Monday, December 16, 2013

The Call to Live an Unnatural Life!

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. First Corinthians 2:14, NIV

Godliness is unnatural and goes against the world. When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he was teaching His followers how they were to be different. Jesus wants all who will follow him to clearly count the cost and understand that being His disciple means that followers will be in disagreement with the world.

Disciples are to have humility, be unselfish, and have compassion for others. Disciples are to live righteous, that is righteousness by God’s standards, not the world’s standards. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Jesus wants us, as His followers, to know that we gain success and value in this life by being righteous. Disciples are to forgive and practice forgiving others. We are to have the spirit of forgiving so that others cannot offend or hurt us beyond our ability to forgive. We are not to hold grudges toward those who hurt or abuse us. Disciples are to be pure in heart. Our motives are to be right and pure. Our motive is always to bring glory to God through His Son Jesus Christ. Disciples do not seek glory and praise of others. Our lives are not about us. Disciples are to be Christ to others, for Christ sake, and not for oneself. God allows us to see Him in the midst of purity of heart through helping others.

Jesus is being very direct and honest. He wants us to know that becoming like him is unnatural. It is contrary to human nature and contrary to the world. Jesus is reminding us that this world is not our home. We are foreigners in a strange land. We are Kingdom people destined for the Kingdom of God. We are aliens in this world, voluntary slaves to Master Jesus. We are to serve in whatever ministry and walk of live our Master has placed us in, and serve him willingly with full obedience. The more Godly we become, the more pain and suffering we endure and the more scars we obtain. Jesus suffered and died. Paul suffered tremendously. With the exception of John, all of the Apostles died a martyr's death, and John was banished to the Island of Patmos where he died of old age.

The world hates holiness because holiness reveals the ungodliness in the world. This is why Jesus taught us to let our light shines before men; we are to live unnatural lives!

Prayer: “God, help me to live an unnatural life. Fill me with humility, unselfishness, and compassion for others. Develop in me righteousness and enable me to love You with all of my heart, soul, and mind. Help me to forgive others as you have forgiven me. Grant me a pure heart and right motives in all that I do. Grant me courage to be bold and brave, and to have a willingness to suffer for You. Oh God, help me to live an unnatural life. Amen.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Do you have "Integrity of Heart?"

And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.  And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.  But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?  Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.  And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Genesis 20:1-6, KJV.

Let me begin by giving a little background to our Scripture.  Earlier in Genesis, we read of the birth of Ishmael, Moab, and Benami. These three men were each born in an ungodly relationship and each man’s family evolved into a nation that often warred against Israel. These three births occurred before Isaac. God had promised to Abraham and Sarah a son back in chapter seventeen. In chapter eighteen, Abraham had an encounter with the Lord and with an angelic guest. Abraham was told that Sarah would have a son within one year. Abraham and Sarah grow older and older, and they still do not have the son God had promised. It is important to realize that Isaac has not been born in Chapter 20; he is not born until chapter twenty-one. 

In this Scripture, we see a lack of integrity in the heart and life of the prophet Abraham, and we see sincere integrity in the heart of the non-believing king of Gerar. Integrity is the character that controls our conduct. While I can only speculate, it may well be that Abraham’s lack of integrity delayed God in giving Abraham and Sarah the promised son. Like the prophet Abraham, many people today lack integrity – including Christians and church leaders. As president of New Life Theological Seminary, I strive to help our students develop the highest integrity. We use the slogan, "Graduating Men and Women of Integrity." I believe integrity is important, because when a man or woman of God loses his or her integrity, that person has nothing to offer their church or their community. The lack of integrity among believers is a serious sin issue. Abimelech could have been killed and his kingdom severely judged because of the lack of integrity of this prophet, Abraham. People are spiritually slaughtered and sentenced to hell for eternity because many Christians within the church lack integrity. Let us consider three actions God used in dealing with Abimilech.
First, God notices Abimelech’s integrity. Abraham’s half-truth endangered the chastity and honor of his wife - of whom he should have been the protector. Abraham had developed a practice of telling half-truths; he had committed this same sin before. In our courts, a witness takes an oath “to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth;” the practice of telling only half-truths is a sinful practice. It is important to realize that the lack of integrity of one person often causes other people to sin. If Abraham had possessed integrity and shared with the king that Sarah was his wife, Abimelech would not have been placed in this awkward situation. This prophet, who was trailblazing the way of faith, and who was learning the basic lessons that generations to follow were to observe from his life, had an integrity problem. His lack of integrity endangered the paternity of their promised son, and the world's hope of salvation - for Abraham endangered the very lineage of Jesus the Messiah.

