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Friday, July 31, 2009

The Funeral Is for the Living

"We are gathered here," the preacher begins, "to honor the memory of the dearly departed." It seems like a reasonable beginning to a funeral service. Everyone there has expected this opening line. Some believe that is the only reason they have come. They would be wrong.

The dearly departed has done just that. He has departed. It doesn't matter how many people stand up to say something to the empty body or look up into the air and speak to the dead person. The dead are gone. They really couldn't care less that you are honoring their memory.

The dead are either in the presence of the Lord or in the worst place imaginable. Either way, they are not concerned with the things of this world. Nothing that the preacher says will change that. He, therefore, is not holding a funeral service for the dead but for the living.

This means that everything you wanted to do for someone should be done before they leave this earth. I have heard of sons buying expensive caskets for their mothers because they didn't do much for them while they were alive. An expensive casket isn't going to do anything for her when she is dead! Treat her right while she is living and you won't  have this guilt when she dies.

Funerals help people cope with the loss. They symbolically ask forgiveness of the dead if that is what they need. They affirm their love or friendships. They acknowledge the loss. It brings everyone to the realization that they will never see this person again on the earth. It is the ultimate closure.

The friends of the family use the opportunity to give comfort to the family. Often, it is said that the deceased is in a better place. That is not always true. People like to say it, though. How do you say anything else to those who are grieving?

I speak of the deceased faith if they had any. I speak of the faith that could be had by the family if the deceased had no faith. I speak of a trust in Jesus that will give them eternal life. I can't change the destination of the deceased. He has already arrived. I can speak to the family whose destination is still pending.

I ask everyone who will speak of the deceased to write out what they will say. I can read it for them if they get emotional during the deliverance of their speech. I can't do anything if it isn't written. It also helps them focus on what they want to say. It keeps them from rambling and it keeps them from being embarrassed. 

Never forget why you are at the next funeral you attend. You are there for the family. You are there for closure. You are there to finalize anything you needed to do. However, you are not there for the deceased. Funerals are for the living.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Do Your Prayers Inform God or Agree with Him?

I have heard many people pray publically. Some of them pray like God doesn't know what is going on. They will say something like, "God I want to lift up my wife's friend who has cancer. She is the one that she commutes to work with; the one who always sits in the back seat." They act as if God doesn't know who this person is. They then describe the illness in detail. It seems as if they are informing God of a bad situation. Their prayers are 911 calls. For them God says, "State the nature of your emergency."

There is nothing wrong with stating what the problem is. Sometimes it helps us pray. We can focus better when we state the problem. However, we should always remember that we aren't telling God something that He doesn't already know. Our prayers are given so we can see His glory through His answers. They are not telling God what to do. They are requesting God to act.

I wonder if people know that God wants the best for each and every person. Your prayers should agree with Him. I wonder if people know that God knows the best for each and every person. Your prayers should agree with Him. I wonder if they know that God has the power to change anything. Your prayers should agree with Him.

Our prayers should remember one basic principle: "The all mighty, omniscient, omnipresent God loves the same people we love. God cannot do anything but the best for them" (He even loves the people we can't stand, too.)  Our prayers change us. Our prayers see God work. Our prayers address the answers that come from God. Our prayers cannot be anything more than agreeing with God for the best.

I do not not always understand God's answers. I did not understand the death of a seven year old child whom I had prayed to live. I didn't understand the continued unemployment of a friend. I did not understand the long suffering of someone who eventually died. God's answers continue to puzzle me. However, I can go back to my basic principle and say, "Glory to God in the highest. He knows and He does what is best!"

I suppose some people will say that I am just drawing a bullseye around anything that happens and claiming that was God's direct hit. They could think that but they would be wrong. I have had too many encounters with God that defy explanation. I have seen what appeared to be a bad thing turn into something wonderful too many times. God does not roll dice and claim that is what He intended to do all along.

Pray to agree with Him. You are not informing Him of the problem or what He must do. You accept the answer as His best for the situation. 

Get ready for God to do something wonderful when you pray. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is Your Church Constantly Asking for Money?

Most churches are hurting financially in this economy. They are asking their members to give more. I don't think that will work. The problem isn' t that Christians don't know that the church needs money to operate. The problem is that Christians don't really trust in God to take care of them. Instead of giving like the Lord Jehovah is their strength, they hold back like there is no god at all.

This isn't the first time this has happened. God's people can't seem to understand that God provides it all. They really think that they should trust in  their own assets. This happened in the wilderness when God provided manna. They tried to hoard some of it for the future. They could not understand that the God who provided the manna in the first place wouldn't let them starve to death. The hoarded manna rotted. The same thing is going to happen with the money God's people are holding back.  It will disappear and Christians will not have any more money than if they had given.

The real problem that churches have is that they aren't making disciples. Churches are content to have people come once a week for one to two hours and hope that it will affect the other 166 hours of their week. Why should we believe that will work? There are no skills being modeled in most churches to see Christians grow in the Lord. Christians aren't giving with faith because they have not seen faith lived out in front of them. This must change.

God took His people through the wilderness for a long time until they learned the lesson of depending upon Him. Will He take His people through the wilderness again? I can't see why not. We cannot be a people called by His name if we aren't a people who trust in Him. His past method was to take away all the other things we could trust in so that we had to turn to Him. Will He do that again?

Unfortunately, asking for money is a reaction rather than a disciple-making principle. It tells of a need rather than speaking to a solution. Our solution is trusting in God. Our needs will be filled as we trust in Him. He is either the God of the universe and all things are subject to Him or He is another version of Santa Claus. We tell the story of Santa Claus knowing it isn't true.  Our faith cannot resemble the story of Santa. It must be lived out by actions that prove our trust.

Immediately go to the Lord in prayer if your church asks for money. The question is, "Lord, am I living like I trust in You?" If not, you should examine your own giving. If so, He may still lead you to give more but you will not do so because of the appeal for money. You will do so out of an obedience to Him. Obedience is always an act of trust.

Pray for your church. It is made up of people who have great faith and very little faith. It is part of the body of Christ that brings the world to faith. It should be made up of disciples. Pray that this focus of making disciples becomes more important than the money which is so often asked for.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is There a Limit to Your Faith?

Faith is believing something unseen. It is confidence in the actions of another before the event. It is acting on what you say you believe.

Most people have very little faith. Their faith is limited to what they feel they must believe. They say that they believe in Jesus for their eternity but they don't believe in Him for their tomorrow. Some day their tomorrow becomes their eternity and they are very scared of dying. They didn't understand that their limits they placed on their faith daily would limit their faith for eternity.

It seems we have a faith that only works when we are painted into a corner. If we can't believe anything else we will accept God's faith. But that isn't faith at all. It is insurance at best.

We will believe in the doctors and advances in medicine until we discover they can do nothing for us. Then, we run to Jesus for healing. We believe in our bank accounts or our employers until we lose our jobs and our money is depleted. Then, we run to Jesus. We believe in playing golf on Sundays until terrorists attack our country. Then, we run to Jesus.

Our faith is limited to our own desperation. If we can't get what we need any other way, we will run to Jesus. Is that really faith or are we like the little boy in the movie "The Christmas Story" who goes to Santa Claus as a last resort to get the BB gun he wants for Christmas? It was his ace in the hole. All of his other manipulations hadn't worked. Surely Santa would come through.

Yet, people don't seem to notice their own incongruency in their faith. They don't tithe but believe God will take care of them financially. They worry and say they believe God will take care of them. This isn't much faith at all. Our actions prove the limits of our faith.

Is your faith limited? Do you really trust in Jesus or is He just a last resort?

Monday, July 27, 2009

When Do You Stop Praying?

The doctor calls in the family. He tells them that her organs are failing and she doesn't have much time left. Hold the phone! The family calls the church and tells them to start the prayer chain. The say it isn't Grandma's time to go . . . even though she is 94 years old!

It is natural to want to grieve over your loved ones' passing. But, come on, Grandma has got to go some time. She we continue to pray for her at her age. Yet, if we say we shouldn't pray that Grandma will make it, at what age do you stop praying for people to live?

It is safe to say that God takes people at different ages. Some go when they are young. It seems cruel for young people to die when there was so much more life left before them. This had nothing to do with the good they are doing. They die while doing magnificent things.

I suppose setting an age to stop praying is not reasonable. The quality of life that stands before a person is more important. We should take into account whether their living will result in continued hardship. Will living cause them more pain? Will they be able to function in a way that they would want? Would it be better for them if they go to be with the Lord?

I was called to the hospital once to pray with a family whose child had been born without enough brain to keep it functioning. It was inevitable that the child would die but on the outside the baby looked perfectly normal. I prayed that the Lord would take this child. We did nothing to hasten the death but the child went to be with the Lord soon afterward. It was painful but it was also reasonable. God could have performed a miracle and grew a brain in that child. It was evident that this was not His will because He took the child.

