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Saturday, October 31, 2009

God Watches Over Us

Jesus said that God watches over sparrows and lillies. He said we were much more important to God than them. He said that God would provide what we needed when we needed it. Is it really that difficult to understand?

This has been the theme of the Old Testament. We see God in the Garden taking care of Adam and Eve. We see God taking care of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. We see Him come to get His people out of Egypt. We find Him in the desert with Moses. He come to be with Joshua, Samuel and David. There is no place that we find that God does not act for the best for His people.

Yet, we come to Jesus and He has to state that God cares for His people again. It is the theme of the New Testament, too. Why should they or we think that He has stopped caring?

Well, one reason is our very finite way of looking at things. We interpret God by what we see at this very moment. If things are great, God loves us. If things are bad, He has forgotten us. If we would step back we could see that God is walking with us constantly. We would see His love in taking us through tough times to get us to where we need to be.

Another reason we doubt God's care is that we can't see the future. We don't know what God has planned around the next corner. We should know that He will care for us but we doubt what we can't see. How much worry would we have about our house payment if we knew in three days God had a check coming which would more than cover it? How much comfort would we know if we were sure that God would bring our child home safely? Of course, we worry about the things we can't see.

Often we point to our circumstances to prove our points. We look at our houses, cars and bank accounts and declare whether or not God has been good. We often fail to consider how God is caring for us right now. We cannot see that God gives us exactly what we need.

I struggled with God over becoming a pastor. He told me He wanted me to be one but no one was calling me to pastor their church. I didn't feel compelled to start a new church. I prayed for over eight years day and night that God would fulfill my request. I saw people who did not have my level of education and experience get the opportunity to pastor during that time. I kept asking God why He couldn't give me this gift. I know why now.

I had a very difficult time several years into one of my pastorates. I came to the place that I didn't care if I lived or died. I wanted to quit but God reminded me of all the prayers I had said while I waited on God to provide a place for me to pastor. I kept going until God provided a way out. I know what I would have missed if I had quit pastoring. I am in the best church in the entire world. God has blessed me.

God tests our faith. This is not so He will know whether or not we believe. It is so we will get stronger. He often brings us to the breaking point so we will trust Him in the difficult times. Then, He can take us to even greater plans.

Remember these things no matter what you are going through:

God loves you always-even when you do things that are not pleasing to Him.

God always knows what to do for you and has always known what He would do. He will always do what is best even if you choose something different.

God always has the power to do whatever thing necessary for your best. He will act when the time is right.

And . . .

God is watching you right now. He knows exactly what you need. You may not be able to see it now because His answer may be just around the corner.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why Can't We Love People When We Oppose What They Are Doing?

The Republicans hate the Democrats. The Democrats hate the Republicans. The liberals hate the conservatives. The conservatives hate them right back.

I suppose I should not be surprised that this is the world's way of dealing with opposition. I am amazed when it becomes the actions of Christians. The rhetoric spewed coming from Christians resembles hatred rather than love. Why can't we love people when we oppose their thinking?

I realize Christ had some pretty harsh words for the Pharisees. He called them names which were less than honorable. He sought to show the opposition of their religious thinking and His relationship with people. His contrast was given in Middle Eastern ways. It seems harsh to us. I think it was just part of the culture of the day. I think it is loving to get the attention of those whom you oppose if what they are doing will hurt them. It took this manner of speech to do so. Jesus said some things to Nicodemus which did not seem flattering. Nicodemus hears the message because of this speech.

I would rather physically restrain a person from jumping off of a bridge than say nice words to them which allows them to kill themselves. Jesus made these statements of and to the Pharisees. They were not used to it. I don't think they liked it but I don't think He lost His love for them.

Our problem is that we have forgotten to love first before we oppose. We demonize those whom we oppose with no love. We rejoice in any of their failures. We conveniently ignore their successes. We minimize the times they are right. We gossip about them. (Gossip definition: Saying the truth in order to hurt someone.) We seem justified in our slander. (Slander definition: Saying a lie in order to hurt someone.) We will forward emails about those we oppose without checking their veracity. Can we not see that this is not loving?

Jesus said we should pray for our enemies. These prayers are not that they will all die horrible deaths. These prayers are for their good. They may be that they can see our point of view. And they may also be that we can understand their point of view.

Love should be at the center of our objections even if they do not return love. The love that Jesus espoused was not a quid pro quo love. It did not require a like response. It was unmerited. People will be amazed if we can oppose them strongly while also loving them deeply.

This seems to be the theme seen in many movies. Two men are fighting until one slips off the edge of the cliff. The righteous one reaches down and pulls his opponent to safety. How many times have we wished he would stomp on his opponent's hands instead? Righteousness is embedded inside of us. Even Hollywood (generally) knows that revenge is not the action of a true hero.

Have you ever watched C-SPAN when the British leadership asks the Prime Minister questions? They always seem to call each other nice names before they make the most acerbic statements of each other. I don't know if this is disingenuous but I would rather we state our concern for each other while we are in opposition. I wish we would also express our love in some way before we clearly state our positions. We simply can't hate each other and still say we are doing the work of Christ.

How can we tell the world that we know the love of Christ when we show the world that we only love those who agree with us? The already like Jesus. Its the Christians that are giving them trouble. We should continue to love even if we do not agree with their lifestyles, their political positions or their opposition to us.

We will never argue people into God's kingdom. We will not simply give them enough information so they will join us. We will love people into the kingdom. The Holy Spirit and our love will change the coldest of hearts.

So, contiue to oppose those things which you do not think are right. And as you do so, let them know that you love them too.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

White-Haired Baby Christians

The plague of the Christian church is Christians who never grow in their faith. They come to church on a regular basis but they are just as selfish as non-Christians participating in the same sins. Except for their Christian symbols which they place on their cars and homes are no different from the rest of the world. Sadly they believe they have matured because they have come to church and heard a zillion sermons.

Christians will never grow in their faith as long as they think it is all about them. They have not grown as long as they think worship is good only if their favorite songs or sung or that they have done their duty and no longer need to serve the Lord. They may grow older phsyically but they have not gotten more mature spiritually. They will balk any time the "meat" of the Word of God is preached because they simply can't take it.

The evidence for such immaturity is found in their jealousy and quarreling. Many churches find that their older adults are stirring up more troubles than any other group. They are demanding more services, thinking that they are always getting slighted by the church. They are contentious in meetings, throwing temper tantrums before they leave. They want things to be like a previous era which they remember as legendary times when they were the heros in their own stories.

While I have said this I must admit that there are also seniors who have matured. They are the staple of the church. They continue to serve until they are incapable of performing the tasks. They voice their opinions and even share their objections but you never think they want their own way. They simply want what is best for the church and everyone in general. They think beyond the days they will have on this earth. They understand the message of the Gospel and the mission of the church to make disciples. They are always on your side even if they don't agree with you. You do not see jealousy or quarreling in their lives nor in their actions within the church. They may correct you when you do something wrong but they do so lovingly and gently. They are generous and sometimes give beyond many others who have much more than they do.
So, what made the difference? One grasps that a disciple takes up his cross and follows Jesus and the other still thinks that the best life is one that demands from others. The first will mature and the other will never be any different no matter how often or long he or she goes to Sunday School, Worship or committee meetings.

It is not about you. It is not about me. It is about giving our hearts and our lives to Jesus. It is about denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus. Otherwise, you will never grow. You will always be a baby no matter how many white hairs you have.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Should Christains Celebrate Halloween?

I guess the answer to this question is in what you mean by "celebrate"? If you mean that Halloween is a time for children to dress up and gather candy, "celebrate" is perfectly fine. If you mean to delve into the occult, then "celebrate" is completely inappropriate.

I personally believe that God made every day. I will not give Satan one of those days. I believe we should rejoice in each of these days. I don't think Christians should hide in their homes on Halloween night. Halloween should be a time of fun.

That doesn't mean that Christians should not be careful with their costumes. Dressing up as witches and devils is pretending these beings do not exist. It is subtle introduction into spiritual areas that Christians should be very careful with. It is the same for Oija boards. It seems like harmless children's play but it asks for contact with the spiritual world which Paul said we fight against. It welcomes other spiritual speculations later. It is dangerous to play with such things.

Halloween is not the same holiday for each person who celebrates it. Christians should be careful in sending their children to Halloween parties. Some parents may think it will be fun to lead thier children in a seance. Again, this is playing with something that is potentially harmful. Some of these parents may even take these seances seriously.

Have fun this Halloween. Give the day to the Lord.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Healing from Hurtful Words

Isn't it amazing that you can hear scads of compliments and soon forget them, but let someone say something bad about you and you will remember it all of your life?

I had a man tell me that his wife told him that she was ashamed that she married him soon after they got married. He admitted that she did so in a fit of rage and would not have said it if she had been calm. However, he remembered those words clearly even though they had been said decades earlier. He was still hurting from these careless words.

Unfortunately, we rehearse those hurtful words if we don't take action to heal from them. It is as if we enjoy picking at the scab until we get the wound infected again. We torture ourselves again and again. I believe it is one of the tactics Satan uses to steal the joy from believers. He reminds us of our past pain and we hurt all over again.

