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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Are Results or Obedience More Important for Church Growth?

I am a pastor. I want my church to grow. Should I use any means possible to see it grow? Should I resort to the unethical if it draws people in? I think not!

I have the honor of serving a church that is growing. We are growing with young families. They are a true joy to me and continue to bring life into our church. I realize that I might act differently if my church wasn't growing. I would want my church to grow so badly that I might resort to the unethical. I hope this isn't true but I realize that it just might be. I am not immune to sin. If you don't believe me you can ask my wife.

I have seen churches and their pastors use unethical means to grow their churches. They have decided to steal members from other churches. They have used gimmicks to get people to come. They have literally told lies about what will happen in church so that people will come. They have given large sums of money as a prize for some lucky people who arrive to get people to come. These churches are growing but they should not say it is because of the presence of God.

A few weeks ago I went to one of my daughters' church. Her pastor said that they were consciously not using some of the church growth methods to grow the church because they believed it was God who would grow the church. I couldn't agree with him more. I believe that churches and their pastors have run from seminar to seminar to learn how to grow their churches when the most important action is complete obedience to God. Anything else puts the church on a shaky foundation. It is like a shifting sand that will go the way of the wind. The beliefs will change and the one who is worshiped will change.

Fundamentally, we must believe that this is God's church. It is His to grow. It is His to shape. It is His- not the pastor's or the people's. He wants His church to grow. He wants His people to be His people.

God could have taken His people into the Promised Land years before He did. He needed them to learn obedience before they could possess the land. He allowed them to wander until they learned that obedience. He allowed those who were so ingrained with the ways of Egypt to die before He led them in to the Promised Land. Obedience is always more important than the results.

The question churches should be asking is: "Are we obedient?" Yes, church growth is important but not without obedience. The question becomes: "Lord, what are you teaching us?" if the church has gotten on its face in prayer and can honestly say that it is obedient.

I believe that a church will be grown by God if the church is obedient to His word and all other leadings He is giving the church. The Lord is preparing you for His growth if you can say your church is completely obedient and you are not yet growing. Be patient, God wants His church to grow even more than you do.

Can you say that your church is obedient?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Facing the Impossible

Have you ever had a situation in which had no good solution? You knew you did not have the strength or financial resources or intelligence or manpower or whatever you needed to work out tht problem. You could see nothing but failure in front of you. What do you do?

There is only one thing in life that is final. It is death. You can come out on the other side of this terrible situation if it does not result in death. You can file bankruptcy. You find another job. You can even make your way through a terrible divorce. The situation is not impossible. It is just something that you really don't want to go through. Quit looking at this as an impossible situation.

Really pray about the situation. Most people say they do this but it is half-hearted. If the situation is that important you will fast and pray. Fasting without prayer is just going hungry. Fasting with prayer is a very powerful force. Fasting does not make God do anything. Fasting makes you remember to pray. It focuses your prayers on God's will and His solution for your situation.

A normal fast is to drink fruit juices but eat no solid food. Do not fast if you have a medical condition which fasting will you harm. God does not want you harming yourself. You can choose to fast something that does not involve food but takes your time.

Commit to praying about this until you receive an answer from God. Either it was not that serious a situation or you aren't really depending on God for an answer if you stop before you get your answer. You will not need to continue to fast after God answers.

God may give you a message before you get relief. Sometimes God assures you that He will take care of your problem. He may do this speaking directly to your spirit of He may use someone who will come to you with this answer. Regardless, you must discern whether or not it is from God. Fasting will help you do so. It clears your mind to focus on God's will.

Sometimes God simply works out your situation. It either becomes less important or it is completely solved. You may not see God's handiwork until after the crisis has passed. Looking backward is always a good way to see where God has been working. We should have some confidence in His omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence when we have seen Him work. The problem before you is no stretch of God's attributes. He is not worried about the end.

Do whatever God leads you to do. How can you expect His solution if you won't follow His leading? The best place you can be is in the middle of His will.

There is also a good ending if your impossible situation is a terminal illness. You will go to be with Him if He chooses not to heal you. How bad could that be?

I am sure that those in heaven do not look at impossible situations like we do. They simply see them as opportunities for God's work to be seen. The sooner we come to that conclusion; the better.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Answer to The Madness of This World

Morality is being redefined every day. It is becoming normal for a marriage to fail. A vast majority of churches are shrinking. Corruption seems to be the norm for business and politics. Laws are being passed that support this paradigm. Our heroes are unscrupulous celebrities whose benevolent actions are publicized while their immorality is forgotten. The world has gone nuts.

Here is a rule of physics that should not be lost when considering what we should do about our world: An object shall stay in motion unless acted upon by an equal and opposite force. In other words, we must do something or things are going to continue in this direction.

The politicians tell us that the answer is for churches to get involved in politics. They claim things would get better if we would tell our people who to vote for. Can you tell me if one party has a corner or morality? The news seems to indicate that both parties are just as likely to take bribes,be unfaithful to their spouses and use government money for personal activity. I don't think this is the answer.

Parachurch groups tell us that the world will continue to go this direction until we start protesting and boycotting. They tell us to stay away from a certain company and they will feel the pressure and see the light. These groups claim victory whenever a company changes their policies. It looks to me that these protests and boycotts grabbed more attention for these companies and helped them more than hurt. Christians protested "The Last Temptation of Christ" and the movie made millions because of the publicity it got. It didn't matter that the movie was a stinker from the get-go. The publicity that Christians gave it sent it into the black. Boycotting and protesting are not the answer.

The answer is closer to home. We Christians are not acting like Christians. The world doesn't know there is something better. We have become incredible hypocrites and the world knows it. We have depended on our own power and this is not strong enough to overcome the world. We have hidden in our churches and become the "nuts" to the world. We have not lived out our faith in a loving way. They see us as a bunch of people who want to force others into a way of living.

The answer is close to home. We must be genuine, authentic believers who love the world like God does. He does not love the things in the world. He loves the people of the world. He has given His greatest sacrifice so that the world would know that He loves them. This means we must also make sacrifices rather than protests. We should see the vision of reaching a world we can take with us rather than molding a world we are going to leave behind.

We do not have the right to bicker in our churches while the world is lost. We do not have the privilege to wander from church to church to have our needs met when the world is going to hell. We are not owed the right to have our needs met first. We are called to join others who will worship our Lord, grow in Christ and go serve until the whole world comes to know our Savior. We must focus on surrendering all that we are or have to become disciples of Jesus. We must become a people that are so radically and positively different from the world that the world notices. Our marriages must be solid and exciting. Our joy must be evident to all. We should avoid every appearance of evil.

The answer the madness of the world is found in our own relationship to Christ. The madness will end when our own madness ends.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

When Someone Will Not Forgive You

The lack of forgiveness is very painful if you have asked for that forgiveness. God always gives it to us. Other people are not so accomodating. Some people will not forgive you. It is a volitional decision on their part.

One Sunday morning I forgot a tragedy that had happened in a family's life. I had been pastor of that church for about six months and was still learning the names of the members. Most pastors are better at making their members believe they can remember all of their members names than I am. I greeted this family but said nothing about their tragedy.

The next week I was confronted by a member of this family before the first worship service. I was essentially accused of not caring about people. I blew up when I believed my character was being assassinated. I should have just taken my lumps and gone on. I should have taken into account their loss. I was clearly in the wrong.

I went to the home of the family to apologize. They never forgave me even though they said the right words. They called the church each time they had a physical problem to let it known that they did not want me visiting them in the hospital. I was not received when I went to the home to pray for them over an illness. I was met in the yard and reminded of my transgressions. I was essentially told that there was nothing that I could ever do that would result in forgiveness.

Not everyone is going to forgive you when you do something wrong. It would seem that the people in the church would be the first to forgive but sometimes they become the last.

Here is how I believe you should act when someone will not forgive you after you have asked for their forgiveness. By the way, asking for forgiveness does not include pointing out the other person's faults. It is taking full responsibility for your actions.

Take into account that the pain you have inflicted on this person may have caused them to refuse forgiving you. It is hard to forgive when you still hurt. Give the person some time. Keep hoping that he will allow forgiveness into his heart when the pain subsides.

Don't expect forgiveness if you are still committing the offense. Offended people have good reason to continue the hostility if you do so. The first step of reconciliation must be the discontinuation of the offensive action. You can't build trust while you are violating it. Duh!

