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Monday, August 31, 2009

What Would Be Said at Your Funeral If You Were to Die Today?

I have listened to sons tell stories of their fathers which were less than complimentary. Their fathers have died and people come by their homes to express their sympathies. They say very kind words about the deceased. The sons tell me different stories. I have heard them say that their fathers' were jerks (They never use the word "jerk.") I wonder if these dads realized how their sons felt about them. Did they intend to be such jerks?

Many people do not realize that they build a legacy every day of their lives. Everyone has the same number of hours in a day but some choose to get lost in the crowd. Others choose to be known in terrible ways. Even others do not watch what they are doing each day and blow opportunities to do something great. A few become those people who honorable others want to emulate.

A reputation is not built upon a moment but a lifetime. The person who builds a good reputation has consistently worked toward that reputation. It is what would be said of him or her if death came suddenly. They are always working toward something good. They will be known for their good.

Alfred Nobel is known for the Nobel Prize but his altruistic manner was not always his legacy. He was the inventer of dynamite. This was the most destructive force known during his lifetime. A French newspaper wrote a premature obituary of Nobel in 1888. The paper called him the "merchant of death." Alfred Nobel read the story in horror to see how he would be remembered if he died at that time. The paper had painted him as the creator of a substance that killed thousands. He determined this would not be his legacy. He turned his attention to the greater good of mankind and today he is known primarily for the Nobel Prize. 

Do you know what your children think of you? Do you know what they would say if you were to die today? Do you care?

I have heard many people say, "When I die, just stick me in an old pine box and throw me in the ground." I suppose that would be enough if that is all there is in this life. What difference does it make if we cease to exist once we die? Everything changes if we are created for eternity. Hell will be filled with people with regrets. They will regret what they have done for eternity.

Please don't be one of them. Live each day with the thought of what would be said of you if you died today. Then, when the time comes, you won't have to worry about it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fixing the Broken Egg

There is a nursery rhyme that says that you can't put the broken egg back together. No one even tries.  All the king's horses and all the king's men can't put a broken egg back together. The contents runs out of a broken egg and never can be put back the same way. Since you can't really fix the broken egg; you must build a new one.

Our society is like an egg in many ways. It is very fragile. Tinkering with the fundamentals of the society will result in a broken society. For example, the thought that all people are good changes how we look at everything. Some evil has made a person murder or steal if this person was originally good. Therefore, we must blame his mother, father, or another part of his environment for his transgressions. We must become an entitled society if people are not responsible for their own actions. It simply isn't their fault. They should be given whatever they want by those who haven't had these bad influences in their lives.

Take away an absolute right and wrong and the society falls apart. Morality will continue to evolve. The fundamentals of what make us who we are will fall apart with it. We cannot change who we are as human beings. Some things are wrong for us. They will plague our relationships. They will destroy our society. For example, things which were considered pornography are now defended as "freedom of speech." The result is that we have become lax in our understanding of what is right and wrong in sex. The freedom of expression has resulted in families no longer understanding that commitment in marriage is fundamental for the existence of marriage. Serial marriages have become common. Children from these marriages don't understand commitment either. The likelihood of their continuing in a committed marriage is very slim. The fabric of our society is found in the family. The fabric is torn and raveling away. (This is a brief and simplistic explanation. It is really more complicated but it stems from the fundamentals of right and wrong before and after marriage being blurred.)

Can we fix this broken egg of a society that has been shattered? The answer is, "No!" It is really beyond our repair. Nothing we can do will bring our society back to it's senses.

Does that mean that we should just go with the flow? Absolutely not! Something must be done.

You ask for help when you have something that must be done but you can't do it. This help must come from the God who loves us and has put the absolutes of right and wrong in our society. He knows how we will hurt ourselves when we violate His principles. He is the only one to change things. 

You pray when you need help from God. You place yourself in His hands to do whatever He pleases. You follow whatever He tells you to do. You profess that you are going to follow Him no matter what. You stop doing the things that are causing the problem. You ask Him to forgive those things. You keep praying until you get an answer. Then, you pray that answer into existence.

Our society is undeniably broken. Will you pray that God will build one which will please Him? 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Why Settle for Less?

Do most Christians believe that God has wonderful plans for them? If they do, why do they settle for less?

For example, they will take borrow money that will keep them from giving to God because they want something like a new car. If they believed God has wonderful plans, they would wait to see how God would provide. Often, He may not get them a new car but would put them in a position to see some greater plan in their lives. It may be that He will move them to the job that they always wanted which will provide the funds for a new car. Their inability to wait upon the Lord made them settle for less than what God has for them.

The unwillingness to wait upon the Lord has caused many a girl to marry a man who does not know the Lord. Her life is one of trying to change him. She struggles to show her sons that they should know the Lord. She is given miseries that the Lord never intended for her. She simply settled for less.

I think I can give the antithesis of Isaiah 40:31 for those who settle for less:

But they who don't wait for the Lord
shall lose their strength;
they will join the turkeys in their walks;
running will be too hard for them;
their weariness will cause them to faint often.

Don't settle for less. Wait on the Lord for His best.

 Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
31 but they who wait for the Lord
shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wisdom Is a No-Brainer

There is a difference between wisdom and intelligence. Many very smart people make some very unwise choices in their lives. They can tell you laws of physics or quote Shakespeare but they can't raise their children or stay married. They will know the difference between AC and DC currents but they will not know that taking their children to church is more important than playing golf every Sunday. They are the smartest clueless people on the planet. They are full of intelligence but have no wisdom at all. 

Wisdom doesn't have the value it once had. There was a time that it was recognized. It was seen in those who were older. They had traveled the road of hard knocks and learned.

Wisdom tells us to listen. Intelligence seems to want to talk. Wisdom says that a child can teach us things. Intelligence says it has nothing to learn. Wisdom says there are others smarter than me. Intelligence claims a higher I.Q.  Wisdom says, "I'm listening!" Intelligence says, "Shut up!"

Wisdom and intelligence are not exclusive of each other. They do seem to battle, though. The person who is incredibly smart may take a long time becoming wise. Their intelligence is beyond others. They do not need to listen. They know how to fix just about everything. If not, they can figure it out for themselves.

Wisdom knows the difference between good and best. It says that sleep is good but that it is best to get up and get to work. It says that creativity is good but it is no excuse for failing to do what you must do. It says that everything has a proper place in importance. It values people. It grows.

Intelligence does not know what it does not know. Wisdom does. Intelligence struggles to weigh the value of things. Wisdom knows which is more important. Wisdom knows you must be present to raise your children. Intelligence says that someone else can do it so that you can do more important things like make money.

Facts can be given to someone else. They are numbers, places, times, formulas, scientific method and the like. They can be taught and even forced upon students. Wisdom is something you must want. It cannot be simply taught. It takes a willing heart to have wisdom. It takes humility to become wise.

The wise person's life is put in order. He or she knows what is right and wrong. He or she knows what is important and best. He or she weighs the good and the bad in each decision. 

The merely intelligent person will point to his or her degrees, publications and creations to prove his or her intelligence. The wise person may also be intelligent but sees his or her life through the opportunities given to him or her. They see themselves blessed rather than accomplished.

Who can be wise? Take a look at Proverbs. There is much there to tell us about wisdom. I'll admit, I would have chosen intelligence over wisdom when I was younger. Now I know that wisdom is much more important. The choice is a no-brainer. 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not All Demons Leave Easily

There are some things that many new Christians conquer quickly. Often their use of language improves immediately. They stop using vulgar words. They stop being in places where these words are expected. Yet, some of their demons simply hide for a while. They will come out when the Christians' new found exuberance subsides. They have not gone away. They are merely dormant.

The worse thing the Christian can do is live with these demons. So many Christians merely hide the addictions rather than remove them. They live abused lives which destroy their joy and witness. They have decided that they can't live without their demons. They know that others would look down on them if they don't get rid of them but they don't believe it is possible. They have tried but they have not had victory.

Jesus said that some demons do not leave without prayer and fasting. He was talking about those who were possessed by demons. I, however, believe that there are demons that plague Christians without possessing them. They have influence rather than control. I know that they do not leave easily, either. I also believe that the answer is prayer and fasting.

This is where the church must play a big part. A church must be a safe place for Christians to confess their sins so that they can get help. It should not be a place to hide your sins. It must be a place to share failures and receive unconditional love.