Healing from hurtful word requires a commitment. You must be committed to forgive the person who said those words to you. You must forgive if you are to recover. Hurtful words require the forgiveness of Jesus. They require that you remember that you, too, have been forgiven. You may have been forgiven for saying hurtful words to someone else. Regardless, you have been forgiven for many other things in life. You do not need to make yourself better than others by not giving them forgiveness.

You also need to commit yourself to not bringing up the memory. Some people say that we should forgive and forget. Forgetting hurtful words is one of the hardest things to forget. You have to do your best not to bring that memory to the surface. Yes, I still believe that Satan will remind you of those words but I know you can remind him that you have already forgiven what was said and put this memory out of your mind. Of course, you can also give Satan pleasure by dwelling on those words and going through worse pain. Hurtful words become more hurtful when you dwell on them.

Commit yourself to the picture God has of you. Hurtful words hurt so much because we secretly believe them. We seem to adapt the picture we have of ourselves by what we think others think of us. We generally get our perception of ourselves as such: I am not what I think I am. I am not you what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.

Instead of basing your value on what another has said of you, base it on what the Almighty who knows your heart. He has showered you with love and has incredible plans and works for you. He would not do these things if He didn't know He could trust you. Dwell on His love rather than hurtful words.

Commit yourself to do these things for the rest of your life. Otherwise, you will be overtaken by hurtful words after you think you have mastered them. You will master them but it will take you the rest of your life.

Finally, enlist a close friend to pray for you. Tell the friend that you want to have victory over something that is defeating you. Have them pray for faith and strength in your life. Turn it over to God. He will make you victorious.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Seven Reasons God Will Not Answer Your Prayers

I often tell people to pray about the concerns they have in their lives. I also pray for them. Sometimes I know I am walking into the throne room of God and He is listening to my words. Sometimes I know that I am far away and do not know His presence. I have realized that my own condition will keep my prayers from being heard. I searched the Scriptures and found seven things in my life which could keep my prayers from being answered. I have put these in the form of questions which I have written at the front of my Bible so I can repent and come into His presence again.

1. Am I prideful? (Luke 18:11-14, James 4:6) God opposes the proud. I need grace if I am coming to Him in prayer. I cannot be full of myself and be full of Him. I must humble myself to come into God's presence.

2. Do I have unrepented sin. (Psalm 66:18) Sin will separate me from God. Repentance will always unite me with God. The first step for my prayers to be heard is to repent so that I can come to Him. God will not hear my prayers if I remain in sin.

3. Is my request selfish? (James 4:3) I realize I can turn any prayer into a pseudo praise for God but He knows the difference between what I want just for my own pleasures and what will actually give Him glory.

4. Do I believe God's word? (James 1:5-7) We should expect to receive nothing if we doubt what God has already said He would provide. You are doubting His word when you don't believe what He has already told you.

5. Am I being disobedient? (Proverbs 28:9) My prayer will be despised if I ignore keeping God's word. I cannot ignore what God has said and still have my prayers answered.

6. Have I forgotten the poor? (Proverbs 21:13) I realize that I cannot give to everyone who passes by but I can help some. If I forget the poor I will find myself without a prayer.

7. Is my worship meaningless? (Isaiah 1:15) I cannot live one way in the world and another way at church and expect my prayers to be answered. God says so Himself.

I encourage you to take a look at these scriptures. I encourage you to write these questions and the scripture references in the front of you Bible. Ask yourself these questions when you pray. This has helped me in my prayers. I hope it also helps you.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Separating Method from Message

Many churches will tell you that their system of making decisions comes from the Bible. They will point to the presence of Deacons or Elders or Pastors or Congregational votes and tell you that this is the way the Bible said we should set up the leadership of the church. This just isn't so.

The Bible does not tell us how to set up the leadership of the church. It gives qualifications of those who are to be in leadership positions. It tells of appointing Elders. It speaks of the congregation giving its agreement. But it does not clearly tell us how to set up our church leadership. That is why different denominations have done it different ways. There is plenty of room to change the method and not violate any biblical principles.

Churches also make things sacred that are not sacred. For example, churches will get hung up on when the offering is taken. Members in churches will get hung up on the version of the Bible. They don't realize the number of manuscripts available from which to make translations. There will be no perfect translation. I believe God made it such so we would not worship the Bible. We worship Him and Him alone.

For some reason people want to make things sacred that are not sacred. The old sanctuary is sacred even though it is falling down and needs to be replaced. The stained glass windows are considered sacred when they are really just assurances from the past. The Lord's Supper table becomes sacred even though it no longer large enough to serve the congregation. The organ becomes sacred even though it is expensive to maintain and takes much needed money from other ministries.

Unfortunately, a congregation which cannot sort out the difference between its methods and its message doesn't understand what the message is. The Church is called to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She must become a body of His disciples. She must never let the message of the good news be tainted by methods. Methods are tools to reach people with the gospel. Once the tool is replaced when it is no longer the best for uses. If this is not the case, you should go buy a rub board for doing your laundry. You should get rid of your microwave ovens. You should have your central heat and air removed. You should throw away your cell phones and never touch another computer.

Each of the tools we are currently using will soon be obsolete. Things become obsolete because of function, style and quality. Most of our tools in the church become obsolete because of function. One simple maxim would make a tremendous difference: Stop doing it if isn't working!

The message must never waver. Jesus Christ is the Messiah. He has come to give us eternal life. He has called us to be and to make disciples. Use whatever method it takes to do this. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reluctantly Walking through the Stages of Life

In the beginning we existed in the mind of God. He knew everything about us. He knew our complete ancestry. He knew our moment of birth, our moment of salvation, our moment of physical death and all the parts in between. He loved us in the beginning. He had plans for us. He had blessings, challenges and works planned for us. We knew nothing about it for we did not exist to ourselves. We were not aware we were to exist. It was the beginning.

Conception came. When is this small one aware of his or her existence? We know he or she will feel pain. Is there some awareness when pain can be registered?

We grew in our mothers' wombs. It was a safe place. It was warm and had all that we needed. If we could, we would have stayed. Yet, we were ushered from this place to go to another place. Our journey continued with birth. We found an amazing world. We wonder why we didn't want to leave our previous stage of life.

We continued to grow in body and knowledge.  We became cognitively self aware. We knew we existed. Soon, we wanted our independence from everyone else. Sin came into our lives and condemned us. We had no hope within us except for wanting to live. 

Someone or some things came to lead us to our Savior. We gave our hearts to Him and we experienced a new birth. We may not have thought we could live the life of a Christian before we gave our lives to Christ. We didn't especially like going to church. We didn't especially like reading the Bible and we thought that prayer was a waste of good time. Now, those things are a part of all that gives us life. We wonder why we didn't want to leave our previous stage of life.

We are growing again in a different way. Our spiritual lives grow. We are being changed. We are not what we want to be but we are constantly making the journey to what we will become.

We love life. We love what our lives have become in Jesus. We do not want to leave this life. We want to stay right where we are. Growing in Christ and serving Him seems to be the best life we could ever have.

Our physical bodies get older. They wear out. It is evident that this tent we have been living in will not last. We cling to this life.  We wonder if that is exactly what we did in our mothers' wombs. Did we cling to that life until we were ushered into this one? We didn't know anything about this life before we came to it. We certainly know more about the next life than we did about this one, yet we cling even harder to this life.

The heart stops beating. The brain stops sending electrical impulses. We stop breathing. Someone says, "Let's call it." The time is noted. They call it the time of death. However, they are not on our side of the wall. We have just been ushered into the most beautiful life. It is truly beyond our imagination. 

We wonder why we didn't want to leave our previous stage of life.

Friday, October 23, 2009

How Deep Is God's Love?

Paul prays in Ephesians that they might grasp how wide and long and high and deep is God's love. Remember, he is writing to Christians. They already knew God's love but did they grasp how big it is?

I worked with college students several years ago. (I must admit I sometimes miss the freshness of their faith.) We had planned a mission trip to Mexico to do various projects. Most of them were building projects but we were doing some vacation Bible school like things with children, as well. It was the first mission trip for these students. We hoped to take twenty on the trip. God gave us 104 total people, counting other adults who went.

We knew what we wanted to do but we didn't know how much it would cost. I went to a local builder's supply and told them what we wanted to do in the week in Mexico. We totaled the materials and came up with a figure of $13,000. We decided to go to the local churches to ask for help. We had one month to raise the money.

Both of the associations (of churches) we were affiliated with met on the same day at the same time. We asked to be on the front of one's program and at the end of the other's. The first one was comprised of rural churches. We expressed what we wanted to do and they committed their prayers and resources. We immediately jumped in the car and went to the other association. These were mostly city churches with lots of money. We presented our vision and they openly laughed at us. They thought we were ridiculous to try and raise that much money in one month. (The year was 1978.)

One month later we started on the trip to Mexico but we didn't have $13,000. We had $40,000! We did things we hadn't planned. We bought two used cars to be gifts for missionaries in Mexico. We tried to help wherever we could. We knew it wasn't our money. When we got back we had so much money left over that we sent seventeen college students to do mission work that summer.

The rich association of churches came forward when they found out we had so much money left over. They told us to save it for next year's mission trip. These churches had done very little to help. The other association was exuberant with God's supply. They didn't try to put any restrictions on it. 

We didn't think that was what God wanted us to save the money. If God raised it in one year, couldn't He do it again? Do we really grasp how much God loves to work with us?

