Monday, February 23, 2009


"While he (Jesus) yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Matthew 12:46-50).

Jesus' response with regard to His visiting family members may seem a little harsh or at least strange to those of us who have made our families the most important issue of life. Even a person who doesn't see family as so important could wonder how Jesus could speak in a relatively dismissive way about the very person who raised Him, at least in the earthly sense (Mary), and about the brothers with whom he was raised.

I believe that Jesus made this statement to make an extremely important point to His followers: even though we are physcially born into families, when we become born again, we are literally born into another family, a spiritual family that actually usurps the physical one. This scripture redefines what the word "family" really means for the Believer.

If each member of a family becomes born again, then they all become part of this new family, but if members of the same family have different born again statuses, they no longer are part of the same spiritual family, at least until the spiritual status of the members changes.

This is because when a person becomes born again and commits himself to serving God with his life in righteousness, he becomes a child of God:

"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God..." (John 3:1).

But while we are unsaved we are not yet children of God. It has often been said that we all, that is every human born into the world, is a "child of God," but is that really true? What does the Bible have to say about that?

If one searches the Bible he will learn that those who by their own freewill determine NOT to accept Christ as their Savior actually remain children of darkness, and more specifically, children of the devil. The following scripture makes this point clear,

"He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil..." (1 John 3:8-10).

So, anyone who remains unsaved and makes no effort to become born again remains a member of Satan's kingdom as he has no Holy Spirit endued power to discontinue a life of continuous sin, and in God's eyes he actually remains a child of Satan. While God has created us all, the ONLY WAY TO BECOME A TRUE CHILD OF GOD is to become born again.

Now, how does this apply to our families? Though we are biologically speaking part of earthly families, on a far more important level we are also members of spiritual families and on a grander scale than that part of spiritual kingdoms. Our born again status determines which spiritual families and kingdoms we are a part of.

If all the members of a family are unsaved, they remain unified in the servitude of sin and of demons. However, when members of that family get saved, that sinful unity is broken. Remember Jesus saying the following?

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household" (Matthew 10:34-36).

This sword of which Jesus speaks is one of severance as it severs people out of Satan's kingdom and into His. When we become born again and join Jesus' kingdom our minds are transformed from darkness to light and the way we think is completely revolutionized. We determine in our hearts to discontinue sin and to serve God, and as we read and implement His word God changes us from the inside out. We acquire a new found desire to do right and to please God while we begin to put sinful selfish desires behind us. We still make mistakes, but the truly born again person's heart is set on rectifying those errors and getting right, "For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again" (Proverbs 24:16). This happens because the born again expereience gives us a brand new spirit, cleansed from the filth of serving sin.

Our other families members, however, who do not share the same experience, stay of the same sinful mind and cannot comprehend what the born again Believer is experiencing. They are stuck on the same spiritual path and way of thinking while the saved has begun to walk a separate path. The sword of severance has caused the family members to now be against one another and has made foes out of them. Family "unity" changes to disunity and the formerly "peaceful" functioning morphs into a constant underlying and unresolvable (short of all being saved) tension.

As Jesus said in a slightly different yet still applicable context, "...if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand" (Mark 3:25), so family members divided by differing spiritual status begin to go their separate ways as the family unit unravels. Even if they live in the same house, the level of intimacy between them changes. Time is often spent in "other" rooms, or outside of the home where each member can be with others of the same mind. The newborn Christian may find respite at Church or with other Believers while the unsaved remains with his or her old companions doing the same old activities.

Amos 3:3 asks, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" with the answer understood to be no. Of course, the Believer prays and intercedes for his biological family hoping with all his heart that they, too, can join the family of God. Also, Believers married to unbelievers are NOT TO LEAVE their unbelieving spouses unless they are in physical danger or are being cheated on. You may not agree with your spouse spiritually, but you can spend MUCH time in prayer to God for the conversion of that spouse and you can be the light of the truth to that spouse in the mean time.