I once sat in a group of pastors who shared their demons. One admitted that he was an alcoholic and had hidden it from his present congregation for five years. Another told of his destroyed self-esteem when his wife ran off with another woman. As each man shared I got more afraid to share my own demons. The fact that no one was condemned helped. However, we could do something for each other once the demons were revealed. We prayed for each other. 

I have attended Alcoholics Anonymous groups at our church. (I am not an alcoholic. I just went to support them.) Their honesty is brutal. They know they are in a group of people who are battling the same demon. They know they will not make it alone. They know that they need each other. Why aren't more churches like this? We would have many more victories if we were.

You need to pray and fast to remove some demons. You need friends who will also pray and fast for you. These actions depend upon the power of God to have victory. His power is unstoppable. He will never be defeated. 

The demons I see are named addiction, pornography, gluttony, greed, anger, selfishness, envy, pride, etc. They are subtle. They tell lies to their subjects. They say they are normal. They say everyone is struggling with the same demons. They say that they can't be lived without. They will not admit defeat until they are defeated.

Everyone reading this blog either has one of these demons or knows someone who does. Either way, condemnation is not the answer. Prayer and fasting is. Would you go to someone for help or to help? Will you commit to pray and fast? Would you send this blog to them so that you can start the discussion of help? Do you care enough to do something about it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

True Christianity Is Not All Smiles and Giggles

We do our faith a disservice when we make it to be all gain and no pain. We seem to tell everyone that it will never cost them anything. It is a faith to get rich in. It is a faith that laughs all the time. It is a faith with no hard bumps, no steep hills and no bad times.

This may be why people think that the church is there to make them happy, that tithing is a matter of giving and that God would never ask them to leave anything they love to follow Him. This is why we searched for over three years for a Minister of Music. Many of these "ministers" didn't want to leave Texas or Georgia or Alabama or Ohio or any of the places where they were close to their families. They thought that their faith would never make them drink from a bitter cup. They never understood the meaning of sacrificing for the Lord. Why sacrifice if our faith is all smiles and giggles?

Last night I read the story of the widow who gave her last two sents at the temple. Jesus was watching. In fact, He had set Himself and the disciples in a position to watch what everyone gave. He didn't say anything about the rich. He was there to watch the widow give her last two cents. He told the disciples she gave from her needs while everyone else gave as it was convenient. 

I thought, "Where is the rest of the story?" You know, the story where she leaves the temple and someone gives her a million bucks. You know, the one in which a rich man marries her and takes her away from all her poverty. You know, the one in which she gets a great reward for giving her last two cents. And you know, its not there. There is no story that says she didn't starve to death. There is no story that says she was rewarded on earth for her faith. There is no story that says that her obedience was her last act of faith on the earth.

Sometimes you have to drink from a cup you would rather pass on. Most of the early Christians knew what they were getting themselves into. They knew that those who killed Jesus would want to kill them too. They knew that their faith could cost them their lives. And it did for many of them. 

Our faith was built on a foundation of all for Christ. It was not convenient to be a Christian. It was a true sacrifice. Yet, under these conditions, it spread like wildfire. It seems that today we present Christianity as a faith of convenience and abundance. Yet, under these conditions, churches are closing. 

Could it be that our faith doesn't mean anything to the outside world if it doesn't mean anything to us? Sacrifice reveals love. Love attracts people. Convenience fosters condemnation of others.(After all, others are not convenient.)  Condemnation  repells people.

Would you have given your last two cents if you were the widow in the temple that day? I pray that I would. That woman counted for something. She caused the Savior to come watch and praise her. Her faith meant something. It was deep. It revealed a relationship.

True Christianity is not all smiles and giggles. It is rich but not in the ways people will explain riches. It is rich in the relationship with our Lord. You will never be closer to Him than when you drink from the cup you would like to pass on. Will you take a sip?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Just Climb the Hill in Front of You

We all face difficult decisions and difficult tasks. There are things we know we must do which we would refuse to do if we could. They are hills that we must climb. They sometimes hurt and take a great deal of effort. We wonder how we came to this situation which has made us climb this hill. Yet, climb it, we must.

Our hills may be represented by confronting a friend who is caught in an affair. You need to tell him or her that he or she is destroying the family. It may be that you need to give a bad report on someone at work. It may be that you must stop all your spending and pay your bills. It may be that you must confront your spouse about the credit card bills. It may be that you suspect your teenage son is using drugs and you must confront him. It may be that your daughter is pregnant and you must walk up her hill with her. Whatever it is, you know what you must do.

Don't let a hill become a mountain. It is easy to do. You can dread climbing your hill so much that you believe it is impossible to climb. You build it up so that there is more dread than climbing. You worry and nothing gets done. It isn't a mountain. It's a hill! Remember that.

Don't let your hill become terminal. A hill looks terminal only because you can't see the other side of the hill. You know there is another side but you simply can't see it. You will once you have topped the hill. You can look back and see what you have climbed. You can look forward to enjoying the results of climbing a hill. There is a better side of the hill but you can't have it until you have climbed to the top. It certainly isn't terminal.

The first step is deciding that you must climb the hill. The next step is starting the climb. The climb is hard and often painful. There is another side. There is release. You do not need to go alone. Give the hill to God and let Him carry you up the hill.

Jesus faced threats of being stoned if He went back to Judea. He had to go back because He knew He must raise Lazarus from the dead. His disciples had made this hill into a mountain. Thomas said that they would all die if they went back. He had made the hill terminal. They couldn't see the other side. They decided to go with Jesus and many people believed because Lazarus was brought back to life.

Just climb the hill in front of you. I assure you there is another side.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

We do not think of death that often. We know it is coming but it is considered to be far off. We say it won't happen today so it is of little concern. That is, we do not think of it often until it becomes a real possibility. Then, death can dominate our minds.

There are many types of death. Of course, there is physical death which we often refer to. But there are also other types of death in our lives. Death has a finality from which we cannot return. Death is something we can't avoid. Death is the loss of something that we hold precious.

There can be the death in a relationship. I have seen the divorces of many people affect them even more severely than death. They see it coming. They dread it. They feel the pain of losing the relationship. Many times it is amazing what they will do to salvage the relationship. It resembles chemotherapy. They will do whatever the leaving spouse wants even though he or she will leave them anyway.

The loss of a job can resemble a death. The person expected that job to provide the things he or she really needed for life. The company fails or must cut employees to survive. It may even be that the skill set this person has is outdated. Regardless of the reason, death of the job may come suddenly or it may be expected. Termination is exactly what the term implies.

We may face the death of a child or a friend. We may face the death of living in a community which we always thought we would live. We may see our children accept jobs so far away that we will no longer be able to see them at a moment's notice. We may see our investments on which we planned our retirements disappear. Each of these are like deaths to us. They end what we once had.

David wrote that he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. The thought is of a place where there were predators waiting to ambush the traveler. His comfort comes from God's rod and staff. What were these things which helped him walk through this valley with confidence?

The rod was a stick that was used for counting the sheep. The shepherd knew he had all his sheep because he counted them. It means that every one of them counted and he would go looking for any sheep that came up missing. It is a comfort to know that God always knows where we are. He is not surprised to find us in the circumstances we are in. His rod keeps a tally.

The rod was also used to protect the sheep from the predators. The shepherd would use the rod to beat off those who would try to take his sheep. It is also a comfort to know that God will fight for us as we walk through this valley.

The shepherd would also use the rod as a means of discipline. A tap from the rod could keep a wandering sheep on the path. It would be extremely dangerous for the sheep to go into the valley with predators on each side. It would be more dangerous if the sheep got off the path. It is a comfort that God disciplines us as His children when we wander from the path. It is an act of love and protection.

The staff was something the shepherd would lean on. It represents the weariness that can come from facing the valley. It means that we can lean on our Lord when we face the valley. He is the strong shepherd who knows each of us, protects each of us, disciplines each of us and on whom we can put our trust.

Yes, there are tough times. There are days that you walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death but you need never go alone. Take His rod and His staff with you. They will comfort you.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sometimes God Has to Say "No"

There are many reasons that God has to say know to some of your prayers. The most revealing is that you are asking for something that is not best for you. You may be praying for healing but God knows what your future will be if you were to live. He knows that there is much more hardship ahead that He doesn't want you to go through. He says He will take you home with Him rather than allow you to go through this hardship. His answer to healing is "no."

