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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Transforming Your Life by the Renewing of the Mind

The natural tendency of fallen man is to conform to the world around him. This is why the environment makes a significant difference in what a person will be. It is more likely that a person will be well educated if he comes from parents who are also well educated. It is as likely that a person will adopt the political attitude of his peers. Of course, there are exceptions to conforming but they are the anomalies.

It is not strange that the Apostle Paul would write to the Romans about this conformation. The strange part is that Paul says that there is a way of escape from it. He says we need transformation to renewed minds.

A renewed mind is not a mind that is made like it was at birth. We all like to think of a precious newborn as innocent. However, that child has the same capacity for selfishness as a grown man. If the mind is merely refurbished, it will still have the tendency for the same conforming as it did before. A mind made new again will return to the same state it was in becoming like the world around it.

During my days as a Singles Minister I dealt with a lot of women who were married to men who physically abused them. They divorced these men and started all over with the thought they would never get themselves in this situation again. Often within a few years (or even months) they would get married. Frequently, these new husbands physically abused them.

The problem wasn't that these women did not get a fresh start. The problem was that these women continued to conform to the world around them. They were attracted to men who had characteristics which produced abuse. They conformed to the type of women these men were looking for. I have had women black and blue from a beating ask me why this happened. The answer is simple: if nothing changes; it remains the same. The same things are going to happen if the mind remains the same as it did before.

So, the mind needs to be renewed but not like it was when it was new. It needs to be renewed like the mind was before the fall of man.

Adam's sin brought us the depraved mind. It is a mind that conforms to the world. It is a mind that exhibits selfishness and pride. It is an insatiable mind given to wanting more. This mind must be transformed.

The transformation comes from allowing God to work on it. He will restore it through His word in your life. I am not talking about merely reading the Bible. God transforms the mind by speaking to the person through a number of means.

He speaks through the time you read your Bible. He applies the written word to your life. He makes it a living word because He addresses the needs of the individual whom the original authors never knew. He makes this word become so alive you would swear you were in mind when it was written. And you would be right!

He speaks in your daily life. He speaks to you when you pray. He speaks to you on your way to work. He speaks to you at times you would never expect Him to speak. You "hear" Him speak and your mind is transformed.

The mind Adam had before the fall was one of an unhindered relationship with God. Adam would speak with God and God would speak to Adam. The relationship was Father to son and friend to friend. It was one of clarity for there was no doubt what Adam could or couldn't do in the garden.

The renewing of the mind is that restoration or the relationship before the fall of mankind. It is a continual process that gets sweeter with time as the mind becomes like it was. The person with the renewed mind is able to prove God's will because he has a clear relationship which understands what God seeks in his life. He does not resist God's will even when obedience to God means certain hardship for himself because he knows God's love. He walks through hardships with God continuing to speak to him.

Many Christians would say that their lives are stagnant. This is the result of a mind conforming to the world. The Christian life should get better with each new day. The mind should be renewed into its pre-fallen state each day. The Christian should willingly prove the will of God as the relationship between himself and God.

So, are you being conformed or transformed? Are you getting closer to God or farther away? Believe me, you are moving one way or the other. You just need to know which way you are going and if you are satisfied with things as they are.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

If It Is You, Lord?

Jesus comes walking on the water toward His disciples. The wind has been blowing heavily against them. They have been rowing for hours and are only in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. They see Jesus walking on the sea and suppose Him to be a ghost.

It is amazing what a voice can do for He merely identifies Himself with, "It is I." Yet, this is not enough for Simon Peter. the disciple who seems to want to prove himself. He says, "If it is you, command me to come to you on the water." I must admit, I don't believe I would ever have thought of my own walking on water as a proof of who was walking on the water.

The one word command, "Come," sends Peter's legs over the side of the boat. He began to walk on the water!

I have reflected on this passage many times. Peter asked Jesus for a command to do what Jesus was doing. The first step on walking on water must be seeing what the Lord is already doing. I think so many Christians are rowing their boats so hard they can't see what the Lord is doing. He was also crossing the sea but was using a different mode of transportation. I must see where the Lord is working if I want to join Him.

Now comes the really scary part for you could drown if you don' t listen carefully. You ask to join Him and you wait for His command. If it is the Lord, He will command you to join Him. Getting out of the boat will be disastrous if it is something that is created by mankind or your own imagination. You need a clear word from the Lord if you are going to join Him.

Every person in the boat with Simon Peter had to know that getting out of the boat in rough seas would make rescue almost impossible. Yet, Simon Peter let go of the boat, his safety net because of the command of His Lord. The command of the Lord will not allow you to hold on to the safety of this world.

Fear will become reality if you let it. Simon Peter saw the wind and the waves. He knew that he couldn't walk on water. He forgot about the command of the Lord and wanted to be back in the boat. His fear moved his focus to the sea and away from going toward Jesus. He sank because he forgot who commanded him.

Finally, Peter cried out to the only One who could save him. Jesus caught Peter with His hand. Peter had traveled some distance before he became so afraid. My question was not, "Why did you doubt?" but, "Why did you doubt, now?" He was so close to completing his walk.

I have seen people who walked with the Lord in miraculous ways lose the faith that they once had. The Lord allowed them to do what seemed miraculous but they depend upon man's efforts and strengths today. They don't notice what the Lord is doing and they don't ask Him to command them. They are calculating and self-promoting. They no longer need Jesus to rescue them because they no longer get out of the boat.

The wind stopped when Jesus got back in the boat with Peter. There was a purpose in the wind. It tested the faith of everyone.

Are you in the boat with a bunch of sweaty guys who have been rowing for hours? Have you looked to see that the Lord is doing something miraculous nearby? Would you ask for His command to join Him? Can you say these simple words?

If it is you, Lord, command me and I will join You.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Are Things as Bad as You Say They Are?

I have seen many people wag their heads and say, "Things are really bad." Are they as bad as we say they are or are we making things as bad as we say they are?

We don't invest if we say things are bad. Therefore, companies don't have the money to build new plants or start new product lines. Therefore lots of people lose their jobs. We don't buy if we say things are bad. Therefore, the car companies have thousands of cars sitting on lots unsold. Therefore automakers go out of business and lots of people lose their jobs. We don't take vacations if we say things are bad. Therefore, hotels stay vacant and the hotel and restaurant businesses suffer. Yes, and people lose their jobs.

It seems that we make our own reality. Things become bad if a majority of the people say things are bad. Things will continue to get worse until we say something different.

Now, I don't want people to become pollyannas. We don't simply say things are good when they are not. We must see the things that are true and exclaim them loudly. We must believe them wholeheartedly. What are those things?

God is still on His throne in heaven. He has not lost control. He is not worried about the economy. He has a way of bringing the current situation to something good. He is still sovereign. We can still trust Him.

God is still omniscient. He knows everyone's situation. He knows where each family is with their bills. He knows where the next payment is. He knows what we should do. We can still ask Him.

God is still omnipotent. A bad economy is not more powerful than Him. He is able to move mountains to get His people what they need. He is not scared. We can still trust that He will provide for us.

God is still righteous. His character has not changed. He will do what is best. He cannot do anything but His best because that is the nature of righteousness. Righteousness is what is right in each situation. We can still depend on Him to do what is right.

God still loves us. The current situation is no indication of God's feelings toward us. He loves us with an everlasting love. He loves us unconditionally. We can still rest in God's love.

Yes, we need to get to work and fix this economy. But I will not do so by depending upon politicians to bring me out of the muck. I will turn to my God whom I can always trust. I will turn to Him who has no changing heart to bring me through the tough times.

Things are not so bad when you consider who God is and what He will do.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Company of Superstitious Christians

Many Christians are superstitious. They prove it in many ways. They have certain rituals that they follow in order to get things from God. For example: I heard one Christian leader claim that you can get things without truly any contact with God if you simply believed it strongly enough. He said that faith made hopes real.

Did you understand what he was saying? He claims that any Christian can get anything as long as he has the belief in his heart. Doesn’t that sound like Yoda from Star Wars? Here is the claim that you can access something that God isn’t sovereign over. You have the belief like it is a incantation or a possessed ability to make things happen. This is superstition. God did not create the universe this way.

Faith does have a part in our lives but it is the faith in God. Faith is not believing that you can control God’s will by being good enough or faithful enough or possessing enough belief. Faith is resting on who God is. It is trusting in His goodness, knowledge and power. It is believing He will do what is best.

Faith requires us to believe God has done what is best even when we don’t like the results. God often allows consequences to unfold. We may pray diligently and still find things unchanged.

I prayed very hard that God would heal a good friend for a couple of years but he died earlier this year. I believed God could heal him. I prayed with that belief but he died anyway. Should I say that it was a lack of faith on my part or my friend’s part that resulted in his death? Absolutely not! God is still God. I will never be able to claim to control Him with faith, obedience, sacrifice or anything.

