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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Those Who Need a Touch

My first mission trip was to an area around Matamoros, Mexico. We were building shelters for people who were living around a dump. They would cover in cardboard boxes for the night. We built sheds with four posts in the ground, planks nailed to the posts and a tin roof. The floor remained dirt but it was the nicest structures these people would know.

Children were all around as we worked. Many of them were clothed only in underwear. It was muddy and they were nasty. My girlfriend (who has now been my wife for over 34 years) would readily pick up these children and play with them. I, on the other hand, didn't want them to get me dirty or give me a disease. Tuberculosis was not unheard of here. There were a myriad of other diseases possible. I wanted to do my good dead without really getting my hands dirty. I can't think of a way to make your life more miserable.

I had to pick up the children within a couple of days. I didn't want to but I knew that they needed to be touched. I couldn't say that I had the love of Jesus within me if I didn't touch them. I knew Jesus had touched me when I was filthy in sin. I knew that I needed to touch these children who were merely filthy with dirt. I would have to deny my Savior if I didn't.

This morning I read the story of the leper whom Jesus touched for healing. It is recorded in three of the gospels. It must have made a huge impact on those who observed for them to record it in three gospels. It must have been very important for the Holy Spirit to lead three gospel writers to include the story.

Jesus healed people without touching them. He healed without having to be physically present. Here, however, He touches a man and cleanses him. Do you wonder why this man is touched?

Lepers had to cover themselves and call out "Unclean!" so that they would not be approached. They had to stay within their community. Their disease made them unfit to worship. They could never expect a rabbi, priest or one who meticulously kept the law to touch them. They were untouchable and forgotten.

Jesus touched this leper because being touched was part of his healing. The leprosy could be healed without a touch. His faith, his heart and his understanding of who Jesus was required that he be touched. Healing the whole man is an act of Jesus. It is who He expects us to be since we carry His Spirit within us.

True believers cannot simply stay in their clean houses and send their money to benevolent causes. True believers carry the Spirit of Christ and it causes us to touch those who are unlovely and unloved. It causes us to get the dirt of the world on us but through our touching we bring the true Light into the darkness. 

Matthew 8:2-3 (NIV)
2  A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Judgment of Ungodly Christians

Most people think of going to a bar if they don't want to be judged and to a church if they, for some unforeseen reason, would like to be judged. That isn't the way it should be.

The people in the church should know God's grace. They should know that they have sinned and have no right to condemn another person. They should never condemn a person by what the person has done. It is like saying, "God, you don't have enough strength to change that person. I, therefore, condemn them to be like they have always been."

A person's condemnation comes from the devil. He stands before God as each person's accuser. Those who condemn others are agreeing with him. They are asking to be judged in the same manner as he will be judged. It is very dangerous to condemn another person.

That doesn't mean we are not to judge in order to bring someone to repentance. The Bible clearly states that we should call sin what it is. It clearly states that we should judge those people within the church in order to bring them back into the fellowship. It does not tell us to condemn them to be out of fellowship forever. It does not allow us to consider them worthless. It admonishes us to treat sin seriously. It tells us to restore them gently. It makes us responsible for each other.

Condemnation is throwing someone in the trash. It is saying that you have no use for them. It is putting yourself in front of those you condemn.

This means there is punishment for sin. There are consequences for sin. Privileges are suspended. Trust is lost. Yes, but this is for a period of time. It is not condemnation. It is restoration. It takes time. Those who repent will appreciate the time of punishment for it will help them to remember who they are and to whom they belong. Those who are not repentant will resent any type of restriction. The repentant will come back into fellowship. The non-repentant will look for a new opportunity for sin. 

Determining whether a person will ever be faithful is not left to the judgment of Christians. Christians should love, forgive, give grace and do those things necessary for repentance. They should allow the person to rebuild trust. Trust will not be given without faithfulness. However, this is not a condemnation from the Christians. It is an opportunity for the repentant to come fully back to the community of believers.

God does not look favorably on those who judge others unjustly. He will return to them what they have done.

Matthew 7:2 (NIV)
 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Can You Begin Again?

The Bible begins with "In the beginning." Normally, we think there can be only one. We say, "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression." We think that we can never start again what we have already started. Fortunately, that is not the truth.

The Gospels of John and Mark start with the new beginning. Luke tells how he meticulously researched to tell the story of Jesus chronologically. Matthew begins with the lineage of Jesus from Abraham. It is clear that this was a new beginning. Suddenly, everything changed. Suddenly, the old rules were replaced with new ones. Suddenly, we understood grace rather than the law.

The beautiful aspect of the gospel is that you can begin again. You don't have to be what you were. You are not enslaved in the way you formerly acted. You don't have to be known for what you were. You can become new all again.

Jesus told Nicodemus that he should be "born again." Of course, this was perplexing to old Nick. The Jews had as system of being born again. They would have considered anyone coming into the faith as being born again. However, Nicodemus was already a Pharisee. He was at the pinnacle of the faith. He did not understand how he could or even should begin again. This was his stumbling block. It is the same for us when we believe that we cannot begin again. 

I often hear people say things like, "I married my wife once. I don't need to renew my vows." Now, this is a personal choice but I have found that I must renew my vows constantly. They should always be fresh and having them renewed formally is merely an expression of what I have been experiencing personally. Beginning again is an opportunity that should be met with frequency. It should be a determination that we will not let ourselves stagnate in our own failures. It should be a new determination as if we are made new by that determination to be different. 

What would be the reputation of many of God's servants if they had not began again? Moses would be known as a murderer. Peter would have been known as one who denied Christ. Paul would have been known as one who persecuted the Lord. These are events in each of these men's lives but they are not how they are characterized. They began again and their lives were made new.

A new year and new decade approaches quickly. The new year and decade will not be the same as the one that is passing. You will find that you will get worse in what you are doing or that you can begin again. We never really get to the bottom of the bad that we can do. We go the direction we are going unless something acts to stop us. We will get worse if we don't determine by God's strength to begin again.

Of course, this is true of many things in your life. You can begin again by being smoke free, being thin, being educated, being faithful to your spouse or being faithful to your Lord. You begin these things and faithfully continue in them until you become what you have begun.   

The beautiful story of beginning again is explained so wonderfully when the father of the prodigal explains to the son who never left him why he (the father) had to take the prodigal son back:

Luke 15:32 (NIV)
32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

You, too, can begin again. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

What Is the Secret to Success?

Do we really know what will make us happy? Do we assume that having fame, money, sex and power will make us truly happy?

There are many who have as much of this as they want and despair over each of their days. They know that there should be more to life than these things but have no idea where what it is nor how to find it. They struggle with different causes. They lend their names to saving the polar bears or the rain forests. They support causes for humane treatment of animals. They put their efforts behind saving children with cancer or MS or any number of maladies. While these activities are laudable; they still do not have the fulfillment in their lives that they have always needed. They still feel empty.  

So, they throw themselves into their work and causes more than ever. They felt some glimmer of usefulness with the success of each cause. Sometimes, they become obsessed with these causes. They exchange their addition to money, sex, power and/or fame for this cause. They may still feel empty in the end.

So, what is that secret to success? It is doing what you have been created for. It is in giving God glory with the talents and gifts that He created you for. It is knowing your God-given purpose and walking in that purpose. It is giving up the idea that others can tell you what you should be doing with your life. It is self discovery of your hidden desires to do what you never could do by striving for the things the world counts as success.

You are doing something that you love to do if you are doing what God has purposed for you. You are walking in His presence and strength. You are experiencing His joy and working harder than you have ever worked. You are amazed that you get to do this thing God has created you for. You are always trying to get better at it. You don't consider it work at all.

God's purpose may not make you rich, powerful or famous. The opposite sex may not swoon at your feet. You may be known to a few who are amazed at your way of doing things. They can't have your joy until they realize that they, too, must find what their purpose is and do it passionately.

My favorite day of the week is Sunday. It is my longest day. It is the day that I am most exhausted when I go home. It is the day that I get to do what God has called me to do. I prepare all week for it. I enjoy the preparation. I enjoy the execution. I enjoy it so much that I sometimes feel guilty that other people have to go to jobs in which they look forward to their time off. I look forward to my work.

I am not rich or famous. I don't have women falling at my feet. (Even my wife makes me pick up my own laundry.) I am not powerful. I don't have thousands coming to join my church weekly. However, I am very successful. I know who I am. I know what I am here for. I am doing what I am.

This is my secret to success.

Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Attacks of the Devil

One thing is assured: The devil will attack you if you diligently serve the LORD. How will he attack? We can look at the story of Job to see the answer.

The devil will attack your family. He will destroy them if possible. He will attack their health and their relationship to you. All of Job's children were killed by the devil's attacks. You can do nothing more than pray for your family. 

The devil will attack your provision. He will remove anything you have saved. He will take away your job. He will work to make you destitute. All of Job's crops, servants, camels, oxen, donkeys and sheep were taken from him. You can do nothing more than depend upon the Lord to provide.

The devil will attack your health. He may work to take away your life. Job developed sore boils from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. He was in agony. You will go to the doctors but you can do nothing more than trust in the Lord for healing.

The results of his attacks will mean that the relationship with your spouse will be strained. The devil has been very active with his attacks on the family. Many husband-wife relationships are in trouble because of Satan's attacks. You should make sure that this bond is always secure.

The results will mean that the fellowship with others will be strained too. Friends will not be as friends when they lead you away from the Lord. The church is always full of the devil's agents to spread disharmony. You should strive to forgive. You should ask for forgiveness when you have done something wrong. You should make fellowship very important.

Ultimately, the devil is working to destroy your faith. He wants you to turn your back on God. Many people do. They look at the bad times they have had and decide that walking with God didn't pay off. They will cease to praise God. They will be absent from worship. They will be like those who are practical atheist. Their words may say they believe but their actions will proclaim a different message.

Yet, the devil could not have attacked you if God had not given him permission. He gave his permission to attack Job. He gave him permission to attack Simon Peter. God has confidence in you if He has given the devil permission to attack. He will provide again when the attack is over.

Job received more children, more provisions and his health. He was blessed by God for his faithfulness during the trying times.

You will be too. Hang on to your faith. It is all you have left in the end. Whatever you are going through will pass. Also,  keep praying for those who need faith to carry them too.

Job 42:10 (NIV)
   After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

God Is Bigger Than Your Biggest Problem

What is your biggest problem? It is your debts or your weight? Do you have problems with your spouse or do you smoke? Are there drugs involved or have you done something that will send you to jail if caught? God is bigger no matter what your problem.

The greatest difficulty in dealing with our biggest problem is believing that God is bigger than that problem. We will rarely listen to Him when we believe He is smaller than the problem. We will not trust Him if we believe He doesn't have the strength to do enough to get us through the problem. We will become victims of the circumstances of our problems when we believe God is not able to help us enough to overcome our problems.

But, how do you make yourself believe something that you have never believed before? How do you change your faith if you have never believed before? How do you get more faith?

Remember the story of the woman who was bleeding for twelve years. She had a huge problem. She had exhausted her funds. She had to be extremely anemic from the loss of blood. Her quality of life was at an all time low. Let's examine her story.

First, she lost her faith in her own abilities to solve her problem. She had spent all that she made to be healed and it had not worked. I don't know what treatment she had but she knew that it didn't work. It made things worse. 

You have already tried everything you know to do. You have believed in things that have not worked. Are you going to continue doing what you have been doing and continue getting what you have been getting?

Second she heard the stories of Jesus and wanted to believe He could heal her. She would have had no faith if she had rejected these stories. She found a new hope in this miracle healer. 

You have heard about Jesus but have not really believed the stories. You have tried to explain away the miracles in the Bible as a primitive people expressing what they do not understand. You have to entertain the thought that they are factual stories if you are ever going to truly believe in a Christ who will solve your problem today.

Third, she told herself that touching His outer garment would heal her. In fact, she said it out loud. "If I touch even his garments, I will be made well." She may have not felt worthy to have approached and asked for this healing. She knew it would be Him who healed her. Saying things to ourselves has a powerful affect on our faith.

You can say to yourself right now that Jesus will solve your problem You can say to yourself that He will walk with you through this problem. You can say that He will give you the strength to make it to the other side of this problem. Saying what you must believe will strengthen your faith.

Fourth, she went to the Lord. It must have been hard if she was an anemic as we must assume she was. Bleeding for twelve years would certainly have made her weak. It would have made her unclean so that she couldn't have gone to worship during those twelve years. That had to make her weak spiritually as well as physically. She pushed through a crowd that was pressing Jesus all around and touched His garment. The result was immediate. 

You can get on your knees right now in front of the Lord. You can come to Him. You can speak to Him even if you have never done so before. You may have a weak faith. You may have not been in church for years. You may have not prayed in years. God doesn't care. You only need to go to Him right now.

Fifth, she told the story after her problem was solved. This was done in fear and trembling. I suppose many people believe that those who give a testimony about God's provision are doing so without any fear. I have found that most tremble in fear before they give a testimony. Standing in front of people isn't the easiest thing in the world. However, it is necessary when God solves your biggest problem.

You need to make a commitment to share your story or you will never really have your problem solved. I have seen so many people lose their weight just to gain it back; stop smoking for years and pick it up again; stop drinking for long periods just to go back to it. You need a faith community that knows your story to help you stay in the place where you need to be.

I ask people if they are ready to give God what they have been unable to defeat. I ask you the same question. Do you have a problem so big that you haven't had any success in defeating it? God is bigger than that problem. 

Are you willing to come to Him with this problem? Do you believe He will solve it.

Mark 5:34 (ESV)

And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Can't Steal My Joy Today

Merry Christmas!

Yesterday I found a trojan virus on my desktop computer. I ran the virus protection software and the virus was quarantined. I thought I had gotten rid of it. It, however, left a little program on the computer to download the thing again. I turned off the computer the moment that I discovered it. I put the computer in safe mode, turned off system restore and started running another scan. 

I'll admit that I was angry when I realized that a piece of the virus was still on the computer. I was a little angry because of the virus but I was really angry at a culture that supports malicious activity. When was the last time you heard someone chastised in a movie because he wrote a virus that shut down all the computers on the west coast? Each movie praises the guy for doing something so clever. I believe these guys should be arrested and put in jail. They should be forbidden to touch another computer. They should not get jobs in security firms showing how to stop computer viruses. That would be like making murderers those who will catch other murderers. The logic is flawed. I do not think we should continue to praise children when they act maliciously. I think they should be punished.

However, I soon remembered that this is Christmas, picked up my laptop and started this blog. I remembered that Christ came to live with me in this world and take me to His own. I remembered that I am never hopeless. I remembered that the things on this earth are just things we work with. They are not eternal. They will not go with us when we die. (I also remembered that I am buying a Mac very soon and will not have to deal with these viruses again!)

My joy can't be stolen unless I allow someone to steal it. It is mine to keep or mine to lose. It is the joy that Christ has placed within me that will last. 

Yes, this is Christmas and I decided that nothing can steal my joy today.

James 1:2-3 (NIV)
 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Almost to Christmas

You have already bought your presents, decorated your house and cooked everything you need to cook if you are reading this blog. So, is there anything else you need to do to make this a very special Christmas?

Don't get me wrong. I believe that presents, decorations and cooking are great at Christmas. But they are like the wrapping paper rather than the present. We will play with the boxes rather than the gifts if we are not careful to recognize what we have received.

Christmas is about a baby born so that mankind will believe. God came as a baby in all a baby's vulnerability. He did not kick the door of our hearts open to make us believe in Him. He was gentle and dependent upon our response to Him. This baby is our light that gives us life. We celebrate God coming as a baby.

Christmas is about a purpose. God came to sacrifice for us so that we would no longer be defeated by death. We can know our eternity is secure because of the price God has paid for our sins. We celebrate our forgiveness when we celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is about love. God's only motivation for coming as a baby who would sacrifice for us is love. He loves us so much that He would not hold back His one and only Son. No matter what you have ever done, no matter where you are or have gone in your life, you can always be assured that God loves you. This does not come after you have cleaned up your life because God loves us in all of our dirtiness.

Christmas is about remembering. Our response to Him is to remember what He has done and is doing for and with us because of His love. Making it all the way to Christmas means you need to stop all the "wrapping" and get to the present.

Go to a church having a Christmas Eve service tonight. Make it all the way to Christmas.

John 1:14 (ESV)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 3:16
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 5:8
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Always Winter and Never Christmas

C.S. Lewis wrote of Narnia, a place where it was always winter, but never Christmas. Is that the place we are trying to create? 

We eliminated prayer from schools because we didn't want to impose our faith on others. It seems reasonable that we should do so. We gave up our faith for the faith of others. We didn't consider sharing the time. We didn't think of allowing other faiths present to express themselves. We eliminated it for everyone.

