Prerequisite

 

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. — Luke 9:23

 

I remember being in college before I knew what a prerequisite was.  I guess I could define it if I was asked, but I really thought about what it meant for the first time when a professor told me I could take a class out of order if he wrote me a recommendation.  I don’t even remember if he actually had to do that for me, but I do remember the vocabulary word being added to my brain.

 

I was reading a conversation between an American preacher and a Chinese preacher.  The Chinese preacher was asked, “What do you think the biggest difference is in our churches?”  He simply said, “What you Americans call sanctification, our people call the prerequisite.”

 

I haven’t been able to stop thinking of this.  This was so true in my own life.  I was saved at 16, but for 5 years I didn’t follow Jesus or even take the time to read His Word.  I denied myself no worldly pleasure, and I certainly didn’t take up my cross and die daily to myself.  I do remember one of my first acts of obedience; breaking up with a girlfriend because I knew it was what God required of me.  Years after that, I had to learn to teach math “as unto the Lord.” Seven years after becoming an educator, I decided to be a teacher who honored God.  It totally transformed how I felt and still feel about going to work. Immediately after that first year of doing it for Him, I wondered why I didn’t do it sooner.

 

There were 13 years that passed between my getting saved and becoming a decent follower of God.  Here in America, we would say that God was putting me through the process of sanctification.  He is slowly making me into His image.  Make no mistake . . . He is!  But do we American preachers allow it to take far too long?  By allowing people to “receive Jesus into their hearts,” which is nowhere found in the Bible, do we rob them?  Would it not be better to simply do as Jesus did and flat out lay the prerequisites on the table?  Deny yourself!  Take up your cross every single day!  Follow Him! These prerequisites have nothing to do with fixing yourself or cleaning yourself up, only Jesus can do that, but it has everything to do with doing the things He says to do regardless of the way you feel.

 

Here is what hurts to think about:  In China, in order to become a Christian in the first place, you must make this decision to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  You count the cost, respond to the call, and go for it.  What took me 13 years to decide and figure out after becoming a Christian through the American system, they decide before they even leave the starting gate.  No wonder they thrive over there.  No wonder they have a love for Him and His Word that we can only admire from afar.

 

I say that to say this: If you are “struggling” with gossip, with laziness, with pornography, with sexual immorality, with loving people who aren’t like you, with arguing incessantly about political views, with being a jerk, with letting go of material possessions, with letting go of worry, with letting go of the love of money, basically with anything that the Bible calls sinful, lay it all down right now and really follow Jesus.  Don’t hate your job, whatever it may be, do it for Him!  Work like you are working for the Lord, not for men!  Here, in America, we think God is supposed to wave His magic wand and make us all of a sudden tolerant of the things that we really hate.  In China, you simply drop it all in the first place and follow knowing that your life could end at any moment because of your faith. They really believe that to die . . . is gain.  They really believe that, whatever happens, God is orchestrating it all for their good. They, unlike us, cannot be inconvenienced out of Christianity.

 

Lord, help us to follow you!  Like, really follow you!

 

Amen

 

Adam

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Underground Church

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  — John 20:19

 

I’ve been reading a good bit about some underground churches.  Underground churches are simply groups of believers that have to meet in secret.  They have no building, house, or any other consistent place of meeting because, if government officials catch them, they will be thrown into prison, or even executed.

 

One particular group in North Korea keeps the Bible that they have amongst their fishing gear. They go out in the boat as far as they can.  Only then do they pull out the tattered copy of the Word of God.  Fear strikes them when any other boat comes into sight.  Is it the police?  Will we be thrown into a prison camp for the next 15 years?  These thoughts are consistently on their minds.

 

In one story, another boat does come up to them.  “Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord,” he says.  After breathing a sight of relief, this group of fishermen each receives a brand new Bible from the man in the boat.  They hold it to their chests so tightly, close their eyes, and breathe praises to God.

