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If you haven’t heard this, it is well worth reading. If you have, it’s worth reading again!!

Gospel Relevance

While preaching at this year’s Passion 2012 Conference, John Piper said that, after the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine has had more influence for Christianity than anyone else. Shocking words, to say the least, but what is more shocking (and encouraging) is Augustine’s testimony on how he came to faith in Christ.

He tells the story in his book Confessions, an autobiography written around AD 400. He had been listening to the preaching of Bishop Ambrose and, coming under great conviction of sin, met the Lord in an incredible way. He tells the story below.

So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighboring house a voice, as of a boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read.” Instantly, my countenance altered . . . I arose…

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“Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness-without it no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many” (Hebrew 12:14-15, HCSB).

As I see it, bitterness and forgiveness are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. One can’t be forgiving while harboring bitterness nor can a bitter person claim to be a forgiving person. It is also my opinion that someone who is clinging to a bitter spirit doesn’t understand or has not fully embraced the forgiveness that comes only from God’s grace. This takes on tremendous spiritual importance in light of Jesus’ words, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37) and Paul’s admonition that we are to be “accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must [forgive]” (Colossians 3:13).

Anyone who has been infected by bitterness knows that it can be so dominating that all of life is influenced by it. All sorts of spiritual, emotional, and even physical symptoms are typically manifested by it. But that’s not all. Bitterness destroys relationships – ours with both God and others. In Ephesians 4:31 Paul makes it clear that bitterness has some ugly cousins: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” None of these enhance our lives, promote the glory of God, or reflect the beauty of Jesus.

So let’s look at what the writer of Hebrews tells us about bitterness in 12:14-15. Given the epidemic proportions of this spiritual malady, I believe his words carry great weight and are well worth heeding. Let’s notice:

  • Bitterness is a severe hindrance to living in peace (v.14). We are commanded to live in peace to demonstrate the peace of God provided through Christ’s reconciliatory work at Calvary (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). We are even called ministers of reconciliation (a true counterpoint to bitterness and its ugly cousins).
  • Bitterness does not promote the pursuit of the holy life that God requires of His children (v. 14). Bitter people tend to do bad things. Ephesians 4:31 reminds us of the other attitudes and actions that inevitably spring from a bitter heart – wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice.
  • Bitterness is evidence that we don’t understand or have not embraced God’s grace/forgiveness (v. 15). Bitter people withhold grace and therefore God, in a real sense, withholds His grace and mercy from them. God’s forgiven people are, by His endowment of grace, forgiving followers. Bitterness blinds us to God’s forgiveness of us but when we bask in God’s unmerited favor we are freed from the sin of an unforgiving spirit and practice forgiveness. Jesus clearly stated this in the Sermon on the Mount in the Model Prayer and afterwards emphasized it: “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).
  • Bitterness is often an insidious and invisible spiritual flaw (v. 15). Roots are usually unseen but they supply the fuel that produces visible fruit. In other words, while one may not outwardly appear bitter, those infected with this spiritual disease will inevitably show fruit that will be the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22 (which I urge you to read and memorize).
  • Bitterness defiles us (v. 15). Jesus said, “Don’t you realize that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the [bitter] heart come evil thoughts, murders…false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:17-20).

I see 2 applications. The first is practical: Clinging to bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping someone else gets sick. The one who harbors unforgiveness and latent anger is the one who suffers the most, no matter how “innocent” they may be. The target of their inner rage tends to be affected less than the one who is unwilling to be reconciled. Secondly, bitterness shows a serious spiritual void. It suggests that someone who is unwilling to forgive has not been forgiven (by God) or they have refused to fully embrace His grace. Both options are a siren’s warning as to one’s spiritual condition.

So which will we choose; bitterness of forgiveness? Though lengthy, I will leave you with this parable of Jesus. It is well worth our serious consideration:

“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. “At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’ “At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. “Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers until he could pay everything that was owed. So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart” (Matthew 18:23-35).

*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.  

