Monday, January 30, 2017

God gives more grace

It is so hard for us to disentangle our affections from this world system and transfer them to the One who created us and redeemed us. James writes in his “in your face” letter that too many followers of Jesus are adulterous — choosing daily to pursue intimacy with the world instead of him. And he reminds us that our holy God has a holy jealousy for us. What then is the answer? How can we pursue Christ above all things?

James answers that question in his letter: more grace. God gives more grace from his unlimited supply. The story is told of an artist who submitted a painting of Niagara Falls to an art gallery, but didn’t give it a title. The gallery needed one, so they titled the work, “More to come.” I like that. Billions of gallons of water rush over the falls every year but there’s more to come. Saying, “I don't know if God can teach me how to love Him more than I love anything else” is like standing under Niagara Falls and saying, “I don’t know if there’s enough water here to satisfy my thirst.” He gives more grace, a bounteous supply, to help us love and follow Him. Augustine prayed, “Give me the grace to do as You command, and command me to do what You will.” Where do we need more of God’s grace? Here are a few suggestions.

We need God’s grace for our battles with the flesh. Do you continue to struggle with the same sin? God gives more grace. Are you drowning in selfishness to the point that you might say, “If I didn’t think about myself, I’d think nothing at all”? He gives more grace. Are you as stubborn as a mule and your reflex position is that everyone else is wrong, but you’re always right? He gives more grace. Are you consumed with resentment and tormented by a lack of forgiveness, longing to know that the other person who hurt you suffers as much as you do? God gives more grace.

We need God’s grace for our burdens. Are you going through a physical trial? God gives more grace. Are you struggling in a bad marriage? He gives more grace. Have you suffered an inconsolable loss and your heart continues to break over it? God gives more grace.

God gives us grace for our blessings, or our beginnings. Is He calling you to do something new for his sake, an outreach in your neighborhood, a ministry in the church? He gives more grace. Is he urging you to start having family devotions, or start praying with and for your wife, or start memorizing Scripture, or start giving to the church, or even to start coming to service on time? God gives more grace. Is he whispering in your heart that you can mentor a younger believer? He gives more grace. Or is he asking you to read more and watch less, to exercise more and eat less, to show hospitality more, to pray more, to witness more? He gives more grace.

This is great news for me and you, dear reader. But be careful of this truth: God gives grace to the humble.

He stiff-arms the proud, because they don’t acknowledge that they need him. “I got this!” is the proud man’s motto, and “I can do this on my own!” is tattooed on his soul. A proud man or woman is a stranger to grace. But to those who know they need him, God’s grace is life and breath and freedom.

Why wait? Admit today your need for more of God’s grace.

Monday, January 23, 2017

As believers, we are called to this fight

Scene one: A boy walking home from school is cornered by a bully who forces him to his knees, throws his books in a mud puddle, and runs off as the boy whimpers with shame.

Scene two: The boy takes a different path home, fearing another encounter with his tormenter. It doesn’t work. The bully follows him, and scene one is repeated.

Scene three: The young boy asks a friend to walk home with him, but when the bully shows up, the friend runs away. Scene one is repeated, with the bully taking it one step further: He makes the young boy kneel in front of him and say, “You rule, and I drool.” Laughing hysterically, the bully slaps his "servant" in the face and runs off.

Scene four: The boy stays home from school, feigning sickness. He is consumed with fear. His grades suffer, he cannot sleep, and he even wets his bed, something he hasn’t done since he was 4. The camera rolls through scene after scene of the bully’s torments and the agony of a child who begins to wish that he had never been born. Then one day, everything changes.

Scene five: The bully is putting the boy through the normal routine when suddenly a new kid walks down the road and witnesses the scene. Joshua has just moved to the neighborhood and doesn’t know anybody yet. He is a big boy, much bigger than the bully, and he runs over and throws the bully off the young boy. He helps the boy get his books together, brushes the dirt out of his hair and off his face, and then walks the rest of the way home with him. From that day on, the two become fast friends, and the word on the schoolyard is, “Wherever Joshua is, his little buddy is not far behind.” The camera rolls through scene after scene of the two developing a friendship, playing ball together, watching TV, going to church, and eating lunch at school.

Scene six: Joshua is sick at home, and the bully has been watching and waiting for this opportunity. He knows it will be fun catching up with his "servant," making up for many lost days. What he doesn’t know is that the young boy is not afraid anymore. Joshua has been more than just a friend and protector; he has taught his young friend how to fight back. When the bully starts to run at the young boy, he is met with a surprising blow to the gut, followed by an elbow drop that sends him crashing to the pavement. The victim has become the victor.