That applies to any thing you can ask. God knows you and all your circumstances. He knows what you will do and what you can do. He knows the effect your life has on others. Many times He wants you to be a witness during a tough time. Tough times grab others' attention. They watch you as you continue to pray and praise the Lord. It makes an impact on them. God loves these other people, too. Therefore, you go through the tough time. You may continue to ask that God remove it but because He also loves those who are watching you His answer is "no."

Your neighbor prays for rain on his lawn but you are praying that it doesn't rain on your daughter's birthday. God will not make it rain exclusively on your neighbor's lawn. This is true for any conflicting prayers. One prayer may be answered positively which excludes the other prayer. The same would be true of two people praying for the one promotion or two people praying for different people to be elected president. Many times the answer to one prayer means that the answer God must give to the other is "no."

I often think of the Garth Brooks song, "Unanswered Prayers." It is a song about a man seeing his ex-girlfriend at a hometown football game. He remembers praying that he would marry this woman when she was his ex. He introduces his wife and looks at this woman and thanks God he didn't marry the wrong one. I realize that many of the things I pray for are not the best for me. God has a better plan. He has my best in mind each time He thinks of me. 

Praise God for "no!" It just means something better is ahead.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Are You Supposed to Obey Your Church Leaders?

Many people they know more about how to run the church than the leaders they have chosen. The pastor is second-guessed. The Minister of Education is thought to be clueless about what she is doing. The Youth Minister is believed to be spending money frivolously. The Children's Minister is reported he never asks the right people to teach. It makes for such great gossip. It is full of error. It is not of God.

For some reason people believe that going to church qualifies them for running a church. They seem to think they have observed all that can happen in a church. Let's think about this. Do you learn to cook by eating? Do you know how to raise children by having been a child? Do you know how to teach because you went to school? Can you be a mechanic because you have ridden in a car?

Each of these seem ridiculous, yet people who are otherwise sane believe they know more than their leaders. They believe that their answers to the problems the church faces will be the ones that make things so much better. They even believe their complaints make things better because they garner support for their ideas.

One Sunday we received a note that said, "Don't worry, my friend and I will straighten out this church." It came with a list of "improvements" that the church needed to make. It came from my own daughter! She was in elementary school at the time.

The Bible says that people should obey their spiritual leaders because they keep watch over their souls. The greatest error in failing to support the leader is the danger that it places on the rogue church member. These leaders have a serious responsibility to care for their flock. They will have to answer to God if they don't. The members who are going their own path step outside of God's plan. They stand in a spiritually dangerous area. They open themselves to unshielded attacks.

Isn't it strange that people say that God called a minister when he first arrives at the church but claim they have to get rid of him when he doesn't do what they want? Why is it that one is the act of God and the other is their own act?

Of course, that doesn't mean that every minister is in the place that God has called him. This is where a church and minister need to recognize the mistake of coming to a place in which he is not called. It should be the church who helps him find another place of service. It doesn't take gossip, criticism and back-stabbing to do this.

The best way to get rid of a minister is to make him extremely successful. Obey him and pray for him. Participate in his programs and work hard to get the church to grow. Rapidly growing churches will attract committees from other churches. They will soon be talking to your minister about greener pastures.

Yes, you should obey those church leaders except when they lead you to do something that is clearly outside of God's will. This must not be a matter of opinion. It should be a violation of Scriptural principle. It must stand on the best understanding of this scripture as given by previous saints and the leading of the Holy Spirit. This should never be done cavalierly.

The Scripture that tells people to obey their leaders also tells them to so that it is no burden to their leaders. It says that this is so things will go well with you. That's what I always want for my own church members. I want things to go well with them.

I invite you to come by our church if you are ever in Virginia Beach. The members here have made serving as pastor a joy. It has really helped me understand my responsibility for watching over their souls. Their attitude has made me want to work harder to fulfill what God wants to do. I pray that each pastor and church can have this. It is God's plan for His Church.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are You Trying to Exercise the Gifts You Don't Have?

God gave every Christian at least one spiritual gift with which that person should give Him glory, grow the Christian in faith and fulfill the Christian's purpose. These gifts differ from each other. The Christian works within the will and the grace of God when he or she exercises his or her own spiritual gift. The opposite is true when the Christian tries to exercise spiritual gifts he or she doesn't have.

For example, I am a pastor. I do not have all the spiritual gifts. Scripture indicates that is the way that God intended. However, someone can come to me with the expectation that I will exercise a certain gift. I will, unfortunately, try to accommodate them. The result will be disastrous. I am viewed as one who didn't put enough effort into the task. The problem was that the task took a spiritual gift that I didn't have. I tried to act outside of what God wanted me to do. I, therefore, reaped the benefit of learning a lesson the hard way.

Very few pastors have the spiritual gift of leadership. They, however, are expected to have it. We sometimes are so full of pride that we can't admit we don't have it. Churches often arrange their whole structure around a pastor being the leader when he may be the most excellent preacher and Bible teacher that the church would ever know but really stink at leading. He should have rejoiced in the gifts God has given him and admitted to being deficient in the ones God hasn't.

Often people with the gift of mercy will be asked to lead  committees at church. They may not have an organized bone in their bodies. They do not like taking stands on issues. They do not know how to organize the meetings, much less the tasks that will follow the meetings. They are frustrated and vow to never serve on any more committees.

Can you imagine what a Benevolence Committee would be like if all of the members had the gift of prophecy. They would be telling the people coming for help how they got themselves into the trouble they are in. They would be demanding repentance before any help would be given. They would be rather cold toward the explanations of those they were helping. Very little help would be given. The prophets would be frustrated too.

Can you imagine someone with the gift of mercy being asked to teach on a topic in which they know very little. They don't necessarily like research but they do like giving people comfort. In the end the people being taught don't know any more about the topic than when they started. They will know there is someone who cares for them. That won't help people learn what they need to know.

Let's suppose someone spills milk in the cafeteria. The prophet will point out that the glass was placed in the wrong position. The servant will clean up the spilled milk. The teacher will show them how to place the items on their tray so that it is efficient and safe. The encourager will tell them that they will soon be able to have unspilled milk meals. The giver will buy them another glass of milk. The leader will organize the whole group of gifted people to help. The one with the gift of mercy will give the milk spiller a hug. Take any of these people and put them in any of the positions in which they are not gifted and they will be frustrated.

Most people already know how they are gifted. Sometimes they don't want to admit where they are not gifted. Therefore, they keep trying to act in a gift that is not theirs. Having been terrible at it in the past is no deterent.

So exercise the gifts that you have with glee. Refuse to try exercising gifts you don't have. The body of Christ is made up of many parts. No eye should act like a foot. No arm should act like an ear. We are what we are. That's how we all fit together.  

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Have You Made the Devil Angry?

Most Christians have nothing to do with the devil. He pays them no concern and they don't pay attention to him. That is because they are not a threat to him or his kingdom. He has bigger fish to fry. He leaves them alone.

However, if you attack him and his kingdom you will make him angry. He does not like losing souls. He does not want you to grow spiritually. He does not want you or your church reaching souls and helping people grow spiritually. He loves the status quo. He loves tearing people and churches apart when they have a potential for challenging him. He gets angry when he is slapped around. He will attack you.

The devil knows he must get the person attacking his kingdom's eyes off of the Lord. He employs others to achieve his task. He uses what appears to be unlikely people. He uses Pharisees, Weeds,the Lost and Tempters.

The Pharisees are people who believe they have exclusively discovered the way to God. You can be as perfect as they are if you do exactly and believe exactly as they do. Their main responsibility, at least in their minds, is to keep everyone pure. They resist anything that goes outside of status quo. They hate changes because they have just gotten things perfect. Why should change come when everything is perfect? They will resist any action of the church to reach people that does not follow a pattern from the past. 

The devil uses the Pharisees with glee. There is no need for the Holy Spirit or the creative nature of God when the Pharisees rule. They stop everything on the business floor. They pontificate of the potential evils of the new ideas. They point to the past when the church was full and we didn't do any of these new ideas. A church can die with Pharisees in control. The devil loves the Pharisee.

Weeds are people who appear to be Christian but really aren't. They have followed the church's rules for becoming members. They have made some public assertion that they know Christ and have been baptized. They have gone through the classes and may even be regular attenders. They do not understand why the church isn't more like a civic club. They are easily manipulated because they do not have the Spirit of Christ who helps them make decisions. They can join the ranks of the discouragers. They want peace before evangelism. They want to do some good things and go about their business. They are easily manipulated by the Pharisees.

