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The Dangers of Judgment

I was excited to hear a woman speak at our church one particular Sunday years ago. She had been the director of our town’s local Planned Parenthood clinic but had left and had since become an outspoken critic of Planned Parenthood and abortion in general. 

I had heard rumors of what happened—it was huge news among the pro-life people in our town—but I was really looking forward to hearing the story straight from her. She’d already had a few media appearances before this Sunday, but not nearly as many as she would have in the coming months and years. She’s since been a regular on many news outlets whenever Planned Parenthood or abortion comes up as a national topic.

As I walked into the lobby of the church, an old high school classmate greeted me in the foyer. He was in the graduating class one year ahead of me, but we had known each other for years. We played on the same soccer team for a couple years when we were ten or eleven. 

I was happy to see him and a little surprised as to why he was there. I asked him how he found his way into our church and what brought him to town. He said that he had been living there for many years now and that his wife was speaking at the church that morning.

Shocked

I’m sure the shock on my face was evident. We had graduated from a private Christian school years before. I was pretty sure we all knew that it was frowned upon to date, let alone marry, a director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. I’m pretty sure it was in the school’s bylaws or something.

Doug gave me the briefest of stories of how they met, married and got to the place where they were now. At no point had either of them felt like they left their faith in Jesus by her working as the director of one of the most heinous organizations in human history. At the time, they both felt like she was performing a wonderful service for women and had continued going to a liberal church the whole time. In other words, they were sincere in their intentions.

It wasn’t until Abby Johnson was asked to take part in an actual abortion procedure, something she had never had to do in all her years at Planned Parenthood. Immediately after the procedure, she walked across the street to the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life and asked for help. She knew that she had made a terrible mistake and had no idea where to go from there.

In the months that would follow, they lived a pretty turbulent life. They were rejected by their liberal church friends who were not okay with her coming out against abortion. They were rejected by a large percentage of conservative Christians for ever having taken part in the abortion industry. 

Fortunately, they’re an irrepressible couple, and two of America’s greatest voices for life today. Abby has a wonderful book and a soon-to-be released movie about she and Doug’s story that I hope everyone will read and see.

New York

In the wake of one of the most heinous laws ever passed in our nation’s history, my social media feed has been full of many different reactions to New York’s recent abortion edict. Because of my book, I’ve also received countless messages asking what I thought about One World Trade Center being illuminated pink to celebrate legal abortions up to the point of birth. 

In the melee of reactions, I have seen good, bad and ugly. It seems that our already polarized nation is retreating further into battle positions, so it is no surprise that I have seen clever reactions, thoughtful reactions and some that have saddened me. Obviously, those who rejoice over the death of unborn children cause me great sadness. But it was something else that caused me grief.

Two reactions that were particularly troubling were those Christians calling for the eternal judgment of Governor Cuomo and those warning the nation that we are headed for judgment, and happily so. Those who proclaim the judgment of America for our sins often seem that they are happy for it. They speak of being happy that we will get what we have coming to us.

This bothers me deeply. It pained me to see the faces of Governor Cuomo and the New York State Assembly when they passed a murder law. They smiled. They cheered. It truly was the face of evil in our land. It was truly a face I had not seen since I had looked in the mirror that morning.

Grace And Mercy

I have no merit to attain to God’s Holy Presence on my own. In fact, on my own, I contain only wickedness that justly deserves the eternal punishment so many would seek for Governor Cuomo and anyone like him. When he said this, the Apostle Paul truly meant it:

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

Romans 7:18

I believe that what New York did this past week was truly evil. I think we should call evil for what it is, unashamedly. But to then pronounce judgment over a person on our own accord; that troubles me. 

What has been proclaimed over Governor Cuomo this week sounds much like the stories that Doug Johnson told me he and his wife Abby had received after she had left Planned Parenthood and turned pro-life. She had repented of her actions, but that wasn’t good enough for a large number of self-righteous self-proclaimed Christians.

Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to Christians like Shawn Carney, the current director of 40 Days for Life, and others who took Doug and Abby Johnson in and let them heal and grow instead of rejecting them. I pray that Governor Cuomo will one day repent and be taken in by similar followers of Jesus. People who realize that except for the grace of God, we would be in the same place.

