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“O my God, I say, take me not away in the midst of my days– you whose years endure throughout all generations!” Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (Psalm 102:24-28). 

Whoever wrote Psalm 102 (some say David, some say Asaph) was extremely insecure. But, if we are honest, aren’t we all? We look for affirmation from various things and people – academic credentials, jobs, spouses, ministries, family, possessions, supervisors, financial savings, etc. – wanting to feel good about ourselves and our situation. This writer was no different. He understood the fleeting nature of his life (Psalm 102: 2, 11) and was in the midst of a time of great turmoil, pain, and affliction. Even worse, he felt God was uninvolved (102:2) and had abandoned him in anger (102:10). The psalmist was, by any definition, insecure about himself and his circumstances. Although maybe not to this extreme, can you identify? I sure can. 

I’m so glad the Bible shows God’s people with “warts and all.” They were frail and filled with foibles. And so are we. Insecurity is such a common theme in fallen humanity that, I believe, this passage and others give us guidance on how to deal with our lack of confidence. In this Psalm, like us, the writer tended to look at himself rather than God. When he turned from his feelings and looked at the facts, He saw the greatness and goodness of his God. Not in himself or his circumstances did he find the salve to soothe his insecurity. It was in the immutability of God. 

And what is God’s immutability? Maybe the word “unchangeableness” would be easier to understand. In his systematic theology, Wayne Grudem  (if you don’t have one, get it) defines this attribute of God by explaining that “God is unchanging in His being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and He acts and feels differently in response to different situations.” Beyond being changeless God is also timeless. Both of these concepts are found in the psalmist’s consolation in this passage (see 102:26-27). In the midst of his weakness, this child of God chose to cling to God’s ultimate prominence and infinite power as opposed to his own limitations. The Psalmist understood that contemplating our God’s immutability is a wonderful antidote to our insecurity. His comforting conclusion is found in verse 28: “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.”

So what’s the application? In ourselves we are insecure (and have every reason to be). But as blood-bought followers of Jesus our security and identity are found not in ourselves but in the unchanging immensity and integrity of God. And this becomes a reality when we embrace that “who we are” is found only in the person of God’s son, Jesus. And, even more amazing, His identity has been placed into us. This is Paul’s thought when he says in Colossians 2:6-7, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Walking in Him means that, no matter our situation, we are persevering in faith-filled hopefulness and trusting He is at work in us. In other words, Jesus, and nothing else, is our identity and security! We know this because we, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). This means that part of His good news is that, no matter how imperceptible it may be, He is building us up!

As we battle our insecurity with the immutability of God that is experienced through our union with Christ, let’s ponder James 1:17-18: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Consider what makes you feel whole, fulfilled, or complete. Is there something outside of Jesus that is your identity or security? Ask God to reveal and imprint the sufficiency of Christ in every aspect of your life and pray that you never look to anything or anyone else to make you feel complete.

Insecure? Let’s find our identity in “Jesus Christ [who] is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The God who promises that He never changes His mind or breaks His promises (Numbers 23:19). He is the One that has “granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Our immutable Lord is worthy of our faith – He can be trusted in our weakness. For through Him we have the confidence that only comes because we have “Christ in [us], the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Evangelical Churches Catch Suits From ‘Spirit’ Falls – ABC News

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (my first impulse is to cry) at this ABC News story. It seems as if charismatic churches are the target of numerous law suits alleging they are negligent when parishioners, while being “slain in the Spirit,” uncontrollably fall during their fits of ecstasy and injure themselves or other attendees.

I know we live in a ridiculously litigious society and decry the stereotypical “ambulance chasing lawyer,” but this is outrageous. Taking a clue, I guess, from the Nebraska State Senator who sued “God” and lost (see State Sen. Ernie Chambers Sues God – Omaha News Story – KETV Omaha), these folks have decided that suing the 3rd person of the Trinity would be considered frivolous by the court system. So they take legal action against churches that practice these types of services, during which they are presumably injured.

Which takes me to our focal passage. Now I’m in no way saying that these claimants are literally “grieving the Spirit” anymore than I’m saying that the defendants aren’t. I’m thinking about the broader context of Paul’s warning to the church at Ephesus. Grieving the Spirit is serious; it’s an affront to God. But the context here has much to do with our attitudes, words, and actions toward others. The Apostle talks about building others up in grace and putting away all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander. He tells us to be kind to others and to be forgivers. Doing, or not doing, these things can grieve the Spirit of God as well.