Unlike Abraham, Abimelech had genuine integrity of heart and spirit. Even God acknowledges in verse six that Abimelech did this thing "in the integrity of thy heart..." For a man to have integrity, he must have the highest moral values. His word must be his bond - what he says, he must do. He must be trustworthy - you can trust him with your children and with your money. He must be righteous - when this man is faced with two evils he will always choose the lesser of the two, and when faced with sin, he will not choose it. He has the highest moral principles and lives a life pleasing to God. Abimelech, as far as we know, was not a man of faith, yet he had integrity. The sad irony in this story is that the man of faith had no integrity, and the man of integrity had no faith. The world needs men, women, and youth of faith with strong ethics and integrity. God notices if a person has “integrity of heart.”

Second, God retrained Abimelech from sinning. This man of integrity was restrained from having a sexual relationship with Sarah. You see, God knew the danger this sin would bring to the world. God knew such a sin could spoil His plan for a Holy nation and a Holy lineage for Jesus the Messiah. God knew such a sexual sin could destroy His plan to send Jesus into the world as our Savior. Even at this point, Satan was working in Abraham and Sarah trying to mess up God's plan to send Jesus into the world.

When a person strives to have integrity, God will help keep that person from sinning. God was more able to restrain Abimelech then he was to restrain Abraham - because of his integrity. Integrity enables God to restrain us from greater evil. Christians need to learn to recognize the restraining hand of God. Yes, our world is wicked, but it does not have as much wickedness as Satan would like. If Jesus did not restrain him though people of integrity, evil would run ten-thousand times more rampant throughout the earth. God says that Satan desires "to steal, and to kill, and to destroy," but God sent Jesus that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly (John 10:10, KJV). The only reason more evil does not exist, is that God restrains Satan through Christians of integrity. David writes, "And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever” (Psalm 41:12, KJV). God teaches us that "The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them” (Proverbs 11:3, KJV). May God help us learn to recognize His restraining hand, and may God help us to develop a greater integrity of heart! Not only does God NOTICE a person’s integrity, but God restrains men and women of integrity from sinning.

Third, God instructs Abimelech to right the wrong. Although Abimelech had not sinned, and even though this prophet of low integrity had misled him, Abimelech had done wrong. God had confronted Abimelech, thus ignorance can no longer be an excuse. He that knows to do right, and does not do it, to him it is sin. Now, Abimelech must right this terrible wrong.

I have always felt sad for Abimelech. He had been deceived by a prophet of God who had low integrity. It appears that he sincerely tried to live right and to be a good king. In his historical time and culture, adding another woman to his harem was an acceptable practice for a king. It seems that his only error was one of ignorance; he simply did not know that Sarah was married. Yet, he was wrong, and he had to set things right for himself, for his family, and for his kingdom. Even though Abimelech had never read Proverbs 20:7, he understood that "The just man walks in his integrity: his children are blessed after him."

Abimelech had to make things right for the sake of his children. Verse four reveals that he understood that his whole nation could suffer if he failed to right this wrong. Abimelech's integrity made him afraid of sin and its consequences; he got up early and began the process of righting his wrongs. When righting a wrong, one must bestow more than one has taken. When God convicts a man or woman of their wrongs, they should tell others what God has done for the sake of their souls. His first step was confronting the prophet Abraham (vs. 10). Notice that Abimelech gave Abraham sheep, oxen, servants, permission to dwell anywhere in the kingdom, and a thousand pieces of silver. Abimelech preaches a beautiful sermon in verse sixteen. He explains that Sarah is a covering to Abraham's eyes and vice versa. Husband, you should never look at another woman with sexual thoughts in you heart; wife, you should never look at another man with lust. Husband, you are to protect your wife, not endanger her. Husband, you are to love your wife, as Christ loves His church. I could preach a full sermon on this theme, and all of this is a part of living a life of integrity. Not only does God NOTICE a person’s integrity, not only does God RESTRAIN men and women of integrity from sinning, but God INSTRUCTS people of integrity to know when to right a wrong.

The word "integrity" appears only sixteen times in Scripture, but it is clear that God expects His children to possess integrity of the heart, be people of character, and example Kingdom conduct. We are summoned to be holy, to live righteous, and to walk in integrity. Some two-thousand years ago, lost sinful men despised the character and conduct of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the perfect God-man. These men rejected him, falsely accused him, and crucified him. Not because he was sinful, but because through integrity of heart, he represented Kingdom character and conduct. Many of you in this room have been confronted by people angered by your words and actions as you modeled and proclaimed Jesus, and if not, you are most likely not walking in the words, character, and conduct of Jesus.

