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Contend for the Faith

Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  Hebrews 10:33-35

Our country has become a virtual cafeteria of different religions, cults, and non-Christian world views that are all vying for supremacy on America’s religious landscape.  Our country is also currently confronted by many tough domestic and global issues.  We need Christian wisdom and biblical discernment as never before.  

Ron Rhodes, 5 Minute Apologetics for Today

That phone call that dreary night will never be forgotten, at least by me.  And I wasn’t even the person in trouble.  I wasn’t the one who desperately needed to hear the right words to save a life.  But I was in need of knowing the right words to say.  And because I didn’t have the wisdom, the strength of faith I have now, I must take part of the blame for ending a life that night.  

My friend’s voice was filled with desperation.  She was pregnant.  She was also just 19, a college student far from home, a woman who was having an affair with a married man (who had also gotten another woman pregnant).  I had counseled her before, over and over, trying to get her to stop seeing this man.  He was slimy and untrustworthy.  But of course, he was oh so different with her – a genuine prince apparently.  And so, a life of unwanted, unprepared motherhood was staring at her in the face.  What would she tell her parents?  How could she show her face?  My immediate response? “You must get an abortion of course.”  

This young woman who dreamed of being married one day and having many children was looking for a way to erase her mistakes.  To reboot her dream of becoming a nurse first then having a family.  And I helped her take what seemed to be the easy path.  We washed our hands of it all and moved forward with both our lives.  But I have never forgotten what I did.  And I doubt she has either.

I wasn’t a Christian at the time but I was a member of the human race.  A person that valued fairness and justice.  A person who for the most part thought she was a “good person.”  I had no one in my life telling me different, showing me a different way.  It wasn’t until I drew closer to Jesus that I realized how far from the truth I was really living.  

The problem was I then swung too far in the other direction.  I took up the mantle of “truth” and forgot about the Royal Commandment – to love one another.  And I think when we Christians get ourselves mired in political and social issues we can forget about that place of balance that God seeks for us.  We can forget about what we are really needing to accomplish in God’s name.

In the United States, the Republican/conservative/right leaning parties are automatically associated with Christians.  And yes, there are many of the same values involved.  But to assign our faith to one political party’s platform is a mistake in so many ways.  For one, it politicizes the message of Jesus. For another it assumes that all party stances are within the biblical realm.  It also assumes there aren’t people in other parties that profess their Christian faith.  

And so, when we come personally up against a faith/biblical/moral issue we may frequently pull back from our commission of helping others out of a sin-filled life because we don’t want to be labeled a “right winger,” a “bigot,” a “nut job” or any other derogatory statements.

To be fair, too many of our churches have either abdicated their responsibility to teach their flock about so many hot button issues such as homosexuality and abortion and how to respond correctly.  While others have so politicized their churches you can’t tell the difference on a Sunday between a patriot rally and a sermon.

A new friend of mine told me how she was visiting various churches trying to find a new church home.  One visit took place on the 4th of July – the U.S. Day of Independence.  As she stood for the beginning worship, she noticed all the songs were patriotic ones.  And when the US flag was marched in by worshippers, she got up to leave.  At the door the pastor stopped her and asked why she was leaving.  Her response?  “I came to worship God, not the United States.”  She loves her country but her love of God doesn’t have anything to do with her country.

And so, like the women in my Bible study groups we ask questions that our churches fail to address or in the way they need to be addressed.  We feel safe to dig deep into what the Bible truly says about homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion, and more.  But we aren’t theologians – that’s why we go to church.   To hear the Word of God taught to us in ways we can turn around and use them out in the world.  It’s sad, to be honest, to hear Christians desperate for knowledge and yet left unfed week after week.

One of the ladies in my study group recently had a profound breakthrough related to this topic.  She is very sweet and prides herself on creating good relationships.  But she realizes her desire to not “rock any boat” has also been an excuse for not speaking the truth + love when it is needed most.  “I’ve realized that in the past I had the excuse of being naïve as to the expectation of what God wants from me.  But I can’t use that excuse anymore.  I know he wants me to contend for the faith.  I know what is truly at stake.  I’m now struggling to see what that looks like for me,” she said.