The devil uses the Weeds to gossip and slander. They will talk about the person who is growing in the Lord or helping someone else grow. They will attack the idea of evangelism as archaic. They will discourage many because they will agree to be a part of reaching people but fail to show up. They will have excellent excuses but they discourage the one trying to reach people. They will help the devil through temptations. They tell the person growing in the Lord to give it up. They will say that people just don't want to do any of the things the growing person wants to propose. The devil will send these lost people to discourage an evangelism rally. They are his safest disciples because they believe they are on the Lord's side while being on his side the whole time. They don't think they need evangelism and can't see why anyone else does either.

The Lost are those people outside the church. They do not want the church to grow. They don't like churches because they don't produce tax revenue. They don't like churches because they create traffic problems on Sundays. They like churches that are pretty but do not affect the community around them. They will complain to others, call to complain about every little thing at the church and join groups to have churches ousted from the community. They don't realize how much hell the country would be in without the churches. They actually believe that things would be better because "people are already very good." (If that is true, stop locking your car and house when you leave!) 

Tempters come along beside growing Christians to entice them away from the Lord. The devil has won if he can get them to take their eyes off the Lord.  He uses the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. In other words, he uses fleshly desires, desires for possessions and pride. These are his tools for getting a growing Christian's eyes off of the Lord. 

A seminary professor once said, "The reason you haven't met the devil lately is because you are going the same direction." Therefore, you are doing exactly what the Lord wants you to do if you have made the devil angry. Congratulations, you have joined those who are taking ground the devil never wanted to lose.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where Is God Working Now?

We must find out where God is working if we want to join Him. The first place to look is in our own back yards.

What has happened to you recently? Make a list of the things you have observed. For example, the economy is bad. Your boss curtailed business trips. You have more time at home. Is it possible that God has a purpose for you at home? 

Maybe your work hours have been reduced. Is this the time to take classes to learn a new skill? Should you use this extra time to mail out your resume'? Don't squander what God is showing you. Consider what He is doing all around you. Look to see how you can join Him.

Many times we look back at our lives and see where God was. Can we not also consider what He is doing right now? Can't we ask for wisdom to interpret the actions around us so that we can do what He desires? Won't those things also include God's plans for us?

During bad times we should ask: Is God using this hardship to test me? Is He using it to strengthen me? Is He leading me away from something? Is He leading me to something? 

The questions are very similar when the times are good. Each event in our lives opens and closes the doors of opportunity. A torn ACL may close the door to an athletic career but it may open the door for coaching. A loss of job closes the door to your future in that company but may open the door to one in another company.

Sometimes you have to lose what you think you can't lose so that you can have what you think you can't have. In other words, the job that you couldn't afford to lose must be lost so that you can have the job that you would have never considered if you hadn't lost that job.

Sometimes God uses circumstances in your life to change your character. God showed me how I lacked grace in my own life by being in a situation where I wasn't given grace. I noticed how judgmental I was when others were doing the same to me. I wanted grace and knew that I wasn't giving grace to others. God changed me during this very rough time. I started giving grace because I knew this is exactly what I wanted for myself.

The way we view our lives is totally different when we look for God's fingerprints on the events surrounding us. He often takes tragedy which He has not authored to do good. He often takes what is considered to be an end and makes it a new beginning. Thus, He may take a divorce (that you and He both hate) and open up a new life that would never have been had. 

Look very closely. What is God using to get you where He wants you to be? What doors are being closed? What doors are being opened? Which of these will bring you and He joy?

God has wonderful plans for you. Don't miss them.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Keeps the Unchurched Out of Church?

I talk to a lot of people who would like to come to church but have legitimate reasons for not doing so. They have fears that don't exist. They have observations that do.

Many people don't come to church because they don't know what to do. They are afraid of looking silly. They believe they will stand when they should have sat. They believe they will be asked to say something that everyone else knows but them. They believe they will be asked to find a verse in the Bible which will reveal they haven't read it. They believe they will be made to feel very uncomfortable. It is much easier to stay home.

Some people don't come to church because they don't have the clothes that they believe church-goers wear. They don't have a need for a suit or a Sunday dress. I see many people attend funerals and weddings in jeans and t-shirts because that's all they have. These people feel they must attend these events but they don't have to go to church. They are afraid church people will laugh at them. Many times I have people call to ask me what people wear to church. It is a big concern.

Unchurched people often think they are not good enough go to church. They tell me that they will get their acts together and then start coming to church. I tell them that people who attend church have a multitude of sins. Sometimes I am afraid I go overboard and the unchurched stops thinking they aren't good enough and starts thinking they will get corrupted by the people in church. The people in church should be examples to the people who do not come. This doesn't make them better than others. Churched people are striving to live a life worthy of Christ.

Many unchurched people believe that the people in the church are talking about them. They believe that they are the topics of gossip. They believe that every conversation is about something that they have done. They believe that churched people are talking about how bad those who live together outside of marriage are. They believe that churched people are judging them. That, at least, isn't true at my church. We don't organize to boycott sinners. We recognize that we are sinners too. We don't have a right to condemn others. In doing so we would condemn ourselves.

The number one reason that the unchurched don't come to church is because they have not been invited. They don't know anyone at church. They have no one to sit with. They have no one they can ask how they should act. They have no one to encourage them. They don't have one friend at church.

We can invite people to come to church. We can become their friends. We can bridge that gap and tell them that the people at church aren't perfect. We can tell them that what they wear isn't important and dress just like them when we come to church. We can tell them that how we do something at church isn't as important as the heart that worships.  That is what we can do.

So, what keeps the unchurched out of the church? So often, . . . we do.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Michael Vick Doesn't Deserve Another Chance

Michael Vick is despised by dog lovers across the world. Many dogs were essentially tortured and lost their lives because of Michael Vick. He deserved to be thrown in prison.

Vick served time in prison. Some think it is too little time for his despicable acts. He fell out of the limelight of the NFL. He lost his income. Now, he wants to come back. He doesn't deserve another chance. However, I believe he should be given one.

There are no promises of another chance. We should remember that whenever we do something we shouldn't. Many times God gives us second, third and other chances when we have done what we shouldn't. God does not hold the repentant as someone who can't be redeemed. Confession and repentance result in cleansing from unrighteousness.

Michael Vick has been humbled. He has apparently seen his sin severely damage his athletic career. The records he may set will always have an asterisk which notes that he did not play while he was in prison. Vick appears to be repentant. He knows what he did was wrong and he is taking responsibility for it.

Imagine if God was like so many who think he should never be given another chance. They see what Vick has done as unforgivable. Thank God that isn't true! And as God has forgiven, we, too, should forgive.

I am not saying we should allow Vick to buy several dogs. I think he should rebuild our trust before he can ever own another pet. I am saying he should be allowed him to exhibit his God-given talent. I am saying that he is like all of us in that we have all done things we shouldn't have done and we have been given another chance by God to act honorably. He should also have that opportunity.

Vick does not deserve the opportunity. It is a gift from people who know they also have done things they are ashamed of. It is a gift from those who understand redemption.

Always remember that another chance is a gift. No one ever deserves it. It should not be squandered. There is no promise of another chance. Always act as if this is your last chance.

And for Michael Vick; I believe it is.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Don't Confuse Difficult with Impossible

There are many things we need to recognize immediately as impossible. It is impossible for me to become a player in the National Basektball Association. It is impossible for me to jump tall buildings with a single bound. These appear to be impossible because of my physical limitations. They are actually impossible because I have no calling to do them.

God often calls us to what appears to be an impossible task. He called Moses, a known murderer, to lead His people away from the most powerful ruler on the earth. Elijah was called to see God send fire from above to light an altar before His people. Jesus called Peter to join Him in walking on the sea.  Lazarus was called to walk out of a tomb after being dead for four days. Each of these things appeared impossible before they were done.

God's calling to do something is never impossible but it may be difficult. The difficulty arises when we must continue to believe it will happen when it appears impossible.

For example, you have been smoking for thirty-three years. You know that God has called you to quit. At first you tell yourself of all the people you know who have quit.  You say, "If they can do it. I can do it!" You really mean it and throw away all your cigarettes. Two hours later you tell yourself you are going to beat the addiction. Four hours later you are nervous about it. Six hours later you buy a pack and tell yourself that it is impossible. Is that true?