I’m always amazed when I consider what the early church did without. How, for example, was the early church able to function without ecclesiastical hierarchy? I can find no popes, bishops, presidents, vice presidents, or directors mentioned in the book of Acts; and while congregants trusted the leadership of the apostles, they didn’t seem to require a complex organizational chart to know who was responsible for what. Further, I see little proof of any committee that “organized’ the events at Pentecost (Acts 2), and I’m astonished by the absence of a “Committee on Committees” to oversee each house church’s evangelistic efforts and to keep all groups in check. When I heard of one modern church that named a Minister of Conflict Resolution, I thought, I bet Peter never considered appointing one of those! Soon after, I found myself wondering how the early church managed to win any souls for the Lord without modern “helps” in place. What I discovered changed the way I think about evangelism. 

Devoid of top heavy structure, the early church seemed to rely on an abundance of supernatural gifts and spontaneity to bring people to Christ. They didn’t need business administrators and marketing and advertizing campaigns. No one printed informational fliers and advertizing slicks to draw new people in. Congregants were unconcerned that they would run over budget or need to get the masses to pledge funds for an upcoming building program or to secure construction loans. They didn’t worry about the color of the carpet or whether or not stained glass would be most appropriate. Instead, they trusted God to provide for their needs and to draw people to Himself. 

One would think that the early church would need some type of church growth program to make sure they were on track for global evangelism. But they didn’t think to survey the crowds in the street that had gathered to celebrate Pentecost, and they weren’t particularly concerned with the advice of the latest pop-psychology guru or the throng’s “felt needs.” In fact, the early believers didn’t consider a seeker sensitive approach at all because they realized that “no one seeks God” (Romans 3:11). Given their lack of sophistication, then, one would predict only church growth futility among the first circles of believers. Instead, exponential growth quickly made Christianity a force to reckon with on the world stage. 

But what did the early church do without technology and media? There was no television, radio, God Tube, e-mail, tapes, DVD’s, or MP3’s to use to help new believers get connected and to grow in Christ. In fact, communicating the gospel used to happen primarily via personal relationships in which the Jewish Scriptures and some poorly circulated letters were shared (See Romans 10:17). The early church did without big-screen televisions. Yet even without high definition pictures and quality surround sound, people grew infatuated with the pure gospel and dedicated themselves to life-style evangelism.  

Many modern believers consider church without entertainment antiquated, yet the early church went without. Thespians, comedians, performers, and paid musicians are so commonplace now—worship and music style of a church ranking among the top three reasons that contemporary folks choose a church. No one within the original group of believers, however, had the creative vision of using a rock band called “Peter’s Call” to draw an amusement-infatuated crowd. Surprisingly, the early church cared little about crowd-pleasing; a fact highlighted by their obvious lack of Starbucks coffee and donuts to help congregants begin their day. But in spite of the early believer’s adherence to the archaic concept of drawing people to Christ through a culture of Christ-centered community, neighborly love, and the communication of transforming truth, the early church exploded with growth!  

Acts 2:40-41, 47 reports, “With many other words [Peter] warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day… And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The Lord was adding to his church by the thousands and doing so daily! Amazing! Obviously the church of Acts was prospering without all of the ministry tools to which we have become so accustomed and dependant. 

The tools that the contemporary church uses are not inherently wrong or unscriptural (and may, when rightly used, be helpful), but the early church’s approach was quite simple and had few moving parts. Listen to the description of their message:  

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:36-38). 

The early church had the supernaturally and exponentially powerful combination of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit at work on their side. I believe we are also capable of thriving in our modern churches should we choose to seek an extra measure of both and relinquish a few of our trappings in the process. It may be that many of our outreach tools have become a very poor facsimile for what we must promote and pursue: Jesus Christ. We must remember that the message our churches should send is that He is all we really need.

“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:15-17).

“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16-18).

*What Happens When Someone Calls a TV Show to Accept Christ? « Phil Cooke

After reading this article, troubling is an understatement. It makes me wonder what the goal of many ministries really is. Although this should be readily apparent to true students of the Bible, this piece is clearly indicative of the commercialism and shallowness that has infected the “church.” Nonetheless, we should be alarmed and aware of just how often contemporary ministries dilute, cheapen, or use the Gospel as a cloak for mammonism. Is there any wonder why so many who profess Christ fail to continue in the faith or grow into the image of Jesus? Shame on all who treat the Gospel of God with such disrespect. I’m convinced that the great evangelist Paul, looking at his comments to the churches at Rome and Corinth above, did not handle this great stewardship in such a careless and haphazard manner.