In the Seat of Judgment

As for those who exuberantly proclaim judgment against our nation; I am heartsick. I do not say that lightly. As someone who has written a book exactly about God’s coming judgment of America, I assure you that I take no pleasure in it. In fact, I proclaim it only because of the clarity with which I heard it. 

I have written extensively about that on my website and in my book, so I will not rehash that here. 

What I do want to say clearly is that I live here. My children live here. My friends and family are Americans. I have no desire to see judgment befall us because I know exactly what that means when God judges a nation.

I cannot argue with God that America doesn’t justly deserve the judgment that I know He has proclaimed. We most certainly do. But I will not fail to offer a bold prayer to God until my dying day to beg for mercy. 

Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:13

We have done nothing to earn the right to ask for mercy, but because of the shed blood of Jesus to wash away our sins, we have the dignity and privilege to ask God for it. As such, I will choose to waste my breath on that prayer. It will be the wasteful offering from an alabaster jar I give to God and my nation, as Mary of Bethany did. 

When I look at my nation and the direction she is headed, prayers for mercy do in fact seem like a waste of too little too late. But I know that there are more Doug and Abby Johnsons out there. I know I serve a God who hears, and even bargains for the lives of the wicked. I have no problem calling people and their actions wicked, because I know who I am without Christ, but I will fight with all my heart to give them the same chance that I had to come to know the risen Christ.

What We Can and Cannot Judge

When we call wickedness wicked, we do in fact judge. But when we call what God has already called evil, we make a sure judgment that we can be confident in; in fact, we are required as Christians to call that which God has called sinful as such. But when we cast eternal, or even temporal judgment upon others or our nation, we are taking God’s seat. We move beyond the surety of His Word and into the morass of our own self-righteousness. 

I hope you will join me in praying for Governor Cuomo. Pray with me for New York. Pray with me for our nation. I pray that none of them get what they deserve. I pray that our nation will receive mercy. There are still more out there just like Doug and Abby Johnson, and the Lord wants to get ahold of their hearts too.

And If for no other reason, pray for our nation because we live here.

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Is Billy Graham’s Reward Greater Than Yours?

Billy Graham: November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018

The name Billy Graham is synonymous with evangelism. Possibly the single most influential Christian of the past hundred years, Mr. Graham touched the lives of millions of people in one way or another. He led gigantic crusades in places like the Los Angeles Coliseum and countless events broadcast on television before the idea of Christian TV was even a passing thought in anyone’s mind.

There has simply been no one like him in our generation.

Or has there?

Reward

On this day that he has passed from death to eternal life, many people imagine that his reward in heaven will far outstrip anyone else’s by miles. He won souls all over the world and touched the seats of power at home and abroad. For numerous administrations, he had a direct line to the President. His accomplishments for the sake of the gospel are unparalleled. But does that mean that his reward is greater than anyone else’s? I don’t think so.

I believe that Billy Graham was obedient to the call God gave him, and we should all be thankful for that. But that call—the call to evangelize—didn’t come to him because he earned it. In the Christian life, we are all called to evangelize and disciple, but not all of us are good at it. And it’s not for a lack of trying.

Ordination

There is an understanding within Christianity of something called ordination. That term gets tossed around a lot in Christian circles and it has basically come to mean that someone has finished seminary and has started working vocationally at a church. But that isn’t really what it means. Ordination means that God has graced you with a special gifting toward something that goes beyond what is normal for other people.

For instance, everyone is called to pastor. We must all shepherd (pastor) our children and our own family, but that does not mean that we have been ordained to pastor a local congregation of Christians. We have all been called to evangelize, but for most of us we may see one or two people become believers in our lifetimes—maybe only our children. Others, however, have been given a special grace to lead hundreds, thousands and even millions to the Lord. Names like Billy Graham and Reinhardt Bonke come to mind.

But does that mean that because their grace and ability are greater than yours and mine that they will receive a greater reward? Jesus put it like this:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Luke 12:48 NIV

Even though we have all been called to pastor, evangelize and disciple, not everyone of us will be as good at each of them as others. Paul said it like this:

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

These are all rhetorical questions that Paul asks. Of course not everyone is an apostle or a prophet or a healer. There’s no magical spiritual understanding here—we see clearly around us that some people are just more gifted towards these things because of the results we see in their lives.