A person who won't forgive you has made you their enemy. This does not necessarily mean that he is constantly fighting with you but that he refuses to be reconciled. He refuses to give forgiveness and work toward rebuilding the relationship. The purpose of war is not to continue hostility. The purpose of war is peace. You are at war with someone who will not grant peace.

Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. His attitude is to pray for good things in their lives. Pray that they have good health, are financially blessed and are happy in their lives. Don't pray self-serving prayers which will cause them to need you. This is the substance of television programs but not the way true Christianity should be lived. If you pray for them to be blessed you will not take up the offense they are giving you by not forgiving.

The Bible says that God will not forgive the person that will not forgive. This means that the unforgiving person may not be a believer. You should treat this person in that manner. This means he doesn't need to be rebuked. He needs Jesus.

Jesus told us that we would know who a person really is by what his life produces. The lack of forgiveness means that the forgiveness that Christ has given them has not taken root. It has not grown the tree of forgiveness which bears forgiveness. The lack of this characteristic is an indication that the person needs Christ. Pray for this person's salvation. He has no basis of granting forgiveness if he is not saved for he does not understand the payment of Christ for all our sins.

He is God's responsibility if he is saved.He is rejecting Jesus' blood as the basis of forgiving you if he is saved. God does not look favorably upon this. Give this person over to God to work on. He will have no peace if he is a Christian and disobeys God's command to forgive others.

You cannot make a person forgive you. However, you can keep that lack of forgiveness from making you bitter. Remember that you are already forgiven because of the blood of Jesus. He covered your sin forever on the Cross.

Lastly, keep praying, keep hoping and keep your eyes on Jesus.

(Please note that I have a new blog written March 8, 2010 which may also help you. It is called, "When Someone Won't Trust You")

Friday, June 26, 2009

Are You Prepared for the Last Day of Your Life?

Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett both died yesterday. The news channels kept telling the same stories of Michael Jackson over and over. Farrah's death was reported sparingly. Michael Jackson's passing was a surprise. Farrah Fawcett's was expected.

We will die. That is one of the facts of life that we really spend very little time thinking about. We shrug our shoulders and ask ourselves, "Why should I worry? I can't do anything about it anyway. Besides, it won't happen today." That is true every day but one.

I do not know much about either of these celebrities. I was not a fan so I did not follow their lives. I don't feel the sense of loss that others do. They were two famous people who died. However, I hope they were ready for yesterday.

Children are prepared for birth from the moment of conception. All that happens prepares them to go into the world and be able to function apart from the world they have known inside their mothers. The day proves whether or not they were ready. They can't go back and do it over if they are not prepared.

We should be prepared to pass through death in the same way. We should be preparing to enter the afterlife from the moment we enter the this world. The lack of preparation will be evident on the day we pass from this world. We can't go back and do it over if we are not prepared.

All of us have done good things and bad things. Many of us think that there is some great balance scale which will indicate whether we have done enough good things to get to heaven. This is the "cover up" method of salvation. It is like driving your car backward to remove the miles. It may look good on the outside but the damage the miles have done are still there. You can't do enough good things to erase any bad thing. Being unfaithful to your spouse one day a week isn't balanced by total faithfulness every other day. The damage is done. You can't cover it up with good things.

Good things do have value. We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to have our good and bad things weighed. We will be rewarded for those good things.

However, it won't matter if we haven't taken care of the bad things. They must be removed from our records. They must be paid for.

The most important event in history happened 2000 years ago. God's Son came to die. That was the payment demanded for all of our sins. Those who trust in Jesus will have eternal life.

I did not know what that meant when I first heard it. I knew I was lost. I knew I had no contact with God. I knew that I carried my sins with me everywhere I went. I somehow knew that I needed Jesus in my life. I asked Him to give me a new life. He did.

That's not all that you must do to prepare for the afterlife. I know He continues to work in me. I am still being prepared. I will be until that day when I am ushered into the next life.

I don't know Michael Jackson or Farrah Fawcett. I hope that they were prepared for yesterday. I know they can't go back and make things right if they weren't.

I can't do anything for anyone who has already come to the last day of his life. I wish I could. I can only urge those who are still alive to get prepared for the next life.

Are you prepared?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Characteristics of a True Believer

Two guys introduced themselves and asked if they could come into my dorm room. I agreed and they began to ask me a set of questions. (You can always tell when people have a script they are following unless they are really good actors.)

They told me about God and asked me if I wanted to go to Hell. (This, to me, sounds like a trick question. Do you know anyone who wants to go to Hell?) They told me that I could go to Heaven if I merely gave my heart to Jesus.

I thought, "I can spend an hour arguing with these guys or I can just comply and they'll leave." I got on my knees with them. I repeated what they told me to repeat. They soon left. I never saw them again.

I really did give my life to Christ months later but without anyone else around. It changed my life forever. However, repeating words did nothing for me when it wasn't coming from my heart.
I wondered how many people think they are believers just because they have followed the religious plan of saying certain words, walking down an aisle, or going through any set of religious activity that supposedly makes you a believer.

I know I said the right words but I was just as lost as I had ever been.

So, how do I know it "took" months later? What makes one action valid and the other false? The answer is simple: Its in the heart.

A true believer receives God's gift of life. I'm not talking about merely physical life but a spiritual life that comes alive. God communicates to us through our spirit. It was unable to respond to Him before we become believers. God makes our spirits alive and He communicates to us through them. A person who has never had any communication with God should wonder why that is so. God is speaking to us.

A true believer gives forgiveness. How can a believer hold offenses up to others when he or she realizes God's gift of forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. Jesus died to pay for those wages even though He never sinned. He died for me so that I would be forgiven. All of my forgiveness of others is based upon what He has done. He paid for all sins; how can I demand payment of something that has been paid for?

A true believer loves. God has loved us so much that His love, now realized, comes through a believer. We love because He loves us. Jesus said it is the defining characteristic of those who are His disciples.

A true believer is far from perfect. True believers know that we still have sins. We know that forgiveness is available. It is one of the reasons we are able to give grace. We know that God picks us us up when we fall down. We know that confession is good for us.

A true believer doesn't look for the faults in others. Looking for others' faults is just a smoke screen to cover your own faults. Some people think they can run down the street yelling, "Fire!" and pointing at others houses so that no one will notice that their own house is own fire. True believers call the fire department to their own house first.

A true believer seeks to please God. He communicates with us and we obey. We fear Him but not because He is unpredictable. We fear disappointing Him. It is the act of one who loves another. We love God too. We know His grace but we also fear the disappointment our disobedience brings. We seek to please God because we love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.

A true believer is changed. God did not save us so that we would remain the same people. He saved us so that we would become like His Son. He continues to work on us until we are taken home to be with Him. A true believer knows God is not finished with him yet. He also knows there is a difference in his life since he became a true believer.

Some days I bask in the presence of God and thank Him for working in my life. I thank Him for changing me. Other days, I do things that I shouldn't. I say things I wish I hadn't said. I treat people in ways I shouldn't have treated them. No one would be able to tell if I was a true believer. It is these days that God reaches out to correct who I am. He makes the adjustments to my life. I fall under conviction. I return once again to the life of a true believer.

I am not a true believer because of what I have done. He works in me. That came because I asked Him to take my life. I asked Him to come into my life. I asked Him in because He gave me the faith to do so. I can't even take credit for giving my life to Him.

I am being changed by Him.

Ultimately that is what gives you the characteristics of a true believer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

God Never Shows Up Late

Have you ever said something like, "God, if you don't help me by 5 PM Wednesday, my whole world will end. You just can't be late on this one!" Then, the time comes and goes without any intervention from God. Your world didn't end. So you say, "OK God, if you don't help me by . . . ."

Has it ever occurred to you that God doesn't carry a watch? He never wonders what time it is. He never hesitates in what He should do. He never counsels with others to weigh His decisions. He knows when He should act and when He should remain silent or give encouragement instead or act in any other way other than the way you have told Him He must act. We don't call Him God for nothing, do we?

I have often though that I was being faithful and following Him with all my might and deserved some extra help from Him to get through a tough time when He would have nothing of my demands. He made me go through much more than I thought I was capable and carried me when I couldn't take another step.

I often think worrying will help. I must think it will help or I wouldn't do so much of it. I worry that God will not arrive in time- something that He has never failed to do before. I worry that He isn't aware of my situation- something that has absolutely no basis. I worry that He can't fix my problem- something that is purely impossible for He can do all things. I worry that He won't come to help me- something that will never happen. He always comes to help- just not in the way I have told Him to.