There are many other ways I find Christians being superstitious. There is nothing that we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less. His love is not dependent upon our actions. He simply loves us which ,for God, is more than we can grasp.

Christians will flock to hear a Christian speaker tell them how they can get God to do things. They can be rich or healthy or important or anything that they want. They can do so by sending this speaker so much money as proof of their sincerity. What a crock!

I wonder if many Christians understand the humility and privilege of walking with God. This walk leaves the superstitions behind. It knows grace for it realizes our own sinfulness. It knows the majesty of God because it does not attempt to manipulate Him.

Do you walk with God or are you trying to lead Him? One is faith and the other is superstition.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rewards in Heaven?

Jesus told us that tooting your own horn about your righteousness would get you no reward in heaven. Heaven is the place where things last forever. That’s where you want to keep things you don’t ever want to lose.

I think most people just want to go to heaven. They don’t think they will need rewards. They think that heaven will have everything they ever wanted and that everyone will be on an equal plane. That isn’t what the Bible says.

Paul says that we will all stand before the judgement seat of Christ to be recompensed for the deeds in this body. It seems that we will get something bad if we have done evil and something good if we have done good.

I have heard people say that there are things they will just have to get forgiveness for because they are going to do (whatever it is that is wrong) anyway. I don’t think they understand what that means. What if it means that they don’t get a reward in heaven? Then, they won’t take their sins so lightly.

I don’t know if we can truly know what we are accumulating in heaven. It doesn’t seem spectacular to do what is expected of you. Aren’t we expected to be obedient to Christ? If so, when do we see our lives as deserving of anything?

Paul expects a crown of righteousness for his fighting the good fight, finishing the course and keeping the faith. Would it be enough that Christ would simply say that we have done good? Should that be my own motivation for righteousness?

There are many mysteries of heaven for me. One of those is the rewards that we shall store up for us in heaven. They will be reserved for us because of the life that we have lived here. I don’t know if there will be a way to gather any more once we have reached heaven. There is no promise that I can find where we will continue to receive rewards.

This life is extremely important. From this life we determine our eternity-whether we be in heaven or hell. We shall receive our rewards based on the life we live here. This is not salvation for salvation comes through faith; not works.

This life isn’t about keeping an account of what we have done so that we can demand what we deserve. I know I will always deserve hell. I receive heaven from God’s grace. It is a gift that comes through the gift of faith.

This life is about our love of God, our commitment to Him and our obedience to His every word. We won’t have to worry about our rewards if we can just keep our lives focused on this.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Be Careful What You Worship

I served in a church many years ago whose members did a lot of work to renovate the building. They put in new carpets, painted the walls and brought the church building back to its original beauty.

This church had a ministry to the neighborhood that yielded many souls for Christ. Once a child from the neighborhood brought his bicycle into the church during this ministry time. No one saw him do so but they saw the black mark he left on the carpet from the bicycle. Several people wanted us to stop this ministry because they wanted to keep the building looking pristine.

I told them that I didn't condone bicycles in the building and that we will do a better job of watching the entrance. I also told them that something else could happen that would be much worse than a black mark on the carpet. I don't know what they expected for they nodded like they knew. I said, "It would be much worse if we had no children at all." They walked out of my office miffed at me.

I want people to respect the church buildings. I want them to take their hats off when they enter the sanctuary. I want them to throw their trash in the bins. However, I also don't want to think that anything that we have created, no matter how beautiful it is, is worthy of worship.

I have been where paintings, rooms and pulpits were worshiped. The people didn't even know they were doing so. They allowed these tools to become the object of worship.

People worship some objects over a period of time. The object becomes a comfort to them when their faith was being developed. They connect their growth in faith with this object. Before long they are worshiping the created rather than the creator. Paul speaks of this in chapter one of the letter to the Romans. You can see where losing your focus in worship will lead you.

Some times people worship an object because of the sacrifices they made or they see others have made to have that object created. They do not realize that they sacrificed to the object rather than the Lord when their attitude toward that object becomes worship. We are worshiping that to which we have made our sacrifices.

Of course, the item of worship may be a method that has been used. It will upset you if the new preacher starts worship services with prayer if your church started each worship service during your formative years by singing, "Victory in Jesus." We often connect things to worship as spiritual which are merely methods that comfort us.

You need to check why you are really upset if you find yourself not worshiping. Are you upset because the word of God is not preached? Are you upset because the worship is dishonoring the Lord? Are you upset because one of the things you associated with worship is being challenged as not worship at all?

I have seen people worship the hymnals, paintings, songs and people. None of these are worthy or worship. Be careful what you worship. The worship of anything other than the Lord is idolatry.

We worship God alone or our worship is like that in which Joshua has said, "Choose you this day whom you will serve." The people had added things to their worship. They were worshiping the idols of the people they had conquered. He continued, "But as for me and my house, we will worship the Lord."

Who or what do you worship?

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Significance of Memorial Day

Each year less people truly observe Memorial Day. This is the day that we honor those who have given their lives defending America. It seems that the parades have gotten smaller. The crowds have gotten less. Have we forgotten that freedom isn't free?

I don't believe Memorial Day is actually for the ones who died. They have left this world and all of its cares behind. It will not affect them.

Memorial Day is for those who are living in America. We must remember that the price was the blood of these men and women we honor today. We must think of what this world would have been if these had not given their lives. We worship as we would like because these men and women gave their lives. We are able to disagree with our government, read papers from a free press, choose what we will become and pursue life, liberty and happiness because of those who fought and died.

Memorial Day is not a day to honor war. Those who go to war seldom do so because they want war. They do so because it is their duty. They may have hated the war but they loved their country more and so they fought . . . and died.

Memorial Day was created so that we would never forget.

I walked in a French city in which there was intense fighting during WWII. Some of the old buildings still had evidence of gunfire chipped into their stone. If you were not looking this would have gone unnoticed. I went to Seoul, Korea and saw the growth of a modern city that showed no evidence of war. Both of these cities would have been drastically different if Americans had not died there.

These who died kept our freedoms alive. They kept the battles and ravages of war away from our shores with few exceptions. September 11, 2001 we learned again that we must defend ourselves from those who despise us. A new generation of soldiers have gone to protect us. Many of them have also given their lives because the price of freedom never goes down.

So, we honor those who died for us. We cannot do so by telling them our appreciation. We do so by remembering what we have and who we are as Americans.

Those who have given their lives for me humble me. They also make me proud to be an American.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Do You Say at a Funeral?

Funerals can be awkward. You want to express your condolences and give some comfort to the family but each statement seems empty. How many times can the family hear, "He's in a better place," or "If there is anything I can do . . . ?" So, you search for something to say.

Some people try to make things lighter. They try to tell a funny story of when the deceased was alive. Often people laugh. It isn't because it is all that funny but people laugh when they are nervous. It beats staring back at the one who just made the statement.

Sometimes funerals give people the chance to stand and say something about the deceased. It is not always a good idea to get up and say something impromptu. One guy got up and exclaimed that he would drink a beer in honor of the deceased. He said it with such gusto that I believe he expected the congregation to cheer. I think he watched too many movies and thought that movies reflected real life for the congregation just looked at him like, "How could you be so stupid! Drinking a beer in his name won't comfort the family." He tucked his tail between his legs and sat down. (It would have sounded a lot better in a bar.)

Let's get one thing straight: Nothing that you will say is going to make the loved ones say, "Now that you have said that I won't grieve any more." Your words are not going to make things alright. It is your presence that will mean the most to the family.

So, sign the book, greet the family and tell them what the deceased meant to you. They will not necessarily remember what you said. They will remember that you were concerned for them and that the deceased meant something to you.

Funerals are not for the deceased. They are for the ones left behind. They are often full of lies about scoundrels whom people are trying to say lived worthy lives. In other cases, they are full of glory for some who have died. Funerals are about recognizing death and giving comfort.

Things are a little different if you preach a funeral. I tell the family about heaven. I share with them that they will see their loved one because he has given his heart to Jesus. I tell them that their loved one is looking into the face of Christ right now. I tell them it is glorious. But that's if they know Christ.

The hardest thing I ever do is the funeral of someone who did not know the Lord. I cannot give the family hope of seeing that loved one again. The loved one could have known the truth of Christ but refused and takes his family through tremendous grief. It is the most selfish thing a person can do. I never say that the person who died has no hope. The family doesn't need to hear that. I preach Christ and His resurrection. I cannot do anything for the deceased. I must speak to the living. I cannot bring back the dead.

(I updated this blog on May 16, 2010 with "How to Speak at a Funeral.")

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Should You Go to Church While on Vacation?

You may be planning your vacation. It could span over a couple of weekends preventing you from attending your home church. Should you find a church to attend while you are away? Yes, without any doubt.

Attending a church while on vacation will expose you to a different pattern of worship. It will make you think about what you have been doing and whether or not this new method is appropriate. You should ask yourself if it leads you closer to God. It may make you appreciate your home church more or it may have you speak to someone about some of the elements of this worship to the staff of your home church.