But here's the rub. In a great number of cultures worldwide, there is a worship of the family unit that in God's eyes amounts to idolatry. This not only applies to unbelieving cultures, but within the Church itself. Too much emphasis is placed on the albeit good characteristics of the unity and strength found in family, rather than on serving and loving the Lord, and this becomes worship of the gift of unity God has provided rather than the worship of Him. The family unit becomes a god that usurps God Himself within that family.

This phenomena clearly applied during Jesus' time, because when we look to the next verse in the "send a sword" passage we see Jesus saying,

"He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37).

Evidence of loving family members more than God is shown when we decide against doing those things the Lord requires in order to please or to maintain what we think is a good relationship with a family member. If, for example, an unsaved family member invites the born again person to sin, say by going to rob a store or visit a brothel (God forbid), going with that biological brother in order to please and maintain a "good" relationship with him would be putting that family member before Christ. It also would be putting Satan in front of Christ because in following after sin the person is doing just that.

Stealing or visiting a brothel is obviously sinful, but there are many other far more subtle ways that family members can be used to try to lead us to deny Christ when they are denying Him themselves. They can distract us from praying or reading the Word or discourage us from fellowship with other Christians. They can show disdain for Christianity either aggressively (speaking out) or passively (not speaking, but by using body language and other cues). Demons can use them to try make you feel foolish, or unintelligent, or "all by yourself" in your beliefs.

In that light, it us up to us to be extremely prayerful as well as careful in our relations with our unsaved biological family members. If God does allow us to remain in contact with them, we need to be lights of the Lord to them while not allowing them to lead us back into the old way.

In many cases, however, maintaining constant relations with non-spouse family members is not the right thing for Christians to do. God can and will require many of us to limit communications with family members who hate Him and the Christian way of life. In some cases God may require a complete "blackout" of communication for a season. If we are careful in prayer, God will lead us to do whatever is right, but if God has determined to lead a born again person to limit or even sever contact with sinning family members in order to grow and develop his own Christian life without hindrance, it is important that the Believer follows that leading. If he doesn't, he truly is putting his family before Christ which means he has made an idol of his family while also making himself unworthy of Jesus.

This is why family members can often be Satan's best ally in tempting as well as discouraging the Believer. Which brings us to our main point. Family members are, simply put, just people. Yes, they are people we have a spent inordinate amounts of time with and have shared a major intimacy with, but God is the One with whom we share the greatest intimacy as He actually made us and also LIVES IN US. Remember that, no one else lives in our spirits except God Himself. While we can become one with a spouse, God is still on a more intimate level with us than even that. Seriously, our relations to people are not event to be compared with the closeness we can share with God.

He knows our every thought, our every secret. He's been with us every single moment of our existence. He knows our likes, our dislikes, what makes us happy or sad or angry or pleased. NO ONE can know us on that level of intimacy. To even consider putting family relationships before Him is an incredibly silly task because no family member, spouse included, can know our hearts like God can.

When a person becomes born again He can then take advantage of this relationship with God and his real family includes God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the holy angels as well as every other Believer already in heaven and on the face of the earth.

This is why so many of us feel closer to our companions in Christ than we ever felt with our unbelieving family members, because we are of the same mind with them, and we most certainly now are spiritual kin in Christ, through Jesus' precious blood. We become part of a spiritual body - the Body of Christ, and insomuch that each member is following God's Word, we all become one.

Same-minded Christians are all one body, one family, of one mind. This type of spiritual unity cannot be achieved in a biological family without Christ. Reiterating Jesus' point, our real mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers are they that hear the word of God and do it. It's time we as a body stop worshipping the families we were born into and quit making the institution itself into an idol. As pointed out in the scriptures above, Jesus has said plenty about us not doing so and it's time we see it the same way He does. If His own earthly family members weren't automatically members of the kingdom of heaven without believing and adhering to God's Word, how much less are ours?

