Author Archives: glkauffman77

The End is Near – In One Way or Another

In case you missed it, this past Saturday (Sept. 23) the world was supposed to come to a screeching halt. A biblical numerologist (how do you get a job like that?) had figured it out, based on passages in Luke and various numerology codes.

Since I’m writing this the following Thursday, he was obviously wrong. Just as the hundreds of people before him were when they picked a date for the end of the world.

Even though they may not have a specific date in mind, many people today see the signs of the end times in the world events around them – wars and rumors of war, hurricanes, celestial events, the increasing decadence of the human race. Just as people did 100 years ago, and 200 years ago and 500 years ago and especially at the end of 999 A.D. when many people quit working and sold property for the expected return of Christ on Jan. 1, 1000.

Even the apostles, in their various letters, alluded to the end times being near. Yet here we still are.

One thing I know for sure – eventually someone will be right. The world will come to an end at some point.

I rarely think about the end times, primarily because I have no control over the end of the world, nor do I expect God to consult me on what might be a good time for it. However, the prediction from this past week, some comments my pastor made during a conversation and reading Jesus’ words about the end times in Matthew 24 and 25 during my daily Bible reading caused me to think about it more than normal.

All of us will face an end time, when death claims us and our life on earth ends.

So here’s what I predict: Since I am almost 59, I predict the end times to happen within 40 years or so. If you’re 40, I predict the end times within 60 years, and if you’re 20, I’d say the end will come in about 80 years.

Because let’s face it, whether Christ returns in all his glory tomorrow or a thousand years from now, all of us will face an end time, when death claims us and our life on earth ends.

In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus’ message is that we need to be prepared for the end because we don’t know when it’s going to happen. We don’t know when our end will come, either. But we need to be prepared for the end, whether it’s the cataclysmic last gasp for everyone, or simply our own dying breath.

Every day people all across our country die suddenly in car accidents, of heart attacks and strokes, are murdered or expire in some other tragic fashion. Obviously, they didn’t know their end was coming any more than we know when Christ will return. But even people who are terminally ill don’t know the exact day or hour their body will cease to function.

So we need to be prepared at all times, so that when we meet Christ face to face he can say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

People speak about the end times darkly, because of the promised hardships and pain. But Jesus promised an abundant life, which began on earth the moment we received God’s grace and started following him and continues throughout eternity. We can live life full of joy here knowing that whenever the end times come we will receive an abundance of riches through Christ in the heavenly places.

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Creating a Healthy Church Goes Beyond the Numbers

A friend of mine was excited about his trip to the doctor’s office for his annual checkup. During the previous year he’d become involved in a strenuous workout program. He’d had to buy smaller-sized clothes on several occasions. He couldn’t wait to see how much weight he’d dropped in that year.

As he stepped onto the scales he wondered what the numbers would show. At least a drop of 20 pounds. Maybe even more. And then the readout displayed – exactly the same weight as the previous year.

He thought he was being pranked. How could he possibly weigh the same? It was then that he realized that while he had dropped significant amounts of fat and wore smaller clothes, he had also bulked up with muscle. So despite the scales showing exactly the same weight as the previous year, he was much fitter, much healthier and much better able to function. He learned that numbers may have very little to do with actual health.

Like with my friend’s weight, numbers may have little to do with the actual fitness of the church.

Many churches, especially smaller churches, need to change their focus in the same way. Thanks to the rise of megachurches, many Christian leaders have become obsessed with numbers and growth. But like with my friend’s weight, numbers may have little to do with the actual fitness of the church.

Seeking an increase in the number of people attending church is not listed anywhere in the Bible as being one of the pastor’s duties, or even being a church goal. The only reference to a growing church is in Acts 2, but it specifically takes the burden off the church leadership: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)

That should be a big relief to church leaders everywhere. It isn’t their job to add to the numbers. That responsibility belongs to the Lord.

And then there’s the example of Jesus. After three-plus years of ministry, preaching to tens of thousands, the “church” at the time of his ascent into heaven was about 120. Not exactly a megachurch.

Taking the pressure of numbers off the responsibility list leaves the church free to pursue what God has called it to – becoming fitter and healthier to carry out God’s mission.

After three-plus years of ministry, preaching to tens of thousands, the “church” at the time of Jesus’ ascent into heaven was about 120. Not exactly a megachurch.

But what does that mean? Here are a few steps church leaders and their members can take.