Gifting and Grace

I’ve known people who can walk into a crowded place and people will come under conviction and ask that person how to be saved. I’ve never experienced that and it’s not for a lack of trying. I have given the same kind of messages Billy Graham did, yet I didn’t have thousands respond to my altar call. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a bad evangelist, it means I’m not an ordained evangelist.

Billy Graham was graced as an evangelist like few others. And because of that much was required of him. God supernaturally gave him that gift. Billy Graham was no prophet. He probably wouldn’t have made a good pastor. Does that mean that he wasn’t obedient to the Lord because he didn’t pastor a church? No! His God-given assignment was evangelism and he performed it obediently.

If we judge ourselves by a standard that God doesn’t judge us by, then we will live in shame. Someone once said that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree then it will spend its entire life thinking it is stupid.

Honor and Reflection

I think on this occasion of Billy Graham passing from this life to the next it is entirely appropriate to celebrate and remember the incredible life that he had and to marvel at his amazing accomplishments. I am thankful for his life, but I also know that he would not have wanted anyone to judge their life by his.

Today we should celebrate his life and ask ourselves, what is our assignment from God? What places in our lives have we been given much, and how can we fulfill them? How can we be similarly obedient to the specific call on our lives that Billy Graham was to his?

When we walk out our God-given ordination, we will hear the same words from God that Billy Graham heard today, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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As Far As The East Is From The West

I was meditating on David’s words in 2 Samuel 22 and 23 as I was writing for my next 10 Week Bible Study. I was struck by just how surely David saw himself as clean and righteous. He knew he was pure before the Lord, even though we have such an exhaustive witness in 1 and 2 Samuel to the contrary.

David was a man who knew how to sin, and how to sin big. But even greater than David’s ability to sin was his knowledge and surety that there was a God who forgave extravagantly. David understood that through his repentance, God made him a completely new creation.

David trusted in God’s faithfulness to forgive our sins, like he says in Psalm 103.

as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:12

The apostle John continued this same theme by saying this:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

Forgiven and Forgotten

In 2 Samuel 22 and 23, David repeatedly speaks of himself as clean and pure. He claims that there is no sin in him and that all his life he has lived righteously. How is that? Because he knew that through repentance God would forgive and forget all his sins.

David’s confidence in his forgiveness caused him to live differently, but it’s the way God wants us to live today. We can be free from the bondages of sin and death if we will fully embrace God’s forgiveness and grace through repentance.

Yes, repentance often looks like making amends with the ones we have wronged, but when we trust God that He has forgiven and forgotten, we can take on that same freedom of spirit to no longer live under the burden of guilt and shame.

How about you? Would you like to live like that? I encourage you to spend some time this week meditating on 2 Samuel 22-23:7. Knowing how badly David screwed up but that he could speak this of himself, how would that change how we view ourselves? How would that change your life? How would that change your relationships?

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Yes, Powerful Flawed Egos Existed 500 Years Ago

500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 things he wanted to see changed about the way the church handled things, mostly the selling of indulgences. I won’t go into exactly what all that meant; a quick Google search will land you a thousand explanations of his grievances.

I am fascinated by this event for another reason today. When Luther nailed his theses to the door of the chapel, he wasn’t trying to start a new church. Quite to the contrary, that would have been something only a heretic would do, so it was the furthest thing from his mind. October 31, 1517 was not Martin Luther’s attempt to start the Protestant Reformation. It was his attempt to begin a Catholic Reformation.

Deeply Flawed

Unfortunately for Luther, the Pope was a deeply flawed human being. I’m sure that Luther knew he was being a bit of a troublemaker with his actions, but he could not have perceived just how much trouble he was going to start. I encourage you to read the text of his theses as a whole and I believe you will agree with me that what he ended with is not what he started with those 95 theses. Because Luther was ultimately dealing with a flawed human being, things went very differently than he had intended. It was only years and decades later that those 95 theses nailed to the door in Wittenberg became what is known as the Protestant Reformation.

Those two words are a paradox. Reformation generally comes over time from within. Rebellion is what generally results from protest. How then can we view what Luther did 500 years ago as a reformation?