You should take the order of worship, bulletin or any other literature this church distributes back to your home church. Your own church staff will welcome seeing these if they don't think they are already at the pinnacle of churchiness. There is no hope for them if they think they can't learn from others. It makes no difference if the church you attended is smaller than your home church. You can learn from anyone.

Going to church during vacation keeps worship as an important part of your week. Logic says that it isn't that important if you can miss it for a couple of weeks without showing any difference in your life.

Sometimes we go to church to show to Whom we belong. Physical attendance is a strong reminder of this. Several times I have attended worship services in other countries where I didn't know most of what was being said. I worshiped anyway. My presence told me that I belonged to the Lord.

There are times when you may not be able to attend a church while on vacation. This past November I took a group of people to Israel. Our tour continued without regard to the day of the week. However, we did more worship during that week than we would have if we had been at home. Each day was a worship service.

You may be on a cruise and you either don't know if there is a service or it is more than a little inconvenient to attend. I believe having to attend in such circumstances is a little OCD. That is not the purpose of worship. The best thing to do in such circumstances is to read the Bible as a family and have prayer. You have still remembered your Lord without being superstitious about being in church.

Be in church on Sunday. God is expecting you.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What If You Won the Lottery Today?

I have never bought a lottery ticket. Mathematics tells me that I have nearly as good a chance of jumping out of an airplane without a parachute at 10,000 feet and living to tell about it. I, also, have never jumped out of airplane. (such a boring life!) However, I have watched the Mega-million numbers drawn on the news and wondered what it would be like to win a zillion dollars.

I have read and heard stories of winners whose lives were ruined by their new found wealth. They divorced. Their children became drug addicts. They filed bankruptcy within a few years and had to go back to the jobs they once had.

I have wondered: Did the winning of so much money make them into what they became or did it just reveal who they really were? Are the constraints on our lives actually good for us?

If you won the Mega-million lottery you would probably quit your job without anything meaningful to fill the time. Idle hands are the devil's workshop applies here. You will either find yourself doing good or doing evil. It will take some concentration to do good. You can lay on a couch and do evil.

Winning millions will not mean that your worries are over. You will still have to work on your marriage. You will still have to raise your kids. In fact, it may be much harder with lots of money. Kids won't understand why you don't get them anything they want. They will not understand the concept of honor that is earned by working hard unless you put significant boundaries around the things you buy for them.

It seems that many people stop worrying about their bills and concentrate on spending. The next fancier thing is bought for the garage or game room or whatever place in the new house. They may even give to their relatives and others generously. Each will keep asking for more until the winner stops giving. Then, the relatives will treat him horribly.

Still I don't know if it was the money that made the winners into what they have become or that it revealed what they already were.

It makes me think: Why would I do anything else if I believe I am already doing what God wants me to do? I need to change my direction to do what God wants me to do if I am not already doing so whether or not I ever won the lottery.

I don't think winning the lottery would change a person who already knew they were doing God's will. However, it may mean that they would never buy a lottery ticket. I mean . . . what would they gain?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How Do You Confront A Christian Brother or Sister about His or Her Sin?

We are all sinners. We should not believe that anyone is better than another. Yet, there are times when a continuing sin is destroying the fellowship a Christian has with the Lord. Other Christians have a responsibility to confront their Christian brothers and sisters when they are seen walking in sin away from the Lord.

There are no church police. There should be no group that make it their job to search out the sinners who need confrontation. It is the responsibility of each Christian if he or she can meet some qualifications.

First, do you love the person you are going to confront? The person confronting must have an attitude of redeeming the sinner rather than merely showing him that he is wrong. It is not about saying you know what is going on. It is imperative that the motivation is bringing the sinner back into the fellowship. Otherwise, it has no purpose.

The closest friend who is willing to confront the one in sin should be the one who confront him. This friend should ask the person in sin privately if the sin is true unless the friend has personally observed the person committing the sin. Sometimes reports are merely suspicions and the friend needs to go back to the one making the accusation and tell them it is not true and to stop making the accusations. For example, Mike sees Bill pulling away from a bar a couple of times a week. Mike knows the John is Bill's friend and tells him he thinks that Bill is drinking a lot. John asks Mike if he has been drinking a lot since he has been seen leaving the bar a couple of nights a week. Mike says that he has been helping the bartender's son pass his GED and was meeting him there for tutoring purposes. John then goes back to Mike and tells him that things are really okay and to go back to anyone he has said he suspected Bill has been drinking a lot and straighten things out.

However, the danger in this method is when the one being confronted denies the sin when he was really committing it. It tears down any trust that the friends once had when the sin is finally revealed. Trust is the basis of any good relationship. The relationship must be rebuilt. It cannot be rebuilt as long as one of the two continues to lie.

Second, are you willing to do what is necessary to show the one sinning how egregious their sin is? Let's say that the one committing the sin admits he is doing it. He says that he is going to continue to do so whether his friend likes it or not. Then, the friend will get one or two other believers to go with him to confront the one sinning again. This accomplishes a requirement of Scripture of two or three witnesses necessary to bring about a conviction. These should be very respected people in the church. They should have a reputation for spiritual decisions. They may tell the one confronting that he is being too picky about his confrontation and should look at the log in his own eye before confronting another. More than likely though, they will go with this friend to confront the one who is in sin.

Fellowship should be withdrawn if the one who continues in sin rejects his friend and the one or two he has brought with them. This is a formal separation of the position the one sinning has already made. He has already separated himself from his friends by his sin. The friends should no longer have fellowship but should tell the one sinning they will always be there if the one sinning would like to come home. This tells the one sinning that sin is serious but grace is available. But grace cannot be given while a person remains committed to the sin.

Sometimes there are serious consequences to sin that linger well beyond the time that the sin was committed. Many years ago I was in a church where a family with middle school age children began to visit. They seemed like a great family for our church. One of our members came to the pastor and told him that he couldn't worship while the father in this family was in our the church. The member said that this man had an affair with his wife. After confronting the visitor we discovered that he had affairs in other churches and had been asked to leave them. We told him he must apologize to these other congregations before he could attend our church. He told us he was unwilling to do so. What would keep him from doing the same thing in our church if he was unrepentant about what he had done in other churches? His continued affairs also pointed to an unrepentant heart. Church was just a good place for him to hunt for unsuspecting women. We asked him not to attend our church until he was willing to make things right. We never saw him again.

Please make sure you understand that confronting a friend in sin does not always turn out like you would like. In fact, I have some experiences where it didn't come out well at all. But, how can we say that we are loving when we will allow our friends to hurt themselves and others around us?


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Heard Any Good Sermons on Fasting Lately?

I'll bet you haven't. In fact, I bet that most of you reading this blog have never heard a sermon on fasting. Why is that?

It isn't because fasting isn't biblical. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who fasted and tithed because they did not have justice and mercy. He, Himself, fasted. Much of the Bible records fasts. Some of who fasted were Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Daniel and Paul. There were many more who fasted and even more times of fasting that were not recorded in the Bible.

I believe fasting isn't preached or taught because it causes discomfort. Human reasoning says that if it hurts to do something, then don't do it. Fasting makes you hungry. Hunger is taught as a taboo. It is taught that no one should be hungry in America. I would say that no Christian should live his or her life without some self imposed hunger. Satan told God that Job would reject Him if his flesh was hurt. Fasting gives some evidence that this isn't true.

Fasting is a devotion to God. The one who fasts does so for a specific period of time. Fasting is a reminder of the purpose and the time. The reminder brings us to prayer. Fasting without prayer is just going hungry. Fasting without prayer is a worthless endeavor.

Fasting is an act of worship. It says that God is more important than a full stomach. It changes the worshiper like all true worship changes the one worshiping. I have found that I was not hungry during the times I worshiped. This was true even when I fasted for forty days. I worshiped deeply during the times of fasting.

I read two books on fasting before I fasted for forty days. During the fast I wondered if the authors had fasted. I suspect that fasting is different for each person. I did not experience the same physical affects as these authors. We all lost weight. This was the common experience.

There are some people who cannot fast. It would be physically unwise for them to fast. Their doctors would tell them not to fast. God does not want you to hurt yourself. (This is not the same as feeling uncomfortable for fasting will make you uncomfortable.)

There are things you could fast that do not involve foods. Take something that you do on a regular basis that you like to do that takes time. You can fast watching television if this is something that you like to do. In fact, this is one fast that can be done for more than forty days without really bad side effects. You cannot fast something that you don't normally do. However, you can't fast sky diving if you never sky dive.

There are many misconceptions of fasting. Some believe that you can't tell someone if you are fasting. Jesus said you should put on a happy face and not draw attention to yourself when you fast. He didn't say you can't tell people. How would we know that Jesus fasted for forty days if He didn't tell people?

