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Friday, December 24, 2010

I Have Moved

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Hope for the Lost in the Church

The Christian rhetoric is not hard to learn. Church can provide a social outlet. Church is safe. People put up with things in church that they wouldn't put up with anywhere else. Many people became part of the church when they were very young. They did what they were told to do and they were told that they were members of the church. They were asked to serve on committees, teach and serve in leadership before too long. Some of these people do not know the Lord even though they may have been members of the church for several years.

I heard of an evangelist who goes through the congregation asking people personally if they know the Lord. He does so as the congregation sings. When asked who he chooses to ask the question, he responded, "O, that's easy, I ask those who aren't singing!" I really wished it was that simple.

Do the lost church members know they are lost? I seriously doubt it. They see things from the outside. Christianity doesn't look much different from any other religion on the outside. It seems to be a way of doing things.

A personal relationship with someone who died almost 2000 years ago makes no sense to the lost. They reason that it is just a feeling. They have had feelings about lots of things. They have political feelings, familial feelings and other preferential feelings. Jesus is just a feeling to them. They get that feeling every once in a while.

These people will be those who will stand at the judgment claiming that they called Jesus Lord. They will mention their acts of service. Yet, He will imply that they didn't do what He asked. How could they? He never knew them. They had never heard Him ask them for anything. They just did what they thought was expected. Somehow they thought that this would buy their eternity.

The lost in the church have been assured of their salvation throughout their time in the church. They have endured hundreds of altar calls in which they were supposed to hear the Lord calling them to Himself. They haven't heard a thing so they must already have everything they need. How do you convince someone that he is wrong about what he is sure of?

The Bible says that you will know them by their fruits. Yes, there are some that you can identify who do not know the Lord. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The believer bears the fruit of bringing others to Christ, too. The absence of these is ample evidence for their lost condition. Yet, the lost in church don't know that their fruit is rotten. There are so many who are also lost around them that it appears very normal.

Only the Holy Spirit can indicate to the lost person that he is lost. God has done that in the past through revivals. True revival is known when Christians come under full conviction to confess their sins and fully commit to live like Christ has called them to live. The change in their hearts makes a clear distinction between the lost and the saved. The lost realize it is more than a feeling and give their hearts to the Lord. Great evangelism follows the awakening of the church because faith can no longer be faked when those around you are no longer faking it.

So, the hope for the lost in the church is for the saved to live completely devoted lives for Jesus.

That, of course, will take a miracle.

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)
21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23  Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Did You Lose Sight of God's Grace?

Each day I am amazed that God would call me to preach the gospel. I did not deserve this honor. It would have been enough honor for me to wash the feet of the saints. However, He has called me by His grace.

A deacon once asked me what I expected of deacons. I told him that deacons were servants. He wanted to be on a Board of Deacons who made the decisions for the church. I told him that deacons served the Lord's Supper and ministered to the body of Christ. His following question floored me:

"You mean we are just glorified table-waiters?"

He failed to see God's grace.

Many times church members do not understand the grace God has in calling them to serve. They do not deserve waiting on tables. In fact, this "glorified table-waiting" is one of the most honored of positions. It is an honor when a family asks someone to carry the body of someone they love at a funeral. It should be an honor to carry Christ to the body who loves Him in the Lord's Supper.

Any service the Lord calls you to do is an act of His grace. Refusing to respond is the evidence of a heart that has no understanding of grace. I suppose this heart believes that salvation comes to those who are good enough or who have worked hard enough for it. Therefore, service is just work.

The woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears understood this grace. She did not have to say a word. She didn't tell Jesus how important she was. She merely came and ministered to Him. She was honored to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair.

People often lose sight of God's grace when they fail to notice that the service they are doing is for His Body. The church is the body of Christ. Serving in the preschool is for His Body. Cleaning the church kitchen is for His Body. The serving of food in the church is a service to His Body.

Would you see it as God's grace if you were asked to mop up the blood of Jesus spilled after He was beaten? Would you see this as beneath you or would you see that it is God's grace which allows you to do so?

Years ago I was part of a group that sent a college-age young lady to a state that had a very weak witness for Christ. This young lady started cleaning the houses of people without charge to get the opportunity to share Christ with them. She wrote in her report back to me that she was on her knees in one of these houses cleaning the dirt from the cracks in the floor when she thought how beneath her that this was. It was at this point that a realization came to her: Her Lord had stooped much farther to come from heaven to give her His grace.

Then, she understood that it was by His grace that He called her to clean this floor.

The Apostle Paul was beaten, imprisoned, criticized and eventually martyred. He knew it was God's grace to call him to do this. He knew that any service he could do was by His grace.

Have you responded to God's grace or did you lose it somewhere?

Galatians 1:15-16 (NIV)
15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16  to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Giving Lies (or Lies about Giving)

Things may change but the nature of people doesn't. This is especially true when it comes to a monetary gain.
There are so many stories that I can tell you of people who have lied about their giving or cheated in their giving that you would be amazed.

There was the man who wrote a check to the church every Wednesday night for all the cash that was taken in during the Wednesday Night Fellowship meals. Most people pay cash for their meals on Wednesday night at the church. He said he could use the cash in his business. The church didn't mind because he was giving them a check for the cash. However, he was telling the IRS that these checks were contributions to the church. Of course, he got caught. I am not sure if he understood why this was wrong.

There was a man who had a piece of property appraised. He gave a portion of it to the church. He cut out the part that would give the piece of land public access. The IRS allows him to take a deduction for a portion of the gift for five years. He could deduct it based on the per acre appraisal even though the piece he has given is practically worthless since it no longer has public access. At the end of five years, he buys the property back from the church at considerably less than the appraisal value. He waits a couple of years for it all to clear the records and gives the land back to the church. He saves himself thousands and thousands of dollars in taxes.

There was the man who did work at the church and asked for a contribution of his time rather than being paid. The church didn't know any better and gave it to him. He deducted this amount from his taxes even though he had never gotten paid. That is quite illegal but he will never get caught as long as the church isn't audited.

There have been many people who have stood in church business meetings and proclaimed the virtues of tithing who didn't give one red cent to the Lord. No one calls their hand because we keep that information confidential. They are counting on this.

Do they think the Lord doesn't know?

One thing I sure of: The Lord will deal with them.

Joshua 7:1 (NIV)
1 But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD's anger burned against Israel.

Acts 5:3-5 (NIV)
3 Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." 5  When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Don't Ask God What He Has Already Told You

I was called into leadership. I was minding my own business when it happened. I wasn't asking God for it. I told Him I would do whatever He asked. He didn't ask. He told me to go into the ministry. I wasn't reluctant to go into the ministry. I just didn't want to be a pastor.

I originally thought I would be a minister to college students. I have always had a heart for students. I served part-time in a Baptist Student Ministry campus. I served as an Associate Student Minister at a large church.

Let's face it: I was terrible. The students didn't relate to me well.

That didn't change my calling. It only changed my location (area) of ministry. I served as a Singles minister. The singles tolerated me but I can't say I really rang the bell. I served as a church administrator. I did okay but the church needed someone beyond my abilities before too long. Besides, it wasn't the ministry of the Word that I always wanted.

Finally, I became the senior pastor or a church. I longed for Sundays to preach. I love what I do. However, this doesn't mean that I love everything I do.

Each struggle brings me to ask God if this is really what He wants me to do. I'm really not equipped to do anything else. I am too old anything much different from what I am doing. I don't know why I should ask God what He has already told me. Maybe I need some reassurance.

Don't you think that its amazing that Moses asked God why he would be called to lead God's people out of Egypt but didn't ask God each time the people questioned his leadership? I believe I would find myself asking God every time they wanted to stone me. Even his brother and sister opposed him at one point. Did they think that Moses had come on his own authority to be their leader?

God calls people to a task and something goes wrong. Joshua was called and he lost the battle of Ai. He goes to God to question what God has already told Him. God tells him to get up and fix the problem or he will not have His favor when he continues in the Promised Land.

