No Demilitarized Zone

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…

Mark 9:43-47

What Jesus says here is so extreme! What in the world is He talking about?

First, we have to understand that this is hyperbole. Jesus is exaggerating to make a point. He doesn’t want people to literally cut things off. Jesus is trying to drive home the point that pruning unhealthy parts of our life is necessary in a life of following Jesus because there is no middle ground (also see John 15:1-6).

Jesus is trying to convey the severity of this truth: if we haven’t surrendered a part of our life to the Kingdom fo God then it has been surrendered to hell. And the gangrene of hell spreads.

We tend to frame things as if there is some neutral ground that is available to us. Jesus makes clear that there isn’t. We tend to ask ourselves, “Should I give God control of this part of my life or not?” But that is a false choice. The true question is, “Should I give God control of this part of my life or continue to submit it to the enemy?”

We tend to ask ourselves, “Should I step out in faith or remain safe in my comfort zone?” But if the Lord has asked us to do something then the true question is, “Should I step out in faith or continue to feed and cultivate the weeds of unbelief in my life?”

There is a war between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God and we are the battle ground. This war has no DMZ. What isn’t actively surrendered to the Kingdom of God in our life is already being used by the kingdom of darkness for the enemy’s purposes of stealing, killing, and destroying. The apostle Paul described it this way:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…

Ephesians 6:10-13

This lie that there is some magical middle ground, some objective neutral territory, some spiritual Switzerland is one of the most prevalent lies swirling around the Church. Jesus knew this lie would be tempting to believe because no one wants to face open warfare. Appeasement is so alluring in the face of open conflict. And this is why Jesus used language that would shock us back into reality. He knew only this kind of hyperbole would be enough to break through our biases expose us to the truth.

Fear of the Lord

That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians… And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Exodus 14:30-31

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him…

No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,

Psalm 33:8, 16-18

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

I believe the Lord is inviting the church back to the fear of the Lord. We must know how loved and cherished we are by our Father in heaven. We must know that we are a son or daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We must understand our inheritance in the Kingdom of God. And knowing all of this will inevitably lead to the fear of the Lord, an encounter with His holiness.

What is the fear of the Lord?

1. It is absolute surrender. It’s saying “Yes” to God before we even fully understand His command.

2. It is freedom from the fear of man. It’s no longer being bound by people pleasing. It’s seeking God’s approval above all others.

3. It is humility. It’s owning the fact that He is God and we are not. It’s living out the reality that we are not equal with God. (Philippians 2:5-8) He gets to call the shots. We are following Jesus not the other way around.

4. It is waiting on the Lord. It’s knowing that going forward without Him is pointless.

5. It is going boldly when we are sent by the Lord. It’s taking risks and stepping out in faith.

6. It is making hosting God’s Presence the primary concern, making sure He feels welcome before anyone else feels welcome.

There are a few reasons I feel like the Lord wants to return the fear of the Lord to the church. I’ve heard more than one major church leader talk about feeling this pull toward the fear of the Lord. I’ve also had talks with prophetic friends who feel the same way.

But the main reason I think Jesus wants to reintroduce the fear of the Lord to the church is because of an encounter I had at the end of 2019. I experienced just a taste of God’s raw holiness and was undone by the fear of the Lord. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before, and I’ll never forget it. I believe the Lord was giving me a taste of what is to come. I wrote about that experience here.

In the future, I believe entire worship services will be taken over by the fear of the Lord. People will bow in repentance and kneel weeping before the Lord as they encounter His awesome holiness. Lukewarm Christianity will be broken in half. Syncretistic agreement with our current culture will be washed away in the hearts of believers. Being obedient will take precedence over being liked. The fear of the Lord will shake us and cause a full surrender.

Roadblocks

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Mark 8:27-30

A local YoungLife leader took some of his guys out on a camping trip. After some time talking about life, the young men were asked this question, “What is the biggest roadblock that is holding you back from truly saying ‘Yes’ to a relationship with Jesus?

What a fascinating question. There are so many things that can be roadblocks to surrendering our life to Jesus. Most people who take this question seriously understand that saying “Yes” to Jesus is more than just believing that He died for our sins so that we can be forgiven. They get that following Jesus with our whole life is deciding to surrender to His way rather than our own way. It is inviting the Holy Spirit to come and live inside of us so that He can begin to transform us from the inside out.

Some common roadblocks are things like a faulty view of God, thinking that we must clean up our act before surrendering to Jesus. But this is obviously backward. We surrender to Jesus because we admit that in our own strength we can’t clean up our act.