Thank God. Start out by being thankful for who you already have in your church. Realize that God may have a reason for keeping your church small. Acknowledge that He and He alone will create genuine growth.

Discipleship. The call for all Christians is to make disciples – not just evangelize, but to create an ongoing discipleship process that builds mature Christians. Church leaders should have discipleship groups which in turn disciples others, which disciple others, etc.

Shepherd your flock. God has entrusted church leaders with the people in their congregation. They should be the first priority whether or not any growth ever happens. Leaders shepherd by example – how they live out their faith, how they pray, how they study the Bible and the evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives – which will do more to build the congregation than any sermon.

Stay humble. Why do you desire a bigger church? Is it so that you’ll look better in your own eyes and in the eyes of other pastors? Is it so you can create better programs or produce better funding? If it is for any reason other than to bring glory to God, then you’ll need to change your focus to see your church the way God sees it.

Focus on maturity. When you’re working out, you can see a visible difference in your muscles and fitness. When members of your congregation begin speaking up about insights in their personal Bible study, when they take the lead in offering to pray for a situation, when they ask about starting a ministry God has put in their hearts, you’re seeing your congregation flexing its spiritual muscles and fitness.

Delegate. The temptation in a small church is for the pastor to do everything. Begin developing leadership in your congregation and delegate tasks appropriately to their skills and gifts. As they prove faithful in small things, give them bigger items to manage. The pastor’s job in shepherding the flock is to make sure everyone is taken care of. He can’t do that if he is also running every meeting, organizing every event and sweeping the floors. Delegating allows pastors and leaders to focus on people rather than the programs.

Encourage. Speak positively about the congregation, praise effusively and celebrate successes. Celebrating and encouraging are biblical principles.

Point to God. Always stay aware and keep the congregation aware that everything the church does is for the glory of God and should point people to the Kingdom of God. “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?’” (Deut. 4:5-7)

When you take your eyes off the numbers and begin focusing on these things, you’ll develop a stronger, fitter, healthier congregation that is mature in serving the Lord. But you’ll probably also start to see something else happen – growth. Christians who are mature in the Lord will reach out to other people and begin telling them about what He means to them and why they serve Him.

But even if the “scales” show the same number, as they did for my friend, you’ll know that you’re much healthier and stronger than before.

 

Gary Kauffman is a freelance writer, photographer and Bible teacher in North Augusta, S.C.

The Tiny But Important Word in Your Bible

If you’ve been reading your Bible on a regular basis, you’ve come across a word dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, depending on the translation you’re reading. It is so ubiquitous that people often read right over it, often unaware how important that one word can be to creating a better understanding of the words they’re reading.

This important word is “therefore.” It pops up a lot. The New International Version (NIV) uses it 442 times, the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) employs it 611 times, it appears 785 times in the English Standard Version (ESV), 903 times in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and a whopping 1,340 times in the New King James Version (NKJV).

Obviously, it is an important word or it wouldn’t be used that much. So what does it mean?

Anytime you see the word “therefore” you have to ask, what is it there for?

Anytime you see the word “therefore” you have to ask, what is it there for? It is a connector word that links one thought to the next. The passage that comes after the “therefore” always will relate to the passage that came before it. The dictionary definition is “in consequence of” or “as a result.” Or we could say, if this passage is true then the result is the next passage. The NIV and HCSB, especially, often replace “therefore” with “that is why” or “then.”

Consider Eph. 6:13: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” What is the “therefore” relating to? Why are we to put on the full armor of God?

Back up to verse 12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Here we see that the reason we need the full armor of God is because we are fighting a battle against spiritual forces of evil.

Or consider Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What is the “therefore” there for? Why are we no longer condemned?

Back up again to chapter 7, where Paul has spent a good deal of time lamenting the fact that the Law cannot save, and it in fact just makes sinning seem all the worse. He tries to do what is right but ends up failing, and the Law condemns him for failing. In verse 24 he cries out in anguish, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” The answer comes in verse 25: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

What follows is 8:1. The “therefore” refers to his failing and Christ’s deliverance. Because of that deliverance, Christ followers are no longer condemned for their sins. He goes on to explain that what the Law was powerless to do, Christ did for us.

The Bible often explains a passage with another passage, and “therefore” creates that link. Therefore, the word “therefore” is an important piece in understanding the Bible better.

A Christian Response to the Aftermath of Charlottesville

As a Christian, the post-Charlottesville rhetoric may have your head spinning. The klaxon of fear from the left-leaning mainstream media was expected, but there are many blogs on Christian websites as well decrying racial injustice along with unctuous homilies on white privilege.

