Sister to Sister: Spiritual Treason

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 4.49.34 PMNehemiah is my new hero. I’m impressed with this man who possessed such leadership qualities that he was successful in putting together a team of builders willing to commit to a task that was not politically correct in the climate of his day. Further, the task he accomplished in 52 days was massive, just in physical proportions (and he didn’t have power tools). I’m inspired by  his speech that, today, would surely be termed “intolerant. He just spoke the truth to Sanballot and Tobiah: “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem” (2:19). I love the way he nailed that down for them. He minced no words. He answered anger with prayer and responded to threats with watchfulness and work. He was about getting his project done, but not while ignoring the needs of his workers and their families. He was a man of deep insights—able to smell a lie just about before it left the lips of the liar. (Wouldn’t it be ideal to find a Nehemiah to live in the White House?)

As often happens to successful leaders, jealous people made false accusations. “You just want to be a king,” said those who really were power hungry enemies of the people of God (6:1-7). Nehemiah simply denied the charges, prayed and carried on.

If I were supposing, though, I’d suppose the biggest challenge of leadership faced by Nehemiah was the way his own brethren and fellow-builders disappointed him. After all the opposition they faced getting the wall built and restoring the covenant, Nehemiah, after only a short time away, returned to Jerusalem to find that the son-in-law of Sanballot, arch enemy of the wall-builders, was a priest in the house of God! Not only that, but Eliashib, the priest of God, had allied himself with Tobiah and actually allowed Tobiah, the persecutor, to move into the court of the temple! He had his own chamber there! To say that Nehemiah was disappointed as he considered the persecution, the cruel mocking, the threats and the lies they had all endured at the hands of Sanballot and Tobiah, is a description with marked reserve.  And now, here they were, enjoying the up-close favor and hospitality of God’s people in the temple—the House of God— itself! Adding insult to injury they had taken to themselves foreign wives and, under the influence of godless partners and priests who could care less about sanctification, were profaning the sabbath and robbing God of tithes and offerings.

In the face of this spiritual treason, Nehemiah cried out to God repeatedly. Even though the people he had valiantly led in rebuilding the walls had given their honor to enemies and opened their gates to sin, he humbly asked God to give him grace and remember him, personally, for good. He asked God not to wipe out his personal good as He looked on Judah.  I think the thing that impresses me most about Nehemiah happened when he looked at the unsanctified alliances among the people of God. The scripture says he threw the furniture of Tobiah out of the court and then removed Tobiah from the premises. He confronted those who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. (Imagine that…confronting sin!) Upon confrontation, he tried to be tolerant of the lifestyles they had chosen?…Hardly. The scripture says he cursed them, smote some of them and he pulled out their hair (13:25). Nehemiah was not soft on sin. He understood the reality that, left unchecked, this sin would destroy the remnant of God’s people.

Nehemiah was bold. He was willing to work. He was about the Word of God and living sanctified lives as the people of God. But notice before all of the travel back to Jerusalem, the purchasing of supplies, the division of labor, the assembling and fighting…before any progress toward restoration was made, Nehemiah mourned over sin, fasted and prayed (1:4-11). Nehemiah confessed sin, asked for forgiveness and asked for success as he determined to work to restore the walls of Jerusalem. A mourning over sin and prayer. That’s where restoration started.

That’s where it starts today. America will not be restored to any place of honor until there is a mourning over sin. His people should be on their knees for our country. But that is not the true parallel for our day. The church of Jesus is today’s spiritual Israel and our restoration begins with sorrow over sin. May we, as His Israel, begin with the realization that sin will take down the walls that fortify us and may we be in daily prayer for the church in a world where enemies are vocal and ruthless. Then, may we be be organized, efficient and determined as we build for the futures of our sanctified families. May we never be guilty of spiritual treason.

I love the one line prayer that closes Nehemiah’s story: “Remember me, oh my God, for good” (13:31). Surely that plea found grace in the ears of the One who, as Nehemiah reminded Him, had promised… “but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your dispersed be under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there” (1:9)

I’m thankful today that He has gathered us to the chosen place where His name dwells.

