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Terrific and accurate thoughts from my friend John Barnts on salvation and the fallacies of common “evangelism” practices concerning children…

Barnts in the Belfry

So Lucas comes home from kindergarten and tells us that he’s a Christian. Honestly, Laurie and I were a little miffed. This is the sort of thing that a parent might want to be involved with, or at least get a heads up. We discovered that his class was taken into a chapel where they were given a solid dose of hellfire and brimstone. Then they went off alone with their third grade “buddies” and were asked if they wanted to go “down there.” Lucas didn’t, so his “buddy” led him in a prayer.

BOOM! Insta-Christian.

I emailed the teacher. She was surprised. Why wouldn’t I want my son to be a Christian? She explained that the school had been doing this sort of thing for years. I contacted the superintendent, and he explained that, based on statistics, the best age to get people saved is when they’re young. Besides…

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Mocking God’s Plans

Genesis 37:9-11 NIV

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”   When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Observation
Joseph has another dream. He tells his brothers (like he did the first time) and then his father also. The dream is strange. The sun (his father), the moon (his mother/father’s wives), and eleven stars (same number as his brothers) all bow before him. They are quick to catch the implied meaning and dad calls him out for these illusions of grandeur. His brothers hate him even more and become jealous. Dad “kept the matter in mind”, so something must have stood out to him that this want just some dream or some claim of wanting power…

Application
Joseph is given a prophetic vision of the future in a dream, which his family didn’t know, and he is rebuked for sharing the dream. I can understand balking at the implied meaning. But they all missed God’s plan in there. I wonder where I’ve had someone share a dream from God and I’ve responded as Israel instead of as Joseph. Joseph didn’t latch on and tell everyone to start bowing before him, he was just sharing what he had seen, and he was probably confused or disturbed by it.

I think I can take away from this a caution to take things to God for direction and interpretation rather than reacting according to myself and my own thoughts. It didn’t do Joseph’s family any favors. I wonder how that could have played out if his brothers and dad didn’t react that way…

Remain

JHN 15:5-6 NIV

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

Jesus is the vine. Source of life. There are only two options: attached or not. No “kind of” attached. If you’re in, you bear fruit. If not, you do nothing; you wither and die, and get tossed in the fire.

Sometimes it is very hard to follow Jesus. Sometimes it’s harder because I’m doing it on my own instead of remaining (abiding, living) in Christ. No matter how hard it is, it’s possible and doable with Him. And it is entirely futile and useless without Him.

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How to Please God

HEB 13:15-16 NIV

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Observation
Sacrifices God wants from us: praise/lips that profess his name; do good; share with others. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these the things are enough to take up the majority of one’s free time… Openly professing his name and givig praise is a sacrifice. Doing good and being generous are sacrifices. And these things please God. Moreover, all of these things are done through Jesus. Not on our own.

Application
So as I am in Christ, I praise him. As I grow in Christ, I sacrifice my pride for the humility of exalting him. I openly profess his name whether it gives me favor or gets me persecution from others. I do good through Christ, as I begin to see people through the eyes of my King, and this is a sacrifice. And generosity… To give up my own things, money, comfort, and give them away to another is a sacrifice that is rarely easy but always rewarding. All of these things, things I want to do, things I want to be said of my life, they come through Jesus. It is not my strength to do these things but his. Not my will, but his. As John the baptizer said, “I must decrease and he must increase.”

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When God Doesn’t Meet Our Expectations

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MAT 26:6-16 ESV

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.  In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.  Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”  

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

OBSERVATION
“Then one of the twelve…” Judas seemed to take offense at Jesus’ reaction to being anointed with the perfume. He was in charge of the money, so maybe it bothered him that the money could not go through him… Maybe he was the one, or one of those, who were indignant at the pouring of the perfume. If that was the case, coupled with thinking of Jesus as a military revolutionary… it is understandable that he becomes disenfranchised. Not excusable, but understandable. Here’s Jesus talking about dying and being anointed for burial? How about him being the Chosen One? What about that?

APPLICATION
I can’t relate to Judas completely… But the idea of God not meeting expectations I get. The thing is, though, those expectations are more about what I want than about what God has promised. I get frustrated when I don’t get the blessing that I desire, or the “favor” that I want in a particular situation. These things don’t affect the reality about who God is in any way; just who I want him to be. Like Judas, building up some sort of annoyance about the death of Jesus, these things can get us far off of God’s path.  If we follow our own expectations, we are following death rather than life. Judas found that to be literally true: he couldn’t live with himself and killed himself shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion. But if we believe Jesus to be true, then we find that any way but his way leads to death anyway.

Perhaps it is best to follow his example in this regard, “Lord not my will, but your will be done.” After all, a military leader may have brought a victory, but it would only last for a little while. But the victory Jesus won at the cross and through the Resurrection is everlasting.

PRAYER
Lord, may I follow your will and not my own expectations of who you are or should be. I don’t want the God that I can imagine and who would think like me. I want you in all your power and mystery and greatness. Help me to let go of who I expect you to be so I can find and follow who you really are. Amen.

Bold Despite Trouble

ACTS 8:2-4 NIV

Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.   Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

OBSERVATION
Crazy juxtaposition here: godly men bury Stephen (stoned as a heretic by the Jewish leaders); Saul mistakenly doing evil and persecuting the true church (in the name of doing God’s work); and yet all those who scatter don’t give up, they keep preaching the truth.

Stephen was a godly man. He was chosen to lead the ministry to widows, because he was powerful in the Spirit. He was stoned to death by those thinking they stood up for God. Saul thought he was doing the will of God. But those truly going God’s will were being peaceful and preaching the good news, even in the face of persecution/death.

APPLICATION
I must be sure that I follow God’s true will, and not just go around doing work that sounds like it’s Godly. I have to look at the fruit: is this bringing people close to God, or completing my own agenda? Are people built up and blessed, or destroyed?

Even more, my boldness for the Lord must become stronger in the face of persecution, while still remaining peaceful and uplifting, and not weaken in fear of threats of mere men. As Peter and the apostles said to the Sadducees: who should we listen to, God? Or men?

I’ll go with Him.

PRAYER
Lord help me to remain true and remain bold. Give me the boldness to speak your truth in love. Without hesitation and without fear of men. Only you can judge me and my heart. May my life be seen as a righteous offering to you. May I be a living sacrifice, that in life or death, I serve you well. Amen.

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We Are Worse Than Them

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Ezekiel 5:7 NIV

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.

Observation
Israel is accused, rightfully by God, of being even worse pagans than the surrounding nations. The people of God are failing to be the people of God. And not only do they fall short of God’s standards, they aren’t even living up to the standard of the world around them.

Application
How often does the church follow this example? The divorce rate among Christians matches the world, and some studies indicate it might be higher in some areas. Pastors fall to scandals of inappropriate sex and embezzlement, and it seems to outdo the politicians.

Reading Revelation frightens me when the churches are called to account. Where are my failings? How much would Christ hold against me? Where am I failing to submit? These thoughts drive me to repentance and a passionate desire for holiness.

Prayer
Lord, search my heart and show me where I fall short. Help me to be a man of integrity and righteousness, and may that inspire repentance and godliness in others. Shine your light in me, and through me. And may the world know that I am different because you are my Lord. Amen.

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