How should the clash between a group of self-proclaimed white supremacists and violent self-proclaimed moral authority Antifa make you feel? Which side are you supposed to choose?

My answer is, neither side. Just because there are two sides doesn’t make one side right and one wrong – they can, as in this case, both be wrong.

Still, there are all these stories. I’ve seen articles, some from Christian leaders I respect, that say we should acknowledge and apologize for our white privilege, that we are responsible to right the wrongs suffered by blacks (especially black young men), that non-racism isn’t enough and that we can’t be colorblind because that means we’re stripping away the identity of blacks (especially black young men). I haven’t had time to read them all and the (il)logic used in some of them is dizzying.

Christianity has played a huge role, and in some cases deserves the majority of the credit, in creating the racial equality we have now.

There is one huge fallacy running through many of the narratives that equate Christians with white, privileged, upper middle class people, primarily men. Christianity, of course, is not an exclusive white club and acting as if it is completely ignores the many brothers and sisters of other races and ethnicities. It also ignores the fact that Christianity has played a huge role, and in some cases deserves the majority of the credit, in creating the racial equality we have now, from before the Civil War through the Civil Rights marches. Without the impetus of Christian churches, both black and white, we may still not have equality today.

So, beyond that fallacy, here are a couple of things I know:

  • God created a human race. And Jesus came to save the human race. If the creator and savior of universe didn’t distinguish between races, neither do we need to.
  • Christians should not feel shame or guilt for the color of their skin. As Paul says in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those in Christ have already had their sins removed as far as the east if from the west.
  • White Christians do not have to atone for any sins or atrocities committed by their ancestors. Hundreds of years before Christ, God said, “The person who sins is the one who will die. A son won’t suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity, and a father won’t suffer punishment for the son’s iniquity. The righteousness of the righteous person will be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be on him.” (Ez. 18:20) In fact, this is so important that God gives a long example of how the actions of one generation will not affect the other.
  • It is not the responsibility of white Christians to “solve” or “correct” the problem. This is saying that the only way black people can make their way in the world is if white people give them special privileges. This is arrogant and insulting. Not only that, it is tantamount to making blacks an inferior race who can’t help themselves. White Christians and black Christians must work arm-in-arm as equal brothers and sisters to address any issues.
  • We must pray for the white supremacists and the Antifa groups. As appalling as that sounds, Jesus made it very clear what our response should be to enemies. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44-45). “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
  • We must strive to see each other as individuals, not as members of a group. This was the lesson of Jesus when he healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, healed the servant of the Roman Centurion and spoke to the Samaritan woman – all members of groups the Jews hated or saw as inferior. In fact, the overriding lesson of the story of the Good Samaritan is that it is an individual’s right actions, not his or her skin color, ethnicity or group that makes him the neighbor we are to love as we love ourselves.

We must pray for the white supremacists and the Antifa groups. As appalling as that sounds, Jesus made it very clear what our response should be to enemies.

The news is still filled with stories about last weekend’s events, and will be until the next tragedy or hot item rises to the forefront. Reading the stories and social media blurbs can produce anxiety in Christians. But we can read something that will produce peace – the Word of God.

Still Dreaming: Only by Seeing Each Other as Individuals Will We Experience True Freedom

Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, shortly before delivering his “I have a dream” speech. Photo by Rowland Scherman; restored by Adam Cuerden – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.

Fifty-four years ago Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave voice to his dream. It was a dream that had started 100 years before, when President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared that people of America could no longer own one another as slaves.

But King’s dream went further – to a point where people of black and white skin color could live in harmony. In his speech he dreamed of a time when the offspring of slave owners and the offspring of slaves could sit together at the table of brotherhood. He dreamed of black boys and girls joining hands with white boys and girls as brothers and sisters. And he dreamed that one day people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

The theme of the dream was to quit looking at people as groups and start interacting with one another as individuals. Stop exaggerating the differences and start celebrating the similarities. Because, truthfully, the similarities far exceed and outweigh the differences.

Stop exaggerating the differences and start celebrating the similarities.

Why, then, do we still have incidents like those that happened in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend?

When I was in college in the late 1970s-early 1980s, we were encouraged to look at everyone as individuals – King’s dream in action. And we did. There was a freedom in it – we no longer felt bound by a constraint of us vs. them, my group vs. your group. The only group that mattered was that we were all human and we were all American. I’m not saying it was utopia but we were much more conscious of our similarities than our differences.