Fasting will not get God to do something that He wouldn't have done. You can't hold God hostage with fasting. He is not going to change His mind about something if you fast. He knew you would fast before the beginning of time. His mind is made up. He has already factored your fasting into the equation.

Fasting is a terrible way to lose weight. It changes your metabolism. You will gain weight rapidly after you end your fast. It seemed to me that my body replaced the fat at a faster rate after I fasted. Note that I fasted for forty days three times. All three of these fasts were completed in less than four years. I gained twenty extra pounds after the last forty day fast. I do not recommend fasting as a means of losing weight.

I do not plan on another forty day fast. I am not saying that I will never fast for forty days again but this is not something I place on my calendar. I do so when I am led by the Lord to devote myself to a certain item of prayer. I fast for a day, three days, a week or any length of time for the same reason. There are certain things I need to pray over that need a deeper concentration. Fasting helps me do so.

Fasting may not be preached because no preacher should tell you to fast. He can call for a fast but a fast must be done voluntarily. There are no commands to fast. It must be something that comes from the heart.

God loves you whether or not you ever fast.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Way That Seems Right

Have you ever thought that you really knew how a verse of Scripture should be applied only to discover a new way to apply it? I had with Proverbs 14:12. It says, "There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way to death."

I had always applied this Scripture to salvation. People try to make their own way to salvation. They use human reason but human reason will not bring people to salvation. It will keep them away from salvation for salvation makes no sense to those using human reason.

God's salvation says that God sent His only Son to pay the price of sin so that those who were working against Him could go to heaven if they would trust in His Son. There are several parts of that which make no sense. God loves people who don't love Him. That doesn't make human sense. God sent His only Son to die for these people. Now, that really makes no human sense. Those who don't love Him will give their trust to Him. You get the idea by now.

But that Scripture is more broad than salvation. It applies to everything that we do.

For example, a young Christian woman will know she shouldn't marry a non-Christian guy. A cute guy will ask her out. She will not know whether or not he is a Christian. She will lower her standard of marrying a Christian guy for a number of reasons. Mainly, she is afraid she won't ever get married if she has to wait for a Christian guy who is a total dweeb. So, she reasons that she will make him a Christian after they get married.

First, none of us can make a decision for anyone else. Second, why should he become a Christian after they marry? She will not have the spiritual leader in the home that she would have had if she had married a Christian. She will spend her days trying to get him into church. She will even give up other Christian principles to win his affection. Her dreams of a Christian marriage die. It is really a miserable life.

Another example is found in the tithe. Human reasoning says that you will have more money if you don't give that much to God. But God says that isn't true in Malachi. He says to test Him in giving a tithe.

The lack of faith to give God the tithe results in the destruction of your faith to believe God will provide for you. You doubt His goodness, His ability and His Word. You may even doubt your own salvation. Why would you believe He will take care of you eternally if you don't believe He will take care of you tomorrow?

Human reasoning says keep everything you make and give none of it away. This leads to emptiness. Human reasoning says look out for yourself first. This leads to emptiness. Human reasoning says love only those who love you. This leads to emptiness.

God's Word is not intended to be a burden. It is a blessing. It is a gift. Our lives are full when we reject human reasoning and obey His Word. It makes our lives worth living.

Adam and Eve reasoned that the fruit God said would cause death would give them life. You can see where that has gotten us. Why do we depend on human reasoning as opposed to God's Word? It has something to do with our fallen nature.

Another Scripture comes to mind: Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Recognizing God's Voice

There are lots of nuts in the world. Many of them are preachers.

They would lead you to believe that they have a hotline to God. They claim He doesn't speak to anyone like He does to them because they are anointed. This is a bunch of balony.

God speaks to those who are listening. He is not a chatterbox. He is not giving the play-by-play of each day's events in advance. He speaks at the time we need the message. He gives us messages for others at their time of need. He sets us on courses that change our lives forever.

But how do you know it is really Him you have heard and not just a little voice inside your head?

This is not the question the first time you hear God. The first time you actually hear God will be His conviction that you need His Son as Savior. You are not wondering whether this is God speaking or not. You simply have this conviction that you need Jesus to forgive your sins and you give your life to Him.

The first time is like a house on fire. No one stops to consider what they should do when the house is on fire. They don't call the neighbors and ask for advice.They don't form committees to see if there are alternatives. They call the fire department. God convicts you of your need for Christ and you don't consider the message's origin. You either run toward God and give your heart to Him or run away as fast as possible.

Later decisions often require some discernment. The best way to distinguish God's voice is the same as it is for recognizing anyone's voice. You know their voice because you have listened often.

Some people call you on the phone and simply start talking because they know you recognize their voice. I laugh when someone says, "It's me," because the statement is unnecessary if that is all the identification that is necessary. I know the voice.

I suppose that is why God never says, "This is God," when He speaks to us. He expects us to recognize His voice. We simply recognize His voice by listening often. But how do you listen often?

This is where God's word comes in. You seek to live a holy life. Part of that process is found in meditating on God's written word, the Bible. You read it and start to recognize His Word as it has been written.

Meditating on God's Word allows His Word to change who we are. We soak in it. We listen to it again and again. It becomes part of our memories. We learn and know the voice of God.

Later, we recognize God's voice when He speaks to us. We may be praying and He gives us direction or meaning to something. We may be going about our business of the day when, out of the blue, He speaks to us. Sometimes God speaks during a crisis. Sometimes He will urge us to call someone and we discover why only after the call.

Continued obedience to God's voice results in God's continued speaking. The Word of the Lord is rare when God's people are disobedient. It may be that He is still speaking but there are few that are listening. Disobedience allows the voices of the world to drown out God's voice.

I want everyone to hear the voice of God. Can you hear Him?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Do You Look For in Spiritual Warfare?

We have told our children that the monsters don't really exist. We have told them that they are not in the closets or under the beds. In some ways we have been wrong.

There are spiritual beings which attack God's creation. They are led by someone called the devil or Satan. He takes his demons across the earth to destroy anything that brings God glory. He attacks the world because God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to die for it. Satan is evil to the core and people should know that he is attacking God's world.

How does he attack? Paul gives us some indication by giving us the armor that Christians should wear each day. All but one item on the list is defensive.

Satan attacks the truth. He attacks your ability to know the truth and live the truth. He challenged what Adam and Eve knew to be truth in the Garden. They doubted this truth, gave into believing Satan's lies and thus mankind fell. You should stick to the truth that God has delivered. Any attack upon the truth is an attack of Satan. He may be using human beings to speak his words but it is still him. Hold fast to the truth.

Satan attacks righteousness. He wants God's people to abandon righteousness. The lack of righteousness separates us from God. It makes us much more vulnerable to whatever else Satan would like to do. He wants sinfulness in the believers. He does not want believers to confess to God and be cleansed of all unrighteousness. He doesn't even want believers to know that is possible. He keeps telling believers that their sin cannot be forgiven.

Satan attacks salvation. He not only wants people to doubt their salvation, he wants them to act as if they are not saved. A person detached from their salvation is a person who does not know if he or she knows God. They will stop praying. They will stop asking God for strength if they do not believe in Him. They will become empty and run after the same things that the world runs to. They will lose the glory that God is seeking to restore in them.

Satan attacks faith. Faith believes God when all the circumstances point to something else. Faith brings salvation. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not (yet) seen. Faith extinguishes Satan's lies. Faith stands on God's Word. Faith makes us pray. Faith causes actions which will defeat Satan.

Satan attacks a person's witness. He puts fear in the hearts of believers. He tells them that others need to share the gospel rather than them. He tells them to be silent. He warns them of what they might lose. He says that they could do more harm than good. He keeps the believer silent and even encourages the believer to be silent when others are ridiculing the gospel and Christ.

Satan is not worried about people taking the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, if he can get them to do these things listed above. They will not read God's word daily. They will let is sit on the coffee table between Sundays. They will live empty lives. They will not carry God's glory.

He can hurt God this way.

Has Satan been attacking you? Victory comes from staying in God's word. If you have neglected His Word, he is already winning.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Well Ordered Life

The Bible does not record Jesus running. I feel certain He probably did as a boy in play but as a man He always knew where He was going and went without rushing. That seems amazing.

My solution or avoid rushing would be to make a to-do list and never deviate from it. This was not Jesus. He was often interrupted on His journey from one place to the next. He was where He needed to be even with the interruptions.

I wonder if the time He spent in prayer gave Him His direction for each day. Did He get an assurance that He would do certain things each day even if He had interruptions? No, I think His prayers developed a character that recognized the importance of each interruption. It wasn't an interruption at all. It was an unplanned item on His to-do list.

A well ordered life is not one that has a to-do list which dictates the moments of each day. A well ordered life is one that has the character to recognize the value in each moment. Some moments must be spent in work and some in play. Some moments must be spent with family and others with someone in need. Many items will never make it to your to-do list because they could not have been anticipated. However they should have been there if you had known they were coming.