God's love overwhelms me. He does amazing things to reach people with the Gospel. Money was no object because He loved us and He loved the people we were going to minister to. His overwhelming supply came because He wanted us to see His love in a tangible way.

That is the story of God's love. It is never ending. You see it when He comes for you for salvation. You continue to see it through your life. There is nothing impossible once you grasp the depth of His love. There is no supply outside of your reach when you work in the middle of His love. Even when He is silent you know He is merely trusting you to do the right thing when you don't feel His presence. You know you have never lost His love and you still press forward.

If you ever walk away from God, He, because of His immense love, will come for you. 

I suppose all of my life will be lived in amazement at the depth of His love.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Do You Have the Light?

Our church is beside a high school. Since I ride my bicycle to work almost every day I have the opportunity to look into the eyes of the parents and students who are coming to the school. I see the sleepiness in their eyes. I realize they have stayed up too late to have a cheery attitude toward morning. They are going to that school and heaven help anything or anyone who gets in their way.

But I see something else in many of them. Some are students who walk to school. I get to look into their eyes even more clearly. There is nothing there. There is no joy, no sense of purpose, no sense of hope- nothing! 

The Apostle John said that in Jesus is life and that life is the light of men. I believe that people living without Jesus do not have the light that they need to see what is true. They feel as if they are locked in a totally dark room and cannot find the door. They have decided the best thing to do is to live in the dark. They have talked with those around them and decided they must make the best of things in the dark room. They have told others that there is no light. There is no hope and there is no purpose other than existing in the dark room.

Even the rumors of light have been dispelled. Some have come telling of a light that would show them all that they need to have hope and purpose. Many say that the light doesn't exist or if it does it will really hurt your eyes so you should not follow these who claim to lead you to the light.

There are many in the room who say they have seen the light but really haven't. They tell the stories they have heard from those who have the light. They claim to have followed the light but they really have never seen the light. Their own stumbling around in the dark convinces many people that there is no light. 

Amazingly, some of those who have the light go in the dark room and stay. They, too, start believing the light doesn't exist. They lose their own hope and purpose. Their own memories betray them. They give excuses for when they saw the light. They claim it is an emotional light rather than a true light. They purposely keep their eyes closed so they can no longer see the light.

There are those who enter the room who have the light but get caught up with those that are blind. They know there is a light. They really would like to walk in the light again but they are afraid of leaving the room. They, too, are afraid that coming back into the light will hurt their eyes. They may be right. But the pain won't last long and they will be able to see again.

We either walk in the light or walk in the darkness. All of us who have the light are called to walk into that dark room and bring out as many as we can. We are not to stay in that room. It should not keep a hold on us.

Many times we see the world as evil. Surely, there is evil in the world but most people are not trying to do you in. They are simply blind for they have not seen the light of Jesus. Their lives are filled with hopelessness for they believe in nothing more than they can see. Blindness keeps them from seeing very much.

Yet, there are Christians who also walk in the darkness. They have accepted something sinful and realized it really does cause pleasure. They like it so much that they are afraid to open their eyes and see the light of Jesus. They know that opening their eyes will reveal what this sin really is. That would be painful. So, they talk about Jesus with their eyes closed. 

I know Christians very far away from the Lord. I wish they would realize what they are doing. I know they won't until they open their eyes and the light of Jesus fills them once again.

Could you be one of those? I am not on your case. I don't want you to feel bad. I just want people to walk in the light of Jesus. 

I know many people who are walking in the light of Jesus. You can see it in their eyes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cut Off Your Hands and Feet; Gouge Out Your Eyes!

Jesus gives some very hard words at times. Jesus said that you should cut off your hands and feet if they caused you to sin. He said you should gouge out your eyes if they caused you to sin. Many people would be blind and crippled if they were to be taken literally. We must understand what He was really saying if we are to live our lives in accordance with His will.

This passage is a parable rather than a simple command. He was not telling us to cut off our hand and feet and gouge out our eyes. Jesus was telling us that sin is very serious. It is so serious that it can keep you from His kingdom. It can be enjoyable for a time but it will not be precious at the time of judgment. It will keep you away from Him. 

People should always know that they can't sin and walk with Jesus. Not every sin affects every person. Some will be affected by sins of the physical body. Others will be affected by sins of possessions. Still others will be affected by the sin of pride. These sins are subtle but deadly. They will keep a person from Christ.

I once talked with a young man about his relationship with Christ. He told me that he wanted Jesus as his Savior and Lord. He bowed his head to say the "sinners prayer" which would make his commitment to Christ. He stopped short. When I asked why he said, "My girlfriend and I are living together. I'm afraid she would move out on me if I do this."

I couldn't tell him that he would be wrong. I didn't know. I know that Christ does amazing things in a person's life. I know that He changes desires and purpose in that person. I did not tell this young man that he was going to have to clean up his life before he came to Christ but he understood what it was to commit your life to Christ. A Christian should do what Christ wants always. He wasn't ready to make his relationship with his girlfriend right. So, he gave up his eternal life with Christ for a temporary life with her.

This is exactly what Christ was saying when He said we should cut off parts of our bodies. We cannot walk in sin and go with Him. Sin will keep us away from Him. We must get rid of that sin if we are to know Him. We must deal with it radically.

Many people try to keep sin quiet rather than eliminate it. They will promise to cut back or will say that they will keep the sin around for another reason. They will keep the movie channel on which they have seen pornography rather than cancel it. They will promise themselves that they will not watch those movies which have this material but late at night they fall back into the trap. Their only solution is to cancel the channel. Until then, they are not really serious about the elimination of sin.

It seem silly to say that it is better to enter heaven crippled and blind rather than to go to hell intact. Again, Jesus was making a very serious point. Living a life that will satisfy the things of this world will result in our destruction. The things of this world are temporary. Heaven is eternal. It is silly to exchange the eternal for the temporary.

Get rid of the sins keeping you from Christ. It's serious. It is a complete commitment.  It results in being with Jesus.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How Do You Prepare for a Funeral?

Most funerals are planned by the family of the deceased. Most family members don't want to plan in advance because that seems as if they are hoping their loved one will die. Some people have already planned their own funeral and the family has very little to do. Yet, more than likely, you will be called upon to plan the closure of one of your loved ones some day.

What do you do?

First, you need to pick a funeral home. Call someone who has planned a funeral recently and ask about their experience. Try to get one close to where the friends of the deceased lived. It will be easier for them to make a visitation if they don't have to travel too far. Get one with a good reputation. Stay away from anyone who promises discounts. 

The funeral home will pick up the body. You will need someone to declare the person is dead if death occurs at home. The hospice nurse can do so if you have hospice. I think it is easier to call 911 and have the emergency personnel come if death is totally unexpected. They will first try to revive the person if at all possible but they can call the coroner if it is not. It is common for an autopsy to be done when death comes unexpectedly. They are not accusing you of anything. They just need to alleviate all concerns of why death occurred.

The funeral director will walk with you to pick out a casket if you choose to bury the deceased. There are other options. The deceased can donate his or her body to science. The deceased can be cremated. Caskets come in a wide range of styles and costs. Most funeral homes do not carry the "pine box" which so many people say they want. I believe you should show your love to others when they are living so you won't feel guilty and buy the most expensive casket when they die. Both wood and metal caskets can be beautiful. Wood caskets are heavier.

Don't wear yourself out doing the visitation. Some families want to give people a whole day for visitation. I have found that a couple of hours will cause the largest number of people to get to the funeral home for visitation.

Typically, the casket is open for visitation. It may seem strange to welcome people with the body of your loved one in the room. It is strange but it is also normal. People want to see the body for the last time. The seeing of the body brings closure.

The casket will have to be place in a vault at burial unless the deceased is to be placed in a crypt. The vault can be made of metal or concrete. It is really your choice on which one you get.

Many things do not cost less though people think they do. For example, whether you have the funeral service at the funeral home or at a local church generally makes no difference. It is really easier to have it at the funeral home but many times the service in your church will be more meaningful. You have to choose which you would like.

The funeral home has many services which you may choose from. You may choose a limo to carry pick you up from your house and bring you back after the funeral. Some of the items are bundled together and you will not pay any less if you don't use them. Some will cost more. You have to carefully look over the charges. This is hard to do when you are grieving. 

Most funeral homes are not trying to take advantage of you. Some people will say they do because they realize they paid for something they didn't need. The problem is that grieving people often make decisions they wouldn't have made after the grief has diminished. People tend to expediently handle the funeral arrangements. This means that things get overlooked. 

You will need to choose how you want the deceased dressed. It is best to bring things from home which belonged to the deceased if possible. I have seen people dressed in suits, nice dresses to nightgowns and pajamas.

The funeral home will generally do an excellent job in making your loved one look as they did when alive. They may ask you for a picture so they can see how to fix the hair and apply the makeup. Your loved one may have been sick for a long time. Your memories of what they looked like when well may have escaped you. The funeral home can do amazing things to make them look good.

The service itself is another matter. Many people think that a graveside service alone is the best idea. It generally isn't. You cannot predict the weather and the funeral home will not provide chairs for everyone at the grave. Music, though not impossible, is very limited at the grave. Any message of comfort is very hard to hear.