The story I wrote was born out of this quote from Stephen Schwarz’s book, "The Moral Question of Abortion": “Suppose, in the encounter between doctor and child [in an abortion], the child won half of the time, and killed the doctor in self-defense — something he would have every right to do. Very few doctors would perform abortions. They perform them now only because of their absolute power over a small, fragile, helpless victim.”

God is raising up more like Joshua who are willing to fight for the unborn, and to take a stand against those in abortion clinics who “stealthily watch for the helpless” and “murder the innocent.” (Psalm 10)

Our weapons are prayer and counsel and laws, not fists or guns. But make no mistake — we are called to the fight. As Dr. Mildred Jefferson said, “The fight for the right to life is not the cause of a special few, but the cause of every man, woman and child who cares not only about his or her own family, but the whole family of man.”

Monday, January 16, 2017

Benny is a good Samaritan

“Many people learn history. Very few people learn from it.”

That was one of the statements Benyamim Tsedaka made in our 90-minute meeting for lunch a few weeks ago. Benyamim, who prefers to be called Benny to make it easier for Americans, is a 125th-generation Samaritan who knows his history and is on a mission to help others know it as well, so lessons may be learned and tragedies avoided.

The Samaritans are a tribe of Israelites that once boasted more than a million people in the 5th century, and dropped as low as 141 in 1919. Now there are 800 Samaritans, but that number is growing again. From the ancient tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Levi, the Samaritans live in or near Mount Gerizim in Israel, and follow only the first five books of the Old Testament, or, the Pentateuch.

Benny says the Samaritans and Jews are two brothers of the same nation, and he travels throughout the world for two months every year, meeting with world leaders and representing the Samaritan people. When he and I met with JL Williams and Margaret Wooten (the Wootens are Benny’s "adopted family" in Alamance County), he had just come from a meeting with one of the members of President-elect Trump's transition team.

Benny has quite the resumé. He served in the Israeli Air Force in the 1960s. Since 1969, he has served as chief editor of The Samaritan News, and has published 122 books. He is a choir director, the honorary chairman of the Samaritan Basketball Team, and since 2007, he has chaired the Samaritan Medal Committee for Peace and Humanitarian Achievements.

Benny spoke at length about the need for the Samaritans to have support from our nation. When he met with 6 members of the State Department in Washington, D.C. last month, he told them, “We are between two sides and need the U.S. and Great Britain to support us. We do not have an army. We are for peace.”

Benny and I disagree about who Jesus Christ was. The Samaritans see him as only a prophet. Christians believe Jesus is who he claimed to be: the Son of God and the Savior. But there are many things we can agree on, and I enjoyed learning from Benny about the Samaritans.

A Samaritan male baby is circumcised on the 8th day, as Scripture teaches. Benny said an incubator is considered an extension of the womb, so a premature male will be circumcised exactly 8 days after leaving the incubator. Every Samaritan child studies the Pentateuch in school. He or she learns to read it in ancient Hebrew and in modern Hebrew. They are able to speak and to read the ancient language, and conclude reading the Torah at 6 or 7 years old.

He said there is no conflict there between the older generation and the young, because hypocrisy is not tolerated. He laughed as he said, “I always say to a young person, ‘Show me what I am asking you to do that I am not doing myself?'”

The stages of marriage are clear. First, a young man and woman must receive the consent of their parents. Then, they are engaged. Finally, they are married. Sounds just like America, except that step one is rare these days, wouldn’t you say? Maybe we are missing something, because Benny says that in the last 100 years, there have been fewer than five divorces among the Samaritans.

Benny Tsedaka is on a mission as a good Samaritan to teach the world about a precious people. I wish him the very best.

He was ready to preach, pray, or die

When I was 15, I saw the New Directions perform on a Sunday in Advance, N.C. There were 25 young people, not much older than me, singing about Jesus and giving testimonies about how he had changed their lives. The leader of this interracial group was a man with longer hair and bushy sideburns, a bullhorn voice, and a passion for preaching like I had never heard. His name was JL Williams. I was mesmerized, and thought to myself, “I would love to be a part of a group like that.” Who knew that 11 years later, JL would ask me and Cindy to lead the team? For three summers, we recruited, trained, and led young people to churches and prisons and inner cities throughout the East Coast, and into Haiti at summer’s end, sharing the Gospel through song and preaching. From that experience I was led to help start a church in 1987, with JL as one of the original leaders for Antioch.