So the lesson to us? Though we may be disgusted by those would charge the church with negligence because they couldn’t litigate the Holy Spirit, we must be careful that we aren’t offending God in a different way. How do we treat others? How do we talk to and about them? Are we divisive; ones who harbor grudges? Our answers may indicate if we are potentially grieving the Spirit just as much as those who choose such senseless and despicable legal actions. Maybe the charge God would bring against us is that we grieve Him in our relationships with others, whether we file a suit against them or not.

Think about it!

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah…“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-4; 10-11).

Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God” – has comforted many a Christ-follower. And rightly so – it stands as a reminder that in the stiff winds of strife, suffering, and sorrow there is a sovereign God who still rules and reigns. And One who cares for and guides His chosen for His glory and their eternal good. Because of the power inherent in this command, we often forget the quote above is but the first half of this verse. It is also sometimes lost on us what the overarching theme and message of this song is. So what is the context here? What does this sentence infer? And, maybe most importantly, what does the phrase “Be still,” which has been the subject of much debate, actually mean? All of this, I believe, has a very practical application for us and does a great deal to help us to more fully know the God who is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Working from the back of Psalm 46 to the front, let’s take the last question first. According to Hebrew scholars (trust me, I’m not one of them) the term translated “Be still” (raphah) is interpreted in various ways. Literally, it could be translated “to be weak, to let go, or to release.” It also suggests to cease, desist, or surrender (hence the HCSB translates this verse as “Stop [your fighting]”). In order that you are encouraged to read on, that you know this isn’t just some academic discourse, this makes a huge difference.

This verse is telling us the posture necessary to know God (which should be our greatest goal) is one of weakness, dependence, and capitulation. Don’t miss the point: this verse is not just saying that we are to find a solitary place, get quiet, and ponder God. It is telling us that humbling ourselves before Him is the means to knowing Him, being gripped by His greatness, and finding strength based on His activity, comfort, and providence in our trials. This humility represents a spiritual disposition that ought to characterize those to whom God’s unfailing promises have been given. For a New Testament point of reference, read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount description of those who are the blessed dwellers in His kingdom (Matthew 5:3-6).

It is this kind of broken posture that leads us to better understand the nature of a God we can know, one who is described in the last half of verse 10 as “[the] God [who] will be exalted among the nations, [who] will be exalted in the earth!” This dictate – “be still” – forces us to think on two critical points: we are finite, and God is infinite. In other words, He is God and we aren’t! That being the case, we need to assume an attitude of weakness, dependence, and surrender so that we can “come, behold the works of Jehovah” (v. 8). Know that He is God, the psalmist cries! Know this practically, spiritually, and emotionally; not just intellectually. Our God is the ruler of the kingdoms of this earth and the all-powerful Creator of the universe. He has not lost control.

This leads us to the greater context of “Be still and know that I am God.” We see the works and witness of this great God is the 9 verses that precede our focal text. God has revealed the manifestations of His character, His acts of might and mercy, so that we might know Him and that we may enjoy a quiet confidence in Him who gave us his Son. Spiritual serenity, the psalmist indicates, ought to be cultivated in midst of the difficulties we face in this life. This inner calm that the writer professes does not come from a lack of troubles; instead it is nurtured in steady, deep reflection on the ways God has intervened in history on behalf of his people (see Romans 15:4). It is God’s work in the past that provides assurance in our present and our future. So, when our world seemingly crumbles around us, the call from Scripture is to not flinch, but to have faith in this great God of ours. Stand still, He decrees. Not because of a self-made confidence, not because we can cope or deal with life’s uncertainties, not because we have a plan. Instead, be strong and calm because of what we know about our God.

Now we see a certain progression as we work from the back to the front of this comforting passage. Brokenness leads to a greater knowledge of our incomprehensibly mighty God. Our faith in God is confirmed (and affirmed) as we recall His history of great works on behalf of His chosen children, including us. This means, no matter our situation or circumstances, as one of His beloved, we can be at rest and experience the tranquility that comes only from knowing that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Therefore, we will not fear even though the world around us convulses and we struggle under the heavy weight of our troubles. For “[He is] God. [He] will be exalted among the nations, [He] will be exalted in the earth!” And we can never be separated from His loving care. So in humility and faith-filled dependence, let’s “be still, and know that He is [our] God…The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Oral Roberts’ Son Arrested for Allegedly Speeding, Driving Drunk in Okla., Christian News

No one is a smaller fan of Richard Roberts and his ministry than I am. I consider his theology and ministry to be terribly misguided and a blemish on all that the true Gospel and Scripture stand for. But this is no time to cast stones. I’m praying for him, his family, and all those who follow him. I pray for all of those whose faith might falter due to this news. For, no matter the sin or the sinner in question, I couldn’t be more thankful that our Heavenly Father is a God of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and multiple second chances. And I write knowing this redemptive truth applies more to me than anyone else I know.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith…” (1 Timothy 4:1).

