Civil War Reenactments & the Local Church

Every year, pre-‘Rona anyway, thousands of people gather to re-enact scenes from the Civil War. They go all out. Every button is genuine. Every gun is polished. Every strategy is authentic. Every flag handmade. It is the kind of event where if you were to stumble out of the woods into one of these battles, you would think you had teleported back in time 150 years.

It looks real. It sounds real. It feels real. The canons are loud; the smoke is thick. The generals on horseback yell orders. The sweaty soldiers dive into ditches and wade through creeks. The flash of gunfire sparkles across the front lines. The canons, guns, and yelling create such a racket your ears ring.

It seems real. But it’s not. Nothing real is actually happening. Strategies are being enacted, but no ground is actually being won or lost. Soldiers are falling to the ground, but no one is actually dying or being hurt. It feels like a war; but it’s actually just a routine. They are play-acting. It’s all make-believe.

I wonder if the same could be said of our many of our churches? If you were to stumble into one of our Sunday morning services, you would be impressed. Every aisle is vacuumed, every instrument tuned. Our clothes are pressed, and our smiles are wide. We preach, we sing, we shake hands. And it looks and feels exactly like church. But is anything real actually happening?

Is any spiritual ground being won or lost? Are any souls being saved? Are lives being touched and changed? If we are not careful, we can become so familiar with the routine of ministry that we find ourselves simply reenacting routines. Another service, another message, another song.

My guess is that far too many churches are merely play-acting week after week. Just going through the motions, getting through the list of duties and responsibilities. I think that is the sad reality for so many churches. Consider the evidence found in the lack of growth or even decline, conflict issues, unhealthy structures, a lack of vision, loss of hope, little to no momentum, and lack of spiritual power.

But there is a huge difference between a Civil War re-enactment and the local church; for the church, the stakes are real, the battle is real, and our enemy is real. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Many who are reading this article are discouraged and feel hopeless. It’s okay to admit it. So, to every weary pastor, every tired Sunday school teacher, and every faithful church member, I say; keep fighting the good fight of faith. Don’t give up. Not now. Not ever. “Don’t get weary in doing what is right, for you will receive the harvest at the proper time” (Gal 6:9).

Dream with me about “the church” for a moment. What would a local church be like if its people were radically devoted to Christ, irrevocably committed to each other, and relentlessly dedicated to reaching those outside God’s family with the gospel of Christ?

A Works Based Gospel is No Gospel at All

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7

The gospel is the good news of God sending Jesus to earth to become sin so He could forgive our sin, set us free from condemnation, AND give us His righteousness in Christ (2 Cor 5:17-21). The word gospel means “good news”. The single sentence that best sums up the good news of the gospel of Christ is “that God is reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19).       

The issue Paul is addressing in Galatians 1:6-7 is the turning from a grace-based gospel to a works-based gospel. Paul’s point is that a works-based gospel is “really no gospel at all”. Our salvation is based on God’s grace and His faithfulness, not our faithfulness. Salvation is based the work of God, not our works. 

According to Paul, anyone who teaches a works-based salvation is teaching a gospel contrary to the gospel of Christ. A works-based gospel is really not good news at all. Good works cannot earn salvation or heaven or God’s approval. Grace works. Works Won’t.

According to Ephesians 2:4-10, because of God’s great love for us, He chose to offer us grace out from His deep reservoir of mercy, knowing all along we were sinners undeserving of His forgiveness and reconciliation. It is God’s grace alone that saves us, through faith. Salvation does not come through works. Good deeds are incapable of earning God’s love, forgiveness, acceptance, or approval. God did all of this because He also wants to demonstrate the incomparable riches of His grace, which is expressed in His kindness to us in Christ. 

Though we were created to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us (Eph 2:10), those works cannot save us. Yet, many of us have bought into the lie of religion that makes us think our relationship with Him is based on our performance. Religion is based on rules. Christianity is based solely on a personal relationship with Christ

Salvation through grace alone is the polar opposite of salvation through works or performance. The great news of the “good news” is that God has already done it all. When God said, “It is finished!” He meant it. God freely offers salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and freedom to us. We just need to receive it all by faith. Really. It is true. God has done it all already. Receive it by faith, then walk it out by faith. 

When it comes to salvation; Grace Works. Works Won’t.

2021 Will Find THE Church Alive & Well!

As we enter 2021 I am filled with hope. Every week I talk to discouraged pastors and church leaders and give them the same reminder about the power and beauty of The Church, and of the local church. THE Church ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS flourishes in times of hardship and struggle.

Oh, I recognize the struggle and all the various threats that might be lurking in the future, but I nevertheless I am stoked about the future of The Church and my local church. I am stoked that so many local churches are finally realizing their need for revitalization, renewal, and revival.