It is a mistake to live each day without a plan. It is also a mistake to live each day without any deviation from your plan. God has a way of adding spices to our day's recipe. He greets us with an opportunity for service. He gives us the privilege of representing Him in these unplanned moments.

A well ordered life is one with eyes open. It is a life of trust. It knows not what the future holds but always knows Who holds the future.

Proverbs 16:9 (NASB) says :The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

This is the well ordered life.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Faith to Move Mountains

A man brings his son to Jesus' disciples to have the demon who possessed him purged. They could not. Evidently they had been able to cast out some demons because after Jesus cast out the demon they asked why they had failed. Jesus told them it was because they lacked faith.

He said that faith could move mountains. A mountain is a metaphor for any seemingly insurmountable problem. Of course, it would apply if a physical mountain became a problem.

What are we doing as Christians if we don't have faith? Are we gathering in a large room to deceive ourselves each Sunday? Are we acting like Santa Claus is real while personally knowing that he doesn't really exist? The Book of James would tell us that we should expect nothing from God without faith. I believe a lot of Christians are getting a lot of nothing.

Christians have problems too. We lose our jobs, are involved in car wrecks and get diseases just like anyone. We are not bulletproof. However, we should have the faith to believe that nothing that comes into our lives can be greater than God. We should have the faith to see that God will take our hardship or tragedy and do something good with it. We should have the faith to know that there is an ultimate plan. We should have the faith to approach the throne room of God and receive an answer from God. We should have the faith to know that He loves us through the tough times. We should have the faith to believe and see our mountains removed.

Hebrews tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith. How much faith? Jesus said a faith small as a mustard seed. The mustard seed is very small but it will grow into a tree. I don't think Jesus was telling us that our faith should remain so small but that this faith is a faith that would grow.

I think some people want to believe something will come true so they try to will themselves to believe. Paul said that faith is a gift from God. This means that faith is not something that we produce. It is something that is given to us. Therefore, the lack of faith is the refusal to accept delivery of something that God wants to give us.

God tells us to believe Him. Our lack of faith tells us to put more value in what we can see than what God has told us. No mountain will ever be removed this way. We can pray long prayers but without faith we will never see the mountain move one inch.

Do you have a mountain that you believe can't be moved? Then, that's the problem. You don't believe it will be moved because you believe more in what you can see than what God has said.

Once Jesus asked a man if he believed that Jesus could heal his son. The man said that he believed but asked that Jesus would help his unbelief. I think of this man as one of the wisest and most honest men in the Bible. He knew he could neither pretend he had great faith nor see what he needed with the faith he had at the moment. He asked for an extra delivery from God.

I ask God for faith. I want mustard seed faith. This is the kind that grows. I want to see my own mountains cast into the sea.

How about you? Do you need this faith, too?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Do You Live For?

It should be no shock that I don't understand the motivation of some people. I don't walk in their shoes. I neither have their background nor skills. I don't have their talents and I don't have their hearts. Yet, I still wonder why they do what they do. What drives them to get up each day?

I heard of one young man who wants to be a rock star. He is very talented. He also spends a significant part of his week playing video games. He doesn't work for his stated goal. I don't think he knows that being a rock star isn't his true goal. He truly lives to have a good time. He hopes that he will have stardom fall into his lap. Stardom represents more good times for him. He does not know that becoming a rock star involves lots of hard work. You have to be driven to write, practice and perform in as many places as you can until you develop a significant following. The chances of being signed by a major label are one in 100 million. You don't have time to play video games. You must be driven.

People watch American Idol and see these people rocketed into stardom. They don't know the courage it takes to get on the show. Wouldn't you do whatever it takes to get on the show if that was what you lived for?

I live to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. He has called me to preach. This is not something that I am particularly good at. I work at it each day. I took every preaching course at seminary. I wrote sermons that I never preached before I became a preacher. I practiced by myself when no one ever heard me. I prayed for over eight years each morning and night for the opportunity to preach regularly. I arrive at the church nearly three hours before each worship service to pray that God will deliver His message through me. I lay the sermon at His feet and even have changed the whole thing when I thought it would not please Him.

The things you live for never take a back seat. You work at them. You improve from where you are now. You are never satisfied with getting by. You stay up late and get up early.

Strangely, I don't worry about what people do with my sermons. I have been disappointed with myself when people have made decisions for Christ. I have been pleased when no one made a decision. I just want to be obedient to God's leading. I amd pleased if I have honestly delivered what He has led me to say.

I pity those who don't know what they live for. How do they know their journey if they don't know where they want to go?

How do you know what you live for? I don't think it merely comes from thinking of something that you want to do and then doing so. I believe it comes from the God who created you. Doesn't it make sense that the Inventor would know why He invented His creation? He has a purpose for each person. He has something they can live for that is beyond themselves.

Yet, most people, even most Christians, don't know what their "calling" is. This is because they have never truly understood the story of the Rich Young Ruler. He was already going to church. He was already a good guy. He would have been accepted by most churches as an example of what they hoped the whole church would become. Jesus, however, said he lacked something. Jesus told him to sell all that he had, give it to the poor and come follow Him. The Rich Young Ruler had a whole lot and walked away disappointed because he was hanging on to things that no one should ever live for.

Does this mean that all Christians should sell all they have and follow Jesus. Yes. Every one of us should relinquish everything to Christ. All that is in our possession should be given to Him so that He can use it any way He pleases. He may ask us to give it to the poor. He may tell us to leave our homes to pursue what we will live for. You just don't get your life's purpose from God by telling God what you will or will not do. Even most ministers don't understand this.

You can't live for something that is merely convenient. That's not a life's purpose. That is wandering from one thing to another because nothing is convenient every day. A life of convenience destroys our marriages, the raising of our children, our finances, our bodies, our friendships and our life's purpose.

Do you know what you live for? Are you willing to find out what God's purpose is for your life?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is Theology Dead?

I listen to many televangelists tell things that contradict what the Bible says. They become creative and make up "behind the scenes" stories of biblical characters. They gather large crowds, raise huge sums of money and say, "See how I live. If I wasn't right, why would God bless me with so much?" I remember that it wasn't God who offered Jesus all the wealth of the world.

These televangelists are able to get away with this mumbo-jumbo because Christians don't know any theology. They don't know what the Bible actually says. They know pieces of the Bible and accept what sounds like it is biblical. Do you remember when many recording artist sang We Are the World? There was a line in the song that said that Jesus had turned the stones to bread. If you read the Bible you will find that the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. He didn't actually make stones into bread. Yet, the larger community said nothing because they knew a little Bible and this sounded like Bible.

I discovered why preachers don't teach theology several years ago. I started teaching it and found that theology disturbed people. They liked believing the televangelists who told interesting stories of how God would make them healthy, wealthy and wise. Theology showed the errors in this thinking. Theology made God the center of all things. Much of what is said from televangelists makes man the center of all things.

Sound teaching seems to be out while sensational stories seem to be in. People will flock to hear the story of someone's "miracle" while they stay at home when someone teaches a solid truth from the Bible. They don't endure sound teaching but seek to have their ears tickled. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised since the Bible actually said this would happen.

Will Christians wake up and return to the Bible? I wonder. I know that we will never have a spiritual awakening with sleeping Christians. I know that following false teaching will never lead us to a spiritual awakening. I believe that false teaching is part of spiritual warfare. I believe that Christians must recognize this false teaching.

They will never be able to do so getting all of their teaching from others. They must open their own Bibles and be ready with an answer for anyone who asks them of the hope that is within them. They must become approved workmen who are not ashamed of their faith. If they will remain in God's word they will know the truth and the truth will set them free. They will be free from false teaching and truly know God.

Theology is dead to those who wish to feed from the table of others. It is not dead for those who will open their own Bibles daily. It will be taught directly by the Holy Spirit to those who will read God's Word honestly. Those who will seek God through His Word will find Him.

A televangelist once said that God used faith to create the world. He said that God accessed this faith and that you could have it to. Do you see the error?


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Can You Handle the Truth?

This morning one of the tv stations reported that senior adults who volunteer live longer. That really sounds good until you look at the reasons that may be true.

People seldom volunteer when they are in bad health. Those in bad health die earlier than those in good health. Therefore, those who are in good health volunteer and live longer. There is no need to presuppose a cause and effect between the two. Claiming that people who volunteer live longer is true but not related.

Often I hear half-truths. There is a report of an ice shelf that is melting in Antarctica. There is no mention of the total amount of ice that is growing. We are told that a budget has been cut. We are not told that the cuts only reflect the amount of the proposed increase in budget. This means that the budget is increased but not as much as some would have liked. We find that our picture of the truth is distorted by what is being fed to us.

Most Americans get their world view by the media and their friends. Each of these is influenced by what is in vogue today. The concept of global warming is popular. The concept that America has caused the world's problems is popular. The concept that there is no need for church is popular. These become what people accept as true.