“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the falling away comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

As disheartening and shocking as it is, this USAToday article is a must read. It paints a very tragic portrait of the secularization and “lostness” of the country in which we live. And it breaks my heart. Read for yourself:

For many, ‘Losing My Religion’ isn’t just a song: It’s life

This piece reveals a vivid and ugly picture of the practical atheism that is pandemic in America. These unbelievers are euphemistically labeled as “apatheists.” The Bible would describe them asseparated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of [God] and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). 

Some snippets and statistics from this troublesome article:

“The real dirty little secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal,” says Mark Silk, professor of religion and public life at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.

“We live in a society today where it is acceptable now to say that they have no spiritual curiosity. At almost any other time in history, that would have been unacceptable,” Budde says.

“This is a disaster for Christians, says Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, “If you’re not worried about heaven, you won’t notice or care if Jesus is essential your salvation. You’re not thinking about any consequences,” McConnell says.  

Here are some appalling numbers, figures that should launch us into an impassioned crusade of Gospel proclamation and disciple-making that Jesus mandated in His Great Commission:

•44% told the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom,” and 19% said “it’s useless to search for meaning.”

•46% told a 2011 survey by Nashville-based evangelical research agency, LifeWay Research, they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.

•28% told LifeWay “it’s not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose.” And 18% scoffed that God has a purpose or plan for everyone. 

To further accentuate the dire nature of these numbers, hidden beneath these statistics are those who believe in God (or religion) but not the God of the Bible. These include various religions and belief systems outside of and even opposed to traditional Christianity (Islam, Buddhism, etc.).

Do we see these folks? Clearly they are all around us. We can find them where we work, at the store, in our neighborhood, and maybe even at church. USAToday makes it crystal clear they can be found everywhere in our culture. But are we really looking for them? This should serve as a siren’s warning and a powerful motivator to all who claim the name of Christ and profess to follow Him. Do we care? Do we care about those who don’t care, those who give no thought to the things of God and eternal matters? Do we love Him, and them, enough to tell them the truth and share with them the hope and joy found only in Jesus? I pray we do. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). And folks, that means us!

As uncomfortable as it is, I must close with a warning from the Apostle Peter. Why? Because it is the Word of God. It is true and must be said. Take heed, God has spoken and it will come to pass. Therefore, if you aren’t trusting and resting in the assurance and hope that is found only in surrendering by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, I plead with you to look at Him and look to Him, admit your sin, and cast yourself upon His mercy.

“…by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:1-8).

Although I in no way would promote myself as a great apologist for biblical faith (But shouldn’t we all be defenders of our belief system?), I do know that our worldview, the framework or lens through which we view life, is critical. It, it many ways, defines who we are (our character), determines our behavior (our conduct), and predicts our sense of well-being; happiness in this life and hope in our death (our contentment). One might say that they have no worldview but that is illogical. Having no worldview is a worldview in itself (much like saying that you have no opinion is an opinion in itself). So what is your worldview? 

According to Ravi Zacharias – probably the most eloquent, articulate, and influential Christian apologist of our day – one’s worldview can be condensed into 4 simple questions:  

  • What does one believe about the origin of all things, including life?
  • What is the basis of one’s morality or ethics?
  • What does one consider the basis of their purpose?
  • What one believes concerning what happens after death? 

This makes a lot of sense…even to me. Paul, the greatest human apologist that has ever lived, said to the church at Philippi that he was defending (which is what the word “apologist” means) and confirming the Gospel (1:7) and was called to the defense of God’s good news (1:16). So, looking at only his letter to that church, let’s see Paul’s answer to these 4 questions. 

Does Paul believe that Jesus (therefore God) is the sovereign ruler (and therefore creator and sustainer) over all? 

“…Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).

“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (3:20-21).

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19). 

What was the basis of Paul’s morality (his character and conduct)? 

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” (1:27).

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” (2:3).

…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (2:15). 

What was Paul’s life-purpose? 

“…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith…” (1:20-25). 