We made sure that we didn't give any preference to any faith by eliminating the references to God in public institutions. There have been efforts to get "In God We Trust" taken off of our money. There were more recent efforts to eliminate "under God" from our Pledge of Allegiance. Did these words truly give a preference to any faith? 

Nearly all television programs present religious people as obsessed individuals whose elevator won't make it to the second floor. They are blind to the needs of others for the sake of their religious rituals. They are laughed at, stereotyped and proven wrong by those enlightened secular folks. 

We have become like children who know more than their parents ever could. We don't need our parents to impose their values on us. They don't know anything anyway. And, thus, we consider God. We are treating God as One we no longer need. We don't need His standards; those morals that keep us from having a good time. We can make up our own. We can live without Him.

Where will our world go without Christ? What will it be like? 

There will be no values unless they are carefully monitored. Therefore, there will be no trust between individuals. There will be no safety for there can be no safety without trust. There will be violence for violence is natural in a world without safety. There will be chaos for chaos is the definition of a violent world.

Now, I ask you, is this the direction our world is taking? Are we becoming more valueless, less trusting, less safe, and more violent? It is a world that is always winter and never Christmas.

The answer to this dilemma is found in our own hearts and our own prayers. Our world may eliminate Christmas but we must be those who celebrate it all year long. We are those whose joy can't be stolen. We are those whose prayers are always heard. We are those whose days are ordered and accomplished. We are those who are fulfilled. We have the message of Christmas in our hearts. We are those who give it to others gladly. We are those who will see our world know Christmas again.

Psalm 51:12-13 (NIV)
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sometimes Religious People Just Don't Get It

I don't understand how people who say they love Jesus will condemn others when their interpretation of the Bible is different. I don't understand how they can demonize others who also believe in God. I don't understand why they don't see that our love for one another should always prevail when we think of each other. I don't understand why we don't realize how important people are to God.

Such is the case of the story found in Matthew 9. A man with a withered hand is in the synagogue. The question is asked whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. The Pharisees are there to condemn Jesus or welcome Him among their ranks. He either joins them in keeping the law as they have always thought it should be kept or He opposes them by breaking the law.

The law of the Sabbath said that you could not treat a sick person so that his illness improved. You could keep him at the same level of sickness but not improve his condition. Improving his condition was considered work. Jesus related it to sheep. Their law would allow them to get a sheep out of a pit without considering it work. They did not understand that a person is more important than a sheep to God.

Here was a man with a withered hand. His hand was not life threatening. His hand could have waited until the next day. Yet, Jesus heals him to show that this man is more important than their law. This causes the Pharisees to conspire to destroy Jesus.

We have plenty of people coming to our churches with withered hands. They are people who have addictions. They are those who are captured by their sins. They are those who use bad language and drink strange brews to excess. Lots or religious people don't want them around. They want them to comply with the way church should be before coming to any worship service. These religious people can't see that these people are much more valuable to God than making sure that everyone who comes to the church acts right.

God help us if we are not helping one another. God help us if we are not loving one another. God help us indeed.

Romans 13:8-10 (ESV)
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, " and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is It God or Me Who Is the Seeker?

Romans 3:11 tells us that there is no one who seeks God. Psalm 119:2 blesses those who seek God with their whole heart. So, is it God who is seeking us or are we seeking Him? Maybe the question is phrased wrongly. Maybe it should be, "Who seeks who first?"

1 John 4:19 says, "We love because He first love us." Mankind has not known what he has needed from the beginning. It was God who saw that Adam was in need of a mate. Adam didn't know what a mate was. It was God who sent the Messiah as a baby. Mankind would have chosen a conqueror. It is God who declares that His love is everlasting. Mankind is fickle.

We find the scriptures giving the picture of God seeking us. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus is standing at the door knocking so that we will hear His voice and invite Him in. Jesus says that He is the shepherd and we are the sheep. It is the shepherd who takes care of and goes after wayward sheep. So, it is God who is the initiator of the seeking.

Yet, there are times I know that I seek God. His presence in my life have caused me to want to know Him better. I want to please Him and I seek His face. I cry out to Him to be with me. I want to hear His will and do what He says. I want to see His vision and work to live in that vision. There is a connection between me and God that I can only explain in love. He loved me so much that I must love Him. He gave to me His life so that I may give my life to Him. I seek Him with my whole heart as one who is looking for the One he loves.

Yes, I seek God but He sought me first. I would have never known who He is if He had never come to me. I would never have sought Him if He had not shown me His love.

So, today I am the seeker.

Psalm 119:2-3 (ESV)
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What Were You Thinking?

There are no random acts of violence. A person may act violently but the act of violence comes gradually. They don't hurt others after many years of being model citizens with benevolent thoughts for everyone. The spent years thinking that they were being mistreated, unappreciated or hated. They wanted to strike back. These acts of violence are their way of doing so. 

This is no justification for the acts. There were other things they could have done. Ultimately, they had to make decisions to go one direction or the other. There are other people who grew up in much worse conditions that these violent people who are loving, caring and generous people. What makes the difference? I believe the difference comes in what each one dwells on in their thoughts.

I have found that people who think of failing more than succeeding will generally fail. You will probably fumble the ball if all you can think of is fumbling the ball. You will strike out if all you can think of is striking out. Our thoughts precede our actions.

People generally entertain affairs in their minds before they actually start one. They generally think lovingly of another person before they do something that reflects that love. They think of robbing the bank before robbing it. They think others have mistreated them before they mistreat others. The way they think is the way they act.

I had a lady tell me that she had been a heavy smoker but the Lord had taken that away from her. She told me that the Lord told her that He would heal her of this addiction. The next day when she picked up a cigarette the thought came to her mind, "What are you doing? You don't smoke." She said she never smoked again.

Yes, she was cured of this addiction by the Lord. Yet, I was also fascinated that her whole thought process changed. She no longer saw herself as a smoker.  Yes, I believe the Lord helped her. I believe He changed her whole thought process. I believe that was the cure she needed.

Your day will be determined by what you think. You can choose to simply react to the circumstances of the day or you can choose to think in ways that will allow you to rise above these circumstances. The way this day turns out will largely depend on how you think.

Well, is it going to be a great day? You bet it is!

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Christmas Surprise

Maybe all of us have been surprised by a gift at Christmas. There have been things that we got that we didn't want. There were pieces of clothing that didn't fit. There were outlandish shirts that we secretly swore to give to Goodwill the day after Christmas. We didn't know what some of the things were. We didn't know what to do with them when we found out.

That doesn't seem to be the same picture we see in television ads. The husband gives his wife an expensive piece of jewelry. The wife has a new car delivered overnight, ready for Christmas morning. They jump up and down with excitement. Then, they make the payments for the next six years. These are the gifts that just keep on taking.

Yet, sometimes you will get a gift that you did not expect. It will not cost you. You will not have to work for it for years to come. You will be excited and grateful. Will you ever consider the cost to the one who gave it to you? This person doesn't expect you to, but will you?

The greatest gift I ever received didn't come at Christmas but it came because of Christmas. I didn't expect to receive it. I thought it would be something else. I thought it would cost me a whole lot later. I was completely surprised. I receive this gift every day.

Yes, it is life but not the kind that has respiration with a heart beating an neurons firing. It is what makes this life a life worth living. Christmas came so that God could give the world that He loves His Son. He gives Him to us every day. We receive life like no other. It is a surprise gift. We receive love like no other. It is a surprise gift. We receive purpose, peace and fulfillment. These, too, are surprise gifts. 

I thought that church was the most boring place with the deadest people around. I thought of it as a place which people punished themselves by attending the services. I received the Christmas Surprise of Jesus and that all changed. 

The Christmas Surprise was a surprise from the very beginning. He is still one today.

Luke 2:10-11 (NIV)
  But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.   Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Things Will Get Better

I don't understand suicide. I don't understand why people would want a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I guess they don't believe the problem is temporary.

Maybe they think they have done something that they can't be forgiven for. Maybe they have hurt someone or disappointed someone so severely and have been caught. They know that this person or persons will never be able to look at them the same. They believe that forgiveness is an emotional release given for someone else. They see it as a human reaction rather than a divine gift. They can't see that the image of God is printed on us so that we can give forgiveness as He forgives. They don't know that forgiveness is a miracle that sometimes causes us to draw deeply from God to forgive and sometimes causes us to draw deeply from Him to know we are forgiven.