Doubt and unbelief can be a roadblock. Bad experiences with Christians or the church can cause offense, bitterness, or resentment to strangle our heart and these three emotional toxins can become roadblocks. Many times our favorite sins keep us from Jesus. We’re afraid He’s going to ask us to surrender those to Him and we just don’t want to. Or maybe we just don’t know who Jesus is. Many in Jesus’s own day were confused about His true identity.

But, if we adjust this question a little, it can also apply to people who have been Christians for most of their life.

What is the biggest roadblock that is holding you back from truly surrendering every part of your life to Jesus?

I can tell you that in my own life, I have hit different moments where I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that I had been holding different parts of my life back from Jesus. Ultimately, the roadblock for me was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Pridefully, I thought I knew all about the Kingdom of God, Jesus, the Bible and the gospel.

This kind of pride is especially prevalent in my fellow seminarians who have advanced degrees in theology and have gone into full-time ministry. This is especially true of my more “progressive” friends. Their alignment with current cultural attitudes has bolstered their confidence in their own “rightness.” I remember the feeling.

However, God encountered me in a profound way that I wasn’t expecting. He showed me different parts of the Kingdom that I knew nothing about. But before He would show me, I had to surrender. I had to 1) trust in the Lord with all my heart and 2) lean not on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Many people with advanced degrees in theology want to do the first but aren’t willing to do the second. I had to confess that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

In other words, the further you go with God, the less you can take with you. And pride about your own understanding is one of those things you can’t take with you. I had to admit, “There is more and I had no idea.” I had to pray, “Lord, forgive me, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” I had to re-enter a kind of Holy Spirit discipleship training with the Lord and this after a decade of pastoral ministry.

So, it is a worthy question to ask yourself. “What is the biggest roadblock that is holding you back from truly surrendering every part of your life to Jesus?

You might know immediately. If not, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it. Just be ready for an answer that you may not have expected and that you may not like.

Tip of the Shovel

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

I have found that in the Kingdom of God being the tip of the spear often means being the tip of the shovel.

In the Kingdom of God, the reward for faithfulness often comes in the form of more responsibility. If you see someone who is incredibly gifted in the Kingdom, it is often the case they they have sacrificed a tremendous amount for the Lord. They have humbled themselves in obedient surrender in ways that would seem like “too much” for us. For them, it simply flowed out of their intimacy with the Lord.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-8, 10

Velcro

As Solomon grew old… his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

1 Kings 11:4-6

At one point in Solomon’s life, he was fully devoted to the Lord. His heart was fully surrendered to God. Yet, as he grew older, he experienced a kind of heart-drift. In order to appease his wives and gain favor with other countries and kingdoms, Solomon allowed the worship of false gods. Then, not only did he allow it, Solomon began to participate in it. Finally, not only did Solomon participate, but he ordered the building of special high places for the worship of these false gods.

But notice that it didn’t say that Solomon became an unbeliever. There really isn’t such a thing. We all worship something, even if that something is ourselves. We’ll make something our god. It is the thing to which we have the most loyalty. It’s the thing to which we’ve given our heart. Solomon still believed in and worshiped the Lord. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that he worshiped the Lord AND worshiped these false gods. What set his father David apart was his full and complete devotion to the Lord. Despite all of David’s mistakes and failures, David’s heart belonged to the Lord and the Lord alone.

The theological word for mixing our worship of the Lord with the worship of other “gods” in our life is syncretism. There are consequences for treating the Lord as if He is just one option on a buffet of spiritual food.

The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.

1 Kings 11:9-12

Like the tearing of a garment, the Lord declared that He would take the kingdom out of Solomon’s hands. But, for the sake of David, the Lord would not do it in Solomon’s lifetime but would wait until the next generation came into power. Because Solomon’s connection to the Lord went from being intertwined to being little more than velcro, God would rip the kingdom out of his hands like velcro pulling apart.

A highly prophetic friend of mine once gave me this word that said, “whatever isn’t interwoven will be removed.” If we are interwoven with the Lord, nothing can pull us away from Him. Our heart will be fully surrendered and devoted to Him. But if our connection to Him is little more than velcro, when life pulls on it, there will be a ripping away. Likewise, our relationships to each other must be interwoven and not just velcro or they’ll pull away.

So, we must ask ourselves, “What other ‘gods’ are we worshiping?” “What other things have crowded our hearts and stollen some worship from the Lord?” Like David, is our heart fully devoted to the Lord? Or, like Solomon, have we set up a few high places that have us bowing down to priorities other than God’s priorities?