I’m not going to take each major issue facing our world today because I am not a theologian with lots of important degrees to back up my words.  But I will direct you to the steps you might take to be better prepared when your friend tells you their daughter wants to start hormone treatments to become a man.   Or, when your co-worker tells you that having a nice house in a nice neighborhood is white privilege and you should be ashamed.  We also need to be prepared to step back and know when a political issue maybe doesn’t have any biblical connection at all and just must be looked at from a “good citizen” point of view.  Because yes, not everything we deal with is a faith hill to die on – but how we deal with those issues is.

You’ll remember at the beginning of this post I referenced the book 5 Minute Apologetics for Today.  It was written in 2010.  But you’ll find most of the issues we face currently.  It’s a great, easy read for giving us biblical perspectives.  In addition, here are 4 steps that were recently explained in my current Bible study on Jude.  

As background, Jude (Jesus’ brother) was writing to a church that was infiltrated by false teachers.  Teachers who were leading lives and encouraging believers to give themselves over to sexual immorality and more.  Towards the end of his letter, before he tells the believers how to confront the false teachers, he gives them these four pieces of advice:

  1. Build up your knowledge and confidence in the Word.  Learn about and study the Bible, God’s character, His promises and the judgment to come.  Be immersed by also finding a good biblical teaching church – not one that just tells you some good stories each week.  Join Bible studies and do the work! Jude 20/Eph 2:19
  2. Pray not in the flesh but in the Spirit.  Go to the Holy Spirit and ask for help in what to pray.  By doing so you’ll show God your dependence on Him.  Ask for help in knowing what issues you should be concerned about and which you should just leave alone. Jude 20/Rom 8:26-27
  3. Keep yourself in the love of God.  Fight to resist your own passions and doctrine that keeps you separated from God.  Lean into God for His promises and His direction. Jude 21/John 15:9
  4. Stay in the hope of the mercy that is waiting for you.  As Jackie Hill Perry says about this, “We have been saved from God’s wrath for God.”  The knowledge and hope of what is to come when Jesus returns should feel like a protection.   We have something better in store for us than man’s approval.  We need to keep our sights on this so the persecution we might face doesn’t silence us. Jude 21/Heb 11:25-26

On a final note, I want to encourage you to do a study on Revelation.  It helps to do it with others.  Don’t just read Revelation.  It’s probably too confusing to be honest.  A good study with people you trust will reveal to you what so many of our churches seem to fail to remind us each and every week – that judgment is coming to all.  We have a greater commission than just being “nice Christians.”  We are commissioned to help God save souls.  We might want to start in our own households.

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Living In The Light

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 
2 Corinthians 4:6

I’ve been thinking a lot about separateness lately.  As the world seems to move farther and farther away from the message of Christ, I find myself feeling separated from so much of the goings on.  Politics, social and moral issues that the world promotes appear to be so upside down.  At times I’ve asked, “Where is God in all of this?”

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” 

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“What on earth is He up to?” is, I suppose, the better question.  Since the beginning of time God’s work has been about separateness.  He separated the dark from the light.  The land from the sea.  The heavens from the earth.  He even set apart man from beast.  And when He commanded that there would be light it also meant He would set apart good from evil.  From that day on He started working in our hearts to bring us into the light.  The light that Jesus gave direct access to through His sacrifice.

I’ve been visiting a new church with my husband.  The pastor is Adriel Sanchez.  Some of you may recognize him as one of the duo from Core Christianity – a podcast and radio show heard around the world.  His church has begun a new series on Genesis.  And he spoke on the creation of light and dark.  

God created beauty, order and light and He didn’t need ingredients.  He made them out of nothing, darkness.