Maybe they have lost something that they believe they can't live without. Maybe someone has died that they loved. Maybe it was a child. Maybe the girls or boys of their dreams have rejected them and told them the fateful, "Let's be friends, okay?" They believe the pain in their hearts is just too great to bear. They don't know that God has a pain for them when they hurt. They don't know that He weeps with them. He does so because He hurts when they hurt. They don't know that they are never alone. They don't know that He gives all the strength they need to pick up the pieces and begin again.

Maybe they see their lives as a series of disappointments. They have failed at so many things so many times that they believe that they are losers. They might think that losers don't have any right to live. They might even think the world would be better off without them. They don't know that each person on this earth has a God-given purpose. They don't know that they matter immeasurably to God. They don't know that He wants them to continue on and find that purpose. They don't know that the reason they don't feel fulfilled is because they have not seen His purpose in their lives yet.

Maybe they believe that their current circumstances are their permanent circumstances. They have forgotten the good times they have seen in their lives. They have forgotten that there were any good times. They have pulled their present problems so closely to their faces that they can't see anything else.

I know that God has plans for each and every one of us. I know that God allows us to go through some terrible times on this earth. I don't believe He causes these bad times but I know He could have stopped them and has chosen not to. I know that He is always working for us. I know that He is in every yesterday, today and tomorrow. I know He wants good for us. I know He is bringing that good about.

Sometimes circumstances are terrible. Sometimes you done something that you believe you will never be forgiven for. Sometimes you can't see past your problems. The good times are hidden like the darkness at the end of a flashlight beam. There is more there; you just can't see it yet.

This will pass. God will cause things to get better. The economy will not always be like it is today. You will not always be without a job. You can find another boyfriend or girlfriend. God may provide another spouse for you. You can be forgiven by others because God is ready to forgive you today. However bad things are, the will pass. Things will get better.

Psalm 116:5-6 (ESV)
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The LORD preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Beginning of Depravity Comes When We Fail to Honor or Thank God

The beginning of the depravity begins with a people who know God but do not honor Him as God or give thanks. These two things seem so benign when considering the sinfulness of today's society. It seems that these things should be overlooked and only major sins should be addressed. Yet, these two things led us down a road with new aberrations around every bend. How have we failed to honor God of give Him thanks?

We treated Him casually. We thought of Him as a part-time activity. We failed to be seen in His presence when we had the opportunity. We stayed away from church for no reason. We planned our soccer games and swim meets and band trips and football games around times when we should have been in church. We did not give God our best or our first. 

We taught our children that God wasn't that important. We taught them that the Bible was a book that sat on a coffee table but did not exist in our hearts. We said that we believed just because we believed and had not sacrificial evidence to prove our belief. Our children watched us with our attitudes toward our neighbors and other family members. They heard us castigate the religious leaders of our churches. They thought that these leaders were hypocrites who should not be allowed into a bar much less a church. They learned to stay away from meaningless things.

We failed to thank God regularly. We did not truly thank Him for Jesus. We said the words but could not see the true benefit. We still doubted whether there was any reason to thank Him. We failed to live in the state of grace. We did not thank Him for His grace always so that we were able to look down on others. We think of ourselves as those who deserve every good thing and when any good thing is removed we blame someone. Holding onto any blame keeps us from any thankfulness.

We have been ungodly in choosing our church leaders. Pastors are chosen on their ability to woo people into the church- not on their desire to serve God fully. They seek higher and higher salaries with each new member who joins. They are hired hands rather than faithful servants who thank God for each grace which God gives them.

Therefore, God has allowed us to become futile in our speculations. We have decided what is right and wrong. We have decided that we know more than the Bible. We have decided that we can make a God into the image we seek. We have turned our hearts away from Him and foolishness has prevailed.

There is an answer, however. The future does not need to be bleak. It is not found in our politics or politicians. It is not found in a great new leader. It is not found in great minds who will reason our way through our problems.

It is found in us, the people who know God to truly honor and thank God. We need to stand up rather than put people down. We need to be found in attendance rather than absent when needed. We needed to be found sacrificing our time and resources for the One we honor. We need to live in a state of grace which gives grace to others no matter what they have done (this is not the same as overlooking their sins). We need to begin each day with the thankfulness of one who is privileged to live on God's earth with the people God has blessed us.

Have you ever thought of what God wants from us? What is it that we could give Him that He does not already have? He has all the resources of the universe. He doesn't need our money, our time or our efforts in service. He only wants one thing. With that one thing our lives are changed. With that one thing we are fulfilled. That one thing brightens our hearts. What does God want?

God wants our hearts.

Romans 1:21 (NIV)
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jesus Came as a Baby

I wonder if a lot of Christians understand why Jesus came as a baby. He could have come as a conqueror. He could have demanded worship. He could have displayed His powers so that people would fear Him and pay homage to Him without His asking. He didn't. He came as a baby.

Babies are helpless. Their only defense is their cry. This is the only way we can tell when they need of want something. They must have someone to feed them, clothe them, shelter them, keep them warm, comfort them and protect them. They are dependent on others for any transportation. They cannot understand complex political schemes which will kill them. They cannot reason out solutions to financial matters. They are completely dependent on those who care for them.

It seems we would catch on if Jesus is our Lord. He did not come as a bully. He does not expect us to bully people into believing in Him any more than when He came. He makes Himself very vulnerable to our will. He depends upon our taking Him in like a baby does with his mother. He asks for faith through love which results in obedience. He knocks at our door. He never knocks it down. He requests our belief. He doesn't demand it. He asks for our obedience. He doesn't force it.

Each morning Jesus stands at my door and knocks. If I am listening and I hear His voice, I open the door so that He can come in. We fellowship together. He is my Lord. I am His willing servant. He speaks to me. I answer and know His presence. 

Many years ago Jesus knocked on the door of my life for the first time. It was no different than it is now. He didn't demand. He just knocked. I opened that door and it was the best thing I have ever done.

Jesus came as a baby. Do you get it? He is knocking at your door right now.

Time, after time, He has waited before,

And now He is waiting again

To see if you're willing to open the door,

O, how He wants to come in.

Revelation 3:20 (NIV)
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is Being Holy Also Being Perfect?

It seems that we Christians are always beating ourselves for our sins. That's not God's plan for us.

He doesn't want us to live defeated lives. He doesn't want us to act like paupers in His presence. He wants us to act like His children. He wants us to know that Jesus died for all our sins. He wants us to know we are forgiven. He wants us to know His righteousness.

This, however, does not give us a license to do whatever we want. We are to "be holy because He is holy," as Peter tells us. We are to live lives which will honor our Lord. We are to be devoted to Him. We are to be saints by the way we act and how we are called. Yet, this does not mean that we are or will be perfect by our own power. It does not mean that there will be a sinless future on this earth. It does not mean that a greater effort will result in a perfect person.

Our "holiness" is one that keeps getting up after we have fallen down. It is one which we realize grace because of the grace given to us daily. It is one in which we give grace to others because we are no better than they. It is one of gratefulness. It takes sin seriously because sin is confessed. It is called evil and is known to have fallen short of His glory. The person who is truly holy recognizes his or her sins.

Our holiness comes through the righteousness of Jesus. It is He who cleanses us. It is He who keeps us in God's grace. It is His sacrifice that made all this possible.

Trying to be perfect is such a terrible way to live. It results in too many failures. It results in such a depressed life.

I am not perfect but I have been made holy by the blood of Jesus. I am forgiven. I confess and I know His righteousness.

1 John 1:9-10 (ESV)
If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Food:An Old Way to Grow Your Church

I gained fifteen pounds after coming to pastor my present church. There are a couple of reasons: There are lots of meetings in which we eat and the food is great! Our church has employed an old method of reaching people and growing the fellowship of the church.

The first Sunday of every month we have what we can Mega-Sunday. We invite everyone who has visited and those who drive by our church (We have a large HD electronic sign which advertises to the people who occupy the 40,000 vehicles that go by each day. Its hard to keep going by pictures of pancakes each day and not want to stop in.) to join our membership for a buffet breakfast. We have a Wednesday night meal which is free for those who come for the first time. We have other outreach events, Sunday School events and even discipleship events where the food is plentiful and very good.

Our goal is to connect people with one another. They sit at round tables surrounded by members and other guests. They get to know one another a little bit better. They learn that the people who have been coming to the church are just like them in many ways. They have the same problems, the same struggles and the same interests. They find that they can fit in. They realize that we will try to help them if we can.