Sister to Sister: Guest Writer–Seventeen and Sanctified

1459053_1056971667657927_2195731218135519110_nRecently, while visiting a congregation in Memphis, Tennessee, I met (or even re-met, I think) Kaleigh Barringer. Keleigh has a lot of renewable energy about the gospel, about putting the Lord first, about the challenges of coming nose-to-nose with the temptations to sin in ways that are so accepted in our modern teen culture that they make teen life in the Lord seem an everyday exercise in extremism. Kaleigh submitted this to “Bless Your Heart”. It did bless mine.
Seventeen and Saved : The Challenges of Sanctification When Everybody Just Wants To Have Fun.     
Picture this! You’re on a chair or table and your friend is on the ground. You reach your hand out to pull her up, but it’s easier for her to pull you down, than for your friend to pull you up.                           
It’s hard sometimes being a Christian when we have people around us who party all the time, curse, and go against everything thing we believe. Often we call these people our friends.
We want to try to be good influences on our friends because we love them. Sometimes, though, if you don’t agree with what they’re doing, they’ll say you’re not being very loving or say “Judge Not”, or maybe just stop being friends with you all together. It’s important to know that all you can do is plant the seed.
” Dear friend we stand here
After a life of friendship as deep as the sea
But As I stand here at His throne, I wonder
Why you never mentioned Him to me.
You held this knowledge in your heart
You knew I was lost in sin;
And as I ask you why you said nothing
You say you were afraid you would offend.
You kept this saving secret
Of love beyond compare.
If only I had known…
If only I had been aware…
You could have told me something;
Could have shared this gift.
You watched my every mistake
Maybe you didn’t realize how life could so quickly drift.
“I never knew you” is what He said to me;
But I never knew Him either;
You never mentioned Him to me.
As I look back on my life
I wish I would have seen
How different my life would have been
If I knew He was my king.
I wish you would have taught me.
I wish I had lived differently.
I thought you were my friend
But you never mentioned Him to me.
Now that life is over
And He has sealed my fate,
Maybe you thought about telling me
But now it’s much too late.”-S.E.L.
Being a Christian may not be the most popular thing, but in the long run, it’ll be worth it.

Sister to Sister: Really?… God, Are You Listening?

images-2Moses definitely had some “issues” with God’s faithfulness as he prayed in Exodus five and six. Hear his words:

O LORD, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me?

For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all. (5:22, 23)

Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips? (6:12)

Moses had heard all the promises of deliverance at the burning bush. He had faithfully, albeit hesitantly, followed. But things were not working out for that “great deliverance.” In fact, Pharaoh’s grasp of bondage was becoming ever tighter and more painful. Things were definitely getting worse and not better. So Moses turned to God with his list of grievances. They are so much like those of road-weary Christians today.

  1. Why is all of this happening?
  2. The harder I try, the worse the circumstances become.
  3. I’m not seeing the fulfillment of what You’ve promised (I do not see the “exit sign”).
  4. Even Your own people are rejecting your Word. How can I expect outsiders to listen?

But God, the lofty One who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15) sees the big picture and responds, to Moses and to us.

  1. This is all happening because I have an eternal plan that does not begin and end with you (6:1-4).
  2. When my faithful people cry, I am listening and responding (6:5).
  3. Just because the fulfillment of promise is not immediate, does not mean it is not certain. My timing is perfect (6:6-8).
  4. Working to be “separate” from “Egypt” (a charge) is the answer for My people who are weak in faith (6:12,13). A distinctive people is necessary for outsiders to see the work of God through His people. (Israel had to believe they were leaving and get ready to leave prior to the working of God in Pharaoh.) Do we live today as if we really believe we are leaving it (our Egypt) all behind?