Going against the popular wisdom of today will not be popular. It means that you will be ridiculed. It means that people will draw conclusions of right-wing fanaticism or just plain stupidity. People are disturbed when their world view is disturbed. There is safety when everyone unites for a cause or a perceived truth. The safety of the popular world view is lost when there are dissenters to this view.

Going against popular wisdom means you will have to know your facts. You can't simply say that you don't believe something is true just because you don' t want to believe it. Popular wisdom can get away with that because there are few who are challenging popular wisdom. You, on the other hand, will have to do some honest research. Unfortunately, you will not be able to get that from mainstream media.

Mainstream media reports what sells. They tell a story to support popular wisdom because it gives people a reason to watch and listen. They scare you with the facts they want to report. They are silent about the ones that would negate those facts. They report what sells. Fear sells. Note this with each news report.

Journalists are at the mercy of many disciplines. Most of them did not take advanced physics, meteorology, advanced mathematics or any other subject beyond a cursory level. They are great wordsmiths but often know very little about the subjects they cover. Journalists cannot refute statements given by scientists whose grants are dependent on their research. However, many people who read their stories believe they are hearing the whole truth. This is often dependent on what the scientists are willing to tell the journalists.

Teachers often fall into the trap of acceptance of the popular wisdom. A preponderance of a statement is often accepted as true even if there are no facts to support them. Sometimes school systems require that teachers teach things as if they are the truth. Evolution is taught as fact even though it is clearly a theory. Jesus may be ridiculed because teachers can get fired for supporting Christianity. Yet, Islam may be studied seriously because it speaks of our cultural diversity. Teachers are often at the mercy of teaching things because they must rather than because of what they personally believe.

Many people have established what they have believed to be the truth before they know the facts. They have heard it from the electronic media, read it in the paper and discussed it among their friends. Centuries ago doctors bled their patients when they got sick. They accepted what they had learned before they knew the facts. People today do the same things. They accept what they have learned without serious facts.

I never cease to be fascinated by some of the documentary stations like the History Channel, Biography Channel and the Discovery Channel. They often get the most obscure people to agree with an outlandish idea. They had to search high and low to get someone to agree with Dan Brown's Divinci Code. They got the most off the wall theologians from the most unheard of institutions. I know because I have studied theology and did not recognize most to the institutions and had never heard of these theologians. These channels start with a premise and choose to present "evidence" which supports their ridiculous claims. It makes me wonder if they do the same things with other stories which deal with disciplines I know nothing about.

People must do their own research if they will know the truth. They must be willing to hear opposing ideas. They need to challenge what they think they already know. They will find the truth if they are honest with themselves. I am convinced that people will find the truth if they will study God's word. I wonder if they can handle it when it goes against what their friends are telling them.

So you do the research. You do your own reporting. It may not make you popular but it will be the truth.

Can you handle the truth?

Monday, May 11, 2009

When the Bullied Become Bullies

I don't watch beauty pageants. They just don't interest me. It is odd when one grabs my attention. The recent pageant in which Miss North Carolina won did just that. It was a pageant in which everyone knows who was first runner up and hardly anyone remembers the winner.

Miss California was asked if she believed that same sex marriages should the norm across the nation. She said she believed that marriage should be between a man and woman. This answer lost her the crown and brought the ire of the homosexual community. Now, they are considering removing her first runner up place because she had broken some of the rules of the pageant.

I must admit I don't understand the rules. I don't see what you have done in the past has to do with what you are doing now. The problem I see is that this young lady is being bullied by those who don't like her freedom of speech.

Homosexuals were bullied for years. They were beaten and taken advantage of in many ways. This was wrong.

That doesn't mean I don't think homosexuality is a sin. I do. But I also think bullying other people is a sin. I should respect them as people but not agree with their lifestyle. Jesus died for everyone- not just the heterosexuals. His sacrifice covers all of our sins.

Yet, it seems that every bullied group eventually becomes the bullies. They scream for equal rights but really want domination. So, they attack when someone challenges their dominant status. This was the reaction we saw from Miss California's answer.

First came a video blog which reflected the character of the one who asked her the question. He called her names and acted childish. He acted like a bully and used his blog as a bully pulpit to beat the young lady.

Now comes the research into her past. They want to take her off of the scene. They don't want to give her a voice. They want her crushed under criticism.

Actually, I am not against taking away her crown if she clearly broke the rules and that would be the regular penalty for breaking these rules. I am against people bullying others. It appears that this is the case from someone looking in from the outside.

Bullying is wrong no matter who is doing it.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Road from the Penthouse to the Outhouse

You confess your sins. You make everything right with God. You commit your live anew to Him and you believe that nothing will sway you from your devotion. Life is a commitment to the God you love. You read your Bible daily, pray for those who do not know Christ and give generously. You are the example that every Christian should follow.

Two weeks later no one observing you would know you are a Christian. How do you go from the penthouse of God's presence to the outhouse of a life without Him? Very simply: one day at a time.

The road from the penthouse to the outhouse takes little steps. Sometimes the steps go unnoticed. They are neither noticed by others or the one taking these steps. It is the attitude in the heart or the sharp word to the checkout clerk or the honking at the driver who pulled ahead of you. Maybe the reactions are normal but they go unchecked. They lead to further steps. The steps get longer every day.

The road may feel good at times. Someone compliments you. You feel the pride. You start taking credit for all of it. It had nothing to do with your teachers, your parents or your God. You did it and you want to take full credit. It feels good but it leads to an independence from God.

The road often involves our emotions. I have found that emotions will lead people to do things they never would have done otherwise. They will flirt because it is exciting. They will yell because they are angry. Simon Peter could tell you that fear can make you curse and deny the One you said you loved.

Sometimes the road makes sense. I served in a church which had continued to refinance its debt for years. They owed more than they had originally borrowed and had made no payments on the principle. They thought it made good sense to pay with inflated money rather than the money they had now. The Bible says that the wicked borrow and do not repay. They did not see themselves as wicked. However, when they learned what the Bible said they got out of debt very quickly. Sometimes sinfulness is hidden in contemporary sense.

We all have deviated on this road at some time in our lives. It takes us away from God. It squeezes the joy out of our lives.

We must guard our hearts if we want to stay off this road. We must check our hearts to see if we are already on it.

The road from the penthouse to the outhouse is short. Be careful. It is right around the next corner.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Truly Honor Your Mother

Not everyone had great mothers. Some did not. A small minority of people had terrible mothers. These mothers were selfish and hurtful. They may have used their children for their own benefit. But, again, this is a small minority of mothers.

The Bible tells us to honor our mothers. It doesn't distinguish between good or bad mothers. A mother produces life regardless of her qualifications of motherhood. The inception may have been unintentional but she carried the child to birth. She did not have to. This is honorable even if it is the only good thing she did for you.

Most of us had great mothers and Mother's Day reminds us of how we should honor our mothers. Here I would like to suggest some ways of honoring mothers that will be especially meaningful.

Always tell your mother that you love her. Mother's Day should not be the only day you make a call and do so. She may know how you feel but the words themselves make a difference. You cannot know how much you mean to her. Your words are special.

Show your mother that you love her. This isn't always found in gifts. Send her letters or emails throughout the year. Let her know that you are thinking of her often. Send her the funny email you received from a friend. Show her a website that you found interesting. Send her a newspaper article that deals with something she is interested in. Go see her every chance you get. These actions back up the words of love.

Live an honorable life all the days of your life and honor your mother. The true honor of a mother is a child that lives a life she can be proud of. You will always be a reflection of her. Your actions will show whether she has raised you right. No one else wants more success for you.

We honor our mothers all the days of our lives. Our mothers' deaths do not change that. We will always be our mother's child. We will always carry her teaching and care.

I asked a group of senior adults whose mothers had died to tell me of their mothers this past week. They did so gleefully. There was a joy in their hearts as they told stories of their mothers. I saw them honor their mothers one more time right in front of me. You tell others of the pride you have in your mother and you honor her. It doesn't matter if she ever knows.

Honor your mother in special ways this Mother's Day. Call her, send her gifts, take her to lunch or simply thank God for her if she has passed away. Tell a story about your mother to others.

Honor her Mother's Day but don't let that be the only day. Honor her all the days of your life.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Consumerism and Christianity Don't Mix

A lot of people believe that they join a church to get the benefits which come with membership. After all, isn't this the reason people join anything? They seek the benefits that come with the membership. They pay the fee and join. From this point on they see the benefits that come from that membership.

The church is the only organization that I know whose membership exists for the people who are not members. Church membership does not hold privileges for how much you give or how much you serve. The church shouldn't take account of how many years you have been a member or that your family has been members for generations.

Maturing Christians realize that it isn't about them at all. It is about who Christ is and how He can change people into heaven bound believers whose mission is to take as many people to heaven with them as possible. The attitude that the church exists for the membership is killing churches. The attitude that Christianity is a closed group with privileges is killing evangelism.