These meals also provide a really needed connection among members. Consistency in the Bible and prayer are keys to growing as a Christian. It is hard to remain consistent without a social network which supports you. The deep connection keeps the individual coming to their small group and worship. The result is spiritual growth that can be seen. Members understand the need to pray for one another and financially help one another when needs arise. Sure, people often help those they don't know but there is a deeper commitment when the person you help is your friend.

We have found that visitors are not looking for a friendly church. They are looking for people with whom they can find friends. These meals give them an opportunity to find these friends. The food provides a vehicle for conversation which often results in meetings outside the church. Men find themselves playing golf or going fishing together. Women find themselves making connections in shopping, mission studies and classes at the Y or other outside events.

Those who cook are volunteers. The church rarely gets a meal catered. These cooks have a very close fellowship. Each one knows that they serve the Lord whose chief emissary is "Admiral Carol." (They know that they follow her orders or they will be summarily executed. There is no trial.) This makes the food consistently great (not just good) and there isn't any bickering or trying to decide who is in charge. The fellowship among those who prepare and cook is very sweet.

Now, this is not a new idea. They did it in the early church. And I'm glad we are seeing our church grow even though I am now on a diet.

Acts 2:46-47 (ESV)

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When My Prayers Don't Seem to Be Answered

I have been praying for something for about six months. I have prayed that the answer would be to God's glory. I have submitted myself to His will. I have confessed my sins, given to the poor, prayed the answer wouldn't be for my benefit alone, worshiped with my whole heart and believed God's word. (I didn't do these things so that my prayers would be answered but the failure to do these things will result in God not listening to my prayers.) Yet, I haven't heard a word from God.

I haven't heard Him tell me "yes" or "no." I haven't had any indication that my prayer is against His will. I haven't heard Him tell me that I am to wait until something else happens. I haven't had Him tell me that I am asking Him to do something outside of His nature and will. I have heard nothing. What should I do?

Without another word from God, I must continue to pray what has been placed on my heart until God gives me an answer.

His answer may be completely outside my little thinking box. He may be doing something to answer my prayer than I would never have been able to pray because I would never have thought of the way He would provide the answer. It may be that He has not told me what He is about to do because I would not be able to fathom His answer. I am sure that the Hebrew people never expected the water to split open for them to cross any more than Mary and Martha thought that Jesus would call for their brother Lazarus to come out of the tomb. I just may not be able to handle God's answer right now with my IBM (itty-bitty-mind).

It may be that God is stretching my faith. God is only silent with those He can trust. I, like others before me, wish He didn't trust me so much. Silence is the only path to real faith. It means I believe something when I can neither hear nor see it. It means I still believe in God's power when I am not experiencing it. It means that I know what I cannot know because I see what I cannot see. I have to remember the things I do know of God to believe that He will answer. This is faith in its purest form. It takes little faith to see the storm calmed. It takes a great deal of faith to know the storm will calm when the winds are tearing your boat apart.

There are two real dangers when I have prayed and do not see His answer. I can claim something is an answer that really isn't. I can look at circumstances and claim this is God's answer when it isn't. This will be detrimental to my faith for I will have claimed something to be an answer when God is really doing something else. It will ruin my witness and work against my continued praying.

I can stop praying, shrug my shoulders and forget about the prayer. This may be the greatest danger. It means I didn't have any faith in God in the first place. It means that I was just saying words that meant nothing for I didn't think they were going to God anyway. If I have had something placed upon my heart, I should pray it through until God gives me an answer.

So, I pray and wait. I believe, yet I do not see. I still give Him glory and long for an answer.

Luke 18:1-8 (NIV)
1  Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men.
3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

4  "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"

And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When We Hate Ourselves

Many people who know better than to hate someone else can hate themselves without any twinge of conscience. Hating themselves almost seems like the righteous thing to do. I believe that it is as evil to hate yourself as it is to hate anyone else.

People who hate themselves have huge disappointments in their lives. It may be that they didn't get the love of a parent as a child. A child reasons that only a terrible person wouldn't be loved by his parents. Maybe they weren't the athlete or scholar that other siblings were. They may have heard their parents speak of these disappointments. Who can disappoint their parents and expect to love themselves?

Self-hatred plagues these people all of their lives. They may even cause their own failures. Any attempt to succeed is met with a self defeating prophecy. "I am not this good," they say on the front nine of the course. Then, they fulfill their prediction by the way the play the back nine. "I will never be able to keep this weight off," they say after and the initial success of a diet. Of course, they slip back into their old habits and gain more than they ever lost.

People who hate themselves may even sabotage their own marriages. "How could anyone love someone like me?" they ask. They act in ways to make sure that their spouse matches their own expectations. Or, it may be that they choose a abusing spouse. They may feel they deserve all the abuse.

On the other hand, people who hate themselves can be cruel too. They cannot afford to have anyone love them. The love of another person does not fit into their paradigm of how they think of themselves. They may be comfortable only when they know everyone feels the same way as they do. Therefore, they may be ruthless in their dealings with others. In the office he is known as a self-serving, pompous jerk.

Strange, but people who hate themselves may also be big blowhards. They may tell you all the time how good they are at whatever you are doing. They are trying to convince themselves that they have some worth. They are hoping you will help them not hate themselves so much.

Hating ourselves is at the base level of our self confidence. It will destroy all other relationships. It will severely affect our work and even our fun. It is evil so we must quit thinking of yourself as doing right when we hate ourselves.

One day I told a guy that Jesus had died for him. I told him that Jesus died so that this man could be forgiven of everything he had ever done. I told him of Jesus love for him. The man cried out over and over to me, "I am so worthless, I am so worthless!"

"No," I told him, "you are worth the blood of the Son of God. God would never have sent His Son to die for someone who was worthless."

We may be sinners but we are never worthless. We are never to hate ourselves. We are never to mar the image of God that has been place upon us. We are loved by the Almighty Himself. Hating ourselves makes Him appear to be foolish. How could God be wrong about the love that He has for us?

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7 (ESV)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Light Shines in the Darkness

I have wondered: Do things seem bad because the media presents them as bad or are they bad because the media advertises them? Each morning and night I hear of a tragedy. Murder, rape, robberies, beating, stabbings, shootings, cruelty to animals and humans that seem inhuman begin each newscast.

The paper tells of an economy that is getting worse. The government is choosing "slot machine" solutions. They try another "coin" hoping that this one will win the jackpot. They are trying so many things to make things better that they won't know which one or ones of them actually helped. Politicians have panicked. Desperate people often do.

I suppose I don't need to join the media in telling you that things are bad for many people. Some of you reading this may not have it so bad. However, you must admit that there are those who are having the worst time of their lives. The equity is gone in their homes, their retirement accounts have dwindled to nothing and their jobs are either gone or shaky. They have no idea how they will pull out of this.

Yet, I am encouraged.

I never want people to go through bad times. I do not believe that God causes all bad times. I know that He disciplines His children at times. Those times are very specific. Most of the people going through the current bad times are doing so because people have been greedy and lacked prudent wisdom in making financial decisions. Cruelty comes from hearts that have been made dark with sin. Sin, not God, is the cause of cruelty.

The current cruelty and bad economic times make the world a much darker place. The Light that shines in this darkness will seem brighter than ever before because of this darkness. The opportunity we have of sharing our faith and the hope within us has never been more appealing. There is a greater chance that God's people will cry out to Him for deliverance than when we were safe and full of ourselves. God will hear us when we cry out. People will come to Him. He will heal our land.

God is not far from us. He never is. He has not forgotten us. He has not ceased His love for us. He has allowed us to act against Him. He has given us enough rope to hang ourselves. Yet, He is a loving Father who will bring us home. He will accept us when we come back to Him. His light shines brighter than ever before. His Son is the way to His heart. The message of Jesus is bright. The Light will never lose its brightness. It has never seemed more bright than now.

John 1:5 (ESV)
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Does It Mean to Be a Soldier of Christ?

I serve in a military community. There are several naval bases within the reach of my church. I have officiated an untold number of military funerals. I have been a part of a small number of military retirements. I admire those in the navy. They enlist (or are commissioned) knowing that they will be deployed. They must drop all other plans when their country calls them to service. They must leave their families behind when deployed. They have children who are born while they are away serving their country. They put their lives on the line to protect their country and ultimately their children.

Most civilians do not know the sacrifice of those serving in the military. Sure, they applaud them when they come home and honor them a few times a year for their service but the time they this will never pay for the time they have been away from their families in which their children knew of them as "the telephone call" or "the letter." Their whole families entered into the service with them. The families, too, should be honored.