Being called to leadership by God does not assure everything will sail smoothly all the time. In fact, many things didn't go well for Moses or Joshua. There was sin in the camp. There were unfaithful people. There was a great desire to go back to the way things were.

But when God calls you should not go back and ask Him what He said if you are certain that He said it in the first place. Why ask Him what He has already told you?

Exodus 3:10-11 (NIV)
"So now, go I am sending you to Pharoah to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt. "
But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Anger-A Foothold for the Devil

Sometimes you have to laugh.

I knew I wanted to write about anger this morning. I had first read the scripture which said that anger gives the devil a foothold. I thought how dangerous anger is. I wanted to tell others to be careful.

Then, my browser decided it needed to do an update. After waiting several minutes, it claimed it couldn't load because it was missing a file. Then I got the "black screen of death." It is related to the "blue screen of death." I think the only difference is color. Nothing happened more so I held the power button until the computer turned off.

Upon rebooting I got a "Windows Update" message. You know the one that says, "1 of 3, Do Not Turn Off Your Computer." I waited until that completed.

Any you guessed it. By this time I was angry!

So, here is a very fresh perspective. I want to do irrational things right now. I would like to use this laptop as a clay pigeon for target practice, take it in the parking lot and drive over it several times and put it in the bed of the CEO of Microsoft as the harbinger of a "offer he can't refuse."

Can we see how the devil can get a foothold here?

It does not matter that I feel justified in doing any of these things. It doesn't matter if I am truly justified. The issue is my anger causing me to do something that will not bring glory to God. None of the feelings I have are honoring to God. There is no righteous anger. There is no anger which will ultimately give God glory because His glory has been marred. I am upset because my own expectations have not been met. It make me feel like a victim. I want to set things right and I have no real method of doing so.

(Yes, I do own a Macbook but it is at my house and I am in my office right now.)

So, I calm down. I know that my feelings of retribution will neither bring about a better computer nor truly satisfy any anger I have had. They will do nothing but give the devil a foothold.

From that foothold, he can control the rest of my day. That's not going to happen.

Gotta go! I just got a message at the bottom of my screen that Windows needs to do another update! (No joking!!!!) That means the computer will turn itself off unexpectedly in a few minutes.

You gotta love it! (and by the way, the program that inserts the scripture in automatically has stopped working too)

Ephesians 4:26 (NIV)
"In your anger do not sin"; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Clock Is Ticking

Many of the games we watch and play have an expiration date. We are aware of these when we play. The clock ticks away away with each moment we are on the field. Eventually time expires and we have either won or lost the game.

This is also true in the ability to play these games. I played high school football. I took off the pads on a Friday night almost forty years ago. I remember asking myself if I would ever put them on again. I didn't. The clock had run out on this time in my life.

Now, let's think of something much more important than a game. Let's think about life. God has placed each person on this earth for a purpose. Every person must know his or her purpose and fulfill that purpose. Each person has been given an amount of time to do what he or she was sent to do. Wasting time could mean that the purpose and the person are unfulfilled.

Paul said that you are being foolish if you do not know what God's will is. He certainly wasn't saying that you must know everything that God is going to do. He was saying that you should know what God wants you to do. Therefore, God's will must be more obvious than most people make it out to be.

He told people that the days were evil. That can't mean that everything in every day is evil. It means that there are other things which will take your time that will not allow you to do what you were intended to do. You have a dream but that dream goes unfulfilled because you are doing other things.

I know a young man who is an excellent musician. However, he spends much of his time playing video games and wasting his days away. Most video games are not evil in themselves. However, these are evil because they are keeping him from God's calling. He is allowing the opportunity to pass him by. He must consider these games evil so that he can get on with God's will.

This takes great care. It means that everything must have an evaluation. Even interruptions. Interruptions to what you are doing may not be evil. They may be God's method of teaching you something that will help you accomplish His will. You must ask yourself if this in an interruption which is leading you toward or away from God's will. Sometimes it is hard to know. It will take a lot of prayers during days with the most interruptions.

Of course, this means that God will also want you to spend time recreating with things that apparently have nothing to do with His will. He may even desire that you play some video games so that you can be relaxed. Yet, each of these must be measured so that you are neither playing too much or too little.

That is the level of care you need to take to do what God has called you to do.

The clock is ticking.

Ephesians 5:15-17 (NIV)
Be very careful then how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How Shall a Pastor Be Judged?

I have heard that no pastor has ever been fired for preaching a short sermon.

No, but these pastors may have to stand before God and give an account of short sermons.

Sermons are neither better nor worse because of their length. Some messages just don’t take as much time to deliver. However, there is a problem when the length of the sermon is more important than the content. In fact, the preacher should spend more time making sure he is delivering God’s message than how long the sermon is.

The evaluation of the sermon should not be based upon what the people applaud or criticize. The preacher should ask if he has done what God has asked. If so, he must know that God is pleased.

That won’t keep the criticism away. It may even get him fired. Many times people do not like hearing God’s word. They want something that is short and uplifting all the time. Many people do not like a message that gets to the meat of the Word. They don’t want to be challenged to be more, do more, or even change what they are doing at all. A few good jokes sprinkled in the sermon makes them laugh. Getting out early will make them very happy.

So, they go to the preacher and tell him that this is what people need. “Keep it short. Keep it light. You’ll run people off if you get too deep, Preacher.”

Somehow churches stopped focused on maturing people in the faith and defined success as a larger attendance each week. In fact, the answer of whether or not Sunday was a success is more often answered with something to do with the number of attendees.

I can’t find that criteria for success being used in Scripture. Whether people like the message, how long the message is nor how many people attended determines the success of a message according to Scripture. The command of the Lord is to make disciples. The question I believe preachers will be asked is, “Where are the disciples you have made?”

Don’t get me wrong? I am neither an advocate for trying to get people mad at me for my sermons or making sure the crowd is smaller next week. That, too, would be a breach of my calling. What I am trying to say is that each preacher will be asked to give an account of his actions someday.

The question you must answer is whether you have made it harder for your preacher to fill that leader who encourages discipleship. Have you encouraged him in the long sermons which are hard to deliver but made impressive impacts on the lives of the hearers? Have you given him an “Atta boy!” for a sermon that was convicting but may have upset the wealthiest family in the church?

This month is Clergy Appreciation Month. (I don’t know what the real title is.) I don’t think you should appreciate your pastor this month alone. In fact, I don’t think we should have a month like this at all. I believe that godly people will always appreciate a pastor who preaches God’s word.

Remember, no matter what you say to your pastor, he will have to give an account some day.

But as far as that goes, so will you.

Hebrews 13:17 (NIV)
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Your Life Worth Forever?

Life has at least three dimensions. It is external, eternal and internal. It isn’t hard to distinguish between the three.

External life is the life that is seen. It can be measured objectively. Your external life will be recorded at your death: He or she lived eighty-five years, four months, three days. External life is precious. It must be protected. There is a moral obligation to extend it within reason. However, there is a time for everyone’s external life to end.

Eternal life is that life that continues. It deals with salvation. It means that the life of the individual shall continue even though the external life ends. It is forever by its definition. Most Christians live like this is the only life that is worth having.

However, internal life is why eternal life was given. Jesus didn’t merely wish to extend our lives. He wasn’t saying, “Come to Me and I will give you life everlasting but don’t bother Me again.” He was saying that He would give a life that is worth living for eternity.

His offer is much more precious than most Christians realize. That is why they flock to churches which promise to give them solutions for enjoying their external lives. They merely see the extension of this physical life. They cannot see beyond. They have no vision of internal life.

Internal life is vision. It is purpose. It is fulfillment. It is knowing that you are here to do something bigger than you are. It is connecting with God to see Him do miracles. (I wonder how many Christians actually believe in any miracles.) Internal life gets us beyond our present circumstances. It shows us that these good and bad things have a purpose in preparing us for heaven.

Internal life is the intention of eternal life. It is the “string” theory of life.