Let’s look at Isaiah 57: 15 one more time. I want to go and inhabit eternity, the high and holy place, with the One whose name is Holy. But, to do that, I have to have an humble and contrite spirit. The humble spirit waits on the Lord’s plan, knowing that He is listening as I suffer and that He responds with impeccable timing. Therefore, in faith, I will keep His charge to live every day and make each decision with the full knowledge that I am looking for the exit sign. I’m leaving my “Egypt” in a very short time.

…And don’t forget the podcast. Tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 7 CST.

Sanctification in the Sermon

Close-up low section of woman holding spadeReminder: Podcast Tuesday Night, May 28th at 7 CST.

There are many great commentaries on that lesson Jesus taught on the Mount of Olives recorded in Matthew 5-7. A part of me thinks “Who am I to comment about the material of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the World, spoken from that hillside all those years ago?!” He said just what he wanted to say. It was pointed and easily understood. Yet, people are still, 2000 years later, marveling about both its simplicity and its complexity, its spirituality and its practicality.

In a study of sanctification, the discourse draws us in. Even reading the first few verses, what we today call the beatitudes, we realize that Jesus is calling men from the norm. He is calling us to stop seeing things the way that we may have been conditioned to see them. He is calling us to stop yielding to the voices of the present age. He wraps up the text of the discourse by showing us that viewing our lives in relationship to eternity is wise—it’s building on the rock–while limiting our vision to the immediacy of the temporal is foolish.

In chapter five, Jesus contrasts the requirements of the Jews of His day and “perfect,” (complete or whole) living (6:48). Jesus said in verse seventeen that He did not come to destroy the old law, but rather to fulfill it. Then he spent pretty much the rest of the chapter contrasting the traditions that the rulers of the day were touting (some rooted in the law and some procedural rituals of their own making) with what the “perfect” keeping of the law would motivate them to do in their relationships. These contrasts between the Jewish traditions and “perfect” living began with “You have heard that it has been said” and ended with “But I say unto you”. It’s important to notice that not once did Christ minimize the importance of law-keeping. In each case, he appealed to the HEART of keeping the law of God. The heart is the bud, if you will, in which we nip the big blossom or fruit of sin.

For us today, these contrasts between what the teachers of the day were saying and what Jesus taught are potent reminders that, while we m best facilitates our obedience. Jesus was teaching them that the fulfilment of the old law, under which they lived, involved meeting its outward requirements–obeying its laws– but it also involved more. Obedience to God, then and today, must emanate from a heart that adheres to the greatest commands: loving the Lord with all of our hearts, souls, strengths and minds and loving our neighbors as ourselves. When they tried to keep the law without first getting their hearts right, all kinds of manmade laws, rituals, loopholes, and exceptions followed. Jesus later showed that Moses made the divorce law because of the “hardness” of their hearts (Matthew 19: 4-9). Jesus was appealing to these Jews who had indeed “heard” all these things being said, to get their hearts right…to stop hating, so that murder wold never even be an issue–to stop lusting, so that adultery would not ensue–to stop deceiving, so that deciding the proportions of an oath would be superfluous–to stop seeking revenge so that fighting would cease. Jesus wanted their hearts. He wants the hearts of sanctified people today.

Jesus gave his own commentary on this teaching later in Matthew 15: 18-19:

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies…

Matthew five has our Lord saying some things that were pretty radical for these Jews, stuck in the “we have heard it said” mode. He was stretching their minds (renewing them) to prepare them to go beyond ritualistic service to the self-sacrificial heart surrender that the old law and especially the new law required. I think their mouths were agape as they listened to this one who taught them as One having authority (7:29). (Wonder why this, the Son of God, sounded as if he had authority over their lives?) Sanctified women today are women who are not interested in what we “have heard has been said.” We are interested in the “But I say unto you.” We want to get our hearts–all of our hearts–committed to loving the Lord. When we do this, commandment keeping, though necessary, will naturally follow our sanctified hearts.

