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Sunday, January 31, 2010

How Important Is Your Faith?

How important is worship to the Lord? Would you give your life for it?

I read several stories of martyrs this morning. I read how young men and women gave their lives so that they could bring the gospel. It was that important to them. They did not shy away from publicly stating their faith. They did not deny their Lord or His message they had to deliver. These men and women of faith were given the opportunity to recant and live but they chose to be true and die.

Our faith was not birthed in safety. Our Lord showed us the way with His death. He said we should deny ourselves and follow Him. I would also say that we are to deny ourselves to follow Him.

Our faith was not birthed in popularity. People left our Lord in droves when He began telling them what following Him would cost. He even asked His own disciples if they would leave. Yet, Peter responded correctly by saying that they could find eternal life no where else.

Our faith was not birthed in comfort. The early Christians were forced to meet secretly in homes and caves to worship. They didn't complain about pews that were too hard or air conditioning that was too hot or cold. They did not consider the lack of comfort.

I find that people don't think our faith is important. They do not see us making any sacrifices for our faith. The result is a world that cannot believe the message of a people who have no evidence for their supposed faith.

So, the world turns to Islam. They see the Muslim martyrs. They see the Muslim fasts and the prayers said. They see something that does not live in the world of convenience. They know that this has meaning to Muslims. The world is very interested in this.

How important is your faith?

John 14:6 (ESV)
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stopping by the Church on a Snowy Morning

I love Robert Frost's poem Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. I can even quote the poem. 

It is the picture of someone who notices the beauty of a snowy evening. There is nothing quite like it. The snow falls with an amazing silence. It changes the whole landscape. It captures the attention of the observer so that he can easily lose track of time and purpose. At first, only the horse knows they should be getting on with life. Eventually, the observer knows that this and gets on with his life.

I wonder if that is the fascination people have with the church. Do they think she is beautiful, with a serenity they cannot find anywhere else? Do they think she is something to watch but eventually must be left so that they can get on with life? Do they fail to realize that she is more real than the life that they are living? Do they know that she will exist beyond their time on earth?

The Church is the Bride of Christ. That is hard to grasp in many ways. Those who know Jesus as Savior compromise the Church. She is not a building or a denomination but a people. We, as the church, will become one with our Lord. We shall be with Him forever as His Bride. We shall be presented to Him spotless. This is all a part of our soteriology (salvation). 

The woods do not belong to the observer in Robert Frost's poem. He had no part of them beyond watching. The poem ends:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep.

Unlike these woods we must become what we are watching. We must become the snow that makes the woods beautiful. We are to put on the dress of the Bride. We are to prepare ourselves for our wedding. 

Many will never understand today's blog. They will still stop by the Church with an appreciation of her beauty but never really become the Church. They will be guests at the wedding but not the Bride. They may have watched the Church with fascination for years. They have no idea that they are standing outside. They are lost in the falling snow.

Revelation 19:7-8 (ESV)
7  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Friday, January 29, 2010

There's Always An Upgrade

I have been using a personal computer for some time. I have stopped saying, “This is the only computer that I will ever need.” I have upgraded so many times I can’t remember the number of computers I have had.

I suppose I will be using computers twenty-five years from now. The processor will be running at 127 terra-gigga-mega-hertz. It will run on the Windows 13 (- do you think they’ll skip that number?) or on Apple Zebra Omega. Of course, it will all be voice or thought operated.

And, somewhere there will be nerds working on an upgrade for the next wave of computers!

It seems that anything mankind creates needs to be upgraded. I suppose you can say that mankind is also always in need of an upgrade. In fact, each of us always has room for improvement.

There are two ways of looking at this. We can always be critical of ourselves for what we lack or we can be glad for each new thing we have learned. It is important to know that we are making progress. We are not what we will be but, thank God, we are not what we were either!

Lots of people think they have arrived at their last upgrade. They haven’t. They are in terrible shape if they think that has or ever will happen. They are in for a huge disappointment for their whole life is made of days and days of upgrades.

Lots of people kick themselves for every mistake- and yes, every sin. They get down on themselves, put themselves down and think of themselves as failures. They don’t seem to see their improvements. They think they will someday reach perfection when they never sin or make mistakes. This isn’t healthy.

I am glad that God works on me. I am still sorry for my sins but I know that I haven’t lost any of the love of God because of them. I know that I am being changed or I wouldn’t even have noticed that I sinned. I repent and go on. I thank God that He is still working on me.

Today I receive another upgrade.

Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Are You Able to Drink from the Cup?

James and John wanted to sit on the right and the left side of Jesus when He came into His kingdom. They wanted to be in seats of power and leadership. They fully believed Jesus would have a kingdom. Jesus asked them if they were able to drink from the cup that He would drink from. They said they were able. They didn’t know what they were saying.

Our calling does not come with a map. We don’t have any idea what we are doing when we accept what God has for us. We are saying that we will do whatever whenever without regard to what this future will hold. Of course, we don’t know. If we did, we probably wouldn’t ever accept the call.

Our call comes both gradually and suddenly. It is a call like Paul’s which suddenly changed the direction in his life, yet also was slow because Paul spent some time perfecting his theology and sitting under the leadership of Barnabus before taking the lead which would be his calling. God always prepares us for our future.

We have no idea what we are committing to when we accept our calling. I remember asking the Lord to be able to preach like a another preacher I admired. The Lord said to me, “Are you able to drink from the cup I have had him drink from?” Of course, I foolishly said, “yes” without thought.

Maybe that is a blessing. I’ll bet Moses didn’t know what he was committing to when he led the his people out of Egypt. I’ll bet Peter didn’t expect to give his life by being crucified upside down. I’ll bet that the disciples believed their future with Jesus would be a much better life on earth than they received. 

On the other hand, they, like us, did receive a much better life. They walked with Jesus. They knew His presence and experienced the only real joy in the universe. And yes, it is worth it. Every drop of blood is worth it. If not, then the rich, young ruler made the best choice. He walked away from Jesus a rich man. He kept everything he had but he missed Jesus.

The only way to have life is to give it away.

Matthew 20:21-23 (ESV)
21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

We All Need Some Good News

Many are saying the recession is over. It certainly doesn't look like it. I see so many people who have lost their jobs recently. The recession isn't over for them. They need some good news.

I hear from a lot of people who are having trouble with in their families. There are wives whose husbands have left them.  There  are children who are giving their parents and grandparents trouble. There are struggles with drugs, sex and alcohol which is tearing families apart. They need some good news.

The stock market is going up and down like a yo-yo. No one knows if his retirement is safe. No one knows what health care's future will be. All of us need some good news.

The people in Haiti are going through hell on earth. They have had an earthquake completely destroy their country. Some report 150,000 people having already died. They are in need of just about everything. They need some good news.

Does God have good news in the midst of the bad? Yes, of course. He says that there are promised bad times but that He has overcome it all. This means that all the bad news in temporary. I suppose that is what we all need to hear in the middle of bad news. The bad news will not last because there is One who has overcome the bad.

Share this with someone today. The bad times won't last. There is a morning to the night. There is calm to the storm. 

This is the good news for today.

John 16:33 (ESV)
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Who Am I?

Have you ever looked something for a long time and suddenly seen that which you have never noticed before? I was doing that this morning as I read Paul’s letter to the Romans. I noticed how carefully he told us who he is. He says he is: a servant of Jesus Christ, called an apostle, set apart for the gospel. Paul is very distinct. He is telling why people need to listen to him. I wondered, “Do people need to listen to me?” Who am I anyway?

I must admit that I and everyone who follows Jesus is a servant. I should remember that everyday. I shouldn’t expect the church, the world or God’s other minsters to serve me. I am His servant. It is my privilege to serve Him.

I do not have the authority of an apostle. Paul clearly understood that he was special. God would use him in ways that others would not be used. I am not an apostle. I cannot write or speak with the authority of scriptures. I will not have the Holy Spirit call me to write new parts of the Bible. This means that I am under the full authority of the scriptures. I cannot decide which verses I will obey and those I will not. I cannot discern a new interpretation like an apostle. I cannot be so inspired that I will expect others to read what I have written, memorize it and treat it as sacred. I am not an apostle.

I have been set apart for the gospel. This means I cannot be so concerned with a lot of good things. I cannot be involved in getting people elected into office. I cannot be one who makes raising money, saving the whales or promoting conservation as my primary responsibility. These may be good things. They are not my calling. I am set apart for the gospel. I need to point toward Jesus in everything I do.