Pastor Adriel Sanchez

He went on to put the Jewish (and eventually Christian) creation story in to context.  The Jews were most likely wandering in the desert when this story was possibly given to Moses from God.  Their lives were dark and chaotic.  And while other religions of the time, just like today, have their own creation story, those religions created gods out of what was created – the Sun God, Moon God, God of Nature, etc.  You’ll notice in Genesis that the sun and moon aren’t called those names.  Possibly to avoid man from elevating them to a worshipping status.  God created all the things that these other religions made into little gods.

We weren’t created to serve the sun, the moon, or nature.  They were created FOR man by God.

Pastor Adriel Sanchez

When you think about what God did for us humans it’s pretty amazing.  Think about a gift you received that was the best gift ever.  Do you remember how you thanked the person who gave it to you?  Now imagine this gift that God gave us.  The light, the land, the skies, the animals.  How could we ever thank Him enough?  All He has ever asked of us is to set ourselves apart from the darkness. 

Our hearts are like the wilderness – dark and chaotic.  And God says to our hearts, “Let there be light!

Pastor Adriel Sanchez

So let’s go back to C.S. Lewis’ imagery of rebuilding the house.  God is working on rebuilding the world.  God works on large scale projects while also working on our tiny little bathroom remodel.  It’s the same work schedule He has maintained throughout history. There’s a lot of knocking down walls going on.  And with that comes a lot of pushback from people who don’t want the light to enter in the room.  They enjoy living in the darkness in order to put themselves and their desires at their center.   

I’ve heard people talk disparaging about the Bible – its violence especially.  Many uneducated about the Bible take issue with destroying whole towns and killing off all the residents.  But put in context it was a major remodel taking place.  Those cities were rife with termites and rot.  Child sacrifices and unbridled sexual exploits all in the name of satisfying some fertility god were rampant.  They were just plain evil.  

And while God was using other people and the Jews to destroy those darkened places He made it a point to work in each and every Israelite’s heart.  He cared about behavior but He cared more for bringing light to their hearts and minds.  They were to act like people set apart from the darkness. He cared enough about us, as individuals, to first send His Son and then leave us with the light of His Holy Spirit to dwell in each of us.

It’s hard to live set apart from the world.  It may cause our faith, at times, to wane.  But I’m finding when I change my question from “Where is God?” to “What on earth is He up to?” it helps me to see His work in me and the world.  For when I see my Savior I surely want to be remodeled, a house full of light.

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A Clean Sweep

One of my favorite types of tv shows are the ones where brave souls go in and clean out other people’s houses.  In one show, just one room was to be completely re-done.  The host would help the homeowner remove all the items from that room and put them out on their front lawn.  There were three piles: Keep, Toss, Sell.   I’m a confessed tv “back talker” so I yell at and talk to the tv all the time.  What typically happens during these shows is I yell at the homeowner saying, “What on earth do you need that for?” or “That is the ugliest chair I have ever seen!  Get rid of it!”  I’m always mystified by the amount of junk people pile up in their homes and how difficult it is for them to get rid of it all – even under the threat of eviction or possibly social services removing their children.

Most of us look at a hoarder’s life and recognize how destructive it is.  The filth, the squalor, the sheer quantity of stuff is appalling.  We sit in judgement thinking, “I would never get to that point in my life.”  The truth is a hoarder’s problem isn’t with the “stuff” it’s with their heart.  Even on shows such as “Biggest Loser” we find most contestant’s real issues lie within their hearts, it’s just that they have turned to food to fix their pain.

“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you, which can save you.”  

James 1:21

Now doesn’t that sound easy?  Just about as easy as a hoarder having to let go of the paper their 40 year old son wrote as a second grader. On day 1 James made it clear we would have trials and tribulations.  Some of us have been physically or emotionally abused.  Others have been neglected by loved ones.  While others have experienced unbearable loss – of a child, a parent, a friend, a job, a home.  And there are the multitudes whose dreams and hopes have yet to materialize.  And yet none of those gives us license by God to sin, to bring “moral filth” into our lives.