The Bible teaches us that integrity determines our character, and our character is always revealed in out conduct. May God help us to be men and women of integrity? Friend, if we lose our integrity as a Christian, who will believe us when we tell then there is a hell. If our lives to not display righteousness, who will listen when we tell them there is a heaven and there is a Savior who can take them there?

PRAYER: Lord, help us be men and women of integrity. Today Lord, we are not dealing with sinful conduct, but rather the root of that sinful conduct. Lord, it is for this reason I beseech you, if our conduct does not reflect you, grows our character. Lord, challenge us that when we see conduct in one another that reflects less than Kingdom character, give us courage to lovingly confront one another and challenge each other to grow in integrity of heart, in character, that our conduct might be pleasing to you. May our conduct reflect godly character in all that we do. May we abstain from even the appearance of evil and worldliness to the end that the church of Jesus Christ may be strengthened throughout the world and the lost might be saved.
      I ask that you take the same action with us that you took with Abimilech. Look deep into our lives and notice our integrity, or lack of it. If it is lacking, help us to develop it in our lives. If it exists, use it to restrain us from sinning, and to remove the desire to sin from our lives, that the conduct seen by others will be more Christ-like. When it is necessary, instruct us to right the wrongs we have caused, both in our past and in the present, and admonish us to make them right. Help us live holy and righteous before your eyes and the eyes of others.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Character is Revealed in Conduct

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:1-10, NIV]

On August 28, 1963, The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and gave a speech known today as his "I Have a Dream" speech. In that speech he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This great preacher had a godly dream, captured no doubt from Isaiah 40:4, “that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." While some have seen this dream as a plea for civil rights, I believe his dream was far more than just a speech about civil rights. I believe that as Isaiah 40 indicates, this speech was a cry for these United States to flow with a great awakening, a spiritual revival, a move of God across the races. I believe Dr. King knew the heart of Jesus, and he understood that if freedom were ever to ring in this country and throughout the world, it would ring because the blood of Jesus had forgiven the prejudices, injustices, and hatred of the past. I believe he understood that if freedom were to ring, it would be because the blood of Jesus had healed the wounds, the hurts, the injustices suffered within the hearts of minds of all of us, for people of all races and ethnicities share the need of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Let us understand the words of Dr. King when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It is my fear that as a nation, we have placed far too much emphasis on the “color” of our skin, and far too little emphasis on the content of our “character.” For it is not by the color of our skin that we are saved unto heaven, it is by the grace of God. The Bible teaches that there is no other name under heaven by which men might be saved other than the name of Jesus, and when we are saved the color of our skin does not change, but the content of our character does! I believe Dr. King lived the Beatitudes. His life of nonviolence and the teaching of Scripture demonstrate his godly character, his understanding of Scripture, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

In our text today, Jesus began his “Sermon on the Mount” with words that seem to contradict each other. God's way of living almost always contradicts the world's way. If you want to live for God, you must be ready to say and do what seems strange to the world. You must be willing to give when others take, to love when others hate, to help when others abuse. By giving up your own rights in order to serve others, you will one day receive everything God has in store for you. The Beatitudes are a code of ethics, a Kingdom standard for all believers. They contrast Kingdom values, which are eternal, with the worldly values, which are temporary. They contrast the superficial faith of the religious with the real faith Christ wants his children to possess.

The Beatitudes are not multiple choices or multiple answers. You cannot pick what you like and leave the rest, and guessing will certainly not serve you the best. If we are to be Kingdom people and possess the real faith that Christ wants us to have, we must take the Beatitudes as a whole. These Beatitudes describe what we should be like as followers of Christ. We are to be "blessed." How often do we say to a spiritual brother or sister, "Be blessed" or "Stay blessed." When we say those words, we are implying the fortunate state of that person, because they are in God's Kingdom. You see, the Beatitudes do not promise laughter, pleasure, or earthly prosperity. To Jesus "blessed," means the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. Dr. King understood that to find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, peace, and contentment, follow Jesus no matter what the cost.