I believe it is better to have a service in the chapel and a very short time at the grave. The environment is controlled in the chapel. Things are calmer in the chapel.

I personally don't like long funeral services. Mine are almost always thirty minutes long. This includes the music. It is nice to have a live singer but it is common for the funeral home to have a cd of the songs you would like. I would rather have a cd than a very bad singer. I would rather have a good singer than a cd. This again, is your choice.

I do not like opening up the floor to anyone who would like to say something about the deceased. I did that once and a lady presented a plague to the deceased. I didn't know what he was going to do with it. I also didn't know whether to put it inside the casket. It was very awkward. Also, people who speak at a funeral service without preparation tend to say some very dumb things. It is embarrassing for everyone. I tell the family that anyone who speaks should have their message written out. This way they have had to put some thought in their communication. This way I can read their sentiments if they get too emotional to continue. This way they know how they want to close so that they don't ramble on and on.

I have found that funerals carry different traditions depending on the part of the country you are in. For example, in Tennessee the pastor follows in a car behind the hearse. In Virginia, the pastor follows a lead car and the hearse follows him. Different traditions prevail at the grave too. In Tennessee the family tends to stay until the casket in placed in the ground and the grave is filled in. In Texas and Virginia, the family leaves right after the graveside service and allows the workers to close the grave without being watched.

Please note that the funeral home director is there to make your experience as smooth as possible. There is no dumb question. Ask him or her what you should do. He or she will always say this, "Most people . . . ." That's because they don't want to tell you how you should do things. However, you probably ought to do what "most people" do.

I hope this helps you in your time of grieving. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Don't Wait for a Crisis

I just installed a new computer virus protection program on my computer. The license on my old program expired. I could have waited but I didn't. I have had a virus on a computer before. I had to wipe the hard drive to get rid of the thing. I don't ever want that again.

Yet, people who will readily update their virus protection will not take other precautions until they become crises. For example, many parents will wait until they are having troubles with their children before they begin coming to church as a family. They want the church to "fix" their child. Of course, that is not really what they want. They don't want to be bothered by their children. They want to be able to live their lives the way they want to without their children getting in the way. They want to be proud of their children but they don't want to take the steps to have something to be proud of. They want their children to make them proud without any effort from the parents. That world doesn't exist.

People wait for many other crises before they will take action. How many people do you know started exercising and watching what they ate after they had bypass surgery? Or how many do you know that stopped smoking after lung cancer was discovered? Or finally lost weight after the doctor told them they wouldn't live for ten more years if they continued to live like they were? Do we actually need a crisis before we will do what we should?

There are two paths we can travel every day. There is the path of procrastination, least resistance, what makes me feel good. Then, there is the path of doing what I must. This path flosses it's teeth, exercises, reads it's Bible, prays, is always honest, takes it's children to church, takes it's spouse out for a weekly date and mows the lawn before the neighborhood association puts a "Worst Yard of the Month" placard in it's yard.

It makes no sense to wait for a crisis. Crises are hard to recover from.

The road that diverges from the path of least resistance has two lanes. They are: what I need to be doing that I am not doing and what am I doing that I need to stop. You must travel both lanes to avoid crises.

Things are going to continue the same direction unless something changes. (You can quote me on this but I am not close to original.) Where are you going to be if you continue doing what you are doing?

Remember, it takes a thimble of water to put out the spark that starts the forest fire. 

I won't have a compute virus because I took time to download a computer virus protection program. This is one of the many things I must do to avoid a crisis so I can live in peace. What do you need to do today to keep you from a crisis? 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Don't Let the Spirit of Negativity Make You a Slave

You may have watched it in a sports event recently. The Spirit of Negativity overtakes a team or an individual and the game is over long before it is over. "We can't beat these guys" is a self-fulfilling prophecy. "We can't do anything right" will make sure that you can't do anything right. It is self condemning. It is self defeating.

The Spirit of Negativity can take over an organization. "Our products are junk" makes sure the employees make defective products. "The boss doesn't know what he is doing" helps to make sure that he doesn't know what he is doing. People tend to act out what they believe. A preponderance of negativity will make anyone question what he or she is doing.  An organization with a significant number of negative people is on its way down.

Churches often get the Spirit of Negativity. It seems to loom around the church until the opportunity arises. It questions until it finds something negative. It magnifies each negative until it can get a consensus of negatives. It destroys reaching the unchurched. It wants a group of people who believe exactly as it does. It makes ludicrous statements like, "The Pastor is not friendly," when this is not the case at all. It looks for reasons to believe this outlandish statements. He doesn't greet someone on a Sunday morning or he walks by someone in the grocery store and further evidence is presented to the Spirit of Negativity. This Spirit continues to spread the negative like a politician trying to win an election.

Unfortunately, I have seen churches enslaved by negativity. They are spiraling downward because they do not believe their Lord has magnificent plans for them. They are looking to blame someone else for their downfall when it is really just their own negativity. The Spirit of Negativity will keep any potential member from joining. It will keep any potential Sunday School teacher from teaching. It will keep many tithers from giving freely.

Let's face it: the Spirit of Negativity is the work of the devil. He will woo you to believe him. He will question your positives. He will deny their validity. He will lead you to follow him. He will make you his slave.

But you and your church do not have to believe him. You have someone within you stronger than him. You can rely on your Lord to tell the devil where to go. You must believe that the Lord knows and has solutions to the negative things that have happened.

The Lord's Spirit is one of grace. He says that even the negative things happen so that you will see His grace. There is something that He will do to take the negative and make a positive result. He says that the pastor and people are His grace for each other. He says that the bad economy will bring more opportunities to reach the unchurched. He says that the moral failure of a staff member will result in something good for the church and the former staff member if each will come fully to Him. He says that He knows what you are going through and will make something greater than you can imagine.

Your best days are ahead of you. That's what the Lord says. Keep telling yourself that and see what the Lord will do.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why Are People Fascinated with Apocalyptic Stories?

I went to see a movie yesterday. I haven't gone to the movies in a long time. I saw "Where the Wild Things Are." I have one word for you: Don't! However, while there I saw new movies being advertised. One was called 2012. I have little doubt it will center around the Mayan calendar and their prediction that something amazing will happen December 21, 2012.

It will not point out that this is the end of one of the Mayan periods of time. It will not point out that there are places in which the Mayans have written dates much later than 2012. These two things would destroy the premise that the world will end on that date. There are enough "nuts" who will buy many more books on the subject and have some trepidation that the world is about to end.

Toward the end of the century speculation arose that the world would end. That has been somewhat true since the beginning of the marking of centuries. I guess people think that the clock has to run down at some time so it must be set to do so at the end of the century. This isn't reasoning; just a type of superstition.

What fascinates me is why people are so enamored with these stories. Do they fear dying alone? These apocalyptic stories would take us all out at once. We would all go together. Do they fear dying old? This way they won't have to wait. Is the destruction of all creation inherent within many people?

I am sure of a few things about the end of time. These things are not coming from speculation. Here they are: 

-We will know that it will arrive but we will not be able to predict the end of time. Jesus, Himself, didn't know when it was. We won't know either.

-Our predictions will most assuredly be wrong about how it will happen. God has enigmatically written how the end will come. Our picture of that day is colored by our history, culture and environment. Each generation will probably see it differently. These predictions will evolve over time.

-Many people who think they are prepared will not be prepared. They will think they have been inoculated from the end by their baptisms and church memberships. Jesus said that there will be many who will be surprised. They will think they got in when they really didn't.

-There is nothing that must happen before this time can arise. The early Christians expected the return of Jesus at any moment. They did not think that the planets needed to align or that the world powers had to agree. They knew God was one who could change things overnight. They didn't assume that there was time to wait. They looked for the return of Christ expecting Him to arrive at any time.

-Our fixation should not be on speculative stories but on the preparation of Christ's return. It is okay to attend these movies for entertainment but not for knowledge. Knowledge was never their purpose. 

-We should always think the time is short. It is better to have made that call to the loved one who does not know Christ than to assume you have time to wait. We simply do not know how much time there is.

I don't know if I will go to this apocalyptic movie. (I suspect there will be more before 2012.) I will probably wait for the DVD. I like adventure. I also know it is fiction.

Who knows? We may not be here in 2012. We may not be here tomorrow. To this I say, "Come, Lord Jesus, come!"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Has America "Gone Stupid"?

The things happening in America today would never have made it past the wisdom of a child at the beginning of the previous century. No one would have thought that huge bailouts would help an economy in the long term. No one would have thought that schools should suspend five year olds for bringing their favorite camping tool to school with them. No one would have  thought that gangs of young men would terrorize neighborhoods with impunity.

No one would have dreamed these things because Americans had something called "common sense." I am afraid we need to change the name of this "sense" today.

There are groups traveling the country to convince people that the answer to our stupidity will be found in politicians. They are saying that preachers have not stood up for values which need to be addressed and now need to support certain politicians who will straighten out things. Believe me, they are counting on us not having any common sense.

Let's see if we can remember any history. Most politicians become like the rest of the politicians soon after getting in office. (You can check this out if you would like. Those who were for term limits lose that conviction when getting in office. They vote for the same things as the other politicians and just make a lot of noise.) Those who are the strongest supporters of family values are the ones typically caught in affairs. Those who are said to be honest are the ones caught with their hands in the cookie jars.