I pray that my will is God's will. I pray that I can accept what He has planned. I keep praying for the young while there is hope. I pray for the elderly as long as they can function. I don't simply want them to live. I want them to have a witness.

All of us know there comes a time when enough is enough. The chemotherapy which wreaks havoc on the body needs to be stopped. The respirator has to be removed. The time has come for us to let go.

I pray that the person who is dying to go peacefully when it is evident that this will be better for them I continue to pray for them, even to the point of death. I thank God for receiving them when the expire.

I suppose you really never stop praying. However, your prayers do change. You quit asking for the physical life to be sustained and praise God that their lives do not end when their bodies no longer function.

The Bible says we should pray without ceasing. Yes, that is the answer. Never stop praying.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What Is the Devil Trying to Do to You?

The devil is real. We have told our children that the boogie man doesn't exist. If he does, it is in the form of the devil

Hollywood wants to make him into a creature so hideous that no one would have anything to do with him. I can't imagine him revealing himself in the Hollywood image. Let's look at what the Bible says about him. Then, we can know what he is trying to do to you.

The Bible says that he is a deceiver. He is the father of lies. He tries to make you believe something that isn't true. He will tell you that he has something better for you than God does. He will tell you to leave your spouse because you deserve something better. He will deceive you into forgetting your faith. I'll bet he has been trying to deceive you.

The Bible calls him the accuser of the brethren. He stands before God accusing you of your sins. He is also in the business of remembering your sins before you. He reminds you of the sins you have committed so that you can't have victory over them. He doesn't need to kick you for your sins; you are doing such a good job yourself. I'll bet he has reminded you of sins you have already confessed. I'll bet he is still accusing you.

The Bible says he is the tempter. He doesn't do all the tempting. He just sets you on a path and leaves you to go the rest of the way. He just starts the process. He tempts you to do something that seems good at the time. He tempts you to do something that has an immediate payoff and helps you forget the consequences. He can do so because he makes the temptation seem so desirable. I'll bet he has tempted you to do something with an immediate payoff.

The Bible says he is the one who afflicts us. He certainly afflicted Job. I understand why God gave him permission as I read the story. I know Job didn't understand it when he was going through the affliction. Maybe the devil has afflicted your body. He believes you will turn on God because your body is in pain. Will you?

The Bible tells us that the devil demanded to sift Simon Peter like wheat. Peter never thought that he would deny his Lord. He certainly didn't realize he was doing so until he looked into the eyes of Jesus. Peter was broken because of his denial of Jesus. Has the devil gotten you to do the same thing? Are you now being sifted like wheat? Are you finding out what you never thought you would do because the devil has put his fear in you? I'll bet he is trying to do so now.

Remember: if you belong to Jesus, the devil has no part of you. He has no power to make you do anything. You have the name of Jesus. You can tell the devil to leave you. Will you do so or will you let him get to you?

The devil wants to destroy you. I'll bet you already knew that.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

God Believes in Brad Pitt

I read that Brad Pitt said that he didn't believe in God. (I really don't know why that's news. There are millions of people who don't believe in God. Are we so enamored with celebrities that we care what they do or think at all times?)

The good news for Brad is that God believes in him. There is nothing that Brad can say that will make God love him less . . . or more for that matter. There is nothing that any of us can do that will make God pursue us less.

God is after us. He seeks us regardless of what we have said or done. He wants us to come to Him because He is the only true life. Every other way of living our lives is a sham. It may look great on the outside but it is full of death. It contains no joy. It only has fleeting moments of happiness.

God loves us all so much that He doesn't want any of us to live this way. If we do not come to Him, He pursues us. If we do come to Him, He continues to pursue us. The abundance in life is directly proportional to our relationship to Him. Our joy grows as our relationship grows. He seeks the very best for us in this relationship.

God demonstrated this love He has for us by the death of Jesus when we were working against Him. He gave His Son for the people who killed Him too. Jesus, Himself, prayed that God would forgive those who did this to Him.

I am God's child by God's grace. He pursued me until I gave my heart to Him. He continued to pursue me as I get closer to Him. I thank God that He believed in me when I had no belief in Him. I thank God that He still believes in me.

So, Brad, there is good news. You may not believe in God now but He certainly believes in you!

Friday, July 24, 2009

What Would Jesus Pray?

Several years ago someone came up with the logo "WWJD." It stood for "What Would Jesus Do." People bought these logos as bumper stickers, clothing and jewelry. It made some people a lot of money.

Jesus prayed before He did anything. He went to the wilderness and fasted for forty days before He began His ministry. I happen to know that He prayed intensely during these forty days because I have fasted forty days three times in my life. Fasting without prayer is just going hungry. Fasting will drive you to prayer. I found that I didn't remember my hunger when I prayed. I used work to distract me from the hunger when I wasn't praying. Jesus fasted in the wilderness. He didn't have the distractions from the hunger that I have had. He prayed intensely!

The disciples noticed Jesus' prayers. They had, no doubt, heard the prayers of the Pharisees. They would love to stand on the street corners so people could hear their eloquent prayers. Jesus' prayers were not like the Pharisees'. His prayers reflected something much deeper. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray.

He gave them the model prayer. We call it the "Lord's Prayer." I wonder if they thought this was something they could repeat when they didn't know what to say in a prayer. I wonder if they scratched their noses and thought of the afternoon football game while repeating it. I don't really see the value in repeating this prayer if it doesn't mean anything to you. I believe we have missed Jesus' teaching on prayer if that is all we do.

Jesus' praying wasn't different because of the elements in His prayers. His prayers are different because they reflect the confidence of Someone with a personal relationship with the One to whom He is praying. It reflected Someone who sought after God's will and prayed that will into existence.

We see this in Jesus' prayer at Lazarus' tomb. He says that He is thankful to His Father because He hears Him. He reveals that He knows what God will do in raising Lazarus. He prays and then has the power of the Father to raise Lazarus from the tomb. Do you think this would have happened if He hadn't prayed?

Many churches have groups of people they call "prayer warriors." These people are called upon in a crisis to pray. Some of these churches should call these people "prayer worriers." They don't pray with any confidence based on their relationship to the Lord. They do not seek His will. They just say words and worry whether or not anything will happen.

It is clear by Jesus teaching that the key to prayer is not in the words. The key is in seeking the Father. When we know Him, we will know His grace and power. We will know His will as He reveals it to us. Remember that Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples when He called them friends. We become friends with God and He reveals His will to us. We pray on the basis of our relationship to Him.

People who truly know God do not have to worry. Jesus never worried. He did not worry about the cross. He didn't want to go through it if possible. He accepted His Father's will. He walked the path to Golgotha because of His relationship with His Father. His complete devotion was the reason He was able to pray as He did.

How is your prayer life? Is it based on words or on your relationship to the Lord?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

God's Care for the Mentally Challenged

I did the funeral of a mentally challenged young lady yesterday. Her mother had been in a wreck when seven months pregnant. The unborn child had brain injuries. She never developed past nine months mentally. She died at thirty-four having lived much longer than predicted.

Her parents loved her with all the love parents can give. They told me that she loved to play patty-cake with her mother. She loved to repeat the word, "Hi" back when it was said to her. She disliked strong wind, but liked the calm. She enjoyed classical music. Her parents knew her personality and shared this with me.

Many people don't understand what happens to the mentally challenged when they die. They can only see them as they are. They can't see them as they will be in heaven. I think they have the sweetest of entrances into heaven.

The Bible tells us that we are spirit, soul and body. The spirit relates to God. God is a Spirit and with our spirits we communicate with God. Our spirits are made dead with sin. This young lady had never known sin. She grew up protected from that. She could always relate to God. It was done on a spiritual level.

The soul contains the mind, will and emotions. This young lady certainly had these. She would let you know that she didn't like the wind by making loud noises. She would communicate with her eyes what was going on within her. 

Many people say that her problem was her mind but that is not the case. The problem was in her body. The body contains the brain. The brain is the information processor. Hers was not functioning like others'. It could not process the information necessary to allow her to talk or walk or coordinte her body. It could not process and file away information to recall complex information. It was unable to act like most people's brains.

All of us are perfectly healed when we get to heaven. The blind can see. The deaf can hear. The lame can walk, run and jump. The problems with the old body are gone. That old body is left behind. And so it is with the mentally challenged.

They have left their old brain, that disfunctioning information processor, behind. They are healed from that problem as easily as those who are blind, deaf, lame or any other malady that we face in these old bodies.

Last week this young lady developed an obstruction that led to an infection causing her organs to fail. She was placed on a respirator for a couple of days. The doctors gave no hope and the parents had to have her removed from the device.

They told her to run to Jesus. For the first time in her life, she ran.