Paul charged his son in the faith, Timothy, to act as a soldier because of his calling. The example of the military around me has helped me understand what that really means. 

I have heard so many ministers excuse their lame work in the ministry as "making sure that my family is taken care of." They come in late, leave early and mark every extra moment they have spent in service to the Lord for comp time. They expect the regular members to put in a full days work and come to the church to serve a couple more hours but they do not expect to put in one more minute than absolutely required. They are unfit for the ministry according to Paul. They are "hired help" according to Jesus. They will always be "called" to a place that pays them a higher salary.

How can the congregation ever learn what it means to be committed to Christ when the ministers are serving at their convenience? It will create a whole congregation of people who serve at a minimal level and get out of service as soon as they can. They will never understand what it is to be a soldier of Christ if those who have been called into vocational ministry do not exemplify that service to the congregation.

Many of the people in the National Guard were appalled that they would be called up in Gulf War I. They had signed up to be "weekend warriors." They never expected to serve outside of the country. They expected them would be called in to help during a weather disaster but not fight an enemy who would shoot back at them. They did not know what it is to be soldiers. They acted like many Christians who are surprised that they have been asked to serve. They expected to come and enjoy the benefits. They will give a little so that they pay their dues but they are not about to lay down their lives.

Many Christians have become "weekend warriors." They will come to church several weekends of the month. They never expect to be pressed into service. They never expect to fight a battle. They are like soldiers who train for an enemy that they never see or fight. The enemy is just a mythical being. They don't even notice that he has already attacked through their complacency.

The calling to the Christian faith is one of a battle. It is fighting against an enemy who is often unseen. It is one which requires hours which the soldier would rather be doing something else. The service steals sleep. It takes the soldier away from his or her family. The family also feels the call for they endure the hardship of the one called away. The children understand the calling by the way their parents serve. They know it is not something to be trifled with. They know that their faith is not something that can be done at convenience. They know that it is a battle. They may resent the service for some time but they will only know it is necessary if they can see their parents involved in the battle.

I have never heard of a battle that was won when it was only fought when it was convenient. I have never seen a battle won in which there was not hardship and sacrifice. I have never seen any of the soldiers (sailors) in my community fail to understand that they could be deployed, yet I have seen many Christians fail to understand that they are called into an inconvenient service.

This is no video game.

What would Jesus say to this: Luke 14:26-27 (NIV)
26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.
27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

What would Paul say to this: 2 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV)
3  Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When We Don't Think We Can Take Another Step

No, we haven't had a bad day. We are having a bad year. We may even think we have had a bad decade. We have tried our best. We have given our all. We have lost something that means more than life to us. It could be our marriages or those who died that we loved. Either way, the pain goes to the root of our hearts. Maybe our finances are the worst they have ever been and our jobs are on the rocks. We maybe overweight, overworked, overtaxed, overcome and over the hill. How do we keep going?

I think of Moses in times like these. What kept Moses going for thirty-eight more years with a bunch of complaining, often disobedient, criticizing people? He not only lacked a nice place to live, he lacked a permanent place to live. The written days of his history or relatively brief. I believe that was because one day in the wilderness was much like all the others. 

Moses had to maintain a group of people who are like most people. They complain about each other and bring disputes to him to solve. He had to organize the people so that every complaint didn't come to him. Still, I'll bet he heard people talking about the "good ole days" back in Egypt when they could count on their masters to keep them fat and happy.

Moses kept going because he had a place to go. He knew that he had to wait until the people could go into the Promised Land.

Every time we think we can't take another step we have forgotten about the Promised Land.

We have forgotten that defeat is not where God wants us to stay. 

We have forgotten the plans that God's plans for us are victory. 

We have forgotten that what we are going through will pass no matter how long it lasts.

We have forgotten that God is the one who provides. It is not our circumstances that give us security. It is walking with Him and seeing Him provide. 

We have forgotten that nothing comes into our lives without God's knowledge and permission.

We have forgotten that we will have victory with Him over everything that oppresses us.

We have forgotten that He has conquered death.

We have forgotten that He carries us when we truly can't take another step

The reason we don't think you can not take another step is not because of your circumstances. We simply have a bad memories.

We have forgotten that God is still God no matter what.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NIV)
17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19  The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why Do Hurts Hang On?

I was not thinking of anything last night when I remembered someone who had hurt me in my past. It was years ago- in fact, almost thirty years ago. I thought I had dealt with it. I thought I had completely forgiven the person who did it. It hurt again as if it had just happened. I wanted revenge all over again. I know better. Why does this happen?

I really believe that our battles are fought more in the spiritual realm than in the physical. I believe that the devil continues to work against us. I know he continues to remind us of the things we have had victory over and questions that victory. He wants us to claim a right that is not ours. Vengeance is not ours. He wants us to continue in a conflict. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He wants us to feel defeated. Yet, I have been made more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ. He wants to steal my witness, my faith, my joy.

I can beat myself for remembering those hurts or I can rebuke the devil. I choose to rebuke the devil. I choose to tell him that I have forgiven this person because Jesus blood was spilled for forgiveness. I tell him that God used this hurt to bring another good into my life. I tell him to get out of my life for I am on the winning side. I tell him that I am a winner. I praise the name of Jesus and he doesn't like it one bit. I tell him to leave in the name of Jesus and he is gone.

Lots of times I try to make hurt something that I need to handle. Often it is the wrong thing to do. I must remember that my battle is not with flesh and blood- not even my own flesh and blood! It is in spiritual battles.

I praise the Lord Jesus Christ for making me more than a conqueror. I thank Him that He has given me the forgiveness necessary for every hurt that I have had. I thank Him that He has given others forgiveness for the hurt I have inflicted. I worship His Name and in His Name I give the devil the boot.

Do the same and watch how the hurt leaves you. The devil doesn't like the victory Jesus gives us. He especially doesn't like having to obey in the Name of Jesus. Tell him where he can go. See if the hurt that you forgave so long ago doesn't leave you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Please Get Help When You Need It

I have lost over twenty pounds in the past eight weeks. I tried to do it all by myself and just kept hitting a threshold I couldn't overcome. I got help and I am now going to be at my goal weight in a couple of weeks. I am glad I got help.

Many of us have addictions, tendencies and desires that get out of hand. At first we try to say they don't exist. We think we can handle them all by ourselves. We may even have beaten them down for short periods of time. They keep coming back.

For some reason we think we must sail our little boats through the storms alone. We were not created to be alone. We were created to depend upon each other. We were created to love others enough to help them when they need it. Others were created to do the same for us.

Even from the Garden of Eden, God said it was not good for the man to be alone. God created a helper for him. Marriage itself is a picture of God's provision of others for help. The pre-fallen man who had God's presence was still in need of help from another human being. Yet, it was God who said that it was not good that man was alone. Adam didn't know of the possibility. He was trying to make it on his own.

The first step in getting help is admitting that you have a problem and all that you have done is not working. The fact that it is not working is the problem. You can decide that you will put more effort into it. That may work. Eventually a problem becomes a crisis and we realize we can't handle it. We don't have to wait that long but we generally do.

Maybe we are ashamed of our problem.

No one may know you have a problem. The problem may be pornography which you have been hiding for some time. You are ashamed of the problem. You are afraid of what others will think of you. You are afraid you won't be allowed around children again. You are afraid of those you will hurt. Each of these is a legitimate fear but fears must be conquered or they will rule your life. You must seek out and get help.

Maybe you don't know where to get help.

Our church has AA and NA groups. Some of the attenders are members of our church. I am glad we provide this help. I am glad those who attend have sought help. They are helping each other with their own addictions. I pray for their victories.

Our church is providing a financial management course in January. It is designed to help people get out of debt and manage their money better. It should help them save money and live better lives. I am praying that people will get help.

You can google your situation and find help if you really need it. I'll bet there is a group that will help you nearby no matter where you live. If not, there are certainly online groups.

Maybe you are afraid of another failure.

I can understand this. I was afraid of another weight loss failure. I was afraid of a program that doesn't work. I was afraid of cheating on the program itself. I had to commit my situation to God. I had to believe that I not only can do all things through Christ who strengthens me but will do this through Christ who will give me the strength. I had to believe that God wanted me to have a stellar witness for Him. I had to believe I was honoring His Name by doing so.

I have learned something very important after years of being overweight. I can get help when I have a problem greater than I can handle alone.