I have no faith in politicians straightening out our country. If a truly honest politician is ever elected the Statue of Liberty will personally walk to Washington D.C. just to meet him! It would take a whole lot of common sense to recognize an honest politician and I don't believe America wants that person. Therefore, truly honest people will have extreme difficulty getting elected.

We want an instant solution to our problems. Instant solutions rarely come from common sense. Most solutions take as long to solve the problem as it took to get into the problem. The answer is slower but surer than anything we are doing.

At the turn of the previous century values were taught in the home. Dad and Mom exhibited and taught honesty, hard work, saving, church attendance, keeping your word and many of the values which are all but lost. They did not fill up every minute of the day with entertainment, sports or social events. They spent time together working and playing. They had values which needed to be met. 

I wonder what would happen if we started to take away some of the things which are consuming us. What if we limited ourselves to one hour of tv per night? What if we limited ourselves to thirty minutes of video games per day?

Several years ago I was convicted to stop watching tv for a time. I didn't watch any tv for about three weeks and then was released from this conviction. I thought I would watch the news as my first venture back into tv. I was offended at some of the things that came on the news! Now, for the real shocker. That was 1984!

I must admit I don't know how to get people back to their families. I don't know how to get people to slow down and teach values to their children. (They are often taught by their coaches how to cheat without getting caught. Unfortunately, dads are agreeing with the coaches.) They need to understand that you really don't win when you cheat to get the greater score. They need to understand that we are to help those who cannot help themselves not enable those who are standing in line for a handout. They need to understand that debts need to be paid by those who incurred those debts. They need to understand that there can be no meaningful social interaction without standards of honest, faithfulness and other virtues which are being lost. They need to understand that marriage should last a lifetime and children should be able to live in stable homes with two parents.

The answer is in the family. It is in faith. It is in friends who will walk with you in your good times and troubles. 

How do we get there? I admit I don't know. However, if we don't we will have a new term. We will call it "common stupidity."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why Should You Appreciate Your Pastor?

They tell us its Pastor Appreciation Month. I don't know where that came from. It is probably another Hallmark Holiday. But if you are wondering why you should even appreciate your pastor, let me tell you what he does.

Pastoring a local church is the hardest job in the world. I don't say that because I haven't done other things. I have been a farm laborer, a factory worker, a lab tech, a bank teller (I even repossessed a car in Maine when I worked for a bank in Texas), a school teacher, city bus driver and a church staff member. There is work which is more physically difficult or dangerous but there is nothing that you can do that is harder than being a local pastor.

What makes it so hard? 

The pastor carries the burdens of the people and is responsible for their souls before the Lord. No one else carries this responsibility to the extent of the pastor. He listens to their confessions of infidelity, lying, cheating, criminal activity, pornography and heinous other acts and keeps it completely to himself. He doesn't even tell his wife. He can't even tell the member who asks what he does all day that he spoke to someone who has confessed these things to him. 

He does his best to help these people. Most of the time they completely ignore everything he tells them to do. They continue their sins with impunity. They may have thought that talking to the pastor will result in their absolution but it hasn't. They will turn on the pastor eventually. After all, he didn't do a thing to help them!

Church members tell the pastor how the church ought to be run. They have taken the point of view: "I have been in church, therefore, I know how to run the church." You might as well say, "I voted for a president, therefore, I know how to be president." They know almost nothing of the workings of the church. Yet, they can be critical of everything that is done. They will attack his character when he doesn't comply with their stupid ideas.

Members take the church's highest peaks and try to say that was the standard. Often a church will take a picture when they have had a very successful attendance. The sanctuary, choir loft or the picnic area will be packed. These pictures are brought out years later and claimed to be what they experienced every Sunday. This is balony! Remember, they wouldn't have taken a picture if what they had done wasn't exceptional. These members will point to these pictures and claim the present pastor is not like the pastor they had back then. These words do not carry much truth and they are hurtful to the present pastor.

There are some members who always hide in the shadows. They will be quiet until they see something go wrong. They spring forward with, "See, I told you so!" as soon as that happens. They are the people who get on the phones and call but will never make the motion in the business meeting. They are snakes who hide in the grass. The pastor knows they are there and cannot do much about them. They are like the devil who begins with questioning what is true and ends with denying the truth.

Pastors are not psychic. He does not know intuitively when you have gone into the hospital. Often a church member will criticize the pastor for not visiting them in the hospital when no one told him they had gone in. Eventually they say that he doesn't care. It hurts to hear this.

Pastors cannot be at two places at one time. I once had a family get mad at me because I couldn't do their loved one's funeral at a certain time. I already had a funeral scheduled at that time. They thought I should change the one that I had already scheduled to do their funeral. When I refused, they called the church to say that I had been rude to the people at the funeral home. The funeral home denied that I had been rude to anyone there. In fact, I am known as very friendly at all the funeral homes. Fortunately, these people left our church to be the thorn in the side of another church. Unfortunately, I, now, need to pray for that pastor.

People are sometimes incredibly unreasonable and the pastor has to let it roll off his back. Some are able to go on without this affecting them.  I am not one of them. Your pastor may not be either.

The pastor is expected to present a dynamic sermon each week. He is competing with Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Ed Young and a host of others that their members are watching and listening to each week. Remember, these media pastors are at churches so large that they no longer make many hospital visits or do many funerals. They have someone who administers the staff and facilities. They are extremely gifted speakers and it is unfair to compare the local pastor to these men. Members will by these pastors' dvd's and give them to their local pastor on the way out the door. "Watch this sermon. Maybe you can learn something about preaching."

Your pastor does all of this for the Lord. I promise you; he doesn't do it for the money!

Consider these things when you appreciate your pastor this month. It is a job that requires the presence and power of the Lord if he is to be successful. He needs you to tell him how you appreciate him. He is nowhere near perfect. That is not what you say. You just tell him what you appreciate.

One last thing. If your pastor is like me. I can hear fifty good statements from people and will still be devastated by one caustic criticism. I don't think heaping appreciation on your pastor will hurt. He needs it to offset the negatives. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Do You Do in a Daily "Time Alone" with God?

I have met lots of Christians who claim to have a daily "time alone" with God. Many of them tell me of playing Bible roulette. They take their Bibles and drop them open. They say, "Lord, what do you have for me today?" They read the first verse their eyes come on. That is God's word for them for that day.

While I cannot say that God cannot have the Bible drop open and give you His word for that day, I also cannot say that this is the best way to have a time alone with God. Most of these Bible gamblers will admit that they have had to drop their Bibles several times on some days to get what they thought was a "word from God." Let's admit it: This is more about superstition than God's sovereignty. You might as well start flipping coins to discover God's word.

The best time alone with God has a plan. This plan leaves room for God to intervene. You may have a devotional book or you may be like me and read a book of the Bible through for your daily reading. I have found the latter to be the most amazing evidence of a sovereign God. Some times I have a special challenge in my personal walk with the Lord or my church's walk with the Lord. I pray about these challenges during these times with God. Invariably, on the day I must have the answer to my prayer, my answer is found in my daily reading. How cool is that?

God knows what I am reading. He knows what I have been praying. He knows the answer to my prayers. He gives them on the day that I need them in the very scripture I am reading that day. So, I read through a book of the Bible as part of my time alone with God.

Sometimes I will read a passage. Sometimes, like yesterday, only one verse. I have to think through what God is saying in each verse. I look at each word and ask what that word really means. Yesterday I started reading the book of John again. I read only the first verse. I got hung up on "in the beginning." I thought about before the beginning. I thought about God alone. I thought about the amazing event called creation. I thought about Him being called the Word. I thought about what that has meant to me. I thought about all the conjectures mankind has produced to explain the beginning. I thought about how sure we are that we know better than God. I couldn't get past thinking about the first verse.

Prayer should be a part of your time alone with God. The person praying realizes that there are things that God can do better than he can. He also realizes that there are things he can't do that God can. 

So, I prayed. Some of it has to do with praising God as the creator. Some of my prayers had to do with His creation. If you have a problem with something that is manufactured, you should go to the manufacturer. I asked God to fix some of His creation that was broken. I thanked Him for continuing to fix me.

I don't typically spend hours in my time alone with God. I believe that making that a requirement will keep me from having that time alone. I promise myself I will spend at least five minutes though I admit I seldom stop at five minutes. The commitment to have a time alone is more important to me than long it is.

I commit my day to God before I conclude my prayer. It is His day that He gave to me to be used for His glory. It was a glorious day. 

---Just like today. I have to stop now so I can have time alone with God.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Do You Choose a Bible?

I was in a Christian bookstore when I saw a lady staring at all the types of Bibles for sale. She wanted to get a Bible as a gift but was confused on which one to buy. It is no wonder that she is confused with the number of Bibles. Bibles are published with every sort of name and purpose. So many have been produced that I am surprised that someone hasn't published a "left-handed" Bible! How can anyone know which Bible to buy?

I think that trying to buy one Bible is a problem. Each of the published Bibles has a different purpose. They come in different versions. (A translation is done by one person. A version is done by a group.) The address different age groups. (There are children's Bibles, youth Bibles and adult Bibles.) They can address a different gender. (There is at least one women's Bible.) You need to think of what each Bible is for and buy a Bible for that purpose.