Many Christians believe the question to ask is, “Will I live forever?” I believe the question that should be asked is, “Is my life worth forever?” That answer doesn’t come at the end of external life. You can answer that question now.

John 10:10 (NIV)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stop and Listen

Let's suppose you realize that you cannot make a decision without some vital information. There is only one person in the world that has that information and you have an appointment with him.

You arrive at his office and he welcomes you. Before he can say anything you start, "Sir, I know that your time is valuable and that you know exactly what I have been going through. I have made some very bad mistakes in the past and I no longer want to go that direction. That is why I am coming to you. You have the answers that I need and I know that no one else can help me. Since you already know all this I don't need to tell you anymore. Thank you for your time."

Then, you walk out.

At first you feel better about what you have done. You got it off your chest. You have gone to the right place. Then, you realize that things aren't any different than they were before. You're wondering why you went to the guy in the first place. He didn't help you at all.

You never stop to consider that you never stopped to consider. You talked but you never listened.
I hope that hasn't been the story of your prayer life.

Prayer is not just talking to God. It is a conversation. It is also listening.

Yet, for some reason we think we have to keep talking.

Peter notices that Jesus has just met with Moses and Elijah. Instead of listening, he is talking. God arrives in a cloud and says something Peter should have already known. Peter is standing in the presence of God's Son and he is fascinated with Moses and Elijah. It's Jesus he should be listening to. God shows up to point this out to him.

I wonder how many times I have talked without noticing who I was talking to. I wonder how many times I failed to listen because I was talking.

So, today I am going to listen too.

Matthew 17:5 (NIV)
While he was speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them,  and a voice from the clouds said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mediocrity Will Not Grow Your Church

Lots of churches are growing. Many more are dying. Neither statement surprises us. What surprises us is not that there are those who are growing because they are faithful to the Lord. No, what surprises us is that those churches who teach heresy, who ignore the Bible, who make God out to be their servant are growing rapidly!

Let's face it neither mediocrity in serving the Lord nor mediocrity in saying the Lord serves us will grow a church. In other words, you have to be totally dedicated to Him or totally dedicated to yourself if you want your church to grow. You can't be mediocre.

It seems that the Lord builds the church upon one foundation. That foundation is that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Son of the Living God. The Holy Spirit convicts people of the need for salvation. He grows them in their faith. They introduce others to this principle. The church grows.

Many pastors and churches are trying to grow with mediocrity. These pastors and their churches are trying to be almost committed to Him. They fail to give a full tithe. They are mediocre in prayer. They never fast. They are casual in their commitment to the Lord. Their actions reveal that they don't really believe that Jesus is the Messiah. He is not central to their lives. Their churches do not grow because there are too many cracks in the foundations to build a solid structure.

Those who preach and teach that God is their servant grow because it appeals to the lower nature of man. Mankind likes to think that God and all of creation serves it. Mankind likes to believe in a God who will always make you healthy and wealthy. These churches market themselves well. They are well branded. They can grow because they are committed to themselves. Their commitment is not casual. It is not mediocre.

Church growth does not mean that the church is a God-honoring church. It just means that the church isn't mediocre in its message.

What are your options if you are in a self-serving church? You can leave and join one who is completely committed to the Lord or you can make sure that you are truly committed and pray that your church will change. Neither of these is the answer all the time. You have to listen to the Lord to know what you will need to do.

One thing I would ask you not to do. Don't be mediocre. Be committed to the Lord.

Mediocrity is killing churches.

Matthew 16:15-18 (NIV)
15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 

2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NIV)
3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes You Need to Be Touched

I have heard that more than 50% of church attending Christians say they have not had an encounter with God in the past year. I wonder how that happens. Do they attend church just so that they can check it off their lists?

Shouldn't they expect to meet with the Person whom they worship?

On the other hand, I also know what it is like to hear nothing from God when I have needed Him desperately. I have prayed for relief from something which I believed hurt His church. I have placed it in His hands. I have spend untold hours crying out. I have explained why I believe this is not honoring to His name. I have asked on the basis of being His child. I have told of the testimony which is being lost because of His silence.

And yet, there is silence. Of course, I have to admit that there is silence now. It does not mean that there will always be silence about this matter.

I prayed for eight years and three months to become a senior pastor before I actually became one. There were long periods of silence during that time (about becoming a senior pastor. God often spoke to me, just not about that.) I had more than a few moments of despair. I knew that I wouldn't accept anything that didn't come from Him. I even turned down a few opportunities because they were obviously not His will. I kept waiting.

I knew I needed His touch. I knew I needed His hands on where I would serve. I knew I couldn't do it without Him so it made no sense to start without Him. I waited in His silence.

One day He touched me. The church who called me was clearly God's doing. Let me explain:

I was preaching in the church in Brentwood, Tennessee where I was an associate pastor. The pastor always took off the week after Christmas. It was New Year's weekend. You wouldn't expect many people to attend. That morning seven people made some decision for Christ. One was a little girl who was visiting her grandparents. She came forward to tell others that Jesus was her Lord and Savior.

A church in Houston was looking for a pastor and had received my resume'. They asked for a tape of a sermon I had preached. I always send the last message I have preached because I know I could send something that would be one of my best sermons and wouldn't be a good representation of my preaching. That New Year's Sunday sermon was the last one I had preached.

For some reason the person recording the tape kept it running through the introduction of those who had made decisions. The committee from the church in Houston was startled when they heard the name of the little girl. Her parents were members of their church. They checked with them and found that the little girls grandparents lived in Brentwood.

Now let's think about this. This little girl makes her profession of faith in her grandparents' church on one of the few Sundays I would preach. Her parents are members of the church that requests my resume'. This is the last sermon I would preach before they contacted me so that I would send them the right taped sermon.

I saw this a  touch from my Lord.

One day a leper came to Jesus and ask for healing. Jesus did more than that. Jesus touched Him. I wonder how long it had been since anyone would dare touch him. Jesus could have healed him without the touch but this is exactly what the man needed.

Sometimes we need more than just an answer from the Lord. Sometimes we need to be touched.

I am sure the leper had many days and nights of silence before he was touched. Some of you reading this may have also experienced this silence.

Maybe the Lord is just waiting for the right moment to touch you.

Matthew 8:2-3 (NIV)
2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Is the Church Just Another Organization?

Some people in the church don't get it.

They think that church is an organization that exists like any other organization. Joining means privileges. They expect that their contributions of money and work will count for special favors.

Therefore, they see themselves as they would in other organizations. They seek to have the"best" people in the community join. This raises the esteem of the organization. It makes them proud to be a member. In fact, those who have been moved from one city to another seek a church with the greater or same socio-economic level members. They say that these are "my kind of people."

Seeing the church as any other organization also means that they can climb the ladder of leadership. From this perch they can manage the organization to their prescribed success. Here, they manage the members who already exist. They stroke those who have deep pockets. They coddle those who can grant them access to other resources.

Their membership means that they should be given the best seats, the best Sunday School classes and mentioned frequently in praise. They cannot understand the rejoicing in the homeless man who has given his heart to the Lord. They cannot see the joy in a couple who has contributed nothing but has mended their marriage because of their new relationship with the Lord.

These people remind me of the older brother of the Prodigal. He couldn't understand all the rejoicing. He had never left the father. He had always worked. Why didn't he get the privileges?

And this makes no sense to you either if you think of the church like any other organization.

The church is the only group of people who will ever meet for the purpose of those who are not yet members. It should understand its glory is only found in redeeming that which was lost.

Maybe the church can be what it was truly meant to be if members would understand that it isn't just another organization.

 Luke 15:29-32 (NIV)
29 But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 31 "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Who Has Hope at a Funeral Service?

I can tell the difference.

I look into the eyes of those who have assembled in the chapel of the funeral home. The casket is directly below where I am speaking. All eyes are fixed on the corpse if the casket is left open. But if it is closed I see two reactions.

There are those who look at me with pleading eyes. They want to believe what I am saying about the resurrection of the body. They have heard it in church before. They have never had to believe it until now.. .and now they are just not sure.