Who are you? Do you know your calling? Does that focus your life on what you should be doing? Paul carefully points these things out. It kept him on target with God’s purpose for his life.

Romans 1:1 (ESV)

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God

Monday, January 25, 2010

Amazing Grace- The Simple Gospel

There is a lot of great symbolism in the church. For example, baptism reveals a life that is changed. It is buried in the water to be raised to a new life. The Lord's Supper represents the broken body of Christ and the blood that was sacrificed so that we might have forgiveness. These are wonderful symbols of our faith which we should keep dear to us.

However, making anything symbolic sacerdotal adds to the gospel. Anything that adds to the gospel is departing from the gospel. 

The gospel is a gift of faith. We believe as we receive the faith God grants us for salvation. We do not need to work for our faith. It is a gift. We receive this faith and we are saved. Adding to the gospel is saying that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross would not satisfy the requirement for forgiveness. 

I some times see people unconsciously adding to the gospel. They somehow believe their "big monetary gift" to the church will give them salvation. They think that their painting of the church buildings will usher them into heaven. Now, I am not saying that there aren't rewards for obedience to the Lord. I am simply saying that those things have nothing to do with salvation. They are a result of a continued faithful life.

I heard a famous country-western singer singing Amazing Grace as an add for the tv show, "Lost"the other night. While the song is definitely taken out of context, I thought of that singer. I thought that God saves people not based upon their goodness but upon the faith that singer can (or has, I really don't know) receive from Him. I thought about how really amazing grace is.

Don't let people add to the gospel. Don't fall into the trap of having to work to "prove" your faith when that proving is actually being preached as "obtaining" the faith. It is God's gift. One in which we should say "thank you" to God with the lives we live. 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I'm found,

Was blind but now I see.

Galatians 1:6-7 (ESV)
6  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What Is Godly Fear?

Why should I fear a God who has loved me so much that He has sent His only Son to die for me? This must be the question we ask ourselves as we explore godly fear.

I know God has wonderful plans for me. I know that He will welcome me back into His arms when I come home to Him. I know that God has sought me to come to know Him. Yet, I also know that I should live my life in godly fear.

There are several reasons for fear. You can fear someone because he is powerful and has promised to harm you. That isn't the case with God.

You can fear someone because of the power he has over you and you don't know what he will do. That isn't the case with God.

You can fear someone because he has the power to harm someone you love. While God does have the power, there is no reason to believe that He will act with malice toward anyone you love.

Godly fear is not so much a fear of Him who loves us with an everlasting love but a fear of disappointing Him. If I realize what He has done for me, realize His love for me, then my fear is one of being aware that as I have fallen short of His glory, I can walk away from that glory again.

It is not a fear of the failure of living a perfect life. No one lives a perfect life. It is the fear of being far apart from Him. It is an awareness of our capacity to do so. It is a fear that would result in His pain. It is a fear that I will forget who He is.

I am not worried about whether or not I am going to heaven. I am concerned that I will enter heaven to a list of regrets and disappointments. I would much rather hear, "Come in, my good and faithful servant," rather than, "Well, you just made it." 

I know that I can walk away from God at any time. I can even continue to be a pastor and walk away from God. Too many pastors have lived in sinful relationships while continuing to preach. Many of them preached messages while living in such sin better than I can preach when trying to live a godly life. Yet, my fear is to be apart from the God I love. My fear is that I will live a meaningless life. Going to church is a special hell for those who are walking apart from the Lord.

Therefore, I write this blog every day. I don't do it for those people who read it. (Though I am glad to hear from people who have been helped by it.) I do so because it prompts me to get into God's word each day and listen to Him. I do so with fear that I could forget the Lord today. I could stay away from His word and His presence. I could hurt the God I love.

Godly fear is somewhere between reverence and terror. It is much more than people feel when they enter the sanctuary. They get quiet but they may not have the intensity of fear I know godly fear has. It is less that being terrified. God should only terrify the lost. They should know what will happen without Jesus. I find it interesting that the NIV will translate it "reverent fear" in 1 Peter 1:17. That's commentary, not translation. The word is phobos. It just means fear. 

So, live your life with godly fear.

1 Peter 1:17-19 (ESV)
17  And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,18  knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,19  but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Is Fire and Brimstone the Message?

I suppose a lot of homes are built around the principle: Do right or pay. The only motivation is to fear the punishment of those in charge. That is not the message of the gospel. 

I have, on some occasions, heard people ask me to preach a message of fire and brimstone. They ask me to preach hard sermons to bring those rotten sinners to repentance. I explain that I am one of those rotten sinners. I explain that I used to preach that way. I explain that, while I believe in a literal hell, that is not what motivates me. I explain that the gospel's message is one of love and forgiveness. I know there are consequences and I can't avoid them but I must preach the message as it is presented. I tell the truth about the consequences but focus on the work of Christ.

It is grace that saves us- not fear. Grace comes as we realize what has been done for us by Jesus. We come to Him, not because we have cleaned up our acts or have become something other than sinners, but because we are imperfect sinners who accept the gift of forgiveness that God has paid for through the blood of Jesus.

God did not send Jesus to condemn the world. He sent Jesus into the world to give life. He did so because of His love. He is the perfect Father who comes for His children. He does so to protect and provide. He does so out of His love.

Yes, there is a place where the worm never dies and the fire never goes out. It is horrible. It is the place that God sent Jesus so that we would never go there. 

Maybe fire and brimstone is easier to believe. I have had people who are caught up in sin tell me that they wished they could believe in forgiveness. I want them to know that whatever line they think they have stepped over, whatever line they think they can't cross back from, whatever thing they have done is paid for by the blood of Jesus. They can believe that God will send them to hell but not that He would die for them so that they can have forgiveness. 

God did not send Jesus to tell us how bad we are. He sent Jesus to save us. That's the gospel message. Then, I serve my Lord out of love- not fear. (I'll talk about godly fear tomorrow.)

John 3:16-17 (ESV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm Getting My Theology from a Jack Russell Terrier

Well, my dog, Jackie, did it again. She is a nine year old Jack Russell Terrier who has already had her stomach pumped twice. (Once for a bottle of Advil, another for a bag of dark chocolate Hershey's Kisses) Last night she satisfied her craving for chocolate which put her own life in peril.

My daughter went to Nashville this past weekend to attend a bridal shower of one of her best childhood friends. They had a contest of guessing how many M&M's were in a jar. The one who guessed the closest won. My daughter won the M&M's. She put them in her suitcase and brought them home. She did not completely unpack because we are going back to Nashville this next week so I can perform the wedding. 

The M&M's were sealed in a glass jar with tape around the lid. Jackie waited until everyone was gone, took the jar downstairs, removed the tape and took the lid off of the glass jar. I figured she had something that she recorded on the DVR in the den and wanted to watch it while she ate the whole jar of M&M's. Unfortunately, chocolate is toxic to Jack Russell Terriers. She has already had her stomach pumped once for "death by chocolate."

Last night I put my foot down. I said we were not going to keep pumping the dogs stomach. She was either going to make it (live) or not. "We are not having that dog's stomach pumped again!" I went to bed. As soon as I am asleep, my wife and daughter take the dog to the emergency vet. I awaken at 2:30 to a dog who is looking for places to eliminate chocolate. I eventually get up with the dog, take her outside a bunch of times and see her in a most miserable state. Eventually she went to sleep next to me on the couch and is okay this morning.

I know right now that I could buy a bag of M&M's and that dog would gorge herself with them again. Chocolate has almost killed her twice. She doesn't care. Her desire for chocolate is so great that she thinks the experience is worth the consequences.

Isn't that the way it is with sin? We know there will be consequences that we hate but we do it anyway. 

Yeah, I'm learning my theology from that dog. 

Romans 7:19-23 (ESV)
19   For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.20  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.21  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.22  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,23  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Seven Things the Devil Would Rather We Do

Movies have led people to believe that the devil is a hideous creature whose appearance will scare the hoowally out of a marine. Yet, this is not my experience with him. I find him to be most agreeable with many of the things I want to do. I have found that he is not opposed to many ministry ideas if he can twist them. He loves taking good things and making them into something that takes away from God's glory.

I thought of some things (this is by no means comprehensive) he would rather we do. Many of these things are very good things. His influence can take our eyes off the Lord. His influence can make us feel good about ourselves while not doing what the Lord commanded. The devil is a master at the shell game. He distracts, misleads and hides the truth.