Sometimes it isn't about me at all. Sometimes its about the people around me. They may need to see true faith that perseveres through tough times. My circumstances may be tied into theirs. God may be teaching others something and I may be a part of it. Remember, Moses had to walk along with the rest of the people for forty years even though he hadn't been a part of the rebellion. God used him to form a people through the lessons learned in the wilderness.

Yet, God does show up. It is always at the very moment that He must. He does not show up a moment too soon. In fact, He seems to miss a lot of opportunities to show up early. He allows the circumstance to reach its maximum benefit. He brings my universe back from chaos. He puts order back into everything.

And I praise Him again.

Until the next problem arises.

Then, I think worrying will help.

When will I learn?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Should Christians Borrow Money?

The scriptures are replete with warnings about borrowing money. "The borrower becomes the slave of the lender," especially comes to mind. However, all borrowing is not counted as evil.

Most people must borrow in order to buy a house. A house was considered an investment until recently. You could always count on making more money than you would pay in interest on your house. That may not be the case today. Today, it might be wiser to rent.

Many people borrow to buy a car. That may or not be a wise decision. You need a car for transportation to work. You don't need the most expensive sports car to get there. You may be able to buy a used car that will give you adequate transportation.

Some people think they must have a reliable car for everyday use. This is true for getting back and forth to work but they also get one that they can take their family on vacation. Never buy for the special occasions. It is better to rent a vehicle for the long trip than to have your own personal car. If you car breaks down you are fully responsible. It can ruin your whole vacation. If your rental breaks down, you simply make a phone call and they send you another vehicle. Think about it before you borrow the money for something that you don't need but a few times a year.

Credit cards are not always a bad thing. I only use credit cards that pay me. I get airline mileage or money back or I don't use them. I pay them off in full each month so that I do not pay any interest. I continue to search for the best payoff and change credit cards so that I always get the best deal. I use the credit cards for all my bills so that I accumulate the most mileage or money back. The money I get back from my Discover card allows me to purchase gift cards from area restaurants at a 20% savings. In other words, I buy a $25 gift card for $20. This allows my wife and I to eat out often.

Use credit cards when you already have the money to pay for the item. Use credit cards in the case of an emergency. Pay them off each month and never let the indebtedness creep up on you. Credit cards have a way of biting you bad!

Yes, Christians can borrow. They should do so realizing that they now work for the creditor. My goal is to make my creditor to work for me. I want every dollar borrowed to return more than the principle and interest.

The Bible gives warnings that we must heed. Each Christian and our nation should pay heed to these warnings.

Deuteronomy 15:6 (NIV)
For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

Psalm 37:21 (NIV)
21 The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously;

Proverbs 22:7 (NIV)
7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Texting in Church

If you go to church, you have probably seen the signs telling people to turn off their cell phones during the worship service. You won't find that at my church. I encourage people to use their phones.

Now, I don't encourage them to take calls. (Though they have and should know better!) I do ask them to silence their cell phones. I encourage them to text me or someone else in the congregation or a friend of theirs on the outside. I ask them to give me questions to my sermon which I may answer (if there is enough time) at the end of the service. I encourage them to ask each other questions about the sermon or even repeat a point that I have made to someone. I believe it brings the message to life.

The younger generation is the most multi-tasking group of people ever. They can listen to music, study andIM their friends at the same time. They seldom do only one thing at a time. That is, until they get to church, when we ask them to sit still while we instill. They are bored silly and my preaching is just not good enough to keep them interested.

Our only other avenue of keeping the attention of this generation is multi-sensory-stimulating activity. That is extremely hard to balance. They often get the thrill but lose the message. They notice the special effects but miss the story of the miracle. In other words, if your special effects are too good, they miss what you are trying to say. If your special effects are lame, they think your message is lame.

Therefore, I encourage them to text or to doodle or anything else that won't bother others but will enhance their worship experience. Coping a point on a piece of paper helps a person focus and remember the message even if he never reads that point again. Texting someone else about it helps them understand and apply the point. Even asking a question about what is being said helps.

Currently only a few people text me during the sermon. I wondered if encouraging them to text actually took all the fun out of it. Some save the number and text me during the week. It has been a great way for me to minister to people.

I believe the Holy Spirit can speak to people in ways that I never can. I believe that He can take one of my sermons without any stimulation from me and change lives. I also think that God told us to be wise when we give our messages. This means we must think of ways we can convey them so that people will listen and remember.

Turn off your cell phones if you church has the policy that they should be turned off. I believe it is disrespectful to disobey their request. However, if you ever come to mine, turn on your cell phones. I would really like to know what you are thinking and I think God can use that text to tell you something that I never could.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Message to Fathers

Today I will preach a message to fathers. It is expected since it is Father's Day. I choose the passage of the Prodigal Son. Of course, the father in this story represents God. He gives the best example for fathers to follow. My points in a nutshell are:

1. A Father's Heart Should Be Vulnerable. The son asked for his father's inheritance while the father was still alive. The son only saw his father as a means to the end.
2. A Father's Heart Should Be Fair. He divided the inheritance between both sons even though the older one had not asked him to.
3. A Father's Heart Should be Freeing. The son left. The father had to know that was coming.
4. A Father's Heart Should be Hoping. He kept waiting and looking for his son to come home.
5. A Father's Heart Should be Forgiving. The son kept trying to ask for forgiveness but the father had already forgiven.
6. A Father's Heart Should Be Restoring. The father calls for the robe, ring and sandals. He restores him as a son.
7. A Father's Heart Should be Giving. The father owed nothing to the son since the son had already taken his inheritance. All the son could now receive were gifts.

God has given us the traits to be good fathers. You might want to send a copy of this to your dad if he was this type of man. It will be a good way to tell him what a good dad he is. He has the heart of a father.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

You Can't Do It All

Someone calls you from the church. They say, "Hi, my name is Carol Johanenson at the Church of the Rock that Doesn't Roll. The committee I serve on, the 'Get Breathing People to Serve' Committee, thought you would be perfect to work with our Seventh Grade boys. You know, the ones that tore down the Family Life Center? Well, we thought you would be great. We have already asked everyone else we know so you are our final hope. Besides, if they don't get a good Christian influence in their lives soon . . . well, you can just imagine what will happen to those boys. So, can I put you down for a 'yes'?"

Yes, you can imagine what those boys will turn into if they don't get a Christian influence. Yes, you realize that if they are calling you that they are really at the end of their list. But, no, you are neither gifted nor called to work in this area. You must decline if you want to give a godly answer.

Every real need is already met by God's people. He has already called someone who will fill every position. This means that either the committee hasn't listened to God and has failed to ask this person or this person is disobedient to God's will and has declined. Two people will be disobedient to God's calling if you commit to this responsibility and you know you are not the one God has prepared.

God gave gifts to His Church so that the members would need each other. He didn't call an elite force that can do everything. Often churches make the mistake in thinking that the pastor is gifted to do it all. They want an excellent preacher, administrator, counselor and pastor. He may not be so gifted and the church should recognize this when they call staff. He can't do it all any more than any other person in the church.

One of the great faults of the Church is putting people in positions they are not qualified for and then leaving them there until their inadequacies become a crisis. It creates an atmosphere for failure. People are less likely to agree to something they may be called into after having such a bad experience.

On the other hand, a negative answer should never be given without going to God first. Each person should say, "God, do you want me to do this?" Your ability will not matter. God will give you the gifts necessary to accomplish any task He has called you to. Remember, Moses didn't think he could do what God wanted him to do either but God's calling enabled Moses to do what Moses considered impossible.

Sometimes a negative answer is the godly answer. However, remember that God is calling you to something. You cannot be in God's will and never serve Him.

You need to know what He hasn't and has called you to. So, what is it?

Friday, June 19, 2009

What Should You Do for Father's Day?

I ask people what they are going to do for Mother's Day and I get an answer of elaborate plans. They will take their mothers out to eat, call their mothers if they can't be there in person, have a card already in the mail, send their mother flowers and have a gift already purchased and ready for the big day.

I ask people what they are going to do for Father's Day and they say, "When is that?" It seems that they don't know Father's Day comes around every year, too.

Truthfully, it is always hard to know what to do for Father's Day. We rush out and buy him a shirt and tie or some new gadget tool. We know he really needs neither of these but we feel we have to do something.

