What We Really Need

The world is a loud place right now. Opinions are flying quick, defenses are up, and everyone is out to get their point across to everyone else. People are mourning, people are hurting, violence continues because of hatred– and, in the midst of it all, the Body of Christ in our nation seems to be awakening to what it means to be in but not of this world. It has been a change-in-the-making for generations but we have been slow to understand the reality of it: what we believe does not align with the actions of our government and culture around us.

And in the realm of personal circumstances…I woke up last week with a scratch on my cornea. My eyeball was bright red and sensitive to movement, light, and being closed. My eyelid was swollen and pain radiated all around my eye. According to the doctor, the scratch was small and the responding inflammation was causing most of the pain.

Oddly enough, even though it causes discomfort – acute inflammation is meant to be a good thing. It’s part of our innate immunity, the body’s reaction to injury or infection. It’s the “body’s attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens, and begin the healing process.[i]” Without inflammation, our tissue would not heal but continue in distress until dying.

It’s an immediate response – whatever the injury might be, the body responds with redness, swelling, heat, and sensitivity to touch. “Inflammation primarily causes pain because the swelling pushes against the sensitive nerve endings, which send pain signals to the brain. Nerve endings send pain signals to the brain all day long; however, it learns to ignore most of them, unless pressure against the nerve endings increases.”

So inflammation is recognition of a problem and an immediate reaction to fix it.

On the other hand, inflammation can also become the problem. If the root cause not fixed, the inflammation itself can turn into a chronic issue that can bring serious problems to the entire body.

It seems, to me, like we – as a whole – have learned to ignore the pain signals our world has been sending our way for a long time. The violence, the fear, the suffering, the abortions, the sex trafficking, division, the hatred, the pornography, the ‘increase of wickedness[ii]’…it has been happening all along, but – for the most part – we have co-existed with it all.

But we felt the decision of the Supreme Court. This was the scratch that brought a reaction. This was pressure on sensitive nerve-endings…this was the church’s realization that our government does not have to base their decisions upon God’s definitions for mankind. We have learned to ignore much of what has slowly changed around us, but this moment was one we could not tune out. And voices are swooping in loud…the church is standing guard over this injury to examine how it happened, sensitive to every word and every touch, hoping to push out the irritant.

But let us be so careful to understand what the irritant actually is…let us be so careful to recognize where our healing is found….

Because the Church is not here to be represented by a government or by our culture – no, we are here to represent the reigning, unshakeable, eternal Kingdom of God.

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Here’s what I know for sure and this is where we find our hope: “…the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” (Psalm 33:11)

This is not the first time the church has been in an age of darkness…and hasn’t lighting up that darkness been the reason we are here all along?

When Jesus returned to heaven after His resurrection, the disciples were living in a place and a time that condemned and despised them. Rome was a nation that reveled in open sexuality, the worship of many gods, and violent entertainment. The Jewish leaders, too, persecuted Christians – they were told to be quiet, they were put in prison, they were killed.

Yet – the disciples knew that Jesus was alive. They knew the Holy Spirit was guiding and empowering them to obey the commands of Christ – even in that kind of oppression….even when they had no ‘rights’ in the land.

They were commissioned to speak the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They were empowered to build the Kingdom of God. They were loving as they had first been loved, sharing the truth that Jesus had died on the cross to forgive sins and to bring about a new, holy life.

They were not offended when called offensive. They were not surprised to suffer. They did not feel betrayed by a worldly kingdom that did not support them and they did not lash out at those who hated them. As they lived, so should we live as a people “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer…blessing those who persecute us… not overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good.[iii]

Our battle is not with people who are bound by sin…therefore arguing our point and calling out what we see as ‘unfair’ attitudes toward the church is not our calling here…for “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.”(Gal. 5:17)

Can we remember how we were once living to “gratify the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts[iv]”? We cannot expect a people who have not been transformed by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit to live as though they are…for “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

There is a Righteous Judge. And, one day, He will set things right…and one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue proclaim that He is Lord. (Isaiah 45:23)

And in the mean-time, before that day comes? “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.[v]

