A warning from the life of Solomon: Part 1

 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  1 Corinthians 10:12 (ESV)

The story of King Solomon has fascinated me for decades.  You can read about him in 1 Kings chapters one through eleven in the Old Testament.  It is worth studying.

Here was a man who had everything going for him:  a godly father (David), an undivided kingdom given to him with no enemies to fight, wisdom and knowledge beyond measure, wealth, and other blessings too numerous to list.  He even had the God of the universe appear to him on at least two occasions.

To say that Solomon was a blessed man is an understatement.

But with all of his profound blessings, Solomon, known as the wisest man in the world, ended his life on tragic note.  Though his wisdom had blessed so many others, he failed to use that priceless gift for himself and he spurned the very One who gave him his great understanding.  This great man played the fool and his biographer takes pains to reveal why:

“For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”  1 Kings 11:4 (NASB)

And it wasn’t the case that Solomon had just a handful of wives who were instrumental in causing him to backslide; no, the bible says that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3).  That’s an incredible amount of drama for just one man to handle, no matter how beautiful those women must have been.

It might be easy for us, acting as “armchair generals,” to harshly judge Solomon for his unspeakable backsliding and think, “That could never happen to me!”  But then the words of the apostle Paul slaps us back into reality:

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

The truth is, any one of us can end up like Solomon, because if it happened to the wisest man in the world, it can happen to you and me.  We need to take careful heed lest we also fall.

Someone once said, “Prayer will keep us from sin, and sin will keep us from prayer.”  In trying to understand Solomon’s shocking fall from grace, I believe some of the steps he took to reach the point where he was sacrificing to other gods was his failure to connect with God regularly in prayer.  As reigning sovereign over a vibrant kingdom, with all of its duties, emergencies, distractions and needs, Solomon no doubt failed to carve out of his daily life that necessary intimate and personal connection to his Lord.

My personal responsibilities are as nothing compared to Solomon’s, yet I can see how easily the distractions and responsibilities of daily living can cause me to neglect that all important time with Jesus in my daily life.  Failure to connect consistently with the Lord on a regular basis is a sure marker of walking on the “Solomon Road” to apostasy.

I confess to a certain amount of fear and paranoia when I read of Solomon’s downfall; if it happened to him, how can any of us be spared the same fate?

More in Part two.



Division among Christians ruins everything

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”  Jesus in Mark 3:24-25

I have been thinking about the creeping spiritual darkness that threatens to overwhelm America’s colleges and universities.  Any unbiased person can see that our institutions of higher learning are in deep trouble.

One of the reasons for this continual decline lies at the door of the Christian groups on campus:  they are divided.  I have been doing ministry on university campuses for over thirty years and it is a rare day when, for example, Campus Crusade for Christ works hand in hand with the Navigators to conduct outreach or bible studies together.

Or when does one campus church work with another campus church on a joint venture?  According to my experience and knowledge, this does not happen…ever.  Why?  One reason is because “Church A” does not agree with everything “Church B” believes, even though it might only be a minor theological difference.  “We’re Reformed and they are Charismatic…we can’t allow our people to work with them because we don’t want our sheep speaking in tongues or becoming too emotional in prayer.”

I don’t want to minimize theological differences; some groups who identify themselves as Christians are so off the theological wall that we cannot offer them the right hand of fellowship; to do so would dishonor Christ and the truth we cherish more than life itself.

But I’m not talking about these vast differences in belief but rather minor–even insignificant ones–that cause groups to refuse to work with one another.

As a matter of fact, I’m speaking with a brother on this exact point, a fellow evangelist who yesterday joined us on our campus outreach at UC Berkeley.  He goes to another church that is more rigid in their theological beliefs than mine and is more concerned with people being of the “right doctrine” than I am.  I told him that if we waited around to evangelize with people who thought exactly like we do, we wouldn’t be doing much evangelism .

Again, I need to emphasize that correct doctrine is essential and there are beliefs that cause us to separate from one another, but these vast differences are not what I’m talking about.

I live my life by this beautiful statement:  “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; but in all things, love.”  Nitpicking over non-essential doctrines, beliefs and practices only fuels the destructive machine of division, crippling the Great Commission and contributing to the spread of wickedness on campuses.

A house divided itself cannot stand.  Are Christians not the “temple of the living God (2 Cor. 6:16 ESV)”?  The very “house of God”?  If so, we need to understand that this verse in Mark has application to believers.  If our house is divided, it will eventually collapse.