 

Something in me just lights up when I read stuff like that.  For a moment, I look at my Bible differently.  I look on my shelf at the other dozen or so Bibles that I have . . . some that didn’t even get touched in 2018.

 

I did have a really cool moment recently.  The very first Bible I was given was lost for about the past year or so.  Right after I got saved, my best friend gave the Bible to me and had my name engraved on it (something absolutely zero underground churches would do).  Even though it was about 5 years before I actually read it, when I did start reading it, it was the Bible that God used to change my heart so that I actually wanted to live for Jesus Christ.  It is beaten up pretty badly, but my heart still lights up when I see it.   In a season of fasting, I prayed, “Lord, please place that Bible back into my hands.”  I just so happened to be looking for something in an inconspicuous place, I felt something, grabbed a hold of it, pulled it out . . . and there it was!  For probably 20 seconds I held it to my chest tightly, closed my eyes, and breathed praises to God.

 

I got a taste, albeit a very small taste, of what these guys get to feel when they receive a copy of God’s Word.

 

Would to God that we would cherish, really cherish, His Word.

 

Later

 

Adam

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A Love for His Word

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

 

Of all the church epistles that Paul wrote to, it is undeniable to me that the American church is most like the church at Corinth.  They were not unified, they were immoral, and they were immature . . . a perfect picture of us.    One of the most condemning things Paul says in chapter one is in the fact that the people were saying, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas.” They had a bit of preacher worship going on.  They were dividing themselves by relating to a particular preacher.  Paul absolutely hated this.  He simply asks the question, “Was I crucified for you? Were any of these guys?”

 

As I read the two verses above, I’m so convicted because I fell into the trap.  I don’t know how or when the trap got set, but many, many preachers have fallen into it.  We believe that we have to come up with some clever way to communicate the Word of God. In effect, we believe that the Word of God needs our help.  Paul, on purpose, when he went to Corinth “did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom,” but “determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

 

I just read a study that claimed that 80% of pastors only read their Bible when they are preparing for a sermon.  If these guys don’t read it, then I can guarantee you their congregations aren’t reading it.  Here is a paragraph from a different study done two years ago:

 

One in 5 Americans have read the entire Bible at least once — including 9 percent who’ve read it through multiple times. Just over half (53 percent) have read relatively little of it, and 1 in 10 haven’t read it at all.

 

Here is the bottom line of the study:  “The only time most Americans hear from the Bible is when someone else is reading it.”

 

I am an avid sermon listener.  I listen to lots of them.  After reading 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, the very next sermon I listened to, I made some intentional observations.  The preacher spent approximately 80% of his time on politics, football, and working out. Of course, this left the remaining 20% to talk about the Bible.

 

I am not condemning the guy at all.  I repeat, I’m not condemning this guy at all!  It was a very entertaining sermon.  I’ll even say this:  Had someone been doing to me what I was doing to this guy on one particular sermon, they would have found that I never highlighted a singe Bible verse . . . I was 100% just talking about stuff and didn’t focus on any Bible verse.

 

Now, what if in 2019, the Word came alive to us?  What if we fell in love with it?  What if we really believed it was powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword?  What if we believed that it alone was enough?  Would we not read it all the time?  Would we not sit in church and just anticipate the reading of God’s Word? Wouldn’t we just marvel at it?  We would just say in our heart . . . “I can’t believe we get to hear God’s Word . . . this is amazing!”

 

The truth is that we aren’t amazed because we are a sensual and carnal people.  We live in a society that feeds these desires 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Therefore, we find ways to make His Word more palatable.  We like singing to God as long as it is shrouded inside the work of professional musicians.  We like hearing a little bit of the Word as long as a dynamic speaker who keeps our attention delivers it.  I have nothing against these things.  I like them. But, I have to ask the question this morning: Why is God’s Word alone not enough for us?

 

Paul purposefully didn’t embellish the Word like he could have.  He kept it simple.  A heart that has been changed by Christ will marvel at Christ and Him Crucified. A heart that has not been converted will go to a simple church service where these things are proclaimed and call it “boring.” 