With Jesus announcing that the Kingdom was near, people were naturally asking him, "How do I qualify to be in God's Kingdom?" Jesus said that God's Kingdom is organized differently from worldly Kingdoms. In the Kingdom of heaven, wealth, power, and authority are unimportant. Kingdom people seek different blessings and benefits, and they have different attitudes. We are not to have attitudes that are carbon copies of the world's pride and lust for power. We are to have humility and self-sacrifice. Kingdom people do not need body art, piercings, and tattooing to draw attention to their bodies, they have godly character that paints the picture of Jesus and His piercings to draws people to the Father.

Lost humanity values pride and personal independence, happiness at any cost, power, pursuing personal wants, strength without feeling, reward without sacrifice, personal peace is pursued without concern for the world's chaos, and commitments are weak. Lost humanity seeks short cuts, believes the system owes them, and desires what is not theirs and what they have not earned.

Jesus teaches us that Kingdom children are poor in spirit and our reward is the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus teaches us that when we mourn, we will be comforted. He teaches us that the meek will inherit the earth, the righteous will be satisfied; the merciful will be shown mercy. He teaches us that the pure in heart will see God; the peacemakers will be called the sons of God, and those persecuted for their faith will inherit the Kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is teaching Kingdom character. This is what Dr. King was talking about when he addressed the nation on that hot August day in 1963. The bullet that took Dr. King’s life on April 4, 1968 was fired at the hands of a man who needed Jesus. Dr. King’s conduct revealed a lesser character in the life of James Earl Ray, and made him angry enough to take Dr. King’s life. Some two-thousand years ago, lost sinful men despised the character and conduct of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the perfect God-man. These men rejected him, falsely accused him, and crucified him. Not because of the color of his skin, but because he represented Kingdom character and conduct. Many of you in this room have been confronted by people angered by your words and actions as you modeled and proclaimed Jesus, and if not, you are most likely not walking in the words, character, and conduct of Jesus. For as with Jesus, angry sinful lost people will attempt to silence anyone whose actions and words proclaim Jesus.

If we are Kingdom people, we find ourselves loving the Dr. Kings of this world, but we also find ourselves loving the James Earl Ray’s of this world. If we are Kingdom people, we love the victims of the wrongs, but we also love the person who dispenses injustices on others. We love the babies that are aborted, and the mothers and doctors that take the innocent life of the unborn. We love and mourn over the murdered, yet we love and grieve for the salvation of the murderer. If we are Kingdom people, our conduct reflects our inward character. If we are Kingdom people, we do not steal library books, we do not cheat on tests, and we do not plagiarize our written assignments. If we are Kingdom people, we are more about the journey than the grade, more about learning than the GPA, and more about “showing ourselves approved unto God” than to man. If we are Kingdom people and we back into someone’s car in the parking lot, we will go find them and make it right. If we are Kingdom people, we possess the character and conduct of Jesus!

I believe that we are Kingdom people! We lead by example! We do not ask others to do what we are not doing! We are Kingdom people! We invite people to church to learn of Jesus, not to increase our numbers, not to entice them to give an offering, and not to tell us we are a great preacher. We invite people to follow Jesus with no other motive than that we are Kingdom people.

Government tries to dictate conduct though rules of law, but God dictates conduct through the renewing of our minds resulting in a wholesome godly character. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that Godly character is the opposite of the world’s character, and he challenged a nation to seek spiritual renewal, revival, a great awakening. We are Kingdom people! We need to take up the teaching of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” We need to ask Jesus to embed the teaching of the Beatitudes into our minds and hearts, and enable us to have a character that produced godly conduct; that the world may know that we are Christian, not by the color of our skin, but by the character that is revealed through our conduct.

Today, you face a decision that grows out of Kingdom character. For those of us who long to be “changed in the twinkling of an eye,” we should not fear change – we should embrace it. Ask God to grow your character, that your conduct might be a testimony to Him.

Prayer: Lord, you teach in your word that character is revealed in conduct. Today, I am not dealing with sinful conduct, but rather the root of that sinful conduct. Lord, it is for this reason I beseech you, if my conduct does not reflect you, grow my character. Lord, challenge me that when I see conduct in in my life that reflects less than Kingdom character, give me courage to change that my character and my conduct might be pleasing to you. May my conduct reflect godly character in all that I do, may I abstain from even the appearance of evil and worldliness, to the end that the church of Jesus Christ may be strengthened throughout the world and the lost might be saved. Lord, as I leave this devotion, may I go and sin no more. Amen.

Note: the above devotion is a slight variation of the message delivered at the Opening Convocation on August 27, 2013 at New Life Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC and is posted by request of students.