When you were younger, you made him something in Sunday School. In my day we made ash trays even if our fathers didn't smoke.( Hey, it was the thought that counted!) We were told what to do and Father's Day was easy. But then we got older and the responsibility became our own . . . .

I am now a dad with grown children. May I give you a dad's perspective of what I would like for Father's Day?

Father's Day should be a day that you honor your dad. It isn't about how good he was at being a father. He didn't have a manual that was given to all good fathers. He made some mistakes. He committed some sins. He needs to be honored- not chastised for what he did wrong. Forgive your dad of the times he was away and you felt you needed him. He was probably at work trying very hard to provide for you. He may have spent his time better but his heart was probably thinking of you.

Most fathers don't care about the gifts they will receive. They like what the gift represents, though. They know it means you are thinking about them. You are honoring them with this gift.

Don't try to relieve your guilt for neglecting your father with an elaborate gift. He would rather have had a few phone calls during the year than any gift. If you truly want to honor your dad, make a promise to yourself that you will honor him all year long.

Tell your dad you love him even if he can't say the words back to you. Many men have a hard time saying those words. Maybe they thought it made them weak at one time. Maybe they have a hard time with their emotions. It doesn't matter what the reason is. Just tell him that you love him. He wants to hear those words.

Thank your dad for something he did for you. It may be that he was the major wage earner in the family, it may be a special gift he gave you or it may be the character he instilled in your own life. Thanking dad makes him know his life was worth something.

When you honor your earthly father you obey and honor your Heavenly Father.

The scripture says, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Does a Christian Parent Do When a Child Leaves the Faith?

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat with parents whose child has left his Christian walk. Sometimes they become non-religious and sometimes they adopt another religion. In either case the parents are devastated.

The parents wonder what they did to make their child leave. They long deeply to see their child back in church. They know that the severance of their faith is a serious separation. They will no longer have spiritual conversations as long as the child is away from his faith. They do not have the same relationship with their child as they once did.

The parents realize that many bad decisions are being made while the child is away from the faith. They don't want their children hurt. They want their children to have the joy of the Lord.

I have this advice. It comes through years of speaking with parents and even seeing victory when the children finally come home.

Parents, make sure that your children do not think that your love for them is contingent upon their attendance in church. This will only make the child resent church. Truthfully, the problem isn't church attendance anyway. It is concerning their relationship with Jesus. This is a much deeper relationship than merely attending church.

Pray for your children. This is not something you should start when they leave the faith. It should be something that every parent knows must be done each day of the child's life. God can bring your child closer to Him better than you can. Get on your knees and ask Him to.

Keep the porch light on. Years ago parents would leave the porch light on when their children went on dates. It would provide the light necessary to get back into the house. The last person in would turn off the light. Make sure that your child knows that he or she can come home any time. The porch light may not literally be on but the child will know he or she can come home.

Forgive your child for the pain he or she has caused you. Resentment will drive your child further away. You should realize that forgiveness is the only answer for you. You forgive before the child comes home. It will make it easier for them to believe in your love.

Show your faith clearly. This is not about church attendance. It is the way you act toward others. It is how you say good things and don't gossip about others. It is how you have true joy in your own heart because of the Lord's workings in your own life. The best way to show your faith is to be fully committed to the Lord.

Stand your ground with love. This will mean that you love your child but will not participate in ungodly activities. You don't let your son spend the night with a girl he brings home. You don't permit smoking marijuana in your home. Your child will know your faith doesn't mean much if you are willing to violate it in your own home.

Lastly, never lose hope. God is still a great God. He can do things no one else can do. He can move mountains. Your mountain may be a child who has strayed. He is greater than this problem. Trust Him to work when nothing else is working.

I hope this helps someone who has a child who is away from the Christian faith. Remember that God loves your child even more than you. Hold on to that thought and take one day at the time. God delivers when nothing else can.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Has Worship Become a Big Show?

Darkness suddenly fills the room. A hush comes over the crowd. The only sounds are whispers of anticipation and the smoke machine. Abruptly spot lights fill the room. Music from a live band plays loudly while three guys prance across the platform; one from the left, one from the middle and the last coming from the right. The meet together and look at each other as they sing. They appear to play around with each other by bumping back and forth. They change places from right to left to middle. The song finishes, the crowd erupts and another song begins.

Is this a rock concert? No, it is the late morning worship service at the Church of the Brothers and Sisters of a Good God. Their preacher is an equally good showman. He will do cartwheels, jump high assisted by bungee cords and use every gimmick at his disposal to keep the congregation excited. He tells sensational stories and makes the congregation get up and sit down so many times during his sermon that they are more tired than he by the end.

Don't get me wrong: I don't see any value in a boring worship service. However, I believe we must be very careful that our attempts to lead in worship doesn't turn into pure entertainment. Jesus said that our worship should be in spirit and in truth. Entertainment is neither.

Worship should result in people praising God- not those who have led in the worship. So many people are following these acts across the country that it makes me believe they are worshiping the ones leading.

Worship should call us to a greater commitment to God. Entertainment may make us glad we came but we basically walk out the same person as we were when we walked in. The person walks out and has made no commitment to bring others to Christ, tithe, spend time in the Scriptures or do something about the terrible relationship they have with a former friend. They are unchanged.

Worship should bring us into God's presence. Humility is the result of someone coming into His presence. People who worship defer to God's will in their lives and seek to follow Him in their everyday lives. Entertainment may leave an afterglow but it always demands more. The show must get greater if they are going to continue to attend. Humility makes it about God- not about whether it is good enough for their presence.

Worship should bring change our hearts. This goes beyond commitment. Worship changes who we are. We are no longer people who are oppressed by our sins. We have not only been forgiven but we become victorious over these sins.

The Bible said there would be a day when people would want their ears tickled. Is this because they do not care what God wants?

I believe worship should draw attention to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe it should contain a message from God's written word, the Bible. I believe it should bring people to Christ. I believe it should be convicting, encouraging, instructive and corrective. I believe it isn't about the preacher or the musicians. I believe true worship pleases God.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Five Easy Ways to Miss Jesus

The Old Testament had prophecy after prophecy detailing the coming Messiah. However, most of the people missed Him. He was right in front of them and they did not recognize Him.

Jesus is right in front of us too. We may not be able to see Him physically but we will miss His workings in the world around us. The same reasons the New Testament people missed Jesus will apply to us. See if you agree.

You can miss Jesus by being too religious. The religious leaders believed that they would get God's favor by keeping His Law. They carefully followed the Law where it was specific and when it wasn't they increased the demands of the Law upon the people.

However, Jesus did not fit in with their understanding. He did not keep the Law as they said it must be kept. He did not give them the favor they thought they deserved, so they rejected Him as the Messiah.

We can miss Jesus by being too religious. We can condemn someone for their sins and not remember to extend grace. We can someone coming to our churches because they don't wear the appropriate clothing. We can shun people because they don't use the correct religious speech. Jesus told us that when we did things to the least we were doing it to Him. It's easy to miss Jesus by being too religious.

We can miss Jesus by looking focusing on our careers. Pontius Pilate had climbed halfway up the political ladder. He saw no reason to put Jesus to death but it would not look good to Rome if he had a riot. He couldn't afford to have more troops called in to squelch an unrising. He took the most expedient route of having Jesus crucified. He even tried to wash his hands of the whole matter but he is known as the man who sent Jesus to the cross. He missed Jesus because of his career.

I have seen countless people miss Jesus because of their careers. They work hard to get ahead. They work on Sundays and late nights. They want the boss' approval. They want to climb that ladder. Even speaking of Jesus may keep them from advancement. They miss Jesus because their world is more important than knowing who He is.

Politics can make you miss Jesus. Many people believe that Judas was a zealot. He wanted to see Rome fall and Israel to rise. He joined the disciples because he believed that Jesus might be the right person to bring about this uprising. He missed Jesus because Jesus was not political. He sold Jesus for a thirty pieces of silver.

Many politicians try to use Jesus to help them gain power. They may even think they are doing the right thing by doing so. (I believe Judas started off thinking he was doing the right thing.) They will invoke the name of Christ any time they can see political advantage. They miss Christ because they see Him more as a ladder leaning on the building of their lives rather than the building itself. You can miss Jesus if you try to use Him in your politics.

You can miss Jesus because you are just too busy. Martha complained to Jesus about her sister, Mary, because she was doing all the work while Mary was just sitting at Jesus' feet listening. Many people identify with Martha. How would we ever eat if all the people in the world were Marys? Jesus said that Mary had chosen the best thing.