And our house is divided, shamefully so.  How many Christian groups are there on a typical university campus of any significant population?  I have listed two in the paragraphs above.  There are others:  Chi Alpha, InterVarsity, Christian Challenge, to name a few, along with a host of smaller, lesser known organizations more popular on universities and colleges with lesser student populations.

The issue is not that there are so many different groups but that they are in competition with one another.  Of course, spokesman for each of these groups would no doubt deny the truth of what I just wrote, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating:  all one has to do is to ask these groups for evidence that they are working together with other groups on campus to bring the gospel to their fellow collegiates.  Such cooperation among the various Christian groups is virtually unheard of, and again, the Great Commission suffers for this partisan mindset.

Worse, souls are lost to this carnal mindset that refuses to reach across the evangelical aisle and join hands in evangelizing the campus.  Darkness and sin gains an ever greater foothold as the light of truth is pushed farther and farther into the background, eventually being looked upon as meaningless and irrelevant to the campus culture.  “Out of sight, out of mind.”  As Christians retreat into the comfort and familiarity of their own groups, their influence as the salt and light on their campus suffers a continual decline into almost total irrelevance to the non-Christians that surround them.

Friends, this is a serious issue.  We need to call this what it is:  sin.  We need to understand that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been, is, and will continue to be hindered unless and until university and college Christian groups recognize the serious issue at hand and join in corporate repentance to eradicate this great hindrance to revival and a spiritual awakening that is long overdue.

Money is not the most important thing

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Jesus, Matthew 6:33 (NASB)

Money is a necessity, of course, but it’s not the most important thing.

Obviously, we need money to pay our bills and survive; to deny this all-important aspect of daily living would be to reject a fundamental part of being human.

If you don’t have enough money to live comfortably, it’s normal to worry about it.  The unhealthy aspect of this type of worry is when it becomes an all-consuming part of your life, when all you think about is where you will get more money.

If you think about money more than anything else, it’s safe to say you are out of balance and some needed correction is due.

Jesus understood that His people worried about how they would put food on their table, feed their children, and pay their bills.  He knew that money was a vital part of everyday living.

But He also understood how worrying about money or anything else robbed us of the joy that we need in order to live healthy, productive lives.  If anything, Jesus was a practical man.  He would have made an outstanding businessman.

To be “successful” in life, we must have our priorities straight.  It matters little how beautiful a building is if its foundation is weak, crumbling and haphazardly constructed.  Disaster looms ahead for this structure.

Where so many of go astray in life is wrongly thinking that money is the very foundation of life instead of understanding that it is part of the building I just referred to.  You can’t have a beautiful life if your foundation is built on money.

Jesus said some radical things, such as:

“… God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” Luke 16:15 (NASB)

So much of what we hold dear and precious in life is detestable in the eyes of God; our trusting in riches is one of those things that I believe God hates.  When we have everything we need in  abundance, do we really need to trust in God?  Probably not.  Why should we?  Spiritually speaking, this is a dangerous position to be in.

Jesus commanded that we “seek first the kingdom of God.”  Number two on this rather short list is righteousness.  If we are faithful in obeying both these precepts, then His promise is that “all these things will be added unto us.”

Jesus said to seek first His kingdom, but what exactly does this mean?  Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture, and Paul writes in Romans 14:7 that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (NASB)

Seeking His kingdom, then, would be seeking the things of the kingdom, as opposed to seeking the things of this world.  People of the world seek money, power, possessions, security, comfort, etc., while people of the kingdom of God seek righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

We find the things of the kingdom by being in communion with the Spirit of God.  This is done by prayer and reading His Word, while constantly examining our lives and keeping sin away from us and our thoughts.  It is not enough to want the things of the kingdom; we must actively and aggressively seek them in the same way you would hunt for buried treasure if you knew the general area of where you would find it.

The Greek word for “seek” means to “covet earnestly; strive after .”  We can translate Matthew 6:33 in this way:  “Covet earnestly and strive after the kingdom of God…”  This puts this in new light, for it signifies an active, aggressive and continual striving after the things of the kingdom.

Do you crave for the kingdom of God in the same way you crave chocolate or ice cream?  Often our mouth’s water when we think of a particular tasty food; do we do the same over the things of the kingdom?  Do we plan to meet God with the same zeal and attention to detail as we do our upcoming vacation?  Or with the same carefulness of what we will wear today?

I want to encourage you to seek first the kingdom of God.  Before you start your day, even before you make that first cup of coffee or tea, get on your knees with a Bible and seek His face.  Start with Psalm 145 and worship and praise Him for who He is.