If you know someone who has lost a mentally challenged child and you believe this would help them, would you please email this to them. They need to know their child is fine in the arms of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Keeping a Faith Intact

Everyone has a belief system. They believe in something. It doesn't have to be a religiously accepted system either. It may be evolution or the big bang theory. These beliefs give people comfort. They help them cope with their lives. They put order and priority in their lives. This is why they are defended so vigorously. They will attack those who do not believe as they do. They will try to defend their faith by destroying the others. I have observed these attacks and have summed up some of them.

If you want to keep your belief system intact, ask a stupid question.

Do you remember the Sadducees asking Jesus about the woman who married the seven brothers? She married and first who died then married the next until each one had died. They asked whose wife she would be in the resurrection. (I laughed when I first read this story. The more obvious question is, "What is she putting in the soup?!" Come on, all seven brothers died. I think an investigation was warranted!) 

Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection. They thought they had Jesus when they asked this question. They failed to realize that the absence of an answer doesn't prove anything. They assumed that marriage went into the resurrection. Jesus said it only lasted until death. They had never thought of that. Why? They were so blinded by their own belief that they couldn't see the truth. This is so common it should be expected.

If you want to keep your faith system intact, hide inconvenient facts.

Lazarus resurrection proved to be a big problem. They had trouble explaining how a man who was observed to be dead for four days could be walking around. They decided that they had to kill Lazarus. It made more sense to me to believe Jesus was the Messiah. This would have destroyed their whole belief system. 

Evolutionist have had a number of problems in their belief system that they do not speak of.  They keep looking for the missing link between man and ape. They have stained the jawbone of an ape to make it appear to be one of man and called it Piltdown man. They have found a tooth and created a whole division of humanity only to discover that it was the tooth of a pig. They have supposedly found evidence of fourteen skulls which represent "Peking" man which no one can now produce. They are working hard at proving their belief system by producing "evidence" and hiding facts.

If you want to keep your belief system intact, destoy those who don't believe as you do.

The Pharisees and Sadducees did not agree on the resurrection. The Pharisees believed in it the Sadducees did not. However, they banded together to attack Jesus. They both rejected Him as the Messiah. They knew that their belief system was prevalent, but saw it eroding as people put their faith in Jesus. They needed to keep the majority or they would lose their own power over the people. They had to  kill Jesus or have their own faith system lose favor.

This is true even in the scientific community. Why are they so afraid of students learning of Intelligent Design? How could it hurt the students to hear that the earth is ordered by design rather than chance? It could hurt because it would destroy their faith system.

They must ridicule those who believe anything else. They must keep it out of the educational system. They must destroy this belief or it could take hold. It would make them lose power over the people. It would make their own faith system lose favor.

Unfortunately, many would make the same case against Christianity years ago. Christianity attacked those who thought differently. It did all the things that now is being done against it.

However, I challenge you to ask the hard questions about your faith. I believe our faith in Jesus will stand against those who would attack it. I believe our faith will be stronger if we allow ourselves to observe what others are saying.

They are blinded by their faith. Please allow our faith to open others' eyes. Don't attack their faith. Present your faith by living it before them. It will become the light that will open their eyes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why Doesn't God Always Heal?

I have prayed over someone and seen them instantly healed. I do not have the gift of healing. I admit, I was surprised. The lady had a stroke. I prayed and God healed her. I don't feel like I had much to do with it. I simply prayed. God did all the hard work.

I have always wondered about those who claim the gift of healing. If they really have this gift, why don't they go empty every hospital of the sick? Why do they have to rent stadiums, fill the place with believers and do their healings? Jesus didn't do that. Why should they?

There are many times that I pray for the terminally sick and the patient dies. This doesn't keep me from praying. I know that God still heals. I don't know who He will heal on this earth. Some people are healed in Heaven.

Every illness is temporary. God always heals on earth or in Heaven. The person is seen to be healed before everyone or the person goes to Heaven and is perfectly healed. Neither is bad for the patient.

Sometimes God allows illnesses to linger. Paul prays that God will remove His "thorn in the flesh" three times but God says that it is good for Paul. Paul's "thorn" makes him depend upon God. Many have speculated what this malady is. No one really knows but it was something that bothered Paul enough to pray three times that it would be removed.

It is hard to imagine that illnesses can have a positive effect if you are the one who is ill. They exist so that you will depend upon God. There is little strength in the person who tries to do a work of God on their own. There is great strength in someone who depends upon God's might.

There are people watching those who are sick. They watch Christians go through the tough times. They watch how they handle their illness. This may be the only way some will ever notice another person's faith. The way the Christian lives with their illness can be more powerful than a thousand sermons. Walking faithfully through an illness can be an incredible witness.

Ultimately God wants us to come home to Him. Some illnesses help prepare us for that journey. I can't see into a person's heart but I believe that some of us need to be made ready to go to Heaven. We need to get sick and tired of being sick and tired. We need to welcome the journey home. The illness helps us let go of this life so that the journey to Heaven is made sweeter.

Finally, some people linger in their illness because God is giving them an opportunity to become a believer. These people may be church members but have never truly given their hearts to Jesus. They may have "walked the aisle" been baptized and voted in as members of the church but they don't know the Lord. They know all about the Lord but they can never say that they have truly met Him. They have always reserved their hearts for themselves. They know the truth but no one else does. God gives them the opportunity to come to Him. Their illness shows His extreme grace toward them.

I do not know why God doesn't heal some people. None of these scenarios seem to fit. I have to trust in His goodness because I have never seen Him be bad. I have to trust in His knowledge because I have never seen Him not know. I have to trust in His power because I have never seen anything more powerful than Him. I have to trust that He knows what He is doing.

God does not always heal. He always has a plan. All of His plans are accomplished. Somehow this must be in His plan.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What's Important at the End of the Day?

My father-in-law passed away this past Wednesday. I was asked to say some things at his funeral. I thanked the people who came. It was a hot Saturday afternoon in Texas. They had stopped what they were doing, put on clothes that they did not normally wear on a Saturday and came to sit in a funeral home while preachers talked. That's saying a whole lot about these people.

I told them that when it comes to times like this there are only three things that matter: friends, family and faith. Each of these are intertwined.

The way we treat others is a direct indication of our faith. God loves people with a love that we cannot imagine. We indicate that we don't have much of a relationship with God if we don't love people. The person who has only a few people at their funeral has either outlived all of their friends and family or hasn't had much faith.

This was so important that Jesus had to define who a neighbor was. He told them that your neighbor was anyone who was in need. He told them that they needed to give cups of water and visit those in prison. He told them that they had to take care of the one who was hurt and left by the side of the road.

Their definition of a friend was anyone who did something for you. He said that you treat people the way you want to be treated. Their system was a whole lot neater. Jesus made things messy.

The presence of friends means that you have been a friend. They don't have to come to your funeral. They do so because you are their friend.

Family attends funerals anyway. Sometimes they do so because it is expected. They may be afraid that the deceased's friends will talk about them if they don't come. They come reluctantly if this is the case. Of course, this isn't the relationship you want to have with your family.

The New Testament indicates that a person who won't take care of his family is worse than a heathen. Even those who do not know Christ take care of their family. Family requires time. This time comes from things you would rather do to help the family. It comes from a different love than you have for friends. Somehow we are connected differently as a family. Love should come more naturally. The person who rejects his family is also rejecting the God-created love placed in our heart for our families. The attitude of your family toward you is a great indicator of your faith.

Faith is what it comes down to overall. If you have no faith, you have no hope. If you have no faith, you have a terrible eternity. If you have no faith, you have no foundation for your life. If you have no faith, you are damned.

At the end of the day it all comes down to friends, family and faith.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

When Money Is Your Master

We all have to use money. That's the key word:"use." Some people allow money to be their master. It is a frustrated life. It lacks true joy. It is never satisfied; never fulfilled.

You can never please money when it is your master. You will never have enough. You will make it as fast as you can and you will never hear it say. This is enough. You will worker harder and harder to find there is no true satisfaction. You are serving an unrelenting master. This master claims that joy in life requires more of him. Yet, you are making more than you ever have and have less joy now. You can never have enough when money is your master.

Money will force you into labor that you do not like. You will work a job to make money rather than a job that is a joy. You will have no ministry there because you worship money, not God. You will look forward to Fridays instead of Mondays. You will regret each day of work. You will watch the clock rather than your work. Master Money will make much of your week miserable.

Money will make you stingy. You will give reluctantly. Your giving to God will suffer and you will never know how God can provide because you have never tested Him through tithing. Besides if you truly gave like you should, you would be two-timing your god of money. You would be unfaithful to the one (money) that you have pledged to serve.

Any gift to others will be based on how much money you gave rather than on your own heart. You will assume that the receiver will show a great obligation to you if you give him money. After all, you have shared your god with him. Shouldn't he be a believer in money too?