Unfortunately for the Pope, Martin Luther was a deeply flawed human being. In the same way that Rehoboam gave a harsh answer to his subjects, and thereby lost his kingdom, the Pope dealt harshly with a man he had underestimated. The disagreement that ensued was not between to meek and mild mannered men. No, the Protestant Reformation was birthed out of the lesser parts of the nature of two very political, driven and flawed men.

Years later, after Luther had begun what would eventually become the Lutheran church, other reformers began raising up proclaiming that Luther had not gone far enough in his reformation of the church. John Calvin, John Huss and many more like then would begin new movements, further fracturing what had been known up to that point as the Holy Unified (Catholic) Church. Martin Luther and the Pope had unwittingly opened a can of worms that we still feel the effects of today.

Emmanuel, God With Us

What fascinates me about all this is that God was in the midst of all of this. Flawed men, making flawed decisions fractured the church to pieces and God stood watching, smiling as they went. How is it that God smiles upon and actually blesses the flawed actions of flawed men? It’s because that’s the only type of people He has to work with.

It was the Pope’s and Luther’s big personalities that conflicted that eventually led to the separation. It was almost every other leader’s big personality and ego that led to further fractures, yet the Lord has blessed almost every new factions’ actions abundantly.

Before, during and since the protestor’s reformation, God has blessed both the Catholics and the Protestants. Both churches have grown immensely since that day. Miracles, signs and wonders have taken place within the Catholic and Protestant churches. How could God so richly bless all these flawed people?

Like I said, God can only use flawed people, because there isn’t any other kind of person. In His grace and mercy, God chooses partnership with us, mere humans, to carry out His plans on earth. He uses men to lead His church. Flawed men and women. That is how He began and it is how He ordains things today. He uses our strengths and weaknesses together to administer His church. He works through the personal and corporate failings of people to bring about amazing results.

In the same way that the Lord was not intimidated to split His chosen people into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, the Lord was not intimidated to split His church into two factions: Catholic and Protestant. It is not the Pope or anyone else who actually runs the church. The Holy Spirit conducts the affairs of the church. There are many men and women He uses to accomplish what is on His heart as He has done from the beginning.

The True Leader

The Holy Spirit is the true leader of the church. He is the one common factor through nearly two thousand years of a church, that despite wicked men’s best efforts, still exists. Somehow the Lord has carried His holy church through the failings of flawed men and women and come out ahead. Today, Protestants and Catholics have reached more people with the gospel of Jesus than anyone in 1517 could have imagined. There are still many, many deeply flawed people on both sides, and the Lord still continues to use them mightily.

The Protestant Reformation began five hundred years ago because two men, Martin Luther and Pope Leo X, could not come to an agreement because of their own egos and hubris, and the Lord loved it and blessed it. He blessed it not because He loves men’s egos and hubris, but because He loves His church.

And that is what it is to this day: His church. Protestant or Catholic, Lutheran or Pentecostal, Anglican or Orthodox, they are all God’s one holy unified church. Our true leader is not a Pope or an Archbishop of Canterbury, but a Holy Spirit who still moves and acts today like He did in the days of the early church.

That’s why I am here and it’s probably why you are reading this today, because God loves us despite and because of the actions of flawed mankind. There is no greater evidence of His love and grace today than the fact that all these churches still exist five hundred years after that famous act of protest.

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Origins of the Spiritual Gifts Test

I have never liked “Spiritual gift assessment” tests. Every one I’ve ever seen has seemed to be a way to compartmentalize the working of the Holy Spirit to best suit a church or denomination’s needs and beliefs.
 
This article just confirms what I already felt–that they were developed not to enhance the Holy Spirit’s activity, but to combat activity and theology counter to those developing them.
 
The first spiritual gift test was developed by people educated at Dallas Theological Seminary, a house that had a longstanding tradition of barring entry to anyone willing to admit having ever spoken in tongues. All other tests, including Wagner’s, were copycats of that original test–which was nothing more than a copy of a Myers-Briggs test.
 
The best way to discover your spiritual gifts is not to take a test, but to learn how to commune with the Holy Spirit. He is the one who gives all the gifts from prophecy to helps, not a 126-question survey. Paul tells us to ask for the spiritual gifts we want, especially prophecy (1 Corinthians 14).
 
You don’t have a “gift-mix.” You have a Holy Spirit. He will give you as much as He wants and as much as you ask for, so please, ask for more.
Please read the linked article for the background I’m referring to here.