Not ashamed

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…

Romans 1:14-17

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. He was not ashamed of being a follower of Jesus. He was not ashamed of telling people about Jesus and about salvation. He was honored to get to be adopted into the family of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He was honored to have the Spirit of the Living God dwelling in him. Talking about the gospel was as natural to Paul as talking about his shoes or his elbow.

When we talk about Jesus to those who do not believe, we don’t need to be timid about it. Talking to others about Jesus is like talking to your kids about sex. If you are ashamed and awkward and embarrassed about it then you nonverbally communicate that this topic is shameful, awkward, and embarrassing. But if you talk about it as it truly is – a good gift, normal, natural, a blessing – then your nonverbals will communicate the same.

To Timothy, Paul’s protege, Paul wrote this at the end of his life:

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. 

2 Timothy 1:7-9

We’ve been given a Spirit of power. We’ve been given the gospel which is the power of God for all who believe. We’ve been given a Spirit of love. So we don’t need to be embarrassed or timid or ashamed of the testimony about Jesus. Even if we get ridiculed for it, we can endure such a small bit of suffering by the power of God. After all, we have been saved, rescued, restored, redeemed and made a new creation in Christ. We’ve been called to a holy life, not because we were worthy, but because of God’s own purpose and grace.

Who are we to remain silent about such a gift?

Children of God

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering sin order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:14-17

Every person in the world is loved by God. Every human being is created in God’s image. Because of this, some people think this means that every person is a child of God. We’ve heard people say, “We are all God’s children.” Yet, that isn’t what we read over and over again in scripture.

Every person is invited into the family of God, but not everyone has accepted that invitation. Scripture is clear. We aren’t children of God from birth. We become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. When we receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Those who are led by the Spirit are children of God.

So while everyone is loved by God, not every person is a child of God. It takes faith in Jesus to be adopted into the family of God. Paul said it this way to the Galatians:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

There are some key phrases in that passage. “In Christ Jesus” we are children of God “through faith.” And, “if you belong to Christ” then you are an heir in the family of God. These are important qualifiers. We must belong to Christ, through faith, in order to be considered a child of God. John says something similar in his Gospel:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 1:12-13

According to John’s Gospel, the right to become children of God is a special right. It is not automatic. It is something we become. And the ones who have been given the right to become children of God, born of God, are the ones “who did receive him” and “believed in his hame,” that is, Jesus. The message is clear. We must receive Jesus into our life and believe in Him in order to become children of God.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 

1 John 3:1-2

Notice that there is a separation between “the world” and the “children of God.” The world has a hard time with children of God because it had a hard time with Jesus. This distinction would make no sense if everyone in the world was automatically a child of God. Yes, everyone is loved by God. Yes, everyone has been created in God’s image. But no, not everyone is a child of God, not until they give their life to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.

The old platitude that “we are all God’s children” may sound nice, but it’s just not true. All are invited into the family of God, but not all have accepted the invitation. We are not automatically children of God. We become children, adopted into the family, through faith in Jesus. Through that faith in His name we receive the Holy Spirit, who is our sign and seal that we are in the family of God.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…

Ephesians 1:13-14

Beginning Grateful

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:16-20

Jesus sent out the seventy-two to do the stuff of ministry. Their privilege, and ours, is that not only did they get to operate in the authority of Christ but they got to be His ambassadors. Anyone who listened to them teach about the Kingdom was listening to Jesus. Anyone who rejected them was rejecting Jesus. As Jesus was sent by the Father to represent the Father, Jesus was sending them to represent Jesus. He does the same with us.

And notice where gratitude is supposed to start. When we operate in the authority of Christ as the ambassadors of Christ our gratitude can’t be dependent on ministry results. No doubt, I have experienced the thrill of seeing the power of God move and people get set free from demonic darkness. I see this almost weekly. It is a wonder and a miracle, and it is an absolute privilege to be Jesus’s hands and feet in those moments. But Jesus teaches us here in this scripture passage that our gratitude can’t start there.

Jesus wants our gratitude to start much further back. The greatest miracle is our own salvation. The greatest miracle is that Jesus took our punishment upon himself and, in exchange, gave us His peace. Our gratitude begins with the ridiculous notion that I am forgiven for all of my sin, not because of something I have done, but because of what God has done for me. My name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. And not only am I washed clean of my sin because of the blood of Jesus, but I am given new life because of His resurrection from the grave. Gratitude begins here.