Let us all strive to be the Christians God made us to be so we can be lights to all members of the human race, and unbelievers of every earthly family can have the opportunity to join the spiritual family of God because we ourselves are letting His light shine in us. Though we ourselves may have a hard time ministering to our own family members because as Jesus said, "...A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house" (Mark 6:4), let us do our best to be lights to our families as long as God allows and to all the members of other earthly families who may have Christians in them praying for their salvation. Let us be used of God to bring as many as possible into the family of His dear Son. A-men.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Being a Real Christian Means Being Honest

If my female readers would forgive me for beginning this blog (which addresses how being a real Christian requires honesty) by addressing a few books written with the Christian male in mind, I would like to discuss the points in these books that come from the male perspective but in the end certainly apply to both genders.

One of the shared themes of the books addresses how men in our day have experienced a certain emasculation and even feminization by our ever increasingly politically correct society, due in large part to the effects of the women's liberation movement as well as the softening of men in our culture.

While these books did not begrudge women the freedom to be who they are in Christ, they exposed the fact that certain worldly aspects of the movement have caused men and boys to shrink back into themselves, to feel unneeded by women and to actually be ashamed of the more aggressive, no-nonsense masculine side of their nature. According to these books, this phenomenon has caused many men, often without realizing, to forsake the correct aspects of masculinity that God created in us.

One way the books exposed a symptom of this repression was through examples of men being less than honest in communicating the stronger emotions like righteous anger or even outrage because doing so in a strong masculine way has engendered responses that have led Christian men to believe that these natural reactions are a fleshly, ungodly response.

While there is certainly a fleshly anger that almost always leads to some sort of emotional and destructive violence or abuse (this is wrong!), there is a righteous anger that our Lord Jesus even expressed during His ministry and this type of masculine anger is a righteous one which we are not to avoid expressing. This type of expression of anger can produce good fruit as it causes the recipient(s) of this emotion to stop and really think about what he or she has done or said. Consider this proverb,

“The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue” (Proverbs 25:23).

While there are many proverbs against anger, especially unrighteous anger, if a person is indeed in the right and is angry for a righteous cause, the anger is justified from God’s perspective. The important thing about anger is to not let it lead to violence or unforgiveness. Be outraged, yes. Express that outrage, sure. But do not let it come with any hint of unforgiveness or vengeance or then you, too, can be swallowed up in sin.

As the books pointed out, repression of the proper expression of anger is in fact harmful, for both men and women. Righteous indignation has every right to be expressed in both genders, but it seems when men do so these days that they very quickly are accused of being out of control, perhaps because many men having taken outrage too far, but nevertheless, proper outrage is still, well, proper. The baby should not be thrown out with the bath water.

A couple of these books I merely skimmed, particularly "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge and another called the "The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within" by Erwin Raphael McManus. I did not give either full attention because as I read I found a lot of what I thought was pop-psychology as they addressed changing behaviors and attitudes in a way that I felt was worldly while also lacking a Biblical foundation for many of their ideas.

"Wild at Heart," in particular troubled me because it seemed to quote movies as much or more than the Bible. For example, Eldredge often sites the movie “Legends of the Fall” in comparing the wilder character played by Brad Pitt to his more modern and culturally controlled older brother, implying we need to be more like Brad Pitt's character. Well, Pitt's character is not exactly the vision of Christian living we should emulate. I’ve seen this movie and he a) leaves his wife, b) murders out of vengeance, and c) basically lives like a savage. I'm pretty sure this is not the fictional character we should be emulating when we have plenty of examples of strong male archetypes in the Bible to learn from, either through their correctly following the Lord or for repenting for mistakes (no such repentance found in Pitt’s character). I mean, let’s look at Joseph, David, Daniel or Jeremiah. How about Jesus?!

Nevertheless, there were some interesting insights about men expressing honesty, but this good information seemed like repeats of the first book I read which actually was the most enlightening, called "No More Christian Nice Guy: How Being Nice - Instead of Good - Hurts Men, Women, and Children" (NMCNG) by Paul Coughlin.

And while no book is perfect, and NMCNG is certainly not so when Coughlin, in promoting the idea that Jesus used sarcasm, said that Jesus was actually doing so when He said,"...Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). In reading that passage many times I never once thought it was one of sarcasm but rather of prophecy, and I have never heard anyone say or infer Jesus was expressing sarcasm with that scripture until the day I read NMCNG.