There are those whose eyes exude confidence. They know the life of the one who has passed. They know his faith. They are sad but not afraid. They will miss their loved one but they know there is a resurrection. They know the Lord and He has not failed them yet.

There are those who grieve and have no hope. They don't believe any of it. They think the one who has passed is just gone. Their reason for attending was out of respect. They hope the service doesn't take too long. It's a waste of time anyway.

Of course, that last group is totally different when it is someone they love. They have ashen faces. Their own mortality stares at them. They have no hope and they know it.

I have to perform two funeral services today. Which group would you be in if you were attending either of these services?

1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)
13  Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Created to Give God Glory Today

I have a lot to do today. I don't even need a todo list. I cannot escape these things. They are expected of me and if I will be negligent if I fail to produce them. However, I still have time to read my Bible and pray for a few minutes before I start.

This morning I was reading Isaiah 43:7 (" everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.") and notice that there was a cross reference to Ephesians 2:10 ("For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."). I had never connected the two verses together though given the name of this blog, I certainly should have.

Putting the two together made me realize something about today's agenda. My todo list was prepared before the beginning of time so that I would give Him glory on this date.

Now, imagine that you have just stumbled into an ancient chamber on an archaeological dig. Inside the room you find that your name and the date you entered this chamber has been written in stone. It was prepared in ancient times but the writer knew you would appear on this date. It also says that you are the one who was created to give the Creator glory in all that you do. 

How careful would you be in proceeding? Would that give you a special sense of your worth and your work?

Please understand, this message is not just for me. It is for everyone who is called by His name. Everyone was created to give God glory. Everyone who is called by His name must do so.

This elevates today's agenda. It is not the day before the weekend any more. It is an extraordinary day. It is a day full of things that God prepared for all who are called by His name to give Him full glory in everything we do. It is a day that has to be handled carefully or the opportunities of the day will slip out of our hands. It is a day of dependence upon Him for strength and guidance.

Rather than continuing to blather about a day which is so important, I need to get about its business.

Today is a remarkable day. It is going to be glorious!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

In Order to Save Some

New things are going to have to happen if the church is going to grow- new things that will scare the average church. Fear makes people create demons out of those who are doing new things. It says, "This new music is of the devil!" and "Look at the way these young people dress as they come to church, I was always taught that I was to dress up to come to church!" Those churches who have changed their music style and accepted people just as they are said to be dishonoring and disobeying the Lord.

The Apostle Paul said that he became all things to all men so that by all possible means that he might save some. (paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 9:22) So, some pastors are preaching in jeans so that they might reach people who come in jeans. The music style has changed to enter the world of those who are so unfamiliar songs that can be played on the organ. They are going to where the people are in order to reach them with the gospel. Old standards have been abandoned in order to do so.

Many people struggle with the unfamiliarity they find at church. They want to sing their favorite hymns. They don't understand why others don't want to as well. All the saints they have known from the past sung them. They want some security in knowing that the church is the one place that has not changed. They long for the way things used to be.

Some churches have created such an environment. They kept things exactly as they used to be. They kept their songs and their decor and their suits and ties and their orders orders of worship.They fail to realize that they are worshiping the familiar feeling that they have had in the past. They gather those around who feel exactly as they do. The numbers in attendance dwindle so slowly that it is hardly noticed. These churches die of old age.

An evangelist came to our church several years ago and told the church that it was one good flu season from going out of business. At that time the majority of the church was elderly. Admittedly, I did an incredible number of funerals when I first came. The evangelist was right. The church still had good attendance but was on the verge of dying by attrition.

However the church has changed. Those who were here had the vision of starting a "contemporary" service. This service is largely younger people but not totally. There are some seniors who come to the service as well. This service has become the larger service. Our preschool and children ministries are bursting at the seams. Our biggest challenge is finding teachers for them. Young adult classes have already outgrown the size of their rooms. You might even go to some of them and find people sitting on the floor because there just aren't enough chairs.

I thank God for those who had the vision for this service. They have allowed their church to change in order to save some. The church has a wonderful future because of this.

However, I am very cautious of the way we are doing things. I suspect that reaching people will mean that we will change again in the near future. We may have to do things which we have not yet seen the need for. We will have to listen to the Lord clearly. We will have to ignore our own personal preferences to see those whom we do not yet know come to Christ. I fear that there will be those who will say that they do not see the need for these changes. They think that things are fine just the way they are. They will not realize that things were changed so that we might see them saved. This is the way they have always known it.

The difference will always be found in those who have a heart for reaching people. Those with this heart will know the blessings of the gospel. They know the blessings of seeing people come to know Christ.

Do you have a heart for seeing people come to know Christ? Are you willing to change your own preferences to reach them? Do you know the blessings of sharing in the gospel?

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV)
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two Trees in the Middle of the Garden

Genesis 2:8-9 (NIV)
8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Two trees stand in the middle of the Garden. Adam and Eve can eat freely of one and have life. The other has a warning. If you eat of this tree you will receive a sentence of death. Somehow death scared them even though they had never seen it. I guess the fear of death is embedded in them. It is something created to protect them.

I don't know how many times they went to eat of the tree of life but it seems reasonable that they passed by the other tree. It was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. How could knowledge be bad? What was it that they would know if they ate? These had to be some of the questions in their minds before Satan arrived. I think we get the idea that Satan comes to us when we have had no thoughts of doing something evil, wrenches our will away from us and makes us do things we shouldn't but more often we find him arriving when we have already started down the wrong path.

Innocence brings life and knowledge brings death in this case. This knowledge was not the type that calculates the distance to the moon or determines how far two trains will take to arrive at the same point. This is the knowledge of things that will hurt us. This is the knowledge of knowing the pain you have caused your spouse because you have been unfaithful. This is the knowledge of knowing the estrangement you have with your parents because you have dishonored them.

Somehow the thrill of what we don't know gets the best of us. We justify it. We eat of this tree even though the tree of life is still in sight. We are willing to accept the words of someone who promises to give us something better than what God has for us. We challenge the promise of death and accept the lies of greatness.

Why did God have to put that tree there in the first place? I suppose that tree has to exist. There is no real devotion without the ability to be unfaithful. I suppose the marriage ceremony would make no sense if there was no possibility of unfaithfulness. The act of commitment means that you must reject anything outside of that commitment. The act of love means that you can't act outside of love. The act of worship means that you must act within what worship entails.

In front of all of us stands the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We will set our own destinies by which we choose. One still promises death- the death of our relationships with our spouses, the estrangement from God, dry, dull spiritual lives. The thrills it promises must be met with greater and greater thrills so that we don't notice that it is killing us.

The other tree is life. It is a relationship with the Lord that brings fulfillment. It is hearing Him speak. It is walking with Him in the cool of the evening.

Two trees are standing in the middle of our gardens. Which will we choose?

We can't have it both ways.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Strength in the Struggle

I pray that my pain disappears when I have a pain. I pray that money comes in when I have the lack of money. I pray that that my struggles disappear when I have a difficulty. I want life without troubles. Why would I want anything else?

However, I admit that there is another possibility which I have failed to pray. What if I prayed for strength to handle my troubles rather than that they all disappear? Is there any value in that?

Peter and John went back to the church after being thrown in jail and threatened for preaching the gospel. They had resolved to continue regardless of the consequences. They prayed to speak the gospel boldly even though they were threatened. They prayed that God would continue to do miracles so that they would have the opportunity to point people to Jesus.

Why didn't they pray that they wouldn't be beaten if they preached the gospel? Surely, that would have made it easier to get others to join them.

Is that true today? Are more people preaching the gospel because there are no threats? Are more people coming to the Lord because there are no threats?


Have you ever thought that the gospel may speak louder when it is given by someone who has something to lose for spreading it? Maybe our struggles define our faith so that we know exactly why we are sharing it with others. Maybe others are listening because they know it isn't just a whim we are following. Maybe all the pseudo-Christians leave the church when a price must be paid. Doesn't that make our faith more pure? Doesn't that reveal what we really believe? Doesn't the world stand up to notice those who are willing to lose everything for what they say is the truth?