There can be no better way to start your day.

The way of wisdom

“I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of righteousness.” Proverbs 4:11 (ESV)

Taking public transportation is a living classroom to observe some people who do not walk in the way of wisdom.

Since living in Oakland for a little over a month and ministering on the campus of UC Berkeley, I rely on the city bus to get me to and from the ministry house  where I rent a room.  This is the first time in my life I have done this and I must admit it is not my favorite thing to do.

There are many strange people that take the bus.  For example, just this morning, on my way to church, a man was sitting in front of me who was having long conversations with himself.

When I got off the bus to transfer to the next one, the bus stop benches were almost completely taken by homeless people who were sitting and sleeping on them, their shopping carts full of junk parked haphazardly around.

I’m not quite used to this.  Though I cannot claim to live a sheltered life, this is stretching my bounds of comfort.  The Lord is teaching and showing me things through these experiences, but again, I’m outside my comfort zone.

There is a man who rides the bus, sits in the back, and listens to the baseball game–loudly–on his radio.  The first time I saw this he was staring blanking in front of him while his radio droned on for everybody to hear, acting as if everybody on the bus wanted to hear the details of the game as much as he did.  Then he fell asleep, with the radio still blaring.  Evidently, he couldn’t care less who he was bothering.

Oftentimes, we learn the positive side of a biblical precept (in this case the way of wisdom) by observing its negative enactment in realtime (like this guy playing his radio).

What would be a visible example of the “way of wisdom” in the above scenarios?  Clearly, using headphones to listen to the ballgame so others, forced to sit in close proximity to you,  would not be bothered would be a “no brainer,” but I guess some people are so out of touch with reality that they can’t see the obvious.

The way of wisdom is closely aligned with what Jesus said was the second greatest commandment:  love your neighbor as yourself.  When we live our lives being concerned about how our actions affect our neighbors, we are walking in the way of wisdom.

The way of wisdom would not be using the public benches at bus stops as crash pads or long term sitting places.  They are placed there using tax-payer dollars so the people using public transportation can rest, or seek shelter when it is raining.  No rocket science involved here.

Selfishness and self-centeredness are at odds with the ways of wisdom and are mutually exclusive.

How can one break free from the strong chains that bind and blind a selfish and self-centered individual?   Proverbs 9:10 gives us the answer:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (NASB)

Are you thirsty for this “way of wisdom”?  This is a key ingredient to becoming a wise man or woman:  you must yearn for it, much like someone who has just labored out in the hot sun for hours longs for a cold glass of water.  Without this prerequisite thirst, one will never step foot on the path of wisdom.

I encourage you to pray and ask the “Lord of wisdom” to open your eyes to see your spiritual need in this area and to give you a longing for it.

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,  being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  James 1:5-8

UC Berkeley students on fire for Jesus!

I must report on an astonishing development happening on UC Berkeley that is perhaps unprecedented on any university or college campus in the United States:  Christian students are boldly preaching the gospel.

When I arrived on campus for the beginning of the “Berkeley Blitz,” I quickly got to know several students from a fellowship called “Living Waters.”  Predominantly comprised of Asian students, Living Waters members, from what I have seen, are charismatic.   They are enthusiastic and joyous in their faith and expression.
Someone in their group had the wonderful idea to gather some of their members and go out every day on campus between 12 noon and 1:00 pm, until Easter, in a bold display of their faith.  They would do this by singing Christian songs, preaching, and holding a sign that asked, “Can we pray for you?”
I learned about this through Mollie, one of the members of Living Waters.  She has only been a Christian for five months and is a firebrand for Jesus.  This young woman exudes the love, joy and passion of Christ in her life, and to be around Mollie is like breathing a breath of fresh air.
Though I had known about this for a couple of weeks, I was so busy with my own evangelistic work that I forgot about it until last week.  Then, I decided I needed to show my support for what they were doing and perhaps even encourage them.  Being bold in one’s faith on UC Berkeley does not make one popular with most of the student body.  I knew they needed moral support.
I began to show up while they were singing in a group, standing by them, off to the side, listening, and encouraging them.  Then, I offered them the use of my portable sound system that I use in my open-air preaching for whoever wished to preach themselves.
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(Photo above:  The group of students gathered to share their love for Jesus.  Mollie is playing the guitar.)
At first, they were hesitant.  I approached Mollie and encouraged her to give a short testimony of what the Lord had done in her life.  Though she seemed a bit frightened, she quickly warmed to the idea and was soon giving an impassioned talk, using the sound system, on what the Lord had done in her life.
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(Photo above:  Mollie giving her testimony.)
I encouraged Daniel next; he, too, was at first hesitant, and though he had preached in front of Dwinelle Hall a couple of weeks prior, he had not done so since.  Boldness came into Daniel’s soul and he began preaching.
The location of where these students were ministering is important to my report.  They are not in some obscure, lightly traveled area of the campus, but plant themselves in the heart of the action, in the middle of one of the main arteries that students use to go to and from their classes.  This takes both boldness and courage, friends.  The crowds passing can be large.
Jinn, another Living Water member and Cal student, preached next.  This young man has been preaching before on campus, and has fire in his soul for the Gospel.
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(Photo above:  Jinn, far left holding up his bible, preaching.)
Finally, Vieng Wong, the pastor of “In Christ Alone,” an on-campus fellowship, capped off the hour and preached.  It is true that “fire begets fire,” and this time of boldly proclaiming the Word of God on the campus of UC Berkeley was astonishing.
The following day was more of the same, with students again singing and preaching.  Yesterday, another student who I never heard preaching before approached me and said he felt it was no his time to speak publicly for the Lord Jesus.  He did, and though he only spoke for about five minutes, that was five minutes of glory for the Name of Christ!
So much more has happened that it is impossible to relate even the tenth of it.  For those who feel burdened to continue praying for this work, I thank you.