The devil would rather we give to the poor than reach the lost. These things do not have to be exclusive but they can be the focus in any church. There are good hearted people who enjoy helping people who will give all their time and effort to raising money and distributing food to the poor while being distracted from reaching the lost. Jesus said that we will always have the poor when an expensive gift was given to Him. One of his disciples thought the gift was wasted on Jesus. Jesus didn't forget the poor. He set the priorities straight. Our mandate is to make disciples. We must reach people, teach people and put them in service. Feeding the poor is part of that process. However feeding the poor should never be the entire focus.

The devil would rather we were more concerned about a disgruntled church member than reaching the lost. No church is trying to make their members angry. However, selfish people notice when they haven't received their due. They feel that they have earned a certain status and when that isn't given to make them happy, they leave the church. Many of their friends spend all their time trying to get them to come back. I am sorry to lose any member but it takes precious time and effort to accommodate a disgruntled member while lost people are being neglected. A church that starts down the path of making sure they don't lose anyone will quit reaching the lost altogether and eventually die. They will spend all their time making concessions and seeing that their own membership is happy. A church should be a place where the membership exists for those who are not members rather than the other way around.

The devil would rather we worship anything other than the Lord. He isn't opposed to good music, an immaculate sanctuary, beautiful stained windows, a huge pipe organ or even singing the Doxology. In fact, he would love for us to worship these things rather than the Lord. He would rather we were more afraid of losing or hurting these things than become estranged from our God. He loves it when people praise the preacher rather than the Lord. He loves it when they sing songs to be heard by others rather than understanding the audience is the Lord. He really doesn't care what we worship as long as it isn't the Lord.

The devil would rather we focus on fellowship than discipleship. There is nothing wrong with discipleship. There is a lot right with fellowship. However, our priority is to make disciples. Part of this is fellowshipping with the saints. However, Sunday School classes can spend too much time fellowshipping rather than reading the Bible and hearing it explained. Small groups can center around the dip that someone has made rather than what the Lord is teaching them. You really can't have discipleship without fellowship. Fellowship and discipleship must go together but the goal must be understood as discipleship.

The devil would rather we focus on growing our own churches than being obedient to the Lord. It seems that growing our own churches is what the Lord wants from us, right? However, the church has a promise that other organizations don't have. The Lord Himself has promised to build His church. Our responsibility is to be obedient. This means we do whatever, whenever for the Lord. He builds the church.

The devil would rather we notice what we can't do than what God can. Many times churches say they can't do something because they lack the resources. They lack the money or the personnel to accomplish something. The only thing we ever lack when we fail to do what God has asked is faith. If God has told us to do something then we need to go for it. Churches have a tendency to watch their bank accounts closer than they watch their prayer lives. They tend to hang their heads as failures rather than praise the Lord for what He is about to do. Faith actually scares those who lack it. 

The devil would rather we fought among ourselves than fought we with him. He is excellent at getting things stirred up. He even uses scripture to do so. Jesus said that we will be known as His disciples because of our love for each other. He didn't say we would be known as His disciples because we have the right doctrine. The devil divides believers so that they will not see him at work. He knows that he will lose once we begin to fight with him. He works hard to make us believe that our problem is someone else in the church rather than him.

Again, this list is not comprehensive. I am sure that there are many other things the devil would rather we do. We just need to make sure whom we are fighting. We need to make sure whom we serve. We need to make sure than our God receives the glory. We need to know we are victorious through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
12  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Believing by Prayer and Fasting

A father brings his son to Jesus' disciples to cast out the spirit that has possessed him. This evil spirit has given his son seizures which made him mute. The disciples tried but they could not cast it out. Jesus comes upon the scene and asks what the problem is. The man tells the story of his son to Jesus who is frustrated with his disciples. The father asks Jesus to help his son.

Jesus tells the man that all things are possible for those who believe. The man asks for help with his unbelief. Jesus casts out the deaf and dumb spirit. After convulsions this evil spirit leaves the boy. He appears to be dead but Jesus takes him by the hand and the boy gets up.

Later the disciples ask Jesus why they couldn't cast out the evil spirit. Jesus said that this one will not come out by anything but prayer and fasting.

Let's put some significant things together. Jesus said that anything was possible by believing. Jesus also said this type of evil spirit required prayer and fasting. Therefore, we should be able to say that prayer and fasting increases our faith for believing. 

These two exercises clear out our unbelief. We pray because we believe. We fast, not to use it as a bargaining tool, but to focus our praying. Fasting without prayer is just going hungry. Fasting wth prayer is a life-changing, powerful activity which increases our faith, makes us listen to what God is saying and makes us abandon the trivial things which distract us from what we  believe.

Fasting with prayer will give us the faith to see the most improbable events come true. It will help us hear God tell us that He will do. It will help us accept what He will do. Fasting with prayer will give God the glory for the great things that are done. 

Much has been said about believing. Some people think that believing is something that you make yourself do. They think that it is down in there and all you have to do is let it out. Faith is a gift from God. You receive faith to believe in Jesus. You receive faith as God's gift throughout your life. You are able to receive this gift by being emptied of your contrary beliefs. You really can't believe two opposite things with faith. You may have doubts but doubts are a lack of faith, not believing in two things at once. Prayer clarifies faith. Our beliefs, then, will come from our faith.

There is little doubt that evil spirits still run practically unhindered on this planet. They are tearing families apart through selfishness, greed, lust, drugs, etc. There is little doubt that people have tried many programs to help their loved ones come back to them. They have gone through counseling and programs that have helped many come back from being influenced by such evil spirits. But some of these will not come out without prayer and fasting. They will not come out until there is a belief that is so strong that the evil spirits cannot stand up against this faith.

The easier thing is to abandon your loved one. This man could have left his son and gone his way. He didn't because he loved his son. He was so desperate that he brought his son to Jesus. I wonder how many people would say, "I believe Jesus can straighten out my loved one but, please, Jesus, help my unbelief!" I wonder how many will pray and fast one day per week to see their faith increase so that they can see their loved come back.

I know that many who read this blog will want to say that sometimes there is no getting your loved one back. I must admit that I don't always see a good solution. I have had the Lord tell me that someone will harden his heart beyond the Lord's influence. The Lord never forces us. He invites. This is why you see Jesus standing at the door knocking rather than crashing through the door. Sometimes people will never answer the door.

But I have seen more often that God has worked in the life of a son who, like the Prodigal, came home. I have seen fathers and mothers relationships restored to their children, each other and to the Lord. I have seen people give up their addictions and change into very godly people. Most of the time I have seen this happen because someone did not give up on them and prayed.

Right now you may not have the faith to believe that the thing that you most desperately want is possible. Your child may be so far away from the Lord that it seems impossible to believe. I ask you not to give up on that child. Your spouse may be so far away that it would take a miracle to bring him or her back. I ask you to believe in miracles. 

You will find yourself praying and fasting if it really means that much to you. You see, some evil spirits take that much belief to be cast out.

Mark 9:23 (NIV)
23 "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beware of the Man Wearing Loafers Who Criticizes the One Wearing Boots

It is popular to criticize our leaders today. People are afraid of the direction our country is going. They are afraid that America is headed toward economic destruction. They see the debt growing at the most alarming rate they have ever. They do not understand how this can result in anything but inflation, enormously high taxes and long-term economic disaster.

Maybe people are right. Maybe we are simply reacting to the current situation without regard for the future. Maybe we are yelling for things to get better without the thought that a little pain now will make things much better later. However, does this mean we should criticize our leaders with impunity?

I have never been an elected official. I do not know what it is like. I have never walked in their shoes. I, though, am an American citizen and have an obligation to vote. I should do so for the best candidate without having to walk in his or her shoes. I am, also, a Christian who has a moral obligation to do what is right without regard for my own personal gain. I should do so without the vitriolic criticism which prevails in our country. I should do so with prayers for these leaders even when I don't agree with them. I should do so with discernment.

I may never walk in the shoes of a politician but I should be able to discern what is right. Right comes when we look at the character of the person rather than his or her popularity. Many people are relishing the polls which show the President's numbers flagging. This neither makes him right or wrong. His character will either stand or fail. Character is who a person is in both the good and bad times. He will not always know what to do. His character should lead him. Leading by popularity numbers shows a lack of character. His popularity will go up and down. His character should never change.

A leader should lead by principle not opinion. There should be underlying values which guide his or her decision. These values will show through also in good and bad times. They will not waver. They are values that exist in the heart of the leader. My responsibility is not to teach my leaders values. No one can teach values. You either have them or you don't. They come from a conglomeration of events, people and environments. Sometimes there is no good explanation where values originate because some people who have terrible parents, environments  and horrible events in their lives live by the strongest of principles. I don't know why but I should look at those principles not criticize while ignoring them.