Warren Wiersbe says this about filling our lives with immorality:

“For God to be able to use us as vessels we must be empty, clean, and available.  He will take us and use us for His glory.  But if we are filled with sin or defiled by disobedience, He will first have to purge us.”

Purge us.  That is the death we read about frequently in the Bible.  In Matthew 16: 16, Jesus states this, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”   We purge the world from our hearts and minds and live a life worthy of being God’s vessel.

Some might think this means we take away freedoms, we remove fun and laughter, we become like monks or nuns.  But think back to a hoarder’s house that is now cleaned out.  Or even your own house after a good purging and cleaning.  We breathe a sigh, put our hands on our hips and declare, this is good, this is real good.  We even start imagining being able to invite our friends over for dinner, new uses for that now empty cupboard, or how easy it is to find what you need.  We feel a sense of freedom, of joy, of completeness.

It may be hard work but a clean house sure feels good!

Now take that same feeling and apply it to our other actions or decisions.  Do you have that same sense?  When we are unforgiving, rude, vengeful, deceitful, unfaithful, untrustworthy, does that give you the same feelings of joy?

One of the reasons we might not take a stand against the filth infiltrating our lives is the fear of man.  In fact, the disciple Peter was a great example of this.  He talked a good talk about being faithful to Jesus and the other disciples.  But when it came time to stand firm, he chose to protect himself.  He was afraid of what servant girls would think or do to him if he confirmed he was a disciple.  And yet, in John 18:15 the story clearly states “another disciple” also stood with Jesus in front of his accuser.  That unnamed disciple wasn’t afraid of man.  He wasn’t afraid to declare himself a follower of Jesus.  What in your life do you know is wrong, is moral filth, and yet you are afraid of the people around you attacking you or judging you should you declare it would no longer be a part of your life?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said about constantly fighting the battle against the moral filth of the world, “When all is said and done the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every weapon against the flesh.”  Meaning just like a severely overweight person who needs to battle their demons to help them lose weight, the road to cleaning our hearts and minds is constant and challenging.

Even Nelson Mandela said,

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”


So how do we go about this cleansing?  We definitely don’t want to be like the Pharisees that Matthew admonishes in 23:25, “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”  Remembering that James is written to people who profess to be Christians, we need a heart and mind change, not just a physical one.

Have a conversation with God: We already know some of the areas of our life that don’t measure up to God’s desires for us.  But He may also reveal other areas that we have hidden away, possibly underlying causes for our behavior and actions.  Ask Him to shine a light on your “moral filth.”  Ask him to take it away.  Ask him to strengthen you.  Ask Him first thing in the morning to set up your day for success.  Ask Him to help you as you encounter your trouble areas, thank Him for His protection.

“In the morning Lord you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

Psalm 5:3

Listen to God: He speaks to us through His Word, the Holy Bible so read it and study it like any other self-help book.  Write down passages that speak to your particular issues and needs.  He speaks to us through other people.  There are probably people in your life already telling you what areas need to be cleansed.  Stop being defensive and start being thankful!  God whispers to us directly and guides us.  If, as you’re walking into the bar you know you shouldn’t and that voice keeps telling you to go home, then go home.  Stop ignoring Him.

“I will listen to what God the lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants.”

Psalm 85:8

Act on His Words: We all know people whose lives are a mess.  They’ve heard the message over and over about how to fix their lives.  The part that’s missing is just doing it.  When we absolutely know we shouldn’t text that person and yet do it anyway we dismiss God’s will.  The recognition that God is the most powerful, all seeing, all knowing being must be part of our lives.  We can’t hide from God.  We can think we are deceiving Him but we aren’t.  He is our “over watch,” – He looks ahead and see the enemy’s position and provides us protection.  But if we choose to take a different path we put ourselves in danger.

“Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.”

Psalm 37:27

What is distracting you or holding you back from fully following Christ?  What rooms in your life need to be purged and left clean?  Ask God for his loving spotlight to shine in every recessed area.  Listen for His guidance.  And walk with faith and strength knowing He is guiding you.

What is an area that you are struggling with the most when it comes to following Christ?