Bible versions are very different. Most come from a translation of the Hebrew and Greek. They do not all come from the same manuscripts of the Hebrew and Greek. It can make for slight differences in the translation. You will note that some people will have a different number quoted from their copy of the Bible when addressing troop strength in the Old Testament. This comes from using a different manuscript. It does not change the meaning but it will slightly change the translation.

Versions are also different in the way they are translated. Some versions try to give a word-for-word translation of the Hebrew and Greek. This is very difficult because the languages do not read like English. Therefore, several words may be necessary to give the translation of one word. These "literal" translations are not exactly literal but they try to give the closest word-for-word translation possible.

Other translations are more dynamic. They look at the entire sentence and paragraph before translation. They endeavor to give the meaning of the passage through each sentence translated. Naturally, they must contain some "commentary" in the middle of the translation. It is the interpretation of the translators which give you this version.

Finally, there are paraphrases. These are not translated from the Greek and Hebrew but take a previous English version and put the meaning in the vernacular of the English of a certain group or time.

Therefore, a Bible for study may not be the Bible you need for reading. If you are wanting to do serious study look for a static translation which has lots of notes throughout the Bible. Two examples of a static translation are the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Bible. These are a little harder to read but give a more word-for-word translation.

A good reading Bible is the New International Version. I have one of these for reading. I do not have any commentary or helps in these Bibles. It is for reading; not serious study. Another good reading Bible would be the Living Bible. It is a paraphrase. It will give the general meaning of each passage. It is not a study Bible either.

You may need more than one of each of these Bibles. You may want to get the NIV Study Bible if you are not concerned with serious study but want to get a Bible that you can read which will give have some explanation of the meaning. However, no Bible is going to give you all the commentary or explanation that a Commentary Set or Bible Dictionary can give. If you are into serious study you should set aside a month's rent to buy a good set of commentaries. They are expensive but worth it if you are really serious.

Covers are another issue with Bibles. Genuine leather is different from bonded leather. Genuine leather is cut from one piece of leather to make the cover. Bonded leather is taken from small ground up pieces of leather that have been bonded together to form the cover. They may look the same but genuine leather will last much longer than bonded. There are also leather-like covers and hard bound covers. A hard bound cover is sufficient if you do not plan on carrying the Bible anywhere. I recommend a genuine leather cover for a Bible that makes a lot of trips.

You may ask what version of the Bible I use. That's easy. I use the LARGE PRINT version.

I hope this helps you find the Bible you need. Hide God's word in your heart. It will make a serious difference in your life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Ideal Church in a Real World

I suppose the ideal church would be filled with a sinless congregation. It is hard to imagine. There would be no contentious business meetings. There would be no gossip. The giving would go out the roof. The ministries would have more volunteers than needed. Everyone would sing (or make a joyful noise). No one would think himself better than anyone else. No one would gripe about the temperature in the sanctuary. In fact, no one would gripe about anything.

Who could join this church? No one I know.

The church exists in a real world. It is filled with sinners. Some are saved by grace. Some are not saved. Some know they are on a spiritual journey. Some think they have already arrived. We shall not see a sinless church while we are on this earth. Therefore, the ideal church must take into account that sin.

The ideal church would be filled with a congregation who sees repentance as something the church should practice first. Often the church is telling other groups they need to act like Christians when those groups are not Christians. The ideal church would see itself in need of cleaning its own house on a regular basis. Instead of telling the world to repent and join the church, the ideal church would recognize its sins and repent. The problem with the church's testimony today is the lack of righteousness in the church. The church has no voice when she lives like the devil.

The ideal church would freely give out grace. Repentance realizes the need for grace. Forgiveness realizes the need for grace. The church who understood her own sinfulness would know grace and give it out freely to the world. The message the church would send is one of God's desire to forgive instead of messages to get those dirty rotten sinners in the world. Anyone who came through the doors would realize the grace the church gives.

The ideal church would seek to win the lost. This church would see their primary goal as making disciples of Jesus. People need to know the Lord as the first step to discipleship. The ideal church would spare no expense to win the lost. The ideal church would welcome those who are typically shunned by a "better than thou" society. It would be filled with prostitutes, drug dealers and criminals. The ideal church would be such a place of grace that these people would be drawn in. The ideal church would love these people into the kingdom.

The ideal church would care for those who know Jesus. This church would give each member opportunities to hold each other accountable for each others' actions. Joining this church would mean that you join a community of believers who will do their best to keep you from straying from the Lord.

The ideal church would depend upon God in every decision. Decisions would not be made in regard to whether or not the church has the money but on what God wants the church to do. The church would completely depend upon God to supply her every need. The church would realize that her responsibility is in doing what is right- not determining what is possible!

The ideal church is a praying church. She prays about everything. She believes that God can eradicate any sickness that a doctor will diagnose as terminal. She believes that God can supply jobs to the unemployed and resources to the broke. She believes that God mends marriages and families who have broken apart. She believes God gives direction still speaks to those who will listen. So, the church prays to a living, loving almighty God.

The ideal church loves the Bible. She realizes that the Bible is God's instructions to live on this earth. It is God's story of what will happen after this earth. The ideal church strives to be God's people living God's word.

The ideal church is a sweet fellowship. It give grace within as well as without. The ideal church overlooks many of things which members could say that are hurtful. She encourages those within the church to live a life of love. The church bounds together to help one another through everything.

The ideal church is possible. My church is not perfect. We have a lot of the qualities of what I would call the ideal church. We are on a journey to become what God wants us to be. I believe we will always be on that journey.

I would love to hear stories of your church. Please email me if you are proud of your church. I don't believe your church will be perfect either. I do believe your church will be on the same journey we are on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Value of the Lonely Place

Lots of people tell me that they pray on their way to work. They talk of praising God and lifting up their prayer requests as they drive through traffic. I think this is good. However, I don't think it will substitute for the lonely place.

I set up a prayer room in one of the churches I served. I asked the deacons to be the first to take an hour slot for prayer. Some refused to do so. They said they didn't know what they would say for an hour. They did not know the value of the lonely place.

I am in the church building early as I write this blog. There is no one else here. After finishing this blog I will go into the sanctuary and communicate with God. I say "communicate" because I don't do all the talking. He has some things to say to me. I must hear them. I never get this level of communication when I pray on my way to work. (I ride a bicycle so I have some real time to pray and think.) I do not have this depth of knowing Him when I do Bible study. It is in the lonely place that I "hear" God more clearly than any other place. It is in the lonely place that I know it is Him.

Jesus, Himself needed the lonely place. He went out to talk with His Father early in the morning. There were people looking for Him, yet He knew this was more important. He needed to "communicate." I am sure that He prayed at other times. His disciples heard Him pray or they would not have asked Him to teach them to pray. His personal depth of prayer as one who knows the Father amazed them. Yet, Jesus also went to the lonely place. Would He have done so if His praying as He went about His business sufficed? 

I encourage you to pray on your way to work and as you go about your business. I also encourage you to go to the lonely place.

I know God has something more to tell you. Will you go? 

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why Spread the Hate?

It seems the best way to be known in the world is to express your hate for someone. Bring suspicion on the person who doesn't agree with you. Draw parallels between them and history's notorious evil leaders. Paint a picture of the destruction of everything good and wholesome. Build hate around the person you are opposing.

This appears to be our political process. It is not what has made America great. It is happening in both political parties. Propaganda is spread through fictional documentaries and fictional emails. Both sides cry foul and continue to produce the muck. It is creating a stench in America that must be aired out. 

There is nothing wrong with opposing ideas. There is nothing wrong with pointing out the pitfalls of someone else's idea. It is good to have tension in making decisions. Knowing that there is an opposition makes you consider your decisions more carefully. It makes you complete the planning more carefully before you present it. The collaboration between different ideals often produces a better plan than either of them could have done alone.

However,  disagreements have now become personal attacks. They look for any weakness and exploit that weakness. Heaven help the person if he should stumble for the other side will be there to kick him before he can get up.

I am amazed how Christians are participating in this. Christians are spreading hatred along with the rest of the society. They are sending the bogus emails back and forth. I should expect those who don't know the Lord to act this way. I have a hard time when it comes from followers of Jesus.

Didn't Jesus say that we would be known by our love? That doesn't seem to be the message we are communicating to the world when we participate in hateful acts. Shouldn't we be calling for prayer meetings to pray for our leaders? Shouldn't we ask God to intervene in some bad decisions? Should we call on our Lord to help us love those who don't agree with us? Shouldn't we stop fighting fire with fire? If we don't, I'm afraid we are going to burn down our nation. 

What have we said we are if Jesus said we would be known by our love and we are known by our hate? We will prove that we are no longer a Christian nation.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Lord Disciplines His Children

Let's face it folks. If we know the Lord; if we are His children-- He disciplines us like any good father would.

I have seen pastors treat staff members with impunity. They think that nothing will happen to them. They think they rule the roost and no one can tell them what they have done is wrong. They are wrong! I have seen these same pastors receive exactly what they dealt to their staff by their churches. Let me give just a couple of examples.

Case 1: A pastor asks a staff member to leave because the staff member had received complaints. The staff member had been an excellent minister but had angered some of the people who thought the ministry was growing too fast. They looked for the flaws in the staff member and ran to the pastor who wanted to appease these important people in the church. The staff member left for another church.