In chapter six, Jesus taught the people to be different from those around them. He talked about the way the hypocrites prayed and fasted and gave alms for the praise of men. Again Jesus appealed to the hearts of men and commanded that acts of devotion find their motivation in pure and contrite hearts before God. He taught that we must be different from the world around us in the way we look at material things. He spent the last fifteen verses of chapter six contrasting material things with spiritual…teaching practical lessons from treasures, eyes, masters and slaves, birds, and flowers. All of these analogies and teachings were illustrative of what is concisely stated in verse 33:

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things shall be added unto you.”

Sanctified women of God view both worship and money very differently from those in the society around us.

Chapter seven is not without contrasts either. Jumping out at us from the text is the narrow way and the broad way, the strait gate and the wide gate, the few and the many (7:13,14). This contrast needs no explanation, but it might help us to look at application. Are the majority of Americans you know today asking “What is required of me?…What, minimally, must I do to be saved?” or “How much can I do in this short lifetime to please and glorify my Lord?” If they are asking, at all, most are asking the former. Are most people today asking “How can I show my God best that I love Him in my worship?” or are most asking, “Where can I worship and get a lot out of it?” Where is the thinking of America’s majority today when we consider money and riches? One evening of American television evidences the out-of-control emphasis placed on mammon (It is certainly a god.) in our country. Where is our culture about lust? Are we, in any sense, a culture that protects our hearts from lustful thoughts? All it takes is a walk around your local mall to know that our society revels in lust. Certainly watching the Super Bowl half-time show (or turning it off, as your stomach turned) this year was a testimony to how our national lusts have been unbridled. Sanctification calls us to be in the minority in all of these heart tests.

Finally the lesson closes with an invitation. The illustration that our children can sing at age two about the wise man and the foolish man is first given. I love this. Jesus has just shown us some very powerful contrasts between old traditions, springing often from hardened hearts and “complete” living, between worldly and godly living, between man-centered and God-centered devotion, between material and spiritual treasures, between the way of the masses and the way of the Lord. Now he makes it clear that we get to choose–the rock or the sand. He tells us that our choice will end either in a firm standing or in a great fall. Verily, if we have any faith at all, we can easily know which choice is wise. We can choose to build our houses so that when the winds and the rains come, they’ll stand. Jesus clearly laid out the options and consequences.

But sanctification is just not that easy, is it? We know, intellectually, what life to pick, but we see the advertisements for the fleeting goods (“I really want that Coach bag, even though I know I will not have enough money left to give to the Lord’s work.”). Our friends are choosing the temporal (“But they are all going to watch that new Batman movie…the one that has the repeated curse words…”). The riches are just so alluring (I will never go on a mission trio to Jamaica again…maybe a cruise to Montego Bay, but that inland place was nasty.”). All of the “pulls” of the world are just so “NOW” that it’s hard to choose the eternal. The rock gives us forever in bliss. The sand gives us today in relative comfort. The sand demands nothing today. The rock requires non-conformity and sacrifice today. So like children who spend their lunch money on the way to school at the candy store, we sometimes choose the “now” pleasure, over the eternal sustenance. But there’s a whole lot more at stake than lunch.

Jesus ended the discourse by urging the listeners to be “perfect” (complete, whole) even as God is perfect. Is it crowded where you are walking? If you are walking through life shoulder to shoulder with the masses, hungry for riches, worshiping, if at all, with little introspection, thinking about your physical house rather than the state of your soul, doing what you view as the required rather than searching out opportunities to glorify, then you’ve joined the crowd. The crowd is on the move. The crowd is having fun. The crowd lives in houses with curb appeal. These houses are comfortable, attractive, and roomy. These houses are on the sand, though, and the storm is coming. One day, as the storm comes, and the houses are falling, the crowd will find itself at the wide gate. When you pass through that gate, you will stand alone before the judgment bar of Christ. Will you be “whole” when you are pulled from the crowd for judgment?

Jesus invites you to hear his sayings and do them. It’s a big step for people who have been enamored by the pleasures of the crowd, though. It’s called sanctification.It’s a difficult surrendering of self (heart and all) and it makes us whole.