Busy people are great but they often are found in the church kitchen preparing for the meal to be held after the service. They completely miss the service. They think they have chosen the better path when Jesus would side with the Marys in the service. Would it be so bad if we had to wait for our lunch after the service? The Marthas think it would and miss Jesus.

Peter missed Jesus because he had an expectation of his role of service that Jesus did not accept. He thought that he would defend Jesus when the time came. When Jesus was arrested he took out his sword and started to fight until Jesus told him to stop. Jesus healed the man whose ear was severed. Peter didn't know what to do and ran off. He would later deny he knew Jesus. He missed Jesus though not permanently.

Sometimes people cannot see themselves in service to Jesus in the way He is calling them. They cannot see themselves as Sunday School teachers or deacons or called into the ministry. They do not realize that they are denying Christ when they do not fulfill His calling. They simply miss Jesus because they either can't see themselves in this role or they don't how to follow it.

Don't miss Jesus today. He is right in front of you. Just look and you will see Him.

Monday, June 15, 2009

God's Cure for Discouragement

Bad things happen. They happen to good people and bad people. They come when you expect them. They come when you don't. They come from your enemies. They come from your friends. They come through circumstances. They come through your environment. You can't avoid bad things.

Bad things bring discouragement. The bad thing may be bills that are piling up. It may be problems in your marriage. It may be what your children are doing. Discouragement comes when you are trying so hard and nothing seems to be going right.

Sometimes discouragement comes through criticism. This may be overlooked as a bad thing. Sometimes you need to be told you are going the wrong direction but at other times you may have your dreams smashed by someone who will cut you to the quick. This person says you are ugly or stupid or worthless in some way.

A church where I was serving as a staff member lost its senior pastor. Of course, the church employed someone who would preach until a new pastor could be found. That "interim" pastor had to be out one Sunday and I asked if I could preach in his place. I told the staff I would be preaching that Sunday. Two of the members exclaimed, "Why don't we ever get anybody any good?!" I must admit that I was hurt as badly as have ever been in my life.

I went to my office to sulk. I hurt and didn't want to talk to anyone. I remembered what Jesus said, "In this world you will have tribulation . . ." I was having the worst of my world. I wanted to stop with only those words. In some ways my discouragement gave me comfort. I wanted to wallow in the pain. I had been hit hard and I just wanted to lie still.

However, the rest of what Jesus said was right before me, "but be of good courage for I have overcome the world." I knew that He was still in control and He would not leave me in this condition.

My problem was that I was only looking at the moment I was in. It was very discouraging. It seemed to have no end. This became my definition of discouragement: a bad situation which appears to have no good ending.

God invades our lives so that there is always a good ending for bad situation. He has promised to cause all things to work for our good. He has not promised that bad things won't happen. He takes the bad things and proves to us He is still in control by making good things happen.

Let's say you have been told you have cancer. This can be very discouraging. However, what are the possible ends. God can heal you and you will live longer with your family here on earth. God can take you home and you will live forever with Him. The ultimate ends are good albeit that the chemo, radiation and other treatments may be horrible.

Very dark nights are often crossed to get to the morning. However, be of good courage, God will make the morning!

You may have lost your job, your spouse, your retirement savings, your house, your confidence (if someone has discouraged you in what you would like to do), your health or your hopes for your children. God wants you to know that He is still working. God is working even when you may not be able to see Him work. His love for you keeps Him working.

God says that this will pass. It may seem long. It may seem to be more than you can handle but it is not more than you and He can handle together. He asks you to take His hand. He says you should be encouraged, He has never failed. He will not fail you now.

God's solution is to trust Him. You can do that.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Where Is Your Power?

I got on my bicycle this morning to go to church. I pushed on the pedals, steered the handle bars and headed to church at a nice clip. I thought about this bicycle as I rode. It was created to do just what I was going with it. It sat in my garage all night. It would have sat there all day if I had not started riding. It would still be a bicycle but it would have no strength nor would it fulfill its purpose if I had not taken it for a ride.

I thought about so many Christians whose life are not fulfilling the reason they were created. They do not allow the Lord to power or steer their lives. They are going nowhere. They are doing nothing, just like a bicycle that sits in a garage.

My bicycle cannot resist my will. However, this is not the case of Christians and God's will. We can grieve God by going our own way. We can live as if we don't know Him. We can be unconcerned that our lives are powerless.

Many Christians think their faith is like a comic book hero's secret power ring. They think they can put on the ring when they need the power to do something but remain the meek, mild mannered and reasonable citizen the rest of the time. It simply doesn't work that way. Christ is Lord. He is not just someone to call on in time of need. He is someone to obey and love.

These Christians will have no power when the time comes.

Let's see if we all understand the following Bible verses:

Verse One: I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in Him, the same brings forth much fruit for apart from Me you can do nothing.

Verse Two: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

The first verse says that the person who has made Jesus Lord of his or her life will produce much. It also says that you can do nothing without doing this. The second verse says that there is nothing outside of the reach of one whom Christ gives strength.

I am away from Christ if I am doing nothing. I am powerless when He is not my Lord.

So, where is your power?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Following God's Clear Instructions

Today I tackle replacing the door lock actuator on my 2003 Honda Pilot. The door quit working about ten days ago. The dealership will do it for about $500. The part is $52 and I think I can do it. I downloaded the instructions someone else gave for replacing the actuator and in a few minutes I will begin.

I diagnosed the problem by reading what others had written I read the instructions several times. I know that I can do damage to my vehicle if I don't follow these instructions. I have gone to other sources when one set of instructions seemed vague. I purchased the replacement and I believe I am ready to solve my problem.

I can try to do this without the instructions. I can deviate from the instructions if I think I have found a better way. I might even get the job done anyway. However, what are the odds?

Why doesn't that make sense to us when fixing a car but doesn't make sense when fixing problems in your own personal life. God has given us clear instructions on how we should we live our lives. We will damage things when we violate these instructions. He has given us others we can consult through other scriptures and other believers is we don't understand some of the instructions.

We can put things back together if we would simply study these instructions and follow them. Its a no-brainer. Maybe that's the real problem. We are no-brainers when we try to do it another way. Afterall, hasn't God's way always been the best way?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Will God Supply All Your Needs?

Will God actually provide for all the needs of the believers? Aren't there stories of believers who starved to death? Aren't there stories of believers who were destitute all their lives? Of course there were. So, why do we keep telling ourselves that God will supply all our needs?

Our needs are not what we think they are. Our needs are what God says they are. This means that all things are in His control. He knows all things. He knows what is best.

It is hard for me to understand when God allows someone to starve whether or not he or she is a believer. It seems that God should always rush in and save the day. God does not do so much of the time.

Actually it is more than merely hard for me to understand. It is impossible for me to understand. I have a sense of right and wrong that would destroy God's creation. God knows what is best.

Some times God does not rescue us because we are able to serve Him with a testimony of faith through hard times. We continue to praise Him when others are looking for hope. Our hope is not found in this world nor in the things this world can provide. We look beyond our present condition to our home in heaven. This attitude becomes a witness for those around us. God is glorified by our witness. He rewards us not merely in eternity but throughout eternity.

God takes people out of this world for a reason. He may take a devout believer home to heaven through cancer. The family knows that God could heal but He chooses not to heal. He could meet the need but the loss of the loved one may bring the family together. It may help mature the children. It may keep the lost loved one from doing something that would have hurt his witness. It may have prevented an accident that this lost loved one would have caused. We cannot know why God does this but we must believe that He is an all knowing, powerful and loving God. He does what He does for a reason.

Why does God allow tyrants to deny people their needs? Why does He allow killers to murder innocent people? Why does He allow earthquakes and tornadoes to destroy everything that some people have? All of this will remain a mystery to us. Our faith of believing He is good is challenged when we think we have a better solution than God. He allows people to sin. He has allowed me to do so. He allows the world to take its natural course.

Do you remember the magic eye pictures that once were published in the newspapers? You would bring the picture up close your eyes and slowly move it away. Another picture would appear. I think of this when I see God's acts. Many times I don't understand what He is doing until much later. I look backward and see God's working even when I was going through a hard time. I slowly begin to see another picture. We may not understand why bad things happen to God's people until we are in eternity.

Having said all that, most of the time God does supply our needs just as we need them. He does supply our food and shelter. He does supply the people we need around us. He does bring healing into the world. He does act in loving ways that we understand.