A leader must know the truth. Truth does not come from a simple gathering of information. No leader will ever gather all the information. This will result in delayed decisions. Delayed decisions will result in a greater questioning of the leader's ability to lead. Truth is not only something the leader says, it is something the leader believes. It is something that is known. Truth comes from beyond the leader. It is timeless. 

Now, I admit that I have failed in every one of these areas which I am using to discern what is right. It makes me want to pray for my leaders more than I want to criticize them. It makes me understand that leadership will never be found in a political party nor a political person. Leadership is found in someone who walks the lonely path of the leader. 

There are two things that are certain: Things will change and people will judge you. I don't want to be on the side of those who simply judge because of the political party a person belongs to. I want to pray for my leaders even if I will not vote for them in the next election. I want to discern what is right. I haven't walked in their shoes (or boots or loafers). I want someone who is a leader who will do right no matter what.

Romans 13:1 (NIV)
1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Monday, January 18, 2010

God's Answer for an Interfering Mother

Most mothers are great. They seem to have a natural desire to take care of their children. Their sense of nurture very often exceeds that of the fathers. I don't know if it is because the child is carried by her for nine months that makes a mother love her child so much. I just know that mothers want to take care of their children.

This caring can become an addiction for some mothers. They want to protect their children from any hardships. They influence the environments around their children to make sure they are placed first in every line. They manipulate their children to become more. They also manipulate them to be totally dependent upon their mothers.

This is especially true of mothers with their sons. I don't know why but mothers watch their sons even more closely. Many do all they can to control their sons. Many sons appreciate all the work their mothers did. If they don't, some of these mothers will remind them of all they did for their sons.

These moms will be especially threatened when their sons begin looking for wives. These potential wives become competition for the mother. These girls are doomed if the obsessed mother can't control them. The addicted mom will begin her work of manipulation, brow beating and sabotage to get her son to reject the girl she can't manipulate.

This mom will continue to control the life of her son after he marries. He will have to call or come by each day. She will always have some favorite meal or even a chore that will obligate him to continue communicating. This mom will do what it takes to keep her son close by her side.

Meanwhile the wife feels like she is being cheated on. She resents having to go to her mother-in-laws for every holiday. She resents the time her husband must spend with his mom. She doesn't know exactly what to do but she wants a husband that binds himself with her. She wants him to love his mother but she hates the control her mother-in-law has over her husband and her family.

God had an answer from the very beginning: A man must separate himself from his mother and father and be bound to his wife. This means he consciously removes himself from the former connection he has had to bond in a new way with his wife. He draws new parameters so that his wife- not his mother- is the most important woman in his life. He makes this so clear that his wife feels special. 

Sure, this may hurt mom. She will get over it if she wants to have any relationship with her son. The son must keep those boundaries clear. The son must be consistent. Mom will return to her old ways if she is allowed. She may (she most likely will) act with bitterness and further hurt feelings to continue her pattern of manipulation. She will pull out every stop to regain her control over her son but he must keep the boundaries in tact.

Mom will come around if the son will continue to keep loving, reasonable boundaries. She can have a stronger relationship than ever if she wants. However, it is not the sons responsibility to make his mother see the light. She must come around because his door is open to her within certain boundaries.

Is this hard? Yes, it may be the hardest thing a son must do. 

Genesis 2:24 (ESV)

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Receiving through Humility

 A Greek woman comes to Jesus and asks Him to remove the demon which has possessed her daughter. Jesus tells her that it isn't right to give the children's bread to the dogs. Now, this should have greatly offended her. He was saying that His primary purpose was to the Jews. He said that He would give them their fill before feeding the dogs. Clearly, He was putting her and her daughter in the category of "dogs."

Many people would have been offended with this. They would assume Jesus was looking down on them. They would have thought that calling them dogs would be His way of driving them away. 

I see many people who don't want to comply with commands of the Lord. They are offended when their actions are called sins. They are offended when the Bible calls them "sinners." They want a savior who helps them with their troubles and leaves their sins alone. They think that Jesus should be honored that they would pray or come to church. They see Him like Santa Claus at the Mall. He is supposed to be excited they have come and give them whatever they want. 

This woman, however, saw herself at Jesus mercy. There was no other solution for her daughter. She loved her daughter too much to be offended by His words. She replied in a practical way. She didn't want to be able to eat at the table of the children. She just wanted the crumbs that the children dropped. This is amazingly humble. 

Humility is close to the heart of the Lord. Those who come in humility receive His grace. Those who come in pride receive His opposition. Jesus acted with grace because of her humility and she goes home to find her daughter well.

How would you have responded? Would you have told Jesus where He could go and stomped out?

I think you would have done as this woman has if you loved your daughter enough. I think our desperation in a need would have humbled us so that we could ask no matter how we might be offended. 

There are those desperate moments in our lives when we come to the Lord. We have confidence in coming to Him because He has shown us mercy by receiving us as those under His covenant. We come humbled by this fact. We ask boldly by this fact. Our boldness is seen as we continue to ask. We receive gratefully, too.

Many prayers get negative responses because we cannot get beyond our own pride to ask and keep asking. Humility is the missing ingredient in many prayers. 

Remember this Greek woman and her daughter. Ask and keep asking. Ask and ask humbly. 

Mark 7:28-29 (NIV)
28 "Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
29 Then he told her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Would You Rather Sing "I Surrender Most" Than "I Surrender All"?

Its easy to give your all when you don't have much. Its easy to say, "I'll risk everything," when you don't have much. I suppose that's why so many people are more effective in their ministry when they first get started. They have nothing to lose. Therefore, they hold nothing back.

There is a real danger in having a lot. It can keep you from following Jesus. It can make you say that you will give up most for Jesus.  Few people are truly willing to give all when they have so much. Such is the case of the story of the "Rich, Young Ruler" mentioned in Mark. This young man's story was significant since it was recorded in three of the Gospels. Matthew and Luke would also tell his story. He was one who wanted to do most but not all. He missed following after Jesus. He was an impact player who made no impact because he wouldn't leave it all on the field.

Yet, before we castigate this young man one more time, could we actually take a look at our own lives and do what Jesus asked of him? Would we sell our houses, cars and have nothing more than we can carry on our backs if we were asked to do so by Jesus? Do we really want to follow Jesus that much?

This young man went away sorrowful. He couldn't imagine living without his possessions. His sorrow indicates they didn't give him pleasure. He had thought that he could keep them as his own and still have eternal life. He had thought that he could surrender most and still have Jesus.

The young man went away. He separated himself from Jesus. He did this symbolically and literally. It seems that there will always be a separation when we are only wanting to surrender most. 

Does our church attendance reflect a surrender of all or most? Do we come when it is convenient and nothing else is going on or do we work our schedule the best we can to make sure we are in attendance each Sunday? 

Does our serving reflect surrendering all or most? Do we serve because we are called by Jesus or do we serve only until we can figure out a way of getting out of it? Are we prepared in our serving or do we put our service to Jesus off to the last minute? Are we preparing our Sunday School lessons at the last minute on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings?

Does our giving reflect that we consider all of what we have belongs to the Lord? Do we give without joy? Do we give only when it is convenient? Do we look at the amount instead of our own hearts?

Is surrendering all what Jesus also wants from us or was this a special request of this rich, young ruler? What do you think?

Mark 10: 21 (ESV)

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why Did God Reject Cain's Offering?

The story in Genesis concerning the offerings of Cain and Abel do not specifically tell us why God had "favor" for Abel's offering, yet did not look with favor on Cain's. Each man had given God from his occupation. Abel kept flocks and Cain farmed. So, I have to look into the story as an outsider who is trying to understand. Often, the best way to do this is through questions rather than answers.

Hebrews 11: 4 says that Abel's offering came through faith. It does not speak of Cain's. Should I assume that Cain's was not from faith if his is not mentioned? Hebrews 11 is a chapter of the Bible indicating that faith will result in actions. It commends those who have acted by faith. It states that faith is "being sure of what we hoped for and certain of what we do not see."

Leviticus tells us that God has required three types offerings.  They are  the guilt offering, burnt offering and peace offering.  Each was distinctive.