You will spend time worshiping your master. You will take pride in your bank account. You will worry about the balance. You will use clever ways to sing your praises about your god. You will buy things to praise your god. You will flaunt your money before others. You must have the new car and the big house for these represent your god, money. This worship never escapes you. It is a burden, not a joy.

The worship of money makes it your master. Jesus said you can't serve God and money. It means that those who worship money, those who make it their master, can't really know God as God. They can't truly worship Him. They can't truly serve Him.

Serving money is a picture of hell. You will serve someone who will never love you. You will work for someone who will never say it is enough. You will get no rest. You will find no joy. This never stops.

You can stay under this master of money or you can fall at the feet of Jesus and pledge Him your worship. You can seek the true joy that only He can give. You can start using money rather than it using you.

So, you say money is not your master? Then, tithe today at your church and see what your money has to say about it. Money is not your master if you can do so with joy. Money is your master if you have regrets for the gift.

Now this is really an inconvenient truth.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Fall of the Faithful

Elijah had incredible faith. God told him to pray that it wouldn't rain and it didn't for three years. God led him to challenge the prophets of Baal and he did. He knew God would light the altar and had no fear that Baal would do so also. God led him to pray for rain. And it rained. What happened to his faith when Jezebel said she would kill him?

Elijah had been working hard for the Lord. He fell into the trap common for many people who work hard for the Lord. He began to believe that he was the only one working, he was afraid of his future and he couldn't see beyond his present situation. This would cause anyone to lose heart.

Loneliness will stop many people in their tracks. They ask themselves, "Why should I work so hard when no one else is?" They forget what Who and what they are working for. Losing your purpose creates a "woe is me" attitude. It discourages any future service. It stops the work of the Lord.

It is natural to be afraid of the future when you assume that you are the only one working. These discouraged faithful workers believe they have to do everything. They believe no one will come to help. They believe that their future is determined by their own hard work. They become afraid of the future when they know that they don't have the power to control it. Of course, they forget Who holds the future.

Therefore, they see their present condition as their final condition. They are like people cycling up a hill who believe that the round trip of their ride is uphill both ways. Yet, our present condition is never our final condition. If you win; it isn' t the final. If you lose; it isn't fatal. These faithful people sometimes go deep into depression because they believe their present condition is their final one.

Or course, God tells Elijah that he is not alone. He tells him what he must do. God gives him a new future and Elijah comes out of his depression.

I have it by God's authority to tell all the faithful people that you are not alone. God has a plan and a future that isn't in your present condition. Just listen to the still, small voice that God sometimes speaks with. Then, go do what you are called to do. The action will remove your depression.

Do you know someone who has been faithful to the Lord but is struggling right now? They are falling but God has chosen you to help them past their present condition. You have been called to tell them they are not alone, God has a plan and a future beyond their present condition.

We all make it together or we really don't know what it is to make it through this life faithfully. The faithful should never fall and stay down. There should be others who will help them up.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Are You Putting Great Faith in Your Doubts?

I have enough faith for your problems. I can tell you exactly what you need to do to believe that God will take care of you. I can even make your doubts look silly. Of course, that's because they are your problems. I only struggle when I have my own problems.

Jesus seemed to get upset with His disciples for doing exactly what I do. He rebuked them for doubting His goodness and power when they were in a storm.

One time they were all in a boat rowing across the Sea of Galilee when a storm came up. Sudden storms are frequent on the Sea of Galilee. Often northerly winds push the cold air from the mountains down onto the warm and humid Galilee. Storms are formed within minutes. Most of these men were fishermen and had probably been in a storm like this many times.

Jesus was sleeping in the front of the boat. He was the picture of peace. True peace is known when calmness prevails while there is chaos all around you.

The disciples are afraid of sinking. They wake Jesus and ask Him if He cares that they are about to die. What a question! While we can see their desperation, should there be any question about His caring for them?

Maybe they thought He couldn't do anything about the storm. The question may have been rhetorical. Maybe they were saying that He needed to be awake for what was about to happen. Is there any question that He lacked the power to save them? Did He ever leave that impression?

He stopped the wind and calmed the sea. He said, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" They had failed to see who He is.

We don't have such a great excuse. We know who Jesus is but somehow have put great faith in doubting Him. We have have doubts in our faith because we have faith in our doubts. We have more faith in our fears than we do in who our Lord is.

Of course, I can point these things out and know they are true. I can tell you what we should believe until the time comes for me to believe them. Sudden storms come upon all of us. I seem to exhibit my faith best when my feet are on dry land while you are rowing a sinking boat. I believe Jesus would ask me why I have no faith. I don't have a good answer.

I must lose faith in my doubts if I am ever to peace in the storms of life. There are two prayers that I often say during these storms. One is recorded in Mark 9:24. A man has brought his demon possessed boy to Jesus. Jesus' disciples were unable to cast out this demon. Jesus tells the man that all things are possible to him who believes. The man said my prayer, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!"

The second prayer is said by Peter after he has gotten out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus. He has had the faith to get out of the boat and to momentarily walk on the water but he starts putting his faith in the wind and the sea rather than Jesus. He begins to sink in the water and cries out, "Lord, save me!"

These will have to be my prayers until I have the complete faith that eliminates doubt.

Do you really doubt whether Jesus cares for your situation? Do you really think He is powerless to do anything about it?

I didn't think so.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Are You Drowning in a Pool of Bitterness?

Most of the time I have no trouble forgiving people. I have often had people apologize to me for something that I couldn't remember. I appreciate the apology but I either didn't take it as an offense or I had long ago forgiven them and forgotten about it. I wish that was always the case.

There are some offenses that don't go away so easily. They cut to the very heart of who you are. You try to forgive the person and the offense but you find yourself forgiving neither. You pray that you will forgive the person but you keep remembering what they did. You remember the hurt and you are hurt all over again. In fact, the hurt seems to get deeper.

It seems that you actually enjoy rehearsing what was done to you in your mind. The pain fuels your desire for revenge. Revenge seems to be the only answer to relieve your pain. You think, "If they could just hurt like I have been hurt . . . ," and the thoughts give you pleasure.

All the while, you know that this is wrong. You tell yourself that you don't hate them. You tell yourself that you are over it. None of this is true. Bitterness has grown a root down in your soul and you can't remove it. It will start to affect other relationships is different ways. This bitterness grows down deep but comes up in other places. It may not seem to come from your hurt, but it does. It must be removed for your own sake.

You can tell that I have had such bitterness. I have struggled to forgive even though I know it is the right thing to do. However, I have had victory. I hope what I tell you here will help you rid yourself of this poison. The devil has been using this against you. You can have victory with Christ.

Stop trying to forgive by your own goodness. You have already proven that this type of goodness is not in you. You would have already forgiven this hurt if you could. Admit that you need God's strength to forgive. Ask God to allow you to forgive this hurt.

Base your forgiveness on the blood of Jesus Christ. This is the only acceptable payment for sin. It has been paid for by Jesus death on the Cross. You no longer have a claim when the payment has been made. Say out loud, "I forgive (this hurt) by the blood of Jesus Christ. His death paid for this sin. I no longer hold it as a debt to be paid because of what Jesus has done for me and what He has done to pay for this sin against me." You will probably have to repeat this several times until your heart begins to hear what you have said.

Imagine Jesus carrying the Cross to Golgotha. He is struggling with this burden. He is nailed to it. On that cross is your pain- the hurtful thing that was done to you. You see Him dying on that cross to pay for that hurt. You hear him say, "It is finished." You repeat what He has said because it is finished.

Resolve that this will not be the last time you will pray for strength, say you forgive on the basis of the blood of Jesus or declare that it is finished. Satan has a way of reminding you of your hurts so that you will stay under the bondage of this hurt. He must be confronted with the truth of God's word. Tell him that he no longer has any power to control you because you have Jesus. Tell him to begone!

I have done this many times in order to have victory. I realize God's grace more and more as I see myself forgiving those who have hurt me. I pray that you know this grace too. There really is victory in Jesus!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are There Mean People in Your Church?

Some of the meanest people on earth can be found in churches. Isn't here something wrong with that statement? No, in fact, it should be expected.

Mean people are rejected by any other organization they try to attend. The most loving people in the world attract the most mean. Loving Christians love, overlook and forgive mean people. They tolerate the meanness. They make excuses for them. They say things like, "We don't know what has happened in their past. We don't need to judge them." No one needs to judge. Meanness can recognized without judgment.

Satan seeds churches with mean people. Mean people won't make it in a mega-church. Mean people will have very little impact in such a church. They are found in churches that have great potential but can't seem to grow. A few mean people can disrupt a whole church. They can run off a pastor, stop a needed expenditure, shipwreck a new program and run off potential members.

They are like cancer. Their influence grows, weakens the church and eventually puts the church on life support. Satan doesn't really want to kill the church. He wants the church to have a bad witness or no witness in the community. Churches do not grow when meanness prevails. They become a stench to the non-Christians. Satan would much rather have a church like this than one that no longer exists.