But even with this error, I found the book in most part to be extremely helpful in the sense that it well communicates how the feminization of men in our society has worked against not only men, but the women and children whose lives with which they intertwine. I could relate to many of his anecdotes either in my own life or in the lives of EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY MALE FRIENDS (that means you dear reader).

For me, particularly, I saw how this feminization had caused me either to feel shame for becoming angry – even when it was justified – or had caused me to bite my tongue, or to feel ashamed even after I said something calmly in truth but was offensive to the hearer, especially when the recipient voiced a negative reaction or when others retreated and discontinued speaking to me without even addressing the truth presented.

As most of you know, in the ministry God has given me, I have often felt compelled to deliver messages or speak words to people that weren't necessarily what they were looking to hear. That doesn't mean I have always been perfect in doing so, but I've tried as the Lord led me to at least be honest.

Even after praying and trying to be 100% sure that what I was about to communicate was right, in many instances the “Jonah” in me procrastinated this sharing because I knew there could be negative consequences.

At other times when I would speak out, the doubter in me would second-guess what I had communicated after saying my peace. But here’s where No More Christian Nice Guy came in and encouraged me as it confirmed for me that being a real Christian man (or woman) often meant saying what needed to be said no matter the outcome. This book confirmed for me that men, men like Jesus, tell the truth no matter the perceived consequences to self. Jesus, of course, did this without wavering all the way to the cross because He is in fact THE TRUTH (John 14:6).

Though it is never easy to tell people information they don't want to hear, at least I know now that if I (or anyone else) pray it through, I mean really pray and ask God's help in the matter, that when speaking the truth from a position of love for the truth, that this truth will go forth and produce fruit. I also know that if I remain prayerful God will also, by His precious Holy Spirit, stop me from speaking when the timing is not right.

All that any of us need concern ourselves with is pleasing the Lord, and if we will live our lives His way and do as He leads us, no matter how people respond to what the Lord gives us to say, we will remain in fellowship with Him and that's worth more than any number of friendships or alliances. While we are called to love others, this does not mean being disingenuous to make others feel good, especially when God wants to use the truth He gives you to help expedite change in others.

As already pointed out, we all know that even truth spoken with the greatest expression of sweet kindness can engender angry and even violent responses. One only need read the gospels to see Jesus crucified for speaking the truth and He was actually the love of God personified, and yet His words led to violence being meted out against Him.

Yes, Jesus, the personification of love, actually called the Pharisees and Saducees some harsh names such as "hypocrites," "serpents" and "vipers” (Matthew 23). He turned over tables and chairs of the moneychangers and sacrificial animal sellers (Matthew 21). And when very disciple he named Peter (rock) for his faith tried to get Jesus to turn from the cross He said, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me” (Matthew 16:23).

These expressions of hardness were all love, because they were soaked in TRUTH. Seems harsh, huh? But as Coughlin pointed out in NMCNG, Jesus would be run out of most of today’s Churches on a rail for being so “harsh.” But His words, actions and His complete demeanor were LOVE PERSONFIED, LOVE PERFECTED, because they were bound in truth. It's time we stop ridiculing people, males and females included, for expressing true emotions, especially when those emotions come from a place of truth and rightness.

As NMCNG also pointed out, the feminization of our society has caused modern Christianity’s interpretation of love to drip with syrupy sweetness that encourages us to lie to one another in order to make each other feel good.

But love isn't always about feeling good; it's often about making changes in our lives, changes which are not easy, in order to please God. Love is really about laying down our lives (John 15:13), not about phony smiles and constantly "encouraging" words that are never "negative."

Sometimes love requires iron to sharpen iron (Proverbs 27:17) and doing so creates sparks that create change. Love isn't always pats on the back and "way to go's!" Sometimes love is saying to a friend, "Man, I can't believe you did that!" or "What on earth were you thinking?!"