Difficult becomes impossible when we no longer believe that God will empower us to succeed. It takes faith to see difficult become victory. It takes assurances from God that He will strengthen you to see what only He can do. 

Peter started walking on the water until he remembered that men can't walk on water. He saw the wind and the waves and started to sink. He took his eyes off of his Lord and no longer had the power to walk on water. He was doing the impossible. The difficult part was forgetting that it was impossible.

Maybe you have been called to go back to school. Are you calling what will be difficult impossible? Maybe you have been called to lose weight. Are you calling what will be difficult impossible?

You know what you need to do: Commit what God has called you to do to Him. Pray that He will empower you. Enlist a group of friends you will be accountible to. Choose those who believe. You don't need doubters. Set up short term goals and track them. Then, praise God for your progress. You will see what appeared to be impossible become difficult and then, victory.

Go for it!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

God Knows My Name

God existed before anything else. He existed before the universe. He existed before time. Yet, He knew me before anything was created. I didn't occur to Him one day. I always existed in His mind.

Yes, billions of others also existed in His mind. He knew all about us. He knew our conception days and the days we would breathe our last. He knew every sin before any were committed. He knew every word of encouragement we would need, receive and give to others. He knew what it would take for us to come to Him. He knew which ones of us who would never come to Him.

God worked on me. He reached toward me over 2000 years ago when He sent His Son to die. He chose people to write, witness and die to keep the good news that would be necessary for me to know Him. He put me in circumstances in which I would respond as He knew I would so I would come to Him. He took the good and the bad and fashioned His will for me. He gave me His very best.

Yes, He worked on billions of others, too. I suppose I could never think of Him as truly loving if I thought I was the only one He cared for. Yet, I never ceased to be amazed that the God of the universe would know my name.

Sometimes I have to remember this when things don't go as well as I would like. Sometimes it seems that everything is going wrong. Sometimes I forget that He is always working for my best. That's right-- He is always working for my best. He does so because He loves me.

God doesn't love me any more than He loves you. He knows your name. He is always working for your best. Pass it on.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heaven Is Not a Reward

I may have said it at a funeral myself, "He is in Heaven now; receiving his reward." How could I get this that wrong?

A reward is given because of an accomplishment. A reward requires work. I have not worked my way to heaven. I have been given salvation through faith which has been given to me. I have an inheritance in heaven because I have been adopted as a child of God. Heaven is my inheritance; not my reward.

What about all those scriptures that speak of reward? They are talking about rewards in heaven not heaven being the reward.

Why don't we hear more of this in sermons? I believe it is because we don't really know how to deal with rewards in heaven. We like the picture of being fabulously wealthy while traveling streets of gold to our enormous mansions. Rewards in heaven would change all that. We are afraid that someone will have a bigger house or a nicer car in heaven. We are afraid that we might get penalized for treating someone hatefully. We like being forgiven. We hate being held accountable.

I am preaching on rewards in heaven this coming Sunday. I believe our entrance into heaven will change us. I don't believe we will treat some of the members of heaven like rock stars. God will be the central focus of heaven.

My works will not get me into heaven but they can give my Lord joy. Could I ask for more?

Jesus said that we should rejoice in the fact that our names are written in heaven. I do but that's not all. I serve because I love my Master. There is also a reward for that. I will please Him.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Are All Churches the Same?

Many parents come to me excited that their young adult children are back in church. They tell me how they have prayed for years that their children will return to the Lord. Now, they appear to have returned. Then, they tell me where they are going. I shutter because I know that this new church teaches heresy. I know that the people in this church can be active and no nothing of a living Lord. I know they follow the preacher of that church who demands complete obedience to his words. I know that this will ultimately lead these young adults to financial, emotional and spiritual ruin.

Admittedly, we often make mountains out of molehills. We point to a disagreement we have with another church in their interpretation of a Bible passage and claim they don't believe the Bible. For example, Presbyterians baptize babies. They do so because they see circumcision as the sign of the covenant before Christ. Children were circumcized on the eighth day after birth. They were set aside for the Lord in that act. They see baptism as the new sign of the covenant. Therefore, they baptize their babies.

I am Baptist. We believe that a person is baptized to make a confession of their faith in Jesus as their Savior. We also believe it is the sign of the covenant but we believe the individual makes their own decision. We don't believe their parents can make that decision for them.

Who is right? Well, of course, I am! But wouldn't that be said by both sides? One thing is for certain. Neither side should claim that the other doesn't believe in the Bible because both have some excellent evidence that they are doing baptism correctly. I am not going to stop having fellowship with Presbyterians because they don't baptize the same way as I do. I believe Presbyterians can be Christians as much as I believe that Baptists can be Christians. There are differences, but are they really that significant? Yes, enough that I will remain Baptist but no, not enough that I wouldn't claim them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

What are the sticking points we should look for? I believe there are some fundamental beliefs of faith that will indicate whether the place of worship is a legitimate Christian church or something else.

Does the church believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation? This is fundamental to Christianity. Christ did not say that He was "a "way but "the" way. Faith in Christ alone for salvation is often the most significant distinction between Christianity and cults.

Does the church believe in the virgin birth? This is essential to the deity of Jesus. He was not a man who was made God. He was God who became man. The former will lead us into believing that anyone can become God. The latter makes Jesus unique.

Does the church believe that the original manuscripts of the Bible were without error? This also is essential. The Bible has to be the Word of God or it is just a bunch of books written by people. It may contain some great thoughts but it is merely an opinion. It is either God breathed in its origin or it is a collection of thoughts which somewhat agree. It is either truth to live or die by or it is a book to follow when it is convenient.

Does the church believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus? Our whole faith hangs on this issue. If Jesus did not come back from the grave, we have a series of lies told about Jesus that make Him a good teacher but certainly not God. He cannot save us if He could not be saved. He either had victory over the grave or we will have no victory either. 

Does the church believe the miracles of the Bible are actual events? This may not seem to be essential to some but each of them is an ascribed act of God. Explaining away these beliefs do not leave you with an Almighty God. Making each miracle a mere exaggeration or lie makes God impotent. An impotent god cannot save us or lead us anywhere.

Does the church preach the return of Jesus for His followers? We may not know how Jesus is going to return but we must know that He is returning. This was essential to the early believers. It was something they expected every day. This belief gives us an urgency to get the gospel to others. 

These beliefs are essential to each of the major denominations. They are essential to many Bible churches. They are things that we as Christians can believe in and can determine how we should live our lives. They are things which we can understand if we are truly "in church" or we have joined a cult.

No, all churches are not the same. Yet, I have good fellowship with many denominations which do not believe exactly as I do. That's okay. We praise Jesus not how perfect our own theology is.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Have You Heard the Savior Yourself?

Jesus met a woman who was avoiding most of the other women in her village. She was living with a man who was not her husband. She was the scandalous woman of the village that every other woman talked about. After meeting Jesus she believed He was the Messiah and went into town to tell the men. No doubt, the women wouldn't have listened to her. Her contact was with men.

The men met Jesus and told the woman that they no longer believed just because of what she said but had heard for themselves and believed that He is the Savior of the world. We all have to come to a place where I our faith is no longer placed on another person's testimony. We must hear Him ourselves.

I have met many church members who have never met Jesus. They believe the stories but never take them to heart. They can't think of anyone else who should be Savior. They agree that Jesus should be the Savior. They exist on a superficial level of faith. They believe Jesus is the Savior like they believe that George Washington was the first president. It is a matter of knowledge; not experience.

This is not faith. This is believing another's testimony. It is believing what many other people believe. It is giving in to the community in which they reside. It will not change their lives.

I have met many people who are active in church who never indicate they know Jesus. They serve on committees. They lead mission studies. They work in the kitchen and nursery. They are good people. They pray eloquent prayers when asked but none of these prayers indicate they personally know the One to whom they are speaking. I wonder what they think faith is.

I first believed in Jesus because of the testimony of someone else. It opened my heart to the truth. I put my trust in Him. Yet, this was not simply because of that person's testimony. I met Him myself in that testimony. He spoke to me. I heard His voice. (Not audibly, I'm too Baptist for that!) He spoke right into my heart. I didn't trust in Him because of someone's testimony. I trusted in Him because I had heard Him myself.