No matter our differences, no matter our own emotions, whatever the circumstances are – we can’t make it about ‘us.’ We cannot turn our message into ‘us’ versus ‘them’ because “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.[vi]” The cry of our hearts, motivated by the purposes of God, will be: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.[vii]

We have the opportunity to hold out the same hope we have been given – “because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.[viii]

So, having the mind of Christ, we humble ourselves. We love even when we are not loved in return – and love does not mean condoning sin, but speaking the truth of repentance and forgiveness. “Opponents must be gently instructed,” Paul says, “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.[ix]

When dealing with events that are hostile to the church and contrary to the Word of God, we must see clearly that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” If we put our eyes only on the events and the people around us, getting caught up in debate, we lose sight of what we need to do – which is live daily in the armor of God and with prayer[x]. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…[xi]

If this ‘injury’ – if this ‘scratch’ and the resulting ‘inflammation’ in the body of Christ results in an awakening to our calling to pray and intercede – fighting with the ‘weapons of God’ against the darkness so that people will be set free from sin – then what was meant for evil will be used for good.

In this vein, I think it pretty interesting that the term inflammation comes from the latin word “inflammo”, which means ‘I set alight. I ignite.’

This makes me think of the One who refines His people, the One who brings us through the fire of testing and trial to produce endurance, patience, character, and hope.

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I have to wonder – are we, as the people of God, in a pivotal moment between inflammation as a healing process – a time of awakening and refining — or allowing the inflammation to continue and become a harmful condition?

We have a choice. We can settle into this inflammation….we can focus on the pain, the indignation, and coming to our own defense in our own power…we can try revising the Word in order to appease and pacify…but not one of those options leads to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Not one of those options aligns with our knowledge that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus Christ or our commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.[xii]

In this place and in this moment, I can hear the words of Jesus – once spoken to a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years…–“Will you be made whole? …Do you want to get well?[xiii]

Will we choose to say yes? Will we turn our attention from the symptoms and allow God to examine our hearts?

Here is where healing begins: at the throne of God, remembering who He is and who we are. It begins with us – honestly asking God to search within…have we loved like He first loved us? Have we been numbed to the sin in our own lives? Have compromise and complacency found a place in our hearts and in our churches?

Healing is repentance and returning to our first love…we cannot forget that it is His love and mercy that have changed us. We cannot forget that His sacrifice on the cross saved us. We cannot forget that the death and resurrection of Jesus brings salvation and life for all who will believe. “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.” (2 Tim.1:9)

Healing comes with our surrender to God. Healing comes with our obedience. Healing comes when we know our purpose as a follower of Jesus and, together, as the body of Christ…putting our trust in Him.

Isn’t this the moment? Isn’t now the time to wake up and ask for this healing?

For such a time as this, may we rise, take up our beds, and walk![xiv]

We are here to be the Kingdom of God, to be His people and His body. We do not find our security in the laws of the land. We do not place our trust in man. We do not expect to be lauded by culture. We are not frantic or anxious, because we place our confidence in Him.

We are here to be the salt and the light – we are not to hide away because of fear. We are peacemakers.

We are here to declare the hope of the nations is Jesus Christ…we are here to work in a ministry of reconciliation, to feed the hungry, to care for those in need, to shine into the darkness, to reach out to the lonely, to love one another.

We are here to stand and declare the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who will believe[xv] – and because our foundation is the Rock that is Higher, we will not be moved. For Jesus Himself established this body – “upon this rock,” He said in Matthew 16, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

No matter what happens, His Word endures. No matter what happens – in life, in death, in tribulation — we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.

Through it all, we will not be separated from the love of Jesus. Through it all, He is with us. There is an eternal purpose unfolding and through it all, He is God.

“…now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” -Romans 13:12


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[i] Quotes from Medical News Today [ii] Matt. 24:12 [iii] Romans 12:12, 14, 21 [iv] Eph. 2:3 [v] Gal. 5:20 [vi] 2 Cor. 4:4-5 [vii] 2 Cor. 5:20 [viii] Eph. 2:4-5 [ix] 2 Tim.2:25-26 [x] Eph. 6 [xi] 2 Cor. 10: 3-6 [xii] Matt. 28:18-20 [xiii] John 5:5-6 [xiv] John 5:8    [xv] Romans 1:16

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Of Signs & Seasons

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Cotton-fields are white again and our southern roads are framed in golden stretches of tobacco.