Part of faith is continuing to worship Him without fully understanding what He is doing. We simply do not have the capacity for that understanding. Faith says, "I know who God is. He is my Father who loves me. He will always do what I need. I may not understand. That makes no difference." When I think He is not treating me right I need to go back to the statements: I know who God is. He is the Father who loves me. He will always do what I need.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How Do You Know If You Are Called into the Ministry?

First, let's clear the air. Every Christian is called into the ministry. Your vocation is how you finance that ministry. Luke 14:26 will become much clearer once you accept this.

But I still understand this question. How do you know that God is calling you into a vocational ministry. It will not only provide the funds to support you and your family but also demands the lion's share of your time.

My own story is not one of "surrendering to the ministry." I was quite willing to go into the ministry. I just wanted a clear direction from God. I told God that I needed a "Damascus Road" experience referring to the Apostle Paul's conversion while he traveled to persecute Christians. I was afraid of two things if I didn't have such an experience.

I was afraid that I might not be truly called. A preacher who is not called to preach persecutes Christians every week from the pulpit. The messages cannot be consistently from God because the preacher is not following God's will. He was supposed to do something else with his life. These messages will become a torture to the preacher and the congregation.

I was also afraid that I would quit the ministry when times got tough. Paul spoke of all the things that happened to him, yet he never wavered from his ministry. I believe that was because he had a clear calling. The ministry is the toughest job I have ever had. It contains scads of wonderful people. It has a few that will make your life a living hell. The ministry will put you in tough situations where you don't want to confront someone in sin but know that you must. Many people will misunderstand you and criticize you. It will not come close the number of people who will compliment and love you but for some reason you remember the criticisms a whole lot more. There are days when you would do anything else if you could. The sad truth is that you will do something else if you do not have a clear calling.

I never watched "Survivor" on tv. You can get voted off the island at any business meeting in a Baptist church. Why would you put yourself through all this unless you know you are called by God?

It is God's prerogative to call you. He will make that contact. He will do so through many ways. He will put people in your life that will encourage you to take the steps to go into the ministry. These people may do so in natural or miraculous ways.

I visited a church with a friend while I was in college. He was a part time youth pastor at this church so I also went to the evening service with him. During that service one of the members, a retired pastor, walked up to me and said that God was calling me to preach. Up until that time I had not considered the possibility. It really scared me.

I had the staff of subsequent churches tell me that God was calling me. I waited until I had a real word from God I didn't want to go into the ministry because humanity called me.

I began to teach school. I loved it. I thought that would be my profession forever. I loved my church. My wife and I were very involved. One Sunday I was sitting on the third or fourth row in the church when the pastor asked the question, "What if God had called me into the ministry and that was the last time He would do so and I said, 'No'?" I cannot explain how I knew but I absolutely knew that God was calling me at that moment. It was my "Damascus Road" experience.

The pastor offered an invitation for people to share their commitments to God. I stepped out in the aisle and walked right out of the church. I still didnt' want to be called by an emotional experience. However, the conviction would not go away. I made an appointment with that pastor during the week.

He asked me two questions: Do you enjoy what you are doing now? (I realized that many people go into the ministry because they hate what they are doing. The ministry looks like a great option. ) Can you continue doing it?

You should continue to do what you are doing if you can keep doing it without conviction that you are called into the ministry. God will give you a very clear calling.

Personally, I would hold out for your own "Damascus Road" experience. Mine came when I never expected it. I suspect Paul would tell you the same thing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Have You Dissed Any Dogs Today?

Let's be plain and simple: There are some people that are not worth your time. Even Jesus said they weren't worth your time.

He said that we shouldn't give what is holy to dogs and not cast our pearls before swine. This clearly means we should not spend valuable resources on some people regardless of what you say is holy or is as valuable as pearls.

Every church has someone who takes up more than his fair share of resources without ever really getting back on his feet. He (or she) always has a serious prayer concern or a financial need or a pain that must be corrected. The church comes forward with counseling, money and a listening ear. This person will keep the church from reaching other people.

Obviously, the church and Christians need to help those in need. Neither I nor Jesus was telling Christians to turn a blind eye toward needs. The problem comes when this is person is never helped. This person always has a good excuse why things haven't gotten better. None of his problems are cause by his own volition. Therefore, you must help them because bad things have happened to this good person.

For me, that which is holy is the day I have before me. It is the day that the Lord has made. I have the same number of minutes as everyone. They are like pearls to me. I do not need to waste one of them on any day. When I am spending time with someone who won't be helped I cannot prepare myself for worship. I cannot share the gospel with someone who will be helped. I cannot counsel, encourage or instruct someone who really needs it. I have a responsibility of stewardship for my time.

For some reason I feel often feel guilty when I tell someone I must do something other than talk with them. I even feel guilty when I have an appointment made by someone else. I know I want to give each person the honor due them as one beloved by God. I also know that I cannot cast my pearls before swine. I have a conflict in which is broken by doing what God tells me to do. It is difficult for me.

I'll bet you can name someone right now that has taken an inordinate amount of your time. They have wasted your minutes because they have never been helped by the time you have given them.

It is time to say," I am sorry but I cannot talk with you any longer. I have something that I must do." We say goodbye, turn and leave. Do this enough and they will attach themselves to someone else. They will find that compassionate soul, who like you, will give them an inordinate amount of time.

Do not give what is holy to dogs nor cast your pearls before swine.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Is It the Holy Spirit or Just My Conscience?

Years ago Memorex asked the question, "Is it live or is it Memorex?" The reproductive quality of their tapes made this indistinguishable. It made some of us wonder how much lip-syncing was going on.

The question before many Christians is whether the voice in their heads is their conscience or the Holy Spirit telling them what to do. Some times these are almost indistinguishable.

Webster defines conscience as: "the sense of consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right of be good." Many people would say that this sounds very much like the conviction of the Holy Spirit. On some things your conscience and the Holy Spirit may agree fully. There are several differences, however.

A conscience is a developed morality. There may be a sense of right and wrong that God has given to everyone. This sense of right and wrong may be seared by a constant contradiction by the environment. Thus, a person may accept something that grieves God as good and grieve over things that God counts as good. Their sense of right and wrong exists but it is not the same as God has.

The conscience may forget lessons learned in the past. Thus, we are able to do things that we would clearly say is wrong but do so without recognizing that we are doing them. Many a woman has told me that she knew she shouldn't have an intimate relationship with a man outside of marriage but did so anyway. She became emotional, forgot about her lessons from past relationships and did what she had once said she would never do again. She said she didn't know what she was doing. Her conscience never said this was the wrong thing because it forgot the downfalls of sin.

The conscience is unpredictable. It is built upon the values a person develops. Values are not inherited. Something within the individual accepts certain things as right and wrong. Thus, there is honor among thieves because they have a standard that makes no sense. How can someone say that he can steal from others without being bothered by his conscience while being hounded by his conscience for telling who his accomplices in crime were? He does so because he values being true to those who helped him in crime. He doesn't value the person from whom he stole.

The Holy Spirit reminds us what Jesus has said. His morals are never changing. Stealing or adultery is always a sin. The Holy Spirit convicts. This conviction requires that you move closer or farther away from the Lord. The Spirit longs for fellowship with our spirit and this fellowship ends when we stay in sin.

The Holy Spirit will lead you into things that will challenge your values. He will lead you to accept roles. He will lead you to speak and even speak through you to accomplish the Lord's will. He will have you say things you had never intended. You may even wonder who said what you just said. He will do so through you.

The Holy Spirit will explain God's word to you. He will give you insight. Sometimes He will change your conscience. The conscience which is being developed can change for the better. He will show you through God's word right and wrong. This will be indelibly printed into your being.

The Holy Spirit will empower you to walk through things which seem impossible. The Holy Spirit will calm your spirit when the world is crushing you. He will give you strength to walk through cancer, divorce, financial ruin or any difficulty that faces you.

How can you tell if it is your conscience or the Holy Spirit? They are indistinguishable when your conscience agrees with God's will. There are some questions you can ask yourself that may help you tell the difference:

Is this consistent with God's written word, the Bible? If it isn't, it is not the Holy Spirit.

Is this leading me closer to God? If it doesn't, it is not the Holy Spirit.

Do other strong believers believe this is of God? If they don't, you should re-examine whether this is of God or not.

Does this make me want to be with believers or stay away from them? The Holy Spirit desires fellowship with other believers.