Have you heard Him yourself? Or is your belief simply based on the testimony of someone else? How can He be your Savior if you don't know Him? How can you know Him if you have never heard Him? 

I believe that you are reading this blog for a reason today. I believe that you are either called to share this with someone else or you are the person this blog is meant for. If it is the latter I believe Jesus is using this blog to tell you that He would like for you to meet Him personally. Would you ask Him to speak to you or send someone who will tell you how you can speak to Him? 

Hearing Him for yourself will change eternity.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How Do You Know How to Grow Your Church?

There's a line in a movie that expresses what I believe reveals what many church leaders are experiencing when deciding how to grow their churches:

Customer: Whats the "Soup de Jour?"

Waittress: Oh, that's the soup of the day.

Customer: Oooh . . . that sounds good, I'll have that.

Church leaders can read book after book, go to conference after conference, try each and every suggestion given by each of these experts on church growth and still have their churches die. In fact, church leaders are more likely to be fired six months after attending a church growth conference than at any other time. (Don't quote me. I just made that up but it just seems like I hear of that happening more often.) Church leaders are given conflicting advise. One expert says that the church should be made incredibly simple. Another will allow people to do their own ministry without regard to the church. Another will tell you that you need to care for people while still another tells you that reaching people means you can't spend time caring for them.

Some church leaders are so desperate to see their churches grow that they try a new "expert" idea every year. They have "Vision de Jour." They claim God is leading in a new direction every year. Their churches resemble God's people wandering in the wilderness. However, they don't even know where the Promised Land is.

I have found these things as I have attended church growth conferences. Yes, they are intended to be criticisms.

Church growth experts woo you to do exactly as they have done. The problems you will face in doing so you are not that person with their personality, you are not in their church with their people or resources or location and you haven't been called by God to do it their way. Everything should work just fine other than these problems.

Church growth experts have a tendency to lie. They use exaggerations and hyperbole but it is still not the whole truth. One "expert" said that he transitioned his church from a completely traditional church to a completely contemporary church without any conflict. I almost stood up and said, "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" 

How did he make such a statement? I can think of several answers. He has a poor memory. He does not listen to anything negative. His definition of no conflict means that he wasn't fired. Regardless of the explanation I think a lot of young church leaders swallowed what he said hook, line and sinker.

Church growth experts think they are supposed to have all the answers so they sometimes shoot from the hip. They will give an answer that makes sense to them at the time because it is something they can do. They do not realize that the person who is looking up to them can't do what they have done. Its analogous to a 7'1" center saying, "When you are under the net, just dunk the ball." The problem is that he is speaking to a 5'9" guy with poor coordination. It seems like the easiest thing to do until you take into account who you are speaking to.

Church growth experts often do not take into account people. They are unpredictable. One pastor may fire an incompetitent staff member and be applauded. Another will attempt to do so and be fired himself. The actions taken may be exactly the same. The people are not.

Church growth experts rarely tell you to take what they have said and pray seriously before implementing anything. They assume that what works in one place with God's blessing will work in another with God's blessing. 

Many church growth experts are telling you how they stole members from other churches. They don't mention that their growth comes from the members of other churches. They fail to tell you that their baptisms are coming from people joining from other denominations and their own children. Will you be satisfied with that?

It seems that the hardest thing for church leaders to remember is that God will build His church. He has always used individuals to do what He has desired in the church. Those individuals have unique character qualities and God has unique plans for them. He may want us to use some of the ideas we find in other churches but copying completely what another church has done is not His plan. That would eliminate His Word, His working with us as individuals and our need for prayer and dependence upon Him. In fact, even His presence would no longer be needed.

I love the testimonies of church growth experts. (I don't especially like the criticisms of people who are merely researchers who have never done it themselves. But that's another topic.) They inspire me. I take what they have said with a grain of salt. I use some of their ideas. I walk away knowing that I am to listen to God before I do anything that they have said. He knows I will never be able to dunk the ball and He doesn't expect me to.

How do you know how to grow your church? You pray a lot. You listen to others a lot. You, then, pray a lot more. Then, you do what God has called you to do. It isn't instantaneous. It is God working with you and a whole lot of others.

Yes, my church is growing much slower than I would like. I suppose I would like to know the numbers that are reported by the church growth leaders. It's okay that it is growing slowly though. I have the joy of knowing that God is growing His church.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why Can't We Discern between Compassion and Morality?

It seems that morality changes every day. What was once considered immoral is now applauded. What was once applauded is now considered prudish. Those who did what was considered right are now considered judgemental. Those who practice what was once considered immoral are the new heroes of our day.

Where will this lead? I think we must first know how we got where we are.

We started to have compassion on those who were caught in sin. It is the right thing to do. We should always show compassion for those who have fallen. They weren't bad people. They just allowed their passions to get the best of them.

Take for example the story of a young lady pregnant outside of marriage. Not so long ago she was condemned. She was an outcast. Her family might even kick her out. We showed ourselves as the worst of people when we condemned her. The lack of compassion  was deplorable. Eventually enough people started showing compassion and we helped these young ladies through their pregnancies.

Something happened along the way, though. We started encouraging pre-marital sex and applauding those who got pregnant outside of marriage. Couples who lived together might have several children before marriage or they might never marry. The goodnight kiss on a date was replaced with some quick sex. It might even happen on the first date.

Why didn't we understand that compassion is not the same as approval? Maybe because the desire to be compassionate can easily turn into approval; at least tacitly. We feel compassion and want the person to know that we do not condemn them. Our lack of condemnation sounds like approval. 

We have always had a hard time hating the sin while loving the sinner. We either hate or love both. It takes more effort to discern between the two. We can't seem to say that we fully disagree with what someone has done but we will fully love and help that person take responsibility. We want to absolve their responsibility too.

This problem has captured us across all actions of immorality. We have had compassion on the homeless so we have applauded the homeless and continued to give them the kind of help that keeps them homeless. We have had compassion on the drug users and have glamorized their addictions which approve and encourage others to follow. 

Should we forget all about compassion and stop this freefall toward immorality? Absolutely not! We cannot be the Christians Christ has called us to be without compassion. We must be like Jesus who had compassion on the sinner but condemned the sin. The woman caught in adultery was not condemned by Jesus. He told her that she wasn't to ever commit her sin again. He condemned the sin without condemning her.

I suppose I have always wanted to show compassion on people caught in a sin. I, too, am a sinner and have been caught up in sin. I needed compassion rather than judgement. I know what sin is. Trying to approve it through the compassion of others has never worked for me. I still know when something is wrong. I wonder if others already feel this way. Maybe we are numbing their sense of wrong with our compassion.

What will be wrong and right in our future if nothing changes? I am afraid we will stop using the word "wrong." (We have already stopped using the word "sin.")

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What Is the "Hardness of Heart?"

Hardness of heart is a callousness toward God, His will and that which He loves. We exhibit a hardness of heart when our will supercedes God's will. It is a volitional act on our part. The depth of hardness is accumulative.

For example, God clearly says that He will harden Pharoah's heart when Moses goes to get God's people out of Egypt. Many people believe that God prevented Pharoah from responding to His will. They see a divine will be imposed upon a people who are not His. They see God choosing to damn a person. I don't see it that way.

A person's heart is hardened when he or she refuses God's presence, His Word or His will. God was clearly showing Pharoah that he must let His people go. Yet, God knew that no matter what He did, Pharoah would never let His people leave Egypt. The plagues were not attempts to get Pharoah to relent. They were testimonies for God's people to believe.  On one hand, Pharoah was hardening his heart by refusing to respond to God's will. On the other, God's people's faith was growing. Moses had enough trouble in the wilderness with these people. How hard would it have been if they had not seen God work?

Pharoah's heart got harder each time he refused to listen to God. God is responsible for hardening Pharoah's heart because He sent the plagues so that everyone would clearly understand His will. All who refuse to respond to God's presence, will and those He loves will harden their hearts.

One Sabbath Jesus goes to the synagogue to find a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees waited to see if He would heal on that day. He asked them if it was right to do good on the Sabbath. They remained silent. They failed to respond beyond their law even though God loved this man with the withered hand. It says that Jesus grieved over the hardness of their hearts.