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” (3:7-8, 10). 

Where did Paul find his contentment – happiness in this life and hope in his physical death?

“…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (1:20-23).

“…holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (2:16-18).

“I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (3:14, HCSB). 

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (3:20-21). 

So what is your worldview? Or, in other words, what is the framework by which you think and live and hope. What determines your character, conduct, and contentment? Given his answers to these 4 essential questions, I agree with Paul. And I pray that you do too.

*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.   

Never is a good time for a funeral. With this in mind, on one snowy December night in East Tennessee, I found myself attending two. I didn’t look forward to either, but I forced myself to go. I’m so glad that I did because the events of that night created an inescapable and profound memory that changed me. The night played out like a parable: it taught a valuable lesson about life and, more importantly, death. 

As a pastor I had attended my share of funerals. Some were depressing, while others were celebratory. Some of the deceased were young and some were old. Some had professed Christ and some had not. Most of those for whom services were held died of natural causes, but occasional accidents and inexplicable suicides happened, too. Every victim of death left families and legacies behind. Those legacies played out at their final services. 

What I expected as I entered the funeral for a wealthy, prominent heart surgeon was the usual fare: a body, some grieving mourners, a simple sermon, and a quick exit by those made uncomfortable by death’s visit. But this night was unique: a sense of hopelessness and futility defined the evening. Dr. Gates was barely fifty but had achieved great earthly success and wealth. His services were held at an older funeral home. The room was dark and smelled musty. The mourners were primarily his older patients who seemed to know little about him personally. Only a handful of visitors gathered around the room and nearly all of the women wore expensive fur coats, including his ostentatiously dressed wife who was nearly thirty years his junior. The chapel was hauntingly quiet; the air was thick with morbidity. I felt that the atmosphere reeked with sadness and despondency: Jesus didn’t have any part in Dr. Gates’ life. Clearly there was no joy and very little evidence of faithful hope beyond this life. Also, I deeply sensed an overwhelming lack of real love. 

I left that dusty and dank funeral home and drove toward Jenny’s funeral. Jenny was 22 when she died. She had recently graduated college and had become engaged to one of my friends. Having little in the way of material possessions, she had one desire: to serve as a missionary. Jenny never achieved the dream. I felt as dreary as the inclement weather as I braved the icy roads and dodged inexperienced commuters to locate the church where her body lay. Surprisingly, it was easy to find; bright, welcoming lights shone on the pillars of the church’s entrance. The sound of singing streamed out of the building and into the night. 

Even though I was running late I stopped the car, paused and prayed. I remember that the prayer was more for me than the deceased or their families. After Dr. Gates’ funeral I needed God’s strength to face the next funeral and the seeming tragedy of such a young life’s end. But as I approached the entrance I realized that the singing I heard was anything but sad. I entered the church to find hundreds of folks crowding each pew standing and praising God in unison. “Victory in Jesus” was their joyous hymn. 

The eulogist at the service spoke of Jenny’s faith and ministerial dreams. He spoke of hope, love, glory, and Heaven. He extolled the infinite virtues of her majestic Lord. He confidently proclaimed that our friend was at home with Jesus and all was well. At Jenny’s funeral, joy was such an intense and prevailing theme that it made me jealous of her death. The words of psalmist rang in my ears and resonated in my soul, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). I saw firsthand why Paul felt confident to ask, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57). 

As I drove home that night, the snow stopped and the clouds receded. My mind, however, wasn’t on the weather. My heart explored the lesson taught by two diametrically opposed exits from this earth. The scene at Dr. Gates’ funeral reminded me of Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus. He described those outside of Christ as being “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Jenny’s service, on the other hand, pointed to death not as a sad, pointless end; but as a bridge to glorious, eternal life with Jesus.  “[She] overcame … by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [her] testimony” (Revelation 12:11a). 

Suddenly things became crystal clear. While Dr. Gates’ life may have seemed a success based on his financial worth and community standing, Jenny was the real winner. Though she had little of material value, she had Jesus. The testimony of her death trumpeted His truth.

When life’s curtain draws closed, nothing else really matters. Those who have Christ are the only ones who have anything of eternal value. For when our days on this earth reach a conclusion what do we really have to cling to but Him?

“For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body-so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many…Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has placed these in the church* (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-28).  

*For the purpose of this discussion, I will use Millard Erickson’s simple definition: The church is “the whole body of those who through Christ’s death have been savingly reconciled to God and have received new life… while universal in nature, it finds expressions in local groupings of believers that display the same qualities as does the body of Christ as a whole.” You can disagree with this premise if you prefer, but at least it is a starting point. 