When life and ministry get hard, we have to return to this point of gratitude. We have to return to the basics of being grateful that we have been given eternal life, though we didn’t deserve it. Everything else is icing on the cake. This life is a blip on the radar screen of eternity. James says it this way, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

If we can go back and be grateful for our salvation, then we can begin to be grateful for the rest of life. Rather than complaining about the hardships of life, we can begin to be grateful that we even have a life. Rather than grumbling about work, we can be grateful that we have a job and an income. Rather than complaining about friends and family, we can be grateful for their love and presence in our life. Rather than wishing we were used by God in different ways or better ways, we can be grateful that we are being used by God at all. What an incredible privilege that God would use someone like me! This is how John said it:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 

1 John 3:1-2

And I love how Paul says something similar in his letter to his protege Timothy:

I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:13-17

May we echo the words of John and Paul in our own hearts. May our gratitude start at the ground level of the cross. May it begin at the point of our salvation and grow from there.

Your Faith Has Healed You

There is so much misunderstanding around the connection between faith and healing. What really confuses people is when Jesus tells the person who got healed that their faith has healed them. There are three main incidents of this in the Gospel accounts.

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5:34

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:52

Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:19

The first one is with the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. She touches the edge of Jesus’s robe and is healed. Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” The second one is blind Bartimaeus. After calling out to Jesus, Bartimaeus is invited over to Him. Jesus heals him and says, “your faith has healed you.”

The third incident is with 10 lepers that approach Jesus for healing. They travel together as a leper colony and together ask Jesus to heal them. He sends them away to show themselves to the priests, and “as they went” they were completely healed from leprosy. Even though all of them were physically healed, only one returns to give thanks. He is a Samaritan. Jesus tells this one that his faith has made him well. The word used here in the Greek is sozo meaning saved, healed, and delivered. More than just physically healed, this man who returned is healed at a deeper level, at the level of his soul, because of his faith.

What our western mindsets do with these accounts is to reverse the logic. We wrongly assume that if their faith healed them, then if someone isn’t healed it is because of a lack of faith on the part of the person seeking healing. This misunderstanding has been perpetuated in some corners of the charismatic tradition and has led to some really toxic practices in the church. But we must take these incidents together with other healings we see Jesus perform.

In the Gospel of Mark we see Jesus heal a man with leprosy who isn’t sure Jesus is willing to heal him. The man prefaced his request for healing with, “If you are willing…” (Mark 1:40-41). In the same Gospel we see a father bring his son to Jesus asking for healing and deliverance. This father prefaced his request with “…if you can do anything…” (Mark 9:22-24). This dad isn’t even sure Jesus is able to do anything. Neither one of these guys show tremendous faith, and yet Jesus still heals.

We also see a couple times where Jesus heals someone not because of the faith of the person needing healing but because of the faith of a friend or family member. When Jesus heals the paralyzed man on the mat who is lowered through the roof, it is because Jesus sees “their faith,” meaning the faith of the friends lowering their friend through the roof (Luke 5:20). When Jesus heals and delivers the daughter of the Canaanite woman, he acknowledges the mother’s faith, not the daughter’s (Matthew 15:28). When the centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant who is paralyzed and suffering, Jesus did so based on the centurion’s faith, not the servant’s (Matthew 8:10).

What we learn from these accounts is that faith, among other things, is a conduit of healing power. Yet, while it seems that faith has to be somewhere in the equation, it doesn’t have to be found in the person asking for healing. In cases where people have little or no faith, Jesus himself has plenty of faith to act as the conduit of healing. In other cases, the friend or family member provide more than enough faith to be a conduit for healing.

So, let’s return to the times Jesus said, “your faith has healed you.” What is Jesus really saying? I believe Jesus is giving a word of encouragement to the person who is seeking the healing. I believe Jesus is saying something like this, “When you came to ask for healing, I didn’t have to use any of my own faith as a conduit for healing. And it didn’t require any faith from your friends or family. When you came, you came with so much faith that your own faith was enough to be a conduit of your own healing!” Taken this way, we can see that Jesus’s words are mean to empower. (Imagine how empowering those words would be to a person who lived in a religious culture that assumed their physical ailment was a result of a lack of faithfulness on their part–see Luke 13:1-5.)

Let me conclude by stating clearly that faith is not the only variable impacting whether someone experiences healing. There are lots of variables, some of them mysterious and others unknowable. But what we learn from scripture is that of all the variables that are involved in healing, faith is one of them. Not the only one, but one nonetheless. And while it needs to be present, it doesn’t have to be present in the person needing healing. It can be present in the person praying. It can be present in a family member or friend. It just needs to be in the room somewhere and that’s all God needs to use it as a conduit for healing.