My heart is hard at times. I can't be selfish or proud and do God's will. I sometimes choose being selfish and proud. I eventually reject selfishness and pride. I wonder why I ever embraced them. A hard heart shuts God out. It gets very lonely without Him. I relent and repent and He takes me back. The hardness is broken again.

Your heart gets a little harder each time you refuse to respond to God. Eventually it can get so hard that you no longer notice that God is absent from your life. At least, that's how it feels.

How about it? Where is God right now? Is He close or have you just been pretending to have Him near? Have you refused to respond to something He is telling you? 

He stands at the door and knocks. Will you let Him come in?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

We're Drowning, Lord!

That was the cry of the disciples during a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was sleeping. They were rowing their hearts out in hopes of making shore. The wind was against them. They had no chance of the shore and they were taking in water. Many of these men were fishermen and knew what would happen if the boat sank. The storms could be violent on the Sea. They would, most likely, drown. It was time to wake up Jesus.

He awakened and calmed the storm. The disciples were completely amazed. Jesus said they didn't have much faith. Was that because they awakened Him?

No, I think it was because they were amazed that the wind obeyed His voice. Most of the time they had seen Jesus eat, sleep and speak without showing Himself overtly as God. They may have understood Him as a great man. They may have thought His actions to be mental suggestions when people were healed. They were blown away when they were no longer blown away by the wind.

I wonder if that is why we worry so much. The economy is bad so we watch the news for a recovery. We wonder what the lawmakers will try next to get to improve our faith in the recovery. We worry about our jobs until they are taken from us. Then, we worry about paying our bills. We are depending on our own ability to row our boats through this difficult storm. We haven't awakened Jesus. Do we believe He can do anything about it?

When will we cry out, "We're drowning, Lord!"? We do so because we must depend upon Him. We do so because He can do something about it.

I suppose there will be people who do not believe that their situation is in the Lord's hands just yet. They believe that only comes after they have tried all of their own solutions. I believe we are always in the Lord's hands. We might as well start with the solution. Going to the Lord and obeying whatever He says is the solution.

How do you think the story would have gone if the disciples had gently awakened Jesus. "Lord, the storm is strong and we 're losing the rowing battle. Would you calm the storm?"

Jesus rubs His eyes, yawns and sits up. He raises His hand and says, "Peace!" The wind stops and the sea goes still. The disciples cheer and everyone gives Jesus a high five!

"Never a doubt, Lord!" the disciples exclaim. They go back to their rowing but keep praising Him in the process.

So, why is that not our solution too?

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Do You Know When You Should Believe a Christian's Testimony?

People rational in every other way will listen and believe the most outlandish stories when they are given in a church. One preacher will tell of  a "black box" recording which reveals a woman leading the passengers of a crashing plane to the Lord. No one asks for any evidence other than the preacher's testimony. One missionary told of winning over 2000 souls to the Lord while Khadafi's bodyguards protected him. Subsequent missionaries couldn't find the converts. One preacher tells the testimony of another preacher as if it is his own. How do you know when to believe them?

Fantastic stories raise lots of money. People love to hear stories of success. They love to hear stories that fortify their faith in heaven and God's rewards. They love to hear how God has gone behind the scenes to rectify a wrong. The love to hear these stories so much that they throw discernment out the window and open their pocketbooks.

While some of the stories are complete fabrications, many of them are lies stuffed in the skin of the truth. Some of the facts are verifiable. This does not mean the whole story is true. For example, a plane did crash on that day and it did spiral downward for several minutes. The lie is discovered from those who actually listened to the flight recordings. There is no evidence that anyone shared Christ. However, the story went around the world through emails in less than a day. I am sure it was told in many pulpits the very next Sunday.

Christians should ask themselves if they believe because of emotions or faith. Does the story you hear compliment what you already know about your faith? Does it honor the Lord or the one telling the story? What does it say of the Lord that you already know to be true? Are you drawn closer to Him or are you just amazed with the story?

Unfortunately, we need to ask ourselves why we should believe the story. Do I know the person who is giving this testimony? Is it his or her personal testimony or is he or she telling the testimony of another? Has this person given accurate testimony in the past? Is this person prone to exaggerations? Often fantastic testimonies are given by traveling evangelists. There is no way to discern the character of these evangelists. Their reputation comes from the number of people who walk the aisles after they preach. They leave your town with no one checking out a word that they have said.

Does the testimony ring true of Scripture? God has revealed how He acts through His Word. His actions today should be consistent with His actions of the Bible. The story is not to be believed if God's character is changed through the story or if the facts revealed through the Scripture are contradicted. God does not talk out of both sides of His mouth. Either the Bible is true or the testimony of the person you are listening is true but both can't be true when they contradict each other. As for me, I'm sticking with the Bible.

Could the memory of the person telling the story be altered? Sometimes trauma makes us remember things differently. It could be that the mind has protected the person through an altered memory. He or she may be telling you events exactly as he or she remembers them. The problem is that their memory has been altered.

Having said all of this, I must admit that many of the most fantastic stories are true. There have been people who have gotten up off of their death beds. There have been healings that defy any explanation. There have been provisions made for people in amazing ways. God is still the God who fed the 5,000 and raised the dead.

I am not saying that we should believe no one. I am saying that not every one should be believed. I think we have a responsibility to discern so that our praise to God will be genuine. It should be based on what He has actually done rather than a fabrication.

God does not need people making up stories about what He has done. He is amazing and needs no other testimony than what He has done. Praise the Lord!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Does God Take People before Their Time?

We had a spectacular thunderstorm last night as I started to ride my bicycle home. The flashes of lightning were all around me. The thunder was deafening. I decided to take shelter at one of the local hospitals and wait out the storm. I waited for about twenty minutes and things got much worse. I thought, "I would be home now if I hadn't stopped." I stopped because of my fear of being struck by lightning.

Did I have anything to fear if God is in control? 

God does not stop the laws of the universe just to make us happy. He has set lightning in the skies. He has determined the principles in which lightning will strike. He will let nature take its course most of the time. 

God uses our wise or foolish actions as He weaves the fabric of time. He knows all of our sins and our prayers before we ever know them ourselves. He takes the bad and the good to create His will. He knew Adam would sin and that Jesus would die on a cross before the beginning of time. He takes both into account to make history.

God also takes into account holding up a nine iron during a violent thunderstorm. Generally, He will not stop the forces of nature because of our own foolish actions. Foolish actions may become our time to go.

God also takes into account sinfulness. The girl who said she was a Christian at Columbine High School several years ago was killed. She was young and many would say she was taken before her time. On one hand, I would agree. On the other God, in His infinite wisdom, did not intervene. He often allows sin to take its course. He will not steal our will. He allows us to do incredible evil without keeping it from happening.

Yet, we all know many instances when God does intervene into the affairs of nature and man. He keeps the drunk busy so that he never gets to the car, He stops cancer in its tracks because of a praying church and He moves someone to write a check that will allow a family to keep their house. 

I believe in the acts of God but I also believe in being responsible. I believe God expects me to be responsible. I believe I should take precautions. I think anything else is abdicating my responsibility as a Christian. 

I believe in faithfulness. I believe in God's goodness. I believe in taking responsibility. I believe that God will honor faithfulness. I believe that God never takes anyone before their time but He certainly allows them to go because of their foolishness.

So, take precautions. Be wise. And trust that God has a plan for you today. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Want to Act Like a Christian

I just finished this morning's blog. It has nothing to do with what I am writing now. I clicked on publish and I was sent to a login page. I logged in and found that my blog, with the exception of the first couple of sentences was gone. I almost blew my top!

Acting like a Christian isn't that hard when you sit in church. What is going to test your character while you sit there? You can tolerate bad preaching and off key singing. You haven't put any effort into the service. You really don't have to worry about acting like a Christian.

However, acting like a Christian is hard when your expectations aren't met. You become angry and say things that Christians should never say if you believe someone has violated your expectations. You can be hateful. You can be obstinate. You can be a sorry soul to be around. You can criticize others and treat others with disdain. You can do so but it cannot be said that you are acting like a Christian.

I suppose the only time that acting like a Christian really counts is when our expectations aren't met. The only time you know a boat will float is when it is in the water. The only time we know who we are is when we face adversity.

So, I wrote this blog instead. It was really more important that I remember who I am and act like it than ranting and raving to no one in particular about my blog being lost. I already feel better. 