These questions should eventually be unnecessary. Consistently following the Lord will result in recognizing His voice. Then, your conscience will be in full agreement with the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, the Holy Spirit gives glory to the Son. I find my conscience patting me on the back for my virtue.

May the Holy Spirit lead you. May your conscience serve by being in agreement with Him.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Foundation of Our Faith

Do you ask to see the foundation when a friend shows you his new house? I think not. The only time we look carefully at the foundation is when it is being built and when there is something wrong with it. We know the house cannot stand without a strong foundation. The house will fall if that foundation either starts corrupted or is damaged by outside forces.

The foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. Paul would say that he kept building upon that foundation during all of his ministry. Christianity becomes no more than preference when we do not keep that foundation safe from damage. It becomes an act of religion which does not need to invade other areas of life. A person can go to church and claim Christianity but do almost any other sin without thinking much about it.

The foundation tells us of a price that was paid. Death is the ultimate price for any transgression. It is held for the most egregious of crimes. It is carefully weighed before it is exacted upon the individual. Years of possible appeals are given to each person who has received this sentence. It is reluctantly completed. It is the highest price that can be paid.

The wages of sin is death. There is little to debate once the price has been stated. Jesus required a wholehearted devotion for those who would follow Him. The foundation He laid by going to the cross was one of total commitment to us. He said our devotion to Him must exceed that of the devotion we would have to our fathers, mothers, spouse, children and our own lives. He could say that because He was going to the cross. He was giving us the example of the faith we should have.

I am afraid that is not the foundation of Christianity today. People treat their "faith" as a casual preference. Some of the most committed come to church once a week without any thought of Christ until the next Sunday. They believe this is all that is necessary to be a believer. They think this "condition" will preserve their marriages and make their children act right. They do not understand that a halfhearted commitment is really the lack of commitment.

It is like exercising once a week. It does some good but not enough to keep you from gaining weight or dramatically affecting your health. Christ's crucifixion should have told us how serious the matter is. It should have awakened us to realize that we can't expect to be casual about this faith.

Christ's resurrection gives us hope. The darkest time of all history was Jesus' death on the cross. All the hopes of the disciples disappeared with His last words. They thought He had spoken very clearly when He said, "It is finished." It was finished for them. They didn't know what to do.

The resurrection changed everything. His followers become more bold. They understood more about this life than they ever had. They knew that there was more than this world. They devoted their lives to this message. They fully understood the implication of those who would not believe. They knew their own destinations. They had true hope.

Is this the faith of most Christians today? Do they spend time in their Bibles because they know it will bring them closer to the Lord with whom they will spend eternity? Do they see this world as the only one?

People will act like this is the only world without a foundation of the resurrection. They will hold back their tithes. They will not spend as much time worshiping or serving in church if this is the only time they have. They must be frugal with their limited resources. It is careless to give these away if this is the only life there is.

The foundation of our faith is fine. The problem is that people have built their houses on other foundations yet claimed their foundation is upon Christ. Their houses are falling down and they don't know why.

What is the foundation of your faith? It will be revealed by what you are doing with your resources. Take a look at your calendar and bank account. What is your foundation?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

When a Person Says They Don't Believe in Organized Religion

A father and son are driving through Amish Country when they pass one of the locals driving his horse and buggy down the street.

The son turns to his father and says, "Dad, why don't these people drive cars like the rest of us?"

"O, " replies the father, "they don't believe in cars."

"But, Dad, " the boy exclaims, "can't they see them?!"

There are people who claim they don't believe in organized religion. It seems to get them out of all responsibility. This way they can claim to have faith and do nothing about it. We should laugh when they give this as an excuse for not being in church.

The New Testament is full of statements about the church being an organized group of believers. They met together and were admonished for failing to do so. They had patterns of worship described. Acts records the calling of the first deacons so that the church could be more organized. Paul writes to Timothy about the organization of the church. There are qualifications for elders and deacons. The church was clearly a local organization of baptized believers whose purpose was to worship, grow in God's word, pray, encourage and evangelize.

Being a part of a local church was so important that the threat of removal from membership would be a deterrent for continuing in sin. The church is vital to the spiritual life of the believer.

It is clearly not biblical to say that you are a fine Christian but will not be a part of a local church. The evidence is overwhelming that each believer was expected to be involved in a local church.

When a person tells you that they don't believe in organized religion ask them if they believe in the Bible. The Bible doesn't have a place for believers who don't believe in organized religion.

Let's admit it. The real reason someone says that they don't believe in organized religion is because this is a convenient excuse to say that they are spiritual without having anything to back it up. A church puts boundaries around individuals. A church says, "This is what we believe." Your membership indicates it is what you believe. A church is an outlet for true ministry. It is a body of people who will hold you accountable. It is an encouragement when you are down. It is a people who will support you through tough times. It is essential to your Christian growth.

Find a church that believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. It has a pastor who believes in Him and His Word. It has a people who will love you and a people you can love. It has a mission to win the world to Christ. It emphasizes prayer and claims the power of Jesus over anything that can come against you. It worships our Lord.

The next time someone tells you that they don't believe in organized religion, explain the need for church. Tell your own testimony of the local group of God's people you have joined.

And . . .thank God for your church.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Is God's Word Still Valid?

The morals of our society are changing. It was once taboo for a couple to live together before marriage. Now, it is almost expected. Once swearing was considered a sin but now many of the preachers will do so from their pulpits. Should we re-interpret God's Word so that it fits our lifestyle? Is it truly applicable for our lives today?

I have learned that God's word is not for God. He did not make up a bunch of rules because He thought it would be good for our religion. He did not make up the Ten Commandments because He needed a test to see if we were really serious about Him. God gave us His word because it is good for us.

The Bible says that there will be ways that we think or better than His word. They will end in death. They will bring us to ruin. They, however, make more sense to the human mind than His word does. For example, we believe that people in love should fully share themselves with each other. We do not see the importance of commitment before God in this relationship. We, therefore, will live together before marriage or will get married (even in a church) without any thought that we are making a covenant with God in our marriage.

The result is an unstable relationship. It lacks what the man and woman need. There is no security nor admiration for there is neither protection nor appreciation provided. The commitment before God says that you stay together because of your commitment to Him. You remain faithful because of your covenant with Him. The Bible gives the picture of Christ and His Church as the example of husband and wife. Christ will not leave His Church. He will protect her and she will praise Him.

Is this still valid? There are multitudes of people who are dissatisfied with their marriages who are proving that it is. They know that their needs are not being met but because they think they know more than God's word, they keep trying things that violate what God has said is best for us.

Take another example: God's word says we should honor our parents. Is that invalid? After all, aren't they spending our inheritance which could be used much better on the things we want rather than their own health care? Shouldn't we just throw them under the bus and clean out the things they have?

Honoring our parents is best for us. It comes with a promise of long life. It prevents the idea of pitching out the old people because they get in the way. It is an example for succeeding generations to continue to listen to the elders' wisdom. It is a model for our children to watch how we treated our own parents and cared for them. It preserves the honor of a family who holds its ancestors in esteem. It makes your name mean something.

The lack of honoring parents destroys a society. There is no grounding in morals. There is no name to honor. It results in doing what seems right in your own eyes. You can find the failing of a family by going back to the generation that did not honor its parents. Your parents honored their parents by being honorable. They were not good parents if they did not.

Again, is this what is best for us? Yes, emphatically, yes! And this is God's word.

I believe that God's word is valid today. I believe it is what is best for us. We do what it says and our society is much better. We do what it says and our own lives are much better. It is not a bunch of rules that we keep for a uninterested god. It is His care for us. It has been preserved to bring us to Him and do what is best for us.

God's word is timeless in its application. Do what it says no matter what other reasoning you have. Do what it says and you will find your life full.

Friday, June 5, 2009

America: A Nation Sinking Fast

The strength of a nation is not just found in its military. It is not found in its economic strength. It is found in its principles. It is found in faith. It is found in its values.

America seems to have lost its principles, faith and values. We have pushed a burden of debt onto later generations. This is something the Bible would abhor. The Bible says that the son is not responsible for the father's sins. Yet, that seems to be what we are doing.

We have a Whitehouse website that declares this month as Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Month. Do I need to say what the Bible calls this?

We have become so dependent on foreign money that we can no longer speak to them about human rights issues. We bow to the leaders of foreign governments because we say we have acted arrogantly. These foreign governments want us to give them more of this. Their desire to humble us will become insatiable until Americans will not be safe any place in the world.