The guilt offering was given to absolve the guilt of the person. This offering pointed toward the sacrifice of Jesus. It is remembered today through the confession of sins. We are forgiven by the blood of Jesus, no other sacrifice is necessary. Yet, the estrangement between us and God is met on a daily basis through the confession of our sins. We can still know Him and go to heaven but we will never have a close relationship with God while we are sinning. Confession corrects this so that we can walk with God daily.

The burnt offering was one of commitment. It symbolized the consumption of the offering on the altar.It was often given before an army would go to war so that they would make sure that their commitment was to the Lord. It is symbolic also of a passion to do whatever the Lord has asked.

The peace offering was one of grain. It symbolized the fellowship that one had with the Lord. It was shared within the family. It invited the Lord to come and commune with those who made this offering.

Abel brought an offering of the firstlings of his flock. It says that he also brought that of their fat portions. The firstling could have been for a guilt offering. The burning of the fat was used for a burnt offering. Is Abel's act of faith a confession of guilt before the Lord? Did he continue through a commitment to the Lord with a burnt offering?

Cain offered grain. Grain was used in a peace or fellowship offering. Was he saying that he wanted to commune with the Lord? Did he fail to notice his own sin? Does true communion mean we should first confess and commit ourselves before we can commune? Is this why God had no favor for his offering since he did not act in faith?

Many times that I have been in church without a moment of worship. I guess I thought it was the church's responsibility to make me worship. Worship is a communion with God. I thought I could worship without confession and commitment. I often fail to look at my own sins. I often commit my life to the Lord as long as it is convenient. I serve conveniently. I give conveniently. And yet I hope to worship in full communion with God. God won't stand for the worship of the lips when the heart is far from Him.

I really can't speak definitively why God rejected Cain's offering. I think I know. I think Cain was just like me. He expected to commune with God without confession and commitment. Abel knew better. God is always excited when people "get it."

Genesis 4:4-5 (NIV) 
4  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Hebrews 11:4 (NIV)
4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Be Careful with Traditions

I have been around many traditions throughout my life. I went to Texas A&M. (I think that anything done twice on that campus becomes a tradition.) Some of these traditions are very nice. Silver Taps honors the death of a student. Midnight Yell Practice is great for school spirit. Elephant Walk symbolizes seniors acting as elephants making their last walk to the elephant graveyard. It is silly but is part of the closure of your days on the campus.

Traditions can help people remember significant events. They can help us remember to do what we must. The ordinance of the Lord's Supper reminds of what Jesus has done and is doing. It preaches Jesus death until He comes again. The Lord's Supper comes from the command of Jesus to remember Him but our methods of observing it come from tradition. Most of our procedures for funerals come from tradition. The preacher precedes the casket out of the chapel. He always stands at the head of the deceased. These things are to honor the memory of the deceased.

Traditions can also make you forget what you are doing. People will forget to love when the traditional order of worship service is changed. They act as if changing the order is a sinful transgression. They make the change into wicked thing. They don't remember that love should prevail. I guess they think there was a great line of succession from Jesus to the way the church worshiped. The same goes for changing the time. (Isn't worshiping at 11:00 AM somewhere in the Bible?) The length of the service. (If God wanted us to worship longer than an hour; He wouldn't have provided everyone with watches.) The way we dress. (I have always been taught that you wear your best to church. --No, you were taught to give your best but you lost something in the translation.) The instruments used in worship. (I heard one seminary professor say that banjos should never, never, never be used in worship.) 

Most of our traditions have no true biblical basis. They certainly shouldn't get in the way of reaching people, loving people, growing people and serving people. They can give people a sense of doing right when they are actually doing very wrong.

Such is the case when the Pharisees and scribes come to Jesus because His disciples didn't wash their hands in the ways taught by the Pharisees and scribes. They were trying to tell Jesus that His disciples were unclean. They failed to understand that washing the hands was a tradition given to help people realize what it was to be clean. Their hearts were dirty. They worshiped with their lips, with their traditions but their hearts were far away. They had substituted the traditions of men for the commandments of God.

Traditions can become sacred. They can become more important than God Himself. They can destroy the fellowship between Christians. Many churches have split over changes that took them away from their traditions.

Some churches will die rather than change their traditions. All living things change. Death is the natural result of an unchanged thing. Many churches will close their doors this year. They will sell their properties, pay off their debts and their members will be dispersed to other churches. People will try to find another church that mostly resembled their last. Don't be surprised if you get the same results when you keep doing the same things. 

The only vibrant churches are those who change. Change doesn't guarantee growth or survival but the lack of change guarantees death. Those churches who are Spirit led are growing in their methods and their membership. These churches are listening to God and doing what He leads them to do. These churches do not forget to honor God but they choose to do so in new ways. They remember that the Bible is the Word of God but they present it as a fresh message. They remember that prayer is life changing but they do so knowing God is in the room with them.

Be careful with traditions. They can help us remember but they can also make us miss Jesus.

Mark 7:6-8 (NIV)
6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Difference between Arrogance and Confidence

You have probably seen the interviews of sports figures who exhibited confidence and those who have shown just as much arrogance. What is the difference? Why is it good to be confident and bad to be arrogant?

Confidence respects people. It give them value even though your intention is to beat the living daylights out of them on the field, the court or even the course. You know that they have some abilities too. You know that they also want to win. You know that they are going to do their best to beat you. You respect their preparation, efforts and passion to win. You execute based on what you know to do rather than expecting the others to lay down and let you win. You may dominate but you don't depend upon your intimidation. They just might not know that you are the big school with the great reputation and are supposed to win. 

Confidence expects to execute. It is often based on practice and past experience. It knows what to do and knows it can be done. It can be based on the words of another. A coach or a mentor may tell you what you can do. It gives you confidence to perform. Confidence is good.

Arrogance sometimes looks like confidence but it lacks humility. Arrogance lacks respect for others. Arrogant people praise themselves without any mention of the opponent. They talk "trash" and look like it. Arrogance thinks that it is unstoppable. Arrogance is a great way to get defeated. An arrogant team is often defeated by a team with lesser abilities because they did not respect the team's passion to win. Passion to win often prevails over arrogance. 

Arrogance stands in the spotlight. I heard a player recently say, "I couldn't have done it without the rest of my team." Those who hear this may think he was being humble but it revealed something that he was thinking: "I'll bet people think I did this all by myself." There's a lot of arrogance in that.

Paul speaks to believers in telling them to be humble. A few verses later he tells them why they should be confident. The two are not incompatible. We can be humble and confident. Humility is not putting yourself down. It is not thinking that you can't win. It is not thinking little of yourself. Humility is not thinking of yourself at all. 

You should be confident in who God is and what He is and will do in your life. You should not be arrogant; thinking it is all about what you do and that the devil will lay down before you today. Always remember that he has an incredible passion to win over you. Confidence is saying that God is greater. Humility is saying that He works through me.

Philippians 2:3 (NIV)
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Philippians 2:13 (NIV)
13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Part about Jesus Did You Miss?

Jesus comes walking on the water. The disciples are scared out of their minds. They believe it is a ghost. Jesus has to calm them. He walks to them and gets in the boat. They are amazed. But I especially like the next statement, "for they had not understood about the loaves."

Each meal we may thank God for our food but in reality we are thinking that it was our own money and work that provided it. Any miracle can be explained away. Maybe the disciples thought that the food for feeding the five thousand came from people secretly bringing out food that they had brought but were afraid that by sharing they wouldn't have enough. Maybe the disciples just weren't paying attention and thought of it just as Manna that was unexplainable. Maybe they saw it like a magic trick. Surely, they didn't see Jesus as the Creator who could make more anytime He wanted.

Our church in Houston had a Filipino congregation. They sometimes asked me to preach. One Sunday I preached and administered the Lord's Supper with them. Our chapel, where they met, was absolutely packed. During the distribution of the grape juice, one of their deacons, Art, walked back to me and said, "Pastor, we have run out." 

I said, "Art, I can't make more!" He looked at me for a moment and walked back to be with the other deacons. I am sure they had a meeting. I was glad that he thought I could do something about it. I was also glad to tell him that I couldn't. I may be an ambassador for Christ but I am certainly not Christ.

I am glad that his faith in Christ was one that could solve any problem. I am glad that he saw Christ as the Creator.

We must not categorize our Savior. He must be the One who provides in the little things and in the great. He must be the One who can provide for your physical needs and even have power over those things that are emotional or relational. He is God, not a magician. He is God who can do whatever needs to be done so that His glory, love and honor is known.

Have you watched Him do something that could have only come from Him and later tried to explain it away? Have you seen Him do something that is a miracle but later limit Him in His ability to meet a new need? This is where the disciples were. The Bible said that their hearts were hardened. Hard hearts refuse faith.