 

I don’t really have a grand finale ending to this.  I just want you to consider whether or not you have a real deal love for God and His Word.  Are you amazed that you even have a copy of it?  Do you open it and read it with reverential awe?

 

God, help us to get it.

 

Later

 

Adam

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Ask! What shall I give you?

 

On that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask! What shall I give you?”  — 2 Chronicles 1:7

 

Could you imagine God Himself appearing to you and saying, “Whatever you want, name it, it’s yours!” I’ve had this question on the forefront of my mind for a solid week now.  I almost feel like God is asking me this question and giving me this opportunity for real.  What would you ask Him for?  I think our answer reveals so much about our spiritual condition.

 

Solomon asks for wisdom. For the longest time, I’ve thought his answer was the standard for all answers.  I have asked God countless times for wisdom.  Yet, as I read on in 2 Chronicles, Solomon didn’t end well.  He might have had the wisdom to know what was right, but often times, he didn’t have the courage to actually do what was right. Because of his lust for foreign women (and women in general), he succumbed to their wishes when they wanted temples for their own gods.  He actually built temples to other gods in Israel breaking the first commandment. His legacy of wisdom did not get passed on to his sons.  You can read in 2 Chronicles 10 just how foolish Rehoboam, his son and successor, was. He certainly never learned from his dad that “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1)

 

I believe Solomon had two answers that would have been better than the one he gave.  He doubtless had access to Moses’s writings, the Pentateuch.  He also had the knowledge of his own father, David.  He had access to his writings, as well as the stories of the things he went through.  Because of this, I think Solomon should have asked thusly:

 

“God, Moses sought your face, he really knew you, and you knew him.   You talked with him.  You led him and guided him.  I want to know you like that.  I want you to help me lead these people where you want them to go.”

 

Or

 

“You said that my dad was a man after your own heart.  Give me a heart that desires you like his did.  When I get off track and sin, convict me like you did him.  Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

 

It isn’t like Solomon asked for anything bad.  There is a sense of God being impressed with His answer because He mentions the fact that he didn’t ask for riches or power.  It is apparent that most people would ask for these types of things.

 

So, knowing what little I know about the Bible and taking into consideration everything that I’ve learned up to this point in my life, what am I asking for?

 

Lord, I want to be as full of Your Holy Spirit as possible.  I want to have a heart that truly loves you and truly keeps the greatest commandment to love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, all of my mind, and all my strength.  When people see me, may they be reminded of you.

 

Amen

 

Adam

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Christmas 2018

 

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. – John 1:14

 

I used to think the symptoms of sin was the greatest proof that I was a sinner.  When I cussed, was immoral, or did countless other things I shouldn’t do, I was so convicted.  I really thought I was a hopeless cause.  Thank God I never stopped running to Him.  I didn’t know what to do with these feelings other than run to an altar and ask God to save me from my awful behavior.

 

Then, He did.  God changed my wants and desires.  There was this sweet spot of walking with Him and experiencing the joy that only He offers.  Slowly, over time, because I wasn’t nearly as foul mouthed and immoral as I used to be, I kind of became a Pharisee.  It was like I took credit for changing myself.  I had zero mercy on people who were almost exactly like I was before God grabbed a hold of me.  It’s almost like I was better off with those sin symptoms . . . at least they made me constantly run to Him and depend on Him.  I knew He was the only one that could completely change my heart.  When I didn’t have the symptoms anymore, I stopped running to Him as frequently.

 

Today, I realize afresh that sin is still lying in wait to devour me.  I frequently have this vision where I see salvation as a flowerbed. After the overhaul to make it neat and clean, I only need to check on it every day and give it what it needs.  It may need watering.  It may need something new planted.  It may need a weed here or there pulled up by the roots.  It is so easy to pull these weeds if you catch them early.  Unfortunately, if you neglect it for a long period of time, you could easily be back where you started.