You don't know how many times I have heard people threaten to leave the church because they didn't get some privilege they thought they deserved. They have a warped sense of church and Christianity. They think that Christ came to serve them and everyone He has called since He walked on the earth should serve them too. They do not understand Christ, the Church nor what true faith entails.

It makes me think that every church should put at the top of their new members folder, "It's Not About You!!!" Churches are people whose faith has led them to bind together to accomplish the mission of making disciples of and for Jesus Christ. We see our mission and make whatever personal sacrifices necessary to achieve this mission.

I have seen members quit coming to church and then say they are not coming back when the church did not spend all its effort to get them to come back. They will admit that someone contacted them but their offense is either that the church didn't continue contacting or that it didn't reach the level of a personal visit by the senior pastor. They haven't thought that the senior pastor would do nothing else but pacify members if the rest of the members were as childish as they are.

A growing church simply cannot continue to coddle people who take up time which should be used in furthering the kingdom of God. I know someone will tell the story of the ninety-nine sheep that were safe and the one that was lost. The shepherd leaves those who are safe and finds the one that is lost. This is not the case of wayward church members. We assume that people join the church only after being saved. They are not lost and should not act like the lost. They need to grow up and realize they are acting like they are lost and keeping the church from the mission.

The mission of reaching people is the most glorious thing I know. You see people whose lives are changed; I mean truly changed. Men who become Christians become better husbands and fathers. Women who become Christians become better wives and mothers. The faith shares an everlasting love that cannot be taken away. There is a new security in the person's life. The person knows that he or she is not perfect but always forgiven. The burdens of their lives are taken to the One who has saved them. They rest in His favor.

These changed people want others to come to the same knowledge that they have. They want others to experience the same salvation from death, sin and the loneliness of the soul. They go on mission because the One within them leads them to reach others. They make sacrifices rather than demands for the Church's mission. They do not see themselves as consumers but as co-laborers and their lives are filled with joy in each baptism and victory over sin.

Each day I am amazed that Christ has called me out of my sinfulness to be His. I am amazed He calls upon me to do His will. I am privileged to make what some would call "sacrifice" to do what He has called me to do. I wonder how many Christians are caught in the wonder of service for Him.

If you truly understand the faith, you realize the privilege of service. It is so glorious.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

You Can't Lead from Your Easy Chair

An office store claims to have an easy button. Their ad says that they have made it easy to do get all the things you will need to run your business from their store. They seem to say that it will make running your business easy.

There are no easy buttons if you want to make a significant difference. Each and every significant thing you will do will take some effort on your part. Not all of the things you must do will be things you like to do. True effort must be made to do what you must.

First you have to show up. Lots of businesses thought they could run their businesses out of their home offices. They claimed they could run these businesses in their pajamas. This gives a false impression about the business. If you don't have a definite to-do list, a definite starting time and a definite time of availability, you will have a definite failure.

Failing to show up often results in waiting to act until there is a crisis. The problem that can be put off will be put off unless effort is made to show up and do something about it.

Showing up also reveals how serious you are about what you say. You are sending a negative message when you say that you are a believer yet infrequently attend church. You are sending a negative message to your customers when you claim you give great service but never show up for that service.

Second you have to stand up. You must know what you stand for. A national airline once received a letter from a customer who said he would not fly that airline again if they did not provide him a meal and an assigned seat. I understand the airline wrote him back to say, "We'll miss you." They knew what their business was and they were not going to waiver because someone complained.

Standing up means you know what you stand for. It means that you will not please everyone. It means that you will have strong principles and you are not shy about sharing them. You follow them because they make you what you are. You follow them or you will go out of business.

A church needs to say that it exists for the people it has not reached. This means that the privilege of membership is found in serving not being served. When the church fails to stand up for these principles it will lose its mission and slowing go out of business.

Third, you need to speak up. You cannot be the silent leader. You must cast the vision to others. You have to say what is right and what is wrong.

You should not try to send messages through others. You should not point out what's wrong but speak up to say what is wrong and what will make it right. Watch those carefully who only point out the negative but give no solutions. They are not true leaders. They simply pass on what others have told them to do.

Not everyone will love you if you say what you believe is right or wrong. Recently Miss California did that and the attack on her is unrelenting. Evil will always tell you to shut up because you are not perfect. It will say that you are judging others. Remember they are judging you when they claim you shouldn't have said what you did.

Fourth, you must hold up. You should hold up those around you. Your business, school and church would do better if you would hold up those around you. Give encouragement where it is due. Never neglect to do so because this is a way that you show up, stand up and speak up for those around you.

It is not easy doing these four things. You invite criticism when you stand for something. You may be attacked because you have not said that anything goes. However, you will never be significant without strong beliefs which you will show up, stand up, speak up and hold up others for.

I know your church needs someone who will do these things. I know your business needs someone who will do these things. Yes, your family, country, city and community needs someone who will do these things.

Stop looking for the easy chair. Real significant living won't be found in it.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Is The Message of Christ False If Every Christian Is a Hypocrite?

I hear people tell me often that they don't come to church because it is full of hypocrites. Its strange that it doesn't keep them from going to sporting events which are full of hypocrites or concerts or political rallies or anything where there is a gathering of people. Each and every place you go is full of hypocrites. (Not everyone is a hypocrite but there are always hypocrites in any large crowd.)

For example, some will wear a player's jersey but neither care about the team or the player. The jersey is worn because it looks good with the jeans being worn that day. A true fan would call these people hypocrites. Yet, people are still attending the games.

The message of Christ is like a treasure map. The existence of the treasure doesn't depend on whether anyone follows the map. True, some say they follow the map when, in fact, they do not. They may be followed by others who should have followed the map rather than the people who say they are following the map.

Do you think people believe that there are no authentic people in the world? Without an authentic example people are free to choose their own morals. Their claim is that each person chooses what is right in his own eyes. That sort of chaos existed in the Bible too. It always results in the weak and/or helpless being hurt.

I fail to see the logic in rejecting church because you know some hypocrites. I am a pastor and I know some hypocrites too. It hasn't kept me from being a pastor.

There are many things I could have done that would have made more money, gotten more recognition and had a whole lot less grief. I choose to be a pastor because I was called by God to do so. He didn't call me because I am perfect. This is the journey He has chosen for me and I have agreed with Him to take this journey. I fail Him at times. He helps me up and we go forward again. This is the Christian life- falling down and getting up. It is not full of perfection but of grace and forgiveness.

Do the people who reject church because of the hypocrites live perfect lives? I don't think so. I have only met One perfect person in my life. He is my Lord.

Do these who reject church believe we are going to taint them or they us? No, I just think it is an excuse for living any way they would like. They like the justification that comes in pointing out others sins while calling the people in the church judgmental.

The message of Jesus Christ is true even if you found me to be the worst sinner alive. The message is not changed regardless of the life of the messenger.

This is not an excuse for Christians to live licentious lives. It is a recognition that Christians are on a journey. We have not arrived and others should not expect us to have arrived.

This is an invitation to join this imperfect people who follow the treasure map. We wander away from the map at times. We fall down and we are helped up.

The message is true and the journey is glorious.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

You Can't Get to Where You Want to Go by Driving the Wrong Direction

It is a well known fact that many men have a hard time asking for directions. We hate to depend upon someone telling us how to get where we want to go. Often we will travel the wrong direction for a long time before we will either find our way or break down and ask for directions. A lot of time is wasted because we will not humble ourselves for directions.

That doesn't change the inescapable fact that you can't get where you want to go by driving the wrong direction. Driving faster won't do it. Ignoring the signs won't do it.

Many people have good goals but are going the wrong way. They want a good marriage, honorable children, a nice home, a meaningful job and an authentic faith. They want these things but they fail to work for them.

You can't have a good marriage if you don't work at it. You can't treat each other with hatefully and hope that love will grow. You can't be untrustworthy and hope that trust will grow. You can't be selfish and hope the other person knows how much you will sacrifice for him or her.

You will not have any of your goals if you neglect your children, your home, your job or your faith. You will be a victim of the circumstances that you created.

Going the wrong direction part of the time means you will take longer to get to your destination. Getting somewhere quickly depends upon going the right direction all of the time. It means that these goals must be worked on every day. You neglect your home for any period of time and it gets to be a mess. You neglect your marriage, kids, job or faith and they will also become a mess.

It would be different if we didn't know what to do. We do. We know but doing what we know we must do takes work. It takes more effort than not doing it. However, the result is like the people who neglect changing the oil in their cars. The neglect costs them a whole lot more later.

So, work on your marriage, your kids, your home, your job and your faith. You will find you will arrive where you would really like to be.

There is no better day to start or continue to do this than today.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Are We a Nation of Sick People?

It seems that every sin has turned into an illness or addiction. Gluttony has become a food addiction. Tardiness is a brain disorder. Laziness comes from chemical imbalances.