Matthew One and Sanctified Women

It is with pure joy that women who are a part of the Digging Deep study, during this month of May, study the only sinless life ever lived. Matthew chapters one and two are very important to those of us who are followers of the Messiah. They are truly amazing in that our all-powerful God had completed the orchestration of events to fulfill scores of specific Old Testament prophecies to bring world events and kingdoms to the very moment of perfection for the placement of His Son in the womb of a woman by a miraculous conception of the Holy Spirit.

Mary was just a common girl, in the eyes of the society about her. She was part of the proud, but oppressed Jewish nation. Her people, though allowed to go about their business in peace, were taxed and ultimately ruled by the great Roman Empire. Her hometown of Nazareth was considered little more than a ghetto in Galilee and her family was neither wealthy nor notable. (According to Leviticus 12, a Jewish mother, after her baby’s delivery and her purification, was to go and make a burnt offering of a lamb and a sin offering of a dove or pigeon. If she could not afford to offer a lamb, she could substitute a bird for the burnt offering, as well. Mary, in her poverty, made this substitute offering.)

I was recently a visitor in a home where the arrival of the firstborn son was eminent. A new crib had been ordered, along with a changing table and a dresser. The nursery was the focus of attention. It had a new and pristine coat of paint, with brightly colored borders and trims. Framed poetry written by a family member, dressings for the crib, and a matching diaper stacker were stacked around the perimeter of the room and the closet was already filled with tiny little outfits.

But Jesus the Christ was placed in a borrowed feeding trough. The scents were not those of diaper Genies and baby lotion. The sounds were not quiet hums of medical equipment and gentle lullaby music. Farm animals are neither sterile nor quiet. There were no cute birth announcements, but shepherds did receive the birth announcement from a multitude of the heavenly host.

And, through all of this, what was Mary thinking? You can be sure that, following the angel’s announcement, she went back through the Holy Scriptures and treasured the reading of each specific prophecy about the child she carried. When the baby moved and she wondered if that was a shoulder or an elbow that poked her, surely she remembered the promise that the government would be upon that shoulder. When she worried about that trip to pay taxes, she surely remembered even in the chaos of nine- month travel, that she bore the Prince of Peace. Surely as she made the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, she knew that, whenever she returned, she would be nursing, diapering, and mothering the Son of God. Mary was truly sanctified, set apart, chosen for this, the most natural, yet most amazing job ever given a woman.

As we read through the lineage of Jesus in Matthew one, we find three more ordinary women…the most unlikely of Old Testament women, in fact, who were sanctified to be ancestresses of the Christ child–a prostitute, a Moabitess, and an adulteress. Can you find them in the lineage? Find and read their stories in the Old Testament.

May we remember that God can transform the unlikeliest among us into women for His purposes. Does He want you to be a mother of a great evangelist? Is He giving you a chance, even now, to lead a future leader to Him? Has he put you in a classroom that may yield a future elder or the great Bible class teacher for the next generation? Has he placed you in the life of a diseased woman who may desperately need your assistance and prayers? Has He given you talents to write, speak, sew, clean, entertain, cook, craft, visit, create, paint, evangelize, invite, befriend, nurse, or comfort for the Cause? If so are you sanctifying those gifts for Him? Are you sanctified?

A Great Event and How to Spot a Sanctified Person – Part 3

Caleb with James WatkinsGreat events have consequences that reach a future generation. The greatest events have consequences that reach into eternity. Our family and many other families in the United States part of the kingdom of Christ just completed such an event. This weekend, thousands of children participated in scores of events that extracted their talents and skills for development for God’s glory. It is certainly possible for parents to be diligently and successfully developing leadership skills for the furtherance of the gospel without the Lads program. After all, it’s been done for thousands of years. But I am so very thankful for this tool. Our family has reaped rich rewards from this sound and effective program. Caleb and Hannah will quickly tell you that the Lads to Leaders program pushed them to be all they could be as children, teens and, now, adults in His service. Glenn and I really do believe they are more effective soul winners, writers, and workers for Him as a result of Lads. Our family owes a debt of gratitude to those who developed and maintain this massive instrument for the cause.
WH Lads