Many mean people do not know the Lord, however, they do know how to answer anyone who asks them of their faith. They will tell you that they are "washed in the blood," have "received Christ as Savior" and have "given my soul to the Lord." They may even believe that they have done all these things. Satan loves to make saved people believe that they are going to hell and lost people believe they are going to heaven. Yet, the Bible tells us that we shall know them by their fruits. Bad things come from bad trees and good things from good trees. Mean people are lost no matter what they tell me.

Mean people often influence others in the church. They sometimes use intimidation. Most people don't want to go to church and fight. They avoid conflict. Mean people stir up trouble. Lots of good people stay home when they know a fight is brewing at church. Mean people win many battles because they are unopposed.

Mean people often attack the character of any person making a positive difference in the church. They bring doubt on what the person is doing by questioning their character. They will make others appear selfish or even devious so that they can sabotage what good people are doing. Mean people are afraid of losing control of the church. A growing church will lessen the influence of mean people.

Good people must stand up to mean people. Good people have to agree that this influence will no longer be tolerated. Good people must attend business meetings or any other organizational decision making group to do what is right.

Good people must commit themselves to prayer. They should pray for the mean people to be saved. They should pray that the Lord will remove the mean people from their church. Hopefully, the mean people will get saved and become part of those who love the Lord and His servants. If not, you put the mean people in the Lord's hands.

Many churches grow after there is a mass exodus from the church. Mean people leave churches when good people stand up to them. They tell everyone the church will die after they leave. They will be shocked when the church grows like crazy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Do You Keep Your Life Pure?

Many people will tell you that you need to keep the bad influences out of your life to keep your life pure. That makes one very bad assumption. It assumes that you are naturally good. This means some bad influence is always responsible for any bad thing you have ever done. Come on, you know better than that!

The sin of Adam infected all of humanity. It has taken away our innocence. We can sin while we are all alone. We don't have to have an outside influence.

Living a pure life must, therefore, include something outside of the fallen world. It must be something that comes from God's grace. God's grace is all that is truly good in the world today. His grace is predominantly noticed in the gift of His Son on the cross. He paid for our sins out of His grace.

His grace has given us His Word. The Bible came through the hands and minds of people whom God led. He authored the words through these people. He sent His instructions to us. He tells us in Psalm 119 that we can keep our way pure (He actually says "young man" but that is easy to understand. About 95% of all crime comes from young men. If young men can keep their way pure, the rest of us will find it much easier by following these same instructions.). He tells us to center our lives in His Word.

He tells us to wholeheartedly live our lives according to His Word. We seek the Lord through His Word. We treasure it in our hearts. We are taught by it. We tell it to others. We repeat it to ourselves. We meditate on it. We praise God over it. We store it in our memories. It is through these activities with the Word of knowing it fully and doing it with delight that we keep our way pure.

How shall we be taught this Word? Jesus has promised us that the Holy Spirit would teach us. We have lost the meaning of the Word if we simply open our Bibles and read it as literature. It has a spiritual dimension that no other book has. I, personally, invite the Holy Spirit to read the Word to me. New insights to the Word arrive by His speaking into my heart. This, too, is God's grace.

You will never keep your way pure by keeping out bad influences. You must have the Spirit of God enter your life through trusting in Jesus Christ as your savior. You must have the Word enter your life through a daily time of reading, meditating, reciting, applying and memorizing this Word. You must have the Holy Spirit give you the insight of what the Word says.

Ultimately, keeping our ways pure will always be a love issue. In this it is just like a marriage. The reason that a man keeps himself only for his spouse is because of his commitment and love for his wife. He may make every excuse for infidelity but she will always know that there was a problem with his love for her. Often the reason for infidelity is because the husband (or wife) loved himself more than he loved his wife. He is sorry later but he has also broken a bond of purity.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Keep the Word. Then, you will be on the path to purity.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Is There Power in Persistent Prayer?

Jesus says that a man goes to his friend at midnight to ask for three loaves of bread because he has had unexpected company. His friend initially tells him to go away because he has already put his children in bed. However, the man persists and his friend gets up to give him the bread, not because he is his friend, but because of his persistence. Clearly, Jesus is telling us that there is power in persistent praying.

Is persistent prayer pestering God? (I don't think I can say that three times!) Jesus also warned us that we should not be like those who pray repeating the words so that we would get what we wanted. These repeated prayers were more like magical incantations. They were attempts at making God do something. This is not the type of persistent prayer that He supported.

Persistent prayer should always seek God's will. It may even reveal God's will. I prayed for over eight years that I could become a senior pastor. I prayed reasonably consistently each day in the morning and evening. I already had a message from God that He would allow me to pastor some day. I believed I was praying His will. I continued to do so. It kept me focused on God's will. It made me realize how much I wanted to pastor. I remembered these prayers when the storms came later in a pastorate. It kept me at the job God had given me when I would rather have quit.

Persistent prayer is a test of our faith. The fact that you will keep praying when there is no indication that God has heard reveals your faith in God. God is silent to those He trusts. Faith is believing when there is no external evidence that what you want will ever happen. It is the substance of things hoped for. It is increased with each prayer.

Persistent prayer refines what we believe of God's will. If we genuinely seek God's glory we might find that what we are praying for is not that important. I am currently praying for something that seems like a mountain that should be cast into the sea. I may find that God wants the mountain exactly where it is. I will pray that the mountain be removed until God tells me otherwise.

Persistent prayer reveals God's working in our lives. Often we can't see God work while we are in the midst of the prayer. Later, when the prayer has been answered, we see God's fingerprints on the events of our lives. We marvel and give God glory because He was working when we could not see Him at all.

Persistent prayer is a testimony of God's love. He is not content to give us what we want before we are ready to receive it. He loves us too much to harm us with His gifts. He waits even if we tell Him we will not wait on Him. He works even if we tell Him that we will no longer work for Him. He does what is best when it is the best for us.

Yes, there is power in persistent prayer. It changes us. God could give us anything He wanted but waits for the timing to be right. We are incredibly grateful after we receive what we wanted. We should be incredibly grateful that we don't have it until the right time, too.

Always remember that God loves you and wants the best for your life. He will not give you a snake when you ask for fish. He will not give you a scorpion when you ask for an egg. He wants what is best even when you don't know what is best.

Don't lose heart! Keep praying. God will always give you His best.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Should Christians Buy Insurance?

We stand in our pulpits and say that God will provide. If so, why do we buy insurance? If God will provide why won't He either keep bad things from happening or provide when bad things do?

God causes the rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous. No one escapes bad times. The best Christians can have the worst circumstances in their lives. In fact, they often do because God trusts them so much (that's another topic for another day). So, it is safe to say that God will allow bad things to happen to good people. Christians with insurance are saying they know that bad things can happen to them. But, are they also saying they don't believe in God's ability to provide after the bad things have happened?

Nearly everyone has some type of insurance. You are practicing a type of insurance even if you are not paying extra. Locking your doors at night is insurance. Wearing a seat belt is insurance. Protecting your identity is insurance. These things are not necessary if no one robs our houses, wrecks our cars and steals our identities. Are we saying that God could not provide for us if these things happen? No, absolutely not.

We are taking action as much as possible to do what we can for ourselves. God expects that of us. He has the farmer plant the seed. Could God make crops grow where none have been planted? Yes, but don't expect Him to do so. He has a long pattern of farmers planting seeds. He allows us to do what we can. He does what we can't.

I believe God expects us to go to the doctor when we are sick. This is not a failure on my part to believe that God could heal without the doctor. He often uses doctors to help us heal just as He uses farmers to plant seeds.

Our problem comes when we believe this is the only method God uses. We should neither believe that God only uses doctors to heal us nor that God will always heal us supernaturally. We should pray and work. Both are needed in faithfulness.

Yes, Christians should get insurance if they can. They should do so because that is something that they can do. Should they depend upon their insurance alone? Absolutely not! Insurance may pay the bill but God will have to heal the tragedy.

You do what you can do. Allow God to do what you can't.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sometimes People Are So Rude

I had to go "across the water" last Thursday. You can't really go to the rest of the state of Virginia if you don't cross a bridge or a bridge tunnel. The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel was closed. It put an incredible strain on the rest of the roads.

I got in the proper lane to take me through the Mid-Town Tunnel miles before the tunnel. The traffic barely moved in my lane while people flew past me in lanes on either side of me. After an hour of creeping along I discovered why. These people were driving as far as they could before forcing their way into the proper lane for the tunnel. They didn't wait in line as I had. They were the reason the traffic was moving so slowly. They were rude to everyone who had waited. Their mothers' should be ashamed of them!

I remember when people actually believed in the golden rule. Jesus said, "Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also for them." I don't think that these rude folks really wanted others to treat them as if they didn't exist. I don't think that they want others to consider themselves more important.