Don’t get me wrong, those “community clubs” that call themselves “churches” are in trouble. The vast majority of churches are declining, detached from meaningful ministry, and have no influence or impact in their community. Some churches, many churches even, may never recover.

BUT THE CHURCH is alive and well! For many churches, I am expecting 2021 will be a year of renewal, revitalization, and revival.

For my entire adult life I have been hoping and praying another great awakening in my lifetime. Every previous great awakening occurred in times of darkness and struggle. Is it dark enough yet for a great awakening in our lifetime?

I have embedded a video of a song that reflects what the Holy Spirit has been stirring in me as we enter 2021. This song was written in 1973, and has been redone recently by some artists who feel the Holy Spirit stirring them same thing in them as He is stirring in me. I hope the Holy Spirit uses it to stir you too.

Church Triumphant from Triumphant Church on Vimeo.

Two Timeless Truths from 2020

If nothing else, 2020 has either taught us or reminded us of two timeless truths. First, we are not in control. “Control” is really nothing more than an illusion. We do not have control over anything really. Oh, we think we do, our lives feel safer that way, until BAM! something unexpected happens.

I am reminded of a verse from the book of Proverbs; “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” (Prov 27:1) No matter how diligently and wisely we plan, we never know what a day holds.

But we can sure make plans, can’t we? Remember how booked (and even overbooked) our 2020 calendars were in January 2020, then by mid-March events were being canceled left and right. Sports seasons were canceled, travel plans were canceled, church services & events were canceled, family events were canceled, and concerts were canceled.

Our lives changed unexpectedly, and our lives went sideways in a few short weeks, proving once again we are not in control. Which reminds me of the second timeless truth, we may not have control over tomorrow, but we know the One who is already in our tomorrow. 

God is 100% sovereign, but that is not the same as 100% of everything that happens is God’s plan. Evil exists. Stupid exist. Bad decisions exist. Faulty DNA and rogue cells exist. Our world is deteriorating, yet we cling to the hope that somehow “we” have control, or that since God is sovereign, only good things we happen for us and to us. 

But in the midst of all the chaos, God always has a plan. The key to understanding his plan is to let go of the lie that we are in control, and therefore, since we are not in control, we need to run full speed toward the only One who is in control, who can calm the storm OR calm us in the midst of the storm.

God being sovereign and being in control, doesn’t mean bad “stormy” days won’t come, but it does mean that even on the darkest, stormiest, bad day, we are not alone. God was already there waiting for us. It means he is not ever caught off-guard, overwhelmed, perplexed, or bewildered. He may choose to calm that storm, or He may choose to calm us, but either way, He is in control.

If you are not walking in peace, then it is directly related to how you view the need for control and how you tie that to being safe and secure. It is much easier to have peace when you choose to relax in knowing the One who is already in your tomorrow, regardless what may come. God’s promise is not to rescue us from our struggles, but rather to place Himself in the middle of our struggles with us.

As we enter 2021 hopeful and moving forward as best we can, let’s remember God is in control. Whether He chooses to calm the storm, or calm us, let’s continue persevering, and moving forward.

Joy to the World!

Many Christians would be surprised to learn that “Joy to the World”, one of our favorite Christmas carols, was written by Isaac Watts in 1719, is not actually about Christmas at all.

When we sing “Joy to the world the Lord is come, let Earth receive her King, let every heart prepare him room, let heaven and nature sing,” in the context of the Christmas season, it makes sense to think those lyrics are talking about the birth of Christ, and God coming to earth to dwell among us, but “Joy to the World” is really about the Second Coming of Christ, not about his birth in Bethlehem.

But sung in the Christmas season, this loved carol also reminds us that Christmas isn’t over; the promises of Christmas are not yet fulfilled. Earth will fully receive her King when Christ comes again, to reign and to rule. “Joy to the World” is based upon Psalm 98, which declares creation’s joy when the Lord comes to rule and to judge.

The final verse of the hymn reverberates with hope of His second coming: “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders, of His love.”

The typical warm fuzzy Christmas story misses the point and misleads people and gives them a false sense of security. The typical Christmas story disguises Jesus as a baby as cute, sweet and helpless instead of the Prince of Peace who came to the Savior of the world, and the Redeemer of all mankind. The Baby didn’t stay a baby. He became the King of Kings, and He will return again.

God always has a plan. For hundreds of years people looked for the day when the Messiah would make his first appearance in earth. 700 years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah being born of a virgin. 500 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Micah foretold that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. The people waited and hoped.

Having been persecuted and scattered through hundreds of years by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, the Jewish people never gave up their hopes for the first coming of the promised Messiah. Though things seemed dark at times God was using world powers to accomplish His plan.

The Persians under King Xerxes allowed people like Ezra and Nehemiah to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, the walls, and the culture. Greece under Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and gave the known world a common language. Then the Roman Empire defeats Greece and built an expansive system of roads for their armies to travel on, but those same roads paved the way for the spread of the gospel as the early Christians used those same roads to take the good news about Christ across the known world.