Are you willing to pray that you can stand for Christ in the struggle you are now facing? Will the strength you are receiving from Him become a testimony for Him?

After 911 the churches filled with people. Within three weeks they had lost their sudden fervor. They went back to their old lifestyles. They said they would never forget but they did. What kind of faith only runs to church in order to lose your struggles? Sure, Jesus can help but does that mean He will always remove the struggle or that He will sometimes make the struggle powerful?

When Paul prayed that his "thorn in the flesh" be removed, Jesus told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Note that He didn't remove it.

When Paul is talking to the Corinthians about their own temptations he said, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." Note that He gives the strength to stand up under it rather than removing it.

There is strength in the struggle. I may not like struggles and I don't ask for them but when they come, I praise Him when I remain steadfast in my faith without having the struggles removed.

Acts 4:29-30 (NIV)
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Time Is Now

Each week I watch people struggle with the decisions they know are right. The Lord convicts them. Yet, they can't see anything but the struggles and they walk out doing nothing. How long do they think they can keep that up?

One of the hardest things in the world is making peace with someone who you believe will rub it in your face. It is hard to say, "I'm sorry," to someone who will say, "Of course you are!" Yet, that is exactly what has to happen. Sometimes the Lord tells us to make peace at any cost. The Holy Spirit convicts us. Our relationship with the Lord becomes stale because we delay doing what He has told us to do.

There are many other things that people fail to do even though they know the Lord wants them to. They know He wants them in a vocational ministry but they delay doing so for various reasons. They really don't realize that delayed obedience is disobedience. They don't realize that the opportunity may not be here tomorrow.

Maybe the most important thing is a word from God that tells you to witness to someone.

A friend came and asked me to go with him and visit someone who was in the hospital. This person was dying and didn't know the Lord. I said I couldn't because I was too busy that day. The one in the hospital went into a coma the next day and never recovered. The opportunity came and went.

Many people fail to do what the Lord is leading them to do with their children or their spouses. They are so wrapped up in other things that they fail to notice that time is passing. The opportunities are passing too.

Not everything we are called to do has a tomorrow. There are some things that must be done now. Most of these things don't have indicators which let you know that the time has expired. You think you can do it later but later is not a privilege we are promised.

The Israelites thought they could make the decision to go into the Promised Land after they had already refused the Lord. They were wrong. They had only one opportunity. No one is promised a second chance.

The time is now. It always has been.

What does the Lord want you to do?

Numbers 14:40-45 (NIV)
40 Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. "We have sinned," they said. "We will go up to the place the Lord promised." 41 But Moses said, "Why are you disobeying the Lord's command? This will not succeed! 42 Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, 43 for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword." 44 Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord's covenant moved from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah. +

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Who Has Ears to Hear?

You know that I ride a bicycle to work if you have read my blog. It gives me time to pray and observe people. I notice more and more that people are not observing me back. In fact, I don't think they are observing anything. They only look left when coming to an intersection, fail to use their direction signals and often turn right in front of me even though I have a light flashing in their eyes. I will never own stock in a company that sells car insurance! These people are accidents waiting to happen.

I don't think this is how they started. I imagine they began driving as those who looked both ways at intersections, using their direction signals and yielding to the cyclist crossing the intersection. Something happened that has caused them to stop seeing others and even noticing what they are doing.

Do you think they have done that it other areas of their lives? Do you think they have stopped noticing their spouses and children so much that their relationships are also accidents waiting to happen?

I believe people do this with their faith too. They may have started with enthusiasm and carefully sought after the Lord but something happened along the way. They take it all casually now. They can hardly remember a true encounter with God. Its all mechanical at this point. Just doing the minimum.

This morning I will preach to a congregation which will contain some of these people. There will be those who will hear a word from God and obey. There will be some who will know it is a word from God and will choose to ignore (disobey) that word. There will be some who will construct something that was neither said by me or the Holy Spirit. There will be some who will sleep. And there will be some who will stay awake but not hear anything that was said even though they have perfectly good hearing.

Why is this? I believe it is because they chose to disobey for so long that they no longer have the ability to hear. They are like the driver who consciously begins to look only one direction when approaching an intersection who later does so naturally. Disobedience to the law becomes the norm. It doesn't even occur to this driver that he or she should look both directions anymore.

Of course, a wreck changes that for some time. One wreck because they didn't look both directions will result in looking both directions in the future. . . at least for a while.

Will it take a wreck for people to start hearing the Holy Spirit again?

I don't know.

Matthew 11:15 (NIV)
15  He who has ears, let him hear.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Infinite God of the Infinite Universe

Genesis 1:1 (NIV) 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Do you ever read the Bible and find that the same verses have deeper meanings each time you read them?

That happened to me today. I read the first verse in the Bible and got an "a-ha" moment. I have always thought of the universe as finite even though I don't know where the end of it is. I guess I just couldn't get my head around infinity.  There is an end to everything I know. Therefore, my universe has always demanded to be finite.

But that's before today. That is before I looked at the Creator rather than that which was created. That change my whole focus. I have always thought of God as infinite. He was not created. I have never seen Him. I don't think of Him as in one place at a time. I don't even think of Him as physical though I am sure He could take physical form. He did with Jesus, right?

Now, the question that struck me today was: Why would an infinite God create a finite universe? He didn't even create finite humans. We will all last forever. (Some to a resurrection to heaven and everyone else will go to the other place.) We are infinite. The word says that all of creation groans for the return of Jesus when it will be redeemed. Of course, that means that it will be placed back into perfection.

It also means that it will be different yet still last forever. Thus, everything that God creates is infinite. The universe was created by an infinite God who could not have created it to be finite because He is in all the universe and He is infinite.

Sometimes I look at the stars and realize that the light from many of those stars took hundreds or thousands of years to reach my eyes. I think of how small I am. I look at the earth and know that it was created just right so that life would flourish. I realize that God created it for me and billions like me. I realize how small I am. I am convicted of my sin and know that Jesus, God's only Son died for those sins. I realize how important I am.

You see, God created me to be infinite. I will last forever regardless of whether I accept Jesus or not. He died for me so that my infinity would be with Him.

I know that the infinite God of the infinite universe loves me personally. He knows my name. I am His child.

One of the amazing things is that I am not puffed up by this. I am humbled. Why would the infinite God do this? It doesn't really make sense. No, it doesn't unless you factor in love.

Yes, His love is infinite too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Goes Around . . .

You have heard it before but did not know that it was a biblical principle: "What goes around; comes around."

God's justice gives back what has been dished out. How we have treated others will be how we are treated. How we have judged others will be how we are judged. What goes around; comes around.

I have observed this principle while on several church staffs. I have seen someone who fired someone unjustly get fired unjustly. I have seen those who have gossiped about others have others gossip about them. I have seen those who lied to others have also been lied to.

But you know I have seen good things happen to. I have seen those who gave grace receive grace. I have seen those who were kind have kindness extended back to them.

I wonder how many Christians realize what they are doing when they treat the waitress or the clerk or anyone else without respect. Do they realize that they also will not be respected? Do they realize that what they are dishing out will come back to them? How many idle words would be said if people knew these words would come back to them?

When I was young and newly married I went to work for a man promised me a raise after working for three months. Four months passed with no raise. Finally, I went to my boss for what had been promised. He told me that he was not going to give me a raise and I could quit if I didn't like it. At this point the business was doing very well. It was buying other businesses. It certainly could afford my little raise.

I couldn't afford to quit. I honestly wanted to stay and hurt the business as much as I could. However, I got a word from the Lord. He said plainly, "Do not do anything. I will repay." I worked cheerfully until the Lord move me into a ministry position in another town. I had not done anything to the man or his business.

Not long afterwards I came back through this town to find that this man's business had failed. He was in his fifties and I knew that it must have been hard to look for a job at that age. I actually felt sorry for him but I knew what had happened. God had kept His word. The man was repaid for the way he treated me. (He may have treated many others the same way. I may have just been part of a group he had treated badly.)