We seem to blame our own actions on something else. We cry out, "It's not my fault!" Even criminal defenses are formed upon the claim that something or someone made the defendant commit the crime. They say, "Whatever happened it was not really me who did it."

I have a tendency to overeat. Does that mean I can excuse my weight as something I have no control over? I don't think so. I must own my problem if I am ever going to do something about it. I struggle to stop eating but I must do so if I am to take control of my problem.

No one should deny that the exposure to violent behavior makes people more likely to be violent. However, this cannot be an excuse for violence. You can control what you are doing. The first step is to admit that it is your problem and you can do something about it.

People should not deny that some get addicted to drugs or alcohol. Yet, all should agree that the only way to control the problem is to seek help and make the decision that victory over this problem is the only option.

I have a solution to help us get beyond claiming each sin is a disease. First, find someone to whom you will become accountable. You give them the authority to tell you when you are stepping out of line and they give you the ability to call them any time you are feeling a weakness toward your problem. Second, you commit to make contact with this person each day to report how you are doing. Third, you commit to them and yourself that you will be totally honest about temptations and failures. Fourth, have prayer with this person by phone if not in person each day. Fifth, keep telling yourself that God will strengthen you to defeat this demon. Sixth, declare victory each day you are victorious. Share that with your accountability partner. Seventh, make a point of expanding your circle of influence. Tell others what you have done and offer to become their accountability partner.

Above all, quit giving yourself an excuse for failure. We do have control. If not my our own might we can turn this over to God who will allow us to do all things through His strength.

I will weigh each day. I will report my progress daily. You will notice that a number at the end of each blog. I will not explain what that number means again. It is my weight for that day. In this way, I will be accountable to everyone who reads this blog. Please feel free to comment or email me when you see that I am either not reporting my weight or I am gaining weight.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Is a Very Special Day

I liked the movie Chariots of Fire. One main character, who played the real-life missionary Eric Liddell, was a phenomenal runner. He was entered into a race held on a Sunday. He did not run in it because he held the day with a special honor. I liked his sentiment but disagreed with his premise. Sunday is a very special day but not one which prohibits physical exercise.

I ride my bicycle to church every Sunday (unless providentially hindered by the weather). I do not see myself as "working" on Sunday because of this physical exercise. The ride lets me think through my sermon. It prepares my heart for corporate worship. It relaxes me.

Sunday is a very special day. I arrive at the church a couple of hours before the first worship service. I pray and work on the things necessary for the worship. I anticipate what will happen. I ask God for lives to be changed. I ask for my soul to right before Him.

I am not a great singer but I like to sing with other believers. Worshiping together does something that doesn't happen when I do so alone. There is a synergy created that does more than simply add up. I know the presence of God in a different way than when I worship alone. I see Him in other people.

I always ask God for good weather on Sunday. Good weather allows me to ride my bicycle. It encourages people to come join me in worship. Worship synergy is enhanced by the excitement of a full sanctuary. Other Christians are encouraged through this. I realize that sometimes worship is encouraging others. I can't do that if I am not in worship.

I don't believe that you must wear a coat and tie to worship. I don't even believe that you must wear your best. I believe you should respect the One you have come to worship. I would never reject anyone for shabby dress but I believe that you should show respect. I don't think any of us would wear shabby clothing to see the President. Why would we do so to see God Almighty?

The songs chosen in worship are not all my favorites. However, I know they do express the heart of worship. I sing each one whether I like it or not. This is not about me anyway. It is about the body of believers worshiping our Lord.

This is Sunday morning. I am still getting prepared to worship. I have a Special Guest coming today. I pray that He is pleased with me. I pray we give Him worship. I pray He works within the worship.

Sunday is a very special day.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Can Christians Expect God to Answer Prayer?

You have probably heard people ask for prayers for safety on a journey they are about to take. Often the journey doesn't seem that arduous. It is more than across town but less than traveling to a war zone. The group nods and someone may even voice this as a prayer. Will it do any good?

The natural reaction to this prayer is that everything will be okay even if the prayer is not offered. People make journeys to other countries without any prayers issued with no incidences every day. We cannot judge from the safety of this person's trip whether or not prayer made any difference at all.

There will be those whom we have prayed to live who will die. There will be those whom we pray for healing who will be healed. The family of the former will thank everyone for their prayers just as the family of the latter gives its thanks. Would events have been the same if no prayers were issued?

Prayer is a matter of faith. Faith believes when there is no evidence other than God's word. Many times prayers are issued without a direct word from God. The person praying does so simply because this is a concern. There is a desired outcome but not a word from God on what that outcome will be. The result becomes God's answer. It is therefore God's communication to them. He says, "No," by letting the loved one die.

There are other times when it is a totally different story. God speaks to you as you pray. You know that He will answer the prayer just as you have asked because of this "word" He has given you. You continue to pray because this is an act of faith and your prayers are more confident even if the circumstances appear negative.

Prayer is not merely people talking to God. It is also God talking to people. It is a sweet communion between Father and child. The child trusts that the Father will answer with love, knowledge and power. The best possible solution is fully expected.

Many people stop praying when there is no apparent answer. God is not obligated to answer on our timescale. He does so when it is right. He develops faith and perseverance during these times. He shows that He is still in control even when it appears that "all hell has broken lose."

The key to answered prayer is perseverance, patience and praying with His glory in mind. We continue to pray as an act of true faith. There is no fast food faith. Waiting for an answer is an act of humility. It says that we can't do this for ourselves and depend upon our Father to respond when He knows it is the right time. His glory is always the result of answered prayer. We should put ourselves in a position to give Him glory.

Prayer is not a bell to ring which starts and stops meetings at church. It is at the very core of our faith.

Yes, we can expect God to answer prayer, though not always like we want.

We can expect God to answer prayer always like we need.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Do Christians Have Anything to Say?

I am afraid Christians have been characterized as hypocritical self righteous blowhards who tell the rest of the world how to act with very hateful speech. The world thinks we don't love them so they cannot understand how we can speak of a God that loves them.

Most people like what they know about Jesus. It is Christians which keep them from knowing who He really is.

The really sad story is that we have something so incredible to say but we are saying it so poorly that no one is listening to us. I believe that we need to say things in a very different manner.

You cannot tell people about love without showing love. This makes no sense to the world. How can we tell the world about love in a hateful manner? It is like making a horrible face while you telling people how good something tastes. They look at what we are doing and don't believe we have a message of love. If we know love, we will show it. Love on people and earn the right to say something.

You cannot tell people about forgiveness and act like you don't have it. This means that we have to forgive others and know that we are forgiven. So many Christians are living a life of penance rather than forgiveness. They are compelled to act like a Christian only because they want to be approved by God because of their actions. They do not live out their own forgiveness nor do they give it to others. Some churches are not known for their forgiveness but for their gossip and condemnation. We must be a people of forgiveness.

You cannot tell people about grace and give no grace. We often point out sinfulness before we exhibit any grace. I once had two deacons who visited a couple who were living together. They condemned the couple for doing so. The couple did not need this speech. They needed to know God's grace. We cannot expect people to act like Christians before they become Christians. We must deliver the message of grace by giving grace. If we don't give grace we don't know what grace is for our own salvation came by grace.

You cannot tell others to clean their houses if you haven't cleaned your own. The world looks at the way that the church overlooks its owns sins while saying others are sinful. The church must deal lovingly and with forgiveness with those within the church. A transgression by a pastor is often swept under the carpet when the Bible says that it should be dealt with in the open. A Sunday School teacher is caught in a sin which will hurt his testimony and he is allowed to continue teaching. These actions do not allow us to be genuine. We must always convey forgiveness but we must recognize that trust has been destroyed and those ministries will not be able to function without trust. Trust takes time to rebuild. Forgiveness is given instantly. We must clearly share this privately and publicly.

You cannot tell others about the love of Jesus while you are boycotting their business. There are businesses which are legal but do very harmful things. They promote ideals that we can never agree with but we cannot tell them to act like us before there is a change in their own hearts. Instead of mobilizing for a boycott, what if we made a concerted effort to bombard the business with letters and cards of love? What would happen if a business got thousands of cards and letters saying that we were praying for the people in the business? What if we so loved the people working there without first condemning them? I am afraid we have Christians organizations which exist for the purpose of telling people how bad they are. I, personally, don't have any interest in them.

We cannot say that Jesus died for them if we don't welcome them into our churches. I believe many prostitutes and addicts would show up in our churches if they didn't think that we would condemn them when they came. They are afraid we would talk about them and shun them. They may be right but that has to change. We are all sinners even if some of us have dressed up and learned to talk a different way.

Yes, we have something to say. The message of Jesus is still as vital as it was 2000 years ago. The problem is not in the message but how we say it. Now, we must earn the right to say it. That means that churches must become places of love, forgiveness, grace and truth.

We do not need to say that sin is no longer real. We need to say that Jesus has died for all sins.

Now, go out and give those around you Heaven!