Years later this pastor is asked to leave because there are those who complained. 

Case 2: A staff member asks a Sunday School teacher to step down because he has become so popular that other Sunday School teachers are complaining. They say that the popular teacher is actually keeping the ministry from growing. Years later this staff member is asked to step down from his ministry because he has gotten the same complaints.

I would like to give this message to all those who know the Lord and have dealt unkindly, unjustly and /or unethically with a Christian brother or sister: Either repent and make things right between you and them or get your house in order because God is about to discipline you!

I don't care how justified you feel. If you withheld grace, don't be surprised when grace is withheld from you. If you did what you did to protect your own hide, don't be surprised when another does the same to you to protect his hide. It will be given to us in the same way we gave it to others. God will instigate this discipline. He disciplines His children because He loves us. 

It is often years between a transgression and God's discipline. I believe God gives a gracious amount of time to repent. He sends conviction through the Holy Spirit. He sends people to deliver the message. It was years between the time of David's adultery and Nathan showing up to give God's judgment. It was years in each case that I can remember when God has disciplined His children.  

I don't want to give you the thought that you have lots of time to repent. I don't know that. Maybe the time for your repentance and restitution with the other person is already up. Personally, I would do whatever it takes to make things right. If I cheated them out of money, I would get the money to them as quickly as possible. If I lied, I would run to tell the truth. If I hurt them, I would apologize. If I unjustly fired them, I would apologize and help them find another job. Regardless of what I had done, I would do what I could to make it right. And I would do so today!

Ask the Lord if there is anyone with whom you need to make things right. Be willing to accept whoever He says. Act what He tells you to make those things right. You may be surprised the blessing this will become.

Then, live like a person who needs grace. If you give it to others, it will return to you. Maybe it won't return from the ones you give grace to, however,  I guarantee it will come back to you from the Lord.

Have nothing against others and do your best to give them no cause for having something against you. Always give grace and you will live with a clear conscience and in the grace of the Lord.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What Happens in Church Should Not Stay in Church

The ads say, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!" Unfortunately, the church seems to have taken the same approach.

Inside the walls of the church building people talk freely about the Lord. They give testimonies and ascribe His majesty. The benediction is given, they file out to join the rest of the world and become silent about the works of God.

Are they ashamed of God? That certainly carries an indictment.  Jesus said if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us.

Are they afraid of what they should say? Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would give us the words to say.

Do they think that a faith in the Lord will be seen as weird? No, the Bible tells us that the gospel is foolishness. It's more than weird to the outside world.

Are they afraid they will not live up to the expectation of what the world thinks of a Christian? That is probably the most legitimate excuse. There are so many public Christians who are cheating on their wives, embezzling their companies funds and living despicable lives that silence may be the best testimony they can give. Did they think that the Christian life was only to be lived inside the church buildings?

No, true faith is a revelation from God to the individual. A testimony is the story of God coming to the individual to develop a relationship with Him. It is an developing relationship. It should progress to a greater intimacy, knowledge and devotion in the Christian's life. It should make the testimony dynamic so that the Christian doesn't only tell a testimony of when they came to know Christ for the first time but what the Lord is currently doing and revealing to him.

I believe that most Christians are silent because there is nothing going on in their lives to tell. They go to church but they are not growing spiritually. They know Jesus is the savior but they do not talk with Him daily nor do they see the events in their lives as His opportunity to connect with them. So, what happens in church stays in church because that's all that is happening.

Christians' own efforts to grow in the Lord must escape the boundaries of the church buildings. They must see Him daily; not just on Sundays in church. They must speak to Him, read His word and listen to what He says. They must see the events of life in a larger perspective. God is working all the time around them. They must see Him working and it must become part of their testimony. They must grow in Him so that they have something to tell the outside world.

What happens in church must get outside the church if the church is to be the church. 

Do you have something to say to the world? 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Faith of a Doubter

Lots of people deny their doubts. They act confidently in public and doubt in private. It makes a lot of others think there is something seriously wrong when they have any doubts at all. It may pump up the spirit but it isn't honest. How can we overcome our doubts while harboring them privately? We need solutions to our doubts.

James said that the one that doubts should never expect anything from God. I think that is why there are so few miracles today. We are doubting yet pretending to have faith. But, God knows the truth. The result is a lifeless faith. It is merely a facade for our doubts. We search diligently for the faith of others to bolster our own faith. We listen intently to testimonies of miracles. 

This has caused the fabrications of amazing stories which have gone from church to church from the pulpit and computer to computer through emails. Most of them have some basis in fact but the miraculous part is all made up. Exposure has been detrimental to our own faith and for the Christian testimony. We appear to be a bunch of nuts who want to believe so badly that we make up our own stories of faith. 

Yesterday I got two bogus emails. I looked them up on I have told both of these people about snopes in the past. They have chosen to ignore verification of stories and send them on because it bolsters their faith. I didn't tell them that the stories were bogus. I have found that telling people to research the email before forwarding it results in them taking me off their email list. They want to believe these stories so badly that they will avoid those who question them.

Does God still do miracles? I think I have to say, yes. Can I believe that He ever did miracles if He does none today?

I don't think God has stopped being active in His world. I believe He still does miracles. I also believe that our doubts are paramount in keeping those things from happening. We can expect nothing when we doubt.

I guess my only answer is a simple prayer: "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." Here, I can expect the miraculous power of God. The first miracle will be the elimination of my doubt. I will have an expectation of God's actions. I will see God do things others will not believe.

Consistent prayer is evidence of my faith, as well. It seems that people only want an instant answer. God often tests our faith by not answering the instant we call. Continued prayer also bolsters my faith. 

I am not created to be a doubter. I sometimes doubt. God is ready to relieve me of my doubts. I suppose I have the faith of a doubter.

I wonder if there are those like me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Do You Receive The Holy Spirit?

There are stories in the book of Acts about people who seem to have a rudimentary belief in Jesus but who have not received the Holy Spirit. In one case, they say they have not heard about the Holy Spirit. I don't think that is too far from what we have today. The Holy Spirit is either spoken of as the end all of faith or not spoken of at all. Both do not convey the message of the Bible.

The Holy Spirit is the Helper. He helps us in conviction and remembrance of what Jesus has done. He empowers us to do works that go beyond our abilities. He enters rooms and changes the whole atmosphere of the room. He fills a person so that joy fills his soul. He makes the Christian life alive.

The Apostle Paul says that we should be filled with the Holy Spirit. The filling is a command and passive. It means that we should let it happen to us. If I go to my doctor and she says, "Have surgery," I certainly don't think I will do the surgery to myself. I must submit myself to the doctor. It is a command but it is passive.

This means that the Holy Spirit must want to fill me. Then, if I lack the filling of the Holy Spirit, it is because I have done something to keep Him out. God does not take over our will. He allows us to do both the good things and the bad. He allows us to leave Him out of our lives. He allows us to live without the Holy Spirit if we wish.

There are a couple of ways I keep the Holy Spirit out of my life. I can blaspheme the Spirit. This means I have ultimately rejected the Spirit's leading to know Jesus as my savior. You cannot blaspheme the Spirit if you know Jesus. 

I can resist the Holy Spirit. The Spirit may be leading me to proclaim Jesus publicly and I refuse. The Spirit may be leading me to speak to a believer about something that is hurting that believer and I refuse. The Spirit may be leading me to give something to another person or to the Lord and I refuse. I am resisting the Spirit. This also means I am not full of the Holy Spirit nor am I being filled. Any disobedience to the Holy Spirit is resisting the Holy Spirit.

I can quench the Spirit. Here the Spirit is very evident and I stop the action from happening. For example, the Spirit is taking control of a worship service but I am afraid of what that will lead to. it may mean that people will say things of conviction that I don't want to hear. It may mean that the service will go longer and I want to go eat. It may mean that I will no longer be able to deny that I have a hatred for someone in the congregation and I want to keep pretending that I don't. I have quenched the work of the Spirit by saying I don't want Him to have control or even be present. I like my church like it has always been--dead! So, I fold my arms and close my spirit. A closed spirit will always quench the Holy Spirit.

So to be filled I say to the Holy Spirit, "Spirit, please fill me. I will do what you want me to do. I will be what you want me to be. I will stop saying what is and isn't permissible. I will welcome your leading. Just please, Holy Spirit, fill me." I know the Spirit will fill you soon if you will pray this prayer sincerely and consistently. 

Be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Plans Come from Calling

Many people take each day without any plans. They show up for work rather than go to work. They endure the day rather than seizing it. In fact, the only time they have any plans for a day is when they go on vacation. Then, their days are purposeful. They often say they have to get back to work to get any rest. They play at their work and work at their play.

These people cannot define their lives. They exist. They try to get out of the way. They may know that God has plans for them but they have no idea what those plans are. They do not understand God's calling. They think it is for people who will become vocational ministers and missionaries. They do not know their place in this world.

There are those who have great plans. They plan to get rich or be famous or star in a Broadway musical. They work and plan very hard. A few of them achieve their goals. They sometimes find reaching these goals bittersweet. They are exhilarated to have reached the goals but they find they must make new goals or they won't know what to do with their lives. They are like a dog that finally catches his own tail. What's he going to do now?