Why Things Changed

But then sometime in the past 15-20 years, things seemed to change. Group identity became more important. Thinking outside the group (depending on the group) was tantamount to being a traitor. What happened?

Power and control happened. Extremists on both sides recognized that they could wield more power by screaming loudly about what they had lost, were losing or could lose. They began to emphasize the differences. And the mainstream media played into their hands, in large part because it allowed them to wield more power as well.

Before long, people were being nudged – in some cases shoved – into one group or another. The group “leaders” – not appointed by anyone nor speaking for the vast majority of those in their group – crowed that if you didn’t agree with every tenet of their group, you must be in the other group. And if you were in that group, then you must adhere to every tenet of that group. If you didn’t – and most people didn’t –and you protested, you were called a denier. And if you were a denier, you were a liar and a hater.

Over time, more and more people have either given in to it, or as more often happens, young people without fully developed thought processes buy into the group-think.

And the mainstream media, in its power play, would like us to think that racism is rampant and only they, and the people they appoint to lead them, can solve it.

The Secret

Here’s the secret the extremists and the media don’t want you to realize: The majority of the country doesn’t feel this way. The majority of people, black or white, would love for this to just go away and be allowed to treat each other like individuals – to live out King’s dream.

Freedom comes only when we walk together as brothers and sisters, as Americans, as humans.

King addressed this earlier in the same speech: “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

That is as true today as it was 54 years ago. Freedom comes only when we walk together as brothers and sisters, as Americans, as humans.

King also addressed what would have been good for both sides of clash in Charlottesville to heed. He wrote this about those in the fight for equality, but it is valuable to everyone. “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.”

America’s Christians must continue to be at the forefront of this effort, just as they were in the 1850s and just as they were in the 1950s.

Again, the only way we will continue to overcome these extremists is to continue to do what many black and white Americans have already done successfully – get to know each other as individuals and realize that our similarities are far greater than our differences.

Christians Must Lead the Way

America’s Christians must continue to be at the forefront of this effort, just as they were in the 1850s and just as they were in the 1950s. King was a devout Christian who preached powerful sermons. He received strength and power from his daily dependence on Christ through prayer. We should, at a minimum, do the same.

Our prayers today, though, are not to gain freedom or equality for one group or the other. Our prayers today as Christians are to be released from fear and from the constriction of group-think, and to experience the marvelous freedom of seeing each other as individuals.

Slaughter of the Innocent: Nigerian Christians Need Our Help

A Christian church in Nigeria. Many Nigerian Christians are being persecuted for their faith. Photo by E Kolk95 from WikiMedia

Want to find out what Princess Kate is wearing or the latest outrageous thing Miley Cyrus has said or done? Chances are good you’ll find out on the evening news or as a top internet story. On the other hand, if you want to find out about Boko Haram slaughtering Christians and kidnapping adolescent and teenage girls to use as servants, sex slaves and suicide bombers, you’ll probably have to search a little harder.

In fact, you may not even know what I’m talking about when I say Boko Haram. They are a militant Islamic terrorist group in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. For the past several years they have been trying to overthrow the Nigerian government to turn the entire country into a militant state. They have killed thousands – it has been estimated they killed more than 4,000 in just 2014 alone, and they’ve murdered many more since.

They have openly declared war on Nigerian Christians and hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians are among those they’ve killed. But they have also targeted Muslims who do not go along with their violent outlook and anything else they consider marks of Western civilization (in a local language, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden”).

Perhaps most disturbing is that they are now using these young girls as suicide bombers.

Along the way, Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of girls, some as young as 7, to serve as cooks, servants and “wives” for their soldiers. Perhaps most disturbing, though, is that they are now using these young girls as suicide bombers. They strap explosive-filled vests on them and send them into a targeted area – sometimes the girls know what they’re doing, other times not. So far at least 145 girls have been used in this way – probably a low estimate – and have taken the lives of hundreds more. Targets have included government centers, Christian centers, even a mosque. It also included a wedding, although a dog heroically stopped the girl before she could enter the ceremony and detonate the explosives.

Boko Haram recently sent out a request to Muslims who are in agreement with their way of thinking: Donate your young girls to use on suicide bombing missions. Yes, they want parents to willing sacrifice their daughters in this way.

Tragic, you may say, but why should we be concerned about some tiny little country half-a-world away?