The very basic need for "getting along" has been forgotten. Basically, people won't do what is right unless they are inspected. They will not drive the speed limit unless the police are posted along the road. They will not pay their taxes without the fear of an audit. They will not be faithful to their spouses unless they fear getting caught. A society cannot function like this. Anarchy and chaos is around the corner.

When asked, most people said they would steal $1 million if they knew getting caught was impossible. Even Christians said they would take the money and run. Righteousness is not a virtue people want to be characterized by. Its all about how you look. This sounds more the Pharisees that Jesus opposed than the people He sought.

Christians will live like the rest of the world unless they are led my the Spirit. The world will live very selfishly because it does not have the Spirit. The only chance for a society is change its standard of morality, keep laws for major crimes alone, build greater security around its homes and fear everyone because this society knows that these people take advantage of everyone as long as they can get away with it.

So, you no longer have any interest in your neighbors. You really don't care if they go to hell as long as they don't take you with them.

Its interesting to note how many people want to save the planet but not their marriages, their children's future and their own families. They vote for the person who promises them the most without regard for those who will have to pay for it. They push ahead to the last few feet to get in the lane they know they should have merged into miles back because they are only concerned about themselves.

Is that who you are? If so, your mama should be ashamed!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Do You Want a Full Life?

I do not have any trouble having a life filled with activity. Someone will fill my life with activity if I don't fill it myself. I seem to have little free time even when I schedule free time. Something almost always comes up that I must do. No, filling my life with activity is no problem at all.

Most people try more activity in order to have a full life. A full life is one with meaning. It is one that makes you glad you are living this life. It is found in a person who knows his or her purpose and who works hard to fulfill that purpose. A full life reaches into eternity.

The world presents a facade of its version of a full life. It says that a full life is a stimulated life. It fills the body with pleasures. It says that the full life is having all of the latest and greatest things for sale. It says that a new car, new house and a corner office is a full life. It says that having everyone know your name will give you a full life.

Most people struggle to have the world's full life. However, if this is truly a full life why is it that many of the people in Hollywood who have received the world's full life have some of the most empty lives on the planet? Why are they searching through exotic religions to find something that they can claim as a full life? Have you ever seen one of them who have found this full life in any of these religions?

Let's take a different approach. A creator makes something for a purpose. Architects, poets, authors, painters, sculptors and anyone who creates has a purpose for his or her creation. Some times it is to please someone else. Sometimes it is to please the creator. Each creation has a purpose.

Our purpose is to know God and enjoy Him forever. He created us so that He would enjoy us forever. Making anything else your primary purpose will drain the life out of you. God is the giver of life. Jesus said that He came to give us an abundant (full) life. Our lives will never be filled by artificial means. We must have an authentic life built around knowing and enjoying God. So, how do we do that?

Three verbs can give you all that you need to remember to have a full life: Worship, Grow, Serve. The full life if found by doing these for the glory of the Creator. It is through these that we know Him and enjoy Him.

Worship is loving "on" God. It is knowing His presence and loving Him with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength. It is found in obedience to what He has said. You do what He says and your love for Him grows.

Growing is becoming more like Christ. It means you know God's word, the Bible. You study it and discuss it with others. You sometimes experience it in something called a worship service. This is a meeting where believers and others gather to get closer to Him. They sing His truth. They tell of what He is doing in their lives. They grow in their faith. They listen to the His word. They become more like Christ because they allow His Spirit to dwell and reign in them. It moves them to serve.

Serving is becoming the hands and feet of Jesus on this planet. You become His voice. You bring His presence to the world. You love on people to let them know that God loves them. You meet their needs and tell them of the hope that is within you. You present the full life to the world so that others will see that you truly possess it and want to share it with you.

These three things can be done without regard to your occupation (unless your occupation is actually a violation of who God is). You can have a full life if you want it. You have to drop the world's facade and accept the truth. You have to stop filling your life with things that only appear to fill your life. You have to stop and ask yourself where you are right now and whether or not you want things to get better.

So, you tell me that you already know all of this. Are you living a full life right now? If so, praise God. If not, why not?

Go read Revelation 3:20. You will find Jesus knocking at your door so that He can have fellowship with you. That fellowship will give you a full life.

I meant it! Go read it right now! Can you hear His voice?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Anatomy of An Affair

Two people get married and vow that they will be faithful to one another. They cannot imagine being unfaithful. They are deeply in love. It isn't long before the fire of faithfulness doesn't burn so brightly. Many times marriages just like this one will include an affair. Why is this?

A man talks his way into a woman's heart. She loves to hear from him. She wants to know what he is thinking. She wants to know his heart so she talks with him. He woos her with his words. He shares his heart. She falls in love with him. She, in return, gives him her admiration. She wins his heart. They get married.

Soon after marriage many men stop trying to win their wives' hearts. They stop talking. Conversations become grunts in front of the tv. The wife tries to continue the relationship she had before the marriage. She wants him to talk to her. He keeps listening but not talking. He thinks she will eventually stop talking if he listens. He even reasons that she wants him to listen. She doesn't. She wants him to talk.

So, she talks, talks, talks, talks and talks. He gets more and more silent. She gets frustrated. There is one way that she can get him to talk to her. She can make him mad! She brings up something that he needs to do. It can be anything around the house, in their finances or with their children. He sees this as nagging and begins to get angry. However, he does start talking to her. She has withdrawn her admiration. He has withdrawn his conversation. They are no longer winning each other's hearts.

The man goes to work or to the bar or to a hobby and starts to talk to a woman who happens to be there. He tells her how hard he works and how unappreciated he is at home. He tells this woman that his marriage is in terrible shape even though he has done all these things for his wife. He talks and starts to win the heart of the woman he is talking to. Meanwhile, this new woman starts to give this man admiration. They are quickly winning each others' hearts. An affair begins.

Meanwhile the wife is frustrated too. She may not know of the affair yet but wants her marriage to be what she expected when she got married. She makes an appointment with her pastor. She tells him her frustrations. He starts talking to her because he believes he must give her comfort through her difficult time. She starts telling the pastor how much he means to her- how his caring is helping her cope with things. The pastor's talking is winning her heart. Her admiration is winning his. Many churches don't know why their pastor has had an affair. The answer is simple: the pastor and a counselee followed the formula for an affair.

Satan comes to Eve in the Garden of Eden. He talks with her. Why? He wants to win her heart. He isn't just interested in her sinning. He knows that it is easy to get someone to sin when he owns the heart. Adam, who happens to be there listening (check the scripture and you will see that he was there with her), is silent. Eve eats the fruit because Satan has already captured her heart.

The heart must be won by each of the people in a marriage each day. Men need to share their hearts in order to win their wives' hearts. Women need to give their husbands admiration to win their husbands' heart. Failure does not always end in an affair but it certainly creates the atmosphere for one.

Men try talking to your wife tonight. Share your day. Share your own frustrations. Share what your plans are. Women try telling your husband how important he is to you. Tell him something that you admire about him. I'll bet you'll see a difference in each other. This is not all that you need to do but it is a big step in making your marriage affair-proof!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Do You Do with an Unbelieving Spouse?

If your spouse is not a believer you have probably had a Christian tell you, "You are the very reason that the Bible says you shouldn't marry a non-believer!" That doesn't help, does it? You have some real problems and telling you what you have learned already will not get you through them. So, what should you do?

First, you should try your best to remain married. You are the best hope for your spouse's salvation. You must stay with the spouse as long as he or she will have you. You must bring the presence of Christ into the marriage. This means you will act with greater patience and love than someone who does not know Christ. You must comply as much as possible with the wishes of your spouse. This does not mean you will do anything that is ungodly but you should participate with him or her whenever you can. It means you will go to the Christmas party at work. It means you will change your plans for something at church to go with your spouse on something that he or she wants to do. Your spouse will resent church if it takes all your time. You must only do what you know you should at church. You can't come to everything.

You must keep yourself prepared to share the gospel with him or her. The gospel seldom comes in one message. It comes through many people through many encounters. You should be gentle but firm in your approach. The best way to be prepared is to spend time with the Lord daily. Read the scriptures and pray. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say.

Enlist another believer or believers you trust to pray for your spouse's salvation. This person or persons will hear your triumphs and disappointments. They will give you encouragement when you don't think you can continue. Their prayers will supply the spiritual power you need to do things you didn't think you could. These prayers will help give you words you would not have spoken to your spouse. Everyone needs prayer when going through a difficult time. There are few more difficult times than someone who has a non-believing spouse. Make sure you surround yourself with these people.

Resolve that you will not do anything ungodly. Your spouse does not know the Lord and may ask you to do something sinful. You can't participate. That may mean that your spouse will leave you. You have to stand for the Lord or you will never have a witness to your spouse. This means you may have to let him or her leave. You are not trying to run your spouse off. You are trying to show him or her the Lord. That can't happen while you are participating in something sinful.