I have observed this happening to many others over time. I have allowed it to be a principle for how I have treated people. I have had to fire people whom I supervised over the years but I never wanted to. I made sure that it was their decision rather than mine. They were fired because they would not comply with what needed to be done. I have asked God to never let me forget the pain of almost being fired myself (and mine was because I asked for something that had been promised to me). I have never forgotten and have tried to treat people with the utmost grace.

My actions are not entirely altruistic. I know that which I give to others will also be given to me.

Think about this as you interact with people. How do you really want to be treated?

Luke 6:38 (NIV)
38  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is Wrong Still Wrong or Have We Gone Astray?

What ever happened to right and wrong? People who say something is wrong are deemed judgmental. They are castigated as what is wrong with the world.

It seems that no one can say something is wrong if they have ever committed the wrong. The less people say something is wrong, the more people commit the wrong. Committing the wrong is a tacit approval of the wrong. Therefore, the wrong becomes the right and those who are saying anything is wrong are actually wrong themselves.

Let's take that a little further. Let's say that bank robberies were so common that just about everyone committed the robbery some time in their lives. They would say that they can't say that bank robberies are wrong because that would make them hypocrites. Therefore, fewer and fewer people would say that bank robberies were wrong because there is no one establishing that it is wrong. Eventually we will need to lock up the depositors because they are the only people saying it is wrong. They will be in the wrong because they have judged those who rob banks.

Yes, that's silly but let's take something that appears to be happening. Premarital sex was once said to be wrong. The commitment of marriage preceded sex. Time passed with more people saying it was wrong to judge those who had premarital sex. Many people openly admitted that they had premarital sex. They did not feel that they could "judge" others by saying it was wrong now that they were married. Thus, less and less people said it was wrong. More and more people joked about it. Before long it became the norm. Now, young boys and girls are ridiculed if they haven't had sex. Even the "G" rated programs speak of a person being ready for sex without any thought of marriage. Children born out of wedlock is more common in Hollywood than those who have married parents. Wrong has become right and right has become wrong.

People have to adjust their reasoning if we have any hope to preach righteousness in our churches. Committing a sin does not mean that you can't say it was wrong. In fact, you may have more right to say it was wrong than others. You can say that premarital sex has created a loss of trust that takes years to rebuild. (The husband wonders if his wife will sleep with someone else she is not married to if she slept with him before they were married. The wife wonders if he is using the moves on someone else he used on her before marriage.) You can say it is wrong even without admitting that you did it yourself.

Wrong and right must be established outside of what is going on. Righteousness is not determined by what everyone else is doing. Righteousness is established by Someone who has the right to determine what righteousness is. Only God can establish right and wrong. Mankind will always deteriorate the meaning of righteousness.

Righteousness must be established with authority. The Bible must be the written authority for God's Word. It should be preached regardless of the more' of a society.

Judgment is not saying something is wrong. Judgment is condemning someone for the wrong. We must stop the condemnation process while being able to say when an act is wrong. We must stop using Matthew 7:1 (Judge not lest ye be judged.) as a tacit means of approval of every sinful act. (Note that the following verses give instructions how to judge.)

Maybe a parable will help us understand:

A teacher who has been living with her boyfriend is told by one of her fourth grade students that she doesn't think that living together before marriage is right.

The teacher rebukes the child, "Judge not lest ye be judged!"

Later the teacher gives a math exam. The student gets her paper back. Several of her answers have big red X's over them. The student asks why they were marked as wrong.

"That's because those are the wrong answers, honey," the teacher explains.

"Judge not lest ye be judged!" the student replies.

Psalm 119:105-106 (NIV)

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. 106  I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stop Making Excuses for Failure

I hear it happen often. A person comes to the pulpit and complains about being sick or makes some other excuse for the bad sermon he is about to preach. This person will also tell how dumb he is or how inept he is at what he does. He thinks he is being humble but he is far from it. Humility is not self deprecating. Humility is not trying to make others think less of you.

I believe that those who are openly critical of themselves think of themselves too much. They are saying that God isn't doing such a great job. They are giving themselves excuses for failures. They are afraid that success costs too much. They make excuses for their failures before they fail.

Thus, they will belittle their churches, their children and themselves in an effort to make an excuse if anything goes wrong. However, their true nature is discovered if you ever question something they have done. They generally defend their actions to the hilt. It is evident that they really don't believe that they are the dumbest person in the room. They really are telling others how bad they are so that they can receive the applause of those who feel compassion for them. Then, if they really do fail, they have merely met their own (and others) expectations.

How can this be if you really know you are doing what God wants you to do? Shouldn't you have an expectation of success rather than failure? Shouldn't you expect God to give you strength to accomplish everything He has called you to do?

Joshua became the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses. How could he expect to lead this people after they had been led by someone whom God spoke face-to-face? Sure, he had been trained by Moses but could he actually take the place of Moses?

Imagine if he had stood before the people and said:

"Children of the former slaves from Egypt, Moses is dead. I have been placed in leadership over you but I am not fit to be your leader. I am not very smart. I don't talk to God like Moses did. I am really scared right now and you would be better off going back to Egypt than following me. However, I will lead you to the Promised Land where we will most assuredly die trying to defeat the people who already live there. Now, who's with me?"

Of course, no such speech was given. However, in all of his instructions to the Israelites Joshua added, (Joshua 1:13 (NIV))  "Remember the command that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: 'The LORD your God is giving you rest and has granted you this land.'

Joshua made no excuses for failure. He didn't even accept the possibility of failure. He was expressing incredible confidence in God and the people. He was saying that victory was already theirs.

I wonder how many people would be successful at what they do if they would do what God told them to do and stopped giving excuses claiming failure is eminent.

Try praying the following prayer:

I thank you God for you have prepared me for every challenge I will meet today. I will call upon you when I feel weak. I praise you for you have strengthened me. I  need your wisdom. I thank you for giving it to me. Success will be determined in my faithfulness. I will do what you say because I love you with all my heart. Amen.

Now, dont' make another excuse. Go and do what God says.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Can You Recommend Your Church?

Once you were likely to receive an unannounced visit from a church you recently visited. They would arrive at your door and want to talk to you about your faith and the church. They would expect you to open your door and spend a minimum of thirty minutes to an hour assuring them of your faith. This method has become less and less effective (except possibly in rural situations). Many people see this an invasion of their homes. They do not want anyone coming unannounced. They don't like it when their family does this to them; why would they want someone they don't know doing this?

Many churches went to the telephone contact people for their church. They reasoned that this was not an invasion of privacy. The telephone seemed benign. Then, the telemarketers hounded people. They called until no one could eat their evening meals. They called in the middle of favorite television programs. They called until caller identification became a standard feature on phones. Now, the contact from a church is met with the same resistance as if the church is a telemarketer.

Email seems to be the next best solution. Many find it the most impersonal but it neither invades privacy nor interrupts what is going on. Then, spam came to destroy this method of contact. People started getting so many unsolicited emails that spam filters became the norm. Many will never see their emails received because the person must place the address of the sender into their address book before that email can proceed. Of course, the church or the church member who is making this contact is not in the address book. Therefore, the emails being sent are going unread.

So, how are churches to make contacts if these methods are ineffective? I am glad you asked.

I have a couple of Honda cars. Hondas need their timing belts changed every 80,000 miles. That time has come on one of my vehicles. I asked people who I should go to. Most people scratched their heads and said they didn't know. A recommendation is putting your own reputation on the line. The people I asked did not want to be responsible for a bad mechanic. They preferred to be silent.

Finally, someone recommended a place to me. This place works on Hondas exclusively. I went looking for them on the internet. They were listed in the White Pages but did not have a website. I called them and told them what I needed. Their hours of operation were very limited. I got a map from google and headed to their business. They were very hard to find with the GPS and the map. How are they able to stay in business?