This weekend Christians witnessed a young man from a home where the parents are neglectful and ungodly give a speech that showed his dedication to the cause. They watched him lead a song with zeal. No blood family members were there to watch him, but we were there–his family in the Lord. Christians made sure he had the clothes he needed. Christians made sure he had the money he needed for food. Christians transported him and made sure he had a nice place to sleep. Christians coached him and rehearsed with him. But, to tell the truth, I think the tool, Lads to Leaders, was a large catalyst for his growth and development this weekend. The tool is what gives us deadlines and organization in so many good works with young people. This young man just may grow up to be a faithful and productive member of the Lord’s body. He may grow up to lead others to the kingdom. He may grow up to preach the gospel! One day he could even lead his parents to the Lord.

Lads

I watched another young man who has very little support in his home congregation just blossom this weekend in his very first Lads experience. People in his home church had discouraged his good efforts. They had complained when he came to the gospel meeting in his ball uniform. This young man came to Lads with a group of folks in his area. He gave an excellent speech without a single note. He led his song with near perfect pitch, tempo and volume. He went home a more confident servant. He will be a blessing wherever he goes.

I could continue. But may I just encourage you to investigate the Lads to Leaders program if you do not participate? It’s just one of those greatest events…the events that outreach, outrun and far out-reward life on this earth!

Lads to Leaders

From Jennifer Webster: First Time Lads Mom. She’s one of many who’ve made similar comments on that first “life altering” Lads trip.

We worshipped with several thousand other Christians this morning. We are now making our way back through rainy Nashville and reflecting on Lads as we go. Two words for Lads to Leaders concerning our children: life altering! After begging to skip speech and song leading, Parker and Emma participated in both. Parker won 1st place in speech and 2nd place in song leading. Emma won 2nd place in speech. I am firmly convinced that if it weren’t for Lads neither of them would have realized and developed these vital skills. It is a program like no other. Thanks be to God for this program and the encouragement it gives young people and the leaders it is helping to develop for the church.

lads

How to Spot a Sanctified Person–Part Three

16.  A sanctified person is thoroughly righteous (Dan. 6:4). Righteousness is not choosing to do right in certain areas of life. Righteousness is pervasive. It eats us up as the people of God. It affects every decision and activity. We acknowledge him in all our ways. He is life’s path director. He is the master planner of you and me (Proverbs 3:3-6).

17.  Even a sanctified person’s enemies know about her God (6:5). God’s just so obvious in that person’s life that He cannot be overlooked, even by those who may hate the sanctified person. In fact, enemies may use a sanctified person’s devotion to get her in trouble. That’s a pretty solid sanctification sign!

18.  Sanctified people do not change religious practices when devotion brings danger (6:10). Holy people know where they are going when this short life is over. So the most important practices, those of devotion, remain constant even when they may cause conflict with the world.

19.  Sanctified people often endear themselves to authorities (6:14). That’s because they are respectful. A holy person has a great work ethic.

20.  Sanctified people humbly confess their sins (9:20). Sanctified people are holy, but not sinless. They recognize their need for mercy and are penitent. They are filled with godly sorrow when confronted with sin in their lives.

21.  Sanctified people set their hearts to understand the things of God (10:12). Do you know someone who is constantly in the Word? Maybe this person studies the Bible topically, using concordances and lexicons. Maybe you know someone who asks questions in Bible class and studies ahead for Bible discussions. You may know a sanctified person!

22.  Sanctified people discipline themselves. I know Christians who are very quick to recognize their own spiritual ineptitudes and are working like crazy to correct them. I know women, for instance, who have learned to keep their mouths shut in situations where gossip or angry words may be a temptation. I know women who discipline themselves to get into the Word daily before their young children get out of bed. (For some, this is very early!) I know women who plan hospitality like most women plan a work week. I know women who are disciplined in their Bible time each day with their children . I am blessed to know some sanctified women who are self-controlled and militant in the service of the Most Holy God!