Lenten Fasting

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

Mark 2:18-20

Today the season of Lent begins and many people will consider giving something up as a way to honor the sacrifice of Jesus. Fasting has always been a part of the life of the Church. Jesus, in the above passage, indicates that once He has ascended to the Father, fasting will become a normal part of the life of a disciple. Jesus also gives instructions about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount.

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18

Notice that Jesus starts with “When you fast…” The assumption is that a normal part of the Christian life will include regular fasting. Also notice here that the focus is on the Father and not on the fast. Our eyes should be on God not on ourselves when we fast. And we should do it in a way that draws little attention to ourselves. Finally, Jesus specifically mentions that there are rewards from the Father for fasting.

The ultimate reward for fasting is an increased focus on the Lord, an increased awareness of His Presence. There is also often an increase in spiritual hunger, insight and breakthrough as a result of fasting, but it is important that we don’t fast in order to “get” something. We fast as a means of giving ourselves more fully to God. Though we often receive way more than we’ve given up, fasting is not an exercise in reciprocity with God. It is a response to the fact that God has already given us so much. It is a response to all that God has given us in Christ. And, in a small way, it is an identification with the sufferings of Christ.

With this in mind, here are some motivations to avoid when doing a Lenten fast:

  1. We don’t fast to get God’s attention: Fasting is more about getting our attention on Him not His attention on us. You are His beloved son or daughter. You already have His undivided attention. 
  2. We don’t fast to get what we want from God: Our relationship with God is governed by grace and mercy not reciprocity. We don’t surrender to get things. We surrender in response to the fact that He’s already given us everything!
  3. We don’t fast to lose weight or “detox”: Fasting is not about health benefits but spiritual connection to the Father. The thing most in need of “detox” is our soul. Often food covers buried sins and wounds. Fasting helps these things to emerge and be addressed. 

Especially if you fast from food or a favorite food item for Lent, don’t be surprised if things that control you are revealed. We often cover up things in our soul with food. When food is removed, those things can surface and be dealt with. Try to notice these buried sin issues without judging yourself too harshly. For instance, if pride or anger controls us, they will emerge when food is removed. This is an opportunity to surrender these things to the Lord. (If you are battling an eating disorder, have a medical condition that is prohibitive, or a nursing or pregnant mother, you should consider fasting something other than food.)

Here is some wisdom about fasting from Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline:

“We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface…Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.”  

“Fasting reminds us that we are sustained ‘by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matt. 4:4).  Food does not sustain us; God sustains us.”  

“Fasting helps keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives.  How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them.”   

“As with all the Disciplines, a progression should be observed; it is wise to learn to walk well before we try to run.  Begin with a partial fast of twenty-four hours’ duration; many have found lunch to lunch to be the best time.  This means that you would not eat two meals.  Fresh fruit juices are excellent to drink during the fast…In the beginning you will be fascinated with the physical aspects of your experience, but the most important thing to monitor is the inner attitude of the heart.  Outwardly you will be performing the regular duties of your day, but inwardly you will be in prayer and adoration, song, and worship. In a new way, cause every task of the day to be a sacred ministry to the Lord.”

“What goes on spiritually is much more important that what is happening bodily…Fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

These are all reasons why fasting for Lent should be seen not just as abstaining from food but as feasting on God through prayer and His Word. While our body is fasting and identifying with the sufferings of Christ, our spirit is feasting on the Presence of God and foreshadowing the coming wedding banquet of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-10).

What will you fast for Lent?

As They Saw Fit

In those days Israel had no king;everyone did as they saw fit.

Judges 17:6

This verse in scripture is so powerful for being so short. And it resonates with the situation we find ourselves in today. When there is no recognized authority and truth, everyone just does as they see fit without regard to the word of the Lord. At this time in Israel’s history, people would just melt silver, cast an idol, hire a priest and set up a shrine to their own gods. This is exactly what a man named Micah did in Judges 17.

This is also something we see people do in our own culture when they claim to live according to what they call “my truth.” They might as well say, “my gods.”

In order to avoid this kind of post-modern polytheistic relativism, we must surrender our lives to Jesus. Surrender always requires obedience. But recognizing Jesus as King of Kings is only the beginning of obedience. There are at least three phases of obedience, each one progressively getting closer to what God intended for us.

1. Obedience out of sin avoidance: This kind of obedience is about trying to do what is right and avoid doing what is wrong. It is a sin-conscious approach to living for the Lord. The focus is on our actions and trying to do the right ones. This approach tends to focus on the cross but doesn’t go much beyond it. This is the lowest and weakest form of obedience to the Lord.