Our Christian culture, like any other culture, is prone to buzz words. One pertinent one, “Body Life” was popular several years ago. More recently the terms “intentional” and “missional” have permeated our rhetoric. Two others – the subject of this discussion – “unchurched” and “dechurched” are commonly heard in the context of  “the vision of our church is to reach those who are unchurched and dechurched.” Although the intention may not be skewed, these terms concern me. Why? Because one might easily surmise that the goal of reaching the unchurched and dechurched is to get them “churched.” And, to me, that can be a problem, depending on one’s definition of the church. 

You might complain that I am straining at a gnat or arguing over semantics (and I may be) but seeing people “churched,” if that means seeing them become involved (or the ambiguous and sometimes dangerous of concept of  becoming a “church member”) in an institutional organization that bears the name “Christian” alone, then the effort is misguided. We all know that being an active or passive “member” of an institutional church really has little to do with someone being united with Christ or a part of the Body of Christ, His spiritual Bride. And in some cases the label “church member” is an impediment to people actually being united with Christ, being part of His Body in its truest sense. I’ve often said one of the greatest mission fields in America can be found sitting on pews (or other pieces of furniture) on Sunday morning. Far too many have religion (they are churched) but have not been made alive in dynamic relationship with Christ (being a part of His spiritual Body, the true church).  

Now I’m not saying that those who preach a mission of reaching the unchurched and dechurched do not have something more substantive in mind than promoting attendance or participation in an organized “Christian” gathering, but it could be interpreted that way. It all depends on what one means by the term “churched.” For we all know that term, in its most superficial sense, has nothing to do with someone moving from spiritual death to spiritual life, from being lost to being saved, to being adopted into God’s family. These things are not the manifestations of going to a physical (visible) church but an act of regeneration. As Wayne Grudem says, “Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. This is sometimes called “being born again (using language from John 3:3-9)” (see Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p. 699). 

Although not current, culturally relevant, seeker sensitive (another of those buzz words), or popular, what’s wrong with the terms “lost” and “saved?” Should not the goal of the true Body of Christ be to see people who are spiritually dead come alive in Christ, grow in His image, and be agents and ambassadors of His grace? Only then is one “churched” in the most biblical sense. After all, even Jesus Himself claimed that “[He] came to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).

For this reason I will share a passage with you. The first section describes what it means to be “lost.” The 2nd describes regeneration. And no matter if one is unchurched, dechurched, or a “church member” these truths apply. For I believe, in the end, it doesn’t come down to being “churched” in its most shallow definition, but to being redeemed and all that implies.  

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3). 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” ( Ephesians 2:4-9).

For an interesting article on this very subject, see Trevin Wax’s thoughts at Unchurched or Unsaved? What Our Vocabulary Reveals About Our Beliefs

“And [the son] arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.…the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate…And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20-22-24).

There is only one A&W root beer left in our refrigerator. After over a decade of a 12 pack being kept cool, I won’t be buying more anytime soon. I don’t drink root beer; my son does. But Samuel has moved away to graduate school, has his own apartment, and is looking for long-term employment. His frequent and treasured visits to the Wolfeden will be less common. Samuel is 23 and a man. He has now left home to make his mark in the world. He is moving forward to answer God’s call on his vocation, as he presently understands it. As we all know, this is sometimes difficult to determine due our sinfulness and human limitations. But he is trying, and he is seeking. God knows that it took me nearly 50 years to figure this out and still I sometimes wonder if I have.

As unwelcomed as this is to a parent, this is the way of life. I, too, left home for undergraduate studies and then, later, 7 hours away to seminary. Children grow up and move on. They find their way; they find their place. They discover, we earnestly pray, exactly where God wants them to be, doing precisely what He wants them to do. This is not an exact science and I pray forgiveness for any barriers that I have unwittingly created in Samuel’s pursuit of a life full of loving and serving his Savior. Mercifully, I’m confident that our God is big enough to overcome my poor choices and lack of wisdom. Parenting, as I have been consistently reminded, is not an exact science either, and is subject to the frailties and foibles of those who are blessed to parent.