The answer is simple. They live on recommendations. I have never seen their advertising. No one is going to find their business unless they are purposely driving there. (And many of them will lose their way!) They must do a great job or they will never see another customer.

Is this a crazy idea for a church? Should a church exist on its reputation? Why hasn't the church done so?

Jesus healed a blind man by making some mud from His spittle and putting it on the man's eyes. The blind man was instructed to wash the mud off at Siloam. The man received his sight and, no doubt, exuberantly declared that Jesus had healed him.

Those who chose not to believe questioned the man who said, "Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." (Does this sound like a recommendation to you?) The man who was born blind had become someone who would endorse Jesus wholeheartedly.

This is what is missing in the church. Few people are saying that they have found the One who can open their eyes. Every method we use is going to be ineffective as long as this is true. Maybe the church has not been that effective in opening eyes.

Therefore, the man born blind became a believer. Those around him received his recommendation. Every day he walked around seeing was a testimony to Jesus.

Of course, some people will never believe nor will they accept our recommendations. That's not the point anyway. We must be in the business of opening the eyes of people by the power of Jesus if we are to reach out world. It will be on their recommendations (testimonies) that the church will exist. We will stand on fact that Jesus is the Messiah. We will proclaim who He is through our seeing.

Listen to this seeing man's recommendation:

John 9:30-33 (NIV)
30 The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."

Monday, September 27, 2010

What Kind of Faith Do You Have?

I wonder why some people call themselves Christians? Sure, they go to church and they are fairly moral people but there are plenty of people who live lives better than many Christians who aren't Christians. Many Muslims are more devoted to their faith. They fast, abstain from alcohol, abhor premarital sex and pray several times a day. Most of the people who call themselves Christians don't allow their faith to cause such a different lifestyle than those who have no faith at all. Many more Muslims act like Muslims than Christians act like Christians.

I wonder if many of the people who call themselves Christians only became so because they believed it would make their lives better. That makes a lot of sense when you see the sermons from some of the fastest growing churches. It is hard to find a sermon that doesn't have "victory" or "successful" in the title. There are steps and ways and methods to put the hearers ahead of those who aren't at those churches. Who speaks of commitment, suffering and being "washed in the blood" anymore?

These messages don't seem to be the ones being preached during the New Testament. Jesus said that people would try to give His followers hell even though they were trying to give the world heaven. He said that they would be beaten and martyred for the sake of the gospel. Their faith wasn't one of what they would get out of Christianity. They believed in Someone who brought life. Their lives had received the joy of the Holy Spirit. Many of them would indeed be martyred. Others would see Christians torn apart by wild beasts and placed on poles and used as torches to light the city streets of Rome. Why would anyone believe in something so dangerous?

Many of Jesus disciples left Him after he made some very hard statements. It had to be extremely discouraging. Jesus went to the Twelve and asked if they would go too. But their faith was not one of  trying to get an advantage over others. Their faith was one of commitment that could not be shaken by difficult words. They believed in a way that their lives made their Lord central. This is not a life of God as number one. It is a life that does not exist unless God is central to everything that goes on around it. It is a internal faith rather than a simple belief. It is one that becomes the person rather than something the person outwardly believes.

All but one of Jesus' disciples had this faith.

What kind of faith do you have?

John 6:66 (ESV)
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus answered, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve: And yet one of you is a devil." He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Confession Is Better than Perfection

I recently read that only 2% of the people who talk on cell phones while driving can do so safely. They have the true ability to give the same attention to their driving as they would if they did not use the cell phone.

I have a prediction, though it has no scientific backing. I predict that 98% of the people who talk on cell phones while driving believe they are in the 2% who can do so safely. Many of us make ourselves legends in our own minds.

This is why we fail to see many of our own sins. We don't notice when we gossip. We may call it sharing or doing so as a prayer request. We don't believe we have lied when we tell a church member that we have prayed for them when we really haven't. We don't notice our own judgment of others by the way they dress or their accent. We fail to notice our own lusts and greed.

I believe that trying to live a perfect life is a horrible way to live. I believe it leads to legalism rather than an intimate relationship with our Lord. However, I would like to be changed from the inside out by His presence so that my actions change. I would like to recognize my own sins so that I can honestly confess them.

I would rather be clean than perfect. I would rather be made righteous by God than to believe that my righteousness comes from my own actions. I would rather my God continually change me than to be without any flaw because of my own efforts. I would rather be His creation than to believe that I am my own.

Of course, getting to this point takes a lot of confession. It means that I can no longer look at my own actions and deem them good or bad. I must have the Holy Spirit who convicts me. I must pray that prayer, "Search me, O God, and see if there is any wicked way in me." This prayer made honestly will bring conviction. Conviction should bring confession.

God does the most miraculous thing when I have confessed. He cleanses me from all unrighteousness. This unrighteousness was already forgiven for our salvation but it still separated us from Him in the present. Its separated us from His word. It was necessary for the cleansing to take place.

Would you pray that prayer? "Search me, O God, and see if there is any wicked way in me."

Then, confess. His word will show itself to be in you.

1 John 1:9-10 (NIV)
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Didn't You Know He Knew?

I have seen it happen so many times before. Someone who has charge of the church money takes some of it. I have seen financial secretaries take hundreds of thousands of dollars. I wonder if they thought that they would never get caught. I wonder why they didn't know that God already knew. Do they think so little of Him that they perceived Him as an old man who didn't care or didn't notice? Do they believe in God at all?

Of course, these aren't the only ones who have been active in church and continued to do something they shouldn't. There have been infidelities and even bank robberies by church people. There have been murderers, pastors who preached against homosexuals but were homosexuals themselves and out and out perverts active in the church and practicing their sins when away from it.

This blog is not an effort for us to look down on these people. Their sins are particular and they have more severe consequences but they are sins. They are no more or no less than what any of us have done to send Jesus to the cross. Yet, they were so hidden and continued that I wonder if these people thought they would get away with it. I wonder if they never thought about God knowing what they did.

This all makes me think that I must be very careful to confess my own sins. I am not going to get caught. I am already caught. God already knows the things I have done. He knows the things that I wouldn't want anyone else to know. He knows the sins that I have committed secretly. He knows my words and my thoughts.

People haven't changed. David thought he wouldn't get caught in his sin with Bathsheba and the cover-up that killed her husband. Ananias and Sapphira didn't think they would be caught. Maybe even Judas didn't think he would be caught. Yes, Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned. I guess thinking we wouldn't be caught goes back a long ways.

The best thing is to confess. Nothing else cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Confession is much better than being caught.

Psalm 51:1-4 (NIV)
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Testimony Starts with "A Test"

Matthew 4:1 (NIV)
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

Right after Jesus was baptized He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It seems that the purpose of the Spirit is to test Jesus.

I believe that everyone that makes a commitment to the Lord will be tested. He or she will have difficult times as soon as they say, "I'll do whatever you say, Lord. No matter what!" It is then that the test begins.

I have had many people tell me that they have committed their finances to the Lord only to have unexpected bills come their way immediately. They have told the Lord that they will always trust Him and soon seen their children sick or their job in jeopardy. They have committed themselves to a mission trip or to teaching Sunday School and been struck with a personal illness which shook their faith.

I am not trying to say that "no good deed goes unpunished." I am saying that we never know the reality of our own faith as long as it is never tested. A testimony starts with a test.

I looked carefully as I read this one verse. The Spirit led Jesus. The Spirit does not tempt us. We are merely led to the place of temptation. The tempter will always stand ready to have us tarnish God's glory. He will tempt with the hope that we will join him in cursing God.

The Spirit led Jesus also means that He was out front. Leading requires you to be out front. He doesn't send us to the place of temptation but leads us to that place. He knows what will happen and therefore stands before us.

The Spirit led Jesus also means that He is with us through the whole temptation. We are never alone. We always have His strength if we will simply stop trying to win our battles without Him.

It is interesting to note that the devil threw his best at Jesus, failed and left Him. This does not mean that he never opposed Jesus again. He just realized that he was defeated and had no further reason for being there.