Neither

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” 

Joshua 5:13-14

This is astounding. The commander of the angel armies of the Lord stood before Joshua. He was about to give Joshua the strategy for conquering Jericho. The Lord was giving the Promised Land to the Israelites. They would defeat army after army because the Lord was with them. Yet, when this angel was asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies,” the angel’s response was, “Neither.”

One would think that in light of Israel being the chosen people of God, the angel’s response would have been different. This angel is, after all, there to give Joshua the strategy on how to defeat their enemies in battle. How could the angel say “Neither” and still be telling the truth?

I believe this gives us insight into the heart of God. God is against evil, but He is not against people. If we position ourselves against God and His Kingdom, we’ll suffer the consequences. Yet, if we align ourselves with Him, regardless of who we are, regardless of which “camp” we are in, we will experience blessing.

Rahab is a great example of this truth. Though she was technically an enemy of Israel, because she aligned herself with God and His plans, she and her whole family were blessed (Joshua 6:22-23).

The apostle Paul highlights this truth in his letter to the Ephesians. He said:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Ephesians 6:12

God’s battle, and therefore the people of God’s battle, is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil. Those who align themselves with evil will become casualties of war. God’s heart is to redeem people, regardless of the evil they’ve partnered with. Our heavenly Father “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth“(1 Timothy 2:4).

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17

So, when we ask God, “Are you for us or for them?” His response is, “Neither. I gave my only Son for everyone involved. I am not against people. I am against evil. The whole point of sending my Son was to rescue people from the evil that dwells in their own heart. To the extent that a person partners with evil instead of with Me, that is the extent to which they will feel me come against them.”

Where are you partnering with sin in your own life? What would it look like to partner with God instead? He is not against you! He is for you!

God’s Will

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Matthew 18:12-14

We learn a couple things from Jesus’s teaching here. First, we learn about the loving heart of the Father. God will pursue people in order to restore them. Secondly, we see one of the paradoxes of the will of God. We learn that the Father “is not willing” that any of these little ones should perish. And yet, we know that not everyone is saved. Some are lost even though it is not God’s will.

Peter put it this way:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:8-9

Here we learn again that God doesn’t want anyone to perish. God wants everyone to come to repentance. Yet, we know not all will come to repentance. This is just a reality of the fallen world we live in.

From both of these passages we see both the loving heart of the Father and the fact that His will is not always done on earth. It’s why Jesus had to teach His disciples to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven“(Matthew 6:10). We wouldn’t be instructed by Jesus to pray this if it was somehow automatic. While God’s will is always done in heaven, His will is not always done on earth. So we must pray for His will to be done on earth, and we must walk in obedience to His will so that it may be done on earth.

The freedom that God gifted His creation with has been used to resist His will, rebel against His will, and thwart His will. The freedom to authentically love God as we experience His love for us has been twisted by sin and is now used for evil. That means that many things that happen in the world and many things that happen to us are not the will of God.

Dallas Willard writes, in his book Hearing God, about the erroneous belief that some Christians adopt that states that everything that comes in life is God’s will:

If you wish to know what God would have you do, it is no help at all to be told that whatever comes is his will. For you are at that moment in the position of deciding what is to come. Does it mean that whatever you do will be God’s will? I certainly hope not. If Moses had accepted this view, there would have been no nation of Israel…

Many things that happen are not the will of God…

God’s world is an arena in which we have an indispensable role to play. The issue is not simply what God wants, but also what we want and will. When we accept whatever comes we are not receiving guidance. The fact that something happens does not indicate that it is God’s will.

Dallas Willard, Hearing God, Chapter 3

God desires an authentic relationship with us. He wants to hear from us and wants us to hear from Him. Our actions and our prayers impact the outcome of the future, as does our obedience or disobedience. It matters if you pray. It matters if you obey. It changes things. We are not just fatalistic robots.

Your life in Christ really does matter!

All In

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:32-39

Those who like to paint Jesus as light and fluffy tend to skip over scriptures like this one. Those who like to think the gospel is all about unity and peace at any expense–at the expense of truth and surrender–are offended by Jesus’s words here. Try as they might to wiggle their way around what Jesus says here, they cannot.