He is God. There is nothing to hard for Him. You must believe this or you will never understand the loaves.

Mark 6:51-52 (NIV)
51  Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52  for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jesus Came for Me

Some church people are strange. They believe that everyone in the church should be able to judge everyone outside the church. They get upset when someone comes to their church who doesn't fit in. These people don't use the correct language. They don't go to the same places. They have vices that plague them. Of course, these church people believe that Jesus came for them but not so much for those who don't act right.

Maybe that's why they are busy condemning, boycotting and staying away from those who don't act like church people. They would be appalled if prostitutes, drug dealers, homosexuals or convicted pedophiles came to their churches. They actually think, "If Jesus ever gets His hands on them . . . ."

Such a group of people confront Jesus when He is eating with tax collectors and sinners. Shouldn't He be eating with most religious people of the day, the Pharisees? Of course, they didn't think they really needed a savior. They were all righteous, right?

Jesus response was that He came to call the sinners not those who were righteous. I think He could have added, "or those who think they are righteous." People who think they are well generally don't go to a doctor anyway. These people thought they were well.

I wish all sinners like me heard this message. I have done things that I wish I hadn't. I have done things that embarrass me. I have fallen short of God's glory. I am a sinner and Jesus came for me.

When I find that I have sinned, I remember that Jesus came for me. When I feel guilty for something that I have done, I remember that Jesus came for me. When I still feel guilty for something I have already confessed, I remember that Jesus came for me. He came to heal my heart. He came to take away my sin. He came to remove the guilt. He came to make me whole again.

And Jesus came for  you, too. That is, He came for you if you are a sinner in need of Him. If you are so righteous that you don't need Him, then, maybe not.

Mark 2:17 (ESV)

"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

We Are Sheep with a Shepherd

Have you ever wanted something very badly but when you got it, you wished you never had it? Honestly, we don't really know what we need. We seem to go for the things within our sight without thinking long term. This is why I think Jesus called us sheep without a shepherd.

The shepherd makes sure the sheep are safe. He does not allow them to wander off. Sheep only seem to see the grass right in front of them. They will follow that grass as far as it leads them. They will not notice that their following of the grass will lead them away from the flock. They do not realize that this leads them into danger.

You probably know someone who at one time had a very strong walk with the Lord that now doesn't attend church or exhibit any spiritual connection. They may have started pursuing sports with their children or working on Sundays or bought a boat that they began taking out. These things became the focus of their lives and they wandered away from the rest of the sheep. They are very vulnerable to the thief who wants to steal, kill and destroy them. 

The shepherd takes the sheep to places where their is quiet water. Sheep do not do well in fast moving water. It scares them. They are reluctant to drink. Maybe they are afraid of falling in. They need calm water to fell calm.

The events in the world around us will bring upon great anxieties if we do not listen to our Shepherd. Only He can lead us to peace when there is a storm brewing around us. We will fret over the economy, our jobs, our children and even our churches. We will see dangers from terrorists, crazies and simply other motorists. We will worry over our health, our retirement accounts and our debts. We must have a Shepherd who will bring us to calm waters.

The shepherd bandages the sheep when they are hurt. He looks for those who have wandered away. He finds them having hurt themselves. He carries them back to the flock. He puts salve on their wounds and bandages them. He nurses them back to health.

Our Shepherd comes for us when we have wandered away. Most think that He will beat us for wandering but He really invites us to come back with Him. He gets us untangled from the bushes which have captured us. He picks us up and carries us back to where we can be safe. He heals our wounds and exhibits love in ways which make us wonder why we ever wandered.

We are sheep with a Shepherd. We listen to His voice. He teaches us where to go, how to treat others and how to be safe. He seeks us when we wander away. He heals us from all of our wounds. He gets us back on our feet. We owe Him everything.

Most of us have wandered away at some time. Some of us ran away. He gently came for us. We really don't ever want to wander again now that we are back with Him. He is our Shepherd and we are His sheep.

Mark 6:34 (NIV)
   When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Commitments Are Followed by Temptations

It seems that every great commitment to the Lord is followed with a temptation. Should that surprise us? Should we expect that our commitments will go unnoticed? We shouldn't

Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. Afterwards, the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness where He would fast for forty days. Satan arrives to tempt Him. Satan obviously wants Jesus to reneg on His commitment. It appears that God leaves Jesus all alone during the wilderness and temptations.

Satan hates commitments to the Lord. These commitments mean that God is honored, His kingdom is come to the earth and Satan's influence is lessened. He comes to tempt us to forget, compromise or taint our commitments to the Lord. He wants us to believe that God will neither protect nor help nor strengthen nor gives us guidance through the temptation. 

Surely, God allows us to be tempted. Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. He was out there to be tempted. God did not tempt Him but He certainly allowed Jesus to be tempted. He could have protected Him from all temptation.

Temptation, therefore, must have a purpose. It must be the testing ground that solidifies our commitment. It proves whether or not it is real. It makes us stronger to stand up to Satan at a later time. It will allow us to say some day, "Not my will but yours be done!" when our own livelihood is on the line. 

Satan flees when we resist him. Victory over temptation removes his presence until the next temptation. Those who fall into the temptation invite him in to stay. They are more susceptible to more temptation because they are more likely to give into it.

Victory over temptation defines our commitment to the Lord. We know we will stand when we have pressure to remain seated. We know that we will keep our word to the Lord.

You can be assured that any commitment you make will be followed with a temptation. You may be faced with an unexpected bill when you commit a certain amount of money to the Lord. You may be faced with an unexpected danger after you have made a commitment to share the gospel in another country. You may have your friends and family tell you that you are foolish with the time you are spending doing what you believe God has called you to do. You may have them tell you that going into the ministry is a very stupid idea because the country is getting less and less tuned toward spiritual things. They may even tell you that you'll starve to death because of your commitment to the Lord.

Commitments are followed by temptations. Just make sure that your commitment is truly to the Lord in the first place. Then, never turn back. Victory is yours when you trust in the Lord. He who called you will also help you complete it.

Mark 1:12-13 (ESV)

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Friday, January 8, 2010

You Have to Make the Time

I wonder if most people don't make to-do lists because looking at all that they have to do each day would depress them. They would rather trudge along doing what they must without noticing what they haven't done. I have found that a to-do list helps get things done.

Putting your most important thing to do first is the best way to assure that it will get done. The other things will press you to get through it. The demands of other people will crowd out your time to get what you need done. You simply have to make the time to do the most important thing.

Jesus got up very early in the morning, when others wouldn't have seen Him leave, and went to a lonely place to pray. 

The most important thing you will do each day is spend some time with God. It is nearly impossible to do this when there are others who are demanding your time. You will have to set your own time and special place to consistently have this time with the Lord. You will have to go into seclusion for a short time to do so. You may even upset some people when they can't find you. 

You must make this time. It is something that is carved from granite. It will not exist without a great effort on your part. It will take preparation for the time. It will probably mean that you will lose some sleep. It will be a trade-off for something else that you could be doing. It is not easy.

Spending time with the Lord daily is the best way to get your life in order. If you don't do the most important spiritual thing, you are less likely to do the most important physical, emotional or intellectual thing. In other words, you are more likely to be an overweight, out of shape, emotional wreck whose greatest intellectual pursuit is watching the History Channel when they give one-sided and inflated praise for Nostradamus. You are less likely to realize the importance of following the Scriptures, being consistently in church and persistent prayer. Importance will be given to things as they look on the outside. Spiritual depth is necessary to realize the intrinsic value of things.

Your spiritual bank account will be empty without spending time with the Lord. It makes sense. If you don't make any deposits why should you expect there to be anything there? Spiritual depth puts everything where it needs to be. It makes money, cars, houses and promotions less important while making obedience, family, friends, faith and godly fulfillment more important.

Yet, you won't do it unless you make the time. I believe this comes from conviction. You must be able to evaluate whether or not you are making the time now. You must be able to answer the question: "Is what I am doing right now working?" If not, you will have to do something else. You will have to carve out a different time or have a different strategy for there to be success.

You will have to make the time.

Mark 1:35 (NIV)
   Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

When Evil Spirits Come to Church

Again, it is the Sabbath. Jesus has gone to Capernaum.  He goes to the synagogue to teach. Everyone is amazed at His teaching. He taught with authority. He could say with absolutes what the Scripture meant.