So, I say to you: Please get help when you need it. You weren't intended to make it alone on this earth. There is someone or some group or some program that will help you.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Elements of a "Viral" Church

Our church is seeing significant growth. We are seeing babies born that fill our preschool and we are seeing our children's and youth departments fill too.  We baptize new believers every month. We are excited about this growth. We want to honor the Lord with our obedience and allow Him to provide the growth. We want to get out of the way of what He can do.

However, this does not mean that we fail to pray for God to reach new people. This does not mean that we are complacent in our efforts to see our church grow. We want to grow with people who are not attending church somewhere else. We want to see souls saved. An atmosphere must be created that allows God to work fully for that to happen. It is an atmosphere of complete obedience.

A "viral" church is one which is growing very rapidly. It somehow grows in spite of itself. It may not have the best preacher or music or something that the world tells us we must have to attract people. It has something that makes its own people aggressively go out and tell their friends about it. It is a "buzz word" in the community of those who do not come to it.

A viral church must have a special attitude about itself. This church is not perfect but it sees itself on the road to perfect. While the members may admit the shortcomings, they never cut the church down. They are not negative when they speak of it within their groups or on the outside. They tell of the things they have to offer. They tell of the things they have planned. They are excited and want others to join them. How can a church ever go viral if the members are telling others that it is a place for losers. It makes everyone who attends there a loser.

A viral church strives for quality. This church does not say "good enough." It knows that there is room for improvement. The members know they will not be perfect but that they can have a quality service with quality preaching and music. They know that they can provide quality in the equipment and even the videos they may show. Members know the people they invite will see quality all around them when they worship. It will not be perfect for that is a delusion of the devil. Perfection depends upon yourself. It will be quality because this is humanity working with God.

The viral church is safe. I am not merely talking about physical safety but that does apply. The preschool area gives an atmosphere of safety. The parking lot is seen as safe. However, the worship service is also safe. People can  come and not be expected to be held up. No one makes them pray a prayer or go way outside their comfort zone. The viral church will not embarrass their guests no more than a good host or hostess would. The viral church tells the attenders what will happen and, without some other leading of the Holy Spirit, sticks with it.

The viral church is predictable. Members who invite guests will know that their guests will not be held an hour past the time it was supposed to end. That doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit can not enter and change the time but often churches who want to say they don't watch the clock have no evidence of the Holy Spirit working yet blame their long services on Him. The church needs to be aware of the time for guests. They should want the service to go longer rather than promise God they will never come back if He will just make it end.

Yes, I would like my church to go viral. I would like to see the Lord add people like I have read about in the Book of Acts. However, I am going to be obedient if that never happens. I am going to praise my Lord regardless. I am going to keep working even if no one else ever comes.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Message We Must Preach Is Life

Early this morning, as I lay in bed, my cell phone began to ring. It is never a good thing when my cell phone rings this early. I jumped from bed to answer it. A nurse from the NICU from a local hospital was calling to ask if I could come down and be with a family whose baby was near death. I got dressed as quickly as possible and headed to the hospital.

I met the family in the NICU. The child was already gone. The entire NICU was in tears. I met the parents who took me back to the body of their child. He was a beautiful African American boy with lots of hair and an angelic look on his face. The grief that poured from his parents took the air out of the room. They hurt so badly and there was little, if anything, I could do about it.

Within my soul I wanted to be able to give that child life. I wanted to be able to touch him and see him breath. I would have liked to have given him back to his parents and see their smiles and joy return to the nurses and doctors who stood around. But life is not mine to give. It is certainly a gift, but the gift comes from God, not a preacher who just wants people to stop hurting.

I prayed with the parents and the staff of the hospital NICU. I prayed for comfort and I thanked the Lord that this little one was now in His presence. I thanked God that he would never experience the pain that life can bring. I thanked the Lord that the child was alive with Him. I prayed for the parents to have strength. I asked the Lord to carry them when they couldn't take another step. I wanted the parents to know that the Lord brings life to them even on this day their son had died.

I used to be a person who tried to show people how sinful they were. I wanted them to repent and come to the Lord. I preached hard sermons in which people would come down the aisles of the church weeping. I gave the picture of a god who was angry and would beat the hell out of you if you didn't give up your hell. I forgot about grace. I wanted justice!

In more recent years I have seen God as having a tremendous amount of grace toward sinners. I have received that grace. It is more than I imagined and I didn't deserve an ounce of it. I started preaching messages of life. I have found that more people are coming to the Lord through messages of life. Grace is very attractive; red-faced, yelling preachers aren't.

I have started to understand that God sent Jesus to this world to bring abundant life. I still want people to come out of the darkness of their sins into the light. I still want them to see that the only abundance in life will be found in Jesus but I preach a message of life. I hate it when people hurt and I don't want to hurt them either.

I hope this is the message I gave these parents this morning. They named their child a biblical name. I know they were believers. I also know that believers hurt too. Hurt seems to destroy life. I wanted them to walk into the presence of Jesus and, even though they hurt, know His love. 

I may never have any contact with these parents again. I will still pray that they will know the comfort that only Jesus brings. I hope I helped. 

You probably don't know who I am writing about. You don't know this couple. You do know their pain. Either you have experienced it or you know someone who has or is in this pain. Would you say a prayer that they might have the abundant life that Jesus brings even in their tragedy? The message of Christ is life. It is the one I must preach. It is the one that all believers must bring to the world.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Can You See the World Around You?

This morning a brown Jeep Laredo pulled into the crosswalk with intentions of turning right immediately. The light was red and traffic was heavy so the driver, a man in his late thirties or early forties dressed casually with stylish glasses and slight graying at the temples, looked intently left for his opportunity to enter traffic. I arrived on my bicycle no more than a second after he blocked the crosswalk. I stopped abruptly and got close to the vehicle. I didn't dare try to cross in front of him. He might suddenly decide to go and run over me. My hopes were that he would look to the right and remember that you should look both ways. He never did. He was so intent on getting to wherever he was going that he didn't even think to look both ways.

Each morning my wife turns on the news to hear how the traffic is in the HRBT (Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel). There has been a wreck in the HOV lane each morning for the past five mornings. These two lanes have less traffic than the regular I64. Why does it have so many wrecks? Because people are so intent on flying along that they forget to observe what is right in front of them.

Most of us have had some time in our lives that we made a trip to work, school or some other place that we go often which after arriving we can't remember the trip. Our minds were on our work, our problems or our upcoming holidays and we weren't paying attention to the road in front of us. We have even purchased new gadgets to help us be distracted. We have cell phones on which we talk from journey's beginning to end. I even see guys on bicycles talking on cell phones for their entire trip. Do we not want to notice the things around us?

I went to Lynnhaven Fish House for lunch yesterday. One of our church Sunday School classes invited me. The restaurant is on the water and has windows all around so that you can see the big ships coming into the Chesapeake Bay. Two freighters were waiting to be tugged in. The water captured the blue sky.

The beauty of the surf amazed me. It was regular and irregular at the same time. A wave came in and receded over and over but each one was different from the one preceding it.  Each time the waves capped white but each white capped wave was different from any other. It was incredibly soothing. 

I wondered, "Why don't I ever go to the beach just to watch the surf?" I know I keep telling myself I will when I have time. I never seem to have any time to do such frivolous things. Yesterday, I thought, "I have a very short time on this earth. An earth that God created for my enjoyment. An earth which I must notice if I am to marvel and praise God for His creation.

Don't you think it strange that we can be a people who do whatever we can to live longer so that we can stay on this earth but do not notice the earth that we are on? Seeing the world around us puts everything in perspective. Jesus referred to the lilies of the field when He spoke to people about God's provision.  He spoke of the mustard seed when He told us how much faith it takes to remove impossible problems. He spoke of the wind when He described the Holy Spirit. God's creation gives a picture of spiritual things. 

So, stop and smell the roses. Get up and smell the coffee. Go out and crunch in the snow. Look at the green grass. Notice the trees made naked by winter. Look into your children's eyes and realize that you will never see them at this age again. Call your parents and hear their voices. Note that there will be a day when can no longer call them. Notice the world around  you . . .and thank God.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Not Just Say, "Merry Christmas"?

A very few companies are afraid of saying "Merry Christmas." They want us to wish each other "Happy Holidays." I suppose these companies thought that these words were being preferential to Christians. Who can they be offending?

Jewish people generally don't mind hearing "Merry Christmas." They understand that I might even say "Happy Hanukkah" to a Jewish friend. Many of them understand our belief that Jesus is the Messiah. They don't agree but are generally not so upset with us for saying "Merry Christmas."