When everything was in place, or as Scripture says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4). Today, we live with their “hope” in the first coming of Christ as a reality today.

We no longer are hoping for a first coming of Christ, but we are waiting and hoping for his second coming. God still has a plan, and when the fullness of time has come, when all the things are in place, Christ will return!

“Joy to the world. The lord has come.” He HAS come, He IS here, AND He WILL be coming again.

The Greatest Miracle of Christmas

The greatest miracle of Christmas is not the birth of a baby named Jesus to a virgin. The greatest miracle of Christmas is that God came to earth to live among us. Christmas is about God coming to us. The Word made flesh and dwelling among us because He loves us and wants a relationship with us. The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, called Jesus, “Immanuel!” meaning “God with us!”

Then Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, to be with us and live in us after he ascended into heaven. Today, the Holy Spirit, is still here today. God with us! And for those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior, God in us! Think about it! If you have placed your faith in Jesus as your Savior, the very One who impregnated Mary AND raised Jesus from the dead lives in you! Paul said it this way; “Christ in you, the hope of Glory!” The Holy Spirit is Christ in you!

Wherever you are, whatever you are walking though God is with you, He is with you today. God doesn’t lift us out of our problems, but He places Himself right in the middle of the chaos with us.

Even in the middle of the mess that has been 2020, as we find ourselves neck-deep in chaos and uncertainty, maybe, this is where the real meaning of Christmas comes alive in us and means more than it ever has.

Hope Has A Name

Jesus, quietly born in a filthy place. His first night on earth, he was among the cattle and sheep, among the hay bales, and barnyard smells, but in the middle of all of that, he was still the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah sent by God to be the Savior of the world. The same is true today, amidst the “barnyard smells” of our lives Jesus is still the Savior of the world, our redeemer, our forgiver, the Son the Living God.

Jesus wasn’t born into perfect circumstances. Perfect circumstances have never been a part of Christmas, and it still isn’t today. Your circumstances may not be perfect this Christmas season, but Christmas is about hope and redemption. It is about fresh beginnings and second chances. My prayer for us all is that we can slow down long enough to find the hope of Christmas in the midst of all the chaos of life and uncertainty in our lives.

In a world that has overly commercialized Christmas, even tried to write the main character out of the story, so many people are living in some level of darkness, without hope, frustrated, defeated, and even overwhelmed by the uncertainty, chaos, and hopelessness around them. Are you living some level of darkness, uncertainty, or hopelessness today?

But the good news, the Gospel, the best news ever, is God sent Jesus, His one and only Son into the world, born of a woman, born as a baby, to live a perfect life, to become our sin, my sin, so God could offer me (and you) hope, and eternal life. Born into imperfect, inconvenient circumstances, to a virgin, to be the Light of the World that brings hope to the world amidst all the chaos, and to reconcile broken people living in a broken world back to Himself in Jesus.

This Christmas,

You can find forgiveness.

You can find eternal life.

You can find hope.

You can find healing.

You can find peace of mind.

You can find purpose.

Hope has a name. His name is Jesus.

Three Principles to Remember this Christmas

Christmas, meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, our Savior and Redeemer, has been turned into the most hectic commercialized season of all. Of course, the circumstances surrounding the census and the birth of Christ were pretty busy and hectic too. I want to encourage you in this article to not over-complicate Christmas.

There are three principles we should all remember as we enter the Christmas season; First, keep it simple. Jesus was born into some pretty sparse circumstances. The son of two poor Galileans, he lived a life of humility and simplicity that became a key element of his ministry here on earth.

Reflect Christ-like attitudes by focusing on the small things, being intentional in our personal relationships, and focusing on quality over quantity. Instead all the distractions Christmas has become within our culture. How many times have we bought the expensive gift only to watch the child enjoy the box more than the toy?

Second, be present. We give love to people at Christmas when we show up in their lives, serving and celebrating. One way we tell our families and friends that we love them is by giving them our focused attention. Attention says, “I value you enough to give you my most precious asset – my time.” When you give someone your time, you’re giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. You can always make more money, but you cannot make more time.

Third, give with delight. God uses giving as an antidote for materialism, and he loves it when we give with a delighted heart (2 Cor. 9:7). Jesus said there’s more happiness in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35), but here’s an important point to remember at Christmas: Giving is a matter of willingness, not wealth. It’s attitude, not amount. Christmas is about heart, not possessions.

We’ve replaced true, heartfelt, delightful giving with a hollow materialism that keeps us all overspending during the holidays. Instead, we should give from our hearts. Expand your definition of giving beyond the financial. Imagine how much you could bless others if you simply shared your time and talents.

The essence of Christmas is that we simply and humbly give ourselves, just as God gave generously and sacrificially to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. This Christmas lets generously show up in the lives of others with our time, talents, money, possessions, and friendship.