Trees are shaking their branches, hues of red and yellow glinting, and letting loose their leaves.

Mornings are chillier and darkness settles earlier and earlier each day.

Yes, the season is changing and the signs are all around us.

Yet we do not worry about these transitions. We know that the world spins in the Creator’s hands and His rhythms are for our good and His hands give this earth what is needed. Instead of finding fear in the changes, we look for reason to celebrate them. We rest in the knowledge that the next season, too, is secure when He reigns over it.

It feels like there is another season changing – call it a way of life, a culture, a chapter in God’s Time – whatever the right name for it may be, it seems like there is a shift occurring all around us. And this season-change, too, comes with signs.

Maybe you know that Jesus said He would return to this earth and that, one day, this span of time as we know it will come to an end. Maybe this is a new idea to you…whether or not you are familiar with this promise, this is the time to examine it. Jesus Himself spoke often about His return – and His words are what we must know and hold as the true foundation for our faith and our every-day lives. This Savior who gave His life and rose from the grave is the King who will bring the children of God into His eternal-Kingdom.

No, we cannot know when, exactly, Jesus will return to earth. No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. (Matthew 24:36) But Jesus knew we’d understand the familiar cues creation gives us…maybe that’s why He said this in Matthew 24:32-33: Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know His return is very near, right at the door.

He spoke of some of the initial signs in Matthew 24:4-12… Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.  Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

These words of Jesus resound in my heart every single day when I open my eyes to our world. Every sign He said would come to pass before His return is happening.

So as we see these cues and feel the changes of this season– how should we live?

It could be easy to get bound up in fear and discouragement when we see the problems abounding everywhere we turn. It could be easy to hunker down in our corner and hide from it all, closing our eyes to the changes and the turmoil.

It’s interesting, to me, that Jesus compared this last season to the time before the Great Flood (Matthew 24:37). I can imagine that Noah and his family, before receiving their directions from God, tried to stay out of everyone else’s way. I can put myself in their shoes – living in the middle of a people violent and cruel, set in their own ways – and think that, perhaps, it was safest to blend in. But building an ark required action. To trust in the promise of salvation that God had given him, Noah had to set out into the world in obedience. He had to make proactive decisions based on faith and not on what he saw around him. He had to risk drawing attention to his family and he had to trust in God’s ultimate wisdom every step of the way.

Noah could not shut out the world. He could not give fear control of his life.

And neither can we.

As frightening as it can be to watch events unfolding around us, we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world and nothing – trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword, death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation – will separate us from the love of God. (from John 16:33 and Romans 8) This is His promise – if we stand firm to the end, we will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)

It’s time to be proactive in our faith – like Noah, we must listen for the voice of our Lord and obey, even if it seems risky…even if He takes us away from our safe routines.

Please know – there is peace in following Him, in having eyes and ears open to Him. He gave us these signs so that we could look forward to His appearing! As we understand that His return is ever-closer, we put our faith in Him and not in our circumstances.

Jesus gave us these signs so that we could be prepared, so that we would understand God’s sovereign hand at work. He said that we should be like wise servants, faithful over what He has entrusted to us in this life until the day of His return. As we watch for Him, we are able to offer hope of salvation to the people around us. 2 Peter 3 tells us that He is not slow keeping His promise, but patient – not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. Peter encourages us, as we wait, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.

So as the world continues to sink into a place of conflict and hatred, of discord and suffering, there is no better place to look for instruction than in the words of our Lord. As it becomes more and more culturally unacceptable – life-threatening in so many places – to wear His name on our lives, we must know what our Savior has told us to do.

From the beginning, He called us to take up our cross and follow Him, to love our enemies, to pray for those who curse us, to live holy lives. From the beginning, He let us know that our way of life would appear upside-down and inside-out to a world that would not receive Him.

Still, we can rest in Him – secure in knowing that He reigns over everything the next season of our lives may hold.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”-Isaiah 41:10

{Please come back and visit…over the next week or so, we will be revisiting the Beatitudes and listening carefully to the words of Jesus about how we should live – and shine! – in our world.}