2. Obedience out of identity: This kind of obedience is a step up from the last kind. It is about knowing who we are in Christ. It is about recognizing that we are new creations in Christ. This approach to living for the Lord doesn’t just avoid sin because it is wrong. Instead, the person doesn’t choose sin because they know that is not who they are. It is not focused on action but on identity. It is an obedience that comes from the heart. This approach tends to embrace the cross but then also move into a focus on the resurrection. The fact that we have been made new by Jesus is the primary concern. Rather than trying to avoid sin, it is about being who you really are in Christ.

3. Obedience out of love: This is the most complete kind of obedience. This kind of obedience embraces the death and resurrection of Jesus and continues by focusing on our identification with Jesus in His ascension. We are now seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). It is an obedience born out of an intimate relationship with Jesus. It not only focuses on who we are as new creations in Christ but also on the interactive communication between us and Jesus.

Obedience is seen not just as sin avoidance or living out of your true identity but as actively joining God in what you see Him doing. It is actively listening to the Holy Spirit and doing what He says to do. It comes from a love for God and an experience of His love for us. Obedience then becomes a way to honor that relationship. It becomes a joy, not a burden. This is what Jesus was talking about in John 14:15 when He said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” Obedience that is born out of love is the highest form of obedience and what God always intended for us.

What kind of obedience are you living in?

All Faithfulness

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:14-15

Joshua was nearing the end of his life and so he challenged the people of God one last time. He wanted them to know that God was giving them land they previously didn’t own, cities that they did not build, and farms that they did not cultivate. All of this was God’s inheritance for them, but He expected them to be a covenant people. God expected them to be faithful to Him and worship Him only.

Joshua warned them against worshiping the gods of their ancestors. He then warns them about worshiping the gods of the land they now possess. The gods of their ancestors were originally the Sumerian gods worshiped in Mesopotamia and then the Egyptian gods worshiped in slavery. The local religion was a little different as it included the gods of the Canaanites (Amorites, Perizzites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, etc). Joshua was warning them that all of it was a trap and that they should worship Yahweh alone.

In America, the god of our ancestors is a civil religion, a nominal Christianity that amounts to a powerless moral deism. It is more about being a good boy or girl and being a true American than it is about a relationship with Jesus.

In America, the local gods of “this land” and this culture are gods of humanism, doubt, fear, sexual immorality, comfort, pride, and self-absorption. Freedom is defined as lack of boundaries, standards, and norms. Worshiping this sort of pantheon creates a perpetual identity crisis and a life of permissive morality.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to complete devotion to our Lord. We must reject the gods of this culture and the gods of our ancestors in favor of complete surrender to Jesus. Our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are being imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith. Meanwhile the American church sits around echoing the words of enemy in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say that was wrong?”

We, as the Church, have to return to a complete abandonment to Christ. We must declare with our words, our life, and our faith the words of Joshua, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”

Forfeit

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 

Matthew 16:24-26

One of the primary characteristics of a follower of Jesus is that they have denied themselves. To surrender our life to Jesus means that we are willing to lose our life. And when we deny ourselves–giving up our “rights” and the way we think our life should go–when we lose our life, we’ll discover the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God. We’ll discover that we have found more life than we could possibly imagine.

This message was not popular in Jesus’s day. This message is not popular today. Instead, the message of the American culture is “I get to live my truth” or “I get to express myself in whatever way seems right to me.” This is not the way of Jesus.

There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way that leads to death.

Proverbs 14:12

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Proverbs 16:2

When we decided to surrender to Jesus, invited the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and chose to live the Christian life, we gave up our “No” to God. The process of discipleship–the process of sanctification and holiness–is that more and more the only answer we have left for Jesus is a “Yes.” We must be willing to totally and utterly give up on the “American dream” if we want to truly follow Jesus.

We’ve given up the right to demand that our material preferences, relational preferences, career preferences, sexual preferences, moral preferences, and social preferences be met. Our life is not our own. We were bought at a price and that price was Jesus’s death on the cross.

The Christian journey is a journey to the cross, not a journey to the palace. Only on the other side of “death of self” is there new life in Christ. We become a new self, a transformed self, a surrendered self, whose broken, sinful heart is made whole and clean. We are born anew and we experience that new birth daily.

Are you still saying “No” to God in some area of life? A “No” to God only brings death. But, a “Yes” to God brings a kind of death that leads to a resurrection of new life.

Give God your unconditional YES!