God's grace continues to amaze me. He has patiently waited for us to return to Him. It appears we are doing just the opposite at this moment. We can still act but the time is short.

I urge anyone reading this, who loves America, to consider carefully what his or her relationship is with God. I implore you to return fully to God; giving your heart totally to Him. I beg you to peacefully but emphatically say that you are not pleased with the direction of this country. I pray that you will write to government leaders and pastors that you desire that they take a stand against the invasion of immorality.

A few years ago I read a book entitled: When Nations Die. The author described ten characteristics of once mighty nations which led to their downfall. America, now, has all ten of them. I believe the time is very short. We may not cease to exist in name but we have ceased to be the America that once said, "In God We Trust."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Bible Is an Open Book

I have heard so many preachers hold up their Bibles and say with apparent passion, "This is the Word of God!" I don't disagree. However, many of them immediately close their Bibles and tell you what they think. I find it ironic that those who would say they are defending the Bible have the least regard for the Bible.

The Bible does not contain all the words of God. It does not record every conversation anyone has had with God. It does not contain any of my conversations with God. Yes, God does continue to speak. He still takes the written word and applies it in ways I would never have dreamed. God also speaks to me apart from the Bible without ever contradicting a word written in it.

The Word of God is living. Something alive responds to the environment. New understandings of the scripture are applied because the Word is living. It often speaks to me during my own circumstances. It gives me specific direction and comfort. It corrects my present wrong and teaches me what is right. It does so in the context of my present life. The Word can do so because it is living.

The Pharisees studied the written word and determined that Israel was under oppression because they had not kept the Law. They set out to give a pure interpretation and application of the Law. They closed the written word of God and substituted it with their own interpretations. Jesus did not fit into their interpretations. They rejected Him because their Bible was closed.

We run into that danger today. There are those who say you must interpret every verse as they have determined. If not, you risk being and outsider from their club. They say they are defending the Bible but I suspect they are just Pharisees. They still don't notice the Lord working in their midst.

The Word of God is not passive. It changes the one who truly encounters it. It takes people out of their comfort zone and places them in a living and conversational relationship with God. A people who listen to God can't be controlled through earthly rulers. They can't be controlled by earthly preachers either. So, a closed Bible is a safe Bible for these who would tell us how we must interpret every verse.

This makes no difference if those of us who claim to be believers never open our Bibles. We might as well get all our applications and interpretations from our preachers and tv evangelists. Otherwise, we would never hear anything spiritual. Surely, a lot of good things have come from many of these preachers. They have the greatest intentions . . . just like the Pharisees.

Read your Bible today. Pray that God would speak to you through it and speak to you in ways that you would never have dreamed. The Bible should be an open book. Is yours closed?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Giving God Glory

Jesus said that His Father is glorified if we bear much fruit. This statement seems to be lost in most Christians' daily thought. We fall short of God's glory when we sin. Bearing fruit is one way to restore God's glory.

Paul tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Many note that the noun "fruit" should relate to only one fruit. They generally argue that the fruit of the Spirit is love from which all the other characteristics emerge. I, too, believe this but it really makes very little difference in the product. I am not allowing the Spirit to produce the fruit of love if I am not exhibiting these other characteristics. It is like saying a tree produces sweet peaches. If the fruit is not sweet; it is not peaches.

My life should produce other new Christians from this fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies. it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." This is a hard statement because many Christians came to Christ to keep from going to hell. They did not truly think of dying to self as a means of giving God glory. In fact this is the reason that most Christians never ever lead another person to Christ. They will not die to self so they will always remain alone.

Our church just went through a three year process to find a Minister of Music. Several of those we interviewed would not come to our church because it was too far from their home town. I don't think they grasped Luke 14:26. I don't think they were qualified to be ministers. How will the followers ever understand if the leadership in a church does not understand that we must die to self in order to bear much fruit?

Many Christians are willing to do anything for Christ as long as it is convenient. I thank God that was not His attitude toward us. I just don't think that giving your only son is that convenient!

Many Christians try to share Christ without dying to self. They find themselves extremely frustrated. They cannot get the message across when those in need of Christ can see no difference in their lives. They can't see the fruit of the Spirit or its characteristics. They see no reason to give their lives to Christ. They might already be living better lives than the Christians who are telling them that they must come to Christ.

This may be the reason that many churches are content to steal members from other churches. The cost of winning souls abundantly is death to self. The cost of grabbing members from other churches is a great marketing plan. The latter is much cheaper and easier to accomplish.

Tell me about your fruit. Is the Spirit producing love in your life? Is that love characterized by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Are you dying to self? Who will you tell the story of Christ today? Will you give God glory?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Is the Will of God Different from the Desire of God?

People often get the desire of God confused with the will of God. For example, God desires that all people come to know Him through Jesus Christ. People often cite 2 Peter 3:9 as the will of God. Obviously, millions of people do not receive Christ as Savior. Does this mean that the will of God has been thwarted? If so, how can we trust our future with God if God's will can be defeated?

It is God's desire that all are saved. It is God's will that some are saved. This is not bringing an irresistible grace into the picture. I know that I have resisted God's desire for my life. I know that there will be some who will resist God's grace. Stephen, when speaking in Acts, told his hearers that they were resisting the Holy Spirit. They stoned him for his message. They were certainly resisting God's grace.

It is God's will that people make the decision of faith. He gives that freedom to each of us. Our misunderstanding is determining when we are elected to this salvation. 1 Peter 1:1-2 says that we are elected according to God's foreknowledge. God sends His Spirit to those whom He already knows will receive Him. We do so based upon our own will and His foreknowledge of what we will do. God still gives His grace to those who will never receive Him but He knows they will never receive Him from the beginning. His will is not thwarted. He does not lose control. Essentially, we are elected to salvation when God knows what we will do with His grace. That comes before the beginning of time.

God's will is that we make our own decisions. He responds to our prayers before the beginning of time for they follow this pattern of foreknowledge. He responds to our telling of others about Christ for He knew this before the beginning of time and weaved it into His will.

This gives us full freedom and full responsibility for our actions. We make the decisions to sin. God still makes those things come to good. He desires that we do not sin. His will is that He can make good come from the sin. It doesn't make sin good. It makes grace amazing!

God desires that you will walk with Him daily. He will not make you do so. He allowed Adam to go his own direction even though he could have walked with God daily. It was not His will for sin to enter the world. It was His will that Jesus would come to save us.

I am always amazed in God's workings. He takes that which is unusable and makes it the best tool. His desire for us is the fullness of life. Jesus came for that reason. Discovering God's will and walking in it is where the fullness is.

God has great desires for each of us. Walk in them and be the will of God.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Heinous Acts of Violence

I agree with President Obama in his assessment of the murder of a late-term abortion doctor. I believe that life is precious. The murder of another is a heinous act of violence, yet I don't believe the President can see both sides of the issue.

Late-term abortions are also heinous acts of violence. You cannot help but see this if you think life is precious for these babies would be born into the world with life if merely left alone.

Those who support such abortions always call the child a fetus. I wonder if that soothes their conscience. It certainly keeps people from seeing the other side. That can't see that a society that supports taking advantage of those who are helpless slides down a slope of increasing disregard for life.

Will we withhold health care for the elderly some day? I think you can be assured of that. We will probably call them something other than grandma by that time. We will reassess the quality of life and adjust our thinking of bettering our society by not wasting any more of our inheritance on those from whom we will inherit.

President Obama sees this as "our differences." He does not seem to grasp that this is much deeper than that. We are talking about our values. You cannot simply change your mind about your values. You cannot be debated from them. They are at the core of your being. Honestly, you either value life or you don't.

Jesus let children come to Him when the disciples didn't see their value. He told them that it would be better to be drowned in the sea than to cause harm to a child. Here was a value that Christians should grasp. You value children. You don't hurt them.

Some see abortion in relation to the Holocast. They see the parallel between those who simply sat by and did nothing while millions were killed. What sane person would deny that this was a heinous act of violence?

I abhor the murder of this doctor. You can't say life is a value and take life in this way. Yet, I don't think that those who support late-term abortions understand the act as it is performed. I don't think they understand that this is destroying the helpless. They don't understand that it may even be them someday that will be denied health care or even given a pill that will make all their problems go away.

Yes, this is a heinous act of violence. . . on both sides of the issue.