Well, Nigeria isn’t exactly tiny. At 357,669 square miles, it is larger than Texas and nearly the size of the combination of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Nigeria has a population of 193.5 million, ranked seventh in the world, which is more than half of the United States population (the population for the seven states mentioned above is a combined 47.3 million, so it has four times as many people as that area). Nigeria has a GDP (the nation’s contribution to world wealth) of $1.125 billion, which ranks it in the top 25 in the world.

Still not convinced of the need? Consider that we have been involved in helping straighten out Iraq and Afghanistan for more than 15 years, and are still sending troops there on a regular basis. Nigeria is far larger than either of those countries, more than twice the size of Iraq – in fact, it has nearly the land size of the two countries combined (it is 85 percent the size of those two).

When it comes to population, Afghanistan and Iraq combined have a third as many people as Nigeria. Their GDP combined is barely half of Nigeria’s. You might suspect oil has a lot to do with why we’re more interested in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Nigeria ranks 11th in oil reserves, right behind the United States (Afghanistan has no known oil reserves).

As Christians, we should be especially concerned. At least 40 percent of the country is identified as Christian, about equal to the number of Muslims.

We certainly can communicate with people in Nigeria – the country’s official language is English.

And as Christians, we should be especially concerned. At least 40 percent of the country is identified as Christian, about equal to the number of Muslims, compared to just 3 percent in Iraq and less than 1 percent in Afghanistan. This isn’t too surprising since the area of West Africa where Nigeria is located is experiencing some of the fastest growth in Christianity in the world.

So these are our brothers and sisters who are suffering torture and death simply because they have chosen to follow Christ as their Lord. They are already crying out to the Lord to avenge their blood. Rev. 6:9-10 says, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: ‘Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?’” God gives them white robes and urges them to be patient until the end of this world, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t calling us into action now.

What can we do as Christians to help our brothers and sisters in Nigeria?

Pray. First of all, pray. Not just praying for the persecution to stop, but for God to raise up laborers – based on the growth in the neighboring countries, many people in that area of Africa are interested in Christianity, despite the threat of persecution.

Donate. Then consider donating to those who are already helping the persecuted. A list of some of those groups appears at the end of the blog. I have not vetted them for their effectiveness in getting mission dollars to where they’re needed most, so check them out, as you should with any organization, before donating.

Write. On the political front, urge your senators and representatives to consider what actions can be taken to help the Nigerians. While I don’t believe the United States should be the world’s police officer, it does seem like our resources could be more wisely allocated in a country like Nigeria than in the Middle East.

Action. Be open to taking action. Whether through advocacy here in the United States or in ministering in Nigeria itself, be open to God’s call to action in your life.

Left untreated, even a small cut can lead to an infection that threatens the entire body.

In 1 Cor. 12:26, Paul tells us that if one member of the body suffers, then all members suffer. Sometimes that’s hard to remember, if the cut is small. But left untreated, even a small cut can lead to an infection that threatens the entire body. Right now, to Christians in the United States the persecution in Nigeria may seem like a small cut to the body, but how long before it becomes an infection that threatens us all? And I guarantee to the Christians in Nigeria and its neighboring countries, this is far more than a cut. It’s a major wound. They are suffering; we must help.

 

Groups Supporting Persecuted Christians

The Voice of Martyrs (persecution.com)

Open Doors (opendoorsusa.org)

Christian Aid Mission (christianaid.org)

Frontline Missions International (frontlinemissions.info)

Rescue Christians (rescuechristians.org)

I Commit to Pray (icommittopray.com)

A Life of Victory: God No Longer Condemns You, So Why Condemn Yourself?

In the famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an albatross (a large sea bird) leads a ship to safety. But soon after their rescue, the main character, the mariner, shoots the albatross, and the ship is again in peril.

To punish the mariner for his churlish action, the ship’s crew forces him to wear the dead albatross around his neck. As he watches the crew succumb to death, the albatross serves as a constant reminder that he is to blame. Today we use the term, “wearing an albatross around one’s neck” to signify a psychological burden, often brought on by one’s own foolish or careless action.

Unfortunately, many Christians today live as if they are that ancient mariner, wearing their guilt around their necks like a big dead bird. I became aware of that recently when, within a span of a few days, I had a friend tell me he still dealt with guilt about things he’d done more than two decades before; another friend confided that she still felt shame for actions committed years before; and another person talked about the anguish he felt daily about the sins he’d committed.