Here is an excerpt from the article above – you can form your own opinion:

“Our latest test also proved troubling…

Over 25 percent of the calls went to voicemail, with the outgoing message mentioning that it was “after hours.” (All calls were made on a weekday before 5:30 p.m. EST.) This included three of the largest broadcast ministries of our day.

Of the calls answered by a live operator, 17 percent of them led the caller through the scriptures, another 8 percent supplied an array of Bible verses for the donor to look up later, and 39 percent—far less than half—actually led the caller in the Sinner’s Prayer.

Clearly, not all of the operators were trained for such a call. In fact, during 28 percent of the calls, the operators seemed uneasy or unprepared. One even suggested, “Call your pastor…”

Thirteen percent of the ministries that answered the phone had a free resource or book that would help the caller understand the decision they had made and what the next steps should be.

But 28 percent tried to sell the “new convert” a product and 10 percent asked for a donation.

Not many ministries were willing to invest significant time for such a call:

37% spend less than two minutes on the call
27% spent two to five minutes on the call

(Yes, over 64% spend less than 5 minutes on salvation!)

23% spent six to ten minutes on the call
5% spent eleven to twenty minutes on the call
8% spent over twenty minutes on the call
In the end, the caller found that only 13 percent of the operators were warm, knowledgeable, and friendly.

A few other comments:

One well-known preacher who regularly includes a call for salvation in his messages, had an operator who avoided the question and insisted on a general prayer.

One operator of an “older” ministry did not take the question seriously.

Another mega preacher had an operator that was impatient and put caller on hold—leaving the caller to listen to an unending loop of sales pitches.

A new, edgy ministry told the caller to, “just talk and your message will be played on air.”

And still another ministry, known for its Baptist roots, had the call go to an elderly operator who could not make sense of the question, much less answer it.”

“So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun and the light are darkened, and the moon and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain; on the day when the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, the women who grind cease because they are few, and the ones who watch through the windows see dimly, and the doors at the street are shut while the sound of the mill fades; when one rises at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song grow faint. Also, they are afraid of heights and dangers on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper loses its spring, and the caper berry has no effect; for man is headed to his eternal home, and mourners will walk around in the street; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the jar is shattered at the spring, and the wheel is broken into the well; and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Everything is futile” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, HCSB). 

The night was designed to be a celebration and it was…but one with a sobering and ironic twist. Several on Rebekah’s side of the family had gathered at the house of her uncle and aunt who live in an affluent neighborhood in southwest Virginia. The gathering and dinner were in honor of our niece and her baptism. We were celebrating the public profession of her new and eternal life in Christ. And that is truly something worth rejoicing over.  

But soon after dinner the festive mood turned somber and reflective. Police cars and an ambulance, with sirens and lights blazing, arrived at a neighbor’s house, the property adjacent to our site. Everyone soon began to discuss what might be the problem. Between incoming phone calls and Uncle Bill’s neighborhood research, the details began to emerge. The man who lived in this large house, alone with his wife and pets, had taken his life by gunshot. The authorities found him in his blood-stained bedroom along with the weapon. In his 70’s, with no clear reason for his tragic and terminal decision, he was dead. 

Soon our speculation became rampant. Was he terminally ill? Did they have marital problems? Did an argument escalate and the eccentric wife actually pull the trigger? Rumor said that he had an alcohol problem…was this a contributing factor? Could the frightening rise of K2 and “Bath Salts” synthetic drugs in the area have been an influence? “My gracious,” Aunt Jane blurted out, “I just saw him walking the dog a few hours ago.” Although complete conjecture, everyone had become a sleuth is pursuit of the cause of this morbid event. No more spiritual or insightful than anyone else,  I said nothing. All I could think was, ‘This man is dead. And his soul has now transitioned to another place, good or bad. His opportunity to follow Jesus is gone.’ 

Some have said that suicide is the ultimate selfish act. I know from my own studies and ministry that those who take their own lives really don’t want to die; they just don’t want to live anymore and death is the lesser of the 2 painful evils. So they look outward and turn inward and don’t find enough reasons to keep on living. Could anything be much sadder? Uncle Bill made a soul-pricking comment: “This is such a commentary on the spiritual void that is so common in our world.” So true. Pushing away our suppositions about the circumstances surrounding this depressing event, there was something vital missing in this man’s life. Something so critical that what (Who) was absent created a hole so big that death appeared to be his best recourse. 