It was from this point that Jesus began His preaching ministry. He had been tested and proven true. He had a testimony.

Is there a testimony being created for you right now? Have you committed yourself to the Lord only to find yourself being challenged like never before? Please remember these three things:

The Holy Spirit is leading you right now.

The Holy Spirit is before you right now.

The Holy Spirit is with you right now.

Your power can be found in Him. From this testing you will have a powerful testimony.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Don't Listen to a Gossip!

I went to the YMCA early this morning to work out. I have been on their FitLinxx program for a couple of months. I like it because I use machines that tell me exactly what to do, if I am doing it correctly and what I need to do next. The machines are fairly quiet so I can hear conversations around me. Some conversations can't be missed even when you try.

One man said to another man, "Does your daughter go to (a local high school)?"

"No," was the reply, "She goes to (a different local high school)."

"Well," said the first man, "I heard that the new principal is . . . ." He continued to make damaging statements bout the new principal. He had obviously never met this new principal. He was relaying a message he had heard. He then gave his disclaimer, "Of course, this is just one man's opinion."

This is gossip that comes from the pit of hell.

Who says that men don't gossip?!

Why tell the story if it is merely "one man's opinion?" Why tear someone down that you have never met? Why make a statement like this so loudly that I can hear?

I looked at the man making the statement. I wanted to remember him so that I would never do business with him. I never want an employee like him. Gossip comes from and goes down into the innermost parts of a person. This man lacks integrity.

What if what he said is true? What if the principal's character was exactly as he alleged? It makes no difference. He is still carry at tale to hurt someone. That's gossip-plain and simple.

Don't listen to gossips. You will carry their words with you if you do. These words will become a part of you if you embrace their words.

Then one day you will be saying, "Let me tell you what I heard . . . ."

Proverbs 18:8 (NIV)
8  The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Many Pastors Are Surprised by the Grumbling

Church people believe that obeying God will mean that everything will go perfectly. They are told that the reason they are having so many problems is because they haven't obeyed God. They have been given solutions to their problems. They are told that obeying God will solve their problems. Therefore, they believe that God has not been obeyed when something goes wrong.

The pastor of a church must make decisions which he believes are in accordance with God's will. He must make hard decisions. Many decisions mean that other decisions can't be made. Some members of his church may believe that he has made the wrong decisions. They will point to everything that goes wrong as evidence that these were the wrong decisions. They will get others to join them in the grumbling.

Unfortunately, most pastors also believe that success means that the right thing was done and failure means the wrong thing was done. They are surprised with failures. They are surprised by the grumblings. They believed what they were doing was what God wanted them to do. Failure seems to be all they have to show for their faithfulness. There is grumbling all around them.

Many of the people who grumble are those who agreed with their decisions. It seems that they forgot that they were supporters. The first grumblers to leave a church after the calling of a new pastor are former members of the Pastor Search Committee who called him. Many pastors expected opposition but they thought it would be agents of the devil. They never expected their opposition to come from within their own churches.

Should these pastors have been surprised? No.

Moses was called by God to call His people to the Promised Land. The people believed that Moses was God's called to lead them. (Exodus 4:31) They complained when Pharoah required more work of them because of Moses' action (Exodus 5:21). They complained when Pharoah's army pursued them as they left Egypt (Exodus 14:11-12). They complained when they thought they would run out of water in the wilderness (Exodus 15:24). They grumbled when they thought they would run out of food (Exodus 16:2-3). In fact, these people continued their grumblings and complaining throughout their time with Moses.

Now if Moses, who could show supernatural signs that he was God's chosen leader, had grumblings against him; shouldn't most pastors also have grumblings against them when things don't go as the people expect?

The pastor also should not teach or assume that doing the right thing will result in immediate success. Building projects may mean financial difficulties just as leaving slavery meant other physical hardships. Doing the right thing often results in an immediate downturn in production and/or attitude.

The question that must be answered by every pastor is: "Am I doing what God wants?" Everything else is irrelevant. Even the grumblings must be irrelevant.

If pastor and reading this please understand: I am also a pastor and I don't really like grumbling either. However, I know that it takes heat to be a cook. I am called to shepherd the flock; not to fight with them or beat them. I am called to love and care for the flock; not to agree with every direction they would like to go. I am called to lead and leadership means that everything doesn't always produce immediate success. Leadership means people will judge you quickly. I am called to be God's servant just as Moses was. I work for Him, the congregation just provides support for me. If they choose to stop, I still work for Him.

I can say this now because I have been in the midst of grumbling before. (There are always some grumblers anyway. They exist even when things go perfectly.) I have a wonderful church and they are incredibly supportive. I just don't want pastors to believe that grumbling is unusual. Even God's friend, Moses, received grumbling.

If there is grumbling in the church. Please send this to your pastor. He needs to know he is not alone. He needs to know that grumbling may be because he has done the right thing.

Most pastors can relate with the following statement at one time in their ministry:

Exodus 17:4 (NIV)
4  Then Moses cried out to the LORD, "What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thankful for the Struggles in Life?

It is genuinely hard to be thankful for the struggles of life as long as we are in the middle of them. Struggles often hurt and injure us. They cause us to doubt; they steal our strength. Continuing faithfulness often makes us look foolish to others.

Job's wife thought Job should simply curse God and get it all over with. She couldn't stand seeing her husband in his pain. He had lost his children, his wealth and his health. What was there to live for? This is exactly what Satan told God that Job would do if he was allowed to take away those things that people count precious. However, Job did not curse God.

Somehow Christianity has become a means of making life better. Sermons tell how we can become better leaders, more successful in our lives and better off financially, socially, maritally, intellectually or any other ally. It seems that Christianity tells us that faithfulness will ensure a struggle free life. The message seems to be, "Just get yourself back on track if you start to go through a struggle and you will find yourself better off than you have ever been." This is not the story of those who are faithful in the Bible.

Paul spend a significant amount of his ministry in prison. I really don't think he thought that prison would be better than being free. The early disciples were afraid of being arrested, persecuted and martyred. Some saw their fellow Christians placed on poles, set on fire and used for lighting in Rome. They were used for sport as wild animals tore them apart. They could lose everything because they remained faithful. They would not have agreed with many of the sermons we hear today. They would have known that faithfulness could get one killed.

The rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous. Bad things happen. It is important that we remain faithful during those bad times. The result of the struggle will bring significantly positive changes to the Christian if he remains faithful.

Peter says that these bad times will not last. They will either result in going to be with our Lord in heaven or they will end. The Lord will step in and do things in the faithful Christians life. He will perfect that Christian. The struggle will have broken the Christian in many ways. Job had both his finances and family broken. God restored those things. He gave him children and finances. His brokenness was made complete again.

God will confirm the faithful Christian's faith. Talk is cheap. Saying you believe in the church where everyone will agree with you is not much of a witness. Saying you are a believer and continuing in that faith when you are struggling changes both the world around the Christian and the Christian.

Struggles steal from a Christian's strength. It is hard to get up each day after your spouse asks for a divorce. It is hard to look for a job after you have looked for so long. It is hard to keep praying when your child won't have anything to do with you or your faith. God brings strength back to the believer when the struggle ends. He makes them stronger than they were before.

God establishes a new foundation for those who have been faithful. Israel balked at going into the Promised Land initially. They would not remain faithful for they had a weak foundation. Joshua takes a new group of Israelites into the Promised Land. He takes them because they have had a strong foundation created because they have been in the wilderness nearly all of their lives. The struggle made them strong. God does amazing things with those whom have built a strong foundation.

Yes, you will go through struggles. No, struggles do not come only if you are unfaithful. God takes the struggle and brings you through it.

When does He cause the struggle to end? When it has done everything you need.

I don't think I will ever be thankful for struggles while I am going through them but I am finding myself increasing thankful for them when they are over. I am different more from my struggles than from the good times. Thank God He has used them for His glory!

1 Peter 5:10 (NIV)
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.