Understand, these are all devout Christians who have been walking with the Lord for decades, who have confessed these sins repeatedly, yet they still function as if they are bound and condemned for them.

I have a feeling these are not isolated cases. But by worrying about, thinking about and feeling guilt and shame about our past sins, we are seriously impairing our ability to live the abundant life Jesus promised.

I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame?

It’s not that I don’t understand where my friends are coming from: I have plenty of sinful behavior in my past and I regret having caused God the pain of my actions. I still suffer from some of the consequences of those actions.

But I no longer feel guilt or shame for them. I choose instead to believe the truth of the words in Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” This is one of the greatest statements in the Bible. I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame? And it’s not just the Romans passage that gives me that confidence.

  • Jesus came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18)
  • God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12)
  • Jesus set us free to have freedom (Gal. 5:1)
  • God sweeps away our sins and remembers them no more (Isa. 43:25)
  • God has taken our blood red sins and washed them white as snow (Isa. 1:18)
  • The Lord will never charge us with our sins (Rom. 4:8)
  • Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice once for all sins (Heb. 7:27)

There are a number of other scriptures in the same vein – that once we are in Christ Jesus, once we are following him as our Lord – all of our sins have not only been forgiven, they have been removed completely from our account. We are free and we are washed clean.

But, you may argue, you don’t know what I’ve done in my past. No, I don’t, but it doesn’t matter. Really.

What matters as a Christian is not what you have done but what Christ has done for you. No evil of your past can compare with the abundant life of your present or the glory of your future.

If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?

The difference is where you choose to turn your eyes and ears. Will you keep looking behind you at how you have failed, or will you focus on Christ and how he has overcome? Will you look at your weakness, or his power? Will you accept the lies of the enemy, or listen to the voice of the Great Shepherd calling you to the truth?

As a follower of Christ you no longer have to be captive to shame and guilt for your past actions. All you have to do is accept the truth that you are free and no longer under condemnation. If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?

The ancient mariner could never get over the guilt of killing that albatross, forced to wander the earth to tell his tale of woe. But as a Christian, your guilt has been removed. Christ died for that guilt so that you, unlike the ancient mariner, can live a life of victory.

Gary Kauffman is Bible teacher, Christian life coach and freelance writer/photographer living in North Augusta, South Carolina.

A Sure-Fire Way to Know God’s Will for Your Life

“What is God’s will for my life?”

That is one of the most frequently asked questions by Christians, often in a voice tinged with anguish, confusion, longing or fear – sometimes all of them at once. It is a legitimate question because as sincere Christians we want to honor God in all that we do. Knowing His will is an important part of that.

The question is often asked by young people in college or soon after graduation, when they realize that the real world awaits. Is it God’s will that I take a job in the secular world or that I go into full-time Christian work? And if so, is it God’s will that I attend a seminary or go onto the mission field? Is it God’s will that I marry that cute girl I saw in church but whose name I don’t even know yet?

But older people ask it as well, sometimes with even more angst because there are families, bills and prestige to consider. Is it God’s will that I go back to school? Is that job offer three states away God’s will for my life? Is it God’s will that I buy a motorcycle instead of car because of the better gas mileage? (Yes, I’ve actually heard that one.)

I’ve wrestled with the question myself and I’m sure you have too. Doing God’s will is important. So what if I told you a sure-fire way to determine God’s no-doubt-about-it will for your life? Interested?

OK, here’s how you do it – read the Bible.

Oh, did that disappoint you? After all, the Bible says nothing about going back to school, or job offers in other states, or marrying cute girls, and is especially silent on the motorcycle vs. car debate.

God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once.

But it is chock-full of passages about God’s will for your life. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

It is God’s will that you:

  • Love God with all your heart, soul and strength. It says so in Deut. 6:5 and Jesus emphasized it in Matt. 22:37, Mark: 12:30 and Luke 10:27.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27
  • Love one another as believers. John 15:12, 1 John 4:11-12
  • Make disciples. Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:1, Heb. 13:7
  • Be generous. Mal. 3:8-10, Luke 6:38, 1 Tim. 6:17-19
  • Live in victory. John 10:10, John 16:33, 1 Cor. 15:57
  • Keep His commands. John 14:15, 1 John 2:3
  • Be thankful. 1 Thess. 5:18, Eph. 5:20

There are a number of other things that are God’s will as well, such as prayer, submitting to one another and being filled with the Spirit. If you are a married man, it is God’s will that you love your wife unconditionally as Christ loved the church; if you are a married woman, it is God’s will that you submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ.

Maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”

The point is, God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once. So before we ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” when facing new situations, maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”

If we’re not already loving and being generous and living in victory, etc., then maybe we should concentrate more on those things before wondering about that out-of-state job or the cute nameless potential marriage partner. It’s not that God doesn’t care about those things, or that He doesn’t have a will for those areas of our lives. He does. But it seems rather self-serving to seek His will in the unknown if we’re not already living in His known will.

Plus, there’s a good chance that once we start following His will as outlined in His Word, the path of His will in those other situations, even regarding motorcycles and cars, will become much clearer.

Identity Crisis: Who Are You Really as a Follower of Christ?

 

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride (Men: This is not a chick-flick movie. It has sword fights, great feats of strength and overcoming overwhelming odds to rescue a damsel in distress – plus it’s funny). One of the main characters in the movie is Inigo Montoya, a man obsessed with revenge.

When Inigo was a boy, his father was killed by a six-fingered man and he has spent most of his life training so that he can one day exact his revenge. He even has his introduction to the six-fingered man down pat:

“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

And (spoiler alert) he does just that. Once he has exacted his revenge, though, he is left with a conundrum because his entire identity had been tied up in one thing.

“Is very strange,” he marvels in his Spanish accent. “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”

Our identity, even as Christians, is almost always based on the work we do for a living. Yet we are many more things.

Many Americans are in the same situation about their identity, although they may not realize it. When you ask someone, “Who are you?” (or sing it, like The Who, “Who are you? Who, who?”) the person is likely to reply with something like this:

“I’m an office manager.”

“I’m a school teacher.”

“I’m a rock star (if you happen to ask a member of The Who).”

Our identity, even as Christians, is almost always based on the work we do for a living. Yet we are many more things. For example, I could answer the question, “I’m a husband,” or “I’m a father,” or “I’m a baseball fan.”

Still, my identity is not tied to my occupation or my marital status or my devotion to the New York Yankees. My identity is that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a child of God.

Paul wrote a lot about this identity. He said we are now citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), our old self was crucified and we now live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20), we were chosen for adoption into God’s family (Eph. 1:5), we are children of God (Ga. 3:26) and we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6). John adds that our new identity as God’s children is a result of God’s great love (1 John 3:1).

When you think about it, shouldn’t our identity be the same as our top priority in life?

This is obviously quite a bit better than even our noblest professions or relationship statuses. This new identity comes with some pretty good perks – a new abundant life on earth, co-heirs with Christ in his glorious inheritance and eternal life.

When you think about it, shouldn’t our identity be the same as our top priority in life? And when we answer the identity question with our job function, what does that say about our priorities? If we truly make following Christ our No. 1 priority, then our identity will first and foremost be that of being a Christ follower. (This works even if the question is, “What do you do?” You can answer, “I follow Christ.”)

I’ve even thought of a catchy way to phrase it a la Inigo Montoya: “Hello. My name is Child of God. You have been saved by grace. Prepare to live.”

 

The Great Suggestion or the Great Commission? How Do We Respond to Jesus’ Final Words?

After his resurrection and just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus came up with an interesting option for Christians. He said that if a select few people felt like it, if it wasn’t too much bother, they could tell people about him. This is called the Great Suggestion.

Um, really, no, it’s called the Great Commission and Jesus was hardly suggesting it as an option. He was commanding it, to all of his followers then and now. Yet today, many Christians treat his final words as a nice suggestion that somebody should be doing, as long as it isn’t them.

The Great Commission is found in Matt. 28:18-20, although frequently it’s listed as verses 19-20, and often only verse 19 is quoted. But it is actually verse 18 that is the key to understanding the rest of the Commission. Here’s what Jesus said:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

The very first thing Jesus states is that all authority has been given to him in heaven and earth. Not some authority, not just authority in heaven, but all authority in heaven and on earth – in other words, it’s all the authority there is, anywhere in the universe. No one has more authority than Jesus – not a police officer, not the president, not even your mom (sorry, Mom).

Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.

What does it mean when someone has authority over you? It means they have the right to tell you what they want to have done. Someone in authority, ideally, will be someone who understands the big picture, understands what needs to be done, how to do it, and can give you the order to do so. We have learned to obey authority – if the blue lights start flashing because you chose to ignore the speed limit sign, you’d better pull over. If your boss tells you to get a project done by a certain date, you’d better get it done by then.