This is what the Teacher of Ecclesiastes is talking about in our focal passage. Life is hard and it gets harder. If we continue to live we will eventually bleed, we will inevitably have pain. Without God our existence is futile and we find no real satisfaction in our living or our dying. This principle is inescapable. Apart from Christ life can become unbearable – the spiritual void growing ever larger until we see zero joy and hope in our being…just emptiness. We may not pull the trigger that ends our earthly reality but we will just go through the motions, living out our days devoid of Who really matters. But that’s not life – that’s just ambulatory death.

But in Christ we can have new and eternal life. Through surrendered faith we can find our God-glorifying purpose by taking our brokenness to the cross and laying it at the feet of an infinitely life-giving, soul-satisfying, joy-producing Savior. And, if you haven’t already, I pray you do so before you become seemingly too hard or too tired or too beaten down by life to turn to the only One who can give you hope. 

So it behooves us all to be reminded of Ecclesiastes’ final axiom: “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this [is for] all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). Only by complete trust in the blood-soaked sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary – where He bore God’s righteous wrath – can we expect to receive God’s mercy and grace and all the immeasurable, eternal blessings that go with it…abundant life now and life everlasting.

*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.   

Duty is a burden, but delight is a pleasure. Perfunctory performance brings little satisfaction and joy. A sense of obligation can only motivate so much. Yet most of us classify our religion as a burdensome duty and certainly not a spontaneous delight. Isaiah 61:10 says, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah’s attitude toward serving the Lord was not one of grudging acceptance but reflected his joy in the privilege of a relationship with God. 

Unlike Isaiah, many modern believers approach their faith much as the Pharisees approached Judaism. These early leaders made the Jewish religion a burden (Luke 11:46). Under them serving God became a frustration. We need to recognize that duty bound service is neither what the Lord wants nor is it what we should experience. But why do so many of our religious endeavors feel more duty bound than delight driven? My own lifeless and weary faith compelled me to search the Scriptures for the source of true and lasting delight: the solution to the burden which seems to accompany religion. 

In Scripture God’s followers delighted in many things. They spoke as men and women not bound by duty, but as servants who basked in relationship. The 119th Psalm mentions the word “delight” on eight separate occasions: all but one are related to God’s Word. King David mentions God’s decrees, laws, commands, and statutes as “delightful.” He also speaks of finding delight in God’s works (Psalm 111:2). Isaiah indicates that we should delight in the Sabbath (Isaiah 58:13). Psalm 35:9 mentions delighting in our salvation. Paul also delighted in the Lord, rejoicing in his own weakness that God’s strength might be shown (2 Corinthians 12:10).  

What most amazed me as I searched for biblical references to delight is that it is actually part of God’s character. Scripture says that our God experiences delight: He delights in His creation (Proverbs 8:30); He delights in His obedient people (Deuteronomy 30:9); He delights in the well being of His servants (Psalm 35:27); and—not surprisingly—He delights in His Son (Isaiah 42:1). Our God is a God of delight and He is the source behind it. We must look to and delight in Him in order to find delight in anything else. This, then, is the critical link to accepting our faith with joy instead viewing it as a trial. 

Jesus was sent for us to delight in (Luke 1:14). So God is basically saying to His children, “Delight in Me.” As I intently focus on all that God is and all that He is to me, I find delight. I stop looking at my faith as a burden. I stop thinking about myself. As I gaze, ponder, magnify, adore, and extol the Lord’s infinite worth, I am filled with delight for Him and in Him. The Holy Spirit reveals His glory as I look at the majesty of the cross and the beauty of God.  

“God … is not far from each one of us,” Paul says in Acts 17:27-28, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” The wellspring of living and being is delighting in God. Job 22:25-26 states, “The Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you. Surely then you will find delight … and will lift up your face to God.” When God’s children pursue Him, we find the source of joy. The sense of duty is banished when our passion is to seek, to know, and to love God first and foremost; the end result is delight. That is why the psalmist says, “I [will] go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight” (Psalm 43:4). He looks forward to worshiping God. He wants to praise the source of his elation. 