A man with an evil spirit begins to cry out to Jesus. The spirit wants to know what Jesus will do with them. The evil spirit has fully recognized Jesus. Maybe this same spirit had seen Jesus before He was born on earth. The evil spirit calls Jesus "the Holy One of God."

Jesus commands him to be quiet and demands the evil spirit leave the man. Suddenly, it is gone. The people really start freaking out now. Jesus has authority and evil spirits obey Him. Immediately they started texting all their friends about this one called Jesus. Soon, everyone was tweeting about Him.

I don't believe that most Christians believe this story found in Mark 1. Their actions make me think that they have no understanding of evil spirits. The certainly don't believe these spirits could be found in church, inhabiting one of their members. They will excuse any bizarre behavior as the quirky things that people do. Most of the time they will be right. However, we should not exclude the possibility that an evil spirit has inhabited someone whom we have known as a member of our church.

Evil spirits cannot inhabit someone who possesses the Holy Spirit. Those who have trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord are exempt from being filled with an evil spirit. The evil spirit cannot occupy the same person who has God's Spirit. This is why Jesus' presence agitated the evil spirits so. They know they can be destroyed by Him and shrink away as quickly as possible.

We would love to say that every member is a believer in Jesus. We can never be completely sure of this. Faith is something that happens in the heart. The words and the actions of the person will probably prove whether or not a person believes but these people on the Sabbath Jesus taught probably knew this man and may have believed him to be one of them. Only his outburst gives us a reason to believe that they thought otherwise.

Evil spirits are must completely obey God. This one immediately obeyed the command of Jesus. It had no other choice. It had control of the man but could not exercise an authority over Jesus. It spoke in fear of what Jesus would do to all the evil spirits.

Evil spirits do not know what God is up to. This spirit asked if Jesus had come to destroy them. This is very interesting to me. The Scriptures are known by the evil spirits. (This is proven by Satan's misuse of Scripture when he tempted Jesus.) Yet, they do not know how to interpret Scripture. This is because Scripture was breathed into men who wrote it so that others can have the breath of God exhale it out of them. In other words, Scripture is divinely inspired from beginning to end. The Holy Spirit breathed it into the writers. The readers interpret it as the Spirit gives them understanding. This is why it seems like foolishness to those who don't possess God's Spirit. 

Believers should have no fear of evil spirits no matter what the horror movies say. Believers not only possess the Holy Spirit but also the authority to defeat these spirits. These spirits recognize Jesus to this day. They obey Him to this day. 

I come very early to church each Sunday morning. I spend most of the time preparing for the services. Some of that preparation is spent in prayer. I walk into our sanctuary and pray that God will keep the devil outside our church for the service. Of course, what I am really asking is that God's Spirit inhabit the place and those who come will know His presence. I ask this in the strong name of Jesus. 

During each of our services there are people in a prayer room praying for the service. They pray for the salvation of souls and that the devil will be kept from influencing anyone who comes.

We are very aware that evil spirits come to church too.

Mark 1:25-26 (NIV)
25  "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!"26  The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Have You Asked the Lord Clearly?

Blind Bartimaeus is beside the road as Jesus is leaving Jericho. He begins to cry out, hoping that Jesus will hear him. He is a blind beggar; how can he find Jesus in the crowd? How would he ever be able to approach Him? The more others told him to be quiet, the more he yelled until Jesus heard him.

So, Jesus says, " Call him up here." Bart throws off his cloak and heads for Jesus.

Now, the very interesting part.

Jesus asks Bartimaeus, "What do you want Me to do for you?" Isn't the answer obvious? Why does Jesus ask this question?

Bart wasn't shy about the answer. He doesn't do like so many Christians who pray, "O Lord, if it be thy will, if you can see it in your heart, if you might, I would like for you to ___ but if you don't that's alright by me." How can you even get a "yes" or "no" answer from this request?

Bartimaeus says, "I want to regain my sight." This tells us a couple of things. Bart could see at one time in his life for he asks to "regain' it. He knew exactly what he was asking for. He didn't give any long explanation, justification or efforts in begging. (And he knew how to beg for he was a beggar.) He asked clearly.

Jesus says, "Go, your faith has made you well." Immediately Bartimaeus' sight returned and he began following Jesus. 

This is not a formula for getting whatever we want. It does tell us what we should do in order to receive an answer from the Lord. I hear some people pray with a lot of words and I don't know what they have asked of the Lord. I don't think they know either. 

Why don't we ask as clearly as Bartimaeus? Are we afraid of asking the Lord? Are we afraid of being disappointed? We can maintain a pseudo-faith if we say God can "do" but we never ask Him to. This is a Santa Claus type of faith. We say that he exists but secretly know better. We say he will bring us our presents but buy all of them for ourselves. Yet, we want to tell Santa stories and pass them on to our children.

God already knows what we need but our verbalization of that need gives us evidence that God is always faithful to us. He always loves, always knows and is always powerful. His "no" answer for what we have asked is no less loving than His "yes" answer. He wants us to say it clearly because it enhances our faith, gives us greater cause to praise Him, gives us a testimony to others and it reveals His heart to us in each answer.

This past week Rick Warren asked his congregation to erase their deficit of $900k. The response was over $2 million. What if Rick had asked for "some money" without any amount given? Then, anything raised could have had a bullseye drawn around it. How could that have been a praise to God?

Is there anything that you need from the Lord for which you have not clearly asked? Can you verbalize it? Can you write it in a short sentence? Would you be able to specifically tell others that God answered your prayer by the way your request has been made?

It takes real faith to ask the Lord clearly. Don't be blind anymore.

Mark 10:52 (NIV)
52 "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You Are Uniquely Valuable

A man with a withered hand comes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Of course, the Pharisees were there to see what Jesus would do. If He heals the man, He breaks the law. If He fails to heal the man, He becomes one of them.

Jesus calls the man forward. He asks the question whether you should do harm or good on the Sabbath. He asks whether you should save a life or kill on the Sabbath. I wonder if the Pharisees understood. They liked rules. They liked things being orderly. God loves people. People aren't orderly nor is meeting their needs. 

Jesus still honored the Sabbath. He still knew that God did not want us to depend upon work for all that we have. He still wants people to have a day of rest from labor. However, He also wants us to know that He loves each person separately. He wants us to know that the Sabbath and all the other laws were created to honor God and help us fulfill our potential. He wanted everyone to realize that God loves the individual. God does not lump us all together. He works with us separately.

We should know this if we look at how we are created. None of us have the same fingerprints, the same eyes, the same DNA or even the same look. Contrary to popular belief, no two people look exactly alike. There are people who are amazingly similar but not exactly the same. It should lead us to know that God loves each one of us separately.

This means that He calls us separately. He acts in our lives uniquely. He treats us all differently. He loves us all completely. He prepares the works He has for us as uniquely as He has made us. 

Jesus fulfilled both the law of the Sabbath and His love for the man with the withered hand. Most of us would have said that Jesus could have healed this man the next day. He didn't need to anger the Pharisees. Surely, this man would be just as elated the next day. However, how could Jesus deny the Sabbath by healing the man on a different day? This man would know God's love more uniquely than ever because it was done on the Sabbath. Those who questioned the love of God would have seen God's love in action. Jesus could not have fulfilled the law of the Sabbath without healing the man that day. The Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath.

There may be several people who will have similar experiences that you will have today. None of them will have exactly the same experience nor will they be changed exactly the same. You may read a specific scripture that many others will read but will not get exactly the same application for your life. Salvation itself is unique for you. Walking with God will apply His word in your life in a special way.

Many people like specific rules which they believe will follow what God has said. Yes, there are principles that we should follow but a legalistic lifestyle will remove the love that God has for the individual. It will cause people to treat each other harshly while thinking they are following what God wants them to do.

God has something very special for you today. He has it for you and not exactly the same thing for anyone else. He has a special time or place or change within your heart that is just for you. His principles will still apply but His application will amaze you in what He will do.

So, stretch out your hand. It isn't withered anymore.

Mark 3:5 (NIV)
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Is the Message of Jesus from Heaven or from Men?

The Pharisees and the chief priests come to Jesus. (Mark 11:27-33) They are seeking to trap Him. They ask what authority allows Him to do what He does. Jesus answered with a question. He asked them if John's baptism came from heaven or from men. They knew they couldn't say "from heaven" because Jesus would respond by asking them why they didn't believe him. They knew they couldn't say "from men" because the people considered the John a prophet. Therefore, they replied that they didn't know.