The way of wisdom

“I have taught you the way of wisdom…” (Proverbs 4:11 ESV)

The way of wisdom is contrasted with the way of foolishness.

Many people do not understand the existence of either of these two paths in life.  This is unfortunate, because not knowing about these two paths reveals that one is probably walking in the path of foolishness.

My continuing fascination with the “way of wisdom” never seems to end; you might say that I am obsessed with it.  One reason for this is because of the reality that I have walked far too long in my life in the path of foolishness; this is a disturbing reality.

It is easy to look at others and think, “That person sure acts foolishly,” but it is far more difficult to peer into the mirror and make the same judgment about ourselves.  The facts, though, are clear:  most of us are not walking in the way of wisdom.

The way of wisdom affects every area of our lives, as does the way of foolishness.  One or the other, wisdom or foolishness, will mark the course of our daily lives and determine the quality of our earthly existence.

The way of wisdom can only be realized when our lives are grounded and centered in the Word of God.  More specifically, the way of wisdom is discovered in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“…attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Colossians 2:2b-3 (NASB)

So many of us spend inordinate amounts of time on vain and foolish pursuits and activities instead of concentrating and cultivating the way of wisdom.  Like a diet that consists of only sodas and junk food, a life that is fed on only foolishness cannot be expected to be one of health, happiness and purpose.

If you are a young adult male (12-30 years of age) reading my blog, there is perhaps no better advice I can offer you than a systematic study in the book of Proverbs.

A wise pastor I had the privilege of studying under gave us young men in the congregation this excellent piece of advice:  there are approximately 31 days in every month and 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs.  Whatever the day is in any given month, read its corresponding chapter in the book of Proverbs.

For example, today is April 7; you would then read the seventh chapter of Proverbs.  I have tried to follow this advice as much as possible in my life, and now, in my fifties, I still read the book of Proverbs because I desperately need godly wisdom to direct my daily paths.

My hope is that you will discover at least two things in your life:  one, that you need wisdom to guide your life and, two, that this wisdom is personified in the life and teachings of Jesus.  The Bible says He is the living Word of God (John 1:1, 14), and devoting oneself to Him is the best way to starting and staying on the path of wisdom.

The lost art of evangelism: Part Two

“A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.”  Charles Spurgeon

I have been fascinated by the subject of “revival” for as long as I have been a Christian:  approximately 30 years.

I describe “revival” as an unusual outpouring of God’s Spirit on a particular church, town or city that brings His awesome presence to such a degree on the people that they are gripped by His holiness.

Lives are permanently changed.  Hardened sinners who were  haters of God now become devoted followers of the Lord Jesus.  The great subjects of sin, judgment, holiness, sanctification, heaven, hell, etc., all become the dominating subjects of discussion.

A true revival changes not only the people in the town, but the town itself.  Crime is dramatically decreased.  Bars and places of prostitution close.  Drunks become respected members of society and now attend church.  As unbelievable as this sounds, this happened frequently in early America.

America is in desperate need of revival.

One way in which the fires of revival are kindled and the flames spread are through the bold preaching of God’s Word.  This is why evangelism is critical to the health of America.   The lack of evangelism is one main reason why America is in the serious situation she finds herself in today.