When our joy is found in God, our delight comes full circle. After Isaiah delighted greatly in the Lord, he rejoiced. Only then did Isaiah begin to acknowledge and appreciate the Lord’s gifts of salvation and righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). When we begin to find our delight in God, we too will see the things of God as a glorious delight and not a burdensome duty.  

Jesus came that He might give us a delightfully abundant life (John 10:10). Pursue the joy He promised by pursuing Him.

MEGADETH Bassist: Why I Decided To Try To Become A Pastor

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10: 9-15).

I think most authentic followers of Christ would be a tad dubious of David Ellefson’s explanation of his work in the heavy metal band called MEGADETH, at least as it is explained in this article (link above). But who are we to say what this man has experienced? Although I know almost nothing about MEGADETH’s music or lyrics (not my genre), I’m prone to believe it wasn’t totally family friendly or God-honoring. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that even the worst of sinners (that would include me and the Apostle Paul) can come know a new, exciting existence in Christ. After all, those who have embraced Jesus know that it’s not about turning over a new leaf but finding new life in Him.

All judgementalism aside, what I would like to drill down on is the truth that is described in the name of Ellefson’s new ministry – MEGALife. He has moved, it seems, from MEGADETH to MEGALife. And whether or not God has truly transformed him and made him a new creation in Christ doesn’t change the truth that this is exactly what surrendering to Christ and dying to self does. We, by faith and through the Gospel, are delivered from spiritual death and birthed into spiritual life. Paul’s explanation is quite clear:

“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. 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 2:1-10).

Here are some of Jesus’ thoughts on how the miracle of this new birth takes place: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Jesus, His words, works, and witness, is the conduit that gives us this life and allows fallen and rebellious sinners (like me) to be brought into a breathing, dynamic, eternal relationship with holy God. This is Mega-Life! And this radical new birth is brought into being through God’s good news in the person of His only Son, the one who died that that His sheep might live. This means that I, you, and David Ellefson, through the transforming, life-giving power of the Gospel, can be moved from eternal death to eternal life.

This should give us conviction and courage! For those of us who have tasted the abundant life found only in Christ, we know there is hope for those dying apart from God’s life-giving and life-sustaining power. We have this mysterious treasure of the Gospel and are called to unashamedly testify to its power and purpose to move people from MEGADETH to MEGALife in Christ. With that in mind, let’s ponder and practice Paul’s admonition to Timothy – for in it we find the Gospel of eternal life and our required response to it:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:8-10).

Funny and, for many, will hit close to home. You know, I’d never even get an interview to date this guy’s daughter!

A cord of 3 strands

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“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:1-11).

The Bible is a narrative and must be read and studied that way. The stories of the Old Testament are not isolated but are critical components in Scripture’s redemptive drama. The account of Babel is but one example of how God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, moved these prophets and writers to share things which, on the surface, seem somewhat trivial. Only by looking forward do we begin to understand why these details are included for our edification.

Yes, the account of Babel is about pride, self-sufficiency, and rebellion. But it is also about how God uses the scattering of languages to bring Himself glory. This isn’t some random event – Scripture unfolds how the dispersion of people groups and the introduction of different languages and dialects would point people to the Gospel and to His greatness. We have to look forward and find, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

Let’s now go to Pentecost where we first see the church taking shape by the proclamation of the Gospel. You can read about it in Acts 2. Folks from numerous geographies with various languages had assembled for this celebration. With Holy Spirit power the disciples use this platform to announce the good news to the diverse masses. But there is a barrier to communicating to this disparate gathering – they spoke in various “tongues.” That’s because of the Babel incident that seemed insignificant, but now takes on new meaning. God knew what He was doing in Genesis 11 and the same is true in Acts 2. He now “gifts” these new believers with the supernatural ability to communicate God’s truth in these foreign languages, “tongues” that were unknown to them.

This miraculous event sparked the first revival in the church as thousands embraced the truth of Jesus and His Gospel. This also initiated the first missions campaign – these new converts went back home and indigenously shared their experience in their native tongue. Now the church’s trajectory and momentum took it outside of Jerusalem and to other people groups and lands. How supernaturally God had overcome and used the language barrier He Himself had created shows His sovereignty, and gives us a glimpse into His mysterious methods for pointing all of creation to Himself.