Simple isn’t just beautiful; it’s powerful. You don’t have to cram your days full of activities, and you don’t have to make everything big, complicated, or expensive in order to enjoy Christmas. Keep your holidays simple, so you are free to serve those in need and celebrate with those you love.

The Difference Between Condemnation and Conviction

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin…” (John 16:8). “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

The topic of this article is the difference between conviction, condemnation, and repentance.

Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit. Conviction always comes from God. Conviction is always specific (you lied, you made a wrong choice, your attitude is wrong, your motives are impure, etc). With conviction there is always a solution (repent, take responsibility, make restitution, etc). And conviction always produces hope and restoration (God is making a difference in you so He can make a difference through you).

God uses conviction to get our attention, to remind us of areas of our lives in need of His transformational touch, to lovingly discipline us, to restore us, to draw us closer to Himself, and ultimately to make us more like Jesus in our behaviors, attitudes, motives, and intentions. God wants to use conviction to give you life to the fullest (John 10:10) by setting you free to be all He has purposed you to be.

Condemnation, on the other hand, never comes from God. Condemnation is usually very general (you are a failure, you can’t be forgiven, you will never get out of this mess, etc). Condemnation never has a solution (you can never change, you deserve this pain, you will never be free, etc). And condemnation always intends to produce despair, depression, fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.

The enemy uses condemnation to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). Satan wants to destroy your hope because he knows that without hope you will not even make the effort. The enemy wants to use condemnation to keep you beat up, discouraged, afraid, and imprisoned by his lies and deceitful ways.

Repentance is the turning away from one’s sin. Repentance should be our response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is goes far beyond mere agreement with God that you have sinned. Repentance implies change. The best way I know to define repentance is as a change of mind, a change of direction, and a change of purpose. Repentance means to change one’s mind, disposition, and behavior toward God by acknowledging personal error and turning toward God’s universal, objective, constant, absolute truth as found in Scripture.

God uses repentance to help us maintain proper relationship with Him…to help us walk out the practical side of forgiveness and to follow-through with the spiritual development and life-change process….as well as to give us spiritual renewal, restoration, and refreshing.

Bottom line: If Jesus is your Savior, you no longer have to cope with condemnation. Jesus died on a cross to set you free from condemnation. Every week I remind people that ALL of their sin, shame, and guilt was nailed to the cross. When the Holy Spirit convicts you…reject condemnation….choose repentance…. and God will restore you and give you renew your hope!

Five Reasons We Should Always Choose to be Grateful

First, it is God’s will for us. People want to know God’s will for their lives, and when people ask about God’s will, they’re typically thinking about what they should do next in a particular area of their lives. But God’s will is, first and foremost, that we learn to give thanks, regardless of the circumstances. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:18)

Second, because a grateful heart honors God & honors people. Anytime we thank someone we are honoring them.

Third, because gratitude creates fellowship and always builds deeper relationships between you and other people. Do you want to rebuild your relationship with a friend, with a parent, with a spouse, with people at work, even with people whose path you cross during the week? Whoever you want to feel more connected to, express gratitude to them. Just tell people how grateful you are. A grateful heart brings us all closer together.

Fourth, gratitude develops our faith. Can you thank God when life stinks? That’s the test of whether you’re a shallow Christian or a deep one. Can you thank God even when life stinks? When everything is going wrong? If you’re going through tough times, don’t look at what’s lost. Look at what’s left. No matter how bad things are in my life, there is always, always, the fact that I can be thankful to God just for being God.

God has promised to see me through life’s most difficult situations; to help me out, to strengthen me, to care for me, to do miracles, to answer prayer. He’s always promised that even when things don’t go my way, he can work it out for good in my life. So ultimately, his plan is in action, and it takes a growing faith to recognize that.

Fifth, gratitude serves and raises the value of others. Radical gratitude actually serves others. It becomes a ministry. We’re saved to serve others, and you can have a ministry of appreciation.

If you’ve ever bought a car you know the meaning of the word “depreciation”. The moment you drive that vehicle off the lot it’s worth less than you paid for it. Even if it’s brand new, if you take it back, it’s worth less. Depreciation means to decrease in value.

To appreciate means to “raise the value”. And this is a ministry. When you appreciate your husband, you raise his value. When you appreciate your wife, you raise her value. When you appreciate your kids, you raise their value. When you appreciate your co-workers, you raise their value to you and to the company. When you appreciate your boss, you raise his/her value.

Everybody in our life needs massive doses of encouragement. We all have a need to be affirmed, to be loved, to be appreciated. And so, does everybody else. If you want to be used by God here’s a little secret: affirm everybody. Appreciate everybody. Show gratitude to everybody.

What a great world it would be if we all just oozed gratitude from a full and overflowing grateful heart.