I am already a Christian. I want to act like one. No one will really know who I am until I face difficulties. Then, I can truly act like a Christian. Then, I will know that I am acting like a Christian at the same time others do.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Has God Led You into the Wilderness?

I have heard so many Christian testimonies from the pulpit that have said, "And I asked Jesus into my heart. Everything has been wonderful since then." This is not the testimony of someone who is walking with the Lord!

Our commitment to the Lord does not come without testing. Jesus, Himself, was led into the wilderness after his baptism. His ministry started in the wilderness. He was led there to be tempted. He was led there to trust in His Father.

God calls us and leads us to what appears to be an impossible place. We have been called to a task God has given us. We know that this is what God wants. Then, the barrier of impossibility is placed before us.

Moses would seem to face an impossible task. He didn't understand why God would send him to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt when Pharoah would not let them go. It seemed each step of faith had a new barrier placed in front of him. The Red Sea, no water, no food and the complaints of the Hebrews. His faithfulness made him a friend of God who talked with God face to face.

God calls you to something and you immediately have a barrier placed in front of you. It seems that God's will is impossible. It may even seem that God is not near as He was when He called you to this task. You are being tested to prove what you will do. You are being strengthened by the adversity. God has neither forgotten about you nor left you. He is always near but He has placed this impossible object in front of you so that you will trust Him every step of the way.

I would like to have God send me the money in advance to accomplish any great building project. I would like to have Him send me more volunteers than I needed for any great outreach project. That is never the case. God calls us to step forward and, then, seems to make it look impossible.

You have one responsibility if you are in the wilderness right now. You are to remain faithful for today no matter the circumstances. Tomorrow may bring more troubles. Your faithfulness will draw you closer to God than you ever thought. You will give Him all the glory.

You will not give a testimony that says everything has been great since you gave your heart to Jesus. You will say that God has always been faithful. You will say so because your faith is not superficial. You can say this with confidence because you are truly walking with God.

Monday, August 3, 2009

How Do You Interpret Your Circumstances as They Concern God's Will?

God is working all the time. He is intimately involved in His creation. He does not cause everything that happens but He certainly knows about it and uses it for the good of those who love Him. This means we can understand some of what God is doing by looking where He is taking us.

God's actions are best interpreted through His Word. A regular time with the Lord each day will help your discernment concerning His will. You will know how to recognize what He is doing today by knowing what He has done in the past. His revealed actions through the scriptures are like the Rosetta Stone for interpretation. The actions in the Bible have been certified as His actions. There is no doubt where and how He has acted. They reveal His character and, thus, what He is doing today.

Look at the past actions in your life from this knowledge of the scripture. Name the times in your life that you are certain that God has worked. Write those things down and look to see where He is taking you. I have found that God uses many circumstances in my life to prepare me for something greater. He even uses the tragedies to strengthen me and/or put me on a different path.

Note how you have been prepared. Your past experiences, education and observations have prepared you for something God has for you. Moses was in Pharoah's court learning how to be an administrator. He would need this knowledge and skill to lead God's people out of Egypt. You are no less important to God than Moses. You may not have the magnitude of influence he had but you certainly have the magnitude of confluence for the will of God. You are part of a great action that God is doing.

Ask God for direction even when it appears you know what to do. God can change circumstances at any time. He can bring people back from the dead. He can remove a boss that will not promote you. He can change your economic future overnight. Mary and Martha had faith in Jesus but they never considered that their brother, Lazarus, would be brought back. Sometimes God can do something completely outside of our logic box.

Talk with spiritual friends who will also evaluate your discernment of the circumstances. It may be that you want things to look a certain way, therefore, you are interpreting them that way. Truly spiritual friends can give you another understanding of those circumstances. Listen to them but do now go against what you are sure that God is telling you. Job would have been in a world of hurt if he had listened to his friends.

Sincerely ask God to stop what you are about to do if you are going in the wrong direction. You eventually have to take action. You have read the scripture, interpreted your circumstances and made your decision. Trust that God will stop what you are doing if you are taking the wrong path. God can always step on the brakes.

Finally, always rejoice in what God is doing. Each day may not be momentous, however, each day is a gift in which God is teaching us something. Look for God in each day and praise Him for being with you. This may prepare you more than anything else for understanding what He is doing.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Is the Road to Heaven Paved with Bad Intentions?

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions; is the road to heaven paved with bad ones?

The first proverbial sentence is stating something that many have not acknowledged. You can intend to do and even do many good things and still wind up in hell. There are many roads to take but only one will take you where you want to go. Many of these roads will appear to go in the right direction for some time but only one of them will allow you to arrive at your planned destination. Heaven will be found on a one-way street.

The Apostle Paul makes the most succinct statement about the road to heaven. He says that we must confess Jesus as Lord openly and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. The road to heaven is paved with outward actions and an inward belief. Why both?

Saying, "Jesus is Lord, " will not ensure your place in heaven any more than saying, "I am Elvis" will get you booked in Las Vegas. The continual outward action generally reveals what a person believes. The statement is given so that there is no doubt why you are acting like you do. Those who say that their faith is private and never tell anyone that Jesus is their Lord are denying their so-called belief. The statement is clear and yet surveys reveal that only 5% or less of Christians make this statement to those whom they have been called to evangelize. 

The statement "Jesus is Lord" is costly. It will assure you of lost friends and ridicule if you say it enough. It will make people avoid you if you really believe it. It is a significant statement of your faith for it takes a stand when there is a cost.

Saying "Jesus is Lord" is done by the way we live our lives too. It is in every relationship. If Jesus is Lord I will treat each person as Jesus does. I will love them and forgive them. I will encourage and be their friend. I will help them find the path to heaven.

Believing in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead changes the way you act in this world. This world is not our home. The God who raised Jesus will also raise us. I am not to make this world my home for I have a home in heaven. I am not to trust in the things of this world because my trust is put in the God of heaven. I am not to fear the dangers of this world for my soul is assured a place in heaven.

All the outward actions I do to prove I am a Christian will not replace a true belief in a living Jesus. The road to heaven is paved with outward actions and and an inward belief. Each day I get closer to heaven because my days are numbered. I will either prove myself to be on the right road or I won't. My journey will either be one of assurance or doubt. I will always doubt when my inward belief is not lived out in actions.

Are you on the road to heaven or do you just have good intentions?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

Failure is not a goal. Failure is not an option. It is to be avoided at all possible costs. Nothing good can come out of failure. It's bad, right?

Yes, it is but that doesn't mean that it can't be made into the greatest success. Your last failure may be exactly what you needed to do what would never have been done without it.

King David's greatest failure was his indiscretion with Bathsheba. We can't say that this was a good thing. He committed adultery, lied and had a man killed. The first child born of that union died because of David's sins. This would be a simple story of failure if the story ended there but it doesn't. God doesn't let us languish in our failures unless we want to.

The union of David and Bathsheba would produce Solomon. He was the greatest king Israel would ever know. He expanded the kingdom to a level it had never known before or since. He built the most magnificent temple that has ever been built. He made Israel the most prosperous nation on the earth.

Simon Peter's story would echo the story of success coming from failure. He had bragged about his courage to stand and fight for his Lord. He disdained the cowardice of his fellow disciples. Less than twelve hours later he is denying his Lord with a curse. Jesus heard this denial and Peter knew it. He went out to weep. That would be a tragedy if it were the end of the story.

Peter became the leader of the new Church. Stories report that he would not deny his Lord again. They say that he refused not be executed like Jesus. He asked to be crucified upside down. His witness continues throughout history. The Church would not have been what she is without Simon Peter.

The Friday afternoon that Jesus was taken from the Cross would certainly been evaluated as a failure if that was the end of the story. The disciples were scattered and scared. The women despaired at the loss of Jesus. It seemed that all their hopes and dreams died that day. Thank God that isn't the whole story!

We all have failures. They hurt. They seem final but they aren't. They may even seem fatal at times. Have you considered putting your failure in God's hands and seeing what will be produced? God has a great reputation for taking those failures and making the greatest successes.

There is really nothing like failure to make a success. Failure prevents us from making greater failures. It teaches us the direction we should not go. It opens doors that would never have been opened. It is an opportunity disguised as something bad.

I am not saying anyone should try to fail. You should avoid it if you can. I am saying that you shouldn't wallow in your failures. I am saying that something immeasurably good can come from the failures.

God has a way of turning our failures around. Nothing succeeds like failure.