Jesus gave them the answer of His authority but they didn't get it because they were trying to please themselves without upsetting the people. (Sounds like real politicians, huh?) He essentially responded with the same question they were asking Him. They wanted to know if He was doing what He did with heaven's authority. They should have known the answer but they didn't because they were so blinded by their own selfishness.

Most people who reject Jesus as Savior believe His message came from men rather than heaven. They believe the stories are manufactured. They believe that people are misled. They believe that believers are delusional. 

Saying His message is from heaven puts them in a dilemma. Then, they must ask why they haven't believed the message. Therefore, like the Pharisees and chief priests, they surround themselves with others who will support their decision that His message came from men. They give all religions the same value. They think that all of them have some value in teaching people how to live but that no one should really sell himself out to one faith. They can remain in complete control as long as they can be the judge of all faiths.

Non-believers might even think that there is plenty of time to think about these things. They might even think that they can pull the "thief on the cross" thing and believe at the very end of their lives. They don't realize that faith comes as a gift from God. They don't realize that the message that came from heaven needs a faith from heaven. They believe they can call on this at any time because they don't know that saving faith only comes from the conviction of the Holy Spirit. They don't realize that they may never think of calling on that faith in the end. They don't understand why the Bible says that "today is the day of salvation." They don't understand that they should seek the Lord "while He can be found." They don't understand that one day they will say, "No, I won't believe," for the last time.

The message of Jesus is from heaven. It requires a faith from heaven in order to believe. It is God's grace to give us that faith. 

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Will Your Mountain Be Thrown into the Sea?

Often a mountain was symbolic in Jewish speech. It represented any insurmountable problem. It was something that they had to live with because there was nothing they could do about it. Jesus told them something different.

The disciples were amazed to see that the fig tree that Jesus had cursed was withered. Fig trees are very hard to kill. What made it more amazing is that one day it had leaves and soon afterwards,  it was dead. The tree had withered at the words of Jesus.

Jesus told them that they could say to a mountain that it should be cast into the sea while fully believing it would that this same mountain would be cast into the sea and "splash" there goes the mountain. He tells them to pray and believe so that they might receive.

This can cause us a lot of problems if we think that we can conjure up any desire and have it. Belief has to have a basis. You can't simply believe because you want to believe. You base your belief upon something or someone. Even erroneous beliefs have a basis. If the witch doctor does a dance in the spring and the rains come, you may associate the dance with the coming of the rain. If you want to believe that plane crashes come in three's because everyone says so, you will wait to proclaim they are over as soon as you count three of them. 

There are plenty of scripture that says that you won't receive what you want. Was Jesus unbelieving when He asked to have the "cup" removed from Him in the Garden of Gethsemane? Was Paul unbelieving when he asked to have his "thorn in the flesh" removed? No, God is sovereign. Both Jesus and Paul acknowledged this. They knew this before they prayed.

The answer to praying without doubt is in receiving a word from God. God will always do what He has told you that He will do. He speaks to you. You receive His word which tells you what He will do. You believe fully in what He will do. It will happen. Even mountains will be thrown into the sea.

The key is getting a word from God. It is actually more precious than having your mountain thrown into the sea. You know that you will receive what God has said. You can believe and pray without any doubt.

Now, something else very interesting happens. Jesus tells them of their mountains being removed and continues speaking on prayer. He tells them to forgive others when they pray. Now, He doesn't directly say that we won't receive our word from God or that we will not have what God has promised but He infers with the connection of His teaching that forgiveness is directly linked with faith. 

It makes sense. You do not understand His forgiveness if you won't forgive others. How can you understand anything the Lord has said if you don't understand forgiveness? In other words, an forgiveness of ourselves and our forgiveness for others is essential for our prayers.

Yes, your mountain can be thrown into the sea. Have you received a word from God telling you that He will do so? Have you believed that word with all of your heart? Have you forgiven all others? 

Mark 11:23-25 (NIV) 
23  "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.
24  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."   

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Your Fears May Oppose the Presence of Christ

I have met many people who are afraid of what they think the church might become. They have become comfortable. They do not want a change in any of the elements of worship. They oppose those who appear to make any change. Their fears may keep them from the presence of Christ.

I read a story a few days ago about a priest having difficulty with his new congregation. The parishioners said that they did not like his way of worship because he did not administer the Communion correctly. The former priest had always taken the chalice over to the radiator and touched it before giving out the sacrament. The new priest was not following the proper method because he failed to touch the radiator. The new priest contacted the old priest to ask if he actually did touch the radiator and what it had to do with the sacrament.

The old priest said that he did, indeed, touch the radiator before administering the wine. He said that he did so to discharge the static electricity so that he would not give the parishioners a shock. They had interpreted it as part of a religious ritual in following Communion correctly. They did not like the new priest because he did not follow the correct methods in "the Church of the Holy Radiator!"

Ultimately, it is not about the method of worship but the fear of change which causes people so much discomfort. It takes them outside their comfort zone.

The method of worship can easily become the object of worship. The fear of having to change oneself or be changed can be a powerful force. It can make people think they are acting righteously when they are, in fact, being very sinful. It can even make them oppose the presence of Christ.

Jesus casts the money changers out of the Temple. He was opposed to His Father's House becoming a den of thieves. The process of selling clean animals for the sacrifice and the exchange of money to pay the temple tax had been going on for a long time. People had accepted it as part of the religious ritual of coming to the Temple. The chief priests and the teachers saw it as part of the process of worshiping God. They did not know how they could maintain the Temple and its practices if the money changers and those who sold clean animals were removed. They had become so accustomed to this method that they were afraid of Jesus. They wanted to get rid of Him because He was changing the way they had done things.

Of two things we can be assured: Things are going to change  and people are going to judge you.  The chief priests and teachers decided to judge Jesus because He was bringing change. Their actions would forever bring judgment upon themselves.

The church is changing or it is dying. Dead things don't change.

Not all changes are good. The litmus test must be the answers to these questions: Does this change bring people into the presence of Christ? Does it bring them to salvation? Does it bring them to worship the Lord? Does it reach people- not for attendance sake- but so that the presence of Christ will change their lives? Is it helping people become mature, victorious followers of Jesus? If it does, we must adapt even though it may take more energy and "feel" wrong at times.

Frankly, your fears may keep you from the presence of Christ. Your opposition to the change may be an opposition to Christ. You, too, may want to get rid of Him so you can keep things exactly the way they are.

Mark 11:18 (NIV)
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

Friday, January 1, 2010

What Will It Take for There to Be a New You in 2010?

Does there need to be a new you? Are there things about yourself that you would like to change? There is no better time than the beginning of the year to begin your transformation. The beginning of the year and of the decade is a great time to mark the beginning of your transformation. So, what will it take for you to get there?

First, you have to decide what you can change. Is there anyone else that you know of have heard of that has changed what you would like to change. If they have done so, you can too. You can learn how they made their transformation but, be careful, you are not them. You may have a different reaction to the same things they have done.

Second, you need a plan. You cannot simply say that I will change and then have no plan to change. For example, if you decide that you will be fastidious around your computer. You can have a plan that each day you will clean the area around the computer thoroughly before going home for the day. You will have become meticulously clean if you just follow the plan. This goes true for losing weight, saving money and assuring your spouse that he or she is loved. A plan will help you get there.

Third, you need to commit yourself to the goal. That means you will follow this plan without deviation unless providentially hindered. The lack of commitment will be seen if you deviate from your plan merely because of a preference to do something else. Sticking with the plan is taking each day as it comes. Transformation takes commitment in increments of time. Continuing to be successful is tying these increments of committed time together.

Fourth, you need a means of measurement. You can use a calendar, a scale, count your heart rate, etc. If you are doing something like keeping the area clean around your computer you can put an "X" on each day you clean around it. Losing weight means you use a scale. Getting in shape can be measured by resting heart rate or how far or how long you can do a certain exercise. Writing down your accomplishment will be a motivation and keep you on track. I decided that I would become a blogger last year. I haven't missed a day since March 19, 2009. This was my measuring stick.

Fifth, you must see failure times as opportunities to get back up. We all fall down as some time. We can choose to lay on the floor and give up or get up and get back to where we would like to be. Get up; begin all over again. Think of it as just a new start rather than a failure.

It would help if you have an accountability partner. You may be able to motivate yourself without any other interaction but I have found that declaring that I am doing something will help me do it. I have found that reporting it on a regular basis helps me do so too.

Lastly, pray a lot. There is no reason that you should do this with your own strength alone. God is always ready to help us become something better with Him than apart from Him.

God bless you as you become a new you.