There are others who understand that God calls everyone. He calls people to come to know Him. He calls people to understand the plans He has for them. He calls so that they will walk with Him.

They, too, make plans. Their plans are to follow in what He says. They are to follow the desires that He places in their hearts. They, too, may get rich or famous or star in a Broadway musical. The difference is that these things on this earth are never their ultimate goals. These are merely means to Him. They are acts of obedience. They are blessings from God. They are testimonies to the world. They are preparations for seeing God face to face.

Even ministers are found in the first two groups. Some come to work and go home every day at the same time.  Sometimes they do so little work that they have to be asked to come in. They have no passion for what they do. In my opinion, they should be doing something else rather than making a bad name for ministers. 

Some ministers are very driven but it is all about them. They want their names in lights and they speak of what they have accomplished. Top level leaders never talk like that. They know there has been grace all around them to have accomplished anything of significance. The praise of men is not anything of significance.

Who are you? Do you have plans for this day which come out of God's calling in your life? You may be a teacher or a software engineer. You may work in an office or a construction site. Do you plan to make this a day which will be obedient to God? Do you plan to make this a day in which you will see Him work in your life? Do you plan  at all?

The Scripture says that God reveals His plans to those who fear Him. Wouldn't you like to know what He is up to and join Him?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

When Do You Shake the Dust from Your Feet?

My church has a breakfast the first Sunday of each month. The original intent was to provide a time when people from both of our morning services could get to know each other. It has turned into something else. 

It has become an opportunity for our members to invite unchurched friends. I am so glad we do the breakfast even though the crowd is almost unmanageable. We fellowship and truly get to know new people.

We have also used this breakfast as an opportunity to invite people who have recently visited our church. Even visitors who have been for some time know about the breakfast and inviting them is unnecessary. There were 134 people on this list. The lady who normally makes these calls was sick so I decided I would call all these people.

Some of these people were thankful and very pleasant. The majority of them were rude. I thought, "I am inviting you to free breakfast and you want to be rude to me! How does that make any sense?" 

Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the gospel. They were to enter each town and seek that town's hospitality. There were to "shake the dust from their feet as a testimony against them" if the town didn't receive them. The gospel is better than a free breakfast. Shaking the dust was an expression of no connection with or responsibility for these people. They had heard and rejected. Their condemnation was their own fault.

I suppose I make a slight distinction between those who were rude to me when I invited them to the breakfast. I always told who I was.- Remember I am the pastor of a church they have already visited.- Some were rude. Others were downright hateful. Those that were hateful were obviously not rejecting me but the church and the gospel. Is it time to shake our feet?

The answer is whether or not you are called to these people. You should continue to witness to the people God called you to until God tells you to do something else. It isn't whether or not they were rude or rejected you or the gospel alone. If so, Jesus would have shook His feet on the cross and said that all of us are bound for hell. He came for us. He knew that there would be those who rejected Him but others would follow who would receive Him.

I imagine I will sit in a heavenly cafeteria some day with God's saints. Paul will tell of his stonings and ultimately losing his head. James will mention being cut apart with swords. I will tell of people being rude to me on the telephone. I imagine there will be a silent moment-- Just before the laughter!

I will not shake the dust off my feet because I am called to this place and these people. I pray I will remember that I don't work for them anyway. I belong to the Lord.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Gates of Hades Will Not Overpower It

The question had been posed: "Who do you say Jesus is?" There were many ways to be politically correct and supportive of Jesus. Peter could have stuck with the things that the people were saying. They had said that Jesus was Elijah or Jeremiah who had returned. They attributed His miracles to a significant work of God. It was hard to give Jesus the title "Christ" for He did not comply with the religious people of the day. He resembled one of the prophets. Their expectation of the Christ was that He might be a great military leader and Jesus certainly wasn't that. People said the next best thing.

However, Peter was not concerned about political correctness. He was not concerned because God had revealed something to him. Jesus is the Christ; the Messiah. It was something that did not fit into most people's logic box. It was something which stepped over the line. Once you called Him the Christ, the Son of the living God, there was no way you could treat Him like a man alone.

Jesus said this was the testimony upon which He would build His church. The fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, must never leave the church. It is the Church's greatest protection. It is the means by which the Lord will build His church. The Church which continues in this testimony will not fail even if the gates of Hades come against it.

It is amazing how many churches have lost their testimonies. They have fought over the color of the carpet, the color of the rooms and the length of the pastors' sermons. They have demanded services from their staffs and pastors which cater to their expectations. They have become filled with bitterness of those who have gossiped and led campaigns against others. And while these churches may exist, they have lost their hearts. They have lost their protection for the gates of Hades are already coming and defeating them. The devil walks down their aisles with impunity even on Sunday mornings.

Would you like to give the devil a great scare? Become one who will proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God in your church on Sunday. Encourage others to say who He is. Let it spread through your church so that everyone returns to this as the foundation of their faith. The gates of Hades cannot overpower a church who holds this testimony so true that it reaches into the community with this message. The gates of Hades cannot overcome it for Jesus, Himself, will be building this church.

"Jesus, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This is still not revealed to us by flesh and blood. It still comes from the Father in heaven. 

Say it. The gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Demonization of Christianity

Each person who claims to be a Christian in tv and movies is some kind of nut. He or she will impose their morals on the innocent people of their neighborhood while harboring secret sins which are much worse than anyone else has done. The media wants to show that we are all hypocrites.

Well, let me cut to the chase. There are times I am a hypocrite. I don't like the fact but I am. I sometimes say things without any thought about how I may hurt someone. I sometimes watch things on tv that do not honor my Lord. I sometimes have feelings of hate toward others. Each of these things I do my best to repent of and come back to my Lord.

Does the media think we are proposing perfection? Do they think that we think of ourselves as perfect? Is perfection necessary before you can say something is wrong?

This mentality would cause me to go the YMCA this afternoon when it is full of people working out. I should start yelling, "Get out of here you hypocrites! You know that you are sneaking honeybuns to your offices in the mornings! You know that you are eating way too much red meat! You know that you are not really taking care of yourselves. If you can't do it all the time, you are just a bunch of hypocrites and should give up and join the rest of us fat people!"

Shouldn't we say to the world, "We have not arrived. There are still things that my Lord is working on. We are on a journey. We believe this is the best way to live our lives."

We shouldn't be surprised that the mainstream media sees Christianity as a evil upon our society. This has been going on since people have learned to demonize what they do not agree with. Even Jesus was said to have had a demon. He didn't do what the establishment wanted. He didn't support their agenda. He pointed out their faults. They used the mentality, "If you are not with me in the way I think, you must be evil." This thought prevails in America today. Just look at politics.

He was not totally like us in that Jesus was not a hypocrite. On the other hand, He was actually so good that they killed Him. They couldn't let someone so perfect continue to mess up their system.

The media does have some valid points. There are some nuts who call themselves Christians who demand compliance in their way of thinking. They do not seem to care if a person knows Christ. They want the person to comply with Christian morality. They missed the point of the Great Commission. We were called to make disciples. Disciples do what Jesus commanded because of their relationship to Jesus. They are His disciples because they know Him and out of that love for Him do what He commanded. We weren't expected to coerce people to act like Jesus wanted and then call them His disciples. I am afraid they can't see the love in us when we are demanding they act like Jesus told us to act.

My rules are these: Love people first. Love them when they do and don't agree with you. Admit that you are not perfect but that you are on a journey. Talk about grace and forgiveness. Tell of conviction and repentance. Don't be surprised at the demonization; keep speaking and acting your faith. Pray a lot. You have no strength without God so why not admit it, go to Him and receive His strength. Live a life of joy.

Our battle is not against flesh and blood anyway. Love those who hate you. Pray for them.  

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Is Love the Companion of Faith?

Last night I read the story about Jesus having a meal with Simon, the Pharisee. Jesus was reclining at the table (they didn't use chairs but sat on the floor). A woman comes up from behind and washes His feet with her tears and drys them with her hair. She takes a vial of perfume and anoints His feet.

Simon thought, "If He knew this woman was so immoral, He wouldn't let her do this."

Jesus told Simon a parable which said that the one who is forgiven much, loves much. He indicated that the woman loved Him so much because He had forgiven her. He then tells her that her faith has saved her.

Most of the time my mind is a dim room but occasionally the lights are turned up. I have never thought of love being accompanied with faith. Suddenly, I understood why some people agree that Jesus is the Savior and exhibit no real joy, have no need for service or have any significant change in their lives. Those who express a true love for Jesus can't do enough for Him. One knows the joy of being forgiven and living in His presence and the other does not. Love seems to be a factor in faith.

Why would Jesus say that the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart or Isaiah speak of people whose heart is for from God who honor Him with their lips alone if love was not a product of faith? In other words, I believe and I love or I don't truly know what it is to be forgiven. I believe and I love or I don't know how to love others. I believe and I love or I will always be stingy with God in everything I do.

Think about it. What did Jesus ask Peter after He was resurrected?- "Do you love Me?" What did He say of those who loved Him?- "You will keep my commandments." Faith and love cannot be separated so that you can have life-changing faith without life-changing love.

Maybe I should ask people if they love Jesus rather than if they believe. The meaning of believe doesn't have to cross the line to true faith but true love always does. If you love Jesus you are being radically changed.

So, do you love Him?