three groups of people you’re going to have to deal with right away:  (1) close friends, (2) your immediate family and (3) casual acquaintances.

Your closest friends will be some of the hardest to deal with.  They’re going to want you to participate with them in their bad behaviors.  (Smoking a joint or otherwise getting high to “have fun”, going to the bar, cussing, …)  You’ve got to have the courage to decline.  You may even have to break off some of those close friendships (at least for a time), if they don’t accept you as you are.  And they are going to want to know why.  Keep your answer simple, until you’re more mature in the things of God.  Sometime in the future, a month from now, or a year, whenyou’re strong enough – invite them out for a coffee.   Then tell them what God did for you and what He can do for them.  If they’re truly your friend, they’ll at least listen politely.

With respect to spouses, kids, parents, grandma and grandpa – the Bible says to let them see your love, your chaste behavior, your kindness – and that’s what may win them over.  But don’t preach to them.  It’ll just get them teed off.  And pray that God will bring other Christians into their lives – people they can respect and identify with.

Your co-workers and casual acquaintances will see your change in behavior, language and attitudes.  They’ll see that you don’t fly off the handle in meetings anymore – you don’t look as sad and depressed – you’re less selfish and so forth.  And they will eventually want to know what caused these changes in your character.

Prepare to give an answer.

 Everyone who has committed their life to their Savior and Lord has a unique story.  The Bible calls that your testimony.  That’s what you’re ultimately going to share with other people.  Your personal story will have a greater impact on most unbelievers than any other spiritual message you can deliver.  And it’s really important to give a lot of thought to how you present your story.  I’d even recommend that you write it down.  It’s worth the time to organize your thoughts about what really happened in your life.  Expect God to help you explain your story.

 There are three parts to every Christian’s salvation story:

(1)  Who you used to be:  You had a dilemma: you had a problem with no apparent solution.

(2)  Who you are now:  You’re a different person now, set free from whatever “enslaved” you in the past; you’re forgiven; you’re now filled with internal peace, increased confidence and joy; the list will include all the changes that you recognize in your behavior, your mental state (attitudes and emotions), your physical body, etc.

(3)  What happened to get you from then to now: you went to a conference or church and heard a message that touched your heart; someone at the mall approached you and prayed with you or gave you a Christian tract; you just pleaded with God – “If you’re real, help me,” and He did.  I recently heard a testimony about a young man who was ready to commit suicide, if he didn’t hear from God.  He placed his loaded shotgun in the corner of his bedroom, then lay down on the bed and pleaded with God: “If you’re real, show me, help me.  Otherwise I’m going to end it right now.”  Nothing happened!  He heard and felt nothing!  After several minutes he started to get up to kill himself – and a “hand” pushed him back down on the mattress and wouldn’t let him rise – until he came to the conclusion that he needed to look for a Christian church that could explain to him what had just happened.

 When you write your story down, have two versions: the total story and the abridged version – i.e.: under three minutes.  You’re going to have opportunities to share your story with people who are “on the run” and may not have the time to listen to your entire testimony.  The abridged version however will plant some seeds in their life for someone else to water and perhaps another to harvest.

 Strategize and Practice

 The time and effort you take to prepare (e.g.: in writing down your story) will build up your confidence before you ever are led to talk to others about it.  But so will the next two steps.

 Practice your delivery.  Share your story with people you trust – which usually means people in your local church and Bible study.

 Strategize opportunities to share your story with the people you are already acquainted with.  Then pray and ask God for opportunities to share your story, for tact in how to deliver it, and for the wisdom to recognize the proper timing.  Then expect God to open those doors of opportunity.

 As your confidence grows, strategize ways to initiate conversations with complete strangers, and with people who may be too dense to ask you about your new life.  To assist you in this, I highly recommend a book entitled “One Thing you can’t do in Heaven,” by Mark Cahill.