Love is expressed when you genuinely feel grieved that one of your brothers and sisters in Christ is doing something to offend your shared Lord and you feel compelled and even pressed to tell them they're doing so because you love God so much and you hate to see others who say they love Him doing Him wrong.

This is true love for God as well as for the offending person. How you ask? Because the person sharing correction greatly risks being ostracized or rejected for that correction. Being rejected is never easy and can be very painful. Worse still, being a corrective voice can result in violence against you (see Moses, Jeremiah, Elijah, Jesus, Peter, Stephen, Paul, Barnabas, etc. and etc.)

As we all know, probably the most quoted scripture in the Bible comes from John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," but this same Bible that speaks of God's love requires that we live holy lives and when we do wrong, it endeavors to tells us so, to correct us not only in love, but in truth. What we need to understand as a people of the one true faith who are trying to love God and each other is that without truth there is no real love.

Truthless love is empty and superficial. It's like a candy-coated apple but with no apple. The apple itself is no longer there and all you’re left with is the candy: syrupy sweet, but in the end, not only bad for your teeth, but bad for your overall health.

Men or women faking their God given emotions, trying to cover what they are really experiencing in order to, in a phony way, try to hide how they are really feeling, are NOT being truthful and this needs to stop. No one is condoning violent anger here or any over-the-top screaming, but when something isn't right, we all need to stand up against it, and as the books pointed out, the men in the Church need to do this more than ever.

Consider this: if Jesus had been afraid to stand up for truth, but rather kept his mouth shut so He could avoid all of the horrible suffering set before Him, He wouldn't have fulfilled God's plan for salvation. He couldn't avoid saying the Truth because LOVE itself compelled Him to speak so that we could be saved. Like us when we speak truth, in so doing He risked offending every member of His creation, and believe me when I say it is true that a MAJORITY of His creation has been offended by His truth, but nevertheless He has presented it so that those who would embrace it could know the truth and the truth could set them free (John 8:32).

Without that truth that Jesus brought there would have been no shedding of His blood and no reconciliation for us with the Father. Without His truth and the resulting suffering and death He would endure, there would be no remission of sins and no plan of eternal salvation. God bless the many instances in which Jesus spoke the truth to people in love (and at times, with harshness) in spite of the fact that He was rewarded with evil for His good.

No More Christian Nice Guy encouraged me not to fear or second guess honesty and to not to let the feminization of our society cause me to repress righteous anger and/or proper outrage at the evil in the world, and even as I write this I think of Peter who told Ananias and Sapphira that they would die for their lie about the property they had sold. That certainly wasn't a moment of syrupy sweet understanding, and yet the fate he spoke befell them instantly, God had backed the righteous indignation Peter expressed because Peter’s emotion was led by the Holy Spirit who was in Peter.

So let us leave with this knowledge, Christian love, masculine or feminine, is NOT a popularity contest, nor does it always come with syrupy sweetness, and neither is it going to always engender a positive response from the person receiving the expression of the truthful emotions God gave you. While we must be careful to pray about what we say to people and not let the devil ensnare us in unforgiving anger or any type of anger that produces violence, I feel most Christians in these politically correct and overly inoffensive days in which we live on many occasions err on the side of the being sickeningly sweet (while what’s in their hearts tells another story!), too worried about what other people think. As a result truth is sacrificed on the altar of seeking honor from men, which means love is being sacrificed as well, because again there is no love without truth.

So, my dear friends, I am encouraging you to be prayerfully truthful at all times and not to worry about offending others or losing friends when you know God is leading you to respond in a certain way. If God is compelling you to speak up, you had better do so, for the consequences of not speaking the truth when God has asked you to will not be good (see the book of Jonah) and you ARE NOT LOVING THE PERSON YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO TELL THE TRUTH TO by keeping truth from him or her.

You may prolong the superficial kindness between the two of you, but that's all you're doing. There is no love in deception or keeping back the truth when God is leading you to share it. That right there is what Satan and his demons want you to do, not God. Don't let a need to be perceived as a kind person take away your ability to minister truth to others, and men, don't let the feminization of our society cause you to fall in that category.