The truth is that surveys reveal that only 3% of the people are offended by hearing the words "Merry Christmas." People either don't care if it is said or prefer that it is said. So, why are these companies so adamant about keeping it out of their literature or their employees speech? It would be in their best financial interests to just say, "Merry Christmas."

I am speculating but I don't believe they are concerned about the feelings of the 3%. I believe there is a core value in those who are at the heart of the company who make a decision like this. I believe they see themselves as being benevolent and kind by rejecting the reason for this season. I believe they are clueless on who really is in control. I believe they think that God is impotent and has no effect on the universe. I believe they don't have a reason for saying what the season is about because they really don't know.

I do not propose that we boycott these companies. I would say that we should do the very opposite. I would shop there. I would make sure that I say "Merry Christmas" every time I went into the store, even if I didn't buy anything that day. I would say, "Let's send Christmas cards to the company!" Can you imagine what would happen if we sent millions of cards with the Gospel story to the company? Can you imagine what would happen if we overwhelmed them with love?

Saying "Merry Christmas" normally brings a smile to others faces. It stops them where they are and reminds them of the season. For some, it reveals the reason for the season. They thought it was about giving children presents. 

"Happy Holidays" doesn't say a thing to me. I might as well hear, "Here's your receipt." "Merry Christmas" gives me hope. "Happy Holidays" makes me think of the credit card bill that will come in January.

Why not just say, "Merry Christmas" wherever you go this season? Say it to the checker at the grocery store. Say it to the guy fixing your coffee or the wait staff at every restaurant. Say it to the person at the DMV whose kindest words said to you were, "Next!" Say it to the volunteer staff at the hospitals; to those who fill your prescriptions, to the checkers at Walmart who have been on their feet for many hours, to the agents who take your tickets at the airport, to the flight attendants and even to the pilots who have just had a hard time finding the airport.

Why not just overwhelm the world with "Merry Christmas"? Say it everywhere and say it often so that people cannot forget what this season is all about. And count the smiles when you say it. These words just might bring some light into someone's life.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Formula for a Strong Marriage

I see marriages falling apart all around me. Each week I have a new story of someone I know whose marriage has collapsed. They are members of a church. They are somewhat regular though not every Sunday attenders. They seem to have decent marriages until I find out all that has been going on. . . and a lot can go on between the times that people come to church!

The following is not new news but it needs repeating. Husband and wife must be committed to the marriage if it will be one that is lasting and fulfilling. Marriage should not be a ball and chain but a launching pad to living better than you would if you were single. It should involve loving and being loved, serving and being served, caring for and being cared for. Intimacy should be shared both ways. Communication should be on more than a superficial level. It should get better with age.

Now, for my formula. I have never, ever done any marriage counseling for couples who did all three of these things. Do not neglect one of these and you will have a marriage that will last.

Mankind is tripartite. We are of three parts though the parts are not separated on this earth. We are body, soul and spirit. I have heard of "out of body" experiences but I have always suspected these were either people who had technically died or people who were a little nuts. As long as we are alive we shall have these three parts determine who we are. Who we are determines our actions. Each supports the other. Failing in one part of our lives will result in a deficit in another. So, we must relate to our spouses on these three levels.

The problem that most marriages have is that they start on the wrong level to get to know the other person. We generally start on the physical level, work to the emotional level and sometimes connect on the spiritual level. If this were a building, we are building the roof, then walls and finally the foundation. The chances of the structure standing are about fifty-fifty. Lay a strong foundation and your building has a much better chance of standing up to the storms life can throw at it.

This formula is for people who know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

First, a couple should pray together. They shouldn't wait until they are married to do so. They should lift up their concerns for each other, for problems, for needs, for anything in which they need the Lord's help. Prayer is the most intimate spiritual activity that can be done. It should reveal the heart more than anything else that can be said. True prayer is cleansing. It is bold and yet innocent. It should come from the deep insides of the couple. It should knit their hearts together.

Second, a couple should be bound to a small group. (They may be a Sunday School class.) These are friends who also seek the Lord. They will share their sorrows and joys together. They will be the ones the couple can depend on when they have a need. They will do things socially, intellectually and recreationally together. They will give support and advice when things get tough. They will be like an extended family for the couple. They are peers to whom they can depend. These people will bind the couple together socially. They will support a strong marriage. 

This is on the level of the soul. The soul involves the mind, will and emotions. Each of these is supported by this small group. 

Lastly, the couple should have lots of sex with each other. (You probably started laughing here.) I have found that couples who did not connect spirits or souls soon stopped connecting physically. I have found that couples who were truly spiritually and soulfully in tune were (baring a psychological trauma) naturally physically intimate with each other. It makes the times of intimacy much sweeter than they would be otherwise.

All three of these are necessary. You can have a strong marriage which is the envy of your neighborhood. You can have a close relationship that truly makes the two of you one. It is a tremendous commitment. 

But, isn't it worth it?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Reasons for Most Affairs

There are people who are guaranteed to have affairs. These people are not faithful to the ones they date or are engaged to. They will naturally have affairs because they do not understand faithfulness. They may have psychological addictions which contribute to their affairs. This blog does not attempt to address these issues.

Most people, however, really mean it when they say, "until death do us part." They intend to be faithful for life. They do not see the affairs they are about to have coming. They may even be surprised that they have actually gotten themselves into affairs. This is what I am attempting to address. Yet, I know that even this will not explain every affair. Affairs are often complicated.

Most affairs come because people do not continue to shore up the foundation of their marriages. They think that love is all that is necessary to keep affairs away. They do not understand that they didn't make a marriage contract but a marriage vow. A contract is valid as long as the circumstances remain the same. A vow is valid regardless of the circumstances.

The foundation of marriage involves three elements: Faith, Family and Friends. It will not do to have all but one of these to make sure that your foundation remains safe.

I lived in Houston, Texas for four years. Many of the houses built there have foundation problems. This is because the ground swells when it is most and shrinks tremendously when it is dry. This swelling and shrinking causes the concrete slab foundations to crack. Eventually, it will ruin a house. Some home owners have put a system around the foundation of their homes which senses the moisture content of the soil and injects water to keep the ground from have drastic shrinking. Their foundations generally last much longer than others.

The foundation of marriage also needs constant monitoring. It must have the three elements of faith, family and friends to keep the foundation solid. Love is fickle when it is treated as an emotion rather than an action. It needs shoring up so that it can remain vital.

Faith should be at the core of a marriage. Faith is not just going to church or agreeing that Jesus is Lord. Faith is a means of living your life. It places the relationship of Christ before all other events or persons. Faith is giving your life to Christ, not just your time and money. Ultimately, a couple needs to have a foundation of beliefs which cannot be shaken. Faith takes daily work to keep it vibrant. Faith cannot be done on Sundays alone. Faith needs to be deeply established and discussed often. I have found many people who play with their faith and wonder why it didn't prevent an affair. It must be something that comes from the core of the person. It cannot be just something done on Sundays when there are no other events.

Strong family ties help people remember why they are married. Their family should support their marriages. They need the blessing of their parents. They need the support of family members who give them a strong example of what a marriage should be. They should see an affair as a threat to the relationship that they have with their families. They should see the hurt they will cause their own children. They should see the disappointment that their parents would have in an affair. They should see that an affair will damage their relationships. This cost should be too much for them to have an affair.

Friends often influence us to do things we would never have done. Each of us can probably remember getting in trouble because all our friends were doing whatever got us in trouble. I have found that those people who have close friends who are having affairs are more likely to have affairs themselves. Our values seem to change when we are around people who don't have our values. I have observed women start thinking of divorce after hanging out with divorced friends. I have seen men have affairs because they were in the wrong place because they followed their friends. You must distance yourself from a friend who is having an affair. It doesn't mean that you can't talk but the level of your friendship must change. You cannot listen to them to the point where you begin to toy with the idea yourself. These friends may present an affair as exciting but it is actually lying, cheating and damaging to those around them. They are giving up their faith, family (I have often seen children not speak to the parent who has had an affair for years.) and often their financial security.They are causing pain all around them. They are being selfish and would love it if you would join them in their selfishness. You must limit your involvement with anyone who is having an affair.

Faith, family and friends provide support for our marriages. Tomorrow I will write what keeps a marriage strong. Please share this with anyone who is contemplating or having an affair. It will be one of the worse decisions of his or her life.