Make sure that you ask for your spouse's forgiveness when you do something wrong. It does not matter if it hurt your spouse. You should explain that you hope for your spouse's commitment to Christ. You should tell your spouse that your actions would not have led him or her to the conclusion that you are a believer. You ask for forgiveness for not presenting a clear picture of who Christ is to you. Your spouse may not understand. This is okay. You have made a point of telling how important your relationship with Christ is. You have made your point of telling how important your spouse is, too.

Remember, God does miracles. The darkest nights may be before you. The most discouraging moments will come when your spouse rejects the faith one more time. "Be of good courage," Jesus says, "I have overcome the world." He who has overcome the world can help you overcome any obstacle.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Can Christians Divorce?

This is a very difficult question. Not because the Bible is not clear but many people reading this have already gotten divorced. Their circumstances are decided. They must go forward. God forgives and even places people back into His full will. So, with this said, let's look at what the Bible says about divorce.

Malachi says that God hates divorce. This divorce was of people trading one spouse for another. This was forgetting the wife of your youth and looking for a younger woman. God hates it. I am probably safe saying that half of the couples who have gotten such a divorce hated it too.

The Bible says that you should allow an unbelieving spouse to leave if they want to. Otherwise, you should remain married to the spouse in hopes that he or she will come to faith in Christ. Abandonment is, therefore, a legitimate reason for divorce.

Unfaithfulness is another reason for divorce. Jesus, Himself, said that a person could get divorced over this issue.

He also said that men's hearts were hard and God allowed divorce for other reasons. So, we must accept that God works with sinners. He takes what has already happened and makes it into something wonderful if the person will give themselves to Him.

Divorce is damaging to both lives even if one is determined to get divorced. Their lives will never be the same. God hates the damage done to those lives. He has a solution to make a marriage work but both people must give up their own selfishness to accept His best for their lives.

God allows divorce but does not ordain it. He doesn't say, "Go get a divorce because I have someone better for you." He wants you to work it out if at all possible.

I ask people if they have done everything reasonable to save their marriages. I do not ask them if they have done everything possible. There is no end to what you could do. I ask them if they can stand before God and say they have done everything reasonable.

Have you gone to counseling? Are you attending church together? Do you have a church home (membership)? Are you actively involved? Do you pray together? Are you considering each other's physical needs? Have you prayed for God's intervention into your marriage? Can you stand before God and say I have done all these things (or wanted to but my spouse didn't want to)?

I still do not recommend divorce. I don't know everything the person has done. I don't want to step in where I don't know all the circumstances. I believe God can work miracles.

However, Christians do get divorced. They do cheat on their spouses. They do abandon their spouses. I hear the pain in those who have been cheated on or abandoned. I don't know what their solution should be. I know that some of them will get divorced.

I also know that God is not a condemning God. He will not turn away those who come to Him. He will receive us into His grace even if we were the cause of the divorce. I know He will make things good again when we turn to Him.

I have also listened to the regrets that Christians have expressed over their divorces. These come when they know they were the reason for the divorces. These regrets will never go away.

Can Christians divorce? This is like listening to a young man say a bad word and replying, "Young man, we don't say these words in our house." He has already said these words. Saying that they aren't said doesn't mean that they aren't said. Divorce is a reality. It is not what God wants. God works with the divorced anyway.

And, in a way, I am glad. He works with me though I have never divorced. (I have thought of murder, though! There were several times my wife should have murdered me.) He works with us as sinners in need of Him. That will not change.

I hope that those who are considering divorce will do everything reasonable to make sure it doesn't happen. If it does, I want them to know that God's grace covers us all when we come to Him.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Accept the Simple Answer

What is more powerful than God? More evil than the devil? The poor have it. The rich need it. And if you eat it; it will kill you.

Nothing is more obvious than the answer to this riddle. Yet, the smartest people take the longest time finding the answer. Why do we look for a more complicated answer when the simple answer is the best?

For example, how long does it take you to determine whether you should do the godly thing or the ungodly? How long does it take you to determine that you should eat healthy foods? How long does it take you to determine that you should exercise? How long does it take for you to determine that you should be honest? Most of the decisions we make neither takes a rocket scientist's or a brain surgeon's mind. We already know what we should do.

However, we can make things very complicated when we don't want to do what we know we should. I counsel people who know that they should be faithful to their spouses. They tell me elaborate stories of how they became unfaithful. They tell me why doing the right thing is so complicated. They don't understand that a ball of string is very uncomplicated until you tangle it together so much that it takes days to straighten things out. They don't realize that they had a ball of string when they started. It was simple but the known bad decisions made things complicated.

I am continually amazed at stories of people blaming others when they already knew the right answer. How many people are truly ignorant that McDonalds' coffee is hot? How many don't know that cigarette smoking is bad for your health? How many people don't know that abusing your credit cards will hurt your credit report? How many people don't know that cheating on your spouse can't be good for you marriage? Yet, people are blaming McDonalds for their spilled coffee burns, the cigarette companies for their lung problems, the credit card companies for their bad credit and their spouses for their unfaithfulness.

Life is really complicated when you do what you shouldn't have done. It is really complicated when you try to figure your way out of the maze you have entered.

Our church has an adult special needs Sunday School class. These people are mentally challenged but some of the most fun people I know. Their lives are simple and they are very happy. They know that doing the right thing is the best thing. You will find them doing this most of the time.

I know some very intelligent people who are not so happy. They may know that doing the right thing is the best but they seldom do so. They are always trying to make their answers complicated.

Why is this when you could just accept the simple answer and be happy?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Where Has God Brought You?

Faithful people have bad things happen to them. Ask the Apostle Paul if you don't believe me. He had some very challenging events in his life. He was shipwrecked, stoned and beaten while serving His Lord.

God was not the author of these bad things. Satan and the sin that is in the hearts of men made these things happen. However, God used these hard times to fashion Paul into the man of God he was. He used these difficulties to move Paul from place to place. He even used the times in prison so Paul would write what would become most of the New Testament. God made miracles out of Paul's arduous journey.

I suppose one could say that this was only for Paul or it is only for the people who lived before the New Testament was completed but any believer who has diligently served His Lord knows that hard times come to everyone. We know that God uses good and bad things to fashion and move us. Sometimes the bad things get us to move to places we would have never considered before.

This is true of where I am right now. I would never have considered pastoring this church if I had not walked the path God had given me. I have never thought of myself as a moderate. My life has an on and off switch with no throttle. I go full speed or I just don't go. I couldn't see myself as a moderate.

I was not successful in my last pastorate. I had never had a failure before and did not know what to do. I considered this church because the situation was so unusual. I didn't know anyone at the church. I have always gone to a church which had a connection from someone in my past. This church came "out of the blue." I felt God's calling and I came.

God has blessed me. I can genuinely say that He has used the past events to help me be successful here. He moved me to a place where I see His grace. He has placed me in the midst of some of the most loving people I have ever known. I am blessed.

However, this did not come before I went through some very rough times. There were times that I didn't care if I lived or died. There were times when I wanted to quit the ministry altogether. There were times when I questioned whether I would ever know God's grace again. God used those times to bring me here.

I know that some of you reading this may be going through some of those very difficult times when you cannot see God's grace. Remember, just because you can't see His grace doesn't mean that it isn't there. God is moving you to a place He wants you to be. He is always moving you toward His grace.

I know it is hard to say that the light will come when you are in total darkness. Hope often fades the longer we are in darkness. The light is coming no matter how long the darkness lasts. The light will overcome the darkness.

Where has God brought you? Maybe He has brought you to a place you wouldn't have gone on your own. Yet, I assure you, He wouldn't have brought you here if it wasn't in His grace.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Live Like Someone in Need of Grace

Jesus tells a story of a man who owed a huge amount of money. He begs for mercy when his creditor comes collecting. He doesn't want to be thrown into debtors' prison. The creditor has mercy on him and cancels his debts.

This debt free man then confronts someone who owes him a little money. The man cannot pay and begs for mercy but, instead of forgiving the debt, he throws the man in debtors' prison.

Meanwhile, the original creditor discovers what has happened. He confronts this man who has shown no mercy and throws him into prison. His mercy was removed because he did not return the mercy to someone else.

The lesson is clear. We should give grace to others because of the grace we have received. This concept is foreign to many Christians.

I read a book recently which said that churches that grow get rid of their dead wood. (This is my interpretation.) The book claims that staff members who don't perform at a significant level should be fired. This was given coldly; as one who would take out the trash.

Not all people fit in all positions. Some will need to be asked to leave. Firing comes when people will not follow your orders or only follow your orders. The latter is just a game. You don't need an employee who has to be told everything he must do and blames you when he doesn't do something that is obvious.