I was mesmerized again on Dec. 31, which would have been JL’s 75th birthday, when more than 1,000 people gathered at Lamb’s Chapel to celebrate his life and remember the impact he had on so many. JL died on Dec. 28, and three days later there were men from India, Nepal, Zimbabwe (via video) and Haiti who had somehow made it to Burlington so they could share their love for this man, and their gratitude for his ministry. They were among the hundreds of pastors whom he discipled in other countries. It was said at least three times in the two-hour service: “JL was a connector.” Everywhere he went, and he went everywhere, JL connected leaders to one another, and mission needs to mission givers. He took countless businessmen and women on “Kingdom adventures” to Africa and Asia. He raised millions of dollars to feed orphans, fund schools, dig wells, and build churches. He believed that ministry to the soul was most important, but that a man could listen better with a full belly, so JL did all he could to minister “to the whole man with the whole Gospel.”

It started in the late '60s when his brother Ed invited JL to come to Burlington and run some programs at the local YMCA. In 1968, JL formed what became known as the New Directions, and hundreds of young people from Burlington and eventually from other states and countries, learned to follow the Lord by following JL around the country. I asked JL once if he would disciple me. He smiled and said, “Come and go with me; discipleship is not a program, it’s a way of life.” In 1998, JL asked me to lead a ministry team to Haiti, and promised that if I did, he would take me with him to Africa. The next summer, I invited Scott Hahn, a new graduate of Elon, to go on that African adventure with JL that took us to Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Since then I have made more than a dozen trips to Africa, taking my wife and each of my children at least once, and many others as well. JL’s legacy includes hundreds of Americans who pray and give and go into all the world because of his influence.

JL was famous for saying, “We always need to be ready to preach, pray, or die.” He did the first two countless thousands of times and loved Jesus with a passion, so when it came time to do the third, he was ready.

If JL were here today, he would want to ask, “How about you? Are you ready?”

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

It started with a cake

We have been together to Africa on a mission’s trip, our paths rarely cross. But I love talking to this man because he is one of those individuals who live, it seems, on a completely different plane than the rest of us. I could tell you lots of stories, but I will just share this one.

One day several years ago, Eddie was doing two things that he enjoys the most, walking and praying. Suddenly the Lord interrupted Eddie’s prayers with this thought: While you are praying for missions and missionaries overseas, why not also pray for your neighbors? Eddie said, “OK, I will do just that.” He thought about it for a few minutes and decided to pick the hardest case on the block, a man who was known and avoided by everyone because of his drinking. He was rarely sober but he held down a job, even owned a business. Eddie began to pray for him every day, that God would touch his heart and open it to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He found out one day that the man’s son was celebrating a birthday, so Eddie went to the store and bought a birthday cake and left it in the bag and hung it on his neighbor’s door. Eddie knew he would be coming home for lunch and sure enough, the man called him about 30 seconds after he arrived.

“Did you leave that cake hanging on my door?” the man asked.

“Yes, I did,” Eddie said.

“Why’d you do that?”

“Well, because we are neighbors and I have never really gotten to know you. I knew it was your son’s birthday, so I just wanted to do something neighborly for you. I wanted to show you that I care about you.”

There was a long pause. Then the man asked Eddie if he thought you could still go to heaven if you never went to church. Eddie said yes. “Would you come over and talk to me about that?” the neighbor said. Eddie replied, “You mean now?” The man did mean now, so Eddie told him he would be right over.

Eddie knew his neighbor, who owned a tire store, was wearing coveralls, so he put some coveralls on, too. Then he went over and knocked on his neighbor’s door. When he walked in, and surveyed the scene, the man asked Eddie if he had ever seen anything like it. Eddie said, “Well, only in bars. I admit that I have never seen a house that was, uh, decorated quite like this.” Every wall was plastered with beer signs and beer clocks and beer ads.

They had a long talk that day. Not long after that, the neighbor showed up at Eddie’s home Bible Study. Then, he laid down his addiction to alcohol. Eddie grinned as he talked about the drastic changes that had taken place in this man’s life after he believed the gospel and surrendered to Jesus Christ. I grinned as I thought about this friend of mine, winning the war on sin one lost soul at a time. I am challenged in my own witness when I hear stories like that. I hope you will be, too. As we stand on the threshold of 2017, here’s a great idea I didn’t come up with:

“Go into all the world (or your own neighborhood) and preach the gospel to every creature.” You can always start with a cake.