Samuel isn’t going to a far country to sew his wild oats and waste his life – he’s only going 3 hours away to continue his studies at a Church of God university. He will carry on with his studies in psychology and today is his first day of classes. Why psychology? Maybe it’s to figure himself out or to understand and help others. Probably both. Maybe it’s to undo the ill-effects of my parenting. No matter the reason, he feels this is what he must do to grow up and move forward as an independent, responsible adult and a contributor to our culture and Christ’s kingdom. If, in the end, Samuel is pursuing his greatest purpose – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever – then he really isn’t leaving home at all but, instead, finding His God-ordained dwelling place. With that in mind, I wish Samuel our Lord’s best, fruit for his labor, and the joy of Jesus. It’s the least I could do after all the delight he has brought to me.

Don’t think for a second that he is a prodigal. Nothing could be further from the truth. I chose this passage because of the father’s reaction to His son’s return, not as a commentary on why Samuel left. It’s because, when he returns to visit, I will react in a similar fashion. No, there won’t be a splendid robe or a special ring and shoes. But a cow will have been sacrificed and the grill will be prepped for the finest steak his father can cook. There will be a celebration – probably muted by biblical standards, but a joyous event nonetheless. But there will be that root beer – the one that has remained in the fridge awaiting Samuel’s homecoming. And there will be another 12 pack already purchased, stored, and cool, in the hopes that he lingers for awhile and comes back again soon.

Samuel Wolfe, Rebekah and I, like the father in Jesus’ parable, longingly look forward to once again watching you drink that A&W, savoring a specially prepared ribeye, chatting about things both important and not, and enjoying the gladness that comes from you blessing us with your presence. We are so very, very proud of you! Godspeed!

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). 

One of the most glorious truths that a Christ-follower can cling to is that we are free. Jesus said, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Paul reiterated the importance of our freedom in Christ on numerous occasions but devoted nearly an entire letter, Galatians, to this truth. That epistle is punctuated with the proclamation of 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” So, concentrating on Jesus’ comments in John 8 and Peter’s thoughts in 1 Peter 1:18-23, let’s explore 3 critical aspects of the freedom found in our faith in Jesus. 

First, what are we freed from? In 1 Peter 1:18 Peter says it is the empty (or futile) way of our former life. Due to our inherited sin nature that was “handed down to [us] from [our] forefathers,” we were once enslaved to sin. We were formerly held captive by the god of this world and unable to break free from the allure, pleasure, and bondage of our sinful rebellion against God. In our unregenerate state, we were so imprisoned by our wicked ways that the Bible describes us as blind and dead. Paul summarizes this, and alludes to our only hope for freedom, when he stated, “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).  

Second, what are we freed by? When you think of someone being kidnapped and taken hostage (think of one of your favorite police or detective shows), it is typical for the suspects to demand a ransom for the victim’s freedom. They usually want cash…and loads of it. But, in God’s economy, it takes more than perishable things (and money, by the way, IS perishable) like silver and gold to ransom us from our slavery to sin. It takes the ultimate currency; the shed blood of Jesus. As Peter clearly states, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). We also know that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). So Christ’s blood is the only payment possible by which both our forgiveness and freedom could be purchased. His sacrifice has ransomed us and therefore He is our Redeemer. 

Thirdly, what are we freed for? Looking at 1 Peter 1:22-23, we see that we are not freed to go our own way…that’s what we are freed from: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” A. W. Pink said it this way: “Spiritual freedom is not a license to do as I please, but emancipation from the bondage of sin and Satan that I may do as I ought.”  

I think a story might be helpful here. Although probably more fiction than fact, this legend has often been told about Abraham Lincoln: 

One day when passing the slave auction, Lincoln noticed a young black girl about to be sold. Moved by her circumstance, we are told he bid for her and won. Immediately he told the shocked adolescent that she was free. She quickly began to ask questions. 

“What does that mean?”

“It means you are free,” Lincoln replied.

“Can I now say whatever I want to say?”

“Yes, you can say whatever you want to say.”

“Can I be whatever I want to be?”

“Yes, you can be whatever you want to be.”

“Can I go wherever I want to go?

“Yes, you can.” 

The girl, overcome with emotion, paused and finally said, “Then I will go with you.” 

You see, Jesus has ransomed us and freed us from the bondage of sin so that we can be with Him and be like Him. That’s what the Apostle is telling us in 1 Peter 1:18-23. We are not freed to go on our own way. We are freed to go His way and go with the power He now gives us to overcome that which once enslaved us. When Jesus once asked, after a particularly difficult teaching, if His disciples were going to desert Him along with so many others, Peter’s response says it all: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). 

Peter knew what we must know. Our Savior has freed us from sin so that we might follow Him.

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