Firing also comes in sinfulness. A church staff member is only effective because the congregation trusts that staff member. The ministry ends when trust is destroyed. Trust is destroyed when the minister is characterized by sin. Some sins are characterized more quickly than others. Unfaithfulness to his wife (or husband if it is a female staff member) and stealing are two sins which are characterized quickly. The minister needs to leave the ministry for a while to re-establish a trustful lifestyle before re-entering the ministry.

Sometimes people are trying and they still don't fit. They work hard and are still ineffective. They go to further training. They have good hearts and they try with all their might. They still can't get the job done. They are in the wrong place. They should be given the opportunity to leave. I always want to be found giving grace when dealing with such people.

I know of a church where one such person was on staff. He tried hard but was not successful. He was told to find another place of ministry. The church found out that he was asked to leave from his family. The church still asked him to leave but continued to pay his salary and benefits for many months. I thought the church gave him grace. That church is doing very well right now. It is and example in growth and ministry which other churches are trying to emulate. I believe the church gave grace and, therefore, receives grace.

I know of another church in a very similar situation. Word got out that a staff member was being asked to resign. They decided to cut the severance package in half when the truth got out. I don't think that this church will do well. I cannot see God giving them grace after they showed no grace. At least, that's the way I read the story that Jesus told.

I am constantly in need of grace. I must constantly be in need of giving grace. I do not understand the grace given to me if I do not give grace. I will not receive the grace for the things that I want to do if I do not give grace.

You would think that the church would be the first place to find grace. Unfortunately, it isn't always true.

My church gives grace. I want us to be known as a church that gives grace. I also give grace. I want to treat people like I would like to be treated. It's just that simple.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Does Anyone Live "Happily Ever After?"

The story ends: "And they lived happily ever after. The End."

It is a great ending to a fairy tale but it is exactly that: a fairy tale. It has no real connection with the real world. However, I really wouldn't like telling my children the rest of the story either.

Cinderella and Prince Charming's problems seem to start after the first child was born. His job as Head of State kept him away from home often. Cindy was left at home to raise the child, manage the castle and attend the affairs that were necessary as the First Lady. She was often tired of the work and the loneliness of raising a child by herself.

When Prince Charming was finally at home he often went out with the guys hunting. He said he needed some relief from the pressures put upon him by the job. Cindy wondered when she was going to get a break. They never went out anymore.

One day he told her that it appeared to him that she was putting on a little weight. Cindy would have immediately left and gone to her mother's but everyone knows her mother had already passed away. She picked up their child, put him in Prince Charming's lap and stormed out of the room. The surprised Prince remarks, "I just thought you would like to know! You say I never notice anything!"

Life is a fight. The Apostle Paul said that he had fought the good fight. This statement should give and indication that life is a struggle even if you are in the middle of the Lord's will, doing His work and seeing Him work all around you. We were not created to live tension free lives.

Part of the reason for the struggle is sin. Sin has caused others to act contrary to us even if we are doing God's will and what we are doing is best for them. Anyone who has raised teenagers can attest to this. Often sin keeps us in a struggle.

Yet, God seems to keep us striving as well. He orchestrates great things with struggles built in. He leads His people to the middle of a desert without enough food to survive. This causes them to gather manna every day. No fairy god mothers would show up each day to magically make their pots full of everything they wanted to eat. They had to depend on Him every day and gather just the manna they needed for that day. (except for the Sabbath)

Most people don't do well when their struggles are removed. Look at the people who have won huge lotteries. Their lives are a genuine mess after a very short time. Often they say that they wished they had never won the money. It has become a burden instead of a blessing.

I believe God wants us in the struggle because He knows that is the only way we will turn to Him. Many of us would go our own way without any thoughts of Him if we could. So the struggle itself brings us home. It makes us long for a Father who cares for us. It corrects our path and keeps us aware when we have strayed.

There are no "Happily Ever After" but maybe what we have is better. We have a walk with our God which draws us closer every day.

Fight the good fight.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Where Is Your Joy?

We have all fallen into this trap. It is a hole in the middle of our path that we walk into rather than around. We have fallen in several times. Each time it is hard to climb out. Each time we say we won't fall in again.

Christians forget where their joy is. We put it into the things we do not possess. We place it in temporary objects. This is why there is so much disappointment in some Christians' lives. They keep chasing something that remains out of reach. They keep thinking that they will soon possess it. They even have moments of holding their "joy" in their hands to have it snatched away.

There can be no joy in any possession, position or person on this earth. It cannot be found in our cars, homes or huge HD televisions. It will not be found on the ski slopes, the beaches or the mountain lakes. It does not reside in the board room, corner office or in the White House. It cannot be found in building buildings or chiseling statues or designing cars. It will elude you if you think it is found in your spouse, children, friends or fans.

We have a creator. He created us for fellowship with Him. He created us for a purpose on this earth. We find out joy when we join Him in our purpose. Our joy is found in the Lord. It is found because we are fulfilling our purpose in life. Everything else is just a facade of joy. It looks like it will bring joy on the outside but we soon find that "joy" fading as soon as the luster has worn off. The new car doesn't thrill us anymore. Neither does the new house nor the new spouse.

Satan has told us a lie that we believe so readily. He says that there is something better than the Lord has for you. He told this lie to Adam and Eve. They believed him even though they already had joy in their lives. It only takes a slight turn of the head to get things out of your line of vision. Satan turns our heads and we lose sight of everything we know to be true. We lose our joy.

This true joy is never really out of reach. It means you must give up those things that you thought were joy. This is the failure of the rich, young ruler. Jesus told him to sell all that he possessed, give it to the poor and come follow Jesus. He thought his joy was in the things he possessed and missed true joy. People have misunderstood this story so often. They think that Jesus doesn't want anyone to ever have anything. That's not the point. Joy is found in eliminating the things that are keeping you from the Lord. It doesn't mean you will leave your spouse and children or quit your job. It means they will no longer have possession of you. You will give yourself to the Lord. Then, you will find joy. (And you become a better spouse or parent or employee.)

I write this as a person full of joy. But this is today. I am quite capable of turning my head and looking at other things. I have done so in the past. I thank God that He takes me back into His joy.

How about you? Where is your joy? Are you really full of joy right now?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Will You Leave a Legacy?

I have done lots of funerals. I rarely have one which the deceased has prepared for. Most of them are not surprised by their own deaths. They knew it was coming. They are just unprepared.

The family is left to make all the arrangements. They do what they think is appropriate. Sometimes they follow the unadvised wishes of the departed. Some things sound great but really don't work in a funeral. You wouldn't know this unless you are in the funeral business.

My job is to give comfort to the ones left behind. I need to tell them that their loved ones are in a better place. Many times I do this with some pretty thin evidence. The families cannot tell me when their loved ones made any commitment to Jesus which would be the basis for salvation. I am left to construct stories that might be true. I look for any evidence that their lives made any difference for the cause of Christ. I look for testimonies that I am afraid are never there. I have simply preached Jesus sacrifice on the cross on many occasions without mentioning the deceased. I had absolutely no evidence of their faith to base my messages.

However, there are also many times that I know the deceased have a strong faith. I know how they have lived their lives. I know this but I would like to have been able to tell their stories more definitely. Even their own families do not know their stories of salvation. These stories will be forgotten even if they are known by the next generation.

This is why I urge people to write out their stories of how they came to know Christ. These are stories that could be read at their funerals. It would give clear evidence of their being in heaven. It would give greater assurances to their families. It could be passed down to their children's children's children. These testimonies could be a legacy left for the succeeding generations. Reading this testimony might bring a descendant to Christ years after the Christian has died.

Most people don't know how to write their own testimony. It is really simple if you will answer six questions about your salvation: Why? What? Where? When? Who? and How? They don't have to be answered in this order. These answers will tell a complete story.

I suggest you put these on a word processor and allow your family to read a printed copy for their understanding. Tell them that this is so that your ancestors and others will know of your faith. Ask them if the story makes sense. This will give you the opportunity of telling your family about your faith while letting them know that you have this document to be left for your ancestors. (There are many other things you need to do to plan a funeral. This is just one of them.)

My wife recently received a watch in a presentation case. It was the one carried by her father's uncle. The watch itself is unremarkable. The writing on the back is important. The framing of this watch was a gift from my wife's mother to her dad on their 25th wedding aniversary. It said that she hoped for twenty-five more. This gift is a legacy of their relationship. We will pass it down to our children.

I think it would be nice to find a way of presenting something special that would tell the story of your salvation. It should be done so that it can be passed down to those who will never know you on this earth. Maybe you can have the cover of an old Bible or the picture of a church or some other creative and meaningful item that can be put in a case on which you will write the story of your faith. It can be passed down from generation to generation. It will become your legacy. And unlike most, you will be remembered past two generations.

Do you want to leave a legacy?