These are not the words of a universalist. Persecuted Christians, particularly in Muslim countries, find hope and life in these words of Jesus. If we find these words difficult it is mostly an indication of the pampered and bastardized Christianity that has been handed down to us in the U.S. The hundreds of thousands of Muslims that are surrendering their lives to Jesus in Pakistan right now understand that the decision to follow Jesus is one that will likely cost them their families and might cost them their lives.

Universalism is not a message of grace and good news in countries where people are literally giving up their lives to follow Jesus. Universalism says their sacrifice was pointless. Universalism declares to them that being ripped from their family, rejected by loved ones, beaten, bloodied, scarred and broken was all very unnecessary. It tells them they could have lived in comfort and ease, rejecting Jesus, and everything would have been just fine. Does that sound like Jesus to you? Or can you now see it for the lie that it is?

Universalism is far from good news to the millions of persecuted Christians around the world. It is a message of mockery to their tremendous sacrifice. It also makes a mockery of Jesus’s own words here in Matthew 10.

The good news of Jesus is that if we are willing to surrender our lives in their entirety, we will find true life on the other side. If we are willing to join Jesus on the cross and in the tomb we will also join Him in the resurrection. If we are willing to make Jesus THE priority in our lives above all else, we will discover a river of life flowing through our life.

Clearly, Jesus is not messing around. He’s not playing church. He’s not interested in establishing a religion. Jesus is interested in sold out, all in, lovers who are willing to surrender everything to Him and His Kingdom.

Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? Are you all in?

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humankind by which we must be saved.

Acts 4:12

By His Wounds You Have Been Healed

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:23-25

Jesus taught us that we don’t always have to be the one to defend ourselves or try to get retribution. Our job is to imitate Jesus who forgave the ones who hurled insults at Him. Then He entrusted the whole situation to “him who judges justly.” If we can trust that God is a just judge who sees our situation, we’ll have more peace and confidence when we face hardship and suffering.

Peter then goes on to quote different parts of Isaiah 53:4-6.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

In this passage in Isaiah 53, and in Peter’s restatement of this verse (often using different verb tenses in order to apply this verse to his audience’s current situation), we see that Jesus paid for the healing of our bodies, the restoration of our souls (mind, will, emotions), and the redemption of our spirits. In other words, Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection provided for our salvation–body, soul and spirit.

Our sin has been paid for and forgiven. Our wandering soul has been returned to the Good Shepherd. Our spirits have been married to the Holy Spirit and therefore united with Christ. And by Jesus experiencing suffering in His own body, He has paid the price for our physical healing.

This doesn’t mean that everyone experiences physical healing. There are a number of variables that push against people getting healed in this broken and fallen world. But what scripture is saying to us here is that physical healing is always available to us. In other words, as followers of Jesus we always have the right to ask for physical healing in any given situation. And we have a right to expect physical healing when we ask for it.

When someone gets healed it is Jesus’s reward for something He already paid for. It’s simply Jesus getting what He paid for on the cross. Physical healing is part of our inheritance in the Kingdom of God and so, as sons and daughters of the King, we always have the right to ask for it. And as we learn to overcome the variables that hinder healing in this world, we’ll see more and more of the people we pray for experience healing.

The Grace of God

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

Paul writes to his co-minister in the gospel, Titus, who is acting as the apostolic leader over the island of Crete. Notice how Paul describes grace and the gospel. Here are some things this passage of scripture teaches us:

  1. Salvation is offered to all people. This lines up with 1 Timothy 2:3-4 which says that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
  2. If God wants everyone saved and offers salvation to all people and yet not all people are saved, then this means that what God wants to happen in this world doesn’t always happen. There are forces of sin and evil that push against God’s will being done.
  3. Notice that grace here doesn’t just save us. It doesn’t only justify us, putting us in right standing with God. Grace also teaches us–empowers us–to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. Grace doesn’t just forgive. Grace enables. Grace empowers us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives even in the midst of this present evil age. So if someone is making excuses for their sin and then follows with something like, “But, I live by grace, not works-righteousness” then they don’t understand grace. If we truly live by grace, we are empowered and enabled to say “No” to sin. Grace enables.
  4. Notice also the reason why Jesus sacrificed Himself. Paul gives us two reasons: a) to redeem us from all wickedness, and b) to purify for himself a people who are eager to do good. Jesus’ death and resurrection wasn’t just about getting us saved. It was also about having us purified. We are washed clean by the blood of of the Lamb, cleansed by the washing with water through the word, refined by the fire of the Holy Spirit, and illuminated by the light of Christ in whom there is no darkness. Jesus wanted a people who were His very own, who lived and acted just like Him.