But the amazing narrative that started in Shinar continues. If we go further we see how the idea of scattered languages and people is further connected to the Gospel and God’s glory. You see, He dispersed them so that He could unite them in one voice and as one people, worshippers whose minds and hearts (unlike the rebels of Babel) are now, by the grace of the Gospel, focused solely on Him and His glory. Now let’s go to Revelation 5:9-14:

“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

And now we see the rest of the story. God scattered sinful, rebellious humanity and created the confusion of different languages at Babel. But He did so that He could, through the Gospel, unify His redeemed into one glorious place and give them one majestic language of exultation to trumpet His glory and worship in His presence forever. From Babel to Pentecost and then to the glorious vision of the Heavenly throne, God was working out His plan that He might be glorified.

*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.   

All who’ve received Christ inherit a marvelous gift: spiritual freedom. In Jeremiah 33:8 the Lord says, “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion.” Quite literally, He lifts sin’s stranglehold. In John 16:8 Jesus explains the role of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who dwells in all believers: “[He] … convict[s] the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” Though believers are no longer bound to sin, we still require a counselor to guard our ways. The Holy Spirit checks the heart of each Christ-follower, gently prodding him or her to stay in tune with the Lord. This He does not to condemn us, but to guide us in the abundant life Christ offers. 

I’m constantly amazed at the number of professing believers mired in a pit of toxic guilt. Rather than accepting the Spirit’s leading with joy, they become despondent and defeated, wallowing in past mistakes and the sins which cause them to experience little motivation to serve the kingdom. We must understand that while the Holy Spirit does convict us of sin, He does not paralyze us with shame. Everything He does guides us closer to Jesus, the source of all truth (John 16:13).  

The Holy Spirit does not condemn us. He merely convicts us of the reality and guilt of sin, thereby reminding us that we are sinners in need of Christ’s salvation. We can’t get by without Him; righteous Jesus is our only hope. Conviction is meant to nudge us closer to the source of life and mercy. When we focus on our guilty feelings instead of reaching out to Christ, we quickly become completely self-absorbed. We mentally scold and abuse ourselves until we think not of realigning ourselves with Christ but only of our own failure. This form of self-flagellation causes us spiritual paralysis and a morbid and lifeless disposition. Those entranced with this cancerous syndrome shelve their Christian service and give up on abundant life. In this process Satan gains an upper hand. By deceiving us into a depressing malady of defeat and paralysis, he induces a spiritual coma that sidelines us from our calling and purpose. 

This is not an issue of self-esteem – just the opposite. Believers shackled by shame and toxic guilt share a commonality; they hold too low a view of Jesus! They allow guilty feelings to diminish and demean the power of Christ’s death as if it was not enough to cover all their sins. In wallowing in self defeat, we suggest that Christ’s atonement was insufficient. At that point our feelings of unforgiveness supersede the fact of His perfect sacrifice.  

True, without the Lord, we are all “without hope … in this world” (Ephesians 2:12). We cannot save ourselves or remove the shame of our sin. The beauty of the gospel, however, is that God gave us the gift of Himself and declared us righteous through His Son. Jesus became our perfect high priest and intercessor. Hebrews 2:17 says, “For this reason [Christ] had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” That same pure and exalted high priest intercedes for us before God, arguing for His righteousness as our standing before a holy God (Hebrews 7:25).  

When we receive Christ in faith, He forgives all our sins—past, present, and future. This is not to say we should willfully keep on sinning or become insensitive to the urgings of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we should embrace the freedom Jesus offers as a gift while constantly pursuing Him and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Calvary and His resurrection mark the victory over our failures. When we receive Christ we can live with liberty. His infinitely valuable sacrifice gives us freedom to be and do what He calls us to.  

In accepting Christ’s remedy for our guilt we become motivated to live and speak by His power and for His glory. Second Corinthians 5:17 reminds us that those who are in Christ are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We must turn our attention to the Lord and away from ourselves. Let us pursue Him as the only One with the power and provision necessary to free us. When we daily respond to His urgings, our lives will testify to His transcendent glory and infinite worth.

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