 

I say all that to say this: I needed to do some weed pulling this morning.  I had a new sin symptom arise.  I read the words, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and it wasn’t amazing to me. How many times have I heard the name of Jesus and not been enthralled?  How many times have I treated His Name as if it were any other name? If I can hear it and not be moved in some way inside my heart, that is every bit as bad as those other symptoms I had when I was just starting out.  The worst thing sin does is shrink God and make Him like any other religious figure . . . even like us.

 

John 1:14 sums up Christmas in eight words:  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The same Word that was in the beginning with God and actually said, “Let there be light,” and light burst forth all throughout the Universe at 186,000 miles per second.  That very same Word became flesh and literally and figuratively hung out with us to save us.

 

Amazing.

 

Lord, continue to sanctify and purify me.  Change my heart and mind so that You are always amazing to me. Thank You for coming and doing what You did for me.

 

Merry Christmas

 

Adam

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Babushka

 

For unto us a child is born. – Isaiah 9:6

 

So I just read this story about a Russian lady named Babushka who lived 2,000 years ago.  The story is not a true one, but it was quite powerful as I read it.  Babushka was always cleaning and cooking.  Household matters consumed her.  They consumed her so much that she couldn’t even go outside to see the amazingly bright star everyone was talking about that had appeared out of nowhere in the night sky.

 

Soon after, three men knocked on her door.  They were kings!  They told her that they were following the star hoping to see the one whom it foretold. They asked if she’d like to give a gift. She said she had some toys, but they wouldn’t be good enough for the new, young king.  The wise men tried to persuade her to go with them, but she just had too much to do and they left without her.

 

After the wise men departed, she looked and saw the toys.  She had the overwhelming urge to give them, but they were dusty.  She spent lots of time cleaning them up really nicely.  After she was finished, she thought of catching up to the wise men, but she was tired. She thought she’d sleep a bit, but ended up sleeping a really long time.  The wise men now had quite a head start.

 

She headed after them anyway.  She was consistently able to find someone who saw them and say, “They went this way,” or “They went that way.”  Her journey took her all the way to the innkeeper who told her about the young couple who stayed in his stable.  He tells her that they found the one they were looking for . . . the Savior, who is Christ the Lord and he believes the family headed toward Egypt.

 

Babushka walked away sad and continued her search for Him, but never found Him.

 

We have a trillion things to do this time of year and just about that many places to be.  We can get so consumed with getting it all done that we could easily do exactly like Babushka.  Let’s purpose in our hearts that we will be like those wise men who looked up, stayed focused on the star, and got to see with their own eyes the greatest gift this world has ever been given.

 

Don’t let Christmas come and go only to find out that you missed Him.

 

Later

 

Adam

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Giving and Receiving

It is more blessed to give than to receive.  — Acts 20:35

One aspect of this verse that I’ve never thought of is this: it is a whole lot easier to give than receive.  We don’t mind giving, that is easy.  It even makes us feel good to give to others, especially when they are in need.  Yet, when it comes to receiving, many Americans find that difficult.  We like to be independent.   We like to not need the help of others.  If we recover, we want it to be through our own efforts, not because we received help from someone else.

The salvation God offers only works through receiving.  Yet, countless Americans are counting on being “good enough” to earn a better afterlife.  They believe they are earning their way through morals, church attendance, good deeds, and countless other efforts.  Let’s make this clear:  Salvation from Jesus Christ can only be received, not earned.

If we could only get a taste of just how much He loves us.  We would so freely and so quickly accept the gift of His salvation.  God so loved us that He gave.  Love always gives.  Love always costs something.  For us to receive Him, we have to give up our pride, call ourselves sinful, and recieve His mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  Eventually, we will begin to drop sinful habits.  But, the cool thing is this:  By the time you drop these habits, it will be because you want to, not because you have to.  You will realize more and more that He gave His Son, therefore the least you can do is give Him your life.

This Christmas season, evaluate your heart and receive the free gift of salvation.  It is the best thing offered in this life.  Nothing else even comes close.

Later.

Adam.

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