It says in the book of Hebrews that “…the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  (4:12 NIV)

God’s Word is alive.  Most never think of it in this manner.  Though none of us can plumb the depths of what this means, the rest of this verse tells us what the results are when this living Word is unleashed into the world:  it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, penetrating deep into the souls of men and women and bringing conviction to their consciences.

To achieve its maximum effectiveness, such a living and life-changing entity must be “set free” from the cages where it has been long imprisoned within the four walls of the churches.  Certainly this living Word will works its miraculous effect on those inside the church walls who come to drink from its life giving fountain, but to revive society, it must be unleashed into the streets, lanes and other public gatherings of the common people.

Open-air preaching is one of the main methods that this transforming Word is introduced into society.

The Lord Jesus Christ was an open-air preacher.

Since this is true, why then are not hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of His followers not emulating their Master’s primary method of spreading His message in this way?

I will explore this in another post.


The lost art of evangelism: Part One

“And he (Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”  Mark 16:15 (ESV)

Christian university students, generally speaking, are afraid to boldly share their faith in the public squares of their campuses.

The reasons for this fear are varied:  shyness, lack of training, not wishing to offend others, spiritual immaturity, sin in one’s life, etc.  But whatever the reasons, the consequences for disobeying the Great Commission found in Mark 16:15 are clearly seen.

What are these consequences?  Like the reasons for not sharing one’s faith, these are also varied, but one of the more serious is that the moral darkness pervasive on every secular campus has almost completely swallowed up the light of purity, righteousness and justice.

This has profoundly negative consequences that reaches into every nook and cranny of your average university and college campus.  When the gospel is not regularly and boldly proclaimed, its purifying effect on the students and faculty is diminished.  The power of sin and death gains ascendency over the power of righteousness and life; one must always give way before the other (Galatians 5:16-17).

Jesus told His followers that they were both salt and light (Matt. 5:13-15).  In His day, there was neither electricity or refrigerators.   Meat was kept from rotting by using salt to preserve it.  Salt was a preservative against rot.

Lamps were vital to keep people from stumbling around in the dark and possibly injuring or killing themselves.  It might have been suicidal back then to traverse an unfamiliar mountainous foot path at night without a lamp to illuminate your path; one wrong step and off the side you went.

Jesus tells His followers that we are salt and light.  We are the preservative that keeps the culture from rotting away in their sins and are the lamp that shows the world how to stop from stumbling around in the moral darkness.

We do this by being bold and unashamed in the public proclamation of our faith.  Being bold should not equal being obnoxious, rude, condescending, unmannerly or carnal (characteristics common to many Christians who claim to be open-air preachers and evangelists), but rather exhibiting behavior that reflects the character of Jesus.

Darkness and light cannot peacefully coexist.  One or the other must reign as King.  As sinners, we naturally gravitate toward the darkness:  selfishness, pride, laziness, greed, lust, etc.  Unless we are continually challenged to be vessels of righteousness, we go with the flow and are content to be like so many around us: self-centered and self-absorbed.

This is why the bold and public proclamation of the gospel is vital to the health of a university, town, city or nation.  Things, left to their own power, always disintegrate and break down–a mathematical and certain reality.

But it is the power inherent in the bold and unashamed preaching of the gospel that acts like a preserving agent for society.   Preaching  awakens and stirs the conscience, acting like a “seat belt of restraint” to those who are contemplating criminal acts.  How many crimes have been halted because the criminal heard someone preaching and decided they could not go through with the deed?

The United States is bearing a heavy toll for God’s people refusing to be bold in their faith.  When the church began to turn inward and the emphasis was placed on a “come ye” (“come into our church building”) instead of a “go ye” (“go out into the highways and by-ways”), this was part of the beginning of the end of America as we knew it.

The old saying, “life doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” has special meaning here; something must fill the empty spaces of society’s existence.  In other words, whose voice or morals will exist in the public square?  The answer is the voice or moral values that shouts the loudest, because “life doesn’t exist in a vacuum.”  Something must, and will, fill the voids in our society.

When the gospel was boldly, lovingly, and loudly trumpeted throughout this nation by innumerable circuit preachers crisscrossing the nation, a national consensus of justice, truth and morality permeated the people’s conscience.  Certainly not all Americans were Christians, but the message of righteousness and faith in Jesus was as tangible as an early morning fog, felt throughout the nation.

In part two, I will discuss in more detail the necessity of bringing gospel preaching back into the public square.