Why? Because we have submitted ourselves to these people as having authority over us – and because there will be consequences if we don’t obey that authority. Run from the cops and eventually you’ll be tasered and thrown into prison. Ignore the boss’s instructions and you’re soon standing in the unemployment line.

Yet how do we – how do most Christians – respond to Christ’s authority? Do we say, well, Jesus said it and he has all authority so I’d better snap to it? Or do we say, cool suggestion, Jesus; somebody better get busy on that, and then look around the room to find someone who should be doing it?

Jesus isn’t just telling us that he has all authority in heaven and earth to brag about it. It’s not, “Hey, I got all authority from the Father. What’d you get?” He is telling us this for a reason, and the reason follows in verse 19, which begins with Therefore.

Now, anytime you see the word “therefore” in the Bible you have to ask yourself, what is it there for? Because what follows the therefore is based on what was said in the previous sentence or paragraph. In this case, Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.

And that command is to go and make disciples. There are two verbs that are connected here, “go” and “make.” Go means, of course, that you aren’t stationary. You aren’t sitting back waiting for these disciples to magically appear around you. It is an aggressive action on our part. But is that how we generally think of this process? I think most of us sit back, waiting for people to show up at our church and decide to become involved in the church activities. The closest we come to “go” is to occasionally invite someone to check out our church sometime.

So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group.

The second verb is make, and this is a modifier, describing the next word, disciples. Again, make is an aggressive action. Nothing is magically going to appear. It will take time and effort on our part. And notice what we are supposed to make – not more church members, not more people to sit in worship service, not even more people to lead Bible studies or sing on the worship team. The command is to make disciples.

For many years, this verse has been loosely and lightly interpreted as doing evangelism – simply telling people about the good news of Jesus and hoping they would attain salvation. But that is not what Jesus is commanding here. The Greek word for disciples is mathetes, meaning a student or committed learner. The two English words, make disciples, are actually summed up in one Greek word, matheteuo, which is in the imperative form in Greek – imperative meaning it is absolutely necessary, or a command. It also points to the words “make disciples” as the central focus of the sentence. The people to be made into disciples are every ethnos, or people group.

So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group. That hardly sounds like some passive action, or a suggestion.

But Jesus isn’t done yet. He goes on to describe what this disciple making will include. First, we will baptize these new believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then we will teach them. What we’ll teach them is to obey or observe everything he commanded, through his words while on earth and through his revelations to Paul and other writers of the New Testament. In Greek, the word commanded carries the connotation that we are aware of the purpose of the commands – in other words, we don’t just obey blindly, but we do so because we know the purposes behind them. Again, there is an all-inclusive word here – we are to obey everything he commanded; not just the things we like or we approve of, but everything he told us to do.

The magnitude of conveying everything Jesus commanded, including the purposes behind them, indicates more than a one-time contact with someone. It requires more than a casual relationship with someone. It is an ongoing teaching process, one that Jesus took three years to accomplish with his disciples. But many of the early disciples took longer – Silas and Barnabas spent years pouring into Paul, who then spent years pouring into Luke and Timothy and Titus and others.

But just making disciples wasn’t the end goal. The end goal is to make disciples who make more disciples. After all, Jesus told us to obey everything he commanded, and one of those commands is to make disciples. So our disciples will have to obey that command as well.

His final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.

Note also that making disciples is not listed among the gifts of the spirit. The gifts of the spirit are those special abilities that the Holy Spirit has endowed on some, but not all Christians. They are to be used together to build the body of the church. Among the gifts that some, but not all, Christians have are prophecy, teaching, hospitality, even evangelism. But discipleship isn’t listed because it is expected of all believers. It’s not something special endowed to just a few, but a command entrusted to all believers.

When Jesus came to the end of his time on earth, when it came time for him to say one last thing, to give one last command, to in essence to sum up everything he’d been saying all along, he chose to say this. It wasn’t to build big churches, to sing beautiful songs, to develop outstanding church programs, it wasn’t even to simply evangelize. No, his final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.

The question now is, will we accept Jesus’ authority? Do we believe that Jesus has the right to tell us what to do? If so, are we willing to take action? Are we willing to enter into the long, involved process of making disciples rather than sitting in church letting words wash over us?

Perhaps the better question is, What authority do we have that